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Reawakening of Love

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 Reawakening of Love

March 1194, Nottingham, the Castle of Nottingham

Light won the fierce battle with darkness, and good prevailed over evil.

After Kate had found the king and had given him Robin’s note, Richard the Lionheart had hurried to assist his most loyal and beloved knight in dealing with Vaisey, Isabella, and the sheriff’s army. The assault on the castle was brutal and quick, and the king’s forces were merciless to Vaisey and his accomplices who were trying to take the town back from Robin Hood and his men.

Guy of Gisborne and Allan-a-dale did not survive the siege: Guy had died a hero’s death saving Robin’s life during the battle in the tunnel, and Allan, who had actually been innocent of betraying his friends, had been killed by Vaisey because of Isabella’s devious scheme. The king departed from the town the next day, heading to the north of England.

Sheriff Vaisey was dead, and the people of Nottingham were celebrating the deliverance from evil with festivities and merriment. Nottingham had become a place of darkness when Vaisey had ruled the town, and the end of the sheriff’s brutal regime was like the end of evil, suffering, and pain. Now even the color of the sky seemed bluer and twitter of birds sounded sweeter than ever before.

Appointed Sheriff of Nottingham by the King of England, Sir William de Lavalle, Earl of Lincoln, arrived in the town in a week after the siege, together with his young daughter, Lady Anne de Lavalle. The Earl of Lincoln was one of the king’s most loyal nobles and was known as a kind and generous lord in Lincoln, where he had lived most of his life. The people rejoiced that they would have a new sheriff who would right the wrongs and would relieve the woes of the populace.

Inside the Castle of Nottingham, the great hall blazed with orange candlelight and shimmered in multicolored expensive velvet and silk tapestries. The tables were covered in blue muslin fringed with silver. Silver platters and bejeweled cups glittered and winked in the light of many candles in bronze candelabra placed in rows along the hall. In the gallery facing the great hall, musicians with lute competed with the growing clamor in the chamber as the wine was drank and servants brought in course after course. The new sheriff and his daughter sat at the table just beneath the great dais. 

Sir William de Lavalle, Earl of Lincoln, raised his hand for silence. As a hush fell all over the great hall, he slowly rose to his feet and swept his eyes over the guests. “My friends, God blessed us with such a beautiful day!  Today, we can safely proclaim there is justice in Nottinghamshire and in England! Our gracious and triumphant King Richard defeated Lord Pierre Vaisey, Lady Isabella of Gisborne, and other vile traitors, and peace will now reign throughout this land,” he spoke in a loud voice. “I served King Richard loyally and devotedly for many years, and I’m proud that our liege has appointed me Sheriff of Nottingham. My most important mission is to administer Nottinghamshire with justice and fairness. Standing here before you, I solemnly swear to be a just and wise ruler and to judge everyone in accordance with the king’s law.”

Loud and joyful acclamations filled the great hall as the nobles in attendance rejoiced that they were free from Vaisey’s tyranny.

A young, handsome man, who was dressed in a fashionable blue tunic embroidered with intricate designs in gold thread and matching chausses, smiled at the Earl of Lincoln. This man was Sir Robin of Locksley, Earl of Huntingdon, known as Robin Hood and the hero of England by his king and the people. Robin was relieved that the new sheriff was a man whom he had met a few times at court and whom he genuinely respected. He knew that the Earl of Lincoln was very loyal to the Lionheart and cared about the peasants as well. The people had suffered a lot in the king’s absence and deserved a better life than constantly facing hunger and poverty.

The king had reinstated Robin’s titles and lands immediately after the siege and left after having a heartfelt farewell with his most loyal knight. Robin’s friends had also been pardoned, and each of them had been given a patch of land in reward for their loyalty to the king. Robin did not want to be at the welcoming feast for Sir William because he was mourning for Guy and Allan, but, as the most high-ranking nobleman in the shire who had taken the castle from Vaisey, he was anticipated to attend. He envied Much and his other friends who were not at the castle and busied themselves with organizing their new lives.

Sir William flicked his gaze to Robin, and his lips curled into a wide smile. “I am pleased to see that Sir Robin of Locksley, the Earl of Huntingdon, is here today. He is a man I have met at court, but I know him mostly by reputation. Who has not heard of his impressive triumphs?  The troubadours sing of his great victories against the enemies of the king, and his sacrifices, including the loss of his wife. We all know about his service to our glorious Lionheart, King Richard. Sir Robin demonstrated undeniable valor and bravery, as well as bold leadership during the siege of Nottingham.”

The new sheriff raised his voice. “But today, I want to thank Sir Robin for his services to the people. It is easy for some men, whom God has elevated above others, to live their lives oblivious to those of lesser rank.  But Sir Robin, our Robin Hood, is not one of those men. He has demonstrated a real commitment and concern for all the people of England. He has fearlessly stood up to defend them, and he has risked everything in his pursuit of justice for the people.”  

Cheerful cries filled the air as the nobles expressed their respect to the hero. They secretly admired Robin’s defiance of Vaisey and respected him deeply for his undeniable courage, his innate sense of honor, and his unbreakable will. However, nobody of them would have spoken a word on his behalf while Vaisey had been alive and the nobles had feared for their lives and safety.

The Earl of Lincoln smiled benevolently at the young hero and raised a full goblet of wine as a salute.  “Few men merit such titles as ‘hero’ or ‘legend’, but today we celebrate in the presence of such a man, and I’m honored that he is here with us. May God bless you, Sir Robin!  All honor to you, my lord!” He drained the contents of the goblet and set the goblet on the table.

“Long Live Robin Hood!” one of the nobles proclaimed. An animated Robin climbed to his feet, and a quiet fell over the chamber. His eyes were alight with pride and joy, and he had a huge grin on his face. “Thank you, my lords; thank you from the bottom of my heart. But I do not deserve all the honors conferred on me,” he said simply, although their words fueled his vain nature.  “God bless King Richard, our just and good liege lord!”

“Long Live King Richard!” echoed Sir William.

“Long reign and live King Richard!” chorused the lords and ladies.

The new sheriff waved his head for silence. Looking at Robin, he shook his head and spoke loudly. “Lord Huntingdon, your loyal service to King Richard has saved our liege’s throne in his absence, and you have been helping the people a lot. You rightfully deserve all the honors which a grateful king and country can bestow upon their most loyal subject who has fulfilled his duty so admirably.”

“Thank you, Lord Lincoln,” answered Robin; an arrogant flicker appeared in his eyes.

As Robin seated back into his chair, he shut his eyes as a tide of despair washed over him. The king returned to England, and he was the Earl of Huntingdon again. But Marian was not with him! His wife, his sweet and beloved Marian, was buried in a hostile foreign land, and he couldn’t even visit her grave and bring her favorite flowers there. Marian should have been there, but she was dead!

Pain soaked through him, like the cold wet of a winter's day, and a feeling of loss coursed through him with a force that shook him. An ominous voice was telling him that he had lost more in his fight for justice than he had gained. Yet, his rational mind argued back that his battle for what was good and right had not been futile – not by any stretch of the imagination. Real victories had occurred. Without Marian, his future life seemed to be a vision of grayness without form filled only with physical pain and depression, but the hero would not have changed the course of his life, for he would not have been Robin of Locksley if he had abstained from rebelling against Vaisey and oppression.

The death of Marian almost destroyed Robin. But he had managed to find a new purpose in life thanks to Tuck, fighting for her as he had promised her on her deathbed. His ultimate victory had a high price – the deaths of Marian, Sir Edward, Carter, Allan, Guy, and a few other loyal friends.

Losses and deaths and tragedies… Time had not healed Robin’s wounds.

“Try to forget them,” whispered Robin’s inner voice to him. He tried to picture his life without pain, but all these images came in the shape of a dream that would never come true.

Robin knew what pain was. All the losses he had sustained suffused him with pain and evoked in his heart a careless contempt for a world that still seemed to embrace evil and tyranny despite Robin’s sacrifices and subsequent victory. True, he had made the last stand and defeated his enemies. He had teetered at the edge of the abyss and had almost died for the cause. But he had been permitted to step away from the chasm of destruction and defeat and to secure a firm footing on the mountaintop of life and victory. Robin briefly considered Guy’s sacrificial death which had allowed him to live: he had forgiven Guy for killing Marian in the Holy Land, and he regretted that his former enemy was dead.

And now where was peace. Yet, Robin’s life did not in the least resemble a peace. He could not be at peace because his Marian was dead. What was he supposed to do without Marian in a peaceful life?

Robin began to think that he didn’t need a partner in life at all. He was doomed to utter loneliness on earth, but he would have an eternal peace with Marian in heaven, as he had told her when she had been dying in his arms. He had done the right thing when he had broken his relationship with Kate because he had never loved her; he had sent the young potter and her family away from Locksley, giving them enough money to start afresh somewhere else.

