Nottingham had grown silent. Months on end dragged past.
I had seen excitement. Outlaws used to run free through the town. I had seen them with my own eyes. They were long gone.
Streets were often abandoned. The ere of aged ruckuses seem as if they often remain. There was a common expression of defeat on everyone you walked past and frankly it grew rather depressing.
Personally I had always seen myself as a people pleaser. Due to that, I like to think that my actions came from a wish to entertain.
This is how I could be seen running through these silent streets. Running for my life.
All for a loaf of bread. A measly loaf of bread. Yet this bread could have saved my starving mother.
Meanwhile people were greatly enjoying the entertainment I was providing. Saxons would forever praise anything that broke from this new and boring sense of normality. Children raced to the side of the road to cheer me as I ran past. Adults had a little more dignity but I could see their excitement despite their acts of trying to hide it.
Turning a sharp a corner I felt the hard collision, which could only be made form the metal of a guard uniform. Luckily I had quite a hard skull and managed to regain my balance. Falling to the ground would have cost me.
It didn't even occur to me to be worried. This could have been from a severe amount of courage or the more likely fact of how bumbling and oaf-like guards tended to be. This one appeared to barley fit into his uniform and was puffing hard from the small amount of running I had caused him.
"So I'm guessing from the redness of your face that you don't run often," I said as he paused to regain breath, "and I am also guessing that by the look on your face you are not happy about said running. All of this is not looking good for me is it?" I asked, trying to be cheerful.
He glared at me and finally drew his sword. All the while more and more guards were approaching and I was blocked in.
"Gentlemen please," I said, raising my hands in surrender. Once again I looked to my loot. I still had the loaf clasped in my hand as I ran. I could feel the mould. "All of this running for this pathetic thing?" I said as I held up the offending object. My stalling worked as they all stopped drawing their swords as they watched me, all very confused.
So I wandered up to my original guard friend. "Would you eat this?" I shoved the loaf right under his nose so he could inspect it.
He didn't seem impressed. "So you know, I was really doing Nottingham a favour. Imagine the poor family that strived for months to buy this for their children. Imagine how disappointed they would be."
My stalling tactic ceased to work and they brutally grabbed me by the scruff of my collar and dragged me back to the main square. The main square was never a good thing. I looked to my left and saw the gallows. There was a noose.
I was not scared, as many would be. I was more concerned with the bleeding lip I had gained and the rather disgusting taste it put in my mouth. Being the son of a baker, I did have some standards. Blood was not in my top five favourite things to eat.
I finally focused back to the Sheriff. I didn't know a lot about this one. I had encountered many a Sheriff in my time but most had a shred of fairness someone inside of them. It was obvious that there was nothing fair about him as he stroked his beard, obviously hinting something quite unfavorable.
"Well well well," he said, as he looked me up and down. "What do we have here?"
"Common thief milord," the first guard told him.
"Darling how could you betray me like this?" I demanded with false anguish.
The Sheriff seemed amused by the whole situation. "We appear to have a jester amongst us," he said, now addressing the people. My replay had gained a few titters around the spectators and now they all quickly tried to wipe smiles from their faces.
"Jester is such a common term," I corrected. "I prefer Esteemed Lord of all things amusing."
The crowd held in chuckles. It wasn't that my jokes were funny. The mere fact of how I stood up to the Sheriff amused the crowd.
The Sheriff however, didn't find my words amusing. Instead he gestured for a whip, held by the nearest guard. "I'll show you what funny is," he said to me and ordered for my vest and shirt to be removed.
I thanked the good Lord that I had been blessed with stomach muscles. Despite the situation I still found the time to raised my eyebrows suggestively at some of the prettier women towards the front. I would never let my good looks go to waste, even in the face of impending torture and death.
"It's time that the people of England learnt what true humour is," the Sheriff said to the crowd. "So let me instruct you. Troublemakers are not in the slightest bit amusing." With these words he took me by the ear and twisted as hard as he could. I had always had a low tolerance for pain and tried to keep my face un-contorted. "People who oppose our good King John, are not at all funny." With these words he gave me a hard shove on the back that sent me toppling forward. I landed hard on the shark stones and could see blood trickling from my hands.
The Sheriff grew bored and gestured for the guards to pull me onto the podium of the gallows. "I'll tell you what is funny; justice. This man, Henry of Nottingham, thinks that he is above the law. He thinks that normal rules don't apply to him."
