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Richard Carpenter's 'Robin of Sherwood' (1984)

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Richard Carpenter
Robin of Sherwood

A magical retelling of the legend of Robin Hood based on the new ITV series

[p.1] Puffin Books
Robin Hood must be destroyed, whispered the Baron. We are all agreed on that. Though perhaps for different reasons. He leant forward. I know he will come to me and I know he will come alone.
Ever since Robin Hood had fled as an outlaw into Sherwood Forest, he too had known that a confrontation with the vile Baron de Belleme was to come. The Baron was a man feared the length and breadth of the land for his cold-hearted cruelty and the demonic powers he used to keep his servants enslaved. Only one man could possibly ever break the Barons hold on England, and that man was Robin Hood, come to Sherwood to fulfill the ancient legend of Herne the Hunter, and to fight against the oppression of the weak, the sick and the poor.
As the Barons net tightens around Sherwood, Robin Hoods outlaws and their friends, Friar Tuck and Maid Marion, daily run the risk of capture, torture and death. Time after time, Robin and his men slip through the enemys grasping fingers, only to vanish again in the depths of the forest. But then the Baron plans the most horrifying trap of all...
The swashbuckling adventures of Englands most famous hero have been cleverly retold by Richard Carpenter, who is well-known for his previous successes both on television and in books, including Catweazle, The Ghosts of Motley Hall and Dick Turpin.




Another Robin Hood book when there are already so many seems to need a bit of an explanation. This version began life as a television script, and I owe a great deal to everyone who worked on the series for their creativity and help. In particular Id like to thank Paul Knight who produced it, Ian Sharp who directed it, and the splendid and enthusiastic cast who brought it all to life.
I didnt want to make it a history lesson but I have followed recent tradition and set the story in the reign of Richard I.
There is no magic in the original ballads and almost no reference to the popular idea of Robin fighting against oppression. But the story has been snowballing for over seven hundred years and has grown with each retelling. Thats what has kept it alive. I hope my version remains true to the spirit of Robin Hood while at the same time providing a few new ideas of my own.

In the days of the Lion spawned of the Devils Brood, the Hooded Man shall come to the forest. There he will meet Herne the Hunter, Lord of the Trees, and be his son and do his bidding. The Powers of Light and Darkness shall be strong within him. And the guilty shall tremble.




It was still several hours to cockcrow and the mist hung thickly over Loxley lake as the battle horses floated silently across it, with their riders standing guard beside them. There was blood on the battered shields.
The warriors faces were grim set and hawk-like in their helmets. They had their orders. The village and everyone in it were to be destroyed.
The rafts grounded against the reeds with a swishing sound. Mounting their horses the knights gave a savage cry and charged into the village.
Ailric, the Thane of Loxley, heard them and quickly took his little boy, Robin, from the bed. Wincing with the pain of his wound he carried the lad outside. At the far end of the village, the knighls were already setting fire to the huts and as the people ran into the street their swords flashed, cutting them down. Women and children screamed in terror. All were killed without mercy.
Ailric carried the child to his horse and set him on its back. With the boy gripping the rough mane he mounted up and galloped away from the pitiless massacre, galloped all the way to Matthews mill, looking anxiously back to see if the knights were following. Smoke from the burning village could be seen clearly from the mill and Matthew and his wife were watching it as Ailric rode up.
Swiftly he handed Robin down to them. Theyre burning Loxley, he panted. Hide the boy. Ill come for him by night. With a last tender look at his little son he turned his horse towards Rhiannons Wheel. The wind howled through the stunted bushes and moss-covered trees while the rain lashed down relentlessly. Ailrics cloak clung round him, and his wet hair hung lankly over his drawn face.

The ancient circle of stones so old that their meaning had been lost stood high over the forest of Sherwood. Rhiannons Wheel was a sacred place and Ailric had come there for a special purpose. But as he dismounted another man came from behind one of the giant stones and faced him with a naked sword. He was Robert de Rainault and he eyed the exhausted man with contempt.
Ive been expecting you, Ailric, he said harshly. Youve lost. The rebellions over. He paused and his eyes narrowed. Where is it? he demanded.
Ailric backed away drawing his sword; thunder rumbled across the sky.
Its here isnt it? de Rainault went on relentlessly. Youre the Guardian, arent you?
Ailric gave a despairing cry and rushed towards him. But a dozen arrows flashed across the circle and he crumpled slowly to the ground. As de Rainaults soldiers came from their hiding places among the stones, the knight knelt down beside the dying thane.
Ailric looked up at him and smiled.
He is coming, he whispered. The Hooded Man is coming!
When Ailric was dead de Rainault ripped the quiver of arrows from his back and emptied them onto the ground. Among them was one different from the rest. It was made of silver and its shaft, thicker than that of an ordinary arrow, was engraved with magical signs.
Robert de Rainaults hands caressed it greedily. He was the Guardian now.




The bow had gone.
Robin took his hand from the hole in the hollow oak. He knew Much had taken it no one else knew the hiding place. Much had gone into Sherwood to hunt deer. He was tired of the miserable diet of beans and rough bread they were forced to live on. The lad wanted meat.
Robin looked back through the trees to the watermill where his stepfather was lugging the heavy grain sacks through the door: then he turned and ran into the forest. He ran lightly and easily with fluent grace. Although barely an adult, his body was already hardened by years of labour in the open air. Life at the mill had given him a strong back and broad shoulders. It was a hard life but he had thrived on it.
He ran on deeper and deeper into the forest he knew so well, searching for the boy, hoping he found him before the foresters, or worse still, Guy of Gisburne and his men. To be caught carrying a bow was dangerous enough but to kill a deer would bring a terrible punishment.
It was spring in Sherwood. A fresh green seemed to burst from the branches. The great trees shimmered in the April sunlight, dappling the forest floor. The cycle of death and re-birth made whole areas into an impenetrable jungle where rolling skeletons of trees lay buried under a tangle of creepers and brambles. To most people, the forest was a place of evil, where demons called from the darkness and the howls of lost souls could be heard mingling with the cries of hunting owls.
Robin stopped running. Around him birds sang, and the wind moved through the trees with the sound of a distant sea. And then quite suddenly, in his minds eye, he saw Much standing over a stricken deer.
He gasped as if water had been suddenly thrown in his face; [p.10] then just as quickly the vision faded. Hed had many moments like this since childhood: they came unbidden and always took him by surprise. He had long ceased to be frightened by them but they always bewildered him. Once, when hed been chopping wood, a picture of his stepfather, trapped beneath sacks of corn had flashed into his head and sent him racing into the mill. A few minutes later and Matthew would have suffocated.
He ran on: then in a small clearing ahead of him, saw a deer with an arrow through its side. One of his arrows. There was no sign of Much but Robin knew that the terrified boy had seen him and was hiding in the undergrowth. Without a word he dived into the bushes and dragged him out.
Much was a thin-faced boy of sixteen with a mop of curly hair. He was slow witted and gentle. He stood silent while Robin took back his bow and quiver, wrenched out the arrow and slung the dead beast across his shoulders.
Hes mine! Much cried suddenly.
Yours? retorted Robin angrily. Nothing is yours! Not my bow or the Kings deer. His dark eyes looked anxiously into the forest.
He wont mind, said Much. Not one deer. Wouldnt miss it, would he? Hes got plenty, the King has. Anyway, Id tell him I was hungry. He smiled foolishly.
And hed tell you its better to be hungry and have both your hands, Robin replied grimly and began moving off.
Much trotted up to his shoulder. My hands? he asked.
And then theyd lop one off, said Robin, so youd remember what hed said.
He had to find somewhere to hide the deer quickly. There was a cave about a mile to the north. If they could reach it without being seen and wait there until dark they might stand a chance. But luck was against them and they were still some distance from the cave when they were seen by a party of soldiers led by Sir Guy of Gisburne.
Gisburne was Steward to Abbot Hugo, the Sheriff of Nottinghams brother. He was a young man, arrogant and hot tempered. He considered the native English to be hardly [p.11] human, and enjoyed hunting them whenever they were foolish enough to break the forest laws. Gisburne was ambitious and tenacious. Very few people liked him. Everyone knew he was determined to gain power and position, even if he had to elbow others out of his way. He was proud of his physical strength and his skilful horsemanship. Several times he had asked the Abbot if he might join a crusade and seek glory in the Holy Land, but Hugo always refused him. He needed his merciless gamekeeper.
Gisburne was pleased when he saw Robin and Much with the deer. It had been a boring day and here at last was the chance for some action. For a minute or two he watched the two poachers as they hurried along through the trees below him, then almost casually he turned his horse and galloped down the hillside with his men close behind him.
When Robin saw the horsemen, he shrugged the deer from his shoulders and with a warning shout to Much took to his heels. As Gisburne came crashing through the trees Robin threw away his bow and quiver. The young Steward could easily have overtaken the fugitives but he preferred to let them run until they were exhausted. Alter all, it gave his horse some exercise. At length, drenched with sweat and panting for breath, Robin and Much could run no further, and as they stumbled to a halt their pursuers surrounded them. Gisburne trotted forward and watched while his men dismounted and grabbed hold of the two youths.
Do you know who I am? Gisburne asked, with brisk cheerfulness.
Yes, gasped Robin, wiping the stinging sweat from his eyes.
Well? Gisburne demanded.
My Lord of Gisburne.
Good. Gisburne was pleased that he had been recognized. Who are you, serf?
Robin looked hard at his tormentor. Im not a serf Im a free man.
Gisburne leant forward in his saddle and hit him hard across the face. He did this quite calmly and without rancour.
If I say youre a serf youre a serf, he said. Now then. Whats your name serf!
Robin of Loxley.
Gisburne raised his eyebrows. You arent Robin of Loxley because Loxley doesnt exist.
For a moment Robin was back in the burning village that had once been his home, watching the mailed knights cutting down the screaming women as they ran blindly among the horses and the flashing swords.
I was born in Loxley, he said quietly.
Gisburne smiled but his eyes were cold. Then you had better forget it, hadnt you? he replied, patting his horse as it moved impatiently under him.
Now then, youve broken the law of venison. Do you know what that is, boy? Ill spell it out, shall I? No man shall carry a bow in the forest save a sworn forester. No man shall kill or hunt the Kings beasts. Dyou know the penalty?
Robin nodded.
Dont nod, said Gisburne irritably.
"Yes, my lord".
Yes, my lord.
Thats better.
Much moved forward. My lord it was me shot the deer, he said nervously. He grinned sheepishly. Much is my name, sir
Whats the matter with him? Gisburne demanded. Is he simple?
Hes the millers son, said Robin. His mother fostered me. Hes nothing to do with this he
Youll lose your tongue as well as your hand, Gisburne interrupted. Tie them up.
With his prisoners securely bound, Gisburne turned his horse and began slowly making his way back through the forest towards Nottingham Castle.

* * *
In the middle of a painted circle lit by flickering black candles, a naked giant struggled to free himself from chains [p.13] shackling him to the flagstones. His hair and beard were matted with filth, and his slack mouth was flecked with foam. His eyes stared blankly at the sinister and implacable figure of Simon de Belleme.
The Baron de Belleme was one of the most powerful men in England. He was also a magician and he worshipped the demon Azael. He believed Azael would give him power over the universe, power to destroy the balance of good and evil and make him immortal so that he could rule everlasting chaos with the Lords of Darkness. Many were the sacrifices he made to Azael in order to achieve this insane ambition. He had even killed his own wife, the Lady de Belleme. He feared the demon and would do anything to placate him.
But Simon also feared the prophecies of Gildas the Monk concerning the Hooded Man: so he had chained his naked slave in the Circle of Solomon hoping that Azael would speak through him.
The huge man shook and twisted in his chains as the demon possessed him. His limbs writhed and his eyes rolled up until only the whites were showing: his mouth fell open and a loathsome voice, cavernous and vile, spoke as if coming from the very depths of hell. Beware the Hooded One. Hernes Son will seek the Arrow. It is near it is near...
Simon threw himself to his knees. What must I do? he cried, his voice echoing around the cellars of Castle Belleme.
The giant shuddered; the power of the demon surged through him and it spoke again.
A sacrifice! A sacrifice! A young girl innocent spotless... The evil voice died away and the giant lay still. Azael kid gone.
Simon stood up. Would the demon ever be satisfied? When would he grant him the immortality he craved? Time was running out for Simon. A malignant disease was eating at his heart and in a few years it would kill him. He had to find a sacrifice.
There was a girl: the daughter of a crusader killed in the Holy Land. Since her fathers death she had become the Abbot Hugos ward. Now she lived in Nottingham Castle under the [p.14] protection of his brother, the Sheriff. She was the perfect sacrifice for Azael. Simon smiled cruelly to himself. Both the Sheriff and the Abbot were terrified of him. He would visit Nottingham and demand to see the girl. No one would dare to stand in his way. No one would prevent him from becoming immortal. No one.

* * *
Gisburne had reached Nottingham with his prisoners and had taken them down to the evil smelling pit which served as the castle dungeon.
A massive iron grille secured by two heavy bolts covered this pit, and Gisburne watched as his men opened it and hurled Robin and Much into the blackness.
They lay half stunned as the grille clanged shut and the bolts were slid home. Much sobbed with fear. Not locked in the dark! he moaned. Not the dark! The devils will come!
Robin put his arm around the boys shoulders to comfort him. Theres no devils here, he said gently.
There are, sobbed Much. I know there are.
A voice spoke from the darkness. The only devil is the one who captured you. Guy of Gisburne.
In the faint light filtering down from above, Robin could just see the figure of a man: his face was gaunt and his eyes glittered fiercely. Whats your name? he asked Robin.
Robin of Loxley.
Loxley! Theres no such place.
Robin nodded. Thats what they tell us; but nothings forgotten.
No. Nothing. The man stared at them for a moment and then turned away. My my wifes folk died at Loxley. I wish to God shed died with them.
Why do you say that? asked Robin quietly.
The man turned back to him, his face wet with tears. You said nothings forgotten. Sometimes I wish it wasnt true. Sometimes I wish I could forget. But I cant. I cant forget that cold November day and the road to Nottingham. And the soldiers. His voice shook and he paused to control his grief. They were drunk. Mercenaries. They took her from [p.15] me, and when theyd done they trampled her under the horses and they laughed. They laughed. I can still hear them.
He broke off, unable to continue his story. My name was Will Scathlock, he said finally. But its Scarlet now!
A second prisoner shambled out of the darkness. Im Tom the Fletcher, he muttered.
And Im Dickon of Barnsley, whispered another.
How long have you been here? Robin asked them.
Two months maybe, said Dickon, who was a tall, fair-haired lad; how do you tell?
Its longer than that, muttered Tom bitterly. He was also young, but shorter than Dickon, and bearded. All three were painfully thin.
And for why? Dickon asked harshly. For keeping goats in the forest! Cant do that can you? They might take food from the Kings deer.
Robin turned to Tom. What are you here for?
Poaching, Tom answered and made the gesture of chopping off one of his hands.
Scarlet bared his teeth like a wolf. I killed three of the swine who murdered my wife, he said bitterly. Im going to hang.
Robin looked up at the iron bars above them and watched the guard walk over them.
I know what youre thinking, whispered Scarlet. It cant be done.
But if they stood on each others shoulders, thought Robin, they could easily reach the grille. Could they pull the guard down and knock him unconscious? Then there were the bolts to think about. But how could they slide them open from below? The more he thought about it the more impossible it seemed.
He told the others his idea and they stared at him as if he is mad. Even if they managed to get out of the pit, they argued, how could they escape from the castle? The main gate was sure to be heavily guarded. There would be sentries everywhere. Besides, none of them knew the way out. It was likely they would lose themselves in the maze of passageways [p.16] and steps and be caught long before they found their way into the courtyard.
But even if we made it without raising the alarm even if we broke out of the castle what would happen to us then? asked Tom.
Wed be outlawed, Scarlet told him. Made wolfshead. Any man could hunt us. Even a serf.
So where would we go? asked Tom.
Wed starve, replied Dickon dolefully.
Not in Sherwood, said Robin. Theres parts of it no soldier will go near.
Theres parts of it no onell go near, muttered Dickon.
Thats why wed be safe. No one would follow. Not beyond Evil Mere.
Tom shuddered. Youd never get me to go there!
Theres dragons at Evil Mere, said Much fearfully.
Robin looked at the frightened faces around him and shook his head sadly.
So youd rather rot, would you? he said.
There was silence while each man thought this over, ashamed of their cowardice. Then Scarlet took Robins hand. Im with you, he said quietly, Ive nothing to lose.
Much smiled trustingly as he also held out his hand. Finally Tom and Dickon agreed to try. Huddled together in the filthy pit they began to plan the escape.




Robert de Rainault, High Sheriff of Nottingham, stood in the council chamber of the castle feeding dead mice to his favourite hawk and trying to ignore his brother, the Abbot, who was as usual arguing about land. Robert was clever, cold blooded and full of guile. He had bought his Sheriffship from King Richard but his real allegiance lay with the Lionhearts brother, Count John. There seemed little point in being loyal to a king whod spent only a few months of his ten-year reign in England. Secretly, Robert hoped that Richards kingship would be suddenly terminated by the sharp end of a Saracen lance. Then John would become King, and Roberts fortunes would rise.
He was a dapper little man, with eyes that bulged like those of a bulldog and his hands were small and delicate. He trusted no one but himself, and although Hugo was bellowing in his ear, Robert remained icily calm and fed his hawk another mouse.
By Christ, roared Hugo, I will not lose my fishpond!
You dont have to lose it, Robert answered urbanely. Just lower the water level.
Hugo, a big, red-faced, ox-like man, with several days stubble on his chin, pounded his fist on the council table, making the quill pens jump into the air.
Why should I? he thundered.
Because the meadow on the other bank has been flooded and its not Church land, explained the Sheriff patiently.
Hugo sank into a chair. God in Heaven, Robert were haggling over less than an acre.
Were not haggling. That land belongs to the King and Im telling you to drain it.
All right, Robert, all right, Ill drain it. On condition that you let me have more foresters.
What? For Church land? retorted the Sheriff. Dig into your own pocket, Hugo.
Hugo snorted with indignation. You see? There you go again! All one way with you, isnt it?
Ive enough problems of my own, said the Sheriff testily. I cant cope with yours as well. Its impossible.
Ill tell you whats impossible! snarled Hugo, wagging a gloved finger at his brother. Its impossible for Gisburne to keep Church land free of poachers.
Thats your problem, Hugo, Robert replied. Anyhow, he brought two of the villains in today. Gisburnes brains are in his backside. If they were in his head, hed round up every poacher in Sherwood.
Both brothers were on edge. A messenger from Baron Simon de Belleme announcing his visit had unsettled them, and the Sheriff kept glancing uneasily out of the window to see if their unwelcome guest was on his way. Neither of them wanted anything to do with the Baron, who had a most unsavoury reputation. His request more a demand to see Hugos ward, the Lady Marion, had filled them both with foreboding.

* * *
It was sunset when the black-clad figure of Simon de Belleme rode in under the grim gateway of Nottingham Castle. His giant slave walked before him bearing a massive staff. He was a wild and terrifying figure who stared straight ahead as if walking in his sleep. He seemed to be completely unaware of his surroundings, and, once in the council chamber, stood motionless behind the Barons chair.
The Sheriffs chaplain, a fat young monk called Brother Tuck, was sent to fetch the Lady Marion who was in the castle gardens busy repairing one of the dome-shaped straw skeps in which she kept her bees. Marion was seventeen, with long auburn hair and dark eyes. She was gentle, and intelligent, with a delightful sense of fun. Brother Tuck was devoted to her.
The Barons here, he stammered. He he wants to see you, little flower. Marion was frightened. The Barons cruelty was well known. It was rumoured he had killed his wife; now [p.19] it seemed he was seeking another. As Marion hurried to the council chamber with Tuck waddling beside her, she had her answer ready.
She bowed to Simon who admired her with hot and greedy eyes.
You are the daughter of Sir Richard at the Lee? he breathed softly. And since his death, the Abbot Hugos ward?
Yes, my lord Baron.
And now you live here under the protection of the Sheriff?
Yes, my lord Baron.
Simon looked at the de Rainault brothers and sneered. You are fortunate to have such devoted guardians. He shot her a piercing glance. Dont you find it dull here?
Marion could feel Simons eyes tugging at her will. She forced herself to look away from him. I am content, my lord Baron, she said finally.
Content. How tactful.
Simon paused and again his eyes sought hers. This time Marion was ready for him and looked down at her feet.
A year ago, Simon continued, the Lady de Belleme took her own life. I am not a man who welcomes loneliness. I want you to take her place.
Although Marion had been expecting this, her blood ran cold. She could see both the Sheriff and Abbot Hugo were terrified. It was obvious neither of them would help her. However, she already had a plan to thwart Belleme and, after a quick look to Brother Tuck who nodded his support, she spoke out boldly.
My lord Baron. I must speak plainly. I cant marry you. Before the end of the month I shall go to Kirklees Abbey and become a novice of the Order.
Simon was furious. Slowly he stood and stared venomously at Abbot Hugo. Is this your doing? he hissed.
My lord, stammered Hugo, you must understand that I
Marry her to God? cut in Simon. So that her lands come to the Church is that your plan?
Hugo looked confused. He had suggested Marion became [p.20] a nun for this very reason and his guilty face gave him away.
The time is coming when youll beg for my help both of you, breathed Simon, trembling with rage. Youll let me have her then, I promise you. Youll change your tune when the Hooded Man comes to the forest.
The Sheriff sat up, suddenly alerted by this remark. Hugo merely stared stupidly. He had no idea what Belleme was talking about. The Baron gathered his robes around him and prepared to leave. As he stalked to the door followed by his giant, he paused to admire the Sheriffs hawk. With a cruel smile he made a curious jabbing gesture, exhaling sharply. A fine bird, de Rainault, he whispered, and the next moment he had gone.
Marion broke the silence. May I leave now, my lords?
The brothers nodded abstractedly and Marion left the room followed by Brother Tuck.
Ill have him excommunicated, growled Hugo.
And hell have us murdered, replied the Sheriff coldly. Id be inclined to give him the girl, Hugo. Itll save a lot of bother.
But why should I lose four hundred acres?
The Sheriff laughed unpleasantly. You men of God are so damned acquisitive!
Bellemes possessed, said Hugo, pouring himself a goblet of wine.
Hes insane.
They say a demon took his soul while he was in the Holy Land.
Do they? mocked the Sheriff. Probably sunstroke.
He gets up to all kinds of nastiness. Devil worship. Hugo gulped the wine.
But which devil? asked the Sheriff. There are so many, arent there, Hugo? And only one God. You know, it hardly seems fair.
Hugo watched from the window as the Barons giant marched through the castle gateway into the gathering gloom, followed by his master. The Abbot shuddered. He had no intention of returning to St Marys after nightfall. It would [p.21] mean passing through Sherwood where the demons and devils lay in wait. With any luck they would seize Baron de Belleme and drag him down to hell. What had the villain meant by the Hooded Man?
Alone with Brother Tuck, who was busily polishing the altar plate in the castle chapel, Marion was also intrigued by the Barons strange remark.
The young monk folded his hands over his ample belly and did his best to explain. It was an old wives tale, he told her: the legend of Herne the Hunter, the ancient god of the woodlands whom the people called Lord of the Trees. Herne was thought to be waiting in Sherwood for the coming of the Hooded Man to be his son and do his bidding.
The Hooded Mans supposed to be some wretched fugitive, Tuck explained to the curious girl, who will lead the English and fight for freedom. Take from the rich and give to the poor. Its a dream, little flower, but it gives the people hope, and after all, what else have they got?

