ROBIN HOOD and the SLAVERS OF WHITBY
By I.A. Watson
he cave was unoccupied; but not empty.
Captain Aelstan liked to report the obvious. “He’s not here. The wench lied!”
The Sheriff of Nottingham was sharper. “He’s not here now, but he was. And he wasn’t alone. Look at the bedrolls stowed here. There are, what, fifty or sixty of them? The shepherdess lass lied, yes, but she lied by omitting the fact that Hood was here with the greater part of his wolfsheads.”
Aelstan looked around to check the forty men they’d brought with them were still there. Robin Hood hadn’t spirited them away.
“These fire pits are still warm,” de Vendenal added. “Hood and his fanatics can’t have been gone long. But why…?” The Sheriff looked up suddenly then whirled to one of his squires. “You! Ride back to camp. Warn Mickle that the girl’s information was a ruse to draw our forces away from the stockade. Tell them there are three-score outlaws, expert archers all, loose somewhere in the countryside. He’s to seal the gates, turn out every man to watch, and prepare for Hood’s deceit or overwhelming force.”
The squire raced for his horse and galloped away.
De Vendenal pointed to two more men. “You and you. Go after him. Ride separately. Hope Hood isn’t able to kill all of you en route. Aelstan, assemble the column. We’ll head back quickly but in good order. Send out screen riders to avoid unfortunate ambushes.”
“Yes, my lord! But no amount of outlaws could overcome the stockade without terrible losses.”
“Hood’s clever. There’ll be a trick.” The Sheriff thought hard. “What deliveries have you received of late?”
“Captain Makebliss brought us supplies yesterday. And there were some barrels of ale from the brewer of Briggswath.”
“The drayman! Was he known to anyone?”
Aelstan shrugged. “I don’t know. Mickle sees to the stores. I don’t see…”
De Vendenal jabbed a finger at another rider. “Back to Gnipe Howe,” he ordered. “Tell them not to drink the beer. Pour it away. Hood has a liking for drugging it with poppy syrup to quieten guards.”
Aelstan gasped. “You don’t think he intends to attack the camp while our men are disabled.”
“I think Hood’s got more wits than everybody at Gnipe Howe put together, and that includes you! We need to get back at once so that…”
De Vendenal’s explanation was cut short as an arrow skimmed past his ear and embedded itself on his saddle.
Aelstan looked up at the archer on the cliff above. The outlaw in Lincoln Green waved a feathered cap down at the soldiers. “Robin Hood!” the guard captain recognised. “After him!”
The Sheriff made the order more specific. “Six mounted men up there after him. Six more range out looking for the rest of his wolfshead scum. Return in half an hour to report. Six form on me. Rest of you line up and make for camp. Now!”
Aelstan appointed himself at the head of the squad chasing Hood. The horsemen galloped up the winding channel where a shallow beck trickled out into the sea, tracking back towards the high promontory from where the archer fired. One horseman grunted and fell as the outlaw’s arrow took him in the arm.
“Faster!” Aelstan called bending low over his horse to offer a smaller target. “Spread out!”
Another arrow toppled another rider. But then misfortune struck the young outlaw. His bowstring snapped loose!
Aelstan spurred his horse up the slope. Hood was only two hundred yards off now.
The outlaw chose not to try and restring his bow with five horsemen closing on him. He ran to his own horse, a sleek chestnut borrowed from some unsuspecting manor, and rode away.
Aelstan gave chase. His scarred mouth twisted into a gory grin. Hood might be the better archer; Aelstan of Osmondthorpe was the better rider. The guard captain would wager Hood’s life on it.
wo messengers made it to the mining camp. The others fell to outlaw arrows.
Mickle the overseer wasn’t happy at the prospect of a bandit siege. With forty men away with the Sheriff he had only sixty guards remaining to protect the jet and keep watch on the slaves who laboured in the cavern below. Even reducing the watch on the miners to a bare minimum left him with less guards than he’d have liked to man the walls.
When the news came that the ale might be poisoned it Mickle himself that took an axe and stove in the barrels. A disheartened groan came from the soldiers. They’d have been even unhappier to know that there was nothing wrong with the beer.
A horn sounded away to the south. Replies echoed from west and north.