Robin’s affair with Isabella had been brief, and he was thankful that he had not given his heart to such a vindictive, cruel woman; a woman who had chosen the path of evil. Isabella had gleefully killed her own brother in an attempt to take Robin’s life. Guy had sacrificed himself to save Robin, and Robin felt that Isabella's death in the explosion with Vaisey was well-deserved.

Marian is dead, and my hopes for a happy family life died together with her. My happiness is buried in Imuiz. I do not need a wife and a woman to look after me, Robin thought.

He felt that he was being watched by someone, and he turned to look at the young raven-haired lady who sat near the Earl of Lincoln. He frowned at her at first, but as he studied her closely, he had to stop himself from allowing his jaw to drop. Good God, this woman was magnificent!

Robin knew that she was Lady Anne de Lavalle, the only daughter of the Earl of Lincoln.

Robin scrutinized the lovely lady he had heard about a lot but had never before met her. She was seated across from him now, and he could see very well. Lady Anne was beautiful in her own exotic way. There was truly something enchanting about her.

Anne was a true paradox: she did not fit the classic ideal of English beauty because of her dark hair and olive complexion, but her exotic appearance attracted the attention and adoration of many men. Anne’s long raven hair was gathered back into a single glossy braid, the color as rich and deep as moonless night. Today, she had chosen to wear a green and gold bliaut made out of thin silk taffeta and embroidered with gold braid on the front; the color of her bliaut accentuated the color of her gorgeous hair. There was a cold, formal, and mysterious aura about her, and her expression was inscrutable; her eyes sparkled just enough to mock Robin for watching the sheriff’s daughter with such an indecently attentive gaze before a congregation of nobles.

Robin examined Anne’s face. Her mouth was perfectly formed, and he could imagine how a softly formed word – if she could utter one kind word to him — would send his pulse racing wildly. His heart began to beat like a hammer against the walls of his chest as he looked into Anne’s dark and beguiling eyes that were like hooks to her soul and captivated him. Her eyes were enticingly dark, dangerously defiant, immensely intelligent, and undoubtedly wise. There was a shadow of pain in her eyes, and nobody, probably not even her father, could decipher it. Robin could also see restlessness in Anne’s eyes and body, and a fire of life and passion was blazing deep inside her. Anne was like a sphinx-like enigma that Robin wanted to fathom.

Robin was staring at her, but he couldn’t help it. No one attracted him so much after Marian’s death. Until now. Until he looked into Lady Anne’s magnificent eyes.

Robin gave himself a mental shake. He should not think of the sheriff’s daughter and stare at her like one of her many suitors whom she rejected without any hesitation and compunction. He was not one of her admirers! He coveted to leave this dull feast, and the sooner it happened, the better it would be for him. And yet, he could not help but think that Lady Anne was still there.

Soon the dancing began. Robin was surprised when he discovered that the sheriff’s daughter was a very skilled dancer as she moved through the figures of the dance with effortless grace. It was only with great effort that he made himself shift his gaze from her. The atmosphere was lively, and he suddenly felt that he wanted to dance as well. Anne de Lavalle stirred in him emotions he thought long gone and chased away the darkness of the night where he had lived in since Marian’s passing.

When the dance was over, Robin approached Anne who was walking with elegant and measured steps to the table where her father sat. She stopped and wiggled her brow at him, receiving in response his cheeky grin and his wink. He took her hand in his and kissed it, bowing to her deeply. She smiled at him with a reserved smile, and he noticed the spark of life in her eyes.

“How can I help you, Lord Huntingdon?” asked Anne in a formal tone.

Robin looked sheepish for a moment, although he was grinning. At that moment, he suddenly realized that he would never forget this beautiful and enigmatic woman. Never ever!

He blurted out the first innocuous thing that entered his mind. “Lady Anne, nobody has claimed you for the next dance. Are you willing to dance with Robin Hood of all the men present at this feast?” He groaned inwardly as soon as the words passed his lips, thinking that he was a fool to begin their acquaintance by mentioning his fame as the people’s hero.

Instead of being shocked, however, Anne laughed light-heartedly and leaned in close so that he could catch her quiet words. “I’m hoping your talent for dancing is as uncanny as your archery skills, Lord Huntingdon. You are the best archer in England and in all of King Richard’s lands. I expect you to be great at dancing too, although I fear you do not dance as well as some of my suitors.”

There was a short silence between them as they were contemplating each other.

Robin narrowed his appraising blue eyes as he regarded her, and Anne merely stared back at him, her expression guarded. An impish smile spread across his visage, producing a startling change on her face that split into a wry grin, and Robin found himself completely bewitched by her. Her face was very close to his, and he had to ward off the urge to brush a finger across her lips, not knowing that she was having similar thoughts. Muse Erato began her work on them.

He was not sure how long they stood like that, looking at one another, but all too soon musicians began to play a new dance. He gave her his hand, and her breath caught, her heart drumming against her ribcage. She took his hand with a cryptic smile on her face. They did not speak until they began to move through the dance figures, something for which they both were secretly grateful.

As they moved across the great hall, Anne felt waves of excitement tempered by eddies of fear coursing through her and all rolling into a tide of nervous delight. She was dancing with Robin Hood! She had heard many ballads about the hero of the poor and downtrodden and the merry men from Sherwood Forest so many times in her first life! She loved the legend of Robin Hood, but the ballad about Robin’s passing and his last arrow he was known to fire to mark his grave always made her cry because in her adolescence she considered Robin’s death the most unfair and undeserved one.

When men thought of Lady Anne de Lavalle, they perceived her as an unfathomable enigma. Indeed, the sheriff’s daughter was not a usual girl. Nobody knew that in reality, she was Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of the notorious King Henry VIII, a time traveler from the sixteenth century. She had been given by the Lord a second chance to live on earth because of her unjust condemnation on ludicrous charges of adultery, incest, and high treason.

Anne Boleyn had been executed by her own husband, and her tragic story would echo through many ages and generations. But nobody would ever know that she had two lives.

After her execution on the 19th of May 1536, Anne’s soul had departed to heaven, where she had faced the Lord and His fair judgment. She had confessed to all her sins and begged God to forgive her for all the unholy things she had committed on earth. In reward for her humility and to rectify the injustice of Anne’s brutal murder, God had given her a new life. Before her rebirth, Anne had been informed that her dear daughter, her Elizabeth, would become the greatest queen in the history of England, and that had made Anne proud and immensely happy. At that moment, she had been gleeful that Henry would not beget a son on any of his future wives. 

In her second life, Anne had been reborn as a daughter of a rich English earl, and she liked that a lot. When her soul had been sent from heaven back to earth, she had no idea how she would come back to life, and her heart had been full of indescribable fear of uncertainty in her new life. That fear was gnawing at her – fear of sudden catastrophe, fear of loss of control over her life, fear of death itself.

Taking over someone’s mind! Time traveling from the past! Such things simply were not possible, Anne had thought at the very beginning . Yet, it had actually happened to her! Anne still remembered the utter shock she had experienced when she had suddenly found herself in the body of Lady Anne de Lavalle. Never, not even in her wildest imaginings, had she thought that she would be reborn as a young lady of twenty who belonged to a respectable and rich English noble family and had a striking resemblance to herself – to Anne Boleyn. At first, she had been horrified to realize that she was now having a new life, also in England, but in a different century and having quite a different background.

Anne still remembered her first meeting with Sir William, her father, whom she had failed to recognize at first: there had been a moment of shocked silence as she had stared at him open-mouthed, her eyes wide and incredulous while the stunned Earl of Lincoln had been trying to understand what had been wrong with his daughter. Anne had pretended she had been unable to recollect0 many facts about her life because she had fallen from her horse and received a concussion. Sir William’s primary concern was for his daughter’s safety, and he had invited the best physicians in England to Lincoln to examine her. Anne had spent a few months confined to her room, supposedly convalescing and gradually regaining her strength.

Anne had been trying to learn more about her new family and the era where she now lived, listening to her father, her doctors, and her maids, asking many different questions, analyzing her situation meticulously, and inventing behavioral strategies she would use in her new life. Anne Boleyn received a stellar education in France, and her great knowledge in history helped her a lot in her new life.

It was not a dream, and, obviously, some kind of time travel was actually possible. Anne was again alive, and it was real, very real! Despite her lofty and keen intellect, there was no way she could fathom the complexities of time travel, and all that Anne could do was to adapt to her new life, being very diligent in concealing the truth of her past from her father and the world.

Anne was interested in Robin since the day she had heard about her father’s new appointment in Nottingham. During the feast, she could not take her eyes off Robin. The evening was a great success, and she was in an elated mood. Before the feast, her father had handed to her a list of the nobles in attendance so that she could read through it in advance and prepare to choose the most acceptable suitor for her, allowing him to court her later. But during the festivities, Anne could barely remember the names of all these men, thinking only about the far-famed Robin Hood.

