Chapter 1: The Spirits of the Dead
Guy of Gisborne went through the gate of the castle on horseback and he dismounted, throwing the reins of the animal to a servant, out of sorts.
Robin Hood had entered the castle during the night to steal the tax money that had to be sent to the black knights. Guy was woken abruptly when one of the guards raised the alarm and he had to throw himself in pursuit of the outlaw.
Obviously Hood had managed to escape and Gisborne had spent the rest of the night and a good part of the morning looking for him in the forest, without getting any other result than to get soaking wet in the rain.
In the end, tired, cold and hungry, he was resigned to the idea that even that day he wouldn't capture Robin Hood and he ordered his men, just as wet and discouraged as him, to return to the castle.
He watched them go with a bit of envy: their watch was over and they could return to their homes or spend their time having fun and refreshment at the tavern, but for him the most unpleasant part was yet to come, he had yet to report the sheriff another failure.
Guy sighed: he might as well get it over as soon as possible.
He went to the Great Hall, where he knew he would find Vaisey and entering he sighed again: the sheriff was not alone, but he had summoned the council of nobles to collect taxes, which meant that Vaisey's outburst of rage and the humiliation that would hit Guy would have many witnesses.
“Oh, look, a wet rat!” Vaisey said, noting his arrival. “Oh, no, it's just Gisborne.”
Guy stopped in front of him, ignoring the ironic words of the sheriff.
Vaisey stared at him intently, looking into his eyes.
“Tell me, Gizzy, have you captured Robin Hood?”
Gisborne looked down. Vaisey certainly had already realized that the chase could not have been successful, but he was finding amusing to embarrass him. If Guy had not let him do it, the consequences would be worse.
He sighed and shook his head.
“No, my lord.”
“So you're saying that today the most useful thing you could do is to drip water on the floor of my castle?”
“Hood must have been helped, sir! It chose exactly the time when I was off duty to strike! As if he knew when I would have more difficulty to gather the guards to chase him.”
The slap of Vaisey, hard and sudden, startled him, causing him to lose his balance. The sheriff took the opportunity to push him and Guy fell painfully to the ground.
“No, you idiot! It just means that you are not even able to organize your men! Useless being! Incompetent!”
Vaisey emphasized his words with a kick that hit Guy in the ribs, making him moan in pain, but Gisborne did not dare protest. He knew that when the sheriff was in those conditions it was useless to reply, it was best to wait for him to vent his anger and to keep the mouth shut.
“Get up, you idiot!” Vaisey ordered and Guy got to his feet, trying not to show the humiliation he felt for the brutal treatment.
“You're useless, Gisborne! Sometimes I wonder why I continue to keep you in my service even if you continue to collect failures.”
Guy was silent. He could remind the sheriff that capturing Robin Hood was only a small part of his responsibilities, and the only one in which he failed. Without him to manage and settle nearly every aspect of the management of the castle, the Sheriff's life would have been much more difficult and certainly more complicated.
He said nothing because he could only draw to himself more ironic comments or a harsher punishment.
“Sometimes I think I should order my guards to whip you, just to remind you that I don't like failures. What do you say, Gizzy? But no, I will be generous with you, indeed, I will try to make you feel useful for once in your life. Today you will take the place of the soldier on guard at the gate, just to remind you that you have to earn the privileges that you have. Now go away, I'm sick of your presence.”
Guy bowed slightly and took his leave, leaving the room with dignity.
When he was alone he allowed himself a mournful sigh: he was tired, cold, he had slept only a few hours and he hadn't been able to eat anything all morning and now Vaisey expected him to do a whole turn of guard at the gate, under the pouring rain.
But it was no use complaining or linger, he had no choice and he knew it. Surely the sheriff would make sure to get out of town later, just to gloat over his humiliation and if he shouldn't find Guy at the gate, he would make sure to make him pay for it.
It was all Hood's fault, Guy thought, grimly, and he walked toward the gate.
Marian avoided being noticed by soldiers on patrol by flattening herself against the wall and she stood still, waiting for them to pass.
Despite finding him hateful, Marian thought that the sheriff was right about the incompetence of the guards of the castle: if it was so easy for to avoid them, for Robin it had to be really a no-brainer.
She approached the gate and she stopped to look at the dark figure of Guy, standing in the rain. The black knight had his back to her and he watched the street, unnecessarily because nobody in their right mind would have dreamed of walking around in the storm.
She felt a twinge of guilt that gripped her stomach: if Gisborne was forced to endure that unpleasant and humiliating punishment it was only her fault. She was the one who warned Robin about the right moment to strike, without thinking too much that Guy would have suffered the wrath of the sheriff.
Marian didn't reciprocate Guy's feelings, but she was convinced that there was good in him, and that under different circumstances he could prove almost as kind and brave as Robin. At the castle he was the only person she thought she could trust at least in part, the only one who would never intentionally harm her.
For the umpteenth time she wondered why he endured to work for the sheriff, without finding a satisfactory answer.
She covered well in her cloak and she took a few steps forward.
Gisborne spun around, surprised.
“Marian!” He frowned. “Why are you here? You shouldn't go out in the rain or you will become ill.”
Marian watched him, smiling slightly.
“And you can give me this advice because you are dry and warm, right?”
“At least shelter yourself under the gate.”
Marian backed up to take shelter under the stone arch of the door and nodded to call Guy.
“Take cover you too, at least for a while.”
Guy glanced hesitantly at the castle. Vaisey expected him to be in place in the rain and Guy would surely be punished otherwise.
Marian noticed his hesitation and she came up to him to take his hand and pull him toward her.
“The sheriff won't notice if you rest for a few minutes. I don't think he is willing to go out in this weather either.”
Guy was persuaded and he smiled weakly.
“And what are you doing in the rain?”
She reached into the basket that she had on her arm and she handed him a dry towel.
“Dry yourself a bit, otherwise you'll be the one who gets an illness.”
Gisborne looked at her, puzzled. Marian was concerned about his well-being?
“Do not worry, I'm used to endure hardships of this kind. But thank you, yours is a kind gesture.”
Guy used the towel to rub his hair and his face before returning it to the girl. Marian was enchanted for a moment to observe the way in which the strands of his wet and now tousled hair curled wildly around Guy's face then she chided herself mentally and she went back to look for something in the basket.
Gisborne wondered why the girl suddenly blushed, but he forgot the question when Marian offered him an apple.
“You've been out all morning and now you'll have to stay here until tonight, I thought maybe you had not time to eat. In the basket there is also a cake that I took from the kitchen, but I fear it is still too hot to eat it right away.”
Guy smiled and he bit his apple without peeling it. He was surprised and touched by the fact that Marian had thought to bring him food and he wondered once again if she had any interest in him or if she just wanted to win his favor to get a better treatment for her and her father.
