Robin Hood and the Monstone
The glorious beauty of an early autumn morning, the sweet scent of the wide-stretching moorland, the invigorating breeze from the east sweeping over the hills, the occasional calls of the birds or the flutter of their wings, all combined (as they still combine) to make life seem more than usually joyous on a certain day in the year 1247, when a company of men might have been seen assembled on that part of Blackstone Edge which we now call “Robin Hood’s Bed.”
Stalwart fine fellows were they, clothed in well-fitting tunics of the fashion of the day, and of a colour so like that of grass that one could readily understand how easily the owners might lie in ambush in some parts of the country—in forest lands, for instance—were they so disposed.
There were at least a hundred men, and every man was armed, most of them with that splendid English weapon, the long-bow, which in later days gained Crecy and Poictiers and Agincourt, and the use of which Bishop Latimer (in 1549) described as “a godly art, a wholesome kind of exercise, and much commended in physic.” Many of them, however, carried quarter-staves—tough poles of wood some seven feet long, shod at each end with iron, and which, when grasped in the hands of athletic men and twirled with practised skill, became terrible weapons, one blow from which usually terminated a combat.
These archers and others—all clad in the costume of Lincoln green already described—made a striking picture as they stood in a semi-circle listening intently to the words of the man who stood upon one of those great stones which still mark “Robin Hood’s Bed.”
He was of splendid physique—broad-shouldered, erect, muscular, graceful in every movement. His strong features were softened by the look of habitual good temper and generosity which they wore; his hair, white as snow and falling aroung his head in curls, was the only sign which told of age. None would have guessed that four score years and more had passed over his head and that this was he who had played so great a part in the reign of Richard the Lion-Hearted (now dead for nigh half a century), the outlaw leader of Sherwood Forest, the captain of “Little John” (whose dust now lay in the country churchyard of Hathersage), the lover of fair “maid Marian,” the companion of “rollicking Friar Tuck.” He had outlived them all, and not one man in the band around him belonged to that original hundred who, in the days gone by, had dominated the shire of Nottingham. But not a man in that present hundred, surely, who would have played his leader false?
We shall see…
“And so, my merry men,” concluded Robin Hood, in stirring tones, “we will yet for a time make this place our home, and in the fastnesses of these hills we know so well we will dwell securely and none shall make us afraid. If the King’s officers do come we will verily lead them such a dance as they have oft-times had before. Though the hand of time marks eighty-seven years against my name today, I am not yet so old that I cannot lead my men again to victory and safety.”
A ringing cheer broke forth from his hearers as the fine old veteran stepped down from the rock upon which he had been standing, and then, as he turned from them to seek the little turf-built hut which formed his temporary dwelling, they dispersed to their various duties—the duties of a well-organised band of outlaws.
* * *
When a strong personality has, at any time in history, raised a standard against law and authority he has speedily drawn to himself a number of others—like minded or in like circumstances—who, lacking themselves the power of leadership, have been only too ready to act under his directions. So to Robin Hood as to David at Adullam long before, continually resorted “everyone that was in distress, and everyone that was in debt, and everyone that was bitter of soul” (as the Hebrew of the First Book of Samuel has it), and from these bold Robin kept his round number of a hundred men supplied whilst he retained the friendship of those not chosen by generous gifts and guaranteed protection.
But in such a mixed company it was inevitable that there should be some who could not rise so high as the standard even of “honour amongst thieves,” and that is why, later on the same day on which this story opens, a man, clad in Lincoln green, might have been seen making his way with shifty eye and hurried step towards the scattered buildings on the slopes of the valley which marked the place now known as Lightowlers. In those days a few “villeins”—just beginning to rise into the realisation of their rights as “freemen”—and a proportionately small number of cottars, bordars, and serfs, comprised the population around the manor of the Lightolres, an ancient family famous for its loyalty to the Plantagenet kings. How strange to the modern inhabitants of the district would it seem if they could see revived the old manor house; its rooms hung with tapestry and adorned with one or two historical pictures, but its floors carpeted with straw or rushes; its tile-covered roofs of curious and varied shapes; its wide-spreading demesne ploughed, sown, and harvested by the villeins or small land-owners, who, in return for the protection of the lord of the manor, farmed his land as well as their own; and here and there the cottage of a bordar who received grant of house and land from the lord on condition that the latter was supplied regularly with poultry, eggs, and other like provisions.
