Hood: Arrow of Justice
man and a boy drove their cart down the road from Worksop to Nottingham. It was an old cart, much mended, and it moved slowly because its creaking boards carried a heavy locked trunk. The chest was fastened with an expensive padlock, a rarity seldom seen except to protect the greatest of treasures.
Around five miles out of Tickhill, where the great forest pressed closest to the road, an arrow from the trees embedded itself in the side of the wagon. A rough voice shouted “Stand!”
The carter and his lad yelped and dived out of their seats, taking shelter on the far side of the cart. A second arrow from the other side of the road went wide and skittered along the track, but the message was clear: the travellers were surrounded on both sides.
“Don’t shoot!” the carter called, placing his hands in the air. “I beg you, spare us!” His lad climbed right under the cart and cowered there.
The outlaws came from the forest, holding their bows ready before them, swaggering at their victory. Their leader swung down from a tree and landed neatly before the prisoners.
“What have we here?” he wondered, looking down at the trembling carter. “Two ragged men carrying a big sealed chest through my forest? What’s in the box?”
“P-please, sir, we don’t know,” stammered the cringing driver. “Master, he told us to take it to Nottingham so we did. Master’s man there, he has the key. We’re just doing what master told us!”
The bandit leader looked discerningly down at his captives. They seemed too scared to lie. “Break it open,” he called to his men.
It was a difficult job. The box was shod with iron and the padlock was tempered steel. Eventually a dozen men, fully half the band of wolfsheads that had waylaid the travellers, were called in to demolish the chest.
“Who are you?” the carter asked as the men attacked his property.
The bandit leader puffed his chest and strutted. “They call me Tod Gallows, and I’m the outlaw king!”
The young lad looked up curiously. He was barely old enough to shave and his simple face looked puzzled. “King? I thought the King of Sherwood was Robin i' th’ Hood?”
Tod Gallows spat. “Hood? He’s nothing. Piss and wind. Don’t you believe a word of him.”
“They say Robin Hood killed Handsome Jack himself,” noted the carter.
“I don’t pay heed to any,” replied Gallows. “They all fear me.”
“They say Robin Hood robs from the rich and gives the spoils to the poor,” the carter went on.
“More fool him if it’s true,” spat Tod Gallows. “I take what I want and no man tells me no.”
The carter dropped down to squat beside the lad beneath the cart. “Is that what you told that poor lass from Serlby last week when you caught her on the road and left her for dead?” he asked; and his tone had changed.
Tod Gallows looked down at the carter. Robin Hood looked back at him, holding the bow that Much the Miller’s Son had passed him from its place of concealment under the cart. The string was drawn back and a red-fletched arrow pointed right at Gallows’ throat.
“You’re mad, carter,” the bandit murderer growled. He still thought he’d found two helpless travellers and this was their final act of defiance. “You’re outnumbered and surrounded.” The men on the cart had seen what was happening and they stood ready to pounce.
“I’m not a carter,” Robin told them. “And I’m not outnumbered.”
Much smiled happily as the villains that surrounded him. “He’s Robin Hood,” he told them helpfully. “I’m Much.”
A flight of arrows came in from both sides of the road – but not from Gallows’ rogues. These shots were considerably better aimed, landing between the legs of each of Gallows’ gang.
“And those are my merry men,” smiled Robin in the Hood.
Gallows called to his own men in the forest. There was no reply.
“Anybody who moves now dies,” Robin advised the bandits. “And by the way, you should always keep a watch behind you when you take a traveller on the road. It’s a basic precaution.”
Tod Gallows glared at the laughing outlaw. “What do you want, Hood? Forest’s big enough for both of us.”
Robin shook his head. “It isn’t. It stopped being big enough the day you raped Maude of Serlby then put a knife in her belly. That’s when you forfeited your chance to join with me and signed your death warrant.”
“Murder me, is it?” sneered Gallows. “Is that how you did for Handsome Jack as well?”
A giant emerged from the treeline, hefting a stave as tall as himself. “Robin killed Jack in fair combat,” Little John announced to all. “I saw it. We all did.” He stepped up to Tod Gallows and looked down at the bandit. “Robin’s not a coward who preys on the helpless and murders little girls. He’s not scum deserving of death.”
