The Tale Of Isaiah the Ingenious
By Lou Rider
The Tale of Isaiah the Ingenious
©Lou Rider January 1, 2021
All rights reserved
This is a work of fiction and all characters are entirely the result of the imagination of the author except those who are deemed to be part of legend or history. No reproduction of any part of this work may be reproduced or distributed in any form including all electronic or printed form without express written permission by the author.
This story is dedicated to Isaiah Adamkewicz
THE TALE OF ISAIAH THE INGENIOUS
I sing you the ballad of Isaiah,
A noble young man and true.
Everyone knows about Robin,
But not much of Isaiah,
“Open wide!” came the shout. The sergeant at arms gave the nod, and the gatekeepers of Locksley Manor scurried to unbar the huge wooden doors. Isaiah eagerly lent his scrawny strength to assist them. He had been waiting since the early dark hours for Robin’s return, disappointed he had not been allowed to join the men.
Their horses’ hooves clattered across the wooden drawbridge as the five young men entered the courtyard.
“Did you shoot anything,” Isaiah asked eagerly, as he held the bridle so Robin could dismount.
“Of course he did,” smiled Will, sliding off his horse in one swift movement and throwing a brace of rabbits to one of the servants. “Robin can shoot through the eye of a raven in flight, at three hundred and fifty yards!”
“Don’t worry, boy, the poets will be singing the praises of Isaiah the Stalwart soon enough,” jested Will.
“More like Isaiah the Iffy,” smirked Terrence, letting his horse’s bridle trail in the dirt for a groom to chase. “When you shoot an arrow, boy, it’s iffy whether the arrow will fly true, or if it will fall straight down to the ground.” Mocking laughter erupted at the jest.
Isaiah’s face grew red.
Robin clapped him on the shoulder. “When you have some hair on that fair smooth chin of yours, I’ll take you along, cousin,” he told him, kindly.
True, eighteen-year old Robin Fitzooth did not like having the skinny, mouthy, obnoxious eleven-year old following him wherever he went, but after all, they were cousins. They even looked alike, with their almost fair hair and slate-grey eyes. Growing up in the same large manor, they had shared the same tutor and used the same privy.
Still, the banter continued, as the young men headed to the hall for their porridge and kippers.
“Someday I’ll be called Isaiah the Ingenious,” he vowed to himself. “And you’re about to get a taste of my ingenuity soon enough, Terrence!”
Quickly, Isaiah ran past them into the eating hall. He wanted to be there when the men sat.
His father, Richard Fitzooth, was already standing at his place at the far end of the long wooden table, laden with platters and bowls. The morning light streamed through the tall windows, lending a little lustre to the pewter dishes set at each place. Two young servers were busy filling the cups with mead. One of them was Tyson, Isaiah’s friend. There was no one else in the manor the same age, and his elders had not yet deemed them old enough to enforce the distinction in rank.
Isaiah winked at him, excited for what was going to happen.
At the other end of the table, his uncle and lord of the castle, Sir Hugh Fitzooth, waited till the men were assembled at their seats. He led the blessing and nodded for them to sit down.
Suddenly, a very rude noise exploded in the large hall, echoing off the walls and high beamed ceiling. Every eye turned to Terrence, and every belly shook with laughter.
“A most impressive flatulence, Terrence. We will wait if you need to use the privy chamber,” said Sir Hugh, grinning.
Red-faced, Terrence rose, pulling something from his seat. It was a pig’s bladder. Everyone knew that when you tied a pig’s bladder, leaving some air inside, and then sat on it, it produced the sound that every lad and many grown men thought hilarious.
“It…it wasn’t me, Sir Hugh—in honesty, it wasn’t!” protested the stricken Terrence.
“No, but I may lay a wager who it was,” sighed the lord.
All eyes swivelled to Isaiah, who was straightening his plate and cup and spoon in line with the table board, his mouth twitching. He stole a glance at his father, who was rolling his eyes, but also trying not to smile.
Those were the good days, long gone past, which Isaiah had hoped would pass as swiftly as a weaver’s shuttle so he could grow up as fast. If he could have known what the future held, he would have held on tightly to the innocence of that time.
Now, three years later, he desperately wanted to join his cousin Robin, who had accompanied good King Richard to fight in the far- off Crusade in the East.
“They’ve been gone so long now,” Isaiah gloomed to Tyson. They were behind the manor, skipping stones across the moat, enjoying the sun on their faces. “I’m fourteen now. I’m a man! I should be able to go!”
“You’ve only just passed your fourteenth natal day,” said Tyson. “And you still don’t have hair on your chin.” He stroked his own few hairs sprouting from his upper lip. They were as fine as the blond hair on his head. “The times are troubled, now,” he continued. “You know the usurper, the false King John has his spies everywhere, on the lookout for those loyal to his brother, the true king. It’s a wonder Locksley Manor has escaped his notice thus far. We could be in prison or worse!”
