Guy slipped inside his lodgings, and closed the door behind him without making any noise.
He sighed with relief: he had managed to return to his rooms without meeting anyone, and fortunately nobody had witnessed his meeting with the dog in the yard.
Guy felt his cheeks becoming hot at the thought of what the sheriff might have said, seeing him so terrified for a simple stray dog. Certainly he would have humiliated him in front of many people, and, if he saw the contents of the basket that Guy was carrying, he would laugh at him for at least a month.
But the sheriff wasn’t there, he was in bed, unconscious, wounded by a mysterious aggressor.
Though he felt silly, Guy pulled out the soul cakes from the basket, placed them neatly on a plate, and placed them on the window sill, then he took the lantern carved from a turnip, lighted the candle again, and put it on the fireplace shelf.
He yawned. He had spent a sleepless night and the rest of the day had been tiring and full of emotions.
Guy felt very tired, but he knew that his job was not over yet: a fierce assassin wandered around the castle, and he should better find him before the sheriff awoke.
But perhaps he could rest for a while, he thought. After all he had to wait for his guards to come and report to him after examining the castle from top to bottom. He was struggling to keep his eyes open, and he felt the need to sleep, so he lay down on the bed without undressing, merely taking off his boots and the scabbard.
He crouched on one side, wrapping himself in the blankets and closing his eyes. He opened them suddenly, caught in an irrational fear: what if the souls of the people he had killed at the sheriff's orders had decided to torment him?
The flames of the fireplace created flickering shadows in the room, making them look alive, and, for a few moments, Guy thought he saw obscure figures lurking in the darker corners, ready to crawl toward his bed.
“And to think that I told Marian that these superstitions had no effect on me...” He whispered, amused and somewhat shameful, shifting his eyes from the cakes on the window sill to the carved turnip on the fireplace shelf.
Perhaps they were just superstitions, but those simple objects reassured him a little: if the spirits really existed, the soul cakes would calm them, while the lantern would keep them away from his bed.
Guy closed his eyes and smiled as he fell asleep.
Marian carved it for me.
Robin smiled in sleep, almost in ecstasy. It had been a long time long since he had been touched by a woman like that, and he had never imagined that Marian could be so audacious.
He sunk a hand between the brown curls, savoring their softness, and was startled when she bite his lip.
The metallic taste of blood filled his mouth, and this perhaps explained the redness of the woman's lips.
It was strange, he thought confusedly, Marian had never had lips so red and her eyes had never been so dark and deep like wells.
Perhaps the woman who was kissing him was not Marian, and Robin knew that realizing that should have been important, but for some odd reason it wasn’t. All his will was sucked in by the drowsiness and the overwhelming sensations he was experiencing.
“Give me everything. I want every drop of you” The woman whispered to him, and Robin surrendered with a groan that was half pleasure and half suffering.
“Whatever you want. I'm yours,” he whispered, surrendering.
Suddenly all that heat vanished and he found himself in a frosty void. Alone.
He was lying on the floor of one of the empty rooms in the castle, and, even though the stone was cold, he felt even colder.
He turned to his side, trembling, and a pang of pain passed through his neck. Robin raised a hand to touch the place that hurt so much, and pulled it away wet with blood. He looked with horror at his fingers stained with red, and he realized that he too had risked to end like the other victims of the assault and to be bled to death.
Slowly he sat down, wondering why the murderer had not finished the job. Certainly not because of goodness of mind, judging by the appearance of the guard's corpse that he had seen shortly before.
Robin used the scarf that he wore around his neck to wrap the wound, tightening it a bit to stop the blood. That pressure on his sore neck was annoying and it hurt, but it was necessary if he didn’t want to meet a early end.
He had already lost too much blood: he felt weak and his thoughts were confused and slowed down.
The sound of heavy boots down the corridor alarmed him: the guards seemed to be patrolling the castle.
Probably it had been their presence that made the assassin run, saving his life, but Robin knew that if they found him, the sheriff would definitely hang him.
He struggled into a dark corner of the room and hid behind a curtain, hoping they wouldn’t find him, because he knew he hadn’t the strength to escape or to fight.
He held his breath when he heard the door being opened, but, shortly after, the steps of the soldiers stopped in front of his hiding place and one of them pulled the curtain sideways, while the other pointed the sword to his throat.
Robin was about to ask how they had found him when he saw the traces of blood he had left on the floor.
One of the soldiers grabbed him by one arm and pulled him to his feet. Robin thought he should fight, try to get rid of them and escape, but he couldn’t avert his eyes from the dark spots of blood on the stone floor: he felt cold, nausea tightened his stomach, and he wasn’t sure he could stand on his own.
“We caught Robin Hood!” One of the soldiers said, incredulous.
“Let's bring him in the dungeons and warn Sir Guy immediately. Come on, Hood!”
