Chapter 1: Death
Robin woke up feeling a fresh hand on his forehead, and he pried his eyes open.
“Be quiet, Robin. Stay down.”
It was Djaq voice, and her somber tone filled him with a sense of dread. He sat up abruptly, ignoring the throbbing pain in his head.
Suddenly, he remembered.
“The sheriff! Where is the sheriff?! We must take him to Nottingham before it’s razed to the ground!”
Djaq didn’t answer, and no one of the outlaws did. Little John and Much were sitting on the ground, their heads bowed.
“Don’t be still! Come on, we have to go!”
Djaq turned her eyes to something that was lying near the entrance of the camp, covered by a blanket.
“It’s too late,” she said “the sheriff is dead.”
Robin looked at the body, stunned.
“He tried to kill you. He failed, but he made you fall and you hit your head on a rock. John seized him, but suddenly he turned gray in the face and he died. A heart attack, I think.”
Robin staggered to his feet and he looked at the pink sky he glimpsed through the canopy of trees.
“We must go. Take his body, we can explain that it was a natural death. Hurry, it’s already sunset, but we may stop them in time!”
Djaq grabbed his arm and Robin could see the tears in her eyes.
“It’s too late,” she repeated for the second time “this is no sunset… It’s dawn.”
Robin looked at her with horror.
“You have been unconscious all night, Robin.”
He faltered, fighting the urge to retch.
“Nottingham?” he managed to ask.
Much burst up into sobs.
“Master, there was nothing we could do! You were wounded and Djaq was afraid that your skull was damaged! There was a whole army and we were only three! What could we do?!”
“I walked there during the night,” John said, with a sigh “I only was halfway and I could already see the fires. Nottingham has been destroyed.”
Marian! Marian was there!
Robin walked unsteadily to the line of trees, his mind whirling around that single thought: the town had been destroyed and Marian was dead!
It was too much. His body rejected the idea that she could have died, but his mind kept showing all too vivid images of her possible death: her slender body slaughtered by soldiers, burning with the fires that consumed the town, her dress and her hair aflame and her ivory flesh charred to the bone…
He couldn’t stand it. Robin dropped to his knees and threw up.
They walked through the ruins with no hope in their hearts.
The army went away leaving just desolation.
Robin tried to soothe his sorrow, thinking that at least they didn’t burn the villages and hang all the peasants as the sheriff once said they would, but the town of Nottingham was completely destroyed.
The few survivors already left the town, seeking refuge in the villages and only some of them still wandered between the ruins, dazed, as if they couldn’t believe that their houses and families existed no more.
The castle was still standing, but it had been ravaged. Its entrance was open and black like the orbits of a skull, and the mangled bodies of several guards lied on the stairs and in the corridors.
Robin, Djaq and Little John entered the castle, horrified.
They had no hopes to find someone still alive, but suddenly they heard the sound of footsteps and Robin drew his sword, fearing that some of Prince John’s soldier stood behind to loot the castle.
They turned a corner and they saw a man cowering in terror into a corner: he was shaking and he covered his face with bloody hands, but Djaq recognized him.
“Allan!” she rushed to his side, but the young man was deeply shocked and he cried in fear.
Djaq whispered soothing words to him, in a reassuring voice and after a while he calmed down a little, enough to recognize them and answer their questions.
“Marian… Will… Have you seen them?”
Allan sobbed, his blue eyes brimming with tears.
“Dead. They are all dead. I am alive because Giz sent me to search for more weapons in the cellars... I was down there when they broke into the castle…” he burst out in louder sobs “I hid behind a stack of barrels and I didn’t have the courage to go back upstairs. I’m a coward and they are all dead!”
The other three looked at him, shocked, what was left of their hope completely destroyed by his words. Djaq was openly crying now, thinking that she would never see Will again, but she put an arm around Allan’s shoulders to comfort him.
“You couldn’t have saved them even if you did. Not against an army...”
Robin looked at him. Allan was a traitor, but he couldn’t help pitying him, now.
“Djaq is right, you couldn’t. Come with us, now. Maybe there are other survivors and we can help them. But first I need to find Marian, do you know where she was?”
Allan nodded and he lead them to the great hall.
The large room was full of bodies, the wooden floor darkened by blood, and for a moment Robin was afraid to enter.
He took a deep breath and he forced himself to step over a dead peasant. He took a look from the balcony and he almost threw up again: dozens and dozens of women and children had gathered there, hoping to find a shelter, but they were all dead. They were lying to the ground, amassed to the far end of the room where they had found their death. Between them and the stairs, there were the bodies of the men who had tried to defend them with every weapon they could muster. On the floor there were the bodies of many of Prince John’s men too and Robin felt a grim satisfaction in seeing them.
Then he saw them: the tall and dark figure of Gisborne and a glimpse of Marian’s turquoise dress.
They were lying together at the foot of the stairs and the slender frame of the girl was under Gisborne, cradled in his arms as if he had tried to shield her with his body in a desperate attempt to protect her.
But Robin could see her face and he knew that the black knight had failed: her eyes were open and she was staring at the ceiling with a lifeless look.
