The Shooting Match at Nottingham Town
THEN THE SHERIFF was very wroth because of this failure to take
jolly Robin, for it came to his ears, as ill news always does,
that the people laughed at him and made a jest of his thinking
to serve a warrant upon such a one as the bold outlaw.
And a man hates nothing so much as being made a jest of; so he said:
"Our gracious lord and sovereign King himself shall know of this,
and how his laws are perverted and despised by this band of rebel outlaws.
As for yon traitor Tinker, him will I hang, if I catch him,
upon the very highest gallows tree in all Nottinghamshire."
Then he bade all his servants and retainers to make ready to go
to London Town, to see and speak with the King.
At this there was bustling at the Sheriff's castle, and men
ran hither and thither upon this business and upon that,
while the forge fires of Nottingham glowed red far into the night
like twinkling stars, for all the smiths of the town were busy
making or mending armor for the Sheriff's troop of escort.
For two days this labor lasted, then, on the third, all was ready
for the journey. So forth they started in the bright sunlight,
from Nottingham Town to Fosse Way and thence to Watling Street;
and so they journeyed for two days, until they saw at last
the spires and towers of great London Town; and many folks stopped,
as they journeyed along, and gazed at the show they made
riding along the highways with their flashing armor and gay
plumes and trappings.
In London King Henry and his fair Queen Eleanor held their court,
gay with ladies in silks and satins and velvets and cloth of gold,
and also brave knights and gallant courtiers.
Thither came the Sheriff and was shown into the King's presence.
"A boon, a boon," quoth he, as he knelt upon the ground.
"Now what wouldst thou have?" said the King. "Let us hear
what may be thy desires."
"O good my Lord and Sovereign," spake the Sheriff, "in Sherwood
in our own good shire of Nottingham, liveth a bold outlaw whose name
is Robin Hood."
"In good sooth," said the King, "his doings have reached
even our own
royal ears. He is a saucy, rebellious varlet, yet, I am fain to own,
a right merry soul withal."
"But hearken, O my most gracious Sovereign," said the Sheriff.
a warrant to him with thine own royal seal attached, by a right
lusty knave, but he beat the messenger and stole the warrant.
And he killeth thy deer and robbeth thine own liege subjects even upon
the great highways."
"Why, how now," quoth the King wrathfully. "What wouldst
thou have me do?
Comest thou not to me with a great array of men-at-arms and retainers,
and yet art not able to take a single band of lusty knaves without armor
on breast, in thine own county! What wouldst thou have me do? Art thou
not my Sheriff? Are not my laws in force in Nottinghamshire? Canst thou
not take thine own course against those that break the laws or do any
injury to thee or thine? Go, get thee gone, and think well; devise some
plan of thine own, but trouble me no further. But look well to it,
Master Sheriff, for I will have my laws obeyed by all men within my kingdom,
and if thou art not able to enforce them thou art no sheriff for me.
So look well to thyself, I say, or ill may befall thee as well as all
the thieving knaves in Nottinghamshire. When the flood cometh it sweepeth
away grain as well as chaff."
Then the Sheriff turned away with a sore and troubled heart,
and sadly he rued his fine show of retainers, for he saw that
the King was angry because he had so many men about him and yet
could not enforce the laws. So, as they all rode slowly back
to Nottingham, the Sheriff was thoughtful and full of care.
Not a word did he speak to anyone, and no one of his men
spoke to him, but all the time he was busy devising some plan
to take Robin Hood.
"Aha!" cried he suddenly, smiting his hand upon his thigh "I
have it now!
Ride on, my merry men all, and let us get back to Nottingham Town as speedily
as we may. And mark well my words: before a fortnight is passed, that evil
knave Robin Hood will be safely clapped into Nottingham gaol."
But what was the Sheriff's plan?
As a usurer takes each one of a bag of silver angels, feeling each coin
to find whether it be clipped or not, so the Sheriff, as all rode slowly
and sadly back toward Nottingham, took up thought after thought in turn,
feeling around the edges of each but finding in every one some flaw.