In any case, whatever her aims, her company was very pleasant and it mitigated the sheriff's punishment. To get a bit of attention from Marian, it was worth to endure some rain and some humiliation.
“The sheriff was unfair, earlier. You shouldn't let him treat you like that.”
“I don't have much choice. I swore obedience to him a long time ago.”
She shook her head.
“But it is unreasonable! What's the sense of sending you to watch a deserted road in this cold weather? He does it just to humiliate you, it is clear that by this time there won't be travelers heading to the castle, it would have been enough to lower the gate.”
“Tonight in particular, then.” Guy said and Marian looked at him.
“Tomorrow will be the day of All Saints, and today the souls of the dead return to walk among the living, no one will dare to wander at night.” Guy said with a somber tone that made her shiver, then he smiled. “Or at least that's what the peasants say. Let me see your basket.”
Marian handed it to him and Guy took the little cake that Marian had mentioned earlier.
“Indeed. I imagined that.”
Guy pointed to the mark in the shape of a cross engraved on the surface of the cake.
“This is a "soul cake", they are prepared to be left as an offering to the souls of the dead on the night when their spirits return to visit this land. Didn't you know? Do I look dead, Marian?”
She shook her head, embarrassed.
“I didn't mean... I'm sorry...”
Guy laughed and bit the small cake.
“I was joking. I do not believe in these things.” He said, reassuringly. “The dead are dead, it doesn't matter how much we could hope for it, their spirits never return.”
Marian looked at him, amazed by the melancholy hidden in his last sentence, then she shuddered to see that Guy had given another bite to the cake.
“But maybe you shouldn't eat it. If it's for the dead, it might be a bad omen.”
“What can happen to me worse than the anger of the sheriff?” Guy asked, lightly.
“Don't joke about these things!” Marian said and Guy looked at her, amused. If the girl was afraid of ghosts and spirits, he could take advantage of it a little to draw her closer to him.
“Do you fear that the dead can come knocking at the door of your room tonight?” He asked, thinking a bit maliciously that he might be the one who'd knock at Marian's door later and then he could offer her his protection.
“Why would they?!” The girl asked nervously and Guy felt a little guilty for thinking to frighten her. After all she had been kind to bring food and comfort to him, risking the wrath of the sheriff.
“You have no reason to be afraid, Marian. No ghost might want to scare an innocent girl like you.”
Marian nodded uncertainly. She wasn't sure she could define herself innocent, especially with Guy.
She had deliberately taken advantage of his feelings for her to deceive him, extort information and help Robin. She repeated to herself that Gisborne deserved it because he worked for the sheriff, but she knew that in any case her behavior was wrong and cruel.
Guy saw her hesitation and mistook it for fear. He smiled, remembering something he had seen in Locksley last year.
“If you still are afraid, you could do like the peasants do to protect their homes. On the eve of All Saints they take a big turnip, they empty it, then they carve a sort of face on it and they put a small candle inside it to light it. Then they put this kind of lantern on the door or the window to protect their homes from the spirits. If you wish, later, when I finish my watch, I can show you how. You get yourself a turnip and I will carve it for you.”
Marian smiled, grateful and Guy thought, pleased, that after all he did not mind at all to have been punished by the sheriff.
He glanced toward the castle and he thought that he should return to his post before the sheriff would notice his absence. For Guy it wouldn't be a problem to endure another of his outbursts or another punishment, but he didn't want to risk that Marian could have repercussions for her kind gesture.
“I must return to my work.” He apologized. “I'll come to see you later, my lady, to protect you from the spirits of the dead.”
Marian nodded, thinking that Guy's smile shouldn't stir her so much. Indeed, it shouldn't stir her at all, she told herself, thinking of Robin guiltily, but she could not deny that it was pleasant and satisfying to think that she was the only one able to illuminate the face of a man otherwise so dark and severe.
She was about to take leave when Guy pointed at the road.
“Look! We were wrong! There are people so crazy to travel in this weather, then.”
Marian saw a carriage approaching, drawn by galloping horses.
When it approached a little more, Guy let out an exclamation of surprise.
“There is no one driving it! Stand back, Marian!”
Guy ran forward, in the rain, to try to stop the horses and Marian thought with horror that he would be run over, but, seeing him, the animals slowed and Guy was able to stop them, taking them by the reins.
Marian approached him, anxiously watching the carriage: it was a heavy and massive vehicle, decorated with funeral vestments and pulled by horses blacks as night.
Marian shuddered and came up a bit more near to Guy.
Gisborne glanced at Marian and he looked back at the carriage.
After all this talk about ghosts and spirits, just watching that lugubrious vehicle with no one to guide it made him more upset than he liked to admit, but he couldn't afford to hesitate in front of Marian.
Pretending to be completely calm, he opened the carriage door and there stood an unknown lady.
The woman was young and slender, with a cascade of dark brown hair that framed a pale face and, when she saw the door being opened, she let out a piercing cry that froze both Guy's and Marian's blood, then she collapsed unconscious and she fell forward in the arms of Gisborne.
The black knight staggered under the sudden weight, but he supported her and picked her up in his arms, hoping that Marian wouldn't notice that his hands were shaking.
The mysterious woman was dressed in mourning and she was so pale and cold to seem dead herself, the carriage was dark and mysterious, it appeared in the rain without a driver and Guy realized with horror that in the wagon there was a coffin covered with a black velvet cloth.
Marian was glued to him and she clung to his jacket, scared.
In a normal situation that closeness would have filled him with joy, but at that moment he would rather be at least a few miles away from there. Certainly he would have preferred he didn't make fun of the spirits eating the cake destined to the dead.
Marian looked at him.
“What do we do, Guy?”
“Let's get her to the castle.” He said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I'll tell the guards to take care of the car.”
Gisborne settled back the unconscious woman in his arms, but when her cold lips brushed against his neck, he couldn't conceal a start.
Chapter 2: Kiss It Better
“Gisborne! I think I gave a precise order, what are you doing here? In the company of your leper friend, too!”
The sheriff gave a disgusted look to Guy and Marian, who had entered the room a few moments after the black knight.
“My lord, something unusual happened while I was on guard at the gate and I thought you had to be informed immediately.”
Vaisey looked at him: Gisborne didn't waste time to dry out or remove his coat, drenched in rain.
Guy described the arrival of the coach and the mysterious young woman who had fainted in his arms.
Vaisey raised an eyebrow.
“Where is this woman now?”
“I have ordered that she was to be carried in one of the guest rooms and I sent for a doctor.”
The sheriff slammed his fist on the table.
