I Met Robin Hood by Hack Shuck

I met Robin Hood once, when I was a young boy.

I was visiting my friend William, who lived with his parents in a small village on the edge of Sherwood Forest, in Nottinghamshire, England. His mom and my mom were friends, and were swapping stories while William’s dad had taken us into the woods for a walk.

We were allowed a fair amount of freedom to run and play among the seemingly endless trees and copses, so long as we never went out of earshot. But rules mean little when you are young and having fun.

We were too consumed with making spears out of dry branches to hear him creep towards us; though of course he is so stealthy that even had we been alert we would not have noticed him approach. He wore a sort of patchwork green jacket, with green pants and boots. And, of course, his famous Robin Hood hat, set at a jaunty angle and complete with a feather.

I was a very shy boy but William was the opposite. “You’re not him! You’re too fat to be him!”

I felt terrible, as this was extremely rude, though he WAS very large. but Robin threw back his head and roared; spittle flying everywhere like the hot fat when sausage is barbecued.

“In the forest, my boys, there is always plenty of good food to eat.”

“There’s no food in this forest. Unless you eat acorns.” William was hardly underfed himself, and I heard a curiosity in his voice.

“You just have to know where to look! It is an instinct I have learned. Why, I am practically tripping over fine meats!” he gave another hearty laugh, and William and I both warmed to him. “Tell me, boys, what are your names? William! Like my old friend, Will Scarlett.”

He gave me a welcoming smile, but I had been too well-raised to give a stranger my name.

“Very wise, very wise. For an outlaw with no name is twice as tough to catch.” he knelt on one knee, and propped his elbow on the other. His face was level with ours. I was so curious, I could barely speak, and even William seemed stunned into silence.

“Do you know why they call me an outlaw?” Why, I make up my own laws here! I live as a free man. Don’t you boys long to be free of other people’s rules? People who make it their business to tell you what you can and can’t do? Yes, I mean grown-ups. Your parents.”

“But YOU’RE a grown-up!” said William, seemingly entranced, with a sort of awe.

“Well, if you say so, my boy. But let me tell you a little secret, just between us outlaws. Here in Sherwood Forest, nobody ever really grows up. Just think about that. My merry men stay young forever!”

“But I want to grow up!” It was the only thing I said to him, I think.

His smile widened. He leaned closer to me, and I began to notice his eyes darting about wildly. And his clothes were torn in places, and matted with dried mud. “All the best adventures I have had have been with those who’ve not grown up. I have no time for grown-ups. Grown-ups are the Sheriff’s men, did you know that?”

“My dad is definitely one of the sheriff’s men!” said William, with a chuckle. His dad could be pretty mean when he was in a bad mood, which was often.

Robin responded to this with a curious smirk which I didn’t quite like. He didn’t speak for a good few moments, and I began to wish that William’s dad would hurry up and catch up to us, mean or not.

“I Have to be very, very careful who I take back to my cave with me. For if the world knew the whereabouts of Robin hood’s cave…”

“They might find you!” answered William, which seemed to be the right thing to say, for Robin reached out and took William by the hand, before reaching for mine. But I didn’t reciprocate.

“My cave is so very secret, that when you enter, the ground will swallow you up. And no grown-ups will ever, ever be able to find you.” his eyes seemed to stare into my soul, and I was frozen.

But the spell was broken by William’s father calling us. He sounded angry.

Robin shook William’s hand, and swiftly entered the dense undergrowth, almost instantly consumed by greenery. “I hear one of the Sheriff’s men! And with that, lads, I must beat a hasty retreat.”

“Will I see you again?” called William.

“You will, my boys! In your dreams at night. And they will write of me. You will read of my adventures, I dare say!”

And he was gone, completely, just as William’s father appeared. Neither of us told him what had happened. I didn’t see much of my friend after that day, and we never spoke of our brush with the outlaw.

Robin’s words were, it turned out, true; I do see him, on and off, in my dreams, the sort which I awake from in terror, drenched in sweat. And they certainly wrote about him, too. In a way. For every once in a while, I read in the newspapers that another child has gone missing in Sherwood Forest. Sometimes the search party finds a kid's bicycle, or a few items of clothing. Sometimes they find nothing at all. It is as if the ground has swallowed them up. These disappearances are perhaps no more frequent or unusual than in any other large forest. Perhaps.

I am a grown-up, now. One of the Sheriff’s men. And I hate Robin Hood, as Robin Hood still scares me. Terrifies me, in fact. He always has done, ever since that day. Even the films, the toys, the Disney cartoon. Another thing which always scares me is the sight of a British soldier in uniform. Those green pants and boots, with the camouflage jacket which looks like patchwork to a young boy. And the British infantry beret with a sort of feather called a Hackle, which, to a kid, could pass for Robin Hood’s hat. With military training, he must have learnt to survive. To hunt. To hide. He could live out there for years. What bothers me the most is how on earth he had gotten so fat?