So, you may remember me saying I was writing Robin Hood fan fiction. Here’s the first chapter.
For reference, you can also find it here:
Plumes of smoke rose steadily into the night sky, grey streaks on deep purple. The silence of the dusk was broken by the faint crackle and spit of burning wood.
Heading for the orange glow on the horizon, the rider crested the ridge and paused to drink in the view of the valley below.
Relaxed and confident in the saddle of a proud, bay mare, the rider was lean and poised, dressed in black leggings and tunic, a hood obscuring their face, a quiver of arrows on their back.
An opulent estate lay before them; a large Manor House, sprawling fields, and an outbuilding, ablaze, flames leaping upwards into the darkness above.
With a gasp, the rider urged their mount forward and thundered down the slope, heading for the fire. The horse was nimble and fleet of foot, galloping flat-out, familiar with the terrain, and needing no further encouragement. The rider crouched forward in the saddle, sitting easily atop the plunging horse, hands light on the reins.
As they neared the Manor House, the rider glimpsed a figure, skulking in the courtyard, silhouetted against the inferno. Torch in hand, the miscreant crept forward towards the next barn, brandishing the fiery weapon.
Still too far away to reach him in time, the rider pulled the horse to a sliding halt and unhitched a bow from the back of the saddle. Grabbing an arrow from the quiver on their back, the rider nocked it into the bow, aimed carefully, and sent it flying towards the figure with the torch. The arrow zipped through the air, and, before it had even slammed into the arsonists side, the horse was at a full gallop again, heading for the manor.
As they clattered into the yard, the rider leapt from the saddle, another arrow already nocked. The injured man was on the ground, groaning in pain, and the rider kicked him in the head, knocking him out, before turning to regard the inferno.
Two figures detached themselves from the shadow of the unlit barn and made a break for it, skirting the blazing building to get to the gate. An arrow caught one of them in the shoulder, and he flinched and stumbled, but didn’t stop. The two men fled into the night.
The alarm had been raised, and people were beginning to spill from the Manor House, running for the well, armed with buckets and pans. The rider paused, looking after the fleeing men, then turned back to the well.
“Oh, Roana! How did this happen?” An older woman wearing a nightgown, brunette hair in a long plait down her back, came towards the rider, hands outstretched, bewilderment etched on her face.
The rider pushed back her hood to reveal a heart-shaped face, a generous mouth, eyes that flashed blue in the glow from the fire, and a tumult of messy waves the colour of ripe chestnuts.
“Aunt Eleanor!” The young woman approached the newcomer, quickly. “I have no idea. But there were men here, lighting the fire.” She gestured behind her. “I hit one of them..”
But, on further inspection, the wounded man had disappeared, and all that was left was a bloodied arrow, lying in his place on the ground.
Roana of Filey, nineteen year-old niece of Eleanor and Robert, lord and lady of Filey, stared out into the night, searching for movement in the darkness, but the suspects were long gone, and all that remained of their presence was a burning barn. Flames licked closer to the adjacent buildings, and the need to extinguish the fire was greater than a fruitless hunt for three men who had melted into the night.
It took the best part of three hours to douse the flames completely, with the help of the villagers. All that was left afterwards was a charred mess; the structure had collapsed in on itself at some point in the night, and continued to burn as the fire ate up the hay that had been stored within. Luckily, it did not spread any further.
In the early hours of the morning, Roana finally fell into bed, fully clothed and exhausted, but could not sleep for long. There was much to contemplate, and criminals to apprehend. She mulled on her thoughts as she bathed upon rising.
The fire had been set deliberately; of this, there was no doubt. Roana had caught them red-handed, but it had been dark, and she hadn’t been able to make out their features. She certainly wouldn’t recognise them again.
Why had they done it? Lord Robert and Lady Eleanor, Roana’s aunt and uncle, and owner of the manor and surrounding land, were benevolent nobles. They ruled the village of Filey warm-heartedly, and were lenient with their tenants whenever possible. They had no enemies that Roana was aware of. Why would anybody hate them enough to start a fire on their grounds?
But somebody had set out to destroy their home last night, and Roana was intent on finding out why.
Clean and clothed, Roana hurried down the grand staircase and made her way to the drawing room, hoping to break fast with her aunt and uncle.
She burst into the room, stopping short at the sight of Robert and Eleanor accompanied by Devereux, the Sheriff of Yorkshire, and his son, William, Lord of Bridlington.
Coming to a halt, Roana wished with all her might that she hadn’t entered the room. She had been avoiding William for the past week after his unexpected proposal, which she had no intention of accepting.
Tall and strapping, with a shock of pale blond hair and a prominent nose, William of Bridlington was known for his womanising ways and his sadistic nature. With a love for hunting, fine wines, and expensive whores, he edged towards disgrace, and his father was keen for him to settle down and marry a noblewoman.
Roana, as the only heir to the Filey’s land, which Devereux coveted, was the ideal candidate.
“Ah. Lady Roana!” Devereux exclaimed, spotting her. “You must join us. I’m sure you have a reply for my son by now.”
Roana glanced at her aunt and uncle, quickly, then lowered her head, deferentially. “My Lord.”
“You have considered my offer?” William asked, imperiously.
“Well, I..” She was at a loss for words. In that moment, she couldn’t imagine anything worse than marrying William, but how could she reply without offending him?
Devereux stood and crossed the room to stand before her, a portly figure with a receding hairline and a cruel mouth. Roana had long been wary of the Sheriff of Yorkshire, a ruthless man with a reputation for being a vengeful tyrant.
“My dear,” his tone was kindly, yet his grey eyes were like steel as they bore into hers. “My son is an eligible bachelor. He could provide you with so much, including protection for your family.” He gestured towards Eleanor and Robert, who were both looking shell-shocked. Devereux continued. “As I was just saying to Filey here, we wouldn’t want a repeat of last night. With my protection and William’s protection, I can guarantee that those men will not return.”
Roana stared at him as it slowly dawned on her exactly what he was saying. And it did not surprise her one bit.
The fire had been down to him! And, unless she was very much mistaken, he was presenting her with an ultimatum – marry William, or the Filey’s were at risk of another attack.