As soon as he saw her, he lost every hope. He had seen that blank stare too often and he knew that she was really dead.
He stifled a sob and he ran to her. He just wanted to hold her in his arms, to hug his beloved for a last time.
His first instinct would have been to push away Gisborne’s body, longing only to hold Marian in his arms as soon as possible, but he didn’t.
He had hated Guy of Gisborne, but now he found some respect for him: he had defended the people in the hall, Robin could clearly understand that he did because there were bodies of the enemy soldiers fallen all around him, and he tried to save Marian even when everything was lost.
Robin envied him: he wanted to be the one who died at her side, holding her tight.
Gently, Robin turned Gisborne on his back, then he took Marian’s body and he held her, crying all his tears.
Little John and Much stood in the middle of the room, slowly shaking their heads, in disbelief. Allan, standing near them, wasn’t sobbing anymore, but his face was still wet with tears. Djaq and Robin were both kneeling on the floor, mourning their beloved ones.
After a while, Allan made a few steps and he bent to collect a sword, its blade broken and bloodied.
John gave him a questioning look and Allan looked at Guy.
“It was his sword,” he whispered.
He felt sad for Gisborne too. Nobody would care that he was dead, no one would mourn and weep on his tomb, but Allan knew that Guy could be a decent man when he was away from the sheriff.
He died heroically and he deserved to be honored, Allan decided, walking to his body.
He knelt near Gisborne, trying to be as silent as possible to respect Robin’s sorrow, and he placed the sword on his chest. He wanted to arrange his body to make him look like the knight he once saw sculpted on a tomb, to cancel the indignity of death and to make Guy look solemn, so he took his arms to cross them over the sword. Then he lifted a hand to brush away a lock of hair from Guy’s face and he froze as he felt a weak breath on his wrist.
At first Allan thought that he must have been wrong, but he put his hand near Gisborne’s mouth, to be sure, and he gasped loudly.
“Hey!” he called, and Robin and Djaq turned to look at him, while John gave him a disapproving look.
“Have respect for their mourning,” he chided, but Allan didn’t listen to him.
“I don’t want to be funny, but I think that Giz is still alive!”
Chapter 2: Life
Robin was sitting in front of the fire, his face buried in the hands and he didn’t move when Djaq went to sit near him. She dropped herself on a boulder with a weary sigh, staring at the flames.
“Is he alive?” Robin asked after a while, in a flat tone.
“Is he going to die?”
“I don’t know. I stitched all the wounds, but only Allah knows if he’s strong enough to live.”
“It isn’t fair,” Much said, tears in his voice, “Marian, Will, and all that poor people are dead, while Gisborne survived! It is not fair! God should take him and give the others back to us!”
“It’s not fair, but it’s how it is!” Robin said, sharply, a dark gleam in his eyes “So shut up, Much!”
Robin stood up and he walked away, disappearing in the forest.
“Master, wait!” Much was about to follow him, but Djaq took his hand.
“No, Much. Leave him alone.”
“But… but he’s suffering! I have to help him!”
Djaq gave him a doleful look.
“We are all suffering, Much.”
Much blushed, remembering that she had just lost the man she loved.
“If you really are, help me, there’s much to do. John went to find some herbs, could you cook something for us and make some broth?”
Much glanced at the curtain that shielded the bunk were Gisborne was sleeping.
“For him?” He asked, with contempt. “That black hearted demon doesn’t deserve your care.”
“He may be evil, but he’s a human being and he’s very ill. He’s suffering a great pain and when he’ll wake up it will be much worse. If I can help him somehow, I will. Even if he’s our enemy.”
“You are a good woman, Djaq.” Much sighed, a little ashamed. “I’ll cook for that scoundrel too, if you think that’s the right thing to do.”
Djaq gave him a sad smile.
“Thank you, Much.”
Much began rummaging in the pantry to find something to cook and some meat to prepare a broth, and Djaq picked up a blanket as she walked towards the bunks.
She quickly checked Gisborne’s conditions, then she went to sit near Allan, handing him the blanket. The young man was sitting on his old bunk, hugging his knees, and he was shaking.
“Much is going to cook a meal for us,” she said, gently.
“Not hungry. I doubt I’ll ever be again.”
Allan looked at Gisborne: the black knight was deeply asleep and he was as pale as a ghost. He was lying on his side because most of his wounds were on his back. Guy’s face was half hidden by his hair, and a lock moved slightly with his breath. Allan thought that it was the only sign that Gisborne was still alive and he couldn’t stop looking at it, afraid that it could stay still.
“Try to sleep, you’ll feel better.”
“Another thing I don’t think I’ll be able to do anytime soon.”
“I had never seen something like that… I was hiding, but even down there I could hear the screams… And when I got out… They were all dead! All that blood! I… I...”
Djaq took his hand as he burst out in sobs again and she slowly caressed it, to soothe his anguish.
“You’re safe now. Nobody will hurt you.”
“But they are not safe! They are dead!” Allan shook his head, looking at Guy “And Giz… He might be as well as dead… Even if he survives his wounds, Marian’s death will destroy him! Maybe it would be better for him if he died with the others...”
