Lady Locksley – Chapter 3

To Nottingham

Roana was beginning to realise that, while life didn’t always go as planned, advantages could still be found in many a situation, no matter how bad it seemed on the outside.

She could have reluctantly gone with William to Nottingham, and hated every minute of it. Or, she could join him willingly, and use the opportunity to rediscover her roots. By deciding to choose the latter, she made her own life so much easier.

The following morning, she was eager to set out from Filey, and waited impatiently for William to arrive. Accompanied by her maid, Alice, she soon found herself on the road, seated in a sumptuous carriage and watching Filey slip away as they headed for Goole.

While Robert and Eleanor were happy that she was prepared to accept her betrothal, they still worried about the journey ahead of her, and her absence from their lives. Roana hadn’t spent a night away from her aunt and uncle since she had arrived twelve years ago, a bewildered eight year-old who was missing her mother. But now, in the space of two days, they were losing her to Nottingham, and to William.

Roana had assured them that this was not the case, and that she would return soon. However, maybe there was a grain of truth in their concern, for she secretly feared that William would not be content to drag the betrothal out, and that a wedding would soon be impending.

Such was her fate, as a lady and a maiden with a respectable dowry.

William, for his part, seemed in high spirits during the journey to Nottingham.

“Like the cat who’s got the cream,” Alice observed in a hushed tone, her small nose wrinkling very slightly in distaste.

Roana agreed, but kept her counsel. It was inappropriate, to gossip with the help about her betrothed, and within earshot too. Anything she had to say would be spoken behind closed doors. She hid little from Alice, who had been with her since her twelfth birthday. She saw her more as a companion than a maid, but was under no illusions about the difference in their upbringings. Still, she trusted Alice implicitly, for the girl had yet to let her down.

William shared the carriage with them for part of the journey, and Roana watched him, covertly, from behind the curtain of her hair while they conversed. It was true: she thought he was an idiot, with the mind of a privileged oaf, but he was an attractive idiot. His blond hair flopped over his forehead in a disarming manner, yet the cut of his lips, far too fleshy to be masculine, was more than a touch petulant. He had a muscular build, yet his eyes were such a dark shade of brown that it was impossible to differentiate between iris and pupil, and Roana found this a little disconcerting. His gaze would often bore into hers with a severity that made her uncomfortable.

She hoped that she would grow to like him, maybe even love him, in time. Although, at that moment, it seemed like an impossibility, but he could very well have a hidden, softer side, one that she would uncover as they grew closer.

Or maybe it was just wishful thinking. Either way, she would use their time in Nottingham to get to know him as a person, and hopefully find some common ground; maybe even ignite a spark of interest.

She sighed, wearily. Her romantic heart would always crave love, but sometimes, it just wasn’t meant to be, and the best she could hope for was friendship, or even just tolerance.

They arrived in Nottingham on the afternoon of their third day on the road. After spending the night at a tavern in the town of Rotherham, William was eager to set out early the next morning, and, for once, Roana found herself agreeing with him.

The sun was high in the sky as their small convoy clattered through the gates of the castle, and Roana and Alice peered out of the carriage windows in barely concealed awe. William had rode on ahead on his bay stallion, peering imperiously down his long nose at the people of Nottingham as they darted out of his way.

Situated on a high rock, known hereabouts as Castle Rock, Nottingham Castle was a sprawling fortress built from grey stone, imposing in its position overlooking the town below. As an occasional royal residence, it was certainly a place of interest, and one Roana could vaguely remember visiting as a child.

Having passed through the huge gates by the gate house, the carriage crossed the lower bailey, heading for the main apartments and the keep. It was market day, and crowds were bustling around the stalls set out throughout the bailey, perusing the wares laid out on display.

Roana couldn’t help but notice the heavy and ominous presence of guards interspersed throughout the throng, and wondered, idly, if there was a reason for this. But she did not have time to dwell on it as the carriage entered the courtyard of the keep and came to a stop.

“We’re here, my lady,” Alice breathed, staring out at the building that lay before them.

The keep towered above them, dark and foreboding and sturdy against the cerulean blue of the sky. A wide staircase lead from the courtyard up to huge double doors, which stood open yet held not one iota of welcome within their portal. The courtyard itself was surrounded by a huge wall topped with battlements, behind which armed guards patrolled on the the wall walk. A raised portcullis was ready to descend and shield the keep from intrusion.

A small, grey-haired man dressed in black had appeared from the keep doorway and was proceeding down the stairs, smiling widely in welcome. William dismounted and stepped forward to greet him.

“Must be the Sheriff,” Alice mused as William’s page opened the carriage door for them to alight.

“Thanks, Beasley,” Roana threw him a smile of gratitude as she stepped out. The young lad blushed deeply but Roana had already moved on to greet their host. Alice, following her mistress, noticed and nodded at him with a wink. The lad blushed even deeper.

