When he recovered himself Robin found them binding his shoulder. He smiled up at Warrenton to show that the hurt was little. "Are we too late for the joustings, Will?" he murmured, spying out Stuteley's face of concern.
"We are to bring back the golden arrow with us which the Sheriff has offered as prize to the best marksman," answered Warrenton, before the other could speak. "Now, you are to remember all that I have shown you, and shoot in confidence. Now come: the gates of Nottingham are opened, and your wound is neatly bandaged. Here is the arrow plucked from it: keep it for a trophy."
"Is it a pretty shaft, Warrenton?" asked Robin, carelessly, as the old servant thrust it into his quiver.
"It is one of Will's own, and that suffices."
After Master Ford had briefly bidden them farewell, they left their beasts in charge of a fellow inside the gate, bidding him give the little grey jennet all care and attention.
Here, also, Robin got himself washed and made tidy for the Fair, and had some meat and drink to restore him. He found that it was to the long Norman cape he wore that he owed his life. The outlaw's arrow had been diverted by the flapping garment, and had only pricked him in the fleshy part of his shoulder. The cape was so ripped, however, as to become ridiculous in its rags, so Robin asked for the loan of a pair of shears, and with them trimmed the cape so ruthlessly in his haste as to make it become more like an old woman's hood.
"You have turned Saxon out of Norman very suddenly, Master," laughed young Stuteley.
It was a full three hours past noon ere they came to the Fair. A great ring had been made in the centre of it, and huge wooden stands had been built about this circle. They were covered finely with cloth of red and gold; and many flags and banners were flying above the tops and about the stands.
The blare and discord of trumpets rang out over the noise of the people. A great clamor of voices betokened the arrival of some great man at the front of the chief stand.
"The Sheriff has arrived," cried Stuteley, who knew the ways at these affairs. "Hear how the people do cheer him! For sure he must be a man well liked--"
"These fellows will applaud anyone who has power and office," said Warrenton, scornfully. "Master Monceux is not beloved of them, for all that. But hasten, or we shall be shut out. Already they are closing the gates."
The clouds were heavy and grey, and a few large drops of rain began to patter down.
"Look to our bows, Warrenton," cried Robin, in alarm.
"Be easy, lording--your bow shall not be at fault if the prize does not fall to your hand. Follow me."
They were now at the wicket, and Warrenton produced his authority. Gamewell's name was enough. They were ushered into a small box nearby the Sheriff's own, and there awaited events.
First came bouts of singlestick and quarterstaffs, and Master Will was keen to take part in these contests. Warrenton counselled him to remain in the background, however.
"The folk are sure to recognize you, malapert," said he, giving Stuteley his favorite name for him, "and there will be an outcry. Let be, then, and attend to your master."
"It would be better, Will, I do think," said Robin. "I have to find out cousin Geoffrey, and warn him against two villains waiting for him without the town." And Robin gave them briefly the history of his adventure.
Ere he had ended the story, the Sheriff held up his baton as a sign that
the jousting would begin. Two knights rode into the ring through the hastily opened gates, heralded by their esquires--amid the noise of a shrill blast of defiance. They were clad in chain mail, bound on and about with white riband, and their armor was burnished in a manner most beautiful to behold. Their esquires threw down their gauntlets before the box of Master Monceux, and challenged the world to a trial of strength in these the lists-magnificent of Nottingham town.
Two black knights had ridden into the lists in answer to the challenge; and now all clamor was hushed. The Sheriff's daughter, a pale, hard-faced girl, with straw-colored hair and mincing ways, announced in inaudible voice the terms of the contest. The heralds repeated them afterwards in stentorian tones; and the rivals wheeled about, the white knights couching their lances from under the Sheriff's box. The others prepared themselves at the wicket gate and waited for the signal.
This was given, and the four rushed together with a shock like a thunder-clap. These four knights gave good account of themselves.
The black knights had been unhorsed, and now they lay helpless in their heavy armor. Once on their feet, they were eager to renew the fray, and were soon again in readiness. At the second tilt they rudely unhorsed the white knights by sheer strength of arm; and all the people shouted themselves hoarse.
