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Robin Hood: Shrove Tuesday 10

The day of the festival was the first warm day of the since Autumn. The whole shire came to St. Mary’s to see each other and to participate in the final revelry until Easter. The sky was the clear blue of precious stones, and the field was festooned with ribbon of yellow and lavender. Children ran amok laughing and screaming, looking at the sweets and the feast being laid out for the revelers. There were events like a three legged race, the egg relay, ring toss, there was to be a fishing contest; games with balls, and of course, archery. There was also wrestling and other feats of strength.
The sheriff and his men made their presence known. They would brook no disturbing the peace, but there was revelry and drunkenness, and couples slipping off to be alone. Bill’s real concern was to monitor how freely people spent their money. He couldn’t believe his luck. He would make out better than if he had never been robbed in the first place. He would have to make this a regular practice. Roland, his main enforcer and most trusted man was participating in several events. He was wrestling, He was in the archery contest, he was in the quarterstaff games. He would win them all. There would be a sword fighting contest. The sheriff would have won that, but he decided he’d best not enter on the chance he could be bested. He knew it was ridiculous, but better to be feared as sheriff and not risk it. If he lost, people would lose the awe in which they held him. That was more precious to him than gold.
Gladys had given Marian the cloth she wanted as a gift, and insisted she make her dress and wear it to the festival. Marian had reluctantly agreed. She wore the light blue finely woven wool under her deep blue cloak trimmed with a cunning Celtic knot design of dragons in yellow stitching. Her hair was plaited up around her face, and when she put her hood down, her long bare neck held her head regally.
Tuck was collecting plenty of coin but he was also being more than generous with the wine. he himself shared many a goblet with the patrons, yet he remained sober as a, well as a churchman. He had employed Eric and Johnny to run the coins back to the church vestry where there was a strong box for safe keeping. In return, the boys got to sample some pies, some hen, and even a bit of wine.
The wrestling started first. It was a circle near the edge of the field farthest from the church. Will Skarlett fancied himself an able wrestler and so he was. He won match after match and his mates cheered him on. As the morning wore on and the lists narrowed it became clear that the man to beat was Roland. He was a giant dark haired lummox. He won through brute strength and had little skill. Will was a slight fellow and relied heavily on skill and cunning. In those days there was no weight divisions, it was one field, one champion.
Little John, as everyone now called, him was a fair wrestler, but wanted to save his strength for quarterstaves. He and Will were the best of mates by this point. Will came to Little John during while others wrestlers muddied themselves. “Any advice on how to beat that big fellow?” he said.
“He has the advantage of reach, so get in tight. He’s a heavy bloke and not to quick on his feet. Take his legs out from under him and he’ll drop like a stone. Use his own weight against him.”
“Thanks mate! That’s sage advice indeed!”
It was the last match. The winner would be the champion of the day. Each man was slick and smelly and looked forward to cooling off in the creek after the match. The judge was unknown to the lads of the greenwood, but he seemed fair enough. Will stood at one edge of the circle, backed by Robin and the lads and Roland stood across backed by his lot. Roland had a mean smile on his face. He was a cruel fighter who enjoyed causing injury. There were those who bowed out rather than face him. The judge signaled for the fight to begin, and the two circled in slowly as fighters do.
Wrestling is not a punching sport as anyone can tell you, but rules were scarce in those days and it was not unheard of. Roland decided to take advantage of his reach while he could and threw a fist the size of a brick. He had projected his punch and Will leaned out of its path. Will came in and hugged Roland close to make it hard to hit him. Then Will swung his leg behind Roland and kicked the back of his knee as hard as could, buckling Roland’s leg. The big man was clearly surprised by this move and completely lost his balance falling on his butt. The crowd laughed and cheered. Will didn’t waste a moment; he threw himself over Roland’s shoulders, bringing him down. The judge began his count to three.
