ROBIN HOOD and the SLAVERS OF WHITBY
By I.A. Watson
akebliss’ first mate was effusive about the wenches. “Two of ‘em, Cap’n, and each as lovely as an angel. The one Saxon-haired and dainty, the other black as a raven and ample as you please. They were down at the harbour in the White Village under the abbey, seeking a boat to take them and a small chest along to Scarborough Castle.”
The Captain was intrigued. “To Scarborough? Why? Of what quality were these vixens? What men attended them?”
“No companions at all. Alone, they were, with a sealed box the size of a Bible. Like to be a jewel casket, I thought. The red minx, she spoke like a Norman noble. The other was more local, but she bore herself well. A lady and her maid perhaps, separated from their lord and seeking passage to safety.”
“Did they appeal to the Abbot?”
“No, Cap’n. They were asking amongst the fishermen, promising silver for their passage.”
Makebliss considered his options. De Vendenal’s caskets were ready to move once the tide reached its outer range. In the half-hour of calm the warship would beach on the shingle bank, load the chests, and be gone before the waters turned to push it hard onto the shore. But that was four hours off yet - time enough before that to consider another source of profit.
“They might be worth something, the wenches and their box,” Captain Makebliss mused. “If naught else they’d brighten the sailing to London. Even if there’s no ransom to be had they’ll still fetch a price in Harfleur.”
“One of the fishers took them out in his single-mast herring boat,” the first mate told. “The way those things move we could overhaul it in an hour and be back to catch the tide.”
Makebliss looked at the men on his twin-masted warship. Two dozen sea-hardened sailors could defeat any resistance a frightened fisherman could make. They had before.
“Bring her around,” the Captain ordered. “Make for the fair wenches, best speed!”
he fisherman laughed at Robin. The people’s champion hopped on one leg and tried to untangle his boot from the unexpected knot he’d made of the line he was supposed to be hauling. The boat rocked and the young outlaw sat down heavily, narrowly avoiding being spilled into the sea.
“I thought Robin i’ th’ Hood was never caught?” Marion giggled as Robin rolled in the belly of the fishing boat and slithered on the detritus of the morning’s catch.
A helpful sailor unhooked Robin’s leg with an easy twist of the rope. “Tha’ll ne’er be a seaman, lad,” the fisherman warned. “If I were thee I’d avoid owt much bigger than a puddle.”
“I have other talents,” the forest lord protested. “I’m a remarkable lover, for example!”
The boat caught some chop again, sliding him back into the slippery fish pile.
“You’d have to be pretty damn brilliant at it to bring your average back up after demonstrating your seamanship,” Marion commented.
Robin looked at her challengingly. “And?”
Clorinda interrupted the banter. “Is that a ship over there?”
The fishermen’s’ attention had been on dragging up their nets and on Robin’s rope handling. At the shepherdess’ words they all turned to look where she was pointing.
“It’s them!” the master-fisher spat. He swore, then apologised for it to the ladies. “Get them nets in fast, boys! Weight the anchor and let’s be gone. We don’t want to let them buggers catch us again.”
Robin, Marion, and Clorinda said nothing. It was exactly what they were wanting.
The fishermen lugged the half-full hemp nets into the boat. The little skiff rocked alarmingly. Robin didn’t try to help them. They thanked him for that.
Marion kept an eye on the approaching vessel. “So that’s the war-ship. It’s designed to be small and fast – a courier, probably. Ideal to transport small valuable cargo like a few chests of gems.”
“Those are the reavers who’ve been preying on the coast,” Clorinda reported. “It’s the Sheriff’s job to stop men like that, not commission them.”
The craft was closing fast. It had more sail and the wind was behind it.
“Lift t’sheet and make for land, lads!” the master-fisher called. He sounded tense but he kept his head. “Break out oars an’ all.” He looked worriedly at the two women at the stern, imagining their fate at the pirates’ hands.
The two ladies seemed unconcerned. Marion reached under the rear bench and brought out two long cloth-wrapped bundles. She passed them to Robin and Clorinda, who unwrapped them to reveal English longbows. The chest contained no treasure but broad-headed arrows.
“What’s this?” demanded the master-fisher. “Tha can’t fight! That’s a war-ship. There’ll be a score of men wi’ bows on board.”
