Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band

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Author: Louis Rhead  | Date: 1912

VI

ROBIN HOOD WINS THE GOLDEN ARROW

ON a fine morning a sennight after the merry feast in honor of Will Scarlet you might have seen a tall fellow dressed in ragged clothes striding through the forest toward the outlaws’ bower. As he came nigh the great oak he gave a call like the hoot of an owl. Some of the band heard him, and hooted in turn.

"’Tis the call," quoth one, "of our worthy spy- the honest servant of the Sheriff’s house, that hath news to tell of what goes on in Nottingham town."

Striding forth from the trees into the open glade came the ragged spy.

"What news hast thou, Tom o’ Clayton?" asked Robin.

"Brave news, good outlaw," quoth he, "for his worship the Sheriff hath hied him to London town with a troop of his retainers all dressed in gay attire and made complaint to King Henry and Queen Eleanor of the great scathe done his good name and chattels by one Robin Hood and his outlaw band."

"And what said the King?" asked Robin.

"The King was sore wroth, as I have heard tell. ’Why,’ quoth he, ’what wouldst thou that I should do? Art thou not sheriff for me? The law is in force, therefore do thou execute it as is thy bounden duty. Get thee gone and sweep the forest clear of all these thieving rogues, or, by my golden crown, thou art no sheriff for me.’ Then was the Sheriff sorely troubled and crestfallen, and he left the court with a fiery-red face amid the laughter of all the King’s attendants. And now he hath proclaimed a great shooting-match to be held in fair Nottingham town three days hence, with a prize of a cunningly wrought arrow with a golden head and shaft of white silver."

With that stepped forth a brave yeoman, young David of Doncaster. "Master," he said, "be ruled by me, and let us not stir from the greenwood. This same match is but a wile of the Sheriff’s to entrap thee. The shrewd old rogue thinks to get us all together in the town and so to take us unawares.

Quoth Robin: "Thy words do not please me, for they savor of cowardice. With bow and staff and good broadsword we may match the Sheriff and all his base churls. Natheless, good David, thou saist truly, ’tis a crafty plan- but we will meet guile with guile. Let us all disguise ourselves and be clad as common yeomen, tinkers and tanners, beggars and friars. If we scatter and mix in the crowd none shall know that outlaws be among them. But let each take care to have a stout coat of chain mail beneath his jerkin."

Then up spake brave Little John. "The plan I like full well. What say ye, my comrades?"

"With right good will," cried every one, right lustily.

"Then make ye ready, my merry men all," quoth Robin Hood. "I, with tattered scarlet coat and black patch over one eye, will shoot my best for this same golden arrow, and if I win we shall keep it in our bower as a trophy."

So on that bright sunshiny morning early, they made ready with shouts of laughter, for in such strange guise were they tricked out that scarce any man could name his neighbor. Some had dyed their beards, and all doffing their garb of Lincoln green had donned raiment that suited them full ill. Truly such a gathering of tall, lusty beggars, tinkers, friars, and men of all trades was ne’er before seen in Sherwood Forest.

The little birds caroled; the titlark and goldfinch, the green linnet and spotted thrush, sang from every bush and tree as the merry company started forth from their leafy bower with hearts all firm and stout, each resolving that, should he fall foul of the Sheriff’s men, he would clout their pates with right good will. Anon they left the forest in different places by threes and fours, that none might get an inkling of their purpose to be present at the butts. Every street and every little lane was dotted with a mixed crowd- mostly afoot, though here and there a knight rode by with his proud dame by his side or a haughty abbot astride his sleek cob, disdainful of the poorer folk that louted low as he passed. Many strangers could be seen with their bows slung at their sides, dust-covered and tired, who were on their way to this famed trial of skill. So Robin and his band mingled with the people that journeyed toward Nottingham.

The shooting range- or butts- lay outside the town on a level field of green turf, flanked on one side by sloping banks, where the poorer people sat on the grass. On the other side, shaded from the sun’s rays, were benches and a gallery set apart for the Sheriff, his wife, and other officers of the town. Here, too, sat barons and knights with ladies fair, dressed in state and decked in colors gay. The stands were trimmed in bright draperies, buntings, ribbons, and flags, and were guarded by men-at-arms with hauberks and spears. Heralds with trumpets stood ready to announce the beginning of the sports.

The field was crowded early, long before the great folk arrived, for you must know it had been noised abroad that the Sheriff had gathered together a large troop of the King’s foresters, besides his own men, that he might the better take Robin Hood and his fellow-outlaws. The beautiful and costly prize had brought many famous archers from neighboring counties. From Tutbury, Stoke, and Stafford came the well-known Ned o’ Tinkersclough, Simon of Hartshill, and Roger o’ Thistlebery- the latter a brawny blacksmith from Newcastle who had ne’er been vanquished. From Derbyshire came two stout archers named Ralph of Rowsley and Hugh o’ the Moors- both confident to bear away the prize. So everybody was on tiptoe awaiting what might betide. Some feared a battle, but many there were among the poor and lowly who hoped to see the Sheriff’s men soundly drubbed.

All the outlaws save Robin Hood scattered through the crowd and none knew them. The Sheriff, when he had taken his seat, signaled the herald to sound three blasts as a warning to the archers to be prepared, and then the rules were proclaimed, that every one might understand them. All was now ready, the silver horn again sounded three blasts, and the archers began to shoot. The Sheriff looked anxiously round about, peering from side to side, first at the archers and then at the crowd.

"Ah," quoth he, scratching his head, "I see none in Lincoln green, such as the outlaws are wont to wear. I weened he would have come, for it is little like Robin Hood to bide at home when there is fair sport toward. Nay, rather would he risk his head. Yet perchance he feareth."

