“Why, never, I think,” replied the Knight.
“Thou never deservest to have a full one in thy hand, for so simple an answer! Thou hadst best empty thy pitcher ere thou pass it to a Saxon, and leave thy money at home ere thou walk in the greenwood.”
“You hold our friends for robbers, then?” said the Knight of the Fetterlock.
“You hear me not say so, fair sir,” said Wamba; “it may relieve a man’s steed to take of his mail when he hath a long journey to make; and, certes, it may do good to the rider’s soul to ease him of that which is the root of evil; therefore will I give no hard names to those who do such services. Only I would wish my mail at home, and my purse in my chamber, when I meet with these good fellows, because it might save them some trouble.”
“WE are bound to pray for them, my friend, notwithstanding the fair character thou dost afford them.”
“Pray for them with all my heart,” said Wamba; “but in the town, not in the greenwood, like the Abbot of Saint Bees, whom they caused to say mass with an old hollow oak-tree for his stall.”
“Say as thou list, Wamba,” replied the Knight, “these yeomen did thy master Cedric yeomanly service at Torquilstone.”
“Ay, truly,” answered Wamba; “but that was in the fashion of their trade with Heaven.”
“Their trade, Wamba! how mean you by that?” replied his companion.
“Marry, thus,” said the Jester. “They make up a balanced account with Heaven, as our old cellarer used to call his ciphering, as fair as Isaac the Jew keeps with his debtors, and, like him, give out a very little, and take large credit for doing so; reckoning, doubtless, on their own behalf the seven-fold usury which the blessed text hath promised to charitable loans.”
“Give me an example of your meaning, Wamba,—I know nothing of ciphers or rates of usage,” answered the Knight.
“Why,” said Wamba, “an your valour be so dull, you will please to learn that those honest fellows balance a good deed with one not quite so laudable; as a crown given to a begging friar with an hundred byzants taken from a fat abbot, or a wench kissed in the greenwood with the relief of a poor widow.”
“Which of these was the good deed, which was the felony?” interrupted the Knight.
“A good gibe! a good gibe!” said Wamba; “keeping witty company sharpeneth the apprehension. You said nothing so well, Sir Knight, I will be sworn, when you held drunken vespers with the bluff Hermit.—But to go on. The merry-men of the forest set off the building of a cottage with the burning of a castle,—the thatching of a choir against the robbing of a church,—the setting free a poor prisoner against the murder of a proud sheriff; or, to come nearer to our point, the deliverance of a Saxon franklin against the burning alive of a Norman baron. Gentle thieves they are, in short, and courteous robbers; but it is ever the luckiest to meet with them when they are at the worst.”
“How so, Wamba?” said the Knight.
“Why, then they have some compunction, and are for making up matters with Heaven. But when they have struck an even balance, Heaven help them with whom they next open the account! The travellers who first met them after their good service at Torquilstone would have a woeful flaying.—And yet,” said Wamba, coming close up to the Knight’s side, “there be companions who are far more dangerous for travellers to meet than yonder outlaws.”
“And who may they be, for you have neither bears nor wolves, I trow?” said the Knight.
“Marry, sir, but we have Malvoisin’s men-at-arms,” said Wamba; “and let me tell you, that, in time of civil war, a halfscore of these is worth a band of wolves at any time. They are now expecting their harvest, and are reinforced with the soldiers that escaped from Torquilstone. So that, should we meet with a band of them, we are like to pay for our feats of arms.—Now, I pray you, Sir Knight, what would you do if we met two of them?”
“Pin the villains to the earth with my lance, Wamba, if they offered us any impediment.”
“But what if there were four of them?”
“They should drink of the same cup,” answered the Knight.
“What if six,” continued Wamba, “and we as we now are, barely two—would you not remember Locksley’s horn?”
“What! sound for aid,” exclaimed the Knight, “against a score of such ‘rascaille’ as these, whom one good knight could drive before him, as the wind drives the withered leaves?”
“Nay, then,” said Wamba, “I will pray you for a close sight of that same horn that hath so powerful a breath.”
The Knight undid the clasp of the baldric, and indulged his fellow-traveller, who immediately hung the bugle round his own neck.
“Tra-lira-la,” said he, whistling the notes; “nay, I know my gamut as well as another.”
“How mean you, knave?” said the Knight; “restore me the bugle.”
“Content you, Sir Knight, it is in safe keeping. When Valour and Folly travel, Folly should bear the horn, because she can blow the best.”
“Nay but, rogue,” said the Black Knight, “this exceedeth thy license—Beware ye tamper not with my patience.”
“Urge me not with violence, Sir Knight,” said the Jester, keeping at a distance from the impatient champion, “or Folly will show a clean pair of heels, and leave Valour to find out his way through the wood as best he may.”
