Chapter 1: A Spooky Visitor
Guy of Gisborne didn’t have the habit to get drunk, but that night he felt justified to find oblivion in wine.
In a single afternoon he had to face the shock of finding the dead body of Sir Edward of Knighton and to try to soothe Marian’s sorrow. Seeing her weep so desperately made him think of the saddest day of his life, when he had cried for the death of both his parents and the loss of their home.
That thought filled him with shame: even Marian’s house had been burned to the ground. By his hand.
He couldn’t complain if the girl looked so unwilling to be comforted by him.
When the girl left him to take refuge in her room, Guy had to bear the rage of the Sheriff, furious because Robin Hood robbed him, taking the Pact of Nottingham from his room, and making him lose a lot of his gold too.
Vaisey yelled at Guy for a long time, menacing to fire him and blaming him for the incompetence of the guards and for their inability to catch Hood.
When the Sheriff finally let him go, Guy went to Marian’s room, to check how she was, only to find out that she was gone, that she had run away from the castle as soon as her father was dead.
That was the moment when Guy decided that that day couldn’t get worse: he grabbed a jug of wine from the kitchen and sat in front of the fire to drink it, ordering a servant to take him another one when the first was finished.
Allan sat with him, and drank some wine too, but this time the former outlaw was too worried to see Gisborne drinking so much to get drunk as well. Allan wasn’t used to see Guy losing his control because of wine, and he felt that it wouldn’t be good for neither of them.
When Guy finished his second jug of wine, Allan dragged him back to his lodgings, with some difficulties because Guy was tall and heavy, but at last he succeeded in leaving him on the bed, and soon the knight slipped into a deep sleep.
Guy woke up in the middle of the night, hearing somebody who was calling his name.
He groggily sat up in bed, taking a hand to his throbbing head.
“Allan? What do you want?”
A lit candle was on the table, illuminating the room, but when Guy looked around, he found out that he was alone.
A dream, he thought, just a dream.
He got up, a little unsteadily, to use the chamberpot, and he sighed, remembering that he was feeling so wretched because Marian had left the castle.
She left me. Again.
He went to the basin to wash his hands, and he realized that he was still wearing the same clothes of the day before. He wrinkled his nose in disgust: they smelled of sweat and wine.
Guy began to undress, ashamed of his sorry state, and regretting to have drunk so much.
He poured more water in the basin and he began to wash up: it was cold, but he didn’t mind, it helped to clear his mind and to make him feel less foolish.
Gisborne took a towel to dry his hair, and he walked to the mirror, taking the candle with him. He looked at his face, tired and dejected, and he wondered if he looked so scary and evil that Marian had to choose to run away rather than staying at the castle with him.
He almost dropped the candle when he saw another person in the reflection. Guy turned around quickly, cursing because he didn’t have his sword, and this time he actually dropped the candlestick and jumped back, slamming his back against the mirror.
It can’t be. It’s impossible!
Guy put a hand on his chest, trying to slow his heartbeats and to catch his breath.
Surely he was still drunk and he had seen an image from a dream, a figment of his imagination.
He was sure that he had been alone in the room when he woke up, and he knew that he still was alone. If there was somebody else, he would hear the sound of his breath, sense his presence.
But he had seen someone, someone who couldn’t be there.
Guy took a deep breath and said to himself that he had to pick up the candlestick and light the candle again, so he could see with his own eyes that there was nobody.
He was about to do it when suddenly the image of Sir Edward of Knighton appeared in front of him, a flame burning in each of his hands.
Guy stared at him for a moment, then he collapsed to the floor, in a dead faint.
When Guy opened his eyes again, the light of dawn was entering from the window. For a moment he wondered why he was lying on the floor, then he remembered the nightmare that had frightened him so much.
I’ll never get drunk again if I start seeing impossible things.
“Really, Sir Guy, I didn’t think you were so impressionable...”
A voice talked very near to his ear, and Guy jumped, scared. He sat on the floor and found himself staring at Sir Edward, who was crouching to meet his gaze. He was staring at his room too, because the image of the man was half transparent, and Guy could see through him.
Guy tried to retreat, but he found the wall behind his back. To move, he would have to push the ghost of the old man away, and he wouldn’t touch him for anything in the world.
“No! It’s impossible! Go away!” He gasped, and Sir Edward nodded gravely.
“It’s surprising, indeed. I didn’t expect that you could see me. It must be because you were the first one to find my body just after I died.”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Guy cried, terrified. “Please don’t hurt me! I never wanted you to die!”
Sir Edward looked at him, puzzled.
“I never blamed you for that. Actually, I was surprised to see that you were so shocked by my death. And I appreciated that you tried to comfort Marian, even if I have to say that you weren’t very good at it.”
Guy closed his eyes, trembling.
“Sir Guy? You aren’t going to faint again, are you? Please look at me.”
Gisborne shuddered, but he obeyed, forcing himself to look at the ghost.
Sir Edward was standing now, holding a hand out to him, as if he wanted to help him to his feet.
He was smiling, his eyes kind.
Guy struggled to stand without touching him.
“Why are you here?” He stammered, and the ghost seemed to become sad.
“I think you know very well what ties me to this world, Sir Guy.”
The knight sighed.
Sir Edward nodded.
“You are trembling, Sir Guy. Are you afraid of me, or just cold? Get dressed and sit near the fireplace or you’ll catch your death. Then we’ll talk.”
The ghost disappeared and Guy sat heavily on the bed, upset.
Am I becoming crazy?
He was still shivering and he felt cold. He was only wearing his trousers, and his hair was still damp, and Guy decided that he should get dressed regardless of whether the ghost was real or not.
Guy opened a trunk, grabbing some clean clothes, and he wore them, struggling to close the clasps of the jacket because his hands were trembling too much.
He had to get out of that room, to reach his guards, so he wouldn’t be alone with his nightmares. As soon as he was dressed, he darted to the door, only to find Sir Edward on the threshold, an amused sparkle in his glance.
The ghost gestured to the chairs in front of the fireplace, and Guy obeyed him, dropping himself on one of them. The fire was warm, comforting, but Guy just wanted to run away.
Sir Edward sat on the other chair, in front of him, and gestured to a basket of fruit that was on a little table between them.
“After drinking so much you should eat something, Sir Guy. But if I must be honest, getting drunk is a habit that I don’t like. It doesn’t do good neither for the health nor for the mind.”
“It’s not a habit for me,” Guy said, defensively, and a bit irked. He could understand if the ghost of Sir Edward wanted to haunt him for burning Knighton Hall and arresting him, but why should he care about his habits?
Sir Edward smiled.
“Good for you, Sir Guy.”
Gisborne took a apple from the basket, but he put it back before biting it. He was feeling sick and his head was still aching, and he wasn’t sure that he could keep anything down if he tried to eat.
He leaned his back on the chair, tired.
“What do you want from me?”
“You owe me, Sir Guy. You burned my house.”
Guy hanged his head with a sigh.
“I’d take it back if I could.”
“But you can’t.”
“So you are here to punish me? What will you do?”
The ghost looked worried.
“No, no, Sir Guy. It’s not up to me to punish you. It’s true, some ghosts can take revenge on the persons who wronged them, but I won’t. Actually, I’ve forgiven you. I did it even before I died, because I could see that most of your evil actions came from the sheriff. I could haunt him, he would surely deserve it. I know that you tried to ease my stay in the dungeons, I could see that I had more blankets and better food than the other prisoners, and I guessed that you were the one who ordered the jailers to treat me well. But you are still in debt with my family, and this is the moment to settle it.”
Gisborne was pale, as if he was about to faint again or to be sick.
“How?” He whispered.
“I want you to take care of Marian.”
Guy stared at him, his eyes wide with surprise, and unable to reply.
“I know that you have feelings for her and that you deeply care for my daughter, so you must protect her, because I can’t do it anymore.”
“She ran away from the castle,” Guy said, bitterly.
“I know. She is in love with Robin.”
Guy winced. The words of Sir Edward hurt him deeply, but he realized that deep in his heart he already suspected that. He felt enraged, he wanted to lash out at Marian and to kill Hood, but Sir Edward’s ghost was looking at him, and his stare made him feel guilty.
He remembered Marian’s tears from the day before, the desperation in her eyes when she had seen the old man’s body, and the warm softness of her body in his arms when he had hugged her. Guy suddenly knew that she might be in love with Hood, but that this knowledge wasn’t enough for his heart to stop loving her.
“Why are you asking me to protect her, then?”
“Because Marian is the most important thing in your life. Robin loves her, I won’t deny it, but he loves his King, his people and our England even more. I can’t blame him, I died for England, and in the past I myself chose my country over my daughter. When she had to marry you, in example. I wasn’t there because I thought that I could save England from the sheriff.”
“I thought that you weren’t there because you didn’t approve me,” Guy blurted, and Edward looked at him, his gaze softer.
“You should have more self confidence, Sir Guy. If you did, you wouldn’t rely so much on the sheriff, and things would be better for everyone. As I once told Marian, she could have done worse than marrying you.”
“It doesn’t matter. She loves Hood.”
The ghost smiled.
“This won’t stop you from protecting her.”
Guy gritted his teeth, enraged, because he knew that Sir Edward was right. He was feeling stupid and helpless and the sheriff would surely have laughed at him if he could read his thoughts.
Guy the gullible! He would say. The leper keeps betraying you, and you are ready to fall for her poisonous words again! Stupid, spineless, lovesick fool!
“You’re not gullible, Sir Guy,” Edward said, as if he could actually read his mind, “nor a fool. You love my daughter, and I’m glad you do.”
Gisborne looked at him, startled.
“Don’t do that!”
“Keep out of my mind!”
“It’s not something I choose to do, I’m sorry if this upsets you. It seems that when you die, you can read easily what is in people’s hearts, it’s as if their souls are exposed to my eyes.”
Guy blushed, his eyes downcast.
“Yours is not as black as you think, Sir Guy,” Edward said, gently, “you don’t have to be so ashamed. The soul of the sheriff is really black, and it tainted you as well, but underneath his filth, yours is not that bad. You committed serious sins and heinous crimes, but it’s not too late to change and be saved. There is hope for you, and you must believe me, because now I can’t lie.”
“I always thought that Marian’s pure soul would cleanse mine,” Guy confessed, and to his dismay the ghost burst out into a laugh.
“Forgive me, Sir Guy. Maybe you are a little gullible after all. Marian’s heart is in the right place, but she isn’t the pure, innocent angel that you think. She wronged you, she deceived you, even if she did it to help people in need, and she has her faults. We all have our faults, and my daughter makes no exception. Maybe it’s time you learn to see her for who she really is.”
“No, she wouldn’t lie to me.”
“She is the Nightwatchman.”
“No! It can be!”
Sir Edward smiled knowingly.
“Are you sure, Sir Guy? Try to think about it, about all the times you met the Nightwatchman. Once you cut his arm, and you found blood on Marian’s sleeve later that day.”
Guy covered his mouth with his hand, shocked.
“I stabbed the Nightwatchman! That’s why she was ill before the wedding?!” He jumped to his feet, his eyes wide with horror. “She could have died! I almost killed her and you are asking me to protect her?! Are you insane?! How can you say that my soul isn’t black when I stabbed her?!”
“Calm down, Sir Guy. Please sit, and try to breathe slowly.”
Guy didn’t listen to him, his thoughts in a turmoil, and he kept pacing around the room, distressed.
The ghost rose from his chair, and he seemed to become bigger and darker.
“SIT DOWN!” He bellowed, his voice unearthly and menacing, and Guy looked at him in horror, cowering on his chair and hiding his face in his hands.
Sir Edward rolled his eyes with a sigh: he never meant to scare the knight so much.
“Sorry, I just wanted you to calm down,” he said after a while.
Guy dared to look at him, his eyes damp with tears of fear and frustration.
“You wanted me to calm down? How? Menacing to drag me to hell?!” He snarled.
“I never did it!”
“Well, it bloody looked like it!”
“Sorry,” Edward repeated, then he grinned. “But it worked: you are sitting there and listening to me, now.”
Guy shook his head in disbelief.
“It doesn’t change what I did.”
“The Nightwatchman was robbing you, and you didn’t know that it was her. She has her faults, can’t you see it, Sir Guy? The point is that we can still love people, even if they are not perfect.”
Gisborne lowered his head in defeat. He didn’t think he had the strength to argue with that ghost, it was easier to surrender and do whatever he wanted.
“What do you expect from me?”
“For now wash your face, calm down and go to do your job. Nobody else should know that you can see me or they will think that you are insane, or that you are possessed. You must act normally. I will come back when my presence is needed. We will help each other to protect Marian. I have trust in you, Sir Guy, and I hope you will trust me too, in time.”
With those words, the ghost disappeared, and Guy was alone in his room again.
Chapter 2: Because I Am a Father
Allan was relieved to see the dark figure of Guy of Gisborne walking down the corridor and he hurried to reach him.
“Hey, Giz!” He called. “Are you alright?”
Gisborne winced and turned to look at him, and Allan realized that he wasn’t. The knight was deadly pale and he had dark shadows under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept for a week, and he looked jumpy and upset.
“Oy, mate, that wine was too strong, I guess. But don’t worry, I know a great remedy for hangovers, it’s a little disgusting, but it works miracles.”
Gisborne grabbed the front of his tunic with a growl, and he slammed Allan against the wall.
“You’re a liar! A snake ready to betray me!” He snarled.
“Are you still drunk, Giz? I wouldn’t betray you!”
“As you wouldn’t betray Hood? You lied to me!”
Allan frantically tried to understand which lie Guy could have found out, but just a moment later Guy answered that unexpressed question.
“You knew how I feel for Marian, but you never told me that she’s in love with Hood! And that she’s the Nightwatchman!”
“Who told you?!” Allan blurted, realizing immediately that he had just revealed to Guy that he knew about her secrets. He braced himself for a beating, but Gisborne didn’t hit him.
Instead he let him go, looking at the empty corridor, and lowering his eyes, as if he was ashamed of something.
“You wouldn’t believe me,” he said, with a sigh. “Why you didn’t tell me?”
Allan looked at him, and he saw how dejected Gisborne was. He felt some pity for the man, even if he was afraid that Guy could still beat him.
“I didn’t know how you would react. I might be a traitor, but Marian had always been kind to us, I didn’t want you to hang her when you found out the truth.”
Guy kept glancing at a point at the left of Allan.
“I would never hurt her.”
“Maybe, but you could hurt me. And I wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t happen.”
Gisborne didn’t answer to him, but he mumbled something, still looking at the empty space at Allan’s left. The former outlaw gave a worried glance at him.
“Giz? What’s up? You are worrying me.”
“That’s because of Marian? Did you really love her so much?”
Guy eventually looked at him.
“She means everything to me.”
The knight nodded, and Allan felt sorry for him.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you, Giz...” He began, but Guy interrupted him waving a hand.
“You can spare your words, I’m not going to retaliate on you.”
“But I’m really sorry for hiding the truth from you,” Allan said, and for once he was sincere.
Guy looked at him, a little surprised. The ghost of Sir Edward, visible only at Guy’s eyes, was standing at Allan’s side, nodding at the former outlaw.
“He’s not lying,” the ghost said, “this young man is loyal to you, Sir Guy, at least for now.”
Guy glanced at Allan, uncertain.
“It doesn’t matter now. We have something to do, come.”
Gisborne led him through the corridors of the castle, and the ghost followed them. When they arrived in front of a door, Guy stopped, hesitating, and Sir Edward felt a sudden dread.
“What’s inside this room, Sir Guy?” He asked, but he already knew the answer.
“Hey, Giz? Why are we here? It’s some mission for the sheriff?” Allan asked.
“No, quite the contrary, indeed.” Guy pushed the door open, and they stepped into the room.
On a bed, covered by a shroud, lied the body of Sir Edward.
Allan stared at the corpse, shocked, then he looked at Guy: the knight was standing at the side of the bed with his head bowed and perfectly still, as if he was praying.
“Poor Edward.” Allan said, sadly, and Guy lifted his gaze to look at him.
“We must provide for a burial. Please, call a priest, and organize everything.”
“The sheriff won’t approve,” Allan objected.
“The sheriff won’t care, as long as he doesn’t have to spend money for it. I will pay.”
“Thank you, Sir Guy,” Edward said, unable to avert his gaze from the body.
Allan didn’t know if he found more strange to be in the same room with the corpse of a man he had known, or to see Gisborne so respectful towards the father of the woman who had deceived him so much.
“Go, now,” Guy said quietly, “make sure that he is buried in a nice place.”
“Here in Nottingham?”
Guy thought for a moment.
“No, at Knighton. I don’t know if Marian will come back at the castle, but she must be able to visit her father’s tomb. It will be easier for her if he’s at Knighton.”
Allan nodded thoughtfully.
“Aren’t you coming, Giz?”
“Later. I just need a moment.”
The young man wondered why Gisborne seemed to be so touched by the old man’s death, but he didn’t ask.
“As you wish,” he just said, then he was gone.
“That was kind of you.” Sir Edward had talked without looking at Gisborne, his gaze still fixed on his own body.
“I wish that my parents had a tomb I could visit. It would have been a comfort, I think.”
Guy’s voice was low, sad, and Sir Edward forced himself to avert his eyes from the corpse and look at the knight.
“They died in a fire, if I remember well. Marian and I arrived in Nottingham just after that tragedy, I remember people talking about it. They said that you killed them and Robin’s father too, but I never trusted gossips too much.”
“It’s true,” Guy said in a whisper, “I started the fire, but I never wanted them to die.”
“It was an accident, then.”
“But they are dead and it was my fault. I will have this burden on my conscience forever. Every day of my life.”
Guy sighed. He didn’t know why he was telling those things to the ghost. He rarely talked about his parents’ death, he didn’t even confess that sin to a priest, sure that he didn’t deserve to be forgiven for that. But somehow Sir Edward seemed to be able to look into his soul, and Guy found easy to speak with him freely, maybe because he was the only one who could see the ghost and Sir Edward wasn’t going to repeat his words to anyone.
“Poor child, it’s an heavy weight to carry.”
“A weight I deserve. Maybe that’s why I can see you, but I never could see the ghosts of my parents, no matter how much I prayed to meet them again, even just for a moment. Just to tell them that I was sorry.”
“I think it’s more complicated than that, Sir Guy. I wish I could speak to Marian, to tell her that she mustn’t feel guilty for the last words she said to me, but you are the only one who can see me. I am sure that your parents have already forgiven you, but probably they just can’t tell it to you.”
“How can you be so sure?” Guy asked, reluctant to allow himself to hope that the ghost could be right.
“I know, Sir Guy, because I am a father. There is nothing that Marian could do that could make me stop loving her with all my heart. She could have stabbed my heart with a knife and I’d still forgive her.”
Guy glanced at him, almost shyly.
“Sir Edward? Have you met other dead people? Is there any chance that you could talk to my parents?”
The ghost shook his head, sadly.
“I am alone. I always thought that my wife would be here to wait for me when I died, but there is no one. I think that I am stuck. To reach her, I must leave this mortal world, but I can’t until I’m sure that Marian will be safe.”
“I will help you,” Guy said, impulsively. Not out of fear, but just because he felt sorry for the old man and he wished that he could do something for him.
The ghost smiled warmly at him.
“I’m grateful, Sir Guy. If I can go to Heaven, I’ll be sure to search for your parents and tell them how much you love them and that you miss them. Probably you won’t be able to get an answer, but I am sure that they love you too and they will be there for you when your time comes.”
Guy nodded to thank him, and they were quiet for a while, watching the corpse.
“Is it strange to see your own dead body?” Guy asked suddenly, and Sir Edward frowned.
“It is. Unpleasant too, but not as shocking as I thought. I can’t stop looking at it, but it’s hard to believe that it once was me. Now it’s just… a thing.”
“But you kept the same appearance as a ghost.”
“Because you are used to see me with this aspect. You were already frightened enough, I couldn’t show you anything more unsettling. But please, let’s go away, now. I don’t like looking at it.”
Guy was more than happy to comply.
“What should I do, now?” Guy asked, as they went out of the room.
“Reach the sheriff, he will expect you to do your work, it wouldn’t be wise to anger him.”
“You’re late, Gisborne.” The sheriff kept painting his toe nail with black paint without looking at Guy. Only when he finished, he stared at his henchman, frowning. “And you look horrible. More than usual, in fact.”
Guy’s head was still throbbing, and he felt poorly, still feeling the effects of the hangover and of the shock of seeing Sir Edward’s ghost.
“I think I am unwell, my lord.”
The sheriff put away the nail paint, and pointed a finger at him.
“Actually I think that you spent the night crying like a girl and getting drunk because of your leper friend. ‘Boo-hoo, Marian left me as soon as the crusty geezer was cold!’ This should teach you something, Gizzy. She never cared for you, she was only staying here because of her father.”
Guy was feeling sick. Only the day before he would have replied that it wasn’t true, that there was something between him and Marian, but now he knew the truth and it sounded too similar to the words of the sheriff.
He didn’t know what to answer, so he just hung his head while the sheriff kept talking.
Vaisey stood up, and went closer to him.
“So, do you have nothing to say, Gizzy? You know that I am right, don’t you? I always told you to keep away from women, they are only a nuisance, a disease. Now get over with it and move on.”
Guy didn’t answer, and he winced when the sheriff put an arm around his neck and got even closer.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a kiss, hm? That makes you feel better, huh? Come along, Gizzy, give us a kissy.”
Gisborne fliched, and he pushed the sheriff away.
“Get off me!” He snarled, and Vaisey stopped mocking him, to look at Guy with a menacing stare.
He pointed a finger to the knight’s chest, prodding him with rage.
“Grow up, Gisborne. Now stop pining like a pathetic fool and take the guards to Clun, we have a trap to set.”
The sheriff went away, and Guy let out a sigh, closing his eyes for a moment.
“Does he always treat you like this?”
Gisborne looked around, startled: Sir Edward’s ghost had appeared again, and he was standing in front of the fireplace with his arms crossed in front of him. Guy could see the flames dancing through his body, and he just wished that he could go back to his lodgings, go to sleep and wake up in a world where he could just have some peace, a world with no sheriff, no ghosts, no Marian…
No. It wasn’t true.
For him, a world without Marian may as well turn to ash.
Guy didn’t answer, he just sighed again and turned to the door to get out of the room. The ghost followed him, floating at his side.
