Gisburne should have died after the battle, but he didn’t. As he lay close to unconsciousness, cold seeping into his extremities, he thought he was dying. When he emerged from the darkness, he wasn’t sure if he was in heaven or in hell. Although he was sure he must have died, he still appeared to be in the preceptory. Gisburne stood slowly, anticipating agony. He couldn’t decide whether he was relieved or terrified when pain didn’t rip through his leg. Staring down at the bodies of his comrades, Gisburne finally began to believe that he hadn’t died, and wasn’t going to die, but he didn’t know why.
When Gisburne walked out of the great hall, he had no idea where he was heading or what he was planning to do. He couldn’t return to Nottingham Castle: the Sheriff had made that abundantly clear. He had no money, but he still had his sword. There was always work for a soldier. When he had the means, he could return to France. He might even obtain another position as a steward.
Gisburne headed for the kitchens and found enough food to fill a saddlebag. Then he went to the stables in search of his horse. The horse neighed irritably and tossed his head, no doubt fed up with being cooped up in unfamiliar surroundings for so long.
The sky was beginning to darken when Gisburne rode out of the preceptory. Gisburne wondered how much time had passed since the battle, how long he had lain there, close to death. It would have been more sensible to spend the night at the preceptory and set out in the morning, but Gisburne didn’t want to stay there one moment longer – not with all those bodies and certainly not with whatever had saved him. Gisburne had his suspicions, which was all the more reason to leave the preceptory as soon as possible.
Gisburne was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he didn’t notice the man on the battlements watching his departure.
On that first night, Gisburne set up camp in some woods a few miles away from the preceptory. He had just finished lighting the fire when he thought he felt eyes on his back. He whipped around but saw nothing. Although Gisburne assumed that his imagination had got the better of him, he stayed close to the fire and slept with his sword out, his hand resting on the hilt.
The next morning, when Gisburne was leaving the camp, he felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck again. He wheeled his horse around, expecting to see a cutthroat after his purse, but there was no one. Brow furrowed, Gisburne urged his horse on. He had decided that he would try his luck in London first. He wanted to avoid the north – Nottinghamshire in particular.
Gisburne was riding through a valley when he looked up and spotted a man on horseback. Gisburne couldn’t be sure, but he thought the man might be a Knight of the Apocalypse. The man was some distance away, but his surcoat seemed to match the one that Gisburne himself was wearing. Had this man been following him? Is that why he’d felt like he was being watched? Gisburne wondered why the man hadn’t approached him openly if he was a Knight of the Apocalypse. With their Grandmaster slain, did this man fear that he would be met with hostility?
Gisburne urged on his horse, intending to ride up the hill. His horse didn’t move a muscle. Gisburne squeezed harder with his calves, but his horse still wouldn’t move. Puzzled, Gisburne dismounted to check whether his horse had thrown a shoe. Bending down, he placed a hand on the right foreleg. He was surprised to feel it trembling. Gisburne ran a hand along the horse’s neck and flanks, hoping to calm him. Usually, his horse was fearless, so this couldn’t be a good sign. Gisburne might not always understand people, but he knew horses. He knew they had very keen senses, perceiving dangers that soldiers couldn’t.
Gisburne remounted the horse and guided him back in the direction from which they had come. This time, the horse moved with barely any prompting. Gisburne didn’t know where he was going; he just knew that he needed to get out of the valley. When he glanced over his shoulder, the man on the hill was no longer there. If it hadn’t been for his horse’s behaviour, and his own sense of foreboding, Gisburne might have thought that he’d dreamt the whole thing.
Gisburne wasn’t sure why, but he felt as if this man would keep pursuing him if he didn’t succeed in eluding him. He had to lose this man – whoever he was. Gisburne tried to think of a place that filled people with terror, a place that even this man might avoid, especially at night. Unfortunately, Gisburne knew such a place. He sighed as he reached a decision. He would go to Sherwood.
