Guy looked at the physician with such a threatening glare that the man had to step back.
“If the sheriff is so sick because he lost a lot of blood, do you want to explain to me what’s the sense in using leeches on him?!” He snarled. “Get rid of those things and disappear immediately!”
The doctor grabbed the glass jar that contained the leeches and ran to the door without daring to complain.
Left alone with him, Marian looked at Guy.
“Are you sure that's alright? Perhaps it would have been better to let him stay with the sheriff.”
“He stitched the wound, treated him with an ointment to avoid an infection, and he gave him a tonic, anything else he could do would just cause more harm to him. I don’t trust too much the theories of that charlatan. And the leeches are absolutely disgusting,” Guy said with a shudder.
Marian found herself angrily thinking that Guy had not looked so disgusted when it was a beautiful woman to suck blood from his wound, then she was surprised by that thought.
Even though Lady Millacra had shamelessly offered herself to Guy, why would it be a problem for her? She loved Robin, Gisborne could at most be a friend and an ally.
“What do we do now?” She asked, worried.
“I'll get you back to your lodgings. It’s better if you shut yourself inside your room, and don’t open the door to anyone, until I find the person responsible for these aggressions. I will leave some men to guard your door, you will have nothing to fear.”
Guy offered his arm to her, and Marian took it, but, before leaving the Sheriff's room, she stopped to take the turnip lantern. Perhaps she was being silly, but if she could put it on the window sill, she would feel more safe.
Gisborne ordered his men to keep watch over the sheriff and to protect him from any threat, then he accompanied Marian through the corridors of the castle. The girl seemed to be nervous and frightened, and she was startled at every little sound. Guy found himself smiling.
Marian was always so obstinate and independent, and he was pleased to see that for once she seemed to need his protection.
He touched the girl’s hand that was resting on his arm with a reassuring gesture, and he smiled at her.
“You will be perfectly safe, but if you need me, tell one of the guards. They'll call me right away and I will come to protect you.”
Marian couldn’t help blushing.
Arriving in front of the door of her rooms, Guy came inside with her, apologizing for that intrusion, and quickly examined her lodging, making sure that no one could hide in a niche, behind a curtain or under the bed.
“See? Close the door and nobody can hurt you.”
Except for the souls of the dead. Marian thought, but she didn’t say anything, afraid that she could look superstitious in Guy's eyes.
Gisborne stepped away from her, lingering for a few moments before taking leave from her, and Marian had the impression that he was about to kiss her.
She was ready to dismiss him, outraged, but Guy didn’t do anything, and he just walked out of the door after a last reassuring smile.
Marian watched him go away. She should have been relieved by the fact that he had not taken any initiative to court her, but inexplicably she felt disappointed.
With a sigh she put the lantern on the window sill and she looked at it for a while. Gisborne had taken so much care to carve it, with the sole purpose of reassuring her and to dissipate her silly fears. Looking at the turnip, Marian had the impression of seeing Guy sitting by the fireplace and concentrating on that job, moving the knife to carve a monstrous face.
In her thoughts, Marian could imagine herself touching his fingers to stop his work, then stooping down to kiss him.
She winced, blushing furiously.
What was she thinking? Why should she want to kiss Gisborne?
Furious for those unsuitable thoughts she headed to the basin, and she wet her face with cold water, then she shivered and decided that it would be better for her to change into a warmer dress.
Guy moved away from Marian's room, pleased with his own behavior. He had been confident and protective with the girl, and for once he had refrained himself from pleading any gesture of affection from her. Inside, he felt a bit like a heroic knight, ready to defend her from anything.
His security gradually collapsed as he moved along the desert corridors. He could hear a ghostly howl coming from the courtyard, and he shuddered thinking of the huge black dog he had seen shortly before.
That monstrous beast had looked at him, and Guy could not help but wonder if his destiny was sealed, if he was really condemned to die and be dragged to hell.
The castle, like all the ancient dwellings, was full of rustling and creaking, and each of those sounds startled Guy, who felt nervous.
As he walked, he seemed to hear the sound of other steps that followed him, but, as soon as he stopped, everything was silent, and Guy could not figure out if it was just the echo that resounded in the stone corridors or if someone was really following him.
He was tempted to run, but he forced himself not to.
I shouldn’t have laughed at the spirits of the dead, and I shouldn’t have eaten an offering destined to them.
He hated to be frightened by the shadows, just like one of Locksley's ignorant peasants, but he kept thinking of the "soul cake" he had eaten so superficially, and he feared that he had lured the wrath of the dead on himself.