“I know,” Isaiah groused. “But—what was that?”
They both stopped to listen. The blare of a trumpet sounded again. That could not mean anything good. The jangle of horses’ bridles, the muted sounds of metal on metal, and the hum of voices coming from the front gates told them they had visitors. Isaiah exchanged worried glances with Tyson. Something was happening. Something bad.
“Open in the name of the Sheriff of Nottingham!” someone bellowed.
The Sheriff of Nottingham? That crook? He was one of the false king John’s henchman, a brutal, ruthless man.
Isaiah motioned Tyson to be quiet and to follow him. Stealthily, they circled around the wooded side of the manor, dodging from tree to tree for cover, until they were close enough to see.
It was a terrible sight. The gates swung wide, and a large party of grim men-at-arms marched through, trampling anyone in their way.
The sounds were even more terrible, the ones Isaiah could not block from his ears: the cries and screams that erupted when swords flashed in the sunlight.
There was nothing the boys could do. They had no weapons to fight seasoned men wielding swords. Even a well-aimed arrow would not pierce their chain-mail armour. Doubling back the way they had come, they slipped deeper into the woods to hide.
Isaiah knew almost every tree, and the network of caves in Sherwood Forest. There, he and Tyson hid themselves, waiting and planning. The Sheriff and his men would be searching for them. They were old enough now to be considered a threat, and if the Sheriff had been bold enough to attack Locksley Manor, they knew he must have been sent by that devious usurper, King John.
“My brother was in there,” shuddered Tyson. “Please God, that he was spared!”
“They wouldn’t harm a servant. Leastways, not one as young as Thomas,” Isaiah consoled his friend.
“But they would harm the lords, or the older servants,” moaned Tyson. “You know they would.”
“We don’t know anything, yet,” said Isaiah firmly. “And we must find out.”
Tyson, in his rough tunic and hose, would stand a better chance of slipping into the village and finding his gran. She would know what was going on. Isaiah, meanwhile, would sneak into the manor.
A heavier man could not climb up so high in the poplar tree without it bending and snapping before he was half-way. But Isaiah could. Being slight, and nimble, he shinnied to the very top, leaning it with his weight over the moat and towards the manor’s wall till he could almost touch. It was the only spot where the main house was not protected by the defence wall. Now came the tricky part. In one swift movement, he had to leap to the roof and grab hold of the pegs he had long ago pounded there. A miss would send him sliding down the rooftop, plummeting him to broken bones or even death.
He did not miss. Hadn’t he done this enough while growing up?
Once he landed and had secured his footing, he crept towards the main chimney. This one led to the kitchen, and was plenty wide enough for a body to edge all the way down by bracing with back against one side and feet against the other. He could still get down his bed-chamber chimney that way too, though it was a much tighter fit. As Isaiah inched his way down, he heard voices.
Had he miscalculated the time? He had hoped to get into the kitchen early enough, before Glitha, the cook, could have a lad light the fire for the day in the massive fireplace.
“What a grubby kitchen this is, and no wonder, with such lazy servants. In my old manor-house, the fire would be lit by now, and the porridge on,” said a high squeaky voice.
Who in the world was that?
“Begging your pardon, my lord,” came the voice of the cook, “but the cock has only just crowed. Does not my lord usually like to lie abed until the sun is well up?”
“Are you being insolent with me? How can I sleep with that wretched cock outside my window, squawking and screeching? I shall have it caught for my supper.”
Isaiah couldn’t hear any more of the conversation because the speakers must have moved to the other side of the room.
The next thing he knew, someone was busy below him, arranging the kindling for the fire. It was Thomas, Tyson’s younger brother.
“Psst!” Isaiah hissed.
Thomas looked up to see Isaiah wedged up the chimney, shushing him with a finger to his lips. The boy gasped, then looked fearfully back over his shoulder. He dropped the kindling and disappeared.
Isaiah, still wedged in the chimney, above the lintel, carefully bent sideways and peeked into the room. Thomas stood beside his mother, holding her hand. A short, stout boy, about twelve, was standing in front of them. He was dressed in a ridiculous long red robe trimmed with gold braid. His long golden curls rested on his shoulders, making him look girlish. Red-faced, he was waving his arms around, and still talking in a high-pitched whiny voice.
Isaiah watched as the little brat snatched a pastry from the side table and stuffed it in his mouth, then spit it on the floor. “Ugh! Disgusting! Is that your boy?” he asked abruptly, nodding to Thomas.
“Yes, my lord Godfrey, ’tis my youngest son, Thomas; he is but ten.” Isaiah could hear the panic in Glitha’s voice.
