Read an Excerpt
By David B. Coe, James Frenkel
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 Universal Studios LLLP
All rights reserved.
From within the brooding shadows of Broceliande Forest, Robin Longstride could see the pale colors of dawn touching the morning sky; glimpses of pearl and pink and pale yellow sifted through branches and leaves. A wren sang from the shelter of a nearby thicket and a woodpecker drummed in the distance. A fox slinked through the underbrush, pausing to regard Robin and his companions with luminous eyes before slipping away into the darkness. A peaceful morning, the air still and cool. If not for the subtle scent of a hundred cooking fires lingering in the wood, and the faint murmur of a thousand voices not too far off, it would have been easy for Robin to forget that he was at war.
He had been up with the first hint of morning light, as had the two men walking with him, Will Scarlet and Allan A'Dayle: a hunt to begin their day. And a successful one it had been. They were carrying back to their camp coneys and quail, a brace of pheasants, and two plump grouse that Allan had managed to kill. They couldn't know what the coming battle would bring, but at least they would start their day with a good meal.
Robin had grown fond of his two companions through their travels together. Will, with his fiery orange hair and beard, and a spirit to match; Allan, bearded and long-haired, less flamboyant in appearance than Will, more reserved and considered in manner. They were younger than Robin by several years, and both were prone to the foibles of youth. Will's exuberance occasionally landed him in fixes that a more seasoned soldier might avoid, and more often than not Allan blindly followed his friend into trouble. But they were brave and loyal, and good in a scrape. A man could hardly ask for more in his comrades.
As they drew nearer to the encampment of the English army, the forest around them thinned and brightened. They passed through a small camp of Moors and Gypsies. It was common for such bands to follow armies on the Continent, hoping to make some coin catering to the various appetites of fighting men. Though a few of the dark-skinned men looked up at Robin, Will, and Allan as they made their way through the camp, none of them offered much by way of greeting.
But a Gypsy girl sidled up to Robin, her hips swaying, dark eyes peering up seductively through long lashes.
"I tell your fortune?" she asked him sweetly. "Read your palm?"
Robin grinned but didn't break stride. "I've been in this army ten years. I've a fair idea what's going on."
"You have a quest," the woman said.
"Indeed I do: Breakfast."
He continued past the girl, as did Allan. Will, however, eyed her with obvious interest.
"Tell me about our future, you and I," he said. "Does it rhyme with luck?"
She took his hand, stared at his palm a moment, and then gasped. Robin and Allan stopped to listen.
She looked up at him, her eyes wide. "You will always find love ... by your own hands."
Robin and Allan burst out laughing and continued on. Will hurried after them. His face was still bright pink when he caught up.
The three men reached the edge of the forest and entered the enormous camp of King Richard Coeur de Lion's army. Beyond the army loomed the French castle to which they had been laying siege for the past seven days. The banners of the French lord still flew above the battlements, but the stone walls of the fortress were blackened and her gates scarred though still intact.
As the three men wound through the army camp, Robin began to distribute some of their kill from the morning's hunt. He gave a quail to one man who'd shared a meal with him a few nights before, and offered a rabbit to a fletcher, receiving a stack of arrows in return. Some of the meat he gave for no apparent reason, sharing a good word and a laugh with the surprised recipient. After ten years he had learned that there were two things an archer in the king's army should never have in short supply: arrows, and the good will of his fellow soldiers.
By the time he, Will, and Allan had reached the embers of their campfire they had just enough game left to feed themselves. Before they could even get their meat on spits, though, they were joined by young Jimoen, a foot soldier they had befriended during their return from the Holy Land. He was gangly and pale, and he regarded them now with an apology in his eyes.
"Archers are called to ranks."
Allan stared ruefully at his breakfast. "Bloody typical."
Robin merely shrugged and set the meat aside. "It's alright boys. Hide it well. We'll have it for supper instead."
He reached for his armor, he began to suit up for battle.
Marion of Loxley should have been asleep, dreaming of her husband's return from Richard's Crusade. The time she and Robert of Loxley had shared as husband and wife had been all too brief, though the memory of their wedding night was still enough, after all these years, to bring a smile to her lips and heat to her cheeks. To relive that bliss, even if in a mere dream, would have been a balm for her uneasy heart.
Instead she tossed and turned, listening to the sounds of the night: the sweet tones of a nightjar, the resonant hoot of a nearby owl, the howl of a wolf, the soft rustle of countless leaves as a gentle wind stirred the boughs of Sherwood Forest beyond the walls of Peper Harrow, the Loxley home.
