The King is into Finsbury Field
Marching in battle 'ray,
And after follows bold Robin Hood,
And all his yeomen gay.
The morning of the great archery contest dawned fair and bright, bringing with it a fever of impatience to every citizen of London town, from the proudest courtier to the lowest kitchen wench. Aye, and all the surrounding country was early awake, too, and began to wend their way to Finsbury Field, a fine broad stretch of practice ground near Moorfields. Around three sides of the Field were erected tier upon tier of seats, for the spectators, with the royal boxes and booths for the nobility and gentry in the center. Down along one end were pitched gaily colored tents for the different bands of King's archers. There were ten of these bands, each containing a score of men headed by a captain of great renown; so to-day there were ten of the pavilions, each bearing aloft the Royal Arms and vari-colored pennants which fluttered lightly in the fresh morning breeze.
Each captain's flag was of peculiar color and device. First came the royal purple streamer of Tepus, own bow-bearer to the King, and esteemed the finest archer in all the land. Then came the yellow of Clifton of Buckinghamshire; and the blue of Gilbert of the White Hand—he who was renowned in Nottinghamshire; and the green of Elwyn the Welshman; and the White of Robert of Cloudesdale; and, after them, five other captains of bands, each a man of proved prowess. As the Queen had said aforetime, the King was mightily proud of his archers, and now held this tourney to show their skill and, mayhap, to recruit their forces.
The uprising tiers of seats filled early, upon this summer morning, and the merry chatter of the people went abroad like the hum of bees in a hive. The royal party had not yet put in an appearance, nor were any of the King's archers visible. So the crowd was content to hide its impatience by laughing jibes passed from one section to another, and crying the colors of their favorite archers. In and out among the seats went hawkers, their arms laden with small pennants to correspond with the rival tents. Other vendors of pie and small cakes and cider also did a thrifty business, for so eager had some of the people been to get good seats, that they had rushed away from home without their breakfast.
Suddenly the gates at the far end, next the tents, opened wide, and a courier in scarlet and gold, mounted upon a white horse, rode in blowing lustily upon the trumpet at his lips; and behind him came six standard-bearers riding abreast. The populace arose with a mighty cheer. King Harry had entered the arena. He bestrode a fine white charger and was clad in a rich dark suit of slashed velvet with satin and gold facings. His hat bore a long curling ostrich plume of pure white and he doffed it graciously in answer to the shouts of the people. By his side rode Queen Eleanor, looking regal and charming in her long brocade riding-habit; while immediately behind them came Prince Richard and Prince John, each attired in knightly coats of mail and helmets. Lords and ladies of the realm followed; and finally, the ten companies of archers, whose progress round the field was greeted with hardly less applause than that given the King himself.
The King and Queen dismounted from their steeds, ascended the steps of the royal box, and seated themselves upon two thrones, decked with purple and gold trapping, upon a dais sheltered by striped canvas. In the booths at each side the members of the Court took their places; while comely pages ran hither and thither bearing the royal commands. 'Twas a lordly sight, I ween, this shifting of proud courtiers, flashing of jeweled fans, and commingling of bright colors with costly gems!
Now the herald arose to command peace, and soon the clear note of his bugle rose above the roar of the crowd and hushed it to silence. The tenscore archers ranged themselves in two long rows on each side of the lists—a gallant array—while their captains, as a special mark of favor, stood near the royal box.
"Come hither, Tepus," said the King to his bow-bearer. "Come, measure me out this line, how long our mark must be."
"What is the reward?" then asked the Queen.
"That will the herald presently proclaim," answered the King. "For first prize we have offered a purse containing twoscore golden pounds; for second, a purse containing twoscore silver pennies; and for third a silver bugle, inlaid with gold. Moreover, if the King's companies keep these prizes, the winning companies shall have, first, two tuns of Rhenish wine; second, two tuns of English beer; and, third, five of the fattest harts that run on Dallom Lea. Methinks that is a princely wager," added King Harry laughingly.
Up spake bold Clifton, secure in the King's favor. "Measure no marks for us, most sovereign liege," quoth he; "for such largess as that, we'll shoot at the sun and the moon."
"'Twill not be so far as that," said the King. "But get a line of good length, Tepus, and set up the targets at tenscore paces."
