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Chapter XIII: How the Outlaws Shot in King Harry's Tourney (Cont'd)
Now some shouted for Stutely and some shouted for Elwyn; but Elwyn's total mark was declared the better. Whereupon the King turned to the Queen. "What say you now?" quoth he in some triumph. "Two out of the three first rounds have gone to my men. Your outlaws will have to shoot better than that in order to save your wager!"
The Queen smiled gently.
"Yea, my lord," she said. "But the twain who are left are able to do the shooting. You forget that I still have Little John and Robin Hood."
"And you forget, my lady, that I still have Tepus and Gilbert."
So each turned again to the lists and awaited the next rounds in silent eagerness. I ween that King Harry had never watched the invasion of an enemy with more anxiety than he now felt.
Tepus was chosen to go next and he fell into the same error with Will Scarlet. He held the string a moment too long, and both his first and second arrows came to grief. One of them, however, came within the black rim, and he followed it up by placing his third in the full center, just as Stutely had done in his last. These two centers were the fairest shots that had been made that day; and loud was the applause which greeted this second one. But the shouting was as nothing to the uproar which followed Little John's shooting. That good-natured giant seemed determined to outdo Tepus by a tiny margin in each separate shot; for the first and the second shafts grazed his rival's on the inner side, while for the third Little John did the old trick of the forest: he shot his own arrow in a graceful curve which descended from above upon Tepus's final center shaft with a glancing blow that drove the other out and left the outlaw's in its place.
The King could scarce believe his eyes. "By my halidom!" quoth he, "that fellow deserves either a dukedom or a hanging! He must be in league with Satan himself! Never saw I such shooting."
"The score is tied, my lord," said the Queen; "we have still to see Gilbert and Robin Hood."
Gilbert now took his stand and slowly shot his arrows, one after another, into the bull's-eye. 'Twas the best shooting he had yet done, but there was still the smallest of spaces left—if you looked closely—at the very center.
"Well done, Gilbert!" spoke up Robin Hood. "You are a foeman worthy of being shot against." He took his own place as he spoke. "Now if you had placed one of your shafts there"—loosing one of his own—"and another there"—out sped the second—"and another there"—the third was launched—"mayhap the King would have declared you the best bowman in all England!"
But the last part of his merry speech was drowned in the wild tumult of applause which followed his exploit. His first two shafts had packed themselves into the small space left at the bull's-eye; while his third had split down between them, taking half of each, and making all three appear from a distance, as one immense arrow.
Up rose the King in amazement and anger.
"Gilbert is not yet beaten!" he cried. "Did he not shoot within the mark thrice? And that is allowed a best in all the rules of archery."
Robin bowed low.
"As it please Your Majesty!" quoth he. "But may I be allowed to place the mark for the second shooting?"
The King waved his hand sullenly.. Thereupon Robin prepared another old trick of the greenwood, and got him a light, peeled willow wand which he set in the ground in place of the target.
"There, friend Gilbert," called he gaily; "belike you can hit that!"
"I can scarce see it from here," said Gilbert, "much less hit it. Nathless, for the King's honor, I will try."
But this final shot proved his undoing, and his shaft flew harmlessly by the thin white streak. Then came Robin to his stand again, and picked his arrow with exceeding care, and tried his string. Amid a breathless pause he drew the good yew bow back to his ear, glanced along the shaft, and let the feathered missile fly. Straight it sped, singing a keen note of triumph as it went. The willow wand was split in twain, as though it had met a hunter's knife.
"Verily, I think your bow is armed with witchcraft!" cried Gilbert. "For I did not believe such shooting possible."
"You should come to see our merry lads in the greenwood," retorted Robin lightly. "For willow wands do not grow upon the cobblestones of London town."
Meanwhile the King in great wrath had risen to depart, first signing the judges to distribute the prizes. Never a word said he, of good or ill, to the Queen, but mounted his horse and, followed by his sons and knights, rode off the field. The archers dropped upon one knee as he passed, but he gave them a single baleful look and was gone.