This is an AU story, an alternative to my previous story "The Child" which deals with what the repercussions could have been had Marion kept her baby:
From his earliest days, the boy's strongest memories were of whispers. Hurried, hushed conversations in corridors, the people around him gossiping behind their hands; words he was probably never meant to hear, or that only he was meant to hear. Nurse Joan especially, telling him things that he was never, ever to repeat to anyone, especially his guardians. That was easy to remember; his guardians frightened him, though he tried his best never to show it, and he rarely had to say much to them. As he grew older and began his schooling, they took more interest in him, asking him what he thought of such a thing, and even began to include him a little in their daily lives, which surprised everyone.
Perched on a wooden stool beside his guardians on the raised dais in the Great Hall, the boy began to question things that he had been told. Clearly, these were great men; powerful, learned. They commanded respect. So why did Nurse Joan keep telling him that they lied? That they committed acts of evil, that they were not to be trusted?
They had to uphold the law, that much he recognised, and that meant punishing those who broke it, but surely that was a good thing, not bad?
He raised the question as she put him to bed that night, smoothing the heavy covers over him as she smoothed the untidy dark hair on his head.
Nurse Joan sighed heavily, parking her plump behind on the stool by the bed.
"You're right, Daniel, they are powerful men, and they do uphold the law. But… they go too far. They can be cruel when they should be kind. They hurt people who don't deserve it."
"They don't hurt me."
"No, sweetling, they are kinder to you than anyone ever thought they would be. But-"
The woman hesitated.
"But what?" the boy insisted.
"Your guardians – they killed your mother. And your father, before you were born."
The boy stared back at her, his dark eyes giving nothing away.
"Because they defied your guardians. Your parents believed that all men should be free, that the rich and powerful should help the poor and the needy. That made them a great number of enemies."
"But why did Lord Robert and Lord Hugo kill them, and then make me their ward?"
"I don't know," Joan confessed. "Perhaps they thought you were an innocent and decided to be charitable for once. Your mother was their ward when she was a girl; perhaps they felt responsible for you."
"Then they aren't all bad."
She hesitated again.
"No, my love. But you need to remember that they can be unkind too. Be careful around them; remember what they tell you in church about how a good Christian behaves. Now, did you say your prayers?"
"Yes, Nurse," the boy replied dutifully, turning over and pulling the bedcovers up to his chin.
Joan leaned over and planted a kiss on his ruffled head, then blew out the candle beside his bed and left the room with a heavy heart.
How to explain it to a child? There would be more questions, of that she was sure, but Joan had made a promise that she would do everything in her power to protect this boy, and that included ensuring that he grew up with a good heart and his eyes open.
Not just a promise to his mother, but a promise Joan made to herself, when Daniel's mother died. There were days when Joan still couldn't believe it had happened, certainly not in such a horrific manner. Daniel's father – well, that was different. Almost as if he'd died in battle, cut down by the Sheriff's men in a heroic stand, saving the wife who, unknown to both of them, carried his child.
Joan had attended Lady Marion from the day she was brought to Nottingham Castle; as a gaoler at first, spying for the Sheriff on this notorious woman who was bearing the child of an outlaw whose name was known all over England, and beyond.
But then the quiet dignity and determination of the girl had won her over.
Imprisoned, humiliated and above all broken-hearted by the death of her man, Lady Marion had accepted her situation and lived with it, in the hope of protecting her child.
While Joan did not believe in looking for trouble, she had secretly admired the antics of Robin Hood and his outlaw gang, if a little scandalised that a woman ran with them, as if she had no care for her reputation. But when she saw the pain of Robin's death in Marion's eyes, she understood that she had given up all for love, and that was something that Joan could understand, if not from personal experience.
Her Tom, God rest his soul, had been paired with her by their parents, like most people, and while she had grown fond of him, she had never loved him in the way she'd dreamed she would love her husband when she was a girl, the way Marion had loved her husband; all-consuming love that left no room for question. And now he had been taken from her, Marion turned her love towards his child.
For the most part, as the pregnancy progressed, the Sheriff ignored her, locking her into one of the towers of the castle as if she no longer existed, but Joan still had to make her report to him, hating herself as she did. De Rainault had no interest in the state of the pregnancy, seemed to find it distasteful, offensive even, but then that was no surprise in an unmarried man who was rumoured to prefer the company of boys to that of women, although Joan had seen no proof of this herself.
