Excerpt is from Book One of The Daughter of Robin Hood Trilogy.
Most souls who approached The Foggiest Forest immediately turned back due to the dense fog that shrouded the depths of the forest from peering eyes. The Foggiest Forest was so named because of the fog that never lifted. It constantly swirled around the tree tops and forest ground. Because of the fog, no adventurer in the world had been able to chart a map.
We had started as four friends, abandoning the troubles that plagued us, abandoning the parents that contained us in lives we couldn’t bear. We ran away, four friends, looking to make names for ourselves. We stole for ourselves, unlike the outlaws that had come before us…what we stole was ours, and we were the greatest thieves because of our wealth, but the worst people in the eyes of the authorities and our parents…especially mine.
The only place we were safe to call home was this forest and the cabin we had found hidden the heart of this great forest. We knew we were safe as soon as we entered the borders, for at one edge of the forest there was a cliff that fell off into a roaring river far below, and in the other directions there were fields that would take our enemies into other kingdoms where they had no authority. We were enemies with all but few, and I knew by now that every king and queen in the Twelve Kingdoms had the same outcome for us. If they were all allies against us, then it wasn’t much protection, but it was enough, for they knew the risks of entering this forest as much as we had when we were young and scared enough to be reckless.
We had to be careful now. We were wanted in all of the kingdoms except one, and the authorities knew we targeted the rich lords and noblemen and they knew our methods. Not only that, but they had someone chasing me down that knew me better than anyone, and I was glad for it. If the man who had raised me didn’t know me better than the soldiers hunting me down, I would be truly disappointed.
Not only that, but there were more than one times where we had barely scraped our swords out of an escape. We had had more than one instance where we had nearly been captured and though we had not failed all but once, we were lucky to still have our lives. But the times that I had nearly lost the people I cautiously called my friends, those were the times that haunted me at night.
The cabin that we called our home had room for all of us, but while it was still warm at night, I ordered my band of thieves to sleep outside with hopes that they wouldn’t hear my screams.
We had returned that morning from a heist. I stood, recalling the first time we had attempted a theft, and failed because I froze and we had nearly been caught…I also recalled the time that I saw my friends nearly get killed. This was before the kill on sight order had been burned, like we should have been long ago, and they had been cornered, but I stood, watching, from the rooftop above them. I was too scared to join them, but a door opened into the house whose roof I had stood on, and they escaped, and I followed. But that was the day that they had nearly been killed, and I promised them that they wouldn’t find themselves in that position again. The kill-on-sight order had been burned the following day, but not even the most honest of my thieves had told me exactly what had happened.
Our failure and their near-death experiences had been my fault. Both times, I had been a coward, and as I stood by the creek, brushing the dust of a good day’s thieving off of my grayish-black horse’s back, I tried not to remember these old haunts that plagued my nightmares. I knew I woke screaming at night, fearing the day the thieves that were, for some odd reason, still loyal to me, discovered that I was nothing but a coward leading them into their deaths for my own gain.
When my old friend, Larkin Honeycutt came over and draped his arms across my horse’s back, I jumped back. He stood on the other side of my horse. Montague was used to this treatment by Larkin, and he was content to stand still while Larkin leaned against him, his chin on Montague’s back.
Larkin ran his dust-covered fingers through his brown hair. In the sunlight, I saw shades of red in his hair that caused it to be the color of red leaves in autumn. He wouldn’t meet my eyes, but he stared at the creek nearby. His eyes were a mirror of the creek’s silvery blue water. In the winter, his gray eyes made him look cold, and at times I believed that his heart was an icicle hanging from the roof, but then there were times where he would sit in silence as the fire burned down, and I felt that he was as warm as the fire. These warm times were few and far between. We had only been thieves for three years, but those three years had hardened him.
When his eyes snapped until they were aligned with mine, I stepped back. I knew what was coming. Besides Liam and Oliver, he was the only one brave enough to address my recklessness and chastise me for it.
“We almost failed, Lee. This hasn’t happened to us since our first heist. It was your fault this time just as it was that time.” He pointed his forefinger when he accused me of this. Though it was true, to him it was only an accusation. “What happened?” he demanded.
I looked over my horse. He was clean. I had brushed off all of the dirt I could see, so I put the brush in a wooden box and led him over to the shelter we had built for the horses. There were ten stalls, but as there were only eight of us, there were only eight horses…if you could call the little one at the very end a horse. It was smaller than the rest and belonged to the street urchin the Spaniard had brought home from a heist. I didn’t trust her, and I no longer trusted him for bringing home the stray.
“We escaped,” I said, without turning to face Larkin as I closed the stall door behind my horse. “Thanks to Sweeney.”
Larkin grabbed my arms and turned me to face him. “Lowvaine’s guards knew we were there, Lee. That was why we left with only half of our prize.”
I placed my hands on his chest and pushed him away. “Unhand me!”
He held his hands up, but he stepped closer, and I stood as tall as I could. He put his face in front of mine and demanded, “Why were they not right behind us?”
