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Chapter XXII: How King Richard Came to Sherwood Forest (Cont'd)
At last came Robin's turn. He shot carefully, but as ill luck would have it the shaft was ill-feathered and swerved sidewise so that it missed the garland by full three fingers. Then a great roar went up from the whole company; for 'twas rare that they saw their leader miss his mark. Robin flung his bow upon the ground from very vexation.
"A murrain take it!" quoth he. "The arrow was sadly winged. I felt the poor feather upon it as it left my fingers!"
Then suddenly seizing his bow again, he sped three shafts as fast as he could sent them, and every one went clean through the garland.
"By Saint George!" muttered the knight. "Never before saw I such shooting in all Christendom!"
The band cheered heartily at these last shots; but Will Scarlet came up gravely to Robin.
"Pretty shooting, master!" quoth he, "but 'twill not save you from paying for the bad arrow. So walk up and take your medicine!"
"Nay, that may not be!" protested Robin. "The good friar belongs to my company and has no authority to lift hands against me. But you, Sir Knight, stand as it were for the King. I pray you, serve out my blow."
"Not so!" said Friar Tuck. "My son, you forget I stand for the church, which is greater even than the King."
"Not in merry England," said the knight in a deep voice. Then rising to his feet, he added, "I stand ready to serve you, Master Hood."
"Now out upon ye for an upstart knight!" cried Friar Tuck. "I told you last night, sirrah, that we should yet see who was the better man! So we will e'en prove it now, and thus settle who is to pay Robin Hood."
"Good!" said Robin, "for I want not to start a dispute between church and state."
"Good!" also said the knight. "'Tis an easy way to end prattling. Come, friar, strike and ye dare. I will give you first blow."
"You have the advantage of an iron pot on your head and gloves on your hands," said the friar; "but have at ye! Down you shall go, if you were Goliath of Gath."
Once more the priest's brawny arm flashed through the air, and struck with a "whoof!" But to the amazement of all, the knight did not budge from his tracks, though the upper half of his body swerved slightly to ease the force of the blow. A loud shout burst from the yeomen at this, for the friar's fist was proverbial, and few of those present had not felt the force of it in times past.
"Now 'tis my turn," said his antagonist coolly, casting aside his gauntlet. And with one blow of his fist the knight sent the friar spinning to the ground.
If there had been uproar and shouting before, it was as naught to the noise which now broke forth. Every fellow held his sides or rolled upon the ground from laughter; every fellow, save one, and that was Robin Hood.
"Out of the frying-pan into the fire!" thought he. "I wish I had let the friar box my ears, after all!"
Robin's plight did, indeed, seem a sorry one, before the steel muscles of his stranger. But he was saved from a tumble heels over head by an unlooked-for diversion. A horn winded in the glade, and a party of knights were seen approaching.
"To your arms!" cried Robin, hurriedly seizing his sword and bow.
"'Tis Sir Richard of the Lea!" cried another, as the troop came nearer.
And so it was. Sir Richard spurred forward his horse and dashed up to the camp while the outlaws stood at stiff attention. When he had come near the spot where the Black Knight stood, he dismounted and knelt before him.
"I trust Your Majesty has not needed our arms before," he said humbly.
"It is the King!" cried Will Scarlet, falling upon his knees.
"The King!" echoed Robin Hood after a moment of dumb wonderment; and he and all his men bent reverently upon their knees, as one man.