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IT was an early winter day in the year 1215. A band of men were marching across the high moorlands east of the wild waste lands of the Peak. At their head rode Robin Hood, clothed in chain mail, the helm upon his head sparkling in the westering sun. Behind him came sixty of his men, bronzed, honest-faced yeomen, each with his bow and quiver, and a sword strapped to his side. A score of them were his old outlaws, and head and shoulders above them stalked Little John, his brown, keen eyes looking sharply this way and that over the wide moors which stretched away to the purple distance on every side. Immediately behind Robin walked Ket the Trow, sturdy though small, a fighter, yet a man of craft in every look and gesture of him. Not far off were Scarlet, Will Stuteley, and Much, the Miller's son.

The face of Robin wore a thoughtful, even a moody air. He had gone with the barons when they had wrested the charter of liberty from the tyrannous hands of John; and had stayed south with them, believing that the fight for freedom had been gained. Then suddenly they had learned that foreign mercenaries were landing to aid the king against his rebel barons; the foreign hordes, thirsting for blood and plunder, had been seen in such strength that the barons had almost lost heart and had retreated. Many had gone to defend their own castles and lands when they learned that the king's mercenaries had stolen north, harrying, burning, and slaying, and Robin Hood had done likewise, fearing lest evil should befall his gentle wife in the peaceful vale of Malaset upon the marshes of Lancaster.

Robin wondered, indeed, whether he had started too late. At every step of the way northward they saw the marks of rapine and massacre where the king had passed with his foreign hordes. Every house and village they passed was destroyed by fire, corpses lay stiff on the snow, or weltered on the hearthstone which had known the laughter and the joy in life of those who now lay dead. Smoke rose over the wintry horizon, showing where the burning and slaying of the ruffianly army of the shameless king still went on. One castle which they passed was a smoking ruin, and in its blackened and smouldering hall they found two young ladies, one dumb with grief, the other half mad in her sorrow, leaning over the body of their father, an old knight, whom his king had tortured to death in an attempt to wring from him the place where he had hidden his store of money.

Now and then, as he rode, Robin raised his head and glanced quickly before him. He dreaded lest he should see a cloud of smoke which should show that some band of the evil army of the king had come so far westward to Malaset. But against the violet clouds of the wintry sky where the sun was sinking there was no blur of rolling reek.

At length the road descended from the moors and wound round crags and limestone cliffs down toward the valley of Malaset. Almost unconsciously Robin pushed on faster, so eager was he to reach a point where at a bend in the road he could see the castle. At length he reached the place, stopped for a moment, and his men, hurrying behind him, heard him give a dreadful cry. Next moment he had struck spurs into his horse's flanks and thundered down the sloping track.

They reached the bend and looked upon the low keep of the castle. A light gray smoke, as if from smouldering timber, rose from the pile, and a dreadful silence brooded over all. The men groaned, and then began to run, uttering fearful cries of vengeance and despair as they rushed toward ruined homes and slain loved ones.

With a strange, cold calmness on him, Robin leaped from his horse in the courtyard, in which bodies of men lay here and there, still and contorted. He strode into the hall; a thin reek of smoke filled the apartment. The place had been fired, but the fire had not caught. Only some broken benches smouldered in a heap, amid which the bodies of defenders and their assailants were mingled together in the close fierce embrace in which they had given each other death. Up the winding-stair in the wall he strode, to the solar or lady's bower.

The door was shut, and he opened it gently. There in the light of the westering sun lay a figure on the bed, its face very white and set. It was Marian. Her body was draped in black and was very still, and he knew that she was dead. On her breast her long fair hands were folded, and her dark hair framed her face and breast in a soft beauty. A short black arrow lay beside the corpse.

A sudden movement came from behind the arras and the slight figure of a woman darted toward him and threw herself on her knees before him. It was Sibbie, wife to Gilbert of the White Hand, the fairy maid who had been tirewoman to Fair Marian. She did not weep, but her face looked up into his with grief in the great brown, faithful eyes.

"Who has done this, Sibbie?" asked Robin in a quiet low voice.