It was almost two days before Gisburne reached Sherwood. Although he felt vulnerable being out in the open, Gisburne remained on the periphery of the forest until nightfall. Travelling into his enemies’ lair in the dark was the last thing Gisburne wanted to do, but he believed it was worth it if there was any chance that he could rid himself of the man who was hounding him. While he knew it was irrational, Gisburne was more frightened of this man than the combined wrath of the wolfsheads. As the sun began to set, Gisburne fought the apprehension that was rising within him and mounted his horse. Sensing Gisburne’s dread, the horse was nervous, but Gisburne managed to coax him forward.
Gisburne only had the moon to guide him – and that provided little light. He soon found himself relying more on his ears than his eyes, tensing when he heard a branch snap, before dismissing the sound as noise from a deer, or some small animal, rather than a cutthroat. He hadn’t gone far when he heard the tell-tale babble of a stream. Gisburne headed towards it, knowing that he should take the time to water his horse and replenish his own water supply.
When they reached the stream, Gisburne’s horse needed no encouragement to bow his head and drink. Gisburne knelt on the bank and filled his waterskin, taking a few long sips before dipping the vessel into the stream again. He didn’t hear the sound of footfalls in the soft earth behind him, or even see the shadow fall across him. By the time Gisburne sensed the other man’s presence, he didn’t even have a chance to turn his head before he was struck on the back of the skull.
When Gisburne woke, his head was throbbing and his hair was wet. Remembering his assailant, he sat up quickly and then winced in pain. When Gisburne noticed that he couldn’t hear the stream anymore, he realized that he’d been moved. The ground beneath him was hard and unforgiving stone. Had his attacker dragged him off to some cavern? Gisburne squinted in the darkness, thinking he could see a flame flickering in the distance. Gisburne stared at the flame, wondering if he should walk towards it or head in the opposite direction. Then he saw that the flame was growing larger, as if it were moving closer to him, and he stood abruptly, swaying for an instant on unsteady legs. He reached for his sword, not entirely surprised to discover that it was missing. Gisburne walked around the stone chamber, running his fingers over the cool walls, seeking a tunnel or some other means of escape. The voice, when it came, froze Gisburne in his tracks.
“You don’t have much luck around water, do you, Guy?”
Gisburne spun towards the voice, eyes wide, heart pounding. He didn’t need to see the man’s face to know who it was, or who he thought it was. “You’re…you’re dead!”
“Yes,” the voice said, “but my spirit lives on in Sherwood.”
Gisburne could now see the long dark hair, the green eyes, and the hood in the flame’s light. Robin of Loxley had that same calm, infuriating smile he used to favour his enemies with when he knew he had bested them.
Gisburne tried to back away, only to find himself pressed up against the wall with nowhere else to go. Loxley followed, almost seeming to glide across the stone floor. Gisburne jerked when Loxley reached out a hand, but Loxley was only touching Gisburne’s surcoat, fingering the material with a bemused expression on his face.
“These aren’t your usual colours, Guy. Do you serve a different master now?”
“It doesn’t matter. I…” Gisburne looked down at the hand on his chest. “You don’t seem like a spirit.”
“As Samhain approaches, the veil between the living and the dead grows thinner. This could be why I resemble a living, breathing man, why I feel…real.”
“Was it this approaching Samhain that gave you the strength to attack me at the stream?” Gisburne asked.
Loxley smiled again with that smug, self-satisfied smirk. “You were out cold when I found you. You would have drowned if I hadn’t pulled your head out of the water.”
Gisburne scowled. “Why rescue me at all? You and the rest of those wolfsheads seemed willing enough to drown me in the past.”
Loxley’s smile faded and his expression grew sober. “I have no interest in killing you. I’ve moved beyond the cares of mortal life. You, on the other hand, are very much in its thrall.”
Gisburne stared at Loxley blankly.
“You’re shivering,” Loxley said. “Come. I’ll build you a fire.”
Gisburne remained where he was as Loxley crouched down before a small pile of twigs and bracken, setting it alight with his torch. Gisburne’s thoughts were racing. He couldn’t decide if he was hallucinating or if he had actually died in the preceptory and this was hell. Then Gisburne remembered seeing Belleme alive and well a year after Belleme had been killed. Could Loxley have been resurrected too? No. The Sheriff had said that the body was unrecognizable. There wouldn’t have been much left to preserve, let alone resurrect.
“Come closer to the fire, Guy,” Loxley said. “You’ll catch your death if you don’t.”
