“You sure about this, Rob?” John asked.

“Positive, Little John,” Robin answered, standing on the deck of his ship, the Heart of Sherwood. “You were there when we chased him down, we could have been brothers. Gone for five years, who knows what he might come back looking like? It is a perfect plan. Are Tucker and Will ready to do their part?”

“They are already in the city at an inn nearby. If you get caught, Robin… if they find out you are The Pirate Hood of Loxley Sea and not Ser Richard Lionheart, they will hang you.”

“They’d have to catch me first. You are sure about the wealthiest noble and the names of his two daughters?”

“Yes, from all reports, it is Riff Noddingham, a widower with two daughters. The oldest is Scarlett and the youngest is Marion. Scarlett is already betrothed, but Marion only recently came of age.”

Robin smiled grimly. “Ugly, I am guessing?”

“It’s said they are both great beauties.”

Robin smiled grimly. “A rumor perpetuated by coin, I imagine. She will be homely, insipid and probably as large as a house if she hasn’t been snapped up yet, but it doesn’t matter. So long as he pays the dowry I ask for, and he will. For his daughter to marry into royalty? He would pay any price. Make sure the boys are ready.”

Robin left, not waiting on a response, knowing his men were trustworthy. To him anyway.

He made his way into the city and up to the higher tiers. The city was built on the foothills of a mountain and the higher up you went, the more wealthy the residents. He was headed all the way to the top to try his hand at his newest con.

Five years back, Ser Richard Lionheart, sole heir to the crown once his uncle passed, was locked into an arranged marriage. He took one look at her and set sail the next day, disappearing for over five years.

Robin himself ran his ship down less than a week ago on his return voyage. They had brought in quite a haul, but the biggest surprise was how much Robin and Richard looked alike. He could easily pass for the man and now he intended to do just that. He had milked Richard for information for five days, then sold him to the southern slavers who didn’t speak a word of English. It was what he was planning on doing to all the girls he stole away from their fathers after collecting their dowry and a ransom too.

The giant manor house was easy to spot with its expansive grounds and he walked right up to the door and rang, as confident as if he were actually who he said he was.

An older woman answered, looking up at him in confusion.

“I am here to see Lord Nottingham.”

“Have you an appointment?”

“He will want to see me, I assure you. Announce me at once. Ser Richard Lionheart.”

The old woman blinked in confusion, then opened the door and let him in before tottering off as quickly as she could move. The older man who came storming out of the study looked angry.

“Who are you? What game are you playing at?” he demanded.

“Lord Nottingham?”

“Yes? What is this?”

“As you may have heard, I left some years back after my uncle tried to marry me off to a hag thrice my age and barren. I am returning, but I have no intention of going back there without a wife so that he cannot do the same again.”

“How do I know you are who you say you are?”

“You were at court the same time I was, do you not recognize me? Do you not recognize my seal?” he asked, showing him the ring on his finger.

He could see the man mulling it over, looking at him and seeing the resemblance.

“Say you are who you say you are, what do you want?”

“I have heard a great many tales of the beauty of your daughters. I came to see for myself.”

“My daughters? My daughters are lovely. And our blood is quite noble… but you understand they are not on par with…”

“I don’t care about that. I care about finding a young and lovely woman I can love and who can bear me children. Not some old crone or grasping noble.”

“I… well of course! Of course, I will arrange a dinner next week and you can…”

“No, tonight. Now that I am back, word is going to run ahead of me. I want this done quickly before they come and find me.”

“Yes, of course, I will see it done! Tonight then! Seven PM?”

“Yes, but I wish to lay eyes on them first, see for myself if the rumors are true.”

“Well, you may not have heard, but Scarlett is already betrothed. Marion though, she has recently come of age.”

“How recently? Why is she not engaged herself?”

“Last week,” the man said, blushing. “But she is eighteen now, and she really is lovely.”

“Summon her.”

“Ahhh… yes, of course. Bianca! Tell Marion to come down! Make sure she is… presentable.”

“Why would she not be presentable?” Robin demanded as a younger maid popped out of the study and hurried up the stairs.

“Ahhh… she sometimes likes to… ahhh… ”

“What? Spit it out man!” Robin spat haughtily.