All the while he couldn't figure out why people were laughing. He never stopped to see that I was mocking him as he spoke and mouthing along his extremely clichéd speech with my own interpretation of his facial expressions.
"So what to sentence him too?" the Sheriff wondered as he played with the whip in his hands, all the while looking longingly at the noose. "So many choices," he whispered to me.
"May I make a suggestion about your decision?" I asked, getting a little anxious.
He looked smug at the idea of my begging. "By all means," he responded.
Debate arises. Was I extremely clever? Or extremely lucky? I think both of these were wrong. I think the Sheriff is simply stupid.
I pointed off into the distance, placed a look of awe and fear on my face and yelled, "Look a dragon!"
I shouldn't have been surprised when they all turned to look. England is clearly being ruled by the most idiotic set of people possible.
As much as I wanted to stay and laugh at their stupidity, I took advantage of the situation I had made for myself and ran.
All of my encounters with the law had taught me one thing. To run. This time I knew my Father wouldn't pick up the pieces and I really didn't want him too. One last look at my parents made it obvious that they would be better off without me. There would be no simple relocating this time. Besides, they were happy here. It wasn't fair that they constantly had to change their lives for me.
I was not meant to live in societies boring walls. I was meant to live.
There was mutterings from the townsfolk as I ran past but not the normal ones of dishonor and supposed shame. These were of approval. I even heard the occasional person dare to dream that I could be the next Robin Hood. Once again I wanted to laugh but didn't have the time. If there were not guards chasing me, I would have happily told the people that I was not a naive freedom fighter who would fight for justice. I was merely a man who longed to live how he wanted and when he wanted. Sure, I could devote my life to the foolish cause. But than again, I am not an idiot. People nowadays would cling hope onto anything.
There were some crueler villagers of course. George a Greene was running amongst the people taking bets on how long I would last. You could tell when this man was excited as his dark sandy hair would fluff up from the wind as he ran, giving him a mad appearance. Yet people knew that he was perfectly sane and many gambled on my life. I would have been insulted but later I heard the suggestions and was rather flattered.
David of Doncastor was not one of the kinder gamblers. Most of the villagers feared him but George would often forget this fear in the heat of excitement. He went charging up to the blacksmith saying "Oi Dave, fancy a wager?"
George finally came to his senses and calmed down a little. After all, David had many a strong and hot weapon of a blacksmith that could easily be used around the room. George looked anywhere but at David's ears which thankfully his tasseled long brown hair was covering. Or rather, his lack of ears. He had long ago had his ears cut off by the Sheriff for being unable to pay taxes.
"Why would I waste my time?" David said in his emotionless tone. "The man will be gone in a matter of days.
"Ok I have you down for three days," George said quickly and ran away, knowing where he was not wanted.
Raewyn laughed at her brother's words but clearly agreed. "That is just what England needs," she said "another man who thinks he can save the day. I bet I could best him easily.
"You could pass for a man," David said cruelly but she took it as a compliment. She hated signs of femininity and chose to wear her hair short and dress in mens clothes. She often preached on the supposed dominance of female superiority of which no one paid attention too, even women themselves.
Even thought I was being chased by guards, I still decided to run through the darker part of Nottingham on my way out and say a quick farewell to my special girls. Sadly there was no time for my usual stop and proper visit. Most of the time I didn't even require money thanks to my looks.
I ran past in a haze but still set them all talking.
"You all just wait," Olivia said as she fluffed up her hair "that man will need a bit of company when he starts them good deeds. And who am I to refuse such a 'handsome gentleman."
The others just rolled their eyes at her cockiness. "What makes you think he'll pick you?" Mary snorted.
Olivia examined herself in their dirty mirror. "Well he certainly wasn't complaining a few weeks ago."
Cecily ignored all of the cackling of the surrounding whores. She didn't care about anything like that. She just hoped that I would help people. Surveying her surroundings, she once again wondered how she had ended up there. She knew that the years were getting along and most of the women around her were a lot younger. Few women in her profession remained successful after reaching thirty and she worried for that upcoming event. She then knew that was jealous of me. She too, wanted to be free.
I noticed none of these side events. I just kept on running for my life.
The gates were my ultimatum.
Return and beg forgiveness. Or live free.
Without thinking twice, I ran out of those gates.