Sixty wolfsheads, the Sheriff’s squire had said. Sixty of the notorious Sherwood bandits, each a deadly shot, each able to rain down flight after flight of arrows into the rough compound. The crude huts and canvas dwellings would not survive if the arrows were lit ablaze.
There was a garrison at Scarborough, but that was fifteen miles away. Help could not come in time.
But then the tide reached its furthest ebb and the yellow-and-white sails of the royal warship appeared around the headland. Mickle remembered that Captain Makebliss was coming to collect the treasure.
The horns sounded again, nearer. There was no sign of the sheriff’s return. The overseer had to make a decision.
“Get the chests out of the strong-hut,” he commanded. “They’re to be strapped and lowered down to the strand. Tell Makebliss he can load them but he’s not to leave with them till lord de Vendenal’s inspected them again – unless there’s an outlaw attack.”
The warship pulled up onto the shingle beach in its customary harbour. Sailors jumped off and beached it. Looking down from the clifftop, Mickle saw Makebliss and a couple of men move over to speak to the sergeant who was guarding the slaves.
Mickle found he was sweating. He watched each of the four treasure boxes be lowered down the cliff and hardly dared breath until they were safely received at the bottom.
A couple of Makebliss’ men climbed the long twisting rope ladder up into the compound to speak with him. “Captain Makebliss’ compliments,” said one of them, “and he says if you’re shifting the goods to his ship for safety you’d best empty the wench from the strong-hut as well.”
“He’s sent us to fetch her,” said the other in blunter terms.
It made sense to Mickle. He was more concerned at the smoke that was now rising not far from the camp. The sailors dragged Clorinda from her prison and lowered the shackled shepherdess down the cliff face after the strongboxes.
“You’d better go too,” the politer sailor suggested to the overseer. “You’ll want to keep an eye on the Sheriff’s treasure.”
Mickle decided it might be best to be closer to the ship in case the outlaws came. He handed over defence of the camp to a competent sergeant and accompanied Alan a Dale and Will Scarlet down to the strand.
obin kicked his heels into his chestnut’s sides to keep it moving. The horse was tiring as it tore along the incline. Aelstan and his riders were staying close, less than a hundred yards behind.
The young outlaw followed the natural curve of the land, letting his mount choose its own path, concerned more with speed than direction. His job was to keep Aelstan busy and to convince the Sheriff that outlaws intended to assault his camp.
It was the terrain that betrayed him. The Yorkshire sea cliffs had unexpected gullies and sudden drops. Robin’s horse had the sense to shy away from a steep fall it couldn’t survive, veering sharply left at ninety degrees to its precious course. That allowed the pursuing Sheriff’s men to cut a corner and close the distance.
Robin pushed his horse on, back towards the Fylingthorpe cliffs, knowing his tired steed was nearing its limits. He pulled out his bow and refastened the string he’d deliberately released earlier. Stringing a new cord at the gallop would have been impossible; reattaching the loose end of a good catgut thread was only very difficult.
The nearest rider was close now, less than fifty yards away. Robin twisted in his seat, holding his bow horizontally. He couldn’t draw the string fully back, but at that range he didn’t need to. The arrow caught his pursuer in the belly.
Four horsemen remained to chase him. One tried to fire back from the saddle. It was a mistake. He lost his balance, dropped his shortbow, then fell from his horse to roll heavily on the turf. Aelstan and the remaining pair continued to close in.
Robin waited until the riders were sure he was making for Fylingthorpe then veered suddenly left towards a narrow track down into a stand of woodland. Once there he could find cover and fend off horsemen as he pleased.
On the bridle-road below, the Sheriff of Nottingham rode out with another six horsemen.
Robin cursed himself. De Vendenal was clever. The Sheriff had anticipated Robin’s escape plan, had ignored the ruse that would have sent him scurrying back to the mine, and had closed off the young outlaw’s best line of escape. Now fresh riders galloped up from the track he’d hoped would be his getaway.
Robin shot again, taking down another of Aelstan’s original horsemen. The last of them pushed forward, no more than a horse’s length behind the outlaw as they climbed the hill again towards the sea.
Aelstan looked ahead and saw the cliff edge. In an inspired moment he decided to cut right and block Robin from slipping away along the clifftop path.