“Nay, thou hast hit me there,” said the Knight; “and, sooth to say, I have little time to jangle with thee. Keep the horn an thou wilt, but let us proceed on our journey.”
“You will not harm me, then?” said Wamba.
“I tell thee no, thou knave!”
“Ay, but pledge me your knightly word for it,” continued Wamba, as he approached with great caution.
“My knightly word I pledge; only come on with thy foolish self.”
“Nay, then, Valour and Folly are once more boon companions,” said the Jester, coming up frankly to the Knight’s side; “but, in truth, I love not such buffets as that you bestowed on the burly Friar, when his holiness rolled on the green like a king of the nine-pins. And now that Folly wears the horn, let Valour rouse himself, and shake his mane; for, if I mistake not, there are company in yonder brake that are on the look-out for us.”
“What makes thee judge so?” said the Knight.
“Because I have twice or thrice noticed the glance of a motion from amongst the green leaves. Had they been honest men, they had kept the path. But yonder thicket is a choice chapel for the Clerks of Saint Nicholas.”
“By my faith,” said the Knight, closing his visor, “I think thou be’st in the right on’t.”
And in good time did he close it, for three arrows, flew at the same instant from the suspected spot against his head and breast, one of which would have penetrated to the brain, had it not been turned aside by the steel visor. The other two were averted by the gorget, and by the shield which hung around his neck.
“Thanks, trusty armourers,” said the Knight.—“Wamba, let us close with them,”—and he rode straight to the thicket. He was met by six or seven men-at-arms, who ran against him with their lances at full career. Three of the weapons struck against him, and splintered with as little effect as if they had been driven against a tower of steel. The Black Knight’s eyes seemed to flash fire even through the aperture of his visor. He raised himself in his stirrups with an air of inexpressible dignity, and exclaimed, “What means this, my masters!”—The men made no other reply than by drawing their swords and attacking him on every side, crying, “Die, tyrant!”
“Ha! Saint Edward! Ha! Saint George!” said the Black Knight, striking down a man at every invocation; “have we traitors here?”
His opponents, desperate as they were, bore back from an arm which carried death in every blow, and it seemed as if the terror of his single strength was about to gain the battle against such odds, when a knight, in blue armour, who had hitherto kept himself behind the other assailants, spurred forward with his lance, and taking aim, not at the rider but at the steed, wounded the noble animal mortally.
“That was a felon stroke!” exclaimed the Black Knight, as the steed fell to the earth, bearing his rider along with him.
And at this moment, Wamba winded the bugle, for the whole had passed so speedily, that he had not time to do so sooner. The sudden sound made the murderers bear back once more, and Wamba, though so imperfectly weaponed, did not hesitate to rush in and assist the Black Knight to rise.
“Shame on ye, false cowards!” exclaimed he in the blue harness, who seemed to lead the assailants, “do ye fly from the empty blast of a horn blown by a Jester?”
Animated by his words, they attacked the Black Knight anew, whose best refuge was now to place his back against an oak, and defend himself with his sword. The felon knight, who had taken another spear, watching the moment when his formidable antagonist was most closely pressed, galloped against him in hopes to nail him with his lance against the tree, when his purpose was again intercepted by Wamba. The Jester, making up by agility the want of strength, and little noticed by the men-at-arms, who were busied in their more important object, hovered on the skirts of the fight, and effectually checked the fatal career of the Blue Knight, by hamstringing his horse with a stroke of his sword. Horse and man went to the ground; yet the situation of the Knight of the Fetterlock continued very precarious, as he was pressed close by several men completely armed, and began to be fatigued by the violent exertions necessary to defend himself on so many points at nearly the same moment, when a grey-goose shaft suddenly stretched on the earth one of the most formidable of his assailants, and a band of yeomen broke forth from the glade, headed by Locksley and the jovial Friar, who, taking ready and effectual part in the fray, soon disposed of the ruffians, all of whom lay on the spot dead or mortally wounded. The Black Knight thanked his deliverers with a dignity they had not observed in his former bearing, which hitherto had seemed rather that of a blunt bold soldier, than of a person of exalted rank.
“It concerns me much,” he said, “even before I express my full gratitude to my ready friends, to discover, if I may, who have been my unprovoked enemies.—Open the visor of that Blue Knight, Wamba, who seems the chief of these villains.”
The Jester instantly made up to the leader of the assassins, who, bruised by his fall, and entangled under the wounded steed, lay incapable either of flight or resistance.
“Come, valiant sir,” said Wamba, “I must be your armourer as well as your equerry—I have dismounted you, and now I will unhelm you.”