What to do next turned out to be a problem. I was an outlaw with no skill. I would need food and shelter but where and for how long. If I was so like Robin Hood, it seemed only fit that I follow his example and head for Sherwood Forest. Most people know it for its great views, romantic sceneries and of course, the fact that it is crawling with outlaws. I had no weapon to speak of and was checking behind my shoulder every few steps.
Then it began to rain. It was a sign.
It turned out that being an outlaw was not as much fun as I originally thought. There were countless decently sized tree branches everywhere that I could have used to form a staff but it turned out that my arms weren't as strong as I originally thought and I couldn't carry one for very long. In a fight I wouldn't have been able to even lift it high enough to cause even minor damage. So it seemed rather unwise. One of Robin Hood's men was known to carry a quarter staff at all times. Little John I think. He was supposed to be a giant of a man. He must have been to lug around that bloody staff.
So I gave up on weapons. Instead I tried to hunt. It seemed foolish without weapons. I saw a rabbit in a nearby clearing and instantly froze. Only my eyes moved as I watched its every move. Yet I realised the problem when I looked down to my hands and saw no weapon.
I thought I would taste victory upon my genius idea of a stick and the action of beating the thing to death. Then common sense took away my dream upon the thought of how fast rabbits move.
So I sat and brainstormed. The rabbit meanwhile happily hopped around the clearing, unaware of the idiot trying to think of ways to eat it.
Eventually I just gazed at it and willed it to die. I even used my hands on the off chance that I was a witch and no one had bothered to tell me. I would take the Churches damnation if it meant that my newfound powers could get me some dinner.
Suddenly a hawk swooped down from the sky and snatch the rabbit away in its beak.
I looked down at my hands. "I love irony," I murmured to myself. "I swear to use my new found powers for the good of myself."
But unfortunately nothing else that I willed to die obliged. Not even any other hunting animals benefited from my powers.
So I suppose it was safe to say that day one of being an outlaw had been a complete success…
Meanwhile in Nottingham castle, the Sheriff had just seen my first wanted poster. I personally think that the artists had done a good job conveying my likeness.
The Sheriff just glared at it and stabbed his dagger into one of my eyes.
"I am a tired man," he said to the quivering guard. "I fought Hood for a good three years and I think that I am entitled to a break. Don't you?"
The scared man couldn't muster more than a slight head movement.
"I have a terrible feeling that this man is going to get on my nerves," the Sheriff said as he stabbed the other eye of my poster.
Night came and the forest lost the little bit of appeal that it had. Now it was a dark deathtrap. Walking was out of the question as the forest floor was piled with small hazards that could easily result in hideous injury. The slightest hoot from an owl or a snap of a branch made me jump like a terrified child.
I don't want to admit it, but there are times when my screams could have been mistaken for that of a small young girl.
But I didn't care. I was hungry. I was cold. And I was far too scared to sleep.
So I sat, praying that morning would come quickly. It didn't. Nothing ever does when you have nothing else to do.
The sight of smoke brought me to my senses. Thoughts of a warm fire came rushing and I eagerly followed the sight until I could see the welcoming glow. I almost broke down in prayer when I found it unattended. Sinking to my knees, I fell to my knees and felt the immense heat quickly thawing me while I cursed myself for being outlawed on such a cold night. It would only get worse from here. What would I do when the snow began to fall?
Suddenly a strike to the head brought me to my senses. Before I had time to even realise this, the second came. Finally logic returned and I ducked for the third. Rolling out of harms way, I caught a brief glimpse of my attacker. The firelight didn't give much to go on but what was obvious was his size and not the large, imposing kind. The large around the middle kind. I refused to be bested by a fat man.
It turned out that this moment of distraction cost me dearly. I just avoided the next swing. I did however fall to the ground which made running out of the question. I rolled to avoid the next attack and by chance rolled on a staff. After nursing the bruise that this staff had caused, I realised its possible usefulness and quickly leapt to my feet, staff in hand.
Finally it my turn to swing. Thankfully it seemed his defense wasn't as strong as his attack. I may have had no skill but my will to win helped me stay strong. Finally I had some decent blows and he seemed to weaken. One more quick blow and I could knock him out. He tried to dodge and his hood fell back. He seemed able to assess the situation. The end was near and it was definitely not the kind of end that he wanted. Falling to his knees, he dropped his staff and of all things, pulled a crucifix from around his neck and held it up. "Please," he begged, "surely you would not harm a man of the cloth."