"Who but that fiend, Isenbart de Belame!" said the woman in a fierce restrained voice. "He slew her while she spoke with him from the gateguard room. With this arrow — the selfsame arrow which my brother Hob shot in his table at Evil Hold — he let out her dear life. She fell into my arms, smiled at me, but could not speak, and so died. On the second day — 'twas but yesterday they left — they stormed the castle, but bitter and hard was the fighting in the courtyard and the hall, and then, for fear you should return, they plundered far and wide through the manor and so left with Hob my brother wounded and a prisoner, and ten others, whom they promised to torture when they reached Evil Hold again."

Ket the Trow had crept into the room immediately behind Robin and heard all. His sister turned to him and silently they clasped hands. Then, loosing them, they each raised the right forefinger in the air, and swiftly made a strange gesture as if they wrote a letter or marked a device. It was the sign of undying vengeance by which the people of the Underworld vowed to go through flood and fire, pains, and pangs, and never to slacken in their quest, never to rest, until they had avenged the death of their lady.

Robin bent and kissed the cold forehead of his wife. Then, uncovering, he knelt beside her and prayed. He spoke no word, but he craved the aid of the Virgin in his vow to stamp out utterly the life and power of the lord of the Evil Hold and all his mates in wickedness.

That night, by the light of torches, the body of Marian was lowered to the grave beside her father and her kinsfolk in the little church of Malaset, while in the castle, those of the villeins and freemen who had fled from their farms and holdings at the approach of de Belame and his evil horde were busily engaged in furbishing up arms and harness. All were filled with a hard resolution, and each had made up his mind to die in the attempt to pull down the Evil Hold and its power.

At dawn, in silence, Robin and his band set forth. They did not look back once, but stubbornly they mounted the moorside road and kept their faces fixed toward the east. At the same time Robin sent a messenger to Sir Herbrand de Tranmire, now an old man, reminding him of his promise to aid him in breaking down the castle of Wrangby, and asking if he could not come himself, to send all the men he could spare, well armed, to meet Robin at the Mark Oak by Wrangby Mere. Similar messages were sent by Robin to other knights and freemen who had suffered from the oppression of de Belame. Many had promised "Squire Robin" aid if ever he needed it, for all had recognized in him a brave man and a generous one; and all had known that some day they would have to join their forces with him to end the villainies and wicked customs of the Evil Hold.

On his way to Wrangby Robin called at the castles and manor-houses of other knights to ask their aid. Some places he found were gutted and in ruins, with their brave defenders lying dead, the prey of their king's malignant cruelty. Many men, however, quickly responded to his appeal, so that when at evening, as the twilight was creeping over the misty moor, Robin rode in sight of Wrangby Castle, he had three hundred men at his back, sufficient at least to prevent the garrison from breaking forth.

He stopped a bowshot from the great gate and sounded his horn. On the tower above the portal appeared two men in complete mail, one wearing a bronze helmet which shone dully in the faint light.

"I would speak to Isenbart de Belame!" cried Robin.

"Wolf's-head!" came the reply, like the snarl of a wolf, "you are speaking to Sir Isenbart de Belame, lord of Wrangby and the Fells. What do you and your rabble want?"

"I will tell ye," cried Robin. "Deliver yourself up to me with the prisoners you have taken! You shall have the judgment of your peers upon your evil deeds, and for the murder of my wife, the lady Marian. If you do not do this, then we will take your evil castle by storm, and the death of you and your men shall be on your head!"

"If ye do not leave my lands by dawn," was the fierce reply, "you and your tail of whipped curs and villeins, I will come out and beat you to death with my dogwhips. Go, wolf's-head and rascal! I will speak no more with thee!"

With a gesture as if he had no more attention to bestow on creatures so mean, he turned aside and spoke to the other knight who was with him. Both had their vizors down, and in the gathering twilight their figures were becoming dimmer every moment. Suddenly a little figure sped forward in the gloom before Robin's horse, then stood still and the twang of a bowstring was heard. Next moment the knight beside de Belame was seen to put his hands to his vizor and then staggered. He recovered himself instantly, however, and drew an arrow from between the bars of his helmet. With a gesture of rage he dashed it over the battlements and yelled something in derision which could not be heard.

