An orphan and heiress to a large country estate, Marian Fitzwater is wed at the age of five to an equally young nobleman, Lord Hugh of Sencaster, a union that joins her inheritance to his, vastly enriching his family. But when she is seventeen, Lord Hugh, whom she hasn't seen in years, dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving her alone again--a widow who has never been a bride. Like all unmarried young ladies of fortune, she is made a ward of Richard the Lionheart, England's warrior king. With King Richard away on Crusade, Marian's fate lies in the hands of his mother, the formidable Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, who will arrange her second marriage. The lucky bridegroom will get Marian's lands and, in return, pledge his loyalty--and silver--to King Richard. Marian herself is irrelevant and she knows it. Determined not to be sold into another sham marriage, she seeks out the one man whose spies can help uncover the queen's plans--Robin Hood, the notorious Saxon outlaw of Sherwood Forest.
Marian is surprised to discover that the famed "prince of thieves" is not only helpful but handsome, likable and sympathetic to her plight. Following her plan, Robin’s men intercept a letter from Queen Eleanor, from which Marian learns, to her horror, that she is to marry her late husband’s brother. His family's history of mysterious deaths, puts Marian in grave danger. Once married, her land becomes theirs and they can easily dispose of her--a fate she may have only narrowly escaped already. On the eve of her wedding, Robin Hood spirits Marian back to the forest. Queen Eleanor believes her to be dead, allowing Marian to begin a new life with Robin Hood's outlaws, who pledge to help her regain her fortune and expose the treachery of her enemies.
|Publisher:||Crown Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||966 KB|
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I dreamt that night of Atalanta, the fleet-footed maiden of my schoolroom lessons, who raced every man who dared to challenge her. Atalanta, dark hair flying, flashed through my dreams like a blackbird in flight. She danced everywhere, in the wind, in the sun, across a field of ripening wheat, but when a hand gripped my shoulder she danced away, a spark disappearing into blackness.
The hand belonged to the queen of England, who herself contained all the power a king's widow deserved. When I opened my eyes, I saw her there, heard her raspy breathing in the windless night, saw the age spots on her hands. She sat by my side, stroked my hair, and spoke without preamble.
"Your husband is dead, Lady Marian."
"Dead?" I stared at her a moment, stunned more by the words and the notion than by the loss of a husband I neither loved nor trusted.
"Dead?" How? How has he died?"
"A long sickness brought on by riding a tournament too early in the season. He had the best physicians, even the king's own man, but bloodletting, no matter how well done, cannot save one who is already far gone. These things happen, you know, tragic though it may be. I would not trouble yourself, my dear child, if I were you."
I believe I gasped, for to find my prospects so instantly altered stole away all of my breath. The queen had bid me not to trouble myself, but the more I considered, the more discomfited I became. In the strange ways of the mind, my thoughts became twisted, raveled together, so that Atalanta seemed almost to have brought death to Hugh's young heart. I thought of his face, of his blood pooling in the catch basin, and a deep shudder skidded down my spine.
The queen saw me start, saw me fall befuddled, and took the chance to gather her skirts and slip through the door before I found my tongue. I caught a look from her as she exited, a penetrating glance such as one uses when peering through smoke. 'Twas the look of the wary, of one who guards a secret--I had not expected it to fall from the face of my queen.
There I remained, all perplexed and alone. Annie, my tender nurse of childhood, was away on an errand of her own--I had no one to comfort me, no one to help me discern my way. For what course was I to take from here? What future lay spread for me now that Hugh was no more? Too, I was struck by the irregular honor of finding the queen in my own chamber. Surely this was no coveted task, to tell a young bride of her bridegroom's death. What, then, made her come to me herself?
This question kept me from my sleep near half the night. When I dozed at last, the queen's cold eyes played in my dreams, mingling together with glimpses I'd caught of her years before, when I was a child--dressed in her crimson cape or bending from her carriage window. I knew her little, and she knew even less of me. What could have prompted her attention? The strangeness of it caught in my throat, like bread swallowed down with no wine to follow.
The next morning, when I ventured forth, I asked after Hugh wherever I could. At first the reports of his death seemed mild, but news traveled slowly from across the channel, and I had to let the rumors mellow before the wilder tales surfaced. Then I heard riddles enough to confound Aristotle. The knights told me that Hugh had been stricken by God for having got drunk on the feast of the Assumption last August. The monks said he'd been thrown from his horse and trampled to death beneath its hooves. And his own page thought he had choked on a bowl of eels, prepared for him specially by the king's cooks.
These confused, dissimilar reports frightened me and made me wonder what veil of secrecy had been pulled around Hugh's death. My fear reminded me of a resolve I made four years before, at age thirteen, to never trust any living person in this world. It seemed my young husband might have survived his life better had he learned this lesson as well as I.
My earliest memory is of Nurse feeding me gruel with a horn spoon and me thrusting the spoon aside, just to see what would happen. My wedding was sometime later, when I passed my fifth birthday. I recall very little beyond the stiffness of the clothes I was made to wear and the weight of some jewels tugging at my headdress. I was taken by Nurse to kneel in the chapel, to smell the incense which even today can make me feel reverent. I saw Hugh beside me, looking miserable in his velvet tunic, his blond curls falling like tufts of wool against his brow. We had been raised as obedient children, so we knelt in our places and repeated the words we were told to say until finally it all finished, and we could run and skip again.
