The Tale Of Tuggin Wood
_A Merry Band_
'Who goes there?' Tuggin Wood demanded, swinging down from a high branch to block the path of the hunched and cowled stranger. 'Come out from behind that bush!'
'Tis nae bush,' replied the shadowed cowl. 'Real men hae beards. An they dinnae ponce aboot in ladies' stockings.'
'These are tights,' said Tuggin.
'Then yer should-a bought a bigger size.'
'Do you speak the king's English?' Asked Tuggin.
'I am speaking Anglish! An John be no king o mine!'
'So you're a friend of Dick?'
'Aye, if yer mean my own.'
'I mean King Richard.' Said Tuggin. 'What business brings you here? This is my forest.'
'An who would you be?'
'I'm Tuggin Wood!'
'The Tuggin Wood?'
'How many Woods do you know?'
'The forest is full o them.'
'Do yer no ken?'
'This is getting us nowhere,' said the stranger. 'I'll thank yer tae step aside.'
'Make me,' said Tuggin.
The cowled figure hitched up his sleeves.
Tuggin raised a hand. 'Hold on there, Beardy McBeardface. Let me see your stave!'
'I want to see if it's bigger than mine.'
The stranger passed his knobbed and twisted stave to Tuggin reluctantly. 'Dinnae break it.' He warned. 'Sticks like mine dinnae grow on trees, yer know!'
'I'll be careful,' Tuggin promised.
Holding the length of burled walnut in two hands, Tuggin could feel its weight. He tested it for balance. Twirled it a few times. Swung it experimentally. And brought it down with a solid THWUMP on the stranger's head.
'You can come out now.' Called Tuggin.
The forest around him was suddenly full of assorted misfits and other outlaw types. The familiar faces of his merry band, who hadn't made merry since the month of May, when the last hogget of mead was emptied, making many of the merry band mostly miserable.
'Is he dead?' Asked Big Gus Little, who was also known as Little Gus.
'It takes more than a bump on the head to kill a priest,' said Henry Scarlet.
'No priest,' said Friar Nobby, 'but a Brother of the Order of Saint Orville the Obscure.'
Little Gus shrugged. 'Never heard of them.'
'What's the difference?' Asked Henry Scarlet.
'When does a stream stop being a stream and become a river?' Friar Nobby replied philosophically. 'Or a hill become a mountain?'
'Depends,' said Tuggin, 'if you're coming down or going up. Going up always takes longer, so it must be higher.'
Friar Nobby pointed to the stranger.
The concealing cowl had slipped.
And so had the beard.
'That's no Brother!' Cried Little Gus. 'It's the Lady Marion!'
'Oh, Christ, No!' Came a calamitous chorus.
'Always pissing and moaning!'
'Nothing's ever good enough!'
'Eh?' Said Tuggin, who was only just seeing the Lady Marion for the first time. 'Nobody can be that bad!'
'You don't know her like we do,' said Little Gus. "Stop walking mud all over my floor. I just swept that dirt clean!" ... ''Why does this venison taste like deer?'' ... ''Who ate my low-fat yoghurt? It had my name on it!'' Why do you think we ran away to hide in the forest?'
'It did have my name on it!' Complained Lady Marion loudly, sitting up and holding her aching head.
'Serves you right,' said Henry Scarlet, 'for thinking any of us could read.'
If he'd known the yoghurt was low-fat he would never have gone near it.
'Why the charade?' Tuggin asked the Lady Marion, trying to help her to her feet.
'This silly disguise was the only way I could get out of the castle without being followed.' She said, slapping his outstretched hand away. 'I needed to know if you were the real Tuggin Wood. The Sheriff of Nottingham is delivering the taxes to Prince John in person, and I want you to get that money back.'
'Him and whose army?' Asked Tuggin.
'Him and his army of course!' The Lady Marion told him, rolling her eyes.
She had a voice like dry gravel grinding under a turning wheel. A squeaking wheel. She was a frump and a shrew. Double-chinned and dimpled in all the wrong places. But Tuggin liked her.
It had taken real courage to come and find him.
'You called him Prince John. Does that mean you don't believe the rumour from France that Richard is dead?'
'I do not!' Said Lady Marion forcefully. 'Do you?'
Tuggin shook his head. 'I cannot. I will not.'
