Gisburne no longer slept with his hand resting on his sword hilt. He still kept his sword near him, but it wasn’t lying by his head and it was kept in its scabbard. As Loxley studied Gisburne in the early morning’s light, he wondered how he hadn’t noticed it before. Had Gisburne ceased this practice after they’d finally buried Baphomet or was it more recent than that?
Loxley often found himself questioning why they continued travelling together. With no clear purpose or a place to call home, were they both clinging to what they knew by staying together? While they could no longer be considered enemies, they were hardly friends either. Was having a former enemy as a companion better than travelling alone?
As Gisburne began to stir, Loxley’s gaze shifted back to the fire.
“God’s Teeth, I’m hungry.” Gisburne sat up and looked around the camp. “Is there any rabbit left?”
“No, we ate it all last night. We still have some bread from that farmer and his wife. What were their names? Armel and Anna?
Gisburne shrugged and tore some bread from the loaf that Loxley handed to him.
They had set up camp in Brocéliande Forest and had been able to stay warm enough with some furs and the fire, but autumn would soon change to winter and they wouldn’t be able to sleep out in the open for much longer. Loxley wondered if they might find some caves – if Brittany even possessed any caves and he could get Gisburne to agree to it. There wasn’t likely to be much farm work when winter came.
“We haven’t any money,” Loxley said.
Gisburne grimaced around the bread he was chewing. “I had noticed, especially when Armel and Anna paid us in bread.”
“We need to earn some money.”
“Why don’t you just steal it?” Gisburne asked. “You’re good at that.”
Loxley sighed. “All of the people we’ve come across have been farmers and serfs,” he said. “I can’t steal from them, especially when they’ve been kind enough to give us food and lodgings–”
“You mean barns.”
Loxley glared at Gisburne. “You’ll be grateful for even that much when winter comes.”
Gisburne took a sip from the waterskin, staring into the fire. “That peasant we met yesterday said that Ploërmel wasn’t far. Perhaps we can find work there.”
“All right,” Loxley said. “I suppose it’s worth a try.”
Loxley leaned on his shovel for a moment, resting the arm that still ached from time to time, despite the diligent care he’d received from Felise after he’d been wounded. Of course, Loxley only had himself to blame. He had been the one complaining that they needed some form of occupation. Loxley was about to lift his shovel again when he caught a flash of gold through a gap in the slats. He peered around the stall to see Gisburne still hard at work.
Loxley had never thought he’d see the day when he’d be mucking out a stable with Guy of Gisburne. They had been at an inn in Ploërmel a few days ago when the hostler, Denic, had overheard Gisburne asking the innkeeper if he knew of any work that might be found. Gisburne had barely uttered the question before Denic was tugging on his arm and pulling him to a table. Denic spoke much better Breton than French, but he’d managed to make himself understood. As it turned out, the groom of a manor just outside the town needed two men to work in the stables as one stable hand was ill and another had been injured when the lord’s charger had trampled on his foot. A month ago, Loxley would have thought that Gisburne would be insulted by such a proposal, but Gisburne had accepted it without complaint. If Gisburne believed that such work was beneath him, he’d said nothing.
Sensing someone watching him, Gisburne lifted his head from his work. “What is it?”
“That’s what I was about to ask,” Loxley said.
Gisburne’s brow furrowed. “What?”
Loxley jerked his chin at the horse excrement heaped on Gisburne’s shovel. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”
Loxley had convinced Gisburne to teach him French, but progress had been slow. Loxley was learning what little he could by pointing at objects and asking for the French translation. He wasn’t sure why Gisburne hadn’t lost patience with him yet.
Gisburne looked down at his shovel and sighed. “Merde. Beaucoup de merde.”
“Merde,” Loxley said, repeating the word. “Merde.”
A stable boy walking past with a bundle of straw giggled. He obviously knew more French than he had let on, Loxley thought – not that Loxley had heard the stable boy or anyone else in the stables speak anything but Breton. Even Gisburne had been at a loss as he couldn’t speak Breton any more than Loxley could. Fortunately, little language was needed for work of this nature.
“You should ask the boy to teach you the word in Breton,” Gisburne said and there was a faint smile on his lips that seemed to come from more than just amusement at Loxley’s expense.
“You like it here, don’t you? You enjoy working in the stables?”
Gisburne’s cheeks flushed. “No, I enjoy being around horses. That’s hardly unusual for a knight, is it?”
“Only you’re no longer a knight – not here, anyway.”