Gisburne swallowed and reluctantly made his way to the fire, trying to keep as much distance between himself and Loxley as he could.
Loxley was watching Gisburne, a gleam of mischief in his eyes. “On the day you nearly drowned, I wore your armour. I became you.”
Gisburne frowned. “You impersonated me to get inside Nottingham Castle. It’s hardly the same thing.”
“But I understood what it was like to be you: the power you possessed through your rank and position and not just the strength of your armour.”
Gisburne’s forehead creased. “I thought you hated Normans. You almost sound as if you want to be one.”
Loxley shook his head. “I only said I understood what it was like to be you; I never said I wanted to be you.”
Gisburne was studying Loxley in confusion, thinking that Loxley’s tone had belied that assertion.
“Here.” Loxley was holding out a wineskin. “You must be thirsty, even if you were half-drowned. This should slake your thirst.”
Gisburne eyed the wineskin suspiciously, wondering which Norman Loxley had stolen it from. Then he wondered why a dead man would need a wineskin in the first place.
“Go on,” Loxley said. “Take it. Why would I save you, only to harm you now?”
As Gisburne couldn’t provide answer, he took the wineskin from Loxley’s outstretched hand and sipped the sweet liquid inside. As he passed the wineskin back, his vision began to blur and the stone chamber seemed to dance. Then Gisburne knew nothing.
Gisburne returned to consciousness slowly. At first, he was only aware of being cold, but he wasn’t able to move closer to the fire. It took longer for Gisburne to realize that he was lying face down and spread-eagled on the ground, only this time he felt mud beneath him instead of stone. Had Loxley and the cavern been a dream? Was he even in Sherwood?
Gisburne tried to sit up and take a look at his surroundings, but he found he could only lift his head. He couldn’t move his arms or legs. Gisburne tried again. This time when he raised his head, he was able to see a fire from the corner of his eye, and there was enough light for him to make out the walls of the cavern. Then there was a hand on his head, and he could feel someone stroking his hair.
“Who’s there?” Gisburne tried to turn his head, but this person was just out of sight.
“Robin of Loxley. Who else would it be?” Loxley was now within Gisburne’s field of vision, and he squatted down on the ground next to Gisburne. “Remember that day when I knocked you off your horse and we landed in the mud? We lay as close as lovers, our bodies pressed together as we fought. Your armour weighed you down, so you were weak, practically powerless. I had dreams about that fight for weeks afterwards, only we were both naked and waging a very different battle.”
Gisburne’s head shot up in alarm, but Loxley laid a hand on the back of his neck and shushed him. A moment later, Gisburne felt Loxley’s fingers run down his back and between his shoulder blades, raising goosebumps and shivers. Panic-stricken, Gisburne struggled, finally realizing, to his immense horror, that he was bound and naked. Lifting his head again, he could see the ropes that were wound around his wrists. He wriggled his feet and felt rope chafe against his ankles. The ropes binding his limbs were tied to stakes that had been hammered into the ground.
“I’ll kill you!” Gisburne roared. “Release me, you filthy – ”
Gisburne heard more than felt the ringing slap that Loxley delivered to his one buttock, and the rest of the words died in his throat. Loxley’s hand flew down again and, this time, Gisburne definitely felt it.
“I thought you said you didn’t want to hurt me,” Gisburne said, trying to keep his voice steady.
Loxley’s fingers caressed Gisburne’s back again. “No, I said I had no interest in killing you. Besides, I’m not hurting you. I’m trying to help you.”
“But – ”
A third slap came down, much harder this time, and Gisburne had to bite back a cry.
“You need to be punished for all of the terrible things you’ve done,” Loxley said.
“I hardly think a wolfshead – and a dead one, at that – is in a position to – ”
Loxley’s hand flew down again, delivering a few more blows. Gisburne opened his mouth to curse Loxley, and the strikes began in earnest. Gisburne yelled until he realized that Loxley would only keep hitting him if he continued to protest. But Loxley didn’t stop once Gisburne grew silent. The blows rained down without interruption, pain cresting on pain.
