Read The Outlaws of Sherwood Online

Authors: Robin McKinley

The Outlaws of Sherwood


The Hero and the Crown

A Newbery Medal winner, an ALA Notable Book,
and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults

“Robin McKinley's Damar books are among the finest sword and sorcery being written today.” —

“Beautifully rendered … McKinley's battle scenes are galvanizing and her romantic ones stirring, her characterizations have vitality, and her way with animal characters makes them distinct individuals without losing their animality.” —
, starred review

“As richly detailed and elegant as a medieval tapestry … Vibrant, witty, compelling, the story is the stuff of which true dreams are made.” —
The Horn Book

“Splendid high fantasy … Filled with tender moments, good characters, satisfying action and sparkling dialogue … Superb!” —
School Library Journal
, starred review

“Refreshing … Haunting … An utterly engrossing fantasy!” —
The New York Times

The Outlaws of Sherwood

“McKinley brings to the Robin Hood legend a robustly romantic view. She renders it anew by fully developing the background and motive of each member of the merry band.… She presents a solid piece of tale-weaving, ingenious and ingenuous, causing readers to suspend belief willingly for a rousing good time.” —
Publishers Weekly

“Readers ready to think beyond stereotypes of glorious violence will find [this] Robin a hero for our times.” —


An ALA Notable Children's Book

“A splendid story.” —
Publishers Weekly

“A captivating novel.” —

The Door in the Hedge

“She knows her geography of fantasy, the nuances of the language, the atmosphere of magic where running deer become beautiful maidens and frogs handsome princes.” —
The Washington Post

A Knot in the Grain

“The strange, rich magic of fairy tales is amplified and made highly personal in five stories by Newbery Medalist McKinley. A pragmatic, unapologetic feminism infuses each tale: while McKinley's adventurous heroines certainly do not eschew love, neither do they pine after princes and castles. Instead, each of these down-to-earth young women actively seeks a partner—however unusual—who suits her. A thrilling, satisfying and thought-provoking collection.” —
Publishers Weekly

The Outlaws of Sherwood

Robin McKinley



A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tips as the arrow sped on its way. It shivered in its flight, and fell, a little off course—just enough that the arrow missed the slender tree it was aimed at, and struck tiredly and low into the bole of another tree, twenty paces beyond the mark.

Robin sighed and dropped his bow. There were some people, he thought, who not only could shoot accurately—if the breeze hadn't disturbed it, that last arrow would have flown true—but seemed to know when and where to expect small vagrant breezes, and to allow for them. He was not a bad archer, but his father had been a splendid one, and he was his father's only child.

His father had taught him to shoot; he had also taught him to make and fletch his own arrows. Robin stopped to pull the treacherous arrow out of the ash it had chosen to fly at, and ran his fingers gently over the shaft. It was undamaged, he was relieved to see; he had a living to earn, and little time to spend making his own arrows. Mostly he sold the ones he found time to make; he had some slight local fame as a fletcher. He would rather have had any local fame, however slight, as an archer. But the money was useful; as one of the youngest sub-apprentice foresters in the King's Forest of Nottingham, he barely earned coin enough to feed himself—in fact he didn't earn even that, and he was struggling as well to keep title to his father's small holding. Every quarter saw him in rising panic as the time for the rents grew near.

Fortunately for his peace of mind, Robin was usually too busy, and too short on sleep and food, to have time and energy for thinking. And he was young and strong and still hopeful; this Chief Forester, who sent him on all the most disagreeable tasks, was old, and might be expected to die or at least to retire some day soon. With some luck the new Chief Forester, although inevitably another sheriff's man, might not hate young Robin for the sake of his mother, who had had the excellent sense to marry another man.

Today Robin had the great fortune to be free to go to the Nottingham Fair, and perhaps his holiday meant his luck was looking up at last. It was old Nobble, who had worked with his father as a friend, who had had the duty to decide which of the younger men might have the day to go to the fair. He had had the wisdom not to choose Robin first, for Bill Sharp, who was the Chief Forester's spy among the young men, was watching eagerly; but Robin knew as soon as Nobble's eye fell on him that he was to be permitted to go. He had to stop the smile that wanted to spread across his face from appearing till his name was called—a cautious third. Bill Sharp's name was not called at all, and that made Robin's happiness even greater.

Robin was to meet Marian and Much at the fair, and they would see the sights together: the jugglers and the players, the wrestlers and the knife-throwers. There would be no knights' contests. The best knights did not care to display themselves at so mercantile an event as the Nottingham Fair, much to the sheriff's chagrin, for the sheriff was vain of his town and his place in it. But his love of gold invariably won over even his love of pomp and ceremony; and while the sheriff said aloud that he was not willing to lay on a tourney that the best would not attend—for petty, illogical reasons that Nottingham need not concern itself with—the truth of it was that he was not willing to lay on a tourney that would end up costing him a great deal of money. He did consider, twice a year, as fair time approached, the noble—possibly even royal—favour he might curry by a fine tournament. But—as he told himself—royal favour was a notoriously chancy (and expensive) thing and at best a long-term one; and the sheriff of Nottingham had a short-term mind.