* * *
In the castle dungeon, Robin and the others waited to put their escape plan into action. The hours passed slowly and when they judged that it was around midnight, Scarlet let out a terrifying scream.
The guard knelt on the grille and peered down into the dullness.
Help me, for the love of God! sobbed Scarlet.
Robin had climbed on Dickons shoulders. Now, his hands snaked upwards through the grille, grabbed the kneeling guard by the neck and pulled him down hard against the iron bars. At the same time, Scarlet climbed on to Toms shoulders and grabbed the mans legs. But there was no need: he was already senseless.
Get his sword! gasped Robin.
Scarlet inched the mans sword from its scabbard until it lay on the grille. Then Robin slowly moved the sword across to the bolts, while beneath him Dickon strained to keep his feet. Sweat was pouring off him. I cant hold you much longer! he gasped.
Robin angled the sword until its point was against the bolt; then, using the hilt as a fulcrum, he struggled to open it.
Hurry! panted Dickon, shuddering with the effort to support Robin.
The bolt slid back.
Robin slowly pushed the sword across the bars to the second bolt. As he opened it, Dickon collapsed and Robin tumbled down on top of him.
They scrambled to their feet, and the five prisoners looked up at the inert body of the guard.
Weve got to roll him off, Robin whispered urgently. Well never lift that thing with him on it.
Now it was Dickons and Toms turn while Robin and Scarlet supported them. Pushing their hands through the bars, they rolled the guard on to the flagstones and then heaved the grille upwards until it fell open.
The prisoners listened anxiously, but no one had heard them.
They hauled each other from the pit and pushed in their jailer. With Robin leading the way they started up the narrow steps.
At the top of the steps an arch led to a deserted passageway. A distant bell tolled three. Robin nodded to the others and led the way. At the end of the passage a heavy door stood ajar. They crept up to it, flattening themselves against the wall, and Robin peered around into the room.
It was the guardroom of the castle. There were four soldiers, one busy sharpening his sword, another polishing his belt. The others sprawled on beds of straw.
On a signal from Robin the fugitives charged in and threw themselves on the startled men.
Robin, who still had the jailers sword, suddenly found himself facing a trained soldier. The man thrust at him and he parried with clumsy desperation until Scarlet smashed a stool over the mans head. Dickon, Tom and Much overpowered the others and stunned them on the flagstones. In the silence after the attack, the fugitives listened intently, expecting that at any moment more soldiers would burst in and overwhelm [p.23] them. But the walls were thick and no one outside the guardroom had heard them.
Another door led out to the main courtyard. Robin and the others looked across to the gatehouse where more soldiers stood on guard. Then, arming themselves, they crept silently across the courtyard and attacked. One of the soldiers ran to toll the alarm bell. Cutting and slashing, Robin and his companions fought doggedly. The ferocity of the onslaught drove the soldiers back but others, led by Gisburne still in his nightshirt raced out of the castle to help them. Scarlet killed two of the guards and hacked down a third and suddenly the way to freedom was clear. Robin rushed at Gisburne to give his friends time to escape. Scarlet called urgently to him. Go! shouted Robin, and as Scarlet and the others raced out through the gate the portcullis came crashing down.
Robin was trapped in the courtyard and he knew he couldnt hold off Gisburne. So he hurled his sword straight at him and ran across to an open door. He slammed it behind him, bolted it and sprinted down a passage to where he could see steps spiralling upwards into the darkness.
By now the whole castle was in a turmoil. The clanging bell mingled with the cries of his pursuers. When he reached the top of the steps Robin heard someone coming so he slipped inside a door and waited, panting for breath.
Gods blood, Gisburne, whats happening? roared Abbot Hugo as he thundered past. Robin listened as the booming voice died away in the distance and then realized he was not alone in the room. A girl sat crouched on a bed clutching the covers to her and staring at him with wide open eyes.
Dont cry out! Robin whispered swiftly. The girl it was Marion shook her head.
I wont hurt you, said Robin gently.
There was a sound of running feet outside in the passage; then came a loud banging on the door.
My lady? called Guy of Gisburne.
Robins eyes held Marions pleadingly.
What is it? she asked calmly.
Prisoners have escaped, my lady. Lock this door!
After a moment, Robin slid the bolts still keeping his eyes on Marion.
Outside the bedroom, Gisburne gave a nod and moved away.
Robin waited until Gisburne had gone and then ran quickly to the window. It was in the outer wall of the castle and, although it was narrow, he would be able to squeeze through it and jump to the ground some fifteen feet below. He turned to the girl.
Why didnt you call out? he asked Marion gently.
Because Gisburne would have killed you, replied Marion looking at the ragged young man.
Youre not afraid of me? said Robin coming nearer.
Marion shook her head.
He looked at her. She was like a being from another world. Who are you? he whispered.
My name is Marion.
Marion, repeated Robin slowly, never taking his eyes off her.
There was silence between them for a moment. Finally Marion spoke: Where will you go?
Her eyes widened. Theyll hunt you!
Robin grinned. Yes, but they wont catch me!
How can you be sure?
Because I know the forest and they dont.
Even at night?
Yes. Even at night.
Again there was silence as if there was no need for words. An owl hooted outside the window. A faint glow appeared in the sky. It would soon be dawn.
You are like a May morning, whispered Robin. Very gently, he took her hand and kissed it. Then he went swiftly to the window where he pulled his hood over his head. Marion stared, remembering Tucks story of the Hooded Man. Then, with a last look at her, Robin leaped from the window and was gone.

* * *
In the crypt of Castle Belleme Simon scattered rune sticks on his sacrificial altar. Their pattern was unmistakable, and he looked up to where his drugged giant stood waiting.
He has come to the forest, breathed Simon. You must find him. He must die!




In the grey half-light of early dawn Robin made for Evil Mere. He wondered if Scarlet and the others had reached it. Perhaps, like so many who ventured into the forest, they were still wandering in circles.
He had never been afraid of Sherwood. He had spent most of his life there.
Since the time of the Conquest it had belonged to the King and the hard-headed, cruel men from Normandy who had made England part of their empire. Robin believed that a forest could never belong to anyone. It was a place of freedom, a wild and mysterious place that had grown from the heart of England; if anyone had a right to be there and to hunt there it was the people of England.
Thick mists swirled round him as he came to a marsh. Dead trees, half submerged, seemed to claw at him from the shadows. He smiled grimly. These were the dragons that men spoke of so fearfully.
He was wading cautiously forward when a strange bluish light appeared ahead. He could hear weird singing, high-pitched and faint as if coming from a great distance, and also the sound of many bells. He stopped in wonder and the light also slopped. It seemed to be waiting for him. Then it moved on a little way and, with his heart thumping against his ribs, Robin followed it.
The pale light hovered over the marsh like a luminous cloud. It crested the rising ground and passed in among the trees. Without warning, it enveloped him in a dazzling brilliance. He was aware of many voices whispering and calling to him from the heart of the light. And then, quite suddenly, it was gone.
It took him some time to get used to the darkness of the [p.27] forest again. He was sure the light had led him there for a purpose and so he waited patiently while the birds began to sing to the coming dawn.
Then over the brow of a hill he saw the antlers of an approaching stag. But it was not a stag. The horns grew from the head of a human figure who came towards him over the hill and then stood motionless. Plucking up his courage, Robin walked slowly towards the strange apparition. Two snakes were curled round his shoulders, and he was bearded and wild eyed.
Hooded he will come. Wolfshead. Outlaw, muttered the horned figure almost to himself. Robin stepped back in alarm.
Do you fear me, boy? the strange being continued. I am your destiny. I am Herne. Herne the Hunter.
Why should I fear you? replied Robin, mastering his fear. Youre a man!
The burning eyes bored into his. I tell you I am Herne. And I shall notch you to my bowstring when the Wild Hunt begins.
Youre mad! gasped Robin.
But he found he could not move. Something held him transfixed. Herne moved closer.
Mad? he whispered. Yes, mad as a cheated hawk. You cant escape. The blinded, the maimed, the men locked in the stinking dark, all wait for you. Children with swollen bellies crouching in ditches wait. The poor, the dispossessed. All are waiting. You are their hope.
Hernes fingers clutched at Robins ragged shoulders and he struggled to tear himself free.
Look at me! commanded Herne fiercely. Try as he might, Robin could not avoid the powerful eyes. They seemed to grow larger until they merged and became a black and bottomless lake into which he was falling. Then the lake melted away and a jumble of images appeared before him. He saw a monk, his face covered with blood. A willow wand split by an arrow. A parchment covered with strange symbols, whipped out of his hand by a gust of wind. An evil-faced man in black robes [p.28] offered him a knife. He saw Marion screaming with fear. A wild-haired giant barred his way across a stream...
Then suddenly he was back in the forest standing before Herne.
So must it be! muttered the old man. You cannot escape. So must it be, Robin i the Hood.
Robin turned and ran, with Hernes voice echoing after him. The trees flashed past and brambles tore his legs. He ran in a panic from something he did not understand. Herne the Hunter was a forest god, not a crazy old man! He ran until he could run no further. At last, sobbing for breath he flung himself down and lay like a hunted animal until it was full daylight in the forest.
Then, wearily, he stumbled on, hoping to find his friends. He cut himself a rough staff for protection in case he was seen by one of the foresters. He was an outlaw now and could be killed by anyone. He reached a stream. The trunk of a fallen tree lay across it, making a primitive bridge. As he jumped on it Simon de Bellemes giant appeared on the far bank to bar his way.
It was the giant of his vision.
The huge man advanced along the fallen tree, brandishing his staff. He snarled and tried to brain Robin with a lightning blow. Robin swayed back and the staff missed him by a fraction. He parried another savage stroke which almost knocked him into the stream. The giant came on remorselessly and Robin ducked and twisted as he backed away. He fought desperately but finally a sweeping blow sent him crashing to the water. The giant leapt in after him thrusting his staff at his head. He dived out of range and reached the bank, but as he did so he lost hold of his staff. He staggered out and looked round for something to use as a weapon. Behind him the giant hauled himself from the water. Robin turned and kicked him full in the chest but he merely grunted and came on.
A heavy branch lay nearby and Robin heaved it at the giant. It caught him on the forehead and with a groan the huge man crashed backwards and lay still.
Robin stood over him breathing hard. There was a five-pointed star a pentacle painted in red on the mans chest. Round his neck hung a little leather bag. Robin opened it and unrolled the scrap of parchment he found inside. It was the parchment of his vision! He stared uncomprehendingly at the magical signs, and then it was snatched from his fingers and blown away by the wind.
Robin took water from the stream with the mans hunting horn and washed the pentacle from his chest.
Immediately the brutal features softened and the slack mouth grew firm. The giants eyes opened, their savage expression replaced by bewilderment. Slowly he sat up and looked intently at Robin. Where am I? he asked.
In Sherwood, said Robin.
The giant felt his head where blood dripped from the gash. Sherwood? he repeated.
Robin nodded. You were bewitched. The giant struggled to remember. Belleme! he said finally. The Baron de Belleme. His men captured me. I remember now. They took me to him. Yes and there was smoke thick smoke and voices muttering. And blood...
He clasped Robins hand firmly. You set me free, he said simply. I owe you my life.
He staggered to his feet still dazed from the blow, waded into the stream and began to wash himself.
Robin squatted on the bank and watched him with amusement. Whats your name? he asked.
John Little. Im from Hathersage.
Robin laughed. Little John more like!
Little John, smiled the giant, rubbing himself vigorously. I like that. He smiled at Robin. And who might you be?
But before Robin could reply a foot pushed him in the back, and sent him headfirst into the stream.
Robin of Loxley! laughed Will Scarlet.
Robin spluttered to the surface. Standing on the bank were Will, Dickon and Tom.
Much was not with them. He had run home to the mill [p.30] to tell his father of their capture and escape. Matthew knew he would have to hide his son from Gisburne and his men. They were certain to come looking for him. He resolved that the boy should remain free.




It was night in the forest. In a small hollow Robin and the others roasted a wild boar. They knew no one would follow them into Sherwood until daylight, so they sat warming themselves by the fire which they felt protected them. From time to time Dickon basted the roasting meat. Robin sat a little apart from the rest, but he watched and listened to everything.
Youd make a good cook, Dickon, grunted Little John.
Dickon grinned. Its royal meat, aint it?
Sleep through the day, Scarlet muttered to Tom. Travel at night thats the way.
Where will you go? asked Tom.
North, Scarlet replied. To York. Maybe further. What about you?
Lincolnshire. Theres always work for a fletcher. Dickons coming with me.
Dickon nodded and tested the meat with a pointed stick. Aye, he said. Work hard and keep your head down. Stay away from trouble. If you do as youre told, theyll leave you alone.
Do as youre told, thought Robin bitterly. What right have they to tell us anything? He could feel anger growing inside him. The rulers of England had meat in plenty. Pork, mutton and beef were Norman words. He remembered the deer that Much had killed. It had changed their lives forever.
Something made him turn from the fire and look into the darkness. He stiffened. The antlered figure of Herne stood among the trees. One snake-wreathed arm held a fiery torch while the other beckoned to him. The strange figure seemed to glow, giving him a ghostly and unearthly look.
When the others saw Herne they crouched down close to the fire. But Robin stood up and walked towards him.
No! Little John called in fear. Its a spirit!
When Robin reached him, Herne took a knife from his belt and pressed the blade gently against the young mans forehead. Robin did not flinch.
Good, muttered Herne. All paths meet.
The Lord of the Trees led the way through Sherwood until he reached a waterfall at the end of a narrow gorge. Here he doused his torch, passed through the curtain of falling water and disappeared.
Robin followed without hesitation. It was pitch black behind the waterfall but a bony hand seized his wrist and led him down a tunnel in the rock. A faint light glowed ahead where Herne had placed rush candles to guide his way. They stumbled on, deeper into the earth. The tunnel walls glistened with water which dripped from the roof. At length the tunnel widened out and Robin saw he was in a great cavern. Spears of rock hung down from above while others seemed to grow from the floor. Some had joined to form massive pillars. Torches wedged between cracks in the rock revealed the dark waters of an underground lake stretching away into the darkness.
There was a raft at the edge of this lake and, taking one of the torches, the old man boarded it. Robin untied it from its mooring and poled it across the still water to a rocky promontory where a fire was burning.
All this time Herne had not spoken a single word. But as they stepped from the raft Robin could bear his silence no longer. Who are you? he asked.
Herne looked at him with kindly eyes. I told you.
Youre no god.
Herne smiled. We can all be gods. All of us.
This enigmatic answer made Robin all the more impatient. What do you want from me? he demanded.
Hernes eyes flashed with sudden fire. Your life! he said vehemently. Your strength!
Robin stared at the wild figure before him.
The powers of light and darkness have always been with you, Herne went on, but you denied them.
Who are you?
When the Horned One possesses me, I am Herne.
There was a pause. Herne waited patiently, never taking his eyes from Robin.
What must I do? asked Robin finally.
What your fate asks of you. The time is near.
Robin was exasperated. Nothing Herne said made any sense to him. The time? What time? he demanded.
Herne smiled. As thy will so must it be.
He led Robin to a stone slab carved with interlacing spirals. A sword in a plain leather sheath lay on it and next to the sword was a quiver of arrows and a great bow, longer than any Robin had ever seen.
They have waited too long, breathed Herne. Take up the sword!
But I
Take it!
The voice cracked like a whip and Robin obeyed quickly. Unsheathing the sword he could see its blade was engraved with curious signs the ancient letters of magic.
It is Albion, whispered Herne reverently. One of the Seven Swords of Wayland the Smith. Charged by him with the powers of light and darkness.
Robin sheathed the sword and buckled it round his waist while Herne nodded his approval.
Now, he ordered, string the bow! Robin strained to bend it, at the same time bringing the bow string up to its notch. His arms shook with the effort but at last the great bow was ready. He plucked at the string and a curious humming sound echoed round the cavern.

* * *
It was early morning when Robin returned to his companions who were still sleeping beside the smouldering ashes of the fire. The same strange power that gave him glimpses of the future had led him there.
Up! he commanded loudly.
Their eyes opened and they leaped to their feet in confusion. When they saw who it was, they were amazed.
Robin of Loxley! cried Will Scarlet.
No, not Loxley! countered Robin swiftly. Robin i the Hood.
Robin i the Hood? repeated Little John. Have you been bewitched too?
Robin shook his head. No, not bewitched. Awakened. Chosen by Herne the Hunter to be his son.
The others looked uneasily at each other. Had the Lord of the Trees driven him mad?
You were sleeping, he continued. Youve slept too long we all have. Its time we woke. Time we stopped running. He looked grimly at them. Nobody ran at Hastings.
No, said Tom bitterly. They stood and died by the thousand.
But they died fighting.
Scarlet gave a short laugh. Thats an old battle to bring up, he said harshly. Over a hundred years ago.
Robins eyes blazed. And whats happened to the English since then? Where are they? Stay away from trouble. Do as youre told and theyll leave you alone. Is that the spirit of England? Youve all seen it happen. Villages destroyed so our lords and masters can hunt unhindered. The people bled white to pay for foreign wars. No voice no justice no England. Robin paused, shaken by his outburst and looked at his companions who were staring at him open mouthed. Its time to fight back.
You are bewitched, said Little John.
Am I? retorted Robin. This forest can be our castle. No army could ever take it.
Hes right there, Dickon confirmed. Its twenty miles wide
And full of deer, Robin continued. There are lakes and streams with plenty of fish. Theres fruit and berries everything we need. And what the forest cant give us, well take from the Normans with these.
He held up the great bow, while the rest of them looked at it in wonder.
Must be nearly six foot long, said Tom.
You couldnt shoot a thing like that, laughed Little John.
Even if you could, joined in Will Scarlet, youd never hit anything.
Slowly Robin took an arrow from the quiver on his back and notched it to the bowstring. Dickon whistled with amazement. Look at the length of them arrows!
Robins keen eyes searched for a distant target. Nearly a quarter of a mile away, a great oak tree stood on the crest of a small hill dwarfing the surrounding trees. Robin pointed towards it.
No youre not bewitched youre crazy, said Little John, his huge shoulders shaking with laughter.
Robin took careful aim and slowly drew the bow until the grey goose feathers of the arrow touched his cheek. For a moment he held the bow at full tension and then let fly. The arrow hummed away with tremendous power. After a moment his friends began running towards the distant hill.
Dickon was the first to reach the oak. The arrow was embedded in the trunk.
Crazy, is he? he said as Little John, followed by Scarlet and Tom, came running up.
By Saint Thomas! gasped Little John. What a shot!
It took quite an effort to pull out the arrow. It had hit the tree with considerable force. They all turned to look at the distant figure of Robin waving to them.
If King Harolds men had used bows like that on Hastings hill, said Scarlet, wed still be free.




In the courtyard of Nottingham Castle, barely three weeks after the escape of the prisoners, for which the wretched jailer was given fifty lashes, an escort of soldiers led by Guy of Gisburne prepared to leave for Kirklees Abbey with the Lady Marion. She was thankful to say goodbye to the Sheriff and to Abbot Hugo. She trusted neither of them to protect her from Simon de Belleme.
The Abbot pronounced a blessing. Then Marion turned to where Brother Tuck was standing. She could see he was near to tears.
Look after my bees, Brother Tuck, she said gently.
The fat monk nodded sadly. I will, Lady Marion, he said.
The Sheriff called Gisburne over and told him that on his way to Kirklees he should stop at the mill to question Robins stepfather. Gisburne nodded and signalled the party to move off. Marion looked back and waved to Brother Tuck. He had been a good friend to her, the only one shed had in Nottingham. She wondered sadly if she would ever see him again.
It was a long ride to Kirklees and Gisburne was a boring companion. All he talked about was his horses and the tournaments in which hed fought, with a blow-by-blow account of every combat. In the end she let him drone on, and nodded from time to time to give him the impression she was still listening.
Her thoughts went back to the ragged young fugitive. She wondered where he was now and if he had met up with the others. She could still see him pulling the hood over his tousled hair and leaping from her window...
It was noon when they reached the mill. Matthew saw them coming and made Much hide in the trees where he watched in terror as Gisburne questioned his father.
Matthew said hed seen none of the fugitives and though Gisburne threatened him he refused to say any more.
The Steward drew his sword. I dont like liars especially Saxon liars, he said angrily. Where are they?
Where youll never find them! replied Matthew bravely.
With a cry of anger Gisburne cut him down.
Marion buried her face in her hands whilst Gisburne sheathed his bloody sword. He was quite calm. The man had defied him and he believed he was quite justified in killing him. He ordered the soldiers to burn the mill to the ground.
The men-at-arms took embers from the fire and hurled them on to the thatched roof. In a moment the building was a mass of flames. Gisburne turned his horse, took hold of Marions bridle and led her away from the burning mill while the soldiers formed up behind them.
Much still couldnt believe his father was dead. He watched the party move off and then left his hiding place and crept over to Matthews body. He knelt beside it, feeling sick and empty, and alone. A wave of grief washed over him and his body shook as he wept uncontrollably.
An hour later he rose and stumbled blindly into the forest where he was found wandering aimlessly by Robin and the others.
Hes with the saints, isnt he Robin? sobbed Much, throwing himself into his stepbrothers arms, weeping and shuddering with shock. Hes with the saints with the saints.
Robin already knew Matthew was dead. At the moment that Gisburne had killed him, the scene had flashed before his eyes. He held Much close to him while the boy fought for words.
It was Gisburne, he sobbed. I watched I saw it I saw it. Kill! Kill! Kill!
Little John, Scarlet and the others stood silent while Robin tried to calm the boy.
He was your father too wasnt he? whispered Much. He was your father too!
Robin fought to control his grief and anger. Silently he swore vengeance against Gisburne. He remembered his own [p.38] father, and how, wounded and despairing, he had left him with Matthew and ridden off into the rain never to return. Now was the time for vengeance. Herne had chosen him and he had accepted his destiny.
The outlaws moved swiftly through Sherwood to a point ahead of Gisburne and his men where they prepared their ambush. All of them had longbows and had learnt how to use them. Gisburne and his men were going to be the first to experience the power of these bows.
Robin made his companions cover their rags with leaves so that when they crouched in the undergrowth they would be invisible. This was to be a new kind of battle and he did not want Gisburne to know that only a few men opposed him. The attack would take the arrogant young knight completely by surprise. Outlaws were supposed to run when Gisburne rode through Sherwood; he would not be expecting them to fight back.
Will Scarlet told Robin he had once been a soldier. His master had forced him to fight. Half the time he hadnt even known who the enemy was. Hed learnt that in a battle the greatest danger was being trampled to death by your own side.
Ive never killed a man, said Robin quietly.
I know. Scarlet patted him on the back. Hells full, he grinned. Theres no room for us.
A whistle from Tom, who had been posted as look-out, told them that Gisburne and his party were getting near. The outlaws took up their positions and waited for Robins signal. The first soldiers appeared below them and each man singled out a target, but as Robin prepared to shoot, he saw Marion and lowered his bow. Little John looked at him in surprise.
I know the girl, whispered Robin. Weve got to get her away from them before we attack.
Gisburnes path lay through large trees with dense undergrowth and rising ground each side. His men marched stolidly onwards whilst he rode in silence. Marion could not bear to look at him. She was revolted by the cruelty she had seen at the mill.
Suddenly Gisburne reined his horse and gave the order to halt.
Lying on the path, its point towards them, was a naked sword.
Gisburne told one of the men-at-arms to fetch it, but when the soldier bent down the sword slithered away from him and he jumped back in fear. Its bewitched, my Lord! he cried.
Gisburne dismounted and walked towards it. Again it moved away. The soldiers watched fascinated, all crowding forward and staring in amazement. Gisburne ran forward and put his foot on the moving sword. When he picked it up he could see pack thread had been tied to its pommel which led away into the undergrowth.
So its bewitched, is it? he sneered.
Led by Gisburne the soldiers charged into the bushes but there was no sign of the trickster anywhere.
But when Gisburne ran back to the path there was no sign of Marion either. He called furiously to his men who came lumbering back. Gisburne was sweating. He had to find Marion. Rapidly he ordered his men to search in different directions, leading some of them on towards Kirklees.
Moments later the path was empty. Ropes dropped from several of the trees nearby and Robin and his friends slid down them. Marion, who had been hauled up into the leafy branches by Little John was now lowered gently to the ground. Everything had happened so quickly that her mind was in a whirl. Here was her hooded man again standing before her with a welcoming smile. With green leaves mingling with his rags he seemed like Hernes Son indeed a spirit of the woodland. Gently he told her to go with Much to the secret camp. He would return he said, but first he had to settle matters with Guy of Gisburne. Before she could answer, he melted away into the forest with his friends.
Unhampered by armour they moved swiftly and silently, stopping every now and then to listen for the soldiers. Unwittingly, Gisburne had made things easier for them by splitting up his men.
The first clash came when Tom Fletcher saw four [p.40] men-at-arms skirting a forest pool. He shouted at them to attract their attention, knowing he was well out of range of their crossbows. They advanced on him, protecting themselves with their shields, but they had reckoned without the longbow.
Tom, who had proved himself as skilful an archer as he was a fletcher that is to say an arrowmaker took careful aim at the leading soldier and let fly. The arrow sped to its human target, piercing the shield and going through the soldiers chain-mail with sickening force. His companions saw how the shield was pinned to his body. Then another arrow splintered its way through a second shield, killing its bearer instantly. The remaining soldiers realized that they were up against something new. They turned and ran.
Toms third arrow hit one of them in the back. The final soldier kept running. He was nearly two hundred yards away when Toms fourth arrow hummed low across the ground and took him in the leg. Even at that distance, its force bowled him over.
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest Little John leapt down behind three men-at-arms and attacked them with his quarter staff. In a space of a few seconds he had knocked all of them senseless.
Another group was attacked by Scarlet, who rose from the bushes a terrifying figure covered in leaves. With a bloodcurdling cry he drove them back and killed them without mercy. Elsewhere, other soldiers were lassoed from above and hauled struggling into the branches.
Gisburne could hear the cries from his soldiers all around him in the forest. He knew they were under attack but could see no one. As he charged across a small clearing, he ordered his men to spread out behind him. But five arrows hummed from the trees, and each of them found a target. The men left standing took to their heels while Gisburne wheeled his horse and tried to rally them.
Come back, you cowards! he roared in a fury.
Suddenly Robin appeared in front of him, an arrow trained on his heart.
Get down, he ordered tersely.
What have you done with her? Gisburne shouted.
Marions safe.
Marion! Gisburne was outraged. You ragged piece of filth! Ill have you torn to pieces!
Trial by battle, Gisburne, said Robin grimly. Thats a Norman law.
Gisburne looked around as the other outlaws arrived on the scene. He smiled cruelly to himself. This peasant was stupid enough to think he could fight a trained knight. Well, he would show him otherwise.
Gisburne drew his sword and attacked. Robin, with Albion in his hand, retreated, ducking and weaving as Gisburnes sword flashed over his head. After a moment, Gisburne paused, puzzled that Robin was making no attempt to parry his blows or to come back at him. Again he attacked and again Robin sidestepped without using his sword. Gisburne slashed at him, angered and frustrated by his elusive but tempting target. He scythed at Robins legs but Robin jumped over the blade and landed lightly, ready for the next stroke. This time Gisburne thrust at his heart but Robin turned sideways and the sword flew past his chest without touching him.
The duel began to resemble a bullfight with Gisburne in his heavy armour charging, cutting and slashing but never landing a blow while Robin avoided the glittering point, sometimes by a hairs breadth. By now, Sir Guy was breathing hard. This kind of fighting was new to him. He was used to standing toe to toe and hacking away at his opponent until he wore him down. Now he was tiring. His own armour was hindering him. Robin, on the other hand, was lightly clad and relied on the quickness of his movement to keep him out of trouble.
The outlaws watched the contest eagerly. Will Scarlet, who had taught him how to use Albion, waited expectantly.
Robin never took his eyes off Gisburne. To his friends it seemed as if he knew in advance where the next attack would come. By now he had sapped Gisburnes strength and the knight was tiring fast. He lowered his guard as if pleading [p.42] for Robin to attack but the lithe young figure stepped back and beckoned him on again.
The knight lumbered forward and cut awkwardly towards Robins head. And suddenly steel met steel with a shock that numbed his arm to the shoulder. Robin had parried the blow and brought Albion into play.
Gisburne drew back and for the first time Robin moved forward. Robins counter-attack unnerved him and he parried clumsily while Albion flashed like summer lightning and drove him back remorselessly. The sword seemed to have a life of its own and Gisburnes defence was now desperate. Suddenly his blade was ripped from his mailed hand.
Gisburne was no coward. He crossed himself and waited calmly for death. But Robin lowered Albion and shook his head. He had beaten Gisburne. Now he would humiliate him.
They stripped the young knight naked and tied him face down across the saddle of his splendid horse.
Tell the Abbot that Robin Hood and his friends hold Sherwood. And tell his brother the Sheriff that Hernes Son has claimed his Kingdom, said Robin.
Tom took hold of the bridle and set off towards St Marys. The journey led him through several villages near the forest. And when the people saw the naked backside of the man who for so long they had hated and feared, they hooted with laughter and pelted the wretched knight with rotten eggs.
When he was in sight of St Marys Abbey, Tom let the horse trot on by itself. In the distance he could see Abbot Hugo out hunting, and he grinned. Gisburnes appearance would cause quite a stir!

