Hello readers, Maggie here!!!! I’m so happy for you to be joining me for the continuation of my Robin Hood reimagining, What Lay Beyond the Woods!! Because of all of you guys excitement for chp. 1, I decided to get it up a little early. Cue the fanfare!!! 😉 Anyway, for any of you who are new. I’m releasing a new chapter for my story every two weeks. To stay up to date with announcements, don’t forget to subscribe to TWN’s email list. You know, guys, I feel like one of them YouTubers, who are always like don’t forget to like and subscribe and ring that bell for notifications and stuff. You get what I mean?
Also, if you missed the prologue, totally check that out. Although, I must admit, the plot’s changing a little bit, and I’m not sure if my prologue even fits into the story anymore. I say throw it out the window. And I wanted to add, since I’m having to write the chapters pretty quickly, you’re probably gonna find a lot of things wrong with it. Just saying, it’s probably not my best work, but feedback is ALWAYS appreciated.
Without further ado, the FIRST CHAPTER!!!!! (Oh, and don’t forget to tell me your thoughts in the comments.)
Deep breaths. I readjusted my aim, gripping the bow tighter. My eyes never wavered from my target. The rambunctiousness of the men around me demanded my attention, but I couldn’t offer even a side glance. I was well aware of the wealthy merchant’s eyes upon me. Another hard reminder not to mess this up. Like I rarely did.
I pulled back and released. The arrow drove straight into the center of the target. The men around me let out a loud cheer, shouting my name. I beamed.
“Anyone else wanna try? Maybe one of you can do better than me?” I doubted it, but maybe it gave them some confidence.
“I would be a fool to think so, Mistress Robyn,” a boy around seventeen years of age clad in scarlet stated.
“Ah, so are you a coward to admit defeat before you even tried?” I smirked. None of my men said anything, eyeing Will Scarlet to see how he would take my words.
“How ‘bout it, Scarlet,” Little John jested, reaching for a bow and stray arrow. “Don’t be so cowardly as to avoid a competition.”
Will Scarlet hesitated, eyeing the merchant sitting at the rough table a few feet away. He looked at each one of the men gathered around before landing his eyes on me. Finally, he grabbed the bow and knocked an arrow in it.
I laughed at Will Scarlet’s nervous face, watching him turn pinker. As he took his stance, I drifted over to the merchant with Little John right on my heels. The merchant glared at me with disgust, eyeing the length of my skirt. I gazed down at it, too, as if I didn’t understand what his problem was. Truth was, I actually didn’t. Sure, it was ‘proper’ for a woman’s skirt to cover her ankles, but I lived in a forest. The thought of it was ridiculous. He should be glad that I chose to wear my lincoln green skirt that went halfway to my ankles and not the one I normally wear that barely goes past the knees.
“Have you enjoyed tonight?” I spread my arms out wide.
The man warily watched Little John. My right hand man reached almost three feet above him. The man had a good reason to keep his eye on Little John. If his broad shoulders and muscular arms were any indication, he could beat this man up without breaking a sweat. I smirked, glad he was on my side.
“Let me go.” The man’s voice barely reached above desperation.
I let out a good round of laughter, slapping my knee. One could always find a good jest in almost anything. “I only wished to give you a merry feast. Not take you as a prisoner. When you are ready to leave, you are more than welcome to go.” I gestured to his horse that couldn’t seem to keep still. Every shifting of its hooves made me also feel the need to move. To run. To do almost anything other than speak with this merchant.
The man rose onto shaky legs. He slowly took a step toward his horse, his escape from Sherwood, like he wanted to test the sincerity of my words. I followed him to his horse. Right as he reached for the reign, I made my move, pulling it out of his reach.
“Wait, you seem to be forgetting something.” I grinned, enjoying this merry sport a little too much. “All who feast in Sherwood Forest must pay.”
Hastily, the man dug into his satchel and pulled out a leather pouch. He tossed it to me. I caught it, weighing it in my hand. Coins clinked together, but if he thought he could get by with such a small payment, he was badly mistaken. I reached into his satchel ignoring the protests he shouted, and grabbed a second pouch of coins. This one wasn’t as worn as the one he gave me. Maybe new? Or…my heart sped faster. A bribe? One he might’ve received from some well-off friends. My enemies.
“I’ll be taking this as well,” I said. Then I turned to Little John. “Search him. I want those plans.”
Little John nodded and moved to carry out my order.
The man shrank back. “I have nothing that should concern you.”
“Oh, I think I might disagree.”
