The Supersonic Nightingale

with Diagrams

by Roderick T. Long

[March 18, 1974 (age 10) in San Diego. What my principal sources were I’m not sure, since I’d both read and seen multiple versions of the Robin Hood legend by that time (Howard Pyle, Roger Lancelyn Green, Walter Scott, the Errol Flynn version, several Disney versions, etc.); but Walker McSpadden’s book was evidently one of my main sources, as several lines of dialogue seem to have been borrowed from it verbatim – though I’ve also introduced some slight innovations, as when Friar Tuck’s fifty dogs become millions of flying werewolves. I suspect my motive in writing this story was to reconcile conflicting versions of the legend (conflicting versions of legends used to bother me a lot more than they do now); but clearly this conciliatory motive was in tension with the temptation to add my own variations to the narrative.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing: I knew Britain used the metric system, but I made a small mistake in judging how early they’d adopted it. Complete absence of knowledge of archery (and of Newton’s laws of motion) is also a dangerous thing. And how an arrow can be slow enough for its targets to duck when they hear it coming, and at the same time be “supersonic” and so impossible to hear coming, is clearly one of the Higher Mysteries.]

[p. 1:]

In the days when nobody said anything original but just quoth this and that, there lived a boy named Robert Fitzooth. Robert was the son of Hugh Fitzooth, forester of the Sherwood and Barnesdale forests.

Robert loved a girl named Matilda Fitzwalter, daughter of Lord Fitzwalter, who had stolen Rob[p. 2:]ert’s nobility (he was the rightful Earl of Huntingdon) when Rob was but a babe. When Fitzwalter found out that Rob loved his daughter, he sent Matilda to Queen Eleanore in Aquitaine.

King Richard of England went on a crusade to the Holy Land, and took the Sheriff of Nottingham and the King’s Advisor with him. His brother, Prince John, was left to rule the land, and choose [p. 3:] a new advisor. Prince John chose De Lacy for Sheriff and Sir Chris for advisor, the two wickedest men in the country, barring Prince John. As soon as Richard left, John tripled the taxes.

Fitzwalter, De Lacy, Sir Chris and a man named the Bishop of Hereford had long been the enemies of the Fitzooths, so they told Prince John that Hugh was a traitor to the crown, so Prince John ordered Red Gill, one [p. 4:] of the sheriff’s men, to hang Hugh Fitzooth.

Mrs. Fitzooth and Rob took shelter with their uncle, Squire George of Gamewell. But in a few days Mrs. Fitzooth mysteriously disappeared, and only Rob was left.

In Nottinghamshire there was to be an archery contest, and the winner would:

1. Receive an arrow of gold with silver head and jeweled tail.

2. Get a chance to serve [p. 5:] in De Lacy’s service.

3. Choose the Queen of Love and Beauty (De Lacy would prefer it if you chose his daughter).

So Rob went off to Nottinghamshire.

On the way to Nottinghamshire, Robert met up with Red Gill, who shouted at Rob, who was balancing his arrow on one finger, “Ha! Ha! I see your tuppenny arrows are as light as your head! Where be ye going, boy, to Nottinghamshire to [p. 6:] win the golden arrow? Ho! Do tell me, how many kilometers away can your arrow travel?”

“Do not make fun. My shooting is as good as yours.”

“Ho! Let me give you a mark. If you hit it, twenty silver pence for you. But if you lose, a sound drubbing for your pertness.”

“I will take your offer.”

Red Gill pointed to the top of a faraway hill, on which a deer that had been grazing [p. 7:] was asleep. The distance was so great that no arrow could reach it.

“Get that deer, or a drubbing.” said Red Gill.

Rob took out his arrow and aimed at the deer. Then he “let ’er go,” and the arrow curved up into the air.

[Diagram A]

But, unexpectedly, a gust of wind swerved the arrow up in an arc that would end on the side of the hill [p. 8:] that the deer slept on. It was apparent that the arrow was about to go right over the deer’s head.

[Diagram B]

Rob loosed another arrow, aimed, not at the deer, but at the first arrow (like anti-missile missiles), and this arrow got its target. The arrow hit the first arrow when the first arrow was right above the deer (perfect timing). The shock, plus the [p. 9:] combined weight, sent the arrow straight downward into the deer, who was killed.

[Diagram C] [p. 10:]

Red Gill was astounded at the boy’s archery. He was also angry. The deer Rob had shot was a King’s Deer, and one could be beheaded for killing a King’s Deer.

“Wait till I get my hands on you!” cried Red Gill. “I’ll mop you into chincemeat for Prince Pohn’s jie!”