The howl resounded again, and Guy hurried.
He wanted to have something to do to distract him from those thoughts, but he had already ordered the guards to check the castle from top to bottom, and he had to wait for them to come back for their report.
Passing in front of the kitchens, he stopped, caught up with a sudden idea. It was absurd and he was only ashamed to think of it, but perhaps it could be useful to dispel those irrational fears.
He went into the kitchens, and he noticed with relief that there was only one of the women who worked there. The girl looked at him, worried: Guy of Gisborne was a dangerous man and the servants feared him, though, if she wanted to be honest, she had never seen him act cruelly or unfairly as the sheriff often did.
“My lord?” She asked, looking at him. “Can I do something for you?”
Guy stared at her and the woman was surprised to see him hesitate. If it hadn’t been impossible, she would have thought that she saw him blush.
“Yes, maybe you can help me.” Guy said, a bit embarrassed, then he looked at her, threatening. “But if you talk about it to anyone, you will regret it bitterly.”
The woman winced. She knew that she was not particularly attractive, but what would she have to do if Gisborne wanted to take advantage of her? She had no way of defending herself and she’d have to bend to his desires, as immoral as they could be.
“Tell me what I can do for you, my lord.” She stammered, and Guy closed the door, locking it. He approached her, and the woman shuddered.
“Do you know how to prepare soul cakes?” Guy asked, clearly embarrassed, and the woman stared at him, astonished.
“The soul cakes, sir?”
Guy looked at her, angry.
“Yeah, what's so strange about it?!” He snarled. “Now answer!”
The woman was startled.
“Yes sir, everyone knows how to do it!”
“Well, I don’t, and I want you to teach me how to make them.”
The woman looked at him, thinking that he was crazy or that he wanted to make fun of her.
“You, sir? If you wish, I can prepare some of them for you.”
Guy seemed to reflect on that offer, then he shook his head.
“No, I think I have to prepare them myself to put things right,” he said, talking to himself, then he looked back at the girl. “Let me see how it is done. And remember that if you talk about this to a living soul, I'll make you regret it.”
The young woman glanced at him, perplexed, then she decided that it was better not to ask questions and to just obey. It seemed absurd to her that the sheriff's henchman might be interested in messing around in the kitchen, but if that was what he wanted, she would teach him how to prepare the soul cakes.”
She took the flour bag and laid it on the table, then she looked at Guy.
“Maybe you'd better take off your jacket, Sir Guy. You could get flour on it, and it would be noticeable right away on your black clothes.”
Gisborne looked at her, trying to figure out if the woman was making fun of him, but she seemed serious. He took off his jacket, put it down on a chair, and he looked back at the girl, waiting for other instructions.
The young woman hid a smile: the powerful and fierce Guy of Gisborne had just obeyed her advice and he was now waiting for her to give him other instructions. It was a feeling that she could become accustomed to, the woman thought, starting to feel confident.
"Well, now roll your sleeves and wash your hands with the water of that bucket, then come back here, measure three bowls of flour and put it in that big container.
Robin shook his head, afflicted, spying on the servants, who crossed themselves before taking away the corpse of one of their colleagues.
There was something wrong with the castle, and Robin was afraid that even Marian might be in danger. Gisborne's guards struggled to look for the murderer all around the castle, but if they couldn’t see him, how could they hope to find a ruthless and scrupulous assassin?
The victims of those aggressions seemed to have been drained of all their blood, and Robin had heard the servants and the soldiers say that this had to be the work of the devil himself. He obviously didn’t believe anything like this, he was certain that the murderer was a human being, and he had suspected that it was a plan of the sheriff, but then Vaisey had been attacked too.
He walked over to Marian's room, pleased to see that at least for once Gisborne seemed to have done something good: the girl's lodgings were well guarded, and Allan was in charge of the guards stationed in front of the door.
Whoever the killer was, at least Marian was well protected.
Robin Hood went on and was startled to feel a hand touching his shoulder. He turned around and he found himself face to face with the stranger who had come to the castle in the afternoon.
The woman looked at him without any fear, and she didn’t seem to be willing to give the alert.
She smiled at him and Robin found himself returning that smile, enchanted by the depths of her eyes.
“I'm scared,” Lady Millacra said, and her musical voice captured Robin's attention. “Please stay with me and protect me.”
The young woman held a hand to him, and Robin took it: the skin he felt under his fingers was icy, but he didn’t even notice it, letting her lead him along the corridors, to the castle's underground.