“Really, Sir Guy, you shouldn’t let him treat like that!”
“I don’t have much choice, do I?” He said under his breath, enraged.
“Marian often said to me that everything is a choice.”
“Well, I can’t choose to stop loving her. The sheriff wouldn’t be so harsh if I did.”
“You might stop working for the sheriff.”
“I have no one, nobody who cares for me, nobody who would ever support me. The sheriff can give me power, he can give me a position, wealth. I will have that, at least, if I can’t have anything else.”
“So you sell your soul to a devil?”
“That’s easy for you to talk, now! When he came to Nottingham why did you let him take your job? You were the sheriff, but you let him take your position because he was ruthless, he had power, and you were afraid. If you had the courage to stand up against him, I could be working for you, now. But you were a coward… I am a coward, so we must content ourselves with disappointment!”
Guy kept walking down the corridors of the castle, headed to the courtyard. The ghost followed him, in silence.
“Do you know, Sir Guy?” Edward said after a while, “You reminded me of Marian, a moment ago.”
Guy glanced at him, surprised by his words.
“What do you mean?”
“Your words… She told me the same things the last time she saw me alive. She said that she was ashamed of me, that I was a coward...”
“Those were the last words she said to you?”
Sir Edward nodded.
“I wish I could tell her that I don’t mind. I asked Robin to give her a message, but I am afraid that she will still feel guilty for what she said...”
Guy leant his back on a wall, and he closed his eyes.
“She will. I know that she will.”
Sir Edward looked at him, worried.
“I did the same with my father before he died. I called him a leper, I told him that he abandoned us…”
“I’m sure he has forgiven you. I am a father, I know that he did. For sure. If he could he would surely tell it to you. That’s why I asked your help: you can tell Marian what I wish I could tell her myself.”
“I already agreed to help you,” Guy said gruffly, unwilling to show that the words of the ghost had touched him, “but I don’t know where to find her.”
Guy opened his eyes, startled by Allan’s voice. The young man was staring at him, a troubled look on his face.
“Were you talking to yourself? Are you sure you are alright, Giz?”
Gisborne glared at him.
“I’d be better if you would keep silent!”
“Drinking too much makes you grumpy, uh? You sure you don’t want that remedy for hangovers?”
“We don’t have time for this. Come on, we have to go to Clun.”
“The sheriff is going to set a trap for Hood.” Guy said, lowering his voice. “It’s a plan of that man who came to the castle, that Carter.”
“What do we have to do?”
“The guards will menace the villagers and that Carter will save the peasants from them, so he’ll get the trust of Hood.”
“Do you think that Robin will fall for it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s their plan, I’ll just do what the sheriff ordered me to do.”
Allan didn’t find anything to reply, and the two men headed for the courtyard to reach the guards.
Sir Edward’s ghost floated behind them, unnoticed by everyone but Guy.
Chapter 3: The Touch of Death
Guy and Allan stood apart from the guards while the soldiers fought against the outlaws. Gisborne saw Marian for a moment, between the men of Robin Hood, then Robin dragged her away from the battle, making her disappear behind a stable.
He already knew that the girl was with the outlaw, but seeing her with his own eyes, even if only for a moment, hurt him deeply.
Then Carter arrived, and the battle became bloody: the man hit and killed the guards to get Hood’s trust.
Guy stared at the battle, astonished: he didn’t know that the plan implied losing so many men just to trick the outlaws in trusting Carter. The sheriff hadn’t told him the details of the plan.
“That’s a waste of lives!” Sir Edward said, disapproving.
“I had no idea that he was going to kill them...” Guy said, in shock, and Allan thought that he was talking to him.
“I surely hope you didn’t know, Giz! It’s inhuman!”
“Come, Allan!” Guy said, spurring his horse to reach the guards and shout orders to them. “Retreat! Take the wounded and withdraw!”
While they galloped away from Clun, Guy glanced back, hoping to see Marian again, but he couldn’t, so he pulled the reins of his horse and called one of the soldiers.
“Go back to the castle and take care of the injured men. You can have the rest of the day free.”
“Aren’t you returning with us, Sir Guy?”
“I have something else to do. Go.”
Guy turned the horse, and nodded to Allan to follow him.
“Where are we going?”Allan asked after a while.
“You are going to take me to the camp of the outlaws.”
The young man paled.
“I already told you that I can’t. I work for you, but I don’t want them to get killed, they were my friends...”
“Good friends indeed if you were willing to betray them for money.”
“I betrayed them because you tortured me!”
“This is wrong, Sir Guy!” Edward commented, giving him a disapproving look, and Guy had the decency to blush.
“I’m sorry for that,” he said, and Allan stared at him, dumbfounded.
“You are… what?! Giz, what kind of wine was that? Are you still drunk? Maybe I should get you to a healer...”
“No, you have to take me to the camp.”
“I can’t! Giz, ask me anything but this...”
“I don’t care about your friends, I need to see Marian!”
“What do you want to do to her?” Allan asked, worried.
“I have to talk with her. Just talk.”
“Will you arrest her?”
“Of course I won’t!” Guy snarled. “And I won’t hurt her! What kind of monster do you think I am?!”
“Well, Giz, you always said that the Nightwatchman deserved to hang...”
Guy stopped the horse.
“Allan, please, I need to see her. It’s important, I swear.”
“You always need to see her. What changed since yesterday?”
“Everything changed, believe me.”
“Because you found out the truth about her?”
“Because the ghost of her father visited me last night, and I keep seeing him!” Guy blurted, and Allan stared at him as if he had grown another head.
“Very well, Giz, I am taking you to see a healer.”
“That wasn’t a wise move, Sir Guy,” Sir Edward commented, shaking his head a little.
“I needed to tell someone!”
“Your friend will say that you are crazy or possessed. How can you help my daughter if people will consider you a fool?!”
Guy stared at the ghost (at empty space from Allan’s point of view.).
“Allan won’t betray me. You said he’s loyal. I trust him.”
Allan gave him a wary glance.
“Giz… Maybe you should rest for a while. It’s clear that the wine you drank had to be spoiled or something...”
“He can’t believe you.” Edward said.
“Well, tell me something that can make him believe. You said that you can read in people’s souls, didn’t you?” Guy replied.
“He’s scared and confused, and he doesn’t know what to do.”
Guy gave him a pointed look.
“I think that anyone would be confused if he saw another person speaking to empty air, don’t you think? Tell me something that I couldn’t know in any other way.”
“Giz… you are worrying me. Really...”
Gisborne stood still for a moment, then he nodded and turned to Allan.
“You dreamt about your mother last night. She used to sing a song to you and your brother, a little out of tune, but sweet and slow.”
Allan almost fell down from his horse.
“How can you know?! This… This is witchcraft!”
“I don’t know what it is, but Sir Edward’s ghost is here, he speaks to me, and he can read in our souls. He told me about your dream. Need some other proof?”
An alarmed look appeared on Allan’s face.
“I don’t need anyone looking into my soul.”
“He says that it’s not as tainted as you think. He said the same about me as well.” Guy sighed, and looked at Allan, pleadingly. “Do you believe me? Please tell me you do.”
The young man thought that at that moment Gisborne seemed to be completely helpless, vulnerable, and he was strangely moved to realize that he was asking for his help, that he was trusting him so much.
“I guess that it wasn’t the wine, then. You look like hell, but I guess that I would too, if I could see a ghost. Is he evil and terrible? Is he haunting you for revenge?”
“Actually he’s quite kind.”
“It’s still scary. Maybe we should go and see a priest...”
“No. I have to see Marian. Her father just wants to protect her. When she will be safe, he can go to Heaven.”
“When? It’s more like ‘if’. With the sheriff around, nobody can really be safe. By the way, are you sure that he won’t need you? What if he searches for you and you’re not at the castle?”
“He’s busy with Carter. They don’t need me. And that’s a good thing because I don’t like that man.”
“Who? Carter or the sheriff?”
Both. Guy thought, but he didn’t say it.
“Take me to see Marian,” he said, instead.
“If I take you to the camp, they could kill you, and me as well. Robin was very explicit about it when he kicked me out of the gang...”
“I don’t care about Hood!”
“You should! I don’t want you to get hurt!” Allan almost shouted, and Guy was surprised by his outburst. The former outlaw let out a deep sigh. “Listen, Giz, I can’t take you there, but I could take Marian to you, would this be good enough for you?”
“I just want to see her.”
“I don’t think she will come to the castle or to Locksley, though...”
“I can wait in the forest.”
Allan looked at Guy, noticing how exhausted he looked, and he shook his head.
“No Giz, I have a better idea. There’s a inn on the road to Kirklees, it’s called ‘The Flaming Turnip’, don’t know why. It’s a decent place, clean enough I guess, and they cook well. Go there, eat something and take a room. You look like you could use some rest while you wait.”
Guy was about to complain and say that he didn’t need food or sleep, but he realized that it would have been a lie.
“Very well. Don’t make me wait too much.”
Guy spurred the horse, taking the road to Kirklees, without looking to see if the ghost was still following him or if he had decided to go with Allan to search for Marian. When Marian would arrive to the tavern, the ghost would surely be there as well.
The Flaming Turnip was quiet at that time of the day. It wasn’t a market day, so just a few patrons and two or three drunkards were sitting at the tables. Gisborne got a few wary glances when he entered the tavern, but soon people got back to their occupations and they didn’t pay much attention to him.
He sat at a table in a corner, and called the innkeeper, paying for a room and for a meal.
The maid took him food and wine and she left. Guy looked around, and he sighed in relief to see that the ghost wasn’t there.
He took a sip of wine, carefully, and a piece of bread. He was still feeling a little sick, and he wasn’t sure that he could eat, but as soon as he bit in the fresh bread, he found out that he was hungry, almost ravenous actually.
Guy ate his meal, glad to be alone for a while. Now Sir Edward’s ghost didn’t scare him like he did in the beginning, but it was still unsettling to see something that nobody else could, and then he was still the father of the woman Guy loved. Knowing that he could read his thoughts, look into his soul, was upsetting too, and Guy was still shocked by the revelations about Marian and Hood, and about the Nightwatchman.
The thought that he had almost killed her was so horrible that he had to push it out of his mind if he didn’t want to be sick, and he couldn’t stand to think about Marian in love with Robin.
He wished that he could do what the sheriff kept repeating to him: to forget about her, to move on.
He couldn’t. He still loved her, with all her faults, and he wasn’t sure he could ever stop.
Guy could be angry at her, despise her for all her lies, be hurt by her deceit, but love would still be there in his heart, stubbornly, patiently waiting to be rekindled.
Gisborne sighed. He was tired and dispirited, and he wished that he could just run away from everything.
He wondered if the sheriff had noticed his absence, but he realized that he didn’t care.
Sir Edward’s words about souls made him understand that he didn’t like the sheriff. He was bonded to him by his oath of loyalty, and he still wanted the wealth and power that Vaisey could give to him, but he despised the man, the darkness of his heart.
Guy wondered if Sir Edward’s words were true, if his soul wasn’t really completely black, if he could still have some hope to be reunited to his family in Heaven someday…
But if he kept being close to Vaisey he would surely lose any hope. The evil nestled in his soul was like a disease, a plague that would defile Guy’s heart for sure and that would take any hope from him.
I wish I had never met him…
“Why don’t you leave him, then?”
Guy lifted his eyes to look at the ghost: Sir Edward was back, and he looked like if he was sitting at the table with him. Guy could see the grain of the wood of the chair through his face.
“It’s not so easy,” he said, taking care to cover his mouth with a hand, so people wouldn’t notice that he was talking to himself.
“Why not? Find another master, a better one.”
“If I leave him, he will destroy me. You know the power he has, you were afraid of it.”
“You could go away.”
“And to be banished once again? To lose everything I earned in all these years?” Guy asked, with rage.
“Would you still be so reluctant if you could take Marian with you? If you could have a fresh start with her somewhere else?”
Guy stared at him, astonished.
“Are you suggesting that I kidnap your daughter to take her away from Nottingham?!”
“Of course not!”
“She would never run away with me willingly. She… she went to live in the forest... with Hood… If she… if she loves him, why should she come with me?”
Sir Edward gave a sympathetic look at Guy.
“Sir Guy, I know that this situation is difficult for you, and I’m sorry if my requests make you suffer, but I know my daughter. I don’t know if she could really be happy to live in a forest, and to be part of a gang of outlaws. Marian had never been good at following orders, and in a gang there can’t be two leaders. I suspect that she isn’t enjoying her life in the forest too much. If you talk to her, if you find the right words, maybe she could consider a different option.”
“I’ve never been good with words. And anyways she never listened to me.”
The ghost rolled his eyes.
“I know even too well, she always had issues with listening to reasonable advice. But this won’t stop me from trying to help her, because I love her. She is my beautiful, lovely, willful daughter and I’d do anything to protect her. Even if this should mean being a ghost for eternity.”
“I guess we have something in common. I will try, but I don’t know if I can succeed.”
Marian followed Allan, annoyed. She was still irked after her argument with Robin. He was mad at her because she threw herself in the middle of the battle, trying to rescue the inhabitants of Clun.
She knew that she had been reckless, but she hated the condescending tone used by Robin, as if she was just a stupid child.
She had been the Nightwatchman for years and nobody could ever catch her! While Robin had been the really reckless one, being outlawed just a few days after coming back from the Holy Land.
After the heated discussion, she had left the camp in a huff, expecting Robin to follow her to make peace, but he didn’t, apparently too busy with that Carter who wanted to join the gang.
Little John had tried to comfort her, but she rejected his attempt. She had wanted Robin’s understanding, not the sympathy of the big man.
She had told Little John that she needed to be alone, to take a walk in the forest, and she left.
She had walked for a while, then she had stopped into a glade, to train at knife throwing. Then Allan appeared from behind a tree, and she almost hit him with one of her daggers.
The young man claimed that he didn’t have bad intentions, but that he was there on behalf of Guy of Gisborne. The knight needed to talk to her about an important matter and he wanted to meet her.
“Well, tell him that I am mourning my father. That I took refuge at the abbey and that I went into seclusion.”
“He knows that you are here.”
Marian had paled.
“Who told him?”
“Not me, I swear! He found out somehow. Maybe leaving Robin’s arrow tied to the rope you used to flee wasn’t such a brilliant idea, was it?”
“That is another reason to avoid him. If he knows about Robin and me, he could be dangerous...”
“He didn’t take it well, how could he? Giz still loves you, poor fool. But he really needs to talk you and he swore that he won’t hurt you. On the other hand, if you don’t go to meet him, he will come to the forest to search for you.”
Marian let out an unladylike growl, but at last he accepted to meet Guy and followed Allan.
They arrived at a tavern, and the girl glanced at the sign.
“The Flaming Turnip? I’ve never heard such a stupid name for a tavern.”
“I thought that a lady shouldn’t know the name of any tavern,” Allan said with a grin, and the girl glared at him.
“So, where is Guy?”
“I told him to take a room and to eat something while he waited for us...”
They entered the tavern, and looked around. Eventually Marian noticed the knight, sitting at a table in a dark corner. She looked at him, frowning.
“Is he talking to himself?”
Allan sighed and rolled his eyes.
“Since you left the castle he hasn’t been himself.”
“I left yesterday!”
Marian found herself agreeing with Allan. Just two days ago her father was still alive, an now in just a few hours he was lying dead, she had ran from the castle and she had managed to fight with Robin too.
She blinked to hold back tears, and looked at Guy: the knight looked dejected and upset too, and for a moment she softened towards him. He was suffering, just like her. Maybe for the first time they had something in common.
Heaving a deep sigh, she walked towards Guy’s table.
As soon as he noticed her, Guy scrambled to his feet, swaying a little. Marian wondered if he was drunk.
“You came!” Guy exclaimed, almost in disbelief, the he did something that surprised Marian: he turned to Allan and smiled warmly at him. “You did it! Thank you.”
“Why, did you have any doubts?”
The former outlaw grinned, and helped himself from the jug of wine. Marian noticed that it was still full, and she guessed that Guy’s weird behavior wasn’t due to wine.
Allan sat at the table and Guy winced. Both Marian and Allan glanced at him, a little worried.
“What?” Allan asked, and Guy hurried to shake his head.
He couldn’t say that Allan just had sat through Sir Edward’s ghost.
The ghost moved to an empty chair, an amused spark in his eyes to see Gisborne’s uneasiness.
“Guy?” Marian called, her tone a perfect mixture of worry and anger. “Why did you want to see me so urgently?”
Gisborne nodded gravely, and he pointed at the other free chair.
“Please, sit. Do you want to eat something? Or some other wine?”
Marian dropped herself on the chair, ungracefully.
“I am not here to have dinner with you! You should know that I am mourning my father.”
“I wanted to talk to you about him...” He began, then he stopped, uncertain on how to continue…
“Come on, Sir Guy, you can’t tell her that you can see my ghost!” Sir Edward snapped. “If you do, she’ll think that you are crazy and she will go away without listening to you! Don’t be an idiot!”
Marian wondered why Guy had suddenly blushed, but then the knight continued to talk.
“I wanted to say that I made provisions for his tomb. He will be buried in Knighton, near your mother’s tomb, I think you had to know it.”
The girl was surprised by his kindness, but then her thoughts stopped on the image of her father dead, trapped into a tomb forever, and she choked a sob.
Guy tried to take her hand, to hold it and offer some comfort to her, but she withdrew her fingers with a sharp movement.
“Thank you, but I’d rather not talk about this now… It’s too early. I need time. I need peace…”
Gisborne couldn’t help notice a note of coldness in her voice, a rejection, and it hurt him even more because his gesture had been sincere, with no second intentions. He glared at her, suddenly angry.
“And you have all the peace you need into the forest, amidst a gang of criminals, haven’t you?!”
Marian gasped, and glared at Allan, but Guy slammed his hand on the table.
“What? Feel betrayed? Like me, every time that I failed to capture the Nightwatchman? Yes, I know that too, and before you dare to berate him, it wasn’t Allan who told me the truth.” Guy’s voice was low and full of rage and sorrow, almost a growl. “Have you the slightest idea of all the times that I protected you from the sheriff? Of all the times that I suffered punishments from the sheriff because I couldn’t catch the Nightwatchman?! Of all the times that I dared to hope that you could care for me, when you just wanted to deceive me to help Hood?!”
“I cared for you!”
“Liar. You are lying even now because you are afraid that I could arrest you!”
“So this is a trap.” Marian said icily, her eyes bright with rage.
“No, because I am not a deceitful, fickle, ungrateful liar like you!”
Marian stood up, outraged. She had already been angry at Robin before coming to the tavern, but now Guy’s word gave full vent to her fury.
“Ungrateful? Should I have thanked you for burning my house to the ground? Or for arresting me and my father? Or maybe I should have congratulated you every time you evicted some poor peasant to give more tax money to the sheriff?! You talk of suffering… What about all the poor people who suffered because of you?!”
Allan shifted his eyes between the two of them, helpless.
“Giz? Marian? Maybe you should calm down...”
“Shut up, Allan!” They both shouted, in unison, then they resumed glaring at each other.
“I regret what I did to your house, I would take it back if I could!” Guy said, upset and tearful, “If only you could see the side of me that wants to build a home… I hoped to start a family with you, I hoped that someday you could see how much I loved you! I still love you, no matter what!”
“But I love Robin Hood!” Marian blurted, equally upset.
Guy moved towards her, and Sir Edward could see the blaze of madness that for a moment had darkened the soul of the knight. It vanished immediately, leaving just a broken heart, but for a moment the ghost had feared that Guy was going to hurt Marian.
The only thought enraged him, and he moved between his daughter and Guy, glaring at the knight.
“NEVER TRY TO HURT HER. NEVER!” He roared, and to add some emphasis, he grabbed Guy’s shoulders with his ghastly hands.
Guy’s wrath had already ebbed away before the ghost began to scream at him, and he was about to sit down and try to calm down. The mad fury that took possession of his heart, even if just for a moment, had frightened him. What if he had been holding a sword or a dagger?
He had already injured Marian once, and he couldn’t risk to hurt her again. He told to himself that he had to keep his emotions in check.
He shuddered when Sir Edward menaced him, and he was about to ask forgiveness to both him and Marian, when the ghost touched him.
Guy froze, unable to move.
The fingers of the ghost were unbearably cold and scorching hot at the same time, and he could feel the cold entering his body and reaching his same soul.
It was as if Death itself was touching him, draining any warmth from his body, and every pleasant thought from his mind.
It was all cold, icy cold, and desperation. No hope at all.
It was like Death.
Marian saw Guy becoming very still and very pale, any trace of color drained from his face. Allan turned towards him, worried, but before he could say anything, Guy’s legs gave way, and the knight fell to the ground.
Allan managed to grab him and he succeeded in slowing the fall, lowering him to the floor, but Marian thought that Guy was dead, that her words had killed him somehow…
She saw Guy’s face, ashen and motionless and she began to tremble, remembering how her father had been equally still and pale, just the day before.
“He’s dead...” She whispered, and her words were followed by a mumble of profanities by Allan, then the outlaw turned at her.
“No, he isn’t, but I think he is ill.” He touched Guy’s face, worried. “He’s too cold. Come on, gather a couple of servants, we need to take him to his room and try to warm him up.”
Marian didn’t argue, and obeyed, frightened. She paid some coins to the two young servants who helped Allan to take Guy upstairs, and ordered the maids of the inn to bring some water, both hot and cold, clean towels and a few extra blankets.
She waited by the door while Allan undressed the unconscious knight, her heart beating fast.
It wasn’t her fault if Guy had taken ill, surely, but she couldn’t help feeling guilty.
Sir Edward’s ghost stood near the bed, careful not to touch Guy again, and he stared at his own hands. He was shocked too because he couldn’t have imagined that Gisborne would react so badly to his touch. After all, Allan had sat on him and he hadn’t even noticed his presence.
“I’m sorry… I’m really sorry...” He whispered, but no one could hear his words.
Chapter 4: The Healer
Marian reached Allan near the bed, holding a pot of hot water. She placed it on the bedside table, dipped a clean towel in it, and passed it to Allan.
The young man used it to rub Guy’s hands, still too cold.
Marian looked at the knight, serious and tense.
“What happened to him? Why doesn’t he wake up?”
Allan put a hand on Guy’s neck to check his pulse.
“I don’t know. His heart seems to be as strong as ever, but he’s too cold.”
“It’s because of what I said to him?”