The other rider drew out a boot knife and held it by the blade, ready to throw. Robin turned and fired again. The arrow missed the guard but injured his horse. The creature bucked, spilling his master. Robin spurred his own blown ride onward.
He’d lost track of Aelstan. Suddenly the guard captain barrelled his own horse into Robin’s mount, side to side. Both horses reeled then fell, tumbling their riders to the turf.
Robin rolled as he landed, but the breath was knocked out of him. His bow skittered away out of reach. By the time he’d scrambled to his feet Captain Aelstan was already running at him, naked sword in hand.
Robin pulled his own blade, a new longsword liberated from a proud knight on the Leicester road. He barely had time to get it up before Aelstan’s blade sparked off it.
The Sheriff’s squad topped the ridge and saw the outlaw and the guard captain fighting.
“Hold back!” Aelstan shouted to them. His burn-scarred face was livid with rage and hate. “Let me take him! Robin Hood is mine!”
ickle hadn’t expected a woman at the mine; at least not a woman wearing more than rags or doing more than cringing or wailing. He certainly hadn’t expected her to turn on him with incandescent fury.
“What have you done to these people? How could you do it? What kind of monster are you to treat them so?”
The overseer took a step back. The guards chuckled nervously. One of them told Captain Makebliss to control his wench.
Makebliss said nothing. His face was drawn and pale save for his swollen scabbed purple nose. Much the Miller’s Son stood very close behind him.
“I’m not his prisoner,” Maid Marion told Mickle. “He is mine.”
And suddenly the shingle shore became a battlefield. While Much held Makebliss the other outlaws stopped pretending to be sailors and turned on the guards they mingled with. David of Doncaster hammered down a whip-wielding sergeant with scientifically-accurate blows. Gilbert Whitehand tripped his target and stamped on him while he was down. Little John picked up two of the Sheriff’s men and slammed them together. Scarlet pounced on the nearest foe, broke the man’s jaw, then sank his teeth into the guard’s ear.
Alan a Dale had climbed back up the rope ladder to the top of the ridge. Now he severed the cords that held it in place, sending it coiling down to splash into the shallows. None of the garrison above could get down to assist the guards who battled below. The minstrel made his own escape down another double-loop of rope that he could pull down after him.
Mickle staggered back, tripped on the pebbles, fell into the washing waves. Marion loomed over him. “You’ve done terrible deeds, slavemaster. Now Robin Hood has come to bring you to justice.”
“W-what justice?” the overseer stammered as the reduced guard force at the cliff bottom were overcome.
“Me,” Marion told him.
The prisoners had realised that something remarkable was going on. A few of them even joined in to subdue the guards.
Mickle sprang up and scrambled towards the child slaves. “Watch out! Clorinda shouted, but her fetters prevented her from stopping the overseer grab a young girl and press a knife to her neck.
“All hold!” Mickle screamed, “Or I’ll slit t’lass’s weasand!”
One of the enslaved Egton men struck him from behind with a heavy lump of shale. The overseer crumpled. Marion dragged the child away from him. The prisoners raged forward and fell on Mickle, grabbing up stones to strike him with vengeful fury.
The savage execution took whatever fight remained out of the other guards on the shore. They dropped their weapons and begged quarter from the outlaws; they begged protection from the slaves.
“On your knees, then!” Will Scarlet growled at the surrendering soldiers. He hammered one in the belly and crumpled him into the surf to demonstrate. The other men knelt down quickly.
The man who’d downed Mickle broke out of the huddle of captives and raced over to where Clorinda sat in chains. “Cloe!”
“Brom!” the queen of the shepherdesses cried out, struggling to her feet. “You live!”
Little John snapped the shackles that restrained her. “Nicely played,” he congratulated the black-haired beauty. “You fooled the Sheriff. That’s not easily done.” Clorinda fell into her husband’s embrace.
The confused prisoners huddled together, unsure what was happening. Some of them still held the bloody stones that had transformed the overseer into a gristly feast for the wheeling seagulls. Some looked nervously at the supposed pirates, confused that Whitby fishermen freely aided them, uncertain why the dread Captain Makebliss was trembling and silent.
“You’re being rescued,” Friar Tuck announced to the slaves. “Get the other children out of the caves. Everybody needs to board the ship before the tide turns.”