She lived with her husband's father, Sir Walter Loxley, a great man in his day, now reduced by age and blindness to awaiting the return of his son from war. She wondered if he was awake as well, if it was some whisper of fate, some purposeful foreboding that kept her from sleep. She considered going to check on the old man. Deciding against it, she rose and crossed to the narrow window that looked out from her bedchamber toward the Loxley fields and the wood beyond.
Doing so, she beheld something puzzling. It began as a flicker of shadow at the edge of Sherwood Forest, and then a second. Soon there were nearly a dozen of them: animals, moving with purpose and stealth across the fields toward the town of Nottingham. She spied a badger, a boar, and a fox, a wolf, a sheep, and a bear; as unnatural a company of creatures as she could imagine. Comprehension came to her just as the alarm bell in the town watchtower began to toll.
"They're coming!" the sentinel called, his voice echoing from the village.
Marion rushed to her door and out into the corridor. She could hear some in Nottingham raising the alarm, while others shouted angrily at the raiders in their fields. Just as she reached Sir Walter's chamber she met up with Gaffer Tom, who had worked here at the Loxley house since well before Marion's marriage to Robert. Pausing at Walter's door, she heard the old man within. He was mumbling to himself and moving about. Marion pushed the door open.
Sir Walter Loxley might have been blind, but as soon as she and Tom entered, Walter turned toward them unerringly, his sword in hand. He was still tall and lean, despite his years, and the fearsome look on his face would have given pause to any intruder.
"Don't be foolish, Walter!" Marion told him. "You can do nothing for them." It broke her heart to speak to him so. He deserved better, as did all of Nottingham.
Walter appeared to sag a bit at her words.
"Keep him in here," Marion told Tom quietly. "Bar the door."
She hurried away. Walter could do nothing, but she had some skill with a bow, and she was angry enough to kill.
"I'm still master of this house!" Walter called after her.
Marion continued on to the armory, where she retrieved a bow and hastily wrapped a creosote cloth around the head of an arrow.
Reaching the gates of Peper Harrow, she could see enough of what was happening below in the town to confirm her worst fears. The "animals" were running rampant through the lanes of Nottingham, some carrying chickens, others with pigs slung across their backs, and still others laden with the hard-earned foodstuffs of the townspeople. She raised her bow, the arrow already nocked, and drew it back smoothly, just as her father had taught her long ago. With great care, she touched the cloth to a candle, igniting it, and then she loosed the flaming dart into the night.
It arced over the walls of Peper Harrow and descended like a flare, illuminating the hoar-covered field and the edge of Sherwood. The raiders were in retreat, carrying away Nottingham's food stores.
"I see you, you bastards!" Marion called to them, "I see you!"
The "animals" were running now, disappearing back into the shadows of the forest. She wanted desperately to chase them down, but she had responsibilities here. With a sigh, she left the gate and made her way to Peper Harrow's barn. Tom was there, ruddy-cheeked and solid, holding a lantern and looking forlorn. The grain bin was empty.
"They've taken the seed grain," he said.
She stared at the empty bin, her chest aching. "I can see that, Thomas. I can see."
She turned away, knowing she needed to tell Walter that they had nothing left to plant, and that a hard life had just gotten harder.CHAPTER 2
Philip the Second, King of France, known to some as Philip Augustus, sat beside his campaign table on the banks of the Seine, the expansive grounds of the palace at Fontainebleau at his back. A servant held a platter of oysters, while the king alternately pored over a military map that covered his table and opened the shells with the skill of a surgeon. Occasionally he looked up to gaze out over the river. Philip was a handsome man, in the way of the French. Godfrey thought there was something slightly soft about his looks, something that bespoke the decadence of his land and his people. But Godfrey was also wise enough to understand that it was the king's libertine nature, his utter lack of scruples, that made him the perfect ally.
Godfrey watched the man, his eyes drawn repeatedly to the brilliant glittering ruby on the hilt of the king's ornate dagger, which Philip used in place of a more traditional oyster knife.
The king opened yet another shell, held it to his lips, and tipped back his head, so that the treasure within slid into his mouth and down his throat. Smiling with satisfaction, he glanced at Godfrey and gestured at the grand plate of oysters, clearly intending for the Englishman to help himself.
Godfrey smiled thinly, but remained as he was, eyeing the king.
"You and John," Philip said, reaching for another shell, "you go back a long way together."
"To the same breast."
The king's hand hesitated over the plate. "I trust you are referring to your wet nurse."
"And we have remained close ever since," Godfrey said.
The king appeared as satisfied by this as by his meal. "Good, because England under your friend John is a country with no fighting spirit. I can take London with an army of cooks. But King Richard is on his way home. Under Richard ..." He shrugged, gesturing with the dagger. Godfrey's gaze was drawn once more to the ruby. "England would be a different animal altogether."