“Ah, Roana.” William smiled at her as she approached, a touch of the condescending in his manner. “I’d like you to meet my cousin, Jean-Paul Vaisey, the Sheriff of this good town.”

“My lady.” Vaisey turned to regard her, his sharp eyes taking in every inch of her in one sweeping glance. His gaze was cool and analytical.

“My Lord,” Roana inclined her head in greeting. “Thank you in advance for your hospitality. I’m looking forward to spending time in the castle.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” the Sheriff replied in a flippant manner. “It is your first visit to Nottingham?”

“It is,” William interrupted to answer for her, and Roana suppressed a smile.

It was true: William did not know much about her past. A self-important man who was above searching for answers, what he hadn’t gleaned from superficial interactions had been filled in with presumptions and hearsay. As far as William was concerned, Roana was an orphan, raised by Lord and Lady Filey, who had only come into existence when he first met her at twelve. Anything before that was of no interest to him.

It suited Roana. She was strangely private about her past in ways that she couldn’t fully explain. Although she understood why her father had sent her away all those years ago, there would always be a small part of her that felt like an abandoned and bereft child, and she had no wish to share that with anyone. Especially not William.

She couldn’t imagine ever opening up to someone like William and revealing the deepest, darkest corners of her heart.

                                          ******

Having been shown to their rooms and allowed to freshen up after the journey, William and Roana were summoned to the Great Hall, where a sumptuous meal had been laid on. Venison stew, rabbit pie, wheels of cheese, huge hunks of bread, and plenty of wine; just the sight of the filled table had Roana’s eyelids drooping. After two and a half days on the road, she was exhausted and couldn’t wait to fall into bed later that evening. But, until then, she was required to play the dutiful wife-to-be.

The Sheriff was quite the character. With his salt and pepper beard and thinning hair, he had the look of a kindly uncle. Yet his eyes were shrewd and his manner was loud, sarcastic, and lacking in any empathy. Roana found him to be outspoken and entertaining, yet there was an air of unpredictability about him that she knew she would have to watch out for.

He matched William drink for drink, yet, while William gradually became inebriated, slurring his words and growing more animated, Vaisey remained stone-cold sober, his sharp eyes taking in everything around him.

The food was delicious, but Roana was too tired to eat much. Sipping on a goblet of wine, she watched William, noticing how his gestures grew more expansive with each goblet of wine imbibed. She had heard rumours about his antics when under the influence, and hoped there would no repeat performance here in Nottingham.

As she was preparing to make her excuses and retire to her room, the Sheriff turned to fix her in his steely gaze.

“So. Lady Roana. You intend to make an honest man of my cousin?” He indicated William, who was mopping up venison stew with a corner of bread and humming to himself.

Roana cleared her throat and nodded. “It is true; we are betrothed. It is very new to both of us, and we are in the process of getting to know each other.”

“I’m sure you are,” Vaisey grinned in a vaguely unpleasant manner, and his eyes fell very briefly to her bosom before he returned his gaze to her eyes.

“And when will the happy day take place?”

“We have not yet set a date,” Roana replied at the same time as William, who blustered, “Very soon, cousin. Very soon.”

He burped. Vaisey gave a bark of laughter and raised his eyebrows at Roana.

“It would appear that your intended is not on the same page as you are, William. Something will need to be done about that.”

Feeling increasingly unsettled, Roana rose from the table and inclined her head to the Sheriff, darting her eyes at William, briefly.

“I feel that is something my husband-to-be and I should discuss between us, when he is in a better frame of mind. Now, if you’ll both excuse me, I’m going to my room. The journey here has quite exhausted me.”

Lady Locksley: Chapter 2

Chapter 2

No Way Out

“I’m afraid we have been left with little choice in the matter, my dear. And for that, I am gravely sorry.”

Lord Robert of Filey’s voice was tinged with regret as he drew Roana to him in a strong embrace. Roana lay her cheek against her uncle’s chest and nestled into him, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. A stocky, kindly man with a gentle temperament around the home, Robert had always had the power to soothe away her troubles. But, on this occasion, it would take a lot more than a hug to make things right in Roana’s world.

Robert was correct – she had no choice. She was to marry Sir William and save Filey from Devereux’s vile threats. And there was very little she could do about it.

The barn fire could have been so much worse, and Roana knew that Devereux would carry out his threats if she didn’t toe the line. The Sheriff of Yorkshire was a dangerous man. What he lacked in a conscience, he made up for in brutality and extortion, and he was feared by many. Yet he could be benevolent to those who followed his strict rules.

It suited Robert and Eleanor to stay on his good side, and Roana would not be held responsible for destroying that. She owed them her life, and she would never forget that.

