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Silent Knight

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The innkeeper stood in the doorway of his tavern and smiled contentedly. Snow had started to fall gently. The tavern was full and the ale was flowing freely. Ah, Christmas. It was the best day of the year.

His smile broadened when he saw a group of men approaching the tavern. He opened his mouth to impart a festive greeting, but gasped inarticulately instead. He turned quickly and ran back inside.

"Gisburne!" he cried, sending his patrons a warning. Suddenly the tavern was silent as everyone froze. Then, half a dozen men rose from their chairs and bolted out the back door. One man even managed to squeeze through a window. His legs had just disappeared from sight when Gisburne and his companions entered. Gisburne was with four soldiers. No, not soldiers: knights. This can't be good, thought the innkeeper as he approached them cautiously.

"Welcome, my lord," said the innkeeper, trying not to sound nervous.

"A pitcher of ale," stated Gisburne.

"What?"

"He wants a pitcher of ale," said Sir Roger, a man with dark curly hair and a deep scar across the bridge of his nose.

"Oh…of course."

The knights headed towards a table, and the innkeeper watched as the patrons seated there immediately vacated the two benches. Then the innkeeper rushed to find that pitcher of ale.

The four knights glared at the other patrons until they stopped staring, then slowly started to relax. Besides Gisburne and Sir Roger, there was Sir Thomas, a knight with light brown hair and ruddy cheeks, and Sir Arnulf, a surly warrior who insisted on carrying his azure shield, with the rampant griffin and chevron, wherever he went.

The four knights had served together as pages at Gloucester Castle, though only one had been unfortunate enough to gain a position with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Perhaps that is why the remaining three had felt it was their duty to rescue the fourth knight instead of joining the rest of King John's army in Newark.

Gisburne, who had endured about as much of the Sheriff's taunts and bullying as he could stand, had willingly agreed to their plans. De Rainault had needed more convincing and, in the end, only one tactic had worked: force. Gisburne had hauled his employer over his shoulders, carried him up the stairs, thrown him into his chamber and locked the door, ignoring the Sheriff's pounding fists and furious shrieks.

"I still can't believe you did that," said Sir Thomas.

Gisburne rolled his eyes. "Oh, he'll be all right. After he stops ranting and raving, he'll count all the gold he's been hoarding in his strong-box then settle down and go to sleep."

"Do you really think so?"

"Why not? It worked last year."

"What?"

"Your ale," announced the innkeeper, thumping a pitcher and four mugs down on the table.

"Your ale what?" snapped Gisburne.

"Your ale…is here."

"Your ale is here what?" prompted Gisburne.

"Your ale is here…now?"

"Your ale is here now what?" thundered Gisburne. The innkeepr was shaking now, and beads of sweat had formed on his forehead.

"Oh, go away!" ordered Gisburne with a dismissive wave of his hand.

"Yes, my lord."

Gisburne gritted his teeth and the innkeeper ran out of sight.

"So do you lock de Rainault up every year?" demanded Sir Thomas in disbelief.

"No," said Gisburne, placing his mug to his lips. "I'm not always at the castle during Christmas, am I?"

"You're not?" exclaimed Sir Roger, who sounded even more skeptical than Sir Thomas.

"Well, no. Why on my first Christmas in Nottingham – "

"Sir Roger! Sir Roger!" A boy ran into the tavern and headed towards the knights.

"Damn, I thought I had managed to lose him," muttered Sir Roger. "Well, what is it, brat?" he demanded, grabbing the squire, whose name, coincidentally, was Guy, by the front of his tunic.

"I thought I would never find you," panted the squire, pushing a dark thatch of hair from his eyes.

"I know. That had been my intention," growled Sir Roger.

"Oh, Sir Roger, you don't want to lose me! I'm the only boy who can clean your mail properly. And-and I always keep your spurs nice and shiny, don't I?" Sir Roger shrugged noncommittally, though he allowed the boy to squeeze next to him on the bench.

"You should apologize to Gisburne for interrupting his story."

"Oh!" cried the squire in excitement. "Is it about Robin Hood?"

Gisburne glared at the squire, who didn't have the good grace to even look frightened. "Why does everyone just assume that all of my stories will be about Robin bloody Hood? You would think that's all I ever talked about, that I eat, drink and breathe Robin Hood! Do you think I see his face every night before I fall asleep? Do you think I dream about how one of his plans might fail or how I'll finally manage to infiltrate his camp? Perhaps I long for the day when he'll run out of feathers, be unable to make arrows and be forced to fight with tree branches, hmm? Oh, yes, it could happen, Wolfshead. If I sent all my men into Sherwood, I could kill every bird, and you'd be left with nothing! Nothing!" Gisburne chuckled quietly to himself, then noticed that everyone at the table was staring at him.