Philip took another oyster from the plate and jabbed at it with his blade. This time, the point slipped, slicing into his hand, which began to bleed profusely.
"Merde!" the king said. "Even dying animals can be obstinate." He opened the shell with a second twist of the dagger and offered the oyster along with a generous helping of his own blood to Godfrey. Godfrey eyed the king for just an instant before taking the proffered shell, tipping his head back and swallowing the bloodied oyster.
"Richard will return home through the Forest of Broceliande," Philip said, watching Godfrey in turn. "We know the exact place." He swept aside several empty oyster shells with one hand and with the other pointed to a spot on the map. "He always travels ahead of his army, with only a few trusted knights around him."
By way of answer, Godfrey took another shell, opened it deftly, and drank down first a half-shell of seawater and then the oyster.
"With him gone," the king concluded, "there will never be a better moment to invade."
"A votre service, mon seigneur" Godfrey said, inclining his head slightly. At your service, my liege.
"Non. C'est moi qui suis a votre service." No, it is I who am at your service.
Eleanor of Aquitaine walked with purpose through the cold corridors of London's White Tower, her footsteps echoing off the stone walls and arched ceiling, her hands clenched in fists at her side. By any measure, she had lived a full and fruitful life. She had married and loved two kings, though her love for Louis had been short-lived, a folly of youth. She had given birth to two more, and had already seen one of them buried, which had been harder by far than losing her second husband. Indeed, of her ten children — two by Louis and eight by Henry — only four had survived to this day. For nearly sixteen years, she had lived as a prisoner, moved from fortress to fortress by order of her husband, Henry, who had accused her, with good reason, of plotting with her sons to rob him of the crown.
She had gone on a crusade, survived naval battles in the Mediterranean, and been called a traitor and an incestuous whore and worse. Even now, old enough to feel winter's lingering chill in her bones, she was still Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitiers.
And yet, for all she had accomplished, for all the challenges she had met and overcome, for all the tragedies that had marked the long arc of her life, no one — no one — had ever vexed her as much as her youngest child. That John, prince regent of the realm, was dissolute, irresponsible, and untrustworthy, not even his mother could deny. Though several years past his thirtieth birthday, John was still more child than man, at least in temperament. But these were faults that she had seen in his father, and, though Eleanor was loath to admit it, in his brother, the king, as well. Perhaps not to the same degree, but certainly Richard could be as debauched and irresponsible as any man of the court. What was it about men in power that rendered them utterly sapless when confronted by a flask of Benedictine wine and the comely girl serving it?
What troubled her most about John wasn't so much his weakness of character as his utter lack of kingly qualities. He lacked his father's subtlety and wit, he wasn't charming or gracious like his brother Henry, and he had shown no sign of possessing even a fraction of Richard's courage. Treachery, malice, pride — these he had in abundance. But Eleanor feared for England if ever John should ascend to the throne. At least as he was now. Perhaps it was motherly weakness, but she still entertained some hope of changing him, of helping him grow into the promise that flowed in his blood. She would have to act quickly, though. She had learned all too well that none of her issue could live forever, not even her Lionheart.
Turning a corner onto the hallway of John's bedchambers, Eleanor saw his wife, Princess Isabel of Gloucester, stooped before John's door. Isabel was a nice enough girl, but she was no more fit to be queen consort than John was to be king. Eleanor supposed the girl was pretty, though none would have called her beautiful, but she was vapid. And one had only to see her now, outside her husband's bedchamber, listening at the man's keyhole, to know how weak she was.
Eleanor cleared her throat as she approached, not wishing to give the girl too much of a start.
Isabel straightened and turned, all in one swift, whirling motion. Seeing Eleanor, she staggered back several steps, clearly intimidated.
"Your Majesty!" the girl said breathlessly.
"Your Royal Highness," Eleanor answered, unable to keep the disdain from her voice. "An English princess shut out of her husband's bedroom by a piece of French pastry. Aren't you ashamed?"
The girl raised her chin, showing more spirit than Eleanor had expected. "The shame is surely his."
"If you think so, go in and tell him." The words were hard, but Eleanor said them with somewhat more sympathy than she had been inclined to offer moments before. "Mewling at his keyhole is neither one thing nor the other."
She brushed the girl aside and opened John's door.
Immediately, Eleanor heard giggles and she turned toward her son's bed. The cover was stretched over the length of the bed, clearly concealing two bodies. She could see two pairs of hands gripping the cover at the head of the bed, and now, in unison, they flipped the cover upward so that it billowed over them before descending again. More giggles followed this, and the hands flipped the cover a second time.
Excerpted from Robin Hood by David B. Coe, James Frenkel. Copyright © 2010 Universal Studios LLLP. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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