“But you don’t want him to die...”
Allan shook his head again.
“He’s not that bad.”
“Would you help me in taking care of him? He’s a tall man, and he’s too heavy for me. I don’t want to trouble Robin, now, and the others hate Gisborne.”
Allan got to his feet and went near Guy’s bunk to look at him.
“Do you really think he can survive?”
“His wounds are serious and he’s very weak, but they are not lethal. Someone hit him with a sword, but the ribcage stopped the blade and it didn’t pierce his heart or his lungs. His arm is broken and I think many of his ribs are cracked, but the real dangers are the fever and the loss of blood.”
Allan touched Guy’s hand and he felt his fingers twitching under his touch. He thought that he really didn’t want him to die.
“I’ll help,” he said to Djaq “just tell me what I have to do.”
Robin lingered near the entrance of the camp, wondering if he could help any other people before going back for the night. He sighed: he knew that he did everything he could and even more, but he didn’t want to stop.
With rest, he would have time to think and his thoughts were too dark since that night. He missed Marian, her absence was a hole in his heart, a crack that could never be closed and that let the darkness in.
If she were at his side, he would still be suffering for the destruction of Nottingham, but she would support him, she would soothe his sorrow, but without her…
Without her it was unbearable.
Every time he saw the ruins of Nottingham, Robin felt the sharp stab of guilt: the inhabitants of the town relied on him and he let them down. He had failed and they were all dead.
Helping the few survivors and the poor of the villages was his only consolation.
He didn’t want to go back to the camp. There, his friends looked at him with a sorry look in their eyes and they were always hesitant when they talked to him, as if they were afraid to hurt him.
Sometimes Robin wanted to yell at them, to say that they couldn’t hurt him more because his whole existence was already a horrible, sorrowful hell. He was so full of rage that he was afraid that he could snap and lash at them with all the spite he felt for himself.
He often thought that he should just go away: he cold see himself taking his horse, choosing a direction and never going back again.
Robin sighed and he forced himself to enter the camp. He felt guilty for those thoughts: his friends cared for him, they were worried for his sorrow, and they wanted to help. They suffered losses too and they were grieving, but they also wanted him to feel better, it wasn’t right for Robin to be angry at them, but sometimes he couldn’t help.
He sat near the fire, shivering, and Much gave him a bowl of soup, while Little John handed him a warm blanket. Robin nodded to thank them and he forced himself to eat.
Marian will never eat anymore.
She won’t taste the horrible soup cooked by Much or the sweet cherries that she loved so much.
She will never ride her horse anymore.
Her lips will never tremble under a kiss.
She will never marry...
Robin forced himself to banish those thoughts from his mind. If he lingered on them any longer, he would lose his sanity, if he still had one.
He heard a pained moan coming from the bunks and Djaq hurried in that direction. Robin put aside his meal and stared at the flame.
That, he thought, was another reason for staying away from the camp.
Gisborne, his enemy, the traitor who attempted at the life of the king and who almost killed him, was alive, he had survived the attack, while Marian was dead.
With all the good people who could have lived and didn’t, why Gisborne? How could it be right?
Dozens of innocent women and children died and he was alive.
Guy howled again, in agony, and Robin sighed.
Somehow he couldn’t help feeling guilty for that, too. He hated to admit it, but Gisborne was another victim of his failure.
They had an agreement and he had told Guy that he would find the sheriff and save Nottingham. He also teased him, forcing him to put aside his pride and humbly ask for his help.
A help that didn’t come.
Djaq came back and she resumed her meal. Now Gisborne was silent and Robin couldn’t help glancing in the direction of the bunks. The girl followed his eyes.
“A nightmare,” she explained “I gave him a remedy to ease the pain and to make him sleep. His wounds are healing, but I have to keep him sedated or he will tear the stitches.”
Robin curtly nodded. He didn’t want to talk about Gisborne.
He wanted him to die.
He wanted him to live.
Robin wasn’t sure what he wished for. He was bitterly jealous of him because he had something Robin could never have: he had been with Marian in the last moments of her life. Robin wondered if she had been scared, if she understood that she was about to die or if, instead, she fought to the last, refusing to surrender.
Gisborne knew the answers to his questions, but Robin thought that he would never ask him.
And if he did, he couldn’t know if Guy would tell.
Some days he was tempted to shake Gisborne awake and force him to tell about that night and then, just a little while after thinking that, he was afraid to know.
“Are you sure it isn’t too soon? What if he isn’t ready?”
Allan looked at Guy, concerned.
Djaq patted the young man on the shoulder.
“Ready or not, it’s time for him to wake up. He needs to eat properly and he can’t if he is asleep. Now that his wounds are almost healed he must get up from bed or he won’t regain his strength. I didn’t give him the remedy tonight, he must be ready to wake up, now.”
She took a wet towel and she used it to sponge Guy’s face and Allan saw the eyelids of the knight flickering while he was slowly regaining consciousness.
I wonder if Giz remembers the night of the siege... If he knows that she’s dead...
