Robin Hood (41 of 79)

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Robin Hood
by J. Walker Mcspadden
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Chapter XIII: How the Outlaws Shot in King Harry's Tourney

The King is into Finsbury Field
Marching in battle 'ray,
And after follows bold Robin Hood,
And all his yeomen gay.

The morning of the great archery contest dawned fair and bright, bringing with it a fever of impatience to every citizen of London town, from the proudest courtier to the lowest kitchen wench. Aye, and all the surrounding country was early awake, too, and began to wend their way to Finsbury Field, a fine broad stretch of practice ground near Moorfields. Around three sides of the Field were erected tier upon tier of seats, for the spectators, with the royal boxes and booths for the nobility and gentry in the center. Down along one end were pitched gaily colored tents for the different bands of King's archers. There were ten of these bands, each containing a score of men headed by a captain of great renown; so to-day there were ten of the pavilions, each bearing aloft the Royal Arms and vari-colored pennants which fluttered lightly in the fresh morning breeze.

Each captain's flag was of peculiar color and device. First came the royal purple streamer of Tepus, own bow-bearer to the King, and esteemed the finest archer in all the land. Then came the yellow of Clifton of Buckinghamshire; and the blue of Gilbert of the White Hand—he who was renowned in Nottinghamshire; and the green of Elwyn the Welshman; and the White of Robert of Cloudesdale; and, after them, five other captains of bands, each a man of proved prowess. As the Queen had said aforetime, the King was mightily proud of his archers, and now held this tourney to show their skill and, mayhap, to recruit their forces.

The uprising tiers of seats filled early, upon this summer morning, and the merry chatter of the people went abroad like the hum of bees in a hive. The royal party had not yet put in an appearance, nor were any of the King's archers visible. So the crowd was content to hide its impatience by laughing jibes passed from one section to another, and crying the colors of their favorite archers. In and out among the seats went hawkers, their arms laden with small pennants to correspond with the rival tents. Other vendors of pie and small cakes and cider also did a thrifty business, for so eager had some of the people been to get good seats, that they had rushed away from home without their breakfast.

Suddenly the gates at the far end, next the tents, opened wide, and a courier in scarlet and gold, mounted upon a white horse, rode in blowing lustily upon the trumpet at his lips; and behind him came six standard-bearers riding abreast. The populace arose with a mighty cheer. King Harry had entered the arena. He bestrode a fine white charger and was clad in a rich dark suit of slashed velvet with satin and gold facings. His hat bore a long curling ostrich plume of pure white and he doffed it graciously in answer to the shouts of the people. By his side rode Queen Eleanor, looking regal and charming in her long brocade riding-habit; while immediately behind them came Prince Richard and Prince John, each attired in knightly coats of mail and helmets. Lords and ladies of the realm followed; and finally, the ten companies of archers, whose progress round the field was greeted with hardly less applause than that given the King himself.

The King and Queen dismounted from their steeds, ascended the steps of the royal box, and seated themselves upon two thrones, decked with purple and gold trapping, upon a dais sheltered by striped canvas. In the booths at each side the members of the Court took their places; while comely pages ran hither and thither bearing the royal commands. 'Twas a lordly sight, I ween, this shifting of proud courtiers, flashing of jeweled fans, and commingling of bright colors with costly gems!

Now the herald arose to command peace, and soon the clear note of his bugle rose above the roar of the crowd and hushed it to silence. The tenscore archers ranged themselves in two long rows on each side of the lists—a gallant array—while their captains, as a special mark of favor, stood near the royal box.

"Come hither, Tepus," said the King to his bow-bearer. "Come, measure me out this line, how long our mark must be."

"What is the reward?" then asked the Queen.

"That will the herald presently proclaim," answered the King. "For first prize we have offered a purse containing twoscore golden pounds; for second, a purse containing twoscore silver pennies; and for third a silver bugle, inlaid with gold. Moreover, if the King's companies keep these prizes, the winning companies shall have, first, two tuns of Rhenish wine; second, two tuns of English beer; and, third, five of the fattest harts that run on Dallom Lea. Methinks that is a princely wager," added King Harry laughingly.

Up spake bold Clifton, secure in the King's favor. "Measure no marks for us, most sovereign liege," quoth he; "for such largess as that, we'll shoot at the sun and the moon."

"'Twill not be so far as that," said the King. "But get a line of good length, Tepus, and set up the targets at tenscore paces."

Forthwith, Tepus bowed low, and set up ten targets, each bearing the pennant of a different company, while the herald stood forth again and proclaimed the rules and prizes. The entries were open to all comers. Each man, also, of the King's archers should shoot three arrows at the target bearing the colors of his band, until the best bowman in each band should be chosen. These ten chosen archers should then enter a contest for an open target—three shots apiece—and here any other bowman whatsoever was asked to try his skill. The result at the open targets should decide the tourney.

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