Before their arrival in Nottingham, Anne had wanted to see the legend of England out of mere curiosity, but exaltation seized her as soon as she saw Robin. Now, as they continued to dance, Anne had to remind herself to breathe when he placed one hand on her waist and took her hand in his, squeezing it slightly. Robin Hood’s proximity was intoxicating, and she found it difficult to resist the overwhelming urge to stroke his arm where her hand rested. Being close to Robin made her feel alive and happy without any reason, for she did not even know him well, and she had to hide her unreasonable happiness lest he began to suspect her true feelings.

Anne Boleyn or Anne de Lavalle – whoever she was – was accustomed to experiencing heartache, pain, and bereavement, and to facing dishonor and shame thanks to her murderous and narcissistic husband, Henry VIII of England. Her soul should be filled with an arctic chill when it came to the matters of the heart. She should have no heart to grin at a man and tease him. She should feel nothing to all men, except for hatred and contempt after what Henry had done to her.

But Robin Hood was a different man. He did not betray his wife and kill her; he could not do that.

Robin had a strange impact on Anne. There was no hatred or contempt in her heart at all. One look into his blue eyes was enough to create in her a lingering starvation for a man’s smile and touch. This intense, wild, and ardent feeling gave her an irresistible desire to talk to him and to spend some time with him. Anne had not anticipated that Robin would be such a handsome young man, for she had always imagined him being much older. Robin had a lean, muscular build and was not as tall as some others. His thick, sandy hair was cut fashionably short, which had the effect of making his strikingly blue eyes more prominent. There was a look of sharp intelligence about him; his face was noble and proud, and there was a fearless light in his eyes.

He was a dashing man, very handsome and distinctive with his charming smile and his boyish, expressive features. Even though Robin’s elegant appearance was that of a typical pompous courtier, the sheriff’s daughter could see that there was more to the young noble than his fancy clothes. He looked at her with respect, reverence, and kindness, and he spoke about taxation and the treatment of peasants with genuine concern. Yet, there was a noticeable air of sadness about him too, despite his polished manners and his outwardly happy façade, and Anne easily guessed that Robin was just keeping all his pain and heartache hidden in his heart.

Robin winked at Anne as they made a new figure. Her heart leaped in her chest as she intercepted his heated gaze, attempting to dismiss the strange, smoldering attention he sent her way. Robin’s heart also began to beat in fragile excitement, and a forgotten feeling of lightness inundated him.

Next to this handsome hero of England, Anne suddenly found herself engulfed in long-forgotten flames of desire, and it was as if every part of her skin were yearning to feel the embrace of his body.  Slightly wicked imaginings flitted through her mind, and her face flushed with the force of her ardent desire. It was the sort of physical sensations she had once felt for Henry.

But that was a different life; she was no longer the woman who had ensnared the heart of an English king – she was now the unmarried daughter of the Earl of Lincoln, and it was imperative that she maintain the fiction of being an innocent maid. Anne was a good actress and played her role very well, but being close to Robin and appearing to be calm and collected was nearly impossible.

“Lady Anne, have you noticed that your father and all the others are watching us?” Robin broke the silence, his eyes twinkling in mischief. “Everyone is intrigued and interested in what we are discussing.”

A frown creased her dark brows, but she kept her voice light as she answered, “I do not care what they think. You, my lord, must be honored as you are dancing with the sheriff’s daughter.”

A roguish smile lit up his face. “I heard many stories about your countless suitors who deluged you with love letters and showed off their wealth to your father and you, but they were still rejected.” His smile widened. “Despite the reputation of an ice queen, many lords still want to court you. I understand why they pursue you: men want the most what they cannot have.”

“Indeed,” whispered a perplexed Anne, lowering her despondent eyes. His words unsettled her a bit as they reminded her of King Henry who had wanted and loved her until her complete surrender to him, but when she had not given him a healthy son, he had just murdered her.

A baffled Robin was silent for a few heartbeats, searching for the right words as her reaction to his witty barb puzzled him. He diverted his attention to another subject. “Your father must be displeased that you reject everyone. He will not permit his only daughter to remain a spinster.”

She sneaked a glance at him and then looked away again. Her temper boiled, and she bristled, “I do not care what my father thinks. I’ll marry when and whom I want; maybe I will not marry at all.”

Startled, he pulled back to look at her. His lips were arranged in an insolent grin. “Lady Anne, you need to at least pretend to be enjoying this dance because it will be over soon. Your scowl will make everyone believe that dancing with Robin Hood is something no woman can endure even for a few minutes. Please do not do this to me, my lady! I cannot bear this shame! Take pity on my pride!”

Anne’s sulky expression was replaced with a smile. She canted her neck and gazed at him with mock consternation. “I did fear that you would step on my feet while dancing, Lord Huntingdon! But your dancing skills surpassed my expectations!”

He chuckled. “Really?”

“Really,” she echoed, her smile dazzling him like a hundred suns. “All women want to be with Robin Hood, and they must believe that you dance well!” She feigned displeasure. “And, please, do not insult me by having such a low opinion of the poor Maid Anne. I cannot make them think that you are not talented in dancing! I cannot do this to the greatest hero of England, my lord!”

“Yes,” he said, the corners of his mouth curving up with amusement. “I believe you, my lady!” His lips twitched as if he were holding back a laugh. “Actually, I quite like dancing with you.”

A strange expression on her face, Anne stated, “And I quite like your legendary reputation.”

The music came to an end, and they stopped talking. Robin bowed deeply to Anne, and then he was gone. Anne momentary felt a deep sense of loss, watching him stalk towards the exit and stop occasionally to bid goodbye to some other nobles. Smiling sadly to herself, she headed to her father.

Sir William asked her about her dance with the Earl of Huntingdon, smiling with a delighted smile and shaking his head approvingly, hoping that his daughter had caught the eye of the most famous nobleman in England. But Anne told him that it was only a dance and that she was not interested in Robin who had only been courteous to her. And a chagrined William believed her, his mind already inventing other ways to marry his daughter off to a good, wealthy, and titled man.

In her second life, her father was sure that she knew little of the intimate ways of men and women. He never spoke of such delicate matters, and her mother had passed away too early to teach her anything about sex. They could not know that Anne was Anne Boleyn.

In the next few days, Anne tried to banish thoughts of Robin but failed. It was plain dangerous to think of Robin a lot for a woman who had once been betrayed and killed by her own husband.

Robin Hood was a stranger for Anne. A handsome, illustrious, noble, brave, compassionate, and honorable stranger who attracted her more that Henry had ever done, yet she knew almost nothing about the hero. Robin was a widower and was rumored to have an affair with Isabella of Gisborne, as her father once mentioned, and he obviously preferred his freedom, guarding it like a crown jewel. Anne must not think of Robin Hood. She knew what pain was, and she did not want to feel it again.

 

May 1194, Nottinghamshire, Sherwood Forest

The darkness of the night was fading away, and a blazing chariot pulled by horses snorting fire appeared on the horizon as the sun was rising in the east. It was late spring, and the air was quite warm and fresh with a hint of sweet incense floating on the gentle breeze and the coming summer.

As a frustrated Anne de Lavalle exited the castle through the backdoor, she lifted her eyes to the heavens and cursed the sky and the earth. She was so full of rage that she wanted to scream and release whatever was simmering just below her skin. She rushed away from the castle and ran deeper and deeper into the maze of empty streets and lanes.

Distressing thoughts plagued her mind about what transpired behind closed doors between her father and Sir Robert de Beaumont, the Earl of Leicester. The Earl of Lincoln was a kind and excellent father to her, indulging her beyond normal bounds and allowing her to speak her mind, and she was worshipful of him. But it changed with the growing number of rejected highborn and wealthy suitors. Now the Earl of Lincoln thought that his daughter needed a firm hand.

As the Earl of Leicester, King Richard’s favorite and one of his most loyal knights, was now visiting the Earl of Huntingdon in Locksley, Sir William decided to seize the opportunity and compel his only daughter to marry Leicester. Thomas Boleyn had attempted to force Anne into marriage to Sir James Butler, the Earl of Ormond, in order to resolve a dispute over the Ormond inheritance and title; together with the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas had earnestly paved the way for her to conquer Henry’s heart and then had worked tirelessly to make her Queen of England. Sir William, Anne’s new father, had never acted like Thomas Boleyn, but he was like many other fathers who wanted advantageous marriage alliances for their families and titled spouses for their offspring.

Anne dived into an alleyway between two buildings and weaved her way through the maze of deserted streets until she reached the city gates. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath, and looked up, her eyes taking in the rosy sky, where she could still see a crescent moon. Silence calmed her and soothed her fears slightly; a light breeze wafted over her face, invigorating her and renewing her strength. Anne turned her head and distinguished the outlines of Sherwood Forest in a distance.