“Do you think that I have money to spare for every vagrant who arrives at the castle just because you, kind of idiot, you let yourself to be enchanted by a beautiful face? Maid Marian, if I were you I would feel offended.”
Marian was about to reply that she had no reason to be jealous of Guy, but she stopped just in time, realizing that those words would hurt the feelings of Gisborne.
“She doesn't seem at all a vagabond, my lord. The carriage is quite luxurious.”
Vaisey seemed to consider the last sentence, wondering if he could take advantage of that unexpected visit to his advantage.
“Let me see this mysterious carriage, then. And in any case you will pay the doctor's bills.”
Guy nodded and he led the way to the courtyard. Guy noticed that Marian followed him closely and he knew that she had to be afraid of that situation.
Gisborne let Vaisey to go ahead and he gave an encouraging smile to the girl. While they were inside the castle the subtle uneasiness that had caught him seeing the carriage without driver had dissipated, but, to his extreme disappointment, it returned to bother him when he looked again at the vehicle that was standing in a corner of the yard.
The servants had removed the horses to put them away in the stables so the coach seemed even more abandoned and ghostly.
Marian also must have had the same impression because she had approached even closer to Guy, to the point that their hands touched. Guy wished he took off his gloves because in that case he could touch the soft skin of the hands of Marian, but it was also fine staying so close to her. He didn't move, hoping that the girl didn't step away from him.
Vaisey however was not at all intimidated by the funeral vestments of the carriage and he walked around it, looking at the quality of the wood and of the decorations.
“Maybe you're not quite an idiot, Gisborne. It looks really luxurious.” He opened a door and touched the cloth that covered the coffin with no respect, groping and rubbing the fabric between his fingers and making Guy and Marian cringe for that lack of respect for the dead. “And this is of excellent quality, I think this unexpected visit could be fruitful.”
Vaisey pulled aside the drape to knock on the lid of the coffin.
“I wonder if there is really in here a body or if it's an ingenious system to transport the riches without being robbed. Come on, open it, Gisborne.”
Guy froze. He had done worse things at the orders of the sheriff, but the thought of violating the coffin made him shudder.
He felt that, if he opened that coffin, the spirit of the deceased would have had good reason to take revenge on him. Earlier he had said to Marian that he didn't believe in that sort of things, but then it was before the coffin of a stranger arrived at the castle in such a disturbing way.
“Should I open it myself, my lord?” He asked, hesitantly, and Vaisey looked at him with such ferocity to make him wince.
“No, you idiot, I think I'm going to ask Robin Hood to do it! Come on, you incompetent oaf!”
Guy swallowed, faced with a choice between two equally terrifying alternatives, he took a step toward the carriage and he hoped he didn't look too terrified at the eyes of Marian.
He was about to touch the coffin when a stern voice from the door of the castle stopped him.
“What are you doing with the coffin of my father?”
Gisborne spun around and he sighed with relief, seeing that the young woman who he helped seemed to have fully recovered. Her arrival had spared him the unwelcome task to open the coffin and Guy was incredibly relieved. He vowed that in the future he would have more respect for the spirits of the dead, even though he was a little ashamed for this superstition.
Vaisey eyed the girl from head to toe, then he gave her a patently false smile.
“I was just making sure that it was being transported to a more sheltered place.”
“It's perfectly safe on the coach, I don't want it to be moved.” The woman said, in a harsh tone.
“With whom do I have the honor of speaking?”
“I'm the Sheriff of Nottingham. The idiot dressed in black is Gisborne, while the annoying burden standing beside him is Lady Marian. Who are you?”
“Lady Millacra.” The girl said in a haughty tone, as if her name was sufficient to answer Vaisey's question. “Aren't you going to invite me to continue this conversation in a warmer place?”
The sheriff waved her back into the castle.
Robin Hood covered his face with the hood of his cloak to avoid being recognized as he looked from a distance at the scene in the castle courtyard.
His informant was not mistaken, a very mysterious coach arrived at the castle and Robin had never seen before the lady dressed in black who was talking to Vaisey.
He wondered who she was and he decided that he'd have to find out. If she was a young innocent girl he'd warn her, but if she was an ally of Vaisey, he would try to foil their plans.
He watched her to go back to the castle followed by the sheriff and, shortly after, by Marian and Gisborne. He found himself in a foul mood: Marian was too close to Guy of Gisborne and she followed him like a shadow.
He didn't like that situation and he would have to fix it by persuading Marian to flee into the forest with him.
Marian and Guy exchanged a doubtful look.
The sheriff had accompanied the stranger woman in his own studio and he had closed the door behind him, slamming it in face of Gisborne.
Guy wondered why Vaisey wanted to talk privately to the woman, but he wasn't too disappointed to have been put aside.
He was tired and cold and if the sheriff didn't require his services so much the better, he would take some time to rest. In the company of Marian, among other things.
He smiled at the girl.
“Given that the sheriff doesn't like our company, how about going to look for a turnip in the kitchens? I will show you how to make a lantern of it, as I promised.”
Marian looked at him. She would have expected to see him irritated or disappointed to be excluded from the confidence of the sheriff, but at that time Guy was looking at her with the playful and a bit mischievous expression of a boy ready to break some rules in order to embark on some funny adventure.
It was the same expression she had always found on Robin's face since she knew him. Since they were kids she followed him in the most unlikely deeds that inevitably made them to get in trouble with their parents, but she had never regretted it. Every time she had gone along with Robin in his improvised adventures, she always had fun even if afterwards she had to spend long days locked in the house, with nothing else to do but embroider, as punishment for their recklessness.
To see the same expression on Guy's face intrigued her. The henchman of the sheriff had never shown that lighter side of himself and she wondered if seconding it would make her to live pleasant moments as those who once she had with Robin.
She thought, with a slight sense of guilt, that she shouldn't even ask herself that question, she shouldn't want to spend time in the company of Guy of Gisborne, but she couldn't deny she was being flattered by Guy's interest.
Since his return from the Crusades, Robin had become more serious than before, less carefree and totally dedicated to his mission of helping the oppressed. Marian admired him and shared his ideals, but sometimes she missed the Robin of her youth, who used to throw himself headlong into trouble just for the fun of it.
Gisborne watched, hopeful, then, seeing her hesitation, his expression become sad, and he could not completely hide his disappointment.
“But maybe you're tired, I should not keep you awake...”
Marian made a decision and she smiled.
“I could not sleep quietly after all those the stories you have told me. Now it is your duty to carve that lantern for me.”
Guy's face seemed to light up at those words and Gisborne held out his arm.
“Then let me go with you, my lady.”
Marian nodded and put her hand on the inside of his elbow, letting him to guide her.
They reached the kitchens and they sneaked into the pantry after Guy ensured that the servants were distracted.