Gisburne’s hand tightened around his shovel. “Then I suppose that’s all the more reason to be working here.”
Loxley returned to his work, wishing that he hadn’t been the one to banish the smile on Gisburne’s face, no matter how fleeting it had been. However, Loxley couldn’t help wondering who Guy of Gisburne was if he was no longer a knight, no longer the Sheriff of Nottingham’s deputy, no longer his enemy. For that matter, who was Robin of Loxley if he was no longer Robin Hood?
Loxley looked up to see the groom, Philippe, approach Gisburne, who was filling a trough with barley. Philippe gestured to a large chestnut horse with burrs in his mane. Loxley had heard that this was the horse that had crushed that one stable hand’s foot. The same horse had nearly bitten Philippe that morning, and all of the stable hands were now terrified of him.
Gisburne accepted the brush from Philippe and approached the horse slowly but purposefully, not wishing to startle the animal but needing to exert some level of authority. Loxley set down his bucket and joined Gisburne beside the stallion.
“Loxley, the horse is agitated enough without–”
Loxley held up the apple he’d been saving for his own horse and started feeding it to the chestnut stallion.
Gisburne said nothing but began to pick the burrs out of the horse’s mane. Then he stepped back quickly as the horse lashed out at him with his front hoof.
“Philippe calls you ‘Guy’,” Loxley said.
Gisburne turned and stared at Loxley as if Loxley had lost his mind. “It’s my name.”
Loxley frowned. “Just Guy?”
“I thought we agreed that it wasn’t safe for me to use ‘Gisburne’.”
Loxley scooped up some barley from the trough to further distract the horse. “You need to be from somewhere.”
“Philippe doesn’t seem to care,” Gisburne said.
“There may be others who are more curious.”
Gisburne rolled his eyes. “Fine. Come up with something, then.”
“Where were your mother’s people from? Couldn’t you–”
“No.” Gisburne pulled a burr from the horse’s mane, and the horse nearly bit Loxley.
“Remember when we first met, and you told me my village no longer existed?” Loxley asked. “Well, you were right. Loxley was gone and I did change my name.”
“To Robin Hood.”
“To Robin of Sherwood.”
Gisburne frowned. “You’d better stick to Robin of Loxley. Even the people of Brittany have heard the stories of Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest.”
Loxley sighed. “What I’m trying to say is that you can be whoever you want to be now. You get to choose.”
“What if I want to be a knight, despite working in the stables?”
“Then be a knight,” Loxley said. “You could be a poor knight who has fallen on hard times.”
Gisburne laid his hand on the horse’s flank when the horse whinnied loudly and tried to kick him again. “Why do you care who I am, Loxley? What difference does it make to you?”
Loxley smiled sheepishly. “Because if you know who you are, I might finally recognize myself.”
Gisburne turned his head in surprise. “What on earth do you mean?”
Loxley never got a chance to answer as Philippe had just approached Gisburne and was speaking to him in French. Gisburne turned a shade paler and gave a jerky nod in response.
“What is it?” Loxley asked. “What’s happened?”
“Lord Bernard de Guillevenen wishes to see us,” Gisburne said.
De Guillevenen’s manor was larger than Leaford Grange, and Loxley suspected that de Guillevenen also possessed more wealth than Richard of Leaford. The steward who escorted them kept eyeing them in disgust as if the filth from the stables might soil his lord’s tapestries. Gisburne gave the steward a look of utter contempt and then proceeded to ignore him. As they walked through the manor, Gisburne kept his chin high and his face impassive. Loxley wished he had his sword, but it was back in the stables along with the rest of their meagre belongings.
The steward led Loxley and Gisburne into de Guillevenen’s solar where de Guillevenen appeared to be reading a letter. De Guillevenen looked up and smiled, taking both Loxley and Gisburne by surprise. De Guillevenen was an older man, but his dark hair was only just beginning to reveal grey threads. His clear blue eyes seemed shrewd but kind.
“Welcome, my friends, and thank you for arriving so quickly.”
“Of course, my lord,” Gisburne said. “We...” He froze as if he had just realized that de Guillevenen had addressed them in English.
De Guillevenen laughed. “I’d heard there were two Englishmen working in my stables, and my curiosity got the better of me, I’m afraid. I wanted to meet you and hear your story.”
Loxley and Gisburne exchanged a look, neither of them knowing what to say.