At last he thought of the daring soul of jolly Robin and how, as he the
Sheriff knew, he often came even within the walls of Nottingham.
"Now," thought the Sheriff, "could I but persuade Robin nigh
to Nottingham Town so that I could find him, I warrant I would lay
hands upon him so stoutly that he would never get away again."
Then of a sudden it came to him like a flash that were he to
proclaim a great shooting match and offer some grand prize,
Robin Hood might be overpersuaded by his spirit to come to the butts;
and it was this thought which caused him to cry "Aha!" and smite
his palm upon his thigh.
So, as soon as he had returned safely to Nottingham, he sent
messengers north and south, and east and west, to proclaim
through town, hamlet, and countryside, this grand shooting match,
and everyone was bidden that could draw a longbow, and the prize
was to be an arrow of pure beaten gold.
When Robin Hood first heard the news of this he was in Lincoln Town,
and hastening back to Sherwood Forest he soon called all his merry
men about him and spoke to them thus:
"Now hearken, my merry men all, to the news that I have brought from
Lincoln Town today. Our friend the Sheriff of Nottingham hath proclaimed
a shooting match, and hath sent messengers to tell of it through
all the countryside, and the prize is to be a bright golden arrow.
Now I fain would have one of us win it, both because of the fairness
of the prize and because our sweet friend the Sheriff hath offered it.
So we will take our bows and shafts and go there to shoot, for I know
right well that merriment will be a-going. What say ye, lads?"
Then young David of Doncaster spoke up and said, "Now listen, I pray
good master, unto what I say. I have come straight from our friend Eadom
the Blue Boar, and there I heard the full news of this same match.
But, master, I know from him, and he got it from the Sheriff's man Ralph
the Scar, that this same knavish Sheriff hath but laid a trap for thee
in this shooting match and wishes nothing so much as to see thee there.
So go not, good master, for I know right well he doth seek to beguile thee,
but stay within the greenwood lest we all meet dole and woe."
"Now," quoth Robin, "thou art a wise lad and keepest thine
open and thy mouth shut, as becometh a wise and crafty woodsman.
But shall we let it be said that the Sheriff of Nottingham
did cow bold Robin Hood and sevenscore as fair archers as are
in all merry England? Nay, good David, what thou tellest me
maketh me to desire the prize even more than I else should do.
But what sayeth our good gossip Swanthold? Is it not `A hasty man
burneth his mouth, and the fool that keepeth his eyes shut falleth
into the pit'? Thus he says, truly, therefore we must meet guile
with guile. Now some of you clothe yourselves as curtal friars,
and some as rustic peasants, and some as tinkers, or as beggars,
but see that each man taketh a good bow or broadsword, in case
need should arise. As for myself, I will shoot for this same
golden arrow, and should I win it, we will hang it to the branches
of our good greenwood tree for the joy of all the band.
How like you the plan, my merry men all?"
Then "Good, good!" cried all the band right heartily.
A fair sight was Nottingham Town on the day of the shooting match.
All along upon the green meadow beneath the town wall stretched
a row of benches, one above the other, which were for knight
and lady, squire and dame, and rich burghers and their wives;
for none but those of rank and quality were to sit there.
At the end of the range, near the target, was a raised seat bedecked
with ribbons and scarfs and garlands of flowers, for the Sheriff
of Nottingham and his dame. The range was twoscore paces broad.
At one end stood the target, at the other a tent of striped canvas,
from the pole of which fluttered many-colored flags and streamers.
In this booth were casks of ale, free to be broached by any
of the archers who might wish to quench their thirst.
Across the range from where the seats for the better folk
were raised was a railing to keep the poorer people from
crowding in front of the target. Already, while it was early,
the benches were beginning to fill with people of quality, who kept
constantly arriving in little carts or upon palfreys that curveted
gaily to the merry tinkle of silver bells at bridle reins.
With these came also the poorer folk, who sat or lay upon the green
grass near the railing that kept them from off the range.