“Rescued?” a harried, pinch-faced women asked. “How? We’re enslaved now, by law. There’s no escape nor rescue for us.”
“I think we’ve got a way,” Marian promised. “The bad news is it’s a Robin Hood plan.”
An arrow clattered down on the shingle beside her. The soldiers in the camp had worked out what was happening on the shore.
“Time to go,” Little John announced. He beckoned for Much to drag Captain Makebliss aboard. “Anybody who wants to leave get on the ship now.”
Another pair of arrows thrummed down from above.
“It’ll take time to get all the children out, John,” Tuck warned. “Some of these people are very ill.” He stepped over Mickle’s pulped corpse and went to help the weakest captives limp onto the ship.
“Then break out the longbows, lads,” John of Hathersage decided. “If those Sheriff’s guards want to match shots with the merry men of Sherwood then let’s have at it!”
elstan had earned his position as captain of the Sheriff’s guard the hard way, by fighting for it. The dispossessed Saxon had clawed his way up by being tougher and fiercer than the men around him. He knew how to kill.
He closed on Robin Hood, knowing his Sheriff was watching him. De Vendenal and his escort drew close to watch the show.
Robin gave ground at first. The captain was stronger, and he wore chainmail beneath his uniform tabard. Aelstan came in fast, pressing the outlaw towards the crumbling cliff’s edge.
The young outlaw dodged his first three strokes then caught the fourth, shivering his own steel into the captain’s blade. “How many died in your mines?” Hood demanded. “How many children have you murdered? How much gold did their blood buy?”
“Always so righteous!” spat Aelstan. He pressed harder, flicking his blade at the bandit’s exposed face and arms. “Life’s not a ballad, wolfshead. You’ll learn that today. It’s bloody and it’s brutal, and for you it’s short.”
“You make it like that, captain. I prefer my ballads.” Robin managed to cut through Aelstan’s guard for a moment and jabbed at the captain’s head. Aelstan shied away from losing his good eye.
Angry at having his secret fear exposed, the Sheriff’s man renewed his attack with fresh venom. He pulled a hunting dagger from his belt so that Hood must watch for danger from two ways. And always the steep precipice above the sea-dashed rocks loomed closer.
“When you’re dead your spell will be broken, Hood. They’ll all see you were nothing, nobody. All those stupid worthless people in their stinking hovels, they’ll know how much you misled them. How you fooled them into thinking they were something other than cattle.”
“When I’m dead they’ll remember,” Robin Hood promised. “And where one rebel falls five more will rise, fifty more, a thousand! This land was meant to be free. Until there’s fairness and justice men like you and your rat-bearded Sheriff can never sleep safe. England won’t bow forever. Tyrants are not for us.”
Aelstan got in close where his strength could win him advantage. “Sheep bleat but it won’t make them free. The strong will always rule. The weak will always be slaves.” The captain’s blistered face screwed into a red snarl. “I wish I could take all their children and crush them just to hear the noise their stupid parents make! Then they’d know what this world is.”
Robin punished him with a left jab to the nose, sending the soldier backward, bloody. “That York mob didn’t disfigure you,” the outlaw realised. “They revealed your true face!”
William de Vendenal sighed. “Get on with it, Aelstan. There’s no time for ethical debate. I want Hood finished quickly so I can catch his insipid friends as well. Hamstring him helpless and drag him back to camp.”
Aelstan renewed his attack. Heedless of the minor cuts it would cost him he hurled himself at Robin Hood, clutching him round the waist, lifting him from the ground then tossing him down.
Robin landed hard but rolled aside from the sword-cut that followed. He almost tumbled over the cliff’s edge. Stones and turf broke loose and dropped into the troubled sea that dashed on the killer rocks. Hood’s sword slipped over the precipice and vanished in the spume.
Aelstan leaned down for a final stroke. Hood reached up and caught the necklace of jet dangling round Aelstan’s throat. He twisted it round, choking the captain.
Aelstan wrenched backwards by instinct. The silver chain snapped, scattering his retirement across the grass and over the edge of Fylingthorpe cliff.
“No!” he shouted, losing all sanity. His dead eye was blood red now. Flecks of spittle dripped from his blistered lips. “Die, Robin Hood! Die!”
