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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11. Chapter Ten

The next few days were set with planning. Planning on how I was going to be ‘found’ and how on earth they were going to win the archery tournament when it was against some of the best archers in all England. Obviously, I was not involved in that part of the planning for I would still have to look as shocked as the rest of them if I was to pull of the fact that I was a ‘captive’ and that I had been in constant fear for my life; and it would not be very convincing if I did not act shocked (or scared) that the very people who capture me come out of disguise as they won the tournament. So, I spent all that time trying to work on my walk without the crutches. The funny thing is that I could not walk perfectly as it would look rather strange to the nobles back at court If I was walking around as if nothing had happened even and I had not just been victim to a horrific injury or that I walked out as through I had been treated like a Queen. I had to walk with a very painful limp; and that was not going to be easy.

“Be careful!” Will said in dismay as he helped me up for the fiftieth time.

“Sorry,” I replied again.

            Once again, I began to walk; putting as much pressure as possible onto my good leg. This time, I was actually doing quite well. I even managed to walk forward for a few paces that was until my leg twanged beneath me and I fell forwards once more.

I heard laughter booming behind me. Whipping around as quickly as I could with my leg, I saw that Little John was stood with his stump (or stick as he calls it) behind his head and a smirk filled grin was plastered over his face.

“That was not funny!” I snapped through gritted teeth.

“Actually, it was!” Little John replied.

            I gave him a menacing glare which made him stagger backwards in pretend fear; I gave him a hate filled laugh at his action. I dropped myself down onto the grass and gazed curiously at the world around me. Women were cooking over small fires, cleaning clothes in a big basin, or mending them whilst talking and shouting at their children who were running like headless chickens; getting in the way of the adults that were busying themselves in their daily lives. The men were either training with their various weapons; building or just sat around talking to one another around one of the large campfires. All of them were living among nature; in complete peace.

“It is going to be so difficult!” I whispered sadly to myself.

“What is?” Will asked.

            Startled, I practically jumped out of my skin as he said this; losing my train of thought momentarily, “Oh … ermmm … it is nothing. It is just that when I do go back to the castle, I doubt that I will be able to grow used to the quietness of palace life once more. 

Out here, I am free. Free to go anywhere I wish in this wonderful forest, to speak to whom I wish and not feel as though I am constantly being watched by all those that go to court. You have more freedom than I could ever imagine, doing whatever you wish to do; life in court is nothing like that what so ever. I am restricted to what I can do for the fear of being judged harshly by those that surround me. It will seem uncomfortable to be back there; living in such a manner!”

Will nodded slowly, waiting for me to continue.

“By this time tomorrow, I will be back in the castle living in that manner once more; this will all be nothing more than a distant memory!”

I practically collapsed backwards after my energy consuming rant. I felt the grass beneath me; the coarse texture that tickled at my skin. Staring up, I watched in amazement as the trees swayed before my gaze and the birds soared up to the skies; hovering on the wind. Small wafts of clouds slowly drifted into wonderful shapes that changed with every sudden surge of the wind. A sent of roasting meat and smouldering wood smoke crept into my nostrils, causing my mouth to water slightly.

 “I understand ….. I think!” Will replied, a hint of sorrow slowing in his voice.

            Shifting his weight slightly so that his hand innocently fell on my own, he lay down beside me; he too was staring up at the sky. I felt my cheeks darkening into a scarlet blush and Will quickly removed his hand and we just lay there, staring up at the sky; in silence. In my chest, I felt my heart fluttering and a smile formed onto my face. My heart began to beat even faster when he shifted his body so that our bodies were exceeding close to one another. At this thought, my smile soon turned into a beam.

“I …… I think that …… that I shall retire for the evening!” I turned my head to face Will, who was looking about as flustered as I felt.

            He stood up and held out one of his hands. As I sat up, I innocently inspected them. They were battered and worn from all the wood work that he had done through his years; even though they were actually very few years in comparison to some others. Gratefully, I took his hand and was stood up in a single, graceful swoop; all the time I could hear the beat of my heart as it rapidly hammered my chest. Then, we stood together, his hands still on mine; time itself seemed to freeze. Slowly, he brought my right hand so that it was in line with his mouth and gently he pressed his pale, pastel lips to them. He smiled that strange smile of his and I walked slowly away; a feeling was forming stronger and stronger in my stomach and I could not explain what or who it was for.

* * *

            The next time that I saw Will, I was sat side-saddled on my stallion. Slowly, he was leading me to the edge of the forest that was nearest the castle. For most of the way, we travelled in silence; only when we were waiting in the dark shadows of the trees awaiting the signal did we begin to talk/

“I will miss you!” Will quickly said.

I blushed bright red and replied, “I will miss you also!”