Freedom! Ancient and mysterious Sherwood Forest tempted her with much-desired freedom.

Anne exited through the gates and turned right, starting along the stone wall towards a nearby hill. She sighed heavily, her thoughts diverting to her escape into the woods that were a strong magic against corrupt spirits of the harsh reality and all the dilemmas existing in the life of any maiden – all the things which she was growing to loathe in her second life. It took her some time to get to the woods because she set off towards the forest slowly as her legs were shaking.

Quickening the pace, Anne started walking along the unfamiliar forest path. In a state of distress, she did not even admit a thought that she could lose her way in the woods. All that she could think about was the threat of an unwanted marriage. She resolved that she would never marry again because all that a marriage could bring was discontent and pain, and she had enough in her first life as Anne Boleyn. Her mind was racing with the possible solutions to avoid her suitors while keeping herself in her father’s good graces. Maybe she should retire to a nunnery, she mused.

Her heart raced like that of a fawn running from a lion. Despite being an intensely religious lady, Anne was not ready to devote the rest of her life to the Lord. “No, I do not want to enter a convent,” an agitated woman whispered to herself. “But I cannot marry a man whom I do not love!”

Veering off the road and moving deeper into the woods, Anne followed the stream that she had heard earlier running parallel to the road. For some time, she wandered in the woods, her mind going through all the travails of her first and second lives. Soon she realized that she was lost and would probably never find her way out of the forest, but she did not want to return home.

A tired Anne found a small clearing that basked in the sunlight filtering through the top of the trees. She stopped near a tall oak, leaning against its trunk, and glanced around in dazed fascination. The forest shimmered in the rays of the rising sun, and silence lay over the land like an enchantment of dreams. Ancient strength was ingrained in Sherwood with all of its trees, avenues, clearings, and shades, and that strength was penetrating her soul.

Memories… She had many memories about forests and the wilderness of Kent!

Memories of another life resurfaced, one where Anne had been very happy in childhood and adolescence and where she had been betrayed cruelly by her own husband. Visions of herself and Henry riding through one of the royal woods on horseback sent a visceral thrill through her whole body, and then she pictured them making love in the greenwood on the day of Cardinal Wolsey’s death. Now she was again in the forest that seemed to have a special meaning in her life. Then her mind floated to Elizabeth, and her heart almost collapsed in her chest; she would never meet her daughter again on earth, but at least she was aware that her only child would have a glorious fate.

Although Anne reminisced about her first life hundreds of times, tears still sprang into her eyes. Her throat suddenly ached, and she closed her eyes, desperately trying to hold on to the good memories of the past when she had been a girl and her siblings, Mary and George, had run wildly and played games with her in the woods near Hever Castle. But the sorrows and atrocities caused by Henry cast a pall over all of these blithesome memories.

Now Anne was again in England, in the twentieth century, living in the reign of King Richard the Lionheart. Yet, all of the old memories were still in her head and sometimes came back to haunt her.

She cursed her father for his desire to coerce her into matrimony. She cursed the shining sun, the twittering birds, and the whisper of the wind in the woods. She cursed all fates and destinies, all that she loved or hated, and, in one soul-shaking burst of blasphemy, she even cursed all of the gods and devils who made her life their sport when they had killed her and then had allowed her to resurrect in the twentieth century.

“This is the most pleasant meeting I could have at dawn in Sherwood,” she heard a familiar voice speak. She spun around, and her eyes met with the sparkling blue gaze of Robin Hood.

A startled silence stretched between them. Bewildered from their sudden meeting in the depths of the woods, Anne stared at him with wide eyes filled with tears. Robin was smiling at her cockily, but there was a concern in his eyes as he noticed traces of sadness on her face and saw her tears.

Robin’s eyes traversed Anne’s figure from her head to her toe before returning to her luscious red lips. Anne was a breathtakingly beautiful sight amidst the picturesque green scenery and sunlight! He was fascinated by her stunning appearance: she wore a red bliaut adorned with pearls and embroidered with gold braid, and her long, dark tresses cascaded to her waist. The vibrant red suited her olive complexion and her raven hair perfectly. Robin mused that the color also matched her fiery personality; it was something he recognized behind the proper façade that she presented to her father and everyone else around.

Her eyes commanded his attention again, and he flitted his gaze to two pools of dark flaming fire which were like onyx stones and had a piercing effect on any man. They were not the eyes of a virgin, for there was a temptation in them disguised with a veneer of innocence, and there was also a subtle hint at her knowledge of the art of seduction there which Robin could not quite explain. He was also confident that they were not the eyes of an experienced lover, for there was no invitation and lasciviousness in them. Yet, Anne was so lovely that the mere perusal of her was enough to cause an unsettling tightness in his groin.

Anne felt her heart beating faster, which always happened to her when Robin was so close. She eyed him from top to toe and found him looking divinely handsome in his brown muslin tunic with a hood. She thought that he looked better in simple clothing than in court attire. Robin had his Saracen recurved bow and a quiver full of arrows on his back, and he was alone in the woods at dawn.

A tide of jealousy swept over her as Anne wondered whether he was going to have a tryst with some forest nymph. Robin Hood was not hers, but she was devilishly jealous of him.

“What are you doing here?” she confronted him.

Robin threw his head back and burst out laughing. “I’m sorry if I disturbed you, my esteemed lady. Do you want to become a nymph of Sherwood Forest?”

“Your dry sense of humor is exasperating,” snapped an irate Anne.

He sighed heavily, for she reminded him of an angry Marian. He recovered quickly and retorted, “I did not want to hurt your exquisite feelings, Lady Anne.” He paused for a moment, regarding her with a stark intensity. “I deem that you are not what you seem: you have a fiery temper and a fierce personality, and a sure knowledge of what you do want and do not want. You are not a meek and obedient daughter of an earl – you are much more than people think of you.”

Anne inclined her head slightly to acknowledge his astute perception. “You are a very clever man, my lord. I’m suffocating in the role I have to play.” She smiled. “I’m sick to death of my suitors’ cleverness because they are not clever, although they want to seem very intelligent. That is not your case.”

Robin smiled back at her. “You want freedom, and that’s why you came to the forest today.” His eyes flashed with something akin to ravishment. “You are a forest nymph, and the air retains your image, and you haunt all men who ever cross your path. You even look like a forest nymph: your hair and eyes are dark and unfathomable! You can cast a spell over men!”

She liked his wit because it mirrored hers. “I've heard that sarcasm is no substitute for cleverness.”

“Within me, there is an unlimited cleverness, my lady. I’m Robin Hood!”

Anne broke into a vivacious laugh, and so did Robin. Their lightsome laughter was soaring in the air.

Robin inspired lightness. That was it! Lightness. Not a semblance of lightness – but a real lightness that comes with being with someone you love, with freedom, joy, and unburdening. A buzzing, excited feeling that blazed through Anne’s body and mind. Henry had never had such an effect on her.

“What are you doing here?” she repeated her question.

Robin was quiet for a moment, attempting to read her thoughts. A flush bloomed on her cheeks, and that was the answer to his question. “I’m not planning to have a tryst with anyone this morning. I was having a target practice and was on my way to Locksley when I discovered you.”

She lowered her gaze in embarrassment. “I’ve never thought that you–” She broke off.

Laughing, Robin jumped to another topic. “It is a lovely morning, isn’t it?”

Anne murmured her assent but continued to keep silent. Her heart fluttered as she perused him once more and realized again just how handsome he was; even more handsome than she had seen him in court outfit. He had no doubt caused many other hearts to beat faster. She swallowed hard as her gaze traveled down his face, stopping on a strong jaw with the stubble.

His melodious laugh jolted her out of her thoughts. She glanced at him with a befuddled expression on her face. “Why are you laughing, Lord Huntingdon?”

“Do you find me… to your liking?” he inquired bluntly, advancing forward and stopping in front of her. “Or do I repel you like the Earl of Leicester?”

Anne feigned surprise. “What are you talking about, my lord?”

Robin smiled smugly. “I know that Lord Lincoln wants to arrange a marriage for you,” he declared. “The Earl of Leicester is one of my close friends; we fought together in the Holy Land. He came to me and informed me about the meeting with your father yesterday. He sought my advice whether to begin your courtship or not. Robert likes you a lot, my lady, but he has doubts.”

Her temper spiked, and she glared at him with haughty contempt. “What?”

His words insulted the proud and arrogant Anne Boleyn whose spirit still lived in Anne de Lavalle. All men flocked to her, and she did not have to lift a finger to find an army of admirers at court and in any place she appeared; they adored and worshiped her, and some of them, like Thomas Wyatt, composed verses in her honor. Leicester whom she did not want to marry could not have any doubts!