He closed the door behind him and smiled.
“Well, no one saw us. Now let's find those turnips.”
“Why didn't you just ask to one of the cooks? I doubt that they would deny something to you.”
Guy looked at her seriously.
“I could do it, but it wouldn't be any fun.” He said in a solemn tone and Marian chuckled.
She didn't mind at all the lighter side of Guy of Gisborne, and she was flattered that he showed it only to her. It was a great sign of confidence from the black knight, and once again her conscience pricked by reminding her that often she had taken advantage of that trust without scruples.
She vowed to be more careful in the future, to find a way to help Robin without harming Guy.
She watched as he turned his back to her, busily rummaging through the shelves and the baskets of the pantry, and she found herself smiling at his enthusiasm.
“I found them!” Guy said, turning to look at her. He had a big turnip in each hand and he smiled with the same satisfaction of a cat who had just caught a mouse.
Marian noticed that his cheek was dirty with dust and she raised a hand to clean it, instinctively.
Guy flinched at her touch and he looked at her, stunned, and she suddenly realized that he could misunderstand that situation: they were alone in a small, dark room and she had just stroked his cheek.
If Guy had felt authorized to kiss her, she couldn't blame him too much, Marian thought, while her heart inexplicably accelerated its beats.
But Gisborne didn't do it. He seemed to notice her embarrassment and he blushed slightly, too.
He stepped back, put a turnip in her hand and used his free hand to pull out a knife.
“Let's get out of here and I'll show you how to carve it.”
Both slipped out of the pantry, taking care to avoid again the servants and that sort of a game served to allay their embarrassment. When they reached the lightened fireplace in one of the rooms of the castle, Marian was again enjoying herself like a disobedient kid and Guy smiled.
They approached the fire and Guy finally took off his leather coat, still wet with rain, hanging it to the back of his chair and then he sat down in front of Marian, grateful for the warmth of the fire that allowed him to warm up after so many hours in the cold.
He smiled Marian and he began to work: he cut the top of the turnip and began to dig into it carefully, creating a space large enough to put a candle inside it, then he proceeded to perform the more difficult task: carving a monstrous face on the surface of turnip .
He had almost finished when the door of the room burst open, letting Lady Millacra in.
Guy gasped in surprise and the knife slipped from the turnip, opening a cut on his palm.
Marian looked at the blood, worried, and she looked for a clean handkerchief to wrap the wound, but, before she could do it, she noticed that Lady Millacra had approached them, staring intently at the blood running through Guy's fingers.
“Sir Guy, I was told that it was you who helped me.” She said in a low, but warm and musical voice, intense like the purring of a cat. “Now it's my turn to reciprocate your kindness.”
With a fluid motion she took hold of Guy's hand and she raised it to her face, then she put her lips to the wound to suck the blood.
Gisborne didn't move, petrified by surprise at first and then too shocked to react. The girl's lips were cold on his skin and what they were doing around his wound was both painful and extremely exciting.
No woman, not even the most uninhibited tavern girl, had never touched him in such a sensual and natural way. It seemed that Lady Millacra was determined to devour him and at the same time it was like that for her it was perfectly normal to behave like that.
Guy had the impression that if she wanted to, that woman would be able to completely obscure his free will and that she could force him to do whatever she wanted.
That feeling scared him to death, but at the same time it was so overwhelming that Guy didn't have the strength or the will to escape his touch.
He met Marian's gaze and her eyes were able to snatch him from this unhealthy enchantment and to bring him back to reality. She looked furious and she looked at the other woman without hiding her anger.
“Let him go now!” Marian said and only then Guy managed to find the strength to pull back his hand, cradling it to his chest to protect it.
Lady Millacra smiled amiably.
“Oh, sorry, was I rather inappropriate? In my country it's an innocent gesture, mothers do it when their children scratches their knees while playing, I didn't mean to offend you.” She said, with an air that was so innocent and hurt that Marian felt guilty. “Maybe it's best that I withdraw to my rooms, your sheriff was so kind. He agreed to host me until tomorrow, when I can resume my journey.”
The young woman ran away, leaving Marian and Guy equally confused.
The girl was frightened by her reaction: when Lady Millacra had touched Guy, her first instinct had been to attack her, to send her away from her territory. But why would she consider Gisborne as hers? She was in love with Robin, what she felt for Guy was friendship, mixed with a lot of guilt, nothing more.
Guy continued to hold his arm to his chest, shaking. He felt the blood running down his wrist and the wound throbbed, but he didn't dare look at it for fear of finding the mark of the lips of the woman imprinted on his skin like a branding iron.
What she did to him upset Guy and it was both exciting and disgusting to think that Lady Millacra had drunk his blood, that a part of him now was inside the body of the woman.
He roused himself with a shudder. What was he thinking? Those were morbid and prohibited thoughts and he should remove them from his mind.
“You are still bleeding. Let me see.”
Marian took his hand, gently, and for a moment Guy feared and hoped that the girl would repeat the same gesture of Lady Millacra, but Marian merely examined the wound and she bandaged it tightly.
“It's not a deep cut, but try to keep it clean.”
Guy nodded, trying to smile.
Marian picked up the engraved turnip, she put a candle inside it, she lit it and then she placed it on the mantelpiece, hoping it could really watch over them, then she took Guy's knife and she began to carve the other turnip.
“What are you doing?” Guy asked. Now that Lady Millacra was gone, he began to feel calmer.
Marian looked at him.
“I feel that you, too, need protection, I'm carving a turnip for you.”
Guy chuckled. That was the most tender and ridiculous phrase that someone ever told him, and he had to restrain himself to avoid taking Marian in his arms and kissing her.
He loved her, he thought, and his only desire was to be able to start a family with her, to be able to protect her from every possible danger.
Suddenly realized that earlier it was Marian who protected him with the ferocity of a wild cat.
What did it mean? Was it possible that she had feelings for him?
He had no way of knowing it, and at that time it wasn't really important to find it out: they were together, both found pleasant the company of the other and Guy had the impression that they were getting closer.
In time he would be able to win her heart, Guy thought, but for the moment he was determined to enjoy every moment he spent with her.
He watched as she carved the turnip, working for him.
He was still wet with rain and his hands were frozen, but in that moment Guy felt only a pleasant warmth.
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.”
I know it's a long time I didn't update this, but finally the Italian version of this story is complete. I will translate the other chapters soon, too :)
Chapter 4: How to Repay a Debt
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.
Chapter 5: Prisoner of the Darkness
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.
Chapter 6: Death Takes My Blood
Come. Come to me. You are mine.
Robin had the feeling of moving through a wall of water, his body slow and heavy. The call he heard in his mind was scary and beautiful. Irresistible.