Allan stared at her, lifting an eyebrow.
“Mocking his feelings for you didn’t help for sure.”
“I wasn’t mocking his feelings!”
“What?! ‘I love Robin Hood’? Are you serious? Giz always protected you from the sheriff, you have no idea how many times, and what he had to endure just for your sake. He’s a fool to love you so much when you obviously don’t care for him, but you could have avoided showing off your awesome love for Robin Hood just to hurt him. Not when he’s doing so much for your father!”
Allan stopped himself from telling her about the ghost, he wasn’t completely sure of it himself, but he nodded.
“Did you know that Giz is paying for the burial and the tombstone? He also thought to bury him in Knighton so it would be easier for you to go and visit his tomb, he was afraid that the sheriff could make it difficult for you if the tomb was in Nottingham.”
“I am sorry,” she whispered, looking at Guy. She gingerly touched his forehead, frowning to feel his skin so cold. “Allan? Do you think that he will be alright?”
The young man shrugged.
“How can I know? I’m no physician. Do you think that we should call for one?”
“Probably we should. I’ve seen people getting ill or fainting, but never like this. Do you know if he was ill?”
“Last night he got drunk. After he found out that you had run away. But other than the hangover and the strain of having to deal with all of this, he wasn’t sick. I know the effects of too much wine, believe me, and there was nothing too strange in him.”
Marian went to the fireplace to stoke the fire, in the attempt of making the room warmer.
“Call Matilda. She’s the better healer in the county, she can surely help him.”
“The same Matilda who Giz arrested and who had almost been drowned by the sheriff? Come on, Marian, do you really think that she will come to treat him?”
“Don’t say that it’s for him. When she comes I’ll talk to her. She won’t say no.”
Allan unfolded another blanket, and he put it on the bed.
“Very well, I will go, and you will take care of him in the meanwhile. Try to warm him, and be gentle.” Allan searched her gaze, and stared at her, unusually serious. “If he dies, I will never forgive you.”
The man went away, and she was left alone with Guy. It was only then that she realized how scared she was. She was used to see Gisborne always strong and tireless, and now he was laying in a bed, half dead.
“Please, please, open your eyes!” She whispered to the knight.
Marian paced around the room, wondering how she could help him, and at last she sat on the edge of the bed, taking one of his hands between hers. She took it close to her face and she breathed on it, trying to warm his icy fingers.
She had been doing it for a while, when Guy stirred a little, with a low moan. His eyelids trembled, and he opened his eyes, but his gaze was unfocused, and he didn’t seem to acknowledge her presence.
“I’m sorry,” Guy whispered, staring at an empty corner of the room, “I’m so sorry, I won’t hurt her, I swear. Please don’t take me to Hell, I beg you!”
Marian squeezed his hand a little, tenderly.
“Guy? I’m here, Guy, please look at me.”
“Marian?” His voice was weak and he still looked confused, but he seemed to recognize her. The girl was a little relieved to see that he was awake, but he was still too pale and his skin was clammy and cold.
“How are you feeling? You scared us,” she said in a gentle tone, still feeling guilty for her harsh words and afraid that they had been the cause of his illness.
“Cold. My stomach aches.” Guy closed his eyes with a pained expression, taking some deep breaths, then he turned on his side, struggling to get up. “I’m going to be sick.”
Marian moved quickly, managing to grab the basin just in time, and she helped Guy, supporting him while he threw up and then helping him to lie back on the bed when he had finished.
She looked at him for a moment, then she took the basin out of the room and she called one of the maids of the inn, giving it to the girl.
Marian hurried to go back to Guy, and she sat on the edge of the bed. The knight averted his eyes from her, ashamed.
“I’m sorry. You shouldn’t see me like this.”
Marian smiled, moved by his embarrassment, and she took his hand.
“It’s not your fault if you are ill.” Now it was her turn to feel uneasy, and she blushed. “Actually it might be my fault. I’ve been cruel to you.”
Guy glanced at her, surprised for her words.
“You just said the truth,” he said, gruffly, “and if I got ill it wasn’t your fault. I think it was… something else.”
Guy looked at the farthest corner of the room: the ghost was there and he was staring back at him with a contrite look.
“I’m very sorry, Sir Guy,” he said, “I didn’t know that my touch could hurt you.”
Gisborne gave him an imperceptible nod, and he looked back at Marian, noticing how worried and scared she was.
“Are you alright?” He asked, and the girl burst up in tears.
“I should be the one to ask this question to you, Guy! I thought you were going to die!”
“Would you care if I did?” He asked, more surprised than bitter, but Marian gave a little slap to his hand.
“How can you talk like that?! Of course I would!”
“You love Hood.”
“And just because of this I shouldn’t care for anybody else? You love one person and the rest of the world stops existing?! It doesn’t work like this, Guy.”
“For me it does. You were all my world.”
Marian stared at him in disbelief. She nervously dried a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand.
“It can’t be, surely. Wouldn’t you care at all if your friends should die or get very ill?”
“I have no friends.”
The girl realized that there was no self pity in Guy’s words. The knight was just stating a matter of fact, as if that situation was perfectly normal for him.
“What about Allan?” She asked. “He acted like a friend, just a while ago. He was worried for you.”
Guy frowned. He thought that if something bad happened to the young man, he would care.
He was so used to be completely alone that he hadn’t realized that he actually enjoyed the company of the former outlaw, that maybe Marian was right and he had at least a friend.
“Where’s Allan?” He asked, a little worried.
“He went to call for a healer. You gave us a big scare. How are you feeling, now?”
“A little better. Still so cold...”
Marian added another blanket to the bed, and she rubbed his hands gently, trying to warm his fingers.
“Do you think you could drink some broth, or some mulled wine? They would warm you.”
“Not now. I’d be sick again.”
“Maybe it’s better to wait for the healer, then. Try to rest until she arrives, when I am unwell, sleeping always makes me feel better.”
Guy closed his eyes, tired and weak, but his fingers clenched on Marian’s hand for a moment.
“Don’t leave me alone,” he whispered.
Marian sighed to see him so vulnerable and sick, and clenched her fingers back on his.
“I won’t go anywhere until you are better,” she promised, but Guy was already asleep.
Guy was awoken from his fitful slumber by the sound of angry voices.
“If I had know that you called me for that filthy donkey turd, I’d never have followed you!” The healer, Matilda, was pointing a finger at Allan, and the young man had his hands raised in front of him, defensively.
“Hey, that was why I didn’t tell you. And it was her who suggested to keep silent,” Allan nodded at Marian, and the girl intervened, pleading the woman.
“It’s true, don’t be mad at Allan.”
“He works for the sheriff, that’s enough to despise him.”
“I work for Giz, not for the sheriff!” Allan exclaimed.
“It’s the same.” Matilda said.
“No it isn’t. Giz is a decent man when he’s not with Vaisey.”
Matilda lifted her eyebrows, skeptically.
“Please, do it for me,” Marian said, almost in tears, “You know me since I were a child, you know where I stand…”
“Yes, my child, I know you,” the healer softened and gave a sad smile at Marian, “I’m really sorry for your father. You should be mourning in peace now, not losing your time after the bloody dog of the sheriff.”
“Guy has been kind with my father.”
“How? Burning your house and arresting him?”
“He will give him a decent burial, and he never liked the treatment that the sheriff had for my father.” Marian was surprised by her own words. Just a few hours before she had accused Guy using the same words of Matilda, but now she was defending him.
The healer glanced at her, doubtful, but then she relented.
“I don’t understand, but if it’s so important for you, I’ll treat that scoundrel. Just for you, child, because I don’t like seeing you cry. Now go out and let me work.”
Allan and Marian went out of the room, and Matilda crossed her arms in front of her.
She stared directly at Sir Edward, and the ghost exchanged a surprised look with Guy, but then he followed his daughter out of the door.
“Could you see him?” Guy blurted, but Matilda walked to the bed and pointed a finger at his chest.
“Shut up. I accepted to treat you, but it doesn’t mean that I like you or that I have forgotten what you and your master did to me. So keep your mouth closed unless I ask you anything, or I might be tempted to give you the most unpleasant remedies I know. I might change my opinion about leeches, just for you. Is that clear?”
Guy nodded, still too weak and sick to argue, and the woman began her examination.
She touched his forehead and his hands, and listened to his heart.
“You are cold, more than you should be. I have seen something similar when those children fell into the frozen pond last winter in Nettlestone. Have you been outside for a long time without adequate clothes? It’s strange though, the weather had been warm in the last few days.”
“I was downstairs, here at the inn, but...”
“Here at the inn? That room is always too hot, sometimes I wonder if they call it ‘The Flaming Turnip’ because of that! How can you be half frozen when anyone else down there is sweating?”
The woman put a hand on his stomach, and Guy winced.
“Does it hurt?”
“A little. Less than it did before I threw up.”
“Was there blood in it?”
She touched his stomach again, with more attention this time.
“I think that there is nothing wrong here. You were sick because of the cold, it can happen sometimes. And you got drunk last night, probably your stomach was still unsettled because of it.”
“How do you know?” Guy asked, frowning.
“Do you still think I am a witch? Be careful or I could curse you.”
Matilda chuckled seeing Guy’s worried expression.
“My, you aren’t very bright, are you? I heard it from a couple of guards at the market. They were laughing because the terrible Guy of Gisborne got so drunk for the love of a woman that his servant had to drag him to bed.”
Guy blushed, and the woman laughed even more.
“Well, if your cheeks can become so red, it means that you are getting better. But there are still two mysteries to solve. The first one is how you could have almost been frozen to death in a warm spring evening. For this I’ll have to examine you further. Can you sit and remove your shirt?”
“I need to see if you have signs of diseases or poison on your body.”
Guy tried to sit, but he was feeling still too weak and dizzy, and the woman helped him, with an annoyed sigh.
“What’s the second mystery?” Guy asked, more to hide his discomfort at being so helpless than to really know the answer.
Matilda struggled a little to keep him upright while untying the laces of his shirt.
“Why a noblewoman like Lady Marian should care so much for someone like you to risk her reputation?”
“What do you mean?”
“When I arrived, she was lying next to you, on the bed, and she held you in her arms to warm you with her own body. Probably she saved your life doing so, but if a maid had entered in the room, she’d surely gossip and her reputation could be ruined.”
Guy didn’t know how to reply, astonished and moved. He now knew that Marian loved Robin Hood, but maybe she wasn’t lying when she said that she cared for him. It had to be true, at least a little, or she wouldn’t have tried so fiercely to save his life.
Matilda helped him to remove the shirt, and she gasped, backing away from him with a muffled cry.
Guy stared at her, beginning to worry. He knew that it had been the touch of the ghost to make him so ill, but he wondered if she had seen the symptoms of some disease.
With a shudder he thought of his leper father, banished from his village…
“What’s up?” Guy asked, and Matilda pointed at his shoulders, frightened.
“You should tell me. This is no disease! Look, your skin seems to be burnt here, as if it was touched by fire. But the burns are in the shape of two hands! Something touched you! Was it a devil?! Are you possessed?!”
The woman held a trinket in front of her, an amulet of some kind, and Guy stared at her, then he glanced at the marks on his skin: where Edward had touched him, his fingers had scorched his skin.
“I saw Sir Edward’s ghost,” he said, it was pointless to hide the truth, now, “and he touched me.”
Matilda stared at him, trying to understand if he was lying, but Gisborne’s gaze seemed to be sincere.
“Surely he wanted revenge.”
“No, he wanted me to protect Marian. He didn’t mean to hurt me, he apologized for this. He didn’t know that his touch would have this effect on me.”
Matilda dared to get closer to him, and she lifted a finger to touch the burns.
Guy winced in pain.
“Careful! It hurts!”
The healer prepared an ointment, and she smeared it on the marks, then she looked at Guy.
“Now we know what happened to you, you were touched by the chill of death itself. But you are recovering, I can see that. But why Sir Edward should appear to you?”
Gisborne shook his head.
“He said that only I could see him. But you saw him too!”
“He was staying in that corner, and you told him to exit. I tried to ask you about it, but you started to berate me.”
Matilda took a chair, and she sat down, heavily.
“I didn’t recognize him… Does Marian know about it?”
“I told Allan, but not her. How could I tell her that I spent the last day chatting with her dead father? She’d think that I’m mocking her sorrow or that I am crazy...”
The healer grinned.
“Well, maybe you aren’t as brainless as you look. What does the ghost want you to do?”
“To protect her. To keep her out of danger. To take care of her.”
“Will you obey him?” Matilda asked, and Guy nodded.
“I’d have done it anyways.”
The woman sighed.
“Well, it seems that I’ll have to take care of your health and get you back on your feet, even if you wouldn’t deserve it. But if both Marian and her father have so much trust in you, maybe you aren’t the black hearted demon that everyone thinks you are.”
She bandaged his burns and helped him to wear his shirt again.
“You will be alright in a few days if you follow my advice,” she continued. “Stay in bed, keep warm and rest as much as you can. Try to get up only to attend to your needs, and get back to bed immediately as soon as you are done. You look exhausted, and you probably were overtired even before being touched by the ghost...”
“How do you know that I was tired?” Guy interrupted her.
“Anyone who works for that little stinky bald man can’t be relaxed. If it’s true what your friends say, that you can be a decent person, you might consider to stop working for the sheriff. Nothing good can come from that bundle of filth.”
Guy couldn’t help grinning at her words, and the healer stared at him, a little surprised.
“Incredible, you can smile. And you look much better when you do. But well, let’s go back to business: stay in bed, rest, and eat. Begin with some broth and bread and see if you can keep it down. If you can, you can try to eat simple but nourishing meals. No wine for now. In a couple of days you should be as good as new. Oh, you’ll need to put some ointment on those burns every day, you can ask Allan to help you. It’s all clear?”
“The sheriff will expect me to go to work tomorrow, as usual,” Gisborne said, worried.
“Tell him you’re ill.”
“He won’t care.”
Matilda shook her head.
“Really. Are you insane to work for him?” She thought for a moment. “Well, send your boy to tell the sheriff that the healer said that your illness is contagious and that if he wants you to go back to your work before you are healed, he should expect to catch it too and spend a few days looking at the bottom of a bucket or running to the privy, or both at the same time. Let’s see if he will want you back so soon.”
Guy laughed, and Matilda helped him to lie down in bed, tucking the blankets with care so that he could be warm and comfortable.
“Sleep now, and when you wake up, try to eat something. I’ll give instructions to your friends, and then I want to see if I can have a little chat with that ghost. You didn’t lie to me, did you?”
“I didn’t.” Guy said, drowsily.
“It will be better for you. I’ll come back tomorrow to see if you are better.”
Matilda waited for a moment to see him falling asleep, and she looked at his face for a while. The knight looked younger in his sleep, almost innocent, and the woman wondered how could he be the same man who ruthlessly carried out every wicked order of the sheriff.
Chapter 5: Friendship
Marian entered Guy’s room while Matilda was talking with Allan in the corridor. The healer had told them her instructions, then Matilda said that she had to explain to Allan a few details about treatments of more personal nature and she asked her to leave them alone.
Allan rolled his eyes.
“Listen, I know that you don’t have a great opinion of me, but I’m not an idiot, you don’t have to explain me how can I help a man to use a chamberpot or how to help him to walk to the privy. I had a brother, I took care of him when he was sick or drunk...”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure that he won’t need much help with that, let him rest and he’ll be fine soon enough. I wanted to talk you about the ghost.”
Allan’s eyes widened.
“Oh. Giz told you about it...”
“Yes. And I can see him as well. He’s over there.”
Sir Edward looked at her, surprised.
“Do you really can see me?” He asked.
“Aren’t you afraid?” The ghost asked.
“I’ve seen enough weird things in my life. I’m not so easily upset.”
“Well, you are upsetting me now!” Allan said, nervous.
Both Matilda and the ghost ignored him.
“Will Sir Guy be alright?” Edward asked, anxiously. “I didn’t mean to hurt him.”
“Well, don’t touch him again. He has burns in shape of your hands where you grabbed him, and you almost drained his life out of him. He will recover, but you could have killed him!” Matilda rebuked the ghost, then she turned to Allan. “You will have to put an ointment on those burns daily, and be sure that Lady Marian doesn’t see them.”
Allan looked around, nervously, afraid that the ghost could hurt him as well.
“Sir Edward says that you shouldn’t worry: you sat on him earlier and you didn’t even notice it.”
“I sat on him?!” Allan exclaimed, horrified.
Marian entered into the room, and closed the door to give Matilda and Allan some privacy. She went to sit in the chair at the side of the bed, reassured by the healer’s words, but still shaken and feeling guilty.
Guy was asleep, but this time his sleep seemed to be more relaxed and he was less pale than before.
Marian touched his hand lightly, to feel if it was still so cold, and Guy’s fingers closed around hers, without him waking up.
The girl didn’t retract her hand and stood still, with a little sigh.
She didn’t know if she was feeling relief because the knight seemed to be better, or if she was still upset for the conversation they had before he got ill. For sure she was feeling sad and sorrowful.
She missed her father, and she couldn’t help remembering how harsh her last words to him had been. She quickly wiped a tear from her cheek hearing the door being opened, and just a moment after, Allan entered the room.
The man glanced at the bed, and lifted his eyebrows for a moment when he noticed Guy and Marian’s intertwined hands.
He dropped himself on the other chair.
“Well, at least he’s sleeping quietly. It seems that this time you didn’t kill him.”
“I never meant to hurt him!” Marian protested.
“Well, you always do. What are your intentions now?”
“I promised him that I wouldn’t leave him alone until he feels better.” Marian sounded uncertain, and Allan shook his head, with an ironic smile.
“And then what? You’ll go back to Robin and you’ll forget about Giz until he could be useful to you and your boyfriend. Then you’ll get his hopes high until you get what you want, just to kick him in the face and leave him with nothing once again, when you don’t need him anymore.”
Marian’s cheeks grew hot with rage, and she glared at Allan.
“That’s not true!”
“No? Oh, right. You usually punch him in the face before leaving him.”
Marian blushed even more, now also with shame. Allan’s words made her look like an evil witch and she knew that everything she did was to help people, but she also realized that to help people she had also hurt Guy without even thinking too much about it.
And still he always came back to her, steady in his love.
She didn’t find anything to answer, so she just glared back at Allan.
“For your information,” Allan said, completely serious this time, “even if you go back to the forest, you wouldn’t leave him ‘alone’. I’ll stay with Giz and for once he’d be with someone who actually cares for him.”
“You do? Or you just want to think that because you can’t go back to the gang?”
It was Allan’s turn to blush a little.
“Well, that might have been true in the beginning, but I came to like him. He has his faults, but he also has his good sides.”
“I know.” Marian said, and they both were quiet for a while.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, Allan sighed.
He felt angry at Marian, but he knew that Guy would have wanted her to stay.
“What are you going to do?”
Marian looked out of the window: it was already dark.
“I should go back to the camp, Robin will be worried by now.” She glanced at Guy. “But I promised him to stay until he was better.”
“If Robin is worried, I’m sure that he can easily find you here. A lot of people saw you downstairs when Giz fainted, and I’m sure that some of them recognized you. But you shouldn’t go to the forest at night, it might be dangerous.”
“I am the Nightwatchman, I’m not afraid of riding at night.”
Allan crossed his arms.
“Maybe you should. Listen, Marian, I can’t leave him alone, so I can’t escort you to the camp, but I won’t let you go alone. If something should happen to you, both Giz and Robin would flay me alive.”
Marian was about to answer that he shouldn’t think that she was helpless just because she was a woman, and she was tempted to take a horse and go right back to the camp just to show him that she was able to do it. But then she looked at Guy, at his fingers closed on her hand, at his tired face, and she wasn’t so sure that she wanted to go away.
“I guess that I will have to stay, then. Tell the innkeeper to bring another cot.”
Allan stared at her.
“Are you going to sleep here?”
“I don’t have money with me to take another room and then I won’t be alone with him or with you. What’s the difference than sleeping at the camp with all the lads?”
The former outlaw grinned.
“I hope you don’t snore.”
Marian yawned while she stepped down the stairs. The cot where she had slept was clean, but quite uncomfortable, and she had found out that it was Allan the one who snored.
She glanced at the light of dawn entering from the windows and she felt a bit miffed because Robin didn’t come to search for her. According to Allan, it wouldn’t have been difficult for him to find her, but he didn’t show up.
A part of her felt relieved because Robin wouldn’t understand her worry for Guy and they would surely have to argue because of that, but on the other hand she would have been flattered to see Robin’s jealousy.
She went to the kitchen to ask the cook for some broth and a loaf of bread for Guy. While the man prepared a tray for her, Marian sat to eat something as well. With all the commotion about Guy’s illness, she hadn’t dined and she was hungry.
She took her time to eat: in the room, Allan was helping Guy with his needs and to wash up, so she wasn’t in a hurry to go back upstairs.
When she did, holding the tray with Guy’s meal, Allan was coming out from the room, fully dressed and in a hurry.
“Marian,” he called, “I have to go to the castle and warn the sheriff that Giz is ill, but you stay here with him until I’m back. You owe him at least this.”
The girl nodded, irked by his tone, but she didn’t argue because she hadn’t meant to leave Guy alone anyways.
Allan went away, and Marian knocked at the door before entering the room. Guy was sitting in bed, his back propped up by pillows, and he was awake, his eyes following her.
Marian smiled, seeing that he looked much better after a night of sleep: he wasn’t so pale anymore, and the dark circles around his eyes had disappeared. He had managed to shave and to wash, his hair was still damp and the ruffled locks around his face made him look younger and somehow innocent.
Guy smiled back at her.
“Good morning,” he said, and his voice was soft, with no trace of the bitterness of the day before.
“You look better. Have you slept well?”
“I did, but you look tired.”
“Allan snores,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“I was so tired that I didn’t notice. It was a long time that I didn’t sleep so soundly, no nightmares at all. Maybe I should get ill more often.”
Marian glanced at him, surprised to find out that he had often nightmares, and she was curious to know more about them, but she didn’t dare to ask. He seemed to be in a light mood, and she didn’t want to spoil it.
“Do you feel like eating something?”
“I’m hungry. What do you have there?”
“Broth and bread, as Matilda ordered. Listen to her suggestions, she might be harsh sometimes, but she’s the best healer in the county.”
Guy took a piece of bread, and he grinned.
“Well, I won’t contradict her, or she might use leeches on me.”