“Your oldest son is still a fugitive, isn’t he? Do not fear—my father’s men will catch him soon, along with the other wretch. What was his name? Isaiah? Hah! We’ll soon deal with him as we did his father.” With that, he flounced out of the kitchen.
Isaiah froze, horrified at what he had heard. A moment later, he was brushing the soot from his clothes, being alternately scolded and hugged by the cook, and admired by a grinning Thomas.
“Oh, Isaiah! You’re alive! What news of my son? You wretch—to take such a chance! That scoundrel, Godfrey, could return any moment. Let me look at you!”
She prattled on, not letting Isaiah get a word in, but eventually, he held up his hand for peace.
“I don’t have much time. Firstly, Tyson is fine. He is with me, in the caves. But tell me—who is this Godfrey, and what is he doing here? And what news of my father, and the Lord Hugh?”
The tears welling up in the woman’s face told him that the news would not be good.
“Ah, dear Isaiah, you must be strong. That rogue, the Sheriff, came with his men about a fortnight gone, and…” She resolutely dashed the tears away. “It was not as terrible as it could have been, though many were wounded. They shut up your father in the Nottingham prison, along with the men and some of the servants. We thought they had found you and Tyson. But alas, your uncle…”
A sick feeling began to pool in Isaiah’s stomach.
“Sir Hugh was struck down and he is dead,” said Glitha. “Your father fought valiantly to save him, but they were over-powered by the Sheriff’s men.”
Isaiah’s shoulders slumped. Hot tears coursed down his cheeks, leaving tracks in the soot. But he would have to pull himself together. There would be time enough to mourn his uncle when he was alone. For now, he had to get all the information that he could.
“And this Godfrey bully?”
“He is the son of William Floxham, the overseer the Sheriff put in charge of Locksley Manor. The Sheriff has seized the manor and the estate lands for himself.”
“Has he now?” Isaiah growled. “We will see about that. I heard you call him ‘lord’ just now. Is he noble?”
“Indeed not!” scoffed Glitha. “That little pipsqueak demands we call him lord. I’d put him over my knee and apply a good birch rod right quick, if I had my way!”
Isaiah smiled through his pain. “In what rooms are these thieves quartered?”
“Godfrey is in your room, and the master–I mean, the usurper, Floxham—is in Sir Hugh’s quarters. Thank the good God that your own dear mother, nor lady Fitzooth have lived to see this day.”
“Don’t worry. I have some plans for ‘lord’ Godfrey,” retorted Isaiah. “He and his father will wish they never put a finger on our estates.”
Glitha continued to tell Isaiah about the invaders, how many there were, where they could be found at different times of the day or night, and who could be trusted among the servants. Not all of them had remained loyal to the family Fitzooth.
“I must go, now,” Isaiah told Glitha, giving her a last hug. “The guards will be watching the spring, but I doubt they will hang around the midden much. Send Thomas to meet me there at noon two days hence.” With that, he started back up the chimney.
The midden was a walled enclosure where the slop from the kitchens and the refuse from the privies fell into a foul-smelling heap. No need to lock the latch. Only the least among the servants went there and emptied it from time to time, giving the muck to the farmers for their fields.
“I’m sorry you get to be the lucky lad to relay my messages, Thomas,” said Isaiah, when they met in the midden.
Thomas shrugged. “I’m used to scouring lord Godfrey’s chamber pot. Besides, I want to be in on any mischief you have planned for that snot-nose.”
Isaiah put a packet in Thomas’s hands. “This is from your gran in the village. Your mother will know what to do with it—putting it in the tea would be ideal. Make sure she lets the loyal servants know not to drink it.”
They agreed to meet again in three days, when Isaiah would have more instructions. For now, the herbs mixed with the tea would give all of the manor’s unwelcome guests horrible cramps. And the squits.
“You should see how often they had to run to the privy,” laughed Thomas when he met with Isaiah again. “Sometimes, that nit, Godfrey had to wait while his father went first. Once or twice, he didn’t make it in time!” They both doubled over, sniggering.
During the days that followed, Isaiah the Ingenious had plenty more ideas.
He only wished he could have been there to see the results of some of his pranks. Godfrey’s face must have been a treat to see when he sat on the pig’s bladder. It was one of Isaiah’s favourite tricks.
Then there was the ‘chickens under the bed’ jest. Ten chickens, including the rooster, hooded so they would stay quiet, were smuggled into the house. That time, Isaiah just had to hide in the wardrobe to see Godfrey leap out of bed in terror when the rooster crowed at first light. Screeching, he tripped over the flapping, squalling chickens in a mad, panicked dance, trying to get out the door. Before anyone came running to find out what the hullabaloo was, Isaiah escaped back up his chimney to the roof, trying to suppress his roars of laughter.
