In Nottingham the Sheriff dwells (hey ho, hey ho),
Within the sound of church's bells (hey ho, hey ho);
He plots to lure bold Robin Hood
Beyond the borders of his wood
And end the outlaw's days for good,
Or so the legend tells (hey ho), or so the legend tells.
Two dark-cloaked men huddled over a small table at the back of the Blue Boar in Nottingham town. The shape of the leather bag slung over the smaller man's shoulder betrayed its wearer's trade; what it held was certainly a lute. Moreover, its owner's voice -- even kept so low that only his table-mate might hear -- had the cadence and lilt of one well-used to chanting a ballad or whistling a reel.
He was not singing just now, however. "A rhyme against the Sheriff? Easy enough to craft, surely, but maybe not so safe to sing aloud."
The other man's voice sounded even scratchier than the ragged brown beard on his chin. "Bah! The only minstrels the Sheriff claps in gaol are those who sing Robin Hood's praises - and that only till Robin comes along and lets them out again, under his very nose. He cares little what the common folk think of him, so long as he keeps in Prince John's graces. So, have we a bargain?" Drawing a pouch from a fold of his cloak, he dropped it on the table with a solid clink.
The minstrel shrugged, scooped up the pouch, and tucked it out of sight. "As you will," he said. "Had you a subject in mind, or will any theme do?"
The other man uttered a growling laugh, and his hood fell back just enough to reveal a black cloth patch over his left eye. "Rumor has it," he said, pulling it forward again, "that the Sheriff's eye falls on Marian, Robin Hood's favored lass. 'Tis said he would wed her if he could, to keep her from the outlaw's side."
"A course," observed the minstrel wryly, "that Robin would surely oppose. Very well, then -- a day or two, and it will be as you desire."
The bearded man nodded. "Then our business is done," he said, rising and striding briskly away, his faded tan cloak wrapped closely round his shoulders, as the minstrel began whistling softly to himself.
Beyond the Blue Boar's walls, the afternoon sky was gray and overcast, but the tan-cloaked man paid the clouds no mind as he turned from the wide main street into a narrower one, then threaded his way through a labyrinth of back alleys. Eventually, he arrived at a weathered brass-bound door set into an obscure section of the wall surrounding the town's castle-keep. He glanced about to be sure no one was watching, then produced a key, unlocked the door, disappeared through it, and secured it again behind him.
Only when he had ascended the dark staircase just inside the door, passed through the second locked door at the top of the steps, and satisfied himself that he was alone in his private study - only then did the Sheriff of Nottingham remove the false beard, the eye patch, and the ragged tan cloak, locking them away safely in a cabinet.