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Chapter XXIII: How Robin Hood and Maid Marian Were Wed
"Stand up again," then said the King, "I'll thee thy pardon give; Stand up, my friend, who can contend, When I give leave to live?"
Then Robin Hood began a health To Marian, his only dear, And his yeomen all, both comely and tall, Did quickly bring up the rear.
"Your pardon, sire!" exclaimed Robin Hood. "Pardon, from your royal bounty, for these my men who stand ready to serve you all your days!"
Richard of the Lion Heart looked grimly about over the kneeling band.
"Is it as your leader says?" he asked.
"Aye, my lord King!" burst from sevenscore throats at once.
"We be not outlaws from choice alone," continued Robin; "but have been driven to outlawry through oppression. Grant us grace and royal protection, and we will forsake the greenwood and follow the King."
Richard's eyes sparkled as he looked from one to another of this stalwart band, and he thought within himself that here, indeed, was a royal bodyguard worth the while.
"Swear!" he said in his full rich voice; "swear that you, Robin Hood, and all your men from this day henceforth will serve the King!"
"We swear!" came once more the answering shout from the yeomen.
"Arise, then," said King Richard. "I give you all free pardon, and will speedily put your service to the test. For I love such archers as you have shown yourselves to be, and it were a sad pity to decree such men to death. England could not produce the like again, for many a day. But, in sooth, I cannot allow you to roam in the forest and shoot my deer; nor to take the law of the land into your own hands. Therefore, I now appoint you to be Royal Archers and mine own especial body-guard. There be one or two civil matters to settle with certain Norman noblemen, in which I crave your aid. Thereafter, the half of your number, as may later be determined, shall come back to these woodlands as Royal Foresters. Mayhap you will show as much zeal in protecting my preserves as you have formerly shown in hunting them. Where, now, is that outlaw known as Little John? Stand forth!"
"Here, sire," quoth the giant, doffing his cap.
"Good master Little John," said the King, looking him over approvingly. "Could your weak sinews stand the strain of an office in the shire? If so, you are this day Sheriff of Nottingham; and I trust you will make a better official than the man you relieve."
"I shall do my best, sire," said Little John, great astonishment and gladness in his heart.
"Master Scarlet, stand forth," said the King; and then addressing him: "I have heard somewhat of your tale," quoth he, "and that your father was the friend of my father. Now, therefore, accept the royal pardon and resume the care of your family estates; for your father must be growing old. And come you to London next Court day and we shall see if there be a knighthood vacant."
Likewise the King called for Will Stutely and made him Chief of the Royal Archers. Then he summoned Friar Tuck to draw near.
"I crave my King's pardon," said the priest, humbly enough; "for who am I to lift my hand against the Lord's anointed?"
"Nay, the Lord sent the smiter to thee without delay," returned Richard smiling; "and 'tis not for me to continue a quarrel between church and state. So what can I do for you in payment of last night's hospitality? Can I find some fat living where there are no wicked to chastise, and where the work is easy and comfortable?"
"Not so, my lord," replied Tuck. "I wish only for peace in this life. Mine is a simple nature and I care not for the fripperies and follies of court life. Give me a good meal and a cup of right brew, health, and enough for the day, and I ask no more."
Richard sighed. "You ask the greatest thing in the world, brother—contentment. It is not mine to give or to deny. But ask your God for it, an if belike he grant it, then ask it also in behalf of your King." He glanced around once more at the foresters. "Which one of you is Allan-a-Dale?" he asked; and Allan came forward. "So," said the King with sober face, "you are that errant minstrel who stole a bride at Plympton, despite her would-be groom and attending Bishop. I heard something of this in former days. Now what excuse have you to make?"