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When Robin Hood Was Caught Dead To Rights

When Robin Hood Was Caught Dead To Rights

When Robin Hood Was Caught Dead To Rights

by William Todd Seabrook



and on and on and on and on they ran, the Merry Men, running from a hundred and one arrows bought with taxes stolen twice over, the lives of the archers stolen twice over as well, and on and on and on stopping ever so briefly that day when Robin Hood put a dagger through the thigh of a royal valet, letting him bleed out and dragging the body to the edge of the forest because he’d be damned if a kingsman went to rot in Sherwood, tugging the body on and on until he came to the edge of the trees only to find a battalion of the King’s archers, their bowstrings pulled to their temples, the sinew humming ever so slightly in the air, buzzing on and on and on,

and so Robin kept his head down and walked out of the forest like the archers weren’t there, dumping the valet’s corpse in the knee-high grass, stepping on the elbow until the bone cracked in half, bouncing the echo off the hundred and one tin helmets and breaking a rib just to make sure his count was right and only then did he look up, both feet planted evenly in the ground, the forest behind him stretching on and on and on,

If you run you will be shot, bellowed the Sheriff of Nottingham, all his years of toil and chase balled in his fist above his head, wallowing in this moment where he had Robin Hood dead to rights,

and so and so and so Robin Hood stood perfectly still, the longstanding law stating that an outlaw be given a chance to surrender, and even though the Sheriff knew there was a sparrow’s chance in winter that Robin Hood was going to give up the chase, there was nothing to be done until Robin Hood made a move to run, a twitch or tremble, even the slightest nod of his head or quiver in his jaw would be enough to loose the arrows and drop him dead, and it didn’t matter if the nine-lived Loxley hummed I give up, the vibrations of his vocal cords would be cause enough for the Sherriff to give the order to fire, as he knew the outlaw could dodge a number of arrows quick and calm and on and on and on and even take a few to the non-vitals if he had to, as he had before and would after, but right here right now there were far too many archers and their far too many arrows for the great Robin Hood, so many that they would run him through before he could make it to Sherwood’s edge, before he could disappear back and back and back and on and on and on,

and as Robin stood motionless, the King’s archers waited as well, having trained all their lives for this day, birthed with a bow in their hands and taught to hold taut the string for months at a time, their finger bones notched to fit the arrow and their eyes keen up to two miles away and on and on and on for the day they would have Robin Hood in their sight lines, not knowing who he was or why he was or when they would be sent off to the crusades to pull their entire beings taut again, but knowing that this was the step toward that world and that their training had taught them everything except how to see just past the forest,

and on and on and on they stood there as the sun set and the night sky collapsed around them, unmoved by the cold and the light rain, then staring straight through the morning fog, waiting out the dew as it evaporated in the afternoon heat and on and on for days, the archers steady, the Sheriff’s fist still crushing the air above him, not a single one of them hungry or tired since they could not recall the last time they had eaten or slept and therefore didn’t know when they would need to again, Nottingham somewhere behind them or in front of them, but really the only direction being Robin Hood and the Merry Men, holding, holding,

until they heard a whistle coming through the trees, the sound Robin Hood had been waiting for, the voice of Little John who, like Robin Hood, didn’t see the Sheriff and his archers until it was too late, his whistle growing in volume as he approached, the jaunty tune losing its rhythm, replaced with an vacillating pitch as he waltzed out of the woods, the whistle resonating with the bowstrings creating a deafening cry, a pitch that reverberated through the woods and farther still past the edges of England and the oceans and all the foreign lands and on and on and on and on, You are now under arrest, the Sheriff screamed, his voice barely breaking through the noise but thinking this was a banner day indeed, and surely with two Merry Men dead at his feet he would be spared the crusades and perhaps a lordship was in line and a plot of land and a life without the chase, and so he split his hundred and one archers between the two Merry Men, the extra man holding on Robin Hood, and as half the arrowheads shifted a fraction of an inch to their new target, Little John stood motionless, a smile on his face that didn’t move for days,

