Allan shivered and gave a longing look at the door of the tavern.
It was a long time since he entered one, the last time was at the Trip Inn, and it had been when Robin found out his betrayal and kicked him out of the gang.
Since then, he went to work for Guy of Gisborne and spent most of his time at the castle or at Locksley: where Guy went, Allan followed as well.
Since he began working for Gisborne, his life became both easier and complicated at the same time: he always had a full belly, plenty of wine and a warm bed, but he also had to forget he had a conscience.
He had often ignored his conscience when he was younger: it was easier to survive if he wasn’t burdened by remorse. When he used to poach deers in the king’s forest, it was easy to think that hunting them was not a terrible crime because he did it to avoid starving, and cheating people at the tavern wasn’t too wrong because, if they were so gullible to fall for his tricks, then they deserved to be fooled.
But the things he and Gisborne had to do for the sheriff… Some of them just weren’t right.
Once they had to kick a whole family out of their house in the middle of a freezing winter night, and those people would have died of cold if Robin didn’t help them.
But it was too late to turn his back to Gisborne and the sheriff, and, on the other hand, Allan had nowhere to go. If he went away from the castle, he’d starve, and his former friends would never help him.
“Hey, Giz, why don’t we stop for a drink? It’s a cold night, I think it could snow, later.”
“We have to search for Hood,” Guy said, and Allan noticed a hint of weariness in his voice.
“Haven’t you heard the sheriff?”
“I think they heard him in York as well.”
Gisborne grinned at his words. Vaisey yelled at them after the taxes’ money was stolen by Robin Hood again. The sheriff didn’t take it well, and, of course, he vented his frustration on Guy and Allan.
It had been late in the afternoon, but Vaisey ordered them to go and find the outlaws, and forbid them to go back unless they had Robin in chains or the money, possibly both.
“Come on, Giz, we’re far from the castle, the sheriff will never know that we stopped for a drink. I’m freezing and I know you’re cold too.”
Guy sighed, but he pulled the reins of his horse.
“All right, but we’ll just stay for a short time.”
“Of course, Giz. Just the time to get a little warmer.”
When Allan woke up, it was morning, and he was in the middle of the forest, alone.
He was curled on the ground, under a bush, and he had a splitting headache.
He stood up with a groan, and he looked around: he had no idea how he arrived there.
The last thing he remembered was sitting at a table in the tavern and drinking wine with Gisborne.
Allan frowned, worried. What happened to Guy? Where was he?
From the few memories he had, Allan could remember they were both pretty drunk, earlier. Guy, the same Gisborne who said they would stay for just a drink, was the first to get drunk, and went on ranting about all the wrongs he had to suffer while working for Vaisey.
“Why don’t you just quit, Giz?” Allan had asked and Guy gave a bitter laugh.
“You don’t quit from the sheriff, Allan.” Guy said, slurring a little. “You quit when you are in a coffin. Sometimes I wish I were…”
Allan thought that Gisborne was in a worse situation than himself. At least Allan was unimportant and Vaisey often ignored him, but Guy was always under the strain of every whim of the sheriff.
The former outlaw found out that his mouth hurt and he gingerly touched is lip, finding out that it was split. He had vague memories of a brawl in the tavern and he remembered that he and Guy had to run away in a hurry, after being beaten by some angry peasants.
He looked around, even more worried: if something bad happened to Gisborne, he’d lose everything too.
“Giz?” He called, too loud for his own headache. “Where are you? Answer me!”
It wasn’t Gisborne who answered, but the whinny of a horse, and Allan hurried in that direction.
Both Allan and Gisborne’s horses were there, huddled together for warmth, but there was no sign of Guy.
“Giz?” He called again, then he spotted him, slumped against the trunk of a tree, and fast asleep.
Allan hurried to reach him, and he shook him awake.
Guy opened his eyes with a pitiful moan, and he looked at Allan.
“Remember me why I do ever listen to you,” he said, with a sigh.
“Come on, Giz, you needed to relax a little.”
“No, Allan, I needed to find Hood and retrieve the taxes’ money. Getting shamefully drunk, starting a fight in a tavern, and waking up in the middle of the forest wasn’t in the plan.”
