Robyn is on the run.
Rumours have been circulating that she has been stealing from innocent people and now everyone she meets is willing to turn her over t the town guard. Desperate to clear her name, she sets out to find her friends Marian, Littlejohn, and Scarlet.
But can she convince them that the rumours are false?
It doesn’t take long for Robyn to realise that something is wrong. Marian is distant and guarded, Littlejohn is apologetic but resentful, and Scarlet is angry that Robyn isn’t splitting her loot. Soon, Robyn begins to wonder if her friends believe the rumours after all.
She’s determined to prove her innocence, no matter what it takes…
A Hundred Gold
Robyn slid into the Blue Boar via her usual entrance; the back room window. As she did, she caught her tunic on a nail, tearing the cloth as the sharp end scraped her ribs. She swore. Landing heavily in a clattered heap in the dark storeroom. She knocked over a jar of some sticky liquid as she tried in vain to right herself.
“Dammit, dammit,” she muttered, dirtying herself further as she tried to mop up her mess.
“What nonsense is this?” The portly, balding innkeeper stood in the doorway, staring at her.
“Sorry, Merek, I just- it’s so damned dark in here.” She righted the fallen jar and shook the gunk from her hand. “What is this anyway?”
“Only the finest oil, imported from the continent. Do you wish to crash through my wines as well? Perhaps I can give you a torch and you can burn the whole place to the ground? Or do you prefer to ruin me one pot at a time, eh?”
“And when you smirk like that, you expect me to believe you? Honestly, the back door is unbarred, the side door is unbarred, the front door, heaven forbid you to use it, is unbarred, and in you tumble backside-over-head clattering through the storeroom as if you want the whole of Nottingham to hear.”
“Why have you got so much stuff in here, anyway?”
“It’s a storeroom! Not a scoundrel’s bridleway, get up, get up!” He grabbed her by the armpit as she slid on the oil slick coating the floor and almost pulled the man down with her. “What’s that stink?”
“I’ve had a rough morning.”
“You’ve had a rough morning? I’ve lost half a jar of Italian oil! Come on, out, out!” he finally pulled her out of the storeroom and harried her up a small flight of wooden steps. “The council awaits.”
“The council?” she asked, but she didn’t have to wait for an answer. Sitting in Merek’s private quarters in the eaves of the Blue Boar were Reynold Littlejohn, Will Scarlet, and Marian de Staynton. Her stomach somersaulted when she caught sight of the latter, even when Marian stood and looked at her with utter disdain.
“Robyn, you’re filthy!”
“It’s good to see you too, Mare,” she bowed and tweaked the rim of her hood, “Apologies for my improper attire.”
“Improper attire? You look like you’ve been fished out of a ditch.”
“You smell like it too,” Scarlet added with a smirk.
“I had a little run-in with the town guard, it’s a good thing you’re all here, actually. I want to talk to you about something.”
The three of them exchanged glances and suddenly she realised how strange it was that they had gathered. Will was the only one she’d expected. Littlejohn had said he’d be off hunting today and Marian had been lying low at her father’s estate since their last escapade together. She turned to Merek, and he didn’t meet her gaze. It was then that she noticed that Merek’s mother, usually in bed until the early afternoon, was nowhere to be seen. This was to be a private affair.
“What’s going on?” she asked carefully.
“It’s nowt much, Rabbit,” the hulking form of Littlejohn stood between the eaves, his stave spinning slowly in his hand as he struggled to meet her gaze. “It’s just that…”
“We know about the Baron of Brattleby,” Marian said, and the whirl of confusion reignited in Robyn’s head. “He’s a good man, Robyn.”
“And a rich one,” Scarlet added, “were you trying to keep the money for yourself? I thought we were in on this together. Even split.”
“This ain’t about the coin, Will.”
“Well, that’s the only reason I’m here.” Scarlet folded her arms and leaned back in her chair.
“I thought Edward was our friend, Robyn. How could you steal from his father?”
Robyn slumped heavily on a stool and sighed. “So that’s Odel Wainwright, Grandpa Cynric, the smith’s new apprentice, the Fishmame brothers, and the Baron of Brattleby. Have I missed anyone?”
“So it’s true then?” Littlejohn shook his head and twisted his stave.
“That’s quite a list, Robyn.”
“I heard you hit a merchant travelling down from York and took all his cloth.”
“His cloth?” Robyn asked.
Will shrugged. “It’s what they were saying over at the almshouse.”
“And you all believe this?”
They glanced at one another and there was something different in their eyes this time.
“Everyone believes it.”
Robyn turned to Merek, and he held out a sheet of parchment carrying her likeness.
“And most peopled could do with the coin.”
She took the poster and whistled when she saw the amount. “A hundred gold pieces? I’ll turn myself in for that.”
“This isn’t a game Robyn.”
She nodded absent-mindedly to Marian as she scanned the contents, then read the recent additions out loud. “Highway robbery, poaching the king’s deer—well, we’re all guilty of those two—robbing the poor box, cattle theft. Cattle theft? Where do you think I’ve been hiding stolen cattle?”