'Good.' Said Marion. 'You might not be as stupid as you look.'
Tuggin took it as a compliment.
The outlaws' secret hide-out was so secret even Tuggin had trouble finding it.
'We're walking around in circles!' Grumbled the Lady Marion. 'These are the same brambles that scratched me before. The same mossy rocks I almost slipped and broke my neck climbing over. The same tree that... '
'How can you tell?' He asked.
All trees looked alike to Tuggin.
'What is it you do, exactly?' Said Marion. 'When you're not stumbling around - Lost in the forest.'
'I have my Merry Band,' replied Tuggin. 'We do fairs. Festivals. The odd cheese rolling contest. I play the lute.'
'He plays the lute.'
'What does Little Gus play? When he's not playing the fool?'
'The lute,' said Tuggin.
'And Friar Nobby? No, wait. Let me guess... The lute?'
'No,' said Tuggin. 'He's our drummer.'
'Three lutes and a drum?' Marion asked, clearly not impressed. 'What sort of band is that?'
All Tuggin could do was shrug and say, 'The young folk like us!'
'Don't you take from the rich and give to the poor?' Said Marion. 'That's what I heard.'
'That doesn't make any sense.' Tuggin frowned. 'If we stole from the rich to give to the poor, the poor would be rich,' he reasoned logically, 'and who would we give the money to then?'
'And besides,' said Henry, 'we are the poor.'
'There'd be a lot of giving and taking,' Tuggin said. 'But not much getting.'
'What's ours is ours,' said Little Gus. 'When was the last time you gave anything to the poor?'
'That's not fair!' Lady Marion bristled. 'I'm always giving!'
'We don't mean lectures,' said Henry.
'Now. Now.' Friar Nobby tutted. 'If you can't play nice, then go play somewhere else.'
Marion huffed. 'I wish I was somewhere else! If I knew where I was, I would be!'
Big Gus Little and Henry Scarlet looked at each other.
'Don't say it.' Tuggin warned them. 'We have to work together if we're going to lighten Prince John's purse.'
'And pay for King Richard's safe return,' said Marion.
"Yes!' Tuggin cheered. 'That is what we'll do! With Good King Dick back in England, all the old wrongs will be right again!'
'Right for some,' mumbled Henry.
_A Tale Of Two Bottoms_
They never did find the secret hide-out, but fortune had always favoured brave Tuggin, and he led his merry band, and the less than merry Marion, to the narrow and winding road through the forest.
'Here it is,' he said, 'prexactly where I told you.'
'So where, prexactly,' Marion asked, 'are we?'
'We're here,' said Tuggin. 'Right where we want to be.'
'And where is that?'
'Between the two Bottoms of course.'
The only road through the forest connected the twinned villages of Upper and Lower Bottom, and it was the road the Sheriff of Nottingham would have to travel with his waggon loaded chests of coin.
'Which way is which?' Asked Marion.
'Well... Which Bottom is where?'
'Does it really matter?'
'It might help if we knew which Bottom we were nearer to.'
Having passed through both Bottoms, Upper and Lower, it was Tuggin's opinion that neither Bottom was a Bottom anyone would want to be too close to.
'Trust me,' he told Marion, 'if there was a Bottom around here, you'd smell it.'
Big Gus Little had always wondered why there wasn't a Middle Bottom.
How could there be an Upper Bottom and a Lower Bottom without a Middle Bottom? Wouldn't in the middle be the most logical place for a Bottom to be?
A Middle Bottom would be somewhere to sit.
To relax and rest a spell.
Maybe have a picnic luncheon.
'Listen!' Said Tuggin. 'I can hear a waggon!'
'That's just Marion talking,' said Henry.
'No, really! And horses... Coming this way! Hide! Quick as you can!'
They spread out on both sides of the road.
'If I was to build an inn here,' Little Gus said to Henry, 'what should I call it?'
'An inn? Here?'
'Yes,' said Little Gus. 'Halfway between the two Bottoms, so folk can stop and have an ale or two, under a nice shade tree. Or a bite to sup and a bed for the night. I was thinking of Middle Bottom.'
'It's a fine idea,' said Henry. 'But Middle Bottom? An inn ought to have a name people can remember. Something different.'