Eventually Gisborne opened his eyes and Allan saw a heartbreaking grief in them: he knew.
Guy looked at the saracen woman, puzzled, then he saw Allan and he talked to him.
“Marian...” he whispered, his voice low and hoarse, “She’s not here… She’s not with us...”
Allan looked at him, sorry to see his distress.
“No, she’s not here. She’s gone...”
“I know. She’s gone to Heaven. It’s right… It’s where she belongs…” Guy sighed, sorrowful, “I’m sorry, Allan, I’m really sorry, forgive me...”
“What for, Giz?”
Guy gave a little, empty, laugh.
“What for? You’re stuck in Hell with me and it’s all my fault...”
Allan stared at him, aghast, then he took Gisborne’s hand.
“Do you think we are dead?!”
“No Giz, we’re alive! We both survived.”
Guy stared at him, until he realized that Allan wasn’t joking.
“No!” he cried, in horror “No, I can’t be alive! I’ve been killed!”
Djaq put a hand on his shoulder.
“No, Gisborne,” she said, softly, “you have been wounded, but you will live.”
“No! No! No!” Guy shouted, panicking, “It’s not true! I’m dead! I must be dead!”
“Calm down, don’t be afraid. Believe me, you’re alive.”
“No. It’s impossible.”
Djaq caressed his hair, gently.
Guy’s eyes welled with tears.
“She was in my arms when she died… I know it’s true because I looked into her empty eyes… But I must be dead too, because if I’m alive it would mean that I am alive in a world where she is dead and that’s impossible! Without her… without her there’s nothing but ash!” he weakly shook his head, in denial “Allan… Allan, please. Tell me I’m dead! I beg you… Let me be dead...”
“He’s scary!” Much whispered, a jumpy edge in his voice “He’s just sitting there all day, doing nothing at all. It’s like he’s a living dead, or a ghost!”
Little John glanced at Gisborne: the black knight was standing aloof and he didn’t move at all. He was just sitting on a log, too far away from the fire to feel its warmth and he stared at the distant flames with a hollow look in his eyes.
“Him, I do not like. He might be a danger for us all.”
“His behavior is not so different from Robin’s,” Allan intervened “when he’s at the camp he just sits in a corner and he doesn’t even look at us.”
Djaq shook her head, taking a bowl of soup from the hands of Much.
“They are both grieving,” she said, with a sigh.
“Robin helps the poor!” John said “Gisborne does nothing at all.”
“Maybe that’s because Giz has been dreadfully wounded and he’s still ailing, don’t you think?”
“He wouldn’t help the poor even if he was perfectly well,” Much answered, miffed. “And why should he mourn for Marian? She was Robin’s betrothed!”
“Giz loved her! He almost died to protect her!”
“Please stop!” Djaq said, and the three men were surprised to see tears in her eyes “We don’t need to fight over this! It’s not a competition to establish who is suffering more! We all had our losses! We are all grieving! Robin accepted Gisborne in our camp, so he’s one of us, now.”
“He can’t be one of us!” Much exclaimed, outraged. “He doesn’t even want to be one of us!”
“It doesn’t matter. He’s here, now and he needs help. You don’t have to speak to him if you don’t want to, but I will.”
“And I’ll help. Listen, lads, I know that you hate him and that you probably hate me too, but just let him be. He’s not a menace or a danger, now, so leave him alone, we’ll take care of him.”
Much and John begrudgingly agreed and they sat in silence, eating their soup.
When she was finished, Djaq filled another bowl with the soup and she took it to Guy.
He didn’t look at her, until she placed the bowl in his good hand.
“Not hungry,” he said, quietly.
“Eat it anyways.”
Guy didn’t move.
“I should go away.”
“You were fighting because of me.”
“Oh, did you hear?”
He gave her a sad smile.
“I’m dead inside, not deaf.”
“You are not dead. But you won’t recover if you starve yourself.”
“Maybe I don’t want to recover, don’t you think?!” Guy said, angrily, and Djaq thought that his rage was better than apathy.
“Well, you should want it. Do you think Marian would like to see you like that?!”
Guy jumped to his feet, dropping the bowl to the ground.
“Don’t say her name!” he shouted, trembling, and Djaq looked at him. She had only wanted to shake him from his numbness, but suddenly she felt enraged too.
“Why?! Do you think you were the only one who loved her? The only one who can grieve for her?! She would be ashamed of you now! You are alive and you want to die when so many lose their lives and had no choice?! If your death could bring back even one of them, I’d tell you to die if you really want it so much, but it’s impossible! It would just be another useless death and we already had enough of that! You are alive, so you have to accept it and go on living! You are alive and you will stay alive, I won’t give you any choice about it.”
She put both her hands on Guy’s chest and she pushed him away.
Guy looked at her, shocked by her outburst. Since he woke up, the girl had always been gentle and caring, and she tried to do her best to soothe his sorrow and to ease his pain, he didn’t expect to see so much rage in her eyes.
Suddenly, she covered her face with her hands and she began to cry, sobbing loudly, like a little child.