But on the day that Marion's labour began, things began to change. From the moment that the Sheriff's man, Sir Guy, forced his way into her chamber as Joan was preparing the room for the delivery, things had taken a disturbing turn.
"Sir Guy!" Joan exclaimed, shocked. "You should not be here! This is not-"
But the man had simply shoved her out of his way, ignoring her and the midwife completely.
Lady Marion was standing by the window, gazing out into the forest, her hands resting on the back of a chair. Her pains were still some time apart, she had not yet taken to her bed and for that, Joan was thankful. That gave her time to remove this unwanted visitor before her attention was taken up by the impending birth.
"So," Sir Guy sneered. "The woman says your bastard will be born today."
Marion turned her head, her face utterly calm, with no sign of the pain she felt, either physical or emotional.
"Don't worry, I don't intend to stay. The Sheriff merely wished to know how things progressed. Keep me informed," he threw at Joan as he turned and left, the heavy wooden door slamming behind him. Joan heard the key turn in the lock and had to force down the anger that flared up within her. Was it entirely necessary to lock the door? Did they really think that Marion would try to escape in the middle of her labour?
But then Marion gasped, her face creased as the pains rose up again, grasping the chair back for support and Joan forgot all her worries in the face of what was to come.
"To bed now, my lady," the midwife insisted, guiding the girl away from the window, rubbing her swollen belly to ease her suffering.
The labour was uncomplicated, and within hours, Marion was safely delivered of a healthy son. Joan was impressed with the way Marion had managed to maintain her composure throughput the birthing, mindful of her noble blood as much of the need to keep her dignity in her current situation. In the months of her confinement, Joan had become aware that Marion did not see herself as disgraced; she was a prisoner, yes, but she knew that the Sheriff kept her within the Castle to prevent her from becoming involved with outlaws once more, this time as the mother of Robin Hood's heir. While her plight was no unlikely to have remained a secret, she could not be used as a symbol of rebellion from a locked room in a tower of a fortified castle.
Joan tended to the babe while Kate the midwife, a stout, no-nonsense woman who attended all births within the castle, ensured that Marion suffered no ill-effects from the delivery.
"A son, my lady."
Joan laid the swaddled newborn in his mother's arms.
"Have you a name for him?"
"I thought perhaps Richard, for my father. Or maybe Daniel."
"Daniel?" Joan's eyebrows shot up.
Marion seemed not to notice, completely absorbed in her infant son.
"Why not? Born into a lion's den."
Despite her obvious exhaustion, Marion still managed to inject a note of fire into her voice, and the trepidation that Joan had felt earlier resurfaced. What would happen to these two now? Surely the Sheriff couldn't keep them locked up forever?
And indeed that was not his plan. Within days, they received another visit from Sir Guy, this time accompanied by his master, Robert de Rainault.
"Lady Marion. I was so glad to hear you are safely delivered. And a son too. How… joyful that must make you."
Marion did not reply. She stood at her preferred spot by the window as calmly she gave her child suck, her gown pulled as decorously close to her breast as the baby would allow. Her face was serene; the Sheriff's barbed words deflected by a quiet strength that befitted her new role as a mother.
Joan couldn't help but admire her; over the months of Marion's confinement, she had grown close to her charge and knew better than anyone else that Marion's heart was still broken, although the arrival of her son had gone a long way to mending it.
"May I ask what name you've chosen?"
The Sheriff didn't slip from his light, almost mocking tone, one Joan recognised well. The Sheriff liked to enforce his superiority and playing at chivalry and manners for some reason seemed to make him feel as if he were belittling his opponent, hiding insults in a courtly tone.
It seemed to Joan as if months had passed since Marion had actually spoken to her captors; perhaps it had been. Silence had been her only means of defending herself and maintaining her dignity.
"Daniel?" De Rainault's eyebrows raised. "How refreshingly modern of you. I thought perhaps you would name him after your late husband."
Marion did not reply; her son had finished his meal and she laid him in the wooden crib alongside her own bed, adjusting her dress as if no-one else was in the room.
"Which is the matter I wanted to discuss with you. You understand that we kept you here in our – care – in order to keep you away from any misguided individuals who might want to use you and your child as part of their pathetic little rebellions."
"Yes." Marion rested her hand on her still rounded belly, not yet recovered from the birth. "And no doubt you've realised that no-one cares about me or my child. I've had no contact with anyone in months; there's no reason why you can't let me go back to my father's house."
