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Never Steal a Soul Cake

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Robin winced when he felt the mattress being lowered and he turned to look. He saw that Gisborne had sat on the bed on the opposite side of him, and he was holding his head in the hands, tired.
The black dog was sitting in front of Gisborne and watched him, waiting.
Robin thought that the whole situation seemed to be completely absurd, and he hated the feeling that something was escaping his understanding.
When he had entered into the castle, he had thought of discovering some new plot of the sheriff, and instead he found himself in a kind of nightmare where nothing was as it seemed.
The sheriff had been hurt by a mysterious enemy who had killed other people and had attacked him as well, while Gisborne behaved strangely, in a completely unexpected way.
The dog put his nose on Guy's knees, and the knight stroked him carelessly with one hand, lost in some somber thought.
The kindness of his touch surprised Robin. For many years now, he used to consider Gisborne as a heartless monster, his father's assassin, and the cruel henchman of the sheriff, but deep inside he also knew that the truth was another, and that Guy wasn’t so different from him.
He didn’t like to see that human side of him, it made harder to consider him just an enemy, an evil to fight.
He looked around, so he didn’t have to start a conversation, even if he knew that sooner or later one of them would have to do it. Gisborne's lodgings were rather bare, with very few personal belongings, and Robin was surprised to see a lantern carved into a turnip on the fireplace mantle and a plate of soul cakes on the window sill.
And so Gisborne was superstitious, Robin thought with some superiority, then, with a shudder, he thought of the events of that night, and he didn’t feel so eager to make fun of him anymore.
“Hood,” Guy said suddenly, and Robin stared at him. “We need to find out what's going on. All this is not normal, this folly must end.”
Robin nodded, serious. The thirst for blood, that had caught him so suddenly, scared him to death, and he was afraid for when he would have to return to the camp.
As long as that murderous instinct turned to Gisborne, it was a thing, but what if he should find himself hurting his friends?
He was about to answer to Guy, when a series of knocks at the door startled them both.
Gisborne got to his feet, and he looked at the door, wondering if he should pretend not to be in his lodgings, when the dog began to bark furiously.
Guy put a hand on Bargest’s head to placate him, and gave Robin a warning glance.
“Coming!” He shouted at the door, then turned to the outlaw, whispering. “Hide. Nobody must know that you're here.”
Robin realized that Gisborne was genuinely concerned with the thought that someone might see him in his company, and he was tempted to keep him on edge, but he realized that, if they should discover him, this time he wouldn’t have the strength and the energy to try an escape.
He got up, and hurried to hide behind a curtain, hoping that he wasn’t too weak to stand.
Bargest continued to bark and to jump against the door, so that Guy was forced to take a piece of rope to tie the dog to one of the legs of the bed.
Guy looked back to make sure that Robin was well hidden, and he finally approached the door to open it.
He half opened the door to see who it was, hoping with all his heart that it wasn’t the sheriff. He knew that it wasn’t possible because Vasey was unconscious, but still Guy was afraid to find him in front of him, and to have to explain that he had not yet found the mysterious assassin who had hurt him.
Robin tried to peek through a hole in the curtain: Gisborne had first opened the door a little, then he had stepped back, letting the door to open completely, and staring at the person who had knocked, as if he was inebriated.
Tied to the leg of the bed, the dog had stopped barking, but he was also looking at the door, rigid and tense, emitting a subtle and fierce growl that made him look much more like the infernal dog he was named after.
"Lady Millacra..." Guy whispered, looking at the lady who was waiting patiently across the threshold.
The woman looked at him, smiling and calm, as if finding herself in the middle of the night in the dark corridor of an unknown castle, afflicted by a series of murders, didn’t disturb her at all.
“I was looking for you, Sir Guy.”
“Were you looking for me?” Guy asked, unsure.
“I was worried about your wound.” Millacra's voice was melodious and tender, vibrant with many nuances, but her eyes seemed to burn as they stared at Gisborne's bandaged hand.
Guy shuddered by thinking of the touch of her lips on the skin, and he couldn’t reply.
