Authors: Debbie Viguie
Robin Hood: The Two Torcs
Robin Hood: Sovereign’s War
ROBIN HOOD: DEMON’S BANE
MARK OF THE BLACK ARROW
Print edition ISBN: 9781783294367
E-book edition ISBN: 9781783294374
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: August 2015
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This is a work of fiction. Names, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead (except for satirical purposes), is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Debbie Viguié and James R. Tuck. All Rights Reserved. Visit our website:
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
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To my husband, Scott, who will always be my hero.
To the Missus who is always on target.
creams. The howls of dogs lusting after blood and the shouts of men wanting the same. Her own ragged breathing. All these sounds drowned out the whispers of the forest as Finna ran as fast as she could.
“Don’t let her make it into the forest,” the master of hounds shouted. “The witch knows it well!”
Aye, she knew it well. There were creatures in Sherwood that would help her, shield her. The old magic wasn’t gone from the world, just retreated and hidden from all except those who could wield it.
She was only a stone’s throw from Sherwood’s borders. A few long strides to freedom. She should have been able to hear the spirits calling to her, but there was too much noise. The baying of the hounds, the tattoo of booted feet, the huff of men’s breath, the rushing-rapid
of her own blood racing through her veins. Fear pounded through her, and she wondered if the fey had abandoned her to this fate.
It couldn’t end this way.
Her work wasn’t finished.
The children were special. She had been sent to train and educate them, prepare them for their destiny. The fate of all rested upon it, and she’d had so little time with them.
One of the dogs, faster than the rest, snapped at her ankles. She should have poisoned the monster when she had the chance. Pain seared from her heel to the top of her spine as the creature bit down on her leg, sending her crashing to the ground. Rocks and twigs scratched her face. Dirt filled her eyes and mouth and she couldn’t scream as it choked her.
She kicked and clawed, trying to get away, but the beast had her in its grip, tearing at her limb, ripping into it. Her chin bounced off the ground, teeth cracking together as it shook her back and forth in its massive jaws. A gobbet of her own meat tore free in a gush of hot pain and the beast backed off a step. She could hear it choking down her flesh as though she were some animal it had brought to ground.
The monster was going to eat her alive.
Her hands closed around a dead branch and she lashed out, swinging it backward at the animal. It caught the stick in its jaws and jerked it from her grip, tearing her palms. She pushed up off the ground with bloody hands, then twisted her head, blinking rapidly to clear her eyes of the dirt and tears. She saw the monster clearly, jaws stained red, some of her skin stuck between two of its fangs, and eyes that glowed with an unholy light.
“Demon!” she spat.
Its mouth opened wider, jaws cracking apart, as though it were laughing at her.
Her mind raced. She knew no spell that would cast it hence. That it walked the earth at all was a sign.
The time of the prophecy had come.
She had failed to ready the child.
The master of hounds arrived, holding the rest of the brutes jerking and heaving at the end of a fistful of chains, a long bullwhip trailing from his other hand. Men followed him, and they circled around her. They were no better than the dumb animals that snapped at one another. They looked down at her, mouths open to reveal jagged teeth, eyes heavy-lidded in their sockets. The master handed off the pack to one of his followers and jerked his head. It took both the man’s hands to control the pack. They flailed at the end of their leashes as he dragged them away.
The master of hounds stepped toward her.
“Get her up.”
They pulled her to her feet and her stomach tried to crawl up her throat. Her left leg hung, swaying beneath her on stretched tethers of gristle, bitten almost completely off. Screams of anguish ripped out of her, something she could no more stop than the beating of her heart.
“She cannot walk,” one of the men grunted.
“Then let the witch fly,” the master sneered. “Fly, witch! Or do you need a little motivation?”
He flicked the whip against her back. It cut through her thin dress, and parted flesh from bone just as easily. She screamed again as she fell. Desperately she pulled at her center, trying to stave off the panic that threatened to obliterate her sanity, trying to find the magic inside her through the throbbing pain and the howling fear. The earth was beneath her hands, but she couldn’t feel it—not its energy, not the life it gave. All she could feel was death closing its dark hand around her while the men laughed and the air stank of her own spilled blood.