Forthwith, Tepus bowed low, and set up ten targets, each bearing the pennant of a different company, while the herald stood forth again and proclaimed the rules and prizes. The entries were open to all comers. Each man, also, of the King's archers should shoot three arrows at the target bearing the colors of his band, until the best bowman in each band should be chosen. These ten chosen archers should then enter a contest for an open target—three shots apiece—and here any other bowman whatsoever was asked to try his skill. The result at the open targets should decide the tourney.
Then all the people shouted again, in token that the terms of the contest pleased them; and the archers waved their bows aloft, and wheeled into position facing their respective targets.
The shooting now began, upon all the targets at once, and the multitude had so much ado to watch them, that they forgot to shout. Besides, silence was commanded during the shooting. Of all the fine shooting that morning, I have not now space to tell you. The full score of men shot three times at each target, and then three times again to decide a tie. For, more than once, the arrow shot by one man would be split wide open by his successor. Every man's shaft bore his number to ease the counting; and so close would they stick at the end of a round, that the target looked like a big bristle hairbrush. Then must the spectators relieve their tense spirits by great cheering; while the King looked mighty proud of his skilled bowmen.
At last the company targets were decided, and Tepus, as was expected, led the score, having made six exact centers in succession. Gilbert of the White Hand followed with five, and Clifton with four. Two other captains had touched their center four times, but not roundly. While in the other companies it so chanced that the captains had been out-shot by some of the men under them.
The winners then saluted the King and Queen, and withdrew for a space to rest and renew their bow-strings for the keenest contest of all; while the lists were cleared and a new target—the open one—was set up at twelvescore paces. At the bidding of the King, the herald announced that the open target was to be shot at, to decide the title of the best archer in all England; and any man there present was privileged to try for it. But so keen had been the previous shooting, that many yeomen who had come to enter the lists now would not do so; and only a dozen men stepped forth to give in their names.
"By my halidom!" said the King, "these must be hardy men to pit themselves against my archers!"
"Think you that your ten chosen fellows are the best bowmen in all England?" asked the Queen.
"Aye, and in all the world beside," answered the King; "and thereunto I would stake five hundred pounds."
"I am minded to take your wager," said the Queen musingly, "and will e'en do so if you grant me a boon."
"What is it?" asked the King.
"If I produce five archers who can out-shoot your ten, will you grant my men full grace and amnesty?"
"Assuredly!" quoth the King in right good humor. "Nathless, I tell you now, your wager is in jeopardy, for there never were such bowmen as Tepus and Clifton and Gilbert!"
"Hum!" said the Queen puckering her brow, still as though lost in thought. "I must see if there be none present to aid me in my wager. Boy, call hither Sir Richard of the Lea and my lord Bishop of Hereford!"
The two summoned ones, who had been witnessing the sport, came forward.
"Sir Richard," said she, "thou art a full knight and good. Would'st advise me to meet a wager of the King's, that I can produce other archers as good as Tepus and Gilbert and Clifton?"
"Nay, Your Majesty," he said, bending his knee. "There be none present that can match them. Howbeit,"—he added dropping his voice—"I have heard of some who lie hid in Sherwood Forest who could show them strange targets."
The Queen smiled and dismissed him.
"Come hither, my lord Bishop of Hereford," quoth she, "would'st thou advance a sum to support my wager 'gainst the King?"
"Nay, Your Majesty," said the fat Bishop, "an you pardon me, I'd not lay down a penny on such a bet. For by my silver mitre, the King's archers are men who have no peers."
"But suppose I found men whom thou knewest to be masters at the bow," she insisted roguishly, "would'st thou not back them? Belike, I have heard that there be men round about Nottingham and Plympton who carry such matters with a high hand!"
The Bishop glanced nervously around, as if half expecting to see Robin Hood's men standing near; then turned to find the Queen looking at him with much amusement lurking in her eyes.
"Odds bodikins! The story of my misadventure must have preceded me!" he thought, ruefully. Aloud he said, resolved to face it out,
"Your Majesty, such tales are idle and exaggerated. An you pardon me, I would add to the King's wager that his men are invincible."
"As it pleases thee," replied the Queen imperturbably. "How much?"
"Here is my purse," said the Bishop uneasily. "It contains fifteen score nobles, or near a hundred pounds."
"I'll take it at even money," she said, dismissing him; "and Your Majesty"—turning to the King who had been conversing with the two princes and certain of the nobles—"I accept your wager of five hundred pounds."
"Very good," said the King, laughing as though it were a great jest. "But what had minded you to take such interest in the sport, of a sudden?"
"It is as I have said. I have found five men whom I will pit against any you may produce."
