Somehow Robin Hood knew what was being prepared, and about a week after, when the Sheriff and his great following of about three hundred men were struggling to make their way through the forest, they heard the sound of a horn, and all at once the thick woodland seemed to be alive with archers, who used their bows in such a way that first one, then a dozen, then by fifties, the Sheriff’s men began to flee, and in less than an hour they were all crawling back to Nottingham, badly beaten, not a man among them being ready to turn and fight.
In another month the Sheriff advanced again with a stronger force, but they were driven back more easily than the first, and the Sheriff was in despair.
But a couple of days later he had the man to whom he had given the gold pieces found, and sent him to the outlaws’ camp with a letter written upon parchment, in which he ordered Robin Hood, in the King’s name, to give up the little prisoner he held there contrary to the law and against his own will.
It was many weary anxious days before the messenger came back, but without the little prisoner.
“What did he say?” asked the Sheriff.
“He said, master, that if you wanted the boy you must go and fetch him.”
It was the very next day that the Sheriff went into the room where young Robin’s aunt was seated, looking very unhappy, and she jumped up from her chair wonderingly on seeing that her brother-in-law was dressed as if for a journey, wearing no sword or dagger, only carrying a long stout walking staff.
“Where are you going, dear?” she said.
“Where I ought to have gone at first,” he said humbly; “into the forest to fetch my boy.”
“But you could never find your way,” she said, sobbing. “Besides, you are the Sheriff, and these men will seize and kill you.”
“I have someone to show me the way,” said the Sheriff gently; “and somehow, though I have persecuted and fought against the people sorely, I feel no fear, for Robin Hood is not the man to slay a broken-hearted father who comes in search of his long-lost boy.”
The sun was low down in the west, and shining through and under the great oak and beech trees, so that everything seemed to be turned to orange and gold.
It was the outlaws’ supper time, the sun being their clock in the forest; and the men were gathering together to enjoy their second great meal of the day, the other being breakfast, after having which they always separated to go hunting through the woods to bring in the provisions for the next day.
Robin Hood’s men, then, were scattered about under the shade of a huge spreading oak tree, waiting for the roast venison, which sent a very pleasant odor from the glowing fire of oak wood, and young Robin was seated on the mossy grass close by the thatched shed which formed the captain’s headquarters, where Maid Marian was busy spreading the supper for the little party who ate with Robin Hood himself.