There was less fire in her voice than there might once have been, but there was determination nonetheless.
"On the contrary." De Rainault's voice dropped sharply, becoming colder, harder. "I've discussed this matter in detail with my brother. Your husband's pointless uprising may be finished, but the threat remains. We can't have you running around doing as you please with the child of a wolfshead who somehow, miraculously, managed to make a fool of me on more than one occasion."
"So are we to remain here indefinitely?" Marion sounded contemptuous.
There was a brief silence.
"Goodbye, Lady Marion. Gisburne," the Sheriff directed a pointed look at his steward and turned to leave the room. The younger man stepped forward, drawing from his belt a dagger, and Joan saw sudden fear spark in Marion's eyes.
"No!" Joan heard herself scream, taking half a step towards her prisoner, her friend, but one of the guards grabbed her, holding her back, helpless, while the man drove the blade brutally forward into Marion's heart.
For a moment, nobody moved. Joan, too shocked to react, could only watch as the life drained away from Marion before her. But if she had expected Sir Guy to dispatch his victim mercilessly and leave her to die on the floor, Joan was wrong. The dying woman clutched at his arms, her face growing pale, her eyes wide, and he held onto her, sinking to one knee to lower her almost gently to the ground.
Gisburne's face was blank, a soldier following an order but in later years, Joan wondered if there had been something like regret in his expression.
"Daniel," Marion gasped, her eyes boring into Gisburne's, desperate now to save her son.
"He is to be spared."
Marion nodded, her body going limp against her murderer, her gaze unfocussing.
"Robin," she whispered, and then she died.
Joan barely remembered what happened after that, other than Lady Marion's body being dispatched back to her broken-hearted father, while Joan herself was appointed to the care of Marion's infant son. Taking a lesson from her charge's mother, Joan set herself the task of raising the boy as best she could. And part of that meant that, whatever his guardians said, he would know as much as she could safely tell him about who his parents were.
So the next time Daniel asked, she whispered in his ear as she tucked him into bed:
"Marion. Your mother's name was Marion."
From her place by the window, Joan looked down upon her former charge, practising swordplay with the other boys in the courtyard. Despite his parentage – something most seemed surprisingly unaware of within the castle - the boy's status as the Sheriff's ward seemed to give him level pegging with the sons of the knights posted in Nottingham. She remembered the recent conversation she had overheard between the Sheriff and Sir Guy; it was usually easy to eavesdrop, as both men seemed to regard anyone of lower status than themselves as invisible, or at least so unimportant that they spoke in front of them as if they were not there.
"My lord," Gisburne was saying. "About the boy. Your ward. Perhaps – I was thinking that he should be apprenticed."
"I hadn't thought about it. How old is he now?"
"Eight, my lord."
"Indeed? How remiss of me. Did you have someone in mind?"
"I thought – I thought perhaps that I could take him on. After all, I have been needing to replace Henry."
De Rainault's eyes narrowed, giving Gisburne an appraising look.
"You want to take the child of your enemy on as your page? How magnanimous of you."
"No more so than yourself and Abbot Hugo making him your ward," Gisburne replied.
Joan, pretending to busy herself with her mending in the window seat, noticed a faint blush rise on the man's face under his master's scrutiny. But to her, the question should perhaps have been, why take on a child whose parents you killed? Was there something sinister in this request, or was it atonement for the murders, a search for salvation through the treatment of an innocent? Joan had heard gossip through one of the maids who had accompanied Sir Guy to Nottingham from his father's home that Gisburne had suffered a harsh childhood. Was he seeking to somehow redress the balance through kindness, or to vent his unabated feelings of hatred towards Daniel's parents on their child?
"Well, I suppose there isn't much chance of you having a son to succeed you, is there? Not unless Lady Alys can be persuaded to change her mind."
Joan bit the end off a thread, hoping that the Sheriff would not continue baiting Gisburne about his estranged wife. That marriage had been an unmitigated disaster from the start, ill-advised even before that, but like his master, Gisburne was not easily persuaded away from something he wanted. The young and beautiful Alys had caught his eye, and he had pursued her relentlessly until her father had acquiesced, but Alys was not bought so simply. She had done her duty at first, as any well-bred young woman would have, but the cruelty of her husband and his master towards the people of their shire had sickened her, and slowly but surely, she had turned away from him until there was no hope of a reconciliation. Last Joan had heard, Lady Alys Gisburne was residing in York with her sister and brother-in-law, ostensibly nursing her sister through a childbed fever that had so far lasted an impossible three years.