"God's Blood, I need a drink," he muttered, and Sir Thomas immediately poured ale into his mug.

"My lord, what is the story about?" whispered the squire to Sir Roger.

"Oh, Robin Hood, I should think," answered the knight with a grunt. "It's all Gisburne ever talks about."

"What are you both whispering about?" demanded Gisburne once he had drained his mug.

"My squire would like to hear your story," explained Sir Roger. Gisburne looked at him blankly.

"What story?"

"The one about your first Christmas in Nottingham."

"Oh, that story."

"Yes, that story!"

"Well, there isn't much to tell, really. I lost my…" Sir Roger, the boy, and the other two knights leaned forward. "My…uh…my voice."

"Oh, is that all?"

"All?" cried Gisburne. "It was terrible! I couldn't say a damn word!"

"Yes, that is what usually happens when a man loses his voice," said Sir Thomas, and Sir Arnulf nodded in agreement.

"Yes, but I almost died!"

"Hooray!" said Guy the squire.


* * * *


Nottingham, Christmas, 1195

"Aaaacccckkk! Aaaaaacccckkk!" whispered Sir Guy of Gisburne faintly. What he had feared most had happened: he had lost his voice. He had been fighting it since he had gotten out of bed that morning, but shouting at that group of poachers had forced him to strain his poor throat to its limits. Why had they tried to steal a goose from the castle? If it had been any other crime, he might have delivered a sharp, but short, lecture. But to steal a goose on Christmas! Well, yelling at the top of his lungs had been the minimum requirement.

Perhaps a nice cup of mead would help, thought Gisburne, once he had managed to stop coughing. Now if he could just sneak past the Sheriff…

"Where are you skulking off to now, Gisburne?" demanded de Rainault. The knight froze in his tracks and turned to face his employer. The Sheriff was engrossed in a letter and barely bothered to look up. His steward made some feeble attempts to produce an answer, but not a sound would pass through his lips.

"Ah, a secret, is it? I might have known." The knight shook his head, but the Sheriff was still looking down at his letter. "You obviously don't have enough work to do if you have time to plot against me, Gisburne."

Plot against you? Is that what you think?

"I'll send you to Wickham. I think those villagers might have been behind that pathetic attempt to steal my goose."

It's more likely to be Robin Hood, thought Gisburne.

"Or it could have been Robin Hood. Question the villagers and learn what you can. Go to Sherwood if need be. I wanted some figs last night and the servant told me there were none. Could it be that they were stolen too? Well?"

"Ah-ah – " Gisburne started to cough viciously.

"So you have nothing to say, no excuse to give?"

It's Christmas. I want to get drunk and forget all about this miserable day.

"And don't moan about it being Christmas, Gisburne! You should have thought of that before you allowed my figs to be stolen!"

Yes, my lord.

"Now gather your men and go to Wickham," ordered the Sheriff. "And stop sulking!"

Gisburne turned and marched angrily out of the hall. If the Sheriff wanted to round up witnesses in Wickham, he'd round them up. He'd bring in all the villagers and leave them in the hall for de Rainault to deal with. That would teach the Sheriff a lesson.

Gisburne headed for the barracks to fetch some men. However, he had forgotten one important detail: his men had started celebrating Christmas early that morning…

The knight walked into the barracks and almost walked back out again. It was just a wall of sound. The men were shouting, laughing and singing drunkenly. But Gisburne was a determined man. He strode up to a group of soldiers and attempted to gain their attention. If only he hadn't lost his voice. They might have heard him then. As it was, the knight's frantic waves and gestures were ignored. The soldiers knew that if Gisburne really wanted something, he would shout at them.

Eventually, Gisburne was forced to surrender. He walked out of the barracks and headed for the stables. He might not have any men, but that didn't mean he still couldn't ride to Wickham. While he had been hopping around the barracks in fury, he had devised a plan. All he really needed to do was capture one villager. Then he would ride back to Nottingham with him, throw him in the dungeon and, when he had recovered his voice, interrogate said villager about the Sheriff's goose and bloody figs.