“Robert, Lord Leicester, does love another woman, Lady Anne. He cannot marry the love of his life, but he wants to settle down. Yet, he does not want to hurt you by chaining you to him in a loveless marriage. Now he is thinking hard of how to turn down your father’s offer in the most polite way.”

A few more words of reasoning mollified her anger, and she supplied coldly, “It is good for him that he is not going to court me because I would have repudiated his offer.”

“Robert and I spent the whole evening trying to devise a plan of convincing Lord Lincoln to forsake the idea of your marriage.” He chuckled. “If he realized you are not enjoying even thinking of him, it would have put his mind at ease, and he would not have been so worried about offending your father.”

“I do not care what your friend and you think,” parried Anne trenchantly.

As Anne turned her face into the soft rose glow of the rising sun, and every feature of her face was brushed with a pale shimmer of light, Robin thought that she looked like a dark goddess wrapped in a shimmering halo of golden fire. There was no doubt that the Earl of Lincoln’s daughter reawakened the passion he thought buried along with his wife, pushing him to new heights of desire.

“Lady Anne,” he called. As she gazed back at him, he spoke in a quiet and curious voice. “You’ve already received many offers of marriage?”

She smirked. “Of course. But I rejected all of my suitors, and that made my father angry.”

Her response made him pause, and Robin wondered why her words – whether they had an official conversation, threw witty barbs at each other, were involved in a friendly chat, or were embroiled in an argument – sent his heart racing. He was attracted to Anne and often found himself thinking of her. But it could not be her beauty that made him so interested in her, for she was hardly the first stunning woman he knew. Her brilliant intelligence and sophistication impressed and entranced him; he thought that Anne was the most intelligent woman he had ever met, even more intelligent than Marian, God forgive him for having such thoughts. He also had no doubt that Anne was just as beautiful on the inside, but that, unfortunately, seldom had a chance to show itself.

Robin had a few dalliances with some lovely women after Marian’s death and the king’s return. He was trying to find forgetfulness in his affairs that usually lasted only very short time. It was one of his weaknesses which made Much mock and shame Robin mercilessly about it, saying that he could bed many women, but it could never give him refuge from his pain. Much recommended that he wed a good woman and be content in this marriage to her, stating that it was what Marian would have wanted for him. It took Robin some time to realize that Anne was such a woman.

Robin smiled at Anne with his most charming smile. She was already consuming too much of his thoughts, and they were not chaste. A wicked hunger for this woman was beginning to stir in him, yet his feelings were also suffused with a desire to behave in an honorable way towards her.

There was only one woman who made him feel alive. She was Anne. Anne de Lavalle.

Anne inflamed both vehement passion and gentle sweetness in Robin. Two things he had never expected to feel after Marian’s death. A wild and passionate uproar of happy and joyful feelings in his heart and soul.  Looking into her eyes was like being whisked away from the real world into a fantasy where only lightness filled his anguished heart and where the sunlight passed through every leaden cloud that was preventing him from seeing bright rays of happiness.

The blood rushed to Robin’s cheeks, and his heart pounded harder, like the beating of a drum, a glorious reprise as conclusions formed in his head: I want Anne as a woman; I never thought I would feel this way about a woman again. I will woo her and win her heart. I believe she is a good woman, and she has that spark of wit and intelligence that will make us a grand match.  I cannot shake the feeling that we can make each other happy.  She is no ordinary woman, and she needs a man who can appreciate that – she needs me. A gratified smile appeared on his countenance.

“If you’ve rejected many suitors,” he began cautiously, “are you going to ever marry?”

Anne found herself watching the movement of his lips far too closely. The heat rose up to her cheeks, and she flicked her gaze to one of the nearby trees. “I’ve decided that I’ll find the most unusual and interesting man in England whom I’ll want to court me. I’m confident that I can bring this person to propose to me.” That was meant to be the way to redirect their conversation, but instead, she betrayed her interest in Robin. As soon as she realized what she had done, she wanted to be swallowed by the earth as her embarrassment was at an all-time high.

Robin could very well believe that. He felt his heart nearly beat out of his chest with anticipation and excitement. He was almost afraid to ask the next question. “Well, will you consider me a suitable suitor then? Many people say that I’m the most unusual man in England. Bards sing songs about my ingenuity, bravery, honor, and heroics, and the people love me a lot!”

She gave him a terse smile. “Lord Huntingdon, self-adulation is a sin,” she chided him. “You seem to like me well enough, right? But why do you want to court me?”

He was stunned by her question, for she had many qualities that made her a brilliant match for any man. It occurred to him, however, that he would have to be careful with his response. “I’m sure that I would make a very good husband for you, Lady Anne. I think that your father will be pleased to have the Earl of Huntingdon as his son-in-law,” he stated, staring at her with an insolent smile. He waited for a heartbeat before adding, “You boast an enchanting and exotic beauty, and your eyes, hooks to your soul, hypnotize men. Your father will continue looking for a husband for his only child because he wants someone to take care of your once he is gone; he is not becoming younger. Suitors will be drawn to you for Lord Lincoln’s wealth as much as for your beauty, and you will have to devise new plans to keep them away from you.” He laughed. “But fear not, Lady Anne: you have me. Our courtship will help you get rid of these annoying suitors who crowd around, drooling and sniffing.”

Anne smiled at the reference to her dark eyes that deprived men of all common sense. She took some time to give her answer. “I like this idea, but we cannot continue this charade forever. Will you say that you are not willing to marry me in a few months? That would be my disgrace!”

Robin laughed, and his eyes moved down her body before returning to her face. She didn’t miss the flare of appreciation in them, and that pleased her; it took great effort on her part not to show it.

“Please be at ease, Lady Anne,” soothed Robin. “If we realize that we are not suited after spending this summer together, we will part our ways. I’ll say that King Richard appoints me captain of his private guard again. After my departure from Nottingham, rumors will die down over time.” He was not going to serve in Normandy; he was tired of martial life, and King Richard knew that. The king had told him that Robin had deserved to enjoy a peaceful life in his estates.

Feigning casualness she was far from feeling, Anne confessed, “I did not give a thought to a marriage for a long time because I began to think that I might be a non-marrying type.”

Robin’s heart skipped a beat as his deceased wife’s words echoed through his head. Once Marian had said the same, but that was not true because she still loved him despite her misgivings and her anger at him for his decision to break their engagement many years ago and go on Crusade.

His world was the battlefield of the past and the present, where darkness dominated for a long time. Even now, his world was full of bones, half or wholly stripped of flesh; bones of those loved ones whom he had lost in his fight for justice and peace. Marian was one of them, and she was gone forever, but Robin was still alive. He was cognizant that he had to emotionally accept his present life, including the reality where Marian was dead and he was deeply attracted to Anne.

Pulling himself together, Robin smiled disarmingly. “A single and wealthy man must be in want of a wife, especially a man like me. And my yearning for having a wife is enormous.” He chuckled. “It is also true that a woman of your intelligence needs a special man. I believe that we are a unique couple.”

Anne’s eyes met his, and she saw a look of sincerity written plainly across his face. She smiled at him gratefully. “Very well, Lord Huntingdon. Courtship with you will help me hold my other suitors at arm’s length. I accept your gracious offer and thank you for it.”

His eyes sparkled in mischief. “You will not regret having my as your suitor, Lady Anne.” He bowed graciously to her, an arresting smile unfolding on his face. “I’m anchored on the resolve you cannot shake: I’ll protect you and take care of you, and you will not want to be separated from me.”

She laughed jovially, her dark eyes glowing. “Lord Robin, I cannot count the men who have tried to seduce me with such sweet words and promises, and I do not think you will succeed.”

 “I’ll succeed, my lady,” promised Robin, his eyes darkening to a deeper shade of blue.

The next day, Robin sought the approval of Anne’s father to court her. The surprised Earl of Lincoln eagerly agreed to permit the Earl of Huntingdon to become his daughter’s suitor. Of course, Anne’s father was pleased to have her courted by one of the wealthy earls who was loved dearly by King Richard himself. The town was abuzz with news that the Earl of Huntingdon became the fiancé of the new sheriff’s daughter, like he had once been betrothed to Edward of Knighton’s daughter.

In the weeks that followed, summer came with its long warm days and all of its beautiful colors and scents. Green carpets covered the earth, trees were alive with blossoming foliage, and white clouds floated across a cerulean sky. Robin’s courtship with Anne progressed, but they were formal with one another, at least at the start. The few kisses shared in the presence of Sir William were always chaste: Robin kissed Anne’s hand before saying his farewell and leaving the castle. Inevitably, Anne and Robin were often alone together, and each of them felt that, as if out of the void, a bright spirit had sneaked into them and drove away dark shadows of the past.

