The sheriff’s horse was tied in the stable, but there was a farmer nearby sitting his own horse. Authority figures have probably been commandeering the transports of standersby for as long as there have been transports and authority figures; however, this is the first time the sheriff took it upon himself to do so. He pulled the poor farmer off his mount and was in the saddle before Robin’s dust had settled. The horse was skittish with its new rider; however and wasn’t keen for the chase or the spurs in its side. Eventually, the poor steed got the idea and took off after Robin. This was the chance the sheriff had been waiting for! He knew that Marian had nothing to do with the robberies and didn’t need her whimpering protestations to convince him. He also knew as sure as day that however Marian had gotten hold of that coin, the real culprit had somehow put it there. It didn’t take a genius to realize that the fool would come running as soon as he found out that Marian had been taken into custody. That didn’t stop the sheriff from counting himself a genius. It had worked perfectly. Of course it would turn out to be that cheating Robin Hood! He should have known! Well he would be dead before Easter and that would be reason to celebrate. Why had he thrown the money to the crowd? If he expected them to protect him from the law he was mistaken. Those cowering dolts wouldn’t cross the sheriff to save their own mothers let alone for a few pennies from a forest thief!
The sheriff had plunged headlong into the woods heading north toward Sherwood where he knew the outlaws made their homes. but he had expected to have sighted Robin Hood by now. He was simply galloping deeper and deeper into the woods. Alone. Where were his men? Surely they had gotten their mounts by now. He reigned in the nag he was on and noticed she was quite winded. He’d have been better off getting his own horse and tracking the outlaw more methodically, but the idea that he was within the sheriff’s grasp had been too much for him to resist. So he had chased after the thief without hesitation. Now he was stuck in the woods on a strange horse and he was in fact, lost. He might have been riding into a trap. Robin Hood could have had a group of outlaws waiting in the woods to ambush whoever gave chase! That was probably why he had ridden off like such a coward! He heard hoof beats in the distance! Perhaps it was they coming for him now! What should he do? It was too late they were upon him. He drew his sword to fight it out even though he was obviously outnumbered. He would kill every last one of them there would be no doubt!
It turned out to be his own men finally catching up to him.
“Where the devil have you dolts been, for God’s sake?” He yelled, not sure if he was relieved or disappointed that it was them.
“We had to get out horses, Sheriff.” said one of the newer men. “We brought yours as well. The one you stole, uh borrowed, looks as though it wouldn’t make it far.”
“Aye and the damned beast has misled me as well!” said the sheriff dismounting. “If he’s heading for Sherwood, he’s not going this way.”
“If it were me, I wouldn’t lead us back to my hideout.” said the new man whose name was Hugh. “I would probably go to the stream to hide my tracks and through hounds off the scent.” Hugh had a mop of black hair and bushy black eyebrows and looked like he always needed to shave.
“You sound as if you have evaded the law before.” said the sheriff, but headed toward the stream, nevertheless.
Having reached the stream, they backtracked until they found where Robin had entered the stream, just as Hugh had conjectured. They followed the stream north under the assumption that he would eventually come out and make for Sherwood. It was only because there was not room for them all to travel on the east side of the stream that Mace happened to spot fresh tracks coming out of the stream on the western bank and seem to double back toward Nottingham.
“Why would he go back to Nottingham? It’s probably someone else.” said Roland. The sheriff crossed the stream to examine the tracks. He dismounted and checked them closely.
“They’re very fresh.” he said. “And whoever it is, they are riding full out. How many men are running their horses through this stream today, I wonder. It must be him. We can catch him still, whatever his game may be. Let’s not waste anymore time!” He jumped on his horse and led the way.
Robin arrived at St. Anne’s and Adam directed him to where Tuck was working in the garden. “Tuck, I need your help!” he said. “I’m going to Derby and the sheriff is fast on my trail!”
“What on God’s green earth could I do? Just name it and I’ll do it!” said Tuck. He had known that there was going to be a day coming soon when all this would come to a head. When he heard that Marian had been taken into custody, he suspected that today might be the day.
“I don’t want to lead them to Sherwood, but I need to warn the people there that the sheriff is on the rampage. We will need your rock doves!”
“Aye! I’ll get them! Adam saddle my mare, the one with the white sock; she’s the fastest.”
“Yes, sir! Can I come with you, Robin?” said the boy.
“Not right now. We’re on the run from the sheriff.” said Robin. “Now go! We haven’t a moment to spare!”
After he had gone, Tuck said, “How is Marian? Did you see her?”
“No, I didn’t. I demanded her release in front of the whole town. If he has any dignity, he will release her, but he is spending today chasing me.” They were making for the cages where Tuck kept the pigeons. They were behind his sleeping quarters. Tuck grabbed his bedroll and crowded two birds into a cage. Adam brought the horse and Eric was with him.
“Is there anything we can do?” said Eric.
“Make sure the shire knows that Robin is not a villain. He robbed the sheriff, but only to return what the sheriff took from us.”
“You’re the one? I knew it was you!” said Eric.
“That’s ridiculous!” said Adam. “You did not!”
“I did! Marian said she didn’t know how we were getting by, and I said I bet it’s that Robin Hood. That made her smile.” Robin wasn’t sure if the boy’s story was true, but he was glad to hear it.
“You boys, keep low and stay out of trouble.” Said Robin. “I don’t want to have to break you boys out of jail.” That made the boys laugh to think of Robin coming to get them out of the stockade.
“We had best make haste!” said Tuck. “I don’t want anyone to have to break me out of jail either.!” With that the two rode off for Derby, leaving the boys behind.
“What should we do?” asked Adam.
Eric looked around, trying to think. “Let’s erase these tracks!” he said. The boys found some nearby branches and erased the tracks all the way to the woods.