Mistress Fitzooth never saw Gamewell or her brother again. Her disorder took a sudden and fatal turn; and within a week Robin found himself doubly an orphan--without home, money, or hope. Only two good friends had he--little Stuteley and staunch Warrenton.
The Squire had refused to see the latter and had sent him the reply to Robin's note by one of the servants. Montfichet was angered with Warrenton because he had been deceived by him.
Robin laid his mother to rest beside his father. That was as long as he might dare stay in Locksley. Every day he feared to be seized by Master Monceux's myrmidons. Stuteley kept watch on the road through Sherwood by day and Warrenton by night.
The morning of the interment brought news of danger. One of the few faithful foresters of Locksley was at his post--the rest, having no master, had disported themselves upon their own various errands--and he heard from a shepherd that a body of soldiers were journeying to Locksley. Full two score and ten of them there were; one, the leader, carrying a warrant for Robin's arrest. The forester hastened to save his young master.
The time was short. Robin had scarcely pause to perform the last sad offices above his mother's grave ere he must be flying for his life. His only chance was to take to the woods and hide in them.
Warrenton urged him to seek shelter in the thicker forest about Barnesdale, at the northwestern end of Sherwood. Whispers gave a story that the higher parts were honeycombed with strange caves; and
all the countryside knew that away in Barnesdale were the headquarters and camps of Will o' th' Green. It was the place of all others for shelter; and Stuteley became joyful in the thought of the adventures that must chance to them therein.
Warrenton was sober, however, over it. He had a presentiment that the days would be hard and the food scanty and plain. Still, 'twas a man's life, after all.
They nearly plunged themselves into the hands of the enemy by mistaking their road.
So it chanced that Robin spied his old enemy Simeon Carfax and narrowly missed being seen also by him. The three fugitives hid themselves high up in the branches of a tree; and watched with beating hearts their enemies hurrying onward to Locksley. With the band of soldiers, pikemen, and foresters were two whom Robin observed narrowly. Sounds of their talk reached his ears; and, since these two fellows rode somewhat apart from the rest, Robin was able to distinguish their chattering.
He had unfailing ear for a voice. These were those traitors in Will's band, the two outlaws whom he had encountered on the day of the joustings at Nottingham Fair. "Roger and Micah," murmured Robin to himself, after listening a while. "Yes, those were the names they used then. So, friends, I am forearmed against you, for I will step with heavy foot in your concerns by and by--when I do find Master Will o' th' Green! Roger--and Micah--I'll not forget."
Soon as they had passed, the three slid quietly to the ground and thereafter betook themselves very cautiously through the wood. Robin determined to find Will soon as he might and lay his case before him. The outlaw would give him refuge, no doubt.
The noise of the soldiers passed away in a murmuring discordance, and the three fugitives walked now more boldly towards Barnesdale. Ere sundown they were very heartily tired. They lay themselves down in the long grasses and while two slumbered the third watched.
Such foods as dry bread and berries were all that they could command; but there was water in plenty. The evening came, and after it night--and so to break of the next day.
Robin would have recommenced the flight soon as they had bathed themselves in a little shallow stream. Ere an hour of daylight was theirs, sounds of hurried approach warned them to be alert. Someone was crashing recklessly through the wood, following their trail clearly. Robin bade Warrenton and little Stuteley hide on either hand whilst he put himself directly in the path of this pursuer.
It proved to be none other than that one faithful forester of Locksley who had warned him of the soldiery. Robin welcomed him all the more gladly when he heard that this good fellow meant to throw in his own fortunes with those of his unjustly treated young master.
He had news for them, too. It transpired that Master Carfax had several duties in hand--as was his wont. First, he had to seize Robin and bring him, alive or dead, to the Sheriff. Next he was to declare all the Fitzooth property to be confiscated; and, having put seal upon any of it that might be left from the fire, he had to instal as temporary Ranger one of the Sherwood men who he might think fit and trustworthy. Then a messenger was to be dispatched with another parchment to the Abbot of York: writ this time in true Norman tongue.
After these things were executed Master Simeon was to turn his men about, and march them determinedly upon the outlaws' stronghold, which was now known to be at Barnesdale, and exterminate the band.
A task none so easy, after all!
For the satisfactory doing of these small commissions Carfax was to receive one hundred and fifty pieces of gold; and also would be accepted by the Sheriff as a fitting husband for the pale, hard-eyed demoiselle, Marie of Monceux. 'Twas this reward that made Master Simeon desperate and dangerous.
The forester, John Berry by name, told Robin further that Carfax had clothed his body in chain mail, and was carrying a dreadful axe in his belt--with which to avenge the insult put upon him in the matter of the stag's horns.
