The Werewolf of Nottingham

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The Werewolf of Nottingham

I

The large man lumbered through Sherwood Forest, wreathed in the dark of a moonless night. Red tears ran down the claw marks on his arm. He had left the two yeomen behind. One had torn the other’s throat out.

He had killed him for that.

Lanterns and disembodied voices chased him, snapping the foliage behind him. He heard chain mail rattling and swords clattering in their scabbards.

The Sheriff’s men pursued him.

He pressed through wave after wave of tangled roots and thorn bushes. The resounding accusations of his pursuers were drowned out by his own conflicted thoughts. The man knew the tales of Sherwood Forest. It was said to be haunted by men and more.

He was not sure if he should trust a hope that one might come to his aid.

The chuckle of a nearby stream alerted the goliath to a path of escape. He adjusted his course to carry him subtly towards it.

He was not prepared for the drop.

The hillside was treacherous—fallen branches and twigs lashed and lacerated him. He lost all sense of space until he managed to stumble to his feet.

He clung to the hillside, the sound of the stream underfoot drowned his bootsteps.

One of the Sheriff’s men barked orders from above. “Find him!” shouted the gravelly voice that belonged to Guy of Gisborn. He was still a squire to Baron Fitzwalter, but his had been a swift ascent through the Lord’s ranks.

“Find him! Find the werewolf!” The wind sang on the squire’s unsheathed blade.

For half a moment, the man considered scaling the hillside to combat the squire. But another thought stayed his hand. He needed safety and shelter first.

His throat burned and it took all that was within him to stay his hand from the stream. It could make him sick. Kill him, even.

The stream carried him around a bend and he stalked off through Sherwood Forest, voices fading to distant whispers.

He stopped only a moment, to snatch a fallen tree branch. He unsheathed a dirk and shoddily stripped it down to size. It was not the best quarterstaff he’d made, but it would do.

He wandered off into the night.

II

The next morning, in a separate part of the forest entirely, an outlaw awoke. He heard the twitter of birds in the air, felt the breeze on his face, and saw the old hag lying next to him, dead, on the forest floor.

Robin of Locksley grunted to his feet, his movements bringing back the pain—and the memories—of the night before.

This was the first creature to seek him out—part of him hoped it wasn’t the last. It had cried for vengeance for the murder of its kith. Robin Hood had yet to learn how to defend against a hag’s magic. He had been beaten and his death seemed a certainty.

Until someone had cried “Find the werewolf!”

That drew the hag’s attention. But Robin Hood steeled himself toward his cause, and shot an arrow through the hag’s heart before her mind could return to him.

Presently, Robin buckled his swordbelt, threw his bow over his shoulder and set off. He wandered on for some time without meeting anyone. And then he came to a river. It was wide and deep, swollen by last of winter rains. It was crossed by a slender, shaky bridge a shoulder’s breadth across.

Robin began to cross the bridge before he noticed that a great, tall man was crossing from the other side.

“Go back and wait till I have come over,” he called out to the stranger.

The stranger laughed, though the merriment did not touch his eyes. “I have as good a right to the bridge as you. Wait your turn, for I am in a hurry.”

Find the werewolf, someone had shouted last night. The words rang through Robin’s head. The outlaw smiled. “Pray tell—what cause have you that bids you cross in such a hurry? Why can’t you afford to tarry?”

“I cannot,” said the stranger. His knuckled went white on his quarterstaff. “I must make haste.”

Robin squared his shoulders. “Tell me more.”

The stranger groped at empty air for the words he needed. “I—I have angered the sheriff,” he said, “And so his men hunt me unjustly.”

Find the werewolf. “Were you the man accused of lycanthropy?”

“It is a false charge, I assure you.”

Robin drew an arrow from his quiver. He stroked the goose feathers as he notched it to his bowstring. “And how would you assure me?”

“I spoke out against the sheriff’s taxes, and in return he has laid this false charge on me.”

“And what of the deaths back in Nottingham?” Robin questioned. “Mere wolf attacks?”

“Or the sheriff’s own doing. I care not. Why do you concern yourself with the deaths in Nottingham?”

Robin drew the arrow to his cheek and started forward. “Go back,” he said, levelly. “Go back or I will shoot.”

The large man wrung his hands around the quarterstaff as though he wished it were Robin’s throat. “That I cannot do.”

“My arm grows tired. I will not ask you again.”

“Nor will I.”

Robin did not see the man start across the bridge, for it only took him three large steps, and when he realized what befell him, the stranger had smacked his bow out of the way. His arrow hissed through the brambles off the path.

Robin met the stranger with a thrust from his bow.

The two fought swaying backwards and forwards in an attempt to keep their balance. With every stroke the bridge bent and trembled beneath them as if it would break. Robin smacked the stranger in the chest and he keeled over.

As Robin raised his bow to strike again, the man drove his quarterstaff into Robin’s gut with such force that he spilled the contents of his last meal into the river below.

“What you give me, I return twice over,” the large man grumbled. He smacked Robin across the jaw. The outlaw stumbled. He wrestled to regain his footing, yet when he stepped forward he felt only empty air.

Then something wet.

He slammed into the stream and an explosion of pain rocketed through his head. The world went white, and wisps of blood curled about the stream. He saw the goliath of a man lumbering towards him. Please, God. Don’t let it end like this…

#

When he awoke, Robin was slumped against a large Blackwood. His heart throbbed in his temples and as he came to he saw that the large man was crouched across from him. His clothes were wet and clinging to him tight as a lover. His makeshift quarterstaff rested between them. “You’re him, aren’t you?” the man said. “Robin Hood, I mean.”

Robin’s attempted to speak, but only managed to muster a sound like steel scraping an anvil. He nodded in affirmation. His lips moved, but not a sound escaped them. How did you know?

