“I am free.”
Guy whispered those last words, and he was really free. His thoughts slid into a dark abyss, but strangely that darkness didn’t scare him anymore: that place wasn’t the cold depth of hell that he had always imagined, but a warm and welcoming darkness that promised an eternal and quiet rest.
The terror, the faults, and the sorrow that had accompanied him for the length of his life were left behind, and he was finally free.
Perhaps he wasn’t in Heaven, but he wasn’t in the Hell he had feared so much, either. Guy abandoned himself to that oblivion.
Jonathan Archer, the guardian of the castle’s museum, yawned as he entered his tiny office. He turned on the light and placed the coffee on his desk, then he opened the cabinet where he neatly kept all the keys, and took those of the underground gate.
That part of Nottingham's underground was closed to the public, and the gate prevented access to the tunnels and the rooms carved in the rock. Over the centuries, they had been used in the most disparate ways; as anti-aircraft shelters during the war, as deposits, or even as improvised houses, but for years nobody could access them, apart from scholars or groups of tourists, guided along well defined and safe routes.
The guardian drank a long sip of coffee and he wondered why the group of archaeologists that was about to arrive had felt the need to start their work so soon, when the sun had just risen.
Inside the galleries, however, time lost importance, as the sunlight didn’t reach the bottom of the tunnels. So, beginning to work an hour later would have changed nothing for them and it wouldn’t have forced him to get out of bed so early.
It doesn’t matter, I will be paid for the extra time, and, once I have escorted the archaeologists down, I can take a nap in my office before it’s time to open the castle’s museum.
He finished drinking his coffee, and finally the group of scholars arrived, with cameras, spotlights and various equipment.
Jonathan accompanied them along the galleries, paying attention to the path they had to follow to reach the place they wanted to examine. The tunnels could be confusing, like a maze, and he certainly didn’t want to risk getting lost in the galleries.
“What are you looking for?” He asked to one of the scholars, and the man looked at him, a little surprised that a somewhat simple man like him could be interested in their work.
“Frescoes and artifacts from the twelfth century. We have reason to believe that this subterranean section of the tunnels has remained intact since then. Laser scanning revealed hidden environments behind the wall and we were given permission to open a hole to explore them. Last friday the passage was finally cleared from the debris and today we can enter those rooms.”
Jonathan nodded. He had come back from his holidays the day before, after spending a few weeks with his wife and children, visiting his parents-in-law.
Compared to that forced cohabitation, waking up so early was almost pleasant, and then archaeological discoveries interested him.
He was a simple man, and he didn’t complete his studies, but culture fascinated him, and during the night shifts he had read all the books for sale in the museum gift shop, carefully, making sure he didn’t ruin them.
On one of them, about the legend of Robin Hood, he had poured coffee accidentally, so he had to buy it, but that unexpected expense didn’t disappoint him so much: he kept the book in his locker and he occasionally re-read it, letting himself to be carried in the adventures of the merry gang of outlaws.
One of the archaeologists walked in the passage that lead to the crypts, and he started to scream, frightened.
“There's a man here! He looks dead!”
The guardian hurried to follow him, worried, thinking that it had to be some homeless man who had got lost in the galleries and had died of hunger and thirst without being able to find the exit.
He walked past the frightened scholars, and he looked at the man on the floor, surprised by his appearance.
He didn’t look like a homeless, but his clothes were definitely unusual: the stranger was wearing a leather jacket, decorated with metal buckles, studs and chain mail inserts on the sleeves, leather pants, and black leather boots. At his side, an empty scabbard.
The man was lying on his back with a leg bent under him, and long, dark hair scattered over the stone floor. Beneath him there was a pool of blood and his face was deathly pale.
Jonathan found the courage to go near the stranger, kneeling on the ground beside him. He pressed his hand on the neck of the man: he couldn’t feel his heartbeat, but the skin of the man was still warm. If he had died, it must have just happened, and maybe he could still be able to revive him.
He ordered to one of the archaeologists to go back to his studio and to call for help, then he tried to remember what he had learned during the CPR training course that he had taken many years earlier, and he began to unfasten the strange jacket of the man to start the cardiac massage as soon as possible.
One of the archaeologists knelt down to help him.
"When one takes those first-aid courses, he never expects to actually use them..." He said, placing one of his hands over the forehead of the unconscious man and two fingers of the other hand underneath his chin, to tilt his head back and open the airways.
“Well, good for him that we know what to do.” The guardian said, then the two men focused on trying to resuscitate the stranger, while one of the other scholars, terrified and almost as pale as the wounded man, pressed an improvised swab on the wound on the man's abdomen.
“Doctor Track!” Jack Robinson exclaimed, offering a cup of coffee to the other man.
Alec turned and smiled at his colleague.
Jack drank from his own cup, then he helped himself, taking a donut from the cardboard box resting on the table.
“So, what do you think of Nottingham? Our hospital is quieter than London’s ones, huh?”
“Definitely. I've been here for a whole day and helicopter rescue was needed only three times.”