“I'm yours,” he whispered, waking up, and he found himself staring at Guy of Gisborne’s blue eyes.
“As far as this is technically correct, being my prisoner, I would prefer if you avoid using that tone with me, Hood,” Guy said with a disgusted grin.
Robin retreated instinctively, but he regretted moving too fast, when he saw the cell spinning around him. He laid down on his back and closed his eyes, feeling sick.
“What did you do to me, Gisborne?”
“Of course I wasn’t the one who bit your neck.”
Robin touched his wound with his hand, and he looked at his fingers. The blood that had soaked the scarf was dry, but he felt that his neck was swollen and it hurt. The most unpleasant feeling, however, was nested at the bottom of his mind, as if he had forgotten something very important, a commitment that he shouldn’t miss.
“Who did it then?” He asked, tiredly. He didn’t know what Gisborne wanted to do, but it didn’t matter much because he didn’t have the strength to oppose. This time, his rival had won, and Gisborne could enjoy that triumph while he regained his strength.
But Gisborne didn’t seem as triumphant as he should have been after catching him. He seemed distracted and concerned.
“That's what I would like to know,” Guy said in a low voice, almost speaking to himself.
Robin stood up cautiously, and he tried to concentrate on his situation to find a way to save himself.
Gisborne behaved strangely, he seemed worried and absorbed in some unpleasant thoughts, and Robin wondered if he could take advantage of that distraction to overwhelm him and escape.
He gave up that attempt: it was true that Guy hadn’t even unsheathed the sword and that he had his guard lowered, but Robin felt too weak to try to attack him. To tell the truth, he wasn’t sure to be able to walk for more than a few steps without falling to the ground.
“Hood.” Guy's voice suddenly called him, startling him, and Robin saw Gisborne staring at him. He looked at him in turn, waiting.
“Have you seen him? Did you see who attacked you?”
Robin was astonished at that question and he reflected before answering.
“Weren’t your guards?”
Guy snorted and he shook his head with a sarcastic smile.
“It's a miracle if the two of them were smart enough to think of arresting you, but certainly they weren’t the ones to wound you like that. No, there is a murderer at the castle, and I want to know who he is.”
“And you come to ask me?”
“You survived his attack, you have to remember something.”
“If I'm not wrong, even the sheriff is still alive, why don’t you ask him? Or this is what you want to avoid?”
“Let me guess, Gisborne, you're scared that the sheriff wakes up, asks you who hurt him, and you can’t give him an answer, aren’t you?”
Guy gave him a fierce glare, and Robin knew he had guessed.
“Speak or I'll torture you.”
Robin smiled, seeing that Gisborne was so upset made him feel better.
“It seems to me that someone is in a hurry, or am I wrong? Torture can go on for many hours, do you have enough time?”
Guy leaned forward and struck him with a slap that made him see black spots in front of his eyes for a moment, but Robin didn’t stop smiling: if his opponent lost his temper, it was because Robin's words had hit the target.
“What is it, Gisborne, am I right? What will Vaisey say when you can’t tell him who has hurt him?”
“He will feel better when he can have the pleasure of hanging you.”
“If the mysterious assassin doesn’t decide to finish the job. Or who knows, you might be the next.”
“He might also end the work that he had started with you.”
“I don’t have much to lose, right? If he doesn’t kill me, you'll hang me, what's the difference? But you're likely to find yourself in a very ugly situation, with an assassin free to make whatever he wants in the castle.”
Guy was silent, tempted to pull out the sword and to use it to silence Robin Hood. But his words sounded too true, unfortunately.
He had seen with his eyes what happened to the guard who had been killed, only to think about it made him shudder, and he knew that until he found the culprit, every inhabitant of the castle would be in danger.
“We can arrange an agreement, Hood.”
Robin looked at him, crossing his arms in front of him.
“Tell me everything you know, anything that can help me to understand who the assassin is, and when I find him...” Guy hesitated. What he was about to say could be regarded as a betrayal, and if the sheriff should ever know about it, he would at least have him flogged. “If I can catch the murderer thanks to your informations, well, I might be too busy closing him in a cell to make sure that the door of your cell is well closed.”
Robin looked in his eyes and realized that Gisborne was not lying, he was really suggesting him a way out of that situation, so he decided to raise the stakes.
“I have a better proposal.”
“Let me out now and I'll help you to capture the killer.”
Guy stared at him, wary.
“Are you asking me to let you out of here without any guarantees? I'm not an idiot, Hood, if I did, I'd see you disappear in a moment.”
“No. I wouldn’t.”
“And you expect me to believe you?”
“I'll give you my word, if we make a pact, I'll keep it.”
“The word of an outlaw...”
“The word of Robin Hood.”
Guy looked at him for a long time, then he took a decision, and he held out a hand to Robin to help him get up from the ground.”
“Then we have an agreement. But do not deceive yourself, once I’ll have captured the assassin, everything will return as it was before.”
Robin shook his hand and stood up, grinning.
Guy let him go, and opened the cell door, stepping aside to let him go out.
“Well, I've respected my part of the pact. Now it's your turn.”
Robin stretched his back, now that he was out of that cell, he was already feeling better.
Guy looked at him, suspicious.
“Do you have a plan, at least?”
The outlaw gave him an irritating smile.
“No, but I'm sure that something will come to my mind.”
“It will be better for you. Let's go.”
Marian turned into the bed and threw off the sheets and the blanket with a kick, then she woke up with a muffled cry.
She looked around, panting, and the glow of Guy's lantern reassured her from the mantelpiece, dissipating the terror she felt.
“A nightmare... It was just a nightmare...” She whispered, remembering the scene she had lived in her dream.
She was in the Sherwood Forest, and she ran through the trees, free and happy as a wild foal, without a thought in the world.
The sun danced among the leaves of the trees, drawing light spots on the path, and Marian thought that she didn’t want to stop, wanting to prolong that carefree moment forever. But the path split into two, and the girl stopped, undecided on the direction to take.
One of the two paths was snaking in a dark and lush forest, perhaps too shady, but full of mysteries that made hercurious. It was not an easy path and she was a little frightened of it, but she had the sensation that there was something special waiting at the end of the trail.
The other road was straight and full of sunshine, wide and comfortable to travel, a safe and warm road, so wide and bright that it made her feel a bit insignificant, just a traveler like many others.
The girl stood still at the fork, indecisive. A road attracted her with her shadow, and the other attracted her for her light: completely different, but both interesting.
As she was there, trying to choose, Marian was suddenly surrounded by the night, by a scary, cold and overwhelming darkness.
She had to flee, to go on her way, but she didn’t know where to go.
One hand touched her shoulder, and behind her there was Guy, smiling and holding the lantern he had carved for her.
