It was the wedding day of four happy people. The day was bright, the sky blue, and Sherwood had taken upon itself early summer raiment.
The old church of Nottingham was already crowded to excess.
The newly banded guard of Royal bowmen, gay in their scarlet and white livery, were formed up in two straight lines from the church door to the lych-gate.
So soon as the weddings were over all would go back to a great feast, given at Gamewell Hall, in honor of the day. Then afterward the two couples would go with the king into London, to be followed within seven days by the rest of the Royal guard. Richard meant to employ these fellows shrewdly and test their loyalty. Not for reasons of sentiment only had he forgiven Robin and his men.
The hour was reached, and at once a small company was seen issuing forth from Nottingham Castle. Against his will Master Monceux had given use of the castle to the two bridegrooms--the newly made Earls of Nottingham and Huntingdon.
With Robin and Geoffrey were, firstly, old George of Gamewell, proud above all others in knowing that he had now a son who would ensure honor to the race of Montfichet all their days. The Squire was happy and radiant. He walked between them, and turned his head ever and again in laughing speech with Sir Richard of the Lee and his heir. Stuteley and Little John were next, the long and short of it; and after them the jovial Friar of Copmanhurst. Arthur-à-Bland, with a gold chain about his neck, given him by the knight Sir Richard, walked with
[paragraph continues] Middle the Tinker on his left and Much the Miller on his right. Close behind trotted the small complaisant Midge, dressed up very fine in a livery of purple doublet and green hose.
They came to the lych-gate, and the crowd jostled itself in its admiration. As they walked, rather consciously, up the narrow path between the smiling ranks of their fellows the crowd cheered them radiantly.
"A Hood! A Montfichet!" was called and called again. Some maids from the opposite windows threw them kisses and waved pretty kerchiefs in their honor.
Within the church, waiting for them soberly at the chancel steps, was my lord of Hereford, dressed out in his finest and richest robes, and beside him Friar Tuck. For Robin Hood and Will Scarlett the Bishop had enmity and contempt, but towards the Earls of Huntingdon and Nottingham this time-serving man could only profess an abundance of respect.
The brides were to be escorted from Gamewell by no other person than the King himself. He was to give them both in marriage, and had promised them jewels and to spare when they were come to Court.
Loud cheering and noise from the mob without the church told of their approach. The people were wild with joy at having their King amongst them like this.
Citizens, burgesses, apprentices were all in their best, their wives and their sweethearts all dressed out in splendid attire. As the King jumped down from his horse before the lych-gate, and held out his strong hand to help the brides from off their milk-white mares, the whole place became alive with excitement and rapture.
Little maids, with baskets of violets and primroses, flung their offerings prettily under the feet of the two beauteous blushing brides, who leaned so timidly upon the King's proud arms.
At last the service was begun and both couples were well-nigh wed. The Bishop had spoken the Latin service impressively and with unction.
In the first row stood Monceux, in all the pomp of his shrievalty, with his councilmen and aldermen. Master Simeon, with face leaner than ever and in-turning eyes, glared impotently at the chief actors in this historic scene.
Alone missing from it was the cold, colorless beauty of the demoiselle Marie. She had taken herself to her room this morn, and had sworn never to leave it again. But now that the double marriage was nearly made she suddenly appeared, thrusting her way rudely through the gathered crowd at the church door. She was wild-eyed, dishevelled, her dress fastened all awry. Folks looked once at her, and then exchanged glances between themselves.
"Stay this mockery of marriage, my lord," she cried, fiercely facing the Bishop. She had elbowed a path for herself to the chancel steps. "I do forbid the marrying of these two." She pointed a trembling finger from Robin to Marian. "This woman is blood-guilty, and Holy Church may not countenance her." She shrilled, desperately, "'Twas she who foully killed Master Fitzwalter, her own father, and I have proof of it!"
"'Tis false!" roared Robin, then beside himself. "You viper--you mean-souled spy! Is no crime too great for you?"
"There is no need for defence," spoke the King; "the charge is too wild and foolish an one. Seize this woman, some of you, and take her without. I will deal with her later." He imperiously signed to his guards, and at once the demoiselle was gripped harshly by both arms.
"Be gentle with her," pleaded Marian; "she is distraught, and hath not command upon herself. I beg of you, Sire, to forgive this; I have no quarrel with Mistress Monceux."
The demoiselle had suddenly become quiet under the fierce hands of Much and Little John. She allowed them to thrust her ignominiously forth. At the door of the church she turned once as though to renew her preposterous charges, but contented herself merely with a single glance towards them of malignant hate. Then she was gone; and people stirred themselves uneasily, as folks do when having been within touch of the plague.
The Sheriff had stared with protruding eyes of horror and dismay upon his daughter. When he saw that she was gone, that the dreadful episode was done, he gasped hurriedly and sat down. His mind became confused, his vision obscured as by a cloud. The service was finished. Robin and Marian, Geoffrey and Aimée (no longer of Aragon) were joined together for the rest of their lives. The Bishop pronounced a
blessing; and forgetting himself utterly in the emotion of the moment, spoke fervently and with purpose.
The King kissed the brides, and after him their husbands kissed them also. Then all signed their names in the church books, and the trumpeters and heralds made music for them.
They returned through the streets of Nottingham, gay now with flags and merry with a joyful populace. Loud cheerings rent the air, and people showered flowers and blessings upon them. Before the happy couples ran six of the greenwood men, loyal subjects now, flinging largesse upon the people right and left from out of well-filled bags. All the treasure that they had accumulated in their caves at Barnesdale the King's bowmen freely distributed this day. All were happy--the nightmare of unjust dealings, of Norman oppression, of laws for the poor and none for the rich, was ended. The King had said it, and the King had already made good the promise in his words.
Afterward, at Gamewell, Richard conferred upon Montfichet full rank as Baron of the Realm, with power to speak and vote in the Upper Court of Appeal, the highest rank in the land, next to the King himself. Sir Richard of the Lee and his son became members of the Star Chamber, with grants of land in perpetuity.
Turning to Marian, the King wished her every joy that she could wish herself, and gave to her the lands of Broadweald in Lancashire to hold in her own right forever. "Thus you shall have wealth to share with your Robin; and I counsel you both to make good use of your days. My subjects who are loyal to me shall have no cause to regret it. I will give you, Aimée, the Castle of Aquitaine, which I held under my father's grant until his death. You know how fair a spot it is, and how sweet the sky of France! Help her to administer her riches, Geoffrey, wisely and well; and be you all ready when I shall call upon you. Now God save you all. Amen."