So saying, with no very gentle hand he undid the helmet of the Blue Knight, which, rolling to a distance on the grass, displayed to the Knight of the Fetterlock grizzled locks, and a countenance he did not expect to have seen under such circumstances.
“Waldemar Fitzurse!” he said in astonishment; “what could urge one of thy rank and seeming worth to so foul an undertaking?”
“Richard,” said the captive Knight, looking up to him, “thou knowest little of mankind, if thou knowest not to what ambition and revenge can lead every child of Adam.”
“Revenge?” answered the Black Knight; “I never wronged thee—On me thou hast nought to revenge.”
“My daughter, Richard, whose alliance thou didst scorn—was that no injury to a Norman, whose blood is noble as thine own?”
“Thy daughter?” replied the Black Knight; “a proper cause of enmity, and followed up to a bloody issue!—Stand back, my masters, I would speak to him alone.—And now, Waldemar Fitzurse, say me the truth—confess who set thee on this traitorous deed.”
“Thy father’s son,” answered Waldemar, “who, in so doing, did but avenge on thee thy disobedience to thy father.”
Richard’s eyes sparkled with indignation, but his better nature overcame it. He pressed his hand against his brow, and remained an instant gazing on the face of the humbled baron, in whose features pride was contending with shame.
“Thou dost not ask thy life, Waldemar,” said the King.
“He that is in the lion’s clutch,” answered Fitzurse, “knows it were needless.”
“Take it, then, unasked,” said Richard; “the lion preys not on prostrate carcasses.—Take thy life, but with this condition, that in three days thou shalt leave England, and go to hide thine infamy in thy Norman castle, and that thou wilt never mention the name of John of Anjou as connected with thy felony. If thou art found on English ground after the space I have allotted thee, thou diest—or if thou breathest aught that can attaint the honour of my house, by Saint George! not the altar itself shall be a sanctuary. I will hang thee out to feed the ravens, from the very pinnacle of thine own castle.—Let this knight have a steed, Locksley, for I see your yeomen have caught those which were running loose, and let him depart unharmed.”
“But that I judge I listen to a voice whose behests must not be disputed,” answered the yeoman, “I would send a shaft after the skulking villain that should spare him the labour of a long journey.”
“Thou bearest an English heart, Locksley,” said the Black Knight, “and well dost judge thou art the more bound to obey my behest—I am Richard of England!”
At these words, pronounced in a tone of majesty suited to the high rank, and no less distinguished character of Coeur-de-Lion, the yeomen at once kneeled down before him, and at the same time tendered their allegiance, and implored pardon for their offences.
“Rise, my friends,” said Richard, in a gracious tone, looking on them with a countenance in which his habitual good-humour had already conquered the blaze of hasty resentment, and whose features retained no mark of the late desperate conflict, excepting the flush arising from exertion,—“Arise,” he said, “my friends!—Your misdemeanours, whether in forest or field, have been atoned by the loyal services you rendered my distressed subjects before the walls of Torquilstone, and the rescue you have this day afforded to your sovereign. Arise, my liegemen, and be good subjects in future.—And thou, brave Locksley—”
“Call me no longer Locksley, my Liege, but know me under the name, which, I fear, fame hath blown too widely not to have reached even your royal ears—I am Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest.” 561
561.From the ballads of Robin Hood, we learn that this celebrated outlaw, when in disguise, sometimes assumed the name of Locksley, from a village where he was born, but where situated we are not distinctly told.
“King of Outlaws, and Prince of good fellows!” said the King, “who hath not heard a name that has been borne as far as Palestine? But be assured, brave Outlaw, that no deed done in our absence, and in the turbulent times to which it hath given rise, shall be remembered to thy disadvantage.”
“True says the proverb,” said Wamba, interposing his word, but with some abatement of his usual petulance,—
“’When the cat is away, The mice will play.’”
“What, Wamba, art thou there?” said Richard; “I have been so long of hearing thy voice, I thought thou hadst taken flight.”
“I take flight!” said Wamba; “when do you ever find Folly separated from Valour? There lies the trophy of my sword, that good grey gelding, whom I heartily wish upon his legs again, conditioning his master lay there houghed in his place. It is true, I gave a little ground at first, for a motley jacket does not brook lance-heads, as a steel doublet will. But if I fought not at sword’s point, you will grant me that I sounded the onset.”
“And to good purpose, honest Wamba,” replied the King. “Thy good service shall not be forgotten.”
“’Confiteor! Confiteor!’”—exclaimed, in a submissive tone, a voice near the King’s side—“my Latin will carry me no farther—but I confess my deadly treason, and pray leave to have absolution before I am led to execution!”
