The blows were constant. He tried to defend himself, but it was a futile effort. Trapped in a small cell, surrounded by a band of guards that had descended on him, there was no escape. When at last they finished with him, he called into a corner and sank to the floor, his cheek pressed against the cool stones. The pain was overwhelming – but he had not said a word about Cassia or her family. They would not get that from him, no matter how hard they tried. Briwere wanted to know everything related to her – all about her family, their location, and anyone who had associated with them. He demanded to know every detail about the possibility of witchcraft. But Guy had kept his silence. And in Briwere’s brutal inquisition, he found a strange ray of hope.
The house had burned. He had seen it with his own eyes. But he refused to believe that Cassia had perished in the inferno. It could not be. If Briwere was so relentless in his pursuit of information, perhaps it meant that he had failed to trap “The heretic,” as he called her. In the back of his mind, the possibility of her death had tried again and again to push its way forward – to dominate his thoughts and threaten to make him sick with fear. But each time he felt it fighting for control, he pushed it away. He thought of her, so alive and vibrant. Even in his pain, he was comforted by memories of her, and he held to them now. She was such a force of life. How could such a spark be extinguished? She had escaped, somehow. He was certain of it. She was with her husband – an abhorrent thought, but a comforting one. Better for her to be there than…
A shudder passed through him then. He fought against his darkest thoughts, but still they came to him, stronger than before, and they overcame him for a few long moments. He could foresee his own madness over her death. If she were lost to him, he could see no reason to live. She was his hope for everything. Even if, by some miracle, he managed to get out of here, what was there to live for? Without her, there was nothing. No one cared what became of him. He had no family, no friends. Without her, he would die as he had lived. Alone. And his end would come in a state of broken, desperate despair.
He could not bear the thought of it. His own death was preferable to hers. At least, if he should be sent to meet his maker, there would be the hope of joining her there. A wait in heaven was better than a long hell on earth. No matter what fate had planned for him, he had to know if Cassia was safe. He could not live fearing for her. He had to think –to plan his escape. He had to fight.
But his strength was gone, and his body was throbbing with pain. Unconsciousness was sweeping over him.
When I wake, he thought. When I wake.
A blast of noise – an earth-shattering explosion, startled him awake. To the arrow slit in the wall, his only view to the outside world, his placed his eye. And the sights and sounds below were astonishing.
An inferno was burning in the courtyard. Smoke billowed up in black clouds, the smell of it so strong that he turned his head away, coughing. He could hear the sounds of a great battle – the shouts of men and the noise of horses and animals, and outside his cell door, he heard the sound of boots pounding past in a run.
What in God’s name? he thought…
His cell door was being rammed by some unseen force. Backing himself into a corner, he prepared to defend himself to the death. And the door came crashing in.
He turned his head away quickly, startled by the sight and the noise. And when he looked up, slowly, his eyes widened at the sight of Edwin Middleton, who stood before him with a fearsome expression – and an axe in his grip. He stepped forward, and for a moment, Guy feared that the heavy blade would be the death of him. Instead, when it descended, it smashed and broke the chains that Guy wore. And before Guy could speak, Edwin threw a sword at his feet – the sound of metal hitting stone a shocking but welcome sound. Edwin stared at him for a moment.
“Save yourself, Gisborne. Robin Hood lays siege to the castle.”
In a moment more he was gone. And Guy wasted no time.
With sword in hand he flew through the corridors he knew so well, rushing down the stairs. The noise of the siege was suddenly overwhelming, and everywhere there were men fighting and shouting. Guards came at him, leaving him no choice but to react, and his mind flashed to moments on the battlefield when there had been no time to think. He swung his blade with wild but expert maneuvering, felling one guard after another as he pushed on. At last he reached the courtyard, and he found that the entire space was filled with the chaos of a revolt. A boulder thrown from a trebuchet came crashing down, smashing into a nearby wall and sending chunks of rock flying in all directions. He dashed out of the way, protecting his eyes with his arm, but he was quickly moving again. Bodies rushed about and clashed and smoke filled the air from the multitude of fires that had been set. A plume clouded his vision, making him blind for a moment, and he stumbled over something. Opening his burning eyes, he saw through his blurred vision that he had tripped over a body. And as his eyes cleared, he was stunned as he recognized the face.
