17. THE MAID IN THE WOODS

17. THE MAID IN THE WOODS

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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After raiding the tax-man the outlaws are strangely waylaid on their way home.

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Well, that was fun,” grinned Robin Hood as the outlaws made their way back through the forest towards their headquarters in the heart of Sherwood forest.

The look on the face of that posh gent in his fancy robes and shiny mail!” laughed Little John, “he couldn’t believe his eyes when that arrow pierced the pointy part of his hat and pinned it to a tree.”

Nor could he do anything when we relieved him of his chest of coin,” said Robin, but then he put one hand up and indicated that the outlaws should gather close around him.

I don’t want to put a downer on the party atmosphere, but we’re being followed,” he hissed, “I’ve had my eye on a fellow who’s bobbing about just out of sight, and he’s certainly following us.”

Do you know who it is?” asked Much, “I mean, do you recognise him?”

Robin shook his head. “And the mystery is I don’t think he was in that group that guarded yon chest, for he looks most unlike them,” he said, “though where he sprung from I’m hard pushed to say.”

Let’s get our hands on him and ask him, then?” suggested Little John, “he might not want to tell falsehoods to the razor tip of an arrow.”

And he might get away before we grab him,” said Robin. “From the little I’ve seen of him he’s fleet of foot and light enough to outrun you, John! But the last thing we want is for one of the sheriff’s men to find out where we bed down.”

I know,” put in Will Scarlett, “there’s the alehouse run by Jonny Fletcher not a couple of miles down this way and if we stop there for a flagon we can seem to be merry and full of pride at what we’ve achieved, but watch with eagle eyes at the same time!”

And I’ve got a fair thirst on me,” agreed Little John.

You always have, John, but Will’s hit on a good idea,” said Robin, “come, or else whoever our shadow is might get suspicious. We’ll carry on as before with jests and laughs, but keep wary eyes on what’s going on all around us. I’ve only seen evidence of one shadow, but that might not mean there aren’t more than the singleton following on.”

The outlaws continued on their way, talking and jesting as naturally as they could and debating in loud voices the chances of getting some ale at Jonny Fletcher’s place.

He’s still there,” hissed Robin as they walked along, “and he’s moving in a bit closer. I reckon he’s heard our talk of the alehouse and is fearful it might be a diversion if there’s a chance we’ve spotted him. Come on, speed up a bit. We can have a break in less than a mile!”

And I’ll need one,” murmured Little John. “A break and a jar or two will see me fine.”

And see you watering every tree between Fletcher’s place and home when we go!” laughed Robin. “What do you reckon our shadow wants?”

Either our chest of coin or news of where we’re taking it,” suggested Much.

The latter, more like,” mused Robin, “and then he’ll have news to sell at a price to the sheriff, and we’ll have to up sticks and find another comfy residence before we get raided by an army of hoodlums if the scoundrel gets his way!”

They arrived at the wattle and daubed thatched alehouse with crude bench seats outside it, more appealing on a hot day to weary travellers in the greenwood than an inside room in which a dozen or so locals were drinking and talking in slurred loud voices, evidence that they must have been there for some time.

Robin obtained drinks for the four of them and they sat on a bench in the sun. Will was charged with surveying the nearby fringe of the forest, whilst trying to look as if he was doing anything but looking, and it didn’t take him long to notice a movement that wasn’t generated by the breeze stirring leaf or branch.

He’s there, over by yon biggest oak,” he said quietly, “and by the look of the fellow he can’t be much more than a boy. Take a look, but don’t make it obvious.”

Did you say not much more than a boy?” whispered Much, “because if I’m not mistaken it’s a she not a he and she’s not much more than a girl!”

What?” demanded Robin, and he gazed in the direction indicated by Will Scarlett.

You could well be right, Much,” he murmured, “I’ve never seen a man with chesty bumps like that!”

So why is she following us?” asked Will.

For the same reason a man would, I suppose,” muttered Little John, “to find out where we’re going and betray us to the Sheriff.”

I think she must have seen us staring,” put in Will, “she seems to have slipped away. I can’t see her any more, and I would if she were there.”

You’ve got the sharpest eyes of the lot of us, Will,” said Robin, “and if you can’t see her then none of us will, and that’s a problem.”

Know where thy enemy is, or be snared by them,” whispered Much.

It’s but one lass,” said Robin, “and unless she’s the forward spy of a larger group we don’t have much to fear from her.”

But we don’t know, not for sure,” whispered Much.

It’s a fair guess that she’s alone,” explained Robin, “for it’s not likely men would put a girl as a forward guard when they might reckon that she’s likely to go all girly on them and mess things up.”

I’ll tell Marion you said that,” growled Little John, “and stand back when she explodes in your face!”

Don’t you dare, and I take it back,” laughed Robin Hood. “For I know that I might be seen as wrong, and myself have let Marion be the forward guard when we’ve been out on a mission that needed foresight and intelligence. But not all men are like us, John, and what I suggested might apply to some less understanding groups.”

That’s good of you,” came a fresh voice, and the four outlaws jumped in unison, for they hadn’t know anyone else was within earshot.

Ah, our shadow,” murmured Robin who, as ever, was the first to recover.

And it is a girl,” added Will.

And a fair one at that,” sighed Much.

The girl, as that was what the newcomer was, had the features of a young woman not yet out of her teenage years, a fair complexion only lightly soiled after her trek through the greenwood in pursuit of the outlaws and fair hair that was tucked in a bun on her head. She was dressed after the manner of the menfolk of the time and region, her clothes being the colour of the forest itself, dark and easily merging into the shadows of the forest.

So if you don’t mind you could explain why you’ve been following us,” asked Robin.

That’s easy,” she said, “I saw you robbing the posh gent from the King, and wanted a fair share of the coin, for my folks are dying, mother and sisters, and need food before the end comes for them. And I have yet to eat today, too.”

We only took what we consider belongs to our neighbours,” said Robin, “for Prince John has extracted far more in taxes than is fair or honourable, and we wish to return it.”

Then return some of it to me so that I can offer help to my kin, who need it,” demanded the girl boldly.

I certainly will, for that is the part we play in these dreadful times,” said Robin, “but pray, you spoke of yourself, your mother and your sisters. Who are you, and where do you dwell?”

We are poor folks,” sighed the girl. “I am Ayesha and the four of us live by Butterfold Copse where we were robbed by the Sheriff’s men who claimed we owed them all we had in taxes. Then they burned our strips of withered lands, and left us to die.”

That is a story that is repeated many times in these harsh times,” said Robin. “Tell me, why were you where you were when you spied us waylaying the chest of coin?”

I was there to rob the taxmen myself,” sighed Ayesha, “yet I don’t want you to think that I’m a thief.”

That I don’t,” comforted Robin, “and, Ayesha, before we leave this inn let me fetch for you a man’s drink, for you choose to look like a man, and a crust, with cheese to give you strength, for we are a good hour from Butterfold Copse, and an hour’s toil needs sustenance...”

Their female shadow started weeping softly at the kindness being shown her, and when the victuals arrived she ate hungrily, and washed the bread down with foaming ale, and sighed, and said “That was so good...”

© Peter Rogerson 18.10.17






© 2017 Peter Rogerson



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Added on October 18, 2017
Last Updated on October 18, 2017
Tags: Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood, Merry men, taxes, king's man, robbery, alehouse


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..

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