“But where are my manners? You must be hungry and tired. We should dine first and then you can tell me your story – or not. It shall be as you please. Come. Let’s make our way to the hall.”
“Mon seigneur,” the steward said. “Vous ne devriez pas–”
De Guillevenen waved his steward away impatiently. “Partir, Tanet.”
The steward gave a quick nod and turned on his heel, leaving the solar.
“My lord...” Gisburne glanced down at his rather shabby clothing. “We’re not suitably dressed to–”
“Nonsense. I care nothing about that. You are my guests and shall be treated as such.” De Guillevenen rose from his chair and walked towards them. “You don’t know how much I’ve longed to hear an English voice. It’s been far too long.”
Loxley’s eyebrows rose. “You’ve spent time in England, my lord?”
“Well, I’ve visited once or twice, but, no, not really. My mother was English.”
“That must be why your English is so good,” Gisburne said.
De Guillevenen beamed at him. “Do you really think so?”
“It’s exceptional, my lord.”
“I’m flattered you think so, though I suppose the credit must go to my mother.” De Guillevenen clapped Gisburne on the back. “Come. We should be going before that idiot, Tanet, sends out a search party.
As supper commenced, Loxley wondered what game de Guillevenen was playing. De Guillevenen’s servants appeared to be having similar thoughts if the looks they were sending them were anything to go by. De Guillevenen’s wife and daughter had actually left the hall when de Guillevenen had insisted that his English guests sit next to him at the high table. Loxley might have believed that de Guillevenen was simply trying to shock his household, but de Guillevenen seemed genuinely interested in learning more about his new stable hands.
They hadn’t had a chance to discuss what they would say to de Guillevenen, so Loxley couldn’t be sure what story Gisburne might concoct. To Loxley’s surprise, Gisburne decided to follow his advice and play the role of a knight who had suffered misfortune.
“I lost everything in a joust, my lord, even my lady’s favour,” Gisburne said. “After that, I could not remain in England, so I chose to travel far and wide to seek my fortune, with only my faithful servant, Loxley, at my side.”
Loxley’s jaw almost dropped as Gisburne began to spin this ludicrous tale that could only have come from a troubadour’s song. However, de Guillevenen seemed delighted by Gisburne’s story if his rapt expression was any indication. Loxley almost expected de Guillevenen to clap his hands when Gisburne reached the end of his woeful tale. De Guillevenen didn’t applaud, but he did ask for news from England. Before Gisburne had a chance to speak, Loxley jumped in.
“We’ve been away from England far too long to be able to share any news, my lord, but we would be happy to share more stories with you.” Loxley paused a moment for dramatic effect. “Have you heard of Robin Hood?” he asked, taking great satisfaction in seeing Gisburne almost choke on his wine.
“Yes, of course,” de Guillevenen said. “Who hasn’t?”
Loxley began to tell de Guillevenen about the time Robin Hood and his men had met a minstrel named Alan a Dale, who was trying to rescue the woman he loved from a life with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Loxley was careful not to mention Gisburne, but Gisburne obviously wasn’t pleased. There was a surly expression on his face, and he had started to drink more heavily. Nevertheless, when Loxley concluded his tale of Alan a Dale, Gisburne took over. He told de Guillevenen a story about the Sheriff being stripped of power and joining forces with Robin Hood to sneak into Nottingham Castle using a secret tunnel. The story was so ridiculous that Loxley was convinced it couldn’t be true.
“This Robin Hood is a bold fellow, indeed.” De Guillevenen was rubbing the joints of both hands as if they were aching. He must have caught Loxley watching him because he smiled ruefully and began removing his rings. “My joints grow stiffer in old age, and, sadly, my fingers sometimes swell when the wine flows too freely.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, my lord,” Loxley said.
“Shall I tell you a tale of Robin Hood?” de Guillevenen asked, and he started telling the story of Robin Hood and the Templars.
Loxley found himself taking a large sip of wine as it wasn’t a tale he liked to remember. James had been killed that day in Sherwood when the Templars had attacked them, and Much had almost been hanged in Bystead. Gisburne didn’t seem happy to hear the tale either, possibly because he was reminded of the Knights of the Apocalypse. He was increasingly seeking solace from his wine cup.
When de Guillevenen had finished his tale, Loxley leaned close to Gisburne and grabbed his arm. “Will you stop drinking?” he whispered.
“I think Sir Guy has the right idea,” de Guillevenen said, as if he’d heard Loxley. “We should all drink and be merry, for who knows what tomorrow might bring.”