Roland wasn’t really hurt though, and threw Will off of him easily. Roland was furious. He hadn’t expected anyone to pin him, particularly not a twerp like this. He hated being laughed at. His father used to laugh at him when he would cry from being beaten. He came at Will with a fury. Will was up in a flash. Roland chased him until Will cut back unexpectedly and circled tightly behind Roland and kicked him behind his knees again. This time Roland only fell to his knees, so that he was about even with Will. Will got him in a headlock and the crowd roared as Roland stood up with Will on him. Will came off the ground and it looked like Roland was wearing him like a stole. Roland spun around to get Will to fall off, but he hung on like a badger. Roland lost his balance and fell again, dizzy. Again the crowd laughed; this time the dizziness added another layer of humiliation which automatically translated into rage. Will twisted his grip to try to force Roland down and slipped. Flailing, Roland grabbed Will’s wrist almost by mistake and pulled him in front of him. He punched Will in the face knocking him unconscious. Still, Roland pummeled Will, even as he fell limply to the ground. The crowd was silent now. Roland forgot about everything except wreaking his anger out on Will. Robin and John rushed in. The fight was over. They weren’t strong enough to stop Roland. Others joined in and finally managed to hold Roland back long enough for him to come to his senses. Still in those days, beating a man to death in a battle of strength wasn’t unheard of. There were those present who thought that Roland should have been left alone to finish Will off.
Marian had been passing by and saw Robin come to Will’s aid. She recognised him from the shop and wondered what part he was playing in today’s events. Was he the rogue she thought. Tuck had said not to be quick to judge, but that was what clergy always said. Tuck was a good man with a big heart, but she knew Robin was some kind of scoundrel.
Next came the midday meal and some lighter games; the fishermen had caught enough for much of the crowd to enjoy, and there were stalls selling their wares and other distractions for a while. Robin saw Marian in her new dress and recognised the fabric. He smiled to himself. “Keep dreaming.” said Little John. “She’ll never go for an outlaw like you.”
“What kind of outlaw would she go for, then?” Joked Robin, though the truth of it was like a blow to him.
“No outlaw at all, you fool!” said John.
It was time for the quarterstaff games, and once again, Roland was the man to beat. Little John was skilled and won all his matches but he had seen what Roland was like and set his task ahead of him with grim determination. Will had regained consciousness and was beat badly, but he would recover. “Get him for me John.” Will said. Robin advised against looking for revenge.
“Don’t be blinded by hate. You’ll lose. Give him your best and that will be enough” he said.
This field was bigger. Roland seemed as fresh as ever. He had eaten and rested and no one had even landed a blow in the quarterstaff. Maybe they are afraid to make me angry again. he thought. Good. Little John was big, but Roland was bigger. Much bigger.
The two faced each other and the judge yelled: “Fight!”
Each combatant held the staff two handed so that they had two evenly weighted ends to parry and thrust with. As they sparred, John noted that Roland actually had poor posture, but hit very hard. As in wrestling, he wasn’t skillful, just powerful. As in wrestling, it was usually more than enough. John knew Roland was easily angered and remembered what Robin had said.
John moved suddenly inside, thrust his staff under Roland’s and pulled. Usually one hit with a forward movement. People didn’t expect a backward pulling movement. In real fights, an unexpected move could really give you an advantage. The backwards blow to the staff had the result of Roland’s staff coming out of his left hand, leaving his left side open. John came in and boxed Roland’s ear. Hard. Roland touched his finger to his ear and it came away bloody. John could have pummeled Roland while his guard was down, but he wanted the blow to register in Roland’s thought process. It did. Roland glowered at John and held the staff like a long sword swinging wildly with a ferocious swoosh! that John easily ducked. Now came John’s real attack: He smiled. This infuriated Roland. The crowd wasn’t laughing, but that didn’t matter. Roland felt as if they were. This time John was making Roland mad on purpose.
Roland swung and missed again. He swung so hard he threw himself in a circle. That was when John came in. As Roland completed his circle, John hit him in the stomach, pirouetted for momentum and with an uppercut, knocked Roland’s staff completely out of his hands. Roland did not give up as John knew he wouldn’t. Roland came at John barehanded and John swung a backhand arc that landed on the side of Roland’s head and knocked him out cold. John twirled the staff like a drum major and bowed. After a moment of silence the crowd cheered wildly.

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