It was Ket the Trow who had made this marvelous shot in the twilight, so that men wondered that it could have reached the mark so unerringly. Yet by reason of the fact that the bolt had been shot at so great an angle, the arrow had only torn the flesh on the forehead of the knight.

That night Robin and his men hemmed the castle closely, so that no one could come out or go in unseen. Under the Mark Oak he took counsel with the knights who had brought aid.

"Squire Robin," said one, Sir Fulk of the Dykewall, "I cannot see how we can hope to beat down that strong keep. We have no siege engines, we cannot break down the wall in any place, the ditch is full of water, and I doubt not that such a man as de Belame is well provisioned for a long siege."

"I see no reason why we should not take the castle," said young Squire Denvil of Toomlands, as eager and brave as a hawk. "We can get the Wrangby peasants, who hate their lords, to cut down trees and make rafts for us. With these, and under cover of our shields, we can pole across the ditch and cut the chains of the drawbridge. Then we can prise up the portcullis, and once within can hack down the gate."

After long council this seemed the only way by which they could hope to take the castle. It would mean the loss of many lives, no doubt, but the walls of the castle were thick and high, and there was no other way out or in but by the great gate. Ket the Trow was called and bidden to go to the villeins of Wrangby in the hovels a mile from the castle, and ask them to come to aid Robin in rooting out their evil lords. In an hour he returned.

"I went to Cole the Reeve," he said, "and gave him the bidding. He called the homagers (chief men) and told them what you wanted. Their eyes said they would quickly come, but long they thought in silence. Then one said, 'Six times hath the Evil Hold been set about by strong lords and never hath it been taken. Satan loves his own, and 'tis vain to fight against the evil lords. They have ever had power, and will ever keep it.' And they were silent to all I urged upon them, and shook their heads and went away."

Robin thereupon commanded parties of his own men to take it in turn during the night to cut down young trees to make rafts with them, and short scaling-ladders to get at the chains of the drawbridge, and by the light of torches, in among the trees, the work went on all night, while Robin went from place to place seeing that strict guard was kept. Just before daybreak he took some sleep, but was awakened by the arrival of a band of peasants from Wrangby, the very men who the night before had refused to aid him against their lords. At their head was an old man, gray, of great frame and fierce aspect. In his hands he bore a tall billhook, with a long wide blade as keen and bright as a razor. When Robin saw him he knew him for one of the men who had shot with him at the contest at Nottingham before the sheriff.

"Master," said the old man, going to Robin, "I bring you these men. They denied you last night. They were but half men then, but I have spoken with them, and now they will help you to pull down this nest of bandit lords and slayers of women and children and maimers of men."

"I thank thee, Rafe of the Billhook," replied Robin, and turned to the peasants. One of them stepped forth and spoke for his fellows.

"We have taken the oath," he said, "and we will go with thee to the end. Rather we will be destroyed now than live longer in our misery under our evil oppressors."

The poor men seemed depressed and subdued, as if all the manliness had been beaten out of them by years of ill-usage at the hands of their lords.

"Ye will not fail, brothers," said Rare, and his look was fierce, as he shook his huge billhook. "I swore, when they thrust me from my cot in Barnisdale Wood and slew my wife and my boy, that I would come back and help to root these fiends out of their nest of stone. The time has come, brothers, and God and the Virgin are fighting for us."

"You are Thurstan of Stone Cot, whom de Belame thrust from your holding thirty winters ago?" asked Robin.

"You speak truly," replied Thurstan; "I have returned at my appointed time."