Hood was on the ground beneath him. The outlaw reached up and stabbed two fingers into Aelstan’s good eye. As the captain screamed, Robin used his hook-hold to throw his enemy off him.
Aelstan rolled sideways, misjudging or forgetting the line where the turf dropped away. Too late he scrambled for purchase. His fingers caught a tuft of grass. It came loose in his fist.
The guard captain fell, his body clawing at air as the rocks came towards him. He crashed onto the jagged stones, bounced once, then lay sprawled in a broken bloody pile.
Robin rolled from the edge. His fingers closed around one of the discarded jet beads from Aelstan’s chain. He dragged himself to his feet.
The Sheriff of Nottingham was there, with six men. Four of them had arrows nocked at the outlaw.
“You’ve nowhere to run, Robin i’ th’ Hood,” de Vendenal pointed out.
“You’ve nowhere to hide, Sheriff. I’ll always find you and stop you. One day I’ll stop you for good.”
William de Vendenal swept his arms along the bleak cliff-top, indicating how the outlaw had exhausted his options for escape. No welcoming forest waited to shelter him. No clever tunnel would allow his exit. There was only the Sheriff’s guard ready to take an unarmed man, or the remorseless rocks by the churning sea. “This story has a different ending, wolfshead. This story’s called ‘The Death of Robin Hood’.
The young outlaw stood at bay. The sea wind whipped his blonde locks towards the azure horizon. He grinned. “Are you sure, Sheriff? I mean, that’s quite catchy, but is it accurate? Why not call it ‘Robin Hood steals the Sheriff’s jet’? Or ‘Robin Hood frees the Sheriff’s slaves’?” He pointed over the waters where the royal warship was bobbing over the waves. “That’ll be my men taking your treasure chests and prisoners away from you.”
De Vendenal stared out to sea. The war-boat had pulled down the Prince’s colours. Now it sailed a white stag on Lincoln green.
The Sheriff frowned then sneered. “I would sacrifice a thousand pounds to have you in my grasp, Robin Hood,” he declared. “There is more black amber. There are always more infants to enslave. But when you have died a death that makes men shudder in the night there will be no more resistance.”
“You’d be surprised, de Vendenal. There are things you don’t understand about the heart of England. I tried telling Aelstan but he was blind even before I put his eye out.”
The Sheriff wasn’t about to let Robin plot a clever escape later. “Seize him. Break his fingers and kneecaps now. Bring what’s left of him to the camp.” He considered further. “Take his sight, too. Let’s see how good a shot he is after that.”
Robin hurled the jet bead with an archer’s accuracy. It shot like a bullet into De Vendenal’s eye. The Sheriff cried out, fell back, clutching his bloody face.
While the guards reacted to their master’s sudden injury Robin turned to the sea. “I know what this story’s called now,” he told the Sheriff. “This is ‘Robin Hood’s Leap’.”
And he jumped.
board the warship the outlaws had seen the tiny figures fighting above the bay. Sharp-eyed Much was the first to identify the combatants as Robin and Aelstan.
“We have to get to him,” Little John insisted. He turned to the borrowed fisherman of Whitby who sailed the boat for the outlaws. “Set in. Rob needs help!”
“It’s too late,” Scarlet said with a soldier’s pragmatism. “By the time we got there we’d be too late for Robin, just in time to be cut down by the Sheriff’s guard ourselves.”
Clorinda shielded her eyes from the sun’s glare and tried to follow the action. It was clear Hood was surrounded. “I wanted you to meet Robin of Loxley,” she told her husband Brom. “Now you never will.”
Marion said nothing, merely clutched the sail-ropes and watched as her forest king duelled the Sheriff’s captain.
A cheer rose up from the outlaws of Sherwood when Aelstan toppled from the cliff.
“But what’s he doing now?” Much demanded as Robin’s unmistakable figure backed towards the edge where the captain had fallen.
“He’s at bay,” guessed Friar Tuck. “They’ve got him surrounded. There’s no way out.”
“But one,” said Maid Marion. “Watch.”
Robin Hood turned and leaped from the cliff. As he fell he twisted, turning his drop into a dive.
“There’s dozens of rocks down there,” Clorinda objected. “The water’s full of them.”
“Watch,” insisted Marion.