I think that Will must have wondered what he had actually said, for he too had reddened and spluttered out, “Well …. well, I will not be the …. the only one who will … who will miss you. We will all m-m … miss you. I mean that since you ….. ummm …. since you joined us …..  our lives have changed so much … for the better obviously. You have … ummm …. Well changed the ways that this camp is run!”

I could not stop myself from grinning at Will and suddenly I remembered something.

“Will, will you please do me a very big favour?”

“Of course … yes I would do anything!”

            Slowly, my hand snaked up to where my father’s ring was dangling on the gold chain. I pulled it out from under my dress and looked down at the seal. I ran a finger over the bow with the two arrows and suddenly I was hit by a memory …..

* * *

            I was looking through the eyes of my innocent, five year old self; stood with my hand entwined with my mother’s. I was stood in front of my childhood home and rain was heavily pouring down around me, the dirt track path that was beneath my feet was nothing more than brown sludge; and my hair was sadly dripping tears down my face. I was staring at a wooden carriage that was loaded with brown sacks filled with clothes and other items that belonged to my dear Father. A large mare was stood at the front of the cart, pawing the muddy ground with one of its weathered hooves out of seer boredom.

A man servant scurried past us and I cast my gaze upon him. He chucked the bundle that was over his back into the cart and then turned around to face me. He had a fairly young face that was protected by his waving, dirty blond hair. He wore a knitted jumper over a crisp, white shirt and a tanned hat rested upon his head.

“Master, we’re ready!” The servant called though the rain to a person in the house behind.

A man shouted his reply, “I am coming now!”

            A pair of footsteps came from the doorway a few paces behind me, I turned around and I felt a grin run over my face. The man that was revealed from the shadows of the house had a pack slung over his shoulder, so that it bashed against his back every time he moved, and he was wearing thick travel clothing, in the folds I could just make out the silver glint of the hilt of a sword in the sunlight. A bow was hanging from one shoulder, whilst the quiver that was filled with a dozen eagle feathered arrows was on the other.

My gaze shifted up to the person’s face and I saw that they were indeed a man. He had neatly trimmed, short-cut hair that was a blond colour with flecks of brown and black in it. He had a big grin on his youthful face that made his bloodshot lips disappear in the whiskers that painted his chin.

He and my mother embrace, his hands placed delicately on her waist; I grinned at the sight of my romantic parents. Quietly, he whispered soothing words to my mother who had little buds of sorrow slinking down her face. Even through her sorrow, I could see that she was glowing in my father’s embrace. Her long brown hair, that was neither curly nor straight, cascaded down her back with a fine jewel in it. She had fair, smooth skin that made her dark green eyes shine brightly. Her ruby red lips were pressed into a worried smile, and as they parted she revealed a pair of sparkling white teeth. Her ruby reds formed to say,

“Be careful, I do not know what I will do without you my love, what we will do!”

Father rubbed his thumb over a tear that was trailing down her cheek, “I know my love, but as soon as I make it to Köln I will right. I swear!”

“I-I know but …. But what if you do not re…”

Father cupped her face in his hands and replied, “Marian, my love, I will be back before you know it. I swear it!”

“I know, but I worry so when you are gone!”

            They embraced once again and then he crouched down to me. Tenderly, he wrapped his arms across my waist and picked me up. I giggled with joy and kicked my legs furiously whilst he twirled me around and around and around. I stared into my father’s hazel eyes and my giggle increased in volume from the sight of his own grin.

“I am so sorry that I will have to miss your birthday Gwen. But promise me that you will take good care of your dear mother for me please?” He asked in a voice that was so familiar to me, yet I could not place it and I do not know why.

“I promise father!”

“There’s my girl!” He said and placed a tender kiss atop my head.

            Then he put me down, kissed my mother one final time, ruffled my hair and threw his final bag into the back of the cart. With his man servant at his side, he climbed into the front of the cart. A single wave of his hand and a blow of a kiss, he was off; a cloud of dust dancing in the air.

* * * 

            A single tear trailed down my cheek when I finally came back to the world of the living. I was still staring fondly at the ring around my neck and Will was looking at me; rather concerned. Yanking the chain off from my neck, I turned my head to look straight into Will’s gorgeous green eyes; running my fingers over the cold gold ring.

“Look after this for me, please!” I quietly said as I wiped away the tear that remained on my cheek.

“But … but … why … why are you giving this to me?” Will asked.

“I gave all my jewellery in back at the camp; save this. It … it was my father’s; it is the one thing of his that I own. I could not bear myself to depart with it but now I realise that that was an extremely large mistake. If I was truly a prisoner here, then I would have had all my valuables taken off of me. It will look rather suspicious if I turn up with my most precious item still on me.”

