"Sherwood Forest," Edward said, looking out of the window of the coach. "We're almost at Nottingham, Marian."
Marian sighed with boredom. She was fourteen and used to being active all day, not shut up in a carriage that lumbered so slowly along the path that she could easily overtake it just by walking. At least it was cooler in the forest. It was a warm summer's day and the carriage had become quite heated while they were out in the open.
Seeing movement among the trees, Marian leaned out for a closer look, only to see someone flying towards her. She screamed and pulled back, but the young man's feet shot through the window, slamming into her shoulder and sending her crashing into her father. A moment later, the feet disappeared, and there was a solid thump from the road outside. The horses whinnied, and the driver brought them to such a abrupt stop that Marian and her father were flung forwards.
"What happened?" Edward gasped, regaining his seat. "Marian, are you all right?"
"Just startled, I think," she said. "And you, father?"
"Startled would be an understatement."
The carriage rocked as the driver jumped down, and Marian heard him shouting, "What on earth d'ya think yer doin', tryin' ta kill us all?"
"I do beg your pardon," came a young man's voice. Intrigued, Marian opened the door and got out. Standing a little farther down the road was the young man who had nearly flown directly through their carriage, holding a heavy rope attached to a tree branch high above the path. "I was … playing … and I didn't see that you were coming until it was too late."
"Playing?" Sir Edward demanded, exiting the carriage as well. "Have you no duties, no work to do, that you have time to swing through the forest on a rope?"
"I think you'll find –" the young man started to say, but Marian's father cut him off. " I think you will find that I am the new Sheriff of Nottingham, and you could have seriously injured my daughter with your playing! You will come to Nottingham with us and spend the night in the stocks!"
"My lord!" the young man cried as realization dawned in his face. "Yes, my lord, the stocks … I do beg your pardon, my lord. My lady!"
"My servant was only playing because I told him to," said a voice from behind them, and Marian spun around to see another young man coming out of the forest. He wore a bow and a quiver of arrows on his back. "If you have to punish someone, my lord, you should punish me, as he is my responsibility."
"And who are you?" Edward demanded.
"My lord, I am Robin of Locksley, the son of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon," he said, bowing. "And this is my servant Much. I apologize for our actions. I hope your daughter is all right?"
He smiled at her then, and Marian smiled back. "I am not hurt, my lord."
"Nonetheless, I will spend the night in the stocks in the place of my servant," Robin finished.
"Master, no!" Much protested, but Robin waved him to silence.
Edward glanced from Robin to Much and back again, frowning. "And what games were you playing in the forest, Robin of Locksley?"
"I was practicing my archery, my lord, and I bet Much a hot bath that I could shoot through a rope. We hung one up, and I told Much to swing on it, to make it more difficult." Robin smiled without embarrassment.
"I see you missed," Edward said.
"Yes, my lord." Robin's smile faded.
"Your servant must have a very high opinion of your ability with a bow, if he allows you to shoot in his direction," Edward commented.
Much straightened up. "My master is the best shot in Nottingham. He's never hit anybody he didn't mean to hit!"
Robin grinned. "Either that, or he has a very high opinion of hot baths."
"Well, yes, that, too," Much added.
Robin tilted his head. "Much, fetch the horses."
"Master, no!" Much cried again. "Let them put me in the stocks! I should've let go of the rope the moment I saw the carriage, instead of trying to bounce off it! It's my fault!"
"Much," Robin warned, and Much nodded. "Yes, master."
He walked into the forest, and Robin turned back to Edward. "May I ride on my own, my lord, or would you rather tie my hands and lead my horse behind your carriage?"
"You may ride on your own," Edward said. When Much returned with the horses, Edward put a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Come, Marian."
Getting into the carriage, Marian cast a searching look back at Robin and wished she could ride alongside him. She wanted to talk to this handsome and strangely chivalrous young man who was so certain of his archery skills that he thought he could shoot an arrow through a swinging rope. But ever since her mother had died, Marian knew her place was at her father's side, and so she sank down onto the bench with only a wistful sigh.
They rode into Nottingham. Marian had expected Robin to keep his horse behind their carriage, but every so often he drew up alongside it and grinned down at her before falling back again. She smiled at him each time.
Sir Edward had already sent his servants ahead to prepare for their arrival, but they were not the only ones waiting on the steps of the castle when the carriage pulled into the couryard. A tall man with the dress and bearing of a noble stood there, too, watching patiently as the steward came forward to greet them.
"Welcome to Nottingham, my lord Sheriff," the steward said. "This is the Earl of Huntingdon, who has been administering the shire since Sheriff Thomas' untimely death."
"Huntingdon," Edward said, reaching out his hand. "I've heard that name already to-day."
Huntingdon took the hand and glanced sideways at Robin. "Sir Edward. No doubt you have been introduced to my son."
"He introduced himself to us," Edward said. "I'm afraid my first duty as Sheriff will not be to your liking, as I will have to put him in the stocks for the night."
Marian expected Huntingdon to be angry, but his eyes twinkled as he said, "Really?"
"He apparently wanted to fire his bow at a moving rope, and told his servant to swing on it, but instead of the arrow hitting the rope, the servant hit our carriage. Fortunately, my daughter and I escaped seriously injury."
Huntingdon stepped towards Marian and took her hands in his, bowing over them. "My lady. I am sorry that you were accosted by my son in such a manner. May I offer you the privilege of turning the key to lock him in the stocks?"
Marian gaped at him in surprise. "My lord? Oh, no, that won't be necessary."
"As you are the injured party, I insist," Huntingdon said. "Let us do this odious duty, my lady, and then we can return to pleasanter things. The servants have prepared a chamber for you, and the welcome feast will be ready soon."
Marian glanced to her father, who frowned, but nodded, and they all walked from the castle to the marketplace where the stocks were. Once there, Robin removed his bow and quiver and handed them to Much, then turned to Marian with a quick smile. Then he stooped over and placed his head and hands in the stocks. Huntingdon brought the top piece down, then took the ring of keys from his belt, found the right one, and handed it to Marian. Feeling awkward and conspicuous, she stepped forward and turned the key in the lock.
Huntingdon rattled the top piece to test it, then addressed Robin's servant. "Much, you will attend me at the castle."
"Yes, my lord," Much said, glancing from him to Robin and back again.
"You will not sneak out at any time between now and to-morrow morning. You will not bring Robin any food or water, or protect him from any rotten fruit that the villagers might throw at him."
From the guilty look on Much's face, Marian realized he'd been planning to do exactly that. Glancing apologetically at Robin, Much murmured, "Yes, my lord."
"Right, then," Huntingdon announced, reaching out for the keys again.. "Let's get back to welcoming our new Sheriff."
"My lord," Marian said, not handing them over. "Because it was my responsibility to lock him in, I assume it's also my responsibility to unlock him to-morrow?"
"Marian!" her father hissed, scandalized at her boldness. Huntingdon considered this for a moment, then said, "You are absolutely right, my lady. It is your responsibility, and I will accompany you here in the morning."
Relieved, Marian handed over the keys, then gave Robin one last look. He winked at her, and she smiled, then turned away.
I'm not that familiar with the Robin Hood story, so I'm assuming that every thing here is correct, or within the accepted scope of that story. It is a good beginning—but only a beginning to a longer story.
What I liked best: The characterization. We get a nice glimpse into the various personalities.
Magazine ready? Not for the purposes of this contest. There is no conclusion to the story arc, but a rather abrupt end. I would like to read the rest of this story.