Guy managed to get to his feet, and Allan glanced at him.
“So, are we going back to the castle?”
Gisborne began to shook his head, but he winced in pain and sighed again, instead.
“We can’t. The sheriff was mad at us as it was, yesterday. If he comes to know that we went at the tavern instead of searching for Hood, we’re done for. We have to catch the outlaws or bring the money back or we’ll spend Christmas in the dungeons.”
“Oh, that’s true, it’s Christmas Eve today.”
That thought made him feel sad. Before meeting Robin and the other outlaws, he always spent Christmas day alone, but last year they were all together in the camp, and they celebrated it. They spent the day bringing money and food to the villagers, then they came back to the camp, Much cooked, and they ate till they were about to burst, then they traded little gifts and told funny stories, sitting around the fire.
It had been a nice day and he felt as he almost had a family again.
At the castle, it was completely different: the sheriff didn’t care for Christmas at all, and he despised people who did. Allan wondered what Gisborne thought about celebrating Christmas, but he knew that the knight would never openly disagree with Vaisey, so probably it was going to be a day like the others.
I wish I could spend the day with my friends again, I miss them.
He pushed that thought away: it was too late. They wouldn’t forgive him, and he was stuck with Gisborne, so he’d better stop thinking about impossible things.
He noticed that Gisborne had disappeared behind some bushes, probably to relieve himself, and Allan decided to check the horses while he waited for him.
He was worried: he didn’t want to arrest his friends, even if they considered him a traitor and hated him, but he knew that they couldn’t go back to the castle empty handed or there would be hell to pay.
Allan patted the nose of his horse, and Guy’s one nuzzled at his hands, hoping to get a treat.
“Sorry, mate. I have nothing to give you, we don’t have food for us, either. Not that I could eat anything right now, anyways.”
He was wondering if he had the time to take a nap and sleep his headache away, when he heard Gisborne’s voice calling for him.
Guy closed his eyes to fight another wave of nausea, but he soon gave up and he steadied himself against a tree while he threw up.
After that, he felt a little better, but he just wished he could go back to Locksley, curl in his bed in his warm room, and spend the rest of the day sleeping.
Of course, he couldn’t.
With a sigh, he moved away from the tree to go back to Allan and the horses, when he heard the murmuring of water in the distance.
He was thirsty and he wanted to at least wash himself a little. A hot bath would have been much better, of course, but he had dried blood and traces of dirt on his face after the brawl at the tavern and sleeping on the ground, and even cold water would be better than nothing.
Guy followed the sound of water, and, after a while, he arrived at the river. The water was too turbid and muddy to be drinkable, but clear enough to wash his face, and Guy knelt on the riverside to do it.
It was very cold and Guy shivered, wishing he was free to go back home, and sit in front of the chimney for the rest of the day.
For a moment he thought he could tell the sheriff he had been attacked and defeated by the outlaws, but he dismissed the idea: he was a terrible liar, and then there was the chance that somebody recognized him and Allan at the tavern the night before, and told the sheriff.
Gisborne sighed, their only chance was to bring back something that could satisfy the sheriff.
He didn’t think he could succeed in finding and capturing Robin Hood or the other outlaws, not when he was feeling so sick and tired, at least, but he could gather some money from the villagers to make up for the stolen taxes.
He decided that it was better to hurry, and was about to go back and inform Allan of his plan, when he noticed a wolf on the other side of the river.
Guy stared at him: it wasn’t one of the mangy, ravenous beasts that lived in the forest, but a majestic wolf, with a thick, soft fur, completely white.
His eyes were fixed on Guy, but Gisborne knew he wasn’t in danger of an attack. The wolf was just looking at him, quietly, and Guy stared back at him, fascinated.
It was like the wolf was calling him and Guy felt the urge to follow him.
He couldn’t help making a step forward. He stopped feeling the ground getting wet under his boot and he stared at the river: he had been about to walk straight into the water, just to reach the wolf.
I must still be drunk.
Suddenly, he was afraid. What if that animal wasn’t a real wolf, but a ghost? An unworldly creature who came to punish him for all his sins?
