Chapter 1: Freedom
Allan was sitting on the doorstep and he looked at the sea: it was blue and so bright that it looked unreal, almost dreamlike, completely different from the dark and stormy sea that he saw when they had left England.
The ship took them to the shores of Italy, not too far from Rome, he thought, but he wasn’t sure because he couldn’t understand the local language and Guy had been far too sick to be able to talk with people.
Luckily, silver was an universal language and Allan had been able to find a place to stay, food, and servants strong enough to carry a stretcher and to lift Guy and put him in a real bed.
Allan stretched his back and he got to his feet, turning to glance at the house. It was small, just a single room and the kitchen, and it probably belonged to some fisherman, but it was clean and apart from the other houses of the village. It was surrounded by low wall made of stone, and shadowed by orange and lemon trees. On one side, a gentle slope took to a sandy beach.
Allan walked to one of the trees and he picked a few oranges, then he went back inside the house.
“Giz? Are you awake?” Allan called, receiving no answer.
He put the oranges in a basket on the table and he walked to the bed.
Gisborne was still asleep, too pale and with dark circles under his eyes. Allan tried to shake him awake, but Guy moaned and wrapped himself into the blanket, shivering.
Allan was beginning to be worried for him. When they were on the ship Allan had been seasick too, but, after feeding the fishes for a few times, he got used to the movements of the ship and he felt better. Guy, instead, got worse every day, until Allan had to take the decision to disembark.
He had thought that once they were on solid ground, Gisborne would immediately feel better, but a whole day had passed and he was still sick.
Allan decided to let him sleep while he took a knife and cut the oranges in half. He squeezed them in a mug, filtering the juice with a clean cloth to remove the seeds, then he went back to the bed and he put a hand on Guy’s shoulder.
“Giz? Come on, wake up, now.”
Gisborne opened his eyes.
“What do you want? Go away,” he said in a hoarse whisper, and Allan shook his head.
“No, Giz, you must drink something or you won’t feel any better.”
“I can’t. My stomach hurts. If I’m going to be sick again, I’ll die.”
“Aren’t you exaggerating a little, now? But you’ll be fine, trust me.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because we’re not on the ship anymore. You can’t be seasick without the sea, don’t you think?”
Guy looked around, confused.
“What? Where are we?”
“Somewhere in Italy I guess. Can’t speak the language. I need you alive and well to talk with people, so drink this.”
Allan helped him to sit and Guy looked at the orange juice, worried.
The terrible nausea that had tortured him since the ship left the English coast had subsided, but he was still feeling miserable: he was so weak that Allan had to put some pillows behind his back to support him, his head was aching, and he felt like he had a fever.
Guy took a tentative sip at the juice and waited, afraid that he would throw up again, but it didn’t happen. The juice was good and he was terribly thirsty, so he slowly drank it all.
“Better?” Allan asked.
“Told you so. Now rest, I’ll go and get some more of these.” Allan held a orange in his hand. “One of the sailors told me that you had to keep drinking even if you were feeling sick. I tried to give you water or wine, but you couldn’t keep it down. That’s why I decided to disembark: I was afraid you were going to die.”
“It felt like I was dying,” Guy said, with a sigh “I can’t believe I’ve been such a wimp.”
“It could have happened to anyone.”
“But it happened to me,” Guy said, grimly.
Allan looked at him.
“This wasn’t the first time you traveled on ship, was it? You’ve been to Holy Land.”
“Yes. And so?”
“Well, if you knew that you suffer from seasickness, why did you chose to travel by sea?”
Guy closed his eyes, tired.
“Last time it hadn’t been like this. It was bearable. And I wanted to get away from England as fast as possible.”
“Well, you survived and now we are on solid ground.”
“Good to know,” Guy said, with a little smile, then he allowed himself to drift into sleep again.
Allan went outside to pick up more oranges, now reassured to see that Gisborne was feeling a little better.
Allan was resting his back against the wall of the house, his arms crossed behind his head, enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon sun on his face and the fresh smell of the breeze.
He heard the sound of steps approaching and he opened his eyes in time to see Guy dropping on the bench, near him.
“Oh, you got up,” Allan said and Guy nodded. He was still pale, but he didn’t look ill anymore.
“I feel better. But I’m tired and weak,” Guy said with a sigh.
“Well, you’ve been very sick, but you’ll be fine. Just be patient for a few days.”
“Nice way to begin our travel… Really heroic...” Guy grumbled.
“Maybe not a brilliant start, I agree, but just look around, Giz.”
Guy stared at the little house, at the trees, at the sea and then he turned back to Allan.
“What? There’s nothing around.”
“Exactly. There’s no one around. Nobody who can give you orders, nobody who can play with your feelings, nobody who demands to rule our lives. We’re alone, Giz, and we’re free.”
It was true, Guy realized, and he shuddered.
In his whole life, he’d never been completely free and he couldn’t understand if he was feeling more elated or terrified. Probably both at the same time.
He sat in silence near Allan, staring at the sea, thinking that everything he knew was so far away, now.
Marian was far away, and the distance tore at his heart, but deep inside he knew that she had never been really close to him, not even when they were standing side to side.
She was lost to him and he had to accept it, but he doubted he could ever forget her.
On the other side, the sheriff was very far too, and he couldn’t ruin their life anymore. This thought alone was enough to brighten the day.
“You are right,” Guy said after a while “we’re free.”
“What are we going to do?”
Guy closed his eyes, letting the warm sun of May bathing his face.
“For now, we might just enjoy this freedom.”
“No plans at all, uh?”