waiting and waiting until more bodies came crashing through the woods, called by Little John’s song, running full steam through the dead leaves and fallen trees, all the detritus of a dying forest that was being chopped away bit by bit to make room for cathedrals and nunneries and monasteries and on and on and on until the grassy edges choked the trees and the birds fell from their branches, and bursting through it all were more Merry Men, Will Scarlett and Much the Miller’s son, their daggers drawn but only to cut a path through the forest, the brambles and foliage filling in behind them, and they had barely touched the grass before the Sheriff’s words hit them—Move, fired upon!—hoping to catch them off guard, but before the words even slipped through his teeth both of the Merry Men froze in stride, Will Scarlett balancing on one foot, Much chomping down on a low hanging branch to stop his momentum, even their heaving chests freezing in space and freezing in time, still there to this day some say, and this time the archers didn’t even wait for the order before they cleaved themselves again, splintering their aim between the four, the Sheriff too slow to stop it but doing the math and calculating that there were still too many arrows to dodge, too many to outrun, but this time when he stared at Robin Hood, Robin Hood stared back, the outlaw’s eyes shifting colors as the sun glinted off the arrows, three-quarters fewer than when he first stepped out of Sherwood, and the Sheriff started to see Robin Hood’s past and his own future start to overlap as if they had always been one in the same,

and more Merry Men came, Friar Tuck rolling through the brambles like a wine barrel, drunk and teetering until he touched the grass and froze with the others, the alcohol making him see double the arrows, and still more Merry Men, David of Duncaster, Arthur a Bland, jumping out of the branches and landing so close to the archers that the steel arrowheads nearly touched their throats, the archers fracturing their aims again then again then again until one hundred and one Merry Men had exactly one arrow aimed dead center at their hearts, and the Sheriff’s vision stretched across so many bodies and so many arrows, past Nottingham and England and the foreign shores, stretched so far he could see years behind him and years ahead of him, and it was all collapsing around him, and still there was this moment of waiting, waiting to drop his hand straight through the lot of them,

and all the while Robin Hood smiling without smiling until the last Merry Man, Alan-A-Dale came sauntering through the crumbling underbrush, strumming his lute and singing a ballad about stealing the trousers off the King, stopping mid-verse when he hit the grass, the archers humming the rest on and on and on because they all knew how it ended, unable to split their arrows any more there would be at least one who escaped, which meant they all escaped, tears brimming at the edges of the archers’ eyes, no longer able to see even a few feet in front of them, which is all they ever wanted, to just see a little more of the world,

You are now under arrest, the Sheriff whispered, knowing that with Robin Hood there was no before or after, there was only this one precise moment, and that moment had changed from Robin Hood falling with an arrow through his throat to the outlaw running free and clear into the woods, which meant that he had never really been caught, never would be caught either, he would only run on and on and on because that was all there was to this world, and all the Sheriff could do was close his eyes and drop his hand, no point in waiting any longer, listening to the thwang of the bowstrings and whistle of the arrows but unable to bear the vast sight of it all falling into place, the place it had always been,

seeing Robin Hood make the first leap before the arrows had cleared their bows, the Merry Men breaking for the forest, dipping and spinning from the hard straight paths of the arrows, the tips flying past them so fast and yet far too slow, Robin Hood weaving through the twisted trees like there was nothing to this life, around and around the Merry Men laughing as they ran, Little John catching an arrow in his arm, pulling it out and heaving it back through an archer’s eye, more of the kingsmen giving chase but falling to traps and pitfalls, the foliage swallowing them up until they were desperately shooting at trees as they sank into the underbrush, wishing they had been sent to the Crusades as the laugher of the Merry Men echoed through the forest, Alan-a-Dale plucking his lute, already singing their story, and Robin Hood out in front, as always, running on and on and on and on and on

William Todd Seabrook is the author of four prose chapbooks, the most recent (The Imagination of Lewis Carroll) winning the 8th Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest. His work has appeared in The Fairy Tale Review, Western Humanities Review, The River Styx, The Adroit Journal, Tin House, Mid-American Review, and PANK, among others. He has been anthologized in Best Small Fictions and 30 Under 30: An Anthology of Innovative Fiction. He is the editor and designer of The Cupboard Pamphlet, a prose chapbook press. He currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio.