20. THE PATENT MEDICINE MAN - PART 2

20. THE PATENT MEDICINE MAN - PART 2

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
"

Even a desperate criminal deserves understanding and a fair hearing

"

Are you sure, Tuck?” asked Robin Hood, frowning. “It seemed to me that the rogue had murdered an old woman, who had stolen her secrets and was out and about making a rich living from the fears of those who can’t even afford to have fears let alone quackery and worthless cures for the many ailments that afflict our world, and is in need of a rope round his neck!”

That is, in essence, true,” admitted Tuck. “Let me put it like this, Robin. He was born but eleven or twelve years ago to the poorest woman anywhere, one so poor that her own body, weakened by starvation, couldn’t take the strain of pushing him into the world, and so he was brought up by a father who was himself so confused by hunger and drink that it’s a miracle the lad lived to be old enough to seek independence. But he did, and with no knowledge of the world went out to seek a living.”

But he murdered an old woman?”

Friar Tuck nodded. “I’m not going to exonerate him,” he said, “but an enlightened judge would take his appalling first years in life as an excuse for just about anything, and remember, by many definitions he is still a child himself.”

But judges are far from being enlightened,” muttered Robin. “You know as well as I do that there is no greater pleasure for the sheriff than to order a man, or woman as often or not, to the gallows and take pleasure as they dangle.”

And that’s what’s set for the boy,” nodded Friar Tuck. “It seems very wrong to me that the so-called rogue should be condemned to death because nobody taught him that it is wrong to kill another, but a hard life provided him with the kind of childhood in which he learned it might be right.”

Then I will be the judge!” decided Robin Hood. “Where is he now?”

Languishing in a cell in the castle in Nottingham from where, I heard, he is to be taken and hanged this very afternoon before the sun sets.”

Then we have no time to lose!” snapped Robin. “Ruth, will you be my aide? And you can say no, for the task I have for you may well be dangerous.”

She nodded. “I will, Robin,” she said quietly.

You are not so much older than the lad yourself,” Robin told her as he armed himself with a full quiver and checked his bow. “How well do you know the world?”

She looked at him, surprised at the question and not fully understanding it. “I know those parts I am acquainted with quite well,” she said, “but believe there are many parts I know nothing of at all.”

That is well said!” agreed Robin, “and let us assume, for the moment and unless we discover otherwise, that Kid Picky, the condemned boy, would make a similar claim, and when asked would show us that his ignorance is indeed great.”

She nodded. “That much is most likely true,” she whispered.

Then come! Just the two of us should do the trick, and as we journey the miles to Nottingham we will discuss the best means of saving the lad!”

Are you sure you don’t need a strong arm in the rear, Robin?” asked Little John, “just in case?”

I feel that this adventure will prove not to be one of strength but rather one of guile,” murmured Robin. “Ruth, clad yourself in the garments you wore when we met you. They have, I believe, been refreshed and cleansed...”

She nodded, and swiftly pulled off the attire chosen from Marion’s old stuff, things she had outgrown years ago and which had proved serviceable for the younger Ruth, and dressed herself in the simple robes she had worn on her journey from the Priory where she had been a novitiate.

Then the two of them set off, Robin whispering his plan to her as they went. The hideaway used by the outlaws was a good hour’s fast walk from Nottingham even by the short ways known to Robin, and when they arrived at the walls it was already not far short of noon.

Can you do it?” whispered Robin, “for it is indeed a brave task I place on you?”

She grinned impishly at him. “If any man could do it, then I’m sure I could,” she replied.

I doubt any man could,” he said quietly, “but you are a woman...”

I’ll do my best,” she assured him.

Then she made her way round the wall until she came to the city gate, with Robin shadowing her, under cover whenever he could find it. It had a heavy knocker wrought from iron, and she lifted it, surprised at its weight, and let it fall onto a beating board put there to protect the substance of the gate, which was like a huge latticed door made from Sherwood oak.