"Very well, Gisburne. The boy is your responsibility. Try to take better care of him than you did your last page."
"Henry died of fever, my lord!"
But the Sheriff was already moving away, all interest in the subject lost.
And now Joan stood, watching the son of Robin Hood learn the beginnings of the art of knighthood among his peers, unaware he was being taught swordsmanship by the man who had murdered his mother. Joan had thought it best to keep that particular information from the boy; knowledge could always be dangerous, and he was still a child. His change in position meant she was no longer in control of his care, but Joan still felt the pull of the bond she had with him. There was little time she could visit him, and she did not want the other boys to laugh at him, or say he was still tied to his Nurse's apron strings. That made the snatched moments she had with Daniel all the more precious, and she continued to instruct him to keep his own counsel, to heed her warnings about the Sheriff and Gisburne.
As the years passed, the boy grew, spending more and more time away from the Castle as befitted his duties, and Joan saw less of him, as did his guardians.
It appeared that the joke of raising the child of their now long-dead enemy, moulding him to fit a shape of their choosing, no longer amused the de Rainault brothers and they lost all interest in him, now just another boy in the castle.
By the time Daniel was fourteen and a squire, Abbot Hugo was dead, killed by a sudden seizure that Joan could only call an act of God, and wonder on what had taken the Lord so long to get around to dispatching him. Age had not improved his brother, either, and Joan would have found an excuse to escape his service long ago if it had not been for the fact that Daniel was bound to the service of his deputy, remaining in Nottingham Castle even as the boy went off to fight in France for the King.
Joan had never felt more like a mother than when she had watched him ride off so proudly alongside his master, torn between sharing his pride, and fear that she would never see him again. The crippling defeat King John suffered at Bouvines may have left the men in ill-spirits, but Joan was secretly relieved that at least that should reduce the chance of her boy seeing active military service, for a while at least.
For a while, her wish was granted, and she had three more years of watching her handsome boy excel in his training, advancing further towards his own knighthood. But when Daniel reached seventeen, her heart gave out, quite suddenly, and the boy found himself alone in the world once more, as perhaps he had always been. He was not unique in never having known his parents, that much he realised, but Nurse Joan was all he had known of family, and now he had lost her too.
And as his life progressed, Daniel could not escape the realisation that he was in the service of corrupt, capricious men who lived like royalty while the ordinary people suffered. Sir Guy may have been a hard master, but Daniel knew he endured no worse than any of the other squires, and he grew accustomed to hardship, knowing that this was what would make him a man. On military campaign, he could almost admire the man; whatever else he might have been, Gisburne was a magnificent soldier in the field. But, when faced with people who were not technically his enemy, Sir Guy was less admirable. Watching his master patrol the Shire of Nottingham, Daniel heard the words of his old nurse echo in his inner ear.
"Any man can be cruel. It takes a better man to rule with fairness."
And there was much unfairness, much cruelty. Remembering the trials he had watched alongside his guardians as a child, Daniel realised that what he had thought was justice being carried out against criminals was in fact vindictive men thrilling in the exercise of their power. Punishments meted out for slight offences, or what should never have been offences in the first place. Peasants slaved their lives away, crippled by taxation and the near-impossible struggle to live without breaking any of the multitude of laws that corralled their lives.
It wasn't supposed to be this way; Magna Carta, the rebellion by the Barons, these were supposed to protect the people. Even the death of King John, the Civil War, the eventual succession of his young son Henry seemed to have made no difference to the lives of the peasants. True, the laws had changed, but many of those enforcing them didn't appear to have noticed this, when it came to the ordinary people of England. Daniel felt something inside himself rail against such injustice, but what could he, one man, do? He knew from experience that he could never hope to change the minds of those who held power through argument. The old man in the castle grew more vile and intolerable every day, and Daniel found himself forced to take part in acts that went against his very soul.
Then one day, riding through Sherwood Forest, hunting poachers and outlaws, Daniel felt something else. A voice, though not one that spoke out loud, calling him by name.
He felt it in his blood, as if it caught at his soul and, ignoring the calls of his fellows, he followed it. Abandoning his horse, he worked his way deeper and deeper into the forest, further than he'd ever been before, led by the call that had knotted itself inside him. Eventually, he found himself in Dark Mere, a place no-one went unless they had no choice. The locals were convinced that devils and demons gathered here, but Daniel had no fear of superstitions. After all, what could be worse that the evils of men?