He wanted to run, but he couldn’t move, transfixed by the stare of the wolf.
Instead, he called Allan, his voice trembling with fear.
Allan hurried to reach Gisborne, worried. He found him near the river, and he was staring at something between the bushes on the other side.
“Hey, Giz, what’s up?”
Allan saw the white wolf, and looked at him, impressed.
“I’ve never seen one like that. Its fur would sell for a good price, I think. If I had a bow…”
Gisborne glared at him.
“We are not going to kill that wolf. I think it’s a sign.”
“It might be. If you catch it, I’m sure that the sheriff would appreciate the money that you could earn selling its fur. Maybe it has been sent to us so we could spend Christmas at Locksley instead of freezing ourselves in the forest.”
“Are you insane, Allan? Are you really thinking to kill that creature?!”
“And do you actually believe that that wolf was a sign sent from God?”
Guy’s pale cheeks blushed, and he looked down.
“No, He wouldn’t send a sign to me.” Guy said, dejectedly.
“So, what do you want to do, then?”
“Let’s go back to Locksley to gather more taxes from the villagers, then we’ll go back to the castle and hope that the sheriff will be content to have the money back.”
“People will be starved. It’s going to snow soon and many of them won’t pass the winter if we take all their supplies.”
Guy gave him a stern look.
“You are talking like one of Hood men, now! We collected the taxes they owed to the king, then Hood stole that money to give it back to those peasants. It’s only fair that we take it back again. If it wasn’t for Hood, we’d all be staying at the castle or at Locksley, enjoying the warmth of the fire.”
“I doubt that, Giz. Even if Robin didn’t steal the money, the sheriff would find some other unpleasant duty for us, just for the sake of it. Don’t deny that, Giz, you know it’s true.”
“It’s not like we have any other choice. So let’s hurry and do it, so maybe we can go home before it’s dark. Now shut up, my head hurts too much to listen to your blather.”
Allan obeyed, his head was hurting too and he knew that Gisborne was right when he said that they had no choice.
He wished he never got himself involved with the sheriff, but it was too late to have regrets.
The white wolf was still standing on the riverside, and Guy and Allan gave him another uneasy glance before going back to the horses.
They mounted, then Guy looked around, uncertain.
“What’s up, Giz? Don’t you remember the way back?”
For a moment Gisborne looked like he was about to yell at him, but he ended up nodding.
“I have no idea where we are.” He admitted, embarrassed. “I remember drinking at the tavern last night, and this morning I just woke up here, feeling like hell. I can’t recall riding in the forest at all.”
Allan sighed: he didn’t either, and that was a part of the forest he didn’t know well.
“Let’s follow the river,” Allan suggested. “It will take us out of the forest, sooner or later.”
Guy agreed and they lead their horses through the trees, until they reached the river again.
The wolf was still there, and he looked at them.
They both shivered.
“Maybe you’re right, Giz. Maybe it’s really a sign.”
“Look over there: the water is shallow, we can easily wade the river.”
“Why should we? This side is easier for the horses.”
“Because we are going to follow that wolf.”
As soon as Guy finished speaking, the wolf seemed to understand, because he turned and he disappeared in the bushes, after giving them a last look, as if he was inviting them to follow him.
Allan glanced at Gisborne, wondering what happened to him. Usually Guy was very down-to-earth, and he’d just order Allan to stop losing time and hurry to find a way out of the forest, but now he had decided to go in pursuit of a mysterious white wolf.
I have to remember that drinking affects him so much.
Last night he was surprised to notice how lost, sad, and disillusioned Guy was. He was desperately in love with a woman who didn’t even like him and he was forced to do horrible things for a cruel man.
That’s what I do too. Except for the woman. And the fact that Giz isn’t as bad as the sheriff.
Allan looked at the white wolf: the animal was still in sight. He kept the distance, but didn’t run away, even if it would have been easy for him to do so.
It was scary and unsettling, as if the wolf knew that they were following him.
Allan regretted saying that he wanted to hunt him for the fur.
I didn’t really mean that. He thought, hoping that the wolf, or whoever sent him, would understand even if he didn’t voice his apology.
They rode for a while without speaking, then Allan sniffed the air and looked at Guy.