Gallows would have backed away from the angry giant but Robin’s arrow was still aimed at him. “There’s a code,” Gallows remembered. “A forest code. I can challenge Hood, as Hood challenged Handsome Jack.”
Robin’s smile turned wolfish. “Yes you can,” he agreed. “Mortal combat, one on one.”
“Then I challenge you,” Gallows answered. “It’s time for you to die.”
Robin’s men exchanged smug glances that
worried the killer bandit more than any boast could.
Hood lowered his bow and drew his sword. “There’s a new forest law in Sherwood now,” he announced. “My law. Your time has gone.”
Gallows lunged forward suddenly, almost catching
Robin with the edge of his blade. Hood swerved sideways, barely avoiding.
“That’s my trouble,” Robin said as he parried the next set of blows, “always
talking too much.” He came off the defensive and began to drive his opponent
backwards round the cart. “I mean
“Die!” shouted Gallows, turning again and trying to hold his ground. “Die you bastard!”
“On the other hand, at least my dialogue is interesting,” Robin continued, retreating a little before his enemy’s fury. “I’d like to think that I could manage a little bit better then ‘die!’ when I’m in mortal combat. What kind of last words are ‘die, bastard’?”
“Shut up!” screeched Gallows, losing all self-control. “Shut up and die!”
“Again, the dying,” Robin scorned. “How can I come up with sparkling repartee if you’re not going to do your part? Couldn’t you try just a little bit hard…”
And then Robin in the Hood slipped in the mud, stumbling against the side of the cart. For a second his guard was down.
“Die!” Gallows shrieked and brought his longsword about in a high arc to cleave Robin’s skull.
Robin slipped aside as he’d always intended. Gallows’ blade bit deep into the side of the wagon and lodged in the planks.
Robin swung his own sword lightly, catching Gallows as he tried to heave his weapon free from the wood. The tip of Robin’s blade sliced neatly across Gallows’ throat. The rogue staggered to the side then dropped to the dirt, clutching his throat where his windpipe had been severed.
Robin was suddenly grim. “You had your chance to speak, to surrender, to beg forgiveness for Maude of Serlby. You wasted it. May you rot in hell.”
The stricken bandit crawled across the muddy track leaving a bloody trail. Little John looked down at him. “Give him mercy, Rob,” John asked.
“More than he gave Maude,” replied Robin in the Hood. He reversed his blade and ended all Tod Gallows’ troubles in this world. Then he looked up at the men who’d followed Gallows. “Any more?”
“Next one fights me,” offered Little John. There were no takers.
Little John and Much the Miller’s Son divested the crestfallen robbers of their weapons and goods. Burly David of Doncaster, three-times winner of the midsummer wrestling matches in his native city, and Gilbert Whitehand, as proficient with cleaver in combat as he was when he cooked the outlaws’ supper, came to assist.
Will Stutely led Robin’s archers from the trees, bringing with them the bound ambushers they’d captured; but the old outlaw knew enough to leave a couple of men posted watch. Robin had just given a potent demonstration of the need to keep a check on what was happening behind. “What shall we do with these bravos and the scum you caught here?” Stutely asked.
“Don’t let them join us,” John advised. “There’s none of ‘em I’d trust with a knife behind me and they’re all as bad as their leader.”
“They won’t be joining us,” Robin assured his men. “But we’ll take them along with us. I have another use for them.”
ir Guy of Gisborne tested the chains that held him. They were strong and new. The outlaws knew their business.
“Where am I?” he demanded now the hood had been dragged from his head. He was red-faced and half suffocated. “Answer me, peasants! Where have you taken me?”
A fat friar perched on the low wall at the front of the pig sty where they’d shackled the Prince’s courier. “I thought you’d recognise a pen for swine,” said Brother Thomas – better known as Tuck.
“You let me go now!” ordered Sir Guy. “Release me and I might yet be merciful.”
Friar Tuck finished the chicken leg he’d been gnawing on and threw the remnant to the fat black sow in the adjacent stall. “Merciful like you were to the villages you wrecked? Like you were to the headman at Kinsley? Like you were when you ordered Kinsley burned? I don’t think I like your mercy.”