* * *
Back at the camp the rest of the outlaws talked excitedly of their success while Robin sat quietly with Marion, who told him why she was on her way to Kirklees. He found it hard to believe that such a beautiful and lively girl should want to bury herself away in a convent. She explained that Nottingham Castle had been little better than a prison. The Sheriff was not to be trusted and he certainly wouldnt defend her against Simon de Belleme. She would be safe at Kirklees [p.43] and there would be plenty to occupy her. The nuns often went hunting; she would have a room of her own; they might even make her their beekeeper.
But you dont look like a nun, stammered Robin.
Not yet, smiled Marion. But I shall.
Stay here with me, said Robin, taking her hand impulsively.
And be your May Queen? smiled Marion gently. But what would I be when winter comes?
Robin looked into her eyes. Id build a fire at the caves mouth, and wrap you in sheepskin, and hold you close.
They were indeed very close. Leaning forward Robin kissed her and for a moment Marion held him to her, then breaking from him, she shook her head. Take me to Kirklees, she whispered.
The light was slanting rose-red between the trees as Robin led her pony down the forest ways towards the safety of Kirklees Abbey.
They reached the abbey gate and Robin lifted her down and embraced her. He could hardly bear to part from her but he knew she would be safe at the abbey. After a moment the door opened and one of the nuns took her inside.
Robins heart was heavy as he made his way back towards Sherwood. He was so deep in thought he did not see that a swarthy man was watching him from a hill overlooking the abbey. His name was Nasir. He was a Saracen slave. And his master was Simon de Belleme.




I tell you, Robert! Hes in league with the devil. How else could outlaws defeat armed soldiers?
Abbot Hugo was purple with rage. Gisburnes humiliation had incensed him. Now he stood before the Sheriff in the council chamber of Nottingham Castle and demanded action. The Sheriff remained calm and twiddled his fingers impatiently. Hugos ranting would get him nowhere and secretly he was amused that Gisburne had been so utterly humiliated. It was high time that arrogant young man received his comeuppance.
This villains dangerous, roared Hugo. He calls himself Robin Hood and says hes Hernes Son whatever that means.
Ill show you, replied the Sheriff. He opened a carved box to reveal the ancient silver arrow he had taken from Ailric of Loxleys quiver sixteen years earlier. What do you make of that? he asked as he handed it to his brother.
Abbot Hugo looked at it for a moment and then shrugged. Its a silver arrow, he said without much interest.
Robert de Rainault shook his head with exasperation. Why was Hugo so stupid? Its the silver arrow, he explained patiently. Hernes Arrow.
Hugo looked blankly at his brother.
You really should read more, Hugo, sighed the Sheriff. This arrow was described by Gildas the Monk, over five hundred years ago. But its older than that. Much older.
But how did you come by it?
Remember that pathetic rebellion? Ailric of Loxley was the Guardian.
What are you talking about?
The Guardian of the Arrow. Its a cult object, Hugo. Like a sceptre or a cross. An English thing. A symbol. Magic.
But Hugo wasnt really listening. Instead he was trying to read the inscription on the arrows shaft.
The Sheriff was sourly amused. You cant read that, he said. I doubt if anyone can, except perhaps Baron de Belleme. He paused. And if he really is Hernes Son, I suppose Robin Hood can read it too.
I still dont follow the Abbot began.
I intend catching this magical villain, said the Sheriff softly. And Hernes Arrow is to be the bait.

* * *
The story of the ambush had spread like wildfire, although many people could hardly believe that a group of outlaws could take on Gisburne and his men and beat them so soundly.
It was the first time for many years that anyone had fought back. Every peasant was glad when they heard what had happened to Guy of Gisburne. The name of Robin Hood was on everyones lips. The older people smiled when they learnt that the outlaw was calling himself Hernes Son. They knew the legend. At dawn on certain days during the year they made their way to Rhiannons Wheel, to leave their gifts for the Lord of the Trees.
The younger men in the villages burned to join Robin, and many went into Sherwood, in spite of their fears of demons and dragons, hoping he would make them members of his band. Other outlaws also joined him, until, in a matter of weeks, Robin and his friends had twenty men learning to shoot the longbow.
We take nothing from honest men, you understand? Robin told them. But those that have more than they need the rich and the greedy well take from them. Not for ourselves but for the poor and the sick and the hungry. Because these are the people we will fight for and defend. He drew Albion. Swear on this sword by Herne and Robin Hood.
After the newcomers had touched the magical blade and sworn the oath, Robin warned them that if any man broke his word or betrayed his comrades his life would be forfeit.
The outlaws trained hard. Each one knew his life depended [p.46] on his skill with the bow. They wrestled each other to make themselves quick and nimble in combat and Little John spent hours passing on his skill with the quarterstaff. Most of the newcomers already had some knowledge of this: it was the only weapon allowed them by their masters.
After the battle, Will Scarlet had collected the swords from the dead soldiers and stripped them of their chain-mail. The swords were sharpened on a primitive grind-stone that Much had built and then Will set about showing the outlaws how to use them.
They kept on the move and camped in a different place every night, carefully destroying any evidence of their presence when they moved on. They became so expert at moving in silence that they could pass close by a forester without attracting his attention.
One night as Robin lay unable to sleep, he saw Herne in his minds eye and knew he must go to him. Dickon, who was keeping watch while the others slept, saw Robin leave. He shuddered. To walk alone in the forest at night was something he could never do.
Herne was waiting in the great cavern behind the waterfall. He listened in silence as Robin told him how Gisburne had been defeated. When he had finished, Herne nodded and handed him a drinking horn. The plough is driven forth and the first furrow made, he muttered. Drink!
Robin steeled himself and drained the bitter liquid. Then he sat quietly by the fire and waited. Soon, Hernes features began to flicker above the flames, his outline became blurred and finally dissolved into thousands of dancing points of lights. Clouds drifted by and Robin felt himself flying high above the earth with Hernes voice calling to him.
When the wind makes the skies weep, there will come a terror of swords, cried the voice as the clouds parted and he saw men with swords silhouetted against the sky.
And creatures stalking black beneath the clouds...
Abruptly the vision changed and an arrow thudded into a target from which blood poured. Then the target vanished and Simon de Belleme stood, raising a dagger above his head. [p.47] Let not that which is mine fall into the hands of Azaels servant, said Herne.
The visions flashed by. A fat young monk covered in blood; a silver arrow rising into the air over Nottingham Castle; a hawk tearing at its meat; a snake striking; a wolf baring its teeth. And then for a moment Robin was in Rhiannons Wheel with Marion in his arms.
He opened his eyes. He was back in the cave with Herne who stood looking down at him. What did you see? the old man asked quietly.
Dreams, gasped Robin struggling to his feet while the floor of the cave seemed to rock beneath him.
No, not dreams, said Herne. He looked hard at Robin. Tell me what binds the hunter to the hunted?
Robin shook his head. He couldnt answer Hernes riddle.
You will know when the time comes.
But Herne
Who is Herne? the seer spoke swiftly. We are both mortal, you and I.
This made Robin even more confused but something told him that he was being tested, prepared for an ordeal to come. What do you want me to do? he asked.
Act without thinking, came the enigmatic reply.
So Robin returned thoughtfully to the outlaws camp. No one questioned where hed been; they all knew that he talked with the spirits of Sherwood and was Hernes Son. Even his closest friends Much and Little John and Scarlet never questioned him about Herne. Robin had been chosen to lead them by the Lord of the Trees, and that was enough.
Sometime later that morning, Tom Fletcher drove a horse and cart into the camp. They had been given to the outlaws by grateful villagers in thanks for what they had done to Gisburne.
Tom had news. The Sheriffs holding a contest to find archers to hunt us, he told the others excitedly as they crowded round the cart. There are to be prizes of money and the first prize is a silver arrow.
What binds the hunter to the hunted? Hernes words echoed in Robins head. He had the answer now. The arrow.
Its to be held in Hobbs field under the castle wall, Tom told them.
Im going, said Robin.
The outlaws stared at him in astonishment. Tom shook his head. I wouldnt bother if I were you. Theres a rumour Flambart will be there.
Whos he? asked Little John.
Archer to the King, said Scarlet shortly. Champion of England. He patted Robin on the shoulder. Youd better forget it, hadnt you?
I cant, said Robin.
But it could be a trap! said Dickon.
Why risk your life for an arrow? said Little John.
Because I must, said Robin.

* * *
The Sheriffs archery contest attracted a great crowd to Nottingham, and bowmen came many miles to shoot for the silver arrow. A few of them knew it was Hernes Arrow and were angry that such a sacred symbol should have fallen into the hands of their conquerors. To offer such a thing as a prize showed the contempt their masters felt for them.
The Sheriff and his brother sat with their friends in a tented pavilion attended by Guy of Gisburne whose eyes searched amongst the milling crowd for any sign of Robin Hood. People had flocked to Hobbs field. There were puppet shows, sweetmeat stalls, tumblers and jugglers and fortune tellers. There was even a minstrel who drew quite a crowd when he sang a ballad about Robin Hood; he hurriedly changed his tune when Gisburnes men began elbowing their way towards him.
The silver arrow was displayed on the Sheriffs footstool for all to see, but he had no intention of losing it. Flambart was the finest archer in England. He was also a Frenchman and could outshoot the best of the English in front of them. It was just another way to demonstrate the superiority of the Angevin rulers. To the sheriff it was almost as important as catching Robin Hood.
Both Hugo and the Sheriff were surprised when Baron de Belleme rode up to the pavilion with his Saracen slave, Nasir.
Simon looked at the silver arrow glinting on the stool at the Sheriffs feet and smiled as he dismounted. He knew of the arrows magic power and he meant to have it for himself. Nasir will shoot for me, he said.
By all means, my lord Baron, replied the Sheriff. Walter Flambart shoots for me and Ill wager you two hundred marks that he will win.
I know of Flambarts reputation, said Simon imperturbably, but Nasir can outshoot him. I accept your wager.
A clerk sat at a nearby table taking the names of all those hopefuls entering the contest. Among them was a fat old man dressed in a tattered leather tabard. It was Robin. He had whitened his hair and wore a false beard. His teeth had been stained and blackened and he had padded his clothes to disguise his shape.
He approached the clerk. Im Hedger of Castleton, master clerk, he wheezed.
The clerk looked up at him with contempt. Youre too old, Hedger, he said shortly.
Too old, am I? spluttered Robin with all the annoyance of a touchy old man. My arrows will fly true. Youll see. Youll see!
The clerk relented and marked him down. The drivelling old idiot would be eliminated in the first round.
Hidden in the crowd Little John, with Much and Dickon, sat on the cart with their longbows hidden inside. Standing near were Will Scarlet and Tom the Fletcher.
Robin limped up to the line to join five other archers as they prepared to shoot. He carried an ordinary bow; a longbow would have betrayed him to Gisburne. But the young knight scarcely gave him a glance as the other bowmen released their arrows. All of them hit their targets and then turned to look at Robin with amusement. He raised his bow and hardly seemed to take aim as he shot, turning away and looking up at the sky without even bothering to look at the target. Itll [p.50] rain tonight, I reckon, he muttered to the others. A shout went up from the crowd. The arrow was in the gold and quite near the small black spot at the very centre of his target. The other five stared at him in disbelief. Robin cackled with laughter and slapped his thigh. Off you go, lads. Too much ale and not enough archery practice thats your trouble, I reckon.
The Sheriff laughed contemptuously. The old mans shot had been pure chance. He leant forward as Walter Flambart prepared to shoot in the next six. Flambart was an impressive figure. He wore the royal coat-of-arms on his tunic which proclaimed him to be Archer to the King and he held his head proudly as he took his stance and shot with easy grace. His arrow landed in the centre of the gold, just clipping the black spot. The arrows on the other five targets were nowhere near as good.
In the pavilion, the Sheriff smiled complacently at Simon de Belleme and took a drink of wine. Robin, who had shambled over to Scarlet, watched the next six archers prepare to shoot. Among them was the Barons man, Nasir.
Youll never beat Flambart, muttered Will Scarlet.
Nasir, who was booed loudly by the crowd because he was the Barons man and a Saracen, took careful aim when it came to his turn to shoot. His arrow was also very near the centre of the gold.
The Sheriff looked a little uneasy.
Robin, at Scarlets side, was tense.
What chance have you got against those two? said Scarlet.
I have to try, replied Robin.
More and more archers were eliminated. Nasir, Flambart and Robin all won their second rounds while in the pavilion the Sheriff and his party looked on.
Have you seen him yet, Gisburne? snarled Abbot Hugo.
Gisburne shook his head. Not yet, my lord, he replied.
The clerk bustled up. The final six, my lord Sheriff, he announced. Nasir from Castle Belleme, Walter Flambart, Adam the Carter, John Barley, Hedger of Castleton, and William the Smith.
Gisburne looked intently at the archers. Was one of them Robin Hood? William the Smith was the right height and age, but then so was John Barley.
You shot well, my friends, said the Sheriff rubbing his white little hands. Now let us see who is to win the arrow.
You shall, my lord, you shall! cackled old Hedger.
Gisburne and the Sheriff glared at him. He was the last one they suspected. In fact by now Gisburne was convinced that Robin Hood had realized the danger and stayed away from the archery contest. Hes not amongst them, he told the Sheriff.
So he wasnt tempted by the Arrow after all, was he, Robert? sniggered Hugo maliciously.
The first three shots of the final round were good ones but only William the Smith was on the edge of the gold.
You next old man! said Flambart to Robin who nodded and raised his bow.
He shot swiftly, his arrow landing in the black spot, and a great shout went up from the crowd.
They must know its him, muttered Scarlet to the others. They must!
Walter Flambart acknowledged Robins skill. Thats a fine shot, he said. Then he too raised his bow and a moment later his arrow hummed through the air to land in the black spot on his target.
It was now Nasirs turn. In the pavilion his master the Baron watched him with narrowed eyes and muttered an invocation to Azael.
Nasirs arrow sped unerringly to its target and thudded into the black spot.
Flambart turned to the pavilion and suggested that he, Nasir, and Hedger should all shoot on the same target set back another hundred paces. The Sheriff nodded sourly.
You shall shoot first, old man. The light is going, said Flambart to Robin.
Thankee, master Flambart, he answered with a grin, but Ill take me turn.
It was now two hundred and fifty paces to the single target [p.52] and already dark clouds were rolling over Hobbs field as Flambart notched an arrow to his bowstring and took his aim.
A gasp went up from the crowd as the arrow quivered into the black. It was a magnificent shot and the Sheriff was jubilant. There, my lord Baron! he cried, turning to Simon de Belleme. You see you see!
Simon said nothing. Although the arrow was in the black it was a little left of centre, and as Nasir stepped up to the line to shoot, his master once again prayed silently to his demon.
Nasir released his arrow. It landed in the very centre of the black spot alongside Flambarts.
The Kings archer gritted his teeth but remained calm. He had been beaten by a Saracen, but he bowed politely to Nasir and acknowledged his defeat. In the pavilion it was Simons turn to be jubilant. You lose, Sheriff, he said gleefully. The Arrow is mine!
The crowd was silent now. Flambart patted Robin on the shoulder. Hes beaten both of us, Hedger, he said.
Ive still to shoot, master Flambart, said Robin.
Nasir smiled contemptuously. His had been a perfect shot and could not be bettered. Nevertheless Robin raised his bow, took careful aim and released his arrow. It hummed to the target and split Nasirs arrow down the length of the shaft from feathers to point.
There was a moments stunned silence and then a roar went up from the crowd that could have been heard in Sherwood. Little John nearly fell off the cart with excitement while Much jumped up and down and cheered till he was hoarse. Scarlet just stood and gaped, unable to take in what had happened.
Ive only seen that done once before, said Flambart, and that was at fifty paces. Im honoured to know you, Hedger.
Thankee master, replied Robin. A lucky shot I reckon.
The crowd were still cheering and throwing their caps in the air as the clerk went up to the pavilion where the Sheriff and the Abbot sat shocked and speechless. Baron de Belleme was white with anger and gnawed at his lip until it bled.
The man Hedger wins, my lord Sheriff, said the clerk.
It is a tie! snarled the Baron. They must shoot again!
A tie? queried Abbot Hugo.
Both arrows are in the centre of the target are they not? countered the Baron swiftly.
But my lord Baron began the Sheriff.
They will shoot again! hissed the Baron savagely.
There was very little that the Sheriff could do. He was terrified of Simon de Belleme and so he nodded to the clerk. Hedger of Castleton and Nasir, archer to Baron Simon, will shoot again.
Perhaps another target, Sheriff? the Baron suggested with a thin smile. A stick of peeled willow set up at a hundred and fifty paces. The first to split it takes the Arrow.
Then well sit here till Doomsday, muttered Abbot Hugo grumpily.
Then let us say, one shot apiece, and whoever is nearest shall be judged the winner, replied the Baron.
Rain was threatening as the peeled stick of willow was set up in the ground while the crowd buzzed with excitement. Everyone watched attentively as the clerk held out two straws to Nasir, concealing their length in his fist. Nasir took one. It was the short straw, which meant he had to shoot first.
The crowd grew silent again as the black-clad servant of Simon de Belleme prepared to shoot at the impossible target. In the pavilion his master sat motionless, his thin hands interlaced. Several times Nasir took aim and then paused, waiting for the slight wind to drop as the tension mounted all around Hobbs field. When finally he released his arrow it passed so closely to the willow wand it almost grazed it. A sigh of wonder went up from the crowd.
Robin did not look at Nasir as he prepared to take his turn. He breathed deeply several times to relax himself and as he did so he seemed to hear Hernes voice speaking inside his head:
Let not that which is mine fall into the hands of Azaels servant.
Slowly he brought the arrow back until the feathers touched his cheek. The white stick of willow seemed a mile away. His fingers sprang open and the arrow flashed past the crowd [p.54] towards its target. It passed through the very centre of the willow wand and the two halves separated and fell slowly to the ground.
After a long moment of silence a great roar went up from the crowd which echoed round the archery field like thunder. To the Sheriff who sat stupefied it was an ominous sound, for he heard in it the defiance he believed the English no longer possessed. The cheering continued and Robin looked over to where Nasir stood marvelling at such skill. Then the crowd broke through the ropes which held them back and Robin was engulfed in a sea of waving arms and excited faces. He began pushing his way towards the pavilion where the Sheriffs party sat fuming with anger.
Impossible! cried Abbot Hugo. Simon de Belleme shook his head. Not for Hernes Son, he breathed. Hedgers beard may be white but he has a young mans hands.
The Sheriff looked intently at Hedgers hands as he approached the pavilion. It was true. They were smooth and brown, not veined and wrinkled as a real old mans would be. So Robin Hood had come for the Arrow after all!
Your skill is remarkable, Hedger, said the Sheriff softly.
Thankee, my lord, Robin replied.
Its also remarkable that weve never heard of you before, the Sheriff continued. He pointed to the Arrow. Well, take your prize.
Robin reached forward and picked up the silver Arrow.
Take him, Gisburne! cried the Sheriff. But as Gisburne went for his sword Robin jumped back putting Hernes Arrow into his belt and setting a real arrow on his bowstring. Drawing it back, he aimed straight at the Sheriffs heart.
Move and he dies! he said calmly.
Gisburne froze his hand on his sword and everyone in the pavilion held their breath. Robin moved back, his bow still trained on the Sheriff while behind him Little John, Scarlet and the others, now with longbows at the ready, pushed their way through the crowd to join him. Still with their arrows aimed at the pavilion the outlaws began backing away across Hobbs field. The Sheriff was powerless. He knew that Robin [p.55] had only to release his arrow to kill him, so he sat motionless.
Robin and his friends disappeared among the trees and Gisburne ran from the pavilion calling to his soldiers to get after them. They looked uneasily at one another. Gisburne drew his sword, furious at his mens cowardice. I said get after them! he shouted.
Half a dozen soldiers charged towards the trees only to be brought down with deadly accuracy. Again the crowd cheered wildly. The Sheriffs demonstration of Norman superiority had gone sadly awry. Instead it had become an English triumph.
Three fire arrows tore their way into the pavilion roof which immediately began to blaze fiercely. The Baron, Abbot Hugo and the Sheriff scrambled out in a panic to roars of approval from the crowd.
Robin and his friends watched their enemies running from the burning pavilion, then in silence they turned away and began moving deeper into the safety of the forest.