“Perhaps,” said Robin Hood, stringing his weapon. “They’ve got men and bows. We’ve got an archer.”
“Two,” Clorinda corrected him, preparing her own yew-bow. “Or have you forgotten those Scots raiders we took down in our reckless youth?”
“Wait,” said Marion. “I thought this was his reckless youth?”
The warship hove closer, cutting across the fishing smack’s course, stealing its wind. “They’re gonna catch us!” the master-fisher warned.
“I hope so,” replied Robin Hood. “I really want to talk to them.” When the ship was two hundred yards distant he drew his bow and loosed his first red-fletched arrow.
The shot was at long range, in a sea breeze, on a pitching deck. It curved in a high parabola over the North Sea and embedded itself in the arm of the war-boat’s pilot.
“Show off,” said Clorinda.
“That wasn’t showing off,” Robin told her. “This is showing off.” He loosed a second shaft, putting it through the throat of the lookout who was warning the warship of the attack.
“They’ll kill us for this!” the master-fisher fretted.
“Bring us alongside them, captain,” Marion told him. “Whitby wanted rid of the pirates? This is the time to do it.”
Robin fired again, and again. Each shot took down another sailor. Clorinda joined in as the range closed.
When the men on the war-ship pulled out their own bows Robin targeted them as a priority. A few enemy arrows splashed into the water around the fishing ship. One embedded itself in the port hull. Robin allowed the marauders no time to aim. He kept them scared.
“They’ll run soon,” Marion judged. “They never expected a fight and they’ve taken serious losses.” She’d counted at least eight men down, probably several more injured. All the sea-marauders were taking shelter behind the ship’s wooden walls now. She finished knotting a cord onto an arrow that was longer and thicker than the regular ones Robin was dropping into the warship – Marion had no problem with the knots but didn’t distract the young outlaw to point it out just then – and passed the shaft to the archer.
Robin checked the steel-tipped missile. Its broad head was designed to punch through a knight’s armour then stick there, its wide triangle shape making it difficult to dislodge without shredding the flesh it had penetrated. It would be equally effective lodged through a war-boat’s side.
“They’re turning!” the master-fisher saw. The men aboard the skiff had gone from terror to amazement to a wild elation as their persecutors had sailed into a rain of death. “They’re heaving off!”
“Not without us, they’re not,” said Robin determinedly. He aimed the special arrow low above the waterline and released the hundred and eighty pound pressure on his bowstring. The missile sped almost too fast for the eye to follow and slammed through two inches of hardwood like it was nothing.
Marion passed the other end of the line to the fishermen. “Secure this well,” she ordered. “We don’t want them getting away.”
One of the enemy sailors tried to lean over the side of his hull to sever the line. Clorinda got him.
“Prepare for them to try and board us next,” Robin warned. “That’s what I’d try.”
Captain Makebliss had the same idea. The ship veered in, looming close to the fishing vessel.
Robin kept the enemy sailors ducking for cover as the distance closed.
Marion unpacked her flint and tinderbox and a flask of black sticky oil. With special care because shipboard fire was deadly she struck a spark and ignited a small lamp.
“They’re coming!” the master-fisher shouted, alarmed again. He’d seen many of the mariners fall but the warship still steered so there must be more.
Marion passed the lamp and the remainder of the flask to Robin. “Don’t even try to be careful,” she sighed. “Just be… you.”
Robin blew her a kiss. As the warship loomed beside the fishing boat he surprised the pirates by jumping up and boarding it.
Captain Makebliss already had a cudgel ready to invade the skiff. He came at Robin and got a faceful of black oil as Robin shattered the flask on him. The heavy tar spilled down onto deck and formed a pool.
Robin held up the lantern he’d brought. “I’m told fire’s very bad on a ship,” he advised the surviving raiders. “If anything happens to me I’ll be dropping this light right onto that oil. And your captain’s soaked in the stuff.”
Clorinda and Marion scrambled aboard. The surprised fishermen found the courage to follow them.
The five sailors who’d survived the archer’s onslaught well enough to still fight suddenly found they’d been beaten by a lone outlaw and two women.
The master-fisher took control of the warboat. Marion opened the rear cabin and released the three girls who’d been stolen away for Harfleur.
Robin had his back to Makebliss. Seeing an opportunity, the marauder captain leaped at the young outlaw from behind.
