Author’s Note: Robin Hood was a legendary English outlaw famed for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. He and his band of merry men, including Little John, Will Scarlet, and Friar Tuck, dwelt in the depths of Sherwood Forest, and clashed many times with their nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin’s story ends with his death, but his friends and foes may have remained…
“You. Why are you here?” The world-weary voice echoed harshly about the interior of the desolate hut.
The newcomer shrugged off his bearskin cloak, the movement sending a cascade of snow to the ground. “I’ve come to be shriven.”
“I hear the pleas of the dying. Not the damned.”
“Come now. Is that any way to address an old friend?”
The friar cast back the hood of his habit, candlelight giving his gaunt face a skull-like appearance. “Friend or foe, Heaven’s justice awaits you. You are not the law above, Sheriff.”
The former Sheriff of Nottingham smiled. “Tuck. The good Friar Tuck. Will you not hear my sins?”
Friar Tuck rose from the woven mat he sat upon. In his youth and middle age, he had loved his food and drink more than most, and his body had been big and fleshy, layered with both fat and muscle. Now, long years of fasting and age had wrought their work upon Tuck, until he resembled a barren tree in the winter time, thin and pale and ever so deadened.
“Sins,” Tuck repeated, almost to himself. The word rolled easily off his tongue, as if he spoke it often. “I have no need to hear your sins, Sheriff. I know them as well as the scars on the back of my hand. Even if you spoke until the End of Days, there is not enough time to recount them. So no, I will not hear your sins.”
The Sheriff shook his head. His own garments had once been made by the finest tailors in the kingdom from the richest materials available, but now were torn and stained with the passage of many years and long travels.
“I performed the duties of my office, good friar. Now I am an old man, seeking his final peace. Will you not give it to me?”
Tuck ignored the question, bending down to pick something from the cluttered earthen floor of the hut. He held it in his hands, a splintered longbow of yew, tip choked with cobwebs.
“Do you remember the light of Sherwood?” he asked suddenly. “The golden rays upon the leafy boughs, the smell of wildflowers in the springtime, the essence of life itself falling down from heaven into the forest.” He dropped the longbow to the floor with a dull thud. “After Robin died and the band scattered, I left it too. I have never been back.”
The Sheriff opened his mouth to speak, but Tuck continued as if he hadn’t noticed. “I have thought of making a journey back there, but then I realized that even if I did return, the light of Sherwood would be cold and grey. I realized that its sun existed in no place but my own memory.”
The Sheriff nodded. “I still remember that light too.”
Tuck stood. In the shadows of the hut, his face became dark and terrible, eyes smoldering within their sockets like dying coals. “Do you?!” he shouted. “Have you ever known what it means to be hounded and hunted like a piece of prey? To wake up every day wondering if the sun will set as crows and daws peck at your dangling corpse? To ride by your reflection in a pool and see it laughing at you?”
“I do,” the Sheriff said softly. He remained sitting where he was, and his eyes were dull. “I lost a lot chasing the merry men through the depths of Sherwood. I lost everything I held dear in the years that followed. I wish I could have acted differently. I wish I knew then what I know now.”
“Merry men,” Tuck sneered. “That’s what you think, isn’t it? That’s what your retainers and sycophants whispered in your ear at court? The men who came to Sherwood were anything but merry. They were debtors and vagabonds, the starving dregs of England following the last shadow of hope. Some had to be killed the day they arrived, so far had they fallen. It took years to meld them together into something that bore the semblance of a brotherhood, and even then, it was a hideous mockery. When Robin died, they scattered. The shepherd was stricken down, and the sheep were lost!”
“You must understand,” the Sheriff pleaded. “My office—my family, my house, my descendants’ future—all of it was at risk! Change was coming to England, and I knew that I would have been swept aside in its wake otherwise.”
“You could have left us be,” Tuck said softly. His face was human again. He sat down again, and struck the palm of his hand against the dirt in frustration. “That was all we ever wanted, to be left to ourselves. Just us and Sherwood, us and the deer, us and a few sacks of gold liberated from passing nobles who had never earned anything by the sweat of their brow.”
Tuck glanced up. “That is all I want now too, Sheriff. I want to be left here, alone. I perform the last rites for the local village—I, the crazy hermit who spends his days fasting and meditating.”
The Sheriff rose to depart, his steps immeasurably weary. Tuck stared at his retreating form for a second, noticing for the first time the limp in his former nemesis’ steps, the cruel scar that stretched its way down the side of the man’s neck, the streaks of ravaged skin on his arms that could only have been the result of a virulent plague.
“What happened to you?” The words were out of the friar’s mouth before he could stop them.
There was a bitter smile dancing on the Sheriff’s lips when he turned around. “A Crusade gone wrong, Tuck. A sickness and a betrayal, a cruel jest that heaven played upon me.”
A thousand spiteful responses rose to Tuck’s mind, but he forced them down. This man was no longer his enemy, and even if he had been, did the Lord not preach to love his enemies? Did he not forgive those who crucified him? How could Tuck allow this shattered man to go forth without hearing his confession?
“Very well, Sheriff. Sit, if you will. I will hear your sins.”
Tuck smiled sadly. “We all must eventually face our faults in the light. When that hour comes, I will embrace it. I will not have it said that Friar Tuck drank so deeply from the well of bitterness that he could not offer forgiveness.”
The Sheriff spoke. Tuck listened, gave absolution. The Sheriff left.
A year later, both men lay within unmarked graves. But they carried that peace within them before they died—a peace that makes broken souls whole.
David Ferranti is a sophomore concentrating in Biology.