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Chapter XII: How Maid Marian Came Back to Sherwood Forest; Also, How Robin Hood Came Before Queen Eleanor. (Cont'd)
But she, while happy also, was ill at ease; and Robin with a man's slow discernment at last saw that it was because of her boy's attire. He thought bluntly that there was naught to be ashamed of, yet smilingly handed her his tattered long cloak, which she blushingly put on, and forthwith recovered her spirits directly.
Then they began to talk of each other's varied fortunes, and of the many things which had parted them; and so much did they find to tell that the sun had begun to decline well into the afternoon before they realized how the hours sped.
"I am but a sorry host!" exclaimed Robin, springing to his feet. "I have not once invited you to my wild roof."
"And I am but a sorry page," replied Marian; "for I had clean forgot that I was Richard Partington, and really did bring you a message from Queen Eleanor!"
"Tell me on our way home, and there you shall be entrusted to Mistress Dale. While the first of my men we meet will I send back for your deer."
So she told him, as they walked back through the glade, how that the fame of his prowess had reached Queen Eleanor's ears, in London town. And the Queen had said, "Fain would I see this bold yeoman, and behold his skill at the long-bow." And the Queen had promised him amnesty if he and four of his archers would repair to London against the next tournament the week following, there to shoot against King Henry's picked men, of whom the King was right vain. All this Marian told in detail, and added:
"When I heard Her Majesty say she desired to see you, I asked leave to go in search of you, saying I had known you once. And the Queen was right glad, and bade me go, and sent this gold ring to you from off her finger, in token of her faith."
Then Robin took the ring and bowed his head and kissed it loyally. "By this token will I go to London town," quoth he, "and ere I part with the Queen's pledge, may the hand that bears it be stricken off at the wrist!" By this time they were come to the grove before the cave, and Robin presented Maid Marian to the band, who treated her with the greatest respect. Will Scarlet was especially delighted to greet again his old time friend, while Allan-a-Dale and his good wife bustled about to make her welcome in their tiny thatched cottage.
That evening after they had supped royally upon the very hart that Marian had slain, Allan sang sweet songs of Northern minstrelsy to the fair guest as she sat by Robin's side, the golden arrow gleaming in her dark hair. The others all joined in the chorus, from Will Scarlet's baritone to Friar Tuck's heavy bass. Even Little John essayed to sing, although looked at threateningly by Much the miller's son.
Then Robin bade Marian repeat her message from the Queen, which Marian did in a way befitting the dignity of her royal mistress. After which the yeomen gave three cheers for the Queen and three more for her page, and drank toasts to them both, rising to their feet.
"Ye have heard," quoth Robin standing forth, "how that Her Majesty—whom God preserve!—wishes but four men to go with me. Wherefore, I choose Little John and Will Stutely, my two lieutenants, Will Scarlet, my cousin, and Allan-a-Dale, my minstrel. Mistress Dale, also, can go with her husband and be company for the Queen's page. We will depart with early morning, decked in our finest. So stir ye, my lads! and see that not only your tunics are fresh, but your swords bright and your bows and arrows fit. For we must be a credit to the Queen as well as the good greenwood. You, Much, with Stout Will, Lester, and John, the widow's three sons, shall have command of the band while we are away; and Friar Tuck shall preside over the needs of your souls and stomachs."
The orders were received with shouts of approval, and toasts all around were drunk again in nut-brown ale, ere the company dispersed to rest after making ready for the journey.
The next morning was as fine a summer's day as ever you want to see, and the green leaves of the forest made a pleasing background for the gay picture of the yeomen setting forth. Says the old ballad—it was a seemly sight to see how Robin Hood himself had dressed, and all his yeomanry. He clothed his men in Lincoln green, and himself in scarlet red, with hats of black and feathers white to bravely deck each head. Nor were the two ladies behind-hand, I ween, at the bedecking.
Thus the chosen party of seven sallied forth being accompanied to the edge of the wood by the whole band, who gave them a merry parting and Godspeed!
The journey to London town was made without incident. The party proceeded boldly along the King's highroad, and no man met them who was disposed to say them nay. Besides, the good Queen's warrant and ring would have answered for them, as indeed it did at the gates of London. So on they sped and in due course came to the palace itself and awaited audience with the Queen.