The Black Arrow
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The novel is set in the reign of "old King Henry VI" (1422–1461, 1470–1471) and during the Wars of the Roses (1455–1487). The story begins with the Tunstall Moat House alarm bell, rung to summon recruits for its absent lord Sir Daniel Brackley, to join the Battle of Risingham; at which the outlaw "fellowship" known as "the Black Arrow" begins to strike with its "four black arrows" for the "four black hearts" of Brackley and three of his retainers: Nicholas Appleyard, Bennet Hatch, and Sir Oliver Oates, the parson. The rhyme posted in explanation of this attack, makes the protagonist Richard ('Dick') Shelton, ward of Sir Daniel, curious about the death of his father Sir Harry Shelton. Having been dispatched to Kettley, where Sir Daniel was quartered, and sent to Tunstall Moat House by return dispatch, he falls in with a fugitive, Joanna Sedley, disguised as a boy with the alias of John Matcham: an heiress kidnapped by Sir Daniel to obtain guardianship over her and to retain his control over Richard by marrying her to him.
The second half of the novel, Books 3–5, tells how Dick rescues Joanna from Sir Daniel with the help of both the Black Arrow fellowship and the Yorkist army led by Richard Crookback, the future Richard III of England. It centres on Shoreby, where the Lancastrian forces are entrenched. Robert Louis Stevenson inserts seafaring adventure in chapters 4–6 of Book 3, wherein Dick and the outlaws steal a ship and attempt a seaside rescue of Joanna. They are unsuccessful, and after Joanna is moved to Sir Daniel's main quarters in Shoreby, Dick visits her in the guise of a Franciscan friar. Stevenson, the populariser of the tales of the Arabian nights, has Dick tell the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in Book 4, chapter 6 to help him escape from the ruined sea captain Arblaster, whose ship Dick and the outlaws had stolen.
While shadowing Sir Daniel, Dick and the outlaws encounter another group of spies interested in Joanna. After a skirmish in which the outlaws prevail, Dick finds that he has conquered Joanna's lawful guardian, Lord Foxham, who promises to give Joanna to Dick in marriage after a contemplated seaside rescue. There is irony in Foxham scolding Dick, who is nobly born, for consorting with outlaws when the outlaws are recruited in Dick and Foxham's plans to rescue Joanna. Wounded in the failed seaside rescue, Foxham writes letters of recommendation for Dick to Richard Crookback, whom Dick must find on the outskirts of Shoreby.
Richard Crookback, Duke of Gloucester, makes his appearance in Book 5. As Dick is leaving Shoreby he sees Crookback holding his own against seven or eight Lancastrian assailants, and assists his victory. Dick's accurate knowledge of the Lancastrian forces in Shoreby aid Crookback in winning the battle that he wages later that day. Dick is also successful as one of Crookback's commanders. Crookback knights Dick on the field of battle and, following their victory, gives him fifty horsemen to pursue Sir Daniel, who has escaped Shoreby with Joanna. Dick succeeds in rescuing Joanna, but loses his men in the process. He, Joanna, and Alicia Risingham travel to Holywood where he and Joanna are married. In this way he keeps his initial pledge to Joanna to convey her safely to Holywood.
In the early morning of his wedding day Dick encounters a fugitive Sir Daniel trying to enter Holywood seaport to escape to France or Burgundy. Because it is his wedding day, Dick does not want to soil his hands with Sir Daniel's blood, so he simply bars his way by challenging him either to hand-to-hand combat or alerting a Yorkist perimeter patrol. Sir Daniel retreats, but is shot by Ellis Duckworth (the outlaws' captain) with the last black arrow. Thereafter Sir Richard and Lady Shelton live in Tunstall Moat House untroubled by the rest of the Wars of the Roses. They provide for both Captain Arblaster and the outlaw Will Lawless by pensioning them and settling them in Tunstall hamlet, where Lawless does a volte face by returning to the Franciscan order, taking the name, Brother Honestus.