‘Nother Sneek Peek–SHIREWODE
Meet the Green Man, Fair Readers, and his Merry Men–
“Someone’s askin’ after Robyn Hood.”
“Fancy that,” Robyn answered. He scarcely gave a glance to the older man who had sidled up to him wearing a dirty hat with a torn brim, instead kept leaning against two comfortable supports: Will Scathelock’s brawny left arm and an equally sturdy hemlock. The outlaws had just arrived to Matlock with a prize; already the villagers were gathering round, the headman relaying directions to those unharnessing the sorrel jennet from the wagon. They’d have the grain unloaded in no time, Robyn knew; as to his own….
“Arthur, leave off the horse; John doesna need you fussing. Best take Gilly and David and set watch.”
“And Will?” Arthur raised his eyebrows.
Next to Robyn, Will flexed one arm and winked. “Nae doubt I’ll have the wagon.”
“A proper ox, you are,” Gilbert quipped, and took off with a yip as Will strode forward and aimed a half-hearted boot towards his backside. Robyn gave a small stagger at the impromptu desertion, realigned himself against the tree trunk, propped a foot for good measure.
“Some’s got to do the work for the pretty ones,” Will quipped back.
Robyn laughed, gestured with the strand of hay he was twiddling in his long, callused fingers. “Aw, Scathelock, ’tisn’t so bad. I think you’re pretty.”
“You would, y’ tunic lifter.”
Will smirked and Robyn grinned back, watching the villagers unload the grain sacks.
“Robyn….” the man with the dirty hat tried to wheedle.
“Leave Himself be, Cedric!” Matlock’s headman, Wulfstan, came over, frowning.
“But there’s sommat he should know, Wulf—”
John caught Robyn’s attention just as he was considering turning it to Cedric. A few hand signals and a dip of his dark head toward the setting sun, and John had made it plain he was ready for a cask of mead to warm the night with.
Robyn agreed. Matlock was known for its honey and, of course, the mead rendered from it. Surely Wulfstan would spare them one in recompense for the nicked grain….
“Same again?” Will asked Wulfstan, who nodded.
“We’ll pour it off, give you th’ auld sacks, and will thank the Horned Lord for his gift of the gelding for however long we have ’im.” Wulfstan grinned. “There’s none’ll grudge us a good animal what just came walkin’ up loose. They’ll take ’im back should they ever find him, and curse Robyn Hood.”
One side of Robyn’s mouth tilted upward. “Fancy that.”
“We’ll take the cart and sacks a ways east,” Will agreed. “Your folk rarely have business that way, and the less they’ve to do with it, the better—aye, Robyn?”
“Aye.” Robyn twirled the hay stem, lightly furthered, “John’s wanting a bit of mead, Wulfstan, should you have it t’ give.”
The headman grinned. “Fancy that,” he teased, in the same tone Robyn had just used, and Robyn chuckled. “I think we can spare a firkin for th’ King of th’ Shire Wode,” Wulfstan continued, walking over to take the horse from John.
“Our little John gets more with a twitch of his eyebrows than any of us with a round o’ beggin’,” Will complained.
“Fancy that,” Robyn arched his own eyebrows and elbowed him.
“Not my type. You fancy that,” Will retorted, with his own elbow knock.
“Mm. As I can, aye.”
“Robyn.” Cedric had skulked closer, a distinct whine edging his voice. Of course, Robyn considered, the best method of communication Cedric could muster usually involved whining. “I tell ye, ’tis important.”
Will gave a sigh. “Look, man, if we jumped every time some’un gave Robyn’s name a mention—”
“This ’un ent just mentioning. He’s questioning.”
Robyn shrugged, transferred the stem of hay to his mouth, began chewing one end.
“There’s some as are sayin’ the Sheriff’s hired hisself a man, see?”
“Does the Sheriff fancy boys, now?” Will snorted, and gave Robyn a shove. “Mayhap you two need a chat after—”
All right, that was not in the least bit funny. Robyn gave him a hard fist to the ribs. Will gave an “oof!” and went staggering—more than satisfying, considering he nearly made two of Robyn.
“Scathelock, if you don’t shut your yap, I’ll bloody well shut it for you—”
“You have t’ listen, Robyn!” Cedric made a grab for Robyn’s sleeve, which Robyn deftly avoided. “This ’un’s askin’ all sorts of things about Robyn Hood, and he’s some nobleman; a killer from ’crost the sea, I heerd.”
“A nobleman killer!” Will scoffed. “Ent they all?”
But Robyn was watching Cedric, the strand of hay stilling between his teeth. “You’ve actually heard the Sheriff hired this man?”
“Aye, Robyn, ‘tis what I’ve been trying to tell you!” Cedric’s already protuberant eyes were bugging out further. “My cousin Edgar—as works in the Sheriff’s kitchens?—aye, well, he said one o’ those Templar Knights had come to Nottingham Castle, was sniffin’ about sommat fierce—”
“A Templar!” Will grunted. “Jaysus, Robyn. What in hell have you done to brass off one of those?”
Robyn shot him a quelling look; he wasn’t about to flaunt his ignorance in public. He’d heard of Templars, words and warnings he hadn’t understood and still wasn’t sure he did. “And what did Edgar have to say about this… Templar?”
“Edgar’d heard all th’ tales, y’know, about how those lot have horns and a tail and no soul—”
“Right, that’s what the nobles say about Robyn!” Will snorted. “There y’ go, Rob, there’s a match made in th’ otherworld for you!”
Robyn gave Will a black look which promised serious damage; it thankfully shut him up. “Did Edgar,” he said, taking the hay from his teeth and examining it, “say owt useful?”
“I know, Robyn, I know. I was just sayin’ all that to let ye know what Edgar was expectin’… only ’e wasn’t getting it, see? Said the Templar broke bread with the Sheriff and his sister like any normal—”
“Sister?” It twined Rob’s nerves taut as any bowstring. “The Black Abbess?”
“Bloody damn,” Will growled. “She’s back?”
“Aye, Edgar said she’d been away down south, or th’ like, for some time.”
Surely it was a paradox, that a weasel of a cutpurse with a wagging tongue should so casually utter the name Robyn had cursed since he’d emerged from Cernun’s caverns with a nigh-crippled arm, his world shattered and his heart full of unspent fury…
SHIREWODE will be available 09 September