Guy glanced at the other members of the gang and noticed that Little John was looking at him with hatred, and he stood up, as if he was ready to reach them and hit Guy, but Allan was talking to the big man, blocking his way. Much was glaring at him, too, but he didn’t move from his seat and Guy understood that he had to deal with Djaq alone.
He didn’t like to see her weeping, especially when he knew that it was his fault. The saracen girl and Allan were the only ones who had been gentle to him, even if he couldn’t understand why.
Her tears made him feel ashamed and guilty, and for a moment Guy forgot his sorrow, he just wanted to comfort her.
Only, he didn’t know how to do it. He wasn’t used to apologize and he just wasn’t good at being gentle. He could remember the last time he tried to comfort a woman: it had been when Marian’s father was killed and it didn’t go well. His awkward words drew her away from him and she ran away from the castle.
He would never forget the warmth of Marian’s body when he hugged her to soothe her sorrow and to think that now she was dead and cold almost made him cry too. He forced back his tears: he knew that he would weep later, in the middle of the night, when he would be alone in his bunk, but he couldn’t do it now, in front of Djaq.
“Stop it, woman!” he said, harshly “I’ll eat that stupid soup if it’s so important for you, but stop bawling, alright?!”
She kept sobbing, unable to stop, and Guy gingerly touched her shoulder with his good hand, but he didn’t know what to say.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed after a while, touching Guy’s hand with her own “I’m so sorry…”
Guy sighed and he drew her nearer, a little awkwardly because his left arm was still in a sling.
“No. I am sorry,” he quietly said “Forgive me, I can’t think straight.”
Djaq nodded and she pressed her face on his chest, still weeping.
“I miss Will so much…” she confessed quietly “I’m a hypocrite. I tell you that you have to be strong, to keep on living, but I just want to have him back. I just want him back.”
Guy closed his eyes to stop his own tears from falling, and he held her close.
“I know,” he whispered “I know.”
Allan woke up with a start. He was supposed to keep an eye on Gisborne, but he had fallen asleep.
At first he didn’t worry: Guy’s health had improved and, apart from his arm, his wounds didn’t bother him much. He was able to stand and to walk on his own and he didn’t need Allan’s help anymore.
When he noticed that Guy’s bunks was empty, Allan just supposed that he got up to relieve himself. He knew that Djaq told him to keep an eye on him, but Giz was better and he was sleepy. He yawned and he decided that he would close his eyes for a little while and then, if Giz didn’t come back in the meanwhile, he’d go to see if he needed his aid.
When he woke up again, it was late in the morning and he was alone. Allan got up, hungry, and went to the pantry to see if there was anything left for breakfast. He found some leftovers from the previous day and he helped himself, then he went to sit near the fire. He was finishing his meal when the others came back to the camp.
Little John and Much were carrying two buckets of water each, Robin went back to the camp a short while later holding two dead hares.
He gave them to Much, then he went to sit near the fire, without speaking. The others didn’t talk to him and Robin just sat down, staring at the flames.
Djaq was the last one to arrive, a bundle of herbs in her hands.
She looked around, frowning.
“Allan, wake Guy, please. I need to check his arm, I think it’s healing too slowly and I made a salve that could help him.”
Allan stared at her.
“Giz is not sleeping. He’s not at the camp, either. I thought he was with you.”
“You thought?! You had to watch him!”
“I fell asleep. I was tired, it can happen, and it isn’t like he needs my help anymore. I mean, he can walk and all.”
Djaq shook her head.
“When did you see him last?”
“At dinner, I think.” Much said. “Now that I think about it, it was weird: for once he ate with appetite. He also thanked me after he finished and he said that it was good. It was the longest speech I heard from him since he came to the camp.”
Allan got to his feet and he hurried to check the bunks. He came back shortly after, pale and worried.
“It seems he didn’t sleep there tonight! The blanket was neatly folded and the sheets were cold!”
“He went away...” Djaq shuddered, suddenly afraid. She ran to check the wooden box where she kept some of her remedies and she gave a muffled cry when she noticed that the lock was broken.
The outlaws reached her.
“Did he steal from you?” John asked “I knew that we couldn’t trust him.”
“How ungrateful! We saved him and he robbed us! I’ll have to check my stuff, see if something is missing!” Much was shaking his head, disgusted.
“Come on, lads. We are outlaws, after all, what is a little theft between friends?” Allan said uneasily, trying to defend Gisborne. “And he’s confused, he’ll be back. If he really took something, he’ll give it back, I’m sure...”
They began to argue, each speaking at the same time, and only Robin kept silent.
He stared at Djaq, his face deadly somber.
“What did he take?”
The girl shook her head in despair.
“Poison. The deadliest I had.”
Chapter 3: Survivors
Robin tied the horse to a tree and he walked into the glade. There, under a magnificent oak there was a grave, covered in flowers.
Robin was alone and he was surprised to see that Gisborne wasn’t there. He had been sure to find him there, on the grave of Marian.
He knew that he should have resumed his search for him immediately, but he couldn’t go away without lingering near the grave for a moment.
