"A bonny fine maid of noble degree,
Maid Marian called by name,
Did live in the north, of excellent worth,
For she was a gallant dame.
For favour, and face, and beauty most rare,
Queen Helen she did excel;
For Marian then was praised of all men
That did in the country dwell."
Long before Robin came to live in Sherwood Forest he used often to go there to hunt. There were many wild animals in the woods which people were allowed to shoot. Only the deer belonged to the king, and no one was allowed to hunt or kill them.
One day while Robin was hunting in the forest he met a most beautiful lady. She was dressed in green velvet, the colour of the grass in spring. Robin thought she looked like a queen. He had never seen any one so lovely.
"Her gait it was graceful, her body was straight,
And her countenance free from all pride;
A bow in her hand, and a quiver of arrows,
Hung dangling down by her side.
Her eyebrows were black, ay, and so was her hair,
And her skin was as smooth as glass;
Her visage spoke wisdom and modesty too:
Suits with Robin Hood such a lass!"
Robin watched this beautiful lady shooting, and thought he had never seen anything so fine in all his life. He loved her from the very first moment he saw her.
"Oh, how sweet it would be if this dear lady would be my bride," he sighed to himself, though he did not even know her name.
He soon found that she was called Marian, and that her father was the noble Earl of Fitzwalter, who had come to live at a castle not far from his own home.
After this, Marian and Robin met each other very often. They used to hunt together in the forest, and came to love one another very much indeed. They loved each other so much, that Robin asked Marian to marry him, so that they might never be parted any more.
Marian said "yes," and Robin thought he was the happiest man in all the world. She went back to her own home with her father, to prepare for the wedding, which was to be in a few days. But just then a terrible misfortune happened to Robin. He lost his home, and everything that he had.
"So fortune bearing these lovers a spite,
Thus soon they were forced to part;
To the merry Green Wood went Robin Hood
With a sad and sorrowful heart."
When Robin lost all his money and lands, and had no house but only the Green Wood to live in, he said: "I cannot ask a gentle lady to come and live this rough life with me. I must say good-bye to my dear Marian for ever."
So he wrote a sad letter, telling her of all the terrible misfortune that had befallen him. "I shall love you always," he said, "but this life is too hard for a sweet and gentle lady, so I will never see you more. Good-bye."
Marian was very, very sorrowful when she had read Robin's letter. She cried all day long as if her heart would break.
She was very sad and lonely now, and all the world seemed dark and dreary. It seemed as if the sun had forgotten to shine and the birds to sing.
At last she became so miserable that she could bear it no longer. "I must go into the Green Wood and look for Robin," she said. "Perhaps if I see him again the pain will go out of my heart and the weariness from my feet."
It was a long way to Sherwood Forest. Marian knew that it was not safe for a beautiful lady to travel so far by herself. She feared the robbers and the wild, wicked men she might meet. So she dressed herself like a knight all in shining armour. She wore a steel helmet, with a white feather as a crest. Over her lovely face she drew a steel chain cover, called a visor, which knights used to wear. It kept the face from being hurt by arrows and swords in battle, and also, if a knight wished not to be known, it prevented people from seeing his face altogether.
With quiver and bow, sword, buckler, and all,
Thus armed was Marian most bold,
She wandered about, to find Robin out,
Whose person was better than gold."
Robin was very fond of disguising himself. He was very clever at it too. Often his dearest friends could not recognise him when they met him dressed like some one else.
One day he dressed himself as a Norman knight, pulled his visor over his face, and went out into the forest in search of an adventure.
He had not gone far before he met another knight in shining armour and a white crest. He put on a deep and terrible voice and called out in Norman French, "Stop, Sir knight of the white feather. No one passes through the forest without leave from me. I give leave only to those whose errand is good and whose name is fair. What is your name and where are you going?"
Marian (for of course it was she) was very frightened. Robin's voice sounded so gruff and terrible that she did not know it, and she could not see his face.
She thought he was some wicked Norman knight. Without saying a word she drew her sword and prepared to fight.
"Ah," said Robin, "you refuse to answer. Your errand must be evil if you cannot tell what it is. Fight then, false knight."
He too drew his sword, and the fight began. Though Robin was taller and stronger than Marian, she used her sword so cleverly, that he found it hard to get the better of her. He could not but admire the skill and grace with which she defended herself. "It is wonderful that a knight so young and so slender should have such strength and quickness," he said to himself. "I would he were one of my men."
They fought for more than an hour. Marian was wounded in the arm. Robin had a cut in his cheek, where the point of her sword had pierced his visor. Marian was growing tired. Robin began to feel sorry for the young knight who fought so skilfully and well.
"Oh, hold thy hand, hold thy hand, said Robin Hood,
And thou shalt be one of my string,
To range in the wood with bold Robin Hood
And hear the sweet nightingale sing."
Robin had forgotten that he was pretending to be a haughty Norman knight, and spoke in his own voice. When Marian heard it she dropped her sword with a cry of delight. "Robin, Robin," was all she could say.
"Marian," he replied full of wonder, "Marian can it be you? Oh, why did you not speak before? I have hurt you," he added in great distress. Marian took off her helmet so that he might see it was indeed his own true love. Her face was pale, but there was a smile on her lips, and her eyes were full of happy tears.
How they laughed and cried, and kissed each other. It was a long, long time since they had met. They went to the brook, which gurgled and sang through the wood not far off. Very tenderly Robin bathed and bound up Marian's wound, and she as gently cared for his. All the time they laughed and talked, and Marian found that the pain had gone from her heart and the weariness from her feet.
