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Robin Hood. Father Cedric Goes Fishing. 17

Dawn found Sherwood Village in high spirits. The village cat, named “Lucky” was snoozing on his new bed which consisted of a fairly new white linen sheet. He did not know Why he had been given such a luxurious bed any more than why he had been thrown into the middle of those horsemen the night before, but he was enjoying his new status as hero. It had been Robin’s idea to use the sheet with a lantern behind it high in the trees, but it had been Wulfhere who had insisted that the sheriff’s men be sufficiently frightened before hand to make sure the men from Nottingham didn’t see through the cheap illusion as any mature thinking man would have. Most folks were superstitious as it was, thinking the forest was haunted, believing cats were the devils familiar and so on. No one would admit to throwing the cat from the tree heights, but Lucky was especially wary of Will Skarlett this morning, so Robin had his suspicions and made sure the cat was treated with deference. It seemed fitting that the ghost sheet should be given to the cat as a reward.
“They will be back now that’s it’s daylight. Probably with greater numbers.” said Tom.
“Aye.” agreed Robin. “I wonder what tipped them off.”
“They found something.” said John. “It’s a good thing Tuck decided to keep in contact with us through those birds of his.”
“Well we will be ready for Bill Brewer.” said Will Skartlett. “We can surprise him, and be rid of him once and for all.” There were many grunts of assent, but Robin was glad to note, the call wasn’t taken up in a mindless chant.
“We need not resort to murder immediately.” Robin said. “If the king’s appointed sheriff is killed by a band of outlaws in Sherwood forest, the king will send a host after us. I for one would like to live to see the day when I can walk into town a free man.”
“That day will not be soon.” said Wulfhere. “You will have to walk the path of the outlaw to get into town as a freeman.” The old hermit loved to talk in riddles. He called them koans.
“We shall disappear into the forest, then.” declared Robin. “Let him continue to chase ghosts for a time. We shall take the fight to him!” This was a theme Robin had promoted before. “If we let him find us here, then we shall have no peace. Nowhere to retreat to. We shall continue to harry him. We shall retrieve what he has taken from us and return it to the people of Nottinghamshire. That will put us in their good graces, and when the time comes, we shall have their support.”
“We buy them off?” questioned Will.
“No. I don’t see it that way. We are giving them what was taken from them. We are not buying them. It is what we have been doing all ready. I want to rile the sheriff. I want him to rue the day he put us out of our homes. He is the criminal! Not us! Yet he lives in his castle and we live in the trees! He is the thief! We are hunted? A pox on that! Let us hunt him!” Now the chanting started.
While the sheriff had been away to see to his men at the monastery, Father Cedric had been left to see to his office. Cedric had been a ward of the Church since he was a small boy. Growing up, he had no choice but to take his vows. In those days the Church was in many ways more powerful than any kingdom. All of Europe was under Papal command. If a King did not yield to the Church, the pope could have him excommunicated, a fate worse than death; as it meant eternal damnation. It also meant the forfeiture of any standing in what was known as Christendom. This was the entire civilized world. It may be that China had invented paper making, that Arabia had many advanced sciences, and Africa held untold treasure: as their people were not Christian, they were considered by the Christians themselves as barbarians. The pope was considered infallible, and to have a direct conduit to God Himself. No king had rein over such large territory, or such unquestionable power.
Cedric had never had much political ambition. He had come to be vicar of St. Mary’s almost through default. He was easily intimidated and although not a willing lackey of the sheriff’s, he had not the courage to stand up to him. In his twisted retrospect, he saw this as loyalty, and his appointment as deputy as his reward for said loyalty. He had faithfully discharged his duties as vicar (except for his ceding to the sheriff’s greed in the case of St. Anne’s orphanage), and had no doubt that he was up to the task of deputy sheriff. There had been a few cases of drunken disorderliness, and he had had a few lackeys of the sheriff’s to take them to the stockade to sleep it off. Since the sheriff had returned, he had begun scheming to retain his double office of vicar of St. Mary’s and deputy sheriff of Nottinghamshire. The idea fed his ego and also (he felt) absolved him of choosing easy loyalty to the sheriff over awkward disagreements over insignificant irregularities regarding money due the orphanage.