“How’d I know?” the man said, “They tell tales of you all over Nottingham—you’re a legend in the making, and your fighting is something to be rivaled.”

Robin managed a terse reply. “I should be saying that of you.” He sputtered out coughs.

“You’d beat me on level ground, I’m sure of it. One battle does not a victor decide.”

“Wise words.” Robin grunted to his feet and held out a calloused hand. “Shall we try again?”

The man swatted his hand away. “Save your strength, Robin Hood. I have a feeling you’ll need it. The Sheriff’s men are not done looking for me.”

“So that’s why you saved me.” Robin’s voice was coming back.

“What?”

“You want refuge from the Sheriff and his men.”

The giant shook his head. Droplets of water scattered through the air. “I’ll not deny it,” he said. “But think on this—why would I save you after you accused me of lycanthropy?”

Robin opened his mouth to speak, but no words came to him. “You want to join me?”

“Indeed.”

“Then kneel. Don’t stand there gawking. I won’t be taking your head off your shoulders.”

Hesitantly, the man knelt. Robin grasped a branch and hauled himself to his feet and over to a patch of grass where his swordbelt lay. The leathers were of no use anymore. But this bandit had taken his sword from the sheath. He’s smart, Robin thought. He smiled, despite himself.

Robin grasped his sword and stalked over to where the man knelt. He leveled the sword, and said, “State your name and title.”

“John Little of…of…I have no title, sir.”

“It matters not,” Robin said. “I Christen you Little John of Sherwood Forest, and of Robin Hood’s Merry Men.” He grinned. “The tales usually omit this next part from the knighting ceremony.” He smacked John across the face with the flat of his blade. “Let that be the last blow you take and do not return in kind. You may rise.

“Little John?” the man echoed, “Is that what you’ll call me?  It seems a jest.”

“It is,” Robin laughed. “Take it in good faith. Come, I will bring you to my hideaway. There are many you have not met.”

Little John raised an eyebrow. “You don’t think me a werewolf?”

“Aye.”

“You trust me?”

“Aye,” Robin said. “I trust you.”

III

Night fell over Sherwood Forest, leaving only moonlight to glitter through the treetops. Robin crept to his feet. The men in his camp did not stir—and the outlaw was cautious not to wake John Little.

He stole away through the dead of night. He was surefooted, moving like a carefully chosen word. He trained his eye on a Birchwood on the horizon. With every step, his movements grew slower as if walking through tar. The world blurred around him like wet paint. His stomach somersaulted.

He wished he could say it was his first time the sensation came over him.

It was the price he paid to visit his mentor.

The world crumbled around him. His heart pounded like in his chest. He fell to his knees.

Everything slowed and came back into focus when he saw the familiar fire. The old one sat with his back to him, shrouded in his fur cloak. His face obscured by the wolf’s-head hood. He had copper skin—stretched so thin it looked like mere sleeves for his bones. He rocked front to back so much so that Robin often wondered if he would one day fall into the fire and set himself ablaze. Though the place and the fire were warm, the old one never seemed to find comfort.

“This place is always cold.” he would say “but it is still my place”

“Christian?” the old one asked as Robin approached. He hacked a gob of saliva into his fire.

“I told you to call me Robin,” the outlaw said.

The old one clicked his tongue. He took up a stick and prodded the fire. “Ah, but I cannot do that. Names are powerful things, and there are beings who may yet hear us even here, where time and place are nothing.”

Robin sat across from the old one. “Do you know why I’m here?”

“Have you been practicing your spells?” the old one asked as if he did not hear Robin. “You must learn incantations. It can save your life.”

“That is not why I came.”

“I know.”

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“And you, mine.” The old one smirked.

Robin pressed his lips together. “I have,” he muttered. “But nothing works. There’s not enough power behind the incantations.”

“Then you have not the willpower to master your command.”

“Why do you ask this of me?” Robin cried, extending his arm towards the old one. “There are more pressing matters all throughout Nottingham, and you would have me go off in secret practicing spells and enchantments—”

Anger flared in the old one and his fire roared skyward. “Robin of Locksley!” he bellowed, “I did not save you from Shai’da to hear your petty complaints. Men and more have died without knowing the words to an enchantment that could save their life! I chose you to fight off darkness while your race fights its holy war—and it is not a decision I have taken lightly.”

The fire dwindled to its normal proportions and the old one smiled, not unkindly. “I expect better of you.”

Robin stared unblinking, chest heaving with each breath. Sweat dampened his forehead and soot littered his raiment. “I will learn your spells,” Robin swore. “On my honor.”

“The honor of an outlaw,” the old one mocked.

“The honor of a Christian,” Robin countered.

“Very well,” the old one croaked, “Then I will have to be sure you are truly doing so. If you succeed, I will grant you a gift.”

“Succeed?” asked the outlaw. “Succeed at what?”

“Freeing Nottingham of its infestation.” the old one said.

Robin raised an eyebrow. “Infestation?”

The old one spat another gob into the fire. “What else do you call a werewolf? Do not get too close to it, or you’ll catch it yourself.”

“Catch it?”

The old one sighed. He closed his eyes, ready to bequeath his knowledge to the outlaw. “Lycanthropy,” he said, “Is a disease found in Shai’da. To them, it is nothing more than what you might call a cold. But if a human shares too much physical contact with a creature with the virus, it will infect them quite differently. They become half man, half monster.”

“And how do you cure it?”

“You don’t. It will work its way out of the system in time. In a week, a month, years, decades—it varies. Find the werewolf, Christian, and keep him from all others.”

“And if I cure Nottingham of this threat? What then? You’ve promised me a reward.”

