A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

A Bishop disguised as a pauper meets Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest


"My friend, let me relieve you of that burden," hissed a voice from the silence of the scrubby undergrowth that was a large part of Sherwood forest in the long ago of ancient England.

The Bishop, disguised as he was as a beggar with a burlap cloak, all tattered and ragged, was shocked. Here he was, in the heart of England and looking every bit the pauper, down even to the weeping sores that had been daubed on his face with henna and a hint of woad round the edges to make them look septic, and someone dared to challenge him.

A seasoned traveller, he knew his role. If he looked like a pauper he must sound like one.

"Who waylays an honest man?" he asked, his voice wavering as if he might suffer a fatal stroke at any moment.

His challenger leapt from hiding and stood cross-armed before him, his legs heroically apart and a quiver full of arrows slung from one shoulder. Next to him stood a giant of a man known the Forest through as Little John.

"Robin," whispered the Bishop, "Robin Hood, by all the devils on Earth!"

The challenger bowed slightly, never taking his eyes from the Bishop's face. "At your service, my friend," he murmured, ironically. "But first your gold!" he added, more fiercely.

"I'm but a poor man travelling through these heathen woods," mumbled the Bishop, making sure he stooped ever so slightly, intending to give the impression of impoverished weakness. "I have no purse and no gold," he added, needing to push that particular point firmly home. "I don't even have a crust with which to swell my shrivelled belly," he added pathetically. "Look at me and see, and then tell why you say I might have gold!"

Robin Hood, for the Bishop was quite right when he called him by that name, smiled and then shook his head almost sadly.

"You are no vagabond," he murmured. "I can see perfectly well that you are a rich man disguised as a pauper. On your face a crass artist has tried to mimic a weeping sore and done it in such a way that it resembles more a child's first daubing!"

"I am sore, and in pain," protested the Bishop, but the skin on his face went several shades paler when it crossed him mind that his true identity might be guessed.

"Then you will be in a great deal more pain when the fellow's paintwork infects your flesh, as it surely will if the skin is open as you say, and it can seep in!" laughed the Outlaw.

"Careful, Robin, that's no way to talk to a Bishop," whispered Little John, and the Outlaw grinned at him mirthlessly.

"Take note, my friend," he murmured. "All is not what it seems, not here and not anywhere. See how the fellow's face already is seeping with the disease"

Hearing that, the Bishop couldn't help himself. In one involuntary move he rubbed the palm of one hand over the spot where he knew the most repulsive ulcerated wound had been painted, and rubbed it.

The Outlaw laughed loud as he watched the sore being spread over the Bishop's skin. "See," he teased, "the weeping wonder is being relocated! There are many scarred nigh unto death in the crusade armies who would wish their injuries to be so easily transferred!"

"Let me pass, Outlaw," muttered the Bishop, knowing he had been outwitted.

"Of course, your reverence," agreed Robin Hood. "Once, that is, you have given your gold to me so that I may distribute it to those poor and needy who don't need sackcloth to cover their finery and paint to scar their faces."

"I told you," sighed the Bishop, "I am a peasant who has no gold."

"You are a man of God!" snapped Robin Hood. "I look at you, and what do I see? I'll tell you! I see a flash of ermine through the holes that plague your rags! I see fine leather boots below the ragged hem of your long burlap coverall! And I see a fine shaven face under the paint that mars it! You are a Bishop, a lying man of God, and you are bearing gold to the brothers at Fountains Abbey in nearby Yorkshire so they may adorn their church whilst their flock starves!"

The Bishop visibly sagged. He was clearly hoping that his disguise would see him safely through the most notorious and impenetrable forest in all of England.

"It is for our Lord," he muttered, knowing that further pretence at being a pauper would be to no avail.. "Our Lord demands that we build big and strong with steeples that reach the stars. And that kind of architecture costs money."

"Take off your rags!" ordered Robin Hood, and he dug the Bishop in the chest with the point of an arrow loaded in his bow as an indication of his sincerity.

The Bishop did as he was told. He removed the burlap rags that he had smothered himself in until he stood in his robes of Faith. Even Little John gasped at the splendour of the finery that was revealed in the heart of Sherwood Forest.

"Now your robes," demanded Robin Hood.

"And leave a man naked?" protested the Bishop. "How might your peasants be served if a man of God is left naked in their forest?"

"They will be served," grinned the Outlaw. "Now, my fine-breeched friend, your clothes, if you please - and all of them!"

Seeing there was no way out of it, what with the cruel tip of an arrow almost touching him, the Bishop began to obey. He removed his ermine gown and all manner of fine silk layers underneath it until he stood there in no more than a grey under-habit.

"And that," said Robin, more harshly this time.

"And be left to the cruel winds that sweep through the forest?" whined the Bishop.

"All of your clothes," insisted the Outlaw.

The Bishop made as if to obey, and then he darted off, back towards the shadows of a huge oak tree, intending to disappear with the same ease as the outlaw had used when he had appeared before him. But he had rushed a mere half dozen paces when an arrow tore into one of his buttocks and clung there like a serpent's giant sting. He stopped, and held both hands in the air.

"Leave me with my under things, cruel Master," he whined. "You can see I have no gold or gemstones or anything like that, so leave me with my soiled and stinking undergarments!"

"Have pity, Robin!" urged Little John.

"I will have pity on the poor and the starving, but not on scum like this!" rasped Robin Hood. Then he addressed the Bishop. "Now for those garments you hold so sacred!" he demanded, and he stood over the wounded man, arrow in place and bow-string pulled back. "Take them off now, or die!"

Seeing that he had no safe alternative, the Bishop slowly did as ordered and soon the grey (and somewhat soiled) undergarments lay in a heap on the forest floor.

"Now off with you if you value you life, and quick!" snapped Robin Hood, and the Bishop hobbled off, the shaft of an arrow still sticking out of his rear.

"That was a bit harsh, Robin," muttered Little John when he had gone.

"Not harsh enough," replied the Outlaw grimly, and he picked up the grey vest and pants left by the Bishop and slashed at them with his knife. As he did so, and with a musical tinkle, dozens of small golden coins fell out. "See what the fool thought he would get away with," he added. "I might have let him keep his ermine and leather, but his greed blinded me," he added. "There will be bread and meat for those who are starving tonight!"

Little John nodded and stooped to pick up the coins.

Far off in the forest a wolf that had scented blood howled.

© 2017 Peter Rogerson

Author's Note

Peter Rogerson
This is one of a series of short stories I wrote concerning the adventures of the famous outlaw, Robin Hood.

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Added on November 6, 2015
Last Updated on October 15, 2017
Tags: outlaw, bishop, starving, poverty, disguise, undressed, naked


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 75 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..