* * * *


The knight arrived in Wickham shortly before nightfall. He cringed when he heard sounds of merriment and laughter coming from the barn. It wouldn't be easy to pick out one man to capture if they all insisted on gathering together to celebrate Christmas. Well, one of them would have to leave the barn at some point. He would wait outside until then.

He tied his horse to a post and crouched down against the wall. An hour passed and no one appeared. Gisburne shivered. Then, as more time passed, he began to feel sleepy. He closed his eyes, and had almost drifted off to sleep, when he suddenly felt something colder than the wind pressing against his neck.

"You just couldn't leave them alone, could you?" rasped a voice in Gisburne's ear. "Not even for a day. Not even on Christmas." A hand fell on the knight's shoulder, and Gisburne was spun around roughly. He had been discovered, and not just by anyone. He was now at the mercy of the infamous Will Scarlet himself.

"Well, don't you 'ave anything to say for yourself?" demanded Scarlet. Gisburne shook his head miserably. There was nothing he could say, of course.

"Nasir!" called Will. The Saracen appeared from the shadows with three fine wenches in tow. "Guard 'im while I get 'is horse. And get rid of the girls, will ya?"

The Saracen reluctantly bid his companions good night then stood before the knight.

Gisburne looked up at Nasir and wondered how the Saracen coped. He had never heard the man speak and he wondered if Nasir even possessed a tongue. Nasir stared back at Gisburne, then raised an eyebrow. He touched his own throat and shook his head as if to say, "No voice?"

The knight nodded enthusiastically. That's right. I've lost my voice.

The Saracen studied Gisburne a little longer, a smile slowly spreading across his lips.

"What's going on?" asked Scarlet, returning with Gisburne's horse. Nasir shrugged and said nothing.

You bastard, thought Gisburne.

Will hauled Gisburne to his feet, his dagger at the knight's throat again. He then passed him over to Nasir, who promptly withdrew two daggers and held them at the knight's throat.

"Can you walk Gisburne to the camp?" Will asked his friend. "I think I'll ride back."


* * * *


"He didn't say anything?" asked John in surprise.

Will shook his head. "Not a word! He didn't call me names or even try to insult me." Will almost sounded disappointed.

"Gisburne can be pretty stubborn," said Tuck. "I think he'd rather die than reveal anything. He almost drowned that one time because he refused to talk."

"No, he almost drowned because you forgot about him, Tuck!" said John with a laugh. Tuck blushed and grinned sheepishly.

"Let me kill 'im, lads. Just this once," pleaded Will.

"No, Will. Wait till Robin returns."

"But 'e could be ages! It's a long walk to St. Mary's, you know. Yes, that's right, Gisburne," said Will as Nasir and the knight entered the camp. "They've gone to St. Mary's. That attempt to steal the Sheriff's goose was just a distraction. Our real plan was to steal all of Abbot 'Ugo's gold!"

"Will, shut up!" shouted John, clamping a hand over his friend's mouth. "By Saint Thomas, why did you go and tell him that for?"

"'E's going to die anyway. Why shouldn't I reveal our plans?"

"He's not going to die, you daft fool! Look, he's perfectly healthy."

"'E won't be when I'm through with him."

"Will, Robin might decide that he doesn't want to kill Gisburne," said Tuck gently.

"What? Again?"

"Or Gisburne could escape," argued John.

"Ha! Not bloody likely!"

"Let it go, Will," said Tuck firmly.

"I…I can't! I can't let it go! My name used to be Scathlock. It's Scarlet now."

"Aye, Will, we know. We really know!"

"It's men like 'im," said Will, pointing wildly at Gisburne, "who made me what I am!" He paused a moment for inspiration, then pounded a hand against his chest. "I'm Scarlet…Inside!"

Well, if you sliced open the average serf, he'd be scarlet inside too, thought Gisburne. And so would I! He placed his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking.

"Ah ha! I've broken 'im!" gloated Will. "'E can't face up to what 'e's done!"

Gisburne had fallen to his knees and was leaning against a tree for support. Little John stood in front of the knight, studying him closely.

"No, Will," said John. "I think Gisburne's…laughing!"

"What?" Scarlet grabbed both of Gisburne's hands and tore them from his face. He was satisfied by the tears in his enemy's eyes, but that grin…Will punched Gisburne and everything went black.

When Gisburne came to, Scarlet had his sword against his throat. "What was so funny?" demanded the outlaw. Gisburne opened his mouth to answer and realized, with some chagrin, that he still couldn't speak. He would have loved to share the joke, even if it was with a handful of wolfsheads.

"You'll talk or I'll kill you, Gisburne."