“I can smell smoke. There must be a fire somewhere.”
It was strange to find fire so deep in the forest, but it could have been some poacher who was cooking a prey.
They kept riding, and the trees opened in a glade.
Allan and Guy looked at it in disbelief: there was a little house made of stone in the middle of the glade, with smoke coming out of the chimney. The wolf wasn’t in view anymore, apparently vanished into thin air.
“Who could live here?” Guy asked, appalled.
“I have no idea, a hermit, maybe?”
“Well, I’m going to find out.”
“Are you serious, Giz?! It could be the house of a murderer or of a witch!”
“If it is, it’s our duty to arrest them. If not, they’ll have food and water. For sure, they have a fire.”
Guy walked to the door. He hesitated a little, but he knew that Allan was looking at him, so he
and lifted a hand and knocked.
Nobody answered, and Gisborne pushed at the door. It opened and he and Allan entered the house.
The hall wasn’t big, but it was warm and cozy.
Guy went near the fire, and sat in front of it with a sigh. He knew that it wasn’t wise, and that he should be prepared to defend himself in case the inhabitants of the house were outlaws, but he didn’t care. He was tired and sore, and he just wanted to rest and get warm.
Allan gave a curious glance at him, then he began poking around.
“Hey, Giz! There’s a letter here, on the table.”
“What does it say?”
“No idea, mate. Can’t read.”
“Give it here.” Guy said with a sneer.
Gisborne looked at the letter, and he frowned.
“Well? What’s written on it?” Allan asked.
“My home is your home. If you are lost, come in. Eat, sleep, rest and get warm.”
“It must be a crazy hermit, or something like that. Well, good for us. I’ll go and see if there is any food. Are you hungry, Giz?”
Gisborne carefully shook his head.
“No. I couldn’t eat anything, now. But I’m thirsty.”
Allan opened the door of the kitchen, and he was happy to see a plate of cheese and some bread on the table. A jug was full of clear water and there were two cups.
Guy poured some water in one of the cups, and he took a careful sip: it was good. He knew that it could have been poisoned, but he was too thirsty and he drank it anyways.
Gisborne gave a disgusted look at Allan, who was wolfing down the cheese, and he went out of the kitchen. He was still feeling sick, and even the sight of food made him feel nauseated.
He went back to his seat in front of the fire, and, in the corner of the room, he saw a bed he hadn’t noticed before, with a bundle of warm, thick blankets, neatly folded on it. Guy grabbed a couple of them as he lied down on the bed, and wrapped them around him, with a contented sigh.
He knew he should go back to work and find some money to appease the sheriff, but he was too cold, sick, and exhausted to care. He curled on his side, and fell asleep.
Much tried to shot at the deer, but he missed.
“Well, I think we’re going to starve.” He said, miffed.
“No squirrels today?” Djaq asked, a hint of laughter in her voice.
“They sleep during winter. And I don’t cook squirrels anyways!”
Will and Djaq burst out in a laugh, while Much turned his back at them, offended.
“It’s not my fault if that deer was moving so fast! You didn’t catch many preys, either!”
“If Robin were here, he wouldn’t have missed the shot.” Will sighed, hungry.
“Well, he isn’t here, now, and I’m trying my best. Try to do better yourself if you’re not happy.”
“Don’t fight, now.” Djaq said. “We won’t starve, the forest is full of edible plants.”
The two men gave her a disgusted look.
“We don’t eat grass and leafs! We’re not rabbits or horses!”
The outlaws sighed.
Robin and Little John had to leave for York to help the son of one of the peasants of Locksley who had been unjustly imprisoned there. They told the others to stay in the forest because, if they all went to York, the guards would notice them. Much, Will and Djaq spent the previous day bringing food and supplies to the poor, but that morning they wanted to hunt so they could have fresh meat for their Christmas lunch.
They had followed a deer deep in the forest, but luck seemed to run out on them and they couldn’t catch any prey, not even a rabbit.
“We should better go back to the camp,” Djaq suggested “there, we have some stale bread and dried meat at least.”
They all sighed again, grumbling at the idea of such a miserable meal.