So the jousting went on; and, after the white knights had eventually won the first round, yellow and red took their places. Robin eagerly scanned the latter, trying to discover which of the two might be Geoffrey. A small, thin-faced man behind the Sheriff was no less eager to discover Montfichet in this favorable apparel; and evidently had sharper eyes than had Robin in piercing disguise. This wizened-faced fellow leaned back with satisfied smile, after one searching glance; then, drawing out his tablets, he wrote on them, and despatched his man in haste to London town.
Geoffrey was unhorsed in the second tilting; and lay so long upon the ground that Robin's heart stood still. It was then discovered that this knight was unknown and had no esquire. Thus Robin knew him for his cousin.
"Attend him, Will, as you would myself," cried Robin, anxiously, and see now to his hurt--"
"He is but dazed, Master, with his fall. It seems that these knights are armored so heavily that once down they cannot of themselves rise up again! Protect me from such war gear! I'd sooner have my own skin and be able to be spry in it. What say you, old Warrenton?"
"Go to, malapert. Get down to him, and be as active with your hands as you are with your tongue."
"I go, I go--see how I go!" and Will turned a somersault over him into the ring out of the front of their box. Robin called angrily on him to behave, and the little tumbler ran then to his duties as servant to the unknown Scarlet Knight.
Robin's eager eyes roved hither and thither about the gay scene. Opposite him was a small box near to the ground, wherein sat two people only. One was a grave-faced man of courtly mien and handsome apparel: the other seemed to be his child.
Towards one of these two persons Robin's glances forever wandered. The laughing blue eyes of the girl, the queer little toss of her head which she gave in her unheard answers to her sober father, heartily pleased young Fitzooth, and in some way vaguely disturbed his memory. She was of about fifteen summers; and her hair was black as a winter's night--and curled all waywardly around her merry face. Blue were her eyes when the quick fever induced by the tilting rushed in her blood--blue as meadow violets. Then, when the excitement was passed, they fell to a grey wonderment. Twice she encountered Robin's glances; and the second time her eyes shone blue, as if ashamed, and the tint of her warm cheeks deepened. Demurely she turned away her face from him.
Young Fitzooth turned to Warrenton: "Can you tell me who these may be who sit alone in yon little box?" he asked, and cautiously pointed them out to the old retainer.
Warrenton was stupid, however, and would not see exactly where Robin would have him look. At last, as one making a discovery: "Oh, 'tis Master Fitzwalter you mean, lording? Ay, a right worthy, honest gentleman; and warden of the city gates. Next of importance in Nottingham town is he after Monceux, the Sheriff; and a prettier man in all ways. Now, were he Sheriff, Squire George of Gamewell would oftener be in Nottingham Castle than now, for we like not the Sheriff. The maid with Master Fitzwalter is his only child. She has no
mother; and he is both parents to her. Ay, a proper man--"
"She is very beautiful, I think," said Robin, speaking his thoughts almost without knowing it.
"Yes, yes, a passable wench. But I have no faith in them, lording. They are all as the Yellow One of Gamewell. They smile upon you that they may work their will; and evil comes of their favor, if not death. Now see--"
"You are crabbed, indeed, Warrenton; and I'll hear no more. Do you know her name?"
"Fitzwalter, lording. Did I not say this was his child?"
"Has she no other name?" persisted Robin, patiently.
"Oh, ay . . . let me see. 'Tis Judith, or Joan, or some such name. Mayhap, 'tis Catherine. I do misremember it, lording: but 'tis surely of no account. The archery is now to begin; and here I would have you give heed--"
He recommenced his cautions, warnings, and hints--being anxious that Robin should shine today for Gamewell's sake.
Robin saw that the jousting was done, and that, after all, the red knights were conquerors. It fell to Geoffrey to ride forward and accept the coveted laurel wreath. Dipping his lance, Geoffrey caused his charger to bend its knees before the regal-looking box: and Master Monceux, after an inflated speech, placed the circlet of bays upon the end of Geoffrey's lance. Then the unknown knight for a brief instant raised his vizor. The lean-faced man near to the Sheriff's right hand exchanged a quick glance of understanding with the knight.