Sometimes, when Anne and Robin were alone, it seemed to them that there were unspoken words flying back and forth between them, but neither of them dared say anything. Some questions were literally pressing against their chests, but they did not vocalize them, and they were gnawing at their hearts. They both saw a lot of pain and vulnerability in each other – things hidden from the world; yet, none of them asked anything, probably fearing that their fragile hearts would burst into a thousand pieces if a word was uttered. But if Robin could bare his soul to Anne one day, there was no single chance that she would ever do that, for the secrets of her first life were only hers.

Although they were supposedly having a pretense courtship that would shoo away men from her, they were still in a relationship. Anne frequently compared Henry and Robin. Now she could not remember her former husband without muttering words of hatred under her breath and grimacing in abhorrence; her skin prickled with disgust when she remembered Henry’s touches. She could not even understand how she could have fallen in love with Henry VIII.

After the trials and tribulations of her past and Henry’s betrayal of their love, she did not think that she would ever fall in love with another man again. She was brokenhearted and embittered by her sufferings and losses in her first life, and love for a man seemed distant and illusive and impossible.

Until she met him. Robin of Locksley. Robin Hood. Robin.

Her feelings for Robin were growing at a steady pace, and, finally, Cupid released an arrow of love that went straight through Anne’s heart. She – Anne Boleyn, a tragic and murdered Queen of England – was hopelessly in love with the greatest hero of England and the poor – Robin Hood.

It didn’t matter what his name was and whether Robin was a noble or an outlaw. The only thing that interested Anne was that Robin was a great and noble-minded man whom she was fortunate to meet in her second life. He was the best man she had ever met in her two lives!

Robin had an inner core that was kind and honorable, but his compassion was directed at his friends and the people of Nottingham whom he loved and protected from all oppressors. Outwardly Robin gave the impression that he did not need a woman for a serious relationship, emotionally least of all, and, clearly, he was still mourning the loss of his wife, Marian. It seemed that he was satisfied with the people’s admiration and love which were the product of all the good deeds he had done for the downtrodden. Their courtship was just a performance, Anne told herself.

Anne realized that she had never really loved Henry as deeply as she loved Robin. I desired Henry and wanted the crown, yes, but I never really loved him with a healthy and pure love. My love was always mired in ambitions and greed. Robin is the antithesis to everything Henry was, and he is the man I wish I could have as a husband. But he does not love me, and he will never love me back.

Anne resented the danger of her private situation, as if being at the mercy of her growing affection for Robin was a dishonoring thing. She was fighting against her love for the hero tooth and nail, but every time she commanded herself to not think and dream of Robin, a cry of pain and protest arose out of her very soul, and, if it were vocal, its shrillness would have pierced the still air like a sharp arrow flying straight to her heart. And every new day, her ardor increased until the flame in her heart grew into a conflagration.

Robin Hood! Did he care for Anne more than he did for all other women? In all likelihood, he did not even think of marrying her. Certainly, Robin would not abandon her until the end of the summer, but then he would walk away.  Anne’s heart wanted to believe that he was falling in love with her, but her rational mind countered that she must consider an alternative explanation. Perhaps he was just showing her a kindness, and his motives had nothing to do with the thrilling game they were playing.

 

August 1194, Nottinghamshire, Sherwood Forest

The summer was almost over, but the heat persisted and the humidity was exhausting. A few puffy clouds dotted the brilliant blue sky, and shimmers of the midday heat rose from the small copse of trees where Lady Anne de Lavalle stood, waiting for Sir Robin of Locksley.

Yesterday, Robin had invited her for a secret rendezvous in Sherwood, in the clearing where she had accidentally met him a few months ago. They had agreed to finish the courtship in the end of the summer, but Robin wanted to see her today. Questions circled her mind: why did the Earl of Huntingdon need to meet her? A nascent hope rose in her that maybe the hero had romantic feelings for her, but she hurriedly stifled it within the walls of her heart. Robin could not love her!

Her insides whirled with restless thoughts about Robin Hood. The temptation to say his name aloud multiple times was eating at her. She could feel it on the tip of her tongue. Robin. Robin. Robin.

Anne let her gaze embrace the small clearing.  Amidst a sea of imposing oaks, pines, and other great trees, this clearing was an enchanted island of serenity and beauty. Colorful wildflowers were happily scattered across the ground at her feet, and on the far side of the meadow, tall grass lazily undulated in the light breeze. Along the edge of the clearing, the great trees provided protection from the sun’s eager advance, although a few triumphant rays of light still managed to find a path through the branches overhead, dappling the tree line with yellow and orange hues.

She was again in the woods… A thought that Sherwood was so much like the forest in Kent, near Hever Castle, flashed in her mind, and her heart squeezed in nostalgia. She sighed heavily, reminding herself that she was in the twelfth century: her old life was gone, and it was for the best because that life had been too full of pain and disappointment. Anne forced her mind away from such morbid thoughts, and her eyes became dreamy as Robin’s face flickered in her mind.

During their courtship, all of their brief physical contacts had been limited and observed by her strict father, and Robin had never kissed Anne on the lips. Chastity and honor were Robin’s armor, but Anne was not satisfied with the brush of his lips against her hand – she wanted him as a woman wants a man. Robin always guarded his emotions, and he had never looked at her like a man looks at the woman he loves. His honorable attitude to her was understandable because he believed that he was courting a maid.  She was flattered and pleased to receive such respect, but Robin’s reticence and courtesy were possibly Anne’s worst burden: she had not been touched by a man for so long, and, in her first life, she was accustomed to enjoying it every night while being married to Henry.  Now that she had fallen in love with Robin, she longed to experience such intimacy with him. She suspected that sharing a bed with Robin would surpass all her expectations.

Anne ached for Robin Hood! And soon she would see him! Her excited heart was thumping so hard that it could burst out of her chest as she imagined how she would twine her hands around his neck, her body pressing against his, and he would kiss her fervently. Think of Robin and forget about your old life, Anne mused. As she closed her eyes, Robin’s twinkling eyes teased her imagination, and a thousand questions about their meeting plagued her thoughts once more.

Anne opened her eyes and breathed out a sigh of frustration. What was she doing here? Seeds of doubt burrowed into her heart, and she began to think that Robin could want to meet with her in the shade and seclusion of the woods to make her some indecent proposal. Anne knew that in this life she was technically a virgin, as she had been told by the Lord before her rebirth. Would Robin try to seduce her and take her maidenhead in the green arms of Sherwood? No, that was not possible! Not Robin!

Anne looked skyward and sent up a prayer, beseeching God to give her a second chance to be happy on earth with the legendary hero whom she loved beyond reason and beyond measure.

Robin Hood was an easy man to love because he was so obviously good and so much better than others, because he believed in truth and justice. He was gentle and slow to anger, unlike Henry, whose temper always simmered just below the surface, waiting to lash out at someone. Robin was noble, loyal, and honorable – such a sharp contrast to the man who had murdered her to marry her own lady-in-waiting. Henry was a repulsive, homicidal man corrupted by power and obsessed with the desire to have a male heir without caring about his wives. In contrast to Henry, Robin had a reverent attitude to women: he appreciated and protected them, and he would never be able to kill a woman.

Anne laughed with her melodic laugh. How boyish, handsome, and charming Robin looked, as though he were a young lad without any cares in life! Except that the hero of England wore the burdens of the nation on his slim shoulders, she added in her mind. Unlike Robin, Henry never looked boyish, although he was very handsome and charismatic in his youth; but he changed as he aged, and, in the year of her death, he was obese and suffered from gout. She snickered at the thought that Robin would never gain much weight and would remain a boyish man even in his prime.

Robin was a man that any breathing female in her right mind would be happy and proud to take as her husband regardless of who he was – a ragged outlaw living in the cold and damp forest or a wealthy, well-born, well-bred aristocrat enjoying life in a comfortable and richly furnished manor. But Robin did not wish to marry again after Lady Marian’s death. He was attentive to Anne and protective of her, like he was of every woman, for he was a knight in shining armor. She was no different from all other ladies in his eyes, and this thought made Anne’s heart clench in pain.

God, how Anne wished Robin to love her, but that seemed unreal. Such empty dreams would get her nowhere. She should not be in an exceedingly dreamy mood before their meeting.

A familiar cultured voice pulled her out of her reverie. “Lady Anne, you look striking!”

Anne swiveled, and her gaze met Robin’s twinkling eyes. “Sir Robin,” she murmured.

Robin bowed to her, a charming smile on his face. “Have you missed me, my lady? I’m sure that my company is more desirable for you than that of many local nobles who want to wed you just because your father is a rich earl. I have saved you from all these greedy lords,” he said in a teasing voice.

“You’re so full of yourself,” commented Anne. Rage simmered in her blood, and she suddenly wanted to slap him across his face, to wipe away his smile that made her giddy and incensed at the same time.

“Have you missed me?” he repeated. His eyes glowed with a spellbound intensity.