“Let’s go, then,” Will said, beginning to move, but the others didn’t agree with him.
“No, the camp isn’t that way.”
“It’s over there.”
Djaq and Much pointed in different directions, and the three of them exchanged a worried look.
“You know the way, right?” Much asked.
“Actually this is a part of the forest I don’t recognize,” Will answered. “Djaq?”
“Never been here.”
“Perfect! What do we do now? We’re going to starve! Master will come back and he’ll find us dead!”
“Don’t fret, Much. We’re not going to die. We can always eat plants.” Djaq said, trying to calm him.
Suddenly, a magnificent white stag crossed the path and stopped to look at them, then he turned his back at them, and walked away.
“Have you seen that?!” Will asked, in awe.
“It was as white as the sand of the desert.” Djaq commented.
“If we can catch it, we’ll have enough meat for a banquet!” Much said.
The three outlaws followed the deer through the forest, until they arrived in a glade.
“Where is it?!” Much looked around, searching for the white stag.
“I can’t see him anymore.” Will said.
“But there is a house!” Djaq pointed at the little stone house. “Who could live here?”
Much looked worried.
“What if it’s a witch?”
“There’s only a way to find out: let’s go and see who’s there.”
The outlaws tiptoed to the door and pushed it open to peek inside: the room was warm and cozy, and the only lights were the flames in the fireplace and a candle on a table.
They carefully entered the house, and looked around. Djaq noticed a person huddled in a bed in the corner, wrapped in thick blankets, and soundly asleep.
She took the candle and walked near the bed to look at him. When she recognized him, she was startled.
“It’s Gisborne!” She whispered, worried.
Much and Will hurried to reach her, and Much pointed his bow at Guy, while Will grabbed his axe. Djaq grabbed her dagger and pointed it at Gisborne’s neck, touching him on the shoulder with the other hand to wake him up.
Guy opened his eyes with a start, and saw the weapons aimed at him, but he couldn’t call for help because the girl put her hand on his mouth.
“Hush, if you want to live. What are you doing here?!”
Guy gave the outlaws a contemptuous look.
“Nothing of your concern,” he growled, mad and ashamed at the idea they could surprise him in his sleep.
“Nothing good, I bet,” Much said, while Will came near the bed to grab his arm, and he hauled him to his feet.
“Oy! What are you doing to him?!” Allan yelled, coming out of the kitchen.
The outlaws turned to look at him, and Guy took the chance to push Will away and grab Djaq’s wrist, forcing her to drop the knife. He took the dagger and returned the favor to her, pointing it at her throat.
Allan glanced at him, worried.
“What are you doing, Giz?!”
“I’m arresting an outlaw! They attempted to kill me in my sleep!”
“That’s not true! You are the one who tries to murder people in the sleep! Ask the king if you don’t remember!” Much said, outraged. “Probably you already killed the inhabitants of this house too!”
“Do you think I’m a cold blooded killer? That I murder people for fun?!” Guy asked, aghast.
“Exactly,” Much answered, keeping the aim of his bow on him.
Will lifted his axe.
“Hurt her, and you are dead.”
Allan went near Gisborne, and looked at the outlaws with a worried smile on his face.
“Come on, mates, there’s no need to shed blood. Put the weapons down, you too, Giz. Let her go.”
“So they can kill me?” Guy scoffed. “It would be easy for you, isn’t it? You hand me to them, and they take you back in their gang… Maybe you planned this from the beginning...”
Allan could see the hurt look in Guy’s eyes and he felt angry and a little ashamed because sometimes he dreamed to switch sides again. But not like this.
“Are you insane, Giz? Really, you should never get drunk again if this is the result. I wouldn’t betray you.”
“Well, that would be a novelty.” Much said, indignant. “You already betrayed Robin and all of us!”
Allan was at loss for words for once, and it was Djaq who turned at Gisborne, looking at him.
“You say you are not a cold blooded murderer, but you are threatening to kill me. If what you say is true, please put that dagger away.”
“Do you think I’m stupid, outlaw? As soon as I let you go, I’m as good as dead.”
“No, if we all put our weapons away.” Djaq answered, quietly.
“You first!” Guy snarled.
