Roberson, author of 15 previous novels, re-creates the first flush of romance between young Maid Marian and the man who will be Robin Hood in this prequel to the more familiar ``merry men'' legends--an often tiresome mixture of political chicanery and courtly passion that pales in comparison to those rollicking legends to come. Recently orphaned by her father's death in the Crusades, Marian of Ravenskeep finds she is one of many women attending the celebration given by the Earl of Huntington to honor his son and heir, Robert of Locksley, who has recently returned from that same battlefield. While the other maidens hope to attract the eye of the Earl's well-born son, Marian prays only that Robert might supply her with the details of her father's last days. Marian remembers Robert as a reclusive, somber boy, but she now finds him a ravaged victim of battle fatigue, robbed of peace by nightmares and violent visions. Despite these distractions, the pair fall in love on sight--but before they can ride off into the sunset, they must outmaneuver the likes of King Richard's younger brother, Prince John, who will abuse anyone in England for a chance at the throne; the Earl of Huntington, who wants Robert to wed the prince's daughter; the Sheriff of Nottingham, who intends to marry Marian himself and wed his own daughter to Robert; and many another blackguard who slinks in and about Sherwood Forest. While Roberson expertly evokes the sensations and frustrations of medieval life and succeeds in creating what she calls a ``logical underpinning'' to the Robin Hood legends, her tedious detailing of the paths by which Robert, Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, and several others make their way to that hideout in the woods serves mainly to detract from the myths' innate drama. The minstrels were right--Robin's altruistic thievery remains the real story here.