In an earlier story (The Sheriff Who Came to Dinner) Little John tricked the Sheriff of Nottingham into coming to dinner with Robin Hood. Before he left, they made him swear an oath never to harm them. In this story, the Sheriff decides to send Robin an invitation he cannot refuse. He holds an archery contest - and the prize is a golden arrow. He feels certain that the outlaw will not be able to resist taking part.
Read by Natasha. Version by Bertie. Proofread by Claire Deakin.
I’ve told you before how Robin Hood once tricked the Sheriff of Nottingham into coming to dinner with him in Greenwood. At the end of the dinner Robin forced the Sheriff to swear an oath never to harm Robin or his men. In this story, we shall hear if the Sheriff was true to his word.
The Sheriff of Nottingham did not forget how Robin Hood had invited him to dinner under the trees of Greenwood. Some time after that memorable dinner, the Sheriff was drinking ale with his friend, the Abbot.
"Let no one say that I am an ill-mannered man," he mused. “One favour deserves another. It is time for me to return an invitation to Robin Hood and pay his hospitality back in kind.”
The Abbot shook his head, “The outlaw has not remained at large for so long by being a simpleton. I do not think that he will walk so easily into your hospitable trap.”
The Sheriff smiled over the top of his tankard of frothy brown ale and the Abbot realised by the self-satisfied curl of his friend’s upper lip that the sheriff was confident of his plan.
“My dear Abbot,” said the Sheriff, “You are right to say that we are facing no straight-forward villain. I do not have in mind a polite note addressed to Robin Hood in his robber’s lair in Greenwood. I have a more subtle plan. But he shall prove unable to resist my invitation to the gallows – all the more because I shall send it indirectly.”
The Sheriff’s plan came quite naturally to him. Like most men, he loved to watch a good sporting contest. And in those days the most popular sport in England was archery. Everyone knew that the title for the finest archer in all the North of England belonged by right to Robin Hood. The Sheriff decided to give the outlaw a chance to claim his title. He ordered that on a certain day an archery contest would be held on the field outside the city walls. The trophy was to be a arrow, the like of which had not been seen in England. Its shaft was made of white gold, and it was tipped and feathered with yellow gold.
When Robin heard news of the contest, he thought what a fine thing it would be to claim the prize from the hand of the Sheriff himself. The very idea made him chuckle, for all the people of Nottingham would see how their chief law keeper was powerless to arrest the county’s most notorious outlaw.
Robin blew his horn to call his followers to meet around the oldest Yew Tree in Greenwood. He spoke to his faithful outlaws like this:
“Men. In a week’s time we shall go to Nottingham and take part in the Sheriff’s own shooting match, for I crave to bring the golden arrow back to Greenwood.”
The outlaws were far from overjoyed to hear this plan, for in their hearts, they thought it was perhaps a little too bold.
“Have no fear,” said Robin, “For the Sheriff stood under this very Yew tree and swore an oath by St. Mary that he would never do us any harm.”
To this, Little John added, “Aye that he did, and in a week’s time we shall discover if the Sheriff is a man of his word.”
On the day of the contest Robin and over 100 of his men gathered on the field of the contest. Robin ordered that just he and the five best shots in his band would take part in the match. The others were to crowd around them, so that Robin would not be recognised until he stepped forward to aim at the target. For more disguise, he wore a hood over his head.
Little John, Much the Miller’s Son, and Will Scarlet each stepped forward in turn to aim their longbows. Their aims were good and true. Then it was the turn of Robin.
The Sheriff was watching from his chair, and he recognised the villain right away, not from his face which he could not see, but from the way he walked. He said to himself, “Soon Robin Hood will take his prize, and I shall have mine.”
Posts driven into a mound of earth served as the targets, and Robin split the furthest post with his arrow. Nobody else could strike true from such a great distance.
At the end of the contest, Robin approached the sheriff to claim his prize. He accepted the golden arrow and held it above his head. The word had got round that the victor was none other than the most notorious outlaw in the North of England. Some people in the crowd cheered, others jeered, and still more kept quiet, for they did not dare to show their support or opposition for the Sheriff’s deadliest enemy.
While Robin was still holding up the prize, a horn sounded and the sheriff’s men began to rush at Robin. The outlaws of Greenwood were ready for treachery such as this, and held their longbows bent and ready to fire. They shot their arrows into the sheriff’s men, and many of them fell dead. Then arrows began to fly in both directions and at most of the crowd. hose who did not care to join in the fight on either side ran for the city gates.
A great many arrows were let loose, a great many tunics were split, and a great many men received wounds. An arrow struck Little John in the knee, and he was unable to stay standing.
“Robin,” he called out. “If I have served you well and true, do not let me fall into the hands of the sheriff while I am still breathing. Take my broad sword and strike me on the head. Cut me deep and wide until no life is left in me.”
But Robin replied, “I would not let you be slain for all the gold in England, even if it were laid out before me.”
Much the Miller’s son added, “God forbid that we shall be parted”. He took Little John up on his back, and walked with him a mile, although he put him down every now and then to lose some arrows from his bow. All of Robin Hood’s men were retreating now. They fought their way to the castle of the good knight whom Robin had helped when he was down on his luck. It was a strong building, with a double moat and high walls. Once the whole band of outlaws were inside, the Knight ordered his guards to rise the drawbridge and shut all the gates.
The Sheriff’s men surrounded the castle, but they were not strong enough to break their way in, and the Knight welcomed his old friend.
“Dear Robin. Of all the men in the world, I love you most. You shall stay safe in my castle and let the Sheriff lay siege to us if he wishes. We have enough food and drink not just to survive for 40 days, but to feast upon.”
After a while the Sheriff himself came up the gate carrying the white flag of truce, for he wished to negotiate. The knight stood on the walls to hear what he had to say.
“Good Knight,” he called out, “Do you wish to be a traitor to your king? For you are keeping his enemy safe against the law.”
The knight replied, “I swear by all my lands that I am indeed keeping Robin Hood safe and I will never betray him for he is my truest friend.”
When the Sheriff heard this, he called out that he would depart for London to speak with the king himself. In this case, he kept his word for straight to London he went. When he reached court, he was granted an audience with King Richard, just returned from the wars in the Holy Lands. The King heard the story of how the notorious outlaws were being protected by one of his own knights and he said to the Sheriff:
“Go home proud Sheriff and gather the best archers you can find. I shall be in Nottingham within two weeks, and then I shall take this errant knight for he is a traitor to both his King and to the law of the land. And as for Robin Hood – never have I heard of such a popular criminal. I am curious to know how one man can break so many laws in a single lifetime. It is my royal intention to look this extraordinary outlaw in the eye before he meets his just desserts.”
And that’s the story of Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow – and Bertie says that one day soon we shall hear about how Robin Hood met King Richard The Lion Heart.