“I’m trying, Marian… I’m really trying to save him. I thought he was here, I was so sure that he’d want to be near you if he’s going to use that poison...”
He closed his eyes and for a moment he could see her in his mind, as if she was still alive. Marian rolled her eyes and looked at him.
How could he come on my grave if no one told him where it is?
Robin opened his eyes with a start.
It was true: nobody told Gisborne that she had been buried in the forest, nobody showed him the path to her grave…
Hurry, then. Go and save him.
“How? I don’t know where he is.”
The memory of Marian, that sort of ghost living in his mind, smiled knowingly.
Oh, I think you do.
“It’s all my fault,” Allan said, striding through the forest. Djaq had almost to run so she wasn’t left behind.
“No, it’s not.”
“Who’s the one who fell asleep instead of keeping an eye on him?”
“You couldn’t have imagined that. He’s been so quiet, lately.”
“I should have.” Allan stopped and turned to look at Djaq. “Listen, I’ve lived at his side for enough time to know him a little. You and the others might think that he’s heartless and evil, but that’s not true. I know he did horrible things, but he doesn’t enjoy being cruel. He was loyal to the sheriff, even when his orders took a toll on him. I slept in the servants’ quarters at Locksley and still, after a bad day, I could hear him screaming in the middle of the night because he kept having horrible nightmares. Marian was the only light in his life, the only person who could make him smile. Once the sheriff had been cruel to him, humiliating him in front of everyone because he couldn’t capture Robin and later that night he told me that Marian was the only thing that made his life at the castle bearable. I think he was a little drunk that night, but it was true. He loved her and now that she’s dead he doesn’t have anything to live for.”
“I see. He has another side that he doesn’t show.”
“He couldn’t. The sheriff would punish him if he let humanity be an obstacle for his work.” Allan sighed, then he looked again at Djaq. “That poison he stole… There is an antidote for it?”
“No. But I have some herbs that can be used to empty the stomach. If we are quick enough, he could survive.”
“I don’t want him to die. I know that he’s… he’s… well, he’s Gisborne and you all hate him, but he’s also a friend, sort of.”
“Let’s find him soon, then.”
Robin hid behind the charred ruins of a house while a group of builders on a wagon passed and turned the corner. He looked at them with hate: they were the workers sent to rebuild the town and they were all happy of its destruction because now they could earn a lot. If they were people from Nottingham, at least they could compensate the loss of their houses with their wages, but the builders all came from London and they were hired by Sir Jasper.
The inhabitants of Nottingham were forbidden to work to rebuild the city, in fact they had to pay special taxes to pay the builders.
Robin was tempted to rob those workers to help the poor, but he didn’t: finding Gisborne was more urgent.
He reached the castle. It was deserted, as the builders had begun working in another part of the town and there was only a single guard watching the gate.
Robin knew how to enter without being seen and, after a little while, he was walking in the empty corridors.
The bodies had been removed, but Robin had the sense that time had stopped at the moment of the siege. It felt like he was surrounded by the souls of all the people who died there during that horrible night.
Robin stopped to take a deep breath: his heart was pounding in his chest, and for a moment he just wanted to forget Gisborne, run away from there and go back to the camp.
He knew he couldn’t but he couldn’t help feeling afraid.
What if he’s already dead? A little voice in his mind asked.
“He won’t have the courage.” Robin whispered to himself.
How can you know? He has nothing to lose.
Robin entered the great hall and he looked down from the balcony. He had been right: Gisborne was there, at the foot of the stairs and he was lying to the ground, completely still.
Robin shivered: that scene looked dreadfully similar to the other one, to the one he would never forget. He almost could see Marian’s turquoise dress, the blank gaze of her eyes…
He’s dead. He’s dead.
Robin slowly stepped downstairs. He felt sick and he didn’t want to go down there, he didn’t want to see that blank stare in Gisborne’s eyes too.
But I must.
He knelt beside Guy and for a while he could only stare at him. He was in the same position of the other time, only there was no Marian cradled in his arms, and, mercifully, his eyes were closed, no blank gaze staring at Robin.
Robin shuddered in seeing the congealed blood on the floor. Whoever had removed the bodies, didn’t bother to clean up and the wooden floor was permanently stained with blood. He could still smell it and the stench was enough to make him want to throw up.
He swallowed and forced himself to focus his mind on Gisborne.
He had failed him, just like he let the whole Nottingham down, so he now had to at least give a decent burial to his body.
Robin put a hand on his neck to be sure that he was really dead.
Guy woke up with a cry of terror and Robin echoed it as he jumped back, landing on the floor with his backside.
Gisborne tried to get up, ready to defend himself, but when he recognized Robin, he just sat on the floor, staring at him.
“Hood! What are you doing here?!”
Robin shook his head, dumbstruck and it took him a while to catch his breath.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were dead!”
Guy put his good hand on the floor. He wasn’t wearing his gloves and he touched the bloodied wood.
“She died here. In this very point. This is her blood… There’s my blood too, but that is not important.”
Robin looked at the bloodstain and for a moment he was tempted to punch Gisborne just because he was touching it. Because his blood dared to mix with hers.