The Sheriff nodded to give the knight to understand that he was satisfied. With closed visor the scarlet one then paced his steed slowly and in quiet dignity around the lists, followed dutifully by Stuteley, until they had returned to the Monceux box. Again saluting gracefully, he extended his lance, with the wreath still depending from it, towards the Sheriff, as it seemed.
"Does he return the wreath, and wherefore?" asked Robin, in puzzled voice.
"To her to whom the wreath is yielded our Sheriff will award the title of Beauty's Queen," explained Warrenton. "'Tis a foolish custom. Master Geoffrey, in this matter of etiquette, knows that the trifle should
go to young Mistress Monceux. Otherwise, the Sheriff would have him beaten, no doubt; or injured in some shameful way upon his departure from the lists."
"So that is the rule of it, eh, Warrenton?" said Robin. "I would like to choose my own Queen--"
"It matters not one jot or tittle to young Master Montfichet. See--the wreath has been duly bestowed and the Sheriff will announce his girl Queen, until the night, of Beauty in all Royal Nottingham. There will be some further mummery when the golden arrow is won. Doubtless, the winner will have to yield it up to Monceux's girl again, on a pretence that all is hers, now she is Queen. So shall my lord the Sheriff keep his prize after all; and be able to offer it again next year--"
Robin checked the garrulous old man with a gesture.
"Now give me my bow, Warrenton," commanded young Fitzooth, somewhat roughly; "and do you tell me how I am to enter myself in the lists."
"Your esquire should announce you," returned the other, respectfully. "See, here he comes--"
"The Red Knight would thank you, Master, for your courtesies," said Stuteley, approaching Robin. "He will wait for us at Nottingham gate; and prays that you will accept the chargers of the unhorsed knights from him. They are his by right of conquest, as you know."
"I will accept them, and thank him for the gift," returned Robin, briefly, guessing that this was the reply that Geoffrey would desire him to make. "Now tell the heralds that Robin of Locksley will enter for the Sheriff's prize. Give no more of my name than that, Will," he added warningly, in a lower voice.
Stuteley vanished, and Robin turned again to the lists. The Sheriff's daughter had already been crowned, and sat now in supercilious state in the Sheriff's own seat. Geoffrey had gone, and Fitzwalter's box was empty.
"I'll not shoot at all," said Robin, suddenly. "Go, Warrenton, bring back Stuteley to me. I have changed my mind in the matter."
"Does your wound fret you, lording?" asked Warrenton, solicitously. "Forgive me that I should have forgot--"
"Nay--'tis not that at all. I have no wish to shoot. Fetch Will to me." It was too late. Stuteley had already given in Robin's name to the heralds, and signified that he would shoot first of all. He came into the box even as Warrenton went out for him.
Half-angrily, Robin took the bow from the retainer's hands and slung his quiver about him. He strode moodily across the lists to the spot where the other archers had already gathered. When they saw this youngling with his odd little cape preparing himself, they smiled and whispered together. Robin strung his bow and slipped an arrow across it.
The crowd became suddenly silent, and this nerved the lad to be himself once more. He forgot his momentary vexation and aimed carefully. His arrow flew surely to the target and struck it full in the middle. "A bull! A bull!" roared Warrenton and Stuteley, together. Robin stepped back.
"None so bad a shot, Master," said the next archer to him, in a quiet tone. "You have provided yourself now with a truer shaft, I ween?"
It was Will o' th' Green, with stained face and horsehair beard. His eyes challenged Robin's in ironical defiance, as he moved to take his turn. His aim seemed to be made without skill or desire to better Robin's shot; yet his arrow found resting place side by side with the other.
The mob cheered and applauded themselves hoarse; while the markers scored the points evenly to these first two archers.
These two stood apart, silent amidst the din. Once Will seemed to be about to speak: then changed his mind. He glanced sidelong at young Stuteley and Warrenton; then hummed a ballad tune under his breath.