"Then we will try their skill speedily," quoth the King. "How say you, if first we decide this open target and then match the five best thereat against your unknown champions?"
"Agreed," said the Queen. Thereupon she signed to Maid Marian to step forward, from a near-by booth where she sat with other ladies-in-waiting, and whispered something in her ear. Marian courtesied and withdrew.
Now the ten chosen archers from the King's bands came forth again and took their stand; and with them stood forth the twelve untried men from the open lists. Again the crowd was stilled, and every eye hung upon the speeding of the shafts. Slowly but skilfully each man shot, and as his shaft struck within the inner ring a deep breath broke from the multitude like the sound of the wind upon the seashore. And now Gilbert of the White Hand led the shooting, and 'twas only by the space of a hairsbreadth upon the line that Tepus tied his score. Stout Elwyn, the Welshman, took third place; one of the private archers, named Geoffrey, come fourth; while Clifton must needs content himself with fifth.
The men from the open lists shot fairly true, but nervousness and fear of ridicule wrought their undoing.
The herald then came forward again, and, instead of announcing the prize-winners, proclaimed that there was to be a final contest. Two men had tied for first place, declared His Majesty the King, and three others were entitled to honors. Now all these five were to shoot again, and they were to be pitted against five other of the Queen's choosing—men who had not yet shot upon that day.
A thrill of astonishment and excitement swept around the arena. "Who were these men of the Queen's choosing?" was upon every lip. The hubbub of eager voices grew intense; and in the midst of it all, the gate at the far end of the field opened and five men entered and escorted a lady upon horseback across the arena to the royal box. The lady was instantly recognized as Mistress Marian of the Queen's household, but no one seemed to know the faces of her escort. Four were clad in Lincoln green, while the fifth, who seemed to be the leader, was dressed in a brave suit of scarlet red. Each man wore a close fitting cap of black, decked with a curling white feather. For arms, they carried simply a stout bow, a sheaf of new arrows, and a short hunting-knife.
When the little party came before the dais on which the King and Queen sat, the yeomen doffed their caps humbly, while Maid Marian was assisted to dismount.
"Your Gracious Majesty," she said, addressing the Queen, "these be the men for whom you sent me, and who are now come to wear your colors and service you in the tourney."
The Queen leaned forward and handed them each a scarf of green and gold.
"Lockesley," she said in a clear voice, "I thank thee and thy men for this service. Know that I have laid a wager with the King that ye can outshoot the best five whom he has found in all his bowmen." The five men pressed the scarfs to their lips in token of fealty.
The King turned to the Queen inquiringly.
"Who are these men you have brought before us?" asked he.
Up came the worthy Bishop of Hereford, growing red and pale by turns.
"Your pardon, my liege lord!" cried he; "But I must denounce these fellows as outlaws. Yon man in scarlet is none other than Robin Hood himself. The others are Little John and Will Stutely and Will Scarlet and Allan-a-Dale—all famous in the North Countree for their deeds of violence."
"As my lord Bishop personally knows!" added the Queen significantly.
The King's brows grew dark. The name of Robin Hood was well known to him, as to every man there present.
"Is this true?" he demanded sternly.
"Aye, my lord," responded the Queen demurely. "But, bethink you—I have your royal promise of grace and amnesty."
"That will I keep," said the King, holding in check his ire by a mighty effort. "But, look you! Only forty days do I grant of respite. When this time has elapsed, let these bold outlaws look to their safety!"
Then turning to his five victorious archers, who had drawn near, he added, "Ye have heard, my men, how that I have a wager with the Queen upon your prowess. Now here be men of her choosing—certain free shafts of Sherwood and Barnesdale. Wherefore look well to it, Gilbert and Tepus and Geoffrey and Elwyn and Clifton! If ye outshoot these knaves, I will fill your caps with silver pennies—aye, and knight the man who stands first. But if ye lose, I give the prizes, for which ye have just striven, to Robin Hood and his men, according to my royal word."
"Robin Hood and his men!" the saying flew round the arena with the speed of wild-fire, and every neck craned forward to see the famous fellows who had dared to brave the King's anger, because of the Queen.
Another target was now set up, at the same distance as the last, and it was decided that the ten archers should shoot three arrows in turn. Gilbert and Robin tossed up a penny for the lead, and it fell to the King's men. So Clifton was bidden to shoot first.