If it hadn’t been for Robert and Eleanor, Roana’s life could have taken a very different turn. Born in Nottingham to Robert’s brother, Sir Malcolm of Locksley, and his wife, Sarah, Roana had been raised alongside her elder sibling, Robin, until Sarah had died of tuberculosis in Roana’s eighth year. Crippled with grief and unable to provide an adequate upbringing for a daughter, Malcolm made the difficult choice to send Roana to Yorkshire and give his brother and sister-in-law the child they so desperately wanted. Unable to conceive, they had welcomed Roana with open arms.

Roana couldn’t complain. Her aunt and uncle had doted on her from the beginning, and presented her with so many amazing opportunities. She couldn’t fault any aspect of her childhood, and she would do anything to acknowledge that. If that meant marrying a man she despised, then so be it.

“It’s okay, Uncle Robert,” she said, as he released her. “There are worse things than being betrothed to a buffoon, I’m sure. He will provide for me, for one.”

She trailed off, unable to think of another advantage in that moment, and smiled wanly at her aunt.

“Oh, Roana,” Eleanor sympathised. “I know it’s not what you want, but William is very eligible. And we are very grateful. Don’t ever forget that.”

Roana sighed then rallied, valiantly. “It’ll be fine. I can do this. I’d rather not, but nevertheless, I CAN do it, and I will.”

She held a hand out to both her aunt and uncle. “Don’t worry about me.”

“But we do,” Robert said, taking her offered hand. He looked at her, his gaze stern. “You could have been seriously hurt last night. Why do you continue to defy our wishes by going out at night? It is inappropriate for a lady of your standing to gallivant around the countryside in darkness, and dressed as a man no less! You must curb this disobedience.”

Roana lowered her head, chastised. She knew that Robert and Eleanor disapproved of her night time activities; it was too dangerous for a young noblewoman to be roaming the countryside after hours. Anything could happen to her! Roana was well-versed in the do’s and don’t of life as a Lady, and one who was the sole heir to Filey, but her heart was restless, and she often felt confined within the trappings of her title. She longed for freedom, and she found it in the saddle at night. But this indulgence would have to come to an end once William took her for his wife.

There was a knock at the drawing room door, and Eleanor’s maid, Agnes, entered.

“My Lord, Sir William of Bridlington is on his way to meet with Lady Roana,” she said, breathlessly.

Roana exchanged glances with her aunt and uncle. “Again? But he has already visited today!”

Agnes looked flustered. “I have no idea, my lady. His man has just arrived to alert us to Sir William’s arrival. He’s on his way!”

“Thank you, Agnes,” Eleanor nodded, kindly, giving Agnes permission to leave. She turned to Roana. “He is now your betrothed. You must act accordingly, and welcome his presence.”

“Do I have to?” Roana moaned, then caught her aunt’s warning glare. “Alright, alright. I will be on my best behaviour, I promise.”

She arranged herself, primly, on a chair and waited, wondering what William could possibly want for a second time that day. She was tired; last night’s ministrations were catching up on her, and she had little patience for unwanted company. But she couldn’t turn him away, and she pasted a smile onto her face as he swept into the room, strutting like an overgrown peacock.

“My lady,” he spotted her and approached, taking her hand and bowing low to plant a kiss above her ring finger.

Roana allowed him to, suppressing the urge to snatch her hand away, breathing deeply and willing herself to remain patient.

William straightened up and glanced around the room, airily. Robert and Eleanor had made themselves scarce, and William seemed satisfied that they were alone.

He turned back to Roana. “My lady, I am due in Nottingham tomorrow to visit my cousin, the sheriff of the town. I plan to stay for at least a fortnight, if not longer.”

“Oh!” Roana was pleasantly surprised. “So you will be away for quite some time?”

William nodded, declining the chair she directed him to and leaning instead against the table by Roana’s side. “I will, my lady. And, as my betrothed, I request that you join me on my travels.”

“Wait.. what?” Roana was stunned, but quickly collected herself. “My Lord, it is such short notice. I am not sure that I can make it.”

William interrupted her, smoothly. “My lady, I insist.” His voice brooked no argument. “There is nothing here that cannot wait, I am sure. I will ensure that your uncle agrees to your absence.”

Roana was gobsmacked. Yet again, decisions were being made for her.

However, as she struggled to hide her irritation, Roana mulled on William’s demands. Would it be so bad, to spend a fortnight in her home town? She had not been back to Nottingham since she was ten, when she had visited briefly to pay her respects after her father had died in a house fire. It would be nice to revisit her childhood home under happier circumstances. It would also be the perfect opportunity to meet with her brother again, after all these years apart.

Plus, if she accepted willingly, would she not be taking the decision out of William’s hands, and regaining control of her destiny? If she could not escape the inevitable, they why not embrace it and take it in her stride?

Steeling her resolve, she smiled up at William. “I would be delighted to join you tomorrow. What time will we be leaving?”

Lady Locksley: Chapter 1

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:

Wattpad: https://my.w.tt/Eqd0KJ6pQ8

Chapter 1

Fire!

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.