Authors: Shanti Krishnamurty
Maid of Sherwood
Maid of Sherwood - Copyright 2013 by Shanti Krishnamurty
Copyright 2013 by Shanti Krishnamurty
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely incidental.
Cover design by Damon of damonza.com
Formatting by RikHall.com
First, I’d like to acknowledge my fabulous cover artist, Damon of damonza.com, for all his hard work. His cover reflects my vision exactly.
To Jenni, who continues to be an inspiration with every word challenge; Denise, who pokes and prods at me until I write…and then pokes at me some more. And for my sister, Rama, who tells me over and over and over that I have the talent and not to listen to my inner demons.
Without them, and numerous others, I wouldn’t have gone forward with my dreams. There are no words for what they have brought to my life.
For God, who led me every step of the way; my amazing husband, without whom this dream would mean less than nothing, and to G.B. Krishnamurty, the best Daddy a girl could ever wish for.
“Did you know Nottingham Castle has ghosts you can see?” When Marian shook her head, Will continued. “They look like little boys and play tricks on everyone they do not like.”
“How can you be sure they actually exist?” To Marian’s knowledge, Will Scarlett had never been beyond Sherwood Forest, let alone to the castle. She pushed her way through the overgrown English oaks and into a small clearing. The tall green grass had been trampled flat, as though by horses’ hooves. Her hand involuntarily dropped to the scabbard at her waist. Rumor had it the sheriff’s men refused to enter the woods surrounding Nottingham Castle; the woods were thick and lush even during the harshest winters but she was not willing to take a chance. Men travelling through Sherwood had vanished without a trace and Marian was not sure only outlaws were at fault.
Will followed her, one hand resting on the pommel of his sword. “Of course the ghosts exist. James travelled to the castle nearly two weeks ago and heard them screaming on the battlements.”
“It is nonsense,” Marian declared. She took her hand off the worn leather scabbard and pushed a stray curl of hair behind her ear. “Next you will be telling me you believe in the fairies, too.” She turned to face him.
“Something is odd about this forest, Marian. You cannot deny it, and fairies make sense. What else could keep the forest so green all year around?”
She crinkled her nose at him. “I will believe in fairies when I see the ghosts for myself.”
The tall seventeen year old laughed. “The day your mother allows you near Nottingham Castle…”
“Is the day you will join Hood’s band of Merry Men!” Marian finished. It was an old joke between them. Beatrix du Luc, with bloodlines dating all the way back to Queen Guinevere and King Arthur; loyal subject of King Richard, would never dream of allowing her daughter anywhere near a castle where Prince John held court. “Want to go in further?”
Will tugged at the wispy beard sprouting from his chin. “Aunt Constance has chores for me to finish.”
“Well, I am going,” Marian declared. “If I go home now, Mother will make me try on the May gown again, even though the seamstress is coming tomorrow.”
“Does she still want to find you a husband?”
“It is all she ever talks about.” Marian raised her voice in a fair imitation of Mother’s. “’Marian, dear, if you wear nothing but breeches, you shall never find a husband worthy of your bloodlines.’” Her voice dropped. “What she cannot understand is that I do not want the husband she chooses.” She thought of her bedecked and bejeweled mother and grimaced. “All
cares about is what ribbons best match her eyes. I can only imagine the man she would choose for me.”
“At least she loves you,” Will said forlornly. “It could be worse. You could not have a mother.”
Marian placed on hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I am sorry, Will. I wish there was something I could do.”
“Until there is proof the sheriff killed her, no-one can do anything. I hope someone, somewhere, gives that fatherless son of a goat everything he deserves.”
A gruff voice spoke from the tree line. “Want to ‘elp with that?”
Marian and Will whirled, swords pulling free from their respective sheaths as they scanned the empty clearing.
An enormous man pushed his way past branches hanging heavy with green-brown moss. His arms were corded with muscle and he held a large quarterstaff in one giant hand.
“Who are you?” Will demanded, pushing Marian behind him.
Marian yelped, shoved his arm down, and stepped forward to stand at his side.
Planting the quarterstaff in the dirt, the stranger leaned on it. The wood creaked under his weight. “Name is Little John.”
Will shrugged. “Means nothing to me,” he said.
“How do we know you are not one of the sheriff’s men?” Marian questioned.
Little John’s laughter rumbled low in his chest. “I would not be wearin’ this if I worked with the sheriff.” He motioned to his clothing; carefully cobbled scraps of mottled green and brown leather.
“It could still be a trick,” Marian said suspiciously.
The other man shrugged. “Either y’ believe me, or y’ do not.”
Will sheathed his sword. “I believe him.”
“Well, then, that brings me back to the first question. Do you want to ‘elp us destroy the sheriff?” Little John leaned harder on his quarterstaff and the wood groaned louder.
Sheathing her sword, Marian nodded. “When do we start?”
"Not you. Only him." Little John gestured towards Will with his chin. "Though yer good with a sword. Come back ‘ere after the Fest’val. As near t’ sundown as you can get.”
“I will be here,” Will shook the hand Little John held out.
“Alone,” the big man tossed the instruction back over his shoulder before vanishing back into the overgrowth.
“What was that about?” Marian asked. “And why am I forbidden? Everyone in town would benefit from the destruction of the sheriff, not just you.”
Will stepped away from her before he answered, the glint in his eyes telling Marian she would not like what he said. “Maybe it is because you’re a girl.”
“I am a better swordsman than you, Will Scarlett!” Marian retorted.
“Do you not mean swords
?” Her friend said, staying out of her reach.
“Go away, Will. Go do your chores.” Marian waved him off.
Will sobered. “Be careful, Marian. Sherwood is not safe.”
