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Chapter XI: How Robin Hood Fought Guy of Gisborne (Cont'd)
Still circled the bright blades swiftly in the air—now gleaming in the peaceful sunlight—again hissing like maddened serpents. Neither had yet touched the other, until Robin, in an unlucky moment, stumbled over the projecting root of a tree; when Sir Guy, instead of giving him the chance to recover himself, as any courteous knight would have done, struck quickly at the falling man and wounded him in the left side.
"Ah, dear Lady in Heaven," gasped Robin uttering his favorite prayer, "shield me now! 'Twas never a man's destiny to die before his day."
And adroitly he sprang up again, and came straight at the other with an awkward but unexpected stroke. The knight had raised his weapon high to give a final blow, when Robin reached beneath and across his guard. One swift lunge, and Sir Guy of Gisborne staggered backward with a deep groan, Robin's sword through his throat.
Robin looked at the slain man regretfully.
"You did bring it upon yourself," said he; "and traitor and hireling though you were, I would not willingly have killed you."
He looked to his own wound. It was not serious, and he soon staunched the blood and bound up the cut. Then he dragged the dead body into the bushes, and took off the horse's hide and put it upon himself. He placed his own cloak upon Sir Guy, and marked his face so none might tell who had been slain. Robin's own figure and face were not unlike the other's.
Pulling the capul-hide well over himself, so that the helmet hid most of his face, Robin seized the silver bugle and blew a long blast. It was the blast that saved the life of Little John, over in Barnesdale, for you and I have already seen how it caused the fond Sheriff to prick up his ears and stay the hanging, and go scurrying up over the hill and into the wood with his men in search of another victim.
In five-and-twenty minutes up came running a score of the Sheriff's best archers.
"Did you signal us, lording?" they asked, approaching Robin.
"Aye," said he, going to meet the puffing Sheriff.
"What news, what news, Sir Guy?" said that officer.
"Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne had a fight; and he that wears Robin's cloak lies under the covert yonder."
"The best news I have heard in all my life!" exclaimed the Sheriff rubbing his hands. "I would that we could have saved him for the hanging—though I cannot now complain."
"The hanging?" repeated Robin.
"Yes. This is our lucky day on the calendar. After you left me we narrowly missed running one of the fellows—I believe 'twas Will Scarlet—to earth; and another who came to his relief we were just about to hang, when your horn blew."
"Who was the other?" asked the disguised outlaw.
"Whom do you suppose?" laughed the Sheriff. "The best man in the greenwood, next to Robin Hood himself—Little John, Reynold Greenleaf!" For the Sheriff could not forget the name Little John had borne under his own roof at Nottingham.
"Little John!" thought Robin with a start. Verily that was a lucky blast of the bugle! "But I see you have not escaped without a scratch," continued the Sheriff, becoming talkative through pure glee. "Here, one of you men! Give Sir Guy of Gisborne your horse; while others of you bury that dog of an outlaw where he lies. And let us hasten back to Barnesdale and finish hanging the other."
So they put spurs to their horses, and as they rode Robin forced himself to talk merrily, while all the time he was planning the best way to succor Little John.
"A boon, Sheriff," he said as they reached the gates of the town.
"What is it, worthy sir? You have but to speak."
"I do not want any of your gold, for I have had a brave fight. But now that I have slain the master, let me put an end to the man; so it shall be said that Guy of Gisborne despatched the two greatest outlaws of England in one day."
"Have it as you will," said the Sheriff, "but you should have asked a knight's fee and double your reward, and it would have been yours. It isn't every man that can take Robin Hood." "No, Excellency," answered Robin. "I say it without boasting, that no man took Robin Hood yesterday and none shall take him to-morrow."
Then he approached Little John, who was still tied to the gallows-tree; and he said to the Sheriff's men, "Now stand you back here till I see if the prisoner has been shrived." And he stooped swiftly, and cut Little John's bonds, and thrust into his hands Sir Guy's bow and arrows, which he had been careful to take.
"'Tis I, Robin!" he whispered. But in truth, Little John knew it already, and had decided there was to be no hanging that day.
Then Robin blew three loud blasts upon his own horn, and drew forth his own bow; and before the astonished Sheriff and his men could come to arms the arrows were whistling in their midst in no uncertain fashion.
And look! Through the gates and over the walls came pouring another flight of arrows! Will Scarlet and Will Stutely had watched and planned a rescue ever since the Sheriff and Robin rode back down the hill. Now in good time they came; and the Sheriff's demoralized force turned tail and ran, while Robin and Little John stood under the harmless gallows, and sped swift arrows after them, and laughed to see them go.
Then they joined their comrades and hasted back to the good greenwood, and there rested. They had got enough sport for one day.