“Well, she is a bit of a free spirit and… sometimes she will hide away and spend the day in a tree, reading, or in the woods behind the manor. I know she is home today though! But sometimes, she doesn’t always get dressed or brush her hair… She is learning to become a lady now! She is! She just needs a steady hand to tame her…”

“I see,” Robin said darkly, scowling and looking like he was having second thoughts.

“Just meet her! Take a look at her!” Lord Nottingham said quickly. “She will be down any moment!”

Robin crossed his arms, looking put upon as he looked around disdainfully. “Are you at least going to offer me a seat and a drink?”

“Pardons! Pardons sir, please, come in and have a seat in my study, please! I have a new wine in! Sorcha, wine for Ser Richard!” he snapped at the older woman who had answered the door.

Robin sat, reclining and lounging like only a spoiled noble could as he took the wine.

“So, Ser Richard, where have you been these last five years?”

“Exploring, collecting, learning. There is a wide world out there and I wanted to see it all. How long is this going to take? If she is not suitable, I would like to sail on the evening tide.”

“She is, I assure you! I am sure she is on her way down any moment! May I offer you some fare?”

“No. Tell me. How can I be sure you are as wealthy as you tell people you are? A fine house doesn’t always mean you have wealth at hand. If I marry your daughter, she will have access to all of my wealth, how can I be sure you do not intend to use her to get to it?”

“I assure you, my wealth is excessive to say the least! It is well known!”

“I have had many Lords say one thing, but in truth they are heavily in debt from many lenders. I will need assurances. You need to know before I would consider your daughter, I will require one third of your wealth as a dowry to take with me. After we are married and you are investigated thoroughly, it will be returned to you.”

“One third! Ser, that is… that is unprecedented!”

“But you understand I HAVE to be sure. If I return home and it turns out I am married into an indebted family, my uncle will have it annulled immediately. If it is an issue for you, then perhaps you are not as wealthy as you claim to be.”

“I am! I am… but it may take a few days to have that much ready for travel.”

“If you are who you say you are, then you understand your daughter will become queen eventually. That would mean titles, endowments, a great many things in store for you and your family. I would require that you not make a spectacle of yourself or find yourself in any sort of… awkward predicaments. You must begin acting as though your daughter is queen immediately, but say nothing until it is done and announced kingdom wide.”

“Yes, of course. I understand, and my family, we are scandal free!”

“I will have you investigated.”

“Of course, and you will find we are… Marion! My little love, there you are!”

Robin stood and turned to the door, looking down at the tiny wild looking girl in the doorway. His first thought was that she was too young, but he quickly reassessed. She was a woman, but a woman in miniature. She would be full figured were she a foot taller. The second thing he noticed was her disarrayed hair, hastily twisted back in an auburn, curly mess. Then the grass stains on her dress, the ink stains on her hands and the paints everywhere, even a smudge on her jawline. There was dirt under her fingernails and she was wearing no shoes.

The final thing he noticed was her dark brown eyes as she scowled up at him. She was, indeed, a breathtaking beauty, but she was also completely wild and unrefined. That, he did not really care about, but ‘Richard’ would.

“She is… unacceptable as is!” he snapped to her father.

“She will be ready by tonight! She will! She is beautiful though, you see? She is a bit of a free spirit, but…”

“She is completely wild! Look at her! A queen cannot be seen in such a state!” Robin went on.

The girl bulled up indignantly. “Who the hell are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” she demanded, her hands in little fists.

Robin wanted to grin at her and her fire, but he schooled his face. “I am Ser Richard Lionheart! Your future king! Show proper respect, girl!”

“You are an ass is all you are! Braying around the room like some mindless farm animal until you get your way!”

Robin had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing.

“Marion! Marion, please!” he father cried, going to her. “I am sorry, Ser. After her mother died, I had not the heart to admonish her in anything and I let her do as she pleased. I see now I should have taken her in hand sooner! But she will settle down and she will make you a perfect wife!”

“I’ll not marry that buffoon!” Marion hissed. “I’d sooner skewer his liver than marry him!”

“Marion! You stop it right now!” Lord Nottingham said sternly.

She crossed her arms, still scowling. “Can I go back to painting now?”

