So read the sign posted all over the shire, in every town; in the centres, in the taverns, at the inns, and anywhere the deputies of Nottinghamshire could think to post them. It didn’t matter that most folk could not read, word spread fast enough, and soon it was all any one could talk about. There had never been a reward for so much money in any one’s memory. It was said that Sherwood Forest was so thick with thieves that you could walk ten feet into it without running into a band of them. There were a group of brave souls ready to band together and brave the forest every night at every tavern. Every morning none of them showed up for duty.
It didn’t take long for a pigeon to reach Robin from Friar Tuck, and by then there was already talk throughout the forest. The fear was that they would be betrayed by someone within the forest. It was not an unfounded fear. There were plenty of outlaws in the forest who didn’t associate with Sherwood Village. The sign did not specify a crime (as the money stolen from the sheriff was itself ill gotten goods) so any outlaw would do. The general agreement among the citizens of Sherwood Village was that there was little that could be done until some sort of tangible threat materialized.
The Monday following the Mass in which Marian had donated her marked coin, Cedric sent for her. Marian assumed the summons had something to do with Father Cedric’s spat over the Taliesin poem. She could not for the life of her understand what had gotten into the Vicar of St. Mary’s. He had never been chummy with her, but he had previously always been civil and congenial.
Upon entering Cedric’s office, she noted the smug demeanor he had about him. Where had she seen such an expression before? It was so familiar. It wasn’t Father Cedric she had seen wearing that sneer. It was just out of touch of her memory.
“Is this about the Battle of the Trees?” she asked him when they had finished the pleasantries of wishing each other good morrow and commenting on the lovely weather.
“What? Oh, Taliesin? I had quite forgotten about that I assure you. No. I have asked you here today to discuss another matter entirely. I was wondering perchance if you recognize this.” he said, producing the quarter penny with a flourish.
“Yes, of course. It is a farthing. Surely you knew that, Father. What is it that is on your mind, today?”
“This particular farthing was put into the basket at Mass yesterday, by you. Do you not remember?” said the priest.
“Father, a farthing is really all I can afford to give. I am a woman of limited means. perhaps after Easter I can afford more, but I doubt it? Are you calling parishioners in one at a time to try to get more money from them?”
“Don’t be daft, child. So, you admit then that this is the farthing you put into the basket not more than a day ago?”
“That exact coin? I couldn’t swear to it, no. Why do you ask? What has gotten into you of late? It is as if you have an entirely different agenda you are pursuing and not quite the wit to know how.”
“That will be enough of your sass, girl. I am a priest after all. And a deputy of the sheriff’s. I saw you put this coin into the basket yesterday with my own eyes. Do you deny it?”
Marian was taken aback. A deputy of the sheriff’s? Father Cedric? She did remember hearing he had taken over for the sheriff when he had gone away after Shrove Tuesday. Her stomach lurched and everything momentarily slowed down like it did when you slip and fall and can’t stop yourself, or in a bad dream. Sound slowed, she felt her face heat up as it flushed with blood. There was a moment in between heart beats that seemed to take longer than usual. Then her heart thudded in her chest and everything sped up back to normal, except that heart which now began to race. In that moment, she realized where she had seen that smug sneer. On the sheriff. The image of the wanted poster flashed in her mind and she didn’t know how she knew, but she knew without any doubt that this was related to that.
“What is it you are trying to say, Father.” she said.
“I think you know. Your face flushed and then drained completely of color. This coin is from the money that was stolen on the night of Shrove Tuesday!”
Marian had tried to protest. She didn’t know there had been a robbery on Shrove Tuesday. That was actually true. But she began to realize with clarity that there had been. The money that the sheriff had taken to cover his losses from the theft of his tax money had also been stolen. That was why there were wanted posters with such a high reward. And somehow, Father Cedric had gotten it into his head, that she was involved. That was why he had been snooping around the orphanage asking those ridiculous questions. Why did he think she was involved? She had no time to think further.
“Father Cedric?” said a monk, popping his head into the vicars office. “The sheriff has arrived as you requested. He demands to see you immediately.”
“Splendid. Show him in.”