“Let me shed light on your journey.”
“Maybe we follow different roads.”
“Then take the lantern, it will protect you.”
Marian took the turnip in her hands and the flame of the candle warmed her fingers. When she turned to Guy to thank him, she was horrified: the cut on his hand had reopened, and his blood flowed between his fingers, and fell to the ground, forming a puddle at his feet.
“What happened to you?! You have to wrap that wound!”
Guy shook his head, pale, his gaze lost and empty.
“I can’t. It wouldn’t be useful. Now that I have given you my light, the Bargest has found me. Now I have to die.”
Marian watched him becoming even more white in his face, she saw dark shadows crawling over his face, gathering under his eyes. She found herself in tears.
“No! I don’t want to!”
Guy smiled, as if he was in ecstasy.
“I gave you my love and you ignored it, I gave you my light, but you still can’t choose a road... Why should you care if Death takes my blood?”
Marian put her hands on her heart, trying to slow down its beats. She said to herself that that dream depended on the stories she had heard, and from the news of murders at the castle.
Guy was fine, his cut was nothing serious and certainly not a danger.
Marian thought to Lady Millacra's lips, pressed on the wound, and she shuddered.
Death takes my blood...
Marian got up from the bed and she dressed in a hurry.
It didn’t matter if her behavior was superstitious and irrational, but she needed to make sure that Guy was fine.
She approached the door, thinking of an excuse to get rid of the guards, but she stopped shortly before opening it, and hurried back to the fireplace to take her lantern.
Chapter 7: Something Inside My Soul
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.
Chapter 8: The Beast from Hell
Marian stood on the threshold, holding in her hands the lantern carved in the turnip, and she stared at the three men lying in a heap on the floor.
When she had opened the door, Guy, Allan, and a guard who looked suspiciously like Robin had screamed with terror, tried to get up the bench where they were sitting, stumbled over it, and they all crashed on the floor.
“Sir Guy?” She called.
Marian entered the room, perfectly aware of Robin's glare because she pronounced the name of Gisborne and not his. She responded with an equally exasperated look: she certainly couldn’t tell Guy that she was still in touch with the outlaws.
Allan was the first to recover from the scare. He disentangled from the other two and stood up.
“You shouldn’t play tricks like that! Did you want to make us die of fear?!” He yelled.
“I just opened the door!”
“With that horrible thing in your hands?” Allan pointed at the lantern.
“It's not a horrible thing!” Said the girl, outraged, and she stopped just moment before adding that Guy had made it for her, realizing that Robin was not going to like that. “It keeps the spirits away,” she said, instead, and Robin laughed, amused.
“I didn’t think that the former sheriff's daughter, always so proud, could be scared of such things.”
Guy turned to him with a kind of snarl.
“Hood, respect Lady Marian!” Guy walked away from Robin and he stood up, leaning against the table, then he looked at the girl, worried. “You shouldn’t go around the castle alone, where are the guards?”
Marian glanced angrily at Gisborne, too: she didn’t like being treated like a helpless little girl.
“Maybe I am just a woman, but you are the ones who cried out of terror when I came in,” she said, purposely ignoring the question about the guards.
“I didn’t cry out of terror!” Robin protested.
“You just caught me by surprise,” Guy said, irritated. “And that's Allan's fault.”
“You shouldn’t have told us all those stories!”
Marian looked at the young man.
Robin answered for him.
“Scary stories about ghostly carriages and murderous creatures who drink people's blood.”
Marian shivered, thinking of the disgusting way Lady Millacra had sucked Guy's wound. In the dream that had awakened her, and pushed her out of her chamber, that same wound continued to bleed, condemning Gisborne to a certain death.
Worried, she stared at him, trying to figure out if he had the shadows of death on his face. Guy was pale and he had dark circles under his eyes, as if he was sick or had not slept for days, but he didn’t have the spectral complexion he had had in her dream.
Even Robin stood up from the ground, and Marian glanced at him, noting that the outlaw was in no better shape than Guy. Only Allan, though pale and nervous, seemed to be perfectly healthy.
“What's happened to you? You both look horrible.
“Marian is right, Giz. It seems that Death touched you!”
Guy slammed his fist on the table, looking at Allan.
“Stop with this nonsense or I'll be the one who touches you. Death will look like a better option to you, then.”
Marian looked at the table, horrified, and Guy looked at her.
“I'm sorry, I shouldn’t have shouted in front of you. Did I frighten you?”
“Sir Guy, your hand!”
Gisborne lowered his gaze, and he saw that the cut had begun to bleed again. When he had hit the table, he had left a bloody print on it.
“Oh. Nothing... it's nothing. I just have to change the bandage...”
"They say that the wounds of the corpses start to bleed again when their assassin is near.” Allan said, almost to himself, and Guy boxed his ears with his good hand.
“Do I look like a corpse, by chance?! And then I cut myself, what has this to do with your nonsense, now?!”
“I was talking about Robin's neck. Look, he's bleeding again.”
“Hey! I'm alive too!”
“But you were attacked by a murderer! Maybe it also works on the living ones!”
Robin and Guy turned to Allan, glaring at him.
“Allan, enough!” They said at the same time, then they exchanged an identical fierce look.
“Maybe it would be better to treat those wounds.” Marian suggested, fearing that the situation might degenerate. She had no idea why Robin and Guy were in the same place without fighting, but she wanted to avoid that their sort of truce could break. “Allan, please go and take the necessary.”
The young man went pale.
“By chance, are there any other Allans in this room?” Guy said abruptly.
“But the killer might be lurking right out here!”
“Go!” All three shouted in unison, and Allan got to his feet, uncertain whether to be more afraid of them or of murderers and ghosts.
“Hey, at least can I take that thing?” He asked, pointing to Marian's lantern. “Not that I believe in certain superstitions, of course, but just to have some light.”
“Get a torch!” Guy growled, worried that Allan could take possession of the lantern he had carved for Marian.
The young man decided that staying in the room was much more dangerous than venturing outside, and he hastened to obey.
Once Allan went out of the room, Marian looked from Robin to Guy, worried.
“Maybe you should sit down. You don’t look healthy at all.”
The two men stared at each other, hostile. Both knew that Marian was right, and that they would do better to rest before falling to the ground, but none of them wanted to be the first to sit down, showing to be weaker than the other one.
Marian looked at them for a moment, in disbelief, then she rolled her eyes.
“Oh, please! Sit down! Both of you!”
They both were startled by that abrupt command, but none of them decided to move. Robin stared at her, annoyed.
“Lady Marian, I'm not a dog and you shouldn’t give me orders as if I were one.”
Even Guy had not liked Marian's harsh tone, but he preferred to vent his irritation on Robin.
