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The Inquiry

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          "My business is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
          —'Mother' Mary Jones.

          "One day I saw a beast comin' from across the sea.
          I never knew fear until he came for me.

          I called out for a killer; I looked for a knife.
          I drank from his river. It ruined my life.
          I saw him comin' at me, empty and so cold.
          I never knew emotion 'til he caught me in his fold.

          Can you imagine livin' one more day
          with a beast right up in your face?"
          —Beast, from Mr. Hurricane.

          "Thou shalt touch and make redder his roses
          With juice not of fruit nor of bud;
          When the sense in the spirit reposes,
          Thou shalt quicken the soul through the blood."
          —Algernon Charles Swinburne, from Dolores.

          Though the decidedly unregal "King of Sherwood" had at least vouchsafed Gisburne's safety, it was nearly Nocturns by the time Sir Guy was restored to Nottingham Castle, and the knight was blistered, exhausted, and miserable. Robert, still awake, ordered hot water and cloths brought for him, and requested that Gisburne come to the great hall after the needful had been assuaged. Then the Sheriff returned to his work. He was greeted only a short time later by Guy's somber face, which looked fresher, if not appreciably brighter.

          "Sit." Robert gestured to the bench opposite his seat. The central fire burned warmly, and candles flickered merrily in the drafty room. Guy sank onto the seat gratefully, and another gesture from the Sheriff summoned a servant, who bore a large cup of wine to the knight's listless grasp. Gisburne drank deeply and nearly choked as the taste flooded his senses.

          Robert looked up from his parchments. "Something wrong?"

          "No, my lord Sheriff," Guy exclaimed, looking into his goblet with undisguised surprise. "On the contrary."

          "Ah, yes," Robert said, pleased. "I prefer wine that's actually palatable, in opposition to my brother's unapologetic preference for vinegar. I almost pity the monks who take communion in his chapel."

          Gisburne tried to hide a smile, and mostly succeeded. Robert puzzled at the youth. It wasn't just that he was a humourless Norman, but that he seemed afraid of pleasure somehow — or at least of displaying it.

          That, perhaps, would change, in a very short time.

          "Sir Guy, I invited you here because I need to ask a few more questions — about the woman," de Rainault said brusquely, setting down his quill and folding his hands. The knight looked distinctly uncomfortable, as expected. The Sheriff smiled encouragingly. "I know, Gisburne; it's not a pleasant subject. And I'll try to be brief." He motioned a servant over and gestured to the wine ewer and the table. The wine was dutifully left. The two servers then bowed in unison and left the hall, doubtless pleased to finally find their beds at this ghastly hour; the door closed quickly enough behind them.

          Robert held out an open hand towards Guy. "Please. Drink. This entire ordeal must have been harrowing for you. I only wish we could have ended it sooner, and without you being taken by those Saxon savages in Sherwood."

          Gisburne looked less discomfited as he lifted the vessel and poured for himself. Unruly strands of hair fell over his brow; he pushed them away impatiently. "'s nothing, my lord. It's ended now, and—"

          "I understand, Gisburne, and it's best forgotten as quickly as possible. But there is one small problem." The firelight glowed over his dark hair, as he bent his head and fanned through his papers with a thumb. "Your statement is missing from the scribes' transcripts."

          "Is it?" Guy asked quickly.

          "It is. A grievous oversight," de Rainault said, steepling his fingertips and shaking his head as if to scold the absent priests. "So, I must request you to tell me what transpired. I need to complete my own report to the King."

          Gisburne's dull eyes now opened fully to show a very clear, pale blue. "To the King? Surely King Richard has no need...That is to say, with the war in Normandy, and all of his duties, must he be...well, bothered, my lord? With news of a single witch?"

          De Rainault stared. "But of course, man! The King can't fight a war without soldiers, and those men can't march with empty bellies. If this woman again dares to blight the King's fields and replace his able-bodied youths with faerie-changelings — well, surely you can see how this affair is very much the King's concern?"

          "Of course, my lord, of course," Gisburne answered slowly. De Rainault nodded with satisfaction and sat back, waiting. "Well, you see...that is...I had entered Elsdon village that morning. I was out riding, and caught my hand on a branch." He held out his right arm to show a long, unhealed gash.

          The Sheriff put out his hands and reached beneath Guy's sleeve, taking his wrist between gentle fingers and examining the cut. The bare touch raised gooseflesh on the knight's arm; he hastily pulled his hands back and nearly spilled the wine as he snatched up his cup.

