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.
* * *
Robyn 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
Robyn 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.”
Robyn 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 Robyn, who went sailing through the air and landed on his back. The outlaw came to his feet, sword at the ready.
The monk’s nails stretched into claws and it leapt for Robyn, 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.” Robyn leapt forward, and the monk leapt back, crashing over candlesticks as he did so. Robyn 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 Robyn’s neck. Robyn 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 Robyn 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!”
Robyn 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.
Robyn 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,” Robyn 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?”
“Then take me to John Little.”
“Forgive me, my Lord,” Robyn 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.”
Robyn 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!” Robyn 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 Robyn 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, Robyn thought. I will not harm him.
Lord Fitzwalter leapt onto the same pew as Robyn, 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.
Robyn Hood resurfaced to face the Baron, who was ready for him. Robyn managed to awkwardly tur aside three cuts before the Baron twisted the flat of Robyn’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. Robyn 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,” Robyn 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.”
Robyn’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, Robyn heard a wolf howl, and he knew that the werewolf of Nottingham would plague the shire no longer.