He stood for a moment, listening. All was quiet; even the birdsong was muted here but Daniel could feel that something drawing near, something powerful. Still, he felt no fear, knowing that he stood on a precipice but unable to shake the feeling that this was destiny calling, that this was somehow meant to be.
A stirring ran through the clearing where he stood, the trees susurrating in a quiet wind, and as Daniel turned, a man stood before him. Or was it a man?
For a moment, Daniel felt something very like fear, but he pushed it away. This was a man. It had to be, for all his sorcerer's trappings, the antler headdress he wore.
"Who are you?"
"I am Herne the Hunter. And you are a leaf, driven by the wind. Daniel, child of Robin i'the Hood and Marion of Leaford."
"How do you know my name?"
"I have always known. I have waited here for you to come. I knew that one day you would be ready."
"Ready? For what?"
"Ready to take up the mantle. The people of England need you, Daniel. Will you come to their aid?"
The words spun in Daniel's brain, too much for him to take in.
"You said something about my parents? What do you know of them?"
"I will show you."
The man raised his hands, and Daniel felt the world swept away in a tempest of noise and confusion. Visions sprang up before his eyes in a torrential rain and he struggled to make sense of them.
People ran through the forest, much like the area he stood in now. Strangers, every one. A giant of a man, carrying a quarterstaff. A Saracen man, twin swords strapped to his back with daggers held in his hands. A boy no older than Daniel himself, red-headed, carrying a bow. A friar with a sword tucked inside his voluminous robes. A stocky man, built like a soldier, his hair cropped short, bellowed at the others, but his words were lost in the storm of vision. Behind this group, standing facing the oncoming enemy with longbows drawn, a young couple; she was beautiful, red-haired like the boy, long curls tumbling down her slender back, reaching the quiver of arrows at her belt. He was dark-haired, handsome, carrying a sword that was far finer than his rough clothing suggested. The pair loosed their arrows, turned and ran after the group and Daniel saw them grasp hands, the man calling out to her. He couldn't hear the words, but he read the name that rose up on the man's lips, and knew who these people were.
"Run, Marion!" the man called, and Daniel realised that he was seeing his father, for the first time in his life.
There was more, but Daniel couldn't take it in. What little his nurse had told him, all he had gathered in the whispers that had surrounded him since childhood, paled into insignificance at this glimpse into his heritage. Any mention of Robin Hood had been in whispers; he'd witnessed the Sheriff order a man whipped after catching him gossiping in a corridor about the outlaw and his vanished group of followers.
The image burned before his eyes; his parents, young and free, running for their lives through the greenwood. Now both of them were long dead.
"What do you want with me?" he demanded the strange being before him. "Why show me this?"
"They fought for freedom and justice. What is right and fair. Will you do the same, now?"
"By myself?" Daniel demanded, still unsure what was being asked of him.
"More will come. They will hear the call, as you did. But you must lead them, or they will fail."
Daniel stared, feeling the world spin before him, opening up to show him what his life could be. No more following orders. No more pandering to the whims of an irascible old fool and a sadistic master in a stone fortress. No more watching barns burn to the ground because starving villagers had tried to keep some of their tithe back to feed their children. He was throwing away his chance at a knighthood; the possibility of wealth and prosperity, but the price he would have to pay for a life like that was too high. True, if he followed the path offered here, he would be living in the forest like an animal, never able to rest for fear of capture or death, but he would have his freedom, be his own man, and that, it seemed, was a price worth paying.
Yes, the fight had claimed the lives of his parents and their friends, but perhaps he could succeed where they had failed.
"Will you rise to the challenge?" pressed Herne, his eyes boring into Daniel's.
"Will you be your father's successor?"
Daniel raised his head, straightening his spine to meet the oncoming storm head on.
"I will," he said.
- I couldn't find any hard evidence, so I don't know if this is true, but what I have read suggested that Daniel was not a popular name in the 12th century and did not become so until later, hence some of the characters surprise at Marion's choice of name. For myself, I was influenced by listening to the Bat For Lashes track of the same name.
As to the need for an uprising after the signing of Magna Carta, I'm no expert on this but I don't believe that this suddenly made everything alright for the whole of England as it often appears in history and so I believe the need for a people's hero would be just as strong. Anyway, it's just a story!