She was mine! You have no rights to put your hand on her blood!
He realized that those weren’t normal thoughts and he forced them out of his mind.
Guy was still looking at the stain.
“I came here to find the courage,” he said, not looking at Robin “I needed to feel her presence near me before I could do it.”
“Did you use the poison?”
Guy gave him a surprised look, then he weakly shook his head.
“You shouldn’t. Give it to me.”
“No. It’s the only thing I can do.”
They both got to their feet and Robin looked at Gisborne, ready to attack him and take the vial of poison away from him.
“I won’t let you.”
Guy glared at him.
“Don’t even try, Hood.”
Normally, Gisborne would have been stronger than Robin if it came to hand-to-hand combat, but now Robin knew that Guy was still weak after being injured and he was sure that he could force him to give him the poison. He pounced on him and after a short fight, he succeeded in blocking Guy against a wall. Robin spotted the small pouch that was tied to Guy’s belt and he grabbed it, taking it away with a tug.
He checked that it was the vial of poison, then he let Guy go.
Gisborne leaned against the wall, cradling his broken arm in pain, and Robin felt a twinge of remorse.
“Give it back to me!” Guy’s voice was thick with rage and tears “I don’t care if you think it’s wrong, it’s only my choice to do it! You have no right to stop me!”
Robin shook his head.
“I won’t let you kill yourself, Gisborne.”
Guy looked at him, with a start.
“Too many people have already died because I failed. I won’t have your blood on my conscience.” He paused, with a sigh. “Hers is enough.”
Guy closed his eyes, resting his head against the wall.
“I am not going to kill myself,” he said, wearily “I confess that I considered taking my life. Many times... Without her, I can’t see a reason to live: there’s no light, no hope, just pain. A few nights ago I stole a knife from one of your friends, can’t remember his name, the annoying one who does the cooking. I wanted to die, to put an end to my misery, but when I tried, I found out that I couldn’t. I could almost hear her voice telling me to stop. Maybe I’m insane, but I believe that she would want me to live.”
Robin stared at him and he realized that he wasn’t lying.
“What were you going to do with that poison?”
Gisborne walked to a window and he looked out. Robin reached him and Guy pointed at a group of men, standing near a house that was being rebuilt.
“I want revenge,” Guy said and Robin thought that he had never seen him so menacing and dangerous “See that man over there? He’s that damned Jasper and he is the one who has her blood on his hands! I tried to persuade him to spare the town, I even bribed him to buy more time, while Marian begged him to let us evacuate the town, to save at least the women and the children...” Guy abruptly turned away from the window and he kicked a chair that had strangely remained intact even when the rest of the furniture had been destroyed or burned during the siege. “He refused! He ordered that the town was destroyed and he killed everyone! Everyone! And do you know why, Hood?! Can you imagine the reason for all this death?! His cousin will rebuild the town and he’ll become rich! Marian is dead because of his greed! But he will die! He will die by my hand and you won’t stop me, Hood! You won’t stop me! I don’t care if this is another death, I’ll kill him!”
Robin looked at Guy: the black knight was shivering and wheezing and he looked like he was about to fall to the ground.
“How?” Robin asked.
Guy gave him a surprised look. He had expected him to object, to say that he shouldn’t take a life, but instead he just asked how he was planning to do it.
“I can’t use a bow and I’m too weak to fight with a sword. I’ll poison the knife I stole and then I’ll hit him by surprise. I won’t need strength or the use of my right arm: a scratch and he’s done for.”
“And you’ll be killed too.”
“I don’t care. Now give me back the poison.” Gisborne looked at him. “Please.”
“I can’t allow this.”
Guy hung his head in despair and Robin noticed that he was clutching his broken arm too tightly, digging his fingers into the flesh and that he had turned very pale.
He grabbed his wrist, forcing him to open his hand.
“What are you doing?! Are you insane?! Now I see why Djaq says that your arm isn’t healing as it should! If you squeeze it like that you’ll hurt yourself!”
Gisborne let out a sob and Robin saw his eyes brimming with tears.
“Who cares? I’m useless. This is useless.” He tried to hit his arm again, but Robin didn’t let him go. “It deserves all the pain it can get! I deserve this pain!”
Robin looked at him, almost fascinated by his sorrow. Guy of Gisborne was openly voicing the very feelings that Robin was locking inside his heart.
The guilt, the empty hollow in his soul, Marian absence, the hopeless desperation… They were all there, in front of his eyes like in a mirror.
“Why?” he asked, hoarsely, choked by his own withheld tears “Why you deserve to suffer?”
“This useless arm… It couldn’t stop the blow… If it was stronger, if I was stronger, she would be alive! But it broke and the sword hit her… I couldn’t save her! She’s dead! The only love of my life and she’s dead!”
“She was my love!” Robin yelled and he shook Gisborne, suddenly furious. “We were betrothed!She was mine!”
“No! It can’t be! There was something between us! She would have loved me, in time!”
Guy freed his hand from Robin’s hold and he grabbed his neck and the two of them began fighting.