We are not going to Sherwood! Not with a thousand men, Hugo. It was three days after Robin had won the Arrow, and the de Rainault brothers were holding what was virtually a council of war. They were, as usual, attended by Guy of Gisburne who was now somewhat out of favour. His failure to see through Robin Hoods disguise was a sore point with his masters.
The Sheriff however, was not a man to take defeat lightly. The effect of the outlaws on the people of Nottingham had been disastrous. From now on he could expect defiance, even opposition to his rule. There was only one way to counter this. Robin Hood had to be caught and publicly hanged. The solution was a simple one: how to achieve it was more difficult.
If we go into the forest, my lord Abbot, Gisburne interjected, theyll pick us off from the trees. Those arrows can pierce armour.
Hugo was sweating. Then whats the answer?
At this moment, Brother Tuck ran into the council chamber and spoke as if on cue. The Baron Simon de Belleme, he announced.
The Baron strode in and his malignant presence seemed to cast a shadow before him. His eyes glittered with suppressed madness as he addressed the two brothers.
Not long ago I came to you, my lords, and asked to marry your ward.
My lord Baron, she chose to began Abbot Hugo.
I warned you then against Hernes Son, the Baron reminded them. Now he has the Arrow. It will increase his power.
If he isnt stopped hell have an army, exclaimed Gisburne.
The Sheriff glared at his brothers young Steward. Gisburne had a positive genius for stating the obvious.
Very likely, sneered the Baron. But he cannot be beaten by force of arms. He paused and his snake-like eyes narrowed. But I can vanquish him. Fire must be fought with fire.
But not with hellfire! Hugo blustered as he realized Simon de Belleme intended to use black magic.
You do see, my lord Baron, the Sheriff said smoothly, you can hardly expect the Church to ally itself with er ... er, the Opposition, so to speak.
Hugo spoke vehemently. That would be blasphemy!
The Baron sat down slowly and looked with meaning at the empty perch where the Sheriffs favorite hawk used to be. It had died mysteriously the day after he had demanded Marion. The Sheriff followed his look and trembled.
Robin Hood must be destroyed, whispered the Baron. We are all agreed on that. Though perhaps for different reasons. He leant forward. I know he will come to me and I know he will come alone. Then his men will disobey him and follow him out of Sherwood.
The Sheriff looked at him in disbelief. How can you be so sure of such a thing?
Because Azael has told me, the Baron replied softly.
Gisburne, the Abbot and Brother Tuck crossed themselves.
Has he indeed? sneered the Sheriff. But what will fetch Robin Hood from the forest, my lord Baron? What magic will bring him?
Simon was angered by the Sheriffs mocking tone and spoke sharply. The strongest magic of all his love for the girl. Give her to me and he will come.
Hugo stirred uneasily. No, I cannot agree to this, he said. It is
I dont want her lands, Hugo you can keep them, the Baron cut in swiftly. But I must have Marion.
The Sheriff looked at his brother. Seems a small price to pay, he said calmly.
But shes in Kirklees Abbey! exclaimed Hugo.
Simon de Belleme looked quickly towards Brother Tuck. [p.58] He could see that the fat young monk was shocked, which was just what he intended.
Youve nothing to lose, Hugo, argued the Sheriff. One headstrong Saxon virgin to put an end to a dangerous rebel. Seems like a bargain to me. Besides whos going to know?
Tuck could contain himself no longer. You cant do this, my lords! he cried angrily.
Be silent! shouted Gisburne.
But Tuck refused to listen. Marion was in great danger. My lord Abbot, this is the most wicked evil that I
One word more just one, Brother Tuck, warned the Sheriff, and Ill have the fat flayed from your back. He turned back to the Baron. When do you propose to er take her? he asked.
Tomorrow is the first of May, replied the Baron.
The Feast of Beltane, said the Sheriff.
Simon raised his eyebrows. Youre very well informed for a sceptic.
Superstitions a hobby horse of mine.
Superstition indeed! mocked the Baron. Youre a fool, de Rainault.
The Sheriff controlled his anger. Since the sudden death of his hawk he was taking no chances. Once again he addressed his brother. Well Hugo? he queried. Do you agree?
Only if I keep the land, said Hugo.
The Baron nodded his agreement and the three of them began to make their plans. Brother Tuck, appalled by the callous way the brothers were sacrificing Marion, hurried from the council chamber. Simon de Belleme smiled to himself. He knew exactly what the young monk would do; it was all part of his plan.
Tuck hurried to the stables and bribed the ostler to lend him a mule, then he left Nottingham and set out on the road north to Kirklees. He knew that if Simon de Belleme took Marion from the abbey there would be no one to stop him. Once inside his grim castle she was doomed. Tuck had to warn her, perhaps help her to go into hiding. He knew he could never go back to Nottingham but he was tired of being [p.59] the Sheriffs whipping boy, and hed seen too many evils committed in the name of God by worldly prelates like Abbot Hugo. He had become sickened by their cynical disregard for the poor and helpless. He resolved to lead the life of a wandering friar. His church would be the fields and hedgerows of the countryside. He would help the poor and praise God in his own way. But first he must save Marion.
He rode through the night and reached the abbey shortly after dawn. He had come to hear the Lady Marions confession, he told the Abbess. She nodded gravely and led him silently to Marions room where he told the startled girl of die Barons intentions.
I should have stayed in Sherwood, said Marion.
With an outlaw! said Tuck in astonishment.
You dont know him, Brother Tuck, replied Marion blushing. He loves me. Hes not a bloodthirsty ruffian but a man of spirit who cares about the ordinary people just as you do.
Tuck sighed. But youre of gentle birth, little flower, he said. You cant be bride to an outlaw!
Why not? she replied. I love him.
In the end there was nothing Tuck could do but agree to take her into Sherwood and hope that somehow they would find Robin and his friends.
This was precisely what Simon de Belleme had hoped for. Even he dare not remove Marion from the abbey by force. His men watched from hiding when Tuck and Marion entered the forest. They followed them for a while and then stepped out from the trees and barred their way.
Tuck lifted his robe and drew an ancient sword. The Barons men were surprised. They hadnt come across an armed monk before.
Tuck thrust at them fiercely, belying his mild and innocent manner, and there was a howl as one man dropped to his knees with blood streaming from his thigh. The others rushed forward and despite Tucks courageous defense, soon overwhelmed him. Leaving him bleeding and half stunned they grabbed Marion and carried her to Castle Belleme where the evil Baron awaited her.
He lounged in a carved chair covered in wolfskins, attended by three women, two at his feet and one kneeling beside his chair with a jewelled chalice of wine. They were drugged and looked at Marion with expressionless eyes.
Simon stroked the chair with his long fingers. Why did you shut yourself up in Kirklees? he asked Marion. Youll learn nothing there. Here youll learn everything. He smiled evilly. The final mystery.
Although Marion was frightened, she tried hard not to show it. Instead, she held her head proudly and spoke without trembling. You savage! Has murder become the only thing that can excite you? How many deaths will you need to satisfy your devil?
Simon stirred uneasily in his chair.
Youre terrified of him, arent you? Youre not his servant, she said triumphantly. Youre his victim!
The Baron stood up, white with anger. Prepare her for my lord Azael! he screamed.

* * *
It was Dickon who found Brother Tuck. He had been hunting when he heard the sounds of combat, but when he reached the wounded monk, the Barons men had already made off with Marion. He helped Tuck back to the camp and when Robin saw his bloody face he remembered the vision Herne had made him see in the great cave.
Tuck clawed at his arm. Hes taken the Lady Marion, he gasped. The Baron ... the Baron de Belleme ...
In silence Robin put Hernes Arrow in his bell and picked up his longbow. Little John and Scarlet followed suit, but Robin shook his head. Im going alone, he said.
But hes a sorcerer! said Little John.
Thats why. Its me he wants.
Hell kill you, or make you his slave!
No he wont.
Well raid the castle.
And be slaughtered, said Scarlet.
Wills right, said Robin. We cant fight in the open. Only in Sherwood.
Then I shall come with you, said Little John impulsively.
No, John, said Robin firmly. Im going alone. Herne has prepared me for this. It was meant from the beginning.
Youre a fool, cried Little John angrily, anxious for Robins safety. Youre throwing your life away for a girl.
Robin would have attacked Little John but Scarlet and Much grabbed hold of him. With an effort Robin tried to explain. Listen, John, this isnt an ordinary fight. This is a fight between Hernes Son and a sorcerer the servant of a demon. Robin paused. And if I fail, one of you will take my place. He began to move away. And Herne will choose him, finished Robin. So must it be! He ran off into the forest.
But Little John was stubborn and after a moment he turned to the rest of them. If hes not back by dawn, were going after him. Are you with me?
There was a roar from the outlaws.
Scarlet cursed silently; he knew nothing he could say would change their minds. But Robin was right. In Sherwood they could take on an army. Once out of the forest they would be cut to pieces.




The gateway to Castle Belleme was unguarded. The heavy doors, spiked and studded, stood open as Robin crept into the deserted bailey. He looked towards the keep. Somewhere within those flinty walls Marion lay at the mercy of Simon de Belleme.
There were no guards or servants in the pillared hall. Torches flickered on the walls and made every shadow menacingly alive.
Simon de Belleme! called Robin and his voice echoed back at him.
In the cellars the Baron stood in his black robes in the centre of a Circle of Power. Marion, dressed in white, had been bound to a pentacle of iron hanging between two pillars. On the floor in front of her Simon had painted a magical triangle to contain Azael when he appeared.
The chamber filled with strange whisperings as the forces of evil were unleashed by the sorcerers ritual. His eyes glowed like a cats as he moved close to the terrified girl.
Hernes Son has come for you, he whispered and raised a black-hilted dagger. It was his athame the sacrificial knife of a magus.
I invoke thee, Azael, by Hermes the Thrice Great. By the Shield of Solomon. And by the power of the Lords of Darkness. The whispering grew louder and a rumbling sound was heard. It seemed to come from beneath the castle and the cellars shook with its supernatural power.
A howling wind rushed through the hall putting out the torches, while Robin fought to stay on his feet. In the darkness around him he could hear scratching and slithering and the pattering of clawed feet. Strange unearthly creatures were forming and he saw their red eyes moving closer. Thunder [p.63] rolled round the hall and Simon appeared at the centre of an unearthly yellow light.
Robin took aim.
Throw away your bow! called Simon. Break your arrows! They have no power against the servant of the Lord Azael.
Sweat poured down Robins face but, try as he might, he could not pull the bow.
Wheres your strength? mocked Simon. Why hesitate?
Summoning up all his strength Robin slowly drew the arrow back to his cheek.
Better and better, sneered Simon, Herne chose well. But is your aim true?
Robin blinked. The Barons image flickered in the pool of light.
The slime of chaos shall cover you! screamed Simon and triumphantly jabbed a bony finger towards Robin.
The arrow head glowed white hot in an instant, the great bow became enveloped in a mass of flames. Robin threw it down and drew Albion from his scabbard. But as he did so, the sorcerer slashed the air with his dagger.
Although Robin was about thirty paces from Simon, a cut appeared in his sleeve and blood trickled from it.
Simon laughed softly and again cut viciously at the air.
This time a thin line of blood appeared on Robins forehead.
Robin watched the blade glinting in the yellow light.
Havayoth! Simon cried exultantly. Once again he stabbed the air.
Robin sidestepped swiftly but even so the cut ripped through his jerkin and grazed his ribs. He gasped with pain and Simon gave a mocking laugh. Robin was at his mercy. He could kill him easily whenever he chose to do so. But the sorcerer had a far more sinister death planned for Hernes Son and so he sheathed his dagger and vanished into the darkness.
Robin found the door leading to the crypt and, as he went down the steps, a clammy, foul-smelling mist enveloped him while all around the thunder rolled, mingling with the howls and shrieks of the demented creatures the sorcerer had conjured up.
As he reached the crypt he could see Marion hanging from the pentacle whilst Simon chanted his invocation to Azael.
Keep away Robin! screamed Marion. Keep away!
Simon turned with glittering eyes and pointed with outstretched fingers to Robin. Alta nostera! he intoned.
Robin stopped in his tracks and Albion clattered to the floor. Then slowly, as if in a trance, he walked into Simons circle while Marion watched with horror. The sorcerers eyes seemed to bore into his as he held out his magical dagger. Asophiel ilnostreon omor!
Robin took the dagger in his left hand.
Simons eyes blazed with triumph. Afa afca nostra! he chanted.
Marion stared at Robin as he raised the dagger and advanced on her.
Lord Azael receive thy sacrifice! cried Simon.
Robin held the dagger in both hands and lifted it high above his head. Marion closed her eyes.
The dagger flashed down but it was a dagger no longer. It was Hernes Arrow and it pierced the black heart of Simon de Belleme.
The rumblings and the howls stopped instantly. Simon staggered back in total silence and fell into the painted triangle. He stared up at Robin with wild and terrified eyes.
I was never in your power, Simon, said Robin quietly.
The Baron arched his back in agony. Hernes Son had vanquished him and all his evil deeds had been in vain. The murders hed committed in the name of Azael had brought his own downhill. The dream of immortality, of bringing chaos to the world, had been shattered by Hernes Son. Now Azael would tear him to pieces. He could see the huge claws, smell the stinking breath and hear the beating of the leathery wings.
Azael! Azael! No! No! No! he screamed.
Marion and Robin watched transfixed as Simons body was lifted into the air and shaken as a rat is shaken by a dog by an invisible force and then dashed to the floor.
So, in terror and agony Baron de Belleme met his end, and the demon he had worshipped for so long destroyed him.
Quickly Robin cut Marions bonds and for a moment held her in his arms. Then together they raced up the steps to the hall.
Nasir barred their way. He stood at the door with a short, curved sword in each hand. Robin leaped at him and attacked with Albion. The Saracens strange weapons scythed through the air and nothing Robin could do was proof against the whirling blades. He fought desperately but Nasir drove him back against the wall and, a moment later, disarmed him with apparent ease.
The Saracen held his swords lightly against Robins throat, then smiled and lowered them. Just as he did so Little John rushed in with Dickon at his side. Dickon was about to put an arrow into Nasir when Robin stopped him with a cry. Puzzled, Dickon lowered his bow.
Robin looked at them angrily. I said to stay in Sherwood, he cried.
You ungrateful bastard! said Little John.
But as they ran from the keep, Guy of Gisburne and his soldiers poured into the bailey. They charged up the hill towards the outlaws who took terrible toll with their arrows. The wave of soldiers checked and then came on over the bodies of the fallen men. They closed with the outlaws, stabbing and thrusting with swords and spears. Gisburne rode into the struggling mass, eager to find the man who had humiliated him. The outlaws formed a shield round Marion and tried to battle their way out of the castle.
Robin pulled Gisburne from the saddle. Mounting the horse, he helped Marion up behind him. Only a handful of his comrades reached the castle gate.
Tom and Dickon were surrounded. Dickon was the first to die; then Tom straddled the body of his friend and fought on in silence until he too was cut down.
The Sheriff and his brother had no stomach for fighting and remained some way from the castle, expecting Gisburne to appear at any moment and signal victory. When they saw Robin ride out with Marion and the rest they were beside themselves with fury.
Ill have Gisburne excommunicated! roared Abbot Hugo.
Have him hanged its quicker, snarled the Sheriff.

* * *
Exhausted and bleeding the survivors stumbled into Sherwood. Robin led them to a clearing by a lake and here they threw themselves on the ground. Nobody spoke and Robin, as he held Marion close to him, knew that the spirit of rebellion had been broken. Many of the outlaws had been killed. He remembered Dickon and Tom, and how they had made plans to go to Lincoln. Now they lay dead at Castle Belleme. He looked over to Little John who sat apart staring at the lake. Robin could see his friend was weeping.
Its over, muttered Scarlet. He was soaked in blood.
No, said Robin quietly. No its not over.
You crazy dreamer! cried Scarlet. Do you want us all dead? For what?
For a moment Robin stared at him without speaking and then he snatched up a handful of earth.
For this! he said passionately.
Everyone was looking at him. They were tired and full of despair and he knew that somehow he had to unite them and give them back the will to fight on. Silently he called on Herne to help him. At last he spoke.
Listen to me! Our friends who died will never starve or be tortured or chained in the dark. Theyre here with us in Sherwood, and they always will be. Because theyre free.
He paused shaken with the intensity of his feeling.
Tell me what they died for? Go on tell me! We cant betray them now.
Again he paused and looked round the clearing. Shall I tell you where we are? he said quietly. There was a village here once. My village. This is where Loxley stood.
In silence Robin took Albion from its scabbard and one by one his friends came forward to touch the blade and swear again to help the oppressed and fight against injustice. The last to re-affirm his oath was Little John, his face still wet with tears.
Im to blame for what happened, he muttered. No one [p.67] else. But Robin had already forgiven him. He knew Little John would never forget the terrible results of his rashness.
When the sun set over the lake, turning it the colour of blood, they all shot fire arrows high into the sky to plummet down into the water. Each arrow was for a fallen comrade.
When they turned from the lake, Nasir the Saracen stood watching them. Slowly he walked forward and knelt at Robins feet. He had been the Barons slave, but now he was free. He would fight beside the man who had spared him.

* * *
That night Herne called to his son again, and Robin took Marion deep into the forest and made her a crown of white hawthorn blossom. They knelt together in the moonlight and waited for the forest god.
At last they saw him, his antlers silhouetted against the moon, looking down at them in silence and holding up his hands in a blessing as old as the forest itself. Robin took Marions hands in his and promised to love her until the day he died. Then he folded her in his arms and kissed her. And when they looked again, Herne had vanished.




The hands were begging, imploring. With thin, outstretched fingers that clawed the air hopelessly. Empty hands.
A huge sack tipped forward and, while grain poured out, the hands cupped to catch it. But then it changed into a shower of silver pennies and the hands withered and died.
A girl appeared through the stream of coins. She carried a wooden bowl and as she held it out it became a skull.
Robin woke suddenly and sat up, his mind racing. He could see the moon through the trees. The forest slept and it was still several hours until dawn.
Marion stirred at his side and opened her eyes. She looked up at him sleepily. What is it? she whispered.
Nothing, said Robin.
The dream nagged his thoughts like an aching tooth. Herne had told him that dreams had meaning, however strange they seemed. Was this dream meant as a warning? Did danger threaten the outlaws? He was still trying to puzzle it out when the sun rose through the morning mists and the outlaws woke and began preparing for the day ahead.
While they ate Robin told them his dream. He was sure that the answer lay somewhere in Sherwood and that they were meant to find it.
Which road do we take? asked Tuck, hitching his robe into the belt round his massive belly.
Towards Rufford, said Robin.
A wild goose chase on account of a dream! mocked Scarlet, picking up his bow.
Its daft, muttered Little John. We dont even know what were looking for.
We will when we find it, Robin said quietly.
Nasir slung his bow on his shoulder. It was several weeks [p.69] since he had joined them and he still hadnt spoken. Scarlet was suspicious and watched him closely. The Saracen ate apart and prepared his own food. At first the others were uneasy about him. He never laughed and remained impassive and withdrawn. Only when Much played his wooden pipe would Nasir relax and seem to find comfort in the simple music.
The outlaws were moving off when Marion joined Robin, carrying her bow. Under his tuition she had proved herself a fine archer. Her eyes shone with excitement at the thought of action. But Robin took her to one side and asked her gently to stay at their camp.
She kissed him. When my ancestors went into battle, wives and daughters fought beside their husbands, she said softly. But if you want me to stay Ill stay.
She turned away, hiding her disappointment, and Robin led the outlaws into the forest. It was several miles to the Rufford road but nobody spoke, and they moved so quietly that they passed a group of hinds drinking at a forest pool without disturbing them. Robin still didnt know what he was looking for, but suddenly in his minds eye he saw a farm cart loaded with sacks of grain, and his heart beat faster. He knew they were getting closer!

* * *
In the village of Elsden, on the edge of Sherwood, a forest court was in progress at the Moot Hall. Abbot Hugo, with two of his clerks, sat at a rough table, their pens scratching busily. Nearby the Sheriff watched the proceedings with bored amusement. Gisburne, who had been out of favour with both the de Rainault brothers since the battle at Castle Belleme, signaled to his soldiers and they dragged forward two of the villagers while the rest watched in silence.
The man put his arm protectively round his wifes shoulders. She was young and beautiful with long flaxen hair.
I accuse Jennet of Elsden and her husband Thomas of witchcraft, said Gisburne loudly.
Abbot Hugo and his clerks crossed themselves; the Sheriff merely gave Gisburne a mocking smile.
Are you sure? grunted Abbot Hugo.
I can prove it, my lord, Gisburne continued. The whole village is terrified of them. Everyones in their power. She even tried to bewitch me, my lord Abbot.
Rubbish! said Jennet.
Hold your tongue, woman, roared the Abbot, his heavy jowls quivering like an angry cockerels. Hold your tongue or Ill have it torn out!
Gisburne unrolled a parchment and began to read. I swear by almighty God that Jennet of Elsden is an evil and malicious witch. She cursed the fields to the east of Salswood and the corn became mildewed and rotten. Gisburne broke off and looked at the Abbot. That statement was made by Hugh of Elsden, he said. He returned to the parchment. I swear by almighty God that Jennet and Thomas are in league with devils who took my baby and put a changeling in its place. Margaret of Elsden. I swear by almighty God
All right, Gisburne, thatll do, said the Abbot wearily.
I have ten such testimonies, my lord, said Gisburne.
Then well take them as read. The Abbot looked at the two young prisoners. Well? Have you anything to say?
Ask him who wrote those lies! said Thomas.
Lies, you villain?
Its not us theyre frightened of, said Thomas, looking straight at Gisburne.
Jennet turned to the villagers who avoided her eyes shamefacedly.
He forced you all to testify didnt he? She singled out one of the women. Alice have you forgotten how your child was cured? She turned to another. Marjorie we took away your fever when you were close to death. You come to us for help! You are our friends! We heal you!
This was all the Abbot needed. Oh, so you heal them do you? he said, his voice thick with menace. You interfere with Gods purposes, do you? Youve condemned yourself, woman thats blasphemy.
Jennets eyes blazed. Then shall I tell you the real reason were here, my lord Abbot? She pointed at Gisburne. Because he wanted me and I refused him!
You strumpet! roared Gisburne in a panic of embarrassment. The devil speaks through her, my lord! Shes possessed! What more proof do you need?
Look at his face! cried Jennet. Theres the real proof!
Be silent! roared the Abbot. Ive heard enough the matter is proven. Death by hanging in four days.
A gasp went round the crowd. Thomas dropped to his knees and begged the Abbot to spare Jennet but he refused to listen.
She tried to seduce my Steward. Thou shall not suffer a witch to live, he quoted. Thats Exodus. Neither shall ye use enchantment. Thats Leviticus. Take them to Nottingham.
The forest court was over, the clerks gathered up their rolls of parchment and, with Jennet and Thomas in chains, Abbot Hugo and his brother mounted their horses and rode out of the village.
What a paragon of virtue you are, Gisburne, laughed the Sheriff. Im really most impressed. If shed tried to bewitch me, I think Id have been inclined to let her.
Gisburne reddened but kept silent.
Ill have to be careful in the future, the Sheriff went on.
Careful, my lord Sheriff? Gisburne was puzzled.
Of you, Gisburne. The Sheriff smiled but his eyes were cold. Especially when you dont get what you want.
I dont understand? stammered Gisburne. The woman is a witch.
Yes, of course she is, said the Sheriff sarcastically. And a very pretty witch too.
He glanced back to where Jennet and Thomas stumbled on surrounded by the soldiers.
Shall I tell you why I came to Elsden today, Gisburne? he said quietly, so that Hugo couldnt hear him. To persuade my brother to find another Steward. So that you can work for me.
Gisburne looked at the Sheriff with surprise. He could hardly believe his good fortune. After failing to catch Robin Hood he hadnt expected this. Did the Abbot agree? he whispered eagerly.
The Sheriff patted his horse and smiled. In the end I decided not to ask him, he said softly. This business with the girl has made me think again. You always seem to be making trouble, Gisburne. You provoke people. The killing of the miller for example was
He knew where Robin Hood was hiding
And you lost your temper.
The wolfshead must be caught!
Are you telling me, Gisburne? The Sheriff spoke softly but the young knight was suddenly made aware of his chilling power.
Forgive me, my lord, he said.
Thats better, Gisburne, the Sheriff chuckled. Dont be too ambitious. If Robin Hood wants to prance about in Sherwood and worship Herne the Hunter or any other bogey man come to that why not let him? He can paint himself bright blue for all I care. Dont forget, theres a price on his head and sooner or later someones going to earn it. One of his own men most likely.
And the Lady Marion? queried Gisburne.
What about her? snapped the Sheriff pettishly. The poor girls gone native. Hell tire of her its only a matter of time. Imagine it, Gisburne! One woman and half a dozen men. Thats the perfect recipe for disaster.