Robin turned to her father. “When I return this evening, you will have her well in hand or I will cast you all down and grant your titles and estates to a family worthy of it! You swore there were no scandals, yet you have HER standing right there calling you a liar!”

Lord Nottingham paled, but Marion spoke first. “Why you arrogant piece of filth! Who do you think you are, coming here and demanding of my father and then claiming we aren’t good enough! You came to HIM, not the other way round! If you don’t like our ways, you just move on!”

Robin looked down at Lord Nottingham, his nostrils flaring in supposed anger, but it was barely suppressed mirth. “I will move on, and I will see you set down as an example for this insult! Your head on a spike at the palace! Her chained in the kitchens, scrubbing dishes the rest of her life. Your other daughter cast down and sold to the slavers in the south.”

“You can’t…” she began, but her father cut her off.

“Ser, Ser, please. She is just in a bad humor right now, she has not been sleeping well. She has nightmares sometimes and…”


“And she acts out when they are especially bad. Marion! Not another word! Ser, she will be ready tonight, give me this one chance to show you that you simply caught her at a bad moment. We will have a feast prepared for you and even entertainment.”

“No. No entertainment, I have no wish to have to shout to be heard.,” Robin snapped irritably.

“You love your own voice too much,” Marion muttered.

“Marion!” Lord Nottingham hissed.

“You have until this evening to get her in hand,” Robin said through gritted teeth. “Or I make good on my promise and your head alone heads to the capitol with me.”

He left, storming out, then grinned when he made it to the street. She was a little spitfire and his ruse had worked perfectly. He hired a coach, knowing he could not be seen walking now where it might get back to Lord Nottingham, then went to the finest inn nearby. He told no one his assumed identity, he didn’t want word spreading ahead of him to the next port. He had to stay ahead of it, or his plan would not work.

So far it was working perfectly. After tonight, he would have to give the signal for the next part of his plan.

He arrived back at the manor just after seven, fashionably late. He rang, and he found he was a little excited to see how they had tried to tame the wild little woman.

The old woman opened the door immediately, like she had been standing there waiting and showed him right to the large parlor.

Lord Nottingham was there, along with a young woman he assumed was Scarlett and a man sitting near her he assumed was her soon to be husband. Lord Nottingham stood and bowed and the others followed suit.

“Where is she?” he demanded, ignoring their courtesies.

Lord Nottingham blushed. “She will be down by the time we eat.”

“I will check on her!” the other girl said quickly, staring at Robin with wide eyes as she fled the room.

“Not even an introduction? Who are you people that you are all so uncouth?” Robin demanded.

“Ser, it is not so, she was only flustered for her sister’s sake. That was my oldest, Scarlett and this is her betrothed, Duke Atterly.”

“Ser,” the young man said with a bow.

“Yes. How long must we wait?”

“We can go sit down now, the ladies will join us directly.”

The man led Robin to the large dining hall where servants were hovering. Wine was poured immediately and Lord Nottingham watched the door nervously.

“Tell us about your travels,” the Duke said, holding his own wine up to look at.

“You will address me as Ser.”

“Apologies. Tell us about your travels, Ser.”

“They started horribly, but once I began discovering where to put in, they got better. The southern isles were especially nice. When we…”

Robin went quiet as Scarlett hurried back in, her face pale. She bent to her father and whispered in his ear and Lord Nottingham went bright red.

“Your pardon, Ser, I will be right back,” he said breathlessly, jumping up and hurrying out of the room.

Scarlett gave him a fearful look, then turned and followed her father.

“This is ridiculous!” Robin hissed.

“Marion is very… unconventional. She does things her own way. If the right man were to catch her eye and win her heart, he would be in for quite a treat, I think. Otherwise… She would make life hell for anyone who thought to try and tame her,” Duke Atterly said conversationally.

“We shall see about that,” Robin snarled, feeling amused by this girl all over again.

Lord Nottingham came back, his hand locked around Marions arm, breathing heavily like he had had to run at some point. Marion was glaring at Robin, but she looked stunning in a long golden gown, the color setting off her skin tone beautifully. Her hair was rolled and twisted up in the latest fashion, but it looked precarious as though she had been struggling after it had been done.