Richard looked around, and beheld the jovial Friar on his knees, telling his rosary, while his quarter-staff, which had not been idle during the skirmish, lay on the grass beside him. His countenance was gathered so as he thought might best express the most profound contrition, his eyes being turned up, and the corners of his mouth drawn down, as Wamba expressed it, like the tassels at the mouth of a purse. Yet this demure affectation of extreme penitence was whimsically belied by a ludicrous meaning which lurked in his huge features, and seemed to pronounce his fear and repentance alike hypocritical.
“For what art thou cast down, mad Priest?” said Richard; “art thou afraid thy diocesan should learn how truly thou dost serve Our Lady and Saint Dunstan?—Tush, man! fear it not; Richard of England betrays no secrets that pass over the flagon.”
“Nay, most gracious sovereign,” answered the Hermit, (well known to the curious in penny-histories of Robin Hood, by the name of Friar Tuck,) “it is not the crosier I fear, but the sceptre.—Alas! that my sacrilegious fist should ever have been applied to the ear of the Lord’s anointed!”
“Ha! ha!” said Richard, “sits the wind there?—In truth I had forgotten the buffet, though mine ear sung after it for a whole day. But if the cuff was fairly given, I will be judged by the good men around, if it was not as well repaid—or, if thou thinkest I still owe thee aught, and will stand forth for another counterbuff—”
“By no means,” replied Friar Tuck, “I had mine own returned, and with usury—may your Majesty ever pay your debts as fully!”
“If I could do so with cuffs,” said the King, “my creditors should have little reason to complain of an empty exchequer.”
“And yet,” said the Friar, resuming his demure hypocritical countenance, “I know not what penance I ought to perform for that most sacrilegious blow!—-”
“Speak no more of it, brother,” said the King; “after having stood so many cuffs from Paynims and misbelievers, I were void of reason to quarrel with the buffet of a clerk so holy as he of Copmanhurst. Yet, mine honest Friar, I think it would be best both for the church and thyself, that I should procure a license to unfrock thee, and retain thee as a yeoman of our guard, serving in care of our person, as formerly in attendance upon the altar of Saint Dunstan.”
“My Liege,” said the Friar, “I humbly crave your pardon; and you would readily grant my excuse, did you but know how the sin of laziness has beset me. Saint Dunstan—may he be gracious to us!—stands quiet in his niche, though I should forget my orisons in killing a fat buck—I stay out of my cell sometimes a night, doing I wot not what—Saint Dunstan never complains—a quiet master he is, and a peaceful, as ever was made of wood.—But to be a yeoman in attendance on my sovereign the King—the honour is great, doubtless—yet, if I were but to step aside to comfort a widow in one corner, or to kill a deer in another, it would be, ‘where is the dog Priest?’ says one. ‘Who has seen the accursed Tuck?’ says another. ‘The unfrocked villain destroys more venison than half the country besides,’ says one keeper; ‘And is hunting after every shy doe in the country!’ quoth a second.—In fine, good my Liege, I pray you to leave me as you found me; or, if in aught you desire to extend your benevolence to me, that I may be considered as the poor Clerk of Saint Dunstan’s cell in Copmanhurst, to whom any small donation will be most thankfully acceptable.”
“I understand thee,” said the King, “and the Holy Clerk shall have a grant of vert and venison in my woods of Warncliffe. Mark, however, I will but assign thee three bucks every season; but if that do not prove an apology for thy slaying thirty, I am no Christian knight nor true king.”
“Your Grace may be well assured,” said the Friar, “that, with the grace of Saint Dunstan, I shall find the way of multiplying your most bounteous gift.”
“I nothing doubt it, good brother,” said the King; “and as venison is but dry food, our cellarer shall have orders to deliver to thee a butt of sack, a runlet of Malvoisie, and three hogsheads of ale of the first strike, yearly—If that will not quench thy thirst, thou must come to court, and become acquainted with my butler.”
“But for Saint Dunstan?” said the Friar—
“A cope, a stole, and an altar-cloth shalt thou also have,” continued the King, crossing himself—“But we may not turn our game into earnest, lest God punish us for thinking more on our follies than on his honour and worship.”
“I will answer for my patron,” said the Priest, joyously.
“Answer for thyself, Friar,” said King Richard, something sternly; but immediately stretching out his hand to the Hermit, the latter, somewhat abashed, bent his knee, and saluted it. “Thou dost less honour to my extended palm than to my clenched fist,” said the Monarch; “thou didst only kneel to the one, and to the other didst prostrate thyself.”
But the Friar, afraid perhaps of again giving offence by continuing the conversation in too jocose a style—a false step to be particularly guarded against by those who converse with monarchs—bowed profoundly, and fell into the rear.
At the same time, two additional personages appeared on the scene.