S05 THE MERRY BOY*

1

 

It’s like a small e-bok reader, with a screen on one side, and two buttons in the end. I set the display on the screen:
Title: Robin Hood
Author: unknown
Edition: 2001.
Page: 17.
I sat on my bed and pressed the button marked Go.

The thing was an incorporator: in an instant, I was at that place, in that book. This was Sherwood Forest. Lots of huge trees, with smaller ones and bushes between. In the shadow of the trees, the ground was brown with dead leaves, but grass and weeds were growing in the gaps where sunlight splashed through. The place was quiet except for the leaves rustling in the breeze, and the birds cheeping. Nobody was in sight.

I stepped back, into the shelter of a bush. As usual, the incorporator had given me gear to suit the story – a green, open-necked sweatshirt, trousers, with a leather belt, and brown boots. I reset the incorporator for the story that would take me home, and slipped it in my pocket. I looked and listened warily, but the forest remained peaceful.

The idea started at teatime. I’ve sworn not to tell anyone, including Mum and Dad, about the incorporator, but I’ve started reading old stories, in case I have to visit one. Mum thinks that’s good for me, and tries to encourage me. She asked, “What book are you reading, James?”

“Robin Hood.”

“Ah!” said Dad. “I remember reading that when I was your age. Robin Hood and his Merry Men.”

Mum asked, “Who were his Merry Men?”

“There’s a challenge for you, James,” said Dad. “How many of Robin Hood’s Merry Men can you name?”

“Little John,” I said. “Friar Tuck. Er… Maid Marion.”

“Maid Marion!” said Dad. “I said, ‘Merry Men.’ Come on, James.”

“After tea, I’ll go up and find out,” I said.

I might’ve skimmed through the book to find the names, but I was tempted to use the incorporator to visit the story, find Robin Hood, and ask him the names of all his Merry Men. That would shut Dad up.

Now I realised; that might not be so easy. Enemies often hunted Robin Hood – soldiers, and friends of the Sheriff of Nottingham. He wouldn’t trust a stranger in the forest. But, if the incorporator had brought me here, Robin Hood couldn’t be far away. I crept round the bush, and stood with my back against the trunk of a tree. The birds sang. A bee buzzed somewhere, but I couldn’t see or hear anyone.

The peace gave me courage. I jogged across to another tree, then to the shelter of a bush. Still the forest was peaceful. If any Merry Men, or Sheriff of Nottingham’s soldiers, were around, they were keeping out of sight.

Were there paths or tracks through this forest? If I could hide beside one, I might watch for people passing.

A rustle from behind made me whirl round, but no one was there. I peered into the bush, but it was empty. Then I turned back, and gasped in shock, because a man was standing right in front of me.

 

2

The guy was wearing the same kind of clothes as me. His face had a black moustache, a small beard, and a smile. A dagger was tucked through his belt but, to my relief, he’d left it there.

He asked, “Who are you?”

“My name is James, but my friends call me Jam.”

He frowned. “Jam. That is a strange name. What brings you to Sherwood Forest?”

He looked more like a Merry Man than a soldier, so I took a chance. “I’m looking for… Robin Hood.”

“Why are you looking for Robin Hood?”

I couldn’t tell him the real reason, so I said, “I… I heard he was fighting for justice against the Sheriff of Nottingham. I came to see if I could join his Merry Men.”

“Merry Men.” He laughed. “How old are you?”

“Thirteen,” I said. “But I’m keen. Could I be a Merry Boy?”

He laughed again. “I am Robin Hood I like you, James, but I fear I must decline your offer. We have a hard life. Too hard for a child of thirteen.”

“Can’t I help you somehow?” I said. “I’m tough for my age.”

He studied me. “All right, boy. I do admire your enthusiasm. If you desire, I shall give you a trial as my personal servant.”

“Thanks!” I said. “That would be great. I won’t let you down.”

“I’m sure you won’t… Jam,” he said. “I do not like the name, Jam. Would you consent to my calling you James?”

“Whatever you like.”

“Good.” He slapped my shoulder. “Then, James, come with me now. I am on my way to visit Godred the Hermit. I believe that he has messages for me from friends in Nottingham. Tell me about yourself.”

That made my mind race. I realised he might ask where Dad lived, so I said I was an orphan: Dad and Mum were killed by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Luckily I didn’t have to tell him any more, because we reached the place where Godred the Hermit lived.

I would’ve walked past it if Robin Hood hadn’t stopped. It looked like a mound of grass and boulders in a small clearing in the forest. At one side, two boulders leaned together, leaving a gap like an upside-down V. Robin Hood ducked into that, calling, “Godred, friend, are you there?”

I followed, crouching so low that I was almost crawling. A short tunnel led a little downhill, into the hermit’s cell. It was dim: a little light came in through a gap between two boulders. As my eyes became used to the darkness, I saw a stone shelf along one side, with straw and a blanket on it. That must be Godred’s bed. A flat boulder, sticking out from another wall, must be his table. It had a mug and plate, and two scrolls. At the opposite end from the door, a tiny fire flickered on a rock shelf. Some of the smoke was rising into a crack above it, but some was coming out into the room, making a sharp smell and nipping my eyes.

Sitting on the bed was an old man with a long straggly beard and ragged tunic. Robin Hood said, “James, this is Godred the Hermit. Godred, this is James, my new servant.”

I bowed. “Good day, Godred.” He muttered something into his beard.

Robin Hood sat on the shelf beside Godred, and they talked in low voices. I stood at the ‘window.’ A cool draught was blowing in – better than the eye-watering fumes in the room.

This was an interesting trip, but how could I ask Robin Hood the names of his Merry Men? He might think I was a spy sent by the Sheriff of Nottingham. I could probably stay with Robin until we reached his hideout, then I might…. A pair of legs and feet sneaked past the window.