Gisburne soon lost count of how many times Loxley had spanked him. He was forced to lie there and submit, to try to ignore the tears that he couldn’t prevent from springing into his eyes. He could hardly believe it when the torment finally ended and the tears were brushed from his cheeks.
“You’re not Loxley,” Gisburne said.
The man at Gisburne’s side grinned. “I wondered how much longer it would take you to work it out. No, I’m not Robin of Loxley, but I think I’ll remain in this body since you respond to it so favourably.” The man who had adopted Loxley’s form reached under Gisburne and grabbed the cock that Gisburne hadn’t known was erect. Gisburne couldn’t hold back the gasp or the shudder.
The man leaned down to whisper in Gisburne’s ear. “You were the one who had dreams about being naked in the mud with Robin of Loxley, only you were on top of him. I think my telling of the tale is much better, don’t you?”
The man stood and Gisburne tried not to panic when he was no longer able to see his captor. Gisburne’s fear escalated when he heard the man unbuckle his belt. This was followed by the unmistakable rustle of clothing being removed.
“No, you can’t.”
The man climbed on top of Gisburne, and his engorged cock brushed against one burning buttock. Gisburne struggled furiously, trying to buck the man off him, but the man wasn’t budging. Gisburne felt Loxley’s chest hair scratch his back as the man plastered himself against him. It was Loxley’s hands that wrapped around Gisburne’s wrists as the man kissed Gisburne’s cheek.
“Please,” Gisburne said. “I’ll give you anything you want if you stop.”
The man laughed. “But, Guy, this is what I want. I want you.”
“No, please. You can’t. There must be something else you – ” Gisburne’s words were cut off when one of the hands on his wrists clamped over his mouth.
“Shh…I’ll make it really satisfying for you if you’re a good boy.” The hand that had been on Gisburne’s mouth reached out to scoop up some mud. Gisburne jerked and shivered as muddy fingers began tracing symbols on his back. “There. That should shield you from the pain.”
Gisburne squeezed his eyes shut, trying to fight back a fresh onslaught of tears as he thought about the abominable act that was about to occur. He would be sent straight to hell – or wish he had been. He certainly wouldn’t want to live after this man was finished with him.
“Who are you?” Gisburne whispered.
“Oh! Hadn’t you guessed? I’m your master, Baphomet.”
“What? No, you can’t be! You – ” Gisburne’s voice was choked off when he felt Loxley’s cock breach him. Then Gisburne fought and screamed as he felt the entire length of that cock drive into him.
Baphomet had been right. There was very little pain, even as he was stretched and filled by that long hard phallus. But somehow the lack of pain made it worse. Gisburne knew how to cope with pain. It had been his constant companion his whole life. He knew how to face pain, but he didn’t know how to deal with this.
Gisburne bit his lip when Baphomet started to thrust into him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t prevent the moan that escaped from his lips when Baphomet pushed into him a certain way and there was a sharp burst of pleasure. Gisburne pressed his face in the mud, hoping to smother the sounds he was making, but Baphomet grabbed his hair and pulled his head back. Gisburne heard Loxley’s voice say, “You can’t hide from me, Guy. When I said I wanted you, I meant all of you. I’m taking it all. I want to hear every little gasp and whimper.” Baphomet released Gisburne’s hair, and Gisburne’s head fell back on the ground.
Baphomet’s pace was relentless after that, and he ploughed Gisburne deeper into the mud with every thrust. When Gisburne came, his sobbing cry echoed around the cavern.
This time, Gisburne knew that the fingers sweeping back the sweaty strands of his hair weren’t Loxley’s, that the lips that kissed and nuzzled his neck were really Baphomet’s.
“There,” Baphomet said. “That wasn’t so bad. And you were such a good boy. Such a very good boy. It will be better next time, I promise.”
Gisburne wasn’t able to hide the mixture of shock and revulsion in his voice. “Next time?”
“Hmm. One of the benefits of this particular magic. Your body will always be ready and willing to serve me.” Baphomet shoved a hand under Gisburne again to seize his cock. To Gisburne’s great shame, his cock swelled instantly. “You’ll enjoy it more if you don’t fight it, Guy. You’ll be begging me never to stop.”