“Like it or not I’m an envoy of Prince John of England. Restraining me is treason, and you’ll die bloody for it. Hot coals and quartering until you beg to die.”
The monk sniffed the top of a wineskin. He seemed to find the aroma satisfactory since he allowed himself a generous sup. “I don’t serve Prince John,” Tuck told the black knight. “My Prince isn’t of this world and he doesn’t need to burn villages to command the hearts of his subjects. But keep on giving orders. It’s not every day I’m threatened by a naked madman in a pig-sty.”
Yesterday Gisbourne had gone to battle against Robin Hood. His great mistake had been taking his soldiers into the forest. Now he was captured, stripped and beaten and chained in hog-filth. He tried his bonds again but the back wall of the enclosure was stone, maybe even old Roman work, and the ring that secured his shackles was firm and unmoveable.
“Every servant of God has a duty to the crown,” Gisbourne persuaded. “And even a holy friar could benefit from the reward a Prince would give.”
“You think the Prince will want you back, then?” Tuck wondered. “Robin and I were a little bit worried about that. You see we’re not convinced that John Lackland thinks enough of any of his minions to actually pay out good coin for them – and Robin has such good uses he could put your ransom to.”
“Bribing the poor?” sneered Sir Guy. “They’ll take his money then turn on him with their next breath.”
“What he gives them’s better than coin,” Tuck promised.
“I’ll see him dead. I’ll see you dead. I’ll be revenged.”
“Not if there’s any justice in this world, you won’t,” replied the monk. He reluctantly sealed up the wineskin and tucked it at his belt.
“Prince John’s justice rules this land now,” Gisbourne warned. “You’ll learn it at your cost.”
“In Sherwood we look to Robin Hood for justice,” declared Friar Tuck. “You’ve already learned that to yours.”
sdric the Gatherer left Scaftworth on time, his wagon full of the tithes and taxes he’d taken for the Sheriff. The hard stares of the villagers meant nothing to him. He was well protected by a dozen armed guards who’d not hesitate to break the head of any serf or peasant that got in his way. Besides, the men of Scaftworth had plenty of reason to wish him ill after this visit; the new Sheriff of Nottingham had been very clear that he wanted no quarter given to defaulters.
The last house in Scaftworth was a little way outside the village hedge, a small holding rented by a farmer named Dain. He was due to render nine shillings for his tenancy and one penny for every sheep, pig, or goat, and for every dozen poultry. Another two shillings bought him the right to brew ale and bake bread.
There was no sign of life around the wooden farmhouse. Esdric was hardly surprised. Being out when the taxman called was an old ploy. Sometimes when the gatherer was in a hurry it even worked; the collector would seize some item of approximate value – a sheep or a butt of ale, say – and take that without looking to an exact accounting. Sadly for Dain, the Sheriff’s affeeror had been very clear that this time every household paid by the book.
Esdric hammered on the door so hard it almost came off its bindings. “Open up in the Sheriff’s name!” shouted the taxman. “Open or I’ll send for fire!”
That usually worked, and this time it was no different. Esdric heard the sound of a bar being slid away and the door opened a fraction. “What is it?” asked a frightened woman peering through the gap.
Esdric kicked the door back so the woman had to step aside or be hit by it. She gasped and retreated a pace, allowing the taxman onto the threshold. The interior of the hovel was dark and pungent like all those peasant huts.
“Who are you?” the woman demanded, looking over Esdric’s shoulder at the guards flanking him.
“I’m the Sheriff’s man, here for what he’s due. Who are you? Where’s Dain?”
The woman bit her bottom lip and looked stricken. “Dain’s dead. He caught a fever these three months since. I’m his wife. His widow.” She looked up defiantly. “I holds this land now.”
Esdric shook his head. “Not without a writ of transfer, you don’t. There’s a body tax to be paid on all Dain’s goods and a new charter to be bought to carry on tenure. You should have talked to the steward and the affeeror long before now.”
The woman looked stricken. “More fees? But…” she bit back tears. “I’m hardly holding on as it is. It’s so hard. I can’t pay no more!”
