A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

a poor woman whose husband has been obliged to fight overseas is visited by a heartless priest


Mistress Medea was in tears.

Able, her oldest and surely big enough to know better, was demanding to be fed because he was hungry, or starving, as he put it. Twelve summers old and slight of build, he looked as if he needed feeding up, but what could she do? To feed a lad up you needed food and the cupboard was bare. It had been a long, dry summer and the crops had withered in the fields and even those who could afford to exchange ale or old garments for stale bread were going hungry. And meat was out of the question unless she wanted to be hanged for stealing it, for all the meat belonged to the squire, and he kept it for himself even though he was absent now, on a Crusade.

Then there was Anna. At ten she was just too grown up for her years, but not in important things like helping in their poor and dehydrated strips of land, rescuing, maybe, what little was left and worth rescuing. No, she was a flirt and spent secret hours with a host of the neighbours’ lads and Medea knew that it wouldn’t be long before her games led to the inevitable, and she’d be heavy with child and mercilessly punished by the priest for the sin of what her nature obliged her to do.

The others, seven and five, were, she supposed, too young to be much help, but help was needed.

And it was when she was in tears that the aforementioned Priest put his head through her door and snarled at her.

Father Duggan had a direct astral line to God, and he let everyone know it. Even the Lord who lived in the big house and who had taken Mistress Medea’s man to the Crusades with him together with half the other strong men in the village was wary of him. That Lord knew, as did everyone else, that God was a cruel god and demanded absolute devotion twenty four hours of every day of a man’s life. Even of a woman’s, some argued, but others were sceptical because women weren’t people really, were they? They didn’t have a person’s tackle between their legs, did they? And they were sinners, every last one of them because of Eve and the bloody tree in the Garden.

So Father Duggan was there, his thunderous face far from pleasant and his scar almost glowing (he had a heavy scar that ran from ear to chin on the left side of his face as a consequence of a monastic beating when he’d been caught doing something totally unmentionable in the night by the Holy Father.)

There should, he had thought afterwards as he nursed his cuts and bruises, be locks on our cell doors.

Mistress Medea,” he said, almost thundering, “there have been complaints.”

It’s hard to ask questions when your eyes are leaking like mine are, thought the tragic mistress. But, “complaints?” she asked.

Your brats are starving and you’re not even praying for salvation,” roared the priest. “Others have noticed and others are fearful that their hunger might start them thieving, and nobody’s got much this tragic year. Even my tithes are running low and I can barely fatten my pigs!”

I do pray...” she whimpered, “I pray so hard, but nothing comes of it.”

But you’re a woman!” roared the Priest, “and women are of no consequence, not to the good Lord and his angels! Women are the turds of creation, the foul soils upon which men are obliged to tread once in a while! Feed your wretches, woman, even if you must offer them roasted slices of your own flesh!”

This was all too much for Mistress Medea, and her tears became torrents and her sobs heart-breaking. But the priest hadn’t finished. Father Duggan himself had suffered greatly in his time, and he was a man, and he reasoned that it was only right and proper that a woman should suffer even more. There had been a great deal of pain in his time as a novice, brought onto his back because of his inability to master this or that Latin piece, and there had always been the possibility of a flogging if things happened in the night and he messed his palliasse with the unthinkable secretions that were the evidence of his total lack of worthiness. In truth, his Holy Father had been the prince of sadists, but he hadn’t known that at the time.

But Father Duggan’s own sufferings increased his need to increase those of the wretched woman in whose hovel he was standing, and he raised a savage hand and brought it down, slashing, on her drawn cheeks.

If I must carry a scar round with me wherever I go, then so must she!

Do that again and I will separate your soul from your body with this sound blade,” came a voice from the doorway, and he spun round.

There was only one man in all of the greenwood and the lands beyond that Father Duggan was afraid of, and that man was standing before him right there, holding a shining sword with a blade of well-honed polished steel.

Master Hood,” he managed to force between suddenly dry lips, “Why are you risking life and limb in the hovel of this wretched sinner?”

What makes you think she is a sinner, priest?” asked Robin Hood, “for is she not suffering greatly as a consequence of being denied her man and yet has four offspring to care for and feed and nurture, and clad in wool?”

Her man is fighting God’s battle,” shivered the priest as Robin’s sword waved around within an inch of his nose.

So your God needs poor men to fight for him and maybe suffer and die, yet has the strength and power to command all the Universe into being?” murmured Robin.

It is an eternal battle,” nodded Father Duggan, assuming that the outlaw, far from criticising his deity, was praising him.

And in order to gain dominance over the sinner a priest needs must commit a sin all the greater?” continued Robin Hood. “It seems to me, Priest, that of all the sinners in this room, you are the vilest! For who, if he be not vile, would raise a fist to a woman in her hour of weakness?”

I am God’s link to mankind,” replied Duggan, aware of the sudden weakness in his own voice, and hating it. “And if I command it the good Lord will smite down on you, Master Hood, and on this wretched woman here, who is starving her brats until they die!”

I have no food!” shrieked Mistress Medea, “our strips are brown and singed by too much sun and the roots so shrivelled that they turn a child’s stomach to vomit no matter how long they are left to cook!”

It is God’s will,” nodded Father Duggan, on firmer ground now that the reality of a long and unnaturally hot summer was part of the conversation, for that was familiar to him.

So you accuse God of starving the young, yet punish this woman for that very crime?” asked Robin, “What manner of justice is this?”

I am but the voice,” whined the priest, seeing that his arguments had suddenly developed a huge hole when they usually worked perfectly well and placated other villagers.

I have a gift for you, Priest,” said Robin Hood.

A gift, for me?” Father Duggan sounded suspicious, as well he might.

Indeed,” smiled the outlaw, “your life! Yes, there’s no need to thank me but just take the gift in the spirit it was offered, and in return never strike this or any woman again! For a gift, once given, can be taken back and I would take mine to you back in an instant. But, and here’s the rub, wretched Priest, you would not see me when the blade or the arrow strikes home, just know, by the pain and the ebbing of your life, that I was there.”

I’ll tell the sheriff of this!” blustered the holy man, “and he’ll have you before his court! You’ll be for the hanging tree… mark my words!”

Do your best or your worst,” laughed Robin, “but take this truth to your heart. If I should be strung up upon any tree then there are many men, all anxious for justice, who would be ready to repay your sheriff and yourself for the wickedness done. Now go, Priest, and know that I will have eyes and ears on you!”

Father Duggan could think of no reply, and although he hated not having the last word, on this occasion he merely sloped off, not liking to glance back, but swearing in the silence of his own head that one day Master Robin Hood would pay for this and other offences against the natural order of things.

Meanwhile, the outlaw deposited meat and bread on the crude table in Mistress Medea’s hall, and with no further ado, drifted off, merging skilfully with the backdrop of forest and clearing, and keeping a wary eye on Father Duggan as he returned slowly to his church.

© Peter Rogerson 13.10.17

© 2017 Peter Rogerson

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Added on October 13, 2017
Last Updated on October 15, 2017
Tags: Robin Hood, Greenwood, crusades, starvation, priest


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 74 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..


A Chapter by Peter Rogerson