Baphomet wasn’t gentle the second time he forced his way into Gisburne, but it hardly mattered. Gisburne’s body welcomed the intrusion, every nerve singing as Baphomet rammed into him. Gisburne’s back arched and he found he was grabbing the ropes that bound his wrists, arms straining as he climaxed helplessly.
It was a never-ending cycle of humiliation and gratification as Baphomet took Gisburne again and again. Half the time, Gisburne didn’t know if he was howling in anguish or ecstasy. He shouted so much that he lost his voice somewhere along the way. After that, his mouth stretched open in a silent scream every time he reached completion.
Finally, mercifully, Gisburne passed out.
Gisburne flinched when he felt something wet against his face.
“Calm yourself,” a low deep voice said. “I have no wish to harm you. I only wish to wash away the mud.”
Gisburne opened his eyes slowly, wondering what disgusting acts Baphomet had in store for him next. What Gisburne didn’t expect to see was the old man crouching beside him. Gisburne recognized him instantly, even though the man had long grey hair instead of antlers on his head.
“Herne?” Gisburne croaked. He felt a strong arm go around his shoulders, and he flinched again, but Herne was only helping him to sit up. That was when Gisburne noticed that his limbs were no longer bound and some animal skins had been draped over him to keep him warm.
“Here. Drink this. It will help restore your voice.” Herne pressed a cup into Gisburne’s hand, but Gisburne refused to raise it to his lips, even though his throat was parched and sore. He remembered the consequences of the last drink that he had accepted all too well.
“It is only water,” Herne said. He took the cup from Gisburne and lifted it to his own lips. Then he passed the cup back to Gisburne, who gulped down the rest of the water.
Gisburne gazed around the cavern in trepidation. He wanted nothing more than to ask what had become of Baphomet, but his courage failed him. His instincts were telling him that Herne was real, but he was afraid that the truth might prove otherwise. Gisburne didn’t think that he’d laid eyes on Herne more than a couple of times. He’d certainly never spoken to him.
As if reading his thoughts, Herne said, “Baphomet has been contained.”
“Contained?” Gisburne asked. “How? Is he your prisoner?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. Unfortunately, Baphomet cannot be destroyed. He is much too powerful.”
“But you managed to capture him,” Gisburne said. “Why…why help me?”
“No one deserves to be treated the way he treated you. No one.”
Gisburne flushed in shame, unable to meet Herne’s eyes.
“Come with me.” Herne took Gisburne’s arm and pulled him to his feet. Gisburne found that he needed Herne’s support as his legs felt like jelly. He didn’t even try to resist as Herne led him away. “There is a pool you can bathe in. Although I began to clean the mud from your face, I did not touch the symbols on your back. You need to prepare yourself. There will be pain once you wash away those symbols.”
Gisburne nodded. He thought he might actually welcome the pain. It would be something else to focus on other than the memories that were plaguing him.
When they reached the pool, Herne removed the animal skins from Gisburne’s shoulders and helped Gisburne sit on the stone ledge beside the water. Gisburne bit back a curse as he dipped his feet in. He knew the water would be cold, but he hadn’t thought it would be that cold.
“Enter the pool slowly,” Herne said. “The pain will be easier to bear.”
Grasping the ledge with both hands, Gisburne lowered himself into the pool gingerly. He began to see the benefits of the cold water as it soothed his stinging backside. However, when he sank lower into the water, the ache in that area began to intensify. Then Gisburne was almost doubled over, his tight grip on the ledge the only thing preventing him from completely submerging. Gritting his teeth and squeezing his eyes shut, Gisburne endured the pain as best he could.
“I have herbs that will ease your suffering,” Herne said, “but you will have to remain here for at least a few days. You are in no state to ride. I fetched your horse from the stream. I will look after him until you go.”
Gisburne looked up at Herne in surprise. “You’re not handing me over to Robin Hood?”
Herne met Gisburne’s eyes calmly. “What purpose would that serve?”
“Well…he’s your son, isn’t he? And I’m his enemy.”
“Enemies who now share a common foe,” Herne said.
Gisburne huffed out a laugh. “That-that doesn’t change anything.”
Herne smiled sadly. “It gives me a reason not to kill you, though I know you wish you were dead.”