Hand still wrapped around Gisburne’s arm, Loxley glanced at de Guillevenen, thinking he’d also had more than enough to drink.
De Guillevenen raised his cup in a toast. “In die rationem accedit.” *
*In die rationem accedit: The day of reckoning approaches. This is the declaration of the Knights of the Apocalypse. I had to translate the English sentence that’s used in The Knights of the Apocalypse into Latin using Google Translate, so apologies for what is probably a very loose translation. ________________________________________________________________________________________________
Loxley felt Gisburne tense and remembered the Latin that Gisburne had exchanged with de Sancerre during that meeting outside of Lisieux. Loxley quickly lifted his own cup. “In die rationem accedit.” He elbowed Gisburne, who managed to repeat the toast and not spill any wine on the table.
“Sir Guy has gone quite pale,” de Guillevenen said.
Loxley smiled apologetically. “Sir Guy always feels unwell when he drinks too much. I begged him to stop, but he must have thought he would offend you. It might be best if I took Sir Guy back to the stables.”
De Guillevenen shook his head. “No, I cannot allow it. I have already set aside a chamber for you both. You shall sleep here tonight.”
“My lord, that is indeed generous, but we couldn’t possibly–”
“Nonsense,” de Guillevenen said. “Tanet will escort you.”
Loxley nodded, trying to look grateful. “Thank you, my lord.” He took Gisburne by the arm again and dragged him to his feet. Gisburne stared confusedly at Loxley for an instant before he seemed to understand. He shrugged free of Loxley’s hand and tried to walk out of the hall. Instead, he tripped over a hound that was sleeping under the high table and nearly landed on de Guillevenen’s plate. De Guillevenen chuckled as Loxley pulled Gisburne back up again.
“Yes, I think you’d better put your lord to bed,” de Guillevenen said.
Loxley flashed a smile and, digging his fingers into Gisburne’s arm, he managed to steer them around the table and off the dais. They had almost made it to the door and the impatient, scowling Tanet when de Guillevenen called out to them.
“Sir Guy, you never did tell me the name of your family.”
As Loxley helped Gisburne pivot back around, he held his breath, expecting the worst, but all Gisburne said was, “De Mayeux.”
De Guillevenen contemplated Gisburne’s answer for a moment before nodding. “Thank you.”
When they were safely outside the hall, and Tanet was walking briskly in front of them, Loxley said, “You came up with that name quickly.”
Gisburne grimaced. “I used the name of my mother’s family as you suggested. I couldn’t think of anything else.”
When Tanet had shown them to their chamber and shut the door, Loxley heaved a sigh of relief. Then his relief faded when he heard a key being turned in the lock. Loxley wondered if Tanet had locked them in their chamber because he didn’t want drunken Englishmen wandering around the manor or if it was because de Guillevenen had instructed him to do so. Loxley suspected it was the latter. Gisburne, who had collapsed on the bed, either knew nothing of their predicament or didn’t care. Loxley walked over to the window and opened the shutters. Thankfully, there was grass below, and they didn’t seem to be too far from the ground. Surely, even Gisburne couldn’t mess that up.
Loxley went over to the bed and shook Gisburne roughly. “Come on, wake up. We have to get out of here.”
Gisburne raised his head and regarded Loxley blearily. “Yes...you could be right. You’ll be in trouble if de Guillevenen realizes that you’re Robin Hood.”
Loxley glared at Gisburne. “I’m no longer Robin Hood, and you’re the one in trouble. De Guillevenen is a Knight of the Apocalypse, isn’t he?”
Gisburne slumped back down on the mattress. “He knows the declaration, but he seems too soft to be a soldier, even with that charger in his stables.”
Loxley snorted, thinking that Gisburne was looking rather soft himself at the moment. “Well, even if de Guillevenen isn’t a Knight of the Apocalypse, he might still support them. We can’t stay here, Gisburne. We have to go.”
Gisburne groaned and hauled himself off the bed. “Oh, very well.” He stumbled towards the door.
“It’s locked,” Loxley said. “We’ll have to leave through the window.”
Gisburne glanced first at the door and then at Loxley, looking puzzled. “But what if I break my leg again? I did the last time I fell.”
Loxley placed an arm around Gisburne’s shoulders and coaxed him over to the window. “See? You won’t have to jump far, and you’ve drunk too much to feel any pain.”
