Heart of Sherwood

by Edale Lane

Heart of Sherwood - Edale Lane
Editions:Paperback - First Edition: $ 22.99
ISBN: ISBN-10: 1684314003
Size: 5.00 x 8.00 in
Pages: 498

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.

Published:
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genres:
Tags:
Pairings: FF
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 3
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Lesbian, Straight
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 3 Age: 66+
Tropes: Fairy Tales Revisited, Famous / Royalty in Disguise, Find Love and Come Out, Friends to Lovers, Hero and the Great Quest, Passing as Straight, Slow Burning Love
Word Count: 110840
Setting: Medieval England
Languages Available: English
Excerpt:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed
citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
~Margaret Mead

 

Chapter One

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Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, July 1193
Brown leather boots trod softly on the dirt path
beneath a canopy of oaks and birches, skirted by
verdant shrubs and lush ferns that overlaid the forest
floor. A covey of quail were disturbed and scurried off
cooing nervously to each other.
Dusky gray woolen trousers brushed the boots of
the figure draped in a dark green cloak. The hood was
pulled up around the sojourner's face while a bow and
full quiver hung across the back and a short sword
dangled in its sheath from a leather belt fastened
around a rust-brown doublet. The cream sleeves of a
linen tunic were also visible, but the tall, lean traveler's
face remained hidden.
Sherwood Forest itself was timeless, a mix of
primeval vegetation and fresh, new growth, inhabited
by a myriad of animal life. It was a place of wonder,
adventure, and danger. Rumors abounded of bandits
that hid out in the woods as well as mystical tales of
spirits and sprites. As with all the great forests of
England, Sherwood was technically owned by the
crown which with King Richard away meant his
younger brother, Prince John Lackland. Those caught

poaching in the forest faced severe penalties at the
hands of Godfrey Giffard, the current Sheriff of
Nottingham who, having found favor with the Prince,
had power over the shire. However, the magnificence
of nature that wove the forest together, leaf and vine,
hart and fowl, had no inkling that their existence was
merely for royal pleasure. They continued to thrive as
if kings and princes were of no more consequence than
a dung beetle.
The new human interloper was no stranger to
Sherwood. Each step took Robyn farther from the
home of her birth and further into the unknown. Her
emotions churned like the North Sea in a violent storm,
flowing into anger, then ebbing into grief. Nothing was
as it should be and, for the first time in her life, she felt
totally powerless. She did not care for that feeling. She
was so immersed in her own thoughts she did not
notice the mountain of a man who stood in the middle
of the narrow bridge until she was almost atop him.
She halted abruptly and stared up at him with curious
chestnut eyes, careful that the hood concealed her face.
"Ah, a hearty traveler," he greeted jovially in a
booming baritone voice, gripping a staff the breadth of
a small tree in his left hand. Standing erect, he towered
over her–despite her being a tall woman–with a
frowzy tree-bark beard, tousled shoulder length dusky
hair, deep-set hazel eyes, shoulders as broad as a door
frame, and arms as thick as Yule logs. "I must ask that
you pay the toll."
Robyn narrowed her eyes, contemplating the
colossal older fellow. "What toll do you mean, sir?" Her

voice was naturally deep and somewhat ambiguous to
gender, but she altered her accent to sound more
common and less high-bred. She knew he could not
make out her features beyond the lack of a beard on
her jaw because of the hood she wore. That and the
men's clothing she donned would give the first
impression of her being a young man. "Last I heard,
this was a public road."
"Ah, well, yes, you see," he began, relaxing his
stance, a glint of humor in his broad face. "It seems
Prince John is taxing everyone nowadays. And, while
I admit the tax I charge will not be adding to His
Highness's coffers, it will help me and mine to have a
better meal or two. So, out with it, lad. Let me see your
coin."
Under different circumstances, Robyn may have
been amused or felt compelled to donate to the
unfortunate bandit, but he had caught her in a foul
mood and quite lacking in resources. "I am sorry to
disappoint, oh mighty man of the bridge, but I have
nothing to donate to your supper. So if you will kindly
step aside, I have places to be."
He bellowed a roaring laugh and declared, "What
an impudent little insect! I must teach you a lesson.
Have you a staff?"
Robyn held out her arms, dropping a bag filled
with belongings she had hurriedly packed. "You can
see I do not. While I do have bow and sword, I prefer
not to kill anyone today."
The bridge master, clearly feeling not the least bit
threatened, replied. "I see you are a man of honor who

