The time came for the archery contest. It was the last contest of the day. The afternoon was waning and the late winter sun began to yellow as it headed for night. There were many fine archers in those days. The English archers were known to be the most deadly in all Christendom. Unlike a sword which had to be made by a skilled blacksmith from expensive iron, bowmaking was a skill known to many archers, and the material was abundant. The English longbow, as has been said, has greater range and penetrating power than any other bow. Since each archer makes his own bow and arrows, the craftsmanship of the manufacture is part of any archer’s skill. If his arrow doesn’t hit its mark, the archer can’t blame an anonymous bowmaker.
That afternoon there were many fine bowmen. Unlike wrestling and quarterstaves, archery isn’t a one on one sport and therefore has no need of winners facing each other in a winnowing process. There were many high scores and good camaraderie among skilled bowmen; enjoying a skill in common. When the sheriff’s turn came to shoot, all that changed. Not only did everyone know that Roland was the sheriff’s man; they all also had friends and relatives turned out by the sheriff. They themselves to a man knew his cruelty and how he was bleeding the shire dry. The sheriff took the hush that had fallen over the crowd as a sign of respect. Truth to tell, the sheriff had no idea what respect was.
The sheriff was still smarting from his encounter with those children. If that damned priest hadn’t shown up he would’ve killed them both and be done with it. no one would have questioned his word that he had caught them red handed. That damn blond brat had actually hit him with a staff and did not repent! He was the sheriff and it was a crime to strike the sheriff! He had dressed that morning in his finest tights: black with a yellow tunic. He wore his fine hat. It was long and pointed and had a feather coming from it.
He did not wait for the previous archers arrows to be cleared before he began shooting. He knew his shooting would look so much finer with the lesser man’s marks still there to compare too. He drew and shot his three arrows in quick succession, each one hitting the center ring. He was allowed one more shot, and this time he took his time and when he loosed it, he knew immediately that it was the best of the day. It went straight to the center. The prize was a golden sash which would look dashing around his yellow tunic. He strode to get it, knowing the remaining contestant could never beat him. He saw him over his shoulder as he left the field, a man with a green hood.
Robin had no need for a golden sash. He had no idea what he might do with it. He only knew that the sheriff always got what he wanted and that this was going to be the beginning of the end of that. Forever. The sheriff had not waited for his predicessor’s arrows to be cleared because he wanted to humiliate him. Robin took the same tactic. For months he had been living on his skill as an archer; and he had been teaching the skill to his mates. He had four arrows in his quiver. He drew, he shot. He drew he shot, he drew, he shot. He drew he shot. One after the next flew from his bow across the field, blurring past the crowd gathered around. The first one split the sheriff’s center shot. The next one split the first one. Each arrow split its predecessor in two, landing dead center. The crowd felt the breeze change after the second shot, yet without hesitation, Robin had fired the third and it carved its way to the center. When the last one landed, the crowd erupted as if a new king had been crowned, and in a way; there had been.
When the crowd cheered, the sheriff turned, thinking they were cheering him. After all there hadn’t been time to even clear his arrows. Maybe the hooded man had forfeited. A cursory look seemed to confirm his victory. He could see no new shafts sticking from the target; just the fat one in the center. It was so fat, he could see it form here. Then the hooded man lifted his arms victoriously and the crowd began chanting “Robin! Robin! Robin!” What nonsense was this? He turned to examine the scene. He strode back to the field, each step making the tableau more clear. The center of the target was a wreck of arrows. He walked past the crowd, which continued to cheer as if unaware of his displeasure. He strode up to the target and examined it. As sheriff he had examined many a crime scene. He knew what evidence to look for. This was a fake. It was impossible on its face.
“Fowl!” he cried. “Robin the hood has cheated! Look at it! It’s fake!” The crowd was silenced momentarily and then burst out laughing as one.
“Robin Hood!” someone shouted. At once the crowd took up the chant: “Robin Hood! Robin Hood! ROBIN HOOD!” Marian herself brought Robin the sash. He looked at it. The Golden sunset raked down its light on the meadow. Her hair was ringed in its fiery light. She wore her beautiful light blue dress under her rich deep blue cloak with its golden trim. Robin found a place for his sash. He tied it around her waist.