“All right then,” Gisburne said, climbing onto the window sill, “but if I do break my leg again–”
Loxley laid a hand on Gisburne’s back and shoved him out the window. “Herne protect us,” he said, leaping out after Gisburne.
They somehow managed to reach the stables without anyone noticing their escape. Fortunately, Gisburne was able to saddle his own horse, even though his movements were clumsy. Loxley just hoped that Gisburne would be able to ride his horse without falling off. He only realized he had nothing to fear when Gisburne placed his foot in the stirrup and swung up on his horse as if he were sober. Then Loxley was scrambling to mount his own horse as Gisburne took off without him.
Loxley insisted that they stop in some woods that weren’t far from the manor. In the morning, they could return to Brocéliande Forest or ride to another town. Once he had built a fire, Loxley set Gisburne down in front of it and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders.
“Come on, move closer to the fire,” Loxley said. “You’re half-frozen.”
“Are you angry with me?” Gisburne asked.
Loxley nearly laughed. “Yes, Gisburne, I’m angry with you.”
Gisburne’s brow furrowed. “Then why aren’t you shouting at me?”
“Because it wouldn’t do any good, not when you’re in this state.” Loxley sighed. “Just go to sleep. You’re going to feel like hell in the morning.”
Gisburne lay down on his side, facing the fire. “I can’t help you.”
Loxley threw some more wood on the fire. “Not when you’re drunk, no.”
“You said if you knew who I was, you might know yourself. But I don’t know who I am, Loxley.”
Loxley sat down on the other side of the fire. “You’ll think of something.”
Gisburne shook his head. “No, it’s always been this way. I’ve never known and I don’t think I’ll ever learn the truth.”
Loxley stared at Gisburne, confused. “What do you mean?”
“I’m a bastard. I don’t know who my father was. I just know he wasn’t Edmond of Gisburne.”
Loxley had trouble sleeping that night. He kept thinking about Gisburne’s drunken confession and whether he truly knew the man at all. How many years had Gisburne been carrying around this secret that was eating away at his soul? How much had that pain shaped the man Gisburne had become? While nothing justified Gisburne’s past actions, this revelation certainly explained a few things.
Because Loxley took so long to fall asleep, he woke to discover that the fire had already been lit and Gisburne was seeing to the horses. After all of the drinking from the night before, Loxley had expected to see Gisburne huddled miserably in his blanket or throwing up in some bushes. Loxley watched Gisburne with the horses and wondered what he could possibly say to the man. Should he pretend that he hadn’t heard Gisburne’s secret? Maybe Gisburne wouldn’t remember telling him. Men often forgot the deeds they committed when they were drunk. However, when Gisburne returned to the fire, Loxley knew he hadn’t forgotten. Gisburne’s shoulders were slumped, and he wouldn’t meet Loxley’s eyes. Loxley knew he’d better break the silence.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Is it?” Gisburne asked. He was rubbing his forehead and looking distinctly queasy.
“I did warn you that you would feel like hell in the morning.”
“Yes, I suppose you did.” Gisburne picked up a stick and began poking at the fire. He still wouldn’t meet Loxley’s eyes. “Last night, I said some things...”
“You were drunk.”
Gisburne glanced at Loxley without thinking, anger flashing in his eyes. “But you weren’t. Don’t insult me by pretending you don’t remember.”
“All right, then,” Loxley said. “I won’t. But there are some things I need to say while we’re both sober. It doesn’t matter to me who your father may or may not have been. It’s not a man’s birth that’s important, but what he does with his life. You’ve been given a second chance, Guy. You can be whoever you want to be.”
Gisburne raised his eyes again. “You really believe that, don’t you?”
Loxley met his gaze steadily. “Yes, I do.”
“And what about you?” Gisburne asked. “What will you do?”
“I’ll also learn to be a new man,” Loxley said.
Gisburne prodded the fire again. “I hope this new man will still be able to shoot a longbow. We left de Guillevenen’s employ before we got paid.”
“Oh, I don’t think we’ll need to worry about money for a while.” Loxley reached into his purse and pulled out a gold ring.
Gisburne’s eyes widened. “You robbed de Guillevenen?”
“Well, he did leave his rings lying around,” Loxley said. “I think I must have picked one up by mistake when you tripped and fell against the table. I noticed that you were lying on one when I helped you get back on your feet.”
Gisburne pinched the bridge of his nose. “You talk about becoming a new man, but you only know how to be one thing: an outlaw.”
Loxley smiled. “Then it’s a good thing you can no longer arrest me.”