I considered. It could easily be a lie. Why on earth would a man of the cloth be alone in Sherwood so late? Now that he was remaining still long enough I could make out his features. He was wearing a brown cloak, traditionally worn by monks. He was old, making his fighting all the more impressive. His grey hair was residing and there was small defined lines on his face. These lines made me consider. They were smile lines, not typically shown on evil. They showed a happy life. And there was something about his face. Something that made me trust him.
Still, I was not stupid. "Recite the ten commandments," I ordered, testing him.
I had no way of knowing if he was right so really it was quite an easy test. Church for me had always been extra sleeping time. While some worshipped, I made games out of things like counting the cracks on the pew in front of me.
But the man seemed to know what he was talking about. He started strong with "Thou shall honour the Lord your God."
I nodded. "Makes sense," I said. "If I was going to make up commandments that everyone had to follow I would definitely put something in about everyone worshipping me above all things."
The next one to catch my attention was "thou shall honour thy Mother and Father." What caught me was the pang of homesickness that I did not feel. Thinking of my parents brought thoughts of slight relief to be away from their disapproving comments and exasperated sighs whenever I did something wrong. There wasn't a sigh big enough for what I had done this time.
"Thou shall not convert thy neighbors wife." I wondered if it counted it converted rich mens daughters.
And so he continued. Without even pausing he recited the remainder. I had no clue if he was in fact speaking the truth. There was little knowledge for me in such an area.
I slowly lowered my staff. "You had better pray for me brother," I said as I offered him my hand. "It seems that I am headed straight for hell thanks to all the commandments I had been ignoring."
He took my hand and when he was half way off the ground I happily let go. He fell back to the ground with a startled cry and I couldn't help but laugh. "Payback for the bruises I will get," I said in explanation. "I'm also claiming your fire," I said, eagerly returning to its heat.
He looked a little lost. Without a weapon he was nowhere near as intimidating. In fact, he looked like the kind of Grandfather I had sometimes wished I had. "Don't you have a church to go to or something?" I asked, hinting for him to leave.
"I like to spend some time here," he said, gesturing around to Sherwood. "It reminds me of better times."
I could easily raise my staff again and intimidate him into leaving but he was starting to intrigue me. A monk who could be found in a dangerous forest late at night in the freezing cold must have an interesting backstory. So I gestured for him to sit. "So you're not the typical monk," I commented, looking him up and down. "Shouldn't you be in an monastery praying or something?"
Have you ever been in a monastery?" he asked, already knowing the answer. "It's rather boring."
I didn't expect that. "Don't you have a divine calling or something that makes praying seem like the more enjoyable pastime?"
He snorted but said nothing. Both of us were guarded and with good right to be. We had spent a good amount of time trying to kill each other and now it seemed that we would swap backstories.
He could see my interest and knew that it was the only way that he could maintain his spot by the fire. "What do you know about monks?" he asked. I shrugged and gestured for him to tell me.
"Well some enter the brotherhood due to a deep love of Christ. Others, and perhaps the majority, enter through being the younger sons of a family that can't afford to take care of all of their offspring."
"Which were you?"
"A bit of both. I wanted to worship of course but not in the amount they required. We were offered free time which most used for extra prayers. I used them to read. I studied anything and everything we had until I could practically recite the pages perfectly. I became fluent in Latin and French. I knew astronomy and geology. You name it, I probably studied it."
"I'm guessing swordplay was on the list. Looking at the way you fight."
He looked slightly ashamed. "That was something I learnt much later. Not typical behavior of a man with Holy Orders. But it was obvious that I didn't belong in the monastery. They took pity on me and decided that I should pass on all of the knowledge that I had learnt. I travelled as a tutor, working in different rich households. I taught many a wise student, some smarter than others."
The silence hurt so I decided that it was time for introductions. "I'm Henry," I said as I once again offered my hand.
He hesitated before taking it but upon deciding that I wouldn't drop him again, took and said "Friar Tuck."
"Can I call you Tucky?"
He glared at me. "No."
It was silent again but it was definitely a lot less uncomfortable than before.
"And you?" he asked. "What's your story?"
"Well you could say that I never really like rules. I've been arrested three times.'
