The Lady of the Hood - First Book in the Sherwood Series

For Guinevere life as the ward of King Richard the Lion heart is not easy. She was orphaned at a young age by a father who never returned from war and a mother who died from the pestilence; but now her guardian is fighting in the Holy Lands. So she is left in the care of his brother, Prince John.
But when John takes her to Nottingham things start to take a turn for the worst. Her guardian can not return for her sixteenth birthday and she over hears a shocking conversation that could change everything. When she goes off for a ride with Sir Guy of Gisbourne the worst truly does happen. The fearsome outlaw, Robin Hood, attacks Gisbourne and Guinevere finds herself fleeing for her life from a viscous hunting dog that is stalking her.
But when she is under the protection of Hood, after she has been badly wounded by the beast, a memory steers.
Can Guinevere find the truth of her heritage or will John get his way?


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6. Chapter Five

         I charged at the figure, sword in hand. The silver blade sliced through the air and chopped off the head of the straw dummy. Repeatedly, I hit it with several large slashes, jabs and spiral attacks. By the end, straw was flying in all directions and the dummy was nothing more than a heap of straw on the floor.

“Very impressive!” A voice behind me called.

  I turned around, sword raised. Before I could do any damage to the figure who owned the voice; however the sword was knocked from my hands.

I stared at the laughing Sir Guy, “Guy,” I snapped angrily, “I could have killed you!”

My comment just caused him to laugh even more; until, that is, he saw the anger that was swelling on my face.

“I mean no offence,” He replied, “I just cannot see you causing me any harm.”

“And why is that?” I demanded.

“Well  ... you …. You’re a ….” Guy began.

“Just because I am a girl is not a very good excuse!” I replied, crouching down to pick up my sword.

“Really?” He replied.

“Yes!” I snapped, twirling the hilt around my finger.

“Why don’t we prove that?”

A wicked grin spread across my face and I through my sword into the air; grabbing it by the hilt. Guy slammed his sword against my own. Before I knew it, our swords were clashing against one another; he through slammed the hilt of his sword into the gut of my stomach, he caught me off guard. I fell to the floor and Guy pointed the sword to my throat.

“What did I tell you, you cannot fight! Stick to the things that you know, like sowing!”

A laugh rippled through him at his last comment, he pulled his sword away and put it back in his scabbard. Then, he held out his hand and helped me up.

  Whilst I brushed myself down and awkward silence hung in the air, it continued as he handed me my sword; which I slammed into my scabbard and then as I turned to move, he grabbed me by the arm.

“Guinevere, I am sorry; I did not mean to offend you. How about I make it up to you?” Sir Guy asked.

I folded my arms and looked at him from over my shoulder, “And what might that be?”

“A ride maybe?”

I lifted one of my hands up to my mouth and faked a yawn (even though I was screaming with joy inside), “Very well. But on one condition!”

“And what might that be?”

“We take our bows!”

“If you insist. But how about we make a wager out of it?”

“Oh and what would that be?”

“We shall take our bows and quivers and prove who truly is better!”

“Agreed!” I said with a smile.

 Guy returned my smile, he brought his hand up so that he was in line mouth, then he curved his middle finger and thumb so that they were facing each other. After flashing me another smile, he placed them in his mouth. He blew, releasing a loud whistle.  Two of the stable boys came running around the corner with my beautiful stallion and Guy’s horse.

“How did you know that I would agree?”

“It was just a hunch!”

    I hid the desire to laugh, and simply tossed my bow and quiver onto my shoulder. I then approached my horse and gracefully slid into the saddle. I sat, as a woman should, with both my legs dangling over the right side of the horse. Whilst I was doing this, Guy had climbed onto his own horse and was waiting; ready to leave. With a nod of my head, I made a ‘tck’ sound with my tongue and we started our ride.

* * *

            It took around twenty minutes, for us to reach the shade of the Sherwood trees. Once we were in the shades of the trees, a wave of coolness floated over me. I slowed down to a simple trot and glanced around the forest. It was peaceful. The birds were singing and a cool breeze passed between the small cracks in the multiple trees. It felt that I was the only person to ever set foot in the forest; but of course that was not true for Guy was only a short distance behind me.

  I pulled my horse to a gentle stop , allowing the scenery to sink in. In a matter of minutes, a small rabbit hopped out from the undergrowth and it looked up at me with curious eyes. It wrinkled it’s little pink nose at me; as if to smell whether I was a predator or not. Carefully it approached me, constantly looking over its shoulder; alert to all danger. When it was only a few inches away from me, its left ear pricked up. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone.

  Guy charged towards me a few seconds later. He, and his horse, were both panting like crazy and Guy was red in the face,

“My Lady …. You … shouldn’t … have gone off … like that …. These woods can be … dangerous …” He said as he desperately tried to catch his breath.

