Little John pushed his guest forward with a callused hand, and he stumbled into the clearing and fell on his knees. Robyn towered over him. “Lord Bishop of Hereford,” Robyn said. “We were just talking about you.”
The Bishop stood to face Robyn and made a start for the yeoman. But the Little John thrust quarterstaff in front, so that his lordship was fain to stand back.
“Stay, Lord Bishop,” Robyn japed. “You are as much a welcome guest as our dear Sir Richard.” Robyn extended his arm toward the knight.
“Is this the way that you treat one so high in the church? I was simply following the road to meet that knight—” He thrust a sausage of a finger at Sir Richard, “To collect the debt he owes me, and you hold me prisoner? I could have you all excommunicated!” His face was bright red, and a vein on his neck throbbed. “I have been both beaten and threatened by your giant! ‘Fat priest,’ he called me! ‘Money-gorging usurer!’”
“We yeoman are rough fellows,” said Robyn, “But not so ill as you think. There is not a man here who would harm you. We’re equal in the greenwood. There are no Bishops, Barons nor Earls among us.” Robyn paused for a moment to savor the Bishop’s fuming. For half a moment, his eyes seemed black and beady. “Only men.”
The Bishop growled at that. Breath-mist passed his lips. A moment later, he had composed himself. The two stared at each other for some time, as if unspoken secrets or threats were passed between them.
Without taking his gaze off of the Bishop, Robyn called for his band to spread soft moss upon the ground and lay deerskins thereon. Then he bade his guests be seated, and the trio sat down, as others of Robyn’s company lounged about. Then after a time, Robyn’s men brought great smoking dishes filled with savory smells of roasting meat and honey.
When all was done, Robyn turned to the Bishop. “Now, my Lord,” said he, “do you think you have done ill in service of the priory?”
To this the Bishop answered not a word but took an interest in his boots.
“You are one of the wealthiest Bishops in England and you cannot help this poor man? A man who served in Palestine under our good King?”
Still the Bishop spoke not a word.
“Have it your way,” Robyn said with a shrug. “Little John!” He called, “What did our good Bishop bring with him?”
“No—that’s mine!” He started forward, yet recoiled when Robyn drew his dagger so that he might drive it through his neck. The Bishop muttered alien words, and again Robyn saw black, beady eyes for half a moment.
Robyn did not part his gaze with the Bishop as his men assembled his belongings. He did not seem to notice Sir Richard trying to distance himself. Instead, he spoke in the same garbled tongue as the Bishop. A sound full of harsh consonants from the back of his throat.
The Bishop stared, wide eyed and open mouthed.
“Do you take me for a fool, Lord Bishop?” Robyn muttered, low enough that others wouldn’t hear. “Yours is not the only people that can speak words from before time began. I advise you stay your tongue.”
Thereafter, Robyn instructed his gang to sift through the Bishops goods. As the sun sank below the sky all the ground lay covered in torchlight. Through the orange glow Robyn could discern silks, velvets and cloths chased with gold and cases of rich wines. This, they divvied up three ways. A third for themselves, a third for charity and a third for Sir Richard.
When the matter was settled, Little John approached Robyn, Sir Richard and the Bishop and laid a shiny ebony box between the three of them. “Property of the Lord Bishop of Hereford.” Little John explained.
Robyn eyed the Bishop as he addressed Little John. “Locked?”
“Do you have the key, Lord Bishop?”
The Bishop shook his head.
“Will Stutely!” Robyn called, “Fetch your sword! Cut this box open, if you can.”
Stutely bolted upright and left them.
The Bishop went red in the face. “You can’t—”
“He can!” Sir Richard spoke. “And he will.”
“Sir Richard is right,” Robyn said. “We are equal in the greenwood, and I will do as I please.” He loosened his sword in his scabbard.
The Bishop paled at the sight of his sidearm. “That sword…Damascus steel.”
“A gift,” Robyn said. His smile was thin enough to cut glass. “From King Richard sent from the Holy Land in thanks for my service.”
“That is no ordinary blade you carry.”
“An strange blade for use on strange men.”
“You threaten—?” The Bishop started forward, then, catching the glint of Robyn’s steel against his fellows’ torchlight, withdrew.
“Forgive me, Robyn,” said Sir Richard, “But what sword is this? I’m afraid I know not what you two speak of.”
“It’s of little consequence,” said Robyn. “Pray, let it trouble you no further, for here comes Will Stutely.” And at these words, Robyn’s man came forward, bearing a great two-handed sword. Thrice he struck the iron-bound box, and at the third blow it burst open and a great heap of gold came rolling forth, gleaming red in the light of the torches.
At this sight a murmur went all around among the band, like the sound of the wind in distant trees; but no man came forward nor touched the money.
“Count it over,” Robyn said, and many of his band knelt to do so. After a time, when it had been duly scored, Will Stutely called that there were fifteen hundred golden pounds in all. And among the gold they found a paper, which was given to Robyn Hode, who was literate. He read it aloud, and all heard that this money was the rental fines and forfeits from the estates belonging to the Bishop of Hereford.
Robyn folded the paper in half and handed it to Sir Richard. “Take this to a trusted lawman. It shall settle not only your debts, but all others who have been wronged by this man. But you must go now.”
Sir Richard rose. “I thank you, Robyn, for all that you have done for me. I will carry out this task without delay.” He bowed. “I take my leave.”
“God be with you, Sir Richard.”
Then the Bishop of Hereford spoke. “I’m afraid I too, must be going, for the night waxes late—”
But Robyn laid his hand upon the Bishop’s arm and stayed him. “Be not so hasty, Lord Bishop,” His knuckles went white around his arm, and he hauled the Bishop to his feet. He turned to his men. “Stay here. I must have words with our Bishop!”