deserves a fair fight." He stepped away to pick up a
more averaged size staff from the other side of the
stream. Robyn removed her bow and quiver to achieve
a better range of motion, but kept her hood up. "Here
you go!" He tossed the wooden rod in Robyn's
direction and she caught it. "First one in the drink
loses."
She let her hands become accustomed to the feel of
the staff, balanced it, spun it a few times, and then
settled on a grip style. She gave him a satisfied nod,
putting her shoulders back confidently.
"You have grit, lad–I like that." He held his staff in
a relaxed stance and motioned for the traveler to attack
first. Robyn opened with a standard thrust that her
father had taught her to test the giant's mettle. He
moved with remarkable speed for someone his size,
handily blocking the move and taking a swing of his
own.
She blocked his blow, but its power sent shock
waves through her hands and arms. She had spared
with her brother before, but he had struck with far less
force than this Herculean adversary. Robyn took a step
back to re-evaluate. Why hadn't she chosen a different
approach to this problem? She could have given him
the money, or simply shot him with her bow. She could
have lowered her hood and revealed her identity,
believing he may let a lady pass. But no. She'd thought
she could play his game. Now she wasn't so certain.
Robyn adjusted her stance, feet shoulder width
apart with her weight on her back foot. She feigned
high and struck low giving him a good rap on the shin.

"Oi!" the burly man exclaimed in surprise. "The
insect can bite."
He swung out at her chest high, but she hastily
ducked and sent another jab, this time to his knee. Next
he swiped at her low. Being light on her feet, she
jumped the rod landing nimbly. They continued to
knock their staffs together until, under a powerful
blow, Robyn's snapped in two.
She looked first at the severed pieces in her hands
then up at her opponent. This could not be good... or
could it? Two weapons, meant she could block with
one while attacking with the other. She pursued this
strategy, spinning and jumping to avoid any possible
bone-breaking blows while bruising his shins and
forearms with her lighter strikes. He was bigger than
her, but she was faster. Seeing him loom to one side,
she took advantage, crouching to sweep his feet out
from under him with both pieces of broken staff in
unison.
His weight shook the wooden bridge when he fell.
Utterly dumbfounded by this scrawny lad, he toppled
over the edge through three feet of air to land with a
splash in two feet of clear running stream.
Robyn bent over the side, her hands on her knees
breathing heavily and asked, "Are you harmed?" The
summer day was warm and the water was likely
refreshing, so she wasn't overly concerned.
He sat up, spitting water and wiped a broad hand
down his face, then peered up at her with rounded
eyes. "What the blazes! How did you... who are...?"
Then, if possible, his astonishment grew as he looked

at her and really seemed to see her for the first time. "I
know you–you're Lady Loxley! What the devil are you
doing out here in the forest alone?"
Robyn had not noticed that in the course of the fight
her hood had fallen down after all. Without it, her
flowing acorn brown hair and feminine countenance
were revealed. She quickly threw the hood back over
her head and began to run from him.
"Wait!" he called after her. "I know your father; I am
a friend, John Naylor."
Robyn skidded to a sudden halt and hesitated.
"My friends call me Little John," he added, though
he still didn't advance on her.
She knew that name from her childhood. Lord
knew she could use a friend, but was it safe to expose
herself when the sheriff had ordered her arrest? With
some misgivings, she slowly turned to face the wet
man.
John stepped out of the brook leaning on his staff
with the effort. "Milady, please forgive an old fool; I
didn't know 'twas you."
Her head down and covered she quietly replied, "I
am no longer the Lady of Loxley. I am merely Robyn."
"Nonsense," he said and motioned to a fallen tree
trunk near the road. "Come, sit. Tell Little John what
the problem is; perchance I can help."
The adrenaline from the fight had evaporated, and
all that flowed through Robyn's veins was cold reality.
She sat beside Little John on the log and lowered her
hood. After a moment of silence, she raised misty eyes
to his gentle, rough-hewn face.

"I recently received word that my father and
brother Thomas, were killed fighting in the Holy Land.
As proof, my father's sword was returned to me." She
laid a hand on the sheath at her side and glanced down
at it.
"Oh no," he uttered in honest sorrow. "Dear, sweet
Maid Robyn." Despite being wet, unkempt, and having
just tried to knock her upside the head with a
tremendous quarterstaff, Little John wrapped a
compassionate arm around her shoulders. He drew
her to his strong chest like she was his own long, lost
child. "This is grave news indeed. Please know I
admired Lord Loxley, and that I feel your loss."
Regardless of all previously shed tears, Robyn felt
the lump in her throat, the knot in her stomach, and the
warm, moist trickle on her cheeks. She was almost glad
of his next question, and the opportunity to change the
subject.
"But, why are you alone in Sherwood dressed as a
boy?"
She sniffled, wiped her eyes with the back of her
sleeve and raised a defiant face that smoldered with
barely bridled rage, the bite of which sounded in her
voice. "The Sheriff of Nottingham paid me a visit no
sooner than the envoy had left the manor. He claimed
he was there to pay his condolences, and to see that I
was well taken care of. You may know my mother and
younger siblings died eight years ago from the pox and
so now I am all alone. But then the law does not allow
for a daughter to inherit her father's estate.
Subsequently the Sheriff offered a 'solution' to my