Rob leaped into a tree and shot at Red Gill. “Have a tupenny arrow!” cried he.

Red Gill staggered and fell. “Prince John’s car[p. 11:]riage passes by .. (Pant, Pant) .. here! I’ll have him .. (Pant, Pant) .. outlaw you. Just you .. (Pant, Pant) .. wait!”

Rob went to the home of an old lady he knew, and told his story, while she baked him some cakes.

“So ye’ve been outlawed, have ye? I know how ’tis. My three sons and half-a-hundred of their friends were outlawed for killing and eating the King’s Deer so they would not starve. It’s all Prince John’s fault. He and the sher[p. 12:]iff are ruining it for everybody. I wish Richard would come back!”

The lady told Rob that the outlawed “poachers,” as Prince John called them, were to form a band. Robin found their haunt and joined their band.

Stoutwill, one of their number, said that the band needed a leader. They voted and voted and narrowed it down to two: Rob Fitzooth and a fellow named Will Stutely.

The outlaw band decided that these two [p. 13:] would disguise themselves and go to the archery contest. If one of them won, he would be the leader of the band.

Rob disguised himself as a poor, gangly, farm-boy, while Will posed as a duke who had lost his throne.

The archers shot and shot but none could get at the target. Then came Will’s turn. His arrow hit the bull’seye perfectly.

“There’s no use trying, Rob. You can’t make a better one than that.” [p. 14:]

Rob grimly placed an arrow in his bow. He shot at the target, and his arrow split Will’s arrow in two. Rob was proclaimed Winner because his arrow was there, and Will’s wasn’t.

[Diagram D]

Rob went up to Prince John’s box. “Who [p. 15:] are you?” inquired Prince John.

“My name would be Rob.”

“Rob Fitzooth?”

“No, Rob-Stroller. Why?”

“An outlaw named Rob Fitzooth has just been reported. He is an expert yeoman.”

“De Lacy, give the boy his golden arrow.”

“Here, Rob-Stroller. Here is your arrow. Would you like to be a Sheriff’s forester?”

“No, sir. I will never work under anybody.”

Now it was time [p. 16:] to choose the Queen of Love and Beauty. A page nudged Rob toward DeLacy’s daughter, but Matilda Fitzwalter was there, so Rob gave it to Matilda, who said, “Thank you, Rob-in-the-hood!”

Sir Chris suspected that Rob was Rob Fitzooth, as there couldn’t be 2 such fine yeomen. Also, he knew that Rob loved Matilda[.] And Rob-Stroller looked like Rob Fitzooth on the “Wanted Poster.” So Chris snuck up and whispered something in Prince [p. 17:] John’s ear.

As “Rob-Stroller” was about to leave, Prince John shouted “Get that man! He who claims to be Rob-Stroller is Rob Fitzooth, the outlaw! Get him!” Luckily, Rob-in-the-hood and Will Stutely managed to jump over the wall and get away without being caught.

So Rob-in-the-hood, later shortened to Robin-Hood, became leader of the band.

Many more men joined Robin-Hood’s merrye band, [p. 18:] and they often changed their names when they joined. Soon, several hundred men had joined Robin-Hood’s band. Here are some of the most famous, and both their names, if need be.

Rob Fitzooth Robin-Hood
John Little NailorLittle John
Will GamewellWill Scarlet
Midge MillersonMuch
Will ScadlockWill Scathelock
Matilda FitzwalterMaide Marian
George-a’-Green [p. 19:] 
Tuck, The Friar 
Will Stutely 

Let us examine the stories of Little John, Much Millerson, Maide Marian, Allan-a’-dale, and Tuck, the Friar.

Little John

One day, when Robin was walking in the woods, he heard the trill of a mightingale coming right toward him. He dodged it, and the “nightingale” embedded itself harmlessly in the side of an old [p. 20:] oak.

The “nightingale” was an arrow with several holes pierced in its head. The air rushing through the holes, which were placed in certain places, made the sound of a nightingale. Robin-Hood himself had invented it. The arrows were used to send messages. If one of Robin Hood’s band heard it coming, they knew it might be an arrow and would dodge it. But an enemy would think it was just a bird (the “bird’s song” drowned out [p. 21:] the dreaded scream of the arrow), and be killed.

Pinned to the arrow was this:

[Diagram E: Robin – stranger in woods. Be on Lookout. Giant. Headed toward C’s bridge.]

“Well, I’ll see who this stranger is.” said Robin. So off he went to “C’s bridge.”

When Robin-Hood got to C’s bridge, he saw the stranger about [p.22:] to cross. He was a giant.

