The town of Worksop, in the North of the Shire, at the Inn, a band of surly fellows had been staying for about a fortnight, when the innkeeper began to despair of ever seeing a farthing in payment. He had provided the 12 strong and burly men his best rooms, and after they had run off all the other guests, they took all the rooms. He and his goodwife provided them with breakfast lunch and dinner, and no small amount of drink. They were obviously soldiers awaiting some orders from somewhere. They weren’t under orders from the crown or any of the Nobility, that the innkeepers could tell. They were closed mouthed about their employment, and mind you, that was the only thing they were close mouthed about. They quarreled with everyone, including themselves, and neither the maidens nor the livestock were safe from their attentions. The only thing they failed to make liberal use of in town was soap. England in the twelfth century wasn’t known for its hygiene, but these boys stood out as filthy among even the lowliest swine in the shire.
The innkeeper’s name was Chaucer; no relation. He complained bitterly by day and prayed fervently by night. His best plan, was to burn down his inn and start again somewhere else and hope the demons didn’t follow him. He had no way of knowing but one of the displaced guests had been on their way to Sherwood Forest. Worksop bordered the north of the Forest as Notthingham bound it on the south. When the folk of Sherwood needed a bed, a meal and most importantly, a roof, they often went up to Chaucer’s Inn to get a feel for civilization. It was also a good way to get gossip about the shire without being too conspicuous. Innkeepers love to gossip, especially to regular customers.
The guest in question, one Henry Fitzhume, loved the meals the innkeeper’s wife, Nan, prepared, and was none too happy about being bullied out of his room. The noise had been enough to irritate him and the smell had been enough for him to keep his distance from the boys, (the inn all referred to them as the demons and if the mercenaries had overheard… well, they probably would have approved. But, one night in the tavern of the inn, he had been persuaded to play a round of darts. The demons had of course, cheated at the scorekeeping, but on lean forester could hardly accuse twelve surly, burly demons of cheating and expect to sleep soundly that night, so he had conceded his room as payment, and considered himself lucky.
It was, as has been eluded to, expected of those visiting the inn to bring back gossip to the forest, and when Henry was asked what he learned on his sojourn into civilization, he confessed that he had been so harried by these ruffians, that he had failed to learn a single thing.
“You should have at least spoke to Chaucer in private” said Will Skarlett.
“Aye.” agreed Little John. “We are the outlaws of Sherwood, and we care not for some wayfarers who cheat at darts.” This was the way Little John formed his sentences when he had had a bit of ale.
“Actually,” said Robin, “Mr. Fitzhume has given us some vital information about the sheriff’s plans for Sherwood.”
“He sent the demons to beat me at darts?” answered Fitzhume.
“Aye.” said Robin. “The sheriff is gathering soldiers to root us out of our happy woodland home. These swine are the first to arrive.” Robin had been sitting at the table around which they were all gathered. He stood up. “Perhaps there have been one or two others, but not right on the forest’s edge, and not a nuisance to the foresters themselves. Um, ourselves? Well, regardless. I believe, Mr. Fitzhume, that you must return to the inn for a rematch.”
“Oh. I’d like that. I’d like that very much.” said Mr. Fitzhume.
It was a warm summer evening at the Chaucer Inn. The waning moon streamed into the tavern window giving a blue rim light to the faces of the ever rowdy demons. One, whose name was Ralph had done just that in the middle of the room. The townsfolk had liked to gather at the inn before the unruly pack of giant, square jawed, ham handed young psychopaths had moved in. But now, they stayed home after dark. Unless there was an emergency.
“Here! Look what I found out for a stroll this fine summer night!” said Gerard, an enthusiastic young lad with a patchy beard and hair cropped by sheep shears. He pulled in behind him a reluctant, though feisty lass whose name he had been unable to ascertain.
“You oaf!” she said. “I’m on my way to deliver a baby! I am a MIDWIFE! How many times do I have to tell you? Do you not know what a midwife is?”