problem: according to the law, I could still inherit the
land and title if I married. But with so few young lords
available, who was possibly eligible enough to wed a
woman of my station?"
John shook his head with a snort. "Let me guess."
"Right. Nottingham said he would be most
agreeable to marry me and take over Loxley Manor–as
if I could ever abide such a thing!" Robyn reverberated
with fury. "When I told him I'd rather wed a donkey,
he didn't take it so well. The next thing I know he has
declared me a traitor to the crown and all my title and
lands forfeit." She sighed, trying to release that wave of
anger. "He was determined to have Loxley with or
without me; so it was without me. The problem is, I am
now wanted for treason. There is no way I will be
judged fairly with Prince John's friend Giffard as my
accuser." She lowered her head to the big man's
shoulder releasing some of her tension. "I thought I'd
run away, hide my identity, and maybe somehow I'd
get by with it. 'Tis only my first day away from home,
but already I am found out."
"Now there, do not fret child; Little John won't tell
anyone. I'll protect you; in fact..." He made a dramatic
pause, his vocal inflection rising to an optimistic tone.
"I have an idea."
Robyn lifted her head, her eyes gazing up at him
with suddenly renewed hope.
"You see, the Sheriff declared me an outlaw, too,
and put a price on my head all because I tried to make
sure there was enough food to feed my family. They
are still safe on the FitzWalter lands, but all because I

wouldn't give him and his damnable tax collectors
every penny and bag of flour–" He stopped, shook his
head and gave her shoulder a pat. "Well anyway,
there's a small gang of us who have taken up residence
in Sherwood. You could stay with us, at least until you
figure out something that would better suit you."
Excitement flashed across her fair face. But she
couldn't afford to get too excited. Not yet. "You must
give me your oath." She straightened up, her enigmatic
eyes pinning his with demand. "I want no one else to
know who I am."
He looked puzzled and absently stroked his beard.
"I don't understand. These boys would show you
respect. If they didn't, I'd crack their heads."
"That isn't it. I'm not afraid of being assaulted; but I
fear that anyone who aids me could face a hangman's
noose. It is safer for everyone if they think I am a
random boy who ran away from Sir Guy of Gisborne's
cruelty or was spotted stealing bread or something.
Please, if you honor my father as you say you do, keep
my secret."
Little John exhaled with a nod. "Aye, sweet lass, if
you are sure that's what you want; I'll do it for Lord
Loxley, and for you."
*~*~*

Little John helped pass the time as they strolled
along the dirt road by telling all about the forest and
the band of men who had gathered around him.
"Deep in the heart of Sherwood," he said in his best

story-telling voice, "stands the oldest tree in all of
England. Huge, it is, an oak with branches reaching as
far as you can see. That is where our camp is set, snug
under her protection. We call her Grandma. 'Tis
nothing but a tent village, but it's home - close enough
to the stream for getting fresh water and far enough
away to not flood when the rains come hard."
Robyn tried to listen, but stray thoughts continued
to shoot into her mind like needling arrows,
preoccupying her with memories and imaginings of
what might have been if her father and Thomas had
returned from the crusade and if the pox hadn't taken
her mother and younger siblings.
"We are almost there now," she heard Little John
say and giving her hood one more tug. She stood a bit
straighter. "Good afternoon, fellows," he called.
Robyn smelled the smoke of the campfire and
something that could have been rabbit stew coming
from a large iron pot. Some of the men sat around the
fire chatting and shooting dice while a few others
meandered up to the group wearing curious
expressions. They ranged in age from younger than
herself to older than John Naylor, and they were all
dirty and smelled of male sweat.
"Who's the whelp?" asked the eldest as he squinted
up at them without rising.
"My friends, may I present a newcomer to our
number. This is Robyn..." His face went blank as he
stared out over his outlaw gang. He then glanced over
at Robyn and thought quickly. "Hood. This is Robin
Hood, of Nottinghamshire who, like all our present