The problem was, England's pleasant green was full of Bottoms. There was Shepherd's Bottom, Scratchy Bottom and Slap Bottom. Bottom Flash, Bottom Row and Bottomley Holes. A Grassy Bottom. A Bushy Bottom. A Great Bottom and a Rotten Bottom. Then there was Two Mile Bottom, Cheese Bottom, Rough Bottom, Cat's Bottom, Mossy Bottom, Aunt Mary's Bottom and Galloping Bottom.
'Let me think on it,' Henry said.
An inn ought to have a name people could remember.
The Green Bottom?
The Lazy Bottom?
The Sheriff of Nottingham was not happy.
The dark of night was no time to be caught between two Bottoms.
'Ride!' He told his men. 'Stop for nothing! I want to be in Bottom Hall before they bar the gates!'
With a snap of the reins and a crack of the whip, he cursed his team of horses, urging them on, further and faster, until the pounding of their hooves filled the forest like rolling thunder.
'They're coming!' Said Marion. 'Get ready!'
'Right,' said Tuggin. 'Uhm... '
'Right. My bow. I don't uhm... '
'What are you waiting for?'
'Listen,' said Tuggin. 'About that... I uhm... I'm not very... '
The first and only time Tuggin had tried to hit anything with it, the arrow had stayed in his hand and his bow had knocked an apple clean off the top of Friar's Nobby's head. What the Friar was doing with an apple on his head is another story, but -
'Now!' Screamed Marion.
It was already too late. The Sheriff and the waggon full of coin were well and safely passed, leaving only a trail of dust to settle in the murksome haze.
Marion swore. She shook her fists and stamped her feet. She tore at her frizzy hair. She rolled her eyes and gnashed her teeth. Tuggin left her foaming at the mouth to go and find the others.
'Any luck?' He asked.
'Not yet,' said Henry, 'but I'll think of something.'
'Marion's having some kind of fit.'
Little Gus, who didn't like to say "I told you so" said, 'I told you so.'
'What do we do now?' Asked Friar Nobby.
'Don't know,' said Tuggin, taking off his feathered cap and scratching his head. 'But I'll think of something.'
_Wood for Dick_
Tuggin approached the Lady Marion with suitable caution.
'You're not still vexed with me, are you?'
'No,' said Marion. 'It's my own fault, really. I should never have expected... '
'Good,' said Tuggin. 'Because I have something that will cheer you up.'
'And what might that be?'
'If you mean a plan, we could have used one of those earlier.'
'I mean a way to raise the money we need to pay King Richard's ransom.'
'We'll put on a show,' said Tuggin. 'Not just any old show, but the biggest music festival the world has ever seen! With scores, no, hundreds of bands like ours. We'll print posters that say "Save Our Dick" and put them up on every street corner in every city, town, village and bottom in the country. And sell tickets. There'll be hay rides. And a sausage sizzle. And a whole cow roasting on a spit! Folk will come from all over. You'll see. And we'll call it... BAND AID!'
'Don't you like BAND AID?'
'It's been done before, hasn't it?'
'You think of something,' said Tuggin.
'Where is this world's biggest music festival going to be?' Asked Marion.
'Somerset,' said Tuggin. 'Near Glastonbury. We know a farmer there who'll let us use his field. He doesn't do anything with it. Says it's full of these huge stones the local council won't let him knock down.'
'So why not just call it Glastonbury?' Said Marion.
The Glastonbury Festival rocked on for a week. It rained every day for the full seven days, but it was England, where it rained every day of the year, so nobody took any notice. They camped out in the mud, trudged through the mud, ate their meals in the mud, made merry in the mud, danced in the mud, and a muddy merry time was had by all.
The money they raised was more than enough to pay King Richard's ransom and, back in England's pleasant - well - mud, he pardoned Tuggin and restored the family's lands and title. An Earl again, Tuggin was a big enough nob to marry the Lady Marion, to which good King Dick gave his most royal blessing.
There was money, too, for Little Gus to build his inn beside the road between the two Bottoms.
Henry never did think of a name for it, but in the end it didn't matter.
Little Gus had already decided.
'Well?' Asked Henry. 'What's it to be?'
