Marian finished carving the turnip and smiled when she noticed that the monstrous face she had carved looked like the sheriff. It was ironic that the lantern which was supposed to protect Guy was so similar to the person who probably oppressed him more.
The girl looked up at the black knight to make a joke about it and she realized that Gisborne was leaning back in his chair and that he had fallen asleep.
Marian smiled to herself, he had to be tired after spending so much time chasing Robin Hood, and then he had to stand guard in the rain too.
She watched him sleep and she thought that Guy looked younger and innocent while resting: he had the head tilted to one side and a few strands of hair fell on his face, partially concealing his eyes.
Marian found out that she desired to comb his disheveled locks with her fingers, and to brush them on to the neck, along the jaw line, curious to find out if the pale skin of Guy's cheeks was as soft as it looked despite the stubbly growth of beard.
She chided herself, surprised because of those inopportune thoughts and she devoted her attention to the lantern, lighting it and putting it on the mantelpiece, next to the other one.
Before she went back to sit down, she noticed a folded blanket on a bench and she took it, opened it, and put it on Guy. Doing so, the girl touched Gisborne's cheek with her hand and Marian discovered that, yes, Guy's face could be soft and rough at the same time.
Guy did not wake up at her touch, but he smiled and murmured something in his sleep.
“I love you, Marian.” He whispered and the girl stared at him, dumbfounded.
She knew that Gisborne wanted to win her love, but she didn't think that his feelings were so intense that he could think about her even while he slept.
She would have to talk to him, to be honest and to tell him what she felt for Robin because Guy could at least move on and look for some other woman who would love him back.
She remembered suddenly the perfect face of Lady Millacra, with her lips so full and sensual that touched Guy's hand, and she felt her heartbeat quicken with anger.
To think of Guy with a woman who was not her irritated Marian, even though she had no reason to feel those feelings. She loved Robin since she was a young girl, and it would always be so, but then how could she be jealous of Gisborne?
She was so focused in her thoughts that, when the door burst open, it made her jump in fear.
Allan came running into the room, he looked at Marian, puzzled, then he rushed to shake Gisborne awake.
“Giz! Giz! Wake up!”
Guy opened his eyes with a start, and stared at Allan, irritated at being caught in a moment of rest.
“What's up? What the hell it’s going on that you have to yell like that?!” He growled, pushing Allan away with a shove.
Allan stepped back, but he stood trembling, unable to find words.
Marian put her hand on Gisborne’s wrist.
“Guy, don’t attack him. Look, he seems terrified. What happened, Allan?”
The young man took a deep breath.
“There's been a murder, one of the guards of the north wing. The body was hidden in a niche, behind a curtain...”
Guy stood up with a curse.
“It must have been Hood!”
“I don’t think so!” Marian contradicted him. “Robin Hood doesn’t kill without reason.”
Guy gave her a doubtful look.
“Hood is an outlaw, in the past he has already killed several of the sheriff's men.”
“I don’t know, Giz, I don’t think it was his way. If they had found the guard pierced with an arrow or a sword I might agree with you, but like this...” He broke off with a shudder.
“Like this, how?” Guy asked, impatiently.
“I think you should see it.”
Guy looked at Allan: the young man was white-faced and he seemed genuinely upset. Gisborne now knew him well enough to know that he wasn’t the kind of man who got easily upset, so, to be so terrified, he must have seen something really out of the ordinary.
In addition, the body of the guard had been found in the north wing of the castle, and Hood would have had no reason to venture there. In the north wing, there was nothing interesting, just very old and mostly closed rooms where the older and ruined furniture of the castle had been accumulated.
In that wing there was nothing valuable or that could be of any interest to an outlaw.
“Show me, then.”
Allan nodded and left the room, and Guy followed him.
Neither of them had invited Marian, but then they hadn’t even forbidden her to go with them, so she walked in silence behind the two men.
Robin ventured along a deserted corridor, wondering in which area of the castle the mysterious stranger could have been lodged. The sound of footsteps approaching from behind a corner urged him to hide in the shadows, behind a column.
He saw Allan leading the way for Gisborne, holding a candlestick in his hand. Both men had a grim expression on their faces, but Allan looked scared. Robin thought that whatever was the reason for his discomfort, he deserved it for having betrayed his friends for Gisborne.
Behind them, a few feet away, Marian followed Allan and Gisborne, holding a lantern made from a turnip in her hands.
Robin wondered where they were going and he decided to find out: he quietly began to follow them.
Guy bent over the lifeless body of the guard: the man didn’t seem to have suffered serious injuries apart from a laceration on his neck that seemed to have been caused by the bite of some animal. He had an ecstatic expression on his face, as if he was dead while he was feeling an enormous pleasure.
“What happened to him?”
“No one knows, Giz. He was hidden in that niche and one of the servants found him. The servant had managed to entice one of the kitchens girls and they were looking for a place to...”
Guy cut him off and gave a meaningful look in the direction of Marian. Those were certainly not speeches suitable to the ears of an innocent girl.
“I don’t care what they were doing. Did they see anyone near the niche?”
“No. This area of the castle is always deserted, that’s why those two came here.”
Guy carefully examined the body again, then he moved the curtain of the niche, in search of clues.
