Gisborne nodded to Robin to stay still and to hide in the shadow of a niche, then he disappeared around the corner of the corridor.
Robin waited, slightly restless. The black knight didn’t come back for a long time, and he wondered what he was doing. Did he want to pull him in a trap and deliver him to the sheriff? But then why letting him out of the cell? He was already his prisoner.
He leaned against the wall, shivering when he touched the frosty stone. He felt cold, his legs were trembling, and he wondered how he could be able to help Gisborne to catch the assassin when he was so weak. As long as the black knight's intentions were really those.
The desert corridor was silent like a tomb, but Robin thought that he could hear distant and indefinite sounds: creaks, weak rustlings, a rhythmic and muffled sound, like spectral steps.
Robin shuddered and winced as Guy came out from behind the corner suddenly, calling him in a low voice and making a sign of following him.
He hurried to reach him and Gisborne lead him into a small room, coming in and closing the door behind him.
Guy put the candle he used to illuminate their path on the windowsill, and opened a trunk, starting to rummage inside it.
“Take this, Hood, put it on,” he said, handing him one of his guards’ uniforms. “Nobody must know that I released you.”
Robin nodded. Guy's idea was sensible, and Robin thought he should have thought about it himself.
He took the uniform, but he hesitated before wearing it and, looking up, noticed that Guy was staring at him with an ironic grin.
“Come on, Hood, I bet it's not the first time you're dressing yourself like one of my guards.”
“Did you realize that because I was more efficient than them?”
“Hurry up, there's no time to waste,” Guy snarled.
Robin put on the uniform, and he was tempted to make some provocative joke about the too glamorous yellow that Gisborne had chosen for the fabric of the shirt and the mantle of his personal guards, as if he wanted to point out the yellow and black colors of the coat of arms of his family.
When Guy had taken Locksley, he had filled it with banners and flags in those colors, he had hanged on every wall the shields painted with the family coat-of-arms, he attached those ridiculous flags to the wagon that he used when he didn’t ride, and Robin imagined that he did so because he knew very well that Locksley didn’t belong to him, that he was just a usurper.
He glanced at Gisborne, but said nothing, it would have been foolish for him to provoke him when he was in a disadvantageous situation. He was wounded, he felt weak, and if Gisborne should decide to throw him back into the cell, he could not do anything to avoid it.
Robin put his helmet on his head, and hoped that feeling of illness would pass. His head throbbed painfully, making it difficult to concentrate on a plan, and the weight of the helmet didn’t help at all.
Robin tried to pull the mail coat away from his neck to avoid it could touch the wound, then he followed Guy, hoping to look like a convincing guard.
They walked for a while through the silent corridors and Robin staggered behind Gisborne until a stronger dizziness forced him to lean against the wall to avoid falling.
Guy turned to look at him.
“Keep going, Gisborne. As long as you have the slightest idea of where we are going.”
"I was thinking to look again at the places where the attacks took place.” Guy stared at him, scrutinizing him carefully. “But maybe I should concentrate more on the victims. Enter that room, Hood, and wait for me there.”
Robin gave him a perplexed look, but he agreed, also because he didn’t believe he had the strength to continue walking for a long time.
He went into the room, wondering what Guy meant. With a shudder, he wondered if Gisborne had carried the bodies of the victims to that place, and was relieved to see that instead the room was completely empty, apart from a table, benches and a tapestry attached to the wall. The fire was lit in the fireplace and Robin sat on one of the benches, giving his back to the flames.
Perhaps that was a room for castle soldiers, a place to eat or play dice between their shifts. Robin hoped that no one would come in, and once again wondered about Gisborne's intentions.
It was the second time he had left him alone, and for a moment Robin was tempted to leave, to return to the camp and move away from the frosty sense of danger surrounding the castle that made his stomach tightening. But he had given his word to Gisborne, and he wasn’t going to betray it.
Just as he was beginning to think that Gisborne wouldn’t come back, the door opened and Guy stepped in, putting on the table a basket covered with a cloth, and a jug of wine.
Robin looked at him, puzzled, as Gisborne took two cups out of the basket and filled them with the wine.
“Drink, Hood,” he said, then he rummaged into the basket, and put a piece of bread and a bowl full of slices of cold meat on the table. “We’ll eat something and then we can talk.”
Robin stared at him.
“Do you really think that’s the right time to eat?”
“You are so weak that you barely stand up, and I don’t remember the last time I had a decent meal. So yes, it seems to me a good time to eat.”
Robin found nothing to object. He wasn’t particularly hungry, but he felt terribly thirsty and the wine made him feel a little better.
