Once upon a time, the sheriff of Notingham was looking at a map. Since King Richard was away at the crusades he had been given command of a large swath of English countryside to administer. Unfortunatley, bandits and rumors of bandits were rife throughout the land and he didn’t have enough men-at-arms to send everywhere.
So he decided to send men to all of the various hamlets, villages and towns and ask the men of the militias, town watches and outposts about the bandits they knew about. It wouldn’t be perfect. Some of these militias were little more then bandits themselves, others didn’t pay attention to anything so long as the market and brothel was open. But many tried their hardest and the information would allow the sheriff to decide where the bandits were strongest and if there was anything to this ‘Robin Hood’ he had heard rumors about.
One day, while at court, a page came in and bowed deep.
‘Lord Sheriff, I bring news. It appears the guild of towncriers are also asking the local keepers of the peace about bandits throughout the land. What should we do?’
One of the Sheriff’s advisors stepped forth and whispered in the Sheriff’s ear.
‘Lord, what a gift you’ve been given! Let’s partner with the towncriers. We can speak to the keepers of the peace and they can speak to others, merchants, pilgrims and others to see what they can find out about the bandits. That will allow us to learn much more than we otherwise could. Then, well armed with this information we can develop a plan to break the backs of the bandits.’
Just then, one of the Sheriff’s men at arms strode forward
‘Lord, that is a terrible idea. Has thou forgotten what the towncriers have said about us in the past? They are not our friends and we shouldn’t have anything to do with them.’
‘But’ said the adviser ‘all the more reason to speak with them. What better way to make them our friends but to offer them some of our information? We were planning on doing that anyway but now we’ll seem particularly generous and they may feel they’re in our debt. Besides, this may be an opportunity to improve the relationship between us and since they provide much of the information the peasants, merchants and others get, the more we engage with them the better the chance we have of shaping our message.’
‘Phht’ said the man-at-arms. ‘We don’t need to listen to this Girly-man nonsense, Lord. It sounds like the rubbish King Richard is spreading on his campaign. We don’t need the towncriers. What can they, or the peasants or anyone else tell us about bandits? We’ve been chasing and fighting them for years. We know all we need to about them. All we need is a good horse and a sharp sword.’
The Sheriff thought for a moment. Then, stroking his chin said, ‘Yes, who needs these towncriers? Why are they sticking their noses in our business? Quickly! Send men out to all the villages in the land and tell the various watches and militias not to speak to the towncriers. Heh, that’ll show them!’
Meanwhile, Robin Hood and his Merry Men were roaming the countryside, waylaying merchents and travelers all over the countryside. Since he didn’t commit crimes in any of the villages, none of the men on the town watch thought he was their problem and so never mentioned him to the Sheriff’s men. But many of them hoped to get a share of the Sheriff’s tax money (Lord knows, he was taking a lot of it from the peasants). So, villages who hadn’t seen bandits in years were reporting dozens, hundreds, THOUSANDS of bandits in the area. More bandits than villagers and the cry went up. Send us money, men, equipment! When the Sheriff got his report back he crowed ‘Ha! I knew that stupid adviser didn’t know what he was talking about. We have all the information we need. Clearly I just need to send my men to these areas that have reported big problems. Good thing there’s no problems on our highways! I’ll have to take all the men from there to go to these threatened villages.’ He then poured himself a glass of wine out of one of his newly bejeweled goblets. ‘And now I can tell everyone about my brilliant program so they can see their taxes are well spent. Let me prepare a press release and describe how I’ve made all the land safe from bandits forever! The towncriers must be so desperate for information from me that they’ll print whatever I say.’
The towncriers, however, had heard about Robin Hood from merchents and travellers who had been robbed on the highways and they were angry. But since the Sheriff treated them so shabbily they didn’t tell the Sheriff what they knew. Instead they told everyone else about how silly the Sheriff was, how fat and lazy his men-at-arms had become sitting in quiet and sleepy villages and how his men couldn’t catch Robin and his band of Merry Men. Soon, the people even began to root for Robin and by the time the Sheriff recognized the threat it was too late.
The rest…as they say…is literature.