In a certain room in this house was seated a lady of uncertain age and severe aspect attired in the increasingly fantastic fashion of the time—a high head-dress drawn to a kind of horn and a gown with ridiculously long train. Into her august presence was ushered by a female serf, the man in Lincoln green who has just been mentioned.
“Well, fellow,” demanded the lady, without In stay way acknowledging the salute her visitor gave her, “hast thou carried out my behest?”
”Aye, lady,” returned the man, “and if thou canst vouch for my pardon I can put thy hands upon him thou seekest.”
“I have already told thee,” she answered coldly, “that I can and will vouch for the pardon of thy crime, and my word is my bond. The lord Lightolres will hearken to me.”
“Be it so,” replied the fellow. “I will bring thee John Gilbert this night, but, again, I warn thee he is grandson to our captain, and, an thou do him harm, I answer not for the safety of thee and thine. Robin Hood loves not them that tire rich in this world’s goods.”
“Enough,” said the lady sharply, “I care naught for Robin Hood, but only give me John Gilbert who slew my son and all thou askest shall be thine. Tell me thy plans.”
And she listened eagerly whilst the traitor detailed his scheme for delivering his companion into the hands of this vengeful mother.
* * *
Robin Hood had retired to rest that night within the little turf-built hut which his men had insisted upon erecting for him, although he would fain have slept in the open air of Heaven. He was just passing into the healthful sleep to which he was accustomed when a hurried knock upon the door at once aroused him.
Leaping up, he seized his bow and, throwing the door open, stepped outside.
“I knew thy knock, good Walworth,” he said quickly. “Hast thou some news? Are the officers of the King at hand?”
“Not so,” replied the other—“but ill news indeed have I to tell thee. John Gilbert is in the hands of the lady Lightolres!”
Robin Hood’s ruddy face looked ghastly in the moonlight, and his strong frame shook with sudden emotion.
“Art sure of this?” he demanded, half angrily. “How knowest thou the truth of it?”
“Alas!” replied the man, “’tis but too true. He hath been betrayed!”
“Betrayed!” exclaimed Robin, “is one of my merry men again a traitor?”
“Even so,” returned his follower, “Edward Manny hath but his moment brought the ill tidings. He, this eventide, whilst in the company of John Gilbert and Walter Chandos, was suddenly set upon by a party from Lightolres, Manny escaped, Gilbert was taken. Chandos, ‘twas but too plain to see was friend not foe to the Lightolres’ men!”
“How knowest thou they were Lightolres’ men?” demanded Robin.
“My faith!” answered Walworth. “Manny knew them by one of these new-fangled crests their leader wore broidered on his surcoat. God have mercy on poor Gilbert’s soul!”
“I do understand it all,” said Robin Hood, restraining his feelings by an effort, for he loved him grandson more than aught else on earth. “Walter Chandos was in the list of those doomed to death by the lord Lightolres. To win his pardon he bath sold John Gilbert!”
“To win pardon!” exclaimed Walworth. “Surely for so slight a thing he would not sell him comrade!”
“Man, man, man !” said Robin ironically. “Hast thou lived so long and dost not know that at the bottom of every mischief there is a woman? Chandos loveth one of the Lightolres’ villeins’ daughters, and pardon is the only means by which he can obtain her. As outlaw he could never claim his bride. But go, leave me—I must think this matter out alone!”
Left to himself, Robin strode backwards and forwards along the heather-clad moorland plunged in thought. An armed attack upon Lightolres was impossible. He knew that at the very first alarm his grandson would die. Better trust a tiger robbed of her cubs than the lady Lightolres! Besides, he had despatched the great majority of his men upon an expedition short but important, and those he had left would not suffice to overcome the well-armed retainers of Lightolres. What remained to be done? Casting over ways and means in his mind he saw but one course to pursue.
“Aye,” he said, “old as I am my head is still worth a price. I will offer myself in his stead. Even the lady Lightolres will respect, it may happen, such an offer and, if not—well, there may still be time after that to take some other steps. I must hasten at once that I may not be too late.”
“And, his mind resolved, the brave old outlaw called Walworth to him and hurried along the moors in the direction of Lightolres.
* * *
Arrived at his destination Robin Hood speedily ascertained two facts—one that his grandson was not to die upon the morrow as he had feared; the other that he might obtain under truce an interview with the lady in the morning. It was a mark of those strange days that the truce was as readily granted as asked through the messenger, Walworth.