“Now you sound like my mother,” she grumbled. “I have my sword,” she patted the butter soft leather scabbard. “I can take care of myself.”
“I know you can,” her friend said. “But your mother would never forgive either of us if something happened to you.”
“Mother’s forgiveness is not high on my list of priorities. I think we started arguing the day I opened my eyes and saw her face.”
“Even so…” Concerned brown eyes caught her cornflower blue gaze. “I would not want to see her truly angry.”
“I will be careful, if that will get you to leave. I just—want to be alone before I have to go back.” Marian watched as he slipped through the trees, leaves barely rustling in his wake. In his absence, the not quite silence she loved re-exerted itself. The shrill ‘cheep-cheep’ of hungry newborn birds could be heard over quiet rustling in the forest deadfall. Unbuckling the strap which held her scabbard around her waist, she carefully laid it on the grass before seating herself next to it. Truthfully, she had no desire to go deeper into the forest. Closing her eyes, she sighed. Little John was obviously an outlaw, but he was just as obviously not a threat to her, nor to anyone else not associated with the sheriff. She let her mind drift. What if Little John could overthrow the sheriff and, ultimately, Prince John’s iron rule? What would that mean for England?
Marian’s eyes shot open and she stared at the arrow buried in the dirt next to her sword. Even as she leapt to her feet, her fingers fumbling the sword from its sheath, a tall man swung down from the limb of a misshapen oak to land in front of her.
“Who are you?” His voice sent shivers down her spine. “What are you doing in my forest?”
Her eyebrows crawled into her hairline. “
forest? I believe Sherwood belongs to the king, as does all of England.”
Eyes the color of a foggy morning captured and held her in their depths. His face, with its sharply defined cheekbones and full, almost pouting, lips, was dappled by the fading sunlight. “I hold these forests for King Richard.” The stranger’s fingers hovered at his shoulder, where she could see the tip of the longbow strapped across his back. “What is your excuse for being here?”
Marian’s jaw clenched. No matter how handsome he was, he had no call to speak to her so demandingly. “And does King Richard approve of you accosting every girl you come across?”
He winked at her. “Only pretty ones holding swords.”
“I—I come here to escape my fate.” She flushed. What a stupid thing to say!
“How curious,” the man said. “I live here for the same reason.” Reaching behind him, he lifted the longbow off his back and set it on the grass next to her empty sheath. “Now, if you do not plan on killing me, would you do me the courtesy of sheathing your blade?”
“I have no idea who you are,” Marian said. “Why should I trust you?”
“I did not kill you when I could have.” He smiled. Marian’s heart leapt.
“Tell me your name,” she demanded. When he cocked an eyebrow at her, she continued. “Call it an act of good faith.”
“Very well. I am Robin.” He spread his empty arms, palm up. “As you can clearly see, I am no threat to you.”
Marian was not sure he was right. The man’s physical presence was enough to make her breath catch in her throat, though she tried hard to conceal it. She cautiously stepped closer to him, bent down and picked up her sheath. As she slid the sword home, she glanced at him through lowered lashes. Hair the color of an autumn sunset was tied back away from his face, but a few reddish gold pieces had escaped their noose and hung, brushing against his broad shoulders. It would be nothing, Marian thought, to loosen the leather strap and allow her fingers to run wild through the strands of his hair, combing it back as she leaned forward and…
“Are you going to stare at me all night?” Robin’s voice cut through her daydream and she jerked upright, the sheathed sword dangling loosely from her grip.
“What? No. I mean…I was not…” She blushed.
He grinned at her consternation. “You were, but since
am a gentleman, I will not mention it again.” Robin lowered his arms. “Shall we sit?” He followed his own advice.
Sitting with, and speaking to, a strange man was something Mother would never condone. Marian sat down immediately.
“Now, then, since I have been kind enough to share my name with you, would you do me the kindness of returning the favor?”
“You are very well spoken for a—a…”
“The word you are searching for is ‘outlaw,’” Robin said.
Marian’s eyes widened. “You are an outlaw? Have you heard of Hood? Are you part of his band?”
“Is he not the outlaw king, or some such rubbish?” Robin leaned back on his hands and stretched his legs out. He wore the same cobbled materials Little John had sported.
Marian could not help it. She leapt to Hood’s defense. “He steals monies from the wealthy, and gives it to the poor so they can eat. I hardly think that is rubbish!”
Robin nodded. “I see. You’re one of those poor town girls who thinks he does no wrong and secretly wants to be betrothed to him.”
“I most certainly do
!” Marian protested, but the red creeping up her face turned her protest into truth.
“You do!” He laughed and she barely resisted the urge to slap him.
“Whether I do or not is none of your concern, since you are not him, nor one of his Merry Men.”
“What if I was?”
“What if you were what? One of Hood’s men?”
Robin shook his head. “What if I was Hood himself? Would you feel the same way?”
Marian’s breath caught at the idea. “I hardly know you,” she protested.
“You do not know
at all. Only stories of him.” Robin leaned close to her. “What makes him so different?”
“He actually stands up for us; stands up for everyone the prince and sheriff overtax, injure and murder. Hood stands for King Richard’s beliefs while the king is away. He keeps us safe.”
“You make him sound as near to sainthood as mortal man can come.”
“From the rich and gives to the poor,” Robin finished. “Yes, you said that.”
Marian leaned forward, her face inches from Robin’s. “Why are you so determined to dismiss his accomplishments?”
Robin shrugged. “I am not. But he is only a man, trying to do what is right.”
“But that is precisely my point,” Marian said. “Most are so frightened of the sheriff and Prince John they refuse to fight against their tyranny.”
“What would you have them do? Gather their hoes and cabbages and launch a campaign worthy of the Crusades?”