A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Ruth is a novitiate in a religious community, and she is lost on her way to pay homage to her god in York


There was a storm brewing.

Heavy and very angry clouds had started to form in the sky, coming, it seemed, out of nowhere, and in the distance there was a rumble of what could only have been thunder.

And the gentle, caring novitiate Ruth was lost in the darkening depths of an alien forest. She had never been to Sherwood before but knew it by reputation. There were, she had been warned, outlaws and desperadoes lurking round every corner and gathering in hoodlum groups in every clearing. And worse: the forces of law and order, the powerful sheriff of Nottingham, had no control over what went on under the leafy canopy. This was well known and more than a rumour: her Prioress at the nunnery had told her during those hours when private speech was permitted.

She paused as a flash of lightning illuminated this world for a microsecond, leaving everything perceptively darker than it had been before. But in that flash she fancied she saw grotesque faces leering at her, monstrous being at least seven feet tall and naked as the day they had been created. And, horror of all horrors, they were male and in the real world outside this dreadful forest she had never seen a naked male. Not ever. Nor heard rumour of their flesh.

Her life had been simple. She had been raised by a caring and hard working mother, and she had a sister who was younger than her. Her father was dead, of the dreaded pox, a disease which periodically returned to remove the better part of half the population of her village as it swept along. So males had never figured in her life except as bearded gross creatures with coarse voices and a tendency to curse, but always in the distance.

Now she was lost, a storm appeared to be brewing and there were demons all around her. She would never arrived at the minster in York to offer her prayers in its rarefied atmosphere and kneel before her god. So instead of lowering herself in humility to the floor of the nave of the famous minster and clutching her hands together in penitence to her Lord she did it right where she stood, on an overgrown path that seemed to be leading nowhere, and in the heart of a forest that was totally alien to her.

Are you ill?” asked a voice from nowhere, and she found herself falling even lower to the rancid earth and knew that she was sucking on the detritus that lines forest pathways, dead leaves and deader clumps of wild animal droppings. She could fall no further unless the earth itself opened up and admitted her to the underworld, a possibility she would have welcomed there and then.

So she looked up. She had to. There was nothing else for her to do.

There was a man standing in front of her, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw he was clad in the robes of the monks who spread the word of God from their Priory, though there was to this one an air of carelessness and slovenly eating, with the stains of past meals dribbled down his front. But he wore the robes, and that, to Ruth, was a relief.

So she shook her head. What, she wondered, time of the day is it?

Could she speak or was she still bound by the rules of silence?

Are you ill?” asked the voice again, a cultured yet oily voice, and most certainly that of a male.

It would be rude not to answer.

I am well, sir,” she managed to say, and added, “but I am lost in this forest, and there are demons all around, and I am scared.”

It is but a forest, child,” said the other, his voice fairly dripping with sympathy, but he smiled warmly. “There are many who live under the branches of its trees, and they never report seeing demons,” he added.

Who…?” She wanted to ask who the speaker was, but her communication with males, with people who were not women and not endowed with the gentility of womankind, had, before this moment, been virtually nothing. Should she ask the man who he was, or might that be construed as rude? Or nosey? Intrusive? Not the done thing? After all, he was a man of God … his dress advertised that fact, and she was but a young novitiate on a pilgrimage to York, and even worse, she was a female and shared the distant mother Eve’s guilt. He was mighty and she was a nobody. She would be punished if she said the wrong thing, and she knew how dreadful punishments could be. After all, her God demanded loyalty and worship and anything less was subject to the tawse.

Who am I?” he helped, “you don’t know? Then I must tell you. I am a friar from a Priory a few miles away from here, and it is my duty to spread the good word amongst those he need to hear it. My name is Tuck, and for a small distance around here I have accumulated an honest reputation as I spread the holy message.”

But sir, friar Tuck I mean, I have been warned of deceit and dishonour in this very forest if I leave the path through it that was described to me, and yet despite dire warnings I have lost my way and am fearful of being raped and assaulted by the monsters who lurk within its glades and dells.” It was a long speech for one not used to making more than brief conversation outside the prayers she was obliged to recite, and she worried in case she had gone too far or implied too much.

Fear not,” smiled Tuck. “Look: I will take you under my wing for protection, and together we will go and seek out Robin Hood, whose help will be both forthright and honest.”

Robin Hood?” Ruth faltered in her speech, her face went pale as white blossom and she seemed to tremble at the knees. “Not the Robin Hood? The outlaw on whose head there is a mighty bounty? The Robin Hood my Holy Mother warned me might waylay me and do those things to my flesh that no man should do to a woman outside of wedlock?”

Tuck shook his head sadly. “Your Prioress spoke such words to you?” he asked, “she warned you against the only one who might save you in the whole majesty of Sherwood Forest? When there are rogues and scoundrels who live in castles and mansions and who pay no taxes to the King even though they collect them from the poor, and who would most certainly dishonour a maid as fair as you, given half a chance?”

Ruth was shocked by his apparently genuine outburst, and she backed off, wondering if her best course of action would to be to run swiftly now and escape this friar even though she would have no notion as to where she was running and how she might get to York.

My dear young creature,” sighed Tuck, “Robin Hood is the master round here, for many miles in any direction, and he would not harm a hair of your head or waylay you for an unnecessary moment. He would even provide you with a guide in order to guarantee your safety in the Greenwood. But he will not look gently on the wastrels and crooks that inhabit high office, some even in abbeys and cathedrals, for it is they and they alone who molest the poor. Now come with me if you will, and I will guide you to safety and preserve your life while I can.”

So where will you take me, Master Tuck?” she asked.

He smiled broadly at her and tapped one side of his nose with one finger. “Why, dear lady, to Robin Hood of course,” he said, “and with a bit of luck we’ll beat the storm that’s coming our way, and get there first.”

© Peter Rogerson 14.10.17

© 2017 Peter Rogerson

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Added on October 14, 2017
Last Updated on October 15, 2017
Tags: Novitiate, Friar Tuck, rumour, Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest, storm


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..


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