Brief Excerpts from Robin Hood’s Dawn:
Chapter 3: The Earl of Huntingdon
22 August 1188, Sherwood Forest
Marian was laughing so hard that she was gasping for breath. She admonished, “You cannot put a hole in that cloud with an arrow.”
“Why do you have so little faith in my abilities?” queried Robin with mock offense. “You are not even giving me a chance. Very well. Pick a leaf, any leaf, and I will pierce the center in one try.”
Marian wiped a stray tear that had leaked from her eye during her unrestrained mirth. “How do you expect me to choose one leaf? The tree is thick with them. It does not matter which leaf I select; you will always claim that you pierced the correct one.”
She beheld him as he stood there, bow in hand, his pale blue eyes sparkling with mischief, his boyishly handsome face sporting an impish smile, and his wheat-colored hair slightly ruffled owing to their spirited ride from the Locksley stables to their favorite meadow. Marian liked to imagine that it was an enchanted corner of the forest – a refuge dominated by a massive oak, one of the largest trees in this part of the greenwood.
“Well?” he demanded. “What shall I aim for next? I need a challenge, and you will not allow me to poke holes in the clouds, for fear that it will cause them to rain–”
“That is not what I said!”
Robin persisted, “And you refuse to choose a leaf, although there appears to be an abundance of leaves from which you could make a selection. I have already slain a brace of coneys and a pheasant. Elvina and the cook will be quite pleased with me.”
Marian huffed in mock exasperation. “Elvina and the cook are always pleased with you.” A sly twinkle brightened her eyes. “What about the pheasant you missed?”
“Missed!” he thundered. “No, no, I did not miss that pheasant. I never miss. Someone deliberately distracted me.”
“It was accidental,” she insisted with a grin.
Robin argued, “Sneaking up behind me and shouting, ‘Do not miss,’ just as I released the arrow was not accidental.”
Their laughter faded as he took her hands into his. Marian gazed deeply into his eyes, attempting to learn every shift in the emotions that he guarded so well.
She believed that he revealed more of himself to her than anyone else, but he was still often a puzzle. At times, he was quiet and contemplative, obviously focusing his mind on some problem or issue, yet denying that he was thinking about anything important. On some occasions, she had seen him tense with anger, only to disguise his feelings by making a jest or laughing, even though he was clearly not amused. Marian knew that when he was truly battling his emotions, he would disappear into the embrace of Sherwood Forest, for Robin was a man who found comfort in the untamed beauty of nature.
Once, in a surprisingly candid conversation, Robin had described to her what the forest meant to him. He spoke of how the forest made him feel alive, and how each of his senses experienced the greenwood: the fragrances of pine and wild blossoms, the sounds of a rushing river at his feet and the rustling of leaves overhead, the taste of freshly gathered berries, the feel of a gentle rain against his face, and the vistas that could only be viewed from tree limbs high above the forest floor. Robin had told her that the forest was both vast, as it stretched to the horizon, and intimate, as the sheltering trees sometimes seemed to be crowding around him.
Marian had frequently pondered his words, and she longed to hear him speak openly about himself again. Unfortunately, whenever she asked him about his feelings or his thoughts, he deflected her questions with either a joke or a change of topic.
Chapter 6: The Earl of Sherwood Forest
25 August 1188, Sherwood Forest
Forcing himself to redirect his thoughts away from Marian’s perilous circumstances, Robin returned to his scrutiny of Gisborne’s weapon. He frowned at the sword and mumbled, “Interesting.”
“What is it, Lord Robin?” inquired Much.
Robin revealed, “This sword is quite distinctive.”
Will leaned closer for a better view. “It looks like any other sword, except for all those marks on the blade.”
Robin inspected the extravagant weapon as he described it. “This is an excellent sword, equal to the one I carry. It’s unlikely that a landless knight like Gisborne would own such a weapon, although sometimes a wealthy noble will award a superior sword to his favorite squire on the occasion of his knighthood, especially if the knight will be tasked with guarding the lord.”
Much felt confused. “Gisborne is Argentan’s captain; he was probably his squire too. Why does the quality of this sword surprise you?”
Robin countered, “Much, do you remember the Barony of Argentan from our travels through Normandy?” At the quick shake of Much’s head, he disclosed, “Well, I remember it. Argentan is not prosperous; it is small and insignificant. I wonder how Baron de Argentan could afford to give such an expensive weapon to his captain.”
Rising, the three men strolled to a nearby spot brightened by a shaft of light, and Robin held the blade where the sun’s rays could illuminate its elaborate designs. He continued to study it as Will and Much watched.
Much commented, “Those marks look like letters.”
An amazed Will stared at Much. “You can read?”
Much’s ruddy complexion darkened slightly in self-consciousness. “I can read a little. I was allowed to listen to Lord Robin’s lessons, and his tutor kindly taught me many things.”
Robin pointed to the elegant etching on the blade. “Notice these two lions – I saw something similar on Argentan’s ring. Above the lions is a rising sun, and below them is a peculiar inscription.”
Much squinted at the blade and grumbled in frustration. “I know my reading is not as well-practiced as yours, but I cannot decipher any of those words.”
Robin smiled affectionately at his friend. “Be at ease, Much. It is not English; it is written in Latin. I’ve seen this style of inscribed sword in the past, but typically they are engraved with prayers, such as ‘In the Name of the Father.’”