Gisburne opened his mouth to argue, but no lies came readily to his tongue.
“You cannot end your life. If you do, Baphomet will have won.”
Gisburne stared down at the water. “I don’t care,” he muttered.
“You may feel differently if Baphomet escapes.”
Gisburne’s head snapped up. “You said he was contained.”
Herne nodded. “He is – for the time being. I do not know how long I can keep him imprisoned.”
Gisburne shook his head in disgust. Some forest god Herne the Hunter turned out to be.
“You were the one who brought him to Sherwood, Gisburne,” Herne said. “You were also the one who sought my help. You would be wise to heed my advice.”
“Your help?” Gisburne cried, though his voice wasn’t much more than a whisper.
Herne moved closer to the pool’s edge. “You called out for me, though you may not remember. You did not use your voice. I imagine you were incapable of doing so.”
Gisburne felt the heat rise up in his cheeks, and he quickly splashed water on his face, hoping to hide his embarrassment.
“I was willing to free you from Baphomet, but there is a price you have to pay.” Herne reached into a pouch that was hanging on his belt and pulled out a small metal box that was covered in intricate symbols. The lid was secured with a large waxen seal, and countless red threads were wrapped around the entire box. “You must take this and bury it in a place where Baphomet can never escape.”
Gisburne shrank back from the box. “You imprisoned him in there?” No wonder Herne thought Baphomet might escape. “How is that meant to hold him?”
“He is a demon,” Herne said. “No ordinary prison can contain him.”
“But your magic will?” Gisburne snorted, though he continued to eye the box warily. “I’m not a sorcerer. How do you expect me to help? How would I know where to bury him?”
“You were Baphomet’s victim, his slave. You still are. He has power over you because you fear him. You will know when you have found a place to bury the box because you will no longer be afraid.” Herne set the box down on the ledge. “If Baphomet escapes, who do you think he will seek out first? You are the only survivor of the Knights of the Apocalypse, and he knows you now.”
Gisburne’s eyes widened and he shuddered as he remembered waking up in the preceptory.
“What is it?” Herne asked.
“I should be dead too. I-I thought I was dead. My leg…”
Herne frowned, looking grim. “Then it is worse than I thought. Baphomet chose you to be his supplicant. He saved you from death for that reason and that reason alone. You must be the one who buries the box.”
“And if I refuse?” Gisburne asked, though he already suspected the answer.
“You will only ever know fear, and you will be his slave forever.”
Gisburne studied his horse more than his surroundings as he rode through Sherwood. He felt as if someone was following him, but his horse wasn’t betraying any signs of agitation. The ears were facing forward not turned back. Could it simply be his imagination? Was fear clouding his judgment?
He didn’t think it was the outlaws. They usually laid traps and ambushes. They didn’t typically pursue their quarry. They didn’t need to: usually, their quarry came to them. Cutthroats might choose to follow their quarry, but they were noisy and clumsy compared to Robin Hood and his men. Gisburne was sure he would have heard any cutthroats by now.
Could Baphomet have escaped already? Gisburne knew he’d rather kill himself than allow Baphomet to capture him again. He took a deep breath and wrapped his hand around his sword hilt. “Come out where I can see you,” he called out to the trees. “I’m in no mood for games.”
Gisburne wasn’t sure who he thought would appear, but it certainly wasn’t Robin of Loxley. He was barely conscious of pulling his sword from its scabbard as Loxley emerged from the trees.
“I know what you must think,” Loxley said, “but I’m not Baphomet.”
Paralyzed by fear, Gisburne could only stare at Loxley, but Loxley’s eyes were fixed on Gisburne’s saddlebag.
“Baphomet is still trapped in the box. It wouldn’t be shaking if he’d escaped.”
Gisburne broke out of his trance and lowered his sword, reaching behind his saddle to feel the saddlebag. It was shaking. He yanked his hand back as if his fingers had been burned.
“Do you believe me now?” Loxley took a step forward, and Gisburne lifted his sword again. Loxley’s eyebrows rose. “Your arm must be getting tired, Gisburne.”
Gisburne could feel his arm trembling, but he kept his sword where it was. “Who are you?” he asked, managing to find his voice.
