By the Outlaw List Writers
by Joan Woodcock
The October night was dark and eerily still, with a bit of a chilly snap
in the air. It seemed even the animals of the forest were snuggled
their nests and burrows, instinct telling them to seek the safety of their homes. Only the human animals were out and about, hunched over a small fire,
their hands reaching towards the flames for warmth, ignoring what the animals could sense.
"Tuck, you are a wonder with your herbs," Robin Hood remarked appreciatively
to one of his companions. "Who else could have made that berry and
concoction so tasty."
The others, John Little and Marion FitzWalter, agreed, although Marion
could be heard grumbling something like "I bet I could have done just as
under her breath.
Friar Tuck beamed from ear to ear under such praise and launched into
a favorite topic of his with gusto. "Thank you, thank you. Luckily,
just the right herbs with me in my pouch. For instance, I used rosemary to infuse the cooking water with flavor. It's one of my favorite herbs and has
a long and fascinating history. It has been used for magic, healing, and seasoning since the beginnings of recorded history. The Latin name
Rosemarinus means dew of the sea and, although it isn't native to England, its use is growing because of its uplifting aroma and delicious flavor. In
fact, I --
"Oh, Friar, please. You're not going to give us another history
lesson, are you?" Little John complained around a huge yawn.
"I'm too tired to have to
pay close attention."
Tuck's mouth snapped shut, disappointment flitting across his pudgy face.
Sensing some tension growing, the result of a long, hard journey that
day and the strange silence surrounding them, Robin intervened quickly.
very fascinating, Friar, but maybe you could tell us a story. Something we can just sit back and enjoy."
"I agree," Marion chimed in as she sat straighter on the log. "You're good at spooky tales, Tuck. Tonight seems a perfect night for something scary."
"Especially when you scare yourself and John to death when you tell them," Robin added, barely able to control his laughter.
Both men decided to ignore their leader's jibe and Tuck pursed his brow,
thinking of a perfect tale. He snapped his fingers. "I know
"Long ago, more years than we can count, the southern part of our country
was inhabited by the Celts. The early Celts were a wild people who
and plunged into battle naked and loudly singing boastful songs of victory to unnerve their enemies."
John perked up at that. "Naked? Wouldn't that be awfully painful if they were hit in the--"
Robin quickly cleared his throat and motioned his head toward Marion, who hid a smile behind her hand.
John looked from Robin to Marion, clearly confused. "What?
You know it would kill you to get hit in -- oh ... OH!" John's face
turned a brilliant
red and for once he decided that at the moment, silence was his best course of action.
"Please, continue, Tuck," Robin chuckled as he good-naturedly thumped his large friend on the shoulder.
"As I was saying, these ancient Celts worshipped nature and had many gods.
They celebrated their New Year on what we call All Saints Day - November
On the eve of their New Year, All Hallow's Even to us, it was believed that Samhain, the Lord of the Dead and Prince of Darkness, called together the
dead people. They would take different forms, with the bad spirits taking the form of animals.
"The Druids, the Celtic priests, would meet at a sacred location on All
Hallow's Even, whether it be a place of mysterious huge stones or a forest
oak ... much like this one."
A groan could be heard from John's vicinity. Robin stifled a chuckle.
"Legend tells us that the ceremony was announced by the blowing of a great curved horn."
Tuck cupped his mouth and emitted a frightful sound that echoed through the silent trees, sending a shiver down John's spine.
"The doleful wail brought forth the priests who wore white robes with
hoods that concealed their faces. These faceless, ghostly figures
would enter the
sacred grounds in single file, chanting mysterious words, holding poles with pagan symbols on the tops. Fires were lit and their flames flickered off the
great stones or the huge trees, making them look alive, as if they were living, breathing witnesses to the celebration. Sacrifices of crops and
animals were offered and they would dance around the fires to the beat of drums. The glow of the bonfires would illuminate the night sky. The
mournful sounds of the horn, the pagan chanting, the pulsing of the deep drums carried for miles in the Stygian darkness, reminding those around the
countryside that the dead did indeed walk the earth that night."
Tuck's listeners were leaning forward, totally absorbed in the tale.
Marion rubbed her arms in an attempt to ward off the sudden drop in temperature.
The same chill seemed to transmit itself to Robin who reached towards the fire to warm his cold hands.
Little John scanned the woods surrounding them. Was it his imagination
or did it seem that the trees were slowly smothering them with their great
height and cloying closeness? He stood up abruptly, making quite a production of stretching and yawning. "Well, Friar, I'm afraid I'm just too
tired to listen to any more of your tale, interesting though it is."
"Not afraid, John?" Robin teased his best friend. "It sounded pretty scary to me."
"N-no. Definitely not, Robin. The day is just catching up with me, that's all."
As the companions arranged their blankets and settled down for the night, a baleful wail sounded in the distance.
"Cut it out, Tuck. I already said I wasn't afraid."
Tuck sat up. "I didn't do that, John."
"Right." With a disgusted harrumph, John turned over and covered himself up to his neck.
The wail sounded again, closer. This time all four sat up and looked at one another.
"That was definitely not Tuck," Robin stated, reaching for his sword as the thumping of drums reverberated through the watching trees.
End of Part One
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