          The Sheriff's huge, intense eyes rose to meet Gisburne's. "Yes, I see. Go on."

          "I—" Guy almost stammered. He took a drink to steady himself and wiped his lips with a clumsy hand, then continued. "I knew I could find aid in a village, so...there I was. They told me that Jen—that the woman was their healer, so I went—my lord?"

          "Hm?" de Rainault asked absently. His hands resumed their subtle activity, sharpening the quill's point with a fine blade. "I'm listening, Sir Guy. I simply prefer to remain occupied.” He eyed the honed edges intently. “And it's important to keep writing tools maintained."

          "Of course, my lord Sheriff," Guy agreed quickly, though he'd never done enough writing to keep his own tools within reach, and certainly not enough to bother with their routine upkeep.

          Robert continued to examine his work as he spoke. "You seem distracted, Gisburne. Is there anything else you require? Food, perhaps? Some other comfort I've failed to provide?"

          Guy jumped at the offer. "Only rest, my lord, I'm very weary."

          "This won't take very much longer," the Sheriff promised. "And I wish to hear your report while the memory is still fresh; you understand."

          Gisburne sank his weight onto his forearms, looking at his hands. "I knocked at the door and heard nothing, so I peered in through the window. She was there—" He coughed. "Disrobing, my lord."

          The Sheriff's smile was indulgent. "Then she didn't hear you, perhaps, with her shift over her head?"

          "Presumably, my lord," Gisburne said dourly. "I knocked, again, more loudly. This time she came to the door — clad, that is — bade me enter and treated me. She sang as she worked, my lord — some pagan song!"

          De Rainault waited. When no more words were forthcoming, his forehead furrowed into a single line of confusion between the brows. "That's all?" Guy stared back quietly. "Most of their facile songs have pagan roots, Gisburne. I doubt that any of them have enough Latin to sing hymns through the daylong. She said nothing else to you?" But the knight was still silent. "Did nothing else?"

          "She...she touched me, my lord."

          "Did she?" De Rainault looked at Gisburne with a sly grin. "To mend a wound — you don't say? Or did you mean a touch of a more intimate sort?"

          "Not exactly, my's that...well..." Guy reddened and looked away. "She touched my wrist, and it...afflicted me!"

          "Afflicted?" The Sheriff paused to allow Gisburne further speech, but the prudish knight's blush proved ample explanation. "Ah. And how did she react to your sudden distress?"

          "She spoke to me most offensively, my lord!" Guy exploded. "She said there was no shame in it, that some men...were so afflicted...when she stopped their pain." He shook his head angrily. "Don't you see, my lord? She behaved immodestly — not at all as a woman ought. No man's wife should unclothe herself before another man's eyes. Or speak of the...intimate parts of men so easily. But she did, because she sought to tempt me! As she had tempted and despoiled — by her own confession — other men who came to her for help!"

          Robert set down his quill and leaned closer, pouring out another cup of wine for the knight, whose very hair shook with righteous indignation by then. "Let me verify that I understand you, Sir Guy." He rose, and paced slowly as his eloquent fingers enumerated the points one by one. "You saw her undressing. Then she touched you, and hummed some rustic tune, and put you in a...delicate position." Gisburne did not contradict him. "I can see why you feared her powers."

          Gisburne finished another drink and set down the wine goblet emphatically. "Not feared, my lord! I did not fear that...that sorceress! But it was obvious to me that her heathen...harlotry needed to be stopped."

          "So it was then that you summoned Hugo."

          "Yes, my lord."

          "I see," the Sheriff answered. He thought for a moment, then poured Guy the final cup of wine from the ewer. The knight's ruffled countenance calmed a bit as he drank from it. "You acted rightly, Gisburne, to turn in this Devil's servant before she could cause any more harm. Perhaps I was mistaken when I argued against it."

          Gisburne looked surprised, but brightened with satisfaction, as well.

          "Does the wine agree with you?"

          Gisburne's fair face pinched with confusion at the sudden change of subject. But the question was valid; a delicious warmth seeped into him as he sipped. The vintage almost smoothed away the numerous indignities he'd suffered. "It does, my lord."


          "Yes, my lord."

          De Rainault nodded. "Good.” He circled round the table. As he moved, the fire-flickers shone subtly from the ruched velvet of his sleeves and the swirls of embroidery at his neck; his hair reflected a patina like a fine wood grain. His eyes were pools of firelight as he returned to the seat, the place right next to Gisburne. Slowly, he took the half-filled goblet from the knight's hands and set it down between them. "Sir Guy—"

          Gisburne's look became perplexed and wary. He wore that strange expression again, the one that spoke of quashing a reaction before it dared manifest. "My lord?"