That was what Robin had hoped for. He whirled round and brought his horn-tipped longbow up into Makebliss’ nose. There was a crack of cartilage and the captain fell down heavily in the gunwale. Makebliss clutched his bloody face, screeching.
The master-fisher kicked him in the ribs. “You’re no sailor but you’re a trueborn archer, lad,” the fisherman told Robin. “I’ve ne’er heard tell of one man catching a pirate warship wi’ naught but a quiver of arrows.”
Even Clorinda was surprised. “Does he do that often now?” she whispered to Marion.
“Stopping him from doing these things, that’s the hard part,” the lady of Sherwood replied.
obin Hood wasn’t a bloodthirsty killer. Even men who’d enslaved children and sold captives to lifetimes of bondage overseas got the chance to surrender. The nine wounded men on the captured warship were tended, despite the fishermen’s willingness to toss them overboard with the corpses of their fellows.
Marion insisted no harm came to the prisoners. “They’re to be tried by your elders in the old fashion,” the queen of Sherwood instructed. “Let their accusers come forward and a jury decide their fates.”
It was hard for the half-dozen Whitby fisherfolk to pilot the prize Robin had won and their own vessel back to shore. Robin conscripted three of the prisoners to help and stood at the prow with his bow ready in case they tried to fight.
Clorinda was surprised when the outlaw ordered the boat be beached in an empty bay a few miles south of the natural harbour at Whitby.
“There’s nothing in this cove, and we’re near the Sheriff’s mine,” she objected.
“I wasn’t sure what we’d find here,” Robin told the shepherdess, “so I arranged for some aid.”
At the shore, Robin winded a horn. An answering blast came from somewhere in the foothills, and within five minutes a dozen outlaws in Lincoln green were assembled at the strand.
“Little John,” Clorinda said, recognising the giant by his size alone. She waved at him. The queen of the shepherdesses had always liked the shepherd from Hathersage. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d brought your men up here?”
Robin looked sheepish. “Honestly? I wasn’t that sure you were telling me the truth about everything until our fight today with the pirates. You didn’t mention that Egton was where you come from, for example.”
Clorinda was shocked. “How did you know…?”
“There was a time when I wanted to know everything about you. I’m a smart lad. I asked folk. But if the Sheriff has all the people of Egton enslaved then he probably has kin of yours. He might have sent you to lead me into a trap. It’s the sort of thing he does. Anyone would try to save their parents, brothers, sisters…”
“Husband,” said Clorinda. She managed a faint smile. “Did you think you’d ruined me for other men, Loxley?”
“Does de Vendenal know he’s got such good hostages?” Marion wondered.
“De Vendenal’s not been here before today,” the shepherdess pointed out. “Now he is.”
“And he’s sharp,” Robin admitted with a frown. “We’d better hurry before he’s got time to work out I’m here.”
Little John splashed out to meet them, with Scarlet, Tuck, Alan a Dale and the others. “You’ve never stolen a whole ship before, Rob,” the big man noted. “Where are you going to keep it? It won’t really fit in the little beck beside the Major Oak.”
“I expect I’ll give it to the poor,” Robin laughed. He embraced the giant. “There’s some bad men on board. Do you think you could keep them occupied while we do clever things, then leave them for the elders of Whitby to try and punish afterwards?”
Will Scarlet moved forward, grim as ever. “I’ll see to them,” he promised.
“Why do you need a ship, exactly?” Alan a Dale ventured. “Not that I mind. There’s lots of things will rhyme with ship when I come to make a ballad of this.” He thought a moment then looked less certain. “Drip, dip, flip, nip, tip, snip, blip… hmm, perhaps you could stick to horses. They have much less ominous rhymes.”
“We need to get this ship back out to sea with the master-fisher’s help,” Robin proclaimed. “Captain Makebliss tells me its time to load the Sheriff’s jet chests aboard and when his nosebleed stops he’s volunteered to help us. Well, he’s volunteered not to be tossed overboard in a weighted fishing net, which is the next best thing!”
“We can’t just sail up to the Sheriff’s stockade and pick up the treasure, Robin,” Friar Tuck objected. “Captain Aelstan knows us. Even with this pirate pretending he’s not got a dagger at his back we couldn’t fool Aelstan. And there’s word that the Sheriff’s there too. Sorry, lad, but he won’t fall for it.”