Under the guidance of this man, and with the eager help of Little John and Gilbert of the White Hand, preparations were soon ready, and after a good meal had been taken and mass had been heard, the rafts were carried down to the ditch before the great gate. Showers of arrows greeted them, but the raft bearers were supported by archers who were commanded by Scarlet and Will Stuteley, and who scanned with keen eyes every slit in the walls. Their bolts searched out and struck everything that moved behind the arrow slits, and any one who came to the battlements of the castle was hit by several arrows. Quickly the rafts were launched and poled across the ditch, and ladders were reared on the sills beside the huge drawbridge which blocked up the portcullis and the gates beyond. Soon the blows of iron upon iron told how mightily the smiths were striving to cut the chains on either side which held the drawbridge up. For a time it looked as if they would have an easy task, for Robin's archers made it impossible for any one to lean from the battlements to shoot them. Suddenly, however, the inside gates were thrown open and a crowd of bowmen began to shoot at the smiths through the bars of the portcullis. One smith fell from his ladder into the ditch a great arrow sticking in his breast; the other had his hand transfixed.

Others took their places at once, however, and Scarlet, Will the Bowman, and two other archers stood on the ladders with the smiths, and returned the shooting as best they could, though the space was so confined that hardly could they draw their bows. At length a shout went up-one chain was cut through and the drawbridge shook and trembled. A few more blows with the hammer on the other side, and with a mighty crash the drawbridge fell across the moat, being smashed in half by reason of its weight. Robin and a select band of archers swarmed over the ruined drawbridge which held together sufficiently to allow of this, and shooting between the bars of the portcullis poured in such flights of arrows that the garrison, which was indifferently provided with bowmen, was compelled to retreat behind the gates, which finally they had to close.

Then a great tree trunk was run forward by forty willing hands, and the bridge having been covered with rafting to support the weight of extra men, the battering-ram was dashed against the portcullis. Again and again this was done, the archers on the bank picking off those on the castle wall or at the arrow slits who tried to shoot down the besiegers. Many of Robin's men were killed, however, for the defence was as bitter as the attack, and everywhere in the castle could be heard the voices of Sir Isenbart and his fellow knights, Sir Baldwin, Sir Scrivel, or Sir Roger of Doncaster, angrily urging the archers and stonethrowers to continue their efforts. Several of Robin's archers and those of the ramming party, though these had shields over their heads, were either killed or disabled by bolts or crushed by huge stones, but still the great tree trunk hammered at the portcullis, making it to shake and crack here and there.

At last the castle gate was thrown open again and a deadly flight of arrows flew out, dealing death from between the bars of the portcullis. But Robin led up his archers, and again compelled the garrison to retreat, while other men-at-arms took the vacant places beside the ram, the head of which was now so split and torn that it seemed like a mop. Still it thudded and crashed against the bars of the portcullis, two of which were so bent and cracked, that soon the great grille would be broken through sufficiently to allow men to enter.

Robin, Sir Fulk, and another knight, Sir Robert of Staithes, were standing beside the ramming party urging them on, Robin with a watchful eye on the inner gate, lest it should open again to let forth a shower of bolts.

"Three more good blows from master oak, lads," cried Robin, "and in we go. The wooden gate will not keep us long!"

Just then there came quick shouts from Will the Bowman who stood with his archers on the bank.

"Back! back!" he cried, "they throw fire down!"

"Into the moat!" shouted Robin, hearing the warning cries. Most heard him and jumped at once. But other poor fellows were too late.

Down from the battlements poured a deluge of boiling tar, and quickly after came burning brands and red-hot stones. Some half-dozen men who had not heard the cries were whelmed in the deathly rain and killed. The lighted brands and red-hot stones instantly set fire to the rafting, the drawbridge and the ram, which were covered with tar, and soon a furnace fire raged, cutting off the besiegers from what a few moments before had seemed almost certain victory.

Robin and those who had escaped swam to the bank, while Will and his archers searched the walls with their arrows. But they had not been able to prevent the tar from being heaved over, for the men who had dragged the cauldron to the battlements had been protected by shields held before them by others.

Robin looked at the gulf of fire before him and at the angry and gloomy faces of his men.

"Never mind, lads," he cried. "They can't get out themselves, and when the fire has burned itself out we will cross by fresh rafts. A few more blows and the bars will be broken enough to let us in. Will and you, Scarlet," he cried, turning to Stuteley and the other old outlaw, "see that you let no one of the evil crew mend those broken bars."

"He will have to mend the hole in his own carcass, first," said Scarlet, with a laugh. He cocked his eye quickly over arrow slit and battlement as he held his bow in readiness to shoot.