In the great tent the archers were gathering by twos and threes;
some talking loudly of the fair shots each man had made
in his day; some looking well to their bows, drawing a string
betwixt the fingers to see that there was no fray upon it,
or inspecting arrows, shutting one eye and peering down a shaft
to see that it was not warped, but straight and true, for neither
bow nor shaft should fail at such a time and for such a prize.
And never was such a company of yeomen as were gathered
at Nottingham Town that day, for the very best archers
of merry England had come to this shooting match.
There was Gill o' the Red Cap, the Sheriff's own head archer,
and Diccon Cruikshank of Lincoln Town, and Adam o' the Dell,
a man of Tamworth, of threescore years and more, yet hale
and lusty still, who in his time had shot in the famous match
at Woodstock, and had there beaten that renowned archer, Clym o'
the Clough. And many more famous men of the longbow were there,
whose names have been handed down to us in goodly ballads
of the olden time.
But now all the benches were filled with guests, lord and lady,
burgher and dame, when at last the Sheriff himself came with his lady,
he riding with stately mien upon his milk-white horse and she
upon her brown filly. Upon his head he wore a purple velvet cap,
and purple velvet was his robe, all trimmed about with rich ermine;
his jerkin and hose were of sea-green silk, and his shoes
of black velvet, the pointed toes fastened to his garters
with golden chains. A golden chain hung about his neck,
and at his collar was a great carbuncle set in red gold.
His lady was dressed in blue velvet, all trimmed with swan's down.
So they made a gallant sight as they rode along side by side,
and all the people shouted from where they crowded across
the space from the gentlefolk; so the Sheriff and his lady came
to their place, where men-at-arms, with hauberk and spear,
stood about, waiting for them.
Then when the Sheriff and his dame had sat down, he bade his herald wind
upon his silver horn; who thereupon sounded three blasts that came echoing
cheerily back from the gray walls of Nottingham. Then the archers stepped
forth to their places, while all the folks shouted with a mighty voice,
each man calling upon his favorite yeoman. "Red Cap!" cried some;
"Cruikshank!" cried others; "Hey for William o' Leslie!"
yet again; while ladies waved silken scarfs to urge each yeoman to
do his best.
Then the herald stood forth and loudly proclaimed the rules
of the game as follows:
"Shoot each man from yon mark, which is sevenscore yards and ten from
the target. One arrow shooteth each man first, and from all the archers
shall the ten that shooteth the fairest shafts be chosen for to shoot again.
Two arrows shooteth each man of these ten, then shall the three that shoot
the fairest shafts be chosen for to shoot again. Three arrows shooteth
each man of those three, and to him that shooteth the fairest shafts shall
the prize be given."
Then the Sheriff leaned forward, looking keenly among the press
of archers to find whether Robin Hood was among them; but no one was
there clad in Lincoln green, such as was worn by Robin and his band.
"Nevertheless," said the Sheriff to himself, "he may still
be there, and I miss him among the crowd of other men.
But let me see when but ten men shoot, for I wot he will be among
the ten, or I know him not."
And now the archers shot, each man in turn, and the good folk never saw
such archery as was done that day. Six arrows were within the clout,
four within the black, and only two smote the outer ring; so that when
the last arrow sped and struck the target, all the people shouted aloud,
for it was noble shooting.
And now but ten men were left of all those that had shot before,
and of these ten, six were famous throughout the land, and most
of the folk gathered there knew them. These six men were Gilbert o'
the Red Cap, Adam o' the Dell, Diccon Cruikshank, William o'
Leslie, Hubert o' Cloud, and Swithin o' Hertford. Two others were
yeomen of merry Yorkshire, another was a tall stranger in blue,
who said he came from London Town, and the last was a tattered
stranger in scarlet, who wore a patch over one eye.
"Now," quoth the Sheriff to a man-at-arms who stood near him,
"seest thou Robin Hood among those ten?"
"Nay, that do I not, Your Worship," answered the man.
"Six of them I know right well. Of those Yorkshire yeomen,
one is too tall and the other too short for that bold knave.
Robin's beard is as yellow as gold, while yon tattered beggar
in scarlet hath a beard of brown, besides being blind of one eye.
As for the stranger in blue, Robin's shoulders, I ween,
are three inches broader than his."