Oh, dear…

"Right! You're dead, Gisburne!"

"No! You can't, Will!" protested Tuck, laying a hand on Will's arm.

"Why not?"

"Because it's Christmas."

"Christmas?" said Will. Tuck nodded. "You would let a little thing like that get in the way of my 'appiness?"

"Yes, Will, I would."

"And if he wouldn't, I would," added John.

"I don't believe it!" howled Will. "Last time you lot wouldn't let me kill 'im because it was Michaelmas, and the time before that it was the Summer Solstice. And before that Loxley said we couldn't do it because 'e 'ad a sore finger! Well, we've got to kill 'im some time! Why not today? It would make the perfect Christmas present…for everybody!"

"We can't kill him, Will," said Tuck. "We're going to have to let him go."

"Let 'im go?" screamed Will.

Tuck shot a quick look at John. "John…"

As John grabbed Will, Tuck walked over to Gisburne and pulled the knight to his feet.

"You may go now," said Tuck. Gisburne gaped at him in astonishment, for he could do little else. "That's right. There's no need for words. The look on your face says it all. Go on your way and peace be with you, my son."


* * * *


Nottingham, Christmas, 1211

"They let you go?" exclaimed Sir Roger.

"Yes, those animals let me go," said Gisburne. "They couldn't even be bothered to take me prisoner, the bastards. That might mean they would have to feed me or provide me with shelter for the night." He sneered. "Oh, no, they were too good for that. Well, they always thought they were better than everyone else, despite being peasants. And this was before King Richard had invited them to his feast!"

"King Richard? Don't you mean King John?" asked Sir Thomas, his brow creasing in confusion.

"No, this was before the time changed."

"Before the time did what?" cried Sir Roger.

"Before the time jumped from 1199 to 1209."

"My dear Guy, I think you must be mistaken."

"Oh, they don't want us to remember. In fact, most people have forgotten, but not me."

"You've had too much to drink, Gisburne," said Sir Thomas, pulling the pitcher out of Gisburne's reach. Sir Arnulf clutched his shield to his chest protectively.

"Tell me how I could possibly remember going to King Richard's coronation one moment and then discover I hadn't even been born yet the next. Lady Wolfshead thought her father had been captured during the Crusades, but he was actually gallivanting around Lincoln with the butcher's wife."

"He's mad!" shouted Sir Thomas, rising from the table.

"No…it's all starting to make sense," said Sir Roger slowly. "My brother died in the Crusades and then he was home again alive and well. I never questioned it until now. Of course, he was crushed by a loom shortly after that so, with the funeral and everything, there wasn't really time to question how he had returned."

"You see! I told you!" cried Gisburne triumphantly. "That's just what they wanted you to believe."

"Who the hell are 'they'?" shrieked Sir Thomas.

"Shhh! They might hear you!"

Sir Thomas let out a howl, then grabbed the pitcher and swallowed the entire contents.

"I'm bored. Can I hear the rest of the story now?" asked the squire.

"Of course," replied Gisburne.

Sherwood Forest, Christmas – Before the Time Changed

Gisburne began the long journey to St. Mary's. He had to stop those wolfsheads before it was too late. He was cold and his feet hurt, but he knew he had to keep walking…

Nottingham, Christmas – After the Time Changed

"They kept your horse?" said Sir Roger.

"Those bastards!" shouted Sir Arnulf, speaking for the first time that evening. The other people at the table stared at him in amazement before quickly forgetting about him again.

"I got him back," stated Gisburne. "I was forced to ride an identical horse for awhile, but then I exchanged it for Meg of Wickham. I had captured her hoping that those wolfsheads might agree to my plan. Meg had offered me her services if I promised to spare her life. That would have been fine, but then she talked about how we would jump through fire at midnight with flowers in our hair and how she would make me invisible. Well, I couldn't see much use in any of those things, so I gave her back to those wolfsheads.

"The identical horse disappeared after I got the real one back. I suspect the outlaws took it. I've received reports that Marion has been seen riding it a few times. Stupid woman. You may fool everyone else, but I know the difference. I never forget a horse." Gisburne drank some more ale, then looked around in confusion. "What's that noise?"

Sir Thomas had started banging his head on the table. The innkeeper, thinking that this might be a signal for more ale, approached the table tentatively. He had managed to leave a second and third pitcher with them while Gisburne was telling some story, but it looked like they wanted a fourth.