“There is no blood on the ground, but this poor man seems to have bled to death. There should be some trace at least...”
Marian shuddered and she went near Guy.
Gisborne looked at her, worried.
“You shouldn’t be here, you shouldn’t see this...”
Marian shook her head.
“I wouldn’t feel safe to stay alone.”
Guy looked at her, surprised and pleased by her words. It was nice to think that Marian could feel secure staying at his side.
“Giz? What could have killed him?” Allan asked, nervously. “The guards begin to get scared, they say that it was the Bargest who killed him!”
“Don’t talk nonsense, Allan! Those are just superstitions!” Guy snapped.
“Hey, I'm not one who says it, but it’s a fact that the soldiers are afraid.”
“Guy? What’s a Bargest?”
“Nothing that you have to be afraid of, just stories spread by gullible peasants.” Guy said, without sounding too sure.
Allan stared at Marian.
“The Bargest is a huge black dog who comes straight from hell. He's huge, he has big, sharp teeth like daggers and he’s said to appear only to those who are destined to die. Who sees it has no escape: he will die within a few days!”
Allan spoke gesticulating theatrically and he concluded his speech slamming his hands against each other, to imitate the jaws of a wild beast that closed on a prey. The girl jumped with fear and grabbed Guy's arm with her free hand.
Gisborne repressed a start at being touched so suddenly, but he recovered quickly. He took off a glove with his teeth and he put his hand on Marian’s to reassure her.
“Allan, stop right away with this foolishness, it wasn’t certainly a ghost who killed this man. We must find the culprit and avoid to spread panic. Did you already warn the sheriff?”
“I knocked on his door before I came to call you, but he didn’t answer.”
“I believe that we have to report this to him. Let's go.”
“Are we leaving him there?” Marian asked, hesitantly, glancing at the corpse.
Guy grabbed the curtain of the niche and pulled it, detaching it from the wall and dropping it over the corpse. He turned to Allan.
“We’ll talk to the sheriff and then we’ll come back here with some men to take him away. Make sure that his family receives some money to get through the winter.”
“The sheriff won’t approve.”
“I'll pay for it.” Guy said, and Marian’s grateful look rewarded him for that unusual generosity. He held again the hand of the girl, and Marian fingers didn’t shrink away from his grip.
Her fingers were cold and Guy's skin was warm against them, Marian noticed, and she was comforted by his strong and gentle touch.
They walked in silence until they reached the sheriff's room and Guy knocked on Vaisey’s door.
“No reply.” Allan emphasized.
“It's strange. He’s not in his office or in the great hall. Go check if his horse is in the barn,” Guy ordered, trying to turn the handle. Allan was about to obey, when the door opened under Gisborne’s touch.
Guy looked into the room, then he flung open the door with a curse and he rushed in, followed by Allan and Marian: the sheriff was lying on the ground, unconscious.
Gisborne knelt on the ground beside him and turned him over on his back.
“Is he dead, Giz?” Allan asked.
“He's still breathing. Help me to put him on the bed and then go to call a physician, quick!”
Together they lifted Vaisey’s limp body and they laid him on the bed, then Allan ran from the room.
Marian came to Guy. She was still holding her lantern to ward off evil spirits, and she felt foolish for that. She put it on the table, and looked at the sheriff.
“What happened to him?”
“I don’t know. He’s very pale.”
“Look, he has a wound on his wrist,” the girl said, pointing to a bloody tear that was visible under the shirt sleeve, and Guy hastened to bandage it with a handkerchief.
“He has been assaulted.”
“Who did it?” Marian stared at him, uneasy. “Allan’s story can’t be true, right?”
“There are no such things as hell hounds, Marian.”
They were silent for a few seconds, then Guy went to the window to look at the courtyard. He shuddered in seeing the hearse parked in a corner, then he noticed a dark and indefinite figure moving in the shadows next to it. He leaned out of the window to look better at it and that apparition took the shape of a large black dog who wandered into the courtyard and raised his muzzle to look at him.
Guy turned pale and if Marian hadn’t been present, he would probably have run away in panic.
“No,” he whispered softly, and the dog began to howl without taking his eyes away from him.
Allan returned, slamming the door and Guy spun around.
“Is that the way to get into a room ?!” He shouted, venting his fear on him, then he turned back to glance at the yard, but the black dog seemed to have vanished into thin air.
Was it really a harbinger of death?
Guy tried to remind himself that those were just superstitions believed only by ignorant peasants, and turned his attention back to Allan, who had a greenish complexion, and who seemed about to throw up or faint.
“What's wrong, now?
“There have been more deaths, Giz! Two servants and another soldier: all of them bled to death and all with a blissful expression on their faces!”
Guy was silent. Suddenly the room seemed much colder.
Marian touched his arm and Gisborne felt her tremble.
“What do we do, Guy?”
Gisborne looked at her: she and Allan were watching him anxiously, waiting for him to do something to fix the situation, but he felt paralyzed.
He didn’t know what to do and he could think only of the figure of the black dog staring at him and howling.
He took a deep breath.
Allan and Marian had confidence in him and Guy couldn’t and wouldn’t let them down, even though he too was scared, just like them.
“There must be a murderer in the castle,” he said, hoping to sound more confident than he actually felt. “We have to find him.”