Robin studied her closely, his eyes revealing his affection and admiration as they took in her expressive face and her slim figure. Anne looked fascinating in her lovely blue bliaut embroidered with gold braid which accentuated the beauty of her long, glossy, raven hair that was a tumble of luminous waves more luxuriant than his eager hands could expect to resist touching in earnest.

Although she was still angry at him, Anne could not help but be charmed by Robin’s disarming smile and his irresistible wit. You are a fool that you allow yourself to follow the desires of your heart and to hope that love may make you happy, she rebuked herself. She let his handsome appearance and his goodness annihilate her good sense. Had she been behaving like a perfect lady should, she would have never come to this solitary place in Sherwood to meet with a widower. Had she been more willful, she would not have let his charm override her judgment.

It was her own damned fault, Anne thought. But it was impossible to resist Robin Hood.

“You have no one to blame for this but myself!” she spluttered. “I should not have come here!”

Robin smiled tentatively, trying to ease the apparent tension between them. “But you are here,” he remarked calmly. “Make the best of things and at least permit me to talk to you, Lady Anne.”

She ignored him and began to stalk away from him. Then, as if an invisible force were dragging her back, she stopped and turned to him. "I wonder," she said curtly.

A confused Robin summoned a polite smile. “I know that you do not want to leave.”

Anger leaked into her cheeks, dusting them a soft pink. She frowned at him like a jealous wife scolding her husband, and curled her hands into fists. His self-assurance stoked her temper more than a little. What an insufferable man Robin Hood was! He was so supremely confident of his charms, damn him! She wanted an out-and-out row with him so that she could release all her ire at him.

Angry tears stung her eyes. Tension built and boiled inside her, and she exploded. “You helped me get rid of my unwanted suitors, and now our pretense courtship is over, Lord Huntingdon,” she spluttered in a shaking voice. “But you invited me to the woods without a chaperone! What do you want? Do you want me to be your mistress and warm your bed whenever you deign to remember me?” A waspish smile curved her lips. “Of course, it is what is expected by everyone from a noble rescuer of innocents and the most loyal knight of King Richard the Lionheart! I'll bet you did not give any thought at all to the consequences of your attention to me! Do you always act so towards all women before thinking that they can develop feelings for you? Do you?”

A shaken Robin looked at her for a moment, his brows raised, stunned by the force of her verbal attack. “I’ve never wanted to make you my mistress, Anne,” he replied in a friendly voice, dropping the etiquette. “I’ve wanted to see you for a different reason.”

“A different reason?!” screamed Anne angrily, feeling embarrassment begin to color her face. “And what is this reason then? Are you going to voice your undignified proposal, Lord Huntingdon?”

His eyes widened in dismay. “Why do you say this, my lady?”

“I… cannot help but think so,” she cried out, half laughing, half sobbing.

“Anne, I–” Robin broke off, looking at her in abashment.

Anne inhaled a deep breath to keep from melting into an actual puddle of tears. Henry’s proposal to be his mistress echoed through her head, reopening the old wounds of her heart. There was a tremulous and prolonged wail of panic-driven fear and utter despair in her soul at the thought that her relationship with Robin would develop like that with Henry. She had been branded as the Boleyn whore and the harlot in her first life, but she would not be labeled so in this life.

All her pain and ire were spilling out now, her visage tinged with a deep distress. “I’ll never be anyone’s mistress! I’m not a whore! Not a whore!” shouted a furious Anne in indignation. “Not even if the great Robin Hood lavishes me with his attention and offers this shameful arrangement to me!”

As soon as Robin recollected himself from the confusion and concern produced by her outburst, he smiled jauntily, searching for the right word. “A treasure!” he exclaimed animatedly. “Anne, you are a treasure! I appreciate a woman with some spirit in her! I’ve always known that you have a spirit!”

A cloud of confusion passed over her. “What?”

“Oh Anne, do be quiet,” he admonished. “I have no idea why you think so low of me, but I want to reassure you that I would have never compromised you so thoroughly. I know you are worried about your future, and if it were up to me, I would have married you and locked you in Locksley Manor with me, where I know you cannot get into any danger. But it would not be the life you would enjoy.”

Anne was quivering with such emotions that she could barely contain them. Her mind was reeling. Did he mention marriage, or was it a figment of her imagination? Marriage?

Anne had no time to think because Robin took a step to her and put his hands on her shoulders. She shrank from him as if he were causing her pain, although his touch was gentle and comforting. She tried to wrench out of his grip, but he did not let her go. There was a flame of desire in his eyes, trembling and smoldering, and it kindled the response in her against her will. All that the two of them could feel at that moment was a desire so great they almost staggered under its weight.

There was a wildness in them that created a jolt of desire and excitement in them. Yet, there was also a glimmer of vulnerability that threatened to cause the last of their senses to desert him. It was the vulnerability stemming from Anne’s fears to never have her feelings for Robin returned and from Robin’s still healing heart after the loss of Marian. Yet, there was something intangible and sacred which connected them on physical and spiritual levels, and it was the first time when they realized it.

She reached out her hand to his face and caressed his cheek tenderly. It was more of an instinctive gesture than anything else, for she was drawn to him by the power of all the gods that made it possible for her to fall in love again. “Robin,” she whispered in a personal manner.

Robin’s blue eyes flashed like sapphires catching light, and Anne’s dark eyes flared with passion. All at once, his arms encircled her waist, and he drew her close. He crushed his mouth on hers and kissed her with sheer savagery, as if he were a carnally deprived man. Except that he was not – he was a man in love who was happy to finally have his beloved in his arms.

“No, you are not going anywhere, Anne,” he said slowly as he ended the kiss and glanced into her dazed eyes. His lips were arranged in a mischievous smile as he continued, “A well-bred lady like you might be lost in the woodland! You need a chaperone, and I’ll assume this role!”

A grinning Robin was staring into Anne’s mysterious eyes for a space of a heartbeat. Then he took her face between his hands, kissing her hard on the lips. Although she had not planned to permit him such frivolities, all that Anne could think about was that he was kissing her. She snaked her arms around his neck, kissing him back with a hunger that bordered on desperation. His mouth was devouring hers, but instead of frightening her or shocking her, it ignited more passion in her. His kisses sent her hands curling around his shoulders and brought her body straining eagerly against his.

Robin broke the kiss and drew back, his arms tightening around her waist. Anne responded to his passion so desperately that now he was sure she had feelings for him. “Anne, it was not a pretense courtship for me,” he assured her, his eyes sparkling with joy. “I do want to marry you.”

An astonished Anne blinked. Her heart was pounding frantically, and she was certain that he could hear it. “Robin, marriage is not a union in which the Lord’s children enter lightly. I do not want to be married to a man who does not love me and is still mourning for his wife.”

He grinned at her. “I can assure you, Anne, we will not be entering it lightly.” He winked at her. “You need a husband, and I need a wife. One cannot get any more serious than that, right?”

She frowned in irritation. “That’s not funny, Robin!”

Robin laughed merrily. “Being married to me is not terrible at all!”

She snapped wrathfully, “Your jokes are awful!”

Robin flashed a tender smile that was warmer than the sunlight. “The nature of love,” he sighed with deep emotion. “There are injuries that leave a man scarred for the rest of his life. It is no different with wounds of the heart. An arm that has been injured and healed can still hold a sword, although there might be some weakness or lingering pain. And so it is with love; even a heart that has been shattered can somehow reawaken and begin to beat again. The scars are still there, but they cannot stop the heart from falling in love again.” He raised a hand to her face and caressed her cheek. “It has happened to me, Anne.”

Anne felt her heart thumping so wildly that it felt like it was going to rip through her ribcage. The heat, passion, and devotion in his eyes reached right inside her, fueling her love for him. A tear slid down her cheek as she demanded confirmation, “Do you really love me, Robin?”

“Yes,” he sighed at length. “I love you,” he whispered, putting his soul and being into those simple words. “Anne, I think I fell for you from the first moment I saw you.”

For the first time since her death on the scaffold, Anne felt that the part of her heart that had been destroyed by Henry’s cruelty came back to life. She was suddenly as alive and young as she had been in her first life when she had just returned from France to England. A huge bubble of happiness welled up inside her, and she felt as if her soul would explode from joy and fullness.

Anne started to blush, and then a smile flourished on her face. She could not resist the urge to tease him. “I love Sherwood, Robin. I especially love birds. I love the bird Robin most of all.”

Robin broke into a gleeful laughter. A few stands of his sandy hair fell on his forehead and now framed his face. “Does that mean that the young lady loves me?”

Instead of answering him, Anne buried her face in the crook of his shoulder. “I thought … I hoped… I prayed I would feel alive again. I wanted a man like you to love me. But when I met you, I did not wish to have any affection for you, and I wept myself to sleep every night with the shame of wanting you and falling to resist my growing feelings.” Her voice halted, and she lifted her tearful eyes to his face.