Guy chewed a piece of bread in silence, without looking at Robin. That situation was absurd: he and his enemy were quietly sitting to share a meal as if it was completely normal. Yet, since that ghostly carriage had come to the castle, his life had become even more complicated than usual and, apart from the food that Marian gave him while he was guarding the gate, and the soul cake he had tasted in the kitchen, he hadn’t eaten anything since the day before, and he was hungry.
Within himself, at some depth of his soul he did not even suspect, he felt another kind of hunger, different and more visceral, the desire to devour something that he wasn’t able to define. It was similar to what he felt for Marian, that painful desire to hold her close, to kiss her until he lost any reason, to merge with her to become one, to join her purity to become a better man... But it wasn’t the same thing. This strange strange desire was something deeper and darker, a force flowing in the blood.
He looked at Robin and watched him as he ate, the movement of his neck every time he swallowed.
I could cut his throat and he wouldn’t have the strength to react. The blood... the blood would be enough to fill the mug instead of the wine...
Guy winced, shocked by the morbidity of his own thoughts.
He hated Robin Hood, and he had enjoyed a great pleasure every time he had succeeded in taking something from him, he wanted to see him dead, hanging from the gallows for his crimes, but that bloody desire wasn’t normal.
Guy had killed following Vaisey's orders, he had shed blood, innocent and not, but he had never been pleased to do so: it was just his duty, and he did it without flinching.
Desiring the atrocious death of a person after he had promised to spare his life was not normal, it was immoral and shameful, even if that person was Robin Hood. They had reached an agreement and, for Guy, loyalty was the most important thing.
At that moment, Robin looked at him and Gisborne shivered. In his eyes, Guy had read the same dark desire to shed blood, the fierce hunger of violence that he had just experienced.
To see it mirrored in another person's eyes was terrifying: Robin Hood, with all his hypocritical principles about not killing, wanted him dead. In a violent way.
They stood staring at each other for a long moment, then the opening door broke that unhealthy enchantment, and Guy leaped to his feet, pulling the sword and turning to the newcomer, ready to attack.
Allan stepped back, raising his hands in front of him.
“Hey, Giz, calm down, it's me! Tell me, did you become crazy, by chance?” The young man widened his eyes, recognizing the guard sitting at the table, and remained there, with his mouth open, uncertain about what to do.
How could it be possible that Guy didn’t realize that it was Robin? Surely he wouldn’t sit quietly to eat side to side with his enemy, but how could he not have realized the identity of that soldier?
Gisborne was pale and he certainly was nervous and agitated, maybe he was unwell?
Guy put the sword back in the sheath, and he leaned against the wall with his back, crossing his arms in front of him with a tired sigh.
“What do you want, Allan?”
“I was looking for you...” He began, uncertain, throwing a worried look at Robin. “Is it all right, Giz?”
“Does it look like everything is all right?! There is someone who goes around the castle killing people and we have no idea of who it might be! If we can’t find the murderer when the sheriff wakes up, it won’t be pleasant for me, I can assure you! And he,” Guy turned to look at Robin, pointing his finger with a blatant accusation, “has not yet found not even a half-idea to solve the problem!”
“I'm thinking about it!” Robin snarled, offended, and Allan shifted his gaze from one to the other, increasingly perplexed.
“You two... were dining together?”
“If I have to wait for him to come up with a solution, we could as well eat in the meantime. Do you have a problem with that?!” Guy snarled.
Allan peered at the table, and shook his head.
“No, indeed, it’s a great idea.” Allan sat in the center of the bench and reached out to the bread, grabbing a piece of it.
Guy glanced at him, but didn’t say anything, and he too sat back, then he turned to Robin.
“Hood, you're the one who saw the killer. Now you have to tell us what you know. Just try to mess with me, and I swear I'll drag you back to the cell before you can even realize it.”
Robin looked at him in the eyes.
“I can’t remember anything. It's the truth, Gisborne.”
Guy stared at him, wary, then he nodded dryly. Robin Hood seemed sincere, but it was odd that he had no memory of the killer.
“Why did you come to the castle? You were already here last night and you got what you wanted, why were you here again?”
“They told me that a wagon had come to the castle and I came to check the situation.”
Guy frowned, remembering Lady Millacra only then, and he thought that he should make sure that their guest wasn’t in any danger.
“Allan?” He started, then he stopped. He wanted to ask him in what room the lady was lodged, but he was strangely reluctant to do so. That woman attracted him and repulsed him at the same time.
Guy thought of her lips pressed on his wound, the greedy movement with which she sucked his blood and he realized that he was blushing.
Allan was staring at him, perplexed, and even Robin Hood's eyes were pointing at him.
“Did the soldiers finish searching the castle?” He asked instead, hoping to look secure, when he actually felt nervous and upset without even being certain of the reason. He took a piece of meat and pretended to be concentrating on the food while listening to Allan's answer.
