Off in the distance, the slender girl wearing the plain attire of a squire saw the smoke rising from a small farm put to the flame by the minions of the usurper Prince John. She was certain it could only be more grief dished out by his “taxmen” trying to squeeze coin and possessions from the working folk of Nottingham town to be squandered for his dastardly foppery and sinful excesses of the flesh and countless cups of ale and wine consumed both day and night.
With most of the able-bodied men off to the Holy Land to confront the terror of plundering non-believers, the remaining subjects of the true king Richard consisted of mostly young children, females, the elderly and those afflicted with injury or disease and unable to serve in a military role. It was easy “pickings” for the “taxmen” and mercenaries called in from France and the Continent. (*See Note 1-1 from Gareth of Nottingham) Rowena had taken charge of her farm folk and moved them with her to the safety of the forested area behind the Sacred Convent situated on ancient Druid ruins. She was much attuned to the emotions and hidden feelings of the cloistered nuns. She witnessed their dedicated service to the lord and how they often punished their own bodies according to church teachings for the sinful desires of the flesh. The sights and sounds of the good sisters writhing in deprived isolation in their tiny cells at night steeled her against silly flirtations with the opposite sex and she vowed to stay celibate until her work in protecting the people was complete. At the same time, the sensitive Lady Rowena respected their introspective contrition and penance for their sins, both real and imagined. They did not question her lack of interest in such self-defiling activities and attributed her reluctance to her kindly and good nature.
The sun browned girl with the long flowing black hair was well acquainted with excesses of the flesh all around her, but she still remained with hymen intact even unto her eighteenth winter. Rowena had been a farm girl from birth despite her undeniably noble blood. Every year since, on the feast day of the revered Morgana, she had been celebrated for her virginity and her powers from the ancient Gods increased by leaps and bounds. She had been sprinkled with the holy waters of new faith and ate the fruits and nuts of the green lands away from the noise and dirt of the crowded villages and the many prosperous farms. It was more in celebration of the old beliefs rather than the new-found Christianity that was favored by most. She was a willing participant and in large degree honored by her selection, year after year, to represent her region in the ceremony of harvest and fertility.
Rowena knew she was most likely a devotee of the forest God because she grew ever closer to her green roots in the forest while she still wore her rosary in her girdle and stopped her daily activities at various times to pray for the deliverance of the oppressed farm folk from the ravages of the oppressive regime.
The Mother Superior told her,
“You are blessed among us, Lady Rowena, not as a daughter of the great Robin Hood, and not as person of noble birth; but because you are a true believer and will follow in the footsteps of service to the lord and devotion to Morgana into doing the “peoples” business. The spirit world of the forest will protect you at all times. Never despair even in the depths of failure.”
Rowena was well-skilled in the use of the long-bow and the slender blade favored by the French. Often she had used her strength to scale the castle walls with speed and silence. Dressed as a young squire, she moved about the countryside without difficulty blending into the vast numbers of ignorant and ignored commoners.
Ever since her father’s unannounced disappearance some years before, the young girl tried her best to be prepared to assist him in his vow to protect the folk of Nottingham from the evil oppressors.
The senior nun at the convent helped Rowena disrobe in the quiet of her cell. The beautiful, in her own way, daughter of Robin Hood often used her time at the convent to gather her thoughts and refresh her mind with the reading of the many books gathered from far and wide. The senior nun was only a young woman of about thirty plus five years due to the fact that most of cloistered sisters had succumbed to the dreaded pox the previous year. (*See Note 1-2 from Gareth of Nottingham) The “fresh blood” in the convent was welcome but caused the Mother Superior some desire for caution because the younger nuns were still high-spirited and searching for those pleasures not related in the least to the service of God. She had been vigorous in her application of discipline on the flanks of the younger members and secretly derived great satisfaction viewing their squirming and cries of distress when receiving their just penance.
The friendly senior nun was called Sister Carmela and she constantly atoned for her serious sin of fornication with her own landlord when she was but a young girl of only eighteen. She deeply regretted the way he had used her both gently and hard and had made her a submissive slave to his repeated impulsive desires, despite her feelings to the contrary, and burdened her with a heavy load of guilt at her powerlessness to do anything about it.
When her mother discovered them together in the barn with stark reality of her looking over her shoulder to the doorway, her guilty look was enough to inform her mother it was time for her to be dispatched to the convent for serious contrition and reflection on the dangers of the road to perdition in order to save her depraved soul. Her pestering landlord was encouraged in future to visit the hoydens at the pub to give solace to his nocturnal desires.
Nothing that Carmela said could dissuade her parents from their God-fearing decision.
She had been at the convent now for a full decade and for the first several years she had been a close aide to Sister Emmanuel. Sister Emmanuel, God rest her soul, had been in the convent as far back as anyone in the region could remember. She was one of the nuns who had been gathered up by the Lord in the visitation of the pox to the region only one short year ago.
