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Chapter XXIII: How Robin Hood and Maid Marian Were Wed (Cont'd)
"Only that I loved her, sire, and she loved me," said Allan, simply; "and the Norman lord would have married her perforce, because of her lands."
"Which have since been forfeited by the Bishop of Hereford," added Richard. "But my lord Bishop must disgorge them; and from tomorrow you and Mistress Dale are to return to them and live in peace and loyalty. And if ever I need your harp at Court, stand ready to attend me, and bring also the lady. Speaking of ladies," he continued, turning to Robin Hood, who had stood silent, wondering if a special punishment was being reserved for him, "did you not have a sweetheart who was once at Court—one, Mistress Marian? What has become of her, that you should have forgotten her?"
"Nay, Your Majesty," said the black-eyed page coming forward blushingly; "Robin has not forgotten me!"
"So!" said the King, bending to kiss her small hand in all gallantry. "Verily, as I have already thought within myself, this Master Hood is better served than the King in his palace! But are you not the only child of the late Earl of Huntingdon?"
"I am, sire, though there be some who say that Robin Hood's father was formerly the rightful Earl of Huntingdon. Nathless, neither he is advantaged nor I, for the estates are confiscate."
"Then they shall be restored forthwith!" cried the King; "and lest you two should revive the ancient quarrel over them, I bestow them upon you jointly. Come forward, Robin Hood."
Robin came and knelt before his king. Richard drew his sword and touched him upon the shoulder.
"Rise, Robin Fitzooth, Earl of Huntingdon!" he exclaimed, while a mighty cheer arose from the band and rent the air of the forest. "The first command I give you, my lord Earl," continued the King when quiet was restored, "is to marry Mistress Marian without delay."
"May I obey all Your Majesty's commands as willingly!" cried the new Earl of Huntingdon, drawing the old Earl's daughter close to him. "The ceremony shall take place to-morrow, an this maid is willing."
"She makes little protest," said the King; "so I shall e'en give away the bride myself!"
Then the King chatted with others of the foresters, and made himself as one of them for the evening, rejoicing that he could have this careless freedom of the woods. And Much, the miller's son, and Arthur-a-Bland, and Middle, and Stutely and Scarlet and Little John and others played at the quarter-staff, giving and getting many lusty blows. Then as the shades of night drew on, the whole company—knights and foresters—supped and drank around a blazing fire, while Allen sang sweetly to the thrumming of the harp, and the others joined in the chorus.
'Twas a happy, care-free night—this last one together under the greenwood tree. Robin could not help feeling an undertone of sadness that it was to be the last; for the charm of the woodland was still upon him. But he knew 'twas better so, and that the new life with Marian and in the service of his King would bring its own joys.
Then the night deepened, the fire sank, but was replenished and the company lay down to rest. The King, at his own request, spent the night in the open. Thus they slept—King and subject alike—out under the stars, cared for lovingly by Nature, kind mother of us all.