I recall Nurse telling me afterward that Hugh and I were married. She showed me a ring in a leather box, which she said was a symbol of it. I thought perhaps marriage meant that Hugh and I were brother and sister, for I knew other children who had siblings and longed to be like them. Nurse said yes, it was something like that. And from that day forward, I noticed that when I pushed my spoon rudely away, she stowed her reprimand and merely offered the spoon once more with a coaxing smile.
My childhood, as any childhood should be, was made up of small habits and smaller routines. Recitations to the tutor were followed by meals, followed by naps, followed by playtime. But like any child--or any adult looking back upon childhood--it is the odd changes that break out in memory, glowing among the dim grays of youth.
Christmas and Easter burn bright in hindsight. If King Henry and his lady, Queen Eleanor, were in England, they were sure to call every noble person to Westminster Castle for a grand court, so all might recollect the king's majesty and vigor. We lived far to the north of London, and while travel during the winter months is always bitter, our long journeys through snow and mud seemed scarcely survivable.
The empty scent of winter still brings those journeys to mind--the soreness of being jostled all day on an ill-fitting saddle, the outer wraps that froze stiff from the damp mist of breath. Worst of all were the hours spent waiting while the men pried vainly at a wagon wheel, stuck fast in the mud. I liked to watch the men at their work, to learn what I could about horses and wagons and while away the next hour imagining how I might loosen a stuck wheel, were I master of the cart.
Days would pass, the air would grow warmer, and we would arrive at London town and then Westminster, both of which have grown similarly crowded and muddy in memory. There, in a wink, the relentless cold was changed over for heat and noise and the merriment of Christmastime. The great stone walls were always stuffed thick with men and ladies decked in velvet, trimmed with fur, hung all about with their best brooches, mirrors, and tassels. Fires leapt up the chimney towers with flames higher than my head, and dogs, excited by excitement itself, ran barking through the halls. Within the castle all was good food, spiced wine, treats made of sugar, colored yellow with saffron. Everyone was loud and joyous, and my eyes couldn't move quickly enough to take it all in.
At these great courts I was generally called to pay my respects to Hugh's mother, Lady Pernelle of Sencaster. This lady, I've heard, once was lovely, but years of worry had tightened her face until she resembled a walnut shell, hard and fixed in its dents and wrinkles. She was effusive in her love for Hugh and, as my mother-in-law, regularly stared at me with what I called her gaze of "measuring up." It was plain that I would never approach whatever height I ought to reach and this left me feeling compressed in her presence. As a result I avoided her, taking up instead with Hugh, or climbing onto Nurse's knee instead of Lady Pernelle's. I suppose I alienated her by behaving thus, but children will act on instinct and rarely consider consequences.
Hugh moved in and out of my early life with the evenness of the tide. I was never surprised to see him; he was never surprised to see me. We simply picked up our play wherever we had left off the time before. In wintertime we threw balls of snow and slipped about on frozen lakes, and in summer we pranced on hobby horses or wove ourselves daisy chains. We were great friends. Once, at a meeting of some important people at Leicester town, we ran off and hid in the dovecote, pretending to be wild pigeons. I believe we had just perfected the art of cooing deep in our throats when it became dark and we, being young, fell asleep. Nurse found us there, well past midnight, surrounded by birds sleeping on their perches, with feathers matted in our hair.
I remember that night vividly, for when Nurse carried me away from the dovecote to my own place in our bed, the night air was freezing cold. I remember wanting to bury my face in her warm neck, but just then I looked up and saw the sky filled with more stars than I'd ever seen before. My thoughts of the cold vanished, and I gasped in silence at that great vision, so like a sheet of watery diamonds, glinting on rolling waves of the sky.
Reading Group Guide
At the tender age of 17, Lady Marian Fitzwater of Denby-upon-Trent finds herself in the compromised position of being a widow while still a virgin. Hugh of Sencaster, her legal husband since the age of five, has died suddenly, under mysterious circumstances. Yet before she has time to mourn the passing of this childhood friend, Marian finds herself at the heart of a swiftly evolving political plot. For as an orphan, a widow, and a landed heiress, Marian is considered a ward of King Richard’s. Not only is she is poised to bring vast wealth to whichever man she marries, but her betrothed will in turn owe his allegiance to the king for her hand. Determined to cement Richard’s claim to the throne while he is away crusading, his mother, the powerful Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, sees in Marian an easy bargaining chip. A new engagement is quickly arranged for Marian—to her dead husband’s brother.
But Marian refuses to be played as a pawn in the game of wealth and politics. Desperate for help dodging her unsavory fate, she turns to the legendary outlaw Robin Hood, a notorious champion of the underdog and master to the best spies in England. Deep in his woodland lair, Marian discovers a new way of life far removed from the cloying protocol of the upper crust. As she tastes independence and hard work for the first time, Marian’s eyes are opened to Robin Hood’s irresistible charms, and the unlikely pair find a passionate devotion growing between them.
Marian’s troubles are far from over, however. She is determined to reclaim the estate that is hers by birthright and expose the treachery surrounding her husband’s death before she embarks on a new life. And there are inner demons she must face alone before she is free to join forces with her beloved and inspiring companion, Robin Hood.
In succulent prose, author Elsa Watson weaves together political intrigue, social commentary, and forbidden romance in this freshly imagined take on the Robin Hood legend. Through the eyes of one unforgettable woman, she arrives at a stunning portrait of twelfth-century England. This guide is designed to direct your reading group’s discussion of Elsa Watson’s stunning Maid Marian.