A helmeted soldier appeared and stared at her with suspicion. “Well, what is it?” he barked.

I am here from the Priory of Saint Margaret,” she told him, “sent by the Abbot with orders to pray with the condemned prisoner before he is sent back to his Maker with a stretched neck.”

He is to see no-one!” snapped the guard, “on orders from the Sheriff,” he added sharply.

Oh,” frowned Ruth, pulling her scarf closer to her head, “then I will return to my master the Abbot who is presently at prayers with the Bishop, and inform him that God’s work cannot be done in Nottingham.”

The words the Bishop resonated in the guard’s head, for those times were complicated by opinions spread by the religious hierarchy, often petty commands with a purely local significance, but issued in such a way that it seemed to those who didn’t know the methods of the church that they came from Rome and from the Pope himself.

If I turn this tasty young nun away and the sheriff is caught in a confrontation with Rome then it may be my neck that’s stretched, thought the guard, and at the back of his mind he savoured the thought tasty young nun.

I will send a message to the sheriff and see what he decides,” he replied grumpily, “meanwhile you can enter the city and wait in my porch until such time as I either take you before him or cast you out on his orders, and not before I’ve shown you what a man’s made of!”

Ruth was left in a tiny cubicle where that guard spent most of his days, and it was some time before he returned, scowling.

I am to take you for a five minute prayer to the scumbag,” he said, “and you’d better find a little minute for me afterwards because I’m not so fond of the stinking dungeons and the cells.”

She knew what he meant by a little minute and assured herself that no minute was brief enough for her to spend a second of it with a surly individual like this grumpy guard. Anyway, she had a task and it involved separating him from his consciousness for a while.

The scheme was simplicity itself. Once they were down in the cells, a damp, fetid environment with death seeming to cling to the very air itself and not a shaft of daylight ever finding its way down she stared in horror at the boy in irons, almost hanging with his arms outstretched from a rusty loop set into the wall.

This is no way for a man to pray!” she protested to the guard, “I must leave so that I can tell the Bishop of the obstacles placed between this prisoner and his God!”

I’ll release him, but for just five minutes,” growled the guard, holding a huge bunch of large iron keys and turning the lock in the rust-brown barred door to the cell. It creaked, and clicked, and the gate swung open.

He then unlocked the irons that held the boy, and the latter slumped to the ground, in tears, looking more like a child than a condemned murderer.

You poor boy,” whispered Ruth, and she turned to the guard. “If you let us, we will pray now,” she said, “five minutes is not very long when the prayers are travelling to Heaven.”

He growled grumpily and turned to go, and in the fleetest instant she pulled a wooden batten that had been concealed under her cloak and brought it down with ferocious force onto that guard’s head.

Come,” she said to Kid Picky, “we have but moments, and your life is in the balance!”

The boy tried to stand, but couldn’t unaided. He had been subjected to cruel torture before confessing to all manner of crimes though, oddly, not the murder of the hag called Mother Inkpot. So she had to help him. She was slight in build herself, but she managed to drag the prisoner from his cell and locked the door behind them.

I knew you’d need a heavy hand to help,” came a voice, and she sighed her relief, for it was the voice of Robin Hood who had trailed her through the castle to this very bleak place.

And together they carried the semi-conscious prisoner through the maze that was the castle dungeons and to the way they had entered.

Home,” gasped Robin, and with the youth beginning to find some strength they slipped rapidly under the cover of the forest and as swiftly as they could away from any pursuit that was bound to come searching for them.

But Robin Hood knew the wiles of an outlaw, and Ruth knew they were safe.

© Peter Rogerson 21.10.17





© 2017 Peter Rogerson



My Review

Would you like to review this Chapter?
Login | Register




Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Stats

92 Views
Added on October 21, 2017
Last Updated on October 21, 2017
Tags: Robin Hood, Ruth, Sherwood Forest, Sheriff of Nottingham, prisoner, escape


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