Esdric regarded the widow. He hadn’t even known Dain was married. Dain’s wife was a deal younger than the dead farmer, perhaps twenty, and she was a good looking piece.
“It’s the law,” the tax-collector observed. “You have to pay. And now there’ll be fines, too, for not keeping to proper procedure.”
“F-fines? What fines?”
“That’s for the court to decide,” Esdric told her, “based upon my recommendation. Ten shillings, perhaps, or a year’s income.”
The widow trembled. “I can’t pay that! I don’t have it.”
“A flogging then, and cast out onto the road.”
The pretty woman stared at the floor, desperate and floundering. “What shall I do? What can I do?” she asked herself. She began to cry properly.
Esdric stared openly at her ample bosom as it trembled at her sobbing. “Well, it’s on my recommendation, as I say. I have some leeway to help you.”
The widow looked up hopefully. “You do? You would?”
“I might,” the tax gatherer offered, “but you’ll have to convince me.”
“Convince you how? Oh…” Now the woman understood his meaning, recognised his expression. She bit her lip again and looked away. “Well then…” she said slowly, “you’d better come in.” She stepped away from the door, retreating into the blackness.
“Take a rest for a while,” Esdric told his grinning guards. “I’ll be examining the estate.” He slipped into the hut’s interior and barred the door. “And now, my little darling…”
Robin Hood pressed a blade to his throat. “Yes, my sweetheart?” he replied. “Don’t make a sound or my big friend here will tear your head off.”
“And spit down your neck,” offered Little John.
Behind them Ros of Waltham shed her role as Dain of Scaftworth’s widow and brought forward ropes to bind the taxman. “I don’t really fancy you,” she told Esdric. “Eyes too close together and a breath that reeks.”
Esdric didn’t dare protest as Little John hogtied him. He was laid at the back of the hovel beside another bound prisoner that he recognised as the farmer Dain.
“What are your guards’ names?” Robin demanded. “The two big fellows you had by the door?”
“Hardstan and Rufus.”
“Call them in. Don’t let them think there’s any reason to be suspicious. If there’s a fight Ros will prick your eyes out with her poignard.”
“I will an’ all,” promised the outlaw woman.
“Bring them here,” Robin ordered, sliding the bar back.
Esdric had no choice but to obey. The two guards entered the dark hovel and were overcome before their eyes even adjusted to the gloom.
“And so on,” grinned Robin in the Hood. “This guard captain calls in more men and we keep going until they’re all our guests. And then we’ll see about a little bit of accounting.”
can’t believe we did this,” Little John admitted as the last of Esdric’s party was hobbled and tied in Dain’s hut.
“I get that a lot,” admitted Robin Hood. “But we’ve taken an armed tax train without a single drop of blood shed and I consider that a good day’s work.”
“I’ve never robbed a taxman before,” admitted Ros proudly. “It’s nice.”
Robin imitated a bird call to summon Much and David from the woods. “Get the wagon out of here,” he told them. “Herd the confiscated animals into the forest too for now. We’ll return them when the hue and cry’s died down.”
“Right you are, Robin,” agreed the miller’s son. He’d never doubted that the plan would work. His faith in Robin was absolute. “Where do you want those bandits we took earlier?”
“Have Stutlely bring ‘em here and truss them next to Esdric’s guards and scribes. It’s going to get quite crowded in this little hut.” The young outlaw pondered for a moment then ordered that Dain be dragged outside. He waited until the bound peasant was out of sight of the prisoners before cutting the man loose.
“I can’t believe you did that,” said Dain of Scaftworth.
“He gets that a lot,” laughed Little John.
“It’s done, anyway,” Robin said. “If anyone asks we took you outside to beat you till you told us where you’d buried your hoard. We’ll be long gone before anyone even starts to look for us. Nobody can blame you for what we did today.”
“They’ll find a way,” Dain predicted gloomily. He looked over at Ros hopefully. “You could leave that one behind if she’d a mind to play my wife any longer.”
Ros chuckled as John bristled. “I’ve already got one baby to look after in the forest,” she told the farmer. “And enough men to wash and sew for till we’ve found more womenfolk who need a refuge. I don’t know as I’d make a good farmer’s wife any more.”
