14. AFTER THE STORM

14. AFTER THE STORM

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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The young lass Ruth on her way to York shelters from a dreadful storm.

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The storm was breaking.

Vivid streaks of lightning streaked across the skies above Sherwood, and for fractured seconds lit the world until the eye was deceived into thinking it must be looking on the negative of reality, and then gloom descended again. Nature itself was silent except for the thrashing of rain as it forced its way through the canopies of mighty oaks, dislodged birds’ nests and created puddles on the forest floor.

In a hidden clearing was the hide-away, a rambling structure where the Outlaws of Sherwood forest had their headquarters, and it was far enough away from the beaten track to be safe from discovery. And now that a storm raged those outlaws in the area were all there, waiting for the rains to dry up.

Will Scarlett strummed a battered lute, as tunelessly bas ever but it seemed to calm his nerves whilst Little John whittled away at a sprig of wood trying to make something, anything, recognisable. Robin and Marion were in one corner discussing nothing very seriously whilst a group played checkers on a home-made board, and the shelter occasionally reverberated with an outburst of humourless frantic laughter that was a natural antidote to fears of the storm created by crashing thunder.

And when it seemed that nothing could get any wetter or more miserable Friar Tuck burst in, dragging a seemingly unwilling waif of a girl behind him. Their entrance lightened the atmosphere. Here was something that wasn’t directly storm- related to distract them, and a new person, a child maybe, but new to them.

Who do we have here, big man?” asked Little John, who was bigger in height though not in girth when it came to comparison with the friar.

You got a new wench, Master Tuck?” laughed Much, outlawed son of a miller.

Be hushed,” growled the friar, “can’t you knuckle-heads see that the lass is half scared to death?”

Marion extricated herself from Robin’s clutches and moved towards the soaking and shivering novitiate, Ruth, from a convent that was already miles away. She was making her solitary way to York and had lost her way in the complexities of forest pathways that meandered through Sherwood, having been advised to keep off the main paths because they might be infested with outlaws. Now here she was in what seemed like a nest of such reprehensible people, and she was more frightened than she’d ever been in her life. She was also more wet than she’d ever been and it crossed her mind that any moment now she would either die of exposure or perish being robbed by evil desperadoes.

You look a bit damp,” observed Marion to her, instantly aware of the discomfort in the younger woman, “come let us find a corner where the eyes of greedy men can’t go and see if we can find something to dry you with, and then you can tell me all about what brings you this way.”

The outlaw’s shelter was roughly divided into several private areas where men could sleep or muse or even, on rare occasions, philosophise away from others. There was also a place for womenfolk, for there was about a dozen outlaws when they were all present (which was rare), and only naturally they had liaisons with womenfolk either permanently, like Robin and Marion, or on a more casual basis. So that shelter was an extensive and well-built affair, stretching across a natural clearing in the forest, several miles from the nearest thoroughfare and most unlikely to be discovered accidentally. It was a place where they were safe.

Marion led Ruth into a private alcove and pulled a reed partition into place, thus isolating it from the eyes of the outlaws.

Who are you?” she asked, gently, helping the younger woman, a lass who future years would be called a teenager, out of her sodden outer habit.

R-ruth,” replied the shivering girl.

And what are you doing in the Greenwood?” asked Marion.

Ruth looked at her, amazed. The older woman could only be described as beautiful. Her face was unmarked by the pox, her complexion smooth and her eyes bright and clear. Her teeth were so white they seemed to gleam and her breath, wafting over Ruth, was fragrant and sweet. She was the sort of woman Ruth thought must be from the gentility, having about her an almost sophisticated elegance, but here she was apparently at home in a nest of thieves and hoodlums.

I am on my way to the minster at York,” she said, simply. York was well known as a place where pilgrims called when they needed to have their faith reaffirmed and feel closer to their lord and she thought the explanation would be quite enough, and it was. Marion understood.

So by your threads it seems you have donated your flesh and your soul to God?” she asked, her face serious, not the merest suggestion of teasing or criticism touching it.

It is my wish,” nodded Ruth, “and I got lost, for I was warned against meeting up with the vile outlaws that infest the forest hereabouts.”

Come, take off all your wet things or you will catch your death,” said Marion, “and I will find you cloth enough to cover you until your own things are dry.”

But there are men, beyond that screen, they might...” stammered Ruth.

If any one of them thinks of coming anywhere near you he will have me to contend with,” Marion told her, “and you can be quite sure that there is not one of them prepared to cross me when it comes to such matters as decency and honour! Anyway, they’re a good lot, rough, maybe, but honourable.”

I was told...” stammered Ruth.

I know. You were told that the outlaws of Sherwood Forest are not far short of being savage animals ready to leap on the unwary and rob them of everything. You were told to steer well clear of them or they will rape you, or worse, if there is such a thing as worse than rape. But you were told this by those with a vested interest in saying such things. You can believe me or not, the choice is yours, but the truth is they have been outlawed by a rotten regime that sees that the preservation of its own personal wealth and comfort is above all things. So tales are told, hints pushed into the public domain, and those who would rather the starving eat than the wealthy accrue ever more coin are seen as outlaws to be persecuted and killed on sight.”

I didn’t...”

No, of course you didn’t, my dear,” sighed Marion, “and to tell you the truth it took me quite a while to see things as they truly are. But I will bring you, when you are fully dry and comfortable, to the owner of my heart, and he will tell you everything about his band of merry men … and also offer you a guide to take you the safe way to York.”

He sounds nice,” murmured Ruth, feeling warm and comfortable for the first time since the storm brewed itself up. “But I was told there is one outlaw worse than all the rest put together, and if I see him I must run as fast and furiously away from him as I can, for he is evil. His name, I was told, was Robin Hood.”

Marion smiled at her, and for a second time Ruth thought how lovely the other woman was, far more genuinely human than the nuns at the priory were and where, it seemed, the only true way through life was through misery. And it was those nuns who had brought her up since her own mother, starving herself, had taken her for care when she had been a young child.

Have I said something silly?” she asked.

Not at all, my child,” Marion assured her, “and now that you’re nice and dry and have clothes covering your sweetness, I will take you to the man you said sounded nice. But I warn you: his heart is mine and I will not allow any lass to challenge me for it! For of all the men I have known, he is the kindest, the gentlest and the best.

And his name, sweet Ruth, is Robin Hood!”

© Peter Rogerson 15.10.17




© 2017 Peter Rogerson



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Added on October 15, 2017
Last Updated on October 15, 2017
Tags: storm, outlaws, Robin Hood, novitiate, Maid Marion


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 73 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..

Writing