Maggie did indeed make a speedy recovery. Some thought the old hermit employed magic, but Wulfhere just said; “Magic is only something which you do not know the recipe to.” He showed them the ingredients to the potion and shared his idea about it being a desert, and there was no more talk of witchcraft.
The days turned into weeks and in the spirit of making the forest a cherry or, as others would have it; a merry place, some began to build homes. Robin decided to build his in the trees to make it harder to see and others followed suit. Still others built theirs in the ground and disguised them as bushes. Some were quite simple and others were veritable warrens with rooms and tunnels and cunning chimneys to diffuse the smoke. Robin found a large oak, and started with a deck that soon had a roof and then walls sprang up with little windows to let in the north light and overlook the forest.
Many looked to Robin as a leader though some refused to have a leader or wanted to be in charge themselves. Robin offered advice when asked, voted when there was a vote and argued his point when necessary but never forced his will on the others. He wanted the forest to be a place of liberty and not another place where dissenters could be banished from. The story of the gold came out, but Robin, Will and John were considered its owners and they did indeed decide to distribute it among the poor of the shire. What had seemed like a fortune was spread miserably thin in that way, and as the boys were spoiling for some action, plots began to be hatched in the usual way: they were sat on, nurtured and kept warm until their time was ripe.
In Nottingham, Candlemass came and went and the sheriff had received word that his latest shipment had never arrived, and the lads guarding it had disappeared likewise. There were only two possibilities as Bill saw it. either the guards had made off with the gold, and gone to London or some other place where three men with money could disappear into, or they had been waylaid at some point along the path by highwaymen. Either way, that money was gone and would have to be remade. There was little realistic chance of getting anything substantial until spring through taxation of peasants, but people always gave to the church and he had three of those going, all well outside Nottingham so as to have the veneer of legitimacy.
The local church, St Mary‘s, named for the Virgin, was where the gentry and the peasants went to pray for their miserable existences. The abbot, as St Anne’s was also a monastery, a certain Father Cedric, had long been a friend of Bill’s and gladly paid the sheriff for the protection the sheriff was supposed to provide by royal decree. Bill decided to visit his old friend and see if the basket could be passed a second time under some pretense.
The sun had begun to show a little more every day, turning snow into ice as it melted during the day and refroze at night, making the path treacherous. Bill liked that word, and saw many things as treacherous. That bleak morning, the light shone on the old Saxon tower of the crossing, yet the ground remained in shadow. Inside the church, the sheriff found the church was already inhabited by to figures; one in the nave and one in the presbytery. The monk at the alter was tending to the candles in some ceremony unknown to the sheriff. The woman in the pew was deep in meditative prayer. Bill belatedly knelt and crossed himself and feigned prayer in the back pew for a moment so that he wouldn’t be seen as impious. He was, after all the benefactor of three wealthy monasteries. He had expected to see the priest at the alter and not some friar. He decided he had completed the required pretense, and strode down the nave toward the alter, armed and wearing his feathered hat.
Surely the monk saw him, but he went about his ritual as if God were more important than the sheriff’s business. These monks had to learn their place he felt. Clergy of any office or responsibility knew how the world worked but monks and nuns seemed to think they had only God to answer to. It was utterly ridiculous and irritating beyond measure. When the sheriff had reached the alter and the monk still did not offer to be of service, the sheriff cleared his throat. The monk looked up and the sheriff saw the most amazing transformation take place: The monk’s eyes went from open and smiling to deep, cavernous pits of wrath such as the sheriff had not seen since he was a child.
“Your hat, sir!” Said the monk. “And your sword and dagger! This is a house of God and none shall come bearing weapons!” The sheriff removed his hat and sword belt and cast about looking for a place to put them, like a broom corner.
“I’m here to see Father Cedric.” whispered the sheriff, head bowed.
“He is in the garden, taking the air.” said the monk, dismissively.
The sheriff turned and left and it wasn’t until he got outside that he realized he had been scolded by a beggar. That’s what monks did, was it not? They were lazy and shiftless, and had no manners and no schooling. He put his hat back on and his sword and with each step became more and more furious. No one spoke to him that way. Even his mother was afraid of him. He was High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire! He had the kings business to conduct! He was so lost in thought that it was some time before he found Cedric, who was preoccupied with two parishioners. As he drew closer, the sheriff realized that they were in fact the same two who had been in the church. Had they come to tattle on him? How had they beat him here? It was outlandish! He hurried up to the group as if he were late. He would get his side in before it was too late.
“And there will be games and food…” the woman was saying.
“And wine and beer!” said the monk.
“We will have an archery contest, and a dance, and raise money for the children of St Anne’s” the woman said.