The ghost prank was one of the best. Isaiah rigged a sheet with ropes and let it down from the roof in front of Godfrey’s window, choosing a night with a full moon. When the wind caught it, it billowed, ghost-like, most convincingly, along with the tapping sounds from the knotted ropes against the panes. Isaiah had especially loved working with the blacksmith’s hound for a week prior, teaching him to sit and howl in front of the window when Isaiah whistled softly. Godfrey’s screams were music to his ears. It was easy to haul everything up afterwards and stuff it into one of the chimneys. Unfortunately, the furious William Floxham, and his weaselly son, Godfrey, decided that the servants were the ones to be blamed and had all of them flogged.
Isaiah and Tyson were cooking a rabbit over a small fire in the forest. They were getting very good at avoiding patrols, and very skilled at snaring rabbits. There were lovely trout in the streams and it was the berry season, so they had plenty to eat. Tyson’s gran had sewn them green tunics, the better to camouflage themselves as they moved about in the woods, hidden from searchers.
“It’s not enough to play harmless tricks,” Isaiah sighed. “Especially when the servants suffer for it. We have to come up with something serious, something that will let this Floxham know his enemies are outside the manor, and that he will have to watch his back at all times.”
“My gran says there are rumours that Robin has returned and is hiding out in these woods,” said Tyson. “Maybe we could join him.”
“We’d have to find him first. But I have another idea.”
He and Tyson could not take on the armed men that were guarding his home, but this plan was the one that got Isaiah his name for true: Isaiah the Ingenious.
It was a bold plan, a dangerous plan, a plan that would mean their heads on pikes if they were caught. But when Isaiah thought about it, he decided he just had to do it.
What was this clever plan?
Simple: kidnap Godfrey and hold him for ransom in one of the hidden caves in Sherwood Forest.
It would not be easy. Because of the harassments that Isaiah had inflicted on Godfrey and his people, there was hardly a moment when the young rascal was left alone. There was always a servant or a guard with him, especially at night.
“We won’t do anything else to them till we get that little skunk,” Isaiah told Tyson. “Maybe they’ll think the floggings worked, and relax their guard a bit.”
Unfortunately, this was not the case. One of Floxham’s loyal servants was given the honour of sleeping on the floor at the foot of Godfrey’s bed. Every night he checked for chickens, or other tomfoolery.
That was fine, they could wait. In a fortnight, there would be no moon, minimizing the chance of being seen sneaking into the manor.
“That’s when we’ll do it. Godfrey won’t know what hit him,” said Isaiah.
While they waited, Tyson made several trips to the village to gather the supplies they needed. Bit by bit, they smuggled them onto the manor roof.
At last, the dark night arrived. It was time to put the plan into action.
While Tyson waited in the woods at the back of the manor, Isaiah shinnied up the tree as usual. But before he could lean the tree over to the roof as he had done so many times, the sounds of guards talking and laughing made him freeze. They were headed his way!
Isaiah couldn’t believe it. There, right below him, across the narrow stretch of moat, two soldiers sat themselves down with their backs to the manor wall and passed a skin between them. Though there was no moon, there was enough starlight, that if they happened to look up, they would not fail to see something bulky in a tree where nothing bulky should be.
The men’s voices floated up to him clearly. “And then his Nibs asks for a pony. A pony with a feathered headdress! Can you fancy that?”
“Aye, he’s a right prig, that one. But his father’s coin is good enough.”
“I heard as how his lordship is charging the farmers for the dung from his midden now. Not as like when Lord Fitzooth gave it them free for their fields. Imagine charging men good coin for taking away your muck!”
They both allowed that this was a right sorry state of affairs, and further evidence of the madness of nobility. The two of them continued to share stories and jests. All the while, Isaiah was getting so cold, his hands and feet were beginning to go numb. Were they going to be there all night? Dawn would break in an hour or two, and if they did not get into the manor and snatch the little lordling tonight, they would have to wait another month until the next moonless night.
Finally, a low whistle coming from the front of the castle roused the men.
“That’s Garnett,” grumbled one of the soldiers. “We’d better move along. Else we’ll be stuck doing duty tomorrow night as well.”
When they were gone, Isaiah tried to flex his fingers and toes. Having to stay still for so long had made him stiff and sore. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to jump to the roof or not.
He was about to take the chance, when he heard Tyson’s signal, an owl hoot. Warning: someone is coming. Isaiah remained motionless.
“Blasted Garnett. Where’s my pouch?”
The soldier had returned. Isaiah could hear him rummaging around on the ground, along with muffled curses.
Finally, with a snort of triumph—probably from finding his wineskin—he moved off. Isaiah waited a few more moments to be sure. Then he crouched, muscles quivering, ready to leap.
