1. Outlaw of Sherwood

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Nobody messed with the tanner's daughter, not for any reason other than the smell. The decrepit building on the corner edge of Nottingham was given a wide berth every morning, not just for the emptying of chamber pots, but for the smell of the urine-stained hides. Only the saddle makers and the occasional scribe would drop by for business. They never stayed long.

That morning while she was sweeping, Sarah couldn't have been more surprised when she glanced up at the sound of footsteps and found a green-clad stranger in the store. She could've sworn on her brother's grave that she knew every saddle maker, scribe, and hide-trader in town. While the lad didn't exactly look like a gentleman-he had too wild a beard and too common a cloth-he had a heavy-looking coin purse.

Where was father when she needed him?

"Morrow." Sarah bit her lip. What more should she say?

"Good morrow, fair maiden," he said with a smile. "I find your corner as full of beauty as it is of merry, spring days."

Few and far between then. She wrinkled her nose at his words. "What beauty hath the unseemly stench of the dandelion?"

"Ah, but even the dandelion 'ath not golden locks such as yours." But he was still blinking rapidly from the stench, resisting the urge to gag.

Sarah blushed despite herself.

The sound of horse hoofs came from the street, and the stranger ducked behind a rack of untanned cowhides until they passed by. He let out a breath and peered around the corner of the hides towards the door. Then came the jingle of a bridle, and he clutched the skins until his knuckles turned white.

"In here." Sarah grabbed his hand and practically thrust him into the pantry. The second another stranger came in, she dropped her broom so he wouldn't hear the shutting of the other door. When she picked it up, she glimpsed the light chain male and the clean-shaven face. She averted her gaze, careful not to look him in the eye.

"Morrow," she muttered.

The man held a white handkerchief up to his nose. "Have you seen any strangers pass by this day?"

"None, save you."

The stranger grunted and slammed his door on the way out. Sarah let out her breath as soon as he was gone and listened for the retreating hoof beats before she let the lad out. He took a deep breath as soon as he was out, and Sarah caught an unfamiliar scent. He'd thrown up in the pantry.

"My apologies," he said, wiping the edge of his lip.

"You're one of them, aren't you?"

"One of the Robin 'ood's merry men? Aye. My friends call me David of Doncaster." He took off his hat and bowed.

"I care not. They arrested Tom Black-" The blacksmith. "-a fortnight past because of one of you. I want no trouble."

"And you shall have none." David put his hat back on and slipped her a silver coin. "For your kindness."

He left the shop, and seconds later, her father came down the stairs rubbing the drowsiness from his eyes. He glanced towards the pantry and frowned.

"I was sick," Sarah said. "I'll clean up right away."

***

The tanner's daughter hid the silver coin and slipped it among their pay at the day's end. They weren't wealthy, but their regular patrons were well enough off that they could afford to pay their taxes regularly, unlike some. She tried not to think about the green-clad stranger, but she couldn't help herself, even if he was an outlaw. She'd never had a man compliment her before.

Three days later, she spotted him at the market, talking with two other men she merely knew of-the farrier and the cobbler. She tried to focus on selecting a squash for supper, but she kept glancing in his direction. Then she spotted another mail-clad soldier heading his way. David didn't seem to notice.

Sarah bit her lip and spilled her apron full of squash right in front of the soldier. She bent down to pick them up, blocking his way, and scrambled back before he could kick her in the face. "Outta my way, wench!"

She stood and watched him pass. When she managed a glimpse over her shoulder, the farrier and the cobbler were still there, but David was gone. She let out a deep breath and bent over to pick up the bruised vegetable. Dinner would be a sorry affair.

***

The next morning, Sarah was back to sweeping the shop by herself when the door creaked open, and David stepped inside. He looked flushed, like he ran across town and just stopped to catch his breath.

"I don't believe I caught your name," he said.

What harm was there in that? "Sarah Tanner."

He took a wary step towards her, and when she didn't retreat, another. "I wanted to give you my thanks, dearest Sarah, for distracting the sheriff's man yesterday. My carelessness already cost Tom his freedom. 'ad it not been for you, I might've met the same fate."

Sarah bit her lip. "His fate?"

"Oh!" David pulled off his hat and wrung it in his hands. "The farrier and the cobbler were able to 'elp me arrange his escape. It wasn't just ill luck that caused their 'orses to skip a shoe, or their boots to snag on rocks."

Sarah smiled.

David put his hat back on, grabbed her hand, and planted a kiss on it. "May I see you on the morrow, Sarah Tanner?"

She nodded.

After he left, she went back to sweeping the floor, and her father came down looking tired as ever. He didn't question why the squash turned out bruised last night or why she was smiling. She couldn't help it. The townsmen wouldn't know it, but now they had one more reason to avoid messing with the tanner's daughter-she'd fallen in love with an outlaw of Sherwood.

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