"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."
"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.