He landed on the steep slate, arms flailing, seeking to grab onto a peg he couldn’t see. He was beginning to slide when at last he found one and held on tightly. He lay for a moment, catching his breath.
Now he could see the faint streaks of light in the East beginning to announce the dawn. Should he still risk it?
“We might not get another chance,” he grumbled to himself.
Slowly he made his way along the roof line, staying low in case the movement was detected from below. He came to the chimney that led down to his old room, where Godfrey and his servant were sleeping. Gathering up the ropes that were coiled there, he braced his back and feet in the familiar way, and slowly shifted himself down. Hopefully, the herbs that Tyson’s gran had smuggled to his mother had been successfully stirred into the boy’s cocoa, making him sleep very soundly. His servant had probably needed no extra encouragement to sample the tart the cook had pressed on him.
The loud snores that greeted Isaiah told him that both Godfrey and his servant must have got a good dose of the herbs.
Tiptoeing to the poster bed—it had once been his poster bed—Isaiah groped around in the covers. He had to make sure this was Godfrey. As a precaution, they might have moved him to another room and put someone else there. But no, he could feel the soft silky curls on the pillows.
Next, he gently peeled back the covers and fixed the ropes around the boy’s waist, under his armpits, and between his legs. It wouldn’t do to have the little villain slip out while they were hauling him up.
Fervently, he hoped he could manage to get the pudgy boy to the chimney on his own.
Isaiah managed to slide the body off the bed. There was a groan when his head bounced a little as it hit the floor.
Eventually, sweating and heaving, he dragged Godfrey to the hearth, and propped him into a sitting position. The embers had long since grown cold, of course. As fast as he was able, Isaiah scooched himself up the chimney, the other ends of Godfrey’s ropes coiled around his waist.
Finally, his head popped out the top, letting him fill his lungs with cool air. The grey light of dawn was becoming brighter.
Tyson helped him out, and without a word, they went quickly to work, hoisting an unconscious Godfrey up the chimney.
It was slow going. They had only managed to get him a quarter of the way, when he got stuck. The boys held their breath. Was he too fat to fit? They tugged harder on the ropes, but he wouldn’t budge.
“Soldiers are coming out the gates for their patrols,” whispered Tyson. Would they get caught? Hurriedly, he went back down the chimney. When he got to Godfrey, he contorted himself up-side-down, feeling around to find the problem. There was enough room for the body to pass, but his nightshirt had snagged on a brick. Isaiah ripped it free and scooted back up the chimney.
He again joined Tyson on the ropes. They hauled as fast and as hard as they could, till Godfrey topped the chimney and tumbled out onto the roof. It was a miracle he was still asleep. For a moment, Isaiah wondered if he had been given too much of the sleeping herbs.
Maybe he was dead?
A slight snore from Godfrey put his fears to rest.
“Quick, over the side,” Isaiah said.
As quietly as they could, they lowered the slumbering boy down the side of the manor wall. Tyson wrapped the ropes around the chimney, leaving the ends in Isaiah’s hands, and slid after him. It was Isaiah’s part to use them as a pulley to lower himself, then yank them down after.
Now the weakest part of the plan: they would have to swim the moat with a sleeping Godfrey in tow. The cold water could easily wake him. Just in case, Tyson fixed a gag in his mouth and tied his hands and feet. Slipping into the water with their burden, they waited, listening for sounds of pursuit.
Everything was still quiet. Even Godfrey did not wake up! Isaiah felt for the skin that was attached to his belt. They would not need the drugged tea he had mixed after all.
Slowly, they glided through the water to the bank and climbed up. Not only would they have to carry the hapless lad between them through the woods, they would also have to haul the ropes with them. They could not leave them for anyone to find.
“Hurry. Hurry! It’s getting lighter,” murmured Isaiah. He had his arms under Godfrey’s and around his chest, while Tyson carried his feet. They had planned to coil the ropes around their waists and over their shoulders, but there was no time. They did the best they could, then piled the rest in a heap on top of Godfrey’s chest. Awkwardly, they shuffled through the low brush with their burden and disappeared into Sherwood Forest.
Safety at last!
The sun was fully up in the sky, when Godfrey’s snores turned into snorts. A long thin rope of drool snaked out from underneath his gag. Probably, no one would hear his yells this deep inside the cave, but the boys didn’t want to take the chance. Tyson was stirring the fire, while Isaiah poured hot tea into cups. Godfrey, propped against a rock, finally woke up. He looked around groggily, gazing stupidly at his bound hands.
“Good morning, Lord Popinjay,” smirked Isaiah, “Fancy a mug of tea?”
Godfrey’s eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. He tried to get to his feet, but toppled over on his side instead. That’s when he must have realized his feet were tied as well. Horrible gurgling sounds issued from behind his gag, and even by the poor light from the fire, it was obvious to see his face was purple.