It was now past noon, and while a party watched the portcullis, and others took a hasty meal, a third party were sent with the peasants to cut fresh rafts.

As Robin was directing the work of the wood-cutters, he saw, coming over the moor, a great party of footmen, preceded by two knights on horseback. His keen eyes gazed at the blazons on their shields, and at sight of the three white swallows of the one, and the five green trees of the other he waved his hand in welcome. They were Sir Walter de Beauforest and young Alan-a-Dale, and in a little while they were shaking hands with Robin.

"We received thy message yesterday," said Sir Walter, "and we have come as quickly as we could. I trust we have not arrived too late."

"Nay, the castle hath not yet fallen into my hands," said Robin, "and your forces will be welcome."

He then related what had been done and the plans he had made for taking the place, which they found were good, and promised to aid him all they could. Alan told him that Sir Herbrand was sending a party to help Robin, but being old and feeble he could not come himself, much as he would like to have struck a blow against his enemies of Wrangby.

Now all this while Ket the Trow wandered through the camp with a gloomy look. Sometimes he took his place with the archers by the moat, and his was the keenest eye to see a movement at an arrow slit or on the battlements, and his was the swiftest arrow to fly at the mark. But things were going too slowly for Ket. He yearned for a speedy and complete revenge for the murder of his beloved mistress. Moreover, he knew that inside that castle his loved brother Hob lay in some noisome dungeon wounded, perhaps suffering already some cruel torture.

Round and round the castle Ket went, creeping from cover to cover, his dark eyes searching the smooth stone of the walls for some loophole whereby he could enter. He had been inside once, when he had shot the message on the table before Sir Isenbart de Belame, when Ranulf of the Waste had been slain. That night he had followed some of the knights when they had returned from a foray, bringing rich gear as spoil and captives for ransom. He had been close on their backs, and in the confusion he had marched in through the gate and had secreted himself in the darkness. Then at night he had crept down a drain which opened out some twelve feet above the ditch, and, under cover of a storm of wind and rain had dropped into the water and so got safely away.

But now, try as he might, the great high walls baffled him, for he could see no way by which he could win into the strong keep. Once in, he doubted not that he could worm his way to his brother, release him and then slay the guards and open the gates to Robin and his men.

He lay in a thick bush of hazel at the rear of the castle and scanned the walls narrowly. Now and then he cast his eyes warily round the moorland to where the forest and the fells hemmed in the Wrangby lands.

What was that? At one and the same moment two strange things had happened. He had seen a sword flash twice from the battlements of the castle, as if it was a signal, and instantly there had been a momentary glint as of a weapon from between the leafless trees of a wood on the edge of the forest some half a mile away. He looked long and earnestly at the point, but nothing stirred or showed again.

"Strange," thought Ket; "was that a signal? If so, who was he to whom the man in the castle was making signs?"

Ket's decision was soon taken, and like a ferret, creeping from bush to bush, he made his way toward the wood. He reached the verge and looked between the trees. There, with the muzzles of their horses tied up to prevent their making a noise, lay some thirty fierce moss-riders. He knew them at once. They were the men of Thurlstan, from whom he had rescued Fair Marian several years before. A man raised his great shock head of white hair and looked over the moor toward the camp of the besiegers. Then his teeth showed in a mocking sneer, and Ket knew that this was old Grame Gaptooth himself, lord of Thudstan.

"'Twill be dark in an hour, and then we will make that rabble fly!" said the old raider.

Ket guessed at once, and rightly, that these marauders, kinsmen to Sir Isenbart, had ridden to join him in the plundering foray of King John, lured by the hope of slaughter and booty. They had discovered that the castle was besieged, had made their presence known to their friends in the castle, and now lay waiting for the short winter day to end. Then they would ride down fiercely among Robin's band, and by their cries they would give Sir Isenbart the signal to issue forth. Then, surprised, and taken between two forces, who knows? perhaps Robin Hood and his men would be cut to pieces.