Guy pulled his hand back and brought his finger to his lips to ease the pain.
The kitchen girl, now much less intimidated by him, smiled openly, and handed him a heavy cloth, folded in four.
“Use this, sir, otherwise you will burn your fingers.”
“You could have told me before,” Guy grumbled, grabbing the cloth, but in the end he managed to take the soul cakes’ pan out of the oven without any other incidents.
The girl smiled at him, and she began to put the sweets in a basket, then she handed one to Guy.
“Don’t you want to taste them, sir?”
Guy winced, uncomfortable. He feared that his troubles had begun because of the soul cake he had eaten a few hours before, and he wasn’t going to repeat that mistake.
“Aren’t they an offer for the souls of the dead? Isn’t bad luck to eat them?”
“No, sir. And certainly not if they are offered to you. In fact, they will protect you, and, if you give them to poor children tomorrow, they will bring you good luck. Take one, and then offer one to me, if you want.”
Guy nodded, and he accepted the sweet from the young woman's hands, then he returned the offer, with a half-smile.
The girl chewed the sweet, and she nodded.
“You didn’t do bad, Sir Guy, considering that it's the first time you cook.”
Gisborne picked up the basket from the table.
“If you ever say one word about this, I'll make you regret it, remember it.”
The girl nodded respectfully. She wouldn’t gossip because she didn’t want to embarrass him, but now Sir Guy was far less scary for her than a few hours before.
Once out of the kitchens, Gisborne looked around, cautiously: he felt a fool for what he had just done and he didn’t want his soldiers to find out that their commander had baked cakes like a superstitious peasant. In that case, he would never be respected by his men anymore.
He walked quickly to the room where he had left the carved turnip, and he put that in the basket too, after blowing out the candle. He decided to reach his own lodgings, and hide everything there before someone could find out.
He had two possible ways to reach his rooms: crossing the yard and coming back inside the castle through a side door, or through a longer path along the corridors of the castle.
Guy was horrified at the thought of going into the yard where he had seen the Bargest, but, if he passed through the castle, he’d surely met patrols of soldiers, and they could ask him what was in the basket he was carrying.
He walked over to the door leading to the courtyard, and he looked around: it had become dark, but the courtyard seemed to be deserted. The words of the kitchen girl about the soul cakes had managed to alleviate his fears, and Guy had tried to convince himself that eating one of them couldn’t have drawn the wrath of the dead on him.
He took a deep breath, and he began crossing the yard, trying not to look at the dark and ghastly silhouette of Lady Millacra's carriage. He was about halfway, passing by the vehicle that was parked at a side of the courtyard, when a dark shadow broke away from the shadow of the carriage, moving toward him.
Guy froze: it was the black dog, the Bargest, and he was about to take his soul.
He stepped back, blindly, stumbled on a loose stone of the yard, and fell heavily to the ground.
He thought frantically that he should take the sword and try to defend himself, but he couldn’t, completely paralyzed by his terror.
The black dog approached, inexorable.
When the beast was just a few inches from him, Guy managed to move again, but now he didn’t have time to run away or to unsheathe the sword. He moved his hand, slipping it accidentally into the basket, and he found a soul cake between his fingers.
Instinctively, he handed it to the dog and closed his eyes so he couldn’t see the moment when he would be torn to pieces.
“I'm sorry! I did not want to make fun of the dead, I will never do it again! Take it! I made it to replace what I stole from the restless souls! Don’t kill me, please!”
Guy felt a warm breath on his hand, then something damp touched him, making the cake disappear.
Guy clenched his teeth, expecting to be massacred from one moment to the other, but the only thing he felt was a warm tongue licking his hand.
Surprised, he opened his eyes and found himself staring at the Bargest, discovering that it wasn’t an infernal hound, but a normal, harmless looking, stray dog.
The dog was black and rather big, but all of his threatening features ended there: he was sitting in front of Guy with a straight ear and the other one bent, wagging his big tail, and still licking Gisborne's hand while staring at him with a hopeful look.
Guy looked at him and he thought he had been an idiot for being frightened by that harmless puppy.
He quickly looked around to make sure that no one had seen the scene, then he stared back at the dog and laughed.
He picked up the basket from the ground, and he handed two or three cakes to the hungry dog, thinking that the dead wouldn’t be angry for that, then he caressed the animal between his ears, smiling of his own terror, but secretly relieved that it was just a dog and not a death omen.
Later, he decided, he would order the kitchen girl to take some leftovers to the yard.