Dain eyed the pretty widow regretfully then turned back to Robin. “You’re really going to give those goods back to the village?”
“To all the places Esdric took from,” the young outlaw promised. “Look for a fat wandering friar in a few days time when the hue and cry’s died down.”
“Why?” asked the farmer.
“Because there’ll be searches when the soldiers respond at last and they can’t plunder what’s not here.”
That wasn’t what Dain had meant. “No. I mean why are you giving us our things back? It makes no sense.”
“That’s what I keep telling him,” Will Stutely chipped in. “I mean, we could live like kings on a haul like this. A few more jobs as successful and we could retire, clear off to Lincoln or York and start a new life, all set up like. But no, Robin i’ th’ Hood has to go giving to the poor.”
“We’re hungry but virtuous,” Robin teased the old bandit. “We’re storing up our riches in heaven.”
“I’m sure Tuck would be able to tell you why that’s not quite right,” puzzled Little John. “But it does feel good to be able to help folks.”
“Stealing from the Sheriff,” shuddered Dain, “He won’t like it.”
“He’s welcome to send me a very stern letter,” answered Robin in the Hood. “Oh, and speaking of letters, I’ve a missive that needs to go to the good Sheriff as well. When you finally manage to ‘break free’ from your ropes I’d like you to give it to Esdric to pass on.”
“A bandit is sending letters to the Lord High Sheriff?”
“It’s hardly a love letter,” Little John revealed. “More by way of a ransom note.”
“That Guy of Gisbourne,” guessed Dain. Word travelled fast between the villages and Robin Hood was hot news. “They said as how you’d taken him alive.”
“We should have hung him high for what he did to our brothers and sisters,” grumbled Stutely.
“We still might if we don’t get silver for him,” Robin declared. “But really right now he’s worth more to us alive than dead. His ransom will comfort a lot of widows and orphans – and maybe help out Marion with her brother’s fine.”
“I can’t just hand in a ransom note to the Sheriff of Nottingham,” objected Dain. “They’d put me to the rack.”
Robin held up a finger to stop the farmer’s complaint. “They won’t torture you. They’ll be too busy rewarding you.”
Robin gestured back to the crowded hovel. “The men we just stacked in there on top of Esdric and his thugs are the gang that ran with Tod Gallows, the brave boys who ravaged Maude of Serlby. They’re outlaws all with prices on their heads. Turn them in. When the reward’s paid keep your fair share and pass the rest on to your neighbours. Handing in a score of murderous raping cut-throats should make sure you’re in good standing with the Sheriff.”
“It… probably will,” agreed Dain, his mind slowly catching up with Robin’s agile wit.
Little John laughed at the farmer’s expression. “He’s got that look on his face, Stutely,” he noted. “The one we all get when Robin tells us his plans.”
“The one when you realise it’s too late to escape?” Stutely quipped back. “I know it well.”
Robin glared at them with mock annoyance. “Don’t you two have some banditry to do?”
***  Serfs or
villeins were men and women “tied” to the land they worked, the lowest social
class above actual slave. The majority of people in England in 1190 were serfs.
Their property and lands all belonged to their feudal lord. A serf could not
move from his estate nor even marry without his lord’s permission. A peasant
was a free man of humble stock, and had more rights in law than a serf but was
still subject to a landlord’s will.  A shilling
was twelve pennies, roughly two weeks’ wages for a basic hired labourer. At this
time the economy still functioned largely on barter so most taxes were paid in
goods to the value of the amount due.  An affeeror
was an official appointed to ensure that court fines were paid, but they also
kept track of taxes due and other legal obligations.
 Serfs or villeins were men and women “tied” to the land they worked, the lowest social class above actual slave. The majority of people in England in 1190 were serfs. Their property and lands all belonged to their feudal lord. A serf could not move from his estate nor even marry without his lord’s permission. A peasant was a free man of humble stock, and had more rights in law than a serf but was still subject to a landlord’s will.
 A shilling was twelve pennies, roughly two weeks’ wages for a basic hired labourer. At this time the economy still functioned largely on barter so most taxes were paid in goods to the value of the amount due.
 An affeeror
was an official appointed to ensure that court fines were paid, but they also
kept track of taxes due and other legal obligations.