The old one smirked. “I promise no one shall find your encampment who you do not desire to set foot there.”

Robin chuckled. “I see now why you tell me to practice enchantments.” Robin stood, and made to leave.

“It would be wise to follow my instructions,” the old one said. His realm crumbled around Robin and he was on his knees again in Sherwood Forest, moonlight glittering through the trees.

IV

The monk walked through the abbey, bare feet whispering against the cobblestones. The Latin singing of his brothers was far off to him. He was shrouded in his own thoughts.

He came at once upon a large door and heaved the bolt back. The door moaned as it opened, and the monk snatched a torch off the wall. Before him were rows and rows of blank parchment and ink bottles. He passed the other work benches where his brothers did their translating. He hung his torch on the back wall and took a seat.

His old bones protested to such movements. Even the act of sitting down was enough to pain him, if only mildly. From there, he dipped his quill into the inkpot and unlatched a large book. Dust sprayed the air as he thumbed through the pages. He had been deciphering it for weeks, yet only now was he truly beginning to understand its lexicon.

He had received the book from an Earl. William de Roumare, his name was. There was talk all through the abbey that he had died quite recently.

The monk said no prayers for him. The Lord had, charged a hefty sum for the tome, yet refused to say where he had obtained it.

His price was too much for the monk, but he had to have it. Even if he had to pilfer a few coins here and there.

Since the Earl sold him the book, and he had spent almost every waking hour henceforth pouring over it; deciphering its contents while no one was looking.

He drew his quill from the inkpot and scratched the first three words of the latest page onto his parchment. He squinted at the text. His old eyes made reading difficult, and near impossible by candlelight.

Time became lost to him. All that mattered were the words. He needed to translate this book. The thought compelled him like an insect drawn to light. Nothing else mattered. Only the Earl’s book.

The monk thought he heard a howl in the distance, far and away. Or was it close? His eyes were not the only thing failing him in his old age.

He shrugged it off and continued his translations.

Robin ran through Sherwood Forest, acutely aware of the blood running down his calf. The wolf had broken his yew bow in half with a single clamp of its jaws, then set its claws on him. He had only his sword left, and he could hear its ragged snarls behind him.

He leaped over a branch, but his bad leg landed first, and he stumbled, hands braced as the forest floor reached up to meet him. A moment later, he sprang back to his feet and hurdled through Sherwood.

The fall had only delayed him by a heartbeat, but this was more than enough for the wolf to close the distance between them. Robin ran three long strides before the wolf pounced and brought him to the ground.

Robin pulled a dirk from his belt and slammed it into the wolf’s paw, giving him time to snake out from underneath the beast. He drew his sword and levelled it at the wolf.

It let out a low growl from deep in its stomach. Robin could feel the palpitations of his own heart pounding against his entire being.

The wolf growled. It fell back on its haunches when Robin lashed out, opening the wolf at the shoulder. He pressed the attack before it could recover, but the beast withdrew, yelping as it padded into the darkness.

Robin fell to his knees. “Are you a werewolf, John Little?” he asked himself. “Are you truly framed?”

V

Baron Fitzwalter led his squire through the courtyard of Nottingham Castle. He watched as his men-at-arms drilled with wooden swords. He was beginning to regret offering his services. For weeks he had been hunting the wolf, and for weeks he had found nothing. He was trapped in Nottingham under his own word.

“My Lord,” his squire said, “Why do these men drill so late?”

“They are conscripts from Nottingham,” Baron Fitzwalter answered. “They must learn to fight before we go off to the Holy Land.”

They reached the stables, and the squire rushed to fetch the Baron’s saddle and fasten it to his horse.

“Good,” the Baron said. “You’re learning, Gisborn.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” Gisborn replied. “If I may ask a question?”

“You may.”

“Why do we stay here in search of the wolf? We were on our way to the Holy Land. Why do we tarry with talk of wolves and other perilous creatures?”

The Baron frowned at that and gave his squire a look fixed Gisborn in place. “We need all the men we can muster against Saladin. Richard is captured, and now his Lords must come to his aid. How will it look if someone like Balian of Ibelin came to the Holy Land with more men than I? Whosoever has the most men at his disposal shall display the most effectiveness in battle. And the most effectiveness shall be rewarded.”

“And you now have these conscripts—”

“In exchange for my services, yes. I mean to find and kill the wolf that plagues Nottingham.”

“The wolf?”

“Yes, the wolf,” Fitzwalter said. “Spare me your superstitions, Gisborn. We all know of the false charge laid on John Little. If the man has any sense he’ll stay far away from Nottingham. If not—well, I’ve offered my services.”

“And how shall you do that? Kill the wolf I mean.”

“How do you think?” The Baron slapped his scabbard and without another word he swung onto his saddle and led his horse through the postern gate.

He rode his horse through the sunset, drawing his cloak about himself as a snow began to fall. Autumn was creeping away from the land, and now winter was coming. He across the shire of Nottingham, until he chanced upon an abbey. He reined his horse to a halt and it stood there, hoofprints fresh in the snow. He swung down from his saddle, tied his horse and entered.

He passed monks and friars singing their holy songs, and meandered about the twisting courtyards until he came to a church. The double doors boomed open, echoing through the room. He walked between the pews as he readied himself for confession. He had sinned a great deal. And he hoped that cleansing himself of all ties to such sins would help him in his quest in the Holy Land. There were few nights of late he had not confessed in some way.

He came upon the altar when he spotted another man leaving the confessional. He knew that face. Yet the memory of it eluded him.

It was only when he saw the man’s stature that he put a name to it. “Halt!” he cried, voice echoing through the abbey. “John Little!”