The contest went on and the first round came to an end. Out of twenty and three rivals nineteen had scored bulls at this range. The markers gave the signal to the heralds, and these announced the results with loud flourishings.
The target was taken down and the range increased. The range of the mark from the archers for the second round was fixed at forty ells--the same distance as had chanced before between Robin and Master Will when in the greenwood together. The outlaw offered to shoot first; but the heralds requested them to keep in the same order as in the preceding round.
Robin fitted his arrow quietly and with some confidence to his bow,
then sped it unerringly towards the target. "A bull! Another bull to Locksley!" cried out Warrenton, in stentorian tones, and the fickle mob took up the cry: "Locksley! A Locksley!" with gusto.
Will aimed with even more unconcern than before. His arrow took the centre fairly and squarely, however; and was in reality a better shot than Robin's. The shafts were withdrawn; then the other contestants followed. This round brought down the number of competitors to five. The markers carried back the target to a distance of five-and-fifty ells; and truly the painted circles upon it seemed to be now very small.
Robin again took his stand, but with some misgiving. The light was uncertain, and a little fitful wind frolicked across the range in a way very disturbing to a bowman's nerves. His eyes half-anxiously addressed themselves to that box wherein he had spied Mistress Fitzwalter.
His heart leaped--she had returned, and her strange gaze was fixed upon him! Robin drew his bow and flew his shaft. Unconsciously he used the arrow plucked from his own shoulder by Warrenton.
Again did he gain the centre, amid the cries and jubilations of Stuteley and the old retainer.
"Now Master Roughbeard, better that!" shouted Warrenton.
The outlaw smiled scornfully and made ready. He drew his bow with case and a pretty grace, and made a little gesture of confidence as his agile fingers released the arrow. It leaped forth rushingly towards the target, and all eyes followed it in its flight.
A loud uproar broke forth when the markers gave their score-an inner circle, and not a bull. Master Will made an angry signal of disbelief; and strode forward down the lists to see for himself. It was true: the wind had influenced a pretty shot just to its undoing, and Will had to be content with the hope that the same mischance might come to Robin or any of the other bowmen before the round was ended.
The outlaw wished especially to win-that he might have the satisfaction of vexing the Sheriff of Nottingham. Will had intended to send back this prize--a golden arrow--from his stronghold of Sherwood, snapped into twenty pieces, with a letter of truculent defiance wrapped about the scraps. He wished to make it plain to Master Monceux that the free archers of Sherwood were better men than any he might bring against them, and that they despised him very heartily. Now that he
saw a likelihood of his being beaten his heart grew hot within him.
"Be not too sure of it, stripling," said he, as he returned to Robin's side. "Fortune may mar your next shot, as she has mine--"
"'Tis like enough, friend," answered Robin, smiling; "and yet I do hope that the arrow may be won by my hand. This is our second test, Master Will," he added, in a low voice. "Forget it not--the freedom of the greenwood is the reward that I do seek even more than my lord the Sheriff's golden arrow."
The outlaw's anger went suddenly from him.
"Then I do wish you Godspeed, youngling," he said, brightly. "You have in truth beaten me right honestly--for mine was an ill-judged shot."
With Will out of it, the contest came to an easy conclusion; and presently the Sheriff's arrow was duly awarded to Robin of Locksley by the markers.
The lad came forward shyly to receive the prize.
"Master Monceux thinks that you should shoot once more with the second archer," said someone to him, leaning from the Sheriff's box. Looking up, Robin espied the lean-faced man smiling disagreeably down at him.
"Let my lord state the terms of this new contest, then," answered Robin, "and the reason for't."
"'Tis said that you were overfavored by the wind and by the light."
An angry answer was upon the lad's lips: but he checked himself, and with slow dignity turned and went back to where the archers stood grouped together. Soon as he made known to him the difficulty which the Sheriff had raised, Will o' th' Green became furious.
"Locksley, have none of this trumpery prize," cried he, in loud anger. "I do deny my right to any share in it, or to a fresh contest. Nor will I shoot again. Let Monceux vex his brain as he may with rules and conditions-they are not for Roughbeard, or for you. We have our own notions of right and justice; and since the Sheriff is loth to part with the prize that he has offered--why, yield it back to him, friend--and take the reward from me that you coupled with it."
