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Chapter XII: How Maid Marian Came Back to Sherwood Forest; Also, How Robin Hood Came Before Queen Eleanor.
But Robin Hood, he himself had disguis'd, And Marian was strangely attir'd, That they proved foes, and so fell to blows, Whose valor bold Robin admir'd.
And when he came at London's court, He fell down on his knee. "Thou art welcome, Lockesley," said the Queen, "And all thy good yeomandree."
Now it fell out that one day not long thereafter, Robin was minded to try his skill at hunting. And not knowing whom he might meet in his rambles, he stained his face and put on a sorry-looking jacket and a long cloak before he sallied forth. As he walked, the peacefulness of the morning came upon him, and brought back to his memory the early days so long ago when he had roamed these same glades with Marian. How sweet they seemed to him now, and how far away! Marian, too, the dainty friend of his youth—would he ever see her again? He had thought of her very often of late, and each time with increasing desire to hear her clear voice and musical laugh, and see her eyes light up at his coming.
Perhaps the happiness of Allen-a-Dale and his lady had caused Robin's heart-strings to vibrate more strongly; perhaps, too, the coming of Will Scarlet. But, certes, Robin was anything but a hunter this bright morning as he walked along with head drooping in a most love-lorn way.
Presently a hart entered the glade in full view of him, grazing peacefully, and instantly the man of action awoke. His bow was drawn and a shaft all but loosed, when the beast fell suddenly, pierced by a clever arrow from the far side of the glade.
Then a handsome little page sprang gleefully from the covert and ran toward the dying animal. This was plainly the archer, for he flourished his bow aloft, and likewise bore a sword at his side, though for all that he looked a mere lad.
Robin approached the hart from the other side.
"How dare you shoot the King's beasts, stripling?" he asked severely.
"I have as much right to shoot them as the King himself," answered the page haughtily. "How dare you question me?"
The voice stirred Robin strongly. It seemed to chime into his memories of the old days. He looked at the page sharply, and the other returned the glance, straight and unafraid.
"Who are you, my lad?" Robin said more civilly.
"No lad of yours, and my name's my own," retorted the other with spirit.
"Softly! Fair and softly, sweet page, or we of the forest will have to teach you manners!" said Robin.
"Not if you stand for the forest!" cried the page, whipping out his sword. "Come, draw, and defend yourself!"
He swung his blade valiantly; and Robin saw nothing for it but to draw likewise. The page thereupon engaged him quite fiercely, and Robin found that he had many pretty little tricks at fencing.
Nathless, Robin contented himself with parrying, and was loth to exert all his superior strength upon the lad. So the fight lasted for above a quarter of an hour, at the end of which time the page was almost spent and the hot blood flushed his cheeks in a most charming manner.
The outlaw saw his distress, and to end the fight allowed himself to be pricked slightly on the wrist.
"Are you satisfied, fellow?" asked the page, wincing a little at sight of the blood.
"Aye, honestly," replied Robin; "and now perhaps you will grant me the honor of knowing to whom I owe this scratch?"
"I am Richard Partington, page to Her Majesty, Queen Eleanor," answered the lad with dignity; and again the sound of his voice troubled Robin sorely.
"Why come you to the greenwood alone, Master Partington?"
The lad considered his answer while wiping his sword with a small lace kerchief. The action brought a dim confused memory to Robin. The lad finally looked him again in the eye.
"Forester, whether or no you be a King's man, know that I seek one Robin Hood, an outlaw, to whom I bring amnesty from the Queen. Can you tell me aught of him?" And while awaiting his answer, he replaced the kerchief in his shirt. As he did so, the gleam of a golden trophy caught the outlaw's eye.
Robin started forward with a joyful cry.
"Ah! I know you now! By the sight of yon golden arrow won at the Sheriff's tourney, you are she on whom I bestowed it, and none other than Maid Marian!"
"You—are—?" gasped Marian, for it was she; "not Robin!"
"Robin's self!" said he gaily; and forthwith, clad as he was in rags, and stained of face, he clasped the dainty page close to his breast, and she forsooth yielded right willingly.
"But Robin!" she exclaimed presently, "I knew you not, and was rude, and wounded you!"
"'Twas nothing," he replied laughingly, "so long as it brought me you."
But she made more ado over the sore wrist than Robin had received for all his former hurts put together. And she bound it with the little kerchief, and said, "Now 'twill get well!" and Robin was convinced she spoke the truth, for he never felt better in all his life. The whole woods seemed tinged with a roseate hue, since Marian had come again.