“Oh that wee lad isn’t going anywhere is he?” said Gerard. His mates all cheered agreement.
“Stay and have a drink with us Lassie!” said Ralph. The boys all began to gather around. Things had gotten dull the past few days, and this could be hours of fun for them all before the poor girl’s heart gave out.
The midwife was neither young nor fetching in the eyes of the young mercenaries, yet those weren’t really requirements for their sport. They weren’t courting the girl. The lanterns in the room flickered, casting shadows across the boys faces at hellish angles.
Chaucer decided he could no longer just cower in the kitchen, waiting for them to pass out. He came into the room with a mind to fetch the girl out the back way. “Oh, good! It’s the innkeeper!” said James, the leader of the gang. “Another round, if you please, and bring a glass for the lady.” he said.
Chaucer screwed up all the courage he could muster. “This young lady is on an important errand and hasn’t time to dally with you lads this evening.” he said and took the midwife by the arm to lead her into the kitchen where there was another exit.
“Bosh!” said Ralph, “You just want her for yourself, you dirty old sot!” and he stumbled in between them and the kitchen door.
“Is that true?” said James. “You going to take away our plaything for your own selfish desires?” Chaucer found himself surrounded by the soldiers.
“No.” said the innkeeper. “I’m going to send her on her way. She has a baby to deliver.”
“You are not being very hospitable to your guests.” said Gerard, who was feeling proprietary towards the girl, since he had brought her.
“Now lads,” said the midwife, in a bit of a panic, “I promise I will come back just as soon the I deliver the baby.”
“Will you, now?” said Ralph, reeking of vomit. “We’ll just have a go at you first, just to give you a taste!” he said and grabbed her away from Chaucer roughly by the shoulder. Chaucer stepped forward in anger and Ralph smiled. Chaucer faltered, but stood his ground. James took hold of the midwife, so Ralph could concentrate on Chaucer.
“No!” screamed the midwife.
“It’s all right Jinny!” said Chaucer, “I can take care of this ruffian!” he put his fists in front of him, prepared to give it his best. Ralph simply raised his fist over his shoulder; it was the size of Chaucer’s head. As he brought down his massive fist, the door swung open and blew out the lanterns, blanketing the room in darkness. Only the dim glow of the moon came in through the window.
There was an “Oof!” as Ralph swung at a target that was no longer there. Then, from the dim glow of the coals burning in the fireplace, a flame lit upon a straw faggot, and Henry Fitzhume brought the flame to his pipe and set it blazing.
The sudden change in the room momentarily stunned the group of demons. They stood agog staring at Henry as if he were a ghost. “What are you doing back here?” said James.
“I’ve come for a rematch.” said Henry with calm he did not actually feel. He puffed his pipe and pretended he was in a play. “Jinny, run along, don’t you have a baby to see to?” he said casually, as if Jinny were the one to be scolded for delinquency.
“Aye.” she said, and shook free. Still stunned, James let her go and she walked out the door, her heart pounding.
“Oh, you should not have done that.” said Ralph. “Gerard, go and get her back.” Gerard moved to the door, but when he opened it, a large forester stood in his way.
“Evening.” said the new man. he came in the door and, lighting a straw by his own pipe, he began to light the lanterns through out the room. “Name’s John” he said to no one in particular.
“You lads have come at a bad time.” said James gravely. “We don’t like having out fun spoiled.”
“Is that a fact?” said a man who had come in unnoticed through the kitchen. He too was smoking a pipe and dressed as a forester: all in an earthy green with a hooded cape.
“Who are you?” said Ralph.
“Why we’re the Merry Men, of course.” said another man leading several more into the main entrance.
“Who in blazes are the “Merry Men”?” demanded James.
“We are the outlaws of Sherwood.” said Will Skarlett, appearing, pipe in hand at the kitchen door.