"Let us seek Barnesdale forthwith," said Robin. "I am all agog to warn Will o' th' Green--for he has been a stout friend to me."
"Hurry then, Master," cried Berry, the forester. "You are not far from the Barnesdale road. In sooth, as I followed your tracks, I wondered
how you had come so far within a very short space. You are now within touch of Gamewell."
It was true. In the mazy forest they had nearly described a circle, and were now perilously nigh to Gamewell and the squire.
An idea came to Robin. He turned to Warrenton.
"Could we but find that underground path whereby cousin Geoffrey came and went from the pleasance, old friend," said he, "why--we might play the Yellow Lady to purpose!"
"Excellence," replied Warrenton, "I will undertake to bring you to the forest entrance of Master Will's castle within a score of minutes."
"Lead us, Warrenton--and I prithee be better guide than you have been so far in this adventure."
After taking many bypaths, and through a big tunnel-shaped cave, the path became dry again, and lighter: and soon they saw that the end was near. They emerged presently, tired and dirtied; and found themselves under the bank of a little jumping woodland river--far down in a gorge of rock and brake, studded and overhung with thick trees.
It was a wild spot: and only the notes of the birds and the rush of the falling water disturbed it. But ere they had proceeded a quarter of a mile up the bank of the stream a sudden bend in it brought them the harsh noise of desperate and near fighting.
Loud shouts and battle cries sounded on their left; and, running speedily in this direction, our four adventurers chanced upon a strange sight.
It was strange by the manner of their view of it; for, having clambered up the bank to the top of the gorge, they saw themselves on the highest edge of a spur of ground--with the low-down rocky valley of the river behind, and before them a little narrow plain--as equally below them as was the water they had left. On this plain were a number of men engaged in deadly battle. Round and about were the thick dark woods of Barnesdale.
A moment's glance showed Robin that they had arrived too late to help Will o' th' Green by way of warning. The outlaw's foes were upon him, and seemingly had the robber and his band at a disadvantage.
The ground descended below the four onlookers so abruptly as to cut
them off from the plain. They were near to the battle; and yet altogether remote from it.
"Our arrows must do duty for us, then," muttered Robin, grimly, soon as he understood this. "Fit shafts across your bows, friends, and aim with all your hearts in it. Let not those of either side see us. 'Tis thus that our services shall be of most value to Master Will."
They dropped to their knees and aimed their arrows carefully. They had full quivers with them, and Warrenton and Robin felt themselves in a manner to be pitted one against the other. The battle raged so furiously below, however, that for a minute these allies were compelled to remain idle--not daring to loose their shafts for fear of slaying friends as well as foes.
Sounds of a horn, shrill and impatient, suddenly called the soldiers back to their ranks beside Master Carfax. Robin spied this worthy now; and saw that he bestrode a black horse clumsily--as if armored indeed. Simeon evidently had withdrawn his men from a mêlée for fear that in it he might not be properly protected. He was seen to be issuing orders very peremptorily to the men.
Meanwhile the outlaws rallied themselves to their leader's side. They were sadly decreased in numbers; and, whilst the living thus formed about in battle array, there were many poor fellows of both sides left upon the field who stirred not even to the imperative commands of their commanders.
Now was Robin's chance.
"Choose your man, each one of you," said he, in a suppressed eagerness; "and soon as the soldiers issue at the charge shoot down upon your mark."
Carfax gave an order almost as he spoke. Instantly Robin loosed his bow, and singing death flew from it. He overturned the soldier nearest to Master Simeon, even as Warrenton's shaft struck another dead at once.
The forester Berry and little Stuteley added to the confusion--both wounding the same soldier simultaneously. Then Carfax, believing that these arrows came from Will's band, sounded a charge and spurred his horse forward amongst his pikemen.
They rushed forward with swinging axe and clanking sword upon the outlaws, who now delivered a sudden stream of shafts. These Robin's band supplemented by shrewder arrows. Seven of the soldiers rolled over as they ran, killed forthwith; and Robin, having pricked Simeon's horse, shot him again in the ear whilst meaning to find his master.
The beast plunged wildly into the soldiers, trampling and scattering them. But many managed yet to meet the robbers, and the desperate hand-to-hand fighting was recommenced.
Robin bade the others cease. The four of them peered from out of their cover over the crest, and watched breathlessly. Carfax had fallen from his horse and lay floundering on the close grass. Stuteley sped a gooseshaft into his forearm ere Robin could check him.
Warrenton drew his master's attention and anger away from his esquire by a quick whisper.