To this end, he naturally began to see the orphanage as a belligerent demanding too much of the people’s money, that rightly belonged to the king’s man the sheriff to use as he saw fit for the good of the shire. He likewise began to see the orphanage’s representatives as personifications of said belligerent, mewing and scraping for their “fair share.” Whereas he had previously got on rather well with Tuck and Marian, he began to suspect them of suspecting him. When it became apparent that the money that the sheriff had stolen had been stolen, he immediately began to suspect the pair of collusion, calumny, conspiracy, capers and crime. How could he implicate them? How could they be ensnared by the web of the law by their own deceptions. He would approach the sheriff for advice, but for two small details: one, the sheriff was sure to take credit for the idea unless Cedric implemented and executed the plan himself, and b: the sheriff was a truly unpleasant person around which to be. If he did not think the idea worth taking credit for himself he would ridicule Cedric and quite possibly strip him of his deputization. Cedric suspected he had been sparred such a stripping only as an oversight on the sheriff’s part.
It was with these thoughts in mind, that Father Cedric decided to pay a visit to St Anne’s. It was, after all, part of his parish and part of St. Mary’s though it had always been run independently. Spring really had finally come to Nottingham: the oaks were in bloom, the grass was green on the hills, the birds had returned and were courting. Deer could be seen venturing about. On his approach to St Anne’s, Father Cedric heard the cacophony of children run amok. Had they no studies? Were there no chores to be done? Surely running around like crazed lunatics on a fine spring morning such as this was not what the Good Lord had intended for young children. He came across Marian as he entered the yard only to find her leading a group of the wayward waifs in a dancing circle as they chased each other, tiny hands interlocked, singing some ridiculous song.
“Good God; Marian, have you gone mad? What on Earth are you doing?” Cedric said with his hands on his hips. To his consternation, Marian gave him a wide laughing smile by way of greeting.
“Why, we are playing ‘The Battle of the Trees’, of course!” she said. “Do you not recognize the verses?” She flew by carried by the children whirling  in their circle as they sang:
“I was in many forms
before I was set free
I was a narrow blood-spotted sword
I believe, when I was formed
I was teardrops in the air
I was a star-woven star
I was the truth of a letter
I was the tale of origins
I was illuminated lanterns
         for a year and a half
I was a bridge that spanned
         three-score estuaries”
Cedric knew Taliesin’s writing’s well. He loved them. There were many that were Christian specific. This one mentioned Jesus somewhere in there.
“Can you not teach them hymns or prayers or something worthy of the Mother of the Mother of Our Blessed Lord and savior?” is what he said.
“Father! The children learn hymns and prayers all day! Would you have them not learn some poetry by the great Taliesin as well? Is math also too secular for St Anne’s? How will they count on their rosaries? Really, Father; I don’t know what’s gotten into you!”
“Watch your tongue, Lass; there’s no need for such impertinence! The church pays for the schooling of these young wretches, it is not for you to gainsay, me!” Cedric had become quite red in the face.
Marian was never one to meekly think a woman’s place was to be silent. “The pittance we get from the church goes to bare necessities; whereas the bulk of funding comes from donations from the good people of the shire, who it may be said, are lucky if they have anything at the end of the day after tithing church and crown! Don’t try to bully me, Father; I work here long hours for no pay whatsoever and I’ll not have you come visit as your leisure and criticize the hard work I do!”
When Tuck saw them on his way back to his office from the privy, it looked as though they might come to blows. He strode across the yard and broke up the throng of children who had stopped to watch thereby augmenting their education with this lesson in applied debate. “What is all this shouting?” said Tuck. “Marian that is no way to talk to a man of the cloth! And Father Cedric, what has gotten into you? You know better than to talk to a lady in such a tone and particularly Marian! Not because she’s nobility or anything, but because she’s, well, because she’s Marian, for God’s sake!”
“Tuck! You are under my authority! I am the Vicar of St. Mary’s! Don’t think to use that tone with me, nor command me at your whim!”
“Friar Tuck! You should have heard what your fellow churchman was just saying to me! You should find out what the facts are before you go yelling at me to show respect for this great toad!”
“ENOUGH!!” shouted Tuck. “We are the adults here, and we are supposed to be setting an example for these children.” No one had ever heard Tuck yell before and that had been enough to get their attention. “Now I’m sure if we all just take a breath, we can come to our senses and address each other in a civilized fashion. This is not the Dark ages after all. We are modern people living in the time of Good King John and not barbarians. Now, I assume you came to visit us for a reason, Father Cedric?”
“Indeed. I understand there have been some financial troubles lately, and I thought if I could have a look at your books, we might be able to come to some sort of arrangement with St. Mary’s about some extra money.”
