Author's Note: This story takes place a year after Robin returns to Nottingham.
Leicestershire, England 1193
Hoof beats thundered over the frozen ground as two white horses drove forward in a frantic gallop. The carriage rattled loudly and threatened to tip onto its side as it took a bend in the road. Three passengers sat huddled together, jostled by each other's shoulders as the carriage took another sharp turn. Suddenly the night was lit up by an orange glow. The driver pulled up on the reins, and the passengers leapt from the carriage, crying out in dismay. An angry mob stood before a burning manor house. The flames ate hungrily at the window frames, and the weakened timber beams collapsed, bringing the roof with them. Ivy's eyes burned with the heat of the flames as she watched her home burn before her eyes.
A tall man wearing the crest of Leicestershire's sheriff stepped forward from the crowd. "Lord and Lady Palfrey, I have an order to arrest you in the name of the Sheriff for high treason against your country and your people." A group of armed guards surrounded Ivy and her parents. "Evidence has been found to link you to the recent crimes against the Sheriff and Leicestershire."
"No, lies, all of it lies!" the man cried out.
"Then where were you on the night of November the second when the Sheriff's life was threatened? We have it on good authority that you were seen in Shrewsbury that night, speaking with known enemies to the Sheriff."
"That wasn't me, I swear it! I was in Nottingham visiting my sister!" The guards ignored his pleas, clapping irons on both his and his wife's wrists.
"He's telling the truth!" Ivy cried out, shoving a guard away from her as he tried to restrain her. "Our family has always had Leicester's best interests in mind. My father would never plot with the Sheriff's enemies!"
"Quiet you! You speak out of turn," one of the guards growled at her, raising a hand to slap her cheek. Ivy was ready for the blow, however, and as the guard's hand descended, she drew a small knife from her belt and stabbed it into the man's arm. He let out a cry of pain though the blade hardly pierced the skin.
"Get her! She will hang with her family!"
"Run, Ivy, get help! Keep yourself safe!" her parents called to her as they were dragged into a carriage. The townspeople cheered, raising their torches in the air as they watched the traitors go to their deaths. The burning manor lit up their angry faces and cast cruel shadows across the ground.
Ivy ducked under the guards' outstretched arms, darting through the mob and toward the abandoned carriage. The horses were unsettled by the fire, half rearing as the flames sizzled against the cold night. Ivy unhitched one of the horses as quickly as she could, sliding onto his back and pulling him around to face the crowd.
"You will pay for your crimes against my family!" she shouted. Kicking the horse in the sides, she sent him galloped madly into the darkness, not looking back until the night had swallowed the orange glow of the fire. She slowed the horse, wondering which way to turn. The road ahead of her led to Nottinghamshire. Perhaps there she could find justice. Deliberating, she urged the horse forward, plunging headfirst into the night.
The wind was blowing fiercely against the trees, sending a haunting whistle through the spaces between the trunks. A small carriage rattled quietly down the road, its ornate curtains drawn shut against the winter chill. The two black horses that pulled it held their heads high, golden tassels falling across their forelocks. Blinders kept their vision limited, but the sounds of the wind unsettled them and they kept their ears perked for any other noises out of place in the forest. Despite their attention, they failed to notice a small band of men and one woman fanning out along the edge of the road, hidden safely behind undergrowth. The driver's eyes were set straight ahead, his scarf pulled up around his ears. His teeth chattered, and his thoughts were solely on his frozen hands. He did not notice as six people, each armed with a weapon, stepped out from the cover of the woods. He did not pull up on the reins until one man stepped boldly out into the middle of the road. The horses threw up their heads, snorting in surprise, and the driver drew hastily back on the reins.
"What do you mean, stopping in the road like that?" the driver asked.
"What is the hold up?" came a voice from inside the carriage. A small, plump man with fine clothes stuck his head out of the carriage window. His eyes met with a giant of a man holding a thick quarterstaff. He jumped, hitting his head on the door of the carriage. "What is the meaning of this?" he fairly squeaked.
The man in the middle of the road spoke first, his face set in a smile. "I am Robin Hood, and we are here to relieve you of your money."
"What is this? You're robbing me?" The man was quite flustered how, his cheeks turning red. "How dare you!"
