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Lionel is seven feet of pure coward. Banished by his warrior father for refusing to learn to fight, Lionel found refuge in the woods of Sherwood Forest, where he joined the misfit band of teens led by Rowan Hood, daughter of Robin. Now, a year later, his father has been taken prisoner by Robin Hood, and Lionel is determined to make peace. But when Lionclaw spots his son among outlaws, he vows revenge. Suddenly Sherwood is crawling with danger and Lionel wants nothing more than to turn and run. But when a couple of bounty hunters capture Rowan and use her as bait, the lion in Lionel is awakened, along with the courage to stand up to his father.
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Nancy Springer has published forty novels for adults, young adults and children. In a career beginning shortly after she graduated from Gettysburg College in 1970, Springer wrote for ten years in the imaginary realms of mythological fantasy, then ventured on contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and women's fiction before turning her attention to children's literature. Her novels and stories for middle-grade and young adults range from contemporary realism, mystery/crime, and fantasy to her critically acclaimed novels based on the Arthurian mythos, I AM MORDRED: A TALE OF CAMELOT and I AM MORGAN LE FAY. Springer's children's books have won her two Edgar Allan Poe awards, a Carolyn W. Field award, various Children's Choice honors and numerous ALA Best Book listings. Her most recent series include the Tales of Rowan Hood, featuring Robin Hood’s daughter, and the Enola Holmes mysteries, starring the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes.
Ms. Springer lives in East Berlin, Pennsylvania.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Trudging through Sherwood Forest, with his harp nestled like a turtledove in one big hand, Lionel did not even try to be quiet. It was no use. His feet, the size of pony heads in their curly-tipped shoes, would never learn not to scrape and shuffle. His great lumbering body would never learn not to rustle brush and bracken. And his poor muddled head, seven feet above the ground, would never learn not to conk itself on tree limbs. He made a poor excuse for an outlaw, forsooth.
According to his father, he made a poor excuse for a son altogether.
Lionel slowed, gazing up at tall oaks with acorns fattening on their branches, their autumn leaves hanging muted purple, like old royal velvet, in the twilight. Somewhere high in the darkening sky wild geese bayed like hounds, but Lionel barely heard. Instead, he heard in memory his father’s voice: "You disgrace my name. My heir, a sissy, a harp plucker? You are no son of mine. Go. If I see you again, I will kill you."
The words echoed in Lionel’s mind. Yes, kill. His father had really said that.
And meant it. Lionel remembered his father’s eyes narrowed to slits above his beard, remembered the lion growl in his father’s voice. A great lord can, and will, kill whomever he pleases.
Two years ago he had threatened Lionel with death. On my birthday. Thirteenth. Unlucky number.
Lionel sighed, lowered his gaze from the storm-purple oaks, and trudged on. In the months since another powerful man, the Sheriff of Nottingham, had put a bounty on his head, he had become accustomed to the threat of death. But remembering his father saying You are no son of mine. He had not yet become accustomed to the heartache.
Or the fear. He often quivered with nerves—oversized, sniveling ninny that he knew himself to be—but he had seldom felt such bone-deep terror as now.
But . . . I have to try.
He slogged on, under the oaks, along a ridge, then into thickets of hemlock and holly, their shadows deepening as night fell. Then down into a rocky dell, where ferns brushed his legs, their fronds dry and yellow at this time of year. Lacework leaves as yellow as primroses, as yellow as Lionel’s jerkin; yellow was his favorite color. The butter-bright ferns seemed to glow in the twilight. Gazing at them, Lionel stubbed his toe, stumbled into a boulder, and almost dropped his harp. A blackthorn branch raked his shoulder. His hand, flung out to grab something solid, found only a patch of nettles. "Owww!" he complained.
"Lady have mercy, harper," said a quiet voice in the nightfall. "A deaf man could hear you coming."
Peering into the shadows, Lionel could just make out the gleam of a polished longbow, then behind it the form of a man in green. Uphill from Lionel, motionless and almost invisible amid wild quince and ivy, one of Robin Hood’s men was standing guard duty.
Lionel cringed. "Don’t shoot me!" he squeaked.
