“Lady Marian, Lady Marian… Oh, Milady, please listen to me.”
It was Alice, and she was distraught, but I was mindful of father’s warning about encouraging over-familiarity in the servants.
“Stop this fuss, Alice,” I said sharply, pushing down the instinct to comfort her. The girl was barely fourteen and for all I knew some groom or gardener — or worse: a noble — had introduced her to the unpleasant realities of her class and sex.
“Milady.” She sobbed briefly then seized hold of herself. “I am sorry, Milady,” she bobbed a curtsey and attempted to speak calmly, “but if you please, ma’am…”
“What is it, Alice?” I tried to sound distant.
“It’s Hannah, she’s been locked in the old mill.” The old mill was where the sheriff held prisoners until he could find a local magistrate to rule as he wished.
“Hannah the kitchen maid? Nonsense.”
“Yes, she has,” said Alice. “They think she killed a man and are like to execute her.”
This was how I was brought into the mess. Alice of course didn’t know about my contacts in Sherwood forest, but the housekeeper Mistress Buckle knew. To be accurate, she was one of them, and sometimes took messages from me to Robin and back. It was she who had sent Alice to me, otherwise the chit would not have dared.
I thought of sending for her, but it was easier and less conspicuous to go down to the kitchen.
Mistress Buckle was as usual telling off one of the girls for over-kneading the pastry or some such cardinal sin of the kitchen. Poor girls.
“What’s this about Hannah?” I asked her bluntly.
“She’s one of us. She killed a man.”
“There’s no doubt she did it?”
“None at all,” said Mistress Buckle, “but it was Will the Philanderer and she had tried everything she could to avoid being alone with him or allowing his advances.”
“If she killed a man, there is nothing I can do,” I snapped.
“She’s one of us,” said Mistress Buckle. “They will put her in the stocks, or more likely hang her, and she will turn wolf at the last minute. She is young and has not the discipline to hold out.”
I thought that despite ruling the kitchen with an iron fist, Mistress Buckle was speaking more from compassion than anxiety; she had no love for the drunken louts of the sheriff’s militia. She was right nevertheless that we did not wish it known there were shape-changers in the vicinity. What was harder was weighing up what was to be done about it.
“She will turn wolf,” Mistress Buckle repeated, her eyes serious, reminding me what I stood to lose.
“But even if she does, they will only know…” I objected, despite realising that I was already convinced.
“There will be questions then,” said Mistress Buckle, “about the wolves in Sherwood forest”
“They’ve already hunted Robin for almost two years,” I told her. “They are not as fleet, or crafty, or skilled with a bow as he.”
“Aye, he is fleet and crafty and skilled but that is not why he has escaped all this time,” said my housekeeper. “My Lord of Locksley can fade into the undergrowth as a wolf all the better if the sheriff remains unknowing that such a thing is possible.”
“Not that long ago, I would have said it was impossible,” I conceded.
“There is many an abbot that would call it witchcraft.” Mrs Buckle spat, but took great care that it went nowhere near the pastry.
“Don’t spit in the kitchen,” I reminded her, “we are not in Sherwood now.” The girl giggled to see her stern task-mistress scolded.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Mrs Buckle acknowledge my reproof, “but Hannah…”
“I will send for Robin.” I sighed. It was too soon for him to show his winsome face in the village but he would not think so. “I will send Alice, as she is good for nothing else.”
“Will she be frightened?” asked Mrs Buckle, and I shrugged. With her ripening figure, perhaps she was safer among wolves than men. Robin’s band were rough but would never do a woman wrong; of that, I was sure. I could walk safely under the green wood trees as long as my love was the Lord of Sherwood forest.
I wrote my note, and dressing Alice in Lincoln green, bid her where to go and what to say.
“You will see strange things,” I warned her. “Do not fear.”
“What if Robin Hood’s men find me?” she asked trembling.
“Foolish girl,” I said fondly, “we are counting on Robin Hood’s men finding you. They will never harm a hair of your head. This is Hannah’s only chance. Do you understand?” I wondered whether to tell her they were werewolves but thought it might cause her to panic and refuse to go.
“We are parleying with outlaws?”
“Alice, look at me,” I said. “The law is the sheriff. The law is Prince John. The law is those who steal from the poor — from men who work and from old widows and who do not like a woman like me to hold a castle.” It was a constant niggling worry with my father on his deathbed that when he was gone, I would be expected to marry in haste — perhaps to the sheriff’s benefit.
“When the law is an instrument of oppression, there is no shame in being an outlaw.” Was I telling Alice this, or was I comforting myself? The girl sped off, and I prepared myself to meet — however fleetingly — my wolf-man, my love.
Stef Rozitis is a teacher, privileged to live and work in Australia. They are non-binary and have three wonderful, supportive, grown-up sons and one judgemental cat. They enjoy writing both fiction and non-fiction and feel a warm glow whenever anyone reads it. Their background is Latvian.