More than 800 years ago, a coach and horses were passing through Sherwood Forest. The passengers inside the carriage were a rich and important family, and they were guarded by four soldiers riding on horseback, two out in front and two behind. Even so, when they came to the part of the forest known as Greenwood, the father became nervous, because he knew that it was thick with thieves and bandits. His wife noticed that his finger was tapping on his knee, and she put her hand on top of his to calm his nerves. His beautiful daughter, whose name was Marian, closed her eyes and managed to fall asleep to the rocking of the carriage.
“If the bandits attack,” thought the father, “I will give up my gold. But I only pray that they do not touch a hair on the head of my dear Marian!”
Then, what he feared happened. At first, the family did not even realise that they were being attacked. The robbers jumped down from the trees above, and pulled the soldiers off their horses and onto the ground. It was all so skillfully planned that the guards were overpowered in less than a minute. The coach driver tried to whip up the horses to make them fly forward – and that alerted the family – but it was useless, for a tree lay across the road and he had to pull them up sharp with a jolt. They were caught in a trap.
The father expected to hear the age old cry of highwaymen “Stand and deliver” – which meant that they were to get out of the carriage and hand over their valuables. Instead, there was a polite tap on the door of the carriage, and a voice said, “Dear Sir, be so kind as to step outside.”
“Ah, they mock me,” he said to his wife.
As his foot set down on the road, he noticed that his knee was wobbling. He found himself facing a young man dressed in green. Behind him stood six men, dressed in the same colour, and armed with swords and longbows.
“Here,” said the father, “Take this purse of gold. Only I beg you, do not touch my wife or daughter. I swear by St. Mary and all that is sacred that they have no jewels or valuables about their persons.”
In fact, this was not true. His wife was at that moment busy stuffing her jewels down the front of her dress.
“Good Gracious!” said the leader of the bandits. “What do you take me for? I would do no harm to a lady!”
At that moment, Maid Marian jumped down out of the carriage.
“What are you doing?” cried the father. “Get back dear. This instant.”
But Maid Marian was a high-spirited young lady with a fiery temper. She went up to the bandit leader and slapped him around the face.
“Take that you coward,” she said. “Give me a sword and I’ll show you a fight.”
The father was horrified, for he had no idea that his daughter practiced fencing with her brothers, and was more skilled with a sword than any of them. She was no mean shot with a longbow and arrow too – but he had no inkling of that either.
The robber touched the side of his face where she had swiped him. “I would that it were a kiss,” he said, “But your hand stings sweetly all the same. Now my beautiful Amazon, spare your temper. In return for the gold your father has just given me – and for which I am truly grateful – my men shall ride behind your carriage to the edge of the forest and ensure that no criminals attack you – for I’m sorry to say that this forest is full of the worst sort of people.”
Maid Marian slapped him again round the face, and then got back into the carriage with hot tears in her eyes. But the bandits were true to their word, and gave the family their protection to the edge of the forest. Before they parted, the leader of the robbers once more tapped on the door of the carriage. He wished his victims safe journey to their home.
“And my lady,” he said to Maid Marian, “I so desire to have the pleasure of setting eyes on you once again. Pray, do tell me your name.”
At first she did not want to reply, but then she said softly, “Marian.”
The robber said, “Well dear Marian. This evening in Greenwood you have won the heart of Robin Hood,” and with that he jumped on his horse and sped away.
“The cheek of it!” said the mother. But the father was almost relieved, for often bandits did far more harm to travellers than they had received.
Two months went past, and Marian’s father and mother decided that it was time for her to wed. They began talks with a rich lord whose eldest son was good looking, but extremely arrogant. When they told Marian that she must marry him, she was furious.
“Do I not have any say in the matter?” she said.
“My dear,” said her father, “You are young and do not know what is best for you.”
But Marian’s character was not the sort that could be forced to do anything unless she wanted it herself. She resolved to run away. She knew that many of the local boys from poor families had gone to Sherwood Forest to become outlaws. Some were robbers, but others lived by hunting the king’s deer, which was against the law. She cut her own hair, dressed herself as a page boy, armed herself with sword and a longbow, and rode off on the fastest horse in her father’s stable.
Nobody knew better than her that it was dangerous to ride through the forest, especially alone, but she did not care because she was so angry at thought of marrying a man she did not love, or even like.
“If I meet robbers, I shall fight them,” she said to herself, “and if they kill me, my life will be little loss to me, for I am so unhappy in my heart.”
She rode deep into the woods. Eventually, she found a clearing in which there stood an old log cabin. It was half fallen down, but she thought that she would mend it and live there. She would survive by hunting and fishing. As she was hungry, she sat down to eat the bread and cheese that she had brought with her. While she was doing this, she heard footsteps, and she jumped to her feet, her sword in hand. A man appeared, dressed in green, and she recognised him right away as Robin Hood who had attacked her family.
“Hold back,” she called out, pointing her sword at him, “for if you try to rob me it will cost you your life.”
Robin was interested to find this spirited lad with no sign of any bristle on his chin.
“Young boy,” he said, “Put down your sword, for I mean you know harm. I am just an innocent forester, and I came here to mend my cabin.”
“No you’re not,” said Marian, “You’re Robin Hood, the notorious outlaw. Take one step closer, and I’ll run you through.”
For in truth, what made Marian so angry was that he had not recognised her. “So much for his sweet words about winning his heart,” she said to himself. “It was all meaningless hot air. I’ll show him.”
Seeing the sword painting dangerously towards him, Robin drew his own sword, meaning to use it to push Marian’s aside, but she saw what was happening and thrust forward. He only just managed to deflect her sword from cutting his ear.
And then they fought. They clashed, they thrust, they parried, they twirled. Marian drew blood from Robin’s cheek, and that inflamed his anger. He fought back with all his strength, but she was nimble footed and skilled; even so, she took a cut above her eye. Now she was blinded by her own blood, and she was cutting wildly about her with her sword. Robin managed to get behind her and wrestle her to the ground.
“Gently, gently,” he was saying. “Calm yourself now. Time to stop fighting and be friends. I could use a boy like you in my band of followers.”
He allowed Marian to turn round and now he was looking into her face.
“You faithless man,” she said, “You do not know me.”
But he did, and he kissed her on the lips.
And that’s the story of how Maid Marian came to join Robin Hood and his men in Sherwood Forest.
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