Sir Guy of Gisburne skirted the edge of Sherwood Forest. He was not drunk or crazy enough to attempt a ride through Sherwood this close to the evening with the Merries free again. Still Fury was ill at ease, tugging at the reins and grunting in his anxiousness. Gisburne patted Fury's glossy black neck and gently stroked it, trying to calm him, but come to think of it Guy was not too relaxed either.
Gisburne's head was already aching from too much ale. The drink was to dull the pain in his throbbing arm (which was grazed by an arrow) and the torment within his soul. He had spent a long, hard afternoon in the tavern after another disastrous and disappointing day. Robin of Loxley supposedly had died at the hand of common archers and not at his sword point. He felt a terrible sense of injustice and anti-climax in it all.
After all the indignities and disgraces – humiliations and disappointments – he was not the one who could claim was the end of Robin Hood! And to top it all off, the Merries had escaped at the hand of Robin Hood himself. Back from the grave? Hardly. Gisburne was not a superstitious man unlike many of the men he commanded. Reports of Loxley's death must have been false and he'd have the Wolfshead – and this time his end would be final!
He tried to clear the ale fogging his mind and to look around for danger. Suddenly the shadows seemed deeper somehow and a fog was rolling out, obscuring the outlines of the trees. Moonlight seemed to shine within the forest and Guy couldn't help but look into the bizarre bright light between the trees.
Before Gisburne realized it, he had unintentionally allowed Fury to stray into the boundaries of Sherwood and toward the light. He thought he saw a strange silhouette appear within the fog and light. Was it a man?
"Approach, my son," called the figure.
Now Gisburne could see it wasn't just any man; it was one he had seen before – a man bearing a stag's head, the antlers breaking the light and shadow.
Herne, Herne the Hunter. The bloody pagan god of Loxley and his men!
Herne lifted his arm and gestured Gisburne to draw near.
"Come, my son," called Herne.
Gisburne's brows furrowed and then suddenly he was seized with a sickening thought. Loxley and his men must be here!
Gisburne looked back into the shadows, ready to spur Fury away from the growing threat. But he saw no one. Not even the shiver of an arrow splitting the air.
"My son, why do you tarry? There is work to be done," spoke Herne.
Gisburne looked back at the horned man, holding out his hand in Guy's direction.
"Me? You can't well be bloody talking to me!"
"Yes, my son. For now is the appointed time for the Hooded Man to come to the forest."
"Do you not realize who I am?!"
"You are Sir Guy of Gisburne, steward to the Sheriff of Nottingham. But no longer. A higher purpose calls you now."
Guy glared at Herne. His anger boiled up within him as he expected at any moment the Merries and bloody Loxley would stumble from the shadows, roaring with laughter at their cruel joke. He waited for that moment to come and it passed, the heavy silence growing.
"If you don't remember, old man – I was the one who chopped at your precious tree. I was the one you drove mad!"
Herne raised his arms – sickeningly in the same gesture of the blessing and Gisburne wondered in that moment if he would be cursed again with an assault of trees – or even worse be blessed gag.
"The time had not yet come and your eyes were not opened. Hear me Guy of Gisburne – that you have been chosen – by powers even high than I – to be my son and do my bidding!"
"Bidding? Indeed you must be mad, old man! For I do no bidding other than the sheriff's and certainly wouldn't be daft enough to follow Loxley and serve you!"
"You are to come to Sherwood Forest –"
"And what," spat Gisburne. "Frolic in the trees? Play nursemaid to the halfwit and a lovesick sod to that Saxon wench! Not to mention I'd wake up every morning with a stone in my back and a stick up my ass in this God forsaken place!"
"Say what you will, Guy of Gisburne. But it has been chosen. I, thy father –"
"Father! Do you know how much I hated my father! I do not need another and certainly not a mad man who runs around Sherwood Forest wearing a deer head!"
"The poor, the hungry … they all wait for you."
"Wait for what? To throw bread and coin at them?! I have a hard enough time getting that for myself! Try working for the Sheriff of Nottingham if you want to know a miserable life!"
"You cannot escape your destiny," proclaimed Herne. "It awaits you."
Like hell it does, Gisburne thought and spurred Fury away.
Just as quickly the eerie moonlight vanished and the fog dissipated. Gisburne rubbed his throbbing head and hoped to see Nottingham Castle soon on the dusky horizon.
That's the last time I drink ale at Fat Charlie's Tavern, Guy thought blearily.