Robin Hood - Good Samaritan?
Marian Fitzwater Interviews
Stepping lightly forward, the tall bronzed fellow holding a broad smile greets me courteously in a gentle voice: 'Welcome gracious lady - welcome!'
Dressed all in Lincoln green, he doffs his cap to reveal a head full of careless brown curls that almost fall into his twinkling eyes. Younger than I expected, he looks at me with eyes that dance with merriment. Can I detect an added touch of mockery behind them? Perhaps.
'Please join me in a glass of wine and a plate of oysters . . . and perhaps some lampreys cooked in butter,' he invites me and there is scarcely time to answer before he commands the victualler to bring his order. The victualling-house next to St. Ann's Well - famed for its rejuvenating spring water - is our agreed meeting place.
It is difficult to tell that he has spent most of his life in the forest for he displays every courtesy - a grip, firm but light upon my arm as he guides me into the adjoining arbour, a dusting down of the wooden seat with his cap and then a gracious gesture of his arm as he entreats me to take a seat beside him at the oak table.
The interwoven oak boughs covering the arbour allow a pleasant view of the forest; a natural wooden screen that helps to keep at bay the autumn mist and doubtless provides welcome shade from the hot sun during the summer.
Realisation dawns on me why Robin Hood has chosen this particular rendezvous. Not only is there freshness and free music in the air - the birds are singing a merry song - but the closeness and thickness of the forest trees provide a barrier against surprise attack from the Sheriff's men. Is his band of outlaws close at hand, I wonder? There is no sign of them but then they are reputed to be capable of merging into the greenwood and appearing out of nowhere at the blast of Robin's horn. Peace and tranquillity reign about us and robbery and violence seem so far away - another world.
The outlaw across the table smiles at me and yet strangely, I sense not the least hint of any danger. Rather the opposite, I never felt safer in any other company.
'Ask of me what you may,' Robin tells me and amazingly, his eyes seem to be set in a permanent twinkle.
'Even though you live in the forest, you do like to entertain people?' I ask.
'Yes I do. The forest is my home, the greenwood my domain and the paths and highways my hunting ground. I am as free as the birds, foxes and deer but unless I have entertained travellers passing through the greenwood, I don't feel as though I have given them a true welcome.'
'But you rob them, don't you?'
His eyes widen with innocence: 'I greet all travellers with meekness and humility and thank Our Lady for sending them into my domain. Holy or rich, it ne'er matters. I inquire about the weight of their purse and assure them that if it is indeed empty, as they say, then I will augment it. I only have argument with those whose purses I discover are really brimming with gold after they have set up a plea of poverty.'
'You feel no remorse at robbing monks?'
'Tis the will of Our Lady. Usually, I ask a holy man to beg the saint who rules his abbey to send him money for his present needs, and lo and behold, more often than not, the gold appears in his saddle-bags.' His teeth show white as he grins broadly: 'People can be so generous, you know. Why, rich churchmen generously provide my men with wine for festivals and wealthy merchants charitably provide Lincoln green cloth for their doublets.'
'Many travellers are pilgrims. Haven't you any desire to take a pilgrimage to Canterbury, or Rome or even Jerusalem?'
'There is no need to travel far to find Our Lady. 'Tis but a short pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Egmanton, near Tuxford on the Great North Road. Did you know that she has been seen there many times?'
'I didn't know that,' I answer and he looks to me as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. 'Is Robin Hood your real name?'
'I have never known any other.'
'Who were your parents? Where do they live?'
'They were goodly people,' he answers obliquely, clearly reluctant to divulge more.
'They say you are a master of disguise, that you entice wealthy men into the forest by offering them a bargain, then make merry with them and fleece them?'
'Is it my doing that they are so foolish and greedy? I do no harm to the husbandman who tills with his plough, or the good yeoman who walks in the greenwood, or any knight or squire who is a good fellow. I provide for the weak, the poor and the needy. Isn't it true that the bishops and archbishops are just as greedy and grasping as their Norman kin? They sometimes require a good beating, as does the Sheriff of Nottingham.' His smile is innocent as though he wouldn't harm a fly.
