21. DEATH DUTIES AND A WIDOW

21. DEATH DUTIES AND A WIDOW

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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A parallel in medieval times to the behaviour of governments today, insisting that the dying are fit for work!

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Friar Tuck mopped his forehead and sighed, “Tom Comby passed away last night,” he said to Robin, “and we were all expecting him to last until Michaelmas at least.”

Tom Comby from half way to Bliddorth?” asked Robin Hood, surprised, “I only saw him a few days ago, sowing his strip and eager as a ferret in a pair of puffling pants!”

The Friar grinned at the comparison, and then frowned. “He shouldn’t have been made to go,” he said, shaking his head, “he wasn’t fit for it. Any man could see that. But the fat man in his manor house thought different and it was either kit up for a fight against the Scots who reckon they own the world and might or might not be eager for a fight, or be hanged at the gibbet for refusing.”

So how did he die?” asked Robin, intrigued. “he told me, what, just days ago, that he often had pains in his chest and had to lie down before his heart burst, and I told him to take it easy and he’d last for ever!”

He weren’t a well man,” sighed the friar, “and his woman’s so filled with grief at his passing she might go herself, for she’s not as strong as she might be. It was cruel what the lord in his fancy manor did, making a sick man kit up for battle when there’s plenty of fat spoilt brats whooping it up and doing nowt of any value seeing as they’ve got it made in the shape of inheritance.”

So did anyone say why he must go, he being in the state he was and the skirmish likely to separate quite a few heads from their necks if it happened?” asked Robin.

Simple, Robin. He’s a man and he’s bound to his manor and if his chieftain says do this, then this he must do, and if his chieftain says do that...”

Then that he must do,” sighed the outlaw chief.

That’s about the shape of it,” nodded Friar Tuck. “But something ought to be done about it. They make decisions in the big house, they reckon a man’s fit enough to go to battle if he can lift up an axe and swing it and pay no account as to how long he might be able to do it for, as long as he can separate one Scottish head from its shoulders he’s fit for battle, no messing.”

And no regard as to what he leaves behind,” said Robin grimly, “as I said, I was talking to him not so many days ago, old Tom Comby, and he said as his good lady’s in the family way, expecting a second and the first not yet weaned.”

Ella Comby,” murmured Friar Tuck, “as nice a woman as you could hope to meet and now with a burden I wouldn’t wish on any woman, not having a man around to toil and use his muscles to provide the victuals.”

I know her,” agreed Robin, “and after this news that you’ve given me I’m off to call on her this very afternoon, and I’ll take Marion with me if she wants to come along.”

That way people won’t talk,” grinned Friar Tuck.

They’d better not talk anyway, what with her being a recent widow, no matter how fair she is to look upon!” growled Robin Hood.

He and Maid Marion, his attractive and winsome lass, set off soon after noon, aiming for the village where the Combys lived, and they were approaching the outskirts of what was in reality little more than a small hamlet when they came upon two of the sheriff’s men going the same way. Although not all of the officials from the castle recognised Robin Hood and fewer knew Maid Marion, they vanished into the shadows of the undergrowth anyway, not wishing to be seen. Anonymity was the byword for outlaws because life was safer that way.

Hush! Listen!” hissed Robin to Marion, for the two officials were talking and jesting and he had long discovered that important intelligence can be gleaned from such conversations.

They say she’s fair to look upon,” said one of the two.

And she’s promised to me!” growled the other, “the sheriff said as I could have the first widow woman to come free this year, and she’s it!”

That’s plain unfair,” grumbled the other, “you’ve got a woman at home, no great looker that’s true, but she stews a fair enough pot when a bloke’s hungry.”

You stop badmouthing my w***e,” growled his companion, “and I’ll tell you what. You can have her for a night now and then, for a whole night mark my words, and all the victuals she can give you, when I’ve got the widow Comby between my thighs. Meanwhile we’ve a job to do, and that’s collect death duties from her while she’s still got two farthings to rub together or neither of us’ll get anything.”

That’s disgusting,” hissed Marion.

It’s worse than that,” said Robin grimly, and notching his arrow to the taut string of his bow he leapt out of his hiding place, face like thunder, and faced the two officers of law and order from the sheriff’s office.

Is that the way you treat a recent widow?” he asked, his voice coming through clenched teeth and sounding as grim as death itself, “dividing her between you when she’s grieving for a man worthier than the two of you put together!”

No woman worthy of the name would lie with either of you scumbags!” put in Marion, standing next to her man and just as fierce.

I have a problem,” went on Robin Hood, “I don’t like piercing an unarmed man with one of my arrows, for it goes against me sense of decency and honour. But you two have earned a prick or two from close quarters, armed or not.”

Who’s unarmed?” jeered the more foolish of the two, and he produced a blade, akin to a dagger but somewhat stunted where it had been broken short some time in the past. “What do you think this is, scoundrel? And we’ve heard of you lot living crude lives in the Greenwood, cohorts of that there Robin Hood and desperate as sin!”

You think me a scoundrel?” asked Robin, and from the tone of his voice Marion knew what was about to happen. And it did. She saw him pulling on his bow and then, an instant later, heard the arrow as it flew straight and true and cut through the man’s chest and cleaving through to the other side.

It’s as well the fellow wasn’t unarmed,” said Robin to the surviving sheriff’s man and notching another arrow, “for, as I said, I don’t approve of shooting unarmed men, however evil they may be.”

It was then that the survivor made a mistake, for he, like the other, drew a blade from its sheath at his waist, and took one step towards Robin Hood.

It was the last step he ever took.

I don’t like this. It’s messy,” muttered Robin, “but those two disgusted me. Yet it’s not so much their fault as the attitude that reigns in the castle at Nottingham, encouraged by that sheriff who is the one who deserved to die for spreading this kind of evil like a veil over the land. But come, Marion, we must hurry before news of this gets to Nottingham, as sure as sure it will, for the Sheriff has eyes and ears everywhere.”

What are we to do, Robin?” asked Marion.

We must let it be known that the widow Comby paid her last farthing to two officers from Nottingham who went off in great glee and spent a great deal of the illegal death taxes devised by the sheriff in an alehouse, from where they staggered blindly off and were never seen again, living or dead. That’s not so rare a story to be doubted, for the crass creatures preferred by the sheriff are very much that sort of man.”

Had we best not conceal them, though?” asked Marion.

Robin Hood scowled. “I don’t like to touch their filthy flesh, but I guess you’re right,” he muttered, “wait where you are while I swiftly scrape suitable shallow grave for them! Then we’ll be off, inform the widow of our deeds and swear her to silence, and return home in time for a cup of something hot and, if I’m to be lucky, an early night!”

You’ll be lucky, my big, big man,” murmured Marion, blushing.

© Peter Rogerson 22.10.17




© 2017 Peter Rogerson



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Added on October 22, 2017
Last Updated on October 22, 2017
Tags: Robin Hood, Maid Marion, Friar Tuck, Sheriff of Nottingham, taxation, poverty


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