“Tsk, tsk–such terrible language from such an esteemed lord!” said Isaiah. “There now. If you promise to be good, I will remove the rag.” He motioned to Tyson to untie it.
Immediately, Godfrey yelled loudly. “I’ll have you flogged and hanged, you barbarous—”
Isaiah shook his head sadly. “Apparently not. Perhaps you ought to be worrying about being hanged, don’t you think?” Godfrey’s eyes grew even more enormous. He stopped trying to speak, and let Tyson prop him back up without struggling.
“That’s better,” said Isaiah. “Though feeding you might be a little messy this way. Oh well, can’t be helped.”
They tried to give him some tea when it had cooled a little, by lifting his gag slightly, allowing him to sip. Though he didn’t fight them anymore, he pursed his lips, refusing to take any.
Tyson and Isaiah retreated to the back of the cave to talk. They didn’t want Godfrey overhearing their plans.
“I’m not too worried by his not eating or drinking—from what I’ve seen, he doesn’t know how to miss a meal,” said Isaiah.
Tyson laughed. “That’s certain! I hope he likes rabbit stew, because that’s all he’s going to get.”
Isaiah said, “We’ll have to take turns taking him to the bushes for his needs.”
“That part I’m not looking forward to,” sighed Tyson.
“Me neither. And we’ll also have to take turns guarding him, and keeping that gag on him. Floxham will search these woods with a nit comb trying to find him.”
“They won’t want to come too deep into the forest. Remember, Gran says they’re afraid of Robin and his men.”
The boys had discussed the news that Robin of Locksley’s return was no longer just a rumour. Apparently, he had gathered together a troupe of outlaws and would attack the Sheriff’s unlucky patrols if they tried to use the roads through Sherwood Forest. Though the Sheriff had placed a high price on the head of Robin, the hood, as he was now known, he failed time and again to catch him. Not only was he losing weapons to Robin’s raids, especially bows and arrows, but much coin. Sometimes, even his own men abandoned their loyalties and sided with the traitor!
But Isaiah and Tyson had no time to try and find Robin. They had a ransom to collect.
Three nights after snatching Godfrey, Isaiah placed a rolled parchment into the horse’s saddle-bag of Floxham’s man-at-arms. He was inside the village inn, drinking with his men. By leaving the ransom demand here, instead of at the manor, Floxham was sure to get it, and none of the servants would be blamed or hurt.
They had wanted to wait a week, so that Floxham would be good and worried at his son’s disappearance, but Isaiah and Tyson just couldn’t put up with the bratty little lordling another day. They had taken pity on him and fixed a thinner gag for him so he could talk a bit. It was enough to keep him from yelling, but made his garbled words sound like a moron was trying to communicate. Mostly, they could understand him. The problem was, he wouldn’t quit.
“Maybe his father won’t want him back,” mused Tyson the day after the demand had been delivered.
“He’s going back even if we don’t get the ransom,” growled Isaiah.
“I’m not convinced we can collect the gold without being seen,” said Tyson. “They’re sure to be watching, don’t you think?”
“Of course they will be. That’s why we’ll give them something to watch,” Isaiah answered.
The trap was set.
Godfrey would be returned once the ransom had been placed into the hollow of the large dead oak at the edge of the forest. Floxham had been told to come alone at dusk.
Naturally, he did not.
An owl hooted. In a few moments, it hooted again. Isaiah, snug in his hiding place, counted four more hoots, spaced at intervals. Faithful Tyson! His warning told Isaiah that five more men must have come with their master. No doubt they would tether their horses away from the drop point, then circle back to hide in the woods near the oak, waiting to catch the kidnappers when they came to collect the booty.
Dusk would not fall for another two hours. Floxham was early. Isaiah watched him enter the woods along the path, looking stealthily around. Then he carefully placed a small cloth bag into the cleft of the tree, mounted his horse, and rode off. The ransom demand had told him to ride back to the manor and wait for his son.
Now Floxham proved he was a stupid man. Not twenty minutes later, Isaiah watched him creep back and hide himself in the brush ten feet from the oak. Could he not bear to be out of sight from his gold for even an hour? He had probably left his mount with his men’s horses, confident he had fooled the kidnappers and would soon have them in his grasp. Isaiah could not see his men, but he could hear them trying to creep quietly through the brush. To Isaiah’s keen ear, they sounded more like elephants tramping.
Finally, the sun began to declare the day was done with its orange streaks of sunset growing darker and darker. The woods became hushed as if even the birds were holding their breath.
Suddenly, the thunder of horses’ hooves on the path broke the stillness. Enough light in the lingering sunset illuminated the young rider bearing down on the oak.
It was Tyson! Holding a bag high above his head, he cried, “Your gold is most welcome, my lord! We thank you heartily!” Then he laughed and galloped off.