Robin vanished between the jagged boulders at the waterline.
“He’d dead,” whispered David in a small shocked voice. “What do we do now? Robin’s dead!”
“Watch,” Marion repeated. Her voice was less calm than she’d hoped.
a million to one shot,” Little John owned. “That’s our Rob’s speciality, for
A wet blonde head broke out of the water fifty yards beyond the rocky shore. Robin Hood waved to the distant boat.
“Come about,” Tuck told the sailors. “Prepare to take aboard the madman.”
“See him safe,” Marion agreed. “Then I’ll kill him.”
Clorinda nodded. She grasped Maid Marion’s hand briefly. An understanding passed between them.
The boat of stolen jet and rescued slaves hove in to pick up the prince of thieves.
he boat didn’t put in at Whitby, where the abbey’s writ ran, not at Scarborough where a royal castle and garrison commanded the promontory. Robin had the fishermen take the vessel down the coast to the Humber estuary then up the river until the broad Trent branched off to the north.
“This is our stop, for most of us bandits,” the young outlaw told Clorinda, Brom, the refugees of Egton and the fishermen of Whitby strand. “Alan and Tuck will be sailing with you all the way up river to York.”
“York?” puzzled Brom. “Why…”
“The law is clear about slaves and runaway serfs,” Marion supplied. “If you can live free inside the boundaries of a charter city for a year and a day you are freemen forever. Be sure to get some helpful clergyman to notarise it for you.”
“And you’ll make your way in York with this,” Alan added, patting one of the heavy strongboxes of Whitby jet. “You mined it so you should spend it. There’s enough here to set up every family with a home and trade inside the city walls, where the Sheriff can never find you.”
Little John tapped his seven-foot quarterstaff on another of the chests. “This one’s for the smallfolk of Whitby, to compensate them for their pirate woes. You’ll be taking Makebliss back with you to face local justice with that captured crew – and neither Abbot nor Sheriff need know how that trial goes.”
“Make if fair, though,” insisted Marion. “We have to be better than De Vendenal.”
“And don’t forget that you can claim salvage fees if you return a royal boat you happen to find abandoned and drifting,” Will Scarlet pointed out. “A quarter of the vessel’s price. That’ll be a nice little windfall.”
Alan a Dale laid claim to the third chest. “This for His Grace Geoffrey Plantagenet, Archbishop of York, to help remind him that slavery’s wrong. A prohibition from him in the Church’s name will end this particular scheme of the Sheriff’s. If de Vendenal wants jet hereafter he’ll have to pay a wage.”
“Archbishop Geoffrey’s very moral,” Tuck told the peasants, “where large chests of treasure are involved.”
Robin perched up on the final trunk. “And this for the poor of Sherwood. We’re behind on deliveries. It’s been a nice holiday but we need to get back to work.”
“Holiday?” Will Scarlet almost yelped.
Marion had heard Robin’s account of the clifftop confrontations by now. She laid her head on the outlaw’s shoulder, her red locks twining with his blonde hair. “They were wrong you know. You will be remembered. This rebellion of yours, showing that tyrants can be fought, that wealth can be used for good, that everybody has worth – that rebellion will never end. Nor should it.”
“So we can work out a couple more verses to those songs about you and me, then?” Robin asked her speculatively.
She squeaked as his hand closed on her. She glanced over at the beautiful Clorinda, queen of the shepherdesses. “I want four more verses at least, Robin Hood,” Maid Marion insisted to the lord of Sherwood. “And they’d better be good long ones. See to it!”
More of I.A. Watson’s Robin Hood stories appear in his novels Robin Hood: King of Sherwood and Robin Hood: Arrow of Justice. Sample chapters, links to purchase print or pdf file copies, and additional information about Robin Hood’s cast and world appear at I.A. Watson’s Robin Hood Homepage.
Go back to Chapter I
Go back to Chapter II
 Many places claim to be the location of “Robin Hood’s Leap”, including some that are actually named that. In selecting this location for story purposes the author was mindful that the coastal cove where Robin meets his men described in this narrative, with the steep jagged cliffs above it, is nowadays the picturesque fishing village called Robin Hood’s Bay. Robin Hood tourists are recommended to visit this tiny unspoiled location themselves and make their own judgement on the matter.
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.