This was actually very clever on Father Cedric’s part. Although both he and Tuck knew that the sheriff had taken the money from the shrove tuesday festival, neither Marian nor anyone else should be privy to this information. No one should know that the sheriff had been robbed of the money he had taken from the orphanage, unless they were involved in the robbery. Either way, the orphanage itself should be nearly destitute without the money it had been counting on from the festival.
“Why father Cedric, that is most kind of you. I would be most happy to show you our books. If you would just come this way.” What Cedric did not know was that Tuck had overheard Cedric and the sheriff plotting to take the money, and so he knew that he was the sheriff’s man. Cedric had only told Tuck of the sheriff’s intentions as the sheriff prepared to take the money the night of the festival. Tuck was counting on the fact that every time he walked 10 feet from his desk, he was interrupted multiple times. He often had to stop what he was doing to take care of something more immediate. Then he could complete the last task that had interrupted the task before that and so on sometimes 10 tasks deep. It was like a clerk he had once worked with that put a folio inside of a folio so that if you were working front to back you had to go through all the folio inside of each other before you could return to the contents of the original folio and complete it. Today however seemed to be an exception. It was a miracle. There were no fights to diffuse, no injuries to see to, no stores to replenish, no sudden illnesses. Tuck had never had such a peaceful walk to his office at his entire time at St. Anne’s.
As they walked into Tuck’s office, the sun raked its golden light in through the northern window that provided the daylight necessary for the clerical work that took up most of Tuck’s day. Tuck kept his records on scraped bark as parchment and vellum were too expensive for the amount of records he needed to keep. The bark was from various local trees which was shorn from the tree with a knife and then the rough outside part was scraped off revealing a relatively thin, cheap and easily obtainable writing surface. They were then placed in cloth folio covers to separate various subjects. He kept these in flat topped chests which he stacked up against the walls of his office. Tuck pulled the uppermost box down from the stack and began pulling out the cloth folios. Cedric seemed undaunted by the extensive amount of records to sort through. Tuck felt they were playing a game to see who would dissemble first. He had seen the records of St Mary’s. They were all on vellum or parchment, meticulous and neat, without corrections or notes in the margin. In Tuck’s opinion they were entirely fabricated and couldn’t possibly reflect the day to day recordkeeping necessary for the running of a large institution that needed supplies, had a varying income and expenditures, and needed constant updating and amending. Where the actual records were and why they needed to have a false stand in was not something Tuck began to wonder until now. Now he could see how handy a second set of books could be.
He opened one of the folios and rummaged through its contents, pretending to be unfamiliar with his filing system. Cedric had often thought Tuck was sloppy and unorganized, so had no problem believing the charade Tuck was engaged in. Tuck found the records for the previous year, and presented them to Cedric as if they were this year’s.
Cedric spent some time getting his bearings with the document. He looked at it with consternation. “This shows that there was an income of 12,000 lbs from Shrove Tuesday’s festival.” Cedric said, bewildered.
“Is that not correct?” said Tuck, innocently.
“I’m here to help you to find a way to make up for the shortfall from this year’s festival, remember! You dolt! These are last year’s records!”
“What? Are you sure? Let me see.” He took the sheet from Cedric who began to leaf through the others that Tuck had strewn about. The current records did indeed record the shortfall, but they also showed an unprecedented number of donations immediately following the festival, that would lead Cedric to conclude there was something funny going on somewhere.
Just then a nun burst into the office, perhaps it was Bridgitt. It was hard to tell with only their face showing under the strict Benedictine habit. “There’s an emergency in the kitchen!” she said. “There’s a fire!”
Finally! thought Tuck. The three of them rushed out and made their way to the other end of the campus where the kitchen was. When they got there, the fire was out. There was a black smoke stain above the hearth. “What happened here” Tuck demanded.
“Some goose fat boiled over into the hearth fire.”  Said the cook, unperturbed. He was chopping vegetables for the stew that would be dinner for the orphanage.
“Well, I am very busy!” Tuck said. “I can’t be called every time some goose fat boils over! Wait. There’s goose?” he went over to the kettle and stirred with a ladle and took a sip. “Father, you should stay for dinner! This is quite good!” The vicar had an actual roast goose that he and the sheriff and a few of the other deputies would be dining on this evening. He had no need to eat a stew that had some leftover carcass in it that passed for goose around here.
“Thank you, Friar, but alas I have plans for this evening. Please have the documents I requested delivered to me no later than tomorrow. I am a busy man. Please try to keep your orphanage from burning down, I would hate to see these young children come to any harm.” With that, the vicar of St. Mary’s to his leave.
“What was that all about?” said the cook.
“Apparently, the good Father has taken up fishing.” said Tuck.

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