One afternoon in the late springtime, the Moat House bell begins to ring. A messenger arrived with a message from Sir Daniel Brackley for Sir Oliver Oates, his clerk. When the peasants gather at the summons of the bell, they are told that as many armed men as can be spared from the defense of Moat House are to join Sir Daniel at Kettley, where a battle is to be fought between the armies of Lancaster and York. There is some grumbling at this order, for Sir Daniel is a faithless man who fights first on one side and then on the other. He added to his own lands by securing the wardships of children left orphans in those troubled times, and it is whispered that he murdered good Sir Harry Shelton to make himself the guardian of young Dick Shelton and the lord of the Moat House estates.
As guardian, Sir Daniel plans to marry Dick to the orphaned heiress of Kettley, Joanna Sedley. He rides there to take charge of the girl. Dick, knowing nothing of these plans, remains behind as one of the garrison of the manor. Old Nick Appleyard, a veteran of Agincourt, grumbles at the weakness of the defense in a country overrun by stragglers from warring armies and insists that Moat House lies open to attack. His prophecy comes true. While he stands talking to Dick and Bennet Hatch, Sir Daniel’s bailiff, a black arrow whirs out of the woods and strikes Nick between the shoulder blades. A message on the shaft indicates that John Amend-All, a mysterious outlaw, kills old Nick.
Sir Oliver trembles when he reads the message on the arrow. Shortly afterward, he is further disturbed by a message pinned on the church door, announcing that John Amend-All will kill Sir Daniel, Sir Oliver, and Hatch. Dick learns from the message that the outlaw accuses Sir Oliver of killing Sir Harry, Dick’s father; but Sir Oliver swears that he had no part in the knight’s death. Dick decides to remain quiet until he learns more about the matter and in the meantime to act in all fairness to Sir Daniel.
It is decided that Hatch should remain to guard Moat House while the outlaws are in the neighborhood. Dick rides off with ten men-at-arms to find Sir Daniel. He carries a letter from Sir Oliver telling of John Amend-All’s threats.
At Kettley, Sir Daniel awaits the outcome of a battle already in progress, for he intends to join the winning side at the last minute. Sir Daniel is also upset by the outlaw’s threats, and he orders Dick to return to Moat House with a letter for Sir Oliver. He and his men leave to join the fighting; but not before he roundly curses his luck because Joanna, whom he held hostage, escaped in boy’s clothing. He orders a party of men-at-arms to search for the girl and then to proceed to Moat House and strengthen the defenses there.
On his return journey, Dick meets Joanna, still dressed as a boy, who tells him that her name is John Matcham. Dick, unaware that she is Sir Daniel’s prisoner, promises to help her reach the abbey at Holywood. As they hurry on, they come upon a camp of the outlaws led by Ellis Duckworth, another man ruined by Sir Daniel. Running from the outlaws, they see the party of Sir Daniel’s retainers shot down one by one. The cannonading Dick hears in the distance convinces him that the soldiers of Lancaster are faring badly in the day’s battle. Not knowing on which...
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side Sir Daniel declares himself, he wonders whether his guardian is among the victors or the vanquished.
Dick and his companion sleep in the forest that night. The next morning, a detachment of Sir Daniel’s men sweep by in disorderly rout. Soon afterward, they see a hooded leper in the woods. The man is Sir Daniel, attempting to make his way back to Moat House in disguise. He is dismayed when he hears that the outlaws killed a party of his men-at-arms. When the three arrive at Moat House, Sir Daniel accuses Dick of distrust. He claims innocence in the death of Dick’s father and forces Sir Oliver to do the same. Another black arrow is shot through a window into a room in which the three are talking. Sir Daniel gives orders to defend Moat House against attack. Dick is placed under close watch in a room over the chapel, and he is not allowed to see his friend John Matcham.
That night, when John Matcham comes secretly to the room over the chapel, Dick learns that the companion of his adventures in the forest is really Joanna, the girl to whom Sir Daniel betrothed him. Warned that he is in danger, Dick escapes into the forest. There, he finds Duckworth, who promises him that Sir Daniel will be destroyed.
Meanwhile, the war goes in favor of Lancaster, and Sir Daniel’s fortunes rise with those of the house he follows. The town of Shoreby is full of Lancastrians all of that summer and fall, and there Sir Daniel has his own house for his family and followers. Joanna is not with him; she is kept in a lonely house by the sea under the care of the wife of Hatch. Dick and an outlaw companion, Lawless, go to the town, and while reconnoitering Joanna’s hiding place, Dick encounters Lord Foxham, enemy of Sir Daniel and Joanna’s legal guardian. Lord Foxham promises that if Joanna can be rescued she will become Dick’s bride. The two men attempt a rescue by sea in a stolen boat, but a storm almost sinks their boat, and Lord Foxham is injured when the party attempts to land.
That winter, Dick and his faithful companion, Lawless, return to Shoreby. Disguised as priests, they enter Sir Daniel’s house and are there protected by Alicia Risingham, Joanna’s friend and the niece of a powerful Lancastrian lord. When Dick and Joanna meet, she tells him that the following day she is to marry Lord Shoreby against her will. An alarm is given when Dick is forced to kill one of Lord Shoreby’s spies. Still in the disguise of a priest, he is taken to Sir Oliver, who promises not to betray Dick if he will remain quietly in the church until after the wedding of Joanna and Lord Shoreby. During the night, Lawless finds Dick and gives him the message that Duckworth returned and will prevent the marriage.
As the wedding procession enters the church, three archers discharge their black arrows from a gallery. Lord Shoreby falls, two of the arrows in his body. Sir Daniel is wounded in the arm. Sir Oliver denounces Dick and Lawless, and they are taken before the Earl of Risingham. Aided by Joanna and Alicia, Dick argues his cause with such vigor, however, that the earl agrees to protect him from Sir Daniel’s anger. Later, learning from Dick that Sir Daniel is secretly plotting with the Yorkist leaders, the earl sets him and Lawless free.
Dick makes his escape from Sir Daniel’s men only to be captured by the old seaman whose skiff he stole on the night he and Lord Foxham attempted to rescue Joanna from Sir Daniel. It takes him half the night to escape the angry seaman and his friends. In the morning he is in time to meet, at Lord Foxham’s request, young Richard of York, duke of Gloucester. On his arrival at the meeting place, he finds the duke attacked by bandits. He saves Richard’s life and later fights with the duke in the battle of Shoreby, in which the army of Lancaster is defeated. He is knighted for his bravery in the fight. Afterward, when Richard is giving out honors, Dick claims as his portion only the freedom of the old seaman whose boat he stole.
Pursuing Sir Daniel, Dick rescues Joanna and takes her to Holywood. The next morning, he encounters Sir Daniel in the forest near the abbey. Dick is willing to let his enemy escape, but Ellis Duckworth, lurking nearby, kills the faithless knight. Dick asks the outlaw to spare the life of Sir Oliver.
Dick and Joanna are married. They live quietly at Moat House, withdrawn from the bloody disputes of the houses of Lancaster and York. Both the old seaman and Lawless are cared for in their old age, and Lawless finally takes orders and dies a friar.