          "Did you wonder at all why I dismissed you, after you brought the woman to me?" de Rainault asked.

          "N-no," Gisburne answered, because he truly hadn't thought anything of it except for some mild annoyance. "I assumed that you planned to ensure her cooperation."

          "Yes," de Rainault agreed. "For my plan to capture the outlaws, and for another matter besides."

          Guy looked confused but, to his credit, he remained silent and waited for his lord's clarification.

          Robert lifted a graceful arm and took Guy's wrist again, turning it over to see the wound. Then he brought the wrist to his lips, keeping his eyes locked with Guy's.

          "My lord!" Guy reacted with a start like a spooked horse, jumping up indelicately from the bench and turning his back to the Sheriff. Then he hesitated, realising the impolitic action he'd just taken; a servant could hardly leap away from his lord as if the man were a leper. "That is, I—"

          The Sheriff stood and leaned against the table. "You were strong, to resist her enchantments, Gisburne. But the spell she crafted for me was far more potent. More purposeful."

          The knight stiffened; outlined in firelight and shadow, he resembled a posed statue. "What do you mean, my lord?" he demanded suspiciously, still facing away.

          Robert de Rainault could move more quietly than one of his hunting hawks, when he so chose. Soundlessly, he approached his vassal. Guy suddenly heard Robert's voice at his back, very close to him. "Just how drunk are you, Gisburne?"

          The strong soporific brew, which had anesthetized the knight so pleasantly, seemed suddenly to raise a fire in his blood. "Surely you don't—that lord, you couldn't—"

          Warm breath again brushed his ear. "You've quaffed your own seduction, Sir Guy. Her herbs, in my wine."

          Guy couldn't hide a shudder as he tried to grasp Robert's words. "That's impossible!”

          “Impossible?” Robert chuckled. “You allowed a witch contact with your blood, Gisburne. I assure you — it's quite possible. Certain, even.”

          “My lord...dear God...why?"

          Robert fingered the knight's fine hair. Then he trailed a gentle hand down Guy's bare neck, rested the palm lightly on his shoulder. Guy's eyes flicked up to the hanging banners of the great hall, and he gulped a deep, tremulous breath.

          "Surely by now you've heard rumour of me, Gisburne. That I am not fond of the fairer sex."

          Gisburne looked down at the floor, still steadfastly avoiding his lord's gaze, as the cursed woman's concoction began to take cruel effect. "I had...overheard...but, why, why did...that is...with me—"

          "I want proof, Sir Guy — certain proof, before putting myself in the King's view. You see, he's rather particular regarding accuracy. And if you've made any error in your accusation, or Hugo in his sentence, I will be the one reprimanded, most severely."

          "Now you, Gisburne," Robert continued, "of such great virtue, you would never entertain any wicked lust for a man. Certainly not a man nearly as much your elder as that witch, and your vowed liege besides.”

          Guy flushed, remembering his oath of fealty, as he stood so near to the man who had accepted it — the man who had granted his knighthood, looking exactly the same this night as he had two years before.

          “So I determined to put Jennet's chicanery to the trial. If you obey me now, Sir Guy, then I shall bear witness to the dangerous threat of her craft.”

          And then, Guy did turn, slowly. His face was guarded and careful. "Obey you, my lord?"

          Robert tilted his head slightly and wet his lips. His right hand cupped the knight's jaw; a pale blond lock of hair fell over his fingertips and glinted there. Then the Sheriff slipped his other arm slowly around the knight's back. He lifted his austere face to Guy's, and regarded the heavy-lidded eyes, the lush mouth. "My Gisburne."

          The knight shivered involuntarily at the bold claim.

          "You want me," the Sheriff said, his voice languid and hypnotic.

          Gisburne struggled against the glamoury that compelled him, as fear and fascination tugged at his exhausted mind; caught between extremes of unfamiliar feeling, Guy remained absolutely still. He willed himself not to move, refused to even acknowledge such an outlandish statement, even squeezed his eyes shut so he could see nothing. But he couldn't stop the quick, almost imperceptible nod of his own head. And then—

          “Kiss me," came Robert's soft command.

