The adventures of Robin Hood’s three children continue in The Heirs of Locksley, the second novella in Carrie Vaughn‘s ROBIN HOOD STORIES series. It takes a unexpected four-year leap forward from The Ghosts of Sherwood. The eldest, Mary, is now twenty and still hasn’t met the young man she’s semi-betrothed to, and her feelings have shifted from fear and uncertainty to irritation that William de Ros still hasn’t bothered to come meet her; in fact, she’s beginning to wonder if he even exists. John (named after Little John) is in his later teens now, and the youngest, Eleanor, is thirteen.
Robin’s old enemy King John died a few years ago, and his thirteen-year-old son Henry is having his second coronation, which historically occurred in May of 1220. Vaughn sets this story in the midst of this actual event, when the nobility have gathered in London for the coronation. Young King Henry III takes a shine to the Locksley children when they’re presented to him, and impulsively announces an archery contest. John and Mary, both excellent archers (especially Mary) who are well-taught by their father, decide, in for a penny, in for a pound, and dress in Lincoln green for the contest.
Friends are made, but also some enemies (not everyone approves of women archers in the thirteenth century). Robin encourages his son John to befriend the lonely young king, and John decides what Henry really needs is to get into some mild mischief. Specifically, he weasels his way into Henry’s chambers late in the evening and suggests that they sneak outside so Henry can try climbing a tree for the first time in his life. While hidden in the tree, Henry and John overhear and see dangerous goings-on that they weren’t intended to. It all gets complicated from there, and great fun.
The Heirs of Locksley, like the first book, is a quick, light read, but it felt more fully fleshed-out than The Ghosts of Sherwood. Vaughn tells a straightforward tale that isn’t particularly complex, but I found it highly entertaining — enough to turn back to the start and reread most of it immediately after I finished. It includes a couple of diverting and rather meta scenes that underscore how Robin Hood is already becoming a legend.
Those who watched King Henry’s coronation archery tournament thought it was a joke at first, the two fresh-faced archers from Nottinghamshire acting like Robin Hood’s heirs, making jokes about shooting Normans … It must have been a joke. Robin Hood was only a story.
The characters continue to grow on me, and Vaughn offers insights into their thoughts and motivations that help bring them to life. Robin still has a wicked grin and a rather rebellious soul, but having children has made him realize that it’s more useful to have royal favor than to be sworn enemies of the king. Mary hopes to find love, or at least a man whose character she can admire, but the practical reality of arranged marriages at this time in England still needs to be dealt with.
Vaughn comments in her author’s note at the end that the legends of Robin Hood don’t really fit into actual history — there were no friars in England during King John’s lifetime, for example — so all of the Robin Hood stories are essentially fanfiction. (It’s reminiscent of Robin McKinley’s afterword in her comparable novel The Outlaws of Sherwood, in which McKinley pointed out the scant historical evidence for longbows in England at this time.) But being brave and honorable, fighting against corruption, helping others: that’s the kind of fanfic we need.