“Are you afraid of leeches?” Marian asked, a little smile on her lips.
“Who isn’t? They are small, black, slimy and disgusting.”
“Just like the sheriff.” Sir Edward said, appearing at the foot of the bed.
Guy stared at him for a moment, and he burst into a laughter, almost choking on the bread he was chewing.
Marian glanced at the knight, frowning a little.
“Are leeches so funny?”
“I was just thinking that maybe the sheriff is a leech, the description fits perfectly to him too.”
The girl looked at him for a moment, amazed to see him so cheerful, then she joined him. The idea of Vaisey as a blood sucking worm was too accurate and she couldn’t help laughing.
They laughed together for a while, then Marian became serious again.
“Allan was right.”
Guy finished drinking his broth, put the bowl aside, and he looked at her.
“He says that when you’re not with the sheriff you are a different man. A better man. When you are at the castle you never laugh. You rarely smile as well.”
“I don’t have many reason to do it, do I?” He lifted a hand to brush a lock of Marian’s hair away from her face, in a sort of caress. “And now I have even less reasons to smile. Your presence was the only thing that made the life at the castle bearable. You aren’t coming back, I guess.”
Marian was taken aback by his sad frankness and she thought that if Guy looked dejected and lost, she was lost as well. She knew that she didn’t have anymore a place that she could call home.
Knighton was lost, the castle was a hostile place now that her father wasn’t there, and she felt that she couldn’t really call the forest a home. She loved Robin, and he returned her love, but he was always committed to his mission, he was the hero of the people of Nottingham, and Marian knew that he could never give her his whole attention. She understood, and she shared his dreams, but there were moments when she just would have wanted to have all of his heart and of his mind, everything just for herself.
She felt egoistic and childish for those thoughts, but she just wanted to cry in her father’s arms, just like she did when she was a little girl.
Then, it didn’t matter if she was weeping for a silly reason: her dad was there for her, ready to comfort her.
She suddenly burst out crying, and Guy looked at her, alarmed, then he saw that Sir Edward’s ghost was weeping too.
“She misses me, and I can’t comfort her...” Edward said, sorrowful.
Guy put the tray aside, on the bedside table, and he gingerly put his hand on Marian’s arm.
“You miss your father,” he whispered, and the girl nodded, sobbing.
“He misses you too, I’m sure,” Guy said softly, and he pulled her in his arms gently, repeating to himself that he had to be just a support for her, without asking anything in return.
This time marian didn’t retreat, too sorrowful and lonely to reject his hug. She rested her head on Guy’s chest, sobbing, and the knight quietly stroke her hair with a hand.
Sir Edward stood by the bed watching them in silence, wishing that he could be in Guy’s place to soothe his daughter’s sorrow.
When Marian stopped crying, some time later, she didn’t move away from Guy’s hug. For once, the knight wasn’t taking advantage of his power to demand her affection, he was just being caring and supportive.
He had only held her in his arms, whispering soothing words once in a while, but he never tried to suggest that he could take care of her and protect her… as a husband.
She let out a deep sigh and straightened her back, pulling away from Guy’s embrace, and she wiped her face with the hands to dry the tears.
“I’m sorry,” she began, but Guy interrupted her putting a finger on her lips.
“Don’t. You needed it, you don’t have to apologize. Your father has died, it’s normal that you want to cry. I have to apologize, yesterday I told you terrible things without stopping to think that you were suffering so much.”
Marian touched his cheek, lingering there with her fingers for a moment. She was relieved to feel that now Guy’s skin was warm under her touch.
“Yesterday I broke your heart. You had your reasons to be angry.”
“And you have many reasons to despise me.”
“I don’t despise you,” Marian said.
“But you love Hood.”
They were both quiet for a moment, then Marian looked at Guy.
“If I offered you my friendship, would you accept it?” She asked. “No lies this time. No more secrets.”
Guy glanced at Sir Edward’s ghost, thinking that this time he was the one who had to keep a secret, and the ghost nodded at him, encouraging him to accept.
“I don’t have much choice, do I?” He said, unsure if he was answering to Marian or to Sir Edward.
He gave her a little, shy smile, and Marian hugged him for a moment, brushing his cheek with her lips.
Guy blushed, and for a moment he wished that her kiss could mean much more than simple friendship, but he didn’t want to delude himself once again. She didn’t love him, she wanted another man, and there was nothing that he could do about it. Even arresting or killing Hood wouldn’t do: if her heart belonged to the outlaw, she would never forgive Guy for that.
He could only accept the reality and try to be contented with what he could have.
Was simple friendship so bad? Surely it was better than her contempt, much better. He wondered if he could really trust her, after everything that happened between them, after all the lies, but then again, now he knew the truth, there were no more reasons for lying. He wanted to trust her, he realized.
Don’t hurt me again, Marian.
“I think that we both need a friend now, don’t we?” He said softly, and she nodded, wiping away another tear.
“I’m not very good at this,” Guy continued, “I never had many friends. What do we do, now?”
“Maybe we should get to know better each other. If we had tried to talk a little more in the past, to understand each other, maybe we would have spared ourselves much heartbreak. I am realizing that I know very little of the real you, and probably you don’t know me as well.”
“So I can ask you something and you will answer sincerely, right?”
“Why the Nightwatchman? I understand that you want to help the poor, but why like this? If I had captured you, the sheriff would have hanged you!”
Marian gave him a impish grin.
“But you never did.”
Guy didn’t answer to her smile, and he pointed at her belly.
“I almost killed you. Do you realize how much you risked?”
“I admit that trying to rob you when you had the house full of guards wasn’t my brightest idea. But I usually was more cautious, that night I wasn’t thinking straight. I felt trapped, and I was so mad for that. I wasn’t free to do what I wanted just because I was a woman, I had no other choice than marrying you, you were boasting about your money as if you wanted to buy a cow at the market, Robin was making me feel guilty because I was choosing safety for my father and me over certain death, and I just tried to rebel to all of this in the only way I could think of. If I robbed you, I wouldn’t have the feeling of being purchased, and nobody could say that I was marrying you just because you were rich. And then your money would help the poor, and that would be a consolation.”
Guy stared at her, astonished.
“I never considered you as a cow!” He blurted, then he realized what he had just said and blushed, confused, trying to explain better what he meant. “I… I didn’t want to buy you. I just wanted to show you that I could be worthy as a husband, that I could provide for you and give you the life that a noblewoman should have. I didn’t want to fail you… but obviously I did.”
“You failed me because you lied me about the Holy Land and about the false King.”
“When you asked me if I had tried to kill the King, I panicked. I didn’t know what to answer: I couldn’t deny it, but I knew that you would never marry a traitor. I don’t remember what I said, did I actually lie to you?”
Marian tried to remember his words, and after a while she shook her head.
“You said that I shouldn’t listen to gossips and that you could assure me that the day the King was coming back to England would be a happy day for you because we were going to get married.”
“I meant it. I don’t care for the King, if he lives or if he dies, but marrying you meant everything to me.”
“Did you try to kill him?”
“I did. The sheriff ordered me to do it, and I obeyed. He promised me power beyond measure, wealth, and anyways I swore loyalty to him.”
“Why is power so important to you?” She asked. She wasn’t judging him, she was really curious to know.
“Because I know even too well how it is when you don’t have any. I swore to myself that I will never be helpless and weak again.”
“Again?” Marian asked, and she saw a sparkle of sorrow in Guy’s eyes, a moment before he averted his gaze. She wondered if she should inquire more, but she decided that it could wait. There was another answer she wanted from Guy before they could have a fresh start. “But you knew that it wasn’t the true King and you lied to me about it.”
“At first the sheriff didn’t tell me. He thinks I’m gullible, that I wouldn’t be able to keep such a secret in a believable way, so he deceived me too. When he told me the truth I found myself in a difficult position: I didn’t want to lie to you, but marrying you was, and still is, the only thing I ever wished in my life. I was afraid that when you knew that the King wasn’t really coming, you would back off from the wedding. I came to your house when I knew the truth, I wanted to speak with you, to be sincere… But you were unwell, and your father said that it was because of the excitement of the wedding, that you were looking forward to it...”
“I couldn’t tell you that she had been hurt while trying to rob your house, could I?” Sir Edward said, with a shrug.
Guy gave a quick glare at the ghost, then he remembered that Marian couldn’t see him, and he focused back on her.
“That’s why I didn’t tell you about the King. If you were happy to marry me, it wasn’t important if the King was coming back or not...” He touched the little scar near his eye, left by Marian’s punch when she ran away from the ceremony. “I won’t forget that error again.”
“We both hurt each other,” Marian said, with regret, “but we can change this.”
Guy nodded, and looked at her: she was sitting on the edge of the bed, so close to him that he could hug her, kiss her, in a moment.
He rested his back on the pillows, and smiled to her.
“So, tell me about the Nightwatchman. Did you get the idea from Hood?”
“Of course not!” She said, indignant, but in a playful way. “Don’t you remember? The Nightwatchman has been around for years before Robin even came back from war!”
Guy grinned at her tone, and she kept talking, telling him how she had the idea of helping the poor, where she had found the mask, how scary and exciting it had been the first time that she went out to ride at night alone.
She found out that it was easy to talk about her oldest secret to him, because Guy really listened. It was a new sensation for Marian: her words usually were dismissed because she was a woman, but Guy was actually interested in what she had to say.
She liked it.
Chapter 6: Walking at Your Side
Guy and Marian were still talking when Matilda knocked at the door.
The healer entered the room, and Marian stood up. The girl glanced at Guy with a pang of guilt, and she saw a veil of sadness falling on his face.
“You have to go,” he said, and she nodded.
“I should better go back to the camp, they’ll be worried for my absence...”
“I doubt it,” Matilda intervened, “I heard that Robin caused a great commotion in Nottingham last night.”
“What happened?” Marian asked, and even Guy was curious to know.
“I heard that the sheriff had hired a killer to infiltrate in Robin’s gang, but they could bring him on their side and they robbed the sheriff with his help.”
“I knew that that Carter wasn’t trustworthy. What did he do?”
“He was sent to kill Robin, so they faked Robin’s death. That man took his ‘body’ to the castle, and when they were in the sheriff’s room, Robin ‘came back to life’ and robbed him.”
Guy rolled his eyes.
“Didn’t anyone think to check if he was actually dead? I’d have severed his head from his body, just to be sure.”
“Guy!” Marian turned to him in horror, and Guy averted his eyes.
“Sorry, but it would have been common sense to check if an enemy is really dead before introducing him into the heart of the castle.”
“What he said may be unpleasant, but he has a point,” Matilda commented, and Guy looked at her, surprised to hear that the healer was defending him.
“I suppose you are right. But I wish you wouldn’t be on the side of the sheriff, Guy.”
“Marian?” Guy looked at her and sighed, sadly. “What I’m going to say might be considered betrayal, I could hang for it, but I won’t kill Hood, if I can avoid it. I don’t like him, I never will, and I won’t cry if he dies during one of his insane plans to bring havoc in the castle, but for you, only for you, I won’t have his blood on my hands. I won’t inflict any more sorrow on you, it’s my promise to you.”
Marian hugged him tight, moved by his words, and they remained close for a while, then Marian opened her eyes to meet his gaze, putting a hand on his cheek, tenderly.
For a moment she felt the urge to kiss him, to clear away the sadness in his eyes, but she immediately dismissed the idea as a folly that would surely end up hurting both of them. Instead she smiled at him affectionately.
“I want another promise from you,” she said.
“Be safe. I’d suffer if anything bad should happen to you.”
Guy smiled back at her.
“I’ll try. Go, now. If Hood comes to search for you here, we’d end up fighting and I’m afraid that neither of us would come out of it unscathed.”
Marian planted a kiss on his cheek, then she went away. Guy followed her with his gaze and stared at the empty door of the room until he realized the Matilda was looking at him with an amused smirk on her face.
“Stop staring at me, witch,” he snarled, mostly to hide his embarrassment.
“I see that you are feeling better,” Matilda said, moving to close the door, “back to your nasty self, I see.”
“So what? Are you going to get leeches, now?”
“Do you know, Sir Guy? I don’t think you are so terrible, after all. Not when you are on your own, anyways. What you said… That you aren’t going to kill Robin, was it true?”
The knight sighed.
“If I kill him, Marian would hate me, she couldn’t forgive me for that. I have no choice… I never have choices,” he added, bitterly.
Matilda glanced at him for a moment, then she sat on the edge of the bed and patted his hand, affectionately.
“Now, now, my boy, don’t be so tragic. Maybe you are not in the best situation at the moment, but I think that your life can improve if you really want it.”
“You could begin by understanding what would make you happy...”
“Marian!” He blurted, interrupting Matilda, and the healer shook her head.
“You shouldn’t build your happiness on a single person. Not even on material things, because you can always lose them and then you’d be left with nothing.”
“I can’t stop loving her, no matter what, God knows that I tried.”
Matilda was a little surprised to hear that heartfelt confession, and she guessed that the knight was so lonesome that he rarely had the chance to confide his feelings to anyone.
“It’s a different thing, Sir Guy. Nobody says that you should stop loving her, it would be a folly to think that you can change your feelings when they are so strong. But you can live a satisfying, happy life even without her love.”
“I don’t know how.”
“I never said it’s easy, but it’s possible. Everyone must find his own path to happiness, and there are many paths that lead nowhere, but I’m sure that if you keep trying, in time you can do it. I can give you a simple suggestion to begin: take your distances from the sheriff. That man is evil, following him blindly won’t lead you anywhere.”
“It’s not that easy. I can’t stop working for him, he’d never allow me to be free.”
Matilda thought for a moment before answering.
“Well, that’s another reason to avoid killing or arresting Robin Hood, don’t you think? If you can’t get rid of the sheriff, he might solve the problem for you. Robin wants to free England from his oppression, he might end up freeing you too.”
“I doubt that Hood can help me, but even if he can, until then, I still have to obey the sheriff.”
“Of course, but to work for him you don’t have to trust him. If he gives you an order that you think is wrong, obey if you have no other choice, but at least try to think of the options you have, try to think of a solution, of a better way to give him what he wants. Maybe you are not used to use your brain, but I’m sure that you’re not half dumb as the sheriff thinks you are. Follow your heart, if something inside you suggests that what you are going to do is wrong, then probably it is.”
“He says that humanity is weakness, that it will lead me to ruin...”
“That’s because he wants to be the one to lead you to ruin, he wants a compliant slave, a pawn in his hands. Don’t believe him, humanity can be your greatest strength.”
Guy didn’t answer: the words of the healer sounded true and sensible, but for him it wasn’t easy to dismiss the loyalty he had for the sheriff.
Matilda noticed his uneasiness and she changed subject.
“Even if you are less disagreeable than I thought, I’m not here to chat, I have many other patients waiting for my help. So, how do you feel today?”
“Did you eat anything?”
“Bread and broth this morning. Still hungry.”
“No sickness at all?”
The woman smiled.
“Well, then I have something for you. It will give you strength, and it’s good.” She took a little jar from her bag, and she placed it on the bedside table. “Honey. You can eat it with some more bread.”
Guy looked at the jar, almost in awe, and Matilda lifted an eyebrow.
“What’s up? Is it the first time you see a jar of honey?”
“No, but it’s the first time since I was a boy that somebody gives some to me.”
Poor man, he’s not used to people who take care of him, the healer thought.
“Well, enjoy it, then. Are you still cold? Let me feel your hands… No, you’re not. But I bet that you are still tired.”
“How do you know?”
“I’m a healer. You will need a couple of days of rest to recover completely.”
“It will be a new experience as well.”
“Come on, surely sometimes you have been unwell, or injured in the last few years. I noticed that you have the scar of a burn on your arm, and it’s rather recent, last year maybe. It must have been very painful.”
Guy touched his arm with a little sigh. He still remembered the searing pain he had felt when the sheriff had poured acid on his tattoo.
“It was, but the sheriff didn’t allow me to lose time to recover. As soon as I was able to stand, I had to get back to work.”
“Well, this time I forbid it. Even if you feel better, you’ll take time to rest. Now take your shirt off, I’ll put some ointment on those burns.”
Guy complied, and Matilda noticed how meekly he had obeyed to her command, as if he was conditioned to do what the others ordered to him.
I guess that he’s so lost that he would follow anyone who looks stronger and wiser to his eyes. Too bad that he had met the sheriff.
The healer treated the burns in silence. When she finished, Guy gave her a little smile.
“If you have other people to help, go. I can be left alone now, I really am much better.”
The woman nodded, a little reluctant.
“Very well, Sir Guy. Take care and try to remember my words. If you need my skills or my advice, you know where to find me. Just, don’t come with your guards.”
Gisborne was about to reply, when Allan came back and both Guy and Matilda stared at him, horrified: the young man had a bleeding cut on his cheek, and bruises on his face.
The healer jumped to his feet, and hurried to meet him.
“What happened to you?!”
“The sheriff,” Guy said, before Allan could answer, “he didn’t like to hear that I’m ill and not coming to work.”
“What?! That filthy rotten pile of donkey crap!”
Matilda went close to Allan and made him sit on a chair. She took a a clean towel and dipped it in the water of the basin, beginning to clean the blood from the cut.
“He was wearing his ring,” Guy said, in a tone that implied that he also knew very well that kind of treatment.
“He was furious because of Robin Hood. I heard from the guards that Robin made him kneel kicking him in the groin, and then robbed him. Giz, if I were you, I’d take my time before going back to the castle, he blames you for not being there to stop Robin. When I told him that you were ill and contagious, he began hitting me, in a rage.”
Guy averted his eyes.
“I’m sorry, you had to bear the brunt of his wrath...”
Allan blinked, unused to see Gisborne worrying for his sake.
“That’s alright, Giz, nothing worse than a tavern’s brawl. At least this time he didn’t menace to hang me.”
“Maybe I should go there...” Guy began, but Matilda interrupted him.
“Are you stupid or just insane? Why should you rush to the castle to work for a man who clearly doesn’t care at all about you? Anyways you can’t go, even if you feel better: if you do, he’ll understand that we have lied about the nature of your illness and it will be worse for all of us. Besides, you have something more important to think about.”
“The ghost. He wants you to protect Marian. Do you have any idea on how to do it?”
Guy shook his head, sadly.
“He’d want me to take her away from here, but she would never follow me.”
Allan looked around, nervously.
“Is he still here?”
“Not now,” Matilda answered, “I guess he followed his daughter. However,” she turned back to Guy, “the best thing you can do is to recover completely and to be ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“For anything. Be sure to have money and a fresh horse in case you need to run away from the county, be ready to leave the castle and the sheriff if he endangers you or Lady Marian, be ready to start a new life somewhere else, and even to let her go if her best option is to be with Robin. Be ready, and be strong.”
After taking care of Allan’s wounds, and giving some other advice to the two men, Matilda went away to see her other patients.
Allan took the bag he had dropped to the floor when he entered the room, and took it near the bed.
“Before going to the castle, I went to Locksley and I took some of your clean clothes. Do you need help to get changed?”
“No, I’m still a bit weak, but I’m well enough to manage on my own.”
“I’m glad for this. You were in a pretty bad shape yesterday, I was worried.”
“Thank you...” Guy said awkwardly, then he pointed at the jar on the bedside table. “I have some honey there. Find some bread and we’ll share it.”
“Really, Giz?” Allan asked almost shyly, not used at Guy trying to be friendly, and the knight smirked at him.
“Go on, hurry, I’m hungry.”
Marian followed the path that lead into the heart of the forest, shadowed by tall trees, and she wished that she could see the sky. She was walking to go back to the camp, but her heart was heavy.
Now that she was alone, without the presence of Allan or Guy, she felt even more sad and lonely, and she missed her father sorely.
No more than a year ago, they were still living at Knighton, in the manor where she was born and where she grew up. She had thought to be unhappy then, that the life in the county of Nottingham was too hard, and that the oppression of the sheriff was too cruel on poor people. It was true, of course, but now she remembered those days with yearning.
Life was difficult then, Guy used to woo her, his affection unwelcome and somehow a little scary, and the Nightwatchman wasn’t able to give enough relief to the poor, but her father was alive.
Maybe weak, but still the owner of his manor and his lands, a nobleman with no power, but proud of his lineage.
Marian kept drying her tears with the hands, but she couldn’t stop weeping. She wanted to be strong, to hide her sorrow at the eyes of the others, but now she was alone, and she needed to cry.
She kept walking, even if her vision was blurred by tears. She knew the way to the camp, and she just wanted to get there, to be held by Robin. She wanted to be comforted, understood in her pain.
But, as she was getting closer, she began feeling a sort of oppression in her heart. She didn’t like much living in the forest, with the other outlaws, and under Robin’s command: that life just didn’t suit her.
I have no other choice.
She burst into another bout of sobs.
Father, if only I could see you once again… I need you. I thought I didn’t, but it isn’t true, I do…
Marian walked under the trees, her hands on her face, brushing away the tears like she did when she was a child and she came home weeping for a scratched knee or for a little bruise, knowing that her father was always there to comfort her.
At her side, invisible to her eyes, Sir Edward’s ghost followed her. His diaphanous fingers tried to dry her tears, to caress her curly hair, but she didn’t feel her touch, and she couldn’t notice his presence.
“Father, father, please come back,” she whispered, “don’t leave me alone! I need you, I need you so much!”
“I am here, my child, right at your side,” the ghost said, longing to comfort her, but the girl couldn’t hear his voice.
Chapter 7: A Void in the World
Marian sat near the fire, in disbelief. She had been away from the camp for a good part of a day and a whole night, and nobody even noticed!
When she had come back, Robin had welcomed her with a kiss, smiling and not even a little worried.
“Have you been in the forest for a walk?”
Then he had yawned, tired, because they had been at the castle for the whole night, running from the sheriff’s guards after robbing him.
Marian had been too shocked to retort that she hadn’t been out for a walk, and she had just watched him going to one of the bunks to sleep.
What if I were in danger? What if I needed your help? Your comfort?
Marian looked at the outlaws, all sleeping just like Robin, united in that too.
They were a family, parts of the same thing, and Marian felt that she couldn’t really fit.
She felt terribly alone and once more she wished that she could be back at home, with her father.
The following days passed, boring and uneventful, and Marian tried her best to become a real member of the gang, but she always ended up helping Much in the kitchen or mending torn clothes or damaged weapons. It was as if Robin didn’t trust her skill as a fighter, as if after what had happened with Carter, he considered her like a reckless child not to be trusted with a weapon.