His heart nearly collapsed in his chest as he saw tears shining in her eyes. “Anne, why are you crying? What did I… do wrong?” he asked worriedly, fearful that he had hurt her.

There was a desperate plea in her eyes. She entreated, “Robin, never betray me! Please never betray me!” He did not need to know that she was a woman from a different epoch and had once been Queen of England; to know anything about her past life; he would not have believed her anyway.

Robin’s heart almost broke. Why was she thinking that he would betray her? A sigh escaped his lips before he responded, “Anne, I want to marry you, and I am not going to keep mistresses. I am not as hungry for conquests as it may seem.” He sighed again. “In fact, the only thing I want is to have a home and you as my wife.”

Anne felt relief wash over her. He thought that she was afraid he would stray from his marriage vows; it was for the better that he had come to this conclusion. “Are you really going to marry me?” she questioned, not wishing to have even a shadow of a doubt before saying a cherished yes.

He flashed a smile and pressed her closer to himself. “Yes, I am, Anne,” he said in most cheerful tones. “Robin Hood is a fox when it comes to outwitting his enemies. But when I’m proposing to the woman I love, I’m the most honest man on earth! I want you to be the Countess of Huntingdon!”

She tightened her arms around his neck. “I do love you,” she murmured, tears brimming in her eyes. “You are the noblest, kindest, bravest, and most honorable man I have ever known.”

Robin grinned. “Then marry me, for I love you more than any other man you ever will know.”

Anne smiled enticingly. “I accept your proposal, Robin Hood.”

Her eyes glowing with cosmic mirth, she drew her lips to his mouth and sealed her assent with a kiss. He moaned his eagerness to marry her and possess her into his mouth, and deepened the kiss. His hands framed her face, and he kissed her many times, reverently and passionately, on her lips, cheeks, and neck. As they kissed, a rush of relief and joy flooded their hearts and souls.

A caressing breeze blew through the many trees around Robin and Anne, and Sherwood Forest began to sing a song of love that saved their afflicted souls from pain, fear, and sufferings. 

After a wonderful stroll in the woods, Anne and Robin returned to Locksley where they found the scandalized Earl of Lincoln at Locksley Manor. Sir William broke into a preaching tirade about Anne and Robin’s misconduct, saying that being alone with a man in a cloistered place could tarnish Anne’s reputation, and no amount of denial or claims of innocence would avail her. After the preaching was over, the sheriff stood quiet, looking at Anne and Robin, glowering at the two young people. But when Robin announced that Anne had accepted his marriage proposal, Sir William smiled exuberantly and engulfed Robin into his arms; then the old man blessed Anne and Robin for a marriage.

As the meal was served by Thornton and his daughter, a sense of jubilation was in the air for every inhabitant of the manor at the happy news of Robin’s marriage. The Earl of Lincoln was in an ebullient mood, talking about a grand wedding and his plans to invite all his relatives from Lincoln and his friends from London. A wedding date was set in October by the sheriff himself, while Robin and Anne only dipped their heads in agreement. Sir William did not hide his enthusiasm about his daughter’s marriage to the Earl of Huntingdon, saying that Robin was exactly the man whom he wanted to see as his son-in-law and as the husband for his only beloved child.

Looking between Anne and Robin, the Earl of Lincoln promulgated with a smile, “We are going to announce that the two of you are getting married in October, on Lord Robin’s birthday. You have had quite a long courtship, and you both wish to marry as soon as possible. We do not need to wait for long, and so you will be wed in four weeks after the bans are read.”

Robin nodded. “Yes, we do not need to wait, and I love the idea of marrying Anne on my birthday.” He shifted his gaze from the sheriff to his bride. He told Anne, “To be honest, I’ve been contemplating marriage since I offered to court you. I would have broached it a few months ago, but I could tell that you were adamant against the idea.” He chuckled. “But you have changed your mind since then.”

Anne smiled wryly. “I did not want to lose my freedom, Robin.”

“Are you so sure?” A smile pulled at the corner of Robin’s mouth. “I think you did want it!”

“Maybe,” she said cryptically. “But not because you are Robin Hood!”

Sir William chuckled. “Robin and Anne, you are well-matched, I'll give you that!”

“Lord Lincoln, it would be my pleasure and honor to make your daughter my wife,” a smiling Robin affirmed. There was a twinkle in his eye she had never seen before, and it made Anne smile.

Anne looked steadily into Robin’s eyes that in the candlelight were liquid pools of azure. He was so sincere and his gaze was so warm that she could feel his love for her coming from deep within his soul. He meant every word he had just uttered. She now knew that not all men were alike: not all men were callous and selfish beasts driven by hunger for power and greed, by lust and vanity. Most importantly, she was convinced that happiness comes from where you least expect it, and she believed in love again – she found her happiness in her second life with Robin Hood.

“My children, you are making me very happy!” Sir William laughed delightedly. “God bless you!”

Soon the Earl of Lincoln let them for a few minutes, and Robin leaned closer to Anne, gazing into her eyes. He took both of her hands in his own. “You and I will live here, in Locksley. We will grow old together, and we will raise our children here,” he whispered.

“Yes, Robin!” she exclaimed.

Robin dropped his eyes for a moment as his mind drifted back to Marian. He dreamt of a quiet family life with Marian, but God had different plans for his childhood sweetheart. He moved on and fell in love again, and he was confident that Marian would have wanted him to be happy. “I confess that I envisioned a different woman by my side,” he lamented. He brought his eyes up to hers again, and a radiant smile illuminated his face. “But now I know that God had a different plan for my heart; one I never could have envisioned or expected.  His ways are mysterious, but yet he seems to always provide. I thought He was closing a door only to realize that He has opened a window.” His smile widened. “I thank the Lord for a second chance to be happy and find love again.”

“I thank God for the chance to love you and to be loved back,” gasped Anne hoarsely. She did not say that it was her second chance for happiness as well, for he did not know the truth about her.

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“Anne…” He paused and took a deep breath, then blurted out his speech in a quick rush. “I wish to be frank with you. I know that you are afraid that I still love Marian, and you are right.” He heaved a wistful sigh. “I want you to know that part of me will always love my first wife. But I love you too: I love you deeply and unconditionally, but these feelings are different from those I have for Marian.”

Anne was not astounded that Robin touched on this topic. She did not love Henry anymore: her first husband had smashed their love to pieces, or probably she had never loved him at all. But the Lady Marian was an honorable and compassionate woman who truly loved Robin; Marian did nothing that could destroy or diminish her husband’s feelings for her. Anne was not jealous of Robin to the dead woman because she understood his feelings and accepted them.

She arched a brow. “Differently?”

Robin could hear herself sigh wistfully. “I love you with a more mature love.”

“Me too,” she supplied, almost overwhelmed by emotions.

He gazed deeply into her eyes and leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek. His lips brushed hers, and then he pulled away. “Is there more I need to know? I think you have a secret, my love.”

Anne laughed, her eyes glowing mystically. She did have a secret of her past, but nobody would ever discern it; not even the conniving and smart Robin. “The best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there is not one. Do you know what I mean, Robin?” This was how she lived in her second life.

The enigma in her eyes ignited desire in him. Robin smiled dazzlingly. “You look wonderful, Anne – even more beautiful than I remember when we first met.”

Her eyes bore into his, dark and rich with layers of deep emotion. She smiled warmly, and his heart melted at the sound of her voice. “You can seduce even a nun, Robin Hood!”

Robin sniggered. “Convent is not a suitable place for such a lady like you, Anne! Locksley is your kingdom now!” He narrowed his suddenly suspicious eyes. “But you have a secret.”

Anne responded mysteriously, “Maybe. But sometimes, it is not your secret to tell.” Indeed, Anne Boleyn was dead, and Anne de Lavalle would soon become Lady Anne of Locksley, Countess of Huntingdon. It was better to be the Queen of Huntingdon and Locksley and to be married to a man of honor like Robin than to be a Queen of England chained to an iron-hearted monster obsessed with sons. The secret of her first life was no longer hers to tell. Her brow arched. “So, Robin?”

“Your secrets are a part of your charm,” he murmured thickly.

His statement goaded Anne’s wits into action. “And above all, watch with attentive eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always known only to the Lord.”

Robin crushed his mouth on Anne’s, and their hearts began to melt in tenderness and love. Anne and Robin would not become a romantic legend, like Robin Hood and Maid Marian, but they would be happy, after all of the tragedies they went through. Like Sherwood Forest was vibrant with life in summers and springs, they would pulse with life, youth, and vitality in the years to come. Wings of destiny brought together two tired and tortured hearts seeking peace and contentment, and love reawakened and bloomed in the hearts of Anne and Robin, and the world was right again.

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