“Show respect to her, outlaw!”
“Dogs would be more reasonable! Do as you want, but then don’t expect me to pick you up from the floor when you faint.”
Robin and Guy decided to give in, but they continued to study each other as they approached the bench, to sit at exactly the same time.
Marian sighed, slightly shaking her head, then she sat down on the opposite side of the table, paying attention to keep the same distance from each one of them to avoid further discussion.
Once all three were seated, an embarrassed silence fell into the room.
Marian was perfectly aware that anything could to re-ignite the rivalry between the two men, and she didn’t want to be the one to trigger a new argument, while Robin and Guy seemed too weak and ill to want to talk.
The outlaw was as white in the face as a dead man, while Guy seemed to be exhausted, as if he had spent a whole week without sleeping. Marian glanced at them, worried about them both.
After a time that seemed eternal to everyone, the silence of the night was broken by the sound of steps running along the corridor. A moment later the door opened suddenly, and Allan rushed into the room, terrified.
“The Bargest! The Bargest! He pursues me!”
Robin shook his head.
“It's just a superstition, the Bargest does not exist!” He said, but his tone was not too sure.
“But I've seen it! It's the end, right? I am condemned now!”
Allan took his head in his hands, desperate.
Marian tried to say something to reassure him, but she herself couldn’t suppress a thrill of terror.
Only Guy seemed to be perfectly calm, indeed his expression betrayed some fun in seeing Robin Hood so tense.
There was a weak sound from the corridor, a sort of dull ticking approaching.
Allan gave a groan, and ran to hide behind Robin and Guy.
“Do you hear that?! It's the sound of his claws!”
Marian was pale: she had thought that Allan had been influenced by the spectral atmosphere of that night, but now she could hear the sound of paws, approaching the room, too.
She stood up, upset.
A moment later, a large black shadow broke into the room, and the girl let out a cry of terror. Allan also howled in panic, and Robin jumped to his feet, even paler than before.
Marian covered her face with her hands when she saw that the Bargest was jumping on Guy. She didn’t dare look the end of the black knight, and she thought that then her dream was really a premonition.
Then she heard Guy's voice, and she opened her eyes wide, in disbelief.
Gisborne was laughing.
Even Allan stared at him, incredulous: the infernal beast who had been pursuing him to drag him to hell, had leaned his paws on Guy's chest, and, instead of crying out of terror, the black knight seemed to be happy of it.
“But it's a dog!” Robin snarled, after a few moments, and Guy grinned, holding a hand on the animal's head.
“Of course it's a dog, didn’t you really believe the story of the infernal hound?”
Allan ventured to get closer to look at him better, and the puppy wagged his tail and licked his hand.
“Hey, but he's not ferocious!”
“Since when did you have a dog, Sir Guy?” Marian asked, astonished.
Guy looked at the dog, and let out a small sigh.
“Since today, I suppose,” he said, answering the girl's question, then he took some of the meat that was on the table, and he handed it to the dog.
“How did you call him, Giz?”
“I didn’t give him a name.”
“But he must have one!”
Gisborne reflected us for a moment and he grinned again.
Chapter 9: Something Unholy
Marian stared at the bandage on Robin's neck, careful not to look into the eyes of the outlaw, then, always with the same impassive expression, she sat next to Guy and took his wounded hand in hers, to bandage it again.
The two men were both tense and ready to cause a new quarrel, and she didn’t want to give them the opportunity to fight. With an inner sigh, she thought she should have entrusted Allan with the job of treating the wounds of those two.
She would, however, do better to go back to her lodgings and remove any cause of conflict, but she didn’t move.
The truth was that she didn’t feel like staying alone.
Allan was seated at the table, and he looked at them with a morose look in his eyes, but he didn’t stop helping himself from the food tray and the wine jug.
The only one who seemed to be perfectly carefree was the black dog, lying under the table at Guy's feet, with the tongue out and his nose pointing up, asking for some other piece of meat.
Marian finished unwrapping the bandage and she examined the wound, a little worried: by now it should have stopped bleeding, yet it seemed fresh, as if Guy had just cut himself.
She thought of the stranger's lips pressing themselves on Guy's palm, touching his clear skin... For a moment Marian wondered how it could taste, and she was tempted to imitate Lady Millacra's gesture, blushing immediately for that indecent thought.
She shouldn’t have that sort of thoughts in front of Robin! In fact, she shouldn’t have that sort of thoughts at all!
Shaken, she focused on the wound, hoping that Guy and Robin didn’t notice her mood.
“It's weird that it still bleeds,” she said in a light tone, trying to break that embarrassing silence. "It's not a profound cut, but it would probably be better to stitch it.”
“Giz, do you want me to call the physician of the castle?” Allan suggested, a bit worried.
"No," Guy said, dryly. "That useless man would only try to use his disgusting leeches.” He turned to Marian and his tone softened. “Do it, please.”
Robin looked at him threateningly, but he didn’t say anything. If he wanted to be honest, he had to admit that Gisborne's request was reasonable and courteous, and that he couldn’t object without giving the impression of being jealous, putting Marian in a difficult position.
He looked in silence, hoping that the girl would use a rusty needle.
Marian finished stitching the wound, and both Guy and Robin sighed with relief, one tortured by the pain because of the needle that was actually not too sharp, and the other tortured by jealousy.
The girl put away medicines and bandages, and she washed her hands in the basin that was on a little table at the other end of the room, then she went back to sit next to the fireplace.
She passed near Robin and the outlaw stretched out his finger to take a drop of blood from her cheek.
“You got dirty, Lady Marian,” Robin said with a cheeky tone, then, without thinking, he put his finger in his mouth.
The girl noticed that gesture and she gave a perplexed and a little disgusted look at him, while Guy, who only saw that kind of caress on Marian's cheek, jumped on the outlaw and grabbed his tunic.
"Don’t ever try to put your dirty hands on a lady, Hood!” Guy snarled, but Robin didn’t answer.
The outlaw still had his finger between his lips, his head slightly bent forward, his face shadowed.
When Guy grabbed him, Robin glanced up at him and, for the second time in a matter of minutes, Gisborne was scared to see a murderous ferocity in Robin Hood's eyes.
Robin had acted instinctively when he had taken the blood from Marian's cheek.
That intimate gesture had unleashed Gisborne's wrath.
Once, when Robin and Marian were promised, he often used to pick up a drop of honey from the face of the girl after they had eaten together some sweet cake bought at the market, or he used to clean the red traces of the juice of ripe strawberries on her lips with a kiss.
In that moment, he didn’t think that it was blood on the girl's face, but he only realized it after putting his finger in his mouth.