“I agree,” Robin admitted. “That’s why there needs to be a better, bigger plan!”
illiam de Vendenal had a glare that could freeze water. The Lord High Sheriff was both powerful and competent, a dangerous combination. Fools learned quickly that he was not a man to fail or deceive. Now that gimlet stare was turned on Clorinda of Egton.
“Robin Hood?” de Vendenal repeated her words. “Robin Hood is here?”
“Yes,” agreed the queen of the shepherdesses. “Nearby.”
“To seek my jet?”
“Of course. You know Robin. Those chests must be worth a thousand pounds or more.”
“And you come to betray him to me from a sense of public duty?”
Clorinda shook her head. She tried not to falter. She knew the Sheriff was a frightening man. She’d not anticipated how hard it to keep calm was under his attentive gaze. “I want something. A reward. I can tell you where to find Loxley, but it’s for a price.”
Captain Aelstan shifted to stand behind the shepherdess. “I can have the truth out of her in two hours, my lord,” he promised. “Less, if she’s keen to keep her looks.”
“And Hood’ll be gone in half an hour,” Clorinda warned scornfully.
“What reward?” de Vendenal asked her. “It is rare that any of Hood’s people try to coin him. He seems to inspire universal folly in his minions.”
“I’m not one of his merry men,” Clorinda answered. She smoothed her hands down her ample curves. “You can see that plain. What I was to him once… well, he’s with the Maid Marion now. And I’ve a man of my own.”
De Vendenal had studied his enemy. He’d heard the tavern song. “You’re the so called shepherd queen.”
The dark-tressed woman shrugged. “With my dogs and a crook I can make my flock do anything. I can shear a sheep in less than a minute. I can charm the lambs out of ewes. But there’s some wolves I can’t fight.”
De Vendenal was fast. The maid spoke bad Norman French with a local accent. “Not money, the reward you seek,” he discerned. “A man of Egton, perhaps? A lover? A husband?”
“Aye. Give me my man, free and safe, and I’ll give you Robin of Loxley.”
Aelstan was sceptical. “How do you know where the wolfshead is? Why should we trust you?”
“I know his location because I fetched him here. He’s planning to take your treasure and free your captives because I asked him to. But his mad plans won’t work.” The dark-tressed shepherdess shook her head. “I knew all along the only way to free my love would be to trade you Robin Hood. So I brought him for you, far from Sherwood’s safety. Let fair Lady Marion save Loxley if she can. I’ll see my husband free.”
William de Vendenal stroked his pointed beard and considered. “If what you say is true then it’s a chance we must not miss. Prince John will be much consoled at the hanging and quartering of that particular rebel and my life will be considerably bettered. If you lie, it’s your belly we’ll slice open and draw out your innards while you still live.”
“Who’s your man?” de Vendenal demanded.
“I’ll tell you when Hood’s caught and the bargain’s done,” the shepherdess answered. “I’ll not let you threaten my love to loosen my tongue.”
The Sheriff had thought the gambit worth the attempt, but he was willing to make the deal. “You have a bargain, wench. But you’ll remain here until Hood’s caught or slain.” He turned to the camp overseer. “Lock her with the jet chests, Mickle. There’s nowhere more secure. See she’s fettered too, and a pair of incorruptible guards on the door.” To Clorinda he said, “You’ll tell Captain Aelstan where to find the wolfshead. Be precise. Your life depends upon it.”
The shepherdess blinked back tears she hadn’t expected and confessed. “Five miles south there’s a small bay. There’s a sea-cave there. That’s where Loxley’s waiting for me.” She hung her head. “God forgive me for selling him to his death.”
Go back to Chapter I
Go on to Chapter III
 This is an Anglicised version of the Old Norse Hweitebi, from whence the name Whitby derives. The prominent ruins of the Abbey still stand on the high cliffs above the town and are well worth a visit. The Abbey, its graveyard, and the winding steps up to it are perhaps best known in popular fiction for their appearance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
 These events echo the ancient ballad The Noble Fisherman, or Robin Hood’s Preferment, collected as Child ballad 148.
 Many folk stories and local tradition place the outlaw’s hideout at a huge oak tree near Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire. The nearby stream is narrow enough to jump and shallow enough to paddle.
Original concepts, characters, and situations copyright © 2011 reserved by Ian Watson. The right of Ian Watson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.