A lord of Lightolres in truth there was, but terrible though he could be to those outside his house, a very lamb was he in presence of his lady! With him her will was law, and this was known far and wide along the countryside. Robin, therefore, gave little thought to him.
Little rest had the old outlaw that night, but, an Noon as he deemed the sun to be sufficiently high in the sky, he presented himself at the gates of Lightolres and asked the hoped-for yet dreaded interview.
Stern and unlovely sat the lady before whom Robin was at last allowed to appear, and there was no sign of softening in her eye as she scrutinised from head to foot the noble form of the outlaw.
“What wilt thou?” she demanded briefly.
“I crave a favour, lady,” replied Robin, with pathetic dignity. “My grandson—dearer to me than life—is in thine hands, and—”
“Is doomed to die,” interrupted the woman, with hard, cruel voice and a steely glitter in her eyes.
”I crave mercy for him, lady,” said Robin, with already despairing tones, so merciless was the whole aspect of her to whom he spake. “Nay,” he went on, more rapidly as he saw that she was again about to speak, “I ask not the favour free. A price is on my head and my capture, I may say, in all humble truth, would bring honour to my captors from the King. Lady, I have entered here under truce which I know full well thou wilt not break” (the lady drew herself up proudly as he spoke), “but gladly will I surrender myself to thee an thou but let John Gilbert go free.”
“John Gilbert is doomed to die,” repeated the lady Lightolres in slow, bitter accents; “Man, thou art his grandfather and dost feel his loss. Dost thou forget that he slew my son? What to a mother’s love is that of a grandfather?”
“Thy son, lady,” said the outlaw, “was a brave man and slain in fair fight. He himself would seek no, such revenge as this! Can naught appease thee?” he broke forth in tones trembling with emotion, as he saw the rising fury in her face.
“Appease me?” she shrieked, springing to her feet and giving full vent to the passion of her hate, “aye, when thou canst take one of yonder rocks which make the bed of thee and of thy men and canst cast it through the air a mile away or more, then—and not till then—canst thou appease me! Thy grandson dies the second morn from now. Sooner had he died, but that I wait until my lord come home that he, with me, may watch the death agony of the slayer of my son!”
And, commanding two of her retainers to give the outlaw safe conduct thence, she turned away from him with face most terrible to see.
* * *
Night again had fallen upon Blackstone Edge, and a beautiful night in truth it was—the full moon sailing in the cloudless sky, the myriad stars shining in their unchanging loveliness.
Robin Hood, wearied with the trouble and excitement of the day, had cast himself alone upon the heather and pondered and pondered how in the thirty hours or so that still remained he might save his grandson from his approaching doom.
And as he lay there amongst the heather there stole upon him a sound so gentle, and withal so sweet, that at first he wondered if it were sound at all, and not merely a thought of music passing through his mind. But turning gently on his breast, he looked behind him, and there, in a patch of ground where grass had grown and provided a little pasturage amidst the moorland, he saw a sight so strange and beautiful that he wondered if he dreamed.
For accompanied by the music of fairy harps countless little elves were dancing on the green-sward. Beautiful little creatures were they, of both sexes (the females having long fair hair), all dressed in garments of shining green which sparkled with tiny golden ornaments and jewels. Their little faces gleamed with intelligence and good nature, and as the music waxed faster, the dance became more and more amazingly intricate until, suddenly, the little harpists stopped, and as suddenly the fairies ceased to dance and formed themselves around a sprig of heather whereon sat the loveliest of them all, a diminutive girl-fairy with blue eyes and golden hair, wearing a tiny crown which threw out rays of coloured light around her.
Robin Hood lay still as death, for well he knew that at the least sound all would vanish.
For a moment there was the most absolute silence, and then the tiny queen addressed her subjects. In tones that sounded sweet and musical as the harps which had just been played, she said:
“Good fairies all, there’s work for us to do—.
Bold Robin Hood this day doth greatly rue!
The lady Lightolres with deadly hate
Hath sentenced Gilbert to an awful fate!
But let bold Robin take her at her word
And bid her come and with her bring her lord,
Then take the mightiest rock that lies at hand
And leave the issue to our fairy band!
Ye know the meaning of the words I say.
Good fairies all, your work is set. Away!”
As the last word sounded upon Robin’s ears the elves disappeared with the speed of lightning, and the outlaw saw nothing but the newly-marked “fairy-ring” upon the grass.