          The desperate Gisburne moaned in reply, and could do nothing except follow where those words led him: into a rough embrace that crushed Robert's body against his own, the knight's arms holding his lord fast. Guy thrilled to the man's supple warmth, and seized the Sheriff's lips with his own — God, a sin, but so sweet —

          Then the tip of a seeking tongue touched the kiss, and Gisburne whimpered softly as he drove his tongue's length fiercely into de Rainault's hot, wet mouth. He took his time, exploring, caressing, until patience gave way to passion; they devoured each other then, the kiss wrapping pleasure around every nerve in Guy's body.

          Only when the weary knight could hardly breathe did he reluctantly disentangle himself from his lord. De Rainault's gaze was dark and knowing, his finely-shaped mouth ruddied and softened by the knight's more-than-obedient ministrations. Then Robert's lips parted again in a positively wicked smile, that Guy felt like a fist to his core.

          "You will...forgive the...guile, sir knight," Robert rasped. "I had to be sure."

          Guy panted, as he spoke. "Of...of course, my lord..."

          Robert backed up, slowly, and took a moment to regain his composure. Then he glided back towards the great hall's table, returning to the firelight and leaving the knight's side. Guy stood uncertainly as Robert turned his attention inward and contemplated for a moment.

          The Sheriff had crafted quite a decent subterfuge, all the more impressive for having been entirely formulated only a few minutes before Gisburne's entrance — when Robert had called for more wine, and then realised that the heavy ewer might serve him far better after Guy arrived. He'd questioned the knight patiently, and when even a facetious reference to the King had failed to evoke the full truth, Robert had sprung his trap.

          He'd anticipated it would be quite simple, to entangle the knight in his own falsehoods. If Guy protested against his orders, then it would signify a second failure of Jennet's “craft,” discrediting her power and forcing the knight to justify his accusations. On the other hand, if Guy escalated his absurd charade and actually attempted the embrace, he would never be able to perform it without obvious disgust, and his resulting mortification would loosen his tongue more effectively than even a rack.

          In either case, Guy would be dealt a stern warning against such deception in the future, and some extreme discomfort as well — a fitting payback, given the embarrassment he'd caused the Sheriff in Elsdon village. And supposing the knight did follow his shocking instruction, well — Robert stroked his lips for a moment. His profession gave little enough enjoyment; he felt no shame in fully relishing any small pleasures that came his way.

          But the scenario that Robert hadn't predicted — and the one that had actually occurred — was that the perverse, hard-nosed knight would kiss him with skillful enthusiasm, and the greedy relief of a man “enchanted” and “forced” into some sin he'd never dare commit otherwise.

          Robert sighed in irritation; though wielding authority suited him fine, maintaining that authority was too often a bothersome chore. But he hadn't earned his position — and kept both his shire and his head still intact — by doing whatever he pleased. He gazed into the hearth fire as it crackled and hissed, and shifted his plan, preparing to take a swift advantage.

          "Could you ever believe that she wielded such magic, Sir Guy? Truly."

          "I s-suspected, when she wouldn't satisfy me—" he stammered, his words running far ahead of his befuddled mind.

          “Oh, Guy,” Robert said softly, feigning sympathy with unctuous artifice. “Did she dare such a deed? To refuse the very lust she'd summoned? To resist you?” He almost dreaded the inevitable reply — even as he resisted his own acute urge to pull the knight back into his arms and forget the disaster altogether.

          “Yes!” Guy gasped, arousal moving him to stupidly blurt out exactly what de Rainault had suspected from the beginning. “She wanted to torment me!”

          Robert turned on his heel and faced Guy furiously. "Torment,” he mocked. “You certainly redefine the word, Gisburne. You drank nothing tonight. Nothing except wine. And the fruits of your own ignorance and foolishness."

          Guy froze. His eyes grew so wide that Robert feared they would fall into the floor rushes.

          "I can see that you don't believe me," de Rainault said. He closed the distance between himself and Gisburne, and his adept hand again sought an occupation.

          Gisburne gasped; embarrassment and excitement battled within him as de Rainault fondled his faltering erection. In seconds his organ strained against the touch, again becoming firm and insistent.

          "You naïve fool. Do you still believe this comes from witchcraft?" Robert asked, his sultry, low voice tinged with scorn. "I gave you only my wine.” He smiled fiendishly. “And my lips.” But the smile didn't last. “You saw this woman's nakedness, and thought her an enchantress — because she attracted you? Because she refused your pretty face to stay with her husband? And then you called in half of my shire to hang her for it — at my expense and trouble!"

