“You blithering idiot!” stormed the Sheriff of Nottingham. “How can you let it happen to you again? This is the second time in three weeks!! Don’t you learn any sense?”
So saying, he snorted in disgust and stomped away, not waiting to watch his soldiers untie an embarrassed Guy of Gisborne, dressed in only his undergarments, strapped backwards to his horse with his own belt and reins.
“That’s another secondment of taxes lost,” he yelled, a few minutes later, as Guy stood before him. “I don’t know what Prince John will have to say about your incompetence, when he arrives next week. You’ll be lucky to keep your head! Why didn’t you take a different route, like we had agreed, you nincompoop!”
“B-b-but I did,” stammered the woebegone knight, “I did. I followed the route exactly as you said. But there he was again, with dozens of others, hidden in the trees, suddenly firing volleys of arrows around us and making a tremendous hullabaloo. All the horses reared and then bolted, taking most of the guards with them. I was left with just the two fellows on the wagon. Even you couldn’t have done anymore.” he whined and then, more boldy, “Do you think I like being made a fool of all the time?”
“What I think is of little importance, compared with what Prince John will say, unless we can come up with a plan to capture that man, and make an example of him once and for all. You had better get your thinking cap on if you want to survive the visit! Now go and clean yourself up – you look and smell revolting – you’re’not fit to be seen at my supper table.”
The Sheriff turned away, yelling at a nearby servant, “Go and get my bath ready and make sure it is hot enough this time!”
“I’ve got it, I’ve got it,” Guy barged excitedly into the Sheriff’s chambers, “listen ..”
“I don’t care what you’ve got, you blockhead! You don’t come in here without knocking! Now GET OUT!”
“But.. but.. just listen a minute,” Guy pressed on quickly, “I know how we can trap Robin Hood. We get him to come to us.”
Intrigued, the Sheriff sat back on his throne-like chair and beckoned Guy to sit beside him. “Come to us, eh? How do you propose we do that?”
.“We set him a challenge he can’t resist! A shooting match, in honour of Prince John, with an open invitation to all the best archers in the area to compete for a silver arrow.”
“Mmmm,” the sheriff ruminated, “an archery contest. Do you think he would take the bait? Won’t he smell a rat?”
“Maybe, but I think he’ll come anyway,” Guy said eagerly. “He takes a lot of pride in people saying he is the best archer in Nottingham .. he would not want anyone else to get that crown.”
“D’you know, I think you’re right. For once I think you are right.” The Sheriff looked at Gisborne speculatively. “Maybe riding backwards on a horse has shaken up your brains! Perhaps you should do it more often!” and he roared with laughter as Guy’s humiliation flushed his face.
“However,” and here the Sheriff thrust his head menacingly towards the discomforted knight. “He is bound to come in disguise. You know what he looks like - better than anyone – make sure you keep a sharp look out and don’t let him slip through your fingers again!”
And, with a look of gleeful malice upon his face, the Sheriff of Nottingham strode past Guy of Gisborne into a room with a table piled high with sumptuous food.
Three days later, in a leafy glade, deep in the heart of Sherwood Forest, a group of men and women sat chatting and laughing around a fire pit, roasting a huge haunch of venison.
“So, who’s our next guest to be then Robin?” guffawed a mountain of a man, “Prince John himself on his way to the Sheriff?”
“Nay John,” laughed Robin, “I would rather take his taxes than his person at the moment. We will leave his downfall to good King Richard himself, when he returns. But the Abbot of St Mary’s..”
“Robin, Robin,” a young man came bounding into the clearing waving a leaflet. “Look at this. They’re holding an archery contest – for a silver arrow.”
He sank breathlessly down as Robin took the paper, read it and looked up, his eyes sparkling.
“They’re honouring Prince John’s visit. It’s to take place on Saturday on the green outside the castle and all archers are welcome. The winner will be proclaimed the best archer in all middle England and receive the arrow from John himself.”
Pandemonium broke out.
“It’s a trap!”
“You can’t go.” yelled from all sides.
Grinning, Robin held up his hand and the hubbub subsided.