"See, lording--quick! Look how some of the enemy do creep about Master Will; they will strike him and his fellows from the rear!"
"The two who lead them are not uniformed--like as not they are those treacherous ones whom I have such cause to remember."
So muttered Robin, with parted lips, and gasping his words disjointedly. "Smite them, Warrenton," cried he, suddenly and excitedly. "Speedily, instantly--or they will end this fight against us. Now!"
Their arrows flew together, marvellous shots, each finding its prey. The two wretches threw up their arms as they ran; and, uttering dismal cries, fell upon the earth, and in their death struggles tore up vain handfuls of the soil.
"Follow, follow," called Robin, to his three faithful ones. "Locksley! A Locksley! To the rescue!"
They tumbled headlong down the slope, shouting vociferously as they came. The soldiers, alarmed and already disheartened, imagined that these eager enemies were but forerunners of a large reinforcement. Hastily they disengaged themselves from the outlaws and, gathering up Master Carfax, rushed pell-mell with him backward to the woods on the right.
Will o' th' Green's few men hurried them with their arrows; and soon as Robin had come down to level ground he fell to streaming his shafts
Click to enlarge
''Smite them, Warrenton,'' cried Robin, suddenly and excitedly. Their arrows flew together, marvellous shots, each finding its prey.
into the rout. He was bruised, begrimed, and cut about his face by the thorns and rocks; yet was so furious against Master Simeon and his myrmidons that these things were not even felt by him. Shouting "Locksley! Locksley!" more and more triumphantly, he ran alone in fierce pursuit.
The soldiers disappeared under the trees, and ran even then. Warrenton and the outlaws came on in support of young Robin; and the defeat of Carfax and his men was completed. They were chased through the woods of Barnesdale, which these wild outlaws knew so well. Some were shot with arrows mercifully; others fell under the cruel blows of the outlaws' short axes. A few escaped with Master Carfax back to the Sheriff of Nottingham--not one-third of those who had set out at his command. It was the most desperate of affairs yet betwixt the greenwood men and those representing law and order as conceived by the Sheriff. On either side many were killed--the outlaw band was reduced in numbers, and its leader, Will o' th' Green, was amongst those who were to plot and fight no more in Sherwood.
When Robin and the rest of them returned from their long chase, tired with an immense fatigue, they found sad work still before them. Robin tended Will himself, and bound up his many wounds: and sought to beguile him to live--if but to spite Monceux and his wretches. But Will o' th' Green had been pierced too dreadfully by his enemies' darts: he had only strength to drink a little water and say his last words to his men.
In the dusk of this day he lay in Robin's arms, wizard no more; and asked that someone should give the call he knew so well--the strange, short signal upon the horn which ever had rallied these men. Then as they, with dejected faces, drew nigh to him, he spoke to them all--bidding them hate the laws and defy them so long as they were unjust and harsh. He counselled them to choose amongst themselves a new leader--one who would be impartial and honest; and the one who could bend the best bow.
"Be not robbers to any who are poor and who are good fellows--having only their poverty against them. Be kind to those who help you, but exact toll as heretofore of all who come through the greenwood.
[paragraph continues] The rich to pay in money, and blood--if it be necessary."
He added these words with an effort; and his mind wandered in the shadowy fields of death. Robin saw how his fingers twitched, as if they plucked still the cord of his good yew bow. He smoothed back Will's dark hair from off his brow, and put water to the outlaw's lips. Will o' th' Green glanced up at him, and something of his old expression--half-grim, half-smiling--showed that he struggled still to hold hands with life.
"For you, Locksley," he muttered, puckering his brows, "there are two roads open. One, to yield thyself to Monceux and the rack--for not even your uncle at Gamewell should save you, even did he so wish; the other--to join with these honest fellows and live a free life. What else is left to you? If you would be as dutiful to the laws as the earth to summer sun, it should not avail you. Your lord the Sheriff is in the hands of his girl--and she listens with willing ear to Master Carfax. Ask not how I know these things. Your cousin is outlawed--"
"I shall live in the greenwood, Will," answered Robin, quietly, "with your brave men and you--if so be I may. Have I won now the freedom of the forest?" He showed him the broken peacocked arrow which the Clerk of Copmanhurst had given him.
The outlaw held up his right hand and laid it on Robin's bowed head: "Upon you, Robin of Locksley, do I bestow, with this my last breath, full freedom of the forests of England," he said, very loudly. Then he relaxed from his frown to a rare smile. "Learn this sign--" he said, and showed Robin, with feeble fingers, how the greenwood men knew each other in any disguise. It was a simple signal, very easy to know, yet very sure. No one might suppose it given by accident-yet of design it appeared quite innocent. The smile was fading from Will's face as Robin repeated it carefully after him; and even as he spoke again he died.