          "Yes!" Guy shouted, dismay and rage poisoning his intense pleasure. “That she dared—”

          Robert cut him off before he could continue blustering. "Your third lesson, Gisburne, after patience, and tact, is reason!" he snapped, at last taking his hand away, ignoring Guy's bereft moan. "Start thinking with your mind, instead of your 'affliction'! Because if you make it known that you believe in ridiculous superstitions, then you can be tricked into anything." His eyes pointedly moved down to his own tunic, similarly disarrayed, then back to Guy. Robert brought his face near enough to the knight's to kiss him again, and Guy winced as he asked, "How far would you have gone, under this 'spell'?"

          Guy flushed. His face was transparent and flickered between emotions, as if he had no idea how to react — loathing, longing, bitter lust? It was all happening too fast for him to respond coherently.

          Robert could see the man's mind was overwhelmed; for now, at least, it was enough. "It's late, Gisburne, and you've much to consider,” he said. “I shall retire to my chambers.” Watching Gisburne hungrily, he touched a sensuous kiss to the soft pad of his own thumb, then pressed that finger against Guy's lips as if hushing him. Then he smiled, all too enticingly, at the knight. "You are welcome to accompany me there, of course. Even without the incentive of 'sorcery'." But Guy's face shadowed itself again in its habitual mask of sullenness and indifference.

          Robert chuckled at that, but his light laughter died away, and he again grew stern. "I will tell no-one of this. But know that I know, Gisburne, and I do not forget. You weren't that stupid. You lied — badly — to yourself, to everyone. To me. And you cost me a hostage, along with a precious opportunity.” His eyes slid down the knight's body in flagrant appraisal. “I could take my restitution from you—"

          A tremor moved through Guy at the ravishing gaze.

          "—but I don't force the unwilling into my bed, Gisburne. It's a good way to wake up with a knife in your back. Something you should remember, perhaps, the next time you're looking for a 'healer'." Robert gathered up his papers and bundled them together with a swift slap of their edges against the weathered wood. He moved from the table with more reluctance than he allowed to show, walking heavily to the door. Then he stopped. "There's one more thing you should know."

          Gisburne's gaze was all hangdog misery, as if he waited for a blow.

          "The Abbot Hugo has transferred your service to me."

          Gisburne could hardly believe the words, especially at the conclusion of such a bewildering night. He had wanted to leave St. Mary's since the moment he'd arrived there, and at last that freedom had come, against all expectation...

          Then he looked at Robert de Rainault, and wondered warily — had it?

          De Rainault picked up Gisburne's wine goblet and held it up towards the knight, raising his chin regally. "Sir Guy of Gisburne," he toasted. In one strong draught, he drained the "potion" to its dregs, then set the cup back on the table with a resounding click. "Welcome to Nottingham Castle. And do let me know if there's anything I can do to make your term of service more...enjoyable." The deep brown eyes, shining golden, again raked Gisburne with a look of beckoning seduction. But de Rainault neither pressed nor enforced his invitation upon the knight. He turned with controlled grace, like a hunter or a dancer, and his velvet over-robe swished softly behind him as he vanished from view. When the door had shut, and the footsteps began to fade, Gisburne slammed his open palms onto the table.

          He wanted to collapse onto the bench and sob. He wanted to shake his liege's shoulders until the knowledge of this evening fell away from his thoughts. He wanted—

          —he wanted to follow the retreating sounds to his lord's rooms, to tear open the clasps of de Rainault's clothing and push him onto the bed—

          Gisburne groaned, clutching the worn table for support. His head floated with wine, and his body tilted off-balance, his cock tenting like a signpost in the direction of de Rainault's departure.

          The great hall stood empty, all of its entrances sealed. He was safe, for now. But the knowledge needled him, that he could open those doors, that he could actually venture forth—

          That if he tried to seek his chambers now, he would never reach his destination.

          Need twisted his gut and wracked his mind. Was it a worse sin to follow that sorcerer to his lair, or to stay riveted where he stood, and...attend to the situation that had arisen?

          Resolutely, making the decision for him, Guy's sword-hand slipped beneath the long, pale robe that he wore. In his confused and exhausted thoughts, his own hand became Robert's fingers, pushing under his hose and unlacing the braies, clasping his manhood in a daring confrontation.

          Guy recalled the feel of the soft tongue that lapped up his kiss greedily, and his clothes began to shift in a slow rhythm, away from his skin and then back again; he could almost see de Rainault's gleaming eyes on him, could almost hear his master again demanding, just how drunk are you, Gisburne?