In the dusk he could not see the outlaw’s good-humored contempt, but he depended on it, knowing it was there. "Maybe not this time," the man said. "Are you on your way to join the feast?"
Standing still, with the ferns no longer rustling around his shins, Lionel could hear the talk and laughter of the outlaws in their hideout on the other side of the rise.
Seeming to take his silence for ignorance, the guard said, "Robin has brought in a rich lord today, and a dozen of his retainers." To show those whom he robbed that he was no common cutthroat, Robin Hood spared their lives but required them to spend a night with him and his band. "We are giving them our best Sherwood Forest hospitality." Illegal venison, in other words, sauced with humiliation. "But the lord seems not to like it."
Lionel nodded and whispered, "Lord Roderick Lionclaw."
"Aye! Who told you?"
"Will Scathelock." All the outlaws were Lionel’s friends, amused by his vast size and timid disposition. "He said Lionclaw fought hard."
"Harder than most, but no match for Robin Hood and his merry men."
Small wonder. Anyone who wanted to join Robin’s band had to take on Robin in single combat. One of the many ironies of Lionel’s life, he considered, was that he had become an outlaw by helping to save Robin Hood’s life, yet he knew himself unworthy to join Robin’s band.
No matter. He gave all his fealty to Rowan: Rowan Hood, daughter of Robin Hood. Without looking, Lionel could feel his strand of the band, the silver gimmal ring, hanging inside his jerkin, over his heart.
"I’m here on an errand," he told the guard.
His own errand. Still, he badly wanted not to disgrace Rowan. Or the others.
The guard nodded. Lionel blundered on.
It was almost dark now. It seemed to Lionel that he tripped over every root and stick and stone in Sherwood Forest getting to the top of the rise. But at last he reached a vantage, a crag, where he could see.
There. Robin’s hollow.
Under the spreading branches of a giant oak, firelight glinted on two score grinning outlaws decked with the loot from the lord’s coffers: fine swords, rich velvets, gold chains. Hoisting flagons of ale, Robin’s men sat one-handedly tossing sacks of gold around the circle, roaring with laughter when they dropped the booty. Their captives, the lord’s men-at-arms, sat among them, huddled like scared rabbits. Lionel could guess their thoughts: They had been defeated in battle. Their hands had been tied; they had been blindfolded and made to ride backward on their own horses, brought to this place against their will. They were not being hurt now, except for their pride, but once Robin released them, would their lord have them flogged? He had been bound and blindfolded and made to ride backward too. They did not dare to look at him.
From the safety of the trees, Lionel looked.
There. Seated in the place of mocking honor, a throne of piled deerskins near the fire, Lord Roderick Lionclaw.
Father . . .
Lionel felt his heart pounding. Had anything changed in two years? Outwardly, no. Tawny in the firelight, his father’s stony face glared out over his jutting beard—the same. His broad-shouldered body, almost as tall as Lionel’s, looked as powerful as ever. His hands, battered in many combats, curled as hard as claws, just the way Lionel remembered them. On his men’s tabards and his own tunic gleamed Lord Roderick’s device, the rampaging golden lion wielding the clawed mace that had made him famous. All the same.
Then Lionel’s gaze shifted as a tall outlaw stood up, his curly cap of golden hair glinting in the firelight, his handsome, weather-tanned face alight with firelight and fun. He wore no looted gold, only his customary Lincoln green, his jaunty cap with a tuft of feathers. "Merry men, a toast!" he cried.
The others quieted, looking up to their leader, Robin Hood.
With solemn drollery Robin turned toward Lord Roderick Lionclaw, raising his flagon. "To the continued very excellent health of our honored guest."
"Hear! Hear!" the outlaws cried as Lionclaw gave Robin a glare like a blaze of dragon flame.
Robin seemed not to notice Lionclaw’s fiery stare at all. "My good lord," he said in tender tones, "you have not touched your dinner. Are you not feeling well?"
Lionclaw told him, "Go to hell."
The outlaws hooted. Looking on, Lionel felt his gut tighten into a Gordian knot of mixed emotions. He knew what it was to suffer taunts. Yet as often as not, it had been his father who had taunted him.
Robin’s mouth pulled down in clownish distress. "My lord is not merry? But consider, my lord, the good you have done this day! Starving peasants will be fed with the gold you have so willingly given—"
"Go fry in hell!"
