QSFer Edale Lane has a new FF “Robin Hood” retelling out: Heart of Sherwood.
When Robyn’s father and brother are killed in the Third Crusade, she is banished from her manor home and branded a traitor by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Disguised as a boy, she joins Little John and the rest of the gang in Sherwood Forest—and soon finds herself their leader.
Queen Eleanor suspects Prince John is up to no good, and colluding with Sir Guy and the Sheriff of Nottingham. To learn more, she engages Maid Marian as a spy—and unwittingly reunites Marian with her old childhood friend, Robyn. Together, the women help the queen acquire the funds needed to free King Richard and help Nottinghamshire—and perhaps fall in love along the way.
Robyn arrived at the FitzWalter manor in the cool, quiet of the predawn morning. A lark had just begun its song and the air was damp with fog as she moved with precision to a particular niche in the rough stone wall. Pushing a white rock aside, as she had done innumerable times before, she dropped to her knees and squeezed through the hole. After looking left and right, Robyn began her sprint across the yard toward a familiar tree adjacent to the house. A dog barked in the distance, but rather than the sound of alarm, it was like a greeting from an old friend; no one stirred. She passed a chicken coop with hens nestled wing to wing on their roost. They, too, sounded their greeting with subdued clucks coming from deep in their chests. Grabbing hold of the lower branches, Robyn climbed the Rowan ash like she did as a child. Then holding on for balance, she traversed onto the branch that led to Marian’s window.
She was suddenly struck with a disconcerting prospect; Is this still Marian’s bedchamber? Has she changed quarters? But why would she? While possible, it is too late to think about that now, she told herself and stepped over onto the windowsill. The shutters had been left open to invite in the summer air.
Robyn recalled the last time she had snuck through Marian’s window. It had been their last escapade before heading off to be introduced at court. How long ago was it? she wondered. With a balance of stealth and caution, Robyn now placed a silent booted foot inside the window on the laths of the bedroom floor. After taking another step into the dark room, she was startled by the sharp edge of a thin steel blade pressed to her throat. Her first thought was, Oh, no! She’s changed rooms. But then a familiar melodious tone touched her ears, even though it emanated from a seriously chilled voice.
“Do not move, thief. I will not hesitate to spill your blood.”
Robyn relaxed at Marian’s voice and the tension evaporated out into the night. “Glad to see you’re still keeping that dagger under your pillow,” sounded her amiable reply.
“Robyn!” Marian exclaimed in a hushed tone and hastily tossed the knife onto the bed. She stepped out from the shadow at the edge of the window and embraced her friend with unveiled enthusiasm. Robyn wrapped her arms around Marian, laying her cheek to rest against hers. “I was so worried!” Marian gushed. “No one knew what happened to you. They said you had gone to a nunnery, or some nonsense.”
Robyn lingered a moment in silence, enjoying the warmth of their touch. It had been far too long! She breathed in the scent of Marian’s hair and was keenly aware that only a thin linen nightshift swathed the fullness of her breasts, the curve of her hips, and the smoothness of her skin. “And I heard you were courting Sir Guy,” she replied in a whisper, her mouth to Marian’s ear.
“Rubbish!” Marian loosened her hold on Robyn and stepped back to look up into her face. Reluctantly, Robyn allowed her to pull to arm’s length, but kept one hand on her shoulder and another at her waist. “Why are you in these rogue’s clothing?”
Robyn sighed, trailing her fingers away from the warmth emanating beneath that linen gown. She lowered her hood, unfastened the cape, and placed bow, quiver, and all on the floor. “There is so much to tell,” she began, “and I fear I have two favors to ask of you.”
Marian led her farther into the room, the pale light of dawn catching her golden strands and dancing over them like sunlight on a lake at midday. Robyn drank in her honest beauty, her soul filled with contentment; but she also felt a stirring, deep within her core, recalling vivid dreams involving herself and Marian in this same bedchamber. She tried to push the images to a distance and focus on the matter at hand.
“I was so sorry to hear about Thomas and your father,” Marian empathized. Her eyes relayed the depth of her feeling. “You must be devastated.”
“Your father is well, I trust?”
“Yes, for now,” Marian said. “We receive letters from his camp in Germany where he awaits the King’s release.”
Robyn nodded and smiled. “I am glad to hear it.”
Marian continued to give Robyn puzzled looks and finally blurted out, “What have you done with your breasts?”