Little John slipped a piece of parchment rolled up and tied with a coarse piece of string out of the man’s coat pocket. In response, the merchant gasped and reached for it. But Little John handed it to me before our prize could be stolen. No, if anyone did the stealing around here, it was me. I tucked the parchment away into one of the many pockets my skirt concealed. Another reason for my choice of wear.
“You rotten thief!” the man cried. “I can’t wait for the day when I see your neck hanging in a noose.”
I tapped my finger on my chin, like I was giving his words some serious consideration. Like maybe I actually cared what his wishes were for me. Which I didn’t.
“Your sheriff is going to have to get a few wits before that can happen.” I remembered back to my many run-ins with the Sheriff of Nottingham. He was more laughable, in my opinion, than this merchant. And I still believed that was an overstatement.
“Ah, so you haven’t heard the news.”
“What news?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. Hopefully, he would provide me with something interesting. I’d rather he just climb on his horse and make his way back home. Before my patience ran out for his sake.
“Let’s say Nottingham has a new Sheriff.”
“Well, I hope he’ll be more of an opponent than the last one.” I crossed my arms.
The man locked eyes with me, and the vulnerability in them faded. My pulse quickened. People only looked that way, when they thought they had the upper hand.
“His name is Calvin Taylor. A son of a merchant in Locksley Town, I believe.”
My heart froze. Time stopped. All I was aware of was the rattling of coins as the two pouches slipped from my hands and crashed to the ground. I think my lungs wanted to stop allowing me to breathe. I felt like gasping for air, but I couldn’t do anything. Except stare on in stunned silence.
“He’s…he’s s-ss-supposed to be…dead,” I blurted. Calvin Taylor? Not the Calvin Taylor I had known. No! This man was messing with me. He had to be.
“You know him?” he asked.
“No,” I shouted, because sometimes that’s the only way to make yourself believe a lie.
I abruptly turned and walked back to my men. Little John would make sure the man left. I didn’t have another ounce of patience to deal with him.
Will Stutely, a member of my band of men, rushed forward.
“Did we score somethin’ good.”
I tossed the two pouches of money to him. “One bag goes to us, the other to the poor.” Some of the men jumped forward, sending a thousand questions my way. I ignored them all and stormed away from the festivities. Besides, the answers to them didn’t matter. No one asked the questions that really mattered: How was Calvin here? And what did he want?
Little John found me sitting beside the creek that wound behind our camp. The sound of water trickling down to some unknown destination, calmed my nerves. A little bit, at least. The piece of parchment I stole from the merchant was laid out in front of me. A few stones had been placed on the corners to keep it still. I stared at the markings. They were supposed to form words, but the language was beyond my comprehension.
“Who is Calvin Taylor?” Little John asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do.” Little John sat beside me. He watched me closely. I turned away. How could he always see behind my disguises and lies?
“All you need to know is that now we have a serious threat.”
“I thought the assassination plan was serious.”
Avoiding his statement, I stared back at the plans. “I need to be able to read them. It’s the only way we can stop it.” I didn’t have to clarify what ‘it’ was. Ever since I had found out that a group of people were planning to assassinate King Henry, the very thought of ‘it’ had taken up permanent residence in my head.
“Even if we knew exactly when and where they were going to strike, how can we stop them? We’re not knights or warriors. We’re a band of outlaws. We’re not heroes.”
“I believe you have forgotten, we are the best band of outlaws in all of merry England. I made sure of that.” Then I sighed. “Besides, aren’t you tired?”
I brushed a piece of stray brown hair out of my face. “Of being outlaws. Wouldn’t it be nice to be recognized for something more than breaking the law?”
“I think you’re forgetting what ‘outlaws’ mean.”
Again, I moved my eyes back to the plans. The real reason I wanted to stop these treasonous plans was more than saving England. I was almost sick of living this life that had fallen into my lap. I never much had a say in anything about my life. I didn’t choose this, I never asked to be a thief, an outlaw. For once, I wanted to do something the world would view as ‘right.’
I rubbed my forehead. “I think we need to visit an old friend of mine.”
“Are you sure you want to follow through with this, Robyn? I mean, you’re asking for trouble.”
I stared hard into his bright blue eyes. Even if he chose not to come with me, I planned to stop this and save our king. But then I remembered the merchant and his words. I remembered Calvin Taylor. “Trouble has already found us.” I watched the water from the creek in front of me skidding over stones, continuing its path onward. Sometimes that’s all we could do in life. Keep moving forward. “Trouble can’t be avoided. But it can be stopped.”