The man took to his heels, and the Baron chased him, back through the winding alleys and twisting roads until the man ducked out of the abbey. And when the Baron went to follow him, the man was gone. He had been ten seconds behind at best, yet the goliath had disappeared. Did he know some back road that the Baron didn’t?

“It’s not possible…” Fitzwalter said to himself. “It can’t be possible.”

He drew his sword, and pulled his shield off his back. He circled about, ready for the outlaw to attack.

It was only when he came upon his horse that he realized the gravity of the situation.

His mount lay utterly rent. The flesh of its neck had been riven from the bone. Blood stained the snow red and the pooled in streams between the cobblestones. As he knelt to inspect the wounds, he noticed it had not been a blade that had done this. There were teeth marks.

“Shit.”

With a growl the beast was upon him. Only the Baron’s instinctive shield-raise saved his life, as the wolf’s claws tore the paint off his coat of arms.

The Baron cut the wolf across the cheek in retaliation.

A full moon lit up the sky as the wolf and the Baron faced each other. Fitzwalter’s shoulders rose and sank with each heavy breath. He drew his shield close and held his sword out, ready for the wolf’s next attack. It was a large wolf. Nearly the size of his horse.

He did not expect it to pounce.

Once again, Fitzwalter raised his shield, which took the brunt of the impact. Pain exploded in the arm behind it. And the force of the wolf’s attack knocked him back, where the treacherous ground took his legs out from under him.

When he recovered, the wolf’s paw landed on his shield, trapping one arm. Desperately, he thrusted with his sword arm to take the creature through the heart, but the wolf pawed down his sword-arm and sank its teeth into his mail.

It had just worked its way past his mail when the Baron heard a squeal, and the wolf shrank back. Something whispered through the air and landed heavily in the wolf’s back.

The wolf shrank into the shadows, whining, The Baron saw four arrows lain in its back before it ran off.

Lord Fitzwalter rose to his feet, rivulets of blood running down his mail. The bowman had saved his arm, if not his life. He looked around for his savior, but saw not a soul around the abbey.

And then he heard a voice from the rooftops. “We are not enemies in this, you and I,” said the bowman. “We share a common goal. Therefore I beseech you—stay out of Sherwood!”

“Robin Hood!” Baron Fitzwalter shouted, “Come out of the shadows, outlaw! Face me like a man! Face the justice you deserve!”

“There are worse things than me hiding in the shadows, my Lord” said Robin, and Baron Robert Fitzwalter was left on the steps of the abbey to ponder what had transpired.

VI

The snow was fading, though the cold persisted. Yet there was still enough snow on the ground for Robin to follow the wolf-tracks in the light of a half-moon.

He wore a wolfskin cloak as he hunted the beast. He thought it half a mockery. He carried a pack that made his movements awkward. The smell of its contents alone was enough to put him ill at ease.

Robin went through Sherwood with the reflexes and attention of a deer. But he did not intend to become prey to this wolf.

The paw prints came to a sudden end on the verge of Nottingham, where the snow had all but melted.

It was here that his plan took shape. He unloaded his pack and sheep carcasses slapped to the ground. Bits of horse, too, and rabbit and deer. Tasty flesh for you, wolf man, he thought. Come and get it. Come here and get it!

He could not afford to wait any longer. As the Baron’s stay in Nottingham grew, so too did the menace of the Sheriff and the Baron grow. He had even ensured his granddaughter Marian safe passage into Nottingham, so that he could be sure she would not be harmed alone back in his shire of Little Dunmow.

He could hear the wolf panting behind him. It howled as Robin turned, nocking an arrow as he did so. He felt hairs prickling on the back of his neck. He drew and loosed.

The arrow bit the wolf’s side, and it started for Robin. Robin sidestepped its pounce as he drew another arrow from his quiver. Don’t lose your footing, he reminded himself. Remember where you are. Remember where you’re going!

The wolf closed the distance between them and brought its claws down across Robin’s chest. His clothes tore and blood seeped through his wounds as he stumbled back. The palpitations of his own heart were clear to him, now. His next shot and caught the wolf in the leg, but it forged on toward the outlaw.

Robin backed toward a tree, and tried to visualize it in his mind’s eye—he saw it opening, like double doors, swinging back.

And then he was falling. He landed on the ground two feet below. Pain exploded into his back, driving his breath from him. It was daytime, now, the two were in some sort of rocky highland. The wolf shrank back as it realized this, and turned to go back, yet discovered too late its exit had vanished.

Robin thought he saw fear in its eyes.

Fire whorled toward the wolf. Robin saw it reflected in its yellow eyes and as it rocketed past him. The creature howled and the outlaw scrambled out of his path. Robin looked over to the old one and his fire to see he had not moved nor turned to look at the beast.

“Stop!” Robin called. “Stop! That’s my friend!”

“It is not,” the old one said. “I am burning the beast. Your friend remains safe.”

Robin watched as its skin blackened and curled. Its howls turned to moans and then it was dying, skin flaking away. It seemed to melt into the fire itself, which did not dissipate, but rather sank back into the old one’s flames.

Robin parted his gaze with the old one and where the wolf stood was the unburnt body of Little John.

#

Little John awoke to see Robin Hood standing over him, moonlight pouring over his back. He raised a hand to shield his eyes. “Robin?” he murmured, “What’s going on?”

“Do you remember what happened, John?” The goliath could detect no emotion in Robin’s voice.

“I fell asleep at Major Oak and now I’m…now I’m here.”

“John, does the word Shai’da mean anything to you?”

“What language is that?” Little John asked.

“No language you would know, I’m certain.”

Little John rose, and shook his head clearvof the cobwebs in his mind. “I know little and less of other languages. This Shai’da is much the same.”

Robin Hood scowled at that, though John did not understand why. He laid a heavy hand on his companions shoulder. “What troubles you, lad?”