"Your ale," stated the innkeeper, placing the pitcher gingerly on the table. "Uh…it's here now. It's right here on this table. It's sitting here. I have placed it here…now."

"What a very strange man," said Sir Roger as the innkeeper scurried away. "Well, let's hear the rest of this story before I'm too drunk to remember it."


* * * *


Sherwood, Christmas – Before the Time Changed

Although Gisburne was weary and cold, he tried to maintain a quick pace. He had to reach St. Mary's and warn the Abbot, though he feared it was already too late. Perhaps I should be heading back to Nottingham, thought Gisburne. Then he remembered the Sheriff and his figs and decided against the idea. The Abbot might have an appalling temper, but at least he had the decency to hate figs.


* * * *


Gisburne slowly placed one foot in front of the other. It was so cold. He just wanted to curl up somewhere and go to sleep. If he could just find somewhere to rest for awhile…

The knight squinted in the darkness as he came across a small wooden structure. He moved closer and saw the cross. A pilgrimage marker? In Sherwood? Abbot Hugo had either gotten a bit lost on his way to Walsingham, or the outlaws were turning over a new leaf! Well, it wasn't exactly what he had had in mind, but he could always use it to make a fire if it got too cold.

Wrapping his cloak around himself, Gisburne sat against the marker and closed his eyes. He would only rest briefly and then be on his way again. He had to reach St. Mary's and stop those wolfsheads…

Gisburne woke up when he heard the jangle of a bridle, then blinked as a horse's muzzle nudged his shoulder. He looked up into an astonishingly beautiful face. She was wreathed in moonlight, and Gisburne wondered if he had come face to face with an angel. Her dark eyes were studying him intently.

"Who are you?" asked the woman. Gisburne wished he could answer, but he knew he could not. The woman waited for a reply and didn't seem too surprised when Gisburne didn't supply one.

"Oh, silent knight…" Her eyes drifted to the pilgrimage marker. "Holy knight."

Gisburne leapt to his feet, afraid of giving this woman the wrong impression. He wasn't willing to be mistaken as a Templar under any circumstances.

"Come," she said, offering him her hand. "I can provide you with food and shelter. I live nearby."

Gisburne took her hand willingly and climbed onto the horse.

The woman was as good as her word. They reached her abode quickly and, as Gisburne gawked at the interior in wonder, she pressed a chalice into his hand. Then she lay back on a couch, her dark tresses flowing pleasingly over her breasts.

"Sit down," she purred, patting the couch.

Gisburne, who was overjoyed that the gods had finally chosen to favour him, did what the woman bid.

The woman smiled and traced a long fingernail across Gisburne's cheek. "Are you happy here?" she asked. The knight nodded eagerly. "Good. I'm so glad. You must stay as long as you wish."

Oh, I wish, mused Gisburne in delight.

"I could use a man like you," she continued, running a hand through his hair.

I live to serve.

"And so could Azael."

Azael? The knight looked at the woman in surprise. Then he fell off the couch. Her eyes were glowing red…


* * * *


Nottingham, Christmas – After the Time Changed

"NO! I refuse to listen anymore!" exclaimed Sir Thomas, putting an end to Gisburne's Christmas story. He gazed beseechingly at the other knight, who looked taken aback. "Guy – "

"Yes?" answered both the knight and the squire.

"Sorry. I keep forgetting that you both have the same name. Uh…Gisburne."

"Yes?" answered both the knight and the squire. Sir Thomas glared at the squire.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"I'm answering to my name," said the squire.

"That isn't your name!"

"Yes, it is."

"Since when?" barked Sir Thomas.

"Since I was christened, I suppose."

"It's true," said Sir Roger. "That's his name."

"He's my second cousin," added Gisburne the knight.

"He is? I didn't know that!"

"You mean the name 'Gisburne' never gave you any indication?" Sir Roger shook his head.

"And the Sheriff says that my brains are in my backside," muttered Gisburne.

"I just assumed it was a coincidence," said Sir Roger, who hadn't heard Gisburne's comment. "I mean, he doesn't exactly look like you, does he?"

Gisburne squirmed uncomfortably. "Well…uh…he didn't become my cousin until after the time changed."

"I wasn't even born before the time changed!" commented Guy the squire.

"Yes, you were. You're thirteen, remember?" hissed Gisburne.

"What? Oh! Yes, I'm thirteen."

"And in a few years you'll be old enough to take over my job."

"Ugh! I don't think so, Cousin Guy!"

"I thought we had discussed this already," growled Gisburne.