"It looks as if you get plenty to eat while families are out there starving. You can spare a little of your wealth to help them. Little John, would you like to do the honors?"
The big man stepped forward, wrenching open the carriage door. "You can either get out yourself or I can do it for you."
The man needed no telling twice. He leapt from the carriage with surprising quickness and shuffled away from Little John.
A few minutes later the carriage rattled on down the road, considerably lighter than it had been before. "This will be enough to feed all of Locksley for a week," Robin said to his friends, showing them the contents of the small chest they had taken. "Let's get this evened out and distributed before nightfall." They turned to leave the road, but Robin hesitated, turning back to look into the distance. "Quick, I hear a horse." They turned and ran noiselessly into the cover of the trees, hiding themselves behind bushes and trees to watch the oncoming horse.
A white horse came into sight, cantering raggedly down the road. The rider was slumped over in the saddle, looking half frozen. A dark cloak was pulled over him, hiding his features, however, the horse was richly adorned, and the rider's boots looked finely made.
"We've got ourselves a bonus," one of Robin's men said, grinning.
"Wait a moment, Allan," Robin said, putting out an arm. He waited as the rider drew nearer before motioning for his gang to spread out among the trees. "Let me go out alone." Robin slid from the trees and halted in the middle of the road once more. "Halt!" he cried out. The rider jolted in the saddle, hauling up on the reins in surprise. The white horse reared, eyes rolling in fear. Robin stood unmoving before the traveler. "There's a price to pay for traveling through this forest. A little gold to feed the poor is all my men and I ask."
He could not see the rider's features from under the cloak, but as he waited, the rider tossed the hood back. Robin blinked in surprise. He had not been expecting a girl to be traveling alone. She sat glaring defiantly down at him, her pale face drained of all color in the winter cold. Piercing blue eyes were set off by long lashes, and her face was framed by a mane of curly, chestnut hair.
"I have nothing to give but the clothes on my back," she said, her voice steady.
"What are you doing all alone out here?" Robin asked. "It's not safe for a young girl."
"I can take care of myself." She put a hand on a small dagger tucked into her belt.
Robin held up his hands. "I mean you no harm."
"I was driven from my home when the villagers of Leicester burned it to the ground. My parents were arrested and have been sentenced to hang. I barely escaped with my life." She continued to glare at him, her lips set in a frown.
"I am sorry to hear that. Clearly you are one who needs help, and we might be able to give it. Where are you headed?"
The girl looked suspicious for a moment but then spoke again. "Nottingham. My father's sister lives there. I thought perhaps I could get help. Maybe the Sheriff-"
"The Sheriff gets pleasure from seeing people hang; he will be no help. Why don't you come with us? We can give you food and somewhere to sleep for the night."
"How can I trust you? And who is 'we'?"
"I am Robin Hood and these are my men." From the woods stepped the rest of his band.
"Surely not the Robin Hood? I thought you were a legend." The girl's eyes glowed with interest. "They speak of you in Leicester saying that you steal from the rich to feed the poor. My father always said that he would like to meet you. Lord William Palfrey is his name."
"You say he was arrested? On what charges?" Robin asked.
The girl shook her head. "Something ridiculous. He was accused of plotting against our Sheriff, cavorting with enemies, that sort of thing. It isn't true though, none of it… But everyone believed it. They burned our home to the ground…"
"Doesn't that sound like someone we know?" Allan said, rolling his eyes toward Nottingham.
The girl suddenly noticed the one woman in Robin's band, watching her with interest. Djaq smiled, stepping forward. "Come, you look very cold. You can trust us. What is your name?"
"Well, Lady Ivy-" Robin started.
"Just Ivy, please."
"Ivy then, welcome to Sherwood Forest. Will you permit yourself to be blindfolded while we go to the camp?" Robin asked.
"Blindfolded?" Ivy repeated doubtfully.
"Just as a precaution," Will Scarlet said, stepping forward. Ivy nodded, seeing that they meant her no harm.
"Alright." She dismounted, stumbling slightly as she put weight on her frozen legs. Robin caught her, steadying her before pulling out a cloth to tie around her head.
"Take my hand," he said softly, "and I'll take you safely there."