Robyn bubbled over with subdued laughter. She was pleased that Marian had noticed. “My favorite bed sheet,” she explained. “I tore it into a long strip which I then bound snugly around them under my clothing. At first I found it tight and uncomfortable, but it allows me to run and fight much more effectively. That combined with this doublet is sufficient for hiding my more feminine assets.”
“I don’t understand,” Marian said. “Why are you pretending to be a boy?”
A somberness replaced her light visage. “Then you haven’t heard the whole story. You are fortunate, Marian; your father lives and you’ve younger brothers who can inherit for you. I had no one, and when the Sheriff showed up with his proclamations of how I had no rights to Loxley and I could marry him or be thrown out; well the reply I gave is not suitable for polite company. He took such great offense as to declare me a traitor and an outlaw. I suppose I could have gone to a nunnery,” she mused. “But the possibility never crossed my mind.”
“But disguising yourself as a highwayman did?” Marian wondered aloud.
“It seemed to be the most expedient course of action. But now I have reached a turning point,” she said in all sincerity, fixing her gaze onto Marian’s eyes of passionate blue. “Either I fully embrace my new role, or I keep on running.”
“What are you saying?” Marian tilted her head to one side and gazed back at her.
“I joined a band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest and I can make a go of it with them; however, they think I am a boy. Then yesterday other people arrived, those who have been treated unfairly by the Sheriff, who were tortured, and starved, and stolen from by him since he took over Loxley.” There was smoldering heat in her voice–not the kind she wanted to share with Marian, but the kind that seethed with hatred toward the Sheriff. “I must take care of them,” she stated with determination. “I must redeem my failure in running away and protect them now. But I need your help.”
“Absolutely,” Marian vowed, “anything you need.”
Robyn took a step closer, into Marian’s personal space, a space she had always been freely allowed to enter. “I want you to cut my hair, like a boy’s. If I am to make this work, I must commit entirely to my new persona, Robin Hood. And I can’t be wearing that bloody hood twenty-four hours a day.” She drew her long, brown braid from her back over one shoulder where it dangled down to her waist. She couldn’t help but gaze longingly at it. As much as she knew this was the right course—the only course—to take, she couldn’t wholly shake the idea of it being further punishment. But she had to set those thoughts aside.
Marian had no such lead in to Robyn’s decision to purposefully cut her hair. Her eyes popped wide as she looked at Robyn. “Not your beautiful hair! Are you sure cutting your hair alone will be enough to convince people?”
Her words did give Robyn pause, however. She lowered her head as she pondered. “I have thick brows, a strong chin, am tall and slender hipped, and they already think I’m a boy. Verily, people tend see what they expect to see.”
“I suppose you are right,” Marian consented and reached one hand to stroke the long, acorn brown braid. Her hand traveled the length from just below Robyn’s chin past her shoulder, knuckles brushing over her bound breasts. Robyn felt a sudden tingle, a tightness, a longing. Then Marian said, “If this is what truly you want, I will do it. Come, sit here at the dressing table.”
Dawn’s radiance streamed through the window, casting the room in strong contrasts of light and shadow. Robyn took the seat while Marian withdrew a pair of shears from a drawer in the dressing table. “There’s no going back from this,” she warned. “It would take ten years for your hair to reach this length again.”
“I’ll be lucky to live ten years,” Robyn replied with a resigned sigh. “I’ll never have my life back. Everything that I’ve ever known was swept away in an instant. The question now is how to proceed. This is the best scheme I could devise.”
Marian untied the leather cord at the base of Robyn’s braid and wove her fingers through her hair loosening it. “And the second favor?”
Edale Lane is the pen name used by Melodie Romeo for her LGBTQ literature to differentiate from her more mainstream stories. Melodie Romeo is a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s degree in History from the University of West Florida. Ms Romeo is a retired school teacher who currently travels the country as an over the road truck driver.
Her first book, Vlad, a Novel, an historical thriller, was published in 2002. She has short stories published in anthologies by Seventh Star Press, Charon Coin Press, Alban Lake Press, and Less Than Three Press. She has a son, Peter and daughter, a daughter-in-law, Jessica and two grandsons, Mark and Asher.
Melodie resides in rural Mississippi with her longtime partner, Johanna. Melodie is also a musician who plays the French horn, composes, and has spent many years as a choral and instrumental director. She aspires to be a successful enough author to quit driving and devote herself to writing full-time.