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News of the Shrove Tuesday carnival did not pass by the greenwood unnoticed; many of the wives took their children to church and Father Cedric was promoting this year’s festival with unusual fervor. The children especially wanted to attend. It seemed living in the woods had its attraction for children, but the prospect of sweets was hard to pass up. Holy days were considered a general amnesty for outlaws not wanted for heinous crimes. People would come from the entire shire and though the outlaws were many, they were a small percentage of the entire countryside. Tom was on the mend, and he and Robin were determined to take place in the festivities. “You could win the archery contest, hands down.” said Tom. Robin had been teaching the men of Sherwood Forest to shoot as well as make their own bows and arrows. He didn’t fancy trying to feed the whole forest. He had gained quite a reputation in the greenwood.
“Archers like me are common enough.” said Robin. “But I will be happy to give it a go.”
Most things needed by man can be made from nature, and the people of the greenwood had little need to venture into town, save one: it was their rightful home. There was a degree of shame that came with being an outlaw. That you were outcast. With the new found pride and comradery that the people of the greenwood felt, much of the shame they had felt, dissipated, and they began to venture into the neighboring towns. Tom wanted to go into town to obtain some cloth for his wife and children to have new clothes in time for the festival. He and Robin ventured into Nottingham one cold and windy February morning. In the marketplace, there were several weavers; some with stalls, others had shops. Robin preferred the stalls, but Tom liked the shops, and as it was cold, they lingered inside examining fabrics they would never buy.
The door opened with the wind forcing its way in ahead of the woman. The lanterns flickered a bit in the breeze. The new customer lowered her hood and shook her hair. She brushed it out of her face with a hand that had long, delicate fingers. Her cloak was deep blue, and her dress underneath was a blue so pale that it was almost white. Her auburn hair was somewhat windblown, stray hairs danced in the breeze. The effect was that of an intimacy; to be seen in an unguarded moment. Her face was flushed from the cold and the color in her cheeks resembled a nimbus. Her eyes were the blue of a cool pond reflecting the evening twilight. Robin heard music playing somewhere nearby. She met his gaze coolly and walked past him to the counter.
The proprietor was an elderly woman with her hair in a bun and a knit shawl around her shoulders. She beamed at Marian though she could barely make her out. Her vision had been waning for years and she relied mainly on instincts to substitute, and for her this worked quite well. “Good Morning, Marian!” the old lady said in a paper thin voice.
“Good Morning, Gladys.” Said Marian.
Robin had been transfixed by Marian from the moment she walked into the shop. The music he heard was heard by no one else. He heard birds singing too, though it was only February. Tom walked up to Robin and whispered, “Close your mouth before something flies into it. And don’t stare! Your worse than Henry.”
Robin Blushed and turned to Tom to retort, but the music stopped. Confused, Robin turned back to Marian, and sure enough the music started again. a fife and a lute, and birds.
“What brings you here today, dear one?” asked Gladys of Marian. The old woman looked like a shrunken apple come to life and had a rosy complexion that came through in her personality as well.
“I will have to cancel my order for the new fabric, Gladys.” said Marian.
“Whatever for?” said Gladys.
Marian bit her lip trying to decide how much to reveal to Gladys. “The money is needed for the festival.” she said. “The children need it more than me.”
“Posh!” said Gladys. “That fabric was made literally for you! It’s deep blue, like the night, just after the last of the light has gone. Why it’s your color, dear!”
“Gladys, I can’t.” said Marian.
“How much is it?” interrupted Robin.
“I will thank you to mind you own business!” The girl said. “This is a private conversation. Why, I don’t even know you!”
“Allow me to introduce Robin of Sherwood.” said Tom.
“And you are….?” asked Marian.
“This is Tom.” said Robin. He looked to Gladys as if for conformation. She continued to beam at them. Robin produced some coins from his purse at his belt. “Will this be enough?” he said. “And for the orphanage.” he said producing more.
Marian looked Robin up and down, taking in his ragged yeoman’s clothes that had spent the winter in the forest, and she looked at the money he was offering. “You’d best be careful with your purse, sir. There’s thieves about.”
“Is there?” asked Robin.
“Aye. They live in the forest.”
“We’ll keep an eye out Ma’am.” said Tom.
“Miss?” said Robin. “Miss what?”
“Miss me every time.” said Marian.
“We should be going.” said Tom, who thought it was a bit early for spring. He pulled Robin by his arm.