'The first was completely coincidental. I was only seven! A rather enthusiastic game of round a ball had gone horribly awry. Some would have called it stealth. Most called it a nuisance. But either way, in a rather extraordinary turn of events, the rather heavy ball we were playing with landed heavily on a rather unbalanced tray. This tray, being half on and half off a table, managed to flip right through the air, taking its contents with it. Unfortunately, its contents happened to be some large and elaborate desert, which, rather stealthily I might add, flew right into the face of the Sherriff of York. Why we were playing such an obviously rough and disastrous game so close to a town official, I shall never know and have constantly tried to explain. But regardless of the reasoning, I was still in a lot of trouble. My poor Father had worked so hard to ensure the success of the feast. He was a struggling baker who had been put in charge of the food for this particular occasion. I was just a young boy who had tagged along in the hopes of some excitement. I should have been careful what I wished for. That particular sheriff had not been a cruel man. Generally he was quite fair in his convictions. Unfortunately for me, he was also someone obsessed with cleanliness and everything being in its place. Evidently, a cakes place was not supposed to be on his face.'
'To say the sheriff was angry was an understatement. To say he was furiously and dangerously enraged was still an understatement. His roaring was something still unrivalled in my fearful memories.'
'So it seemed wise to leave York. I don't remember much, other then my mother constantly saying "why Henry, why would you do this?' Rather than feel guilty, I simply grew annoyed at her constant repetition."
Tuck was clearly amused by the story but was trying his best to act dignified. Obviously disastrous child play was not supposed to be amusing.
"The second time I was arrested was not accidental, but it still wasn't deserved. It was many years later, when I had developed to a rather good-looking boy, aged seventeen. At this point we had relocated to Derby. My Father had built up a respectable business that had him catering to many a fine and respectable household. I was taken on as his apprentice. More of a 'mule' I liked to call myself as all it seemed I was capable of doing was hauling heaving items to where ever my Father saw fit. This wasn't so bad though; it worked up my arm strength. This newfound arm strength helped me,, lets say 'improve my relationship' with the fine young ladies from these fine and respectable households."
"I should have known," Tuck said with a deep sigh. I could tell he was not the kind of man who would be easily impressed with my great stories of conquest.
"These ladies have generally had little interaction with the opposing gender. They are easy to excite with a few finely chosen words. The only trouble is their nursemaids who are generally with them from dawn to dusk. The only time they were apart was the time when these nursemaids have had one too many drinks at the parties of which I happened to be in attendance. I was not the kind of persona that these ladies were used to. They were all entering the stage of marriage and were dolled up to meet that special someone who would pay their families enough money. I considered it to be my public duty to give them a night of excitement before they entered the horrid later stages of their lives; marriage, children followed by sitting around with embroidery, inflicting the same pain on their daughters. I was merely giving them a night of true happiness before they learnt to plaster of the fake smiles that covered up the internal aching."
Tuck's frowning was growing slightly annoying but I continued.
"Their Fathers didn't tend to see things the same way. Lord Reginald was the one who caught me, with his daughter Pricilla.'
'Once again, there was roaring. I was beginning to think that it was a regular practice in England. Maybe it was a right of passage when you came of age. Everyone knew you were a grown man when you could blow your top over every tiny detail.'
'His wife was crying too. No wonder people considered women to be the weaker gender. She kept moaning, "Her reputation is over. She will never find a good husband."
'For future reference, it is not wise in these situations to say "On the contrary. I think men would prefer a women who knows a thing or two about..."
'I was forced to stop there. Sir Reginald gestured for his guard to give me a strong hit on the head.'
'And now here I am today. Outlawed, for stealing bread."
It seemed that part of our initial awkwardness had faded. I had finally relaxed and had dropped the staff I had been keeping close at all times
A bird suddenly took flight giving us both the fright of our lives. It finally brought us to our senses. "Come with me," Tuck said "You can spend the night at my church until you figure out what you're going to with your new life as an outlaw."
I hated churches but at this point would go anywhere for a roof over my head. I realised how tired I was when we started walking. There was no more talking as I was in such a tired daze. Arriving in Locksley slightly woke me up. "Use your hood," Tuck whispered to me and I thanked my past self for being outlawed while wearing a hood.
Tuck practically had to drag me to one of the back rooms. I was awake enough to enquire why a church needed sleeping areas in the back to which he said "there will always be those who the church can take in and help."
Why did Tuck think I needed help? I was too tired to think on that much longer and quickly succumbed to sleep upon falling on the bed.