SHARING We encourage sharing--forward to a friend!
Chapter XVI: How Robin Hood Met Sir Richard of the Lea
Then answered him the gentle knight With words both fair and thee: "God save thee, my good Robin, And all thy company!"
Now you must know that some months passed by. The winter dragged its weary length through Sherwood Forest, and Robin Hood and his merry men found what cheer they could in the big crackling fires before their woodland cave. Friar Tuck had built him a little hermitage not far away, where he lived comfortably with his numerous dogs.
The winter, I say, reached an end at last, and the blessed spring came and went. Another summer passed on apace, and still neither King nor Sheriff nor Bishop could catch the outlaws, who, meanwhile, thrived and prospered mightily in their outlawry. The band had been increased from time to time by picked men such as Arthur-a-Bland and David of Doncaster—he who was the jolliest cobbler for miles around—until it now numbered a full sevenscore of men; seven companies each with its stout lieutenant serving under Robin Hood. And still they relieved the purses of the rich, and aided the poor, and feasted upon King's deer until the lank Sheriff of Nottingham was well-nigh distracted.
Indeed, that official would probable have lost his office entirely, had it not been for the fact of the King's death. Henry passed away, as all Kings will, in common with ordinary men, and Richard of the Lion Heart was proclaimed as his successor.
Then Robin and his men, after earnest debate, resolved to throw themselves upon the mercy of the new King, swear allegiance, and ask to be organized into Royal Foresters. So Will Scarlet and Will Stutely and Little John were sent to London with this message, which they were first to entrust privately to Maid Marian. But they soon returned with bad tidings. The new King had formerly set forth upon a crusade to the Holy Land, and Prince John, his brother, was impossible to deal with—being crafty, cruel and treacherous. He was laying his hands upon all the property which could easily be seized; among other estates, that of the Earl of Huntingdon, Robin's old enemy and Marian's father, who had lately died.
Marian herself was in sore straits. Not only had her estates been taken away, and the maid been deprived of the former protection of the Queen, but the evil Prince John had persecuted her with his attentions. He thought that since the maid was defenseless he could carry her away to one of his castles and none could gainsay him.
No word of this peril reached Robin's ears, although his men brought him word of the seizure of the Huntingdon lands. Nathless he was greatly alarmed for the safety of Maid Marian, and his heart cried out for her strongly. She had been continually in his thoughts ever since the memorable shooting at London town.
One morning in early autumn when the leaves were beginning to turn gold at the edges, the chestnut-pods to swell with promise of fatness, and the whole wide woodland was redolent with the ripe fragrance of fruit and flower, Robin was walking along the edge of a small open glade busy with his thoughts. The peace of the woods was upon him, despite his broodings of Marian and he paid little heed to a group of does quietly feeding among the trees at the far edge of the glade.
But presently this sylvan picture was rudely disturbed for him. A stag, wild and furious, dashed suddenly forth from among the trees, scattering the does in swift alarm. The vicious beast eyed the green-and-gold tunic of Robin, and, lowering it head, charged at him impetuously. So sudden was its attack that Robin had no time to bend his bow. He sprang behind a tree while he seized his weapon.
A moment later the wild stag crashed blindly into the tree-trunk with a shock which sent the beast reeling backward, while the dislodged leaves from the shivering tree fell in a small shower over Robin's head.
"By my halidom, I am glad it was not me you struck, my gentle friend!" quoth Robin, fixing an arrow upon the string. "Sorry indeed would be any one's plight who should encounter you in this black humor."
Scarcely had he spoken when he saw the stag veer about and fix its glances rigidly on the bushes to the left side of the glade. These were parted by a delicate hand, and through the opening appeared the slight figure of a page. It was Maid Marian, come back again to the greenwood!
She advanced, unconscious alike of Robin's horrified gaze and the evil fury of the stag.
She was directly in line with the animal, so Robin dared not launch an arrow. Her own bow was slung across her shoulder, and her small sword would be useless against the beast's charge. But now as she caught sight of the stag she pursed her lips as though she would whistle to it.