“Wait.” Robin said. “Here, Miss. Miss Marian. Take it. Give it all to the orphanage if you won’t take it for yourself.”
“Give it to them yourself, Sir” said Marian and turned back to Gladys.
“Let’s Go.” said Tom. “It’s a bit stuffy in here.”
“But…” protested Robin. Tom pulled him outside. “But she’s beautiful!” said Robin.
“Aye.” said Tom. “She’s trouble, that one.”
Back inside the shop, Gladys said, “Oh, he seems nice.”
“Gladys, your blind as a table leg. He was a vagabond.”
“Even a blind table leg knows it can’t hold the table up by itself.” said Gladys.
“Where should we go now?” asked Tom.
“Why, to the orphanage, where else?”
St Anne’s Orphanage was a series of wattle and daub buildings on the outskirts of the property of St. Mary’s Church. It was run by the monks and nuns who also maintained quarters elsewhere on the vast acreage of St Mary’s. St Mary’s had been around since before the Normans, and it was rather large for a church in the midlands. Whereas in neighboring Derbyshire there were churches in each village within the shire, St Mary’s was the main church for the county. To be sure, there were churches in each village in Nottingham, they looked to St Mary’s for festivals, holidays and large gatherings. The monks had elected Cedric to the position of Vicar since the death of the previous vicar nearly ten years past.
There was a boys dormitory on one side and a girls on the other. The office, school, and cafeteria were in the middle. The entrance to the grounds on the south side led to the office, and at the other end past the cafeteria was a garden. beyond that was a field for games. Beyond the field at the north end was the greenwood. Sherwood Forest proper was in the north of the county, but the primeval woods of which it was a part extended throughout the county (and indeed throughout the midlands). The greenwood was a term that referred to the whole area of wilderness.
The path leading to the office had a lawn on either side and was officially off limits to the children. Presently, two boys were running around on the lawn, chasing each other. The one being chased was taller, had a shock of red hair and was named John. The chaser was a runt. A little blond boy who made up in ferocity what he lacked in stature. His name was Eric. After some valiant zigging and zagging, there was an “oof!” followed by a thud and some rolling about. After a moment the boys got up, laughing and covered in the dead grass of winter. Eric looked up and stopped laughing and John looked up to see what had caused the suspension of antics and stopped laughing too. There were two specters of men standing there looking at them, older versions of themselves.
“Well don’t stop on our account.” said Robin. “We were just looking for the office.” The taller boy shook his head as if such information was not to be given out, while Eric pointed to the obvious building that the path the men were on led to. Johnny cuffed Eric on the shoulder and shot him a look. Eric cuffed Johnny back and it was back to rolling on the lawn.
Inside the office, there was a rotund young tonsured monk sitting at a desk, making every effort to fill in a ledger. At the sound of the two men coming in he endeavored to finish his entry lest he have to start again. When he looked up, he saw Robin and Tom waiting patiently, their hoods down and smiles on their faces. He returned the smile.
“What can I do for you fine gentlemen?” he asked.
“We would like to make a donation.” said Robin.
“We understand the orphanage is in need.” said Tom.
“A recent robbery.” said Robin.
At this the monk’s smile faded, which is not what you would expect from an offer of a donation. “There has been no robbery.” said the monk. “I didn’t get your good gentlemen’s names.”
“This is Robin, and my name is Tom. We didn’t mean any disrespect. If you don’t need the money, we’ll be on our way.”
“Maybe that would be for the best.” said the monk and returned to his ledger which, if you could read it, would say that any donation would be greatly appreciated.
“Wait.” said Robin. “Perhaps we got off on the wrong foot.”
The monk looked up and regarded the men for a moment. “Where did you hear we had been robbed?”
“A young lady. Miss Marian.” said Robin watching for and seeing recognition in the monk’s eyes.
“Shut that door.” said the monk. He himself locked the door behind him after checking that there was no one behind it. “Marian told you we had been robbed? How do know Marian? When did she tell you that?”
“We were in the dress shop…” started Tom. and the monks eyebrows went up.
“His wife needs a new dress. We were shopping for cloth” said Robin. “And in comes this vision.”
“Marian.” said Tom.
“At Gladys’.” said the monk.
“Right.” said Tom.
“And she says she has to cancel her order, because the orphanage needs it.” said Robin.
“Because we had been robbed?” asked the monk.
“No.” said Robin. “I offered to pay, and she said to be careful of robbers.”
