Everyone has someone they have to answer to and William Brewer, High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire was no exception. In theory, the High Sheriff answered only to the king, who trusted his representatives throughout the kingdom. In reality, King John had ascended to the throne only after recovering from having all his holdings taken from him by his brother, Richard the Lion heart, when he had been king. This was punishment for John’s attempt to usurp his brother’s throne. King John trusted no one.
The Earl of Lincoln, Gilbert de Gant, had his eye on Nottinghamshire, as there was no Earl in the shire at that time, and Gilbert believed it would make a nice addition to his peerage. Gilbert spent most of his time at court in London currying favor with John, but from time to time came up to his shire, and the neighboring counties, where he felt, like many in his position, that he was defacto sovereign in the kings stead, and acted accordingly. That is to say, if by accordingly one means with complete self absorption and utter contempt for those beneath him, which was everybody.
An earl is a nobleman and a sheriff is an appointed representative of the king. Each man thought his position to be the superior one, and they quarreled regularly. Invariably, they had to come to a truce in order to avoid outright hostilities towards each other. It was soon after Marian’s daring escape that the Right Honorable Earl of Lincoln decided to visit Nottingham on his way home from court.
Gilbert had an number of properties in Nottinghamshire, most notably Mansfield, where often came with a writ to hunt in Sherwood Forest. Gilbert arrived with a retinue of servants, looking for all the world like royalty himself. Dressed in the finest fashions of the day, he had a reputation for availing himself of the hospitality of the peasant girls wherever he went; many of whom were never heard from again.
Upon hearing of Lincoln’s arrival in his jurisdiction, the sheriff temporarily forgot his abject rage and obsession with Robin Hood, knowing that the vagabond would still be there when the matter of the meddlesome Earl had been seen to. Robin Hood was an embarrassment to the sheriff and he had no intention of letting the de Gant become aware that there was a common thief at large in Nottinghamshire that was proving to be irritatingly elusive. Whenever the Earl came to the shire, the sheriff did all he could to give the appearance of an orderly, well run, docile and prosperous community. The county of Nottingham would be all of these things if it were not for the egregious over taxation methods employed by the sheriff.
The whole of the county followed the sheriff’s lead and turned their attention to de Gant, which is no less than the good Earl expected. As is the way of rivals and adversaries employing stealth, cunning and espionage, the sheriff sent a few men to Mansfield to welcome the Earl with gifts of wine, cheese and venison, which the sheriff had a permanent dispensation to hunt in Sherwood. It was in fact, nothing for peerage and gentry to obtain permission from the crown to hunt in Sherwood, as this was a major means of sustaining them. In reality it was only the peasants who were prohibited from hunting deer in the royal forest. There were other woodlands in the county, but the sheriff treated the prohibition of hunting in Sherwood forest as if it extended to all the wilds of Nottingham. This made it easier to fine people and charge them with breaking the law. They might contend that they were not in Sherwood, but in the sheriff’s court he could not be gainsaid. Not by a peasant at least.
The welcoming party was received with the suspicion and false gratitude it deserved and expected. The sheriff had instructed his men to snoop around for any sort of impropriety that the lawman could use as leverage against the noble. In the past, there had been minor infractions, but not enough to blackmail or arrest even a lackey on, and these had ceased to become observable long ago. Lord Lincoln was insidiously fastidious on matters of propriety. In the sheriff’s view, this alone should be enough to convict the pompous bastard of something.
As to the feast provided by the sheriff, Lincoln told the sheriff’s messenger’s to relay the message that his household staff would enjoy the modest gift and he hoped that the good sheriff had not fallen on such dire straits that he was reduced to bestowing such meager gifts to visiting neighbors. The sheriff was sure that the Earl had tutors as a child training him in the art of barbed correspondence and admired him immensely for his ability to injure so deftly with mere words.
Sherwood Forest itself felt the presence of the Earl as he and his entourage hunted in the forest. When the local gentry hunted, they did so in relatively small bands, and predominately to feed their households. Lincoln was here for sport, with food as an aside. There were servants to do the cleaning and dressing and cooks who set up little tents and camps to cook food brought to the hunt from the house.
The outlaws closed up their various homes and made sure they were concealed properly and quit the forest for the duration of the hunt.
Robin and Marian, couldn’t quit the forest as easily as the others. Along with Friar Tuck, they were wanted for High Crimes. Tuck proposed a return to cave in Derbyshire, but Marian did not like the sound of that. Wulfhere and Little John caught up with the trio on their journey East. Marian wondered how they had been found by their mates, and Robin told her half jokingly that Wulfhere was a Druid with mystical powers. This seemed to pique Marian’s interest.
“So, You’re a Druid, are you, Mister Wulfhere?” she asked.
“Miss Marian, there are no more Druids in England.” said the old hermit. “We are all Christians here.”
“It’s his cave I had proposed we go to. You’ll see. It’s big enough for a community to hide in indefinitely. It is a magical place.” said Robin.
“Aye, it is enchanted.” agreed John. “It gave me odd dreams.”
“You get used to that.” said Wulfhere. “I had even come to look forward to them. In fact, it is what I miss most about the place.”
“Are you saying Mister Wulfhere, that Christianity and Druids are incompatible?” said Friar Tuck. “I believe that many druidic bards were in fact Christians.”
“Aye, that’s a fact.” said Wulfhere. “Bards are the masters of lore. They make the best teachers and are often brought to royal courts as councilors, tutors, historians and various other clerical roles. They are customarily sworn fealty to king and Christ. There’s the rub. Swearing fealty to Christ is not the same as fealty to Christianity.”
“We have to be careful what we say.” said Marian. “This isn’t France. Witchcraft isn’t celebrated at court here as it is there.”
“Surely we are among friends here, Marian.” said Tuck.
“Are we?” Marian said. “What I know for sure is that I spent night after night in Gaol because of my supposed connection to Robin Hood.” Here she pointed to the man escorting her in case there was any doubt. “He is the confessed thief of our own taxes and murderer of the guardians of that money.”
“I was there when that took place, Miss, and I can tell you it was self defense. We were merely on our way to get a doctor for a sick child, when the sheriff’s henchmen took us for thieves and attacked us. Robin saved our lives! He saved my life! He saved that baby’s life! And we returned that money to the people from whom it was wrongly taken!”
“Is this true?” Marian asked of Robin.
“Not at all.” said Robin. “John was doing fine. I saved Will Skarlett. And Master Wulfhere saved little Maggie.”
“Ah, so he’s a Wizard, you’re a murderer, John is an accomplice at best and a thief and murderer in his own right at worst; and you say I’m ‘among friends’? Is that about right?”
“Well, you did stab those two guards and escaped from prison, so I’d say you fit right in.” countered Robin.
“Well, so long as I fit in, then.”