Sherwood - Meagan Spooner


He wakes to the sounds of steel and fire, and the distant wailing of a Saracen woman. His sword is in his hand before he’s on his feet. He’d been dreaming of rain on leaves, of the sound and feel of a wet day in Sherwood. When he lurches out of his tent in the English-occupied part of the city, the heat hits him full in the face, dazzling him as he tries to escape the lingering memory of green and damp and earth. Sand stings his eyes as a riderless horse gallops past, panicked, a long red line across its flanks spilling a crimson curtain down its hide.

Before he can begin to tell friend from foe, a blade swings out of the red-hot midnight toward his face. His sword hand lifts to deflect the blow automatically, his shoulder taking the brunt of the impact. It’s the battle that brings him back to himself, banishing the last hints of his dream of home—the frantic staccato of panting and grunting and steel scraping bone and arrows whistling past. A second or two more and his opponent falls, screaming and trying to hold himself together with both hands across his stomach.

There’s no time to dispatch the Saracen. Robin is forced to leave the man there and fend off another blow from another assailant, knocking him back with an elbow to the stomach.

He is surrounded by the enemy. There are far too few English blades around him. He catches sight of a familiar man, recognizable more for his style of battle than anything else. By now they are all so burned by the sun and rubbed raw by wind that at first glance they seem no different from the infidels they’re fighting. In the dark they might as well have been fighting amongst themselves.

“Where is the King?” shouts Robin, his voice breaking.

The other man screams a reply, but over the sounds of battle Robin cannot hear. The other man’s sword sticks in his opponent’s rib cage, and he’s forced to plant a boot against the man’s chest to pull it free. He gestures with his sword, then turns to reengage.

Robin sees a crowd in the distance, at the edge of the safe part of the city. Or what has been the safe part—the enemy has penetrated their defenses in the night, bypassing the fortifications. They must have killed the sentries in silence. The distant commotion is a cluster of a dozen English soldiers using a narrow alley to hold off a horde of Saracens one hundred strong. They’re making for the edge of the city, guarding something.

The King.

Something thuds into Robin’s shoulder, sending him off balance, and he whirls, searching for the blade he knows is coming. There is no one there. It’s then that he feels the fiery lance of pain racing down his biceps and he gasps, sword dangling uselessly at his side. He cranes his neck and sees the fletching sprouting from his shoulder. He reaches up, bracing himself as he curls his fingers around the long arrow shaft buried in the muscle there. He breathes in, out, and in again, and then snaps the shaft off with a deft twist.

Robin sways to one side, dizzy, concentrating on the spots that swarm his vision for the space of a breath. Then he passes his sword to his left hand and slings his bow over his shoulder with the wounded arm and gets moving.

He heads for a set of stone steps leading up to one of the roofs, hoping for a better vantage point. It’s the route the women take in the mornings when they bring up their laundry to dry in the sun, and Robin clears the draped fabrics away with a swipe of his sword as he sprints up the steps. The city is lost. He can see it in the way the others are fighting, in the way most of the soldiers have gathered around to ensure the King’s safe retreat through the postern gate. But there is too much distance to travel to reach safety. Too many enemies, and not enough blades.

He reaches the rooftop, but before he can scan the city, a shadow darts from a corner across his path. With a roar he raises his sword, momentum already bringing it down before his eyes focus on the figure running past. A child. A girl, which he knows only because of the way her head is covered. She cannot be more than twelve, and for a burning