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Chapter XXI: How Sir Richard of the Lea Repaid His Debt (Cont'd)
Then to him the Sheriff spoke at length concerning Robin Hood; how that for many months the outlaws had defied the King, and slain the King's deer; how Robin had gathered about him the best archers in all the countryside; and, finally, how the traitorous knight Sir Richard of the Lea had rescued the band when capture seemed certain, and refused to deliver them up to justice.
The King heard him through with attention and quoth he:
"Meseems I have heard of this same Robin Hood, and his men, and also seen somewhat of their prowess. Did not these same outlaws shoot in a royal Tourney at Finsbury field?"
"They did, Your Majesty, under a royal amnesty."
In this speech the Sheriff erred, for the King asked quickly,
"How came they last to the Fair at Nottingham—by stealth?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"Did you forbid them to come?"
"No, Your Majesty. That is—"
"For the good of the shire," began the Sheriff again, falteringly, "we did proclaim an amnesty; but 'twas because these men had proved a menace—"
"Now by my halidom!" quoth the King, while his brow grew black. "Such treachery would be unknown in the camp of the Saracen; and yet we call ourselves a Christian people!"
The Sheriff kept silence through very fear and shame; then the King began speech again:
"Nathless, my lord Sheriff, we promise to look into this matter. Those outlaws must be taught that there is but one King in England, and that he stands for the law."
So the Sheriff was dismissed, with very mixed feelings, and went his way home to Nottingham town. A fortnight later the King began to make good his word, by riding with a small party of knights to Lea Castle. Sir Richard was advised of the cavalcade's approach, and quickly recognized his royal master in the tall knight who rode in advance. Hasting to open wide his castle gates he went forth to meet the King and fell on one knee and kissed his stirrup. For Sir Richard, also, had been with the King to the Holy Land, and they had gone on many adventurous quests together.
The King bade him rise, and dismounted from his own horse to greet him as a brother in arms; and arm-in-arm they went into the castle, while bugles and trumpets sounded forth joyous welcome in honor of the great occasion.
After the King had rested and supped, he turned upon the knight and with grave face inquired:
"What is this I hear about your castle's becoming a nest and harbor for outlaws?"
The Sir Richard of the Lea, divining that the Sheriff had been at the King's ear with his story, made a clean breast of all he knew; how that the outlaws had befriended him in sore need—as they had befriended others—and how that he had given them only knightly protection in return.
The King liked the story well, for his own soul was one of chivalry. And he asked other questions about Robin Hood, and heard of the ancient wrong done his father before him, and of Robin's own enemies, and of his manner of living.
"In sooth," cried King Richard, springing up, "I must see this bold fellow for myself! An you will entertain my little company, and be ready to sally forth, upon the second day, in quest of me if need were, I shall e'en fare alone into the greenwood to seek an adventure with him."
But of this adventure you shall be told in the next tale; for I have already shown you how Sir Richard of the Lea repaid his debt, with interest.