“She was implying that WE are robbers, Robin. Can you blame her? Look at us.” said Tom.
“Why didn’t you say that before?” said Robin.
“I thought it was obvious.” said Tom.
“Because we have money? And look like this?” Robin was getting angry. There’s nothing like a time released insult to get to you.
“So you’re not robbers?” said the monk.
“How is it then, that you look like that, and yet have money to give away?”
“I didn’t get Your name?” said Robin.
“Tuck. Friar Tuck; at your service.” Tuck smiled. “So, you’re not robbers then?”
“You know, I wasn’t really there.” said Tom. “Let’s hear it again.”
“Tom! I was on an errand for your Maggie!”
“And I am grateful.” said Tom.
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with the sheriff’s taxes, would it? And certain Parishioners having a few extra coppers come Sundays lately? Would it?”
The two stopped and looked at Tuck with eyes that were impressed when they saw a bulls eye. There was a bit more checking that there was no one listening at the doors and then Tuck poured them all a glass of wine.
It was getting dark when the three men emerged from the office. Tuck had sent to the cafeteria for lunch. “Well, what’s to be done?” said Tuck. “We will just have to raise more money.”
“Or…” said Robin. There will have to be another robbery. This time on purpose.”
Tom’s House was unusually quiet, when Robin came to visit. Robin had decided that he would try to maintain friendships in town, and if people did not want to be seen with an outlaw, that was something he could not blame them for. So far, he had had better luck than he expected. The townspeople hated Bill and cursed him for taking their money and filling his pockets with it. The Stanhopes had fed Robin and told him how they had planned to open a tavern but now could not because the sheriff had found out about their savings and taken it on the pretence of a fine for selling ale without a permit. Villagers throughout Edwinstowe had similar stories. Robin began to form a plan for getting his land back. He did not say anything to anyone, because it was dangerous and illegal and probably treason. He would need help, and he had an idea where to start to look for it.
Tom was the last friend on his list, before heading back into the forest. He knew Audrey was ill and so was the baby, and he was loathe to put them out. A visit required an offer of a meal and pleasantries that Robin was sure Audrey was not up to, nor could Tom afford. Robin knocked at the door. Through the thin walls, he heard muffled movement, and Audrey shushing their oldest, Bridged. “It’s me Robin.” He said through the door. “I can leave and come back tomorrow if that’s better. I’ll bring you some fish if you like.” Robin mentally berated himself for not thinking to bring them something.
He heard little Henry say, “It’s Robin!” and scramble to open the door. Robin’s face lit up at the sight of little Henry. Henry’s dirty face showed the boy felt the same.
“Oh, Hank! You are a sight for these eyes!” Robin scooped the boy up in his arms. “Is your Da at home, Henry?”
“Da got hurt.” the child pointed to a dark corner of the room where Audrey, Bridged and Maggie sat over Tom who lay on a straw pallet. The breath went out of Robin as he put down Henry and went to Tom’s side. Tom had bruises all over his face; his lip swollen, his eyes both blackened and his cheeks were raw. His clothes were ragged and bloody and every inch of skin that showed through was covered with cuts, abrasions, bruises and scabs. Tom tried to force a smile for his old friend.
“Bill?” asked Robin. Tom nodded.
“They are going to take our home and kill us!” wailed Audrey who had been holding it in until now. Now she let her fears out. She needed someone to know. “They beat poor Tom just to show him they could! They had no call! He’s done no wrong!” She was sobbing uncontrollably now. Robin took her in his arms.
“Hush, now Audrey, nobodies going to hurt you or the children. Tom and I will see to that.” Robin said to be soothing.
Now Audrey became suddenly angry. “How can you make such a claim?!” She yelled. They run you off; they took your home. They will take ours too as sure as the Virgin’s in Heaven!” The children were all crying now as well, and Tom tried to sit up to reign in the situation.
Robin scooped up Henry and Bridged. “I said we’d see to it!” he said, trying not to be caught up in the emotion. “Maybe they will take your home, for now; but we will all be gone from here! Get your things. Tom, can you walk? We’re leaving right now!”
The Outlaws of Sherwood
As dusk found Sherwood Forest, the sun turned the sky orange behind the silhouetted trees, and the whole forest was in shadow. The quiet was broken by a loud call. “John!” said the voice. “Little John! Where are you?”