For a moment Robin Hood was unable to grip the purport of the fairy’s speech, but then the words of the Lady Lightolres rushed upon his mind—“Aye, when thou canst take one of yonder rocks which make the bed of thee and of thy men, and canst cast it through the air a mile away or more—then and not till then—canst thou appease me!”
The outlaw’s heart leaped within his bosom. If he could do this thing the proud lady would never break her word. The gallows, which—according to the custom of the time—stood with-out the door of the lord Lightolres’ court of justice, would be cheated of its prey.
But dare he trust the fairies? Had he not heard that, most times, they who trafficked with them came to grief in the end? Well, no matter what happened to himself, if only his grandson might be saved! Robin’s mind was made up, and he could hardly wait until the break of day to put in train his preparations.
* * *
Great was the gathering round the mighty “bed” of Robin Hood. All his hundred merry men in Lincoln green (returned full early from their expedition) were there—and all the folk upon the countryside had assembled at the news that some strange marvel should happen there that day. None knew what it was to be, but Rumour had, as ever, a thousand tongues, and certain it was that the lady Lightolres had accepted the outlaw’s invitation to be present at the performance of the wonder.
Nevertheless the lord and lady were the last to arrive, for it was late in the day when the lord came home, and night once more had fallen on Blackstone Edge when he and his wife reached the now famous “bed.” But it was night brilliant as day in the frosty moonlight, and the assembled multitude could see for miles around with plainness.
Robin Hood had waited impatiently for the coming of his guests, and now addressed them with almost discourteous haste.
“Lord and lady,” he cried, “I have for hours awaited your coming”
“Peace,” interrupted the lady, haughtily, “my lord bath but just returned. Sir, I have accepted thy word—the word of an outlaw—that thou dost take up my challenge and that no harm shall happen to my lord or me. Oh, I believe thy word,” she added, as Robin was about to speak, “I believe thy word as regards our safety, but what is the challenge thou dost take up?”
In spite of herself curiosity peeped forth in her very tone.
“Lady,” said the outlaw, “didst not say that if I could hurl one of these rocks a mile or more away my grandson should live?”
His voice trembled with anxiety whilst the lady’s lip curled with scornful surprise.
“Alack, good Robin,” she made answer, “indeed I did,—but little thought I sorrow could turn thy brain!”
“Choose a stone,” said the outlaw, striving In vain to speak in accents which did not falter.
“My lord,” she said, turning to her husband, “let us away. The man is mad!”
Her husband laughed—then, pointing to a heavy rock that lay near by, he said, “There, sir outlaw, is the stone for thy sling. I wish you all good-night!”
But, even as he and the lady turned to go, Robin Hood laid his hand upon the rock. Lifting it with easy gracefulness from the ground he held it for a moment poised high above his head, and then drew back and hurled it forth Into the space before him. Out—far out—into the night it shot—over hill and dale, village and stream, mile after mile it flew, and none but Robin Hood himself knew that the fairies carried It in their myriad little hands.
* * *
John Gilbert was saved, but, whether the usual fortune of those who had dealings with the elves befell Robin Hood or not, certain it is that two months later the outlaw—betrayed—bled to death at Kirklees Monastery in Yorkshire.
And still today, as you walk along the moor-land path which runs from Whitworth Church to Syke, you may see upon the right-hand side the mighty stone which gives ifs name to Monstone Edge and lies upon the boundary of Healey and of Wardle. Scientific men will tell you that this great stone was dropped where it lies by the melting of some vast glacier in the, distant past, but the old folks of the district who know not science will bid you see marked upon its surface the impressions of the thumb and fingers of bold Robin Hood, who hurled it hither from his “bed” on Blackstone Edge six and a half centuries ago.
The Monstone can be found on the eastern edge of Lobden Golf Course, parking near the clubhouse (OL12 8XJ) folow the path until you come to a stone marked Moorland Home and follow the level path to the right for around 1/3 of a mile. The Monstone is above the path on the right hand side.
Robin Hoods Bed is an outcropping of rock on Blackstone Edge. From the car park at The White House (OL15 0LG) walk down the hill slightly to the footpath on the opposite side of the road. Follow this around Broadhead Drain until you come to the “Roman Road” and then climb this to the top of the hill where you will find the Aiggin Stone, a medieval marker stone. From here turn right onto the Pennine Way and across the top of Blackstone Edge. Robin Hood’s Bed is just past the trig point.