'They say that you force them to dance to a pipe and make them pray in thanksgiving for the justice and mercy they have received.'
'Tis but a merry joke.'
'But you like to fight as well, especially in single combat?'
'I relish a bout with my quarterstaff against those who mistakenly believe they own the highway.'
'You are reputed to be the best archer in the shire.'
'I sometimes like to take a shot at a stag, whether royal harts, bucks, does or rascals,it does not matter - or even the Sheriff occasionally!' His head is thrown back in a loud guffaw of laughter and the laugh is so infectious that I join in too.
'There was a time when the spoils of the forest were everyone's right; when anyone could snare and chase game for food in every part of the forest. Now, these forest laws mean that anyone killing game in the King's forest can lose his eyes, or his hand, or his life.'
Shuddering at the thought, I quickly change the subject: 'Is there a particular lady in your life?'
For a long moment, his hazel eyes look me straight in the eye: 'Why, you are the only lady in my life at the moment and a finer lady I have never set eyes upon. There cannot be a more beautiful lady in all England,' he says gallantly.
I feel myself blushing and with his eyes crinkling up once more he adds: 'You can jaunt around the maypole with me anytime!'
After two glasses of wine I'm beginning to feel light-headed; the oysters and lampreys have already disappeared and I politely refuse another glass of wine. He doesn't press me for another - there is obviously a pocket of scruple in his cheery wickedness. We sit quietly for a moment watching a deer that has wandered into the victualler's garden and is cheekily helping itself to the weeds.
'Is it true that you gave £400 to Sir Richard at the Lee to pay his mortgage and redeem his lands,' I ask him and he looks surprised, hesitating for a moment.
'I don't know where your information has come from, but truth to say - I did loan that particular sum to an unfortunate knight down on his luck.'
'Could you enlighten our readers as to how and why?'
'It is obviously no secret now,' he answers, his eye brightening. 'It is a tale for all true gentlemen - and ladies.'
Robin relates the story of Sir Richard at the Lee
At the end of his tale, Robin looks me straight in the eye and warm sincerity overtakes his face. 'Sir Richard has redeemed his lands, you say. Good for him; you couldn't find a more deserving knight anywhere in England . . . Was the abbot of St. Mary's displeased?' Robin asks, his face creasing into a wry smile.
'I believe he was a little surprised, as were the Sheriff and the Chancellor's justice.'
'The Sheriff was there too? Isn't it amazing how the Sheriff always turns up when you are down on your luck in order to pick at your bones.'
'Sir Richard begged him to be his friend but he refused.'
'Just as well - with the Sheriff for a friend who needs enemies,' he says, his smile turning a little grim.
Dusk begins to fall; time has speeded by as usually happens when you are in pleasant and fascinating company. Springing lightly to his feet, Robin gallantly offers me his arm: 'My dear lady, allow me the honour of escorting you back to Nottingham and perhaps you can tell me something of yourself?'
What lady could refuse so gracious a request? He whisks me out into the early autumn evening and together we head back to Nottingham town chattering away. Often he peers sideways at me with a warm and tender look and when we reach the river Beck, he prevents my feet getting wet by lifting me up and carrying me across the water.
At the crossroad of Sheep Lane and Beck Street, the outlaw takes my arm with a flourish and shepherds me across. How welcome it is to meet someone with good manners and such grace. Outside York gate, he bids me farewell in the same spirit of chivalry: 'It has been a great pleasure meeting you, my lady; I only hope we can meet again soon.'
Not at all the rough and ready fellow I expected, he ran effortlessly toward the forest with all the light-footedness of a stag. Endowed with a quick wit, winning manners and a merry humour, he can jaunt around the maypole with me anytime.
|Tales of Robin Hood