Calling a trumpeter to him, he said, "Dost thou see Robin Hood among these archers?"

"Nay, truly I see him not, your worship. Those that foot the line are all well known to me. Moreover, the bold outlaw’s beard is golden as the setting sun, yet none here hath a beard save the ragged stranger in scarlet with but one eye- and his beard is dark brown."

"He durst not come, and is a cowardly knave," murmured the Sheriff.

Meanwhile, the ragged man in red stood up beside the crowd of archers without a fear and waited till most of the men had shot. The four targets surrounding the small one in the center were well covered and spotted with shafts, yet none had hit the inner circle. The great throng applauded, for such shooting was seldom seen. Already a goodly number had dropped out, leaving but five archers, Roger o’ Thistlebery, Hugh o’ the Moors, two strangers, and the ragged red one with the black eye. At the third round Roger planted his shaft but the breadth of a groat from the center.

"That shot can ne’er be mended," roared the Sheriff, rising from his seat. "The man from Stafford wins the prize unless yon ragged robin redbreast shall outdo him, which is scarce likely sithen he hath but one eye."

He of the black eye and red coat never looked toward the Sheriff.

"A fair shot, Roger," quoth he. "Hadst thou but allowed for the slight breeze thy shaft would have pinked the clout."

Hugh o’ the Moors came next, and he saw the wisdom of what the stranger had said. So, taking good heed of the wind, he let go the string with a twang, and his arrow pierced the very center. Thereat the people shouted and then fell silent of a sudden as the one-eyed archer took up his great bow and with seeming carelessness let fly his shaft. Then, gaping with open mouths and eyes, they saw Hugh’s arrow fall to the ground split to pieces, and the stranger’s shaft lodged right in its place.

"Red-coat wins; Red-coat hath the prize," they cried. Then, surging forward, they half dragged, half carried the winner in front of the Sheriff’s stand, where the fair ladies cheered and waved their ribbons.

"And now, brave archer," quoth the Sheriff, "here is the prize thou hast fairly won. Thine eye is true, and bearing bold. Where dost thou hail from, and what name dost thou go by?"

"From Locksley town I come, and Nat the Blinker am I called."

"Well, Nat, though thou canst only blink with one eye, thou art the best archer my two eyes have ever seen. Surely thou needest a better coat. If thou wilt serve me and enter my company, I will make thee captain, with good pay, enough to eat and drink, and a chance to capture that knavish thief, Robin Hood, who loved his hide too well to venture here this day. Come now, by Saint Hubert, is it a bargain?"

"Nay," quoth the man in scarlet. "No master will I serve."

"Then out upon thee, thou saucy fellow! Get thee gone ere my men whip thee from out the town. Thou art a fool or else thou art a knave. I have a mind to put thee in a dungeon cell to cool thy hot blood, and so would I do but that thou hast pleased me with thy shooting."

So the tattered stranger turned away and, mingling with the crowd, was seen no more.

The sun was setting behind the great oak in the forest glen, and the balmy evening air was tinged with the savory smell of roast venison and great steaming game pies that lay on the ground amid barrels and tankards of foaming nut-brown ale. Surrounding this great feast sat the merry band of outlaws, ready to begin carving with their sharp daggers, when a tattered stranger in scarlet appeared, bearing in his hand an object that all might see. Then a mighty shout was heard that echoed through the forest:

"Welcome and long life to our dear captain, brave Robin Hood that won the prize."

So Robin Hood brought the arrow of silver and gold to Sherwood Forest.

The feast was a jolly one. All had merry jests to tell of what they had done in the strange garb they wore, for they knew many that knew them not, and in sooth their own fathers would have passed them by. So with songs and jollity the joyous feast went on till the stars began to peep; and the outlaws, like the birds, went to roost before night’s mantle wrapped the leafy trees in darkness. But before they dispersed Robin said to Little John:

"I like not the Sheriff’s words, and fain would I have him know that it was Robin Hood to whom he gave the prize."

"Ah!" quoth Little John, "that would be sour mash to his crop, but how to do it passeth my wits. Yet hold, I have it." And for a time he spake earnestly with Robin Hood, who laughed aloud and clapped him upon the back.

On the morrow, as the Sheriff sat at his meal at the head of a long table of guests, he spake loud in praise of the shooting. "But sore grieved am I," quoth he, "that Robin Hood was not-" As that last word came from his lips an arrow came whizzing through the open window, landing right in the breast of a fat capon that lay on the table. The Sheriff and his guests started up in dismay at so strange a sight.

"What means this- a plot or treason?" roared the Sheriff.

Then in a calmer tone he bade an attendant get the shaft and bring it to him. As he took it up he saw a strip of bark wrapped around it, which he straightway tore off and unwound. Within was writing, and, with staring eyes, he read:

"It was Robin Hood that bore away the golden arrow."

Then the Sheriff dropped to his chair in a limp mass, crying:

"The crafty villain hath again covered me with shame and sorrow! What am I to do? What can I do? It was that black patch on his evil eye that deceived me. I felt in my bones none but that saucy knave would beard me so." Then, bringing down his fist with a bang upon the table and breaking the arrow to splinters, he cried, "By the bones of Saint Swithin, I will patch his other eye- yea, both eyes, that are much too keen for my peace. When I do catch him I will stretch his neck the length of a goose."

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Chicago: Louis Rhead, "VI," Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band Original Sources, accessed January 17, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3TDAQNDK258FV69.

MLA: Rhead, Louis. "VI." Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band, Original Sources. 17 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3TDAQNDK258FV69.

Harvard: Rhead, L, 'VI' in Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band. Original Sources, retrieved 17 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3TDAQNDK258FV69.