The guard shook him, and Robin walked uncertainly, then black spots began dancing in front of his eyes and he felt that his knees couldn’t hold him.
I have to flee. He thought, then he sank back into the darkness.
Guy woke up abruptly because somebody was loudly knocking on his door.
He looked around, terrified, expecting to see some supernatural vision hanging over his bed, some obscure specter waiting to drag him to hell, but his room had nothing different than usual, apart from the lantern lit on the fireplace shelf .
When they knocked again, Guy realized that there was nothing ghostly in that noise.
“What's up?!” He shouted, sitting on his bed and rubbing his eyes with his hands. He had slept a bit, but he still felt tired.
“My lord, you must come now! We captured Robin Hood!”
Guy rushed to open the door, and the soldier who had knocked was startled.
“What did you say?!”
“Robin Hood is our prisoner, sir. Harold and I found him in one of the empty rooms.”
Guy stared at him, incredulous: he had tried to catch his enemy in every way, and Hood had always escaped, how could two of his soldiers have succeeded? If he was not mistaken, those two were not even among the wisest and most talented of his men, how could they have been successful where he had always failed?
“Are you sure it's Hood?!”
The soldier nodded, worried about his master's state of mind: Gisborne looked very nervous and his appearance was less impeccable than usual. His clothes were as disheveled as if he had slept without removing them, his hair was ruffled, he had dark shadows under his eyes, and traces of something white that looked like flour on his face and clothes.
“Let's go. Take me to see the prisoner.” Guy ordered, starting to get out of the room, but he stopped, noticing the puzzled look of the soldier. “What's up?”
“Aren’t you going to wear your boots, sir?”
Guy looked at him for a moment, thinking that he was acting like a fool.
“Wait here,” he said, and slammed the door closed.
Guy leaned for a moment on the wooden door, and took a deep breath.
What was happening to him? He was always so careful not to be ridiculous in front of his soldiers and now he had just behaved like a madman.
Could it be that all those stories about restless souls and avenging ghosts had shocked him so much?
But maybe he was just tired.
For two days he had slept only for a few hours, and he had been foolishly impressed by the stories of superstitious populace, but now he had to regain his calm or he’d risk that half Nottingham would laugh behind his back.
He hurried to put on his boots, and he smoothed out his clothes, then he picked up the scabbard from the floor and tied it to his waist.
He opened the door and motioned to the soldier to make way. The man nodded, reassured to see that Gisborne seemed to be back to his former self, and they went to the dungeons.
“How did you catch him?” Guy asked shortly before arriving to the cells. He had been silent all the time, not willing to ask that question because he did not want to give the soldier the impression of being too impressed with Robin Hood's capture, but in the end his curiosity won, and Guy wanted to know how two incompetent guards could have succeed where he had always failed.
The soldier paled slightly.
“We didn’t catch him, sir. We found him.”
Guy frowned, perplexed.
“Yes, Sir Guy. He was hiding in a corner and he had no strength to move.”
The soldier stopped in front of the stairs leading to the dungeons. Gisborne looked at him, wondering why he had stopped, and the man handed the dungeons’ keys to Guy.
“Sir, have me flogged if you want, but I won’t go any further.”
“What is it, you captured him and now you are afraid of Hood's revenge?”
“No, sir, not of Hood.”
“And then of what?”
“Of the devil.”
“What nonsense are you talking about? Why should the devil be in the dungeons?!”
Guy scolded the soldier, trying to ignore the fact that if the devil had decided to settle down at the castle, that was exactly the place that he would find more comfortable. That, and Vaisey’s room.
The soldier shuddered.
“Hood was hurt, sir, he must have been attacked by the same monster who killed William and who attacked the sheriff!”
“He could be possessed, sir.”
Guy snatched the keys from the soldier’s hands.
“Don’t be a fool! If you are so coward, go back doing your job, I don’t need your presence!”
The man didn’t let Guy repeat it twice, and ran away after bowing slightly to his superior, while Guy stepped down the stairs of the dungeons, but, when he arrived halfway down, he no longer was so sure of himself.
Most of the cells were empty and the silence was ghastly. Only from the farthest one came the low sound of someone who slept, snorting slightly, and Guy forced himself to move on.
He didn’t call a coward one of his men, just to shudder in fear himself!
He approached the bars, and he saw Robin Hood lying on the ground, apparently unconscious. Guy thought that if he hadn’t been so noisy in his sleep, he would have thought him dead, seeing the pallor of his face, and the blood on his neck that had stained his clothes.
Guy put the key in the lock, trying to ignore the trembling that shook his hands, and he went into the cell, closing the door behind him.
The click of the lock made him startle.
He could be possessed, sir.
Guy swallowed and mentally called himself a fool, then he collected his courage and approached Robin Hood.