15. THE LOST CRUSADER.

15. THE LOST CRUSADER.

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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An ordinary men conscripted to fight with his Lord in the crusades, returns home in pain.

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When a man’s almost lost half a leg and is marked like a map of fair London Town, then he must surely be worthy of more than a slap on the back, thought Hugh Scanlon of Barnsley.

But a slap on the back and a well done, fellow was all he’d got when he arrived back with Sir Pillien’s group of warriors, a handful of knights and their squires, led by Sir Pillien himself and his stallion and accompanied by a motley group of fighters, of which he had been one.

There’ll be a knighthood for you when the king gets to hear of your triumphs,” Sir Pillien had said, but proceeded to show no signs of saying anything to the king when he had set out on his return to Barnsley with most of his men mounted and Hugh Scanlon together with a dozen or so others left to walk.

He was but half way back to Barnsley when those on foot had left him. His leg, where a Turk had slashed at it with a blade, still hurt and walking was a slow affair. By the time he reached the dense forestland of Sherwood he looked less like an honourable squire from the Crusades and more like a vagabond. He was dirty, having only streams in which to wash himself and knew his lank hair was infested by the way his scalp constantly itched to the point of threatening to drive him insane. If ever there was the image of a rogue he was it, yet he knew full well the things he had seen and done, the battles he had fought, the injuries he had sustained in the Holy Land. And he knew that, surely, he deserved better than this.

He also knew it was a miracle he had arrived back home alive, yet alive he was.

The forest was dark and oppressive. It seemed to reach out to him as he struggled along, and when he could go no further for a while he would sit on the bare earth with his back against a tree, and wonder why his life, after so fierce a war, was so dreadful.

Hugh Scanlon was fading, and knew it. His strength was all but gone, and his injuries were getting ever more painful.

And a group of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men came by. He knew who they were for the banners they carried and the livery proudly displayed on the backs of their steeds.

At last, he thought, I can seek help and succour, for these are honourable men and they will lend aid to a soldier in distress.

Hey, you!” barked the leader of the small group of Sheriff’s men, “be you outlaw or villain?”

I come from the crusade,” he replied, feebly.

What? A vagabond like yourself pretending to be honourable and fighting the good Christian fight against the Muslim vermin?” sneered the leader of the Sheriff’s men, a swarthy individual with an oversized belly and mean eyes. “I’d put you to the sword rather than spit on you,” he added, “for I wager you’ve never seen a Turk in all your life, let alone bettered one in battle or triumphed over evil like a good Christian man!”

Hugh was at a loss as to how to reply. As he sat against the bole of a great oak tree a fractured range of memories flashed before his inner eyes, images of swords clashing, heads being hewn by bulging eyed maniacs, pain, the almost unbearable burning pain as steel cut deeply into his leg, and the sounds of shouting, coarse and vulgar like he never thought he’d hear in the Holy land, the weeping of dying men, the howling of both pain and triumph in equal measure.

See, the villain is without words to defend himself!” laughed the swarthy man, sneering at Hugh’s pain and weariness.

Perchance he is one of the wretched Hood’s men?” suggested another, “perchance he is a convicted felon waiting for the gallows and escaped by the dire offices of Robin Hood, arch traitor and arch villain!”

Perchance you’re right,” scoffed the leader, “perchance there’s a reward for taking the devil and marching him straight to the sheriff! Perchance we will drink well tonight with good ale rewarding us for what we’re about to do.”

But alive,” suggested another man, “we had better take him alive for the sheriff’s thumbscrews and rack may well draw further tales from him. For it is known that somewhere in this forest is the lair of Master Hood and his host, but no man can find it however hard he looks!”

You speak well,” nodded the swarthy leader, “so we will go gently with him, though he may not think us very gentle!”

And thus began a nightmare for Hugh Scanlon. He was forced to march along at the speed of a walking horse and when he showed signs of lagging behind he was subjected to a lash from a horse whip, which did little to speed him up but much to engender sympathy within him for the horses it was designed to beat. And all the time he was aware of the crude and often repulsive conversation between the Sheriff’s men who, it seemed had no respect for any force on Earth, for though they worked for the sheriff it seemed they sneeringly distrusted him, they spoke of bishops in the same breath as they scorned at baby-snatchers, and as for the foreign wars where brave men died in unbelievable agony, they referred to them as cowards afraid to face their womenfolk at home and thus soldiering far away where enemies were few and exotic women plentiful. Hugh soon learned that these sheriff’s men, rather than being the salvation of mankind, or if not of mankind of himself, were little more than dissolute rogues.

They also spoke of an outlaw that he had heard of, for rumours of Robin Hood spread far and wide and his criminal activities made many an honest man shudder. And apparently that very outlaw inhabited this forest, was at home within the Greenwood with a band of sinners, and even the Sheriff’s foul-speaking servants were afraid of him. As they went along their voices were lowered as if to keep their passage secret from listening ears, and he was aware that their eyes were more alert the closer they got to Nottingham.

If this Robin Hood is worse than these wretches then he must be vile indeed, he thought, the pain in his injured leg making every step he was forced to take into some kind of nightmare.

His mind was contemplating such things and he all but blacked out as a grey misty veil fell across it, and it was only the cut of the whip that brought him round so that he could force one, two, three more steps out of his mutilated leg.

Then, out of the blue and so unexpected that the whole group stood suddenly still, the swarthy foul-mouthed leader gave a sudden mighty gasp and slowly, in some dreadful effigy of motion slowed down to near standstill, slid off his steed and lay, at length, on the forest floor with the flight of an arrow sticking grotesquely from his back.

Outlaws!” shouted the sheriff’s men, reaching for weapons and then stopping still in mid-motion as a man in forest-green landed in front of them from the canopy over their heads, notched long-bow in hand and grim smile on his face.

The last thing Hugh Scanlon heard was a sighed and terrified hissing of Robin Hood before the grey mists triumphed and his consciousness was stolen from him, and his last thought was if the last hour hasn’t been bad enough, this must be worse…

And he lay where he fell, not so far from the dead man and yet a million miles away as the world turned and time hung in a precarious balance for him.

© Peter Rogerson 16.10.17




© 2017 Peter Rogerson



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Added on October 16, 2017
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Tags: knights, crusades, sheriff of Nottingham, Robin Hood


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