HE KING LAUGHED out when he saw their fright, and called them back. Right glad were they to hear his voice, and they feasted and made merry. A few days later the King returned to London, and Robin dwelt in his court for twelve months. By that time he had spent a hundred pounds, for he gave largely to the knights and squires he met, and great renown he had for his openhandedness.
But his men who had been born under the shadow of the forest, could not live amid streets and houses. One by one they slipped away, till only little John and Will Scarlett were left. Then Robin himself grew home-sick, and at the sight of some young men shooting thought upon the time when he was accounted the best archer in all England, and went straightway to the King and begged for leave to go on a pilgrimage to Bernisdale.
"I may not say you nay," answered the King; "seven nights you may be gone and no more." And Robin thanked him, and that evening set out for the greenwood.
It was early morning when he reached it at last, and listened thirstily to the notes of singing birds, great and small.
"It seems long since I was here," he said to himself; "It would give me great joy if I could bring down a deer once more," and he shot a great hart, and blew his horn, and all the outlaws of the forest came flocking round him. "Welcome," they said, "our dear master, back to the greenwood tree," and they threw off their caps and fell on their knees before him in delight at his return.
For two and twenty years Robin Hood dwelt in Sherwood forest after he had run away from court, and naught that the King could say would tempt him back again. At the end of that time he fell ill; he neither ate nor drank, and had no care for the things he loved. "I must go to merry Kirkley," said he, "and have my blood let."
But Will Scarlett, who heard his words, spoke roundly to him. "Not by MY leave, nor without a hundred bowmen at your back. For there abides an evil man, who is sure to quarrel with you, and you will need us badly."
"If you are afraid, Will Scarlett, you may stay at home, for me," said Robin, "and in truth no man will I take with me, save Little John only, to carry my bow."
"Bear your bow yourself, master, and I will bear mine."
"Very well, let it be so," said Robin, and they went on merrily enough till they came to some women weeping sorely near a stream.
"What is the matter, good wives?" said Robin Hood.
"We weep for Robin Hood and his dear body, which to-day must let blood," was the answer.
"Pray why do you weep for me?" asked Robin; "the Prioress is the daughter of my aunt, and well I know she would not do me harm for all the world." And he passed on, with Little John at his side.
Soon they reached the Priory, where they were let in by the Prioress herself, who bade them welcome heartily, and not the less because Robin handed her twenty pounds in gold as payment for his stay, and told her if he cost her more, she was to let him know of it. Then she began to bleed him, and for long Robin said nothing, giving her credit for kindness and for knowing her art, but at length so much blood came from him that he suspected treason. He tried to open the door, for she had left him alone in the room, but it was locked fast, and while the blood was still flowing he could not escape from the casement. So he lay down for many hours, and none came near him, and at length the blood stopped. Slowly Robin uprose and staggered to the lattice-window, and blew thrice on his horn; but the blast was so low, and so little like what Robin was wont to give, that Little John, who was watching for some sound, felt that his master must be nigh to death.
At this thought he started to his feet, and ran swiftly to the Priory. He broke the locks of all the doors that stood between him and Robin Hood, and soon entered the chamber where his master lay, white, with nigh all his blood gone from him.
"I crave a boon of you, dear master," cried Little John.
"And what is that boon," said Robin Hood, "which Little John begs of me?" And Little John answered, "It is to burn Kirkley Hall, and all the nunnery."
But Robin Hood, in spite of the wrong that had been done him, would not listen to Little John's cry for revenge. "I never hurt a woman in all my life," he said, "nor a man that was in her company. But now my time is done. That know I well. So give me my bow and a broad arrow, and wheresoever it falls there shall my grave be digged. Lay a green sod under my head and another at my feet, and put beside me my bow, which ever made sweetest music to my ears, and see that green and gravel make my grave. And, Little John, take care that I have length enough and breadth enough to lie in." So Robin he loosened his last arrow from the string. He then died. And where the arrow fell Robin was buried.
(Adapted from "Book of Romance," edited by Andrew Lang; including a version of the popular ballad, "Robin Hood and the Butcher")