“Working like a madman, he ripped the skin from the haunch of the dead beast, cut a slice of the warm flesh, and bolted it as a dog might have done. After that, he went at the carcass more carefully, cutting off the best of the meat and placing it in a pile on the snow, strip after strip of juicy venison. Then, with a cry that was more like a dog's bark, he started up, knife in hand, and faced the tall man whose shadow had fallen across him as he worked…”
“Put the knife down, Sebald,” said the tall man quietly.
“Robin – Robin of Locksley!” Sebald gasped. “Master, I was starved.”
“And like to be hanged,” said Robin of Locksley. “For this is death, Sebald, if a forester find one head of deer taken.”
“If I die of a rope, or of hunger, what difference is there? Sebald asked doggedly. “Look you, Master Robin, when this winter began I had a wife and two little ones. But because I feel ill, a thing no serf may do, Guy of Gisborne turned us out of our hut and gave our shelter to Walter the Bald. A serf who cannot work, said Guy, shall neither eat nor shelter on his lands, and they drove us out, the wife and the children with me, though the little ones were all unfit.”
“True,” said Robin, nodding. “Guy of Gisborne is a hard man, and cruel. But it is death to touch the deer, Sebald.”
“Death? What is death but a kindness?” Sebald asked. “For so my wife found it when the cold wrapped her round and she fell asleep, never to wake more in this world. So the child Freda found it, for a least she will hunger no more, and now only the boy Waltheof is left me, and he a-crying with bitter hunger. By the Rood, Master Robin, if I hang, I hang with a full belly, and the boy shall have one more good meal!”
There was a look of pity in Robin’s eyes. “Where is the boy?” he asked.
“There” – Sebald pointed along the way he had come – “in the hollow of a dead elm, wrapped in such rags as I could find him that he might not die of the cold.”
“Then you harbour in the forest?” Robin asked.
Sebald nodded. “Else I must go back to Guy of Gisborne, being his man,” he answered. “And to go backs means lashes on the back, and labour from morn to night, with more lashes at the end of it, since I am all unhandy and slow, and so they call me the dolt, Master Robin. I tell you” – his voice rose to sudden fierceness – “there is no justice…”
from The Adventures of Robin Hood
by E. Charles Vivan
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