“Mak way, churl!” cried Robin-Hood. “Make way!”

“Why?” asked the giant.

“To let the better man cross!”

“Then make way yourself!”

Robin whipped out his arrow and pointed it at the Giant.

“Make way! Make way or you die!”

“If you offer to loose that arrow, I’ll tan your hide for you.”

“You prate an [old English for “As if” or “As if it”] you were [p. 23:] an ass! You would be dead if I loosed the arrow even before you took a single step toward me.”

“You talk like a coward. You have a strong bow and a fine quiver of arrows and I have only my cudgel here.”

“Then I will lay down my bow and arrows and fight you with cudgel alone.”

So Robin-Hood put his weapons on the side of the bank, cut himself a cudgel, and started fighting “Goliath.” “One ... two ...” said [p. 24:] Robin.

“Three!” cried the giant and flew out with his cudgel.

*     *     *

Robin and the Giant had been fighting for several hours, but finally Giant knocked in a sideward blow, and Robin-Hood fell into the water.

“Alas, my horn is wetted,” cried Robin, and he blew it three times to clear it. Then he said “What might your name be, giant?”

“My name is John [p. 25:] Little Nailor.”

“Let us shake hands, John Little. But what is your business in these parts?”

“Suddenly, a band of men came out of the forest, where they had been summoned by Robin’s horn (see p. 24, the 37th, 38th, 39th, 40th, 41st, 42d, 43d, 44th, 45th, 46th, 47th, 48th, 49th, 50th, and 51st word on that page).

“What is the matter, Robin-Hood?” they asked. “Is this man troubling you?” [p. 26:]

“Are you indeed Robin? I had hoped to join your band, but I fear that after my unmannerly use of this cudgel, I am rejected.”

However, they let John Little join the band, and they changed his name to Little John because he was so big.

Much Millerson

Midge Millerson was walking alone on the road one night. He was very nervous. He heard a rustle in the leaves and saw two shining eyes staring at him. They belonged to [p. 27:] Little John.

Little John grabbed an arrow out of his quiver and sent it toward camp. It was the same arrow that had warned Robin of Little John, the one that said:

[Diagram F: Robin – stranger in woods. Be on Lookout. GIANT. Peasant-Miller? Headed toward C’s bridge on Road to Nottinghamshire.]

“That nightingale” thought Midge Millerson, “Doesn’t sound like a nightingale. It sounds like a Troll pretending to be a nightingale.”

Midge thought about Trolls. Of strange, dark, [p. 28:] hooded monsters, dressed in green. Slipping through trees and then jumping out at you and tearing you apart. Trolls. Midge Shuddered.

Suddenly, Robin-Hood and his men jumped out of the woods. Midge thought they were trolls (it was so dark) and he screamed.

[Diagram G: Wouldn’ you think they were trolls, too?] [p. 29:]

“Aaghahahalliyah!” cried Midge Millerson. “Go away, trolls. I will give you money if you will go!”

Robin-Hood took advantage of the fact that Midge thought Robin and his band were trolls.

“Give us money, and we will go back to Trollia.”

Midge, on hearing the voice (very human) decide they were not trolls, and he could out-wit them. He reached into his bag and said “Here, take it! Take your ‘money’”! And he threw several handfuls [p. 30:] of flour into their faces, so they couldn’t see.

Then Midge took his stick and whammblammed and blammwhammed every member of that band.

However, he became a member of the band in the same way John had, and his name was changed to much Millerson.

Maide Marian

Zap! Zap! Zap! Whose arrow was that that was killing deer right and left. A new outlaw was in the forest. A tiny lad, a page of Queen Eleanor [p. 31:] in Aquitaine. Robin went out to find him. He found him.

“Hello, little outlaw! What right have you to shoot the King’s Deer?”

“As much right as you, Robin-Hood!”

“Ho! Who are you, my lad?”

“I’m no lad of yours, and my name is my own!”

“I’ll get your name out of you, boy!” cried Robin-Hood.

One sweep of Robin’s sword knocked the intruder’s hat off, revealing long, [p. 32:] unmistakably feminine hair.

It was Matilda Fitzwalter, come to join his band. Her name was later changed to Maide Marian.


One day, Robin-Hood heard a minstrel, or troubadour, singing this song:

“Hey, down and a down and a down,
I’ve a lassie back i’ the town,
Come day, come night,
Come dark or light,
She will wed me, back i’ the town.”

The next day he met the same minstrel, crying “alack, welladay, alack, welladay!” Robin asked him why one day he [p. 33:] was blithe, next sad? Allan-a’-dale (so was the minstrel’s name) explained that his “lassie” had been forced to marry a wicked lord, although she loved Allan-a’-dale. Robin promised to help.