“The devil!” roared Floxham, who sprang from his hiding place. He stumbled to the oak, feeling frantically for a bag that was not there.
“He’s taken the gold! How in the name of—after him, you fools!”
The woods became alive with curses and crashings, branches snapping, and angry bellows from Floxham, as he and his men floundered about.
Isaiah waited until he was certain they were gone before moving. Then, he unhooked the grappling hook that had snared the money bag, coiled the rope he had used to haul it up to him, and made his way down through the hollow oak.
Shortly after that, Tyson trotted up and reached down to his friend. Both were laughing as Isaiah grasped his arm and swung up behind him.
“Isn’t she a beauty?” asked Tyson, patting the mare’s neck. “She’s Floxham’s mount.”
“Nice touch,” declared Isaiah. “Did you untie the other horses?”
“Of course. And gave them all a good slap on their rumps. They’re probably home by now, looking for their oats.”
They took their time riding back towards the cave. The men would not be chasing them tonight.
“We’ll have to send the horse back,” said Tyson regretfully. “We can’t keep her.”
“I know. Too bad; it would be nice to have her to get around faster, but someone would hear her neighing and give us away.”
“I wonder how Prince Pipsqueak is faring?” asked Tyson.
They had left him with tighter bonds and a thicker gag. It would be very uncomfortable for him, but it couldn’t be helped. They couldn’t take a chance that Floxham’s men might hear him.
The wall of rock that doubled over itself at the entrance to the cave appeared to be solid. Unless you were right beside it, you would never suspect there was a space. Even then, the opening was so narrow, only a kid, or a very slender adult could squeeze through. The thorny brambles in front were also a deterrent to curious seekers. Godfrey had sustained a few scratches from them and the rocks on the night they had shoved him through. These difficulties were the reasons Isaiah was confident no one would find their lair.
No one was more astonished than he was to find that Godfrey was not where they had left him.
In the cave, Tyson blew on the embers of their fire till it flared. They needed light. Perhaps Godfrey had somehow rolled his way deeper inside?
There was no sign of the ropes that had tied him, so he couldn’t have freed himself from his bonds there. Frantically, the boys searched back into the deep recesses, till the cave dwindled to a height where no one could crawl. He was nowhere to be found.
Had he somehow made it out of the cave? If so, he could not have gone far. Isaiah made two torches from stout branches by dipping them in the fire, handed one to Tyson, and led the way outside. They would have to scout around the woods until they found him. Otherwise, if he escaped, Floxham’s men would come after them.
“The brambles are trampled a little here,” motioned Tyson to a patch. Isaiah peered at the spot.
“Not enough for him to roll through them. They would have been flattened. How the devil did he get through?”
“Maybe someone took him,” said Tyson, grimly.
Isaiah gave his friend a dark look. “I don’t even want to think about what that could mean,” he said. He held his torch higher, looking around at the trees, wondering which direction they should go.
Suddenly, he gasped.
Before him, he could just distinguish the outline of a man. He was dressed completely in dark clothes, so that he seemed to melt into the shadows. Only his eyes, peering out from a soot-smudged face reflected the light from their torch.
“And who might you be?” asked the stranger.
Now Isaiah could see other men step silently out from the trees, dressed the same way. All of them carried a bow with a notched arrow, and full quivers on their backs. There must have been about a dozen. How had they not heard them?
“You’ve lost something, I think,” continued the stranger, reaching behind him.
Godfrey, his hands and feet free, but with the gag still in place, stumbled forward.
“I took the rag out of his mouth, but alas, we could not bear his bleating anymore and had to put it back.”
Isaiah knew immediately who the man was. “We had the same problem,” he grinned. “It’s good to have you home, cousin.”
Robin grinned back, pulling Isaiah into a bear-hug.
“Not quite home yet,” he said, releasing him. “I heard you were in my backyard and came to visit. My, but you have been busy! What do you plan on doing with this whelp?” He nodded to Godfrey.
Isaiah untied the bag from his belt and held it out. “Ransom,” he said. “Though the bag is lighter that it ought to be for what we asked. Methinks lord Popinjay is not worth much to his father.”
Robin’s eyebrows shot up. “Well-done, cousin! Come, let us away to our camp to celebrate. The good friar will be done basting the venison by now. Then you can tell me what you plan to do with that rascal.”
“Oh, I have a good plan for Prince Popinjay! Never fear. But do you remember Tyson? He’s Glitha’s son,” Isaiah nodded to him.
“Indeed. Both of you have sprouted longer arms and legs than I remember. I hardly recognized you. But still no beard, eh?” he teased. Then Robin introduced his men, who each grasped the boys’ arms in welcome.