"But I want to go to the Holy Land and kill infidels when I grow up!" whined the boy.

"But if you become the Sheriff's deputy, you can kill as many wolfsheads as you'd like. Just think. One day, all of this could be yours," said Gisburne spreading his arms wide.

"What? The tavern?" asked the squire.

"No, not the tavern, you stupid boy. Do you think I could possibly afford a tavern on my salary?" The other knights started to laugh and soon Gisburne joined in. The squire rolled his eyes, crossed his arms, and sulked. He could be out somewhere having fun. Instead he was stuck in some run-down tavern with a group of idiot knights.

He wished he had brought his catapult. He had never tried pelting anyone in a tavern before and there were four ideal candidates sitting at his table. No, better make that three, decided the boy as Sir Thomas slowly slid to the floor. Well, as Sir Thomas had consumed most of the six or seven pitchers of ale that had been brought to their table, he was probably entitled to that position. Maybe I should try some, thought the squire. He reached for the pitcher, only to have Sir Roger pull it out of reach.

"None for you, boy. You have to get me home tonight."

The squire scowled, but didn't argue with the man. However, he was no longer very enthusiastic about keeping him company. He rose from the table and shuffled out of the tavern. Perhaps he could find some smaller boys to bully or…

Four men were approaching the tavern, and one of them was wearing a hood. The boy might have dismissed this item of apparel, but then he heard one of the men address the hooded stranger as "Robin".

The squire turned on his heels, rushed back into the tavern, and headed straight for the knights's table.

"Oh, there you are, brat," said Sir Roger. "We were wondering what had become of you. Why, what's the matter? You look as if you've seen a ghost."

"It's Robin Hood!" hissed the boy. The knights stared at him briefly, then burst out laughing. Gisburne laughed the hardest, his breath escaping in long gasping sobs. "Cousin Guy, come on!" urged the squire as Gisburne's head fell on the table. "He's outside! You've got to fight him!" pleaded the squire, tugging at his arm.

"You go," came the muffled response. "I'll…I'll come later."

"Cousin Guy!"

"Here, take my sword," said Sir Roger, wiping tears from his eyes.

"But-but I can't fight him!"

"Why not? You were almost able to lift my sword a few days ago. Robin Hood doesn't stand a chance!"

The boy took the sword reluctantly and managed to keep it from dragging across the floor. He had almost reached the door when the outlaws entered the tavern. Guy the squire stared up at them with wide, frightened eyes.

"I…I challenge you!" he said, attempting to point Sir Roger's sword at the fair-haired man before him.

"Who are you?" asked Robin.

"I am Guy of Gisburne," replied the squire.

"My God," said John. "Ever since the time's changed, Gisburne keeps getting younger and younger!"

"'E's not Gisburne!" protested Will. "'E doesn't look anything like 'im!"

"I am Gisburne!" stated the boy. "Now take out your sword and fight me!"

"Oh, there's Gisburne!" piped up Much, spotting the group of knights at the table. "At least, I think it's Gisburne…"

"He's drunk!" cried John. "Ha! Ha!"

Will turned to Robin, almost jumping up and down in his excitement. "Can I kill 'im?"

"No."

"Oh, can I? Please!"

"No, Will."

"You promised to think about it!"

"I did and the answer is still no."

"Why? Because it's Christmas?"

"No, because he's drunk, Will."

"So? I've killed plenty of men when I was drunk!"

Robin shook his head in disgust, then spotted the innkeeper waving at him frantically. "Stay right here, Will. I had better not catch you so much as looking at Gisburne," warned Robin. Scarlet's eyes narrowed and he might have flown into a rage if a patron hadn't offered to buy him a drink.

"Oh, Robin, I've been so frightened," said the innkeeper as the outlaw approached him. "You've just got to help me!"

"What's happened, Nicholas?" asked Robin in concern. The innkeeper pointed at Gisburne and the other knights. "They keep drinking my ale but they won't pay for it. I'd-I'd go over and demand the money if only…"

"If only what?"

"If only I hadn't grown so attached to the idea of living, Robin!"

The outlaw grinned and thumped the innkeeper on the shoulder. "Don't worry. I'll make them pay."

"You will?" said the innkeeper, a note of optimism entering his voice.

"You can count on it," replied Robin.

"Oh, thank you, Robin! Herne protect you and glad tidings for Christmas, eh?"

"For some, yes," said the Hooded Man. "But for others…" He grinned again and headed towards the knights's table. "Oh, Gisburne…"