Robin answered with a question of his own. “Why did you join my fight?”

“Because I believe the sheriff is committing a grave injustice upon the people of Nottingham. I believe Prince John is bleeding us to death, and I want to make a change—”

“That’s not what I meant,” Robin interrupted. “Every outlaw under my command could answer me that, same as you. But everyone has their personal reasons. Robert Burgundy was going to be hanged. He fled the sheriff and saw strength in numbers. David of Doncaster joined my gang for the promise of riches.” Robin shrugged, and as an afterthought, added, “He didn’t get any, but now that he’s one of my men, he sees no point in returning to his own outlawry. So tell me, Little John. Why do you join me?”

Little John sat slumped against a tree. “The short version? I’ve been a thief since I was old enough to walk,” he said. “My father taught me how to steal, and as I grew up, I helped him in his thievery. Everyone needs to eat, after all. The sheriff’s men shot down my father one day, and I swore vengeance. I have since realized my father was misguided. He stole from the poor, who in turn needed food, forcing them into thievery as well. So after the sheriff killed my father, I stole from his men. But they caught me one night as I walked in on one of the wolf attacks. It was enough to spread rumors.” John shook his head. “And now I’m here.”

Robin was silent for a time, and then said, “You would do well not to dwell on rumors. It will lead you down paths you will not like and stir up false emotions.” He stumbled upon a wolf attack, Robin thought Lycanthropy is a disease…so he caught it from someone else.

“John, I want you to tell me everyone you met in the week leading up to the attacks…”

VII

The sun crested the horizon as the monk walked back through the abbey. He had taken a pair of deerskin slippers from Nottingham Castle. The bloodstains had dampened them. But it was enough to cover his tracks.

He could recall only glimpses of what happened. It had been a full moon. He had dined on the flesh of men. But when Baron Fitzwalter and his Squire came, they brought numbers with them. He could only fight back for so long. He’d mastered the beast, that night. This was not always the case. But when he did, he went after the Sheriff’s men.

Still, even with his mastery over the beast, Guy of Gisborn dealt him a savage blow. It was enough to send him retreating.

The monk limped back to the abbey. He would change again before the night was over. It was only a matter of time.

VIII

Robin walked the length of the pews. A monk stood at the altar. He had left a trail of bloody footprints

“Heavenly father, I have sinned. I have used this power You have given me to do Your bidding. To wipe out the evil in the land. My Lord, why do you make the beast so hard to control I have been given power beyond that of mortal ken. And with it I have slaughtered innocents.” The monk crossed himself

Robin ripped his sword from his scabbard, and the monk whirled around.

“Outlaw! Begone from this place, heretic. This is holy ground. You marked me once. Never again.”

Robin continued forward. Marked him? He remembered the laceration he dealt the wolf a month earlier. “You have the Curse of the Moon. You are the Werewolf of Nottingham. This is no gift from the Lord. You must believe me.”

“It is a gift. A weapon to fight God’s enemies!” the monk’s eyes turned yellow.

“I can cure you—”

“I don’t want your cure! The Lord has given me a gift!” Fur shot through his flesh, which wept red tears as though the fur was sharp as needles. “I will use my gift!” He struck Robin, who went sailing through the air and landed on his back. The outlaw came to his feet, sword at the ready.

The monks nails stretched into claws and it leapt for Robin, who darted aside. He swung his sword in a downward arc, but the monk evaded it, sending the blade crashing into the altar.

“We are not enemies, Locksley!” the monk hissed. “I seek to bring down the Sheriff, same as you.” His teeth went sharp as he spoke, and he did not seem to notice he had bitten his own tongue.

“Yet you will allow innocents to die on the nights you cannot control it.”

“I work in the service of the Lord. Innocent lives are a sacrifice that must be made for the greater good.”

“There is no greater good. This power will only destroy you.” He paused, and the two of them heard a rumbling in the distance, like a storm, far off. “Do you hear that, Father? The Baron is on his way. It is over.”

The monk’s jaw dropped at this. “You dare—”

“I dare.” Robin leapt forward, and the monk leapt back, crashing over candlesticks as he did so. Robin tried for a laceration, missed, and caught a claw in his cheek.

He tackled the outlaw and sent his sword skittering from his hand. “You would have been wise to come to my cause, outlaw. Instead you shall share in the fate of the Sheriff.” The monk screamed as his visage restructured. Bones cracked into place, unnatural in his current half-human shape. Tears came as the transformation finished, and his scream turned to a howl as the beast took over.

The monk opened his jaw and bent to clamp down on Robin’s neck. Robin thrust out a free hand and seized the beast by the back of his head. He drove his knee into the beast’s underbelly and hoisted the wolf-man off of him.

When Robin regained his sword, there were crossbow bolts spitting through the air. Guy of Gisborn led the attack on the abbey. There he is!” Guy said. “The werewolf and the outlaw!”

Robin darted behind the pews as crossbow bolts hurled toward him. He crawled beneath them, the only sound the wails of dying men. The werewolf his attention to the soldiers turned on the soldiers. His only glimpse at the aisle allowed him the sight of a knight’s blood pooling across the floor.

When he reached the other end of the pews he glanced back to survey the battle. The knights were firing crossbow bolts from all directions. The monk had been riddled with them, yet fought on, toe to toe with Guy of Gisborn.

Robin turned, only to find himself staring down the length of Lord Fitzwalter’s sword. The pattern of banding reminded him of flowing water. “Damascus steel,” Robin said. “You don’t happen to have a spare blade, do you?”

The Baron cut him off. “You sent a messenger warning me of this. You said once that enemies in this. Do you speak truly, Locksley?”

Robin nodded.

“Then take me to John Little.”