“Forget it, Gisborne.” Will glared at him, but it was Djaq who talked again.
“Do as he said. Throw your weapons out of the window.” She gave another look at Guy. “After they do it, you’ll throw away the dagger too, and you’ll set me free.”
“Why should you trust me?”
“Yes, why should we trust him?!” Much said.
“You’re not like the sheriff. I think that if you give your word, you’ll keep it. Am I wrong?”
Gisborne gave a little nod.
“Do as she said.”
Will and Much looked at Djaq.
“You can’t be serious! Come on, he’s Gisborne! He’ll try to kill us!”
“If I’m wrong, he will kill me. But I don’t think I am.” She spoke in a calm voice, and the two men went near the window to obey.
“Allan, you too,” Guy said.
Allan gave him a curious look, but he dropped his sword out of the window.
Guy looked at the outlaws, then he sighed, threw the dagger to join the other weapons, and he let Djaq go.
“What now?” Much asked.
“Now we should all go our way.” Allan said, eager to avoid any other chance to fight.
“I don’t think so,” Guy said, and they all looked at him.
“Are you trying to menace us?” Much asked, nervously.
Guy rolled his eyes.
“No. I’m trying to say that it would be foolish to go out now.” He pointed at the window and they saw that it had began to snow heavily and that it was getting even worse. “I am not going to ride in this weather, that’s for sure. So if you don’t like our company, you’re all free to go out and freeze yourselves.”
The outlaws looked at the snow and they knew there was going to be a storm. They all agreed to stay.
“Let’s call it a truce.” Djaq said. “As soon as we can get out of here, things will be back to normal, but let’s try to be civil as long as we have to stay under the same roof.”
Will glanced at the window.
“It will be better to close the shutters and nail them.”
“I’ve seen some boards in the kitchen, we can use them.”
Guy grabbed some blankets and headed for the door.
“Where are you going, Giz?”
“The horses. I’m making sure they’re safe in the stable and that they can be warm.”
When Guy came back, Djaq was alone in the hall, and she was pouring some herbal tea in a mug.
She handed it to him, and Guy gave a doubtful look at her.
“It’s warm, it’s sweet, and it will ease your headache and settle your stomach.”
Gisborne looked at her in surprise, and Djaq smiled.
“I’ve followed my father on battlefields and I live in a outlaws’ camp, I can recognize the symptoms of a hangover. Drink it and you will feel better. It’s not poisoned, I can take a sip from it if you don’t believe me.”
Guy took the mug and he tasted the remedy: it was sweet, and it made him feel a little warmer.
“There must be a reason to help people?”
“I’m not ‘people’, I’m an enemy.”
“We may fight on different sides, but we are all human beings.”
Guy sat in front of the fireplace, with a sneer.
“Are you talking like this because it’s Christmas? You weren’t so compassionate when you threw pepper in my eyes.”
“We fight on different sides, remember? And I don’t celebrate Christmas.”
Guy finished drinking, and grinned.
“Well, thank you, then. Not for the pepper, though.”
Djaq glanced at him.
“You’re welcome.” She smiled. “But not at the camp.”
Guy chuckled, grabbed a couple of blankets, and offered one of them to Djaq.
“It’s really cold. We’ve been lucky to find this house.”
“I think it could be a sign of some sort. We arrived here following a white deer.”
Guy looked at her.
“Are you trying to make a fool of me?” He growled.
The girl looked sincerely surprised.
“No, why are you asking?”
“Because we found this house while following a white wolf. Allan must have told you, and now you’re making fun of me.”
“No! I swear it’s true! When we arrived here, the deer disappeared.”
“The wolf did the same.”
They both shivered.
Allan came back in the hall.
“Giz, you sure you don’t want to eat? There’s still some bread and cheese.”
“Maybe later. Now I just wish I could get warmer.”
Much and Will entered the room, and they looked excited.
“Hey, Djaq, you won’t believe what we found upstairs!”
“Come and see.”
Djaq followed them up the stairs and Guy and Allan did the same: there were three doors, leading to small bedrooms, each with a piece of parchment pinned to the wood.
Guy and Djaq were the only ones who could read.