She told Robin how sad and sorrowful she had been, and how she had put on a knight's armour, and come to look for him.
"Sweetheart," he said when she had finished her story, "I do not know how I shall live in the Green Wood when you go away again."
"But I never mean to go away again. I am going to stay with you always," she said.
"Dearest, you must not. It is a rough, uncomfortable life, not fit for a gentle lady like you."
"Oh Robin, do not be so unkind. The sun does not shine and the birds forget to sing when I am away from you. Let me stay."
So Robin let her stay. He wanted to have her with him so much that he could not say "no" when she begged so hard.
"And then as bold Robin Hood, and his sweet bride,
Went hand and hand to the green bower,
The birds sung with pleasure in merry Sherwood,
And twas a joyful hour."
As they walked along to the Trysting-Tree, as the place was called where Robin and his men used to gather, they met Little John. He was very much surprised to see his master and a strange young knight, walking arm-in-arm, chatting and laughing gaily.
"Ho, Little John," called out Robin, as soon as he saw him, "come, help me. This fair knight has pierced my heart, so that I fear I shall never recover."
Little John turned pale. "Master," he said, "are you indeed wounded? If it is so, this false knight has not long to live," and he looked fiercely at Marian.
She drew closer to Robin, saying, "This big man frightens me."
But Robin laughed. Putting one arm round her, and holding Little John off with the other, "Friend," he said, "I did but jest. This is no knight, but my own fair love, Maid Marian. If my heart is pierced and sore wounded, it is only with the bright glances from her eyes. Marian," he went on, "this is my friend Little John, of whom I have told you. He is the tallest and the bravest of my men, the wisest head among us."
Little John knelt on one knee, and, taking Marian's hand, kissed it as if she had been a queen. "Lady," he said, "if you have come to live with us in the Green Wood, and be our queen, as Robin is our king, I swear to serve you faithfully and well, as I do him."
Marian smiled down upon him. Her heart was so full, she could not speak.
"Now, master," said Little John, "we must have a feast to-day, for this must be a great day in the Green Wood. So by your leave I will take my bow and arrows, and see what I can bring to our cooks."
"So Little John took his bow in his hand,
And wandered in the wood,
To kill the deer, and make a good cheer
For Marian and Robin Hood."
"Robin," said Marian, when Little John had gone, "I wish I had a dress to wear instead of this armour."
"Sweetheart," replied Robin, "you are lovely as you are, but if you want a dress you can soon have one. Not long ago we stopped a rich Jew, who was travelling through the forest. He left a bale of goods with us. There are several fine dresses in it, of which you can take your choice. Come, I will show you the cave where they are."
Robin sat down outside the cave to wait till Marian came back to him again. He leaned his head against the trunk of a tree, and shutting his eyes, dreamed happy day dreams.
Then he heard his name whispered, and, opening his eyes, saw Marian, looking like a fairy princess. She wore an underdress of glittering white, and over it a robe of lovely satin, green and shimmering like beech leaves in early spring. Her dark hair was caught up in a net of pearls, and a soft white veil fell about her face.
Robin drew in his breath. He had not known that any one could look so beautiful.
Slowly they paced through the Green Wood together. They had so much to say to each other, the time went all too quickly.
Slowly they paced through the Green Wood
Then, under the Trysting-Tree, Robin stopped, and blew his horn. In answer to it all, all his men came marching in a row. As they passed Robin, every man bowed. Then each one knelt on one knee, kissing Marian's hand, and vowing to serve and honour her as his queen. And so every man went to his place, and Marian stood blushing and smiling at them as they passed.
Then the merry feast began. The cooks had done their very best, and had made all the most dainty and delightful dishes they could think of. The table-cloths, which were spread upon the grass, were strewn with wildflowers. The sun shone, the birds sang, and happy talk and laughter rang merrily through the wood.
When the feast was over, Robin filled his drinking-horn, and holding it high above his head said, "Here's a health to Maid Marian, Queen of the Green Wood."
It was a fine sight to see all his men as they sprang to their feet. They looked so handsome and tall in their coats of Lincoln green. They waved their hats and cheered for Maid Marian, till the forest echoed again.
"Here's to fair Maid Marian and bold Robin Hood," they cried. "Long may they live, and happy may they be."
Then came fat and jolly Friar Tuck carrying his big book and trying to look grave.
A hush fell upon every one, while Robin and Marian knelt together, under the blue sky and green waving branches. Very solemn and still it was, in the great forest, as Robin and Marian were married.
"Then a garland they brought her, by two and by two,
And placed it all on the Bride's head.
Then music struck up, and they all fell to dance,
And the Bride and Bridegroom they led."
Every one was happy and merry. Only Little John felt the least bit sad. "Now Robin has such a lovely wife, he will not need his friends any more," he said sorrowfully to himself.
But Maid Marian saw that he looked sad, and guessed why, so she talked kindly to him, and soon he was as merry as the rest. They sang, and danced, and played, and no one seemed to tire.
"At last they ended their merriment,
And went to walk in the wood,
When Little John on Maid Marian
Attended and bold Robin Hood."
So this happy day came to an end. The red sun sank behind the trees. The birds slept, and all the forest was silent, only the bright stars were awake, and watched over Robin and his band.
Robin and Marian lived together for a long, long time, and were very, very happy. They lived so happily together, and loved each other so much, that "to love like Robin Hood and Maid Marian" came to be a proverb. And to this day, in the place where Maid Marian lived before she went to the Green Wood, and where she was buried when she died, they give a prize each year to the man and wife who have lived most happily together.
"In solid content together they lived
With all their yeomen gay,
They lived by their hands without any lands,
And so they did many a day."