“I would have stayed with you earlier,” she said, “but you were not alone.”
The memory of the two women mingled in Guy's mind: Marian had sewed the cut patiently, focused, with the curls of her dark hair that had tickled his wrist while she was concentrating on her work, while Millacra had kissed his wound, wiping the blood with her tongue, in a gesture that had been inexplicably tender, innocent, and terribly scary and sensual at the same time.
In both cases, Guy felt the sting of needles on his skin, even though he didn’t quite understand how this was possible since Lady Millacra had only kissed his hand.
“Won’t you invite me to come in?” The woman looked at him, tilting her head, and for a moment Guy was completely lost in her eyes, sinking into the abyss of her pupils.
He was about to answer yes, he was about to say he would do everything she wanted, when Bargest gave a spine-chilling howl, and Guy turned to look at him with a start.
He saw, behind him, that Robin had come out of his hiding place and had taken a few steps towards the door, staring at Lady Millacra with an enraptured expression. Guy felt his soul burning with a mad jealousy, and he was tempted to kill the outlaw, to tear his throat as a rabid dog would do.
Don’t dare to look at her like that! She is mine! I belong to her!
Guy's hand moved to the dagger he wore on his belt, and Robin prepared to fight too, even though he was disarmed.
Marian was far from the thoughts of them both in that moment, the only thing that counted was the approval of Lady Millacra's dark eyes, pointed at them like an hawk waiting for the right time to catch the prey.
A moment before they began to fight, the black dog pulled at the rope until it broke, and he pounced on the two men, closing his teeth on Guy's wrist with enough force to make him let go the blade.
The dagger dropped to the ground with a metallic noise, and Guy and Robin stared at each other, as though they had both just awakened from a dream.
What were we doing?
“Invite me to come in!” Lady Millacra cried, her tone no longer tender and sweet, but imperious and threatening, like an outraged queen.
Guy shook his head, scared by the anger that twisted her face, seeing her for the first time for what she really was, and Bargest approached the door, growling, with his fur bristled and his eyes burning like embers of an infernal fire.
They stared at each other for a long time, and the woman seemed to growl too, then she shouted in anger and a lightning lit up the night, forcing Guy and Robin to close their eyes for a moment, dazzled by such a strong light.
When they reopened them, only a moment later, Lady Millacra was no longer at the door.
The two men watched the open door, panting, feeling that they had just escaped a deadly danger, but they failed to figure out what had actually happened.
Bargest came back to them without hesitation, and he sat down at their feet, wagging the tail with his usual harmless air.

Marian stifled a cry of terror in hearing the boom of the thunder and seeing the flash of the lightning. Allan, definitely less heroic, shouted openly and clung to her.
The girl pushed him away.
“Stop it! What are you doing?! You are not a child!”
“It was so close! It must have hit one of the towers!”
“Well, it didn’t hit us, so stop acting like a scared little girl.”
“I'm not a little girl!” Allan protested, without denying that he was scared.
Marian snorted, trying to appear brave, but her hands were holding tight the lantern carved in the turnip, clinging to it as if she was in search of protection.
“Where's Robin? Guy told us to come and look for him here, but I don’t think he is nearby.”
Allan shook his head and shrugged.
“Hey, it's not my fault, I have to obey his orders.” He looked around with a shudder and started talking again. “But now I obeyed, so I think we can go back to a safer and more brightened place, don’t you think?”
Marian smiled, amused by Allan's ability to turn every situation into the most favorable way, but if she had to be honest, she agreed with him.
She was about to answer him when Allan let out an exclamation of surprise.
“What's up?” She asked.
The young man looked out of the window and pointed to a place in the courtyard.
“Look there!”
Marian looked at the desert courtyard.
“But there is nothing there...”
“Exactly! Just a moment ago there was that horrible ghostly carriage! It was there only a moment ago and now it's gone!”
Marian shivered, but she felt immediately calmer and she found herself hoping that the owner had disappeared with the carriage.
“It will be better,” she said in a low voice.
“Nothing nothing. Get me to my lodgings, it's very late now.”