Forth he stood, planting his feet firmly, and wetting his fingers before plucking the string. For he was resolved to better his losing score of that day. And in truth he did so, for the shaft he loosed sped true, and landed on the black bull's-eye, though not in the exact center. Again he shot, and again he hit the black, on the opposite rim. The third shaft swerved downward and came within the second ring, some two fingers' breadths away. Nathless, a general cry went up, as this was the best shooting Clifton had done that day.
Will Scarlet was chosen to follow him, and now took his place and carefully chose three round and full-feathered arrows.
"Careful, my sweet coz!" quoth Robin in a low tone. "The knave has left wide space at the center for all of your darts."
But Robin gave Will the wrong caution, for over-much care spoiled his aim. His first shaft flew wide and lodged in the second ring even further away than the worst shot of Clifton.
"Your pardon, coz!" quoth Robin hastily. "Bid care go to the bottom of the sea, and do you loose your string before it sticks to your fingers!"
And Will profited by this hint, and loosed his next two shafts as freely as though they flew along a Sherwood glade. Each struck upon the bull's-eye, and one even nearer the center than his rival's mark. Yet the total score was adjudged in favor of Clifton. At this Will Scarlet bit his lip, but said no word, while the crowd shouted and waved yellow flags for very joy that the King's man had overcome the outlaw. They knew, also, that this demonstration would please the King.
The target was now cleared for the next two contestants—Geoffrey and Allan-a-Dale. Whereat, it was noticed that many ladies in the Queen's booths boldly flaunted Allan's colors, much to the honest pride which glowed in the cheeks of one who sat in their midst.
"In good truth," said more than one lady to Mistress Dale, "if thy husband can handle the longbow as skilfully as the harp, his rival has little show of winning!"
The saying augured well. Geoffrey had shot many good shafts that day; and indeed had risen from the ranks by virtue of them. But now each of his three shots, though well placed in triangular fashion around the rim of the bull's-eye, yet allowed an easy space for Allan to graze within. His shooting, moreover, was so prettily done, that he was right heartily applauded—the ladies and their gallants leading in the hand-clapping.
Now you must know that there had long been a friendly rivalry in Robin Hood's band as to who was the best shot, next after Robin himself. He and Will Stutely had lately decided their marksmanship, and Will had found that Robin's skill was now so great as to place the leader at the head of all good bowmen in the forest. But the second place lay between Little John and Stutely, and neither wished to yield to the other. So to-day they looked narrowly at their leader to see who should shoot third. Robin read their faces at a glance, and laughing merrily, broke off two straws and held them out.
"The long straw goes next!" he decided; and it fell to Stutely.
Elwyn the Welshman was to precede him; and his score was no whit better than Geoffrey's. But Stutely failed to profit by it. His besetting sin at archery had ever been an undue haste and carelessness. To-day these were increased by a certain moodiness, that Little John had outranked him. So his first two shafts flew swiftly, one after the other, to lodging places outside the Welshman's mark.
"Man! man!" cried Robin entreatingly, "you do forget the honor of the Queen, and the credit of Sherwood!"
"I ask your pardon, master!" quoth Will humbly enough, and loosing as he spoke his last shaft. It whistled down the course unerringly and struck in the exact center—the best shot yet made.
Now some shouted for Stutely and some shouted for Elwyn; but Elwyn's total mark was declared the better. Whereupon the King turned to the Queen. "What say you now?" quoth he in some triumph. "Two out of the three first rounds have gone to my men. Your outlaws will have to shoot better than that in order to save your wager!"
The Queen smiled gently.
"Yea, my lord," she said. "But the twain who are left are able to do the shooting. You forget that I still have Little John and Robin Hood."
"And you forget, my lady, that I still have Tepus and Gilbert."
So each turned again to the lists and awaited the next rounds in silent eagerness. I ween that King Harry had never watched the invasion of an enemy with more anxiety than he now felt.
Tepus was chosen to go next and he fell into the same error with Will Scarlet. He held the string a moment too long, and both his first and second arrows came to grief. One of them, however, came within the black rim, and he followed it up by placing his third in the full center, just as Stutely had done in his last. These two centers were the fairest shots that had been made that day; and loud was the applause which greeted this second one. But the shouting was as nothing to the uproar which followed Little John's shooting. That good-natured giant seemed determined to outdo Tepus by a tiny margin in each separate shot; for the first and the second shafts grazed his rival's on the inner side, while for the third Little John did the old trick of the forest: he shot his own arrow in a graceful curve which descended from above upon Tepus's final center shaft with a glancing blow that drove the other out and left the outlaw's in its place.