"Then," quoth the Sheriff, smiting his thigh angrily, "yon
is a coward as well as a rogue, and dares not show his face among
good men and true."
Then, after they had rested a short time, those ten stout men stepped
forth to shoot again. Each man shot two arrows, and as they shot,
not a word was spoken, but all the crowd watched with scarce a breath
of sound; but when the last had shot his arrow another great shout arose,
while many cast their caps aloft for joy of such marvelous shooting.
"Now by our gracious Lady fair," quoth old Sir Amyas o'
the Dell, who, bowed with fourscore years and more, sat near
the Sheriff, "ne'er saw I such archery in all my life before,
yet have I seen the best hands at the longbow for threescore
years and more."
And now but three men were left of all those that had shot before.
One was Gill o' the Red Cap, one the tattered stranger in scarlet,
and one Adam o' the Dell of Tamworth Town. Then all the people
called aloud, some crying, "Ho for Gilbert o' the Red Cap!"
and some, "Hey for stout Adam o' Tamworth!" But not a single
man in the crowd called upon the stranger in scarlet.
"Now, shoot thou well, Gilbert," cried the Sheriff, "and
be the best shaft, fivescore broad silver pennies will I give
to thee beside the prize."
"Truly I will do my best," quoth Gilbert right sturdily.
"A man cannot do aught but his best, but that will I strive
to do this day." So saying, he drew forth a fair smooth arrow
with a broad feather and fitted it deftly to the string,
then drawing his bow with care he sped the shaft.
Straight flew the arrow and lit fairly in the clout,
a finger's-breadth from the center. "A Gilbert, a Gilbert!"
shouted all the crowd; and, "Now, by my faith," cried the Sheriff,
smiting his hands together, "that is a shrewd shot."
Then the tattered stranger stepped forth, and all the people laughed
as they saw a yellow patch that showed beneath his arm when he raised
his elbow to shoot, and also to see him aim with but one eye.
He drew the good yew bow quickly, and quickly loosed a shaft;
so short was the time that no man could draw a breath betwixt
the drawing and the shooting; yet his arrow lodged nearer the center
than the other by twice the length of a barleycorn.
"Now by all the saints in Paradise!" cried the Sheriff,
"that is a lovely shaft in very truth!"
Then Adam o' the Dell shot, carefully and cautiously, and his
arrow lodged close beside the stranger's. Then after a short
space they all three shot again, and once more each arrow lodged
within the clout, but this time Adam o' the Dell's was farthest
from the center, and again the tattered stranger's shot was
the best. Then, after another time of rest, they all shot for
the third time. This time Gilbert took great heed to his aim,
keenly measuring the distance and shooting with shrewdest care.
Straight flew the arrow, and all shouted till the very flags
that waved in the breeze shook with the sound, and the rooks
and daws flew clamoring about the roofs of the old gray tower,
for the shaft had lodged close beside the spot that marked
the very center.
"Well done, Gilbert!" cried the Sheriff right joyously.
"Fain am I to believe the prize is thine, and right fairly won.
Now, thou ragged knave, let me see thee shoot a better
shaft than that."
Nought spake the stranger but took his place, while all was hushed,
and no one spoke or even seemed to breathe, so great was the silence
for wonder what he would do. Meanwhile, also, quite still stood
the stranger, holding his bow in his hand, while one could count five;
then he drew his trusty yew, holding it drawn but a moment,
then loosed the string. Straight flew the arrow, and so true
that it smote a gray goose feather from off Gilbert's shaft,
which fell fluttering through the sunlit air as the stranger's arrow
lodged close beside his of the Red Cap, and in the very center.
No one spoke a word for a while and no one shouted, but each man
looked into his neighbor's face amazedly.
"Nay," quoth old Adam o' the Dell presently, drawing a long breath
and shaking his head as he spoke, "twoscore years and more have I
shot shaft, and maybe not all times bad, but I shoot no more this day,
for no man can match with yon stranger, whosoe'er he may be."
Then he thrust his shaft into his quiver, rattling, and unstrung
his bow without another word.