Finally, John came out into the clearing. “Robin! Stop your shouting!” Then he saw that Robin was carrying two children and had their parents and a baby in tow. “Blessed Mary, Mother of God!” said John, getting a good look at Tom. “What’s the meaning of this?” said John.
“Where are the rest?” said Robin.
“The rest of what?” said John.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Little John. The rest of the outlaws; where are they?”
“We are here.” said a burly man emerging into the clearing with several others. They came to stand around Robin and Tom. No one needed to ask what had happened to Tom. They had all experienced the same treatment. Men were still coming into the clearing. Robin could not believe how many. He knew there would be a lot, but he had not taken into account all the towns in Nottinghamshire, the number of years it had been going on, nor the size of the sheriff’s greed, nor the size of his evil. Robin thought, the good of the forest seems big enough to overcome the evil.
“Damn that man!” said Audrey seeing all the pain she felt in all these men’s eyes.
“They have seen us all together.” said one of them to another.
“They belong with us now.” was the reply.
“Is that true?” said the first man to the newcomers. “Will you not give us up to the sheriff? Will you swear to not give away our location? Can we trust you?”
“Aye.” Said Robin. “We are all in this together, no? The sheriff drove us out of our home once, we will not allow him to do it again!” The crowd gave a resounding “AYE!” Robin felt it was enough for now. First they would accept him. He would show them what they had. He would show them that they were an army with a common enemy.
That morning, Sarah had dressed herself properly after bathing with the fine ewer her father had only recently succumbed to letting her use. Previously he claimed that she was too young to use it, and might break the expensive porcelain. But she was older now and her father had consented to her bathing with it some months ago. In her estimation she was becoming a proper young lady, and would one day be the talk of all Salem. She had made sure her soft golden hair was modestly secured beneath her starched linen cap.
After helping with the morning chores, she had sat down to a light breakfast of bacon, porridge, eggs, fresh milk, & bread. Her mother had commented on the beauty of the rising sun as she broke her fast with her parents. It had been a typical morning with the promise of a new and enchanting day lain before her.
Now she enjoyed a morning constitutional walk as she had some free time before the afternoon chores. A mist had settled on the coastal village in the night, and it was presently lifting as Sarah followed a well worn path into the woods surrounding the village. She loved to hear stories of the hunters and trappers and their encounters with wild animals and wild natives. The stories were frightening and thrilling, and it scandalized Sarah to imagine herself embroiled in one of these adventures. There were stories of pirates and Indians; even cutthroats from the colonies themselves! They were surely the devil’s servants as the minister said. At least the natives and the beasts were ignorant of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Only the children of Adam bore the sin of their forefathers. Some said the natives were men and in need of salvation, others said they were little more than beasts themselves. Sarah’s grandfather said the great Calvin had surmised that only a select few could earn passage to paradise, most were consigned by the Lord Himself to damnation from birth. Surely the naked savages were among the damned.
The fog was thicker in this part of the woods. Sarah couldn’t see her house from here. She couldn’t see any houses. Was that a war whoop she heard? Just a bird, surely. These trees; they hung on to winter longer than the others. Their long, leafless fingers seemed to beckon to her. Perhaps this part of the forest was enchanted? Sarah thought she had best not think such thoughts but they came to her unbidden. Had she no control over her own mind? Perhaps she should be getting back to the house. Through the whispering mists emerged a beautiful purple bush. What plant was this? It was like lavender, but smelled differently. What lovely flowers! Sarah had never seen any blossom so tempting! They must be safe, they weren’t apples as had tricked Eve and Adam so. Maybe with some nutrients in her stomach she could make sense of her surroundings. She picked several blossoms and gathered them in her skirt like she did when harvesting from the garden. She had seen the cunning folk gathering herbs out this way. Maybe these were some of their healing plants.
With something in her stomach, Sarah felt better. She began to hum a tune to herself that she had heard her mother sing. It was a mournful song about the Angels coming to gather a dying man to heaven. Though they sang a Capella, Sarah could hear the soft, distant drums of the natives and subconsciously sang in time to the earthy rhythm.
Sarah emerged into a thicket of ferns that were strikingly green after such deadened terrain. Sarah heard the crunch of a branch nearby, and let a gasp escape her lips. After a moments hesitation, she saw a boy her own age emerge from a crouch where he had been hiding. He was a native Wampanoag, naked except for a slim strip of leather which hung between his legs. Sarah could see it did little to cover the boy. He was dark brown and his skin glistened in the hazy light. His eyes were deep black and so beautiful! He had lashes like a girl, thought Sarah. His straight black hair framed his face and his lips parted in an unspoken question. Had he been following her?