* * *
Robin was about to give up his quest when he saw a cart, heavy with sacks of grain, being driven down the Rufford road towards Nottingham. The outlaws pulled their hoods round their faces and stepped out in front of the driver. A smooth-faced little man, he looked nervously at them as he reined the horse.
Good day, friend, said Robin pleasantly.
Outlaws! stammered the driver.
Scarlet nodded. The man looked at Tuck, surprised to see a monk hobnobbing with criminals. What are you doing with them, Brother? he asked.
I like em, Tuck replied with a grin as if that was reason enough.
You wouldnt rob me, would you? implored the man. Ive only a few sacks of grain, and they aint mine.
We wont harm you, friend, said Little John with a friendly smile. On your way.
But Robin still stood in front of the cart and looked searchingly at the driver. Is the grain yours? he asked quietly.
Er no. It belongs to neighbours of mine at Barnsley. Were bondsmen, scratching a living from bits of land that our masters have no use for.
Come on, Robin, said Little John. Let him go.
Whats your name? asked Robin, ignoring his friend.
Robin took Albion from its sheath while the others looked at him as if hed taken leave of his senses. The sword point travelled along the sacks, and stopped at one of them. The next moment Robin ripped it open. The grain poured out followed by a shower of silver pennies, just as in Robins dream. The outlaws gasped in astonishment.
Now, master carter, said Robin quietly. Ill have the truth.
The wretched little man scrambled down from the cart while the outlaws scooped up the money. You wont kill me? he moaned.
Your name! Robin demanded.
Gregory Gregory of Bedford.
Hey Ive heard of him, cried Tuck. Hes a tax collector!
Is he, by God! said Scarlet.
Aye, the fat monk nodded. He works for the Sheriff.
Gregory looked alarmed as the outlaws closed round him. Its true but I never wanted to. I was forced into it. I was, you know.
You poor little chap, said Little John ironically.
I hate taking money from people, said Gregory with a sickly smile.
Scarlet drew his sword. Then Ill put you out of your misery, he whispered.
Gregory fell to his knees screaming for mercy.
A fat lot youve shown, muttered Tuck.
By now Gregorys teeth were chattering with fear. Listen, he gasped, Ive some money money of my own. Its yours if you spare me.
What can we spend it on in Sherwood? asked Little John.
One things certain, said Robin. He cant pass through Sherwood without being taxed.
Lets tax him a hand, said Scarlet.
Not enough, said Little John. Make it an arm.
Two arms! Two arms, said Much jumping up and down with excitement.
I know, said Scarlet slowly. A poll tax!
A p-p-poll tax? stammered Gregory.
Aye. Your head you blood-sucking leech.
Gregory collapsed in a blubbering heap.
Whats it to be, Gregory? said Robin. Come on, you should know. Youre the tax collector.
But before the terrified man could answer, Little John pointed down the road. A party of mounted soldiers was galloping towards them.
Much pulled at the horses bridle and turned the cart to straddle the track, while the outlaws sent a shower of arrows whistling towards their attackers. Several crashed to the ground but the rest charged on.
The outlaws fought in silence and quickly reduced the odds against them.
It was a savage fight. The soldiers were Brabançon mercenaries, some of the most brutal men under arms, but even so they were no match for the men of Sherwood and when five of their number lay dead, the rest mounted their horses and rode away.
Scarlet, his sword dripping with blood, cursed them for a cowardly lot and looked round for Gregory. But the tax collector was nowhere to be seen. He had seized his chance to escape when the fight began.
How did you know about the money? Little John asked Robin as he tried to staunch the flow of blood from a gash in his thigh.
A little bird told me, said Robin.
Was it a robin? asked Much slyly.
They drove the cart back to the camp with Little John lying on the sacks and cursing his bad luck. Marion was shocked when she saw the outlaws, for most of them were bruised and bleeding though Little John was the only one whose wound was deep.
An old servant of her fathers had taught Marion how to use plants, herbs and mosses even spiders webs to heal a wound, so she bound up Little Johns cut and kept it from being poisoned. Next, she made him drink a mixture of marjoram, bay and fennel to cool his blood and protect him from fever. The foul-tasting stuff made him gag but she stood over him and made him finish it.
The money was counted and Tuck reckoned it was worth around six hundred marks. The outlaws were pleased with their success and laughed and joked amongst themselves.
Tuck grovelled on the ground in mock terror, wringing his hands. I never wanted to be a tax collector! he blubbered while the outlaws laughed and clapped. Even Nasir smiled.
I thought the lying pig would die of fright, said Scarlet.
Hell die of something else when he gets back to Nottingham, Robin grinned.
He wont go back to Nottingham, laughed Little John. Not if hes got any sense.
But hell have to, wont he? said Tuck. Otherwise theyll think hes stolen the money!
Looks like hes in real trouble, said Robin.
With any luck, theyll hang him, said Scarlet. And they all roared with laughter again.
No one took any notice of Marion but seeing them laughing together and obviously so very pleased with themselves made her angry. Finally she could bear it no longer so she got to her feet and walked off. Robin saw her go and realized at once that something was wrong. He left the others and followed her. But when he caught her up she ignored him completely.
Whats wrong? he asked quietly.
Nothing, said Marion looking straight ahead.
Robin took her arm but she shrugged him off.
This is daft, he said.
Marion stopped and looked at him angrily. Oh, Im daft now, am I? she said and moved off again.
I didnt say that, said Robin.
Marion paused. What am I to you? she asked.
Everything! said Robin.
Marion nodded. Everything. Yes. Wife, cook and nurse.
Robin tried to take her in his arms but she pulled free. I had more freedom in Kirklees Abbey! she said.
Robin stared at her. He still didnt understand.
I came to Sherwood because I loved you, Marion said patiently. Whatever happens whatever the danger I want to be with you.
Robin shook his head. We could all have been killed today.
And do you think Id want to go on living without you? she replied. Im one of you, I have to be. Youve taught me to shoot and I can outride any of you. Do you think theyll spare me if they catch us? Were outlaws. And were bound together by the powers of Light and Darkness. Our fate must be shared, Robin. It must!

* * *
That night, Gregory of Bedford limped into Nottingham to find the Sheriff waiting for him in a savage mood. The survivors of the fight on the Rufford road had already returned and Gregorys hastily babbled story of the ambush made his master even more angry. Grabbing the tax collector by the throat, he hurled him to the floor and began kicking him round the council chamber. He knew! He knew, my lord! screamed Gregory, slithering away from the Sheriffs boots.
He knew because you told him! screamed the Sheriff hauling the little man to his feet again. You were terrified, werent you, Gregory? So to save your cowardly skin you gave him the tax money!
He knew where it was! Gregory spluttered. He went straight to it!
The Sheriff shook him like a hound with a rat. Smell money, can he? See through sack cloth? He called to his guards. Take [p.77] this villain out and rack him! He turned away and Gregory was dragged out, begging for mercy.
Gisburne, who had watched the scene with considerable satisfaction, poured out a goblet of wine and handed it to his master.
Dont look so smug, said the Sheriff coldly.
No, my lord, Gisburne replied.
I was wrong about Robin Hood, said the Sheriff, and I admit it. He gulped the wine.
Yes, my lord, smirked Gisburne.
The Sheriffs fury burst out again. Six hundred and eighty silver marks! I want the villains head!
Ill get it for you, said Gisburne.
Again the Sheriff controlled himself. Dont be stupid, he said. All youll get in Sherwood is an arrow in your back.
Then how, my lord? Gisburne was anxious to reinstate himself, perhaps even improve his position. Well never get him out a second time. Wed need a ferret.
There was a pause and then the Sheriff looked at him with sudden interest. What did you say?
My lord? Gisburne was puzzled.
But thats brilliant, Gisburne! Positively inspired! The Sheriff patted him on the shoulder. A ferret. Of course. Thats the answer.




The following morning Gisburne went down to the dungeon under Nottingham Castle and fetched Jennet to the council chamber. The girl eyed him with hatred and when the Sheriff dismissed him Gisburne was glad to leave.
The Sheriff nodded curtly at his prisoner and ordered her to sit. She waited in silence while he wrote busily for some minutes. When he had finished, he put his elbows on the table and, propping his chin with neatly folded hands, gave her a pleasant smile.
Im going to save your lives, he said quietly. Yours and your mans.
Jennet stared at him in disbelief. This was the last thing she expected. The Sheriff smirked at her surprise and held up the parchment he had been writing. It was a pardon.
Do you believe me now? he asked.
Why should I?
The Sheriff chuckled. Have you heard of Robin Hood? he said casually.
Jennet didnt answer but her eyes told the Sheriff all he needed to know.
Hes the peoples hero, isnt he? Well, youre going to help me catch him.
You can burn in hell first, said Jennet fiercely.
The Sheriff stopped smiling. And you could burn a good deal sooner, he said quietly. Hangings a comparatively painless death. Im sure we could think of something far more imaginative for Thomas. Something you could watch for hours. You might regret you didnt listen to me.
He stood up and went close to her. Everyone suffers because of these fanatics, he told her. The curfew questioning imprisonment Trial by Ordeal. While they sit in Sherwood, [p.79] gorging themselves on royal meat. What do you owe them? Did Robin Hood lift a finger to save you from Gisburne?
He paused and held out the pardon again. Im offering both of you your lives in return for your secret skill. But I warn you not to take too long making up your mind or I could easily change mine.
My secret skill? asked Jennet.
The Sheriff laughed. Oh, Im not expecting you to turn them into frogs, he said. But you claim to heal people, dont you? Using plants and berries for your so-called magic. With a bit of mumbo-jumbo thrown in to impress the locals. But what about the plants that harm? The poisons growing beside the cures? You know them too, dont you? You must. They can take away a mans will, cant they? Render him senseless. Even drive him mad. He paused. You will prepare such a drug. Something to render them helpless not to kill them. I want them brought back to Nottingham alive.
Jennet looked at him in surprise.
Im not going to kill them, lied the Sheriff smoothly. Martyrs are more dangerous than rebels. Besides, if I pardon them Ill gain the peoples respect. Authority must have respect. You see me as a foreign tyrant but I was born in England. Its time we all thought of ourselves as English and worked together to make this country great.
It was a good speech and he knew Jennet believed him. People always believed what they wanted to hear, he thought cynically. She would help him now and when Robin Hood and his men were hanged in Nottingham there would be no more talk of rebellion.

* * *
While the Sheriff plotted against them the outlaws went to the villages near Sherwood and gave back all the money Gregory had taken. The grain was divided and each village had an equal share. Robin was driving the cart back to the camp together with Marion, Nasir and Tuck when Little John, who had been fishing, strode up carrying a man under each arm and said that they wanted to join them.
Where did you find them? asked Robin while Little John [p.80] dumped them in the back of the cart. Both lads appeared considerably the worse for wear. Their faces were bruised and one of them had a bleeding nose.
They found me, grinned the young giant. I was asleep and they tried to rob me. Ones called Martin and the others James, but Ive forgotten which is which!
As the cart creaked and bumped on its way Little John told them hed heard that the Bishop of Leicester had broken his journey at St Marys Abbey.
Do you think hes worth robbing? asked Robin.
Worth robbing? repeated Tuck. Hes one of the richest prelates in England. Rolling in money he is, but none of it goes to the poor.
Robin was interested. How many men has he with him?
About thirty, said Little John. At least, thats what I was told.
Thirtys too many, said Robin. Theres only eight of us.
Nine, said Marion firmly.

* * *
Scarlet and Much were out hunting when they heard the baying of hounds and saw a girl running through the forest pursued by Gisburne and his men. The Sheriff wanted the outlaws to think Jennet had escaped.
Scarlet acted quickly. He ducked through the tall ferns and pulled the girl into hiding.
As Gisburnes men advanced, an arrow hummed through the air and, with a choking cry, a soldier pitched forward on his face. The rest of the pursuers froze in their tracks. Gisburnes keen eyes searched the trees but he could see nobody.
Whos next? called Scarlet from his hiding place.
Gisburne rode forward. Show yourselves! he cried angrily.
Youve come too far, Gisburne. Youre surrounded, Scarlets voice answered. Gisburne smiled to himself. The outlaws had found the ferret; it was time to turn back.
Are you Robin Hood? whispered Jennet.
Scarlet shook his head. Why were they after you? he asked as they watched the men march away.
They were taking me to be hanged.
Hanged? What for?
Do they need a reason? said Jennet bitterly.
Since his wifes death, Scarlet had deliberately stifled any feelings of kindness or pity. He had lived only for revenge; but now, as he led the trembling girl to the safety of the camp he tried to comfort her. No one would harm her again, he promised, and Jennet wept. She hated what she had to do. She wanted to tell him the real reason she was in Sherwood. But she knew that Thomas would die and die horribly if she betrayed the Sheriff.
Robin listened to her story and heard how Scarlet had sent Gisburnes men packing. He was pleased that she had joined them; she would be company for Marion.
That evening Jennet watched Robin hold up a bowl full of mead and ask Herne to protect them. Each of the outlaws drank from it in silence before beginning their supper. It was a simple ceremony but it reminded them of their purpose, and the oath of brotherhood that bound them together.
The following morning, with Tuck to see fair play, the two new recruits, James and Martin, wrestled one another. They were strong lads and they wanted to show Robin that they could be useful members of the band.
Scarlet sat on the ground near Jennet. He liked being near her. There seemed to be a sadness in her and he wanted to talk to her about his wife and the bitter loneliness in his heart.
Do you think theyll do? muttered Little John to Robin as James finally pinned Martin to the ground.
They will when they can shoot a longbow, said Robin.
Er what about the Bishop of Leicester? asked the big man.
You never give up, do you? said Robin with a laugh. He beckoned to Tuck. When will the Bishop leave the abbey? he asked.
Not much before noon if hes anything like the rest of em.
Robin thought hard while everyone watched him in silence. Where was the right place for the ambush?
Well attack them at Long Marsh, he said finally.
Plenty of cover, said Scarlet. Its perfect.
They wont get there until sunset, said Tuck.
And thats the best time to hit em, said Robin. They wont follow us after dark!
Will we need the horses? asked Marion.
Youll have to stay with Jennet, he said quietly. She cant come with us, and she cant be left alone.
Marion stared at him angrily. Let Will stay with her! she said.
Will? exclaimed Robin. I cant ask Will to stay. Thatd be daft!
You promised me! said Marion furiously. You promised that next time I could come with you!
Well, you cant, said Robin irritably. Youll have to stay!
Marion exploded with anger and kicked him on the shin. It was completely unexpected and for a moment he stared at her in amazement.
You promised! she shouted, completely losing her temper.
She came at him with swinging fists and Robin retreated. He blocked her blows but she kept on hitting out. So he grabbed her, lifted her off her feet, and carried her across the clearing to dump her in the bushes. An ironic cheer went up from the outlaws. Robin grinned at them, and raised his arms in mock triumph. But Marion struggled up and jumped on his back in a fury, banging his head with clenched fists. The outlaws roared as Robin tried to shake her off, but he lost his balance and fell to the ground with Marion on top of him.
By now he was laughing too and this made Marion even more angry. She scrambled to her feet and glared at the outlaws. But Robin remained where he was, hooting with helpless laughter. With a final cry of rage she ran from the clearing.
You must be in love! gasped Little John, wiping the tears from his eyes.
Tucks great bulk was shaking with mirth. A draw! It was a draw! he cried.
Robin was about to follow Marion but Scarlet stopped him.
Let her go! he said. Dont run after her like Marys little lamb!
Thats it! agreed Little John. Show her whos master!
Let her cool down! said Scarlet. Shell be back.
Robin nodded. She will, he said.
Tuck sighed, a broad grin on his chubby face. Always been headstrong, has Marion. She once told me she wished she was a man.
For a moment Robin wondered whether they should go ahead with the raid on the Bishop. Marions angry departure meant that Much would have to stay with Jennet. James and Martin had never shot a longbow, so the outlaws would only have five trained archers.
Call it off, Little John told him.
But Robin was stubborn. The raid on the Bishop of Leicester would go ahead. He wasnt going to let Marions outburst spoil his plans.
He called for a bowl of mead and Jennet went to fetch it from the little cave which served the outlaws as store-room and pantry.
She made sure that none of them was watching and sprinkled her potion into the mead. Then with a guilty heart she carried the bowl to Robin while the outlaws gathered in a circle. Scarlet gave her a smile but she avoided his eyes, already bitterly regretting what she had done.
Herne protect us! said Robin and drank from the bowl.
Jennet watched tensely as it passed round the circle, and the outlaws drank. The drug acted swiftly. Suddenly Robin began to choke and clutched his throat. Then Little John crumpled to the ground while Nasir twisted in pain and fought to stay conscious. Much tried to scream but no sound came and he fell down, kicking and twitching. Tucks face contorted with agony and Scarlet turned to Jennet with hatred in his eyes and pointed at her as he fell. As Robin lost consciousness he remembered the girl in his dream and the bowl that had become a deaths-head.

* * *
When Marion stormed off she had no idea where she was [p.84] going. She simply wanted to get away from the outlaws laughter. But when she became calmer she realized how stupidly she had behaved and started to giggle. The giggles turned to laughter as she remembered Robins look of surprise when she attacked him. But she wasnt going back, she thought; at least not yet not until he came looking for her. She felt sure he would be too worried about their quarrel to bother to attack the Bishop. So she found a forest pool, washed the dust from her face and sat back to wait for him.
After a while she became aware of a strange sound building up around her. At first she thought it was the wind but not a leaf stirred in the trees. When it ceased a mysterious silence fell over everything. Even the birds stopped singing and all was as still as midnight.
There was a stag standing under the distant trees. But was it a stag? The slanting sunlight dazzled her for a moment and then she realized she was looking at the antlered figure of a man dressed in a robe of leaves.
It was Herne.
She stood up, her heart beating wildly. For an instant the forest flickered and vanished. She saw Jennet sprinkling her potion into the wooden drinking bowl, and Robin writhing in pain. The vision seemed to ripple before her eyes like the surface of a lake when a wind passes and then she could see the trees again and Herne watching her. She fell to her knees, and a quiet voice spoke inside her head.
The powers of Light and Darkness are with you. Use them! Act quickly!
Herne stood looking at her for a moment longer before turning away. She watched him go, unable to move. Robin and the others were in terrible danger and only she could help them.




The Sheriff stared disagreeably at the two traders who stood before him. They were Jews, forced to serve nobody but the King. This annoyed the Sheriff. He liked everyone in Nottingham to serve him.
It was difficult to know how to deal with Jews, he thought irritably. They werent aliens: Duke William had brought them from Normandy. Neither were they heretics: their right to exist was recognized by the Church. The Sheriff hated their quiet pride and the fact they were different. Like all tyrants he wanted everyone to be the same: to act the same and think the same. Anyone else was dangerous.
You need my permission to trade in Nottingham, he said coldly, and I will not grant it. If you are still here by nightfall Ill have you whipped to the gates.
As they left he wondered uneasily if they would report him to the kings justiciary. But what if they did? Prince John was ruling England now and the Sheriff was under his protection.
He leaned back in his chair as Guy of Gisburne clattered in. The young knight had ridden over from the Abbey of St Marys with a message from his brother.
The Abbot is angry, my lord, said Gisburne, pulling off his helmet.
The Abbots always angry, said the Sheriff. He was angry as a child; Ive still got the scars.
He says
He says what?
He says that the woman Jennet has made a fool of er made fools of us all and that
Do you really think shed betray us? said the Sheriff coldly. With her precious husband under sentence? I promise you [p.86] that when shes led you to Robin Hood, youll be able to watch her die as well.
If she returns, my lord, said Gisburne insolently.
What a worrier you are, Gisburne! the Sheriff chuckled. You must learn patience if youre ever to take service with me. And tact youre very short on tact.
I believe in action, my lord.
Thats the eternal excuse for not stopping to think, said the Sheriff.
Gisburne stood to attention. Im a soldier, sir, he barked.
Exactly, said the Sheriff.
He called to the two guards by the door. Bring in the woman!
Gisburne looked at him in astonishment. The Sheriff sniggered. She returned at dawn. The outlaws lie in Sherwood powerless to move.
The guards returned with Jennet and she knelt in front of the Sheriff, averting her eyes from Guy of Gisburne.
The Sheriff ordered her to lead Sir Guy to the outlaws. Gisburne was to take half the castle guard with him. This time, there were to be no mistakes.
Jennet rode at the head of the column with Gisburne at her side. The outlaws camp was well hidden but she led him without hesitation and at last Gisburne could see the stricken men sprawled in the clearing. He drew his sword and strode up to them followed by his soldiers. Robin lay on his back, his eyes staring blankly.
Gisburne bent over him, Do you know me, Loxley? he sneered. Youre a dead man.
Without warning the dead man suddenly came to life, and so did the rest of them. The soldiers were taken completely by surprise. It was a desperate struggle but Robins men soon gained the upper hand. When Robin disarmed Gisburne and the soldiers saw that their leader was beaten, they threw down their swords and surrendered.
After her vision of danger, Marion had raced back to find the outlaws groaning in pain and unable to move. She had [p.87] forced salt down their throats and then pressed out the juice from houseleek leaves and made them drink it.
Now she followed Jennet who had run off the instant the outlaws sprang to their feet.
Jennet was terrified. The stories of Robin Hood were true, she thought. Nothing could harm him. She looked back and saw Marion chasing her. She knew she would never escape, so she stopped running and held out her hands in surrender.
In the camp the outlaws crowded round Gisburne.
Finish the pig! said Scarlet.
Gisburne looked at them with contempt. Animals! he cursed.
Much frowned. Whats wrong with animals? he said innocently.
If we are animals, said Robin quietly, who took away our rights as men?
Your rights! sneered Gisburne. Youve no rights, wolfshead!
String him up! cried Scarlet.
Robin went very close to the young knight. Whats your life worth? he asked.
Not a single penny, said Gisburne defiantly.
Scarlet saw Marion coming back with her prisoner. Jennets head was bowed and she was still weeping.
And what about this one? muttered Scarlet. Taking you to be hanged, were they? And I believed it!
She was to be hanged, said Marion who had heard the girls story. And her husband with her.
Scarlet stared at Jennet. He felt tricked and his heart was cold. Husband! Ah, so you bargained, did you? Our lives for yours, eh? Youre a sweet one, arent you?
Leave her alone, said Marion quietly.
If you hadnt saved us, wed all be dead, said Scarlet. And shes to blame.
I had no choice! wept Jennet. Do you think I could stand by and watch them torture my husband? But Scarlet turned away and refused to listen.
Robin looked at the weeping girl and then back at Gisburne. If youre not worth a penny, lets see if youre worth another mans life, he said quietly.

* * *
In Nottingham Castle the de Rainault brothers were already celebrating. Abbot Hugo had ridden over from St Marys and was drinking heavily. He suggested to his brother that the outlaws heads should be stuck over the main gate of Nottingham as a permanent reminder to the rest of the English.
Im not a gamekeeper, Hugo, said the Sheriff shortly. Besides, the prevailing wind blows from that direction.
And what do we do with Marion? asked Hugo wiping the wine from his thick lips.
Im inclined to think we should pardon her.
Pardon her?
Why not?
And then what happens to her?
We marry her to the highest bidder, said the Sheriff.
The doors opened and Gisburne strode in past the guards. The Sheriff looked at him angrily. The insolent young dog was still wearing his helmet.
Well? he demanded. Wheres the villains head?
On the villains shoulders, said Robin Hood, taking off the helmet and throwing it unceremoniously to the floor.
Kill him! the Sheriff screamed at the guards.
But Robin was ready for them. He hit the first with his mailed fist and as the man fell, he rammed the second guard against a pillar. The Sheriff drew his sword.
Put it away, panted Robin. Im here to talk.
The Abbot had sobered up quickly. Like most bullies he was a coward. He scuttled behind the Sheriffs chair. Yes, yes, no swords, no swords, Robert! he howled.
The Sheriff stood his ground. Wheres Gisburne? he said.
Where do you think?
Robin shook his head.
You see. You see, Robert, brayed Hugo nervously. The girl betrayed you after all!
The Sheriff ignored his brother. So Gisburnes your hostage? he asked Robin.
For Thomas of Elsden, said Robin.
The Sheriff smiled. But hes been sentenced to death. And suppose I tell you I dont care what happens to Gisburne?
And your soldiers?
Soldiers have a habit of dying, dont they? Its an occupational hazard. So you have nothing to bargain with, have you?
Robin drew his sword. Havent I? he said.
The Sheriff lunged at him and Robin twisted the sword from his hand with ease. Then he held Albions point at de Rainaults throat. I think youd like Gisburne back, dont you? he said quietly.
The Sheriff was sweating.
Well? said Robin.
Yes, said the Sheriff stiffly. Id like him back!
Robin made him sit and then pointed with Albion to a pen. You kill men with that feather, dont you? he said. Well, this time its going to save a life.
The Sheriff knew he was beaten. In silence he picked up the quill, and began to write.

