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Chapter XIII: How the Outlaws Shot in King Harry's Tourney (Cont'd)
Now the ten chosen archers from the King's bands came forth again and took their stand; and with them stood forth the twelve untried men from the open lists. Again the crowd was stilled, and every eye hung upon the speeding of the shafts. Slowly but skilfully each man shot, and as his shaft struck within the inner ring a deep breath broke from the multitude like the sound of the wind upon the seashore. And now Gilbert of the White Hand led the shooting, and 'twas only by the space of a hairsbreadth upon the line that Tepus tied his score. Stout Elwyn, the Welshman, took third place; one of the private archers, named Geoffrey, come fourth; while Clifton must needs content himself with fifth.
The men from the open lists shot fairly true, but nervousness and fear of ridicule wrought their undoing.
The herald then came forward again, and, instead of announcing the prize-winners, proclaimed that there was to be a final contest. Two men had tied for first place, declared His Majesty the King, and three others were entitled to honors. Now all these five were to shoot again, and they were to be pitted against five other of the Queen's choosing—men who had not yet shot upon that day.
A thrill of astonishment and excitement swept around the arena. "Who were these men of the Queen's choosing?" was upon every lip. The hubbub of eager voices grew intense; and in the midst of it all, the gate at the far end of the field opened and five men entered and escorted a lady upon horseback across the arena to the royal box. The lady was instantly recognized as Mistress Marian of the Queen's household, but no one seemed to know the faces of her escort. Four were clad in Lincoln green, while the fifth, who seemed to be the leader, was dressed in a brave suit of scarlet red. Each man wore a close fitting cap of black, decked with a curling white feather. For arms, they carried simply a stout bow, a sheaf of new arrows, and a short hunting-knife.
When the little party came before the dais on which the King and Queen sat, the yeomen doffed their caps humbly, while Maid Marian was assisted to dismount.
"Your Gracious Majesty," she said, addressing the Queen, "these be the men for whom you sent me, and who are now come to wear your colors and service you in the tourney."
The Queen leaned forward and handed them each a scarf of green and gold.
"Lockesley," she said in a clear voice, "I thank thee and thy men for this service. Know that I have laid a wager with the King that ye can outshoot the best five whom he has found in all his bowmen." The five men pressed the scarfs to their lips in token of fealty.
The King turned to the Queen inquiringly.
"Who are these men you have brought before us?" asked he.
Up came the worthy Bishop of Hereford, growing red and pale by turns.
"Your pardon, my liege lord!" cried he; "But I must denounce these fellows as outlaws. Yon man in scarlet is none other than Robin Hood himself. The others are Little John and Will Stutely and Will Scarlet and Allan-a-Dale—all famous in the North Countree for their deeds of violence."
"As my lord Bishop personally knows!" added the Queen significantly.
The King's brows grew dark. The name of Robin Hood was well known to him, as to every man there present.
"Is this true?" he demanded sternly.
"Aye, my lord," responded the Queen demurely. "But, bethink you—I have your royal promise of grace and amnesty."
"That will I keep," said the King, holding in check his ire by a mighty effort. "But, look you! Only forty days do I grant of respite. When this time has elapsed, let these bold outlaws look to their safety!"
Then turning to his five victorious archers, who had drawn near, he added, "Ye have heard, my men, how that I have a wager with the Queen upon your prowess. Now here be men of her choosing—certain free shafts of Sherwood and Barnesdale. Wherefore look well to it, Gilbert and Tepus and Geoffrey and Elwyn and Clifton! If ye outshoot these knaves, I will fill your caps with silver pennies—aye, and knight the man who stands first. But if ye lose, I give the prizes, for which ye have just striven, to Robin Hood and his men, according to my royal word."
"Robin Hood and his men!" the saying flew round the arena with the speed of wild-fire, and every neck craned forward to see the famous fellows who had dared to brave the King's anger, because of the Queen.
Another target was now set up, at the same distance as the last, and it was decided that the ten archers should shoot three arrows in turn. Gilbert and Robin tossed up a penny for the lead, and it fell to the King's men. So Clifton was bidden to shoot first.