“I know,” I sighed as Guy pulled up beside me.

“Gwen, if you were kidnapped your Uncle would kill me!”

I nodded once again, staring into the trees.

“Any wa…. Where did you learn to ride like that?”

“My dear Uncle taught me!” I replied, shrugging it off as if it were the simplest thing in the world, “See that tree!”

I pointed to the really large tree that was sat in the centre of a fork in the road.

“Yes, what of it!”

“I bet I can hit it from here!”

“That’s impossible, it is over one hundred paces away. You don’t believe that you could hit it from here do you?”

“Yes. Yes I do!” I replied confidently.

“If you wish it!” Guy answered.

Slinging my bow from of my shoulder, I raised my  hand to snatch an arrows from quiver when Guy said, “What if I win!”

“If you win?” I stated in confusion.

“I too will take part, and if I win what will I get?”

  This had not crossed my mind, so it took me a few minutes to think of something. A smile flickered onto my face as I said, “Will a kiss upon the cheek suffice?”

I got no reply, but the look on Guy’s face was a big enough answer, “Ladies first!” Guy eventually said.

“Oh no, I could not do that!”

  With a shrug of his shoulders, he pulled his bow from his back and slipped an arrow into it. He fired it straight away, and looked shocked that the arrow had not hit the tree; in fact it had hit the ground thirty passes away from him. It took much effort to not laugh at the look that was on his face., in face I was terrified that I might draw blood from how hard I was biting my lip.

* * * 

 Meanwhile not ten paces away, hidden in the thick trees stood the Giant man; the young boy, Will, and the other small man. But they were not alone. They were now accompanied by another, a figure who was hooded and cloaked with only his bristled mouth showing.

“Let’s attack!” The small man suggested.

“No Much, wait!” The hooded figure said, placing a hand on the small man’s shoulder; holding him back.

“What …. Why?” The smaller man, Much, demanded in a whisper.

“Just wait!”

              When my laughter had finally died down, I carefully tugged at the string of my bow checking its flexibility. Once I was happy, I slipped a feather ended arrow from the quiver into it. Lifting my bow, I made sure that it was positioned so that I had a clear line of sight. Slowing my breathing, I pulled back the string so that it was stretched to its full length. I took aim. Then took a large, deep breath. Finally, after I let myself feel the pulse of the forest. I cocked the bow up slightly and let it fly.

  It whipped through the air and time itself seemed to slow down as we waited to see whether the arrow would reach its mark. Silence hung thick in the air, like a dense fog. Neither of us made a sound, nor did the birds in the trees or the small animals hiding in the undergrowth. Finally, the arrow and the tree met. A deafening crack broke the silence as my arrow slammed into the tree bark, splitting the wood; dead centre.

“I win!” I grinned.

* * *

            In the trees, the men stood staring at what they had just witnessed.

“Who is ‘hat girl?” Much asked, his eyes practically popping out of his skull.

“Some noble!”  The giant man grunted.

“Yeah, she has to be pretty important to be out riding with Gisbourne!” Will stated.

The hooded man nodded his head slowly, “You are right there Will. It is strange, but somehow she looks … well … familiar!” He did not say anything more, instead his mind wandered off as he became deep in thought.

“Enough of this. We go now!” The giant grumbled impatiently.

And with that, the group ran forwards …

             The next thing that I knew, hundreds of men were running out of the trees. Each were dressed in Lincoln green and were sprinting towards myself and Guy. Some held armed bows; others held swords and a few even had hunting dogs tied to long ropes. Soon we were surrounded on all sides, imprisoned in a large circle.

My heart pounded in my chest and I glanced desperately across at Guy. His face was so red that it seemed that his body was being burnt by scorching fire, his face consumed with hate and anger.

“Hood!” He yelled, “Show yourself!”

  The men that surrounded us made a slight gap in the circle, a gap big enough to allow a man to walk through. A cheer rippled through the crowd as someone walked through them and a hooded man was soon stood facing us.

“Well … what have my spiders caught in their web?” The figure asked in a rich voice, it was the king of voice that could cause people to do anything if used in the correct way. I soon found myself being entranced by his voice, it was so calm yet powerful.

“Naww, has little Guy of Gisbourne found himself a little, innocent girl to woo?”

My face began to burn in embarrassment, but I said nought. Instead, I just sat there and stared at the hooded man as anger bubbled and boiled under my skin. Guy jumped down from his horse and stood face to face with the hooded man.

“I have waited years for the day that you would be dragged to the gallows, and I have wished that it would be me who had the honour of doing the dragging!” He grumbled.

Silence filled the air for a moment and I became unsure what was going on. Then with no warning, Guy flew his hand up and he pulled back the hood.