* * *
The outlaws had tied Gisburne upside down over a stream and now they were swinging him to and fro like a pendulum. At the lowest point, his head went under the water, and each time this happened a roar of approval went up from the outlaws. The game was still in progress when Robin rode into the clearing with Thomas of Elsden at his side. Jennet sobbed with happiness as Thomas took her in his arms while the outlaws left Gisburne swinging and ran to cheer Robin.
He held up the pardon, A gift from the Sheriff and his brother. With the seal of Nottingham and the Abbey of St Marys.
So Gisburnes worth something after all! laughed Little John.
Suddenly they all remembered Gisburne. The pendulum had stopped swinging and the wretched man was in danger of drowning. They hauled him roughly from the stream and revived him.
Robin watched them, with his arm round Marion. It wasnt Gisburnes life I bargained with, he said quietly. It was the Sheriffs. And now hell hunt me until one of us is dead.
He kissed her. It was ironic that their quarrel had saved them all from the gallows.
Gisburne goes free, to face the Sheriff. And for a while well be left in peace.
But it wont be for long, warned Marion.
No theyll try again but well be ready for them. He looked tenderly at Marion. All of us!
Marions eyes shone. She had finally been accepted as one of the outlaws.




The story of how Robin Hood made the Sheriff pardon Jennet and Thomas was soon being told everywhere, and people jeered whenever Guy of Gisburne rode through Nottingham. Children began throwing stones at the castle guards and every day brought another joke about the Sheriff and his brother.
Robin and his friends continued stopping rich merchants on their way to Nottingham and the money that they took from them was given to the poor.
One day they found a potter lying in the road. He had been beaten and robbed by mercenaries. Marion nursed him and he stayed with the outlaws until he was well enough to travel back to Nottingham.
The outlaws moved camp. Gisburne had been there and there was a chance he could find it again.
You should have killed him, shouldnt you? said Scarlet sourly.
But Robin told him Gisburne was more use to them alive. The people hated the young Steward and everything he stood for. And that meant more help for the outlaws.
Think of it, said Robin. We can have spies in every village. Messengers. And not only in the villages. In Nottingham itself. Places to hide right under the Sheriffs nose.
Youll get too big for your boots! said Scarlet.
Then Ill get bigger boots! laughed Robin.
On a hill overlooking a stream Robin found a pair of antlers lying on a boulder. He knew it was an altar to Herne and an omen that they should make their camp there. The hill gave them a clear view of the road going north from Nottingham and from the tree-tops they could see for miles. They could attack anyone on the road and then melt back into the [p.92] forest. Although there was open country ahead of them, plenty of good cover lay behind the hill.
That night, while their friends huddled together round the fire, Robin and Marion walked alone in the moonlight and listened to a nightingale singing from the dark heart of Sherwood.
What does he sing about do you think? whispered Marion.
Nothing, said Robin. He just sings.
Maybe hes in love.
Maybe hes a she.
She turned to him. Are you in love?
Should I be? teased Robin.
They kissed but after a moment Marion turned away. I wonder what will happen to us? she said.
Well live to be a hundred, said Robin putting his arms around her.
Would you want to? said Marion softly.
Robin shook his head. The older you get the colder the wind blows.
The strange cry of a bird echoed through the forest.
Marion shivered. Thats a lychfowl, she whispered. It means bad luck.
Robin nodded. He knew the cry was an evil omen and he prayed that Herne would protect them.
But the following day was to bring them into conflict with the most savage and ruthless enemy they had ever encountered.
They had finished their early meal and were already practising with their bows shooting at a straw-filled bag that Much set swinging for them when they saw a man running uphill towards their camp. He was a thin, wretched-looking lad in rags. His hair was long and he wore a dirty bandage over one eye. When he saw the outlaws he stopped, seeming disconcerted to have come across them. He approached warily and gave them a crooked grin.
Er good day, my friends, he said, hesitantly.
Nobody answered him. He was sweating and out of breath [p.93] and he glanced anxiously down the hill to the distant road.
Reckon I lost my way, he said.
Where are you making for? said Scarlet suspiciously.
And where are you from? asked Little John.
Grimston, the young man replied. Again he looked behind him. My names Siward. Look, I
What do you do, Siward? asked Robin.
Do? Im a peddler.
The Nottingham roads down there, said Robin.
So peddle off, grunted Tuck who didnt like the look of him. Siward nodded and backed away nervously.
If youre stopped, Robin warned him, youve seen nobody.
Nobody, agreed Siward quickly. Ive not seen nobody.
Then without warning a group of riders appeared in the distance and raced up the hill towards them. They wore white tabards with red crosses on them over their chain-mail and their helmets were like small iron barrels, with narrow eyeslits. Crouching low in their saddles and with lances at the ready, they bore down on the outlaws with frightening speed.
They scattered as the knights charged through them, stabbing down at them viciously and turning their horses to charge again. Siward took to his heels, Marion, who had dived out of the way to avoid being trampled, jumped up and put an arrow to her bow. She looked quickly round at the others. Martin lay dead but the rest had survived the charge and were already shooting back. Nasir had been wounded in the arm but was still using his bow. Arrows hummed towards the knights but their thick shields deflected them. Down the hill they thundered, lances dipping as each man sought his target. Beau Séant! they cried savagely.
Again the outlaws scattered, twisting and turning from the pounding hoofs and the jabbing lances. The horses reared, neighing in fear as their riders tried to trample the fleeing outlaws under their hoofs. Little John roared his defiance, ducked under a sweeping lance and as the knight rose in his stirrups, dragged him to the ground.
But still the others kept up their relentless attack. Their wild cry echoed round the trees. Beau Séant!
Robin knew that if all the outlaws remained in the open the knights would kill them all.
Get to the trees! he yelled.
As if anticipating their retreat, the knights divided and, outflanking the fugitives, they galloped back up the hill and turned to cut off their escape. They charged in a pincer movement which sent the outlaws hurtling in all directions in a desperate bid to escape the plunging hooves. The impetus carried the knights some distance past them and while they re-grouped Robin rallied his friends and they stumbled, torn and bloody and gasping for breath, into the safety of the trees.
Much was some way behind the rest and he stumbled and fell in the path of the oncoming knights. They closed around him and one of them scooped him up and threw him over the neck of his horse.
The knights turned their foam-flecked steeds in unison, their helmets blank and faceless. For a moment they stood in line with Much struggling to free himself. Then they turned back and rode to where their dead companion lay. They put him across his horse and, without looking back, trotted away and vanished over the horizon.
There was a long silence.
Well get him back, Robin promised grimly.
Scarlet shook his head. No, theyll kill him, he muttered.
If theyd meant to kill him, theyd have done it in front of us. Hes a hostage.
Slowly Robin and his friends went back to where Martin lay. They buried him on the hill-top close by Hernes boulder. Tuck prayed for his soul while the others stood grimly and swore to avenge his death.
Who were those devils! said Little John.
Templars, said Marion.
Tuck nodded. Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon.
Poor! said Scarlet bitterly. What are the good ones like?
Theyre monks, said Tuck. They take an oath of poverty.
Fighting monks? said Little John with bewilderment. I thought you were the only one.
Ive heard some right tales about them, I can tell you, muttered Tuck. You wouldnt believe some of the things theyve done in the Holy Land. That lot fight to the death. Put whole towns to the sword whole towns Jews as well as Saracens, theyre not particular. They call it killing for Christ.
But why did they attack us? asked Marion.
What does it matter? said Scarlet. Martins dead, Nasirs wounded and Much is their prisoner. Lets get after them!
The outlaws picked up the bows theyd been forced to abandon while Marion bound up Nasirs wound as best she could. Then silently they set out to follow the Templars.




The villagers of Bystead, which was little more than a few huts in a forest clearing, looked in wonder when the Knights Templar trotted in, bearing their dead comrade and the frightened boy. They dismounted in the centre of the village with military precision and their leader took off his helmet. His red hair was cropped and his face was bearded and sunburnt; his blue eyes surveyed the villagers with contempt. He was Reynald de Villaret and he would teach these cattle to obey.
Occupez-vous des chevaux! he ordered.
The ragged onlookers stared at him so he repeated the command in English. See to the horses! he barked.
The people were terrified but they knew better than to disobey armed knights and hurried to do their bidding, while the Templars pulled Much to the ground and then carefully took the dead man from his horse. Quickly and efficiently they pitched an eight-sided tent, decorated on each panel with a red cross, then they dragged Much into the tent and threw him down in front of their leader.
Reynald de Villaret stared at the boy intently for a while and then spoke in French to one of his companions. This was Heinrich von Erlichshausen a big, thick-set man with a scar cutting down his hard face like forked lightning.
This is not the one! snapped de Villaret. The thief we seek has only one eye. He was there. I saw him with them!
Von Erlichshausen reddened. He was the one who had captured Much. Then what should we do with this one, commander? he asked. Shall I kill the little pig?
De Villaret thought this over for a moment and then shook his head with a cruel smile. No not yet, he said slowly. [p.97] Perhaps the other villains will come looking for him. And then, Brothers in Christ, we shall recover Beau Séant God fights with us! Are we not his soldiers?
God fights with us! chorused the knights fiercely.
Much had not understood a single word. He stood grinning nervously at them, his eyes blinking rapidly. De Villaret prodded him distastefully. You stink! he said in English. Take him outside and tie the little animal to a tree.
Robin and his friends had no difficulty in following the trail made by the knights heavy horses. From the high ground above the village they looked down and saw the Templars outlandish tent. De Villaret was making the villagers build a funeral pyre for the knight Little John had killed. The outlaws could also see Much. He had been tied to a tree at the edge of Bystead.
Im going to get him, said Robin, stringing his bow.
Well all get him, grunted Little John.
Robin shook his head. Im going alone. Ive known Much since he was born. Besides, one man has less chance of being seen.
Marion kissed him and for a moment he held her close. She knew that what he was about to do was fraught with danger. He was risking his life to save Much. But she said nothing and smiled bravely.
Just as he was moving off the outlaws saw other riders below them.
It was the Sheriff. Sir Guy was with him and a column of men-at-arms marched behind them.
The Sheriff was on his annual tour of the county.
It was always a tedious business, he thought wearily, but only by visiting each village in turn could he ensure that everyone was paying their taxes and paying them in full.
The Angevin rulers believed in power, and power meant wealth. The King exacted huge sums from the barons, his tenants-in-chief, and they in turn taxed the people. They taxed their cattle, their ploughs, even the wool from their sheep. The crusades had brought a new tax the Saladin tithe. And when King Richard was shipwrecked and taken prisoner by Duke [p.98] Leopold of Austria the people of England suffered the greatest tax of all to pay his ransom.
Its a very curious country, Gisburne, said the Sheriff as they cantered towards Bystead. It seems to absorb people like a sponge. I mean, what are we English or Norman?
Norman, my lord, replied Gisburne stolidly.
Thats what I thought youd say, said the Sheriff drily. He sighed. Such a bore having to trot round the shire every year. But we wont fill the exchequer by sitting in Nottingham twiddling our thumbs.
Cattle have to be driven, said Gisburne.
They entered the village and the Sheriff looked curiously at the Templars tent. What the devils that? he murmured.
De Villaret and the five other knights in their long cloaks advanced to meet him.
Nous sommes des Templiers de retour de la Terre Saint, said de Villaret, bowing stiffly.
Veuillez parler en anglais, chevalier! replied the Sheriff.
I am Frère Reynald de Villaret, said the Templars leader angrily. I command here.
The Sheriff looked him up and down. Im not sure I understand you, Frère Reynald, he said with a frown. Command who here? Im High Sheriff of Nottingham and I represent the King.
De Villarets pale blue eyes stared back fanatically. And I the King of Kings.
The Sheriff coughed with embarrassment. Yes yes of course. But Id still like to know what you are doing in this village. It happens to be part of a royal manor which I administrate. These people are serfs not Saracens.
We are returning to our preceptory in Lincoln, said de Villaret. We shall not remain here long, my lord Sheriff.
No, you wont, said Gisburne rudely.
De Villaret glanced at him coldly and was about to speak to the Sheriff again when Gisburne interrupted him. Im telling you to move on, he said harshly.
De Villaret ignored him completely. We shall continue our journey soon, he said to the Sheriff.
Youll continue it now, said Gisburne.
Who is this clown? said de Villaret.
Gisburne was off his horse in a moment, sword in hand. De Villaret remained calm while his knights drew their swords and waited for his orders.
Put it away, Gisburne, said the Sheriff quietly.
But, my lord!
Do it, Gisburne! The command was sharp.
Reluctantly Gisburne obeyed and after a moment de Villaret gestured to the knights and they did likewise. The Sheriff relaxed and smiled benignly at the Templars. Now, Frère Reynald, he said, you were about to tell me what youre doing here.
Je crois que non, replied de Villaret angrily lapsing into French.
Why not? snapped the Sheriff who was determined to keep the conversation in English.
Because I dont choose to, said de Villaret arrogantly. An outrage has been committed against our Order.
An outrage? repeated the Sheriff very intrigued. What sort of an outrage?
Thats our concern.
The Sheriff was about to tell him that anything which happened in the Shire of Nottingham was very much his concern when Gisburne suddenly caught sight of Much. I know that boy! he exclaimed and started forward.
Stay where you are! cried de Villaret.
But Gisburne was too excited to listen. The half-wit, my lord Sheriff! The half-wit! he shouted.
Which one? snapped the Sheriff, looking straight at him.
There, my lord there! cried Gisburne, pointing at Much. The millers son. The miller who fostered Robin Hood! He rounded on de Villaret. That villains mine. I want him!
Vous ne laurez pas! Cest mon prisonnier! replied de Villaret, quite unmoved.
Gisburne pleaded desperately with the Sheriff. My lord, are you going to ?
Be quiet, man, said the Sheriff and then smiled placatingly [p.100] at de Villaret. So Robin Hood has er crossed your path, has he?
De Villaret stared at him uncomprehendingly.
Of course, Im forgetting. Youve been away, havent you? Hes the self-styled King of Sherwood and a dangerous rebel.
Does a girl fight with him? asked the Templar.
I believe so, said the Sheriff carefully.
And a friar a fat friar?
That renegade monk was the Sheriffs chaplain! said Gisburne, tactlessly.
They will all die, de Villaret said calmly. All of them. We have sworn it!
The Sheriff could hardly believe his luck. Then you have my blessing, Frère Reynald, he said, positively beaming at the Templar commander.
Gisburne stared at the Sheriff open-mouthed.
Come along, Gisburne, he said good humouredly. Its time we left the Brothers to their er devotions.
Gisburne was furious. My lord, I must protest.
Id rather you didnt, sighed the Sheriff. Just get back on your horse and stop making an exhibition of yourself.
Gisburne hesitated briefly but he had learnt not to disobey the Sheriff so he glared at de Villaret and got back on his horse. As the Sheriff left Bystead, followed by Gisburne and the men-at-arms, he turned and waved ironically at the Templars. Good hunting, de Villaret, he called.
Gisburne cantered up to ride beside him. They defied you, my lord! he said. I was dishonoured.
Now listen to me, Gisburne, said the Sheriff quietly. They are six of the most highly-trained fighting men in the Christian world and answerable to nobody but the Pope. There are two hundred more of them in Lincoln. Do you want them to start a crusade in Nottingham?
But they insulted
Whatever outrage Robin Hoods committed theyll avenge it. They will, you know Ive seen them at work. And they wont stop until every one of the outlaws is dead. Tuck, [p.101] Marion, the lot. Which saves you time, money and soldiers. Surely thats worth a little dishonour?

* * *
In the trees above Bystead, Robin and his friends watched the Sheriffs party ride away. It was time to rescue Much. In the village the funeral pyre was ready and the dead Templar, wrapped in his mantle, was being lifted on to it by the knights. They stood with drawn swords while the villagers watched the barbaric ceremony with awe.
De Villaret put a torch to the pyre. We consign our brother to the fire which purifies, he intoned as the flames crept up towards the body. He died in battle fighting against the enemies of Jesus Christ. A glorious death, my brothers!
He knelt and the others joined him.
De Villaret began to pray. Bend thine ear, O Lord, and harken unto me because I am helpless and unfortunate. Protect my soul.
Robin had reached the outskirts of the village. The knights were chanting loudly as flames enveloped the funeral fire. Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison, they cried.
Quietly Robin mingled with the villagers. They were so caught up in the ritual they failed to notice him. Carefully he worked his way through them until he was within striking distance of the boy.
When Much saw him, his eyes opened wide. Robin gave a warning gesture.
But de Villaret had seen him and sprang to his feet and the other knights broke off their prayers and followed him. Robin raced over to the tree and the villagers scattered, the women screaming and snatching up their children.
Robin fought like a tiger and de Villaret was surprised to find an outlaw who could use a sword so skilfully. But when the knights surrounded him, and there was no chance of freeing Much, Robin knew resistance was useless. He lowered Albion and let them seize him.
On the hillside where the outlaws were hiding Marion steeled herself to watch, and Scarlet looked at her with admiration.
The Templars bound Robin securely and led him before de Villaret. The magic letters engraved on Albions blade intrigued the commander. Where did you steal this? he demanded.
Robin said nothing. De Villaret hit him in the mouth. Where are the other scum? he asked.
Robin smiled but kept silent.
You will tell me, said the Templar calmly. Everyone always tells me. He leant forward within inches of Robins face. Youll shout it to me, he whispered. Youll scream it! You do understand me, dont you? What you took is sacred to us. Sacred! And we shall have it back, I promise you.
De Villaret paused. He was breathing hard, fighting to control his temper. Where is it now? he said sharply. With the others?
Robin still refused to speak so de Villaret hit him again.
Weve taken nothing, said Robin quietly. Let the boy go.
De Villarets eyes narrowed. Ah so you have a tongue, have you? But a lying tongue. The thief is one of you.
I speak the truth, said Robin.
And I shall prove you lie, replied de Villaret. And prove it fairly by putting you on trial. Trial by battle.
He turned to Heinrich von Erlichshausen. And you, Confrère, shall be our champion.
Von Erlichshausen smiled cruelly. By killing this arrogant peasant they would avenge their brothers death.
The Templars took Robin outside and untied him. He was given a small, round shield and a strange and terrifying weapon. It was an iron ball with spikes, fastened to one end of a short piece of chain. The other end was attached to a wooden handle. The thought of what such a thing could do to flesh and bone made Robin shudder. One blow would kill a man or cripple him for life. The small shield seemed a pitiful defence and Robin wore no armour.
De Villaret and his knights watched eagerly while von Erlichshausen prepared for battle.
Robin crouched down as the big man whirled his mace [p.103] and charged forward aiming at Robins head. The young outlaw was amazed that the cumbersome weapon could be used with such skill. Von Erlichshausen seemed to make nothing of its weight and swung the terrible thing as if it was a childs toy. It whistled towards Robins head and he ducked out of range.
The knight smiled grimly and stood back waiting for Robins blow.
He swung the mace with all his strength and the impetus almost pulled it from his hand. Von Erlichshausen made no attempt to avoid it but simply blocked the blow with his shield. It numbed Robins arm to the shoulder.
They circled and once again the knight whirled his mace through the air. This time Robin blocked it with his shield but the brutal blow knocked him off balance and he fell to one knee.
The watching knights gave a savage cry. But as von Erlichshausen prepared to finish him off Robin swung his mace at the knights knee and he crumpled to the ground with a cry of pain. Robin scrambled up hurling his shield straight at de Villaret. The knights lunged towards Robin and he took to his heels. They lumbered after him but he outstripped them easily. De Villaret called them back.

* * *
Robin stumbled into Marions arms while his friends crowded round excitedly. The trial by battle had drained his strength and he had failed to rescue Much. Little John wanted to attack at night but Robin shook his head.
The Templars think weve stolen something from them. Siward took it the lad with one eye.
And hes in Nottingham by now, muttered Scarlet.
Then we go to Nottingham, said Robin grimly.
They looked at him as if he was mad.
Robin Hood! shouted a voice. It was de Villaret. He had ridden out of Bystead and was calling up to the wooded hillside. Can you hear me?
I can hear you, called Robin. After a moment de Villarets voice floated up to them through the trees. You have until dawn, the Templar cried. Then we shall hang the boy.




Night had already fallen when Robin and Marion with Little John and Will Scarlet reached the outskirts of Nottingham. It had taken them six hours to traverse Sherwood but Hernes Son had led them unerringly and they were used to moving through the forest. They had left Tuck with James and Nasir to keep watch on the Templars.
Although the gateway was guarded there were many places where the town wall was easy to climb and soon the four of them dropped down into a narrow street leading to the marketplace where Robin knew the potter had his shop.
When they looked through his little window they could see Tod for that was the potters name working at his wheel by candlelight. There was a bench with rows of unfired beakers, jugs and plates. A fire was burning in a brazier, and the little workshop was thick with smoke. The only chimney was a hole in the roof.
Robin tapped quietly at the door.
Whos there? called Tod.
Robin Hood, said Robin just loud enough for him to hear.
After a moment the door opened and Tod peered out nervously and quickly beckoned them inside. Then he bolted the door and led them into the light. He smiled fondly at Marion, for he remembered how she had cared for him, and he brushed clay from a stool so she could sit.
Eh up, lad are you invading Nottingham? he chuckled to Robin.
Were after someone, said Robin. His names Siward.
Tod shuffled back to his wheel, working the treadle while his hands shaped the wet clay. Theres lots of Siwards, he said. Whats his trade?
Hes a thief, said Little John. With one eye.
Tod stopped the wheel and looked up at them. One eye? One eye, dyou say?
Robin nodded.
And young? A long-haired fellow?
Thats him, said Scarlet.
I know him, said Tod grimly.
Hey were in luck! chuckled Little John.
You may be, muttered Tod, wiping clay from his fingers, but I wasnt.
He showed them a pile of broken pottery in a heavy barrow and told them that Siward had done it. The thief had cut a mans purse from his belt in the market-place only that afternoon. His victim had seen him and chased him through the crowd. Trying to escape, Siward had knocked over Tods stall and smashed everything, before being caught by the Sheriffs men.
It doesnt help me though, does it? Tod grumbled. Thats why Im working late. Ive got to make another batch.
What happened to him then? asked Robin quickly.
Took him to the Sheriff, didnt they? said Tod returning to his wheel.
Thats done us, said Scarlet. Well never get into the castle.
The Sheriff aint at the castle, grunted Tod. Hes touring the county isnt he? Making sure everyones paying their taxes. Hell be at Leaford tonight.
Marion stood up. Leaford Grange?
Sir Richards old place. Dyou know it?
I should, said Marion quietly. He was my father.
The others were stunned.
I was born at Leaford, Marion went on. It was my home until my father died in the Holy Land and they made me Abbot Hugos ward. Then the Church took everything.
Where will they put Siward? Robin asked her.
In the cellars, I should think, Marion answered him. Caves in the rock under the Grange.
But how do we get into the place? asked Scarlet.
Theres a small courtyard to one side of the main gate. If [p.106] we can get into that, we can go over the wall without being seen.
What about getting into the Grange itself? asked Robin.
Theres a narrow window at the back. I could squeeze through it and let you in. The passage leads down to the cellars.
With Marions knowledge of Leaford to help them Robin felt they had a chance. Whatever it was Siward had stolen from the Templars, he knew the Sheriff would never return it. Somehow they had to get it from him. If they didnt, Much would die.

* * *
Siward had been thrashed by Gisburne and now stood miserably in front of the Sheriff at Leaford Grange. On the table lay a golden crest from a banner. The Sheriff picked it up and admired it. It glittered in the candlelight.
The symbol of the Templars, he said. Two knights on a single horse. Well, theyve come a long way since then. He looked at Siward. Im curious to know how you managed to steal this, he said. It seems to me that either you were very lucky or they were very careless.
Siward hesitated so Gisburne hit him in the face. He liked hitting people in the face. Answer the Sheriff! he shouted.
It it was on a banner, stammered Siward. They were carrying it, see? Through the forest. Well I followed em, see? And when they pitched their tent and put the banner inside it, I well I waited me chance. There was always a guard but I crawled in round the back, while the rest of em was busy with the horses, got that thing off the banner and and crawled out again.
And that was when they saw him, my lord, finished Gisburne.
Siward nodded. Well I ran like the devil, I can tell you, and managed to lose em in the forest. It was dark, see? So I thought I was safe. But in the morning, they came after me again.
They would, said the Sheriff quietly.
Thats when he met the outlaws, my lord, added Gisburne.
And then the knights attacked, muttered Siward.
And you ran off, of course, said the Sheriff.
There was a pause and he looked at the gold crest again, then back at the wretched man who trembled before him.
How did you lose that eye? he said quietly.
It was put out, my lord, whispered Siward, licking his lips nervously. On your orders.
For stealing?
Siward nodded.
Well, now youre going to lose the other one, smiled the Sheriff.
Siward fell to the floor and was still screaming for mercy when Gisburne took a dagger from his belt. Now, my lord? he asked calmly, as if he was about to pare his fingernails.
The Sheriff sighed. Why was the fool always so impatient? No, not now, Gisburne, he said irritably. You can do it in the morning. Get him out of here!
The guards dragged Siward away, and after another look at the gold crest the Sheriff began to laugh. No wonder they were so annoyed! he said.
My lord? questioned Gisburne, clearly puzzled by his mirth.
Beau Séant! Beau Séant, Gisburne! Their sacred banner! Tears of laughter glistened in the Sheriffs eyes. If they lose its crest theyll theyll be thrown out of the Order!
Thrown out?
The Sheriff wiped his eyes but went on shaking with laughter. Think of it, Gisburne. They carry the blessed thing all over the Holy Land. They guard it against sandstorms, Saracens, every damned thing; and then its stolen from them by a one-eyed cut-purse from Nottingham!
You mean without it ?
Disgraced! Finished! No wonder they wouldnt tell us theyd lost it!
The Sheriff exploded with mirth so Gisburne thought it diplomatic to join in. I shall keep this trinket, Gisburne, spluttered the Sheriff. As a souvenir of a most unpleasant [p.108] meeting. But the real joke the real joke, Gisburne is that the Templars are going to kill Robin Hood to get it back!
With a final chuckle of pleasure the Sheriff dismissed Gisburne and got down to work, using the Templars crest as a paperweight.
Although he was corrupt and always managed to keep some of the Kings money for himself Robert de Rainault was a very cunning and able administrator. He could sit for hours checking figures and making certain that he was getting all the monies due to him and that nobody was cheating. The fact that he was cheating never troubled his conscience for a moment.
It was midnight before he finally put down his pen and prepared to go to bed. He took the Templars crest with him. It reminded him of de Villaret and how the arrogant commander had refused him entry to Bystead. He had the last laugh now. He wondered how long it would take the knights to find Robin Hood and kill him.
He climbed into bed where he gloated over his prize before he fell asleep.