“Actually, I have one.”
“Will you enlighten me or it’s a secret?”
Guy turned to look at him.
“There won’t be any secrets between us. You gave up everything to follow me, we’re equals now.”
Allan glanced at him, with a surprised smile.
“Hey, you’ve been really sick, didn’t you? This is not the Guy of Gisborne I know.”
“Maybe it’s the Nightwatchman who is talking now.”
“Well, what are we going to do when you get better?”
Guy looked around.
“I think we could use part of the sheriff’s gold to buy some lands. We can’t travel with so much money and we need a place where we can keep our belongings and hide the rest of the gold.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me. Do you think we could buy this place? I like it, it’s peaceful.”
“Why not? This house is small, but it could be a good thing. Who could suspect that there is a treasure buried under the floor of a fisherman’s house?”
“Well, so we are going to buy this place and hide our money. And then what?”
“Then we could go to Rome.”
“Why not? We can go wherever we like.”
Allan looked at him and grinned.
“Do you know, Giz? Freedom suits you.”
Guy stood up and he gave a pensive look to the sea.
He wasn’t really sure that Allan was right, but he had chosen to be free and now freedom was all he had, so he might as well try to make the best of it.
But first he had to recover.
“What’s for dinner? I’m hungry.”
“Hungry, uh? I’m glad to ear that. Yesterday you looked like you were half dead. Come inside, we have some cheese, bread and olives.”
Allan walked into the house and Guy waited for a moment before following him. He gave a last glance at the sea and he thought that he actually felt half dead. Losing Marian broke his heart and he doubted that he could ever be really happy without her.
“But I’m free,” he whispered “now I’m free.”
Guy didn’t know if it could be enough, but for now freedom was the only thing he had.
That and the money of the sheriff.
Guy grinned, wishing that he could have seen Vaisey’s face when he found out that his strong room was empty, then he turned his back at the sea and reached Allan inside.
Chapter 2: Trust is a Precious Gift
Allan looked around, as excited as a child at a fair.
The market of the village wasn’t big, but it was a place so far from home, and all the items he saw on the stalls looked different and new to him.
“Hey Giz, look at that fabric! I’ve never seen those patterns and its colors are so bright. You’d look nice wearing it.”
Guy stared at Allan, rising an eyebrow.
“Come on, Giz, you can’t always wear black!”
“Why not? I like my clothes. And we need horses, not new clothes.”
“Horses and food.”
Guy nodded, searching for the horse trader.
“Could you teach me a few phrases in the local language? I spotted a few nice girls near that tavern. I wouldn’t mind getting to know better one of them.”
Guy sneered at him.
“I’m sure you’ll succeed even without my help.”
“Come on, Giz, don’t be mean. If I knew at least a few words of their language, it would be easier.”
“It surely would be easier if I knew it as well.”
Allan stared at him.
“What do you mean?”
“I can speak French and some Latin, that’s it. I told you, Allan, we’re equals. In this too.”
“Are you telling me that you have no idea of what those people are saying?”
“Not the slightest.”
“Why did you decide to take a ship to Italy if you don’t know how to talk with the locals? We could have gone to France, instead.”
“No. Not France. I won’t go back there,” Guy said, somberly. He noticed that Allan was giving him a questioning stare and he answered with a little apologetic smile. “I wanted to see Rome, that’s all. Don’t worry for the language, we’ll manage somehow.”
Allan frowned for a moment, then he thought that Guy was right, they would find a way to communicate with people.
“Well, let’s see if you are right. There’s the horse trader: try to buy the horses we need.”
They looked at the horses and, after examining some of them, Guy scratched a white one between its ears.
“It seems that this one is the best. And the bay one over there isn’t bad, either.”
“A white horse? Are you really going to buy a white horse?”
“Is it so strange?”
“No, actually it isn’t, but I’m used to see you on a black stallion. The black knight on a black horse...”
“You wanted me to buy brighter clothes, earlier. Well, I’m going to buy a brighter horse, you should be happy.”
Allan grinned and went to look at the bay horse, while Guy kept caressing the muzzle of the white one, a little absent-mindedly. He was thinking of his old horse, the black stallion he rode when he worked for the sheriff and he wondered if his new owner would treat him well.
When he thought of his old life in Nottingham, he only missed Marian and his horse. The absence of the girl was like a hole in his soul, raw and sore and Guy doubted that it could ever heal; he could just hope that he’d get used to that pain and learn to ignore it.
He was sorry that he had to leave his horse behind, but he was glad he didn’t force him to endure that horrible travel on a ship. He had been tempted to take the horse with him, but he knew that horses suffered when they were forced to travel by sea and Guy didn’t want his stallion to undergo that misery.
The black stallion had been a good mount, the best one he owned in his life and Guy used to spend time in the stables grooming him whenever he needed to relax after a difficult day at the castle.
Guy missed him, but he didn’t miss the sheriff at all, or Robin Hood and all the humiliation he had inflicted to him.
The white mare snorted on his hand, searching for a treat and Guy smiled, feeling that she would be a good horse too, then he glanced at the trader and hoped that he would be able to bargain even if he didn’t know the language. He had to succeed or Allan would mock him forever.
“So, do you still think that not knowing the local language can be a problem?” Guy asked, kicking the horse’s flanks to made her go faster. The mare was a strong and steady mount and Guy wanted to test her speed too.
They were on the beach near their house and Gisborne made the white mare to gallop on the soft sand of the shore. Her hooves hit the shallow water of the sea, splashing it all around Guy in a cloud of spray. Allan looked at the droplