This second novel of a historical fantasy series that reexamines the Robin Hood legend in medieval England.
Nick, an orphan raised at Locksley Abbey has made friends with the Wildfolk: the Greenman, Robin Goodfellow, dryads, water sprites, and other paranormal creatures. He often hides in the nearly forgotten abbey crypt, where he found Elena, the goddess of sorcery, crossroads, and cemeteries. He carries her vessel and tries to learn from her wisdom.
Robin Goodfellow lives with a curse. Half of each day he must spend as a hideous gnome with a bit of magic and near immortality. The other half of the day he can live as Robin Hood, archer of legend. At the time of his curse sixty years before, an insane magician trapped Robin’s love, Marian in a secret chamber that keeps her in perpetual sleep. The only way Robin can break the curse is to awaken Marian in his gnome form and have her recognize his true face.
But the magic is breaking down. Marian will die if Robin doesn’t break the curse soon. He needs Nick’s help, his affinity for dark underground places, and Elena’s whispers to find Marian’s secret chamber and decipher the clues to breaking the curse.
Release date: January 18, 2022
Print pages: 304
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Outcasts of the Wildwood
Anno Domini 1208 in the Royal Forest of Sherwood,
ninth year of the reign of King John. The autumnal equinox.
The time has come for me to pass the authority of the Green Man to the heir of my choosing," Little John announced, making certain his voice carried to the circle of human and fae friends who had come to observe this rare ritual.
He took his place at the center of the triad of standing stones. Dawn had just begun to brighten the day on the autumnal equinox. The gravestone where the first Earl of Locksley had been buried seven generations before had become their altar. It stood between John and two of his sons.
They faced him, each strong and resolute. Both sons had his oak-brown hair and beard. Their eyes took on hints of red or yellow, depending upon their surroundings and the direction of the sun.
Derwyn, the eldest of all his offspring, near reached John in height, but not yet his breadth. He still had some growing to do over the next three hundred years. He also needed to learn to restrain his temper and spread his tolerance to include the humans and the fae who shared the forest with the animal life that found shelter and sustenance here.
That temper had worsened over the past few years. And his patience had diminished.
Verne, only a decade younger than Derwyn, promised to overreach John's height and breadth. He had demonstrated both compassion and diplomacy among the denizens of the forest. Listening to both sides of an argument among the Wild Folk was a natural talent for him, rather than learned wisdom. He seemed to have grown into a useful mediator. His oldest brother had not.
Unlike many of the Wild Folk, Little John had included his children in his daily life within the forest. There was too much at stake to neglect them.
Both sons stepped forward, expectation written on their faces and in their posture.
Tradition dictated that the eldest son should succeed the father. Not so different from the human laws.
However. . . .
Human politics had showed how sometimes the eldest son was not always the best candidate to lead. The old way among the Saxon tribes had few inheritance laws. The Jarls, or noblemen, elected the best candidate rather than the oldest son of their previous leader.
King John had seized his crown based upon a similar theory. At the time, John, an adult who had sired children, seemed a better candidate than his stripling nephew, Arthur, who had never lived in England and was easily led by the French king. Prince Arthur, like his uncle, King Richard the Lionhearted, loved war too much and women too little.
Ten years into John's reign, he had alienated half his nobles, nearly all of the reigning kings across the Channel, and the head of their Church.
"Once our ritual is complete," Little John continued, even though all he wanted to do was retreat to his tree for a few months, "my heir must return to his tree form for a minimum of a year, four full seasons. On this autumnal equinox, today, the year of spreading roots through every furlong of Sherwood Forest will begin. Only when that process is complete, may you emerge from your tree form to walk among your subjects."
During that year, John would continue as the Green Man, with ever-decreasing magic, and gradually withdraw his involvement in the everyday life of the forest to spend his time loving Jane, and perhaps fathering human children with her.
Little John paused, stretching his stiff fingers that had curled in on themselves. Jane, his beloved Jane, had soothed his nervousness with her gentle words and encouragement. His eyes found her in the crowd of onlookers. Never one to draw attention to herself, she half-hid behind his old friend Father Tuck and his protégé Nick. One tiny smile from Jane gave him the courage to do what he must.
"The dryad who replaces me must have the skills of both a diplomat and a warrior, of a priest and a judge. The word of the Green Man is the law of the forest. The lives of all those who find shelter and sustenance within the bounds of this wood are subject to the Green Man's law."
Derwyn's eyes opened wide, and his mouth turned down in a frown. Twigs began forming within his hair and beard in preparation for returning to his tree form, a tall sturdy oak.
A shadow of sadness overlay John's determination. He loved all of his children. Why had Derwyn grown away from the traits required of the next Green Man?
"The son I must deny the right to become the Green Man will lose his dryad affinity for the forest. He must henceforth walk among men as a man without the comfort of his tree form. He must dwell with humans outside Sherwood Forest."
Derwyn took another step forward, a deep frown drawing his face into a thickening mask of furrows.
Robin Goodfellow bounded into the circle and kicked Derwyn in the shins. His shrunken, gnomelike fae persona could hardly penetrate Derwyn's hide any more than an annoying gnat on a hot summer's day.
Derwyn ignored him.
But he stepped away from Blaidd, the fae father and protector of all the wolves of the forest. He bared his fangs briefly, then continued to circle the area, keeping everyone in their designated place.
Robin drew one of his arrows from a bark quiver and jabbed Derwyn with the broad flint point.
Derwyn jerked, losing all vestiges of his tree.
Little John turned his attention to Verne. "The demands placed upon the Green Man require more than size or power. My second son, Llwyf, a gentle, straightforward man, is half elm and therefore ineligible to become the Green Man. I choose instead, Verne, my third son, as the one most likely to succeed. Step forward, Verne of the Greenwood."
Derwyn took three steps forward to Verne's two shorter strides. "You can't!" he said, loudly enough to be heard at distant Locksley Abbey.
"The Green Man does not roar except in grief when the king's foresters cut down a tree prematurely," Robin Goodfellow sneered even as he stretched into his normal body of a handsome lordling wearing Lincoln green with a strung bow and an arrow already nocked. "I have an iron broadpoint on this barb, Derwyn. I will pierce your hide with it and watch you writhe in agony as you burn beneath your skin." Robin raised his aim toward his target's heart. With only a few feet separating them, the arrow, one crafted and blessed by Little John himself, would penetrate deeply enough to cause serious harm. Perhaps death.
Derwyn backed off, an ugly snarl on his normally handsome face.
Blaidd the wolf-king, sprawled on the ground between Derwyn and his brother, looking more like a bored dog than a fierce protector.
Verne took another step forward and knelt at the altar stone.
John placed his hands on his youngest son's head. His mind turned inward toward the store of ancient lore that resided in his heart.
With a deep breath and closed eyes, he willed that treasure to flow upward and out of his mouth in an ancient language so old and little understood that even he never used it.
The words came slowly at first, then faster and faster as everything John had learned, the knowledge of his father, his grandfather, and fifteen grandfathers before flooded out of him and filled Verne.
The boy gulped, his throat apple bobbing nervously. Then he looked up with eyes glazed in wonder. He stumbled to his feet, never dislodging his father's grip. When he stood tall and strong with his balance firm, his hands reached up to grasp John's temples.
He took over the task of reciting the lore in an enchanting rhythm that took on the cadence of a hymn of glory and awe.
His feet stretched and sprouted roots. Branches and leaves twisted through his hair and beard. His skin took on the texture of thick bark.
Other voices joined him: Herne the Huntsman, Ardenia the water sprite, Will Scarlett the red bird messenger, the dryads and sylphs, nymphs and trolls, and all the others, lifted their voices in a song as old as time. Only the humans remained silent, not being a part of the forest magic.
But Father Tuck and Nick mouthed the words in a half-remembered litany of joy. Forest blood ran thin in them but surged upward with the ritual.
The magic of the moment spread to include them and Jane, but left Derwyn and the other humans in a pocket of normality.
The knowledge and awareness of the lands of Sherwood withdrew from John.
A bubble of panic pressed on his throat. He was losing the best part of himself.
Easy, silly boy, Elena, the goddess of crossroads, cemeteries, and sorcery, giggled at him. She lived in a little three-faced cup that young Nick carried in his sleeve. Rest easy. You are more than the Green Man. So very much more. And now you can fully live the other parts of your life with Jane. Let go of the Green Man and live fully as John.
John breathed deeply, filling his body with precious air. A second breath and he knew that Elena had the right of it.
The far reaches of Sherwood Forest faded first from his awareness, then more and more pulled away from all directions. His rootlets shriveled. And then they exposed a subterranean void he had not observed before; a void that should not be beneath a knoll that overlooked ruined Locksley Castle. He made note of it and continued to pull his roots closer and closer to him.
Vacant numbness filled his head. He fell to his knees and his hands dropped to his sides, his position with Verne fully reversed.
The land rippled and shook, knocking the watching people to their knees. The smallest of the triad of standing stones tilted and then righted again. A tremendous groan reverberated around the clearing, deafening John. But he couldn't move his hands to cover his ears.
Blackness encroached upon his peripheral vision. "Such emptiness," he gasped. His entire being had shrunk to just his physical body, devoid of the forest. "I'm alone. So utterly alone."
Verne staggered backward, hands clutching his own temples as he tried to contain and absorb the new knowledge. Unknowingly, he rooted himself to the center of the clearing, the heart of the forest. As he stretched and grew into a stalwart oak of middling height and breadth, all those around him grew silent with respectful awe.
Blaidd shifted until he sat attentively by the feet of his new master.
Only Derwyn frowned and sneered.
John remembered that same moment in his own life almost four hundred years ago. And now he was empty and alone.
"You are not alone, my beloved. I am with you always," Jane whispered, kneeling beside him. "You are mortal now. We are together for the rest of our lives."
You have given much to the forest, my boy, Elena said. The time has come to allow the forest to give back to you. Love your Jane. Cherish her as you cherished Sherwood.
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