“The men we were stealing from served our heads to them on a silver platter, and if it weren’t for Sweeney’s habits, we wouldn’t have known and we surely would have been captured. Why were we not?” I asked. I knew it was what he had asked me, but I knew if I gave the question to him in return, he would calm down. He wanted me to be angry, and now that I was, he was satisfied, and just as I predicted, he stepped back and leaned against the wall between Montague’s stall and Larkin’s horse’s stall.
I wanted to yell, to scream, to shout, but I couldn’t. I was angry at myself. If it had been anyone else’s fault, I would have taken out my wrath on them, but it was my own fault. My anger had now resurfaced, but this anger wasn’t only the result of the failure, but why we had almost failed. Larkin didn’t know anything of that.
Larkin looked down as he picked his nails with his knife. “I don’t know, Lee.” He was calm now. It wasn’t fair that he could handle this so calmly. He picked his nails meticulously, but he stood there nonchalantly, as if he was yelled at every day and it was nothing to worry about. “What happened? You swore to us that you would never be the reason we almost got captured.”
I turned to my horse and watched as he took mouthfuls of hay from the trough. “My father happened.”
Larkin’s knife dropped from his hands and met the floor with a clang. “He was there?” he breathed. “Your father was there in Lowvaine?”
“Yes,” I said. There wasn’t any need for him to be surprised. We had this occasional, yet rare, visit from my father. We were hard people to find, even for him. I knew my father was wherever we were, but he rarely ever came to me in person. He knew he would only receive wrath from me. “I saw him through the window of the inn as we were leaving. I think he was the reason the guards didn’t come after us.”
Larkin bent down and picked up his knife. “Your father follows us everywhere. It isn’t unusual to see him, but for him to come to you in person when he knows how you’ll respond…he usually only does that once every two months or so, because he thinks you’ll have had time to change.”
“But I never do.” I muttered, watching his knife flip through the air. He had developed the habit in the first few months of our thievery. He only did it when he was nervous. Nervousness was a rare emotion for him. The only emotion he ever displayed was anger.
He looked up at me, eyebrow raised. “You were inside of the inn. I saw you from the window.”
I sighed. He was the only person who could catch me in a lie. He knew me—my strengths, my weaknesses, my secrets…I could never decide how I felt about that. I wasn’t sure whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that he knew more about me than he should…he knew me almost as well as my father, and my father and I were strangers to one another now.
Larkin smirked. “What did he say to you?”
“There wasn’t time to talk,” I muttered. “But he tried to tell me something…” I put my hand to my forehead and looked down, trying to remember. When I had, I looked up with a furrowed brow. “He told me there was something urgent that he wanted to tell me, and he was begging me to listen, but I told him I had to leave.”
Larkin gathered a breath to speak, but he looked down without saying a word. I knew he wanted to say his name, the greatest thief of the age’s name. I knew he didn’t want to bring up how I was the long lost daughter of the age. Part of me wanted him to bring it up. Part of me was proud of being the long lost daughter that Robin Hood desperately wanted back in his arms. The other part of me hated how badly he wanted me to come home. Some part of me wanted to punch Larkin if he brought it up.
We began walking back to the creek where I had left my saddle, Montague’s blanket and bridle, and my saddle bags.
“Well, Lee,” he said. “You know what I’m thinking.”
I lifted all of my belongings from the ground and threw them into Larkin’s arms. He took them without protest.
“Unfortunately.” I replied.
That was the thing with him. We had known each other ever since we were children growing up together in Locksley. We always knew what the other was thinking. I rather enjoyed not having to say a word to him, but I knew that if we were on different sides of things, it would be a disaster for whoever was on the wrong side.
“Robin Hood wants you home.” Larkin said quietly, even though it was unnecessary. I already knew what he was thinking. I didn’t need to be reminded of the thing my father wanted most though he knew it would never happen.
“He didn’t seem very desperate for my return when we first ran away.” I said, glaring at the ground as I walked away from him.
“We came straight to The Foggiest Forest. We had spent six months charting it. It would take him six years.” Larkin said.
I didn’t like how arrogantly he said that, but Larkin had a tendency to be arrogant. We were excellent thieves. We had learned from our failures and it never happened again. It had been three years and our success rate had soared sky high, while our failure rate had plummeted to the ground. My father could have easily created a map of The Foggiest Forest, but he was too busy with his life to bother making others’ lives easier. Well, I shouldn’t necessarily have said that. He’s Robin Hood—steal from the rich, give to the poor. But that wasn’t him anymore.
“You look bitter,” Larkin said while we walked to the tack shed. “You’re probably thinking about how he no longer steals from the rich to give to the poor.”
“How did you guess?” I muttered under my breath, giving him a sideways glance as we walked to the tack shed outside of the stable.