With the stealth of a wild cat, Ket began to back away and to creep deeper into the wood behind where the mossriders lay. With infinite care he proceeded, since the cracking of a twig might reveal his presence to the fierce raiders. When he had covered some fifty yards he carefully rose to his feet and then, like a shadow, flitted from tree to tree through the forest toward the camp of Robin.

The Thurlstan men heard from where they lay the shouts of men as they yelled defiance at the garrison; and the short sharp words of command of Robin and the knights as they supervised the placing of the rafts of timber in the ditch before the gate. Then, in a little while, the twilight and the mist deepened over the land, the forest seemed to creep nearer and darkness descended rapidly.

"Now, lads," said Grame Gaptooth, getting to his feet and grasping his horse's bridle, "mount and make ready. Walk your horses till ye are a hundred yards from where thou seest their fires burning, then use the spur and shout my cry, 'Gaptooth o' the Wall.' Then with spur and sword mow me those dogs down, and when Belame hears us he will come forth, and the killing will be a merry one between us. Now, up and away!"

Quietly over the long coarse grass the raiders passed, and then, with a sudden fierce shout, they dashed upon the groups about the fires. But, strangely enough, the men-at-arms they rode among turned as if they expected them; three knights rode out of the gloom against the raiders, and amid the shouts of "Gaptooth o' the Wall, Gaptooth o' the Wall," the fierce fighting began.

Counselled by Ket the Trow, Robin had ordered his men to retreat a little toward the castle, so that the garrison should hear clearly when the border men attacked them; and this was done. Eagerly the moss men followed, and their enemies seemed to fly before them. They pressed on more quickly, still shouting their war cry. Suddenly they heard answering cries. "Belame! Belame!" came like a fierce bellow from the castle gate, which was dashed open, the portcullis slowly mounted, and out from its yawning jaws swept knights and men-at-arms. Robin had placed the rafts over the blackened timbers of the drawbridge so that the garrison could come out without delay, and over these they came in a mad rush, causing the timbers to heave and rock, and soon the cries of "Gaptooth" and "Belame" mingled in fierce delight.

Suddenly, above the din, came the clear call of a bugle from somewhere in the rear. At the same time three short, sharp notes rose from beneath the castle walls. Out of the forest of the Mark Oak swept ten knights and a hundred men-at-arms, the force which Sir Herbrand had sent, and which had arrived as darkness fell, in time to form part of the plan which Robin and the knights, with the counsel of Ket the Trow, had formed for the destruction of their enemy.

The men who had seemed to be caught between those who shouted "Belame" and those who cried "Gaptooth!" now suddenly came back in greater numbers. The troop of de Belame heard the rush of men behind them where, as they thought, they had left none but their own garrison; and the moss riders turned, as avenging cries of "Marian! Marian!" answered by other shouts of "Tranmire and St. George" sounded fiercely all about them.

Then indeed came the fierce crash of battle. Caught between the two wings of Robin's party, which now outnumbered de Belame and his friends, the Wrangby lords fought for dear life. No quarter was asked or given. Peasant with bill or axe fought men-at-arms on foot or hacked at the knight of coat-armor on horseback; and everywhere Rare of the Bill fought in fierce delight, his glittering bill in his hand, looking out meanwhile for Sir Isenbart himself. Robin also sought everywhere in the gloom for the slayer of his wife. Distinguishable by the bronze of his helmet, Sir Isenbart raged like a boar to and fro, dealing death or wounds with every blow, chanting the while his own fierce name. Robin saw him and strove to follow him, but the press of battle kept them asunder. Close behind Robin stalked Little John, a huge doubleheaded axe in his hand, making wider the path cleared by his master through their foes.

"John, for the love of the Virgin, go strike down that bronze helm," cried Robin at length. "It is de Belame! Man, for love of me, let him not escape!"

Little chance there seemed of that now, even if the brave, fierce tyrant wished to run. He was checked in his path of slaughter, now, for Rafe of the Bill and twenty Wrangby villeins had surrounded him, tearing at his limbs, wrenching at his armor to drag him down among their feet. Long years of hatred and misery thrilled in every nerve, but more skilful with the humble weapons of the soil than with arms, they went down before his keen sword like stalks of wheat before the sickle. Swiftly he struck here and there, shaking off his assailants as a bear tosses off the dogs. Rafe strove to reach him with his great bill, thrusting and hacking at him, but de Belame's stout shield received all the fierce blows, and for the moment it seemed that he would win through.