She was aware that she had been reckless that time, but then again Robin always risked his life, often just to show-off, and nobody ever complained.
Marian sighed, fighting back the tears that prickled her eyes. She didn’t want to cry, to show the others how sad and vulnerable she felt, to let them see how much she missed her father.
Everyone of the outlaws had lost someone who was very dear to them, but they didn’t weep, they were strong and they went on without lingering on the past. She was ashamed to show them her sorrow, as if it was a confirmation that she wasn’t good enough for the gang.
A sudden commotion averted her from those sad thoughts, and she saw Robin and Will coming back to the camp accompanied by a crippled man, a young messenger with only one leg.
Robin looked very excited, and the outlaws gathered around him.
“Who’s that man, Robin?” Little John asked.
“He’s Laurence McLellan, a messenger from the King! He took a big risk: he went to Locksley and asked for the master of the manor, thinking that it still belonged to me. Luckily Gisborne wasn’t at home, and we were able to take him to the forest before the guards could notice him.”
“Where is Gu...Gisborne?” Marian asked, a little worried to hear that he hadn’t gone back to Locksley yet.
Robin glanced at her for a moment, a little surprised, then he shrugged.
“I don’t know, and I don’t really care. Thornton said that he got a message from him saying that he had fallen ill, and to cancel the celebration expected for his birthday, but Gisborne isn’t important now. Look! This is a message from the King!”
He went on talking about the message and of a special pigeon that could take another message to the King in just a few days, but Marian wasn’t listening anymore.
Her thoughts wandered to Guy, and she hoped that he was feeling better, then she realized the meaning of Robin’s words.
Celebration for his birthday? Is it Guy’s birthday today?
She wondered if he was still ill and what he was going to do on that day if he wasn’t back to Locksley.
She glanced at the outlaws: they were all excited by the King’s message, and they were deciding what answer they should send to the King. Suddenly, Marian found the air of the camp too oppressing, she felt jealous of the King, and for once she found herself hating him.
He went to the Holy Land to fight a war, leaving the country in trouble, and still he sent orders and dictated Robin’s life with his requests!
She blushed, ashamed of her own thoughts.
This is betrayal! He’s the King: when he comes back everything will be fine.
She went closer to Robin, trying to join the general excitement, but she couldn’t put her heart in it.
Then the outlaws got ready to go out of the camp and Marian moved to follow them, but Robin stopped her.
“It would be safer if you stay here.”
“Where are you going?”
“We’ll set the pigeon free with the message to King Richard, but we’ll take him far from here so it can’t be intercepted by the guards of the sheriff, and then, on our way back, we are going to ambush the convoy from the castle, taking the money of the taxes that Vaisey is sending to London.”
“I want to help you!” Marian said, but Robin shook his head.
“No, Marian. It will be dangerous, I have to focus on the ambush, I couldn’t protect you.”
The girl was about to say that she didn’t need to be protected, that she had been the Nightwatchman for years and she could fight like each of his men and maybe even better, but she kept silent.
She knew that Robin wouldn’t listen, that he’d keep seeing her like a weak maiden who needed protection.
“Very well,” she said with a sigh, “I guess I’ll go to see Matilda, then.”
“Are you unwell?”
“No, but she always needs help to pick her herbs, to dry and to store them. When you were away in the Holy Land, I often helped her, and she gave me the remedies for the poor.”
Robin nodded, and Marian could see that he was relieved for her choice. She felt saddened, because it was even too clear that his attention was all for the King, now. Maybe she was being childish, but she would have wanted to be comforted, to feel the most important person in the world for him.
Allan gave a sad glance at the inn, before mounting on his horse. At his side, Gisborne was doing the same.
“So it’s time to go back to Locksley… Who’d say that I could miss this inn?”
Guy nodded. The Flaming Turnip wasn’t the best inn he had ever seen in his life, but he had spent a few peaceful days there, with nothing to do other than resting and eating good meals.
It had been a little boring after a while, but it was always better than working at the castle. Guy found out that he appreciated having some peace and enough time to rest properly once in a while.
He wasn’t used to it and he always had to work hard since he was a boy.
“I guess that we’ll have to make up for all the time we lost. The sheriff wasn’t happy at all,” he said, with a little sigh.
“Tomorrow, Giz. Today we are still free.” Allan kicked the sides of his horse with his heels. “What are you going to do when we arrive at Locksley?”
“I must stay at home in case there’s someone spying for the sheriff, it will have to look like as if I’m still on the mend. But I think I’ll order Thornton to prepare a bath for me.”
Allan grinned, and patted the pouch full of coins that he was carrying at his belt.
“Fancy another game of dice, Giz? You could win back a few coins if you’re lucky.”
“Or I might challenge you at chess, at least you won’t be able to rig the game.”
“My dice are not rigged!”
“Come on, I can recognized loaded dice when I see them. The sheriff used a pair of them to trick that German idiot, once.”
Allan gave him a cheeky smile.
“If you knew that I was cheating, why did you keep playing with me?”
“I didn’t have anything else to do. I couldn’t win, but I still had fun.”
Allan chuckled, and he noticed that Guy was trying to scratch his shoulders through the leather of his jacket, where he still had the burns from the touch of the ghost.
“Does that hurt?” Allan asked.
“Not anymore, but it itches.”
“Are you sure you are alright?”
Guy stared at him, amused.
“Are you really worried for me?”
“It has been scary! Bot Marian and I were afraid that you were going to die! And she doesn’t even know the real reason why you were sick, I guess that she still believes that it was because of the cold, or maybe food poisoning. But to think that a dead man touched you...”
Allan shuddered, while Guy blushed remembering that he had been sick in front of Marian. She hadn’t been disgusted by his sickness, but he still felt ashamed for that.
He now knew that he had no hopes with Marian, but still he wanted to show her his better sides.
“I’m perfectly well now,” he said. “And I actually needed some rest, after all. Even if the sheriff will make me pay for my absence, I’m afraid.”
“Well, let’s enjoy this last day of freedom, then. It’s useless to think about tomorrow, don’t you think, Giz?”
“You might be right, for once.”
They rode for a while, with no hurry, just enjoying that warm day of late spring, and they were almost arrived to Locksley when Guy saw the figure of a person who was walking along the road, and who made his heart beat faster.
He hurried his horse to reach her, and the girl turned to look at him with a smile, as if she was pleased to see him.
Guy glanced at her right: the ghost was there, hovering around her, a sad expression in his eyes.
“She is so sad...” Sir Edward said.
Guy unmounted to greet her, and Marian kept smiling, looking at him, but Guy could see what the ghost had told him: in her eyes there was a deep sadness, just barely masked by her smile.
“Guy! I’m glad to see that you are better. I was worried.”
“I am.” He answered, a little awkwardly. “How… how are you? Is the life in the forest very difficult?”
Marian stared at him, surprised that he was worrying for her comfort, when it was clear that he hated the fact that she had joined Robin’s gang. He was surely jealous of her relationship with Robin, but still he was trying to be nice and to care for her.
She let out a little sigh.
“I wish there were bathtubs in the forest. The water of the river is still so cold, and warming it at the camp is almost impossible...”
“You can have a bath in Locksley, if you wish, as my guest.”
Marian glanced at him, trying to understand if he had an ulterior motive for making that offer, but Guy looked sincere. He was trying to be kind to her, and she found herself smiling at him.
“Thank you, but if the sheriff should find out that I’ve been at Locksley, won’t you end up in trouble?”
“He doesn’t know where you are living now, and I’m not going to tell.” Guy said, and Allan grinned.
“If he asks, we’ll say that you went to a nunnery for a while, to mourn. You could say that you have joined with the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, at Ripley Convent.”
Marian found herself thinking that the quiet life of an abbey could be comforting for a while, and for a moment she wondered if she should actually do what Allan had suggested as a cover story for the sheriff.
“Will he believe that?”
“He will, if Giz shows him a letter coming from the convent and addressed to him, to Giz I mean, where you say that you want to be in peace for some time.”
“The letters from the convent have to be sealed by the Mother Superior.”
“I can manage that.”
Guy looked at him, lifting an eyebrow with a skeptical glance.
“I’m good with nuns.”
Guy laughed softly, then he turned to Marian.
“So, will you come to Locksley with us?”
The girl thought that it was strange to see him so relaxed, laughing for Allan’s cheeky words, and she found herself nodding.
“I will. The idea of hot water is too appealing to refuse.”
They walked along the road, Guy leading the horse by the bridle. After a while, the knight looked at Marian, frowning.
“By the way, why were you here, all alone? It isn’t safe.”
“I’m not a helpless girl, you should know it very well by now. I wanted to see Matilda, but she wasn’t in her hut, so I was going to Locksley to see if she was treating some of the peasants there,” she said, not completely sincere. In fact she wanted to see Guy, to check if he had recovered, but she couldn’t admit that.
“Why do you want to see her? Are you unwell?”
Marian smiled. Guy had just used the same words of Robin.
“You don’t have to see a friend only when you need something from her. Matilda is a good woman, I enjoy speaking to her when I have the chance.” The girl noticed that he still looked worried. “And I’m perfectly healthy, I can assure you.”
She saw him relaxing at her words, and she thought that she had never seen Gisborne looking so calm and peaceful. She didn’t want to spoil that quiet moment, so she kept her conversation on light subjects, commenting about the good weather or noticing the bright flowers growing in the fields.
Talking, they arrived at Locksley, and Thornton welcomed them, giving Marian just a slightly surprised look.
“Welcome home, Sir Guy. Lady Marian.”
Guy gave the instructions to prepare a bath for Marian, earning another surprised look from the servant, but Thornton hurried to obey.
While they waited for the bath to be ready, Marian and Guy sat near the fireplace, while Allan went to the kitchen and came back with a tray of food.
“Do you want me to go away, Giz? To leave you alone with Marian?” Allan asked, while chewing, a teasing look in his gaze.
Gisborne rolled his eyes.
“Don’t be an idiot. You can stay, but stop talking with your mouth full, it’s disgusting.”
Marian chuckled, reassured by Guy’s words. Once, he would have tried to seduce her, to woo her in his awkward, possessive way, but now he was just being kind and harmless, and letting Allan stay was a proof of his good faith.
She was happy that he tried so hard to respect her choices, but she couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed.
Did he give up on me so easily?
She felt fickle and childish, but she couldn’t help missing a little Guy’s devotion to her, his passion.
I shouldn’t even think about this. I love Robin, I made my choice.
Guy offered her a cup of wine, smiling to her, and she accepted it, her heart beating a little faster when she met his gaze, so blue and full of warmth.
“Is this to celebrate?” She asked, to avert her mind from that unexpected emotion.
Guy looked puzzled.
“To celebrate what?”
“Isn’t your birthday today?”
Guy stared at her, surprised.
“Oh. Yes. How did you know?”
“I heard that you canceled a party that was to be held today.”
“You are right. I didn’t go to the castle because I was recovering, the sheriff wouldn’t like to learn that I held celebrations when I am supposed to be sick. It isn’t a big loss, anyways. Actually it’s better this way.”
“Don’t you like celebrating your birthday?”
“Not since my parents died. Those parties are just to show that I can afford them, that I am the lord of Locksley and people must respect me. The people who usually attends to these celebrations are not friends of mine. They come because they must, to show the sheriff their loyalty, or because they have the chance to eat for free. I don’t care for them and they don’t care for me.”
Marian turned her gaze to the fire in the fireplace, following the dance of the flames.
“That’s sad. Birthdays should be moments of joy. My father always gave me a rose when I woke up on my birthday day...”
Her eyes filled with tears suddenly, when she remembered that Sir Edward would never see another one of her birthdays.
She stood up, and turned her back to Guy, in a vain attempt to dry her tears before he could see her crying, but Gisborne stood up too, and took her in his arms, pulling her to his chest.
“He will always be there,” he whispered, lifting a hand to caress her hair, “his love will be there on your birthdays, he will be at your side every day of your life. I’m sure he is here now,” Guy glanced at Sir Edward’s ghost, who nodded gravely, approving his words, “and he will always protect you.”
“I miss him. It feels like there is an empty place in the world, a void that can’t be filled.”
Something in Guy’s voice made her lift her face to look at him, and she was surprised to see a deep sadness in his eyes. She understood that they were sharing the same sorrow.
“You miss your parents too.”
“Even after twenty years, the void is still there. Sometimes I just wish that I could talk to my mother, to ask for her advice, but...”
Marian touched his face, catching a tear with the tip of her finger, and Guy flinched, startled by her touch, or maybe he was just surprised to find out that he was crying after such a long time since his parents' death.
The girl hugged him, lifting her face to give him a kiss on his cheek, wishing to comfort him, and to get comforted as well, but at the last moment, something changed.
Instead of pressing her lips on his cheek, she found his lips, pulling him into a passionate kiss.
Guy froze for a moment, astonished, then he hugged her tighter, returning the kiss.
Still sitting at the table, Allan stared at them, so dumbfounded that he dropped the food he was eating.
Chapter 8: My Mind to Your Mind
For a moment, Guy thought that he was dead and that he had somehow ended in Heaven, then he realized that it couldn’t be, because he was surely destined to Hell. But then, if it was all true, Marian was kissing him!
It seemed impossible to him, but he held her closer, losing himself in that kiss.
Then it happened.
Suddenly, he had the impression that he was in two places at the same time: holding and being held, kissing and being kissed, offering protection and searching for a refuge.
He felt his love for Marian, stronger and stronger any moment, and at the same time he was Marian.
He could feel her deep sorrow, her fear and the need of comfort and protection hidden behind her pride, the unsettling emotion she was feeling right now, the desire to keep kissing him and forgetting everything else, and at the same time the guilt she felt for having started that kiss.
I love Robin, I shouldn’t…
And Guy for a moment loved Robin as well, for a moment he saw Robin Hood as Marian used to see him: the gentle hero of the people with all his dreams for a better world, a brave, generous man, who sometimes disappointed her because he loved too much the people in need to give her all the attention she wished for. The part of Guy’s mind who was still himself and not Marian was pleased to find out that the girl could see Robin’s flaws amidst all his many merits.
Then he saw himself with Marian’s eyes, and it was disconcerting: the girl could actually see good where Guy thought there was none, but she was also aware of his flaws, the worse ones always strictly connected with his work at the sheriff’s orders. He realized how much scary he could be and how evil he looked when he punished or arrested the villagers who couldn’t pay the taxes, taking their things or burning their houses, and at the same time he was shocked to see how much a simple act of kindness could impress Marian.
She was grateful for his comfort, touched by his words of consolation, and she had felt close to him when he had told her about his own sadness for his parents.
And she liked him, she was stirred by him, and that kiss had awoken a strong passion in her, the desire to find out more… It was strange to feel so wanted, when usually he was the one to wish for more...
In a single moment, Guy understood Marian more than he did in all the years he had known her.
He was Marian.
Then the moment passed, and he was just Guy again, holding in his arms the woman who now he loved even more than before.
The kiss ended, and Marian stared at him, her eyes bright with tears, and as upset as he was.
“Guy… I… I have to go.”
He looked at her, still stunned.
“Go?” He repeated.
“This was a mistake,” she whispered, and even if he wasn’t in her mind anymore, Guy knew how confused and scared she was.
“This wasn’t a mistake. It was the most perfect thing that has ever happened,” he answered softly, still embracing her, but without trying to kiss her again.
“I’m grieving Guy, I misled you...” Her voice broke a little. “I’m sorry.”
Guy shook his head, tenderly hushing her.
“I know, I know. It’s alright, I know how you are feeling, don’t worry.”
He gently caressed her hair, and the girl snuggled in his arms, quietly weeping.
Gisborne noticed Thornton standing on the door. The servant had come to the main hall to tell them that the bath for Marian was ready, but he had stopped on the threshold when he saw the girl kissing his master.
“Is the bath ready?” Guy asked to him, and Thornton nodded, then the knight turned back to Marian. “Don’t go, please. Stay, take your bath, and relax. You need some quiet, and I won’t disturb you. Hannah and Mary will provide you with everything you could need: food, wine, fresh clothes, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
He bent to give her a little kiss on her cheek, as reassuring and sweet as the other one had been passionate, and Marian nodded, accepting his offer.
She began following Thornton, but she stopped and turned, looking at Guy, still uncertain.
“Guy… About what just happened...”
Gisborne shook his head.
“No need to talk about it. I understand. I really do.”
Marian smiled at him, relieved, and she went out of the room.
As soon as she was gone, Guy lose the calm attitude that he had used to talk to her: trembling, he turned to a corner of the room.
“What does it mean?! What happened?” He asked urgently, and Allan stared at him, a little worried.
“She kissed you, Giz, it didn’t look so difficult to understand, did it?”
Guy winced and turned to Allan, almost scared.
“I just answered your question, Giz.”
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
“What? We are alone in this room… Oh! The ghost? Is he mad because you kissed his daughter?”
“No, no, this is not about the kiss! It’s about that other thing…”
“What other thing? I just saw you two kissing, and you seemed to be both very… involved. But I haven’t seen anything else going on.”
Guy walked to Allan and grabbed his arms, staring at him.
“I was her, I was in her mind, I could feel what she was feeling, think what she was thinking!”
Allan looked at him, surprised. He’d have thought that Gisborne had gone insane were not for the presence of the ghost.
“Isn’t that what Sir Edward told you he can do?”
“That’s why I was asking him what happened!”
Guy looked at the ghost, and Edward gave him an apologetical look.
“I don’t know, Sir Guy. I am dead but I’m not omniscient. We can suppose that it’s an effect of my touch.”
“I could have guessed that too,” Guy growled, “That’s not very helpful.”
Allan gave a worried glance at him.
“Maybe you should calm down, Giz. If you fall ill again, it won’t be helpful either.”
Guy dropped himself on the chair near the fireplace, hiding his face in the hands.
“Are you alright, Giz?”
Gisborne let out a shaky sigh.
“It was so… so overwhelming...”
Sir Edward hovered at his side, careful to avoid touching him.
“I feel your fear, Sir Guy, you are afraid that you aren’t able to help her, to soothe her sorrow, but you are wrong. When you comforted her, when you told her that she shouldn’t worry, you weren’t in her mind anymore, but I could feel her soul, and I can assure you that your words and your kindness really helped her. You gave her what she needed. Now you know that she sees good in you, and I see it too.”
Allan filled a cup with wine, and he gave it to Guy. The knight sipped it slowly, trying to calm down.
The former outlaw was right, making himself sick with worry was completely useless and, after all, the whole experience had been unsettling, but not completely unpleasant.
He had been in Marian’s mind, and it had been nice. Apart from the sorrow for the loss of her father, Guy had been able to see her hopes, her dreams. She was innocent and brave, sensible and impulsive at the same time, strong and passionate, but also so frail.
He had loved her even when he didn’t know her well, but now that he had looked in her soul, he knew that he had never loved her so much.
It doesn’t matter if you love Hood, and if you will never return my feeling. I belong to you. As long as I live, my heart is yours. And if I can’t have you, I will protect you till my last breath.
“Giz?” Allan called him, distracting him from his thoughts. Guy was happy that he was there and that he knew about the ghost, his presence made everything less frightening.
“Do you think you can read the mind of other people too, or just Marian? Can you see what I’m thinking?”
“That’s easy,” Guy answered with a grin, “nothing at all.”
“Very funny, Giz,” Allan said, not offended at all, but amused by that reply. “So, what are we going to do, now?”
“I don’t know. Probably you should proceed with your idea of the letter from the convent if you really can do it. We must avoid that the sheriff could find out that she’s living with the outlaws.”
“No problem, Giz, it will be easy.”
“What will you do to protect her?” Sir Edward asked.
“It depends.” Guy stared at the wine that was left in his cup. “I will respect her choices, so if she wants to be with Hood, then we’ll have to talk with him and make sure that he can keep her safe.”
Allan stared at him, his mouth open.
“What?!” He blurted. If Guy had said that he was going to marry his horse, he would have been less surprised.
“I can’t force her to choose me or to stay away from danger, but maybe we can persuade Robin Hood to do everything he can to protect her. Maybe he could be the one who takes her away from Nottingham.”
“He’d never leave the county. He’s the hero of the people, he will want to protect them.”
Guy emptied the cup of wine, and he looked at Allan, grimly.
“Well, he will have to make a choice, then. His peasants or Marian, what’s more important to him?”
“But Giz, how are you going to talk to him? If you tell him the truth, he will think that you’re crazy or a liar. He will never listen to your words...”
Gisborne stared at the fire, a hand over his mouth, while he tried to think of a solution.
Sir Edward’s ghost was floating near the window, and he suddenly turned.
“Sir Guy! We have a problem!”
Guy stood up and reached the window in a couple of strides.
Allan saw him getting pale and tense.
“What’s up, Giz?”
“The sheriff. His carriage is coming!”
Allan shuddered, and looked at Guy: the knight seemed to have frozen, so he grabbed his shoulder to shake him out of his panic.
“Come on, Giz, hurry! We told him that you’re still sick, so he mustn’t see you like this. Run upstairs, go to bed, and for God’s sake, try to look weak and ill. Go. Now!”
Guy winced at his words, but he nodded, and obeyed, running upstairs. He had almost reached the top of the stairs, when he stopped and turned back to Allan.
“Marian! What are we going to do with her?!”
“It won’t matter, if the sheriff finds out that you’re not ill. Go. We’ll think of something.”
Guy hurried to his room, opening the clasps of his jacket while he walked. He flung it on a chair, removed his boots and the scabbard of his sword, dropping them to the floor, and he jumped in bed, pulling the blankets over his head and pretending to be asleep.
Vaisey stepped out of his carriage, looking around, then he entered the manor, followed by his guards.
Thornton welcomed him in the hall, meek as usual.
“My lord Sheriff, I am afraid that the master is still indisposed. If you wish we can serve you a meal, some wine.”
“I’m not here to eat or drink. Where is Gisborne?”
“The master is resting in his room. He just came home this morning, but he was still unwell, and traveling overexerted him.”
“Do you think that I care? A clue: no.”
The sheriff went upstairs, and opened the door of Guy’s room slamming it.
Gisborne jumped and sat in the bed, trying his best to look confused as if he had just awakened.
The sheriff walked to the bed, looking at Guy as a snake would stare at a prey, ready to attack.
“Feeling better, Gizzy, hm? You don’t look very ill, no, not at all.”