“And think that we are operative in two counties. Maybe you'll find this place boring, but I'm sure that your experience will help us to make our actions even more efficient. When you return to London at the end of the month, we will be able to guarantee a better service.”
Alec raised his eyebrows hearing the sound of the alarm signaling a call for helicopter rescue.
“Boring?” He asked with an ironic smile, then he turned to their other colleague who had just reached them, and became serious, starting to get ready. “What do we have?”
“A man with an abdominal injury, probably stabbed, found in the underground tunnels of Nottingham Castle. Absent vital signs, two civilians are attempting a cardiopulmonary resuscitation.”
The three doctor rushed to the helicopter and the aircraft took off.
“How long to arrival?” Alec asked.
Jonathan finished another cycle of chest compressions, and waited for the archaeologist to blow air in the wounded man's mouth before resuming his cardiac massage. He was sweaty and weary, and his arms and his shoulders ached, but he didn’t want to stop before the rescue team arrived, and none of the other scholars were able to take his place for a while. He and the other archaeologist had exchanged positions a couple of times, and they were both fatigued, but they knew that the life of the stranger could depend on their actions.
Suddenly the wounded man coughed and his chest began to rise on his own. Jonathan touched his neck and managed to feel a heartbeat, weak and accelerated, but present.
At the same time the rescue team arrived and they took control of the situation. The guardian and the archaeologist sat in a corner to take their breath, exhausted, and they watched the doctors who were helping the wounded man.
“Jonathan Archer.” The guardian introduced himself, holding a hand to the archaeologist, and the other shook it weakly, emptied of all energies.
“Peter Edwards. Do you think he will make it?”
The guardian shrugged.
“I don’t know, I hope so, but that wound looks serious. There’s a lot of blood...”
“How did he arrive down here? I thought that the gate was closed.”
“In theory. Probably there are some hidden passages that hadn’t been closed because nobody suspected of their existence.”
The two men kept watching the work of the rescuers.
Guy opened his eyes, torn from that darkness, so quiet and full of peace, to sink into a confusion made of loud voices and agonizing pain.
“He opened his eyes!” A voice said, and someone pointed a light on his face, more intense than any candle. “Reactive to light.”
A man's face replaced the light and stared into his eyes.
“Can you hear me?”
Guy tried to nod, but someone was holding his head and he was too weak. He felt confused and scared, and the pain prevented him from thinking coherently.
A moment before he had abandoned himself to oblivion, held in Robin Hood's arms, and now a group of strangers dressed in an absurdly bright orange were trying to snatch him away from that peace.
They are devils who have come to drag me to hell.
Yet the faces of those devils were not threatening, and their words were gentle.
“Can you tell me your name?” One of them asked, and Gisborne struggled to speak.
“Guy...” He whispered, too weak to be able to pronounce his full name.
“Do you remember where you are and what happened to you?”
“The crypt... They killed me...”
One of the men dressed in orange gave him a reassuring smile.
“Do not exaggerate, now. You have received quite serious injuries, but Dr. Track is dealing with them. You've won a helicopter trip, but you'll make it.”
Guy didn’t answer. Perhaps it was his mind that was confused, but he had the impression that at least half of the words spoken by that man, if he were a man and not a supernatural creature, didn’t make sense.
He said I was injured... But I'm dead.
“It will be all right, Guy.” The man repeated. "We will soon give you something for the pain, and that will make you sleep, but at your awakening you will feel much better.”
The man put something on his mouth, a kind of transparent mask, and told him to stay calm and to breathe normally.
Guy wanted to take that strange object out of his face, but he didn’t have the strength to do it, so he forced himself to obey the man's instructions.
Whether they were strange healers or demons who came to drag him to hell, he had no choice but to do what they said.
After a while, he seemed to him that he was able to breathe better, and his thoughts became a bit less confused. He felt cold and his wounds were hurting a lot, but he was pretty sure to be still alive, even though that situation was so odd and confused that he was probably delirious.
If they were healers, there was something terribly important that he should tell them, but he couldn’t concentrate enough to remember what it was.
If he closed his eyes, he could see even too clearly the sheriff's grin when he had stabbed him with his sword, and then the sharp pain in his back from another stab that, though less deep, hurt him even more because it came from his sister's hand.
When he opened his eyes again, Guy couldn’t see the faces of men dressed in orange because the lights were too bright, and then because his vision was blurred by tears.
One of the healers took his hand.
“Hold on, Guy. I know that you're feeling a lot of pain, but this will make you sleep.”
The important thing came to his mind, suddenly.
"Poison." He said weakly, struggling against a sudden drowsiness.
“On the blade.”
“Guy, are you saying that the blade that hurt you was poisoned?!”
“Do you know what kind of poison?”
“Monk’s-hood,” he whispered, then he closed his eyes, exhausted just for saying those few words.
Jack Robinson looked at the patient, wondering if his word were just a delusion caused by the trauma.
“What do you think, Alec? Monk’s-hood is another name for aconite.”
“Improbable, but we’ll set the therapies as if it were true, waiting for a confirmation from a toxicological test.”
“Can we move him now?”
“He's stable, take him to the helicopter.”