"Farewell--friends all--take this brother into your good company, and make him and those with him right welcome. I pray you to remember and abide by those kindly rules which have always--always--"
His speech fell away into meaningless words, and the light left his
face. He moved in Robin's arms and sighed. Then, as his body rolled slowly over, and he lay with his back turned to them, they saw that his worst wound was in it--a dastard's blow. So ended the life of Will o' th' Green--or Will of Cloudesley: he of whom many stories have been told in other books.
They took him up reverently and buried him in a secret place--so that none to this day can say where he lies. And the outlaws swore an oath of vengeance against him who had so foully slain their chief.
Robin guessed wisely that the mortal blow had been given by one of those two traitors in Will's own camp. Had they not been riding with Carfax in the early morn--not as prisoners of war--but as informers and spies?
* * *
The next day was passed in burying the dead of both sides. The outlaws accepted Robin without question as one full welcome amongst them; and Warrenton, Stuteley, and John Berry were also given the freedom of the woods and taught the signs and freemasonry of them.
The bodies of the soldiers and mercenaries were stripped and heaped together into a pit, and roughly covered with earth and leaves. Then the outlaws betook themselves to their caves to settle who should be chief of the band in Will's place.
Whilst they were employed in this difficult business, the Sheriff sent out another and larger body of armed men--obeying the insolent command of his Prince. Fear sat upon the soul of Monceux then: for he did not doubt that another such disaster as that which had chanced to his other men would mean disgrace and the end of his lord-shrievalty.
This second company who were captained by Hubert the Archer, with bandaged Carfax second in command, had an easy conquest, however, of Sherwood and Barnesdale--for none challenged them, nor questioned their proceedings in any respect. Nor was there sign left in the woods of Robin or the outlaws--they were vanished so utterly that Carfax conceived them all to have either died of their wounds or fled disconsolate from the neighborhood.
In either event this was most excellent news; and, having patrolled the forest and searched it indifferently well, the men-at-arms of Nottingham
agreed that peace-loving folk had no more to fear from, the wild spirits of Sherwood. They were gone, banished--and the King's forest was now safe of passage to all.
Carfax, poking here and there, found the fresh grave of his own fellows, and disturbed it mightily. He bade Hubert disinter them all and pretended to recognize each one. Here was the archrebel Will of Cloudesley--this one was the second man of his band. Here was young Robin Fitzooth, as dead as mutton--and here was his fellow Stuteley. So Master Simeon went on, to his own satisfaction and to Hubert's, who foresaw large rewards to be paid for these poor dishonored bodies.
They brought three of them back, with every circumstance of importance. They were shown to the Prince as being the last remains of Will Cloudesley, Robin Fitzooth, and Hall the Outlaw--a well-known marauder in Will's company.
Prince John forthwith praised the pikemen and archers, and bade Monceux give them great rewards--a thing which vexed the mean Sheriff much. Then they all rode about and through the forest in a great hunt of the Royal deer, graciously attended by the Prince himself.
Monceux was forgiven; and Simeon, having quite recovered all his old self-esteem, was duly betrothed to the demoiselle Marie. A new Ranger was appointed at Locksley; and another house was found for him. No one said him nay.
A proclamation against all outlaws and freebooters having issued and signed with many flourishes by John, he betook his royal person to York, carrying lean-faced, smiling Carfax with him. Mistress Monceux hid her sorrow and devoted her energies forthwith the undoing of the maid Fitzwalter, against whom she yet nursed much spite.
The Prince stayed at Gamewell on his way, and patronized indulgently old George Montfichet, although the latter's dislike of his Royal guest was only too thinly veiled. Then John took farewell of Nottingham and. Sherwood, making an easy business of it. Monceux had ridden out on this morning to make dutiful obeisance and escort the Prince Locksley to the borders.
Outside the gates of Gamewell John delivered himself to the men-at-arms,
retainers, burgesses, and citizens of Nottingham, who had inquisitively followed the Sheriff.
"We will not forget your hospitality, friends all," said he, in his slightly swaggering and yet withal effeminate way; "and see, in some measure of return for it, we leave you our Sherwood free from pestilent robbers and evil defiers of the law. When we came to Nottingham there were these and others, but now they are all driven out of our Royal forest--many slain with the arrows of my Hubert, or beaten with the staves of your own fellows. This surely is some sort of gift--see to it that you keep well that which we have secured for you."
Then he rode forth amid the cheerings of the crowd, Hubert and his followers scattering largesses as they rode.