* * *
Marion led the outlaws to a small postern gate in the wall of the courtyard. Gisburne had posted sentries at the main entrance to Leaford but nobody was patrolling the courtyard. The postern gate had been made secure with a padlock and chain but Little John lifted it quietly off its hinges and moments later they were in the courtyard.
A row of stables had been built against the high wall surrounding Leaford and, by climbing on the stable roof, they were able to reach the Grange itself. Marion led them round the back and got in through the small window while Robin and his friends kept watch. Then she unbolted the door and let them in. There were no guards so they hurried down to the cellars where they found Siward trussed like a chicken. When he saw them his mouth dropped open in astonishment.
Now then, Siward, whispered Robin, drawing Albion and cutting through his bonds. What did you steal from the Templars?
The young thief could hardly believe his good fortune and quickly he told them how he had stolen the golden crest.
Well, now you can steal it again, chuckled Robin.
Marion led the way to the room she knew the Sheriff would use as his bed-chamber; after a moments hesitation, Siward opened the door and crept inside.
The Sheriffs strong-box was over by the window and it was locked. Siward rummaged through the Sheriffs clothes and found a heavy bunch of keys. He tiptoed back to the strong-box and began trying each key in the lock. He was so absorbed in what he was doing that he didnt notice the Sheriff slide out of bed with a dagger in his hand.
Siward froze when he felt its point against his neck. He spun round and looked up at the Sheriff who drew back his arm to strike. But before he could kill the little thief, his arm was grabbed from behind and the dagger twisted from his hand. Robin had followed Siward into the room.
For a moment the Sheriff stared. Then he opened his mouth to call for help. But the cry never came. Robin drove his fist at his chin and the Sheriff crumpled to the floor.

* * *
It was dawn in Bystead when the Templars dragged Much to a large tree where de Villaret stood waiting with a coil of rope. The people murmured angrily but the Templars drew their swords and the murmuring ceased abruptly.
Silence! said de Villaret. Silence or I burn this village to the ground!
Much was so frightened he could hardly stand.
He will not come! said de Villaret cruelly.
He will he will sir, whimpered Much, licking his dry lips. I know he will.
Youre better dead, said de Villaret.
Hell come, repeated Much as if by saying so he could make it happen. Robin! Robin! he cried. But there was no answer.
Will I feel it, sir? he asked his captor anxiously. Does death hurt?
De Villaret said nothing. He made a noose and put it over the boys head.
Let him go! called Robin suddenly.
He was standing at the far end of the village with the golden crest in his hand. He held it up and it glinted in the dawn light. De Villaret took the rope from Muchs neck and the boy ran to Robin crying with happiness.
They said they said youd let me die, he sobbed. But I didnt believe them. I told them. I told them they were wrong!
De Villaret mounted his horse, and the knights followed suit, forming a line behind him. They rode towards Robin and de Villaret reached down and took back the golden symbol that meant so much to him.
Now give me my sword, said Robin.
De Villaret shook his head. You are not worthy of such a sword, he said contemptuously. Out of my sight!
Robin looked long and hard at de Villaret. Evil be to him who thinks evil, he said quietly. It was a curse and the Templars were soon to feel its power. Robin turned on his heel and began to walk with Much out of the village. De Villaret and the knights watched him go, aiming their lances and preparing to charge. With a cry of Beau Séant! they swept down on the defenseless outlaws.
Robin and Much sprinted down the track through the trees with the Templars thundering after them. They dived for cover and suddenly ropes appeared across the path in front of the charging horses. Neighing with fear they crashed down and the knights were unseated in a tangle of spears and flying shields.
Then the outlaws rose from the undergrowth and threw themselves on the Templars as they struggled ignominiously in the dust. Robin looked down at de Villaret who stared up at him with dazed and disbelieving eyes.
Pride goes before a fall, said Robin grimly. Remember that, de Villaret.
They stripped them of their armour and Robin took back his sword.
Once again the golden crest glittered in his hand. He had good use for it. It could provide food and clothing for the poor. It could buy oxen. It might even buy a mans freedom.
Robin kept three of the Templars horses. He wanted to remind the knights of their humble beginnings. And when the six Poor Knights rode out of Sherwood, two men on each horse, they had become a living symbol of their Order.




Robins fame spread through England and the people, who knew he was their champion against the oppression of the barons and the proud and greedy men of the Church, gave him all the help they could. The story of the Templars humiliation was even heard in London, and Prince John wrote to the Sheriff demanding the outlaws capture. But Robin and his friends were masters of Sherwood and so they continued to harry the roads to Nottingham taking money from the fat lords and giving it back to the poor and unfortunate.
But, as well as their war against injustice and cruelty, the outlaws were constantly busy providing themselves with food. Little John had proved himself a clever fisherman but sometimes, instead of catching fish, and unknown to the rest of the band, the giant would sometimes slip away to visit a girl in Wickham, a tiny village by the river.
Early one morning, while the rest of the village was still asleep, Little John sat talking with her in the cow shed.
Is he as handsome as they say he is? asked Meg slyly. She was a pretty girl with long tousled hair and a dimple in her chin.
Little John was puzzled. Who? he asked.
Meg giggled. Robin Hood o course! Therere so many stories about him. Some people say hes Herne the Hunters son. They say he can make himself invisible.
We all can, said Little John suddenly feeling jealous.
Get away, jeered Meg. Dyou think Im silly?
Thats why they cant catch us, said Little John.
Meg gave him a sly smile. Go on then, she said, make yourself invisible.
Oh, I cant do it here, said Little John quickly. Id have to be in the forest. It wont work anywhere else.
She kissed him. If I lived in the forest, could I do it?
Id have to teach you! said Little John seriously.
Thatd be nice! smiled Meg. She kissed him again. And if I did live there would you marry me?
Of course I would, said Little John uneasily, wondering what was coming next.
And wed jump through the fire at midnight with flowers in our hair, said Meg. Wouldnt we?
The question was never answered. Suddenly a voice shattered the quiet of Wickham. Is everybody dead? it shouted harshly.
Little John shot to his feet. He knew that voice. It belonged to Guy of Gisburne. He ran to the shed door. The tall young knight, escorted by two of his men, was leading his horse into the village and people were peering nervously at him from their huts.
You miserable slaves! bellowed Gisburne angrily. Is this how you serve your lord? Lying in bed with the sun up?
He was in a bad mood. His horse had thrown a shoe and he needed a smith in a hurry.
Little John picked up his fishing rod and kissed Meg hurriedly. In a panic he squeezed his way out of the door. Unluckily he put his foot in a wooden bucket and, losing his balance, grabbed at some poles leaning against the wall and sent them crashing noisily to the ground. Little John went sprawling. Hearing the clatter, Gisburne looked round and saw him. Wolfshead! he shouted. Take him!
Little John got the bucket off his foot and threw it at the soldiers as they came charging towards him. He ran for the safety of the trees cursing his stupidity in staying so late with Meg. The two soldiers pounded after him but he knew he could outrun them. As he ran further into the forest, a rope snaked down ahead of him. He grabbed it and, in a moment, was hauled up into the branches. Then the soldiers run up and stopped, mystified by his sudden disappearance.
In the tree, Scarlet and Nasir watched the soldiers while Little John got his breath back. Below them, Gisburnes men crossed themselves superstitiously. It was devils work; the [p.114] fugitive had disappeared into thin air. They backed away muttering uneasily. The forest was full of demons with terrible claws that could tear them to pieces. They turned and ran.
Robin and Marion were counting the outlaws latest haul when Little John and the others reached them.
Gisburnes men were after him, grinned Scarlet. But Nazzy and me fished him up.
Where was this? asked Robin.
Near Wickham, said Little John uneasily.
What were you doing there? said Robin.
I was fishing, said Little John guiltily.
Robin looked at his friend; he always knew when anyone was lying. Whats her name? he grinned.
There was a pause and then Little John decided to make a clean breast of it. Her names Meg, he said.
Robin nodded. And did they see you with her?
Little John shook his head.
Thats just as well, said Robin. Dont go there again.
Why shouldnt I? said Little John beginning to feel angry.
Because you can vanish into Sherwood and the people of Wickham cant! answered Robin.
Little John sat down heavily and sighed. But he knew that Robin was right. Harbouring an outlaw was a serious crime and the thought that he might have caused trouble for the villagers made him uneasy.
A mournful song drifted through the air and the little band looked at one another. Was this some trick of the Sheriffs to catch them? Without a sound they picked up their weapons and went in the direction of the sound. When they were nearer they could hear the words of the song:
My heart is heavy as a stone
My tears they fall like rain

It was a doleful and depressing ballad and the singer was sobbing his heart out. The outlaws peered at him through the leaves.
He was a young man, dressed in a bright blue tabard with [p.115] wrinkled yellow hose and he slowly jogged his way down the path on a very tired old horse.
For she who is my own true love
Ill never see again

he warbled.
Robin jumped out in front of him.
Maybe shes heard you singing, he said.
Marion and the others appeared and surrounded the singer who looked at them nervously, but nevertheless insisted that they let him pass.
When youve paid us, said Tuck hitching his thumbs in his belt.
Paid you for what? asked the young man angrily.
Disturbing the peace, said Little John.
And frightening the birds, added Robin with a grin.
Get down! said Scarlet.
The lad shrugged and climbed off his ungainly mount.
You wont find a penny on me, he said. Im a minstrel.
A minstrel? laughed Little John. That explains it.
Explains what? asked Scarlet.
The bad voice and the empty purse, replied Little John with a wink.
Robin smiled at the young man. He was obviously harmless. What do they call you, lad? he asked.
My names Alan, the youth answered. Alan a Dale.
Youve nothing to fear from us, Alan. So on your way.
Alan heaved himself up into the saddle again and the old horse, which had been standing patiently cropping the grass and swishing away the flies with his mangey tail, plodded off again down the path.
Where are you going? called Marion. To Nottingham?
Alan nodded.
To seek your fortune? she laughed.
To kill the Sheriff!
There was a moment of astonishment and then the outlaws ran after him. Robin grabbed the horses bridle and it lumbered to a halt.
To kill the Sheriff? repeated Robin with amusement And how do you mean to do that?
With my sword, Alan replied simply.
With his sword! mocked Scarlet. Why didnt we think of that?
And if I am to die, said Alan dramatically, then so be it. But I shall rid England of a tyrant!
Hes right round the maypole, said Scarlet.
Why do you want to kill the Sheriff? Robin asked him.
Alan dismounted again. Have you seen a flower crushed in a mailed fist? he said. The world has become an empty place and life means nothing to me. The flowers, the clouds, the golden glittering sun
Why do you want to kill him? Robin repeated patiently.
How can I begin? said Alan brokenly. How can I find the words to
You dont seem to have any trouble, grinned Little John.
Hes going to marry the girl I love, said Alan.
The outlaws laughed. The idea of the Sheriff of Nottingham getting married was ridiculous.
Hell never marry, said Marion. He hates women.
I tell you hes marrying Mildred, said Alan angrily. Mildred de Bracy. Baron de Bracys daughter.
Youre aiming a bit high for a minstrel, arent you? smiled Robin.
Amor vincit omnia, said Alan.
Dont you believe it, said Tuck.
Whats it mean? said Scarlet.
Love conquers everything, said Marion.
I said he was mad, said Scarlet.
To save the lady of my heart, said Alan, in a suitably dramatic voice, I would ride through fire.
Little John laughed. Not on that horse you wouldnt!
But Robin and his friends felt sorry for the romantic young minstrel and persuaded him to abandon his journey to Nottingham. The thought of him trotting up to the castle on this sway-backed nag and challenging the Sheriff to mortal combat had them shaking with laughter, but they wanted to learn [p.117] more about the Sheriffs intended marriage. So they sat him down, gave him a haunch of venison and listened, doing their best not to laugh.
Alan told them hed been minstrel to the Baron de Bracy, a violent man who spent most of his time fighting in tournaments, which were often little more than pitched battles. Since he was away from the castle for days on end, Alan had been able to spend most of his time singing love songs to Mildred.
She was lonely, explained Alan.
And a bit deaf, said Little John keeping a straight face.
The two of them had fallen in love but then, because of what Alan described as a cruel stroke of fate, one of the Barons tournaments had finished earlier than usual and he had come back to find the two lovers together. De Bracy had hurled Alan into his dungeon while he decided how he was going to kill him. But then, while her father had slept, Mildred had released him.
How old is Mildred? asked Marion.
Sixteen, he replied.
Lifes not a love song, Alan, laughed Robin. Youd better forget her.
Dont be so heartless, said Marion. How can he? What kind of life will she have with the Sheriff?
Alan told them that the powerful Baron had chosen Robert de Rainault to be his son-in-law and had practically forced him to agree to the marriage. A large dowry, and the thought of what the Baron might do if he refused, had finally decided him.
When is the wedding to be? asked Robin.
As soon as Mildreds brought to Nottingham, groaned Alan hopelessly.

* * *
The Sheriff sat in a large wooden bathtub and looked angrily at Guy of Gisburne. Across the tub was a plank, on which lay a trencher of bread, some cheese, apples and a flagon of wine. A servant was sprinkling rose petals into the water and occasionally some of these landed on the Sheriff. Gisburne [p.118] had told him how hed seen Little John in Wickham and was doing his best to explain why hed failed to capture him.
And I suppose none of the villagers knew hed been there, said the Sheriff, fuming at Gisburnes incompetence.
None of them, said Gisburne. They were lying, of course. Might I suggest we drive them into the forest and burn Wickham to the ground. As an example, my lord.
An example of what? said the Sheriff, flicking rose petals from his shoulder.
Gisburnes expression was blank.
Ill tell you, Gisburne, shall I? said the Sheriff working himself into one of his rages, since youre obviously incapable of answering my question. An example of your stupidity. An example of your ignorance. An example of your total failure to control the people of Sherwood and destroy the power of Robin Hood!
He threw an apple at the young Steward and knocked the rest of the food into the water. The flagon of wine gurgled its way to the bottom of the tub while he screamed: Those people are my property! The fields they work are my fields! And your masterly plan is to drive them into the forest to join up with that wolfshead! He splashed his way out of the tub and ordered Gisburne to fetch him a towel. After he wrapped himself in it, he prowled round the room like a Roman emperor about to throw Christians to the lions.
I have it, he said at last. A fine. A heavy fine. A hundred pennies from every man. Now rub me dry!
Gisburne was furious hed been given such a menial task but he had to obey.
And at the same time Ill double the reward harder Gisburne for any outlaw brought to Nottingham, dead or alive. The way to a mans obedience is through his pocket! He pulled away irritably, suddenly reminded of his forthcoming marriage. Baron de Bracys son-in-law! Why in Heavens name did I agree to be united in the unholy bonds of matrimony? Is it worth the money, Gisburne? Is it worth a thousand marks?
Gisburne said nothing.
Why dont you answer? snapped the Sheriff.
I assumed the question was rhetorical, my lord, Gisburne replied.
The Sheriff glared at him. Never assume anything, Gisburne. Except an occasional air of intelligence. Youd better go and fetch her. And the ghastly man whos supposed to be her father. Though I imagine thats a matter of some doubt, considering he spends most of his time on horseback. Youll get on famously with him. All he ever talks about is harnesses and helmets. No wonder his coat-of-arms is a rampant boar.
The Sheriff sniggered at his pun and began climbing the stairs to his bed chamber.
And when will the the ceremony take place, my lord? asked Gisburne.
When Im drunk enough to go through with it, replied the Sheriff continuing up the stairs. Good night, Gisburne.




The following morning Gisburne left Nottingham Castle with an escort of soldiers to collect Mildred and her father and, most importantly, the thousand marks for the girls dowry.
The road to de Bracys castle lay close to the forest and Much, who had been posted as look-out in a tall tree near the road, saw them and ran to tell Robin.
Theyll be there by nightfall, said Alan.
And start back in the morning, said Robin.
The outlaws, urged by Marion, had decided that, if they had anything to do with it, the Sheriff was not going to marry Mildred. Nor was he going to get the thousand silver marks. Alan agreed to share this with the outlaws if they succeeded in rescuing Mildred. Money meant nothing to him, he told them; all he wanted was the girl. They would go north into Scotland. No one would pursue them there. Not even Count John himself.
There was nothing to do but wait for Gisburnes return and prepare for the attack. Alan spent most of the time learning how to pull the longbow. He was much stronger than he looked and by evening he surprised them all by shooting several arrows close to the centre of the practice target. They made him sing for his supper and he sang an heroic ballad in their honour which had them all hooting with laughter.
Early next morning the outlaws covered themselves in leaves and hid among the trees overlooking the Grimston road. They were patient and kept very still. Several travellers passed by completely unaware that Robin Hood and his friends were watching them.
An hour passed slowly and it began to rain. Alan a Dales romantic ideas of outlawry altered rapidly. Soaked to the skin, he looked round at the others, surprised that the downpour [p.121] didnt seem to worry them at all. They simply pulled up their hoods and remained where they were while the rain continued to lash down.
Another hour passed before Gisburnes men finally appeared. Behind the soldiers the outlaws could see a covered wagon and they smiled grimly at each other and thought of the chests of silver it contained.
Mildred de Bracy was riding at Gisburnes side. She looked miserable and helpless and kept her eyes on the road ahead while the young Steward tried hard to engage her in conversation.
It must have been a very savage tournament, said Gisburne. So easy for things to get out of hand. I expect the doctors will bleed him.
Hasnt he bled enough? said Mildred.
Theres a great difference between bleeding and bled, said Gisburne pompously.
Is there? said Mildred.
There must be, mustnt there? Otherwise physicians wouldnt do it, would they? Still its a pity the Baron is going to miss the wedding.
A tear trickled down Mildreds pale cheek.
I remember my last tournament, Gisburne went on boringly. We were fighting a party of knights from Chester. Roger de Lacys men. They lost their tempers completely. My horse was killed under me and my brother had an eye gouged out. Mind you, it was his fault; he was wearing the wrong sort of helmet.
He reined his horse and the column came to a halt. Robin Hood was standing in the muddy road some hundred paces ahead of them.
Immediately, Gisburnes men loaded their crossbows and look up defensive positions round the wagon.
Robin called: Leave the girl and the wagon, Gisburne, and ride on to Nottingham with your men.
Gisburne whispered quickly to the nearest soldier. Can you hit him from here?
The man nodded.
Wait for my signal, said Gisburne quietly and called out to Robin. How can I trust a wolfshead? he shouted.
You have no choice! Robin replied.
Now! whispered Gisburne urgently.
The soldier swung up his crossbow but Robin was like lightning and sent an arrow humming through the air with a deadly aim. The soldier gasped as it hit him in the shoulder and knocked him backwards into the mud, still with his finger on the trigger of the crossbow.
The outlaws appeared as if by magic from the bushes and their arrows thudded into the soldiers round the wagon. Five men fell before their companions had time to shoot back. And when their crossbow bolts buzzed through the air they fell yards short of the outlaws. Again Little John and the others loosed their arrows at the column and another three soldiers were hit. One man was hurled back and pinned to the cartwheel.
Youre a sitting duck, Gisburne! called Robin.
Gisburne looked at the terrible result of the outlaws shooting. Dead and dying soldiers lay all round the wagon. So, without warning, he grabbed Mildreds bridle and charged forward urging the frightened animal to a gallop while the girl screamed in terror. He kept low in the saddle and used Mildred as a shield as he swerved towards Robin who, for once, was taken by surprise. There seemed no way he could hit Gisburne without endangering the girl, so he ran to one of the riderless horses and threw himself on its back. Then he raced after Gisburne, leaving his friends who came running downhill to the wagon.
Robin was confident he could overtake Gisburne. The knight was easily the better rider but Mildred and her horse were slowing him down and Robin knew he would catch them long before they were in sight of Nottingham.
Gisburne realized his desperate bid to save the Sheriffs bride had failed. So he let go of Mildreds horse and raced on, thinking that Robin would stop for the girl. But instead he raced on past her and cannoned into Gisburnes horse. Then he [p.123] hurled himself at Gisburne and the two of them tumbled to the ground.
The pursuit had taken them close by a river.
Locked together they rolled down the bank into the thick black mud at the waters edge. They tried to get to their feet but their legs slipped from under them and they fell over in the stinking mud and sat glaring savagely at each other.
Gisburne finally succeeded in standing up and clawed his sword from its scabbard. He raised it over his head intending to cut Robin in two, but its weight pulled him backwards and losing his balance he slid down into the mud again.
On the bank, Mildred watched the ponderous fight anxiously. When she heard the drumming of hoofs she looked round. The Sheriff of Nottingham was riding towards the riverbank with some of his guards.
Robin knew his rescue attempt was over and so he turned from Gisburne and with an effort waded through the mud and dived into the river. On the bank, the Sheriffs men shot their crossbows. But the bolts splashed harmlessly into the water as Robin swam to the far bank.
You cross-eyed idiots! screamed the Sheriff. Gisburne stop playing in the mud!
Robin hauled himself out and waved to his enemies while Gisburne shook his fist and cursed him. Then he ducked into the undergrowth and was gone.
You look like a decaying dung heap! said the Sheriff as Gisburne plodded up to him. Keep down wind of me for the love of Christ! Where is the Baron? And where are your men?
Gisburne wiped the sticky mud from his mouth. The Baron has been wounded in a tournament, my lord, he panted. Hes taken to his bed.
And the men, Gisburne? Have they taken to their beds as well? asked the Sheriff.
We were attacked by outlaws hundreds of them, my lord, lied Gisburne. He pointed to where Robin had disappeared. That devil pursued me!
A devil is he, Gisburne? snarled the Sheriff. All I saw was a ragged wolfshead you seemed quite incapable of killing.
The outlaws have captured the wagon, my lord, Gisburne went on nervously.
Obviously, replied the Sheriff calmly.
Gisburne was surprised by his apparent unconcern. But but the dowry, my lord! he stammered.
Safe in Nottingham, smiled his master.
It was true. The cunning Sheriff had brought Mildreds dowry into Nottingham by another road. He knew Robin had spies everywhere and had taken no chances. On his return to Nottingham he led the muddy Steward into the Great Hall and proudly showed him the three chests of silver.
When Robin got back to the scene of the ambush he found the outlaws sitting disconsolately round a sodden pile of clothing and some empty boxes. It had all been for nothing and they had neither the girl nor her dowry.
Alan was inconsolable. All is lost, he sobbed. Bury me here in the greenwood. My life is over!
As the outlaws trudged wearily back to their camp they met Meg. With tears in her eyes she told them of the fine that the Sheriff was demanding from Wickham. Robin looked grimly at Little John but said nothing.
Youll have the money, he told Meg quietly.
Of course she will, jeered Scarlet. Its waiting for us in Nottingham Castle!
But Robin was more determined than ever that they should get the money and at the same time rescue Mildred. He gathered his friends round him and with Meg also listening intently he began to work out a plan so audacious that all of them laughed with astonishment.




