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Chapter XIX: How the Sheriff Held Another Shooting Match
"To tell the truth, I'm well informed Yon match it is a wile; The Sheriff, I know, devises this Us archers to beguile."
Now the Sheriff was so greatly troubled in heart over the growing power of Robin Hood, that he did a very foolish thing. He went to London town to lay his troubles before the King and get another force of troops to cope with the outlaws. King Richard was not yet returned from the Holy Land, but Prince John heard him with scorn.
"Pooh!" said he, shrugging his shoulders. "What have I to do with all this? Art thou not sheriff for me? The law is in force to take thy course of them that injure thee. Go, get thee gone, and by thyself devise some tricking game to trap these rebels; and never let me see thy face at court again until thou hast a better tale to tell."
So away went the Sheriff in sorrier pass than ever, and cudgeled his brain, on the way home, for some plan of action.
His daughter met him on his return and saw at once that he had been on a poor mission. She was minded to upbraid him when she learned what he had told the Prince. But the words of the latter started her to thinking afresh.
"I have it!" she exclaimed at length. "Why should we not hold another shooting-match? 'Tis Fair year, as you know, and another tourney will be expected. Now we will proclaim a general amnesty, as did King Harry himself, and say that the field is open and unmolested to all comers. Belike Robin Hood's men will be tempted to twang the bow, and then—"
"And then," said the Sheriff jumping up with alacrity, "we shall see on which side of the gate they stop over-night!"
So the Sheriff lost no time in proclaiming a tourney, to be held that same Fall at the Fair. It was open to all comers, said the proclamation, and none should be molested in their going and coming. Furthermore, an arrow with a golden head and shaft of silver-white should be given to the winner, who would be heralded abroad as the finest archer in all the North Countree. Also, many rich prizes were to be given to other clever archers.
These tidings came in due course to Robin Hood, under the greenwood tree, and fired his impetuous spirit.
"Come, prepare ye, my merry men all," quoth he, "and we'll go to the Fair and take some part in this sport."
With that stepped forth the merry cobbler, David of Doncaster.
"Master," quoth he, "be ruled by me and stir not from the greenwood. To tell the truth, I'm well informed yon match is naught but a trap. I know the Sheriff has devised it to beguile us archers into some treachery."
"That word savors of the coward," replied Robin, "and pleases me not. Let come what will, I'll try my skill at that same archery."
Then up spoke Little John and said: "Come, listen to me how it shall be that we will not be discovered."
"Our mantles all of Lincoln-green Behind us we will leave; We'll dress us all so several, They shall not us perceive."
"One shall wear white, another red, One yellow, another blue; Thus in disguise to the exercise We'll go, whate'er ensue."
This advice met with general favor from the adventurous fellows, and they lost no time in putting it into practice. Maid Marian and Mistress Dale, assisted by Friar Tuck, prepared some vari-colored costumes, and 'gainst the Fair day had fitted out the sevenscore men till you would never have taken them for other than villagers decked for the holiday.