“Well, that’s grand!” said James. “That’s just who we’re here to find! If you’re the outlaws of Sherwood, which one of you is Robin Hood?”
“That would be me.” said Robin coming through the front door, smoking his pipe. The foresters now outnumbered the demons, but the demons were much bigger. Each of them was a giant from the fables, covered in grime, hungry for English blood.
“At them!” ordered James. He plunged at Robin, who sidestepped and pulled his dagger. Robin chose to fight these soldiers indoors as soldiers were used to doing battle outdoors and so would be at a disadvantage. They would also be drunk, but they might be drunk in battle so he wasn’t sure that that would be the advantage it should be.
Some of the soldiers were armed and some had left their swords in their room. They all had daggers at least as that was part of their everyday dress. Robin’s boys all had daggers and some had swords, so on that count it was fairly even. Robin himself had a sword, but left it in its scabbard for now because he thought that there might not be room to fully utilize it in close quarters.
James, having overshot his mark wheeled immediately and hit Robin in the back with a massive blow. Robin fell into a table immediately in front of him and grabbed a lantern as it toppled. He pivoted on his heel and slammed the lantern into James’ skull. The glass broke. The lantern fat splattered onto his face and the flame spread across James’ head.
Chaucer felt guilty for wanting to set his inn on fire because it looked like his wish was about to come true. Robin Hood! Right here in his own inn! He watched with equal parts wonder and horror as Robin Hood and his band of outlaws engaged the demons that had possessed his inn for so long. The biggest one, his name was Little John, Chaucer knew, was not as big as any of these giants. He was fist fighting with Gerard. They were going toe to toe. Gerard threw a punch that would have killed a horse if it had landed, but it didn’t. Little John was spry and bobbed out of the way. He used the momentum he built from straightening up to carry into a punch that caught Gerard on the ear. Gerard looked more irritated than hurt. He swatted John’s arm away and threw a jab that struck John right in the nose, whipping his head back. Chaucer turned away.
He saw Robin Hood had his dagger out, and so did James. James had recovered from having his face burned. He had somehow extinguished his face without setting the inn on fire. It was bloody and red. He swiped at Robin, who leaned back, dodging the cut. Robin brought his blade up, straight at James’ chin, but James pulled away as Robin had.
Chaucer looked for Henry. He had been surprised to see him here, and even more surprised that he was with Robin Hood. He thought that those outlaws were murderous thugs who lived like animals in the forest, but Henry was a well mannered young man; quite the opposite of what he had associated with Robin’s outlaws.
He was still by the fireplace having a swordfight with James’ lieutenant, Edward. Henry was holding his sword with two hands and blocking hammering strikes by Edward. Even among the din, Chaucer could hear the clang of the swords as they sparked together. Edward brought his sword up in preparation for an unstoppable blow, and Henry used the opportunity to swing his own sword from where it had been over his head, sideways into Edward’s ribs. It was a gruesome blow, but as Chaucer looked about him, it was hardly the first or bloodiest blow. There were men on both sides being butchered. Some were dead already, others lay dying as their life’s blood drained out of them.
Little John was down on his knees. Gerard was pummeling him repeatedly on the head. He looked as if he were in for it.
Robin received a cut to his left shoulder. The only acknowledgement he gave was the line of his mouth was set even grimmer than it had been. Robin swiveled his dagger into a stabbing position and swung at his opponent’s chest. James saw it coming and batted it away so ferociously that Robin dropped his dagger. James now stabbed at Robin and Robin caught James’ wrists in both his hands and held fast. Now it was a contest of strength and James was clearly the stronger. Slowly, he brought the dagger down toward Robin’s heart. The two looked each other in the eye, hoping for some clue, some sign of weakening to take advantage of. Suddenly, Robin kneed James in the grion with all the force he could muster. James’ eyes dialated, and then he loosened his grip on his dagger. Robin pushed James’ wrists up enough to allow him to butt James in the head. James dropped his dagger and fell unconscious.