“Were you spying on me?” she asked. She put her hands on her hips trying to take charge of the situation the way her mother did. She gripped her hips to steady her shaking hands. She wondered if the naked savage could hear her heart pound in her chest. As her mind whirled at the huge consequences this could have for her, she involuntarily took a breath to scream. The boy brazenly leaped right up to her and put his hand over her mouth, making her panic more acute. With his free hand, he put his finger to his lips and she could see that he was about as scared as she was. He took his golden hand away and motioned for her to crouch down as he did the same. He pulled aside a fern branch and she saw a group of naked savages armed with bows, knives and spears creep silently away. These were grown men on the hunt, she realized and this boy had just saved her from being discovered by them.
“Wuneekeesuq,” he whispered to her.
“Hello,” she replied. Everyone spoke a few words of Algonquin, and most of the savages spoke a little English too. He pointed in the opposite direction from the way the hunters were headed and the two crept silently in that direction. Sarah was fascinated by the naked boy. She had dreamt many times of meeting a native, and now that she had she could hardly believe it. He smelled of earth & pine; clean but aromatic somehow at the same time.
After a time, they came to a copse with a little hidden clearing in the middle hidden from view. Sarah felt safe here. “I’m Sarah” she said, motioning to herself.
“Little Bear,” said the boy, mimicking her motion.
“How come you’re naked?” she said in a scandalized whisper.
“How come you are not?” asked Little Bear.
This was a ridiculous question, Sarah knew, but as she was about to say this, she realized that it must be what all the Indians thought about the Puritans. “God has commanded that we cover our selves to hide our nakedness!” She hissed. She was sure that she would get a lickin’ for having such a conversation with a boy, let alone a naked savage boy. She was thrilled.
“The Great Grandfather of all has not shared this instruction with our people.” said Little Bear, “But most of the women do wear the two hide dress.” he conceded. “We all wear clothes in the winter.” A moment went by and the children began to look around for something to talk about. After a moment, the boy said, “Want to see some magic?” Sarah’s heart did a flip flop. She was both fascinated by and scared to death of real magic. This was a compelling blend of emotions that seemed to coming to her in wave after wave today. She swallowed in her suddenly dry throat and managed to nod. They sat facing each other with a little space between them. He reached behind her and pulled a leaf off of a plant and showed it to her. Little Bear put the leaf in the palm of his left hand and then cupped his right hand over it. “Aquit, Nees, Nis.” he said. “Now blow!” He held up his cupped hands for her to blow into, which she dutifully did.
Little Bear opened his hands and a butterfly with leaf shaped winds flew out and fluttered away. Sarah gasped and clapped her hands. “That is wonderful!” she said. Little Bear beamed happily.
“Now you.” he said.
“Me?” asked Sarah. “O.K.” she said. She thought for a moment. She didn’t know any real magic. But she had played games with her friends behind the neighbor’s barn after supper sometimes. The girls liked to cast the future and see who they were going to marry. Sarah drew a circle in the dirt between them. “Spit.” she commanded. She had learned from these games that it was important to act the part when it was your turn to cast a fortune. Little Bear spit into the circle causing an irregular, organic shape to form on the packed, damp earth. Sarah stared at the circle wondering what she should say. Boys liked mystery over romance, she was pretty sure. Indians sought adventure and glory.
“You will grow to be a powerful warrior.” she said. She saw his chest swell and he smiled. He was magical. “Your people will hold you in high regard. But there is one who will be your enemy. You will be rivals for the same woman. I cannot see who will win. You will face many dangers. In your old age you will be a tribal elder but you will still be bitter that you never vanquished the rival of your youth.” Sarah looked up to see the boy looked stunned. In fact, he was a little bit frightened. “Well,” she said, “What did you think?”
“That is almost word for word the same fortune the old shaman told me at my last birthday.” Little Bear said. He looked pale. There was another awkward silence. “I had better return to camp.” he said.
Sarah suddenly became aware that time had passed. But she also felt she had done something wrong. She hadn’t meant to frighten him. “Will I see you again?” she asked.
“Yes. Tomorrow. Same time if you can.” He was getting up to go.
“How do I get back home?” she asked.
“Your village lies toward the setting sun” he said smiling, and was gone.