“Do you know what it says?” asked Will.
Robin replied, “I can translate it, even though the letters are crowded together. It says, ‘From Shadows to Glory: I am Immortal, and My Kingdom Awaits.’” He harrumphed grimly, flustered by the unexpected phrase. He lowered the sword from the patch of sunlight as he became lost in his thoughts.
Robin blew out an exasperated breath. “Argentan mentioned shadows, but he was speaking in riddles. I must think on this more. For now, I will keep this sword; I want Gisborne to know that I have it.”
Following Much and Will back to the campfire, Robin plotted Marian’s rescue.
Chapter 12: More Precious Than Silver
January 1189, South of Nottingham
Argentan goaded Robin. “Many times I have heard the story of how your father sent Hugh of Gisborne to the shadows. Yet, you are hesitating. Why is that, Robin? Are you the son of Duncan Fitzooth, or are you a maudlin woman?”
Guy felt the pressure of Robin’s knee vanish as the outlaw stood while still pointing his sword at Guy’s throat. Robin then reached down and reclaimed Gisborne’s weapon. “I will be keeping this sword, Gisborne. I’ve grown fond of it.” Closely watching Guy, Robin instructed his friend, “Much, tie Gisborne’s hands so that he cannot attempt another cowardly attack, if I turn my back again.”
An apparently disappointed sheriff sneered, “Showing Gisborne mercy demonstrates to me that you are weak. Gisborne is weak too. It is a fatal flaw that you both share, along with your lust for the same woman. I find it interesting that the two of you have so much in common. What do you think, Robin Hood?”
Intently studying the sheriff, Robin parried Argentan’s verbal thrust. “I think I’d like to know why you are communicating with King Philippe.” Robin inwardly cheered when he saw the sheriff blanch.
Argentan was actually speechless for several moments, but he soon recovered and coolly replied, “I believe that life in the frozen forest has addled your mind. The King of France would never take notice of a humble baron from Normandy.” He frowned and feigned sadness. “You are like a man lost in the twilight of a wintry day; the clouds have obscured the sun, and the abundance of shadows has confused your sense of direction.”
Robin barked a short, humorless laugh. “Your riddles are absurd.”
Argentan resumed, seemingly unperturbed. “Someday, my young Earl of Huntingdon, the sun will break through the clouds and illuminate everything around you. The truth of the shadows will be revealed.”
“You have not answered me: why are you corresponding with the King of France?” Robin repeated while scrutinizing the sheriff’s reaction. “Does King Henry know that he sent a spy to Nottingham?”
Chapter 17: The Lion Hunt
22 February 1192, City of Acre
As he led the royal procession, Robin worriedly looked back at the litter carrying Marian. Her flaxen hair was concealed beneath a Saracen-style headscarf, and her litter had a fabric canopy to hide her from view. Marian was oblivious to the perils she faced in this land, where great wealth could be obtained by selling such a fair-haired beauty to the highest bidder. Although she had scoffed at Robin’s orders that Much and Allan march beside her litter with their swords drawn, the two men had obeyed Robin’s stern directives without hesitation.
Next to Marian’s litter rode a sullen King Richard; he was still furious at Robin for his criticisms of their stalled Crusade. The fact that Robin was right had only fueled the king’s temper, which burned hotter than the accursed desert sun. André followed Richard, and there were eight mounted knights protectively situated around the king and Marian.
Robin sighed loudly as he resumed his forward scrutiny of the road. He didn’t have enough men to properly guard the king, but Richard, who was supremely confident in his fighting skills, had flatly refused to wait for reinforcements. Robin deeply resented the king’s willingness to expose Marian to danger. It was inexcusably selfish and thoughtless in Robin’s opinion, but he had no choice but to acquiesce to the king’s demands. Because of the threat to Richard, Robin had instructed his men to wear helmets and chainmail hauberks under their surcoats. Additionally, they carried Norman-style kite shields, which had both neck and arm straps.
Robin had traveled too far ahead of the group, so he stopped and examined his surroundings with care. They were on a road flanked by the Genoese and Venetian quarters, and the harbor was a short distance away. Like many areas in this war-torn city, the buildings were heavily damaged. Removing his helmet to wipe the sweat from his brow, Robin observed that the street was strangely deserted, and he felt a stirring in the pit of his stomach. He signaled for the procession to halt. In the resulting eerie stillness, Robin concentrated all his senses.
“What is the problem?” the king gruffly complained with unmistakable impatience.
Robin did not respond; something was wrong, and he could feel it. Suddenly, a small rock fell from the heavens and rolled across the street. At first, he gave it little consideration as he put his helmet back on, but then his mind was filled with the awareness that stones do not drop from the sky like rain.
His eyes darted upward, and fear seized him as he recognized the familiar shape of a bow. Urgently, he yelled over his shoulder, “Shields up, left!” The well-trained knights, including the king, promptly raised their shields as the archers released a volley of arrows.
Robin turned his horse and sped to the king. He had seen three archers, and they were clearly targeting King Richard. Rejoining the others, Robin saw ten men brandishing swords and riding towards the royal party from a forward position, while another eight were approaching from the rear. There was no avenue of escape, and the king’s elite guard arranged their horses in a defensive semi-circle around Richard and Marian, using the façade of an adjacent structure to prevent the enemy from completely surrounding them.