“Of course it’s a trap! The Sheriff thinks of the glory, to catch me there, in front of Prince John. I relish the idea of the triumph of making him look an abject fool, in front of his vile master. And, in any case, how can I allow anyone else to receive the title of best archer?”
He looked around the band of loyal men and women.
“Come friends, let us get our heads together and plan carefully. That blockhead Gisborne knows many of us well, to his great distress and our great merriment.”
The whole band burst into laughter remembering his discomfiture on the horse.
“Marion, what disguises do we have within our store? Will, Alan, you are the two best archers, please enter the contest too, so you can be in the enclosure with me. Little John, you and…” and so the planning went on throughout the day and well into the next.
Meanwhile, whilst the contest was being organized, the Sheriff and Gisborne were laying their traps.
Prince John and his entourage arrived at Nottingham to be welcomed by a fawning Sheriff and a groveling Guy of Gisborne. When informed of the contest and its reason, the prince guffawed with delight. He loathed the outlaw Robin Hood, both for his successful attacks on the guards carrying his taxes and also for Robin’s loyalty to his hated brother, King Richard, whom he wished to depose.
On the day of the event, people arrived from far and near – some as contestants, many to watch and, not a few, hoping to make an honest living plying their wares, taking advantage of the holiday mood of the crowd.
The pennants fluttered in the breeze. The highly decorated royal stand displayed at its fore a beautifully crafted silver arrow. The targets were set up and the contest stewards were all in place. During the morning, those taking part gave their names and livings to the recorder.
The heats started at midday and, amidst cheering from the onlookers, over 100 archers were whittled down to 40; amongst those were a number wearing hoods, making it difficult for the watchful Gisborne to see their faces.
The targets were moved 10 yards back and the second round began. The crowd’s excitement mounted as archer after archer hit the rings around the bullseye. A band of old, ragged bystanders cheered as loudly as the rest, despite needing to lean on thick staves to hobble about.
Only 10 contestants had managed to get the bullseye, including two Norman knights and 3 hooded yeomen.
Again the target was moved backwards and the contest began in earnest. Three arrows each were allowed. A hush fell over the crowd as each archer carefully pulled back their bowstring, aimed and let go, to send their arrows flying towards the target. A low moan escaped the mouths of the onlookers if one failed to reach the centre circle. Each bull’s eye was greeted by a hearty cheer.
When the shooting finished, the arrows were counted and allotted to their archers; only 4 managed to get 3 bull’s eyes: a knight, an archer from York and two hooded yeomen. Once again the target was moved, once again three arrows each were allowed. Finally only the knight and one of the hooded men had managed to send all arrows to the centre.
Guy of Gisborne was almost dancing with delight, so sure was he that the hooded man was his target today, and that this was a contest he would win!
The target was moved to its final distant position and each man chose one arrow only. The Norman knight aimed carefully, waited and … let go.
The crowd drew in their breaths and held them as the arrow whizzed straight and true and thudded into the very middle of the bull’s eye. An ‘Ooooh’ of amazement ran through the onlookers, followed by a groan from many who had hoped to see the Norman beaten. But there was no chance now to better that winning shot.
However, the yeoman stepped forward, slowly and deliberately pulled back the bowstring, looked carefully along the shaft of the arrow and ‘twang’, the arrow shot from the string and sped forward.
Again the watchers drew in their breaths, their eyes fixed on the flight. ‘Thwack!’ the arrow hit and cleaved in two the Norman’s shaft burying its head into the very centre of the mark.
A moment’s stunned silence was followed by an almighty roar, as the crowd erupted into jubilation, yelling, shouting, jumping, hugging and yelling again. The Norman knight glowered, but the hooded yeoman stood still amid the chaotic celebrations happening around.
An evil grin spread across the Sheriff’s face and Gisborne stood hugging himself with pleasure. Their moment of triumph was almost upon them.
Prince John rose from his throne and held his hand aloft. Gradually the hubbub subsided.
“Let the winning archer step forward to receive his just reward.” The Prince declared descending the steps to where the Sheriff and Gisborne waited at either side to hand him the arrow.