Allan nodded and escorted her along the corridors. None of them said it, but the atmosphere of terror that had oppressed the castle seemed to have suddenly dissolved, like a breath of fresh air in a room full of smoke.
“Do you think those two will be fine?” Allan asked after a while. “Robin and Giz, I mean.”
Marian nodded and smiled slightly.
“Yes. I think so.”

The morning air was cold, but it was a pretty sunny day, rather rare in that time of year. The sheriff, however, did not seem to be aware of the good weather, indeed his mood was quite stormy.
He woke up that morning without having suffered too much from the night-time attack, but he was furious at the idea that there was no culprit to arrest.
To make things even worse, Lady Millacra had disappeared with her luxurious carriage, vanquishing his plans to make money from that visit.
Some of the guards swore that they had captured Hood during the night, but the outlaw had already fled from the castle as usual. One of the servants swore to have seen him stealing a horse from the stables and galloping to the forest early at dawn.
“Gisborne!” He shouted, furious, then he turned to one of the guards. “Where's that idiot?!”
“Sir Guy was with Lady Marian, sir, I saw them heading to the market just a while ago.”
Vaisey started in the direction indicated by the soldier, frowning in anger, and he became even more furious in seeing his henchman with the girl.
The two were surrounded by a crowd of brats in ragged clothes, and Marian smiled, offering a soul cake to each one of them, taking every cake from a basket that was in Guy's hands.
Gisborne, instead of dispersing that crowd of waifs, indulged the stupid generosity of the girl and also dared to smile as if he was approving that idiocy.
The sheriff approached, stomping, and the children scattered, scared.
“What are you doing, you blithering oaf?! Where's the man who attacked me? Do you think he will hang on his own? A clue: no!”
Guy looked at the sheriff.
“We didn’t find him, my lord. I have reasons to believe that he is no longer in Nottingham.”
Vaisey went into a rage, getting furious.
"And then, since you haven’t been able to do your duty, do you think it's worth losing more time with this leper? What the hell are you doing with this bunch of loafers?!”
“Sir Guy was helping me to distribute the soul cakes to the poor. It's the tradition,” Marian said angelically, and Guy nodded with a smile.
“Do you want one, my lord?”
Vaisey stared at him as if he had lost his mind.
“The tradition?! Have you become completely crazy, you leper addled fool?! Get back to work right now before I show you what are the traditions here! Certainly not the cakes!”
Vaisey stepped forward, raising an arm to smack him, but he stopped before touching him, blocked by a fierce growl.
He looked down and saw the black dog, firmly planted on his four legs between him and Gisborne.
The animal was growling, showing white fangs, too big for the sheriff's tastes, and he was staring at him with no fear.
“Where does this mutt come from?!” The Sheriff shouted, always furious, but slightly more cautious.
“It's mine, my lord,” Guy said, stretching a hand to touch the dog's head. Bargest, appeased, sat at his feet, wagging his tail. “I've found out that he's pretty protective of me.”
Vaisey stared at both Guy and the dog, speechless.
His henchman seemed different from the day before: always obedient and respectful, but much more confident of himself, with a new light in his gaze that bordered on insolence.
The sheriff had the unpleasant feeling that Gisborne would no longer perform blindly any order, and that he would no longer be able to trust him completely as he once did.
Sooner or later, he thought, if he should become too independent he would have to get rid of him.
At that moment, as if he could read in his mind, the dog looked up to meet the Sheriff's gaze, and Vaisey had the impression to see a ghostly light in his eyes, the quick glow of a hellish fire, fixed on him.
A warning.
“Yes, my lord?”
“I expect that these idiocies do not interfere with your work! I want you in your place before the nobles council begins and I will not tolerate the least delay!” He said, threateningly, then he turned his back on Guy and Marian and returned to the castle without even giving him time to reply.
Marian watched him go away, a little surprised, then she smiled and took a soul cake from the basket, offering it to Guy, while they waited for the kids to come closer.
Guy accepted, smiling, and returned the gesture, giving one to the girl.
At their feet, Bargest wagged his tail, confidently waiting for his share.