          Oh, not enough, my lord, not nearly enough—

          More, his body seemed to beg, and his shaft throbbed in agonising pleasure as he worked it obediently. Guy never did this, never permitted himself such corrupting indulgence. A soldier needed purity, needed self-control, needed—

          My wine. And my lips.

          A deep heat shot through his belly. His breath came in shocked gasps; his hand moved more relentlessly. My Gisburne.

          I could take my restitution from you

          His mouth opened in a silent oh, as the lewd suggestion sharpened his longing.

          If there's anything I can do—

          Touch me, he wanted to plead. Touch me! Want me!

          His pace grew heated with humiliated anger. His thoughts, his very flesh were proving the Sheriff's insinuations, were they not? Oh, God, how Gisburne wanted to stop, truly! He wanted to turn away from this feeble-minded desire, from that man's inexplicable allure—

          Except that his body was besotted now, demanding relief, and he couldn't fight it; he could only hunch over and stroke his manhood harder, in service to that power.

          —if you obey me now, Sir Guy—

          He couldn't quiet that voice, couldn't force it from his mind, his traitorous mind that not only relished the raw memories but responded to them—obey you, my lord?—and his frantic mind caressed the words, my lord, my lord—

          My Gisburne. In his mind's eye, it was de Rainault's eyes that held him captive, de Rainault's elegant hand that grew hot and slippery in a quickening grip. Guy was panting now, sucking in air desperately, and he didn't care, he didn't care who saw or who knew, cared about nothing except quelling the bestial lust that wouldn't stop, couldn't stop—

          You want me. You want me—

          Yes. Yesthe hoarse confession tore through sobbing breaths—

          How far would you have gone?

          Guy looked down and gasped at the sight of his straining, shaking flesh. At the very last, he raised his shield-hand from the table and forced it to his open mouth, holding back a cry of Robert's name, as his sword-hand cupped the hot fluid that gushed into his fist. His head snapped back; his body jerked with the climax, and he pumped his pulsing organ with languorous strokes. And Guy trembled, entranced, swaying with his release; for a moment, he envisioned his lord, lying spent in his arms...

          But when Gisburne could start to think again, he remembered to be restrained and secretive, to be thoroughly and virtuously shamed by his mad weakness. Guy swiped his soiled hand against his dishevelled hose, grateful for the cloth, and whipped his head around, ensuring that no doors had been opened, that no observers stood agape with shock, or smug with ridicule.

          No, he was alone, alone and safe. His numb hands put his clothing to rights, then clasped his arms; the knight shook, though the night was not particularly cold. His desire had stabbed and mocked him, had been both sated and stoked. He sagged gracelessly onto the bench, tried to think of — anything at all, anything except what he had just done.

          It was de Rainault's parting words that came to him then — the knowledge that the drudgery of his existence, his useless deference to a decaying clergyman, had ended. At last, Guy had returned to the castle and the lord (my lord) he'd wanted to serve from the first. The lord who had found him out, who had somehow unravelled his thoughts, even the ones he hadn't known, and who had invited him to share his bed—

          But it was sin, sin! Guy forced his shaky breaths to calm, reminding himself that he'd done nothing wrong, not truly.

          Not yet, came a mocking thought.

          Not at all! His mouth had only obeyed the order of his liege. And his lesser sin had dissipated a wild, stupid impulse of lust, sparing them both a far greater transgression.

          It seemed an eternity later that the knight finally stumbled, in a paroxysm of consternation and solitude, from the great hall and climbed slowly to the vacant room that had not been claimed since his last sojourn in Nottingham Castle. As he fell onto the mattress — which, curiously, had been made up with fresh linens — he reflected, for he could again think clearly, the lustful poison having drained from his body. He ignored the stirring provoked by that memory, and instead concentrated on his future.

          He would work hard here, and rise through the ranks — perhaps even to a position at Court, where he could take his choice of beautiful noblewomen eager to become his wife. Then he would never have to face that miserable scab again, nor concern himself with any of the man's debauched schemes. For Gisburne should never have conceived of such a thing as this night's work, had the doddering old sodomite not tricked him into it! Perhaps, he considered, it was that warlock, and not the witch at all, who should have been put to the trial. As Guy angered, and ached, he drowsed and then began to drift, yearning for a peaceful rest...

          But his final thought — before sleep at last took him — suffused him with a strange mixture of concern and anticipation, which followed him even into his dreams.

          Sir Guy of Gisburne. Welcome to Nottingham Castle.