“I-I can’t do it, If what you say that truly is the only thing that you own of your fa …”

I placed the ring in his hand and clamped his fingers over it; my fingers stayed there as I replied,

“Just take care of it for me, please?”

            Finally, he gave up protesting and tied the chain around his own neck; stuffing it behind his scarf. Delighted, I placed a kiss on his cheek. This shocked him slightly because he blushed as deep as his scarlet scarf.

Before either of us could say anything, the hunting horn was blown. The signal accepted I nudged the stallion beneath me; with one final, longing glance at Will, I was gone.

            Alone on the dusty road, I plodded slowly up the beaten track towards the castle. I forced myself to look scared and constantly looking over my shoulder; yet all I could think about was mine and Will’s departure and of all the thoughts that were probably passing through his head at this very moment. I forced myself to slump over slightly, every couple of minutes I would tilt myself forward and look as though I was about to fall from the saddle but I would stop myself just in time.

The fifth time that I did that was when I heard the clunky chain of the drawbridge being raised and they clanked and clanged against one another; and four figures on horseback emerged from the keep.

            Continuing my act, my heart pounded in my chest and my breath began to rasp as it roughly came out of my mouth; snagging in my mouth as I heard the horses’ hooves slamming the earth. I practically collapsed when I recognised one of the horses. A black mare was at the head of the group with four perfect, white socks; it was Sir Guy’s horse! The rider, who I am guessing is Guy, saw me and held up his hand; slowing the group down.

I felting something splat against my cheek and my heart leaped with joy to realise that it was beginning with rain; hopefully it would help my story sound convincing.

            When they were the appropriate distance away, I fell forward from my stallion. As I fell, I gently nudged him in the ribs. He charged forwards, parting the Guy’s company as he raced by. With a splash, I landed in the muddy track, I attempted to race myself up a few times but fell back down; mud coating me more and more with every splash. Through the hammering sound of rainfall, I could just make out the sound of someone splashing to the ground and them jogging forwards.

Sir Guy of Gisbourne crashed down to the mudded ground, he slowly and carefully lifted me up so that I was now facing the sky and looking up at Guy’s face. A gasp slipped from his lips when he recognised me,

“Gwen!” He whispered, placing one of his muddy hands under my head as water poured down his face; I could not tell whether it was from the rain, from his emotions or whether it was from both.

“Hello Guy,” I whispered back weakly.

            He opened his mouth to say something to me. But my eyes were elsewhere. I noticed that each of the mean that had accompanied Guy were standing around us; a smile on each of their faces. One was soothing my stallion that was bucking himself in the air; panicking about what was going on and why I had left him so suddenly.  I weakly gave the man a weak smile for a thank you and felt tears beginning to stream down my cheeks.

From the way that Guy was looking at me, I could tell that he thought the tears were of joy for being returned to him. But he was wrong, so wrong. My tears were for the place and the people that I would never see again; for the freedom that I would always miss and crave. A lump formed in my throat and images of Robin, Little John, Alan, Tuck, Much and Will skimped through my mind and my tears spilled from my eyes drastically.

            Closing my eyes, I let the final sounds of the forest reach my ears; then I let the exhaustion that was coursing through me take over. And everything around me turned black.

* * *

            Guy stared down at the unconscious girl who’s head was in his arms, joy sorrowed through his heart and he carefully lifted her up off of the sodden ground. Mud was covered over her already filthy dress. It was tattered and slashed in different places; the hem over her right leg was covered in dried blood.

He nodded to the men, and each of them got back on their own horses; one took hold of his mare’s reigns whilst another tied a rope around Gwen’s horse’s neck and slowly they were led away.

Guy, on the other hand, walked towards the gate; behind the horses. Striding to the drawbridge, he bowed his head; trying to block as much of the water from falling on her face. A crowd of peasants gathered around Guy as he walked; gasping and muttering between themselves as they realised who was in his arms.

“Move aside!” He snapped to a group of peasants that were stood in his path.

They sprang to the side as he ploughed through the sodden earth and stormed towards the castle.

            He did not notice the man that was slowly trailing after; watching from beneath his hood. A flash of lightning sparked the air and the light was just bright enough to reveal the smirk on his face. In the shadows he trailed, spilling small pouches of gold pieces into the hands of the peasants that he passed; each quickly flashed him a thankful look before returning to the seen.

Just as Guy of Gisbourne was about to disappear into the secure castle keep, he looked back at the peasants over his shoulder. Another piece of lightning darted across the sky and he say the hooded figure looking his way from the shadows of a building. The area went dark as the flash disappeared and by the time the next time streaked across the sky a couple of minutes later; the figure was gone, with only the flick of a cape as they rounded the corner to even prove that Robin Hood had been standing there.     

       

   

        

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