Robin and John broke through the weakening ranks of their foes at last, and leaping over the dead that lay in heaps they rushed toward Sir Isenbart. But too late they reached him. With a great shearing blow, the bill in the vengeful hands of old Thurstan had lighted upon the right shoulder of the knight, cutting deep into the bone. Another moment and the bill would have swept de Belame's head from his shoulders; but Robin caught the stroke on his shield, crying:

"Kill him not; the rope shall have him!"

Rafe dropped his bill. "Ay, you are right," he growled. "He deserves not to die by honest steel — let the hangman have the felon."

De Belame, his right arm paralyzed, yet kept his seat and cried:

"Kill me, wolf's-head! Kill me with thy sword! I am a gentleman of coat-armor! I yield not to such carrion!" He thrust spurs into his horse and strove to dash away from among them.

But the great arms of Rafe were about him, and they dragged him from his seat.

"Coat-armor," snarled the fierce man. "Had I my way I would blazon thy skin with as evil a pattern as thou and thy fiends have cut on poor folks' bodies. Coat-armor and a good hempen rope will go well together this night!"

"John and you, Rafe, bind up his wound, then bring the prisoner to the castle, which I doubt not is ours," said Robin, and he would not leave them until he saw the wound bound up. Then, securely tied, de Belame, silent now and sullen, was carried toward the castle.

The battle had ceased everywhere by now. Few of the Wrangby men were left alive; so fierce had been the hatred of them that no more than a dozen had staggered away in the darkness, and among these was only one knight, Sir Roger of Doncaster, a sly man who preferred plotting to fighting. Of the moss riders, not one was alive, and Gap tooth himself had ridden his last cruel foray.

As to the castle, following the plan which Ket the Trow had made, this had been quickly seized. With young Squire Denvil and a chosen party of forty men, Ket had silently hidden in the water beside the rafts which lay before the great gate. When de Belame and his men had dashed from the castle in exultant answer to Gaptooth's call, and the gate-guard were standing under the portcullis, certain of victory and grumbling at being left behind and out of the killing, dripping men had risen as if from their very feet, and hardly had they realized what it meant before death had found them. Then, silently, Ket and the Squire of Toomlands, followed closely by their men, had swept into the castle, cutting down all who opposed them. They had gained the place without the loss of a single man, and as all but a dozen of the garrison had sallied out to what all had thought was certain victory, the struggle had been brief.

A little later, into the hall where Sir Isenbart and his fellow knights had often sat carousing over their cups or torturing some poor captive, came Robin and such of the knights who had aided him as had come unharmed through the battle. Taking his seat in de Belame's chair at the high table, the knights in other seats beside him, Robin bade the prisoners be brought in. Torches gleamed from the pillars of the hall on the scarred, hacked armor of the conquerors, and the faces of every man-at-arms, peasant, and knight was hard and stern as they looked at the group which entered.

There were but two prisoners, Sir Isenbart de Belame and Sir Baldwin the Killer, who had received his name for the cruelty and number of the deaths he had inflicted in years of rapine and foray throughout the lands of Wrangby and the Peak. As the door of the hall opened men heard the sound of distant knocking of axes on wood: the gallows were already being reared before the gate of the Evil Hold.

"Isenbart de Belame," began Robin in a stern voice, "here in thy castle, in thy hall where often thy miserable captives, men and women, rich and poor, gentle and simple, craved thy mercy and got naught but brutal jests or evil injury — here thou comest at last to find thy judgment. All who have anything to charge against this man de Belame, or his comrade in cruelty and oppression, Baldwin, stand forth, and as God hears and sees all, tell the truth on peril of his soul!"

