Steel rang on steel, shattering the quiet serenity of the forest and startling birds from their nest. A ring of outlaws, clad in Lincoln green, circled two people in the woodland glade - one, a tall, dark, bearded, scowling man, wearing the coat of sheriff, the other, a light-haired, laughing young man in green with a sparkle of defiant mischief twinkling in his blue eyes. Sparks flew as their blades clashed together in a duel to the death.
The sheriff gave vent to an animalistic snarl as the audacious young outlaw flicked a slice of cloth from the edge of his cloak. "You are finished, Robin Fitzooth!" he hissed furiously. "You will die before the sun sets!" His opponent merely laughed, a merry, carefree sound.
"Strewth! my good Sheriff, but you're behind the times," he replied gaily. "Robin Fitzooth was finished and dead a great while ago. 'Tis Robin o' the Hood you face now, and 'tis Robin o' the Hood that will bring you to grief."
A quick, taunting slash to the cheek reinforced his statement, and the Sheriff's gloved hand rose, assessing the damage even as he parried another strike from his enemy.
"The rooster crows loudly indeed," he remarked sadistically, "but what happens when his feathers get plucked?" He feinted towards Robin's stomach, then struck out, laying a savage cut on the youth's arm from shoulder to elbow. All around him, the outlaw band gave a concerted cry of rage, but their leader held up his blood-drenched hand, his eyes never leaving the sheriff's.
"Nay, lads, hold. 'Twas a fair blow - but methinks I have toyed with the prince's lackey long enough. What say ye we finish this, my fine haughty fellow?" As he spoke, the young rogue pressed forward, attacking in earnest, and his opponent backed up, momentarily unprepared.
However, years of training and experience - as well as a certain natural, in-born skill - served him well, and he quickly reoriented himself, returning blow for blow and driving the outlaw back in turn. For several minutes the two men were locked together in grim combat, neither gaining an advantage over the other.
Then the sheriff, with a thrill of horror, realized that his movements were becoming sluggish and clumsy as his muscles began to tire. His sword was getting heavy in his hand, and he was having difficulty focusing on Robin's quick, clean movements.
Clearly, it was time for a change of tactics.
The wicked man allowed the young outlaw to back him up again, almost into the surrounding wall of Merrie Men. A quick twist and flick of Robin's blade sent the sheriff's sword spinning from his hand, and he stood before his proud foe, unarmed and, apparently beaten. All laughter left Robin's voice as he placed the cold tip of his sword beneath his enemy's chin.
"And now, sirrah, here is retribution long overdue - not only for me and mine, but all those under your iron rule that you have oppressed without mercy!"
A breathless silence fell over the gathering as they all waited for their beloved leader to deal the death blow. For a moment, fear shone out of the sheriff's dark eyes - then, in one swift movement, he snatched the sword that dangled at the side of the man behind him, batted aside Robin's weapon, and struck. The cruel steel blade sank into the young man's chest, piercing his heart, and he froze. For a moment he stood there, transfixed by the sword that protruded from his chest; then the sheriff withdrew it, and the legendary outlaw, the hero of Nottingham's peasantry, collapsed dead to the forest floor.
Not wasting any time, the sheriff took advantage of the pall of shock that had taken hold of the rest of the band and ran to where his horse was tied to a slender tree. Cleaving the line with one desperate stroke of his blade - still smeared bright red - he pulled himself into the saddle and kicked the horse straight into a gallop, his heart pummeling in his chest.
His victory was short-lived; an arrow from Little John's massive longbow struck him in the back, slaying him on the spot. He toppled from the stallion, further impaling himself on the wooden shaft, but nobody paid him any mind. They all gathered around their fallen leader where he lay, bathed in a pool of golden sunlight and crimson blood.
Robin Hood, England's greatest hero and Prince John's most elusive foe, had passed into the silent arms of Death.