The marriage would take place 5 miles away, at Plympton Church, at 3:00 P.M., and Robin-Hood told his band to have 24 men there, and when they heard the song of a nightingale, to do this and that and the other thing.

*     *     *

At 3:00 P.M. Plympton [p. 34:] Church, the fat Bishop of Hereford, Robin’s old enemy, was to marry the “lassie back i’ the town,[”] whose name was Ellena, with the lord.

A minstrel named Allan-Stroller (a combination of Allan-a’-dale and Rob-Stroller) was to provide the music.

As Allan-Stroller was playing, he slipped an arrow out from underneath his belt, and applied it to the lute, as if it were a bow.

[Diagram H] [p. 35:]

[Diagram I]

Then Allan-Stroller (who was Robin-Hood in Disguise) let the arrow go.

“How lovely!” said the Bishop of Hereford. “A nightingale is flying over my head!”

He looked up and saw the arrow. “These are the tricks of Robin-Hood!” he bellowed.

[Diagram J] [p. 36:]

Twenty-four archers jumped into the church. They grabbed the Bishop of Hereford and tied him up. They grabbed the Lord and tied him up. Then, Friar Tuck married Ellena and Allan-a’-dale. John was the best man. And when Friar Tuck said, “Who gives this woman?”, Allan-Stroller jumped up and said “I, Robin-Hood, do! And woe-betide them that try to separate Allan-a’-Dale and Ellena!”

Perhaps Allan’s wedding rekindled Robin’s spark of love, for he soon married [p. 37:] Maide Marian and now she could no longer be a maid – Mrs. Robin Hood is here!


In the “Allan-a’-dale” segment of this story, we mentioned that Friar Tuck married Allan-a’-dale and Ellena-dale. Here is how Tuck joined the band:

*     *     *

[Marginal note: I made up rhyme, but not idea.]

“Hasty Pudding is the best food in the worl’!”

“Hasty Pudding is only fit for a churl!”

“For Hasty Pudding [p. 38:] I argue in persistence!”

“Meat Pie is the best food in existence!”

“Meat Pie is really most horrible!&#!48;

“And Pudding is really most deplorable!”

“Pudding tastes better with a bit of sugar on it!”

“Pie is best with several onions on it!”

A very silly song, indeed, and Robin had to find out who was singing it. He saw a friar, eating meat pie with young onions, and pudding for a dessert.

“Hey, old friar! Car[p. 39:]ry me across the stream!” The friar looked down at his stomach, and saw he had no choice.

[Diagram K]

*     *     *

When they go to the other side, Friar Tuck (for so it was) made Robin carry him across. This went on and on until finally they fought in the [p. 40:] middle of the stream, and Robin shot at Tuck several times with his arrows, but they glanced harmlessly off Tuck, refusing to harm a holy man.

Robin tooted on his horn, a distress signal, and his band appeared. Tuck was apparently outnumbered. But he whistled, and millions of fire-red wolves came out of the sky. These far outnumbered Robin’s band.

[Diagram L] [p. 41:]

Finally Tuck called his demon werewolves off, made friends with Robin-Hood, and joined his band. Do you notice how often Robin Hood fought his members-to-be?

One day a poor wandering minstrel arrived at Robin-Hood’s house. The band took good care of him, and then he threw off his cloak and it was King Richard! He had finally returned from the Holy Land!

Robin-Hood was invited to come live [p. 42:] in Richard’s palace, and he did for a while, but then Richard left again, and Robin was re-outlawed.

For some reason, Robin got weaker and weaker, and Marian did, too. One day, Marian disappeared in a flash, and only Rob was left.

Robin Hood’s Death

1. Robin-Hood’s idol, King Richard, died, and P.J. became K.J. King John had Robin-Hood hung.

2. Robin Hood got so sick that he lay down in Bed, and a nurse was [p. 43:] called. The nurse was De Lacy’s daughter, who still held a grudge against him because he chose Matilda instead of her (see p. 16, words 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34). They chased her way when they found out, but it was too late – she had killed Robin-Hood.

Robin said “I will shoot my last arrow. Bury me where it lands.” He pointed his bow and arrow out of the window, and let go.

The “supersonic nightingale” (after which this story [p. 44:] is named, flew out of the window, singing, into a little hillock. This time the arrow went on singing.

“Allan, thy harp is sweeter than ever. And Marian, my Marian, at last!” Then Robin died.

They buried him on the hillock, and they buried his arrow with him, and the arrow went on singing, it is still singing, and it may never stop.

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