“Forgive me, my Lord,” Robin said with a slight bow. He tilted his head to the wolf. “But that is not John Little. I’m afraid our friend has been framed. Your squire does battle with the true werewolf of Nottingham.”

The Baron scowled. “I gave an oath to kill the wolf and kill the outlaw. I make no distinction, If you will not hand him over, then we are enemies.”

“Little John is under my protection.”

Robin did not remember Fitzwalter’s strike, and he only realized that he had struck after the bone-jarring clang of his deflection.

He backed away from the Baron’s swipe and smacked his thrust away with the flat of his blade. “I have no quarrel with you, my Lord!” Robin pleaded. “You must believe me.”

“I hold the law above the word of an outlaw, Locksley.” The Baron said. “I wish it were not so.” He came at him with a frenzy of attacks. The man was quick, despite his old age, and was skilled in forms Robin had not had the time to learn in his youth.

The outlaw leapt about the pews, evading the Baron’s blade, and diverting his attacks when he could. He does what he thinks is right, Robin thought. I will not harm him.

Lord Fitzwalter leapt onto the same pew as Robin, and the outlaw was staring down his swordpoint. He dove away from the Baron’s thrust, landing in the file between the pews and rolling back to escape harm. From his relative safety he chanced a glance at Guy of Gisborn and the monk. Still the two fought on. Neither were without their injuries. Yet this squire clearly had the advantage.

Robin Hood resurfaced to face the Baron, who was ready for him. Robin managed to awkwardly tur aside three cuts before the Baron twisted the flat of Robin’s blade and turned it out of his hand.

He ducked beneath the Baron’s swipe and in desperation he charged and tackled the Lord. The Baron’s legs came out from under him and he slammed headlong into one of the pews. Robin heard a sickening crunch as the two hit the ground. He jumped up at the ready, prepared for the next attack, yet when he looked down he saw Baron Fitzwalter staring off into space, a crown of blood running down his forehead in rivulets.

“No,” Robin muttered, kneeling beside Lord Fitzwalter’s body. “No. Fitzwalter, this was not my intent. I’m sorry.” He felt rage burning within him. “Damn it all!” he cried. His voice echoed through the room. “This was not my intent. We were not enemies.”

Robin’s mourning was cut short as a crossbow bolt shaved the side of his head. He took up the Baron’s sword and sheath. “Fitzwalter, forgive me.” He muttered. He slung his shield over his back as he made a dash for the exit, whereupon he found a team of horses. He mounted a mare and gave it a boot in the ribs, and led it galloping off to Sherwood Forest. “Forgive me, Fitzwalter,” he muttered.

Far and away, Robin heard a wolf howl, and he knew that the werewolf of Nottingham would plague the shire no longer.

VIII

Months passed, and Baron Fitzwalter had been laid to rest. His granddaughter, Marian, became fostered in Nottingham Castle as a ward of the crown.

And for his bravery against the wolf of Nottingham, Guy of Gisborn was to be knighted.

“I shall never traffic with traitors,” said Sir Guy as he knelt over the altar, “I will never give ill counsel to a Lady, and whether married or not, treat her with respect and defend her against all.”

Prince John nodded, and then slapped the newly made-knight with the flat of the priest-blessed blade. Gisborn took the blow and breathed deep, shoulders heaving.

Prince John spoke, “Let that be the last harmful blow you take and do not return. Now, as repayment for your felling of the Werewolf of Nottingham, I bid you rise, Sir Guy of Gisborn, newly-made knight to King Richard the Lionheart.

The words tasted bitter on Prince John’s tongue. And somewhere, off in the crowd, an old maid scowled as if she had swallowed vinegar. Yet, as Sir Guy of Gisborn rose, his pride eclipsed the Prince’s anger, and the woman smiled like vinegar had turned to honey on her tongue. She drank in the newly-dubbed knight’s pride, and it was sweet upon her lips. She drank it in so quickly and heavily that soon she did not remember her life as an old lady. Her name, age and life passed through her, forgotten. She could only remember the pride of being a newly-made knight.

And the more she felt like a newly made knight, the more she began to look like one.

As the applause died down, the Visage of Sir Guy of Gisborn exited the Church and walked out into the light.

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Robin Hood and the Vampire

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Fire knitted its way through logs and tinder. Robin Hood kept his journal close to the flames so that he could see what he was writing. But not too close—he didn’t want to burn the book.

Not until he filled its pages, at least.

He sat on a tree stump with a crudely carved bowl by his side. He’d it filled with makeshift ink made from the berries of the forest. The outlaw dipped a thin stick into the juice and scratched his story into his journal.

I thank God that most of my men are illiterate, for if they knew what demons fill these pages my cause would surely be abandoned. My men are superstitious—and it would not do to tell them what lurks in the shadows.

Robin paused, his stick poised to strike the parchment. He took a breath and forced himself to write the words that would seal the fact of his belief.

Last night I learned that monsters are real.

Continue reading “Robin Hood and the Vampire”

A Knight With Rorin

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Having succeeded in his defense of Harcourt, Theor Stormcrow withdrew from the city, still in the guise of Berilac Halfelven; his lover and Warden of the East.

The Elf rode his mount through a nearby mountain pass, kicking up explosions of dust with every hoof-beat. Theor clung to his hopes that his journey might grant him some form of reprieve from the death of his lover and the battle against Lord Joiry.

Such hopes were wrung at the neck when he heard a scream from somewhere down the pass. “Ninth Hell,” he cursed, giving the mount his heels. It started forward up a steep, rocky hill.

The scream came again. Once, twice and then thrice more.

The hills went up, the hills went down, and as he descended the final decline and the mountain pass was shrinking behind him, he came upon a wrecked castle.