“My lord, you shouldn’t be here, the contagion...”
Vaisey waved a hand, to dismiss his words.
“I’d keep away if I believed that you were really sick. I think that you are lying, Gizzy, and believe me, I will find out if you didn’t say the truth.”
Guy kept his eyes downcast, looking at the blanket of his bed, afraid that if he met the gaze of the sheriff, he’d expose his lie.
The door opened suddenly, and Allan entered the room, holding a bucket.
“Hey, Giz, the servants cleaned this. I hope that you won’t need it again, but I thought that it was better bring it back in your room, just in case. Oh,” he looked at the sheriff as if he had just noticed his presence, “you came to see how is Giz, my lord? I wouldn’t get too close to him if I were you. Maybe it was just food poisoning, but the healer said that there was no way to know if it was contagious. She said that there had been some cases in Clun last week.”
Vaisey gave him a disgusted look, and he turned back to look at Guy.
“You’d better be at the castle tomorrow. I don’t care if you’ll have to take that bucket with you, but I’m not paying you to laze in bed. For sure I won’t pay you for the days that you have lost.”
“I’ll be there, my lord,” Guy said, respectfully, and Vaisey gave his back to him, heading out of the room and to the stairs.
Allan and Guy exchanged a glance, hoping that he was really going away, and Allan followed the sheriff to escort him to the door. But Vaisey stopped and looked around, listening, then he slammed open the door of one of the other rooms.
Marian had just stepped into the tub and she was just beginning to enjoy the warm water, when Hannah hurried into the room, a panicked expression on her face.
“Hush, lady Marian, the sheriff is coming. Hurry, get out of the tub and get dressed, then you must hide!”
The girl stood up, wrapping herself in the towel held by the servant, then she began wearing the clean undergarments that were neatly folded near the tub. For a moment she wondered why there were such fine items of clothing at Locksley when there was no lady of the manor, then she realized that Guy probably had purchased them before their failed wedding, to offer her anything she could need.
She had just donned the chemise, when the door was suddenly opened and the sheriff entered the room, glaring at her. Marian let out a cry, and blushed, but Vaisey didn’t stop staring at her, a malevolent expression on his face.
Marian saw Allan, standing behind him and looking terrified, and a moment later Guy ran into the room barefooted and without his jacket, alerted by her cry.
Guy looked at her and immediately averted his eyes.
“Well, now I know what you were doing instead of working,” the sheriff said, icily. “It’s true, you were ill, infected by this leper. What’s up, Gizzy? Did you eventually become a man and took her maidenhood? If she had ever been a maiden. You are coming to the castle now.”
Guy nodded, frightened by his tone, afraid that he could punish Marian as well.
“Yes, my lord.”
Vaisey pointed at Allan and at the girl.
“All of you. Your leper friend is still under house arrest, don’t forget it. Behave and I could let you keep her in your bed sometimes.”
The sheriff stopped in front of Guy and suddenly he slapped him hard, with the back of his hand, the one wearing the ring, hard enough to make him lose his balance and fall to the ground.
Gisborne touched his cheek with his hand, and Marian could see blood seeping trough the fingers, but the knight didn’t say anything.
“This, Gizzy, is to remember you that you shouldn’t lie to me. Never again, Gisborne. Remember: this was only a kind warning.”
Chapter 9: Chained
Allan was silent, riding his horse just a few paces behind Guy and Marian. They were all following the carriage of the sheriff, surrounded by the guards, as if they were under arrest.
Gisborne was staring in front of him, his face grim and bloodied because of the cut left by the sheriff’s ring, while Marian had tears in her eyes and her cheeks hot, ashamed because the sheriff didn’t allow her to get dressed before leaving Locksley.
She was still wearing just a chemise, mercifully covered by a old cloak belonging to Guy that Thornton had succeeded in giving to her while she was being marched to the stables.
The journey to the castle seemed to be longer than usual, but at last they arrived.
Vaisey went out of his carriage, grinning, then he whispered something to one of his guards. After a while, the man came back with the jailer, and Allan saw Guy shuddering, clearly afraid that the sheriff was going to punish them, somehow.
Vaisey kept grinning, and he turned to the people in the courtyard.
“I just found out that Gizzy misbehaved, telling that he was sick while he was spending his time bedding his leper friend.”
“My lord! I didn’t...” Guy began, but Vaisey silenced him with a single, cruel glare.
“You didn’t what, Gizzy? Shut up now and let everyone keep the illusion that you are a man, after all.”
Guy lowered his gaze to the ground, not daring to answer to the sheriff’s insults, and ashamed to look at Marian.
“You tried to lie to me and I should punish you, but I’m feeling generous, Gizzy. Today it’s your birthday, isn’t it? I’ll be more than generous, then: you can keep your bitch, as a gift. But every dog needs a leash.”
The sheriff nodded at the jailer, and, before they could react, the man closed a manacle around Marian’s right wrist, and the one at the other end of the chain around Guy’s left one.
The sheriff laughed at their astonished expressions, and he kept talking to Guy, without even looking at Marian, as if she didn’t exist.
“You wanted her? Well, now you have her. We’ll see if you’ll still like your leper friend after being forced to share with her every single moment of your day. Go, now, take her away from my sight.”
The sheriff dismissed them, and went inside the castle, leaving them in the courtyard.
Guy stared at the manacles that tied him to Marian: the chain was long enough that they could be a couple of steps apart from each other, but not much more.
Eventually, he dared to glance at the girl: she had tears in her eyes, but she was trying hard not to cry, and she was shivering, partly because her chemise wasn’t warm enough for the day and her hair was still wet after the bath, and partly in rage.
Guy sighed, thinking that she had to be mad at him for his weakness, but Marian lightly touched his bleeding cheek.
“Maybe we should better get inside, this wound needs to be treated before it gets infected.”
Her voice was bitter and defeated, but her tone was kind.
Guy led her through the corridors, to his lodgings, while Allan went to search for remedies and bandages.
“I’m so sorry,” Guy said, in a low voice.
“I did nothing to stop him. I let him insult you, do this to us.”
He shook the chain, furiously, and Marian took his hand, to calm him down.
“You didn’t have any choice. To defy him would have been foolish. I guess that we can only let him have his fun, and hope that he gets tired of it soon.”
Guy pushed open the door of his room, with another sigh.
“I’m afraid that he’ll enjoy our discomfort for some days at least. He can be very single minded, and he’ll make sure that I won’t lie to him ever again. And he’s always happy when he can humiliate people.”
Marian pulled the chain to lead him near the ewer, and she poured some water in the basin, then she dipped a clean towel in it, and she began cleaning the blood from Guy’s cheek.
“You shouldn’t work for him.”
“He’d never set me free. I’m like one of his little birds, he’d rather crush me to death than letting me fly away.”
“You should have avoided him from the beginning.” Marian said, sternly, but she softened her tone when she noticed of dejected Guy was. “But, well, I guess that now we don’t have many choices. There’s no use in reproaching, I think that we should better get along with each other, since we are stuck together.”
She gave him a little, encouraging smile, and Guy smiled back.
“Guess so,” he said quietly, and he stood still while Marian finished cleaning his wound.
“You will be missed.” Guy said, after a while, in a flat tone, and Marian looked at him.
“Hood. By now he will be wondering why you aren’t back to the camp.”
Marian turned her back to Guy, and she walked to the window. The knight was forced to follow her.
“Marian? Did I say anything wrong?” He asked, and the girl hit the frame of the window with her free hand, with a gesture of frustration.
“I wish he would notice. Maybe he will when he’ll have finished robbing the sheriff. But only after feeding the poor.”
“Is he going to rob the sheriff?”
Marian was startled: she had forgotten that she was still talking with the Master of Arms of the castle.
“Well...” She began, uncertain, but Guy stopped her putting a finger on her lips.
“Don’t lie to me, please. If you want to protect him, and you don’t trust me, just keep silent, but don’t tell me more lies.”
“I trust you.”
“But Robin wouldn’t, and you don’t want to betray his confidence. I don’t care, actually: he’s always trying to rob the sheriff, anyways,” Guy touched the manacle around his wrist, “and today I’m inclined to think that the sheriff deserves it richly.”
“However you are right: they will realize that I didn’t go back at the camp… I must find a way to tell Robin what happened.”
Guy thought that Robin would surely rush at the castle to ‘save’ Marian, and that his presence was the last thing he needed, but it was right that Marian wanted to warn the man she loved, and he couldn’t deny that to her.
“We could send Allan to Matilda’s hut, and then she can talk to Hood.”
Marian nodded, a little relieved.
“I’ll write a note to Robin, I’ll explain what happened.” She glanced at Guy. “I’ll write that it isn’t your fault, don’t worry.”
Guy thought that Robin wouldn’t agree and he hoped that he wasn’t going to get an arrow through his heart.
I surely hope that she won’t write that she was taking a bath in my house or I’m done for. And she’d better not mention that kiss…
Guy blushed at that memory, and Marian gave a questioning look to him.
“Now who’s the liar?” The girl asked, with a little smile.
Gisborne couldn’t avert his gaze from her lips, unable to counter the desire to taste them again.
“I was thinking of our kiss,” he said, unexpectedly direct, and Marian held her breath for a moment.
“Why?” She blurted, her heart beating faster.
“Because probably it’s wrong, but I want to do it again,” he said, his voice so low, that she could barely hear his words.
She lifted her free hand to grab his shirt, pulling him a little closer.
“It would be a mistake...” She said, but she did nothing to get away from him.
Guy stooped a little, and Marian closed the distance between them.
God forgive me, but I want this too!
They kissed hungrily, with passion, but there was also tenderness between them. Marian closed her eyes, yielding to those overwhelming emotions.
She felt incomprehensibly safe in Guy’s arms and the touch of his lips could send away the sadness and her fears, at least for a few moments. When he kissed her, she couldn’t think, and lately her thoughts had always been so sad and grim that she welcomed that oblivion.
“I don’t want to be funny, but this is becoming a habit.” Allan said from the door, and both Marian and Guy got away from each other with a jump, only to realize that they were still chained together.
“You should knock!” Guy said, with a sort of growl.
“Had my hands full,” Allan said, nodding at the bandages and at the little vial of ointment that he was holding. “For your wound, Giz. And the sheriff wants you to get to the hall to dine with him.” He glanced at Marian, who was still wearing just her chemise, and grinned. “Probably you should get changed for dinner.”
Marian glared at him, but she had no time to rebuke him. She hurried to write the message for Robin, and Guy ordered him to go to the forest and give it to Matilda.
As soon as he left the room, the girl turned to Guy.
“I think that he is right. I should change my clothes, but how, if we are tied like this?”
At last, Guy called one of the maids of the castle, and, with her help, Marian managed to wear a sleeveless dress over her chemise. But if Marian’s dress was made of two parts laced together, there was no way that Guy could wear his leather jacket while he was chained to Marian, so he just donned a cloak over his shirt.
They reached the sheriff at dinner, and Guy noticed with dismay that Vaisey had invited to dinner some of the other nobles, surely with the purpose of having an audience while he humiliated him and Marian.
Guy and Marian sat side to side, hiding their chained hands under the table, while Vaisey grinned widely at their discomfort.
He had fun at them for the whole long, interminable dinner, forcing the other nobles to laugh of them, then, when the last dishes had been served, Vaisey looked at Marian for a few moments, then he turned to Guy.
“You can go now, I think that your leper friend needs something, maybe you should take your dog out for a walk, hm?”
Guy frowned, unsure of the meaning of his words, but Marian was quick to stand, and to take leave from the room. Guy followed her while she hurried down the corridor, and he wondered why the girl was so tense and red in the face.
“Are you alright?” He asked, a little worried.
“No, I’m not,” she answered harshly, blushing even more.
“What’s up? How can I help you?”
“Can you get rid of this chain now?”
“No, I can’t. I could try to talk to the sheriff again and if I plead and humiliate myself for a long enough time, maybe he will accept to free us.”
“I have no time,” Marian said, close to tears now.
The girl stopped abruptly in front of a door, and nodded at it, annoyed that he wouldn't understand without her having to explain her problem.
“Because I really need to use the privy!”
Now it was Guy who blushed.
“Oh. Maybe I can stay just out of the door...”
“The chain is too short! Get inside, hurry.”
She dragged him into the small room, and Guy closed his eyes.
“I won’t look, I promise. And you’ll do the same when it’s my turn.”
They went out of the privy a little later, and they found Vaisey passing in front of the door.
“Oh, Gizzy, now I bet that your leper friend looks less appealing to your eyes, isn’t it? Aren’t you a little disappointed tho find out that she’s not the ethereal angel who you thought? Take care to take your puppy for a walk every now and then: I don’t want puddles on the floors of my castle.”
Even if he wasn’t in her mind anymore, Guy could feel the rage of the girl, and he took her hand to stop her from replying to the sheriff. With a malignant laugh, Vaisey went away.
Marian tried to brush away a tear from her eyes, in vain because another one was ready to fall on her cheek.
“I hate him. I hate him so much! This is so humiliating...”
Guy caressed her cheek, with love. He was still flushed because using the privy with Marian so close had been really embarrassing for him too, but now he just wanted to soothe her distress.
“It’s just a natural thing, I had a sister and when we were going back to France, we were alone, with no one who could help us in case of danger, so I didn’t trust to leave her out of my sight if I wasn’t sure that the place was safe. Sometime it happened that we had to use the same place to...”
“This should make me feel better?”
“Hey, it hadn’t been funny for me either, we are even” he said, inadvertently imitating Allan’s downplaying tone, “and then I also threw up in front of you, so I should feel even more embarrassed. I am the more humiliated one.”
His tone, and his words, succeeded in making Marian smile a little.
“This is not a game,” she said, drying a last tear, then she gave a little friendly squeeze to his hand.
Guy smiled back, and he stifled a yawn.
“Maybe we should go to sleep. I feel really tired.”
“It’s true, you are still recovering from your illness, you need to rest.”
They walked back to Guy’s lodgings, and the girl helped Guy to open the clasp of the cloak he was wearing, while he helped her to untie the laces and remove her dress. They both looked at the bed at the same tine, and Marian let out a nervous laughter.
“Well, at least, after sharing a privy, sleeping in the same bed won’t be so awkward.”
Guy nodded with a chuckle, helping her to lie down, and Marian rolled on her side and closed her eyes. She was very tired too, and despite their unusual closeness, both Guy and Marian fell soon asleep.
Marian woke up shortly after dawn, and for a moment she was alarmed because she wasn’t alone in the bed, then she remembered about the event of the previous day, and she relaxed.
It’s only Guy, she thought, and she rolled on her side to look at him.
The knight was fast asleep, his expression relaxed and somehow innocent, despite the red mark of the cut on his cheek. He was sleeping on his side too, his free hand holding her chained one and cradling it to his chest. She remembered that when she was a child, she used to sleep like that, snuggling a doll in her arms.
Near the fresh wound, she could see a faint little scar near his eye, and she realized with shame that she was the one who had left it when she punched him at the altar, with the ring he had just given to her.
If I had known him better, would I’ve still have run away?
She couldn’t find an answer to that question and she felt immediately guilty.
As soon as she thought of him, she felt guilty for Guy too.
I can’t love one without hurting the other.
But she couldn’t stand to hurt neither of them.
She sighed, and she looked at Guy. He was still wearing the shirt of the day before, until they were chained, he had no way to remove it unless he cut it, and the laces that closed it at the neck were undone, showing a part of the chest of the knight.
Marian blushed a little, but she couldn’t refrain from looking at him.
He is handsome... and I’m a naughty girl.
She stifled a giggle pressing her hand on her lips, but she didn’t avert her eyes. After a while she noticed a dark spot on his skin, near the shoulder, almost completely covered by his shirt. She looked better, and she saw another one on the other shoulder.
Curious, she moved her free hand to move the shirt away from his skin, and she realized that the dark spots were wounds, maybe burns, in the shape of two open hands.
Marian gasped loudly, and Guy woke up with a start. He looked at her, clearly wondering why she was touching his chest.
“Who did this to you?! Was it the sheriff?! Of course it was him, who else could be so cruel?! Guy! How can you let him do this to you?! This… this is torture!”
Gisborne understood that the girl had seen the marks left by the touch of the ghost, and he searched the room with his gaze, finding immediately Sir Edward, who was hovering discreetly in a corner.
Guy gave him a pleading look, as if to ask him what he should say to the girl, but the ghost shook his head, unsure.
“If you tell her the truth, Sir Guy, she might think that you are crazy, but how else could you explain that burns to her?”
Guy glared at the ghost, wishing that he could say him that he wasn’t helping at all, but then he didn’t need to find and explanation anymore, because an arrow entered from the open window, and embedded itself in one of the columns of the bed.
Both Marian and Guy turned with a start, and Sir Edward floated in front of them, as if he could protect his daughter: Robin had climbed through the window and he was pointing another arrow at Guy’s heart.
“I think you will need a very good explanation, Gisborne.”
Chapter 10: His Life
Guy looked at Robin: the outlaw seemed more than ready to shoot at him, and somehow he could understand him. Marian was in his bed, chained to him, wearing only a flimsy chemise, and she was touching his chest through the opening of his shirt.
I am dead.
He looked at Robin with a taunting smirk.
“Why should I give you an explanation? Would you listen to it?”
Marian recovered from her surprise only to give him a reproachful look. She was suddenly annoyed at both of them: Robin was there, his face grave and his eyes full of accusations and clearly unwilling to listen to any explanation, and Guy who reacted taunting and provoking him, instead of trying to talk civilly.
“Guy! Are you stupid or just insane?” She asked, giving him a slap on his forearm, then, still fuming, she lifted her wrist to show the chain to Robin. “Look at this, do you think we are having fun?”
“You were sleeping in his bed!”
“What should have I done? Cut my hand, maybe?”
“Better than to let him bed you! Or maybe you should have cut his hand. Or something else.”
Marian jumped out of the bed, dragging Guy after her, and she ran to Robin, hitting him with a punch on his stomach, then she turned to glare at Gisborne.
“If you only dare to laugh, or just even to smirk, you’ll get one too. The sheriff is enough, I won’t deal with you acting like two rabid dogs fighting over a bone.”
Robin stood up, touching his stomach with his hand.
“How can you defend him?! He chained you!”
“He didn’t! It was the sheriff! Haven’t you read the message I sent you through Matilda?!”
Robin glared at Gisborne.
“He could have forced you to write that. Maybe there was a hidden message and you were asking for help. And from what I see, I was right: you need my help.”
Marian pointed a finger to his chest, now really annoyed.
“Listen very well, both of you: I’m not a helpless maiden, I’m not a bone, and certainly not a prize. You can fight against each other until you are beaten to a pulp, but whoever is the winner, he won’t get me. I have a free will, I’m perfectly able to make choices, and certainly I won’t choose an idiot. In this moment I’m not sure if I want to make a choice.” She turned her back to the two men, and she gave a sharp tug at the chain, making Guy to stumble after her. “Come.”
Robin looked at her in disbelief.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t need help, what I need now is to use the privy. So let me go.”
“With him?!” Robin blurted, in a indignant shock.
Marian turned, with tears of rage in her eyes.
“Do you think I have any alternatives?! Or that I’m having fun at this? What? Do you want to come as well and enjoy the show? Isn’t this humiliating enough?!”
Robin closed his mouth, and looked at Guy, who was keeping mercifully silent. The knight seemed to be intimidated by Marian’s outburst, unwilling to contradict her, and Robin realized that he should better try to please her as well, instead of fighting Guy.
“Actually, I can help,” he said, unsheathing a dagger.
Guy looked at him, worried, but ready to defend himself.
Robin grinned, and he used the tip of the dagger to open the lock of Marian’s manacle.
“Now you don’t need Gisborne.”
The girl gave them a wary look, wondering if she could trust them to remain alone while she went to the privy.
“If when I’m back, you two are fighting, you’ll regret it. Both of you.”
She walked out of the room, and Guy and Robin exchanged a hostile glance.
Guy looked at the dagger, and he wondered if Robin Hood was going to attack him. A part of him wished that he did, so he could have a good excuse to hit him.
He was jealous, he hated Robin because Marian loved him, and still he had preferred to be outlawed and fight for the people than keeping his position as lord of Locksley and taking care of her.
He had everything I could wish for, and he threw it all away.
“Sir Guy, giving up to your rage wouldn’t be wise at all,” the ghost of Sir Edward warned him, floating between him and Robin. “I can understand how strong jealousy can be, but fighting with Robin won’t help Marian. You promised that you would keep her safe.”
Guy looked at him for a moment, then he sighed.
“Very well, what?!” Robin asked, suspicious.
“Hood, show me how you did that.”
“How to open that manacle.”
“Why should I? Don’t you have the key?”
Guy glared at him, but the ghost remembered him to keep calm.
“The sheriff chained us like that because he wanted to punish and humiliate us. If he should see that we opened the chains without his permission, he will surely be angered and he will find another way, a worse way, to punish us. Do you want this for Marian?”
“Of course not, that’s why I’m taking her to the forest with me.”
“And you are so sure that she wants to come...” Guy insinuated.
“Of course she wants to come! She’s one of us!”
“Have you asked her? Have you asked if she really wants to live as an outlaw? In a filthy camp in the forest, always in danger, with no shelter, terrible food, forced to live with a group of stinking outlaws and not even the chance to take a bath! Probably she will come because she loves you, but if that’s what you want for her, probably you don’t love her.”
Robin was taken aback by his word: Gisborne had found out that Marian was in love with him! And yet he didn’t seem to want to take revenge on the girl, and he didn’t even call the guards to arrest him.
Instead he had began berating him on how to treat Marian. Something was amiss, but Robin couldn’t point out what it was.
The worse thing was that Guy’s words were sensible. He wanted to reject them because it was Gisborne who was saying them, but deep inside Robin knew that they sounded right.
“I do love her,” he said defiantly, staring at Guy.
“Well, then prove it.”
“I don’t have to prove anything to you.”
Guy crossed his arms in front of his chest, stubbornly.
“Oh yes, you do. I love her, probably more than you’ll ever will and I will love her forever. I will respect her choices...”
“I have seen very well how you do that: she didn’t want to marry you and you burned her house and arrested her and her father!”
Guy shook his head, sadly.
“I was wrong. I was blinded by anger, but it’s all different now. It doesn’t matter if she will ever love me back, I will always protect her. Maybe I can’t have her, but I can live with it, if I know that she is happy and safe. Can you guarantee this? Can you give her everything she needs? Safety, love, attention?”