Sister Emmanuel had disciplined Sister Carmela for her own well-being and instructed her how to show respect to her calling with the proper show of contrition and true penance. The repentant nun had gotten used to the application of “corrections” that included mortification of the flesh because it was the way of the clergy from those times even before the commencement of the Holy Crusades. (* See Note 1-3 from Gareth of Nottingham) In some ways, it was far preferable to being humiliated by the landlord because she did not have to contend with the feelings of guilt that kept her from a sound sleep at night.
On many long sessions inside the walls of the convent, Sister Carmela perfected the thinking skills of the young girl of noble blood and trained her to be responsive to adapting to new ideas and a different way of thinking about solutions. Some of the other nuns were unable comprehend the need to think outside the box and did not quite grasp the meaning of all matter being interacting systems functioning in the design of the creator for the greater glory of God.
Rowena left the convent early one morning to check on her camp in the forest. Most of her father’s workers were hidden away from the minions of the Sheriff in the deepest part of the forest. Of course, they now were her followers along with many others added as more and more farms were seized for non-payment of constantly increasing taxes.
The young lads were busy tanning the leather and sharpening the tools.
The young girls were weaving the cloth for their clothing and churning the milk into cheese and butter. An old knight with a well-worn axe stood guard at the narrow trail into the safe place and touched his forefinger to his forehead in a salute of recognition when he saw her walk silently through the trees still dressed in her convent robes.
It was old Roland who had told her many tales of a time when monsters walked the land. He was a sturdy fellow in the twilight of his life grown cautious in his old age. He had always treated her with respect and loyal service.
Her camp leader Gawain told her that the two Whitehall sisters, Lucy and Penny had gone berry picking at the sun’s zenith and were nowhere to be found. It was most unusual for them for them to be gone such a long time because they were quite industrious and never known to shirk a duty. Rowena gathered up her short blade and hand-crafted bow inherited from her beloved father and headed for the deep woods to search for the missing girls.
Since the woods were somewhat unexplored in this area, she was loath to shout out their names, choosing instead to listen for any sounds of human activity or unusual marks on the ground or the trees. Even the noise of the animals and the insects gave her clues as to their presence in the immediate area. When she paused to rest, she heard the sound of muted voices still some distance straight ahead. It sounded like a pair of high-pitched female voices under some degree of physical stress. The laughter of deeper voices led her to use caution in approaching the opening in the deep brush. Sure enough, it was two of the sheriff’s men devoid of their armor and with their breeches lowered as if to answer a call of nature. Peering intently, she made out the forms of Lucy and Penny on the ground cowering in fear like schoolgirls waiting for their punishment. Only this was the forest, these were the sheriff’s men and the girls had done nothing to be punished for. Stringing her bow, she loosed an arrow into the first man’s hat knocking it off his head. When the other turned around, she shot another into his pile of clothing on the ground pinning his helmet to his shirt.
The two girls took advantage of the changed situation to flee into the woods finding the path back to the safety of the camp. The youngest one, Lucy, was an excellent runner for a girl of eighteen summers and she kept Penny at a brisk pace all the way back to safety. Rowena turned to follow them, but was unlucky enough to step into a hidden rodent hole and spill awkwardly out into the open. The two sheriff’s men pounced on her like hawks on their prey. Her face was buried in the fallen leaves and only her tight breeches and squire boots were sticking up in the silent forest glade.
“We got us a good one, Ralph; he looks like a girl with the bloom of the rose still on him.”
The younger, more excitable one simply commented,
“All I know, Alfred, is we had two nice female bunny rabbits to play with and we lost them because of this do-gooder young lad. I think we need to teach him a lesson”
Rowena started to shout out she was a girl, but thought better of it because of the difficult nature of her capture. Perhaps it would be better to be thought of as a he instead of as a she in such an isolated situation.
She quickly changed her mind when she heard the older man whisper to the younger one,
“Get his breeches down, Alfred; let’s get a peek at his rump.”
“I got to say, Ralph, his rear-end does look kind of prime, almost like a girl’s. Are you thinking what I am thinking?”
“Yup, this lad will learn a hard lesson for robbing us of our booty. Those girls were ours fair and square.”
Rowena could see she was in for some rough treatment and decided to play the part of an outraged young boy being subjected to unfair interference with his natural desires. Actually, she was already planning her escape and hoped they wouldn’t discover her pointed dirk inside her boot. It was silent and deadly in close quarters and she hoped the pair of interlopers would soon get a taste of what they were dishing out to common folk just trying to survive in a world still torn apart by conflict and strife.
