I have always had a thing for Robin Hood. I watched the Richard Greene series when I was a kid and drooled over Errol Flynn in green tights and sequined epaulets. I’ve probably watched that movie a hundred times, and each time I see something new. A later version starring Kevin Costner was almost campier than the Flynn version, noted mostly for Kevin suddenly getting an English accent…or an attempt at one…halfway through. The version starring Russell Crowe was probably my second favorite. Gritty and more realistic in a movie-fiction sort of way. And then there was Robin and Marion with Audrey Hepburn and Sean Connery, a movie that did what none of the others did…it showed Robin dying and, frankly, it was the movie that gave me the title for The Last Arrow. In the Connery movie, said arrow was the one shot into the forest and where it landed was where Robin was supposedly buried. When I was writing my trilogy I couldn’t quite bring myself to kill my Robin off…mainly because MY Robin was a composite of many legends and stories that I tried to weave into one character who might possibly have come down through the centuries as Robin Hood. As cavalierly as I do tend to kill off characters, some of them important characters, I left each ending of each book on a HEA note.
Having said that, I’ve received reviews from readers who were disappointed not to read an actual Robin Hood story with Robin Hood as the main character. And to those gentle readers I did try to explain that there was no real man named Robin Hood. There were men who might have acted like Robin, robbing from the rich to give to the poor. There was an Earl of Huntington, and there was an Earl of Locksley, there was even a Robin Hode listed in dusty old ledgers, but each of them lived dozens of years apart. And if memory serves, none were around when Gisbourne was sheriff, because the sheriff of Nottingham at the time Robin would have active was a woman. Yes, a woman. Nicolaa de la Haye was as nasty and vile and corrupt as ever a woman could be. And she was a favorite of King John.
I enjoy writing fiction, and especially historical fiction, because I can let my imagination run a bit amok. At the time I was deciding what I wanted to write, a few factors came into play. One, of course, was my love of the Robin Hood legend. Two was the love of castles and jousting matches and medieval forests and outlaws and Richard the Lionheart etc etc. Third was a small paragraph I read in some obscure article about medieval England that mentioned the Lost Princess of Brittany. That was how she was referred to. No name, just the lost princess.
Well. If that wasn’t enough to make my ears perk up, a Sherlock Holmes type search of history books identified her as the Princess Eleanor, daughter to King Henry II’s middle son Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany. Keep in mind, this was back before clicking on a few buttons brought up scads of history documents on the internet. Noooo this was hours spent in the library slogging through history books trying to find out what happened to Eleanor and why she was NOT made the Queen of England after Richard’s death. Geoffrey would have been next in the line of succession, followed by his son Arthur and his daughter Eleanor. Geoffrey had the misfortune of dying, however, without ever wearing the crown. And, as it turned out, although Arthur and Eleanor raised an army to fight John for the crown, both were captured and imprisoned. John then removed Arthur from contention…some reports claim by his own hand…and Eleanor was tossed into a prison for the next seventeen years.
Granted, Queens were not popular in the ranks of the English barons, but then neither was King John, so it made me dig further and further to try to find out why Eleanor was never even rescued from the castle where she was held prisoner for so many years.
Enter the fourth reason why I set out to write my medieval trilogy.
From the age of maybe 14 or 15, I’d been having this very cool recurring dream. It always started the same, played out the same, unwound like a film with a climactic ending. In it, a young blonde woman was trapped or held prisoner in a cave of some sort. She is rescued by men dressed in monk’s cowls and led down a perilously steep cliff to a rocky shoreline below. Before they can reach the fishing boat waiting at the bottom, armored soldiers ambush them from behind a jumble of boulders and in the melee that follows, the girl tries to reach the boat, and just when she gets a hand on the gunwale, an arrow pierces her hand and traps it against the wood, dragging her under. That’s where the dream ended. Always. And I would have this dream once or twice a year and it was always so vivid my hand would hurt in the morning.
I was having lunch with my editor at the time, Maggie MacLaren, and I was telling her I was thinking about writing a medieval, I told her about my love of Robin Hood stories…and then I told her about the dream. She looked a little skeptical, but she asked if I had ever written any of it down. Of course, I hadn’t. Hadn’t even thought of writing it down because it was a dream. But she put the bug in my head and that, combined with what I had been doing to try to track down the lost princess and find out what happened to her…well…BOOM!
If you read Through A Dark Mist, the prologue is my dream, as vividly as I could recall it. I added some embellishments of course as the book started to take shape, the monks took on identities as did the blonde-haired woman. No, there was no mention of Robin Hood, but I did start peppering the story with some clues and names that would be familiar to Hoodies. I had to have a beginning for MY legend, a catalyst for the threads that would follow in the next two books. The one constant thread was the young Eleanor of Brittany who appears in Through A Dark Mist as a mere child, whose fate appears to be decided In the Shadow of Midnight, and whose destiny brings the whole tapestry of threads together in The Last Arrow.
I’m looking to the forest again, to castles in the clouds and dark knights. And I have the germ of an idea fomenting in my brain leading me down that misty path again…..