The King could scarce believe his eyes. "By my halidom!" quoth he, "that fellow deserves either a dukedom or a hanging! He must be in league with Satan himself! Never saw I such shooting."
"The score is tied, my lord," said the Queen; "we have still to see Gilbert and Robin Hood."
Gilbert now took his stand and slowly shot his arrows, one after another, into the bull's-eye. 'Twas the best shooting he had yet done, but there was still the smallest of spaces left—if you looked closely—at the very center.
"Well done, Gilbert!" spoke up Robin Hood. "You are a foeman worthy of being shot against." He took his own place as he spoke. "Now if you had placed one of your shafts there"—loosing one of his own—"and another there"—out sped the second—"and another there"—the third was launched—"mayhap the King would have declared you the best bowman in all England!"
But the last part of his merry speech was drowned in the wild tumult of applause which followed his exploit. His first two shafts had packed themselves into the small space left at the bull's-eye; while his third had split down between them, taking half of each, and making all three appear from a distance, as one immense arrow.
Up rose the King in amazement and anger.
"Gilbert is not yet beaten!" he cried. "Did he not shoot within the mark thrice? And that is allowed a best in all the rules of archery."
Robin bowed low.
"As it please Your Majesty!" quoth he. "But may I be allowed to place the mark for the second shooting?"
The King waved his hand sullenly.. Thereupon Robin prepared another old trick of the greenwood, and got him a light, peeled willow wand which he set in the ground in place of the target.
"There, friend Gilbert," called he gaily; "belike you can hit that!"
"I can scarce see it from here," said Gilbert, "much less hit it. Nathless, for the King's honor, I will try."
But this final shot proved his undoing, and his shaft flew harmlessly by the thin white streak. Then came Robin to his stand again, and picked his arrow with exceeding care, and tried his string. Amid a breathless pause he drew the good yew bow back to his ear, glanced along the shaft, and let the feathered missile fly. Straight it sped, singing a keen note of triumph as it went. The willow wand was split in twain, as though it had met a hunter's knife.
"Verily, I think your bow is armed with witchcraft!" cried Gilbert. "For I did not believe such shooting possible."
"You should come to see our merry lads in the greenwood," retorted Robin lightly. "For willow wands do not grow upon the cobblestones of London town."
Meanwhile the King in great wrath had risen to depart, first signing the judges to distribute the prizes. Never a word said he, of good or ill, to the Queen, but mounted his horse and, followed by his sons and knights, rode off the field. The archers dropped upon one knee as he passed, but he gave them a single baleful look and was gone.
Then the Queen beckoned the outlaws to approach, and they did so and knelt at her feet.
"Right well have ye served me," she said, "and sorry am I that the King's anger is aroused thereby. But fear ye not. His word and grace hold true. As to these prizes ye have gained, I add others of mine own—the wagers I have won from His Majesty the King and from the lord Bishop of Hereford. Buy with some of these moneys the best swords ye can find in London, for all your band, and call them the swords of the Queen. And swear with them to protect all the poor and the helpless and the women—kind who come your way."
"We swear," said the five yeomen solemnly.
Then the Queen gave each of them her hand to kiss, and arose and departed with all her ladies. And after they were gone, the King's archers came crowding around Robin and his men, eager to get a glimpse of the fellows about whom they had heard so much. And back of them came a great crowd of the spectators pushing and jostling in their efforts to come nearer.
"Verily!" laughed Little John, "they must take us for a Merry Andrew show!"
Now the judges came up, and announced each man his prize, according to the King's command. To Robin was give the purse containing twoscore golden pounds; to Little John the twoscore silver pennies; and to Allan-a-Dale the fine inlaid bugle, much to his delight, for he was skilled at blowing sweet tunes upon the horn hardly less than handling the harp strings. But when the Rhenish wine and English beer and harts of Dallom Lea were spoken of, Robin said:
"Nay, what need we of wine or beer, so far from the greenwood? And 'twould be like carrying coals to Newcastle, to drive those harts to Sherwood! Now Gilbert and Tepus and their men have shot passing well. Wherefore, the meat and drink must go to them, an they will accept it of us."
"Right gladly," replied Gilbert grasping his hand. "Ye are good men all, and we will toast you every one, in memory of the greatest day at archery that England has ever seen, or ever will see!"
Thus said all the King's archers, and the hand of good-fellowship was given amid much shouting and clapping on the shoulder-blades.
And so ended King Harry's tourney, whose story has been handed down from sire to son, even unto the present day.