Then the Sheriff came down from his dais and drew near, in all his
silks and velvets, to where the tattered stranger stood leaning upon
his stout bow, while the good folk crowded around to see the man
who shot so wondrously well. "Here, good fellow," quoth the Sheriff,
"take thou the prize, and well and fairly hast thou won it, I bow.
What may be thy name, and whence comest thou?"
"Men do call me Jock o' Teviotdale, and thence am I come,"
said the stranger.
"Then, by Our Lady, Jock, thou art the fairest archer that e'er mine
eyes beheld, and if thou wilt join my service I will clothe thee with a
better coat than that thou hast upon thy back; thou shalt eat and drink
of the best, and at every Christmastide fourscore marks shall be thy wage.
I trow thou drawest better bow than that same coward knave Robin Hood,
that dared not show his face here this day. Say, good fellow, wilt thou
join my service?"
"Nay, that will I not," quoth the stranger roughly.
"I will be mine own, and no man in all merry England shall
be my master."
"Then get thee gone, and a murrain seize thee!" cried the Sheriff,
and his voice trembled with anger. "And by my faith and troth,
I have a good part of a mind to have thee beaten for thine insolence!"
Then he turned upon his heel and strode away.
It was a right motley company that gathered about the noble
greenwood tree in Sherwood's depths that same day.
A score and more of barefoot friars were there, and some that
looked like tinkers, and some that seemed to be sturdy beggars
and rustic hinds; and seated upon a mossy couch was one all clad
in tattered scarlet, with a patch over one eye; and in his
hand he held the golden arrow that was the prize of the great
shooting match. Then, amidst a noise of talking and laughter,
he took the patch from off his eye and stripped away the scarlet
rags from off his body and showed himself all clothed in fair
Lincoln green; and quoth he, "Easy come these things away,
but walnut stain cometh not so speedily from yellow hair."
Then all laughed louder than before, for it was Robin Hood
himself that had won the prize from the Sheriff's very hands.
Then all sat down to the woodland feast and talked among themselves
of the merry jest that had been played upon the Sheriff, and of the
adventures that had befallen each member of the band in his disguise.
But when the feast was done, Robin Hood took Little John apart and said,
"Truly am I vexed in my blood, for I heard the Sheriff say today,
`Thou shootest better than that coward knave Robin Hood, that dared
not show his face here this day.' I would fain let him know who it
was who won the golden arrow from out his hand, and also that I am
no coward such as he takes me to be."
Then Little John said, "Good master, take thou me and Will Stutely,
and we will send yon fat Sheriff news of all this by a messenger
such as he doth not expect."
That day the Sheriff sat at meat in the great hall of his
house at Nottingham Town. Long tables stood down the hall,
at which sat men-at-arms and household servants and good stout
villains, in all fourscore and more. There they talked of
the day's shooting as they ate their meat and quaffed their ale.
The Sheriff sat at the head of the table upon a raised seat
under a canopy, and beside him sat his dame.
"By my troth," said he, "I did reckon full roundly that that
knave Robin Hood
would be at the game today. I did not think that he was such a coward.
But who could that saucy knave be who answered me to my beard so bravely?
I wonder that I did not have him beaten; but there was something about him
that spoke of other things than rags and tatters."
Then, even as he finished speaking, something fell rattling among
the dishes on the table, while those that sat near started up wondering
what it might be. After a while one of the men-at-arms gathered courage
enough to pick it up and bring it to the Sheriff. Then everyone
saw that it was a blunted gray goose shaft, with a fine scroll,
about the thickness of a goose quill, tied near to its head.
The Sheriff opened the scroll and glanced at it, while the veins upon
his forehead swelled and his cheeks grew ruddy with rage as he read,
for this was what he saw:
"_Now Heaven bless Thy Grace this day
Say all in sweet Sherwood
For thou didst give the prize away
To merry Robin Hood_."
"Whence came this?" cried the Sheriff in a mighty voice.
"Even through the window, Your Worship," quoth the man who had
the shaft to him.
Top of Page
Room | The
Merry Adventures of Robin Hood