It was a new voice, one laced with authority, and with something else.
“The lord wants her alive.”
She looked up and saw an older man, a soldier by his dress. The others parted before him, out of fear more than respect. She struggled to a sitting position as he approached.
“The witch cannot walk,” the master of the dogs said.
“Then you shall carry her,” the newcomer replied, “and next time you’ll know better than to let your filthy beasts feed on human flesh.” With that, the soldier turned to go.
The master of hounds stared at his broad back. The murder-eyed creature that had taken her down stood with its chest out, a rumble grinding from inside it. Its master looked down, then back at the soldier. His hand twitched, fingers twisting into a sign. The beast lowered itself, coiling to strike.
“Watch out!” she cried.
The monster leaped, and the soldier turned in mid-stride, hand pulling a sword from its scabbard. With one quick motion he plunged his blade into the beast’s chest. It fell with an inhuman scream. Black blood poured from its wound and began to smoke and sizzle along the length of steel.
“What in the name of God?” The soldier turned, eyes gone dark with anger.
“This witch has summoned forth all manner of evil,” the master cried.
“The beast was his!” she protested. The master backhanded her across the face. Four of her teeth tumbled out of her mouth as she rocked back. They rolled across the dirt like wet dice in a game of chance.
“Shut up, lying filth!”
The master grabbed her hair and raised his hand to strike her again.
“Stop,” the soldier commanded, but the master struck her in the temple with a thick calloused hand. White sparks flew across the back of her eyelids. She braced for another blow, praying to Hecate that it would send her on into darkness, away from the pain.
The blow never came.
A gurgling noise and a jerk of the hand that held her made her crack a swelling eyelid. The master of hounds still held her, but his face was splayed open in shock as he looked down nearly a foot of steel that had burst through his chest.
The steel slid backwards, rolling blood down the man’s leather jerkin. The body dropped to its knees, slumped forward, and fell next to her. Blood from the gushing chest wound sprayed across her.
The soldier bent down until he looked her in the face. He had a scar over his left eye that was familiar to her. She had seen it once in a vision.
“I will take you back to my lord, but I will not raise a hand to protect you against him.”
She spit blood on the ground.
“Blessed are you, man of the sword, for it will be your honor and duty to protect he who will one day protect all. The darkness is coming. You have seen it with your own eyes, and you cannot deny that proof.”
“I have seen enough darkness to last a hundred lifetimes,” he told her grimly.
She wanted to tell him that what he had seen was nothing, in comparison, to what was coming. Yet the pain proved too much for her, and she collapsed in his arms.
* * *
Finna woke screaming. Her injured leg was on fire with pain. It convulsed, and a half-dozen rats that had been feeding on it scattered—but they did not go far.
She shivered as she reached down to touch her wound. The leg was swollen, feverish. Someone had wrapped it in a filthy rag that had bonded with her blood, crusting to the wound like a scab. A leather thong cut into her flesh below her knee, cutting off the flow of blood—it was probably the only reason she was even alive. Weak from blood loss, she could feel that a poison had already started to taint what life she had left. Even if the lord decided not to burn her as a witch, she was still as good as dead.
She cast around in the darkness of her cell, looking for anything she might use to defend herself, if only against the rodents whose eyes glistened at her in the darkness. She would rather die by her own hand than allow them to eat her alive. She found nothing save the moldy straw beneath her, and the damp stone beneath that.
Footsteps sounded in the gloom. A wizened man bearing keys arrived in the company of a large man whose head nearly scraped the low ceiling. The old one opened her cell. The large one stepped in and effortlessly picked her up, slinging her over his shoulder. He knocked her head against the ceiling in the process. She struggled to hold onto consciousness even as she was bounced around like a child’s doll. Hanging upside down, her head swam as she banged against his body with each step. She retched over and over, but her stomach was empty and nothing came out.