On a Trip to London Town (A tease)

Sorry folks. That family emergency I mentioned back in August? Well it kind of ran into September and I’m still getting back on my feet. One of these days I’m going to rebuild my buffer so I can get back to posting consistently for y’all.

In the mean time, here’s a piece from a few years ago. Ol’ Robin has long been one of my fave tales and one of these days I’m going to do something with him. Sadly, this won’t be that something. I find these days I’m mildly allergic to stories involving The Good King. So Good King Richard will have to find something else to do with his time when I get around to writing about Robin again.

Content notes: violence, hunting

There was a young man once, of good family, though fallen on hard times. When he came of age, he left his home, bidding farewell to his old father, and set off for London Town, seeking his fortune there as young men are wont to do. He carried with him a yew bow and a score of cloth-yard shafts, as well as a gift of coin from his father to see him through his journey. With his good bow and his skill, he had high hopes of winning a place in the king’s service.

Fate had other plans for him, however.

On the second day of his travels, he passed through Nottingham town, ‘twas market day, and being heavy of purse and light of mind, as men of that age are, he thought to pick up some trinket in the market. However, it was no trinket that caught his eye, but the bright curls and laughing eyes of a young maid. She saw him as well, and despite the disapproval of her nurse, winked and flirted with him from across the market square.

Well, he needed no further encouragement, I assure you. Darting around carts and between stalls, he quickly made his way across the square and found a spot next to the market stall where the maid’s nurse was bargaining for fresh herbs.

She made a slight curtsy when she saw him, and he bowed in reply. “What do you here, goodsir? I fain I have not seen your face before.”

“Sadly, no, lady, as my father was not wont to come to town, and I perforce remained with him, but now I make my way to London town, to seek service with the King.”

“And what is your father’s name goodsir?”

“My father is Robert of Locksley.”

“I have heard of him, a noted scholar.”

“Indeed – as his son is not, a disappointment to him, I fear.”

“Surely – ”

So caught up were they in each other they neglected to notice the nurse had finished her bargaining. Horrified to find her charge speaking with a strange man, she bore down upon them like a ship under full sail.

“My lady Marian! This is not seemly! What would your father say!”

As the nurse hustled the maid Marian away, the young man called out, “I hope I may see you again… Lady Marian.”

The nurse screeched in offended proprietary, and then they were gone.

As the young man wandered down the road later that day, he reflected on how his dreams could change so suddenly. No more did the miles pass beneath his feet with happy thoughts of rising in the king’s service, earning acclaim and gold, saving the king from an assassin perhaps, or performing some great feat of valor fighting for Christendom in the Holy Land. His thoughts turned instead back to Nottingham Town. “Marian” He tasted the name over and over, sweet and light, a delight to the tongue. Long and drawn out to be almost a song, the short burst of a whispered confidence. A few years service with the king, some small heroic acts, and he could possibly retire with a small barony as a reward for his service, and enough income to think of… dare he even consider… marriage!

So lost was he in happy daydreams that he didn’t see men in the forest until they were almost upon him.

“What ho, fellow. What brings you to the greenwood?”

“Passing through stranger, on my way to London Town, where I will take service with the king.”

The men laughed at this. “Not yet a stripling, and so sure the king will have you? Go back your mother’s apron strings boy, until you can use that bow you carry!”

The young man’s face turned red, pricked pride driving him down a foolish course.

“I wager gold that I can shoot better than any of you or any man in England!”

One of the number, a villainous man wearing stained deer hide breeches and with a scar running across his creek stepped forward.

“I’ll take that wager, boy, and your gold also!”

The young man agreed and began casting about for materials to set up a proper target.

“Just as I thought, a boy, not a man. No man wastes his time on targets – there is the only target worthy of a grown man!”

The challenger pointed off into the forest, where a herd of deer grazed. “Take down that buck boy, and I’ll name you man in truth.”

The young man did not stop to think but strung his bow and fit arrow to string. A moment to gauge the wind, not even a moment to sight, and the arrow was loosed, to lodge firm between the stags ribs. The wound was mortal, and the creature took one fleeing leap before falling dead to the forest floor.

The young man turned in triumph to face his challenger.

“What say you now?”

The villainous man was grinning, as was the rest of the small band.

“I say we have a poacher, worth ten gold crowns if we deliver you to the Sheriff in Nottingham Town. And I say that there are more of us than you, so you might as well come quietly. Boy.”

The young man’s face drained of color as he realized what his foolish pride had driven him to. He turned to run but was felled with a blow to the head. And the world went dark.

He returned to himself, hot and nauseous, the smell of blood in his nostrils and the world spinning around him. He tried to sit but found he was bound – wrapped tightly in a bundle that, to his horror, he saw was suspended by a pole carried between two of the men from the wood.

They laughed and joked as they traveled, and the young man fell into the deepest despair as he realized his predicament. Trussed like a pig for market, he could not escape, and the killing of the king’s deer – all deer were the king’s deer – was a mortal offense. If he couldn’t get away, he would find himself scheduled to meet the headsman in short order.

For a time, he struggled against his bonds, but they proved firm.

He had all but given up when his captors came upon an inn and decided to stop for a meal. Dumping him to the ground, sure he could not get away, they went into the cool of the inn.

At first, the young man thought here might be a chance to escape. Alone along the road, if he could cut his bonds, and run they would never find him. But again, the ties were too strong for him to break.

He fell into a dazed stupor, brought on by heat and shock and hunger. When he was roused sometime later, he thought it was only his captors come to claim him again.

A man, clad in light, was gazing down at him, sternness and compassion both shining in his eyes. A thunderous wind roared in his ears, like the breath of eternity.

“Well, boy, what brings you to this state.”

The young man, shocked to find a seeming angel staring him in the face, lowered his eyes and babbled out his tale, leaving out nothing, sure that if he did, those unearthly eyes would know it.

When he was finished, the man sighed. “You are a fool boy, and worse a proud one, but even a fool can learn. Can you?”

“Yes, Lord! I … I will set aside my pride.”

“The truth of that will be tested, I expect, in years to come. If I free you, will you swear your service to me?”

The young man agreed, eagerly in fact, and suddenly found himself sprawled on the ground. Without standing, he went to his knees.

“If you would have me, Lord, my service is yours, man and blade, until the last breath has left my body.”

The shining one accepted his service and bade him rise, and the vision of wonder faded before his eyes. The shining light had been the sun reflected on armor, the wind the breath of the man’s warhorse in his ear.

Once again shocked, feeling the world spin about him.

The man handed him a water pouch and a purse of food.

“Hie you to the greenwood,” he said, “Whatever is there, be it wood or deer or herb is free for your use, and the use of any who would follow you. Perhaps we will need again, perhaps not, but it is time and past time the folk of the land had someone to stand for them. Perhaps you will be that man. Now go.”

That voice – only a man’s voice now, but a command so firm it could not be denied, could not be resisted. The young man scooped up the water and food, paused but a moment to grab his good yew bow and arrows, and disappeared into the woods.

And thus did Robin of Locksley, known now as Robin of the Hood come to life in the greenwood.