The hooded man slowly made his way to the steps and the crowd surged forward.
“I hereby bestow this arrow on the best archer of Middle England,” proclaimed the Prince.
As the yeoman reached out his hand to take it, Gisborne swiftly leant forward and yanked back his hood.
“Robin Hood,” he yelled, “traitor and outlaw! I hereby arrest you for treason and robbery. Seize him!”
At the same instant, the other two hooded contestants drew their bows on the two Norman knights and snatched their weapons from them.
The band of ragged men, straightened up, swiftly fanned out and raised their staffs into the air, menacing the soldiers at the edge of the crowd.
Quick as a flash, Robin seized the silver arrow, fitted it to his bow and aimed at Prince John’s throat.
“Stop!” he cried to the soldiers running down the steps to carry out Gisborne’s order. “One more step and your treacherous Prince receives this arrow back!”
The men halted glancing to Gisborne and the Sheriff for orders.
“Stay where you are!” Gisborne called,”Do as he says.”
“Let me and my men leave in peace,” said Robin. “Then no innocent gets hurt or slain on this festive day.”
“Agreed,” replied Gisborne quickly, “You may all go unharmed from the ground.”
Robin’s eyes narrowed. Gisborne was letting his quarry slip through his hands too easily. What else was afoot?
He backed, his eyes never leaving Prince John, his bow at the ready. All around, his men moved carefully towards him, keeping their eyes and weapons on the soldiers and knights. “Go quickly,” whispered Robin,” I fear more treachery. Keep alert with weapons ready.”
His men streamed from the grounds, towards the forest. Robin followed, keeping the silver arrow pointed at Prince John.
“Run,” Robin yelled as soon as he was through the gates.
They were no more than a quarter of the way to the forest when the pounding of hooves was heard and the Sheriff’s guard poured out of Nottingham castle.
Robin and his archers stopped and sent a volley of arrows into the horde, causing chaos with rearing horses and fallen men.
Robin’s band turned and ran on faster hoping to reach the shelter of the trees before they could regroup.
Then, from nearby bushes, sprang up men wearing Gisborne’s colours, firing a shower of arrows into the fleeing outlaws. Their fire was returned twofold by Robin’s angered men and Gisborne’s soldiers fled under the hailstorm – having even less spirit than their overlord.
But then, Little John sank to the ground groaning, “My knee, my knee. I cannot move another step.” Sure enough, an arrow had pierced his knee and blood was pouring on the ground.
“Leave me, I beg, save yourselves.” The big man groaned. “But don’t let the Sheriff take me. Finish me off swiftly before you go.”
“Nonsense”, the outlaws gathered round.”We kill none of our own like a dog.”
“Give him to me,” said Much, “ I may be small but I can carry huge sacks of flour.”
Immediately the other outlaws hauled John onto the Miller’s back and he staggered towards the forest, with his comrades covering his progress with sporadic waves of arrows.
Despite this, the Sheriff’s men had regrouped and were galloping across the fields toward the outlaw band, halted only for a short time by each arrow volley, rapidly nearing their quarry. There was no way Robin and his men could reach the forest in time.
Robin started to plan how some of them would take a stand, to let the others escape, when the thunder of hooves was heard in front of them.
“Surrounded,” groaned Robin.
“No,” yelled Alan, “look!”
Out of the forest charged Marion and small band of women on horseback, leading more than a dozen horses, streaming at full pelt towards the beleaguered band.
The women surrounded the outlaws, leapt from their horses and started firing deadly volleys into the pursuing horsemen. The men hauled Little John over the back of one horse, mounted the others as swift as lightning and the women leapt up behind them keeping up their barrage of arrows.
They galloped to the forest edge and into the trees at a speed others could not follow, down tracks others could not find. Soon they reached their hidden glade and Little John’s wound was tended to. “That wasn’t part of my plan,” said Robin sternly to Marion, “you were meant to stay hidden in the forest!” “And if we had?” laughed Marion. “Three cheers for our womenfolk,” Little John called gruffly. “I for one, be very glad this day that they be true women, not like those spineless Norman dolls!”