Chapter 1: how can a fox have a lion for an uncle, and why isn't Prince John her uncle too? Why did Marian "leave for London" and not return to Nottingham for years? And how could Robin have given Marian a ring made of a flower blossom the night after the tournament when flowers close up at night?

Queen Eleanor's eyes narrowed slightly as her son Richard approached. The latest battle had been a undeniable victory yet something was troubling him. Still, she held her peace. She had learned that Richard spoke of his problems only when he was ready, unlike her young son John, who had always blathered on about his troubles and stewed over them incessantly. Ah, well.

"I would speak with you, Mother," Richard said at last, kneeling before her. "I have need of your advice."

With a graceful gesture she urged him to rise and sit beside her. "What is it?"

"Sir William of Nottingham is dead."

"I'm sorry. I know he was a true friend to you." Eleanor had not known Sir William well, only by reputation. But reputation alone was enough to tell her that the fox had been honest, true, and loyal.

"More than that, Mother," Richard persisted. "Sir William saved my life at cost to his own. I can honor his name, of course, but what good is honor to his young orphaned daughter, Marian?"

"Has she no mother?"

"Dead for many years now."

Eleanor sighed. "The poor child. What is it you plan to do?"

"I was thinking . . ." He paused, hesitating, then went on in a rush. "It seems only right to take the girl as my ward, Mother, and have her brought here to London for education. Her father is dead because of me, after all. I would also like to make her officially my niece."

"Your niece?"

Richard was not prone to outward signs of embarrassment but now he smiled sheepishly. "I would not feel right having a daughter now, Mother, not when I have not even taken a wife. And I cannot say when the war will be over; it would not be fair to become her new father only to be away from her for so long."

The queen nodded slowly, thinking it over. "I cannot find fault with your plan but what of the child? What are her wishes?"

"I cannot think she would be displeased. Marian will be well cared for, brought up as a lady and ward of the royal family. And when she is grown, she will retain her family's lands as is her right. Perhaps, Mother, you might permit her the use of your castle there in Nottingham, as befitting an adopted royal."

"Certainly, Richard." Eleanor smoothed her skirts and nodded. "You have my blessing for all of your plans ."

"Marian, must you go?" Robin pleaded sadly, gripping her paws as they stood beneath the tree in Eleanor's courtyard.

The young vixen blinked back tears and nodded. "Prince Richard is my uncle and guardian now. I must do what he decrees. He wishes me to go to London to be educated as a lady. But he says I may come back when I am grown."

Robin's shoulders slumped. "You will have forgotten me by then."

"No! Never! I swear it!"

"But just to make sure . . ." Robin pulled the little dagger from the sheath at his belt and turned to the tree. He bent and carved a little heart into the bark. Then he added within its boundaries the initials R.H. and M.M.

"But that tree is the property of the queen!" Marian protested in a horrified whisper.

"I don't care," he replied brashly, brushing off his paws and sheathing the blade. "She never comes here anyway. Besides, when you are grown you will live here and I want you to remember for forever."

Marian put folded her arms and pouted. "How do I know you won't forget me?"

Robin's face was surprisingly solemn for one so young. "I won't forget you. Ever. I would die before I could. Here." He suddenly plucked one of the little pink night-and-days that grew about in the grasses and gave it to her.

"Every time I see these flowers I'll think of you," he whispered. Marian smiled up at him, eyes shining. Suddenly he leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Then, blushing, he darted through the iron gate. The last Marian saw of him was a flick of his tail as it disappeared around the corner of the castle.