“When you look bitter, you’re thinking about how he was busy, and it always ends in how you think he was selfish while you were at home, making his life easier unlike yours, and then you contradict yourself because you’re guilty for thinking it. So you tell yourself he’s Robin Hood, he stole from the rich to give to the poor, but that’s not what he does anymore.” Larkin explained.
What a clever, rehearsed assumption. I almost wished he didn’t know me so well.
“You know me too well.”
“I’ve been the only one you can talk to for three years, Lee. Well, besides the twins, but they’re more concerned about who was born first.” Larkin said.
I snorted. “Yes, they both think they were born first when it was really Liam.”
“But how do you know, Lee?” Larkin said, doing a perfect imitation of Oliver’s voice. “Were you there?”
When that argument broke out, Oliver always demanded to know if the person that said it was Liam was there to see it with their own eyes. Of course they weren’t. It annoyed me, especially, because I was a year younger than the twins. Of course I wasn’t there. I hadn’t even been born yet.
“No, indeed I was not and I never would have been even if I could have been.” I replied.
“You don’t plan on getting married and having kids, do you?” Larkin asked quietly.
I glared at him. I wondered, for a moment, if he was still imitating Oliver, but then I realized he was serious. “No, of course not!” I exclaimed, more annoyed than I was before. I looked down. “After all that I’ve done, no man would marry me.”
There was a long silence. I kept walking, but realized Larkin was no longer by my side. I looked back to watch him adjust the pile of equipment in his hands and scurry to catch up to me.
“What were we saying?”
I was glad he wanted to change the topic. “Yes, you were reading my thoughts.”
Larkin shook his head. “Oh, no, no, no. I simply know you too well,” he said. “You know, Lee, your father did a wonderful job raising you alone through the grief and pain. He had to raise you, and make sure the Twelve Kingdoms ran smoothly. After all, he was one of the founders of the Twelve Kingdoms. He had given his life to the people he helped, and then when he returned he could barely enjoy life himself. You were born and then your mother died, and he had to care for an infant child while trying to handle that his beloved wife had died, when only a year before it would have been easier for them to have gone their separate ways.”
I faced him. “My father was a drunk!” I had turned so I said it directly in his face. It may have been a mistake on my part, for we were closer to the others and this attracted more attention than necessary, but I couldn’t stand silent while he justified my father’s actions. In earlier years he had been a good man and a good father and a good leader, but a few months before I ran away, he turned to secrecy and drinking, and three years ago, through Larkin’s advice, I had decided that I could no longer live trying to determine why he sneaked out of the house every night to drink at the pub near our village. I left, believing that my father had become a scoundrel, though he had never hurt a single person in his drunkenness. The worst that happened was him sleeping all day to do it again the next night, and then lying to me instead of telling me the truth.
I looked down. I never raised my voice…they knew that if I raised my voice at anyone, it was because I was losing control. I was surprised I hadn’t been yelling more, though. I wasn’t losing control. I had already lost control.
Larkin was still as calm now as he had been moments before. He stepped back, my horse’s tack still securely held in his arms. “I don’t think you want everyone to hear our private conversation, do you?”
I couldn’t bear to look up at him. I only knew he had stepped back from watching his boots move. He hadn’t jerked, like he was about to lose his grip on my equipment. I was aware that this happened every time we returned from a heist. I felt a heavy burden weighing down on my shoulders, one I could no longer carry, and every time we returned from being chased down by soldiers and guards of various kingdoms or after seeing my father, I lost control with Larkin. And only Larkin. He was the only one I knew would react calmly to my sudden temper.
I was ashamed of it. The same temper that I released on him was the same temper that I released on my father. Larkin knew as well as my father and everyone else that I felt, in that moment, that I was losing control on the situation we were in.
Larkin took a deep breath. “I forgive you,” he whispered, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “I’ll meet you inside.”
He must have known I was thinking about something. There was a plan I had made a few months ago when the soldiers chasing us were nearly inescapable. I never thought I would take this plan seriously, but now, I realized we were no longer as safe as we thought we were. When we saw something we wanted, we approached as friends, and once we had gained our victim’s trust, we struck like vipers. When we struck, we took everything. There was never one shilling left to the rich scoundrel’s name when we were through with him. That was one of the many reasons why eleven out of the Twelve Kingdoms had bounties for all of our heads. Informally, we were wanted dead or alive. Formally, my thieves were wanted for life sentences.
Now that we had been running for three years, they were growing wiser…wise enough to know how to strike back.
I wasn’t quite sure which kingdoms wanted who for what. I never really kept track, but I knew some of them wanted to hang Larkin. Some wanted to take Oliver and Liam prisoners and torture them. I knew they wanted something done with me, but they never openly shared whether they wanted me imprisoned for life or executed. As far as I knew, the kingdoms respected my father too much to openly admit what they wanted to do with me.
I had committed enough crimes to know that whatever they wanted to do with me, it wouldn’t be pleasant and it would most likely end in death.
After all, unless the thief escaped the life of stealing, it would always end in death, no matter whether they were captured or not.