After Robin had given instructions for Godfrey to be blind-folded, they set off. Isaiah marvelled at how softly and quietly they moved through the trees. Not a twig or branch snapped. Perhaps Robin would teach them how to do that.
After a while, Isaiah could see the faint flickering of firelight through the trees. They must be approaching Robin’s camp. One of Robin’s men whistled a fox-call. It was answered with the same call in the distance.
The next thing he knew, they were in the midst of much talking, laughing and back-slapping. More of Robin’s men poured through the trees to greet them and usher them to the camp.
Emerging from the woods, Isaiah found himself in a large clearing. Several fires burned, illuminating many crude huts and lean-tos. Hammocks were strung between trees. Pots were being stirred by men of all ages and sizes who looked at them with huge smiles. Isaiah judged, because of its size, that the magnificent animal being turning over an enormous spit must be a stag. The aroma almost made him drool. The large man turning it was dressed in a long hooded brown robe, belted by a robe. How in the world could Robin keep such a place a secret? How had they not been found out?
“Pull up a piece of ground, the meat is done,” declared the friar. “You must be Isaiah,” he said. “Welcome. I hope you’re hungry.”
Isaiah could feel his stomach gurgle. Quickly, he joined the rest of the men who had squatted on the ground or seated themselves on stones.
“I’m going to take those things off you,” said Robin to Godfrey. “Now is the chance for you to show you are not as stupid as you look. One peep, and both the blindfold and the gag go back on, and I will not make the offer again.” His voice was mild, but one look at Robin’s face must have convinced Godfrey not to test him.
“We’ll talk when this one is put to bed,” Robin told Isaiah. “For now, dig in.”
Isaiah took the piece of meat the friar cut for him. It was hot and the juice ran down his chin when he bit into it, and it tasted marvellous.
“A welcome change from rabbit,” mumbled Tyson, his mouth full.
The men laughed. “Give out some ale,” called one of them and skins were passed around.
When the fires had almost burned down to embers, and Godfrey had been whisked away to a hut guarded by one of Robin’s men, Isaiah and Robin began to exchange their news.
Isaiah learned that Robin had been hiding out in the forest for several months.
“How do you keep hidden from the Sheriff’s men? I’m sure he knows you’re here,” said Isaiah.
“Oh, he does,” answered Robin. “But we move around when we have to, and my men are well trained at blending into the greenery. More than once, a soldier has passed within a few feet and not seen us. Besides, they make such a lot of noise when they come into the woods, we have plenty of warning. We also have excellent scouts watching at all times.”
“Will you teach us how to hide like you do?”
“Of course, and more besides,” said Robin. “Now tell me of your exploits. I have heard of your tricks and pranks on poor Floxham—I almost feel sorry for the wretch—but I want to hear the details.”
Robin and his men listened with boisterous laughter as Isaiah retold his stories.
Robin wiped a tear from his eye. “Oh, cousin, the pig’s bladder jest was always one of your best. You are most welcome here. I cannot wait to hear your plan for getting that little upstart back to his daddy without being seen.”
Isaiah explained how he gained access to the manor whenever he wanted.
“And they still haven’t discovered how you do it?”
“Not so far, but I fear the tree is beginning to stay somewhat bent over. It will not be long before even the dullest of them figure it out.”
Robin nodded, sagely. “This must be the last time, then. I have confidence you will not fail to discover another design to harass our foes.” Robin clapped Isaiah on his shoulder. “You shall have a voice at my council.”
And now, we must come to the end, for this is not the tale of Robin Hood, of whom there are many such stories. No, here is the end of The Tale of Isaiah the Ingenious.
The bright stars overhead, the gentle sound of the trees singing their night songs to one another, the crackle and hiss as sparks float up from the campfires, and the merry laughter of the merry men… This is the scene to remember.
For it is another, and longer tale to tell of how Isaiah Fitzooth, and his loyal friend Tyson joined this band of merry men, and of how they came to be the comrades of such renowned men as Will Scarlet and Little John, and even the good Friar Tuck.
For Robin Fitzooth of Locksley, known ever after as Robin Hood, went on to fame and glory as the robber who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. But it is few who know that it was his cousin, Isaiah the Ingenious, who inspired him. Did not Isaiah forsake to keep for himself the ransom paid by Floxham for Godfrey? Did he not give it freely to the poor farmers, scratching for a bit of anything they could lay their hand on to feed their starving families?
And was it not, a few days later, that one of these same farmers, who came to the midden at Locksley manor, expecting to haul away the usual muck, found something else, instead?
A popinjay, who fancied himself a prince, cushioned so comfortably, snoring and snorting, and drooling, no doubt dreaming of pastries and plums…
Waking from a deep herb-induced sleep…
Waking from his bed of warm, smelly, soft sludge…
Screeching to high heaven.