Middleton was dead. There was no mistaking it, his eyes wide open and lifeless, his sword lying just near his outstretched palm. The sight of it was strangely moving, for Guy had seen so many others lying dead in this way – their death having come after a valiant fight. Cassia had lost her husband again, but this time, it was in truth. There was no mistaking it.
The sound of a shouting voice – a familiar one – drew his attention away from the sad sight of the man who had saved his life. Guy lifted his head, and at a distance, he saw the sheriff fleeing for the cover of covered causeway. Guy rose up, seething with hatred. He bellowed his enemy’s name, the intent of murder in his every line, and he followed fast into the causeway after him.
Suddenly he stopped short, shocked by the sight of Robin Hood, who was forcing the sheriff back. Briwere was trapped between the two men, his face filled with cowardly fear. Robin and Guy both advanced, one with sword drawn and the other with his arrow at the ready. Guy spoke through a red haze of anger.
“There is no escape.”
The sheriff was silent, trembling in fear. But Robin words were resolute. “He will face justice from the king, Gisborne. He will hang, and I will be a witness to it. You will not kill him.”
Guy took a step forward, never taking his eyes from Briwere’s face. “He will die by my hand!”
Robin’s words were repeated with firmness. “Put down the sword, Gisborne.”
Looking at the pale, aging, sniveling creature before him, all Guy could see were the years of humiliation and pain, the self-loathing and anguish that had been brought by this vile little being, cowardly trembling now as he faced his certain end.
From somewhere above, there came an explosion, and then a great tremble began. Without thought for himself or thought of escape, seeing only revenge in his sights, Guy rushed forward and plunged his knife into Briwere’s stomach, hardly satisfied with the blood that soon gurgled from the Sheriff’s mouth. When Briwere hunched over, holding himself, Guy swung his sword in one swift stroke, decapitating his enemy, desecrating his body and silently wishing him to burn in hell.
From close by he thought he heard Hood shouting a denial, but the words were lost when part of the tunnel came crashing down. Guy felt a sudden blow to the head. He could feel himself falling…and then all went black around him.
Dim light glowed against his closed eyes. A soft breeze brushed his face. The air he felt was fresh and clean. It was not the damp, sour smell of the castle dungeons. He blinked, and felt a slight weight over part of his body. Gaining his senses, he saw that part of a wall had fallen over him, leaning against another wall in a way that had left him cocooned in the rubble. As his head cleared, he realized that most of the corridor where he had been standing had fallen in, except for the one small space where he was lying. By some miracle he was alive, and testing his limbs, he found he hadn’t been crushed or mangled. But he did not dwell on amazement. Moving carefully, praying that the wall would not collapse, he wriggled out from under the debris. He coughed as the dust in the air choked him. He shook his head…and suddenly he remembered everything.
The sheriff was dead. And so was Edwin Middleton. But one question remained.
Where was Cassia?
Desperate for answers, he slowly stumbled to his feet and rushed forward…only to be stopped by a startling sight. There, not far from where he stood, was Robin of Locksley, pinned under the heavy weight of stones. For a long moment he stood rooted to the spot where he was, staring at the man he had hated for so long – one who hated him with equal passion. It would have been easy to walk away and let his nemesis slowly slip away, suffering in slow agony until the last.
Instead, Guy went to him. He pried away the piles of rock and mortar that covered him. Robin was alive, but barely. Most of his body had been crushed in the collapse. Blood trickled from his nose and mouth, and Guy could hear him gasping. It was a pitiful site, even for someone he despised, and he felt a wave of pity come over him. Robin wheezed, his voice barely audible. Their eyes locked. And Guy was shocked by the hateful fire he saw there.
“You will suffer, Guy of Gisborne. At last, you will know what it is like to lose the only woman you love.”
Guy shook his head, not understanding. But he felt a terrible wave of panic and cold dread filling his heart. Robin gasped his final words.
“She is dead, Gisborne. We could not save her. The fire was too much. The house fell in, and she was lost beneath the wreckage.”