When the two minions of the sheriff came close to Rowena, she pretended to be frightened and went into a fetal position. They laughed at her show of cowardice and neither one made the slightest noise when she jabbed them both in the neck with deadly little dirk. They both fell to the grass looking up at the sky in complete puzzlement wondering where the bee had come from delivering the fatal blow. In a way, she was more than satisfied with the outcome, but still she said a silent prayer for both men praying that they would repent their sins before they arrived at that final point of judgement that determined their path into all eternity.
Her body was sore, but she was able to make it back to the camp quickly. Nobody noticed her serious look of recent stress because she used every trick to convince them she had suffered no injury and was happy at freeing the two girls. She hated to lie to her own people, but it was a small price to pay for saving the two hard working females of her brood.
Rowena wanted to share the tale of her subterfuge with the others, but she decided to keep it to herself. Right now, the focus was on the two missing girls recovered safely from the Sheriff’s men.
Tomorrow, she would go into Nottingham and get some payback from the Sheriff and his nasty men.
Note 1-1...”King John heard the French might be coming but he didn’t believe they’d want any part of their civil war. He didn’t think the villagers would put up a fight and that he and his army would push right through but the villagers did at least slow King John’s army down and this was exactly what the core of the rebellion needed. The rebel army took over a castle/garrison that was an important location for the protection of England. They built catapults, prepared tar to be poured on the soldiers trying to scale the wall, they forged steel for more swords, they carved more arrows, etc. They were prepared when King John got there.
This particular location was the spot King John had to have control of as it was the supply line for all military operations from London and the southern territories. He underestimated the talent that was on the other side of the wall and the military armory they had. Besides having several military generals participating in the fight a lot of fighters fought in the Holy War (Great Crusades), so they knew what they were doing. Almost more importantly they had three Knights Templar fighting for the rebellion. These Knights grew up in a monastery where besides religious training they were also taught to be warriors for the Pope. These three Knights might not seem like enough to make a big difference but they were instrumental in logistics, military tactics, training, and of course their specialty ... fighting.
King John’s army and Danish mercenaries made several attempts to break into the garrison but they ended up capturing only part of it but couldn’t break into the other side where the remaining fighters were poised to take them on again. King John was furious that the battle had gone on so long but he was willing to wait for the people in the garrison to starve to death or surrender. Surrendering wasn’t a good option as King John had a technique he liked to use where the hands and feet were cut off the victim and then hung and these people were aware of it.
King John didn’t get the chance to starve the rebels out as over the hill came the French Army just in time to save the people in the garrison and villagers throughout the country. They ran King John off and continued to help the rebellion (civil war), until it was officially over. King John didn’t fare well as he died of dysentery on his way back to his castle and King Henry III took over as King up until France claimed the crown. England and France went back and forth like this for decades.” (Extracted from “Two Minute Read Knowledge Seeker Data Base”) Note 1-2: Diseases were very common throughout the Medieval Period mainly due to lack of proper diet and poor hygiene. Some of the most common diseases were dysentery, cholera, typhoid fever, chicken pox, measles and black plague. People mostly caught diseases because they had very small houses and had to sleep in rooms with sheep, cows, and horses.
These animals were a common source of fleas and hence diseases as poor people couldn’t afford to take a bath and wash their clothes more frequently. The black death of the 14th century in which millions of people died was caused by rat carried fleas living on the black rats that bit people living in Medieval Times. White rodents also moved freely from house to house carrying dangerous diseases with them. (Extracted from Medieval Diseases)
Note 1-3: Flagellation is a term that is derived from the Latin “flagellare” meaning “to whip”. It was a common practice amongst the more dedicated Christian religious in Medieval Times. Other religions that used the practice were the secretive cult of “Isis”, the “Dionysian” cult of Greek culture and even in Ancient Rome, the eunuch priests of the “Phrygian” Goddess “Cybele” called “The Galli” flogged themselves until they bled during the annual festival known as “Dies Sanguinis” or “Day of Blood”. Females in Ancient Rome were also flogged during the “Roman Lupercalia” to ensure fertility.
In particular, as in the example of the Benedictine monk Peter Damian during the 11th century, flagellation became a form of penance in the Catholic Church and its monastic orders. The 11th century zealot Dominicus Loricatus repeated the entire “Psalter” twenty times in one week. He would accompany each psalm with a hundred lash-strokes to his back. The practice was displayed by the religious Flagellants by demonstrating the impressive “self-mortification” in the center of the city or village or other public places to confirm their sense of “piety”. In addition to the Flagellation, the rituals were built around processions, hymns, distinct ritualistic gestures, uniforms, and discipline. One of the rituals involved the practice when singing a hymn and reaching a part about the “Passion of the Christ”, one must drop to the ground, no matter how dirty or painful the area might be. During that period, the pious person was not supposed to move no matter how dirty or painful the position incurred. (Extracted with minor changes from Wikipedia for simple explanation)