The edifice was a marvel of construction–at least in part; for in many places the stone was lapsing into ruin. So broken were these places that they seemed scant more than pebbles on the roadside.

The parts of the tower that yet stood reached a height so as to cover the moon so that all in its shadow lay in darkness, save for one faint flicker of light dancing amidst the shadows in the gate that led to the courtyard.

As Theor came upon the castle, he saw with Elf vision that is greater than a Man’s, a figure upon the battlements clad in silks and samite. “Sir!” Theor cried. “Was it you who screamed?”

“Yes,” said he who stood upon the battlements. “Yes, please help me. I am a prisoner in my own castle.

“In there?” Theor echoed, raising an eyebrow beneath his helmet as he inspected what parts of the castle lay in ruin.  

“Indeed. I own the castle, yet it remains my prison.”

“How can this be?”

“The man on the battlements laughed. “I know my tower old and close to ruin, but it does still have locks.”

Theor couldn’t help but laugh in turn. “You are captive, and yet you shout down to me,” he observed.

“My captors have left, for a time, but I would not make it far before their return. That aside, I have sworn I will not forfeit this place. Pray, come into the courtyard, that we may discuss this in greater detail.”

Theor did as the other man bid. As he came within he saw but a single torch dancing amidst the yard. All else lay bare. He dismounted and gazed upon the battlements.

He saw the man draw a morph cloak about his shoulders and wrap it about his body. He then sank within the magic’d cloth and sprang forth in the visage of a bat and spiraled down the meet the Elf. As this came to be, the bat’s leathery wings unfolded one last time, and spread into a cloth so dark it sapped the darkness from the night, and the man rose from beneath the cloak.

He had a shock of golden hair and a beard trimmed neatly about his chin, which he held high. Theor’s gaze parted from the stranger’s eyes, down past the morph cloak on his shoulders to where curls of hair peaked out of his unbuttoned shirt. The Elf marveled at him, so great was his form.

With a mental effort, he tore wrenched his gaze off the stranger as it reached his waistband.

The man spoke. “You truly must be a brave soul to risk such hurt for the sake of my freedom. My name is Rorin.”

In truth, bravery was only part of his reasoning. Being an immortal, Theor was Elfbound to abide by the Laws of Order. To ignore such requests would be to court Chaos. Still, looking upon Rorin, Theor had few complaints. “And mine, Theor.”

“Though it ashames me to say it, I cannot go with you. Come, help me retake my castle. My captors left a feast before they departed. It is still warm.”

Theor’s head swam with memories of Berilac. “I–I can’t.”

“I beg you,” said Rorin, starting back to the Elf. “Come inside with me.”

His hand only grazed Theor’s gauntlet before Theor drew back, but still the Elf’s hand tingled. Rorin spoke again, “Your are of Elf-blood, are you not? Your race is bound by the Laws of Order to help those in need.” He turned to enter the castle, and then cast a glance over his shoulder. “Or do you simply prefer playing coy?”

He turned to the entrance and the darkness wreathed him.

Theor followed Rorin into the gloom. He staggered blind behind him, each step carefully chosen. At length he caught up with the other, who had snatched a torch off the wall.

A smile flicked across Rorin’s lips. “This way, Elf,” he said, and they ascended the stairs. The absence of light was such that Rorin himselfwas scarcely illuminated by the wisp of light above him.

Rorin stopped in front of the door. “Are you hungry, Theor?”

“Starving.” The word was half a growl, and even he was unsure in what way he meant it.

Rorin opened the door and Theor followed him into what he perceived to be a dining hall, lit by what filters of moonlight streamed through the window. There was a faint glow from the hearth, embedded so deeply into the wall that it seemed more like a cave.

There were many tapers, unlit until Rorin unfastened his morph-cloak and wrapped it about his torch. Instead of burning, the fire seeped through and traveled toward the tapers, now alight. “Us men are not so strong as Elven-kind.” Rorin said, and his hand traced the ringed mail over Theor’s bicep. “We needs do our own enchanting.”

It was all Theor could do to repress a shudder.

“Come,” Rorin said, gesturing to a dining table beside a long window that overlooked the battlements Rorin had called down from. “Eat.”

The table was littered with platters of honeyed chicken and fried onions dripping with gravy. There were bread trenchers and vegetables steaming beside platters of beef. Decanters of wine sat at the head of the table.

“It’s still warm,” Rorin said, “My captors are recently gone and do not wish me to starve. My food is yours.”

Theor relieved himself of his greathelm. “Will you not join me?”

“I’ve already ate,” he said. And then he reached out and traced Theor’s face. He felt himself turning red. “You are fair to look upon,” Rorin muttered. He bit his lip and looked down. “It is an honor to share my food with you.”

Theor looked away and this time could not suppress his shudder. He unfastened his gauntlets. As he started forward he became aware of the pain in his stomach. The Elf was about to take his seat, Rorin barked out a laugh.

“My friend, will you not set aside your swordbelt?”

“My apologies,” said Theor, and he set Folly aside, leaning the blade against the table as he sat down to eat. He saw Rorin’s gaze follow it from his peripheral.

“That is a wonderful blade,” Rorin marveled.

“It’s named Folly,” Theor said. He snatched up a goblet of wine.

“That seems a strange name for a sword.”

Theor swallowed and set it back down. He tore off a heel of bread. Through a mouthful of it he said, “It was not I who named it.”

There was silence then, and after a span of five heartbeats, Rorin asked, “Will you stay the night? My attackers will return, come the sunrise. Would that there was someone who could protect me.”

“There is only one answer I am capable of giving,” Theor said. He finished his meal and rose to his feet.

“Because of your Elfbind?” Rorin asked, “or are there….other reasons?”

Theor tucked his greathelm under his arm. “Such reasons would never cross my mind.”