Other indignant protests were now heard from amongst the onlookers: and the Sheriff saw that he had raised a storm indeed. "Locksley!
[paragraph continues] Robin Locksley!" was shouted noisily round and about; and Warrenton and Stuteley busily fostered the tumult. Master Monceux at last bade the heralds announce that Robin of Locksley had won the golden arrow--since the archer who had made nearest points to him did not desire nor seek a further trial.
"Were it necessary, lording," muttered old Warrenton, "I would show you how to notch the arrow of the best archer hereabout--a merry trick, and one that I learned in Lancashire, where they have little left to learn of archery, for sure."
"Nay," put in Roughbeard, loudly, "the arrow is his without need of further parleyings. I do admit myself beaten this day--though on another occasion we will, perchance, reverse our present positions. Take or leave the arrow as you will, Locksley. For my part I would love to prick Monceux with it heartily."
"You talk wisely, friend," said Warrenton, approvingly, "and, as for making a match with you, why, that will we today. Do you ride with us to Gamewell and there you shall have archery and to spare."
"Ay, and a welcome, too!" commenced Robin; then paused suddenly, remembering who Roughbeard really was. Montfichet of Gamewell entertaining Will o' th' Green!
The outlaw merely laughed good-humoredly at the lad's confusion.
"Go, take the Sheriff's prize; and vex him in some way, if you can, in the accepting of it!"
Again Robin walked forward towards the Monceux box; this time with flashing eyes and a resolve in his heart.
"Robin of Locksley," said the Sheriff, scarce looking at him, "here is my golden arrow which I have offered as reward to the best bowman in this Fair. You have been accorded the prize; and I do yield it to you with sincere pleasure. Take the bauble now from our daughter's hand, and use the arrow worthily."
The heralds blew a brazen blast, and the demoiselle Monceux, with a thin smile, held out to Robin upon a silk cushion the little shining arrow which now was his. Bowing, and on one knee, Robin took up the glittering trophy.
"Surely 'tis a plaything more suited to a lady's hair than to an archer," murmured the lean-faced man, who stood close by. Catching
[paragraph continues] Robin's eye, he made a significant sign, as who would say: "Here is the Queen who would adorn it."
Robin had that other notion in his mind, however, and saw that now the moment had arrived in which it should be put into execution. Somehow, he contrived to bring himself before the small low box wherein, half-startled, sat the maid Fitzwalter.
"Lady," stammered the young archer, bowing to her, "do you please accept this little arrow which I have won. It is a pretty thing; but of small use to me. Maybe you could make some ornament with it--"
Then he could go no farther; but dumbly held it out to her.
The girl, having seen that her father was not unwilling, stretched out and took the Sheriff's arrow from Robin's shaking hands.
"Thanks to you, Robin o' th' Hood," she said, with that roguish little toss of her dark curls; "I'll take the dart, and wear it in memory of Locksley and this day!" Her eyes looked frankly into his for a brief instant; then were hid by her silky lashes.
Robin, with bounding heart, walked proudly back to where old Warrenton stood, glowing; and the people thunderingly applauded the archer's choice.
"Right well was it done, Locksley!" roared the outlaw, near forgetting himself. "I love you for it." For he saw only that the Sheriff had been slighted, and cries of: "A Locksley!" were renewed again and again.
Master Monceux looked furiously at this archer who had taken the prize with only the briefest word of thanks to him: and would have spoken, had not his daughter, with chilling gesture, forbidden it. She gave no outward symptom of the anger stirring within her: she wore her worthless but royal crown of bay, whilst the other toyed thoughtfully with the golden arrow, and wondered who the gallant giver of it might be.
Robin, Warrenton, Stuteley, and Roughbeard rode towards the gate of Nottingham on the horses of the defeated knights. They had decided to stay no longer at the Fair: the noisy play and mock joustings that were to follow the archery had no attraction for them.