“Well, now, who do you think?” Loxley said, beginning to sound impatient.
“No, Loxley was dead, but then a demon stole his body in order to pursue you.”
Gisburne blushed and looked away. He lowered his sword again, no longer having the strength or will to wield it.
“Do you really expect me to believe that Baphomet dug up Robin of Loxley’s body, somehow managed to restore it, despite all the arrow holes and decay, and then used it to…” Gisburne trailed off, unable to speak the deeds aloud.
“I don’t know how Baphomet did it, but Herne believes that he is more than capable of such a feat. You might have died yourself if it hadn’t been for Baphomet. Is that not true?”
Gisburne ignored the question. “How can I be sure you’re really Loxley, that this isn’t a trick?”
“How do you think you escaped from Baphomet? Why do you think he was forced to…to stop?” Loxley sighed and ran a hand across his face. “Baphomet has no form. He needs a vessel, a body. When I reclaimed mine, Herne was able to trap him.”
Gisburne laughed mirthlessly. “So your spirit just appeared out of nowhere to fight Baphomet?”
“My spirit didn’t just appear,” Loxley said. “It’s always been in Sherwood.”
“So you’re alive again because of-because of Baphomet?”
“It would seem so, though I suppose I have you to thank as well since you brought him here.”
Gisburne gritted his teeth as he felt a stab of pain, and dark spots swam before his eyes. He dropped his sword and gripped his horse’s reins tightly in both hands. Then he saw Loxley rush forward. “Stay back!” he shouted.
Loxley raised his hands placatingly and even took a step back. “You look like you’re going to faint, Gisburne. You should have stayed longer with Herne.”
Gisburne slowly released the reins. “What do you want?”
“You may find this hard to believe, but I’m here to help you,” Loxley said.
“You want to help me?” Gisburne snorted in disbelief. “I don’t want your help.”
Loxley’s gaze was unflinching. “You may not want my help, but you need it. You can’t do this alone.”
“And why should you be the one to help me?” Gisburne asked.
“Because there is no one else.”
“Why not return to those wolfsheads? I’m sure they’d welcome you back with open arms.”
Loxley shook his head. “They have a leader already. My time has passed.”
Gisburne shifted slightly on his horse, wincing as he did so. “Why should I trust you?”
Loxley bent down and picked up Gisburne’s sword, offering Gisburne the hilt. Although Loxley kept as far from Gisburne as he could, Gisburne still eyed the sword distrustfully. Then, when Loxley was about to give up, Gisburne’s hand shot out and snatched it. “I have as much to lose as you do if Baphomet escapes – more if Baphomet takes control of my body again,” Loxley said. “Only you know where Baphomet should be buried, so I’m offering to help you. If you refuse my help, I’ll only follow you.”
“I’ll lose you.”
“No, you won’t.”
“I could kill you.”
“You’d be alone with Baphomet if you did, and I don’t think you want that, do you? You’ll need someone to guard Baphomet while you sleep, to be there if Baphomet does escape. Wouldn’t you prefer to keep an eye on me and know where I am at all times? Wouldn’t that be better than wondering whether or not I’m following you?”
As much as Gisburne hated to admit it, Loxley was right. Gisburne remembered what it was like when Baphomet was pursuing him. He really didn’t want to repeat the experience. Even with Baphomet imprisoned in the box, there could still be men who served him, men who would go to any lengths to free their master once they had discovered what had happened to him. It would be better to know exactly where Loxley was, even if the thought of being in Loxley’s company was almost too much to bear.
Gisburne closed his eyes, sighing wearily. “If you touch me, if you come too close, I’ll kill you.”
“I’ll keep my distance,” Loxley said.
“You’ll need a horse.”
“I can get one.”
“Steal one, you mean.”
Loxley raised an eyebrow. “Would you rather see a nobleman be inconvenienced or let Baphomet escape?”
Gisburne rolled his eyes. “I never said I would stop you.”
Loxley smiled. “That’s good because if we’re going to succeed, you can’t be Guy the Gamekeeper. Baphomet should be all you care about.”
That should be simple enough, Gisburne thought. There’s nothing else left. “Get a horse, Loxley,” he said. “You may ride with me if you’re able to keep up.”