            I was shocked to see that a well groomed man had been revealed. He had short hair that like mine was extremely unusual. It was blond but it had swipes and spots of brown and black in it. He had a pair of eyes that were similar to my own and a wave of stubble that covered his upper lip and chin. His clothes were hidden in the folds of his flowing cape meaning that I could only see his thick, tanned riding boots. A bow was in his hand and a quiver dangled from his shoulder. A small jay of light glinted on something silver in the shadows of the cape, I could only guess that it was the hilt of his metal sword in its scabbard. My heart began to beat in my chest with fear, but Guy did not seem scared about what was going on around him, he actually seemed quite pleased. He raised his left hand into the air and clicked his fingers together.

Suddenly, two dozen soldiers jumped out from behind the trees. Hood’s men looked around in shock, were as Hood slowly clapped his hands together with sarcasm.

“Well done Gisbourne. But, you are hopelessly outnumbered!”

“So,” Guy shrugged, “I do like a challenge!”

            A sudden battle erupted all around me, hood’s murderous men verses Nottingham’s finest. Blood was flying everywhere and men were falling in all directions. And there, in the middle of it all, was me, sat upon my horse with fear burning at my eyes. The most gruesome fight was held in the centre of it all, between Guy and Hood, and I had the best seat to witness it. They were slicing at one another with the most furious bloodlust in their eyes. The more I watched them, the more that I realised that the fight was turning into a dance. I became transfixed by the turns and flicks of the fight; so much so that I did not notice the fight behind the me. How the soldier and the outlaw were fighting, how the soldier was stabbed in the chest and he fell. He fell towards me, his limp body slamming against the hind of my dear horse.

 I grabbed hold of the reigns just in time, for he reared up and charged towards depths of the forest. Clinging as tightly to the reigns as I could, I closed my eyes and let the branches slap across my face. Eventually, my arms began to grow weak and I fell forward into the undergrowth. With a groan, I stood up and dusted myself off.

            Looking around, I was shocked to realise that I did not recognise anything around me, and I could see or hear no signs of the battle that was raging somewhere else. But, to make matters worse, my horse was nowhere in sight.

I looked around, fear building up inside of me, not knowing which was in and which way was out.

First of all, I must find my horse.

Thankfully, I spotted a trail of horse prints that would lead me deeper into the forest; so reluctantly I followed them.

“Here pony!” I called.

I followed the prints for many minutes, when I heard something moving behind me. I turned around, half expecting to see my stallion standing there, with a curious or confused look in its eyes. Instead, I found myself staring at a snarling hunter’s dog. It was a huge creature with two black, unnerving eyes. It’s back was arched as it snarled at me and the hair over it rippled in attention.

I gulped in a deep breath of air, slowly stepping backwards, “Nice dog!”

Yet, it continued to approach me with bared teeth ears flat against its head.

“You … you do not wish to harm me!”

But still it approached me.

I let out a terrified squeal and ran.

            I ran through the forest, dodging gnarled tree trunks and thick thorn bushes; with the dog only a hairs breath behind me. I could feel it’s breath as it snapped at my heels. I could hear it’s pounding paws slamming against the earth as it chased me; and at one moment, I could actually see it out of the corner of my eye.

It was all going fine, until my skirt snagged on a branch as I jumped over a fallen tree. Tumbling the ground, I pushed my hands out in front of me. At the same time, the dog pounced.

            A sharp pain was thrust through me as the dog’s razor sharp teeth pierced through the skin on my right leg. I let out a scream of pain, as it pulled me; trying to drag me to my death. Struggling away from it, I felt a rip as more skin was mutilated by the creature’s sharp teeth. Once again, I struggled but by this time the grass beneath my feet was wet with my spilt blood. My foot skidded. I felt a thud to the side of my head. And then; then there was darkness.

            Meanwhile, the bloody battle was almost at its end; and Hood had the upper hand.

“Looks like that maid of yours has abandoned you!” He gloated.

All of Gisbourne’s men were either dead or lain on the ground in complete agony. Whilst Gisbourne, himself, was trapped in the centre of a circle with Hood’s men surrounding him with fearsome looks.

“Don’t you dare even mention her!” Gisbourne spat, “She is long gone from your evils!”

 Suddenly, a woman’s scream rippled through the forest air, causing birds to fire out of the trees at an alarming rate.

“Gwen!” Gisbourne screamed.

He tried with all his might to force his way out of the circle, but with each attempt he was pushed back. He fell backwards one final time, and Hood had had enough. He slammed the hilt of his sword against Gisbourne’s head, who crippled to the floor; unconscious.

  Hood shook his head at the useless noble and a thought riddled though his brain. He looked from his sword to the unconscious noble several times. Finally, he shook his head and slid the sword back into the scabbard.

“Go deep into the forest!” Hood shouted , “Find the girl and take her back to the camp!”

The men nodded and each sprinted off in all directions. Hood turned on his heel and slipped into the forest; leaving Gisbourne to die. 

      

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