He also noticed, with a bit of fury, that her cheek was a dark red, not the pale pink of her other cheek with a blush, but as though she had been struck. “Did you hit her?” he angrily demanded of Lord Nottingham before he thought about it. He berated himself. Ser Lionheart would not care if she had been hit so long as she was in hand.

“Only to make her stop and listen, she was being unreasonable! I have never had to… punish her in such a way before. Marion! Sit down here,” he demanded, pushing her into the chair next to Robin.

Robin looked down at her and she glared at her plate, her little hands clenched into fists. He knew better than to push her, she would go into a fury and ‘Ser Lionheart’ would never stand for that. Instead he looked at Lord Nottingham. “Why have you never remarried? Given this girl an example to look up to and take her in hand?”

“For reasons similar to your own, Ser. Women seem to be attracted to what I have more than me. The two women I courted both suggested sending my daughters off and bearing me a child themselves. I had no interest in that sort of woman. My daughters were enough for me.”

“So you have spoiled them.”

“I suppose I have, but they have had happy lives.”

“Marion, what are your thoughts on living at the capitol?” Robin asked her.

Marion looked up at her father, her nostrils flaring. “I would be well pleased to go,” she said through clenched teeth.

Robin’s lips twitched before he could stop it. “And do you think you could manage to behave and act accordingly, as a queen should?”

“I would be well pleased to try,” she hissed, her hands gripping her knife and fork as if they were weapons.

“Would it please you to be my wife?”

Marion snapped her head to look at her father again, visibly shaking now. “I would be well pleased to…” she began, then clamped her mouth shut and looked back down at her plate.

Robin pretended to take that as a completed sentence, nodding. “Well and good then. It seems you can behave when required, though you will still require some work. The trip back will be plenty of time to teach you. Lord Nottingham, you said you would require three days? You have three days exactly, we sail with the morning tide three days hence.”

“Yes, Ser Lionheart! I will have everything ready! On my honor!”

“Good. You may serve.”

Lord Nottingham waved to the servants who quickly began serving.

Robin looked back down at Marion. “I will stop in tomorrow around luncheon time to see you again. The same the day after. Get to know you better before our voyage. Is that agreeable to you?”

“I would be well pleased to receive you,” she growled, cutting her eyes at her father again.

Robin smiled, unable to help himself, but it was alright. He could pretend it was him being happy with her compliance and not at being amused by her.

He left that night grinning. Lord Nottingham was all in, everyone thoroughly cowed by him.. Marion was going to be fun once he got her on board his ship to take to the slavers. He couldn’t WAIT to see her face.

He gave Tucker a nod as he passed the man who had been standing back in the shadows of an alley, waiting on him to pass.

Tucker smiled and nodded back, then left to get Will.

Robin was absolutely giddy by the time he got to the inn. Now his boys would do their part in this and take her in the night. Lord Nottingham would pay the ransom, and quickly before word of the scandal got out. He really wished he could watch when Tucker and Will took the girl.

Just after noon the next day, he knocked on the door, then had to stand and wait. The old woman answered finally and she had obviously been crying.

“What is happening? Why was I kept waiting so long?” he snapped, pushing his way in and walking right to Lord Nottingham’s office.

“Ser!” Lord Nottingham cried, jumping up in shock and fear. “Ser, I was not expecting you!”

“I said I would be back today and tomorrow for luncheon to spend time with Marion, did I not?”

“Oh… yes. Yes you did! I… is it so late already?” he stammered lamely.

“It is. Let me guess. She has hidden herself away again? Off climbing a tree? Find her at once.”

“Ahh… yes, Ser Lionheart. Ahh… we will look but sometimes when she goes off up in the mountain, we can’t find her.”

“Are you saying she ran away?” Robin demanded furiously.

“No! No, just… she will be back soon! Before you sail, I assure you!”

“Before I sail? Just where IS this girl that I can’t see her for two days?”

“We will have her back here, I promise you! I will send for you as soon as we find her.”

“I will return this evening and in the morning. If she is not found the night before I sail, I will assume she is hiding from me specifically and I will not take kindly to that at all, Lord Nottingham.”

“I will have her back! I will, and it isn’t you! She is just… forgetful and she loses track of time sometimes when she allows herself to get distracted.”

“Why has everyone been crying?” Robin demanded when the younger servant came in with a lunch tray, her eyes and nose red from obvious tears.