company, was unjustly outlawed by the Sheriff. Now
he's a wee bit young and a little shy, so let's not all
overwhelm him at once with questions, but I would
like you to introduce yourselves. He's going to be
staying with us a while. Alan?" He gestured toward a
cheerful chap who stood about Robyn's height and
held a mandolin in one hand. "Why don't you start?"
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," he chimed in
a lyrical tone. "Alan A Dale at your service." He gave
an elaborate bow that caused some of the others to
chuckle. His sandy hair was short and choppy, and he
had a wispy mustache and goatee, ruddy cheeks, and
luminous forest green eyes that danced with laughter.
"Alan is a minstrel," Little John added for him.
"Quite a skilled entertainer."
"Sadly, the Sheriff did not agree," Alan said. "He
took a sudden and violent dislike to a song he
overheard me performing." The others laughed,
looking at each other as though they shared the inside
story. "Would you care to hear it?"
"Another time, Alan," Little John replied waving
him down. Beside the fun-loving Alan sat an even
younger lad, this one in a red silk shirt with no beard
at all and a sweep of black hair above intense indigo
eyes like the depths of the sea in the midst of a tempest.
"I'm Will Scarlet," he offered in a friendly voice. "I
promise not to pick your pocket if you'll return the
favor." He crossed his heart in humorous gesture but
the laughter never reached his eyes.
"Young Will here may look unassuming," Alan
added with a jab to his friend's ribs, "but he is a
dangerous fellow to cross."
"As skilled with a sword as he may be, that fat Friar
in the back can fence circles around him," the eldest of
the men added throwing a nod behind him.
"Who are you calling fat?" boomed a powerful
voice. A middle aged man with his dusty brown hair
ringed in a tonsure, wearing umber robes, turned with
a mug of wine in one pudgy hand. His round cheeks
were rosy beneath deep-set gray eyes. "Friar Tuck, lad,
and I'll tell you this for free: keeping this bunch on the
road to the Pearly Gates is a full time endeavor!" The
clergyman was clean shaven, and did not appear to
have missed many meals.
From beneath the shadow of her hood, Robyn
spoke for the first time. "Why is a good friar outcast
with thieves and knaves?"
"Because he is a good friar, boy," answered the
same older man. He was thin as a twig with a
protruding Adam's apple and scraggly gray whiskers.
"I'm Gilbert Whitehand," he said with crotchety
cantankerousness, "and Friar Tuck here is the finest
swordsman in all of England. Why, he could beat that
bloody Sheriff of Nottingham with one hand tied
behind his back!"
"Oh, good sir, your words are too kind," Tuck
answered with a laugh and gulped down his wine.
After a proper burp, he continued. "Well, what was I to
do? The soldiers accompanying Prince John's tax
collectors were brutalizing my parishioners. Was I to
just stand by and do nothing? I say there is a time for
prayer and a time for action!" He raised his double chin
and gave an approving nod.
"Unfortunately, he killed a few of those soldiers,
which put him on the Sheriff's most wanted list, man
of the cloth or not," Little John concluded.
"Gilbert Whitehand," Robyn mused admiringly. "I
know that name. You are one of King Richard's men at
arms."
"Yes, well, ancient history now," he said
dismissively. "There seems to be no place for a knight
loyal to Richard so long as he remains captive across
the sea."
Friar Tuck took a step closer to the old man. "My
friend Gilbert here came to my defense, spoke out
against the Sheriff, and was rewarded for his years of
service, and his valor in the Holy Land, by being
thrown off his estate; his lands and title confiscated."
"Sounds familiar," Robyn muttered.
"What's that lad?" Gilbert asked. "Speak up." Then
he tilted his head. "And how does a peasant boy know
the members of King Richard's personal guard?"
Robyn shifted her weight thinking quickly. "I said
the Sheriff is the real traitor to the crown. And you may
be surprised at what a poor lad such as myself may
know."
Little John looked out at them and threw a thumb
at Robyn. "As much as I hate to admit this, young
Robin is here because he knocked me off the bridge."
At Little John's words, the camp froze in place, not
even a breath taken. All eyes turned incredulously to
the beardless youth in the cloak and hood standing
beside the best quarterstaff fighter in the shire.

Feeling more at ease, Robyn rattled off the names
so far. "Good day to you Alan A Dale, Will Scarlet,
Friar Tuck, and Gilbert Whitehand. Now for the rest of
you before I lose my wits from smelling that rabbit
stew!"
They all laughed, delighted, and continued the
introductions. There was Much the Miller's son, who
was a short man in his mid-thirties with curly honey
hair and beard. David of Doncaster, the youngest, with
long black hair covering the scars where the Sheriff had
his ear cut off for stealing a loaf of bread, and Arthur
Bland, a sturdy, ruddy fellow wanted for poaching
deer in the forest. To her great relief, the rotund Tuck
graciously handed her a bowl of stew and invited her
to join them. Together, they were nine merry men.
With Robyn, they were ten.
That night in the safety of the outlaw camp, Robyn
pondered her situation. Nottingham might be sheriff
of the shire, but he was not all powerful. He was under
Prince John. But John was only a prince. Who really
held the power?

COLLAPSE

About the Author

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 with Prime, Inc. Her first book, Vlad, a Novel, (https://www.facebook.com/VladANovel) 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, Michele who both serve in the US Army, a daughter-in-law, Jessica and two grandsons, Mark and Asher. Melodie resides in Utica, MS with her longtime partner, Johanna. Some of her works can be found at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00WFFFEA4
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 fulltime.


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