“The black knight and his helper,” Djaq read, and glanced at Guy and Allan. “This must be for the two of you.”
“The dark skinned lady.” Gisborne pointed at the sign he was reading.
“The two young men. This is for Much and Will, then.”
Guy wished they didn’t leave the weapons outside.
“Someone must be spying on us! I wonder what they are up to.”
Allan opened the door, too curious to resist.
“It could be a trap,” Gisborne warned him.
“If it is, then it’s a nice trap! Look at those beds: they look softer that the one you have at Locksley… And there’s is a fireplace, and a tub with hot water, ready for a bath!”
“The other rooms are just the same,” Will commented.
Allan entered the room and sat on one of the beds, grinning.
“I think I’ll take a nap.”
Guy went near the tub and touched the water: it was hot and scented with petals.
“This isn’t possible. I’ve seen no servants, and when we explored the house, those doors were closed.”
“Let’s look again,” Djaq suggested and the others agreed.
They searched the house and after a while they gathered in the hall.
“There’s nobody in the house,” Guy said.
“And no footsteps on the snow outside,” Will added.
Much trembled in fear.
“This is magic! Maybe a ghost! Let’s go away!”
“We can’t.” Guy opened the door, and closed it again immediately. “The storm is so bad now, that we’d freeze to death before we could find a way to exit the forest.”
Allan looked at the door, then he shrugged.
“If this ghost is going to give us food, fire and a soft bed, I think I’ll take the risk.”
He headed upstairs.
“Where are you going?” Guy asked.
“To take my nap, as I already said.”
The others exchanged a worried look, then they decided that Allan wasn’t so wrong. If it was a trap, there was nothing they could do to avoid it, so they could at least enjoy it, while it lasted.
When Guy entered the room, Allan was already sleeping. He was tempted to imitate him, but at least one of them had to stay awake.
Djaq’s remedy actually made him feel better, but he was still tired and cold, so he decided to use the tub. The water was warm, and it would soothe his aching muscles. He quickly undressed, and sat in the tub, glad he had the chance to bathe after the horrible night he spent at the tavern and in the forest.
That house was strange and probably he should have been scared, but he wasn’t: for the first time in years, he was feeling perfectly safe. It was like he was a character in one of the fairy tales his mother used to tell him when he and his sister were little.
Guy missed her, he missed having a family. He would never admit it, but spending Christmas in that unworldly house with the outlaws was way better than being at the castle and obeying the cruel orders of the sheriff.
The last three winters, Vaisey enjoyed making people miserable on Christmas day: he ordered Guy to burn the houses of the peasants who couldn’t pay the taxes, or he organized executions for that day.
No, it was way better to stay lost in the forest, get a hot bath, and do nothing at all.
He and Allan would have to face consequences, of course, when they would go back to the castle without Hood and without the money.
He closed his eyes, trying to relax and, even if he had planned to stay awake, he fell asleep.
Gisborne woke up when the water began to become cold. He went out of the tub and he dried himself with a towel. He went to take his clothes, and he was surprised to see that they were clean.
Instead of his black shirt, there was a bright red one, similar to the one he wore for his failed wedding. He got dressed and shook Allan to wake him up.
“What time is it, Giz?” Allan said, with a yawn.
“After sunset. It’s already dark outside.”
“How are you feeling, Giz? You looked pretty sick this morning.”
“I’m well,” Guy said, a little surprised, “but I’ll never go to a tavern with you again. I’m hungry, now.”
“Let’s go downstairs, then. Maybe you can get some cheese before the others eat it all.”
They met the outlaws on the stairs, and they went all downstairs. Guy stopped in surprise, and the other looked at the hall too, all decked in holly and mistletoe. On the table there was enough food for a banquet and five seats.
“I’m beginning to like this ghost.” Much commented, taking a seat and starting to eat.
The others imitated him and, after a few moments, they were all eating and enjoying the banquet.
They were enemies, and they knew that they would keep fighting on opposite sides, but it was as if that night it didn’t matter: inside that house, lost in the middle of the forest, they were all equals.
Djaq didn’t celebrate Christmas, but she was glad to be with her friends. She was far from her land, and she had lost her real family, but in the gang she had found a new one.