'First,' said Little Gus, 'I thought about The Druids' Ring, after them big rocks in the field. Then I thought The Lute and Drum. Or maybe The King's Return. But then Tuggin told us he was going to wed the Lady Marion, and it came to me, out of the blue like... '
You can see for yourself. Take the Sheriff's Road. In a clearing in the forest, somewhere between Upper and Lower Bottom, you'll find a post and lintel, and swinging from the lintel there'll be a painted sign, and if you fancy a pint or a bite to sup, you'll always be welcome at The Outlaw's Folly.
Monkey was in a box.
It was a big box.
Made of cardboard.
Just big enough for a Monkey.
'Help!' He called. 'I'm in a box!'
It was dark inside the box.
'It's dark in here!'
Monkey didn't like the dark.
'I don't like it!'
He was hungry.
But the lid was on the box.
And Monkey couldn't get out.
'I can't get out!'
Gus the dog could hear Monkey.
He was in trouble and needed help.
'How did you get in a box?' Asked Gus.
Monkey said he didn't know.
'I don't know!'
But that wasn't true.
Monkey had seen the empty box.
'I saw a box!'
And had climbed inside it.
'It was empty so I climbed in!'
Then Monkey had pulled the lid closed.
'It closed all by itself!'
Henry the cat was curious.
He wondered why Gus was talking to a box.
'Why are you talking to a box?' He asked.
'Monkey is in there.'
'How did he get in a box?'
'He climbed in.'
Monkey could hear them.
'I'm not deaf!'
He didn't think he was silly at all.
'And I'm not silly!'
What were empty boxes for?
If not to climb into?
'The box was empty!'
'It's not empty now,' said Henry.
Gus asked Henry what they should do.
About Monkey in the box.
'Should we let him out?'
Monkey tried shaking the box.
'Let me out! Let me out!'
There were holes in the side of the box.
The holes let air in.
'Can you breathe in there?' Asked Henry.
'Yes. There are holes!'
The holes let Monkey look out.
'I can see you!'
His friends were just sitting there.
'Don't just sit there! Do something!'
But dogs and cats have paws.
Not hands like a Monkey has hands.
So there wasn't much they could do.
'Like what?' Asked Gus.
'Try lifting the lid off!'
'With what?' Asked Henry.
Gus said, 'I could use my nose.'
But Monkey had pulled the lid down tight.
And Gus couldn't nudge it open.
'It's no use!' Cried Monkey.
He thought he might die in the box.
'I'm going to die in here!'
If somebody didn't do something soon.
'Can't you do anything?'
'Maybe we can push the box over,' said Gus.
'Try pushing the box over!'
But the box was too heavy.
'You're too fat,' said Henry.
Monkey didn't think it was funny.
'That's not funny!'
If anyone was fat it was Henry.
He was an inside cat.
All he did was eat and sleep.
And eat some more.
He looked like a big round ball of black wool.
'You get stuck in the cat-flap!'
Gus had an idea.
'Maybe if you push too,' he told Monkey.
Even Henry pushed.
But the box didn't want to be pushed.
It didn't move.
'It's not moving! Push harder!'
It didn't help that Monkey was pushing the wrong way.
Back against his friends.
And not the way Gus and Henry were pushing.
Monkey was weak.
He hadn't eaten anything for minutes.
'I'm tired and hungry!'
He could really use a banana.
'I could really use a banana!'
Or something to quench his thirst.
'Or a nice juicy norange!'
'What's a norange?' Asked Henry.
'He means an orange.' .
'Then why didn't he say an orange?'
He didn't know.
'I can hear you!'
'Stick your fingers in your ears.' Henry told Monkey.
Nobby the koala had come down out of his tree.
'What's all the kerfuffle about?' He asked.
'Monkey's in a box,' said Gus.
'He can't get out,' said Henry.
Nobby wasn't surprised.
'That doesn't surprise me.'
'What do we do?' Asked Gus.
'You need thumbs,' said Nobby.
Monkey still had his fingers in his ears.
'I'm not dumb!'
'Nobody said you were,' said Gus.
'I did,' said Henry.
'We don't have thumbs.' Gus said to Nobby.
'You're in luck,' said Nobby. 'I'm all thumbs.'
He climbed on top of the box.
Gripped the lid.
And rolled backwards.
The lid came off easily.
And Monkey popped out.
'Let that be a lesson to you,' Nobby told Monkey. 'Stay out of empty boxes.'
But Monkey was a Monkey.
And what else were empty boxes for?