It seemed as if the whole body of yeomen, peasants, and franklins standing by would come forward to charge upon the two scowling knights deeds of wrong and cruelty. "He put out my father's eyes!" cried one. "The harvest failed one year," cried another, "and because I could not pay him my yearly load of wheat, he pressed my son to death," said another. Others stepped quickly up, and each gave in a few harsh words his tale of cruel deeds. When all had ended Ket the Trow stood forth.

"With his own evil hand that man slew the kindest lady between Barnisdale and the Coombes o' the Moors," he cried, and pointed his finger at de Belame. "He slew her while she spoke to him from her castle gate, and he laughed when he saw her fall."

"He stood by and jested when Ranulf of the Waste tortured by fire our father, Colman Grey!" cried Hob o' the Hill, limping forth with bandaged leg and arm, and shaking his fist at de Belame, whose face was white as he saw the hatred burn on every face about him.

"It is enough — and more than enough!" said Robin at last. "What say you, sir knights? These men are of knightly blood and wear coat-armor, and so should die by the sword. But they have proved themselves no better than tavern knifers and robbers, and I adjudge them a shameful death by the rope!"

A great shout of assent rang through the lofty hall — ''To the rope! to the rope with them!"

"We agree with thee, Squire Robin," said Sir Fulk of the Dykewall when silence was restored. "Both these men have lost all claim to their rank. Their spurs should be hacked from their heels, and their bodies swung from the gallows."

It was done. Amid the shouts of triumph of the fierce men standing about, Little John hacked off the spurs from the heels of the two Wrangby lords, and then with a great roar of rageful glee they were hurried out amid the surging crowd, torches tossing their lurid light upon hard faces and gleaming eyes, whose usual good nature was turned to savagery for the moment.

When the act of wild justice had been done, pitch and tar and oil were poured into every chamber of the castle, and torches were thrust in, and lighted straw heaped up. Then all fled forth and stood before the black walls, through whose slits the black and oily smoke began to curl. Leaping tongues of fire darted through the ropy reek and coiling wreathes, and soon, gathering power, the fire burst up through the floors of the great hall and the chambers above, and roared like a furious torrent to the dark sky. Great noises issued as the thick beams split, and as balk and timber, rafter and buttress fell, the flames and sparks leaped higher until the light shone far and wide over the country. Shepherds minding their sheep far away on the distant fells looked and looked, and would not believe their eyes; then crossed themselves and muttered a prayer of thankfulness that somehow the Evil Hold of Wrangby was at length ruining in fire. Bands of plunderers from the king's evil army, as they streamed across the highlands of the Peak, or on the hills of Yorkshire, saw the distant glare, and did not know then that one of the blackest strongholds of their callous king and his evil lords was going up in fire at the hands of those who, long and cruelly oppressed, had risen at last and gained their freedom.

Next morning a smoking shell of shattered and blackened stones was all that was left of the strong castle that had been the sign of wrong for at least two generations. A white smoke rose from the red-hot furnace within the walls which still stood; but so rent and torn and seamed with fire were the stones that never again could they be made fit for habitation.

Robin rode forth from the shadow of the Mark Oak where he and his army had passed the night, and looked at the smoking ruins and the two stiff gallows which stood before, on each of which hung, turning round and round, the bodies of the evil Baldwin and de Belame.

Doffing his steel cap Robin bent his head, and in silence gave up a prayer to the Virgin, thanking her for the help she had so amply granted him. His men gathered round him, and taking off their helms prayed likewise.

From over the plain came a crowd of peasants — some running, some walking slowly, half disbelieving their own eyes. Some among them came up to Robin, and old men and women, their faces and hands worn and lined with toil, seized his hands and kissed them, or touched his feet or the hem of his coat of mail with their lips. A young mother lifted up the baby she held in her arms, and with tears in her eyes told the child to look at Robin Hood, "the man who had slain the evil lords and burned their den!"

"Master," said Rafe of the Bill, "go not far from us, lest some one as evil as those lords that now swing there shall come and possess again these lands and build another hold of fiends to torture this land and its poor folk."

"By the sweet Mother of Heaven," said Robin Hood, and held up his right hand in the oath gesture, "while I live no one shall possess these lands who ruleth them not in justice and mercy as I would have him rule them!"

"Amen!" came in deep response from all about him.

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