What? they weren’t talking about him at all? That seemed odd. What were they talking about? Some kind of celebration?
“Ah Sheriff; have you come to help with the Shrove Tuesday plans?” Said Cedric. Unlike the monk, Cedric was tall and skinny and had a full head of hair, though it was white as new snow.
“Shrove Tuesday?” said the sheriff.
“The day before Ash Wednesday?” said the monk helpfully, again as if he were addressing a child.
“I know what Shrove Tuesday is!” said the sheriff with such force that the three just stared at him with bewilderment.
“Well, it’s coming up, and the first chance for the townsfolk to have an outdoor gathering since winter.” said the woman. Did these people think he was an imbecile? “There will be music and pies, and a puppet show for the children!” The woman was quite excited.
“Marion, it’s wonderful that you care so much for the orphans.” Said the monk.
“Aye, sure you will make a wonderful mother yourself, one day” said the priest. The girl blushed, and smiled; the rose on her cheeks like a nimbus, her eyes dancing with sparkling liquid, then fluttering into a lashed veil, casting a shadow on her vivid blue eyes which were enshrined under her burnished, brown hair. She turned lyrically to the sheriff, perhaps expecting a third compliment from the third man. She realized her mistake immediately. The magic and grace fell from her face revealing the uncomfortable fear Bill was used to seeing.
“Well, make sure there isn’t too much drunkenness.” said the sheriff. “I have more important things to attend to than …” the sheriff searched for correct term.
“The safety of the common tax payer?” the monk offered helpfully.
The sheriff shot the monk a look that unleashed the full scorn available face practiced at withering, penetrating, glaring stares. The monk seemed not to notice.
“The trivialities of common peasants.” spat the sheriff, glad to have been able to sufficiently word his disdain. Again, the monk seemed not to notice.
Now the girl, whom the sheriff caught beaming at the monk, turned back to Cedric, effectively turning her back on him. She said, “Well, Father, I look forward to it. I shall begin picking berries for the pies and tarts.” She bowed to the priest, in his black frock, and turned to the monk in his brown robe. She smiled genuinely at him, placed her delicate hands in his plump, generous ones and said, “Let me know if I can help in any way, Friar Tuck” He smiled in return, and she spun away in such a fashion as to avoid facing Bill at all, and seemed to glide away down the path of winter hellebore in her pale blue woolen dress.
Having watched her departure the three men turned to face one another, and after an awkward moment, Tuck said, “well those children will no doubt be plotting to overthrow the orphanage, if I stay away any longer.” With that he went first the opposite direction of Marion, thought better of it, and came back down the path, stepping awkwardly between the two older men, and made his way somewhat less gracefully than Marion had.
“Well, now that it’s just us adults, perhaps you can find a moment to tear yourself away from your flowers for a moment to discuss matters of some importance.”
“Let adjourn to the rectory where we can talk in comfort and in private.” said the priest.
Friar Tuck had got about halfway to the orphanage when he remembered that he had been discussing the matter of the supply of spirits at the festival. He’d be damned if he would see lent come without a proper supply of wine to say goodbye to. Well, it was really good bye to meat, that’s what carnival meant in Latin: “carne” for “meat” like “carnivore” and “vale” meaning “farewell.” It was vulgar Latin to be sure, never-the-less. There were those that made the jump to “farewell to the flesh” meaning all worldly things, but the good Lord surely didn’t mean wine, why that was the sacrament. Unfortunately, the Abbot, Friar Stephen, thought monks should set an example. When Tuck became a monk, he gladly became celibate and taking a vow of poverty was no great jump for him, but sobriety? Where was that in the vows?
He was contemplating these matters of the spirit when he came upon the rectory of Father Cedric. He was about to knock on the door when he heard the sheriff’s voice inside. He did not care for the sheriff. Tuck believed that we are all God’s children, but the sheriff seemed to think that as sheriff he was above all that. Tuck believed that men of God should be as Godly as they could, and that likewise, men of the law should be as lawful as they could.
“I don’t understand how your missing chests of gold should be the burden of St. Mary’s or St Anne’s” Cedric was saying.
“I will tell you how, my dear Father. Those thieves are still out there. And it is up to me to catch them. How can I devote my full time to such an endeavor and keep your precious parish safe from these murderous bandits if the funds I depend on to do so are missing!”
“But the money raised at the festival is for the orphans!” pleaded Cedric.
“Bah! Orphans! They will grow up to be the next generations murderous bandits!” said the sheriff. “Besides, I only ask a small percentage of the days take. If you get more people to attend, you won’t even notice I’ve taken anything. It’s no extra work for you at all.”
“Extra people means extra work. It means extra everything!” said the priest. “How much is ‘a small percentage’?”
“Half.” said the sheriff.