Normally, once he realized the mistake, he would react with disgust, but now the taste of blood on his tongue struck him like a lightning.
It wasn’t simple blood, it was like a call, a multitude of shades that wrapped his palate and penetrated all over his body, enveloping his heart in a grasp. One drop was as inebriant as one hundred buckets of the best wine, and as satisfying as a whole banquet, but it wasn’t enough.
He wanted more.
Gisborne grabbed him fiercely, outraged by his gesture, and he shook him, grabbing his tunic with his healthy hand, and raising the other toward his face as if he wanted to threaten him with a punch.
That was when Robin realized the truth.
The blood he had tasted, the blood he wanted, wasn’t simple blood.
It was Gisborne's blood.
He could smell it on the bandage that wrapped his hand, he could hear the knight's heartbeat, and he searched with his eyes for the veins of his neck. The blood was there, so near, hidden only by a thin layer of skin and he just had to take it...
A quick move forward, a bite, and that irresistible attraction would find complete satisfaction.
Robin licked his lips, almost savoring that hot blood stream, and looked up, meeting Guy's eyes.
The anger had disappeared from Gisborne's eyes, replaced by a sudden fear.
What are you afraid of? There is nobody else, here.
Robin moved, and Guy winced.
Of me. He's afraid of me.
The outlaw’s sudden realization dissipated the taste of blood, and that sort of overwhelming madness that had almost pushed him to bite Gisborne’s neck.
What am I doing? What did I want to do?
Gisborne stared at him, no longer frightened, but puzzled, almost worried, and Robin was overwhelmed by a horror that he had never experienced before, and that turned his stomach.
He pushed Guy away, and he stumbled out of the room, not wanting to humiliate himself in front of the others.
Marian, Guy, and Allan saw him rushing out of the door, and they exchanged a surprised look, without realizing what had happened to him.
Robin fled without even looking where he was going, horrified, and upset by an ever-stronger nausea. He pushed the nearest door, blindly, and he found himself in a small, smelly room with a perforated wood seat and a bunch of straw stacked in a corner.
The smell of the latrine put an end to every attempt to withstand nausea, and Robin collapsed to his knees and bent over the hole, too weak to stand while he threw up.
He couldn’t say how long he stayed in that position, retching without being able to stop, as if his own body had reacted with the same amount of violence to that unnatural thirst he had experienced earlier.
Even after finishing, he leaned with his arms on the latrine seat, emptied of any strength, but, above all, of will. If he hadn’t felt so weak and empty, he would probably have burst into tears like a child, but he could only stand there listlessly, asking to himself what had happened to him.
A creak coming from the door behind him made him jump.
Gisborne's voice was low and cautious, as if he feared being discovered.
Robin didn’t move, still upset about that blasphemous and murderous desire to kill him.
Stay away from me, Gisborne!
Robin wanted to shout at him, but his voice didn’t obey his will.
Guy's steps approached, and a moment later Gisborne leaned over him, holding a hand on his back.
“Hood?” He called him again, and his tone was uncertain, almost kind. “Robin?”
Robin jumped to his feet to avoid that contact, to escape any further temptation, but the too abrupt movement made him waver and he would have fallen if Guy had not upheld him.
Robin tried to hold his breath, for fear that the smell of blood would make him go crazy again, but after a while he was forced to breathe.
Guy's proximity did no longer have any effect on him, except for the embarrass to be seen by his enemy in such a vulnerable and unpleasant situation.
“Are you done?” Guy asked in a neutral tone, and Robin nodded. “Well, if you don’t object, let's get out of here, then.”
Gisborne helped him to walk, supporting him with an arm, and made him enter a door not too far away.
Robin realized that Marian and Allan were not around, but the black dog followed every step of Guy, jumping merrily around their feet and risking to make them trip.
Gisborne sat Robin on a bed, and took a basin from the shelf under the window, giving it to him without ceremonies.
“If you feel sick again, use this. And don’t dream of stealing anything from here.”
Robin wondered what he meant with those words, and raised his face to look around.
He noticed the yellow and black shield hanging on the wall and realized that they had to be in Guy's lodgings. He wondered why Gisborne had brought him there, but he didn’t say anything.
Gisborne was standing beside the window, his arms crossed in front of him and he had his back turned to him.
Once again, Robin wondered why the other man was behaving like that. Guy had seen the murderous fury that had suddenly possessed him, and he had been frightened, yet he had let him into his rooms, and now he turned his back at Robin, as if he trusted him.
He remembered the Gisborne of many years before, the serious and reserved little boy that he enjoyed to tease in every possible way.
“What did you want to do, Hood?”
Guy spoke without looking at him, but Robin shook his head.
“Nothing. What are you talking about, Gisborne?”
The other turned, and hurriedly approached. Robin thought that he wanted to hit him, but Guy just stared into his eyes.
“Do not fool me, Hood! Something happened earlier, and I want to know what got into you.”
“Where are Marian and Allan?”
“Lady Marian for you, outlaw!”
“Then, Gisborne, where are Lady Marian and Allan?"
“When you ran away, we came to look for you. I suggested that we split and I sent them to look for you near the kitchens.”
“Because I didn’t want them to find you. I've seen the look in your eyes, Hood, I won’t let you hurt them.”
“I would never do that! I'm Robin Hood, I don’t kill without a reason!”
Guy stared into his eyes.
“But you wanted my blood just a moment ago, didn’t you? You wanted to kill me, to cut my throat, to tear my heart with your hands. And if you could, you would have done it without even thinking about it, with the same ease with which you shoot an arrow. You wanted me dead. You wanted my blood.”
“How do you know?”
“I saw it in your eyes.” Guy paused. “And it happened to me, too.”
The outlaw looked at him, suddenly careful.
“What? What happened to you?”
Gisborne looked away.
"It was just a moment, but suddenly I felt the desire to cut your throat and fill a mug with your blood.”
Robin swallowed, unable to answer, and Guy looked back out of the window.
“It's not normal, Hood. As far as you can believe it, and no matter how much we can hate each other, I'm not a bloody murderer and neither you are. There is something wrong in the castle, something unholy.”
“Won’t you believe to Allan's stories? Come on, they are just tales good for old gossiping ladies! Silly superstitions.”
“What I saw in your eyes was not a superstition. And what I felt inside me was not normal. For a moment it was as if I were not thinking, but someone else was in my mind. Maybe they’re not just stories.”
“Gisborne?” Robin asked, stricken withy a sudden thought. “Earlier you said that you sent Allan and Marian to a place where they couldn’t find me... But how did you know where I was?”
Guy looked at him, and Robin realized that he was scared.
“I just knew it. I was sure to find you there, and I don’t know why.”
Chapter 10: Eyes of Fire
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.
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.
“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.