Almost immediately, Robin punched Guy and the black knight fell to the ground with a grunt of pain. Robin was immediately on him and he grabbed his arms, ready to lift him and slam his head on the already bloodied floor.
When he grabbed Guy’s broken arm, Gisborne yelped and Robin froze.
What are we doing?
They were fighting over a woman they both loved.
A woman who was dead and lost to both of them.
A woman whose absence broke both their hearts.
He let Gisborne go and Guy curled on his side, cradling his arm and silently weeping.
Robin touched his face, finding tears there too, and he remembered a time of many years ago, when they both had cried for the same sorrow in front of a burning house.
That time, Guy and his sister were left alone, cast out in a hostile world without any help or support.
Robin knelt near Guy and he gingerly put a hand on his shoulder, expecting him to brush it away, but Gisborne didn’t move and Robin slowly helped him to his feet.
“I miss her,” Guy whispered, forlorn, “I miss her so much...”
“I know. Me too,” he said, then, impulsively, he held him close, not sure if he was trying to give comfort to Guy or if he was hoping to ease his own sorrow.
Amazingly, Gisborne didn’t push him away, he just stood there, quietly, as they both wept for Marian.
After a while, Robin stepped back and he turned, brushing his face with a hand, ashamed for that moment of weakness.
“Don’t tell anyone.” Guy’s voice was a low growl an Robin turned to face him. He knew that Gisborne was embarrassed because he was too, but he gave him a wry grin.
“If I tell, you can tell too. Trust me, Gisborne, I won’t speak about it as long as you keep your mouth shut.”
“Sounds fair to me.”
“For once we agree.”
He glanced at Guy: he looked miserable, pale and tearful, but now he was a little calmer.
“Are you in pain? Do you think you can walk? Run, maybe?”
Guy touched his arm and winced.
“It hurts like hell, but my legs are fine. Why?”
Robin was standing near the window, looking at Jasper. He took an arrow, then he opened the vial of poison and he dipped its point in it. He nocked the arrow and he looked at Guy.
“Put your hand on mine, we’ll draw the bow together.”
Gisborne understood what he wanted to do, and he looked at Robin, amazed.
“He killed Marian,” Robin said “and a lot of innocent people. If she is dead, it’s his fault.”
Guy nodded, as he placed his fingers on Robin’s hand.
They shot the arrow and watched it piercing Sir Jasper’s shoulder.
“We missed his heart!” Guy said, and Robin smiled at him.
“You should know by now: I never miss. What were you saying about that poison? A scratch and he’s done for?”
Guy looked at him and he shuddered when he understood what Robin meant.
“We did it... We had our revenge...”
“Of course we did. Now come, let’s go away before they realize that we are here.”
Allan took a basket full of food from the wagon and he handed it to Djaq and she smiled at him as she took it, her fingers lingering on Allan’s for a moment longer, before she began handing the food to the poor.
When the wagon was empty, they went back to the camp in silence, enjoying the walk. When they were almost at the secret door, Allan took a deep breath and he took Djaq’s hand. She didn’t withdraw it and they entered the camp together, both their hearts beating a little faster.
The others were sitting around the fire and they all turned to look at Djaq and Allan.
Guy grinned as he outstretched a hand in front of Robin’s face, his palm up.
“I won, Hood, now pay.”
Robin chuckled as he handed a coin to Guy.
“What does that mean, lads? What did you win, Giz?”
“A bet. Robin said that you wouldn’t express your feelings before Christmas.”
“What?! Are you betting on us?”
“Yep. Did you kiss her already?”
Much grinned and he looked at Gisborne.
“So I won too,” he said, elated, taking the coin from Guy’s hand.
Djaq laughed heartily, then she threw her arms at Allan’s and she kissed him.
“Ah!” Guy said, snatching the coin back and Much looked at Djaq, miffed.
“That’s not fair!” He complained.
“Cheer up, Much, I caught a couple of hares earlier,” Little John said, smiling at him “I am roasting them, we’ll have a good meal today.”
“No squirrels today, then?”Guy asked “That’s a relief.”
“I don’t cook squirrels! And of course I won’t cook for you anymore, you black-hearted scoundrel!” Much stomped away, offended.
Guy knelt near the grave and he picked up a fallen leaf.
He stood there for a while, looking at the snow that covered the simple marble cross, with her name carved on it.
“It’s so pure,” he said, feeling that Robin was there even without looking at him “like she was.”
Robin walked to the other side of the grave.
“It’s three years already… Can you believe it?”
“Sometimes I think that I only need to turn the corner of a street to bump into her, that she’s still here, just a few steps away. Some other days she’s so far… Like a dream from another life...”
“I still miss her.”
“I think we always will.” Gisborne brushed the cross with his fingers. “Do you think she would be proud of us? Of me?”
“I think she is, Guy. We are all glad you decided to join our gang three years ago. You are one of us.” Robin grinned at him “Come now, I heard that the wagon with the taxes for prince John is going to travel on the Great North Road today. Are you ready?”
“I always am.”
“Good, then. Let’s go.”
They both turned to gave a last glance at the grave, smiling sadly at it, then they walked away.