“There are no intruders, Giz.” He glanced at Robin. “Well, excluding him.”
“Of course I didn’t try to murder myself,” Robin pointed out, sarcastic, pointing at the wound on his neck.
Guy slammed a fist on the table.
“Someone must have done it!”
“The only stranger is Lady Millarca,” Allan said, thinking aloud, and he was surprised to see that both Robin and Gisborne were staring at him with the same confused expression.
“Don’t say nonsense, Allan. Do you really want to suspect a young, so fragile and delicate lady?” Guy rebuked him, disappointed, and Robin nodded fervently.
“That girl could never hurt anyone.”
Allan stood still with his mouth open: since when the two of them began to agree? And then weren’t they both in love with Marian? Why would they care so much for that stranger woman?
The young man gave up trying to understand what was going on, and he shuddered.
“I knew it, I knew it! It must be the Bargest! One of the dead guards had said that he saw a black dog in the yard before he died!”
“Because there was a black dog.”
“Did you see it, too, Giz?! Then you are condemned!”
“The Bargest doesn’t exist! What I saw in the yard was a normal dog! Stop believing these superstitions.”
Allan shook his head.
“Tonight the dead return to Earth, there's a huge black dog in the yard and it looks like people started to die like flies! It does not seem like a coincidence! The castle is damned Giz, it must be so.”
Robin glanced at Guy and inwardly grinned: Gisborne looked rather nervous and Robin couldn’t resist the temptation to try to frighten him.
“I wouldn’t be so sure. Many stories have no foundation, but some are not to be taken lightly. There are many more things in the world than just the ones that we can see, and it would be better to leave some of them unknown. In the forest there are many ancient mounds, did you know?”
“So? They're just old tombs. Hood, get to the point.”
“If I were in you, I’d be careful not to ever go there by twilight or by dawn, because it is in that uncertain light that the specters come out of the tombs, envious of the life of those who are passing around. They are creatures that belong to death, and whoever saw them has said they have felt their frosty fingers touch their skin like a cold wind blowing.”
“I've never heard anyone tell stories like that.” Guy said, and Robin noticed with pleasure that he seemed very uncomfortable.
“Because who gets touched by the ghosts dies before the following night. Every time. A sudden illness... An accident... There is no escape.”
Allan slipped a little closer to Guy: he felt a slight stream of air touching his neck and he kept thinking about the wind fingers of the spectrum of the tumuli.
“This has nothing to do with the homicides.” Gisborne snarled.
“But the carriage I saw in the yard could. It reminded me of another story I heard... It is said that there is a carriage decorated with funeral vestments that goes galloping along the streets, without slowing down, not even when it crosses towns and villages. It is pulled by horses, as black as the night, and they leave tracks of fire at their passage. They all pray that it never stops in front of their home because the coffin on the carriage is empty when it arrives, but always full when it departs.”
Robin stopped speaking, pleased to see that Guy’s face was as white as a corpse, and he seemed close to succumb to terror. He was about to make an ironic joke when Allan, pale and tense, began to talk.
“I've heard about infernal creatures who kill people by drinking their blood... They enchant people in some way and then they bite them, with no mercy. And the terrible thing is that the victims don’t even realize it, those few who survive can’t remember how they were injured and they are unable to defend themselves when the creatures return to finish the work, in fact they often offer themselves spontaneously, condemning their soul to eternal damnation...”
Robin opened his mouth with the intention of making an irreverent joke, but he closed it immediately. He wanted to have fun scaring Gisborne, but the stories he had told had some effect on himself too because he felt nervous. He hadn’t invented them, he had really heard them, told by the peasants, and he had always considered them nonsense, but suddenly he didn’t feel so confident anymore.
Then Allan's story had nauseated him. The thought that someone could drink the blood of humans deeply disgusted him, and made him want to vomit the little food he had eaten shortly before. The only idea was wrong and frightening, but what terrorized him was the subtle desire hidden in his mind that made him wonder about the taste of the blood of Gisborne.
Robin swallowed, trying to distract himself from that thought, otherwise he would really end up humiliating himself, surrendering to nausea in front of Guy and Allan. The only consolation was that his rival seemed to be in his same condition, and that Gisborne had the same greenish and unhealthy color that Robin had seen often on the faces of soldiers embarked on ships to the Holy Land, when they fell prey to sea sickness.
He looked at the wine jug, undecided if he should take a sip of it or not: maybe drinking would lessen the nausea, or perhaps it would get worse.
Unconscious of the effect of his words, Allan had resumed speaking, continuing to describe the brutality of those abominable creatures.
Robin shivered, unconsciously moving on the bench to get closer to the other two.
Then the door opened suddenly, and a monstrous face with flaming eyes appeared on the threshold.