“Of course I can!”
“When? Before or after taking care of your poor peasants? Or just when you are not busy risking your neck for a king who doesn’t even care for his people?!”
Robin tightened his grasp on the dagger.
“Don’t even talk about the King, you traitor!”
“I don’t care for the king, I care for Marian! If you really love her, you must choose her over the king, you must choose her over anybody else in the world!”
“Like you choose her over the sheriff? You can say whathever you want, but you let Vaisey to hurt her, you did nothing to stop him! You would never deserve her, she wouldn’t marry you even if you were the last man in England!” Robin retorted, and he got ready to fight, because he was sure that Gisborne was going to attack him. For a moment he saw a flash of blind rage in his eyes, and he was almost scared by Guy’s expression, but then Gisborne just stopped and hung his head in shame.
“I know,” he said, painfully, “that’s why you must be a better man than I could ever be. She just lost her father’s, for God’s sake! She doesn’t need to fight for the good of England, you can’t leave her alone because you have to help the poor. Your men can do it, and many of those peasants doesn’t even deserve or really need your help, by the way.”
“So, what do you suggest, Gisborne? My camp isn’t good enough for her, but being here at the castle, chained to you like a puppy is any better?” Robin asked, with contempt.
“It’s safer, for now. The sheriff will get tired of this soon, and until then you could teach me, or just her, I don’t care, how to open and close these manacles without a key, so we would be chained only when the sheriff could see us. And in the meanwhile you can make arrangements to take her away from Nottingham, in a place where she can live the life she deserves. I can give you my word that she will be as safe with me as if her father would be at her side to watch over her. I swear on my mother’s memory.”
Robin slowly shook his head, an ironic smile on his lips. Gisborne’s behavior, and his words, were strange and worried him, but he couldn’t trust him, not after all his evil deeds.
“Shut up, Gisborne. You have some nerve to swear on the memory of the mother who you killed. It takes a black, ruthless soul to do so, and you can forget that I’ll ever leave Marian in your hands. Do you know, Gisborne? I’ll take her with me now, and you must thank God that I’ll let you live.” Robin grabbed the open manacle dangling from the chain, and he quickly closed it around one of the iron supports for the torches that were embedded in the walls of the room.
Guy couldn’t anticipate Robin’s move, but he reacted after a moment, grabbing the outlaw’s wrist with his free hand.
“You won’t go anywhere, Hood,” he growled, “Now, listen to me.”
Robin lifted his other hand to punch Guy, when suddenly he was no longer alone in his own mind.
He cried, terrified and pained, and he tried to fight that intrusion into his thoughts, but he couldn’t help feeling what Gisborne was feeling, seeing the memories of the knight as if they were his own.
And some were the same memories: the fire, the despair, his voice pleading Guy to do something.
But in Robin’s memories, Guy did nothing, he just stood there, hugging his sister and watching the fire that destroyed their lives.
Now, instead, he could hear Gisborne's voice crying in his mind.
I can’t... I can’t... God, I didn’t want to do it, I swear... I can’t go there, I can’t... Maman… Father…
Robin faltered, and he put his hands on Guy’s shoulders to support himself. Gisborne did the same, in a sort of desperate hug.
The memories were too many, most of them terrible: Guy’s fear when he and his sister had to travel alone, to fend for themselves trying to survive in a world full of dangers, and then a moment of relief when he could arrange a favorable wedding for his sister.
She’s only a child, but she already looks like a woman, it would be dangerous for her to keep living like this… This is a rich man, he will provide for her, she’ll get a good life. And I could earn my lands back...
And then his lonely training to become a knight: the oldest squire of the castle and the less experienced, trained to survive, but inexperencied at interacting with people. Always afraid that he wasn’t good enough.
Until a man came and chose him over all the others: he offered him a job, a home, protection, but, above all, he lifted a burden from his shoulders. Now Guy didn’t have to make difficult choices or to deal with responsibilities too big for him, the noble man who hired him would tell him what to do and he just had to obey his orders, trusting in his wiseness and experience.
For the first time after many years, Guy could allow himself to be just a boy.
He swore his loyalty to the man, he came to love him almost like a father, a strong, stern father who wouldn’t let him down.
It was only later, when his bond with him was too strong, that the man, Vaisey, revealed his true nature, and then it was too late.
Robin wanted to cry. Too much sorrow, the constant fear of being worthless, not good enough, of being alone, the burden of guilt, the effort of forgetting memories too heartbreaking to be recalled, to close them in his heart.
Darkness everywhere, and just a single, flickering star: Marian.
He had always thought that Gisborne wanted to marry her for her beauty and to take her away from him, and maybe in the beginning it had been true, but now he could see how deep was the love that Guy had for her, how he liked everything in her, how he had accepted and forgiven her lies, and how hurt he had been when she rejected him.
And then he knew that Guy hadn’t lied, that he was really ready to sacrifice his own happiness for her.
He would have died for her.
Robin didn’t want to see anything else, he would have preferred to keep thinking that Gisborne was just an enemy, a evil man driven only by greed and ambition, a foe that deserved to be defeated, but he couldn’t stop sharing his thoughts and memories.
He saw himself with the eyes of Guy, he saw flaws that he never imagined he could have, and he was surprised to find out that amidst his hate and jealousy, Gisborne had also some admiration for him, for the courage he had to rebel to the sheriff.
There were disconcerting things, things that he could barely understand. He saw his father in a secret relationship with Guy’s mother, a secret that he had never suspected, and that Guy knew.
And then he saw Sir Edward, the ghost of Sir Edward, talking to Guy, asking him to protect Marian, the terrible cold of his touch, the ghastly fingers leaving marks on his skin.
What was happening now with him, this impossible merging of their minds, already happened to Guy, it wasn’t new for him. With Marian. After a kiss.
A kiss! And she gave him another one!
Robin wanted to hit Guy, but at the same time he couldn’t, he could understand him.
He was him.
At the same time, he knew, Gisborne was in his mind, learning all his feelings, and his more secret and hidden thoughts.
He should have felt violated, but he didn’t. They were even, sharing a whole life in just a few moments.
We can’t be enemies anymore. Not after this.
Then the connection broke suddenly, and Robin was alone in his mind.
He was trembling, still clutching Gisborne’s arms, and leaning his head on his shoulder, trying to catch breath again. Guy was in his same conditions, pale and shocked.
Robin let him go and dropped himself on a chair, feeling to weak to stand. Gisborne couldn’t imitate him, being still chained to the wall, so he just leaned his back on it, closing his eyes with a sigh.
He looked at Guy, trying to decide what to say. Robin had many things to ask him, but he didn’t know how to begin. Surprisingly, it was Guy the first to talk.
“I didn’t want to do it. It was an accident,” ha said in a low voice, and Robin thought that he was referring to what had just happened.
“You’d be crazy to do it on purpose. To see in the hearts of people… It’s painful.”
Guy opened his eyes to look at him.
“It’s true. But I wasn’t talking of this.”
Guy averted his gaze.
“Your father. I didn’t want to kill him, I just wanted him to leave maman in peace. I didn’t want to start the fire, I swear I didn’t. I saw how much you loved him, what I took from you… I am sorry, Hood.”
Robin didn’t expect his words, and he didn’t know what to reply.
“Gisborne, I...” he began, then he stopped with his mouth open, staring at a corner of the room.
Guy followed the direction of his gaze, and then he looked back at him, in awe.
“Can you see him?!”
Robin took a deep breath, staring at the ghost.
“Edward,” he whispered, and the ghost lifted a hand to wave at him.
“It seems you can, now,” Guy said.
“Now?” Robin asked.
“He has been there all the time. Probably you can see him now because you have been in my mind.”
“Marian? Can she...”
Guy shook his head.
“No, she doesn’t know. And I could see her mind, but she couldn’t see mine.”
“You kissed her!” Robin said, indignantly, remembering when their minds merged.
“Actually she kissed me.” Guy replied, with a smirk.
“This isn’t the point, now!” Sir Edward said, stern, and they both turned to him, blushing a little.
“She should know that you are here,” Robin said, looking at Edward.
“Are you volunteering to tell her that you can see the ghost of her dead father? Would you believe that if you couldn’t see him?” Guy objected.
“Shut up, Gisborne, let me think.”
“Could you open this thing while you think?!” Guy snarled, shaking the chain.
Robin glared at him, but he relented, taking the dagger to free him. He was about to pick the lock of the manacle, when Marian came back in the room, followed by Allan.
“What are you doing?!” She cried, enraged, “Are you fighting again?!”
“Told you, it had been foolish to leave those two alone in a room.”
Chapter 11: A Short, Eternal Moment
Robin and Guy exchanged a quick glance before turning their attention to Marian. The girl looked very annoyed and ready to rebuke them.
“We weren’t fighting!” Robin said, trying to look more outraged than guilty.
Surprisingly, Gisborne nodded, agreeing with him.
“He’s right, we weren’t.”
Allan stared at them, surprised, but Marian wasn’t convinced.
“Why did you chain him to the wall, then?” She asked, and Robin couldn’t find a good answer.
“He was teaching me how to pick this lock,” Guy said, with a completely innocent look, “so we can open and close these manacles when we need to, without the sheriff knowing.”
Robin was quick to nod.
“Exactly,” he said, “You shouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions.”
Allan lifted his eyebrows in ironic surprise, while Robin took his dagger to show them how to open and close the lock.
“If you have an hairpin it will work even better.”
“You have a lot of practice with hairpins, don’t you?” Marian asked, and Robin grinned.
“Why, are you jealous?”
Marian glared at him, while Guy blushed a little.
“I have hairpins,” he said, awkwardly, nodding at a little box on the table, “over there. Take one of them.”
The girl walked to the table and opened the box, wondering why Guy should have hairpins in his room. When she opened the lid, she was even more surprised: the box was full of jeweled hairpins, trinkets, brooches, and even a small, feminine dagger, similar to the one she once used to hid in her hair. Like the one that her father used to escape from the dungeons the day he was killed.
That sudden memory hurt her deeply, but she hid her sorrow and grabbed a hairpin, wondering why Guy had so many jewels in his room.
“They were for you,” he said quietly, as if he had guessed her thoughts. “Gifts that I bought for you when we were betrothed, and that I never had the chance to give you. Actually I purchased some of them even after you left me at the altar.”
“Guy...” Marian looked at him, touched by his confession, while Allan was expecting Robin to react to his words attacking Gisborne, and he was ready to separate them in case they should begin to fight, but the outlaw just cleared his throat, even if the expression of his face was grim.
“Do you want me to teach you how to open this lock or do you prefer to stay chained to that wall?” Robin said to Guy, without looking at Marian. “Look what I do, then try yourself.”
After a few attempts, both Guy and Marian succeeded in picking the lock of the manacles.
Robin looked at them, and, for once uncertain of what to do, he glanced at Sir Edward.
The ghost smiled encouragingly at him.
“Robin, now you know that you can trust Gisborne. Please, forget your rivalry for now, and work together to keep Marian safe. Sir Guy, Robin, if you really love her, and I know that you both do, now it’s the time to prove it. Don’t think of your own happiness, but do your best to protect her, to give her the good life she deserves. Do you think you can do this for her?”
The two men looked at each other for a moment. They couldn’t answer to Sir Edward’s question, but they exchanged an imperceptible, although reluctant nod.
“I have to go now, before your useless guards wake up,” Robin said to Guy, “but remember: hurt her and you are dead.”
“I’d never hurt her. Hood, think about what I said. Make your choice.”
Then Robin was gone, and Marian and Allan stared at Guy, confused.
“I’m not sure of what just happened, Giz, but you two didn’t kill each other, so I can be contented.”
“What choice?” Marian asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Guy said, putting the manacles aside, and removing his shirt, “We don’t have much time, the sheriff will expect me to show up at work on time.”
He threw the shirt at Allan.
“Find a clean one identical to this one. They’re there, in that trunk. Marian, I’m afraid that you’ll have to keep your nightgown under the dress, unless you have another identical one, the sheriff mustn’t suspect that we could get free from the chain.”
Marian nodded, thinking that she could search for another one in her room later. She combed her hair while Guy finished washing up, and she looked at the burns on his skin, wondering how he got them. Only the sheriff could be so cruel to inflict wounds like those, even if their shape was so weird.
He must have some strange torture device, she thought, but how could he be so evil to hurt his most loyal man?
She was also curious to know what happened between Guy and Robin while she was away, because she couldn’t believe that Robin went away without any further discussion, just trusting to leave her with Guy.
You will have to give me a few explanations, she thought, looking at Guy, but she had no time to say it aloud, because Guy was ready to begin his work and they had to get chained together again.
She followed Gisborne, who was headed to the sheriff’s chambers at a fast pace, Allan in tow.
Now Guy didn’t look anymore like the kind, caring knight who comforted her, but he was serious, professional, hiding his emotions behind a neutral expression.
Even Allan wasn’t joking as usual, not daring to risk enraging the sheriff.
They entered the sheriff’s room, and Guy stopped a few paces from the door, impassive, while she covered her face with a little cry, and Allan tried not to laugh: Vaisey was lying in a bathtub, completely naked, a satisfied grin on his face.
“You are late Gisborne, what’s up? You didn’t sleep well? Lady Marian, how did you enjoy spending the night with Gizzy? Can we assume that you aren’t a maiden anymore, hm? It was about time I’d say, but you’re lucky, many spinsters never get bedded in their lives.”
“My lord!” Guy exclaimed, horrified, and Vaisey burst out in a laugh.
“Oh, Gisborne, now don’t start blathering about you respecting her, and some other idiocies like that! If you didn’t take advantage of my gift, you’re just a poor idiot. Now stop losing time, and get to work!”
Vaisey stood up, and the other three turned away, disgusted, while a young servant hurried with a towel to dry the sheriff.
“Pat, girl, don’t rub,” he said, irritably, then he wrapped a towel around his waist, “Now you can look, lady leper, you can stop faking to be shy. Or maybe you don’t like what you see? I should be offended, but I won’t because I have no interest in your pretty face. Neither of them.” He turned to Guy. “Gisborne, I expect you to do your job, show me that you are not hindered by your leper friend, or I’ll throw her into the dungeons. We have a free cell, now that the old fart became food for worms.”
Guy glanced at Marian, and he saw her become flushed with rage, but she kept quiet.
“What do you want me to do, my lord?” He asked, in a flat voice.
“Go to Clun, get the taxes, and if they don’t pay burn their houses. You can go, now.”
When they walked out of the sheriff’s room, Allan glanced at the faces of the other two, and decided that he didn’t want to be too close to them, at least for a while.
“Well, Giz, I think I’ll go saddling the horses...” He quickly said, then he hurried away.
Marian walked fast down the corridor, her head low, avoiding the curious glances of the servants, until she reached the door of the closest empty room. Only when she and Guy were alone, she allowed herself to burst out in tears.
“I hate him!” She sobbed. “I wish he was him to die and not my father! He’s a devil, a true devil!”
Guy held her in his arms, feeling guilty and ashamed.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Marian. I wish I could stop him from treating you like that… I wish I had the power to do something.”
Marian looked at him: Guy was really upset, his eyes were darker with rage and sorrow.
She lifted a hand to touch his cheek, with a sigh.
“It’s not your fault.”
“If he dares to hurt you, I’ll kill him,” Guy whispered, then he stopped, a memory suddenly coming to his mind.
The sheriff was kneeling to the floor, his dying sister in his arms, and then Davina said something: “Prince John has made the Sheriff a promise. If my brother should die an unnatural death, then the county of Nottingham and everything in it shall be obliterated.”
Guy frowned, confused. He remembered perfectly well that Vaisey’s sister was already dead when he had arrived, that day.
It’s Hood’s memory! He realized. She told this to Robin. And it must be true…
“No. I can’t kill him,” Guy said. “Nobody can. He has an agreement with Prince John, and Nottingham will be destroyed if he is killed!”
Marian dried her tears, looking at him.
“Then we’ll have to find another way to defeat him, but I guess that for now we must obey. Let’s go to Clun and collect those taxes, if we must.”
Marian wrapped her arms around Guy’s waist, leaning against his back.
He had proposed to ride on the wagon, but she refused and mounted behind him. It had been a little difficult to climb on the horse while chained, but on the wagon they would both have been exposed to the mocking glances of the guards and of the people.
She had already ridden like this when Guy had saved her from lord Winchester, and now, like then, she felt safe with him.
That day he had killed a man for her, he had returned her to the arms of her father…
Her eyes filled with tears remembering how relieved her father had been to see her coming back unharmed.
“Guy?” She called.
The knight turned his head towards her.
“Are you alright? Do you want me to slow down or to stop?”
“No. I want you to go faster. Could you put your horse at a gallop?”
“Are you sure?”
“Hold me tight, then.”
Guy ordered the guards to keep escorting the wagon to Clun, then he kicked the sides of his horse.
Marian fastened her hold on Guy’s waist, and she enjoyed the ride. Guy’s black stallion was fast and powerful, more than any other horse she had previously ridden, and it was the first time that she could experience all his unleashed energy.
The road was straight and clear, and Guy let the horse gallop at his full power, without holding him back.
It was like riding the wind, almost like flying.
Marian closed her eyes and she imagined that the road didn’t lead to Clun, but to some imaginary place, somewhere where there was no misery, no sorrow, no sheriff.
Then, too soon, Guy slowed the horse, and Marian came back to reality. She was breathless, as if she had been the one who galloped, and not the horse. She could feel that Guy was panting too, and suddenly she felt flushed, her heart beating too fast.
The knight turned his head to glance at her, smiling.
“Did you enjoy the ride, my lady?” He asked, his tone unexpectedly playful, and she found herself smiling back to him.
“It was incredible! I loved it!” She answered, surprised to feel tears in her eyes.
Guy gave a worried look at her, and he helped her to dismount.
“A little too much, maybe?” He asked, gently. “Shall we walk for a while?”
Marian nodded, looking around: she could see the huts of Clun at a distance, but the guards and Allan were still far behind, forced to follow the slow pace of the wagon.
Guy took the bridle of the horse with his free hand, and wrapped the other around her fingers. He had removed his glove before taking her hand, and Marian could feel the reassuring warmth of his skin. The chain clinked between them at every step, but she didn’t mind.
She thought that being chained to Guy wasn’t such a terrible punishment, after all.
When he was so kind and caring, she actually liked to be so close to him.
Maybe I like it more than I should.
She felt her cheeks becoming even more hot.
Guy sighed, and Marian noticed that he was looking at the village, sadly.
“Are you alright, Guy?”
“You won’t like what we are going to do. The sheriff sent us to Clun too early, usually their payment is due at the end of the month, they won’t be ready. And if they can’t pay, I’ll be forced to punish them. He knows that, and that’s why he sent us here today.” Guy sighed again, a dejected look in his eyes. “I’m tired of burning homes. So tired. A moment ago I wished that I could just keep galloping and never stop, I wished that I could take you away from this, that we could be free...”
Marian stopped walking, and she suddenly hugged him. She didn’t want to see him so sad and defeated, and she hated the sheriff even more.
“We won’t burn anything, today. We will find a solution, I’m sure that we can.”
Guy held her close, comforted and grateful for her words.
She was right, he thought. He was still feeling upset and confused after sharing Robin Hood’s mind, he felt as if he had lived another life in just a few minutes, but he could see from the memories of the outlaw that there was always a solution. Sometimes it was just difficult to find.
But he had Robin’s memories, so he could as well try to use them.
The outlaw was incredibly good at finding always new ways of tricking him and the sheriff, so maybe Guy could learn from his experience, he could try to think as Robin did.
It could work. I can do it.
“Thank you,” he said quietly, the trace of a smile in his voice, and Marian lifted her face to look at him, and her hand to brush a lock of hair from his cheek, with a gentle caress.
He kissed her, or maybe it was Marian who kissed him, they couldn’t say for sure, and, for a moment, they both forgot about the sheriff and his cruelty. For a moment they were free, miles and miles away from there, still galloping on the wind. Happy.
It was just a short, eternal moment.
Then Allan, the guards and the wagon got closer and reached them. Guy helped Marian to mount again, and the girl hid her face against his back to avoid that the others could notice how flushed she was.
Guy, instead, was more successful in keeping a straight expression, but she could hear his heart beating fast under her hands.
“To Clun,” he ordered, and the others followed his horse.
Chapter 12: The Bright Light in Her Eyes
The inhabitants of Clun were gathered at the center of the village, and they looked at Gisborne and at the guards, worried.
They knew that it was too early for the taxes, but they also knew that they couldn’t do anything if the sheriff had decided that it was time to pay: he had power and they didn’t. But if they weren’t much surprised by the ruthless decisions of the sheriff, they were astonished to see lady Marian at Gisborne’s side, a chain linking their wrists.
“Poor woman, she must be his prisoner. I wonder what he’s going to do to her,” one of the girls of Clun whispered to her neighbor, but the older lady shook her head.
“She doesn’t look like a prisoner. Look, she his holding his hand now, and she smiled to him.”
“But why are they chained?” A third woman asked, and the first one giggled.
“Maybe Gisborne is the prisoner.”
“Shut up, fools!” A elderly lady intervened, her face grim. “You are here gossiping, but we are in danger. Gisborne is the sheriff’s man, you know very well that he’s dangerous.”
The women stopped talking, now afraid.
Gisborne was standing in front of the gathered crowd, his face stern. At his side, Marian was quiet and serious.
“People of Clun! I’m here on behalf of the sheriff and of England itself. The King needs funds for his Holy War, and we are all called to do sacrifices for the Crown. So I’m asking you immediate payment of this month’s taxes.”
An elderly man made a step forward, trembling.
“But Sir Guy, it’s too early. We are not ready.”
“You should be. But I’ll be generous, I’ll give you some time to gather what you need.” Guy nodded at the guards, and two of them carried a big hourglass, placing it on the ground. “You have time until midday, When the sand stops, you’ll have to pay or suffer the consequences of your non compliance.”
Marian gave him a worried glance: now there was no trace of the caring, gentle knight, and Guy looked just like the cruel henchman of the sheriff.
She was afraid that he could really carry on his menaces if he couldn’t find another solution.
No, I have to trust him. He is a good man.
The villagers scattered, going back to their homes to frantically look for a way to pay their taxes.
Guy put an arm around Marian’s waist, with a possessive, sensual gesture, and he pulled her closer, stooping a little to kiss her neck, hungrily.
