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Chapter XXII: How King Richard Came to Sherwood Forest (Cont'd)
In the morning Friar Tuck awoke disposed to be surly, but was speedily mollified by the sight of the Black Knight, who had already risen gay as a lark, washed his face and hands, and was now stirring a hot gruel over the fire.
"By my faith, I make a sorry host!" cried Tuck springing to his feet. And later as they sat at breakfast, he added, "I want not your gold, of which you spoke last night; but instead I will do what I can to speed you on your way whenever you wish to depart."
"Then tell me," said the knight, "how I may find Robin Hood the outlaw; for I have a message to him from the King. All day yesterday I sought him, but found him not."
Friar Tuck lifted up his hands in holy horror. "I am a lover of peace, Sir Knight, and do not consort with Robin's bold fellows."
"Nay, I think no harm of Master Hood," said the knight; "but much I yearn to have speed with him in mine own person."
"If that be all, mayhap I can guide you to his haunts," said Tuck, who foresaw in this knight a possible gold-bag for Robin. "In sooth, I could not well live in these woods without hearing somewhat of the outlaws; but matters of religion are my chief joy and occupation."
"I will go with you, brother," said the Black Knight.
So without more ado they went their way into the forest, the knight riding upon his charger, and Tuck pacing along demurely by his side.
The day had dawned clear and bright, and now with the sun a good three hours high a sweet autumn fragrance was in the air. The wind had just that touch of coolness in it which sets the hunter's blood to tingling; and every creature of nature seemed bounding with joyous life.
The knight sniffed the fresh air in delight.
"By my halidom!" quoth he; "but the good greenwood is the best place to live in, after all! What court or capital can equal this, for full-blooded men?"
"None of this earth," replied Tuck smilingly. And once more his heart warmed toward the courteous stranger.
They had not proceeded more than three or four miles along the way from Fountain Abbey to Barnesdale, when of a sudden the bushes just ahead of them parted and a well-knit man with curling brown hair stepped into the road and laid his hand upon the knight's bridle.
It was Robin Hood. He had seen Friar Tuck, a little way back, and shrewdly suspected his plan. Tuck, however, feigned not to know him at all.
"Hold!" cried Robin; "I am in charge of the highway this day, and must exact an accounting from all passersby."
"Who is it bids me hold?" asked the knight quietly. "I am not i' the habit of yielding to one man."
"Then here are others to keep me company," said Robin clapping his hands. And instantly a half-score other stalwart fellows came out of the bushes and stood beside him.
"We be yeomen of the forest, Sir Knight," continued Robin, "and live under the greenwood tree. We have no means of support—thanks to the tyranny of our over-lords—other than the aid which fat churchmen and goodly knights like yourselves can give. And as ye have churches and rents, both, and gold in great plenty, we beseech ye for Saint Charity to give us some of your spending."
"I am but a poor monk, good sir!" said Friar Tuck in a whining voice, "and am on my way to the shrine of Saint Dunstan, if your worshipfulness will permit."
"Tarry a space with us," answered Robin, biting back a smile, "and we will speed you on your way."
The Black Knight now spoke again. "But we are messengers of the King," quoth he; "His Majesty himself tarries near here and would have speech with Robin Hood."
"God save the King!" said Robin, doffing his cap loyally; "and all that wish him well! I am Robin Hood, but I say cursed be the man who denies our liege King's sovereignty!"
"Have a care!" said the knight, "or you shall curse yourself!"
"Nay, not so," replied Robin curtly; "the King has no more devoted subject than I. Nor have I despoiled aught of his save, mayhap, a few deer for my hunger. My chief war is against the clergy and barons of the land who bear down upon the poor. But I am glad," he continued, "that I have met you here; and before we end you shall be my friend and taste of our greenwood cheer."
"But what is the reckoning?" asked the knight. "For I am told that some of your feasts are costly."
"Nay," responded Robin waving his hands, "you are from the King. Nathless—how much money is in your purse?"
"I have no more than forty gold pieces, seeing that I have lain a fortnight at Nottingham with the King, and have spent some goodly amounts upon other lordings," replied the knight.
Robin took the forty pounds and gravely counted it. One half he gave to his men and bade them drink the King's health with it. The other half he handed back to the knight.
"Sir," said he courteously, "have this for your spending. If you lie with kings and lordings overmuch, you are like to need it."
"Gramercy!" replied the other smiling. "And now lead on to your greenwood hostelry."
So Robin went on the one side of the knight's steed, and Friar Tuck on the other, and the men went before and behind till they came to the open glade before the caves of Barnesdale. Then Robin drew forth his bugle and winded the three signal blasts of the band. Soon there came a company of yeomen with its leader, and another, and a third, and a fourth, till there were sevenscore yeomen in sight. All were dressed in new livery of Lincoln green, and carried new bows in their hands and bright short swords at their belts. And every man bent his knee to Robin Hood ere taking his place before the board, which was already set.