Rorin crossed the room toward Theor and stumbled halfway.

With preternatural reflexes the Elf leapt forward to steady him. They locked eyes. Rorin broke their gaze to look at the cavelike hearth. “The fire burns low.” He swallowed audibly. “It will grow cold.” He spoke against the Elf’s lips, his breath tickling his mouth. “My rooms are without.” He gestured to a door across the room.

“I will stand guard,” Theor said, but he felt his limbs moving of their own accord. He did not remember taking off his mail so that he wore only boiled leather, breaches and the smallclothes beneath. Nor did he remember how he came to be sitting on Rorin’s bed.

Rorin presently straddled his lap, talking against his neck and up to his lips. “I will not allow my Elf-guest to catch a chill.

His lips brushed against Theor’s, and their mouths opened under each others. The warmth of Rorin’s throat poured into his. He fell back onto the bed and the two were reaching for the other’s breeches between intermittent kisses.

Rorin was stiff as Theor took him in his hand, and then he grinned and did the same to Theor, and the two cupped each other. He thrummed his hips to the movement of Rorin’s hand and felt his heartbeat against it.

Theor was panting as though he’d run a great distance. They continued until a hoarse cry leapt up in his throat, and he whispered Berilac’s name before he could think better of it. He sank back onto the bed with two pools of warmth running down his chest.

He was not sure how much time, if any, had passed when he managed to prop himself up on his elbows, yet as he did this his head swam and he found he could not bring himself into a sitting position.

He was not sure how much time had passed, if any, when he managed to prop himself up on his elbows. Yet as he did this his head swam and he found that he could not sit any up any further. Rorin was on the other side of the room, his bare backside on display as he donned a new pair of breeches. His skin seemed to be emitting a faint glow.

“My head is pounding,” Theor cursed.

“No it’s not,” he said, “If anything you should be feeling a bit hollow.”

“Then why am I hearing some thumping sound?”

“That,” Rorin said, “Is my wife. She’s in the dining room, trying to get in here with an axe. She feasted well on the occupants of this castle before making me what I am.”

“Incubus…” Theor muttered, and then Rorin was beside him.

“Save me,” he rasped, “Kill her, so that I may go off in search of some cure.”

An axe bit through the door at the same time Theor felt his strength returning. “Rorin!” A woman screamed.

“Coming, Aliantha!” And then he whispered, “Kill her, I beg of you.”

“I find my position somewhat awkward, Rorin,” Theor said. “Having never been the guest to a succubus I’ve cuckolded, I’m not quite sure what one says on these occasions.”

Rorin threw himself on Theor. “You must slay her. You must!” I have drank my fill of your emotions, but I have not turned you. That aside, you are still Elfbound. If you do not intervene she will surely kill me.”

Theor opened his mouth to speak, yet at the last he was cut short as the door came crashing down. The Elf sprang to his feet, reaching for a nearby chair. He seized it and hurled it toward Aliantha.

The succubus stumbled. As she regained her footing, Theor was upon her. He bowled her over and back into the dining room and then lunged to retrieve Folly, unsheathing the wolf-blade.

The first glimmers of sunlight were dancing across the window.

“I apologize for the disturbance, my Lady,” he said, stumbling away from an axe-cut. “If I knew your husband was wedded we’d be having a very different conversation right now.”

A stinging pain sheared down his shoulder to his upper torso. He put Folly in the path of her next strike and gave ground, ready to defend from Aliantha. “I’m afraid I can’t give you my blood, he said. He winced at the warm trickle flowing down his back. “But if it helps, I will repeat the apology.”

The woman hurled herself at him. Both axe and sword were whirling in silver-gray arcs, joining in a metallic clang with every parry.

“You know not what you defend,” Aliantha growled, striking twice with the axe and catching only Folly on both strikes.

Theor danced away from the third strike, and cut the head from her weapon. Aliantha charged, and yet before she could fall in Theor readied Folly, and its point pierced her heart and punched through her back.

“Fool!” Her cry spat blood on the Elf’s face. “Do you know what you’ve wrought?”

Rorin emerged into the dining room, and upon sight of him Aliantha wrenched herself off of Folly and crashed to the floor. She crawled back on all fours, toward the staircase. “Keep him away!” She shouted. Tears came, streaking her face red. She pointed to Rorin, lines of blood slithering down her hand like red worms. “Don’t let him touch me! Please!” The words tumbled out so quickly they could be nothing, save the truth.

A spray of sunlight peaked through the window as Aliantha shuddered out a final breath.

Theor turned to Rorin. “You lied to me,” he growled, “It was you who turned her!

“Please,” Rorin said, “Stay with me, and there will be no end to your pleasures.”

“I think not,” Theor said.

“You will want for nothing!” Rorin started forward, yet yielded as the point of Folly came between the two of them. “I–I can repay you for your deed. If you’ll allow me another drink of your emotions, you said the name of Berilac Halfelven. I could change my form to be as him–the–Warden of the East.”

I am Warden of the East!” Theor said, and without another word he caught a glint of sunlight upon Folly and twisted it so that the beam took Rorin through the heart. Flesh flaked to ash, and with a small but difficult magic, the incubus managed to alter his visage into that of Berilac Halfelven. “I could have been yours,” he said, “You could have been mine.”

Theor loosed a wordless cry as he cut his head from his shoulders in an spray of dust. Then he sheathed Folly. He took Rorin’s morph-cloak and beat out the dust, and then fastened it about himself.

He exited the castle garbed in ringed mail and leathers. He left behind his breastplate, surcoat and greathelm.

“It’s time the east learned of Theor Stormcrow.” He came out upon the courtyard, mounted his horse and rode off. Yet to where even he knew not.

 

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