She looked at Will and she wished in her heart that someday he could be her family.
Much was glad for being warm, safe and sated for once, he only regretted that Robin wasn’t there.
He hoped he and Little John were safe and decided that he would take all the leftovers to the camp, so they could have some too. He wished he could have his Bonchurch someday, so he could have banquets and spend time with his friends, like he was doing now.
Will looked at Djaq. He didn’t dare to express his love for her, but he was happy to spend time in her company, listening to her and admiring her beauty. Without knowing it, his wish was the same of the girl.
Guy thought that he hadn’t felt so relaxed in years, and he still he couldn’t believe that he was spending such a nice time in company of the outlaws. It was strange, and sad in some sort of way. If the sheriff knew about it, he’d have him publicly flogged or worse.
He wished that someday he could be able to be free from him.
He looked at Allan: the young man looked completely happy to be with his friends. Guy knew that it was because his wish was being granted: he wanted to be forgiven for his betrayal and to go back with them.
Gisborne inwardly sighed: if it was what he really wanted, he’d let him go. After all, he always knew that sooner or later Allan would abandon him too.
At dawn, Guy opened the door to go and check the horses. He noticed that the storm had subsided and that a pale winterly sun was shining on the snow-covered forest.
He saw the paw prints in the snow: wolf ones taking a path, and deer ones taking another in the opposite direction.
He called the others, and they all agreed that the white wolf and the white deer were showing them the way again.
Gisborne took the reins of his and Allan’s horses, and lead them out of the stables.
“This is where we part ways,” he said “I’ll deny I’ve been here tonight, and I suggest you to do the same.”
“To have been where?”
Guy mounted and turned his horse to follow the tracks of the wolf. After a while, he heard Allan’s horse following him.
“I thought you’d stay with your friends.”
“I won’t deny I’ve been happy to be with them, but I can’t go back to the gang. Robin made it very clear. And even if I could, I won’t leave you to face the wrath of the sheriff alone.”
Guy looked at him, surprised.
“That’s what friends are for, Giz.”
Gisborne was moved by his words, but he didn’t want Allan to notice, so he turned back to give another glance at the house. He was startled to see that there was no house anymore.
“Was it really a miracle, then?”
“Is it so important? We spent a good day there.”
Guy nodded, then he noticed a saddlebag on his horse that wasn’t there when they entered the forest.
He stopped to open it, and he found it full of gold coins. On Allan’s horse there was a similar one too.
“We can take the money of the taxes to the sheriff, now,” Guy said, staring at the coins.
“Are you insane or drunk again, Giz? Aren’t you actually thinking to give that money to the sheriff, are you?”
“I swore my loyalty to him, I can’t betray his trust!”
“But can you trust him? Don’t be stupid, Giz. He’d throw you away as soon as you are not useful to him anymore, and you know it perfectly well.”
“Marian… If I go away, I will lose her.”
“Listen, mate, there’s something you should know. You can’t lose her, because you never had her, to begin. She’s betrothed to Robin. She never went at the convent, she was at the camp with him.”
“No! We had something! You’re a liar!”
Allan gave him a worried look, afraid that Guy could vent his sorrow on him.
“I often am a liar. Not now, Giz, sorry”, he said in a sympathetic tone.
For a moment Guy looked like he was about to stab him with his sword, then they both realized that they had left their weapons outside the house, in the glade.
Gisborne sighed, heartbroken.
His wish had been granted: with all the money he had in the saddlebag he could be free from Vaisey, but every wish had a price to pay and his was to lose Marian. To lose the girl who never belonged to him.
It was only his choice: going back to Nottingham, give the money to the sheriff and keep hoping that someday Marian could love him, or running away and trying to build a new future.
Following the tracks of the wolf, they had arrived on the road that lead out of the forest. If he decided to go back at the castle, he only had to follow that road.
Guy looked at the snow, and noticed that the tracks of the wolf continued in the opposite direction, taking a route that went away from Nottingham.
Away from the sheriff… and from Marian.
He turned to look at Allan.
“Do you want to find out where they will take us?”
“Sure, mate. Let’s go.”