“I can think of a few places.”
Robyn grinned at Will. She seemed to take her supposed treachery far better than any of the others.
“Of course, I didn’t believe it at first,” Marian said, wringing her hands. “But they saw you, Robyn.”
“Saw me? How could anyone see me? I wasn’t there. I didn’t do any of these things. Do you honestly think I’d steal the poor box?”
“We thought, perhaps, you’d got into trouble,” Marian was looking to her own shuffling fingers rather than at Robyn, “the Baron said there was a band of men, led by a charming and witty young lad who robbed him for all he was worth and called himself Robyn Hood.”
“Well, I am charming and witty, but you may have noticed, Marian, I’m not a lad.”
Scarlet snorted, and Marian narrowed her eyes. “Oh, so you haven’t been disguising yourself as a boy? This is your new winter gown, is it?”
Robyn held up her hands in defeat. “All right. I admit to the disguise, but I haven’t been stealing from the Baron of Brattleby, or the poor box, or any of these other things I’m supposed to have done.”
“So you haven’t been out hijacking merchants without me?”
Robyn laughed as Will’s green eyes flashed with mischief. “No.”
“And you’re not indebted to a mysterious gang of thugs?” Marian asked.
“Not unless you count Merek.” She received a clip around the ear for her cheek but it was worth it to make Scarlet snort with laughter.
“Well, I must say, Rabbit, I am relieved.” Littlejohn finally sat down, letting out a deep sigh.
It hit Robyn then, that Littlejohn truly had been convinced of her crimes and convincing the rest of Nottingham of her innocence might not be so straightforward. “Someone’s gone to a lot of trouble to sully my name. I’ve spent the best part of the morning being betrayed to the town guard at every turn I made.”
“The town guard? You led them here?” Merek’s voice rose in pitch and Robyn turned to him quickly.
“No, no, they were long gone before I headed here. Which reminds me, Nora will be at the bar. I promised her a drink.”
“You promise all the strays a drink! Might I remind you, it is my drink you promise?” Merek huffed down the stairs, still muttering his curses as he descended.
“So, someone seems to have it in for you, Robyn.” Marian pulled up a chair next to her.
“That’s nothing new.”
“No, it’s not, but purposefully staining your reputation? That is new.”
“Could it be the sheriff?” Will suggested.
“Maybe,” Robyn nodded. “To get the townsfolk to turn me in?” She looked at Littlejohn.
“Aye, it’s possible, but I can’t see t’sheriff going out to the woods and lying in wait to rob Odel Wainwright of all lost souls.”
“And I can’t imagine anyone describing the Sheriff as a charming young lad,” Will added with a laugh.
“So is that how they’re doing it?” Robyn asked. “An ambush in the woods?”
Littlejohn nodded. “Aye, all ‘cept the poor box which were taken from the friary.”
“So, whoever it is, they are charismatic, resourceful, and have been able to get a whole band of people loyal to their cause long enough to hang around Sherwood Forest and ambush passers-by.”
“They do sound an awful lot like you, Robyn.” She looked at Marian and there was that strange combination of admiration and concern that so often cast a shadow over her delicate features.
“Except there is one major difference,” she pointed out, “whoever is doing this wants me dead.”
Marian put a hand over hers. “You don’t know that, Robyn.”
“After the morning I’ve had, I can’t fathom any other reason for it. They’ve painted a target on my back a hundred feet wide, and I’d like to know why.”
“What mad scheme do you have in mind this time?” Scarlet asked, standing and clearly ready to follow her wherever the mad scheme led.
Robyn eyed Marian and smiled. Even though Marian was sure to disapprove of the idea, there was no doubt in her mind she would still help. “Do you know exactly where the Baron of Brattleby was robbed?”
“On the road south from Worksop, about three miles out of Nottingham.”
“Then that’s where we’re headed.”
“What do we need to take?” Will asked.
“You can’t be serious?” Marian was standing now and all admiration had gone from her eyes leaving only raw concern.
“Marian, there are people out there trying to get me killed, staining my name and reputation until my own friends are ready to turn me in, don’t you think I have a right to know who is behind it all?”
“But charging out there to meet them head-on? You could be heading right into their trap.”
Robyn nodded. Marian had a point. “Well, if it’s a trap then I intend to spring it.”
“Rabbits don’t do well springing traps,” Littlejohn warned.
“Then it’s best we stay on our guard.” She turned to leave but noticed the giant of a man didn’t make a move to join her. “Are you not coming, Littlejohn?”
“Well,” he scratched his beard, and let out a humming groan and Robyn wondered if she hadn’t done such a good job of convincing him after all. “There’s this old castle I wanted to explore, and I had a good lead from a poacher up near Netherfield.”
“Right, fine.” Robyn offered him a curt nod as her hands tightened into fists. “It looks like it’s just you two and me. Unless you have any old abandoned buildings that you have a pressing urge to visit?” Robyn stomped down the stairs before either of them had a chance to reply.
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