But the three friends did not care for such things, although Marian often heard gossip about them, and had many times made Much and Robin laugh till their sides hurt with her deadly imitations of the sheriff and his society. Once Robin said to her, “But your stories are second-and third-hand. How do you

“I don't,” said Marian cheerfully. “But I'm a good guesser—and a good actor, am I not?”

Robin said teasingly, “I will tell you what you already know only if you promise that you will not run off with a band of wandering players.”

“I will not have to,” replied Marian, “so long as evading my father's questions when I wish to spend a day with you continues to exercise my talents so usefully. Come; Much will think we have fallen in a hole,” and she ran off ahead of him before he could speak again.

There had been little enough time for the three of them to be together in the last months; but the fair was going to make up for all that. They would look in the stalls and admire the trinkets for sale, the bright cloth, the raw wool and flax, the charms and toys, the spices and wines; and everything would please them.

Robin had contrived to finish off another couple dozen arrows since Nobble had called out his name a fortnight ago, working late into the evenings at great expense of sleep and strength—and of eyesight, crouched over one flickering candle till his head ached so badly that he saw twenty fingers and forty arrows. But he knew he would be able to sell them to Sir Richard of the Lea, his best customer—and the kindest, though Robin tried not to think about that too much in the fear that he might realise he should not accept the kindness. Sir Richard was unusual in that he permitted himself, a knight, to be interested in this commoner's sport. He had first bought arrows from Robin's father, and had not only organised his own levies to practise with their bows, but he even learnt to shoot himself, and had caused something of a ripple in local aristocratic society by claiming that he quite enjoyed it. But, he said, it was only sense to wish to send archers to the Lionheart in Palestine since the news of the Saracens' at-the-gallop harassment of properly armed knights had come home to England.

It was a great pity, as everyone said, that such a good man (and forward-looking, said those who approved of his archery; if misguided, said those who did not) should have such a worthless son. There was a good deal of local consternation, among both the high and low, at the prospect of the son's eventual inheritance of the father's estates. The sanguine held that, barring an unlucky pox or dropsy, the son would kill himself at one of his headlong games before such a fate came to be. And there was no point in speculating—which everyone then immediately did—whom the king might in such a case assign the estates to.

Robin himself was keeping an eye out for the son as he walked toward Mapperley Castle; he bore a small but slow to fade scar on the back of his neck where young Richard had laid his hunting-whip when Robin had not gotten out of what Richard perceived as his way quickly enough to suit. The son might have had more trouble if his father were less loved; as it was, yeoman farmers got both their flocks and their daughters under cover when young Richard was heard of, and elegant dinner parties in several counties were enlivened by tales of his exploits.

Sir Richard, who had not ordered any new arrows, still let his man show Robin at once into the room where he sat. He said, with the smallest trace of amusement in his gentle voice, “Have you an especial need for ready money, perhaps? Have you permission to go to the fair?”

Robin acknowledged, somewhat guiltily, that this was true. But Sir Richard willingly examined the arrows, as carefully as if he had long awaited them. “You have more than earned your fee with these,” he said. “They are very fine.” A blessing on that wandering goose, Robin thought, whose feathers he had ransacked before returning it, only a little the worse for wear, to its coop. Sir Richard stood up from behind his great desk and fumbled for his purse; and he pressed coins into Robin's hand and curled the young man's fingers around them as he turned him toward the door to the long hall that led down stairs and at last to the kitchens.

The smell of cooking made Robin's head swim. He knew he was accepting charity, but he was also relentlessly hungry and almost never ate meat; and Sir Richard had enough money to support not only his lands but his wastrel son. The odd extra meal for a craftsman worth his salt (Robin told himself) was no ignominy, on either side. It was not until his mouth was already full of beef and gravy and bread that he thought to look at the coins Sir Richard had given him; and found that he had been paid half again his usual price.

So Robin had enough money in his pouch to throw to a juggler who might particularly take his fancy (although he should be saving it for next quarter day); and enough to buy the hot fried bread there would be at the goodwives' booths for Marian and Much as well as for himself. He wondered for a moment, as he settled his bow and quiver over his shoulders, if perhaps he should throw the coin he would need to enter the fair's archery contest to that hypothetical juggler, and leave his arrows at home. He hesitated, looking at the tree his last arrow had missed.

He did not hate the fact that he was a second-rate archer; and Much and Marian knew him and were his friends. But there would be friends of the Chief Forester shooting too, and nothing would please them more than to taunt him when he stood up—and to take the story home of how young Robin had missed the mark with his very first arrow. Robin had learnt that it did no good to answer the taunting, and so he could hold his tongue; but he had yet to learn to ignore it, and as the anger—compounded of his helplessness and inability simply not to listen—beat inside him, it would throw his shooting out. The Chief Forester himself might be there to laugh his great, rolling, harsh laugh, though usually at such events he disappeared into the tent set out for the refreshment of the sheriff and his men, and was little seen.

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