Why arent you eating? the Sheriff asked Mildred coldly.
They sat with Gisburne in the Great Hall of the castle on the eve of the wedding. Tears trickled down Mildreds face and plopped into her soup.
Ive no appetite, sniffed Mildred.
No appetite, repeated the Sheriff sarcastically. No appetite for anything, have you?
Mildred burst into tears.
Emotional creature, isnt she, Gisburne? sneered the Sheriff. Any mention of our forthcoming nuptials and she positively overflows. I sometimes wonder where it all comes from.
Gisburne, who had overeaten as usual, asked the Sheriff if he was expecting many guests.
Its a wedding, Gisburne, said the Sheriff, sipping his wine, not a celebration. Oh, I made a list of people. But then, after I read it, I began crossing them off and I went on crossing them off until there was nobody left to cross off. He paused. The wretched girl was still weeping. Do try to control your joy, Mildred, he said.
He looked sourly at Gisburne. Fortunately, most of my relatives are either dead or living in Normandy. Which amounts to the same thing.
What about the Abbot Hugo, my lord? asked Gisburne.
My dear brother had a sudden and totally uncharacteristic surge of piety and hurried off on pilgrimage to Walsingham. Thus saving both his soul and the necessity of providing me with a wedding present.
A servant came to the Sheriffs side and told him that a girl from Wickham had arrived from the castle and was begging to see him. It was Meg.
Not another of your little mistakes, is she, Gisburne? said the Sheriff nastily.
Meg knelt nervously at the Sheriffs feet. Its about the outlaws, my lord, she said. I can help you catch them all of them.
The Sheriffs eyes narrowed. Im listening, he said quietly.
If you pardoned the village, my lord, I could
If? If? Do you think I make bargains with scum like you?"
Meg began to weep.
Oh God, not another one! he groaned. Stop howling, woman, or youll have something to howl about. Whether I pardoned the village or not would depend on your information, wouldnt it?
You can catch them tomorrow, my lord, Meg told him.
Tomorrow? breathed the Sheriff, looking quickly at the three chests of silver, but Im being married tomorrow.
I wish you joy, my lord, said Meg humbly. Theyre coming here to the castle.
The Sheriff laughed unpleasantly. Who told you this fable? he said.
Its true! said Meg vehemently. I heard them!
Get out! said the Sheriff and threw a bone at her.
But, my lord
Guard! called the Sheriff. Throw this lying trollop out!
Meg was dragged away still protesting loudly that she was telling the truth.
The Sheriffs sour mood had suddenly evaporated and he looked amiably at the young Steward. How very amusing! he murmured.
But suppose it is the truth, my lord! said Gisburne.
I hope it is, chuckled the Sheriff. Because well be ready for them, wont we?
But the wedding
The wedding will proceed, said the Sheriff. He leered at Mildred. How could I possibly disappoint my bride. Shes so looking forward to it, arent you my dear? Besides, Gisburne, the capture of Robin Hood would be a fine feather in your cap and an excellent wedding gift for me.
Mildred could bear it no longer and asked the Sheriff if she might go to bed.
The Sheriff nodded briefly. Escort Lady Mildred to her chamber will you, Gisburne, he said coldly.
Gisburne bowed and hurried out with the girl. The Sheriff watched them go, poured himself another goblet of wine and, deep in thought, walked slowly over to the three chests of silver.
Meanwhile, Meg hurried away from Nottingham to find Robin and his friends waiting for her in the darkness of the roadside. There were three large chests in the Great Hall, she told them, and she had primed the Sheriff to expect an attack. This was still part of the plan that Little John couldnt understand. Why Robin wanted their enemy to know that they were coming was totally beyond him.
Robin thanked Meg for her courage and asked Tuck who would be most likely to perform the marriage ceremony. The portly monk was sure it would be Father Giraldus from the Church of St Johns. He was an old crony of the Sheriffs and one of the most tight-fisted rascals alive.

* * *
The following morning Giraldus offered no resistance when the outlaws slid down from the trees in front of him. Neither did the two monks he had brought with him from St Johns. All three were stripped of their vestments, tied hand and foot and dumped down among the roots of a giant beech.
While Robin and Nasir dressed themselves as the two monks, Tuck helped Alan into Giralduss robes. The young minstrel was panic-stricken at the thought of having to play a priest.
Think of Mildred, said Marion who was dressed as a village girl and had on a wide-brimmed straw bonnet to hide her face.
But but Ive never married anyone! said Alan in a panic, turning to Tuck. Cant you do it?
The Sheriff knows me, you fool! Tuck chuckled. Besides, if I married them theyd really be married even if I crossed my fingers. But if you do it, it wont count.
It wont get that far, said Robin.
You hope, said Little John.
Tuck gave Alan a little book. Just mumble over that, he said.
Can he read? said Scarlet who was dressed as one of the castle guard.
He doesnt have to, grinned Tuck. Half the real priests cant. Not many of them know any Latin either!
I cant stop shaking, said Alan.
Thats all right, laughed Robin. Youre a young priest. Its your first wedding.
And maybe your last, said Scarlet.

* * *
An altar had been built in the Great Hall of Nottingham Castle and two large candlesticks placed each side of it. On the steps in front of the altar stood the three chests of silver. Serving maids were decorating the grey drabness of the hall with garlands of flowers and all was bustle and excitement as Gisburne marched in with almost the entire castle guard. He wore his best armour, brightly polished, and a long cloak trimmed with fur. Bringing his men smartly to a halt he turned to address them.
As you all know, he said pacing up and down pompously in front of them, today sees the marriage of your master, Lord Robert de Rainault, High Sheriff of Nottingham, to the Lady Mildred de Bracy, youngest daughter of Baron de Bracy. It is to be a joyful occasion and nothing must be allowed to spoil it. There is a rumour that Robin Hood and his followers mean to steal the Lady Mildreds dowry. Well, Id like to see them try!
The men laughed dutifully. Unfortunately their laughter coincided exactly with the entrance of the Sheriff, who thought they were laughing at him.
Are you trying to be funny, Gisburne? he asked coldly.
Into the hall came Alan in his borrowed robes flanked by Robin and Nasir. They wore the monks habits with the hoods pulled well over their faces and walked with their heads bent low, carrying two large crosses.
Gisburne hurried over to them. Where is Father Giraldus? he asked.
I am the bearer of bad tidings, my lord, stammered Alan nervously. I have been sent in his place.
What bad tidings?
He is sick, my lord.
But he dined here two days ago! said Gisburne in surprised tones.
Indeed he did, my lord, indeed he did, said Alan quickly. Mores the pity.
What in Heavens name do you mean? asked Gisburne completely mystified.
On his return to the church, he was seized with the most dreadful pains, said Alan improvising wildly. Vehement gripes in the bowels all through Evensong, a most unseasonable sweat throughout his body a loud singing in his ears a fearful trembling in his limbs
Probably the pork, grunted Gisburne unsympathetically. Well, it cant be helped, I suppose. And you are ?
Father Matthew, my lord.
Gisburne hurried over to the Sheriff, and explained matters.
I cant say Im entirely surprised, said the Sheriff, judging by the way Giraldus pigged himself the other night.
Robin and Nasir walked slowly to the altar and knelt in prayer, flanked by the castle guard, while the Sheriff sent Gisburne scuttling off to fetch his bride.
Outside the castle, Marion drove up on a cart loaded with hay and stopped at the gatehouse. Much was with her, wearing a smock and a battered old straw hat. A soldier came forward and looked at them suspiciously.
Where do you think youre going? he asked stolidly.
Ive a gift of mead and honey for the Sheriff, said Marion giving him a dazzling smile. Its from the villagers of Wickham and Elsden.
Mead, eh? said the guard licking his lips.
Like to try some? said Much handing down a bottle. The man looked round hastily, made sure no one was looking and then took a swig.
Dyou know who we saw on our way here? said Marion [p.130] looking down the road to the distant forest. Robin Hood and his gang.
The guard wiped his lips hastily and handed back the bottle. Are you sure? he said.
Coming out of Sherwood, went on Marion. Looked like they was heading this way!
The guard called his mate and they looked out nervously from the gateway while Marion drove on into the courtyard. Under the hay, the rest of the outlaws waited tensely. They were past the guard but the most hazardous part of Robins plan had yet to begin.
Marion halted the cart near the stables and she kept watch while the outlaws slid out from under the hay, and began to unload it. Scarlet, in his helmet and chain-mail, pretended to be watching them. The scene would look innocent enough if anyone else happened to come by.
The outlaws kept their longbows in the cart. And they didnt unload the straw skeps they had borrowed from the beekeeper in Wickham.
Inside the Great Hall the wedding was about to begin. Alan trembled on the altar steps while Gisburne led Mildred up to the Sheriff. She gasped when she recognized the young priest and the Sheriff frowned irritably. If the girl was about to have another crying fit, he thought he would strangle her.
In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritu began Alan.
You bless us at the end of the ceremony! snapped the Sheriff.
Alan blushed and began again. I er charge you if if you know of any reason any reason why er these two should not not be joined in wedlock
Get on with it! snarled the Sheriff impatiently.
To to speak now or from this moment er remain forever silent
Mildred was still staring at the minstrel as if she was in a dream.
Alan turned to the Sheriff. Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife? he said, trying hard to remember the words that Tuck had taught him, and live under Gods holy law
For as long as you both shall live, finished the Sheriff impatiently. Damnation, man, I know it better than you do! Yes, I will.
Robin was beginning to wonder what had happened to the others. His plan was simple. To get Gisburne and his soldiers out of the Great Hall on a wild goose chase. Only then would they be able to steal the silver.
Will you have this man to be your wedded husband er in sickness and in health ? stammered Alan to Mildred.
A man-at-arms appeared at the far end of the hall. It was Scarlet. Outlaws! Outlaws! he called in a panic.
Gisburnes hand was already going for his sword.
Theyre in the castle, my lord Sheriff! called Scarlet. Theyre coming in through the kitchens! Hundreds of them!
This was too much for Gisburne and he left the Sheriffs side and raced down the hall with the castle guard hard on his heels.
The Sheriff was about to follow him when Robin threw back his hood and took Albion from beneath his habit. The Sheriff stared stupidly while Mildred threw herself into Alans arms and Scarlet and Nasir opened the main doors. The cart rumbled in and stopped in front of the altar. Little John and the others jumped down and began loading the dowry.
Youll have to find another bride, Sheriff, said Robin pushing him backwards with the point of his sword.
When the Baron hears of this, rasped the Sheriff, looking in astonishment at Mildred who was still kissing Alan passionately, hell have you both torn to pieces!
Little John and Tuck lifted the second chest on to the cart.
Youll never get out of here alive! raged the Sheriff. As if to give point to his words Gisburne and his men could be heard coming back. But the last chest was now loaded and the cart already beginning to move. Alan and Mildred jumped on and the outlaws hurled the beehives down the hall.
The straw hives burst open and a cloud of angry bees rose into the air as Gisburne and his men reappeared. They howled and danced as the bees began stinging them.
By now the cart was heading across the courtyard with all the outlaws safely inside it. It swept through the gateway past the startled guards and trundled off down the road. In the hall the soldiers were howling in a frenzy as the bees got under their armour. They ran to and fro slapping their chain-mail, they rolled on the floor, but there was no escape.
The Sheriff ran to his bath tub with bees buzzing spitefully round his head. He ripped his clothes off and dived in. A moment later Gisburne followed him.
The two men groaned with relief as the cool water soothed their stings. But when the last of the bees had buzzed away from the tub in search of other victims the Sheriff began laughing. He laughed until Gisburne started to wonder if his master had finally gone mad.
Stones, giggled the Sheriff. Nothing but stones.
Stones, my lord? said Gisburne hoping he was harmless.
Stones, Gisburne! chuckled the Sheriff. The chuckle was followed by a groan. By God, there isnt an inch of me that hasnt been stung.
But I dont understand, said the young Steward.
You wouldnt, would you, Gisburne? sneered the Sheriff. Its just that I dont have the same confidence in your ability to protect Nottingham Castle that you have. Which is why last night I had the silver taken from the chests and replaced with stones.
The Sheriff paused to let his words sink in; then he smiled triumphantly. So now I have the dowry without having to marry that awful girl. And the Baron will think Robin Hood has it so he cant ask for it back. Its all worked out remarkably well in the end, you see.
The Sheriff turned round in the bath. Scratch my back, Gisburne, he murmured.
So the Sheriff had tricked Robin for the second time, and when the outlaws broke open the stone-filled chests and saw what was in them they swore that one day they would have their revenge.
But Tuck married the young minstrel to the Barons [p.133] laughter and they went north into Scotland where Alan found service with the king. Before they left, Mildred gave Robin a gold necklace that had once belonged to her mother.
And it paid the fine for the villagers of Wickham.




Although Robin Hoods band was loved and honoured, there were other outlaws in Sherwood who would murder anyone for a few pennies. Stories of one such savage gang reached Robin and his friends and one day they set out to find them.
Near Milford they came across the bodies of a woodcutter and his family. The remains of their home were still burning so they knew the killers were near. They followed a bloody trail and caught up with them barely an hour later.
The ragged horde was attacking a burly figure in chain-mail. He had already been pulled from his horse and the weight of numbers had overwhelmed him. While the rest of the bloodthirsty crew held the man by his arms and legs, the head villain prepared to cut his throat.
Robins arrow sang through the air and took the rogue between the shoulders, killing him instantly. Scarlet and the others charged forward and the fight became general. Robin and his men were in a merciless mood, and those that they didnt kill or wound turned and fled.
The knight looked at them curiously. He was a powerfully-built man and had the bearing of a soldier.
So you fight among yourselves? he said.
These are not my men, said Robin.
Youre outlaws arent you? said the knight.
But not cut-throats, replied Robin.
Marion came forward and the knight looked at her with some surprise. Robin put his arm protectively round her shoulder and the big man understood.
Youve saved my life, he said.
I wanted his, said Robin pointing to the dead leader.
For what reason?
Hes killed and robbed our people.
The knight narrowed his eyes. Your people? he challenged. The people of Sherwood.
You talk as if they belong to you, smiled the knight.
Robin shook his head. No man belongs to another, he said.
The big man roared with laughter and pointed to where his horse, a splendid animal with large eyes and a silky mane, was standing.
I can buy four Saracens in the slave markets of Narbonne with that horse! Youre talking gibberish, my friend.
Although he spoke in English, his accent proclaimed his Norman origins.
For answer Robin called Nasir to his side and the knight stared at him in disbelief. Heres a Saracen for you, smiled Robin. Try buying him with a thousand horses.
The knight remained silent.
In Sherwood, Robin went on, we know the difference between men and animals.
They took him back with them to the camp and prepared the midday meal. Then they gathered in a circle and Robin held up the bowl of mead and called for Herne to protect them, as was their custom. The knight was the last to drink and he looked challengingly round the circle. King Richard, he said loudly.
He gave it back to Robin with a smile, and Robin raised it again and echoed the toast. King Richard.
Nasir, who always ate by himself, left them and went into the forest. The knight watched until the Saracen was out of sight.
Whats your name, Sir Knight? asked Robin, cutting strips of venison from the roasting deer.
Im the Chevalier Déguisé.
Another fancy Frenchman, growled Will Scarlet.
Youre wrong, replied the knight calmly. Im English.
Not with a name like that, said Scarlet.
Names tell you nothing, said the knight and be began eating.
But Scarlet was in an argumentative mood and leant forward to answer him. They tell me who my masters are, he said. If theyre English, why dont they speak it?
Whatever they speak, theyve made this country, snapped back the knight.
Yes, chipped in Little John, theyve made it their moneybox.
Tax the people to the hilt, said Scarlet.
And fight among themselves while we watch the cornfields burn, said Tuck.
When King Richard returns the knight began.
Pigsll fly, finished Scarlet.
The knight was getting angry. A ransoms been paid! he said.
How do we know that? Scarlet asked him cynically.
Half the barons dont want him back, mumbled Tuck with his mouth full. His brother John doesnt, thats certain. I expect theyll keep the ransom for themselves. Its just another way to rob the poor.
I tell you
Youll tell us nothing, Frenchman! cut in Scarlet, whose temper had been rising rapidly.
The knight was on his feet in a moment and he put his hand on his sword. The invitation was to Scarlets liking and he beckoned the man eagerly. Come on then come on! he said.
Robin ordered him sharply to sit down. After muttering under his breath and glaring angrily at the knight, Scarlet obeyed. There was an awkward silence.
More meat? Tuck asked the stranger. The man nodded without speaking. He was still angry and kept his eyes on Scarlet.
Why were you in the forest? Marion asked him.
I was hunting, said the knight.
Alone? asked Marion.
No, not alone, said the knight. With others from Nottingham. Comrades-in-arms back from the Holy Land. Somehow I lost em. He changed the subject abruptly. This venisons good.
Try the ale, suggested Robin.
It was meant for the castle guard, chuckled Tuck. But the wagoner er lost his way.
Robin called to Much. Ale for the guest!
The guest? Or the prisoner? asked the knight.
The guest, replied Robin with a smile.
When everyone had finished eating they sat for a while and listened to Much playing on his pipe. It was an old tune of England. Soon all of them, even Nasir, who had rejoined them, were caught up in the music.
Next they played the blindfold game. This was a favourite with the outlaws and always caused them merriment. Tuck and Scarlet were blindfolded and each given a bundle of twigs as a cudgel. Then little bells were tied round their legs and they were spun round several times before being given a gentle push. As soon as they moved the bells would jingle so they both waited for each other to make the first move, listening intently. The watchers held their breath. Then Tuck inched his way forward feeling the air and trying hard not to make the bells ring.
The knight loved the game and watched every move with delighted interest. Much added to the fun when he crept between Tuck and Scarlet and jingled a further set of bells. Immediately the two men swung their cudgels wildly and the outlaws cheered and laughed. Finally Tucks wild swings connected and he rained blows down on Scarlet who fought back desperately. Robin and the others parted them and pulled off their blindfolds.
The tournaments of Sherwood eh? laughed the knight.
Robin nodded. To listen and move without a sound.
More than a game, said the knight.
Time to pay us, said Robin without warning.
Pay you? said the knight. But you said I was your guest.
So you are, agreed Robin. One of many. But theyve all had to pay.
So much for your hospitality, said the knight angrily. Tuck waddled up and showed him a slate with the reckoning on it. No, said the monk with a broad grin. So much for the venison and so much for the ale.
Dyou think I carry money bags when I go hunting? the knight retorted.
Then well take your horse, said Scarlet.
For a piece of venison? roared the knight.
That venison could hang the lot of us, said Robin quietly. Which means that if your horse is worth four men, our meats worth twice as much!
Its not far to Nottingham, grinned Tuck.
Youll be there before nightfall, said Little John.
Itll give you an appetite, said Scarlet.
The knight looked at them with a grim smile. Then Ill make a bargain with you, he said. Single combat the winner keeps the horse.
Scarlet drew his sword, the light of battle in his eyes, but the knight shook his head. No bloodshed, he said. A wrestling match.
The only man able to take on the stranger was Little John. So when the two of them were ready Tuck called them together. The contest was to be decided by the best of three falls.
I want a fair fight, said Tuck. None of this: and he gave Little Johns beard a hearty tug and ducked as the giant tried to cuff him.
The two wrestlers crouched down and moved round each other warily. Then suddenly they grappled and Little John tried to lift his opponent from the ground. The big man twisted cleverly and soon Little John was in trouble. With a sudden heave, the knight threw him to the ground and pinned him down.
The outlaws were stunned. But Little John acknowledged the fall and jumped up with a grin. Again the wrestlers were locked together and this time, though the knight strained until the veins stood out on his head, Little John stayed on his feet.
The outlaws were silent now, sensing the strangers tremendous strength. In one swift move Little John suddenly caught him off balance and hurled him down.
One fall apiece! cried Tuck while the outlaws cheered their champion. Again the two wrestlers circled each other looking for an opening.
As John came in, the knight gripped him and heaved him [p.139] above his head. He held him there for a moment while everyone stared open-mouthed and then threw him to the ground with a cry of triumph.
Little John lay half-stunned; the knight stood over him breathing hard and looking proudly round at the outlaws who could hardly credit such awesome strength.
I ride to Nottingham! roared the knight savagely.
Robin stepped up to him. Who are you? he asked quietly.
He was knocked to the ground with a single blow. Lion-heart! said King Richard of England.
And men burst from the trees and levelled their crossbows at the outlaws who were so overwhelmed that they remained rooted to the spot, gaping at the King.
I want them alive, Mercadier, he said.
Mercadier, who was Richards Commander of Mercenaries, gave a nod and his men lowered their crossbows. Then the King put his hands on his hips and looked angrily at the outlaws who were now all kneeling.
So. Still in prison am I? Still in Germany? The barons kept the ransom did they? He looked at Little John. Pigs will fly before I return, will they? he looked up at the sky. Where are they? Nesting?
Lord King began Robin.
You are a villain, roared Richard. Youre all villains. Villains and traitors!
We are your began Robin.
Be silent in our presence! thundered the King. Robin bowed his head and in the panic that followed Richard turned to Mercadier.
Whats the punishment for outlaws who kill the kings deer and then demand payment for serving it to him? he asked ironically. Have you ever heard of such a thing, Mercadier? Would anyone believe it?
Richard looked down at Marion who was kneeling next to Robin and his tone softened.
Yes, I was hunting, he said. Hunting a young wolfshead they call Robin Hood. He paused. In Normandy, in Aquitaine and Anjou, even in Germany, I heard the stories. [p.140] Dyou think I dont know of your war against the Sheriff, and how youve made this forest my forest your battle ground? Oh, Ive heard all about you, your tricks, your ambushes, your robberies. Nobles who are forced to pay for safe conduct through Sherwood. Bishops who are stripped of their finery and made to give their money to the poor. Ive heard enough to hang each one of you a dozen times!
Richard paused again and looked at the downcast faces in front of him. Instantly, his mood changed to one of amusement and he began to chuckle. Robin and his friends looked up in surprise. Gods legs, youre a wild lad, Robin, he laughed. But you saved the life of your king and that wipes the slate clean.
He held his hand out and Robin kissed it. Then after Mercadier had helped him on with the clothes he had removed for the wrestling match the King went to Nasir and spoke to him in Arabic. He told him that Lord Saladin was dead and that before the great leader had died he had made his peace with him.
Nasir bowed his head and Richard mounted his horse in silence. Again he looked at the kneeling outlaws.
You dine with me tonight in Nottingham! he said.
The King rode slowly out of the little glade followed by Mercadiers men, and when the outlaws finally got to their feet again there was a long silence.
I wrestled the King of England! whispered Little John in total disbelief.
Much nudged Robins shoulder. Did you know he was the King, Robin? he asked. Wheres his crown? Has he lost it?
Robin patted his head affectionately and laughed.
Shouldve worn it, shouldnt he? said Much.
But Scarlet was uneasy. He trusted no one in power, not even Richard who was loved by the people of England, even though he was seldom there. Are you going to Nottingham? he asked Robin.
Could we disobey the King? said Marion.
What dyou think weve been doing? retorted Scarlet. There cant be many laws we havent broken.
He could have had all of us killed in front of him, said Robin.
Yes, he could have done, agreed Scarlet. But itll look better in Nottingham, wont it? On a gallows.
The slates wiped clean, he said so.
I know what he said. What if he changes his mind?
Hes pardoned you, Will, insisted Robin.
Scarlet sighed and looked at his friend with a sad smile. Theres very few people I trust, he said, and Im looking at all of em now. Id die for each one of you, you know that. And youd do the same for me. But Im not going to Nottingham and thats the end of it.
Robin knew that when Scarlet made up his mind, nothing could shake him. It was a waste of time arguing about it, so as the sun dipped over the forest and threw long shadows between the trees, the outlaws left Scarlet at their camp and made their way to Nottingham.
When they reached the outskirts of the town they were surprised to see the lights of many fires. Hundreds of soldiers were camped in the fields and great siege engines menaced the castle. Part of the gatehouse had been reduced to rubble.
Two days earlier King Richard had reached Nottingham a royal castle and had demanded its surrender. He had landed in England only a week before and, after being given a heros welcome in London, had marched north to destroy the supporters of his brothers treachery. Nottingham had surrendered in a matter of hours and the Sheriff had been removed from office.
Now the castle was beginning to see the arrival of the great barons of England who were to swear loyalty to Richard again and decide the fate of his brother and those who had served him.
But Robin and his friends knew nothing of this and looked around at the hundreds of people in amazement.
Men cursed and sweated as heavy carts became bogged down in the mud and the whole panoply of war was spread out over the countryside as far as the eye could see, turning the fields into a vast fairground.
The outlaws reached the ruined gatehouse, still looking around in wonder. They were about to enter when they were surrounded by the castle guard.
Throw down your arms! commanded Sir Guy of Gisburne.


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