Lord Lionclaw’s yell echoed in the oaks and in Lionel’s worst memories, making him shiver. He wanted to crawl away and hide.
I’m a fool to be here.
But—maybe not. Two years ago, when his father had cast him out, he had not known what his singing could do. He had not known that there was enchantment in his voice that could hold a guild hall full of armed men in his power, making them forget their weapons. He had not known that he could sing the badgers out of their dens, silence the nightingales, coax wolf and deer to stand side by side. He had not known that the beauty of his voice could even call forth the aelfe, the immortal denizens of the forest, from their hollow hills to listen to him.
Maybe, just maybe, if he sang for his father . . . something might change.
Please, dear Lady, let him . . . let him hear me. . . .
His father’s roar echoed away. Robin stood grinning but silent. All the men in the hollow, intent on Robin and Lionclaw, sat silent, awaiting whatever might happen next.
NOW. There would never be a better chance. Do it!
Shaking, Lionel set his back against an oak for support. He breathed in. Gently he touched his harp, and the first golden ringing notes quieted his trembling, made him forget the sting of nettles and mockery and hunger, made him forget his father’s fury. He cradled his harp, looked out of darkness straight into his father’s fiery face, stroked a strong chord out of the harp, lifted his voice, and sang:
"In a hollow hill of wild Sherwood
There lives a maiden fair and free,
An archer with a healer’s hand
A shining strand in an outlaw band. . . ."
Praise be to the Lady, his voice flew true, like a golden falcon, like the fragrance of wild roses, like a messenger angel in the night. And his harp strings rang true and honey sweet.
". . . This maiden outlaw bold and good
With a wolf who gives her fealty,
Daughter of fitting fatherhood:
Rowan Hood of the rowan wood."
In the firelit clearing around the great oak tree, outlaws stood or sat motionless, their flagons forgotten in their hands, their faces rapt and turned toward Lionel. Their mouths sagged open, softly agape. But Lionel saw no such softening in his father’s face.
Go down there. Let him see you. Face him.
But he could not. Not yet. The thought set him to trembling again. He had to close his eyes against the sight of his father’s stony face in order to sing on.
Singing to the dark, he finished the ballad of Rowan Hood and started another, the old, old song that had been his mother’s favorite:
"Alas, my love, you do me wrong
To cast me off discourteously . . ."
A lion’s roar of rage shattered his song, shook him worse than an earthquake, shook the branches above him. His hands faltered to a halt on his harp, and his throat tightened so badly that he could not sing, only squeak like a mouse. He knew that wordless bellow, although he had hoped never to hear it again.
"How dare you, sirrah!" Words, now, distorted by his father’s fury.
With the shards of his song dying around him, Lionel looked. At his father. Lord Roderick Lionclaw, his face blood red in the firelight and creased in an agony of wrath. Lord Roderick Lionclaw, on his feet and lunging toward the darkness. "Churl!" Lionel’s father roared, choking with rage. "Shameless! No son of mine! I will kill you!"
Half a dozen of Robin’s men leapt to grasp Lord Roderick by the arms. Ablaze with fury, he threw two of them off and surged forward as if the other four were no more than fleas clinging to his hide. Outlaws cried out and seized their quarterstaffs. Linnets and thrushes cried out and flew up from their nests. It seemed to Lionel that the very oaks trembled. He shook so hard, he had to clutch his harp to keep from dropping it.
Three outlaws with quarterstaffs at the ready stood before Lord Roderick, warning him back, but he glared past them at the night, seeming not to see the cudgels. "Disgrace to my name!" he bellowed. "Show yourself!"
Face him, stand up to him! Be a man for once.
"Dare to show yourself, sirrah!" Throwing off the outlaws who held his massive warrior arm, Lionel’s father shook his fist as if swinging his clawed mace. "I—will—kill—you!"
Lionel heard no more. Without knowing how his feet carried him, how he stood to run, or where he was going, he fled.
His throat had closed. He felt as if he would never be able to sing again.
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Book Description Philomel. Hardcover. Condition: New. 039923716X Ships from Tennessee, usually the same or next day. Seller Inventory # Z039923716XZN
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