Marian winced, aghast.
This was a different kind of kiss, not loving or passionate, but just aggressive and unwelcome. She tried to pull away from him, but Guy didn’t let her go.
Around them, the guards sneered and laughed at her reluctance.
“Guy?” She called, uneasy and afraid, as if a harmless puppy had suddenly turned into a ravenous wolf.
Gisborne grinned at the guards.
“I’ll be back for noon. Don’t disturb us,” he said, then he lifted Marian in his arms, and started walking towards the line of trees. The girl tried to get free, but she was still chained to him, and Guy was holding her tight, and she couldn’t move.
“Let me go!” She shrieked. “Guy! What are you doing? Let me go!”
The knight didn’t listen to her, and he carried her far into the forest before stopping and putting her down. As soon as her feet touched the ground, Marian lifted a hand to punch him.
Guy moved to dodge her blow, but he couldn’t avoid it completely: she missed his face, but she hit his shoulder. She tried to hit him again, but this time Guy stopped her hands, grabbing her wrists.
“Wait! Wait! I’m sorry! I have no intentions to hurt you!” He hurried to say. “It was just an act!”
Marian looked at him: now he seemed to be again the same Guy she knew.
“I needed a good excuse to disappear in the forest for a while. If they think…” He hesitated and blushed, averting his eyes from her. “If they think that I’m taking my pleasure with you, they won’t dare to follow us and they won’t ask where we have been. I’m not doing anything like that, of course!”
Marian looked at him, reassured, but still irked.
“What are they going to think? People will believe that you are a beast!”
“They already do. I’m sorry, I didn’t think that I would ruin your reputation, but it was the only idea I had to get away from the village for a while without having to give an explanation to the sheriff. Please, forgive me.”
Marian sighed, Guy seemed to be really sorry and she wondered if he had a plan.
“Do you actually have an idea to save the village?” She asked, and Guy nodded.
“I do. But I need your help.”
“They don’t have money, I’m sure of that, but, if they don’t pay, I’ll have to burn their houses. I can’t show myself pitiful or the sheriff will put you into the dungeons and he will still burn Clun. So, at noon they’ll have to pay.”
“How? You just said that they can’t!”
Guy took a bag he was carrying at his waist, hidden under his cloak, and he gave it to her.
“If they don’t have money, the Nightwatchman will give it to them.”
Marian stared at him, dumbfounded, then she opened the bag and she found a hooded cloak, a mask and men’s clothes similar to the Nightwatchman’s costume.
Guy grinned, pleased to see her surprise.
“I took these clothes with me before leaving the castle because I thought that I could order Allan to wear these and show up, so we’d have to chase him instead of collecting the taxes, but it was too dangerous, and then it wouldn’t solve the problem. When you told me that we could find a solution, I had a better idea. The people of Clun need money, right? I know where to find what we need.”
“I know where Robin Hood hid some of the gold he stole from the sheriff. We’ll go and take it, and the Nightwatchman will deliver it to the inhabitants of the village. You can reach the houses without being seen from the guards, can’t you?”
“Yes… of course I can… But Guy… You can’t rob Robin! And how do you know where he hid his gold?”
“I found out,” Guy said without saying that he had seen it in the outlaw’s memories, “and I won’t be robbing him, let’s say that I’ll help him to redistribute that gold. Isn’t that what he always does? Robbing the rich to give to the poor? Well the people of Clun are poor.”
“We could ask him.”
“Look, there is no time. We have to go and take the gold, then you will take it to Clun and you’ll have to reach me in the forest and we’ll have to get chained together again and go back to the village. And we have to do this before the time is over.”
Guy took an hairpin, and he gave one to Marian, and they both opened their manacles.
The girl glanced at Guy.
“Do you trust me to do this?”
“It will be dangerous, I know. But I know that you can do it.” Guy smiled at her. “I could never catch the Nightwatchman, I expect that my guards can’t do better than me. I told Allan to distract their attention, but you’ll have to be very careful. If they discover you, I’ll come to defend you, but if we are caught, we’ll all be hanged as traitors.”
Marian stared at him, in disbelief.
“Guy, this plan is as crazy as Robin’s ones!”
“You think it will fail...”
The girl took his hands, smiling.
“No, I think it can work! It will work! You found a way to save Clun! Let’s do it!”
Marian ran behind a bush to change her clothes, then she came back and took Guy’s hand.
“Show me where is the gold,” she said, and Guy smiled at her, glancing at their joined hands as they ran deeper in the forest.
“Look, I finally caught the Nightwatchman,” he said, happily, and she laughed, giving a friendly squeeze to his fingers.
“Actually, I caught you.”
“Oh, yes. And I’ve no intention of running away. Not even if you punch me again.”
“You deserved it. You scared me.”
“Sorry. You have a powerful punch, by the way: my shoulder hurts, and I still have the scar of the first one you gave me.”
“I am not going to apologize for that.”
Guy nodded, ashamed. He had burned her house to the ground as a revenge, of course she didn’t have to apologize!
They reached Robin’s hiding place, and Guy looked around, afraid that the outlaw could stop them, but Robin didn’t show up, and he and Marian hurried to fill a bag with gold coins.
Up, hidden in the branches of a tree, Robin Hood looked at Guy and Marian, wondering what they were going to do. Once, he would have intervened, stopping Gisborne, maybe even hitting him with an arrow, but after the incredible experience they had shared, he just couldn’t.
He was still confused, but now he knew that Gisborne was not as evil as he had always thought, and that he really wanted the best for Marian.
Robin had no idea of what they were going to do with his gold, but he didn’t move, choosing to wait and see if he could really trust Gisborne.
Marian and Guy closed the bag, hid again the entrance of the cache, and they ran away in the direction of Clun.
Robin waited for a moment, then he silently followed them.
Marian crept behind a stable, reaching the back of one of the huts. Inside, she could hear the villagers rummaging between their things, hoping to find at least a few coins to give to Gisborne.
She made sure that there were no guards around, and she knocked at the door: when one of the men went out to see who it was, he found a few coins on the threshold, enough to pay the taxes and buy food for the whole family.
The girl smiled, as she moved towards the next house. Every once in a while, she glanced at the guards, to be sure that they couldn’t see her, but Allan was busy giving orders to them on behalf of Guy, and the men had their attention on him. She distributed more coins, growing prouder and happier at each house she visited.
She was taking a big risk, but she was doing something to help people, just like Robin. She knew that Guy was watching her from the undergrowth, ready to help her in case of trouble, but he didn’t try to stop her, or to put her aside. On the contrary, it had been his idea, and he trusted her for that mission, sure that she could do it.
Silently, she moved to the next house.
Guy was watching her, tense and worried, but he didn’t move from his hiding place.
Robin looked at the far figure of the Nightwatchman, horrified.
“Are you insane, Gisborne?!” He blurted, reaching the knight and startling him.
“Hood! For how long have you been watching me?”
“For enough time to say that you are a fool and a coward! You sent her to risk her life!”
Guy shook his head.
“We are trying to save your precious villagers. Isn’t this what you want?”
“Not risking her life!”
“She can do it! She’s the Nightwatchman, she’s perfectly able to fool my guards!”
Robin shook his head.
“She should be safe at the castle. You promised to keep her safe!”
“That’s what I’m doing. If we didn’t collect the tax from Clun, the sheriff would throw her in a cell. Now we are making it possible to get the money of the taxes, as the sheriff wants, without damaging anyone.”
Robin lifted his eyebrows.
“With my money.”
“That’s the sheriff’s money. You robbed him to give it to the poor, we are giving it to the poor, so where’s the problem?”
“The problem is that Marian is risking her life.”
“What’s the alternative? Her joining your gang? How that is a safer choice?”
Sir Edward’s ghost appeared between them, and Robin made a step back, not yet used to see him.
“I’m afraid that Sir Guy is right, Robin. We all know that Marian would be safer in a room at the castle, embroidering, or hidden in your camp, with nothing to do other than cooking and mending the clothes of the outlaws, but that wouldn’t be what she wants. My daughter can be stubborn, willful, even reckless, but I learned, I had to learn, that you can’t close her in a cage, not even a golden one. She would wither, she couldn’t be happy with the life of a common girl. Look, she’s coming back!” The ghost smiled, looking at the girl with love. “Her eyes are filled with joy,” he whispered, then he disappeared.
Robin looked at Marian, coming back with a lively spring in her steps, and at Guy, waiting for her, proud and trusting. He suddenly felt sad, knowing that in Gisborne’s place he’d have stopped her, going to help the people in her place. She would have been safer, he realized, but the light in her eyes would have been lost, faded.
Silently, he stepped back in the bushes, before Marian could see him.
The girl arrived running and laughing at the same time, excited and out of breath. She ran to Guy and she threw her arms around his neck.
“We did it! We really did it! I gave the money to everyone and nobody knew that I was there!”
Guy hugged her, pulling her close, and Marian rested her head on his chest. He brushed her hair with a light kiss, smiling.
“Yes, you did it. I was sure you would. Now hurry, change your clothes, the time is almost over.”
Marian lifted her head to give him a kiss on his cheek, then she grabbed her dress and rushed behind a bush to get changed. She came back a moment later, and she gave the Nightwatchman costume to Guy. The knight hid it under a bush, glancing to the undergrowth behind him, in Robin’s direction.
The outlaw didn’t move, but he understood that Gisborne wanted him to take care of the costume and make it disappear.
Before taking the chain, Guy stopped to look at Marian: she had dressed in a hurry, and she was still trying to fix her dress, tucking and straightening it. He stopped her, then he untied some of the laces of the dress, and he ruffled her hair with a hand.
“What are you doing?”
“They must think that I… Well, it wouldn’t be believable if you weren’t a little disheveled. And me too.” He added, loosening the laces of his shirt, and pulling a part of it out of his breeches.
“Oh. Right...” Marian said, blushing as well.
“Come on, hit me,” Guy said, after a moment.
“What? Why should I?”
“For believability. People wouldn’t believe that you surrendered to me without putting up a fight. Scratch me, give me some bruises, or I’ll have to do it myself.”
“I don’t want to hurt you, Guy.”
“It’s needed, and I’m afraid that I’ll deserve it, later. I’ll have to be rude, to say things that you won’t like. To ruin your reputation… Go on, don’t be afraid, hit me.”
“My reputation is already ruined, after the sheriff made us sleep chained together in the same room, but I see what you mean,” she said, and she slapped him, scratching him with her nails.
“Ow!” Guy touched his cheek, and looked at the blood on his fingers, smirking. “Remember me to never make you angry for real.”
Marian gave him a little kiss, near the scratches.
Guy smiled, closing the manacles around their wrists again.
“Come on, let’s go and collect those taxes.”
Chapter 13: Dust to Dust
Marian turned in bed, still half asleep, and she moved closer to Guy, unconsciously searching for the warmth of his body. They had opened the chain before going to sleep, and the knight had offered her the bed, ready to sleep on the floor, but she had refused.
“Don’t be silly, Guy, it’s still cold at night, and we had already slept in the same bed. I trust you.”
She would always remember the happy, grateful look in his eyes at her words, and how respectfully he had stretched on his side of the bed, careful not to touch her.
Marian opened her eyes to look at him, so peacefully asleep, and smiled, snuggling closer to him.
Guy hugged her, without waking up, protective, and Marian let him, enjoying the safe refuge of his arms.
Maybe it was wrong, sinful, to sleep with a man who wasn’t her husband, but she didn’t feel guilty, in fact she felt safe and reassured. She fell asleep again, and when she woke up, at dawn, Guy was already awake, looking at her.
“Good morning,” he said softly, a smile on his lips.
Marian stifled the sudden impulse of kissing those lips, instead she smiled back to him.
“You have been good yesterday, your plan saved Clun,” she said, and once again she saw that happy light, so unusual in him, brightening his eyes.
“We did it, together. I think I never met a woman as brave as you.”
Marian closed her eyes, leaning her head on his chest. She could hear his heartbeat, and she found herself smiling.
Guy still loved her, she knew that, and she realized that now his love wasn’t so unwelcome as it once was.
She held her breath at this thought.
No, it can’t be... Guy is a friend, I love Robin.
But still, she did nothing to move away from Guy’s hug.
At last, he was him who stirred, reluctantly.
“We must get ready, the sheriff won’t tolerate another delay,” he said, with a sigh, and the girl nodded.
“Do you think that he will agree to remove this chain today? I found another nightgown identical to the first one, but I’d really love to wear something else.”
“Maybe, it depends if he got bored of laughing at us or not. Act as if you got used at being chained to me. He is entertained by our discomfort, if we don’t show it, he’ll get tired.”
“It won’t be too difficult: I got used at being chained to you. It isn’t too terrible, to be honest.”
Guy bent to gently kiss her cheek.
“I don’t mind, either.” He didn’t say that actually he loved being so close to her and that in his heart he hoped that Vaisey wouldn’t free them so soon. “But I wouldn’t dislike being able to bathe and change my clothes freely.”
They hurried to get ready, and then Guy and Marian closed the manacles around their wrists again.
Marian followed Guy, and she noticed how Guy’s expression grew detached as they got nearer to the sheriff’s chambers.
Gisborne entered into Vaisey’s room, dropping on the table the pile of parchment he was carrying.
“Good morning, my lord, I’m sorry to disturb you...” he began in a flat, professional tone, but he stopped talking when he realized that the sheriff wasn’t there. Instead, a stranger was sitting on the sheriff’s chair, with his feet on the table. Guy stared at him for a moment, then he unsheathed his sword, with some difficulty, being chained to Marian.
“Who are you? Where is the sheriff?!”
“I was about to ask you the same question. And I’d be careful with that sword if I were you: you hurt me, you hurt Prince John, I’m his special envoy.”
Marian stared at the man, then she glanced at Guy.
“Is it true? Do you know him?”
The knight shook his head.
“Never seen him before.”
“Well, that’s because I arrive at dawn every other Thursday, share a glass of wine with the Sheriff, he stamps his seal here, I take it to Prince John and the Prince knows that all is well in the provinces. But today all is not well, is it? No sheriff, no stamp... And of course you have no idea what’s happened to him.”
Guy and Marian exchanged a look, then Gisborne answered him.
“Well, you should better find out. If anything happens to the sheriff, Prince John will send an army to raze Nottingham to the ground.”
“We don’t know what happened to the sheriff,” Marian said, but the man grinned unpleasantly.
“He’s not here, that’s enough. I already sent word to the army. They’ll destroy Nottingham at sunset, if the sheriff doesn’t show up.”
“You can’t do it!” Marian exclaimed, horrified, and the man grinned.
“I just did.”
The girl looked at Guy: the knight was shocked and she could see fear in his eyes, but then Guy took heart, and he sprang into action.
“Come,” he said to her, starting to walk out of the room at a fast pace. “Guards! You! Call Allan. And you! Go and send me the jailer in the main hall, immediately! ”
He kept giving orders to all the soldiers they met on their route to the great hall, where Guy eventually stopped.
“Guy? Where do you think the sheriff is now?” She asked, frowning.
“I have no idea. This never happened before. Usually he is in bed at this time of the morning, or, if he’s awake he’s here or in his lodgings, working at his plans.”
“Maybe he went on a trip? To meet some of his allies?”
“He would tell me, he’d ask me to organize everything for him. And even if he wanted to keep the secret from me, he wouldn’t leave the day when Prince John’s envoy is coming. He’s not forgetful, he’d remember that he must put his seal on that tablet.”
Allan came running in the room.
“What’s going on, Giz? The guard said that you wanted to see me. He looked almost frightened, he said that you were terribly upset.”
“The sheriff is missing, and Prince John is going to destroy Nottingham. Form a search team, find out what happened.”
Allan’s eyes widened in surprise, but he didn’t ask any questions and he hurried to obey.
After a while, even the jailer arrived, and Gisborne gave a stern look at the man.
“Open these manacles.”
The jailer gave a sly grin at him, unwilling to comply.
“The sheriff ordered to keep you chained together.”
“The sheriff isn’t here now, so I’m in charge. Open these locks immediately or I’ll have you flogged!”
This time the man was startled by Guy’s tone, and he understood that it would have been better to obey. He took his keys and finally set Guy and Marian free.
Guy threw the chain at him, with contempt.
“Take your things and go back to the dungeons.”
The jailer was just gone, when Allan came back with a young, frightened servant. The girl had been working in the stables early in the morning, before dawn, and she had seen the sheriff taking his horse. He had ordered her to open the gate, and she had obeyed, even if she was surprised because he was wearing only his night clothes.
Gisborne let the girl go back to her duties, and he turned to Allan.
“Take the guards and search the castle and the town, check every house, every corner… even the wells and the ponds.” He took a deep breath before looking at Marian. “Call Hood,” he said, lowering his tone, “he knows the forest perfectly, he can surely find the sheriff.”
Both Allan and Marian went away, the former taking all the guards with him, and Guy remained alone in the hall.
He wearily sat on the sheriff’s chair, and sighed.
“Sir Edward?” He called, and the ghost appeared in front of him. “I need your help. Do you know where is the sheriff?”
“I don’t. I was watching over Marian, tonight.”
“You were watching us sleep? Were you afraid that I could hurt her?”
“Don’t be offended, Sir Guy, I know that Marian can trust you, but I’m still a father, I find unsettling to see my daughter sleeping with a man… and a man who loves and wants her so deeply as you do.”
Gisborne looked at the ghost, wondering what Sir Edward had seen in his mind during the night, and hoping that his thoughts hadn’t been too embarrassing.
“Now there’s a more urgent matter: we have to find the sheriff or the whole town will be in danger. Can you do… something to locate him?”
“I can try.”
Sir Edward disappeared, and Guy covered his face with the hands, trying to calm down.
He was terrified, afraid that the responsibility of the destruction of Nottingham would fall on his shoulders, another burden to carry, another fault on his soul…
I’m not good enough to save the town… I’ll fail again.
Vaisey always repeated to him that he should always follow his orders because he wasn’t smart enough to make his own plans, that he was only good to do what he was told and no more.
Was it true? Was he really always destined to fail?
He thought of Marian, of the first words she had whispered to him in the morning: “You have been good, your plan saved Clun.”
She had been happy, proud of him, and, thinking of her, Guy felt his fear lessening.
He was doing everything he could to find the sheriff, he had moved immediately and he had sent the guards in a thorough search, he wasn’t doing bad, he just had to keep calm.
Sir Edward appeared near the sheriff, and he watched Vaisey walking barefoot into the forest. The sheriff stepped on a thorn, and he cried, holding his foot, and Edward grinned.
“Well deserved,” he said, even if Vaisey couldn’t hear him.
At the same time, a large man approached, staring at the sheriff.
“I’ve been watching you, you have been sleepwalking.”
The sheriff looked at him, surprised, and the other touched his clothes, fingering the smooth fabric.
Vaisey glared at him.
“I am the sheriff of Nottingham! I do not sleepwalk. And you will take me to Nottingham.”
The other tugged at Vaisey’s night clothes, a greedy look in his eyes, then he knelt him in the groin, to rob him. Vaisey cried in pain, and he fell onto his back, while the mugger came closer, determined to take his silk clothes. The sheriff bit his hand, and the robber howled in pain: when Vaisey opened his mouth, his jeweled tooth was embedded in the man’s wrist.
The sheriff grinned, expecting the mugger to run away, but the man unsheathed a dagger and buried it in Vaisey’s chest.
The sheriff stared at it for a moment, in disbelief, then he coughed and his mouth filled with blood. He fell back to the ground, and died, staring at the sky.
The murderer pulled the sheriff’s tooth out his own wrist, and the dagger out the sheriff’s body, then, slowly, he began undressing the corpse, paying attention to keep the silk clean from blood.
Sir Edward looked at the scene, astonished. He had seen the darkness in the robber’s heart, but he didn’t expect him to kill the sheriff, nor that Vaisey could be caught by surprise.
Edward realized the meaning of what he had just seen: he had no love for the sheriff, and he thought that Vaisey deserved to die, but now there was no way to save Nottingham.
“I have to warn Sir Guy...” He said to himself, and he vanished.
Guy followed Prince John’s envoy, Sir Jasper, and Marian reached them both, a little out of breath.
Gisborne gave her a questioning glance and the girl nodded, meaning that she had sent her message to Robin Hood. Guy was relieved to know it, even if he wondered why Sir Edward was taking so long.
He was a ghost, he should have been able to find people! At least, he seemed to know perfectly where he and Marian were all the time, appearing suddenly to check if his daughter was safe with Guy.
But until he had news of the sheriff, either from Robin or from the ghost, Guy had to try anything he could think to keep Nottingham safe. He had learned from bitter experience that it was always better not to expect help from the others.
“Sir Jasper, I hope that we can come to a sort of understanding. We are all working to find the sheriff.”
The other man looked at him.
“You’re not doing a very good job, are you?”
“We just need some more time, but I’m sure that we’ll find him.”
“Time? You have till sunset. I can’t make any exception for you or every other ambitious young captain will murder his sheriff hoping to get away with it.”
“Guy didn’t kill the sheriff!”
“I didn’t kill the sheriff!” Guy and Marian said at the same time, and Jasper just stared at them, not convinced at all.
Gisborne sighed, trying another kind of approach.
“Look, I could make you a very rich man...”
Jasper stopped in front of a window, and he turned to Guy, looking at him with amused contempt.
“Do you think that my ambition is to be a messenger forever? No, Sir Guy. If Nottingham will be razed to ground, it will have to be rebuilt, and the royal charter for reconstruction has been licensed to my cousin. You can’t offer me anything more than what I’m already going to get.”
Marian stomped her foot to the floor.
“This isn’t right! You can’t destroy Nottingham!” She cried, while Guy looked at Jasper, pale and grave.
“You really are going to do this, aren’t you?”
“Sure. Come sunset, no sheriff, no Nottingham.”
With this, Sir Jasper went, leaving Guy and Marian in front of the window.
“He can’t do this! It’s wrong!” The girls shook her head, on the verge of tears.
Guy kept staring outside, and Marian realized that he was scared. She stopped complaining, and she walked at his side, taking his hand. Guy turned to look at her for a moment, grateful, then he went back to stare at something in the distance.
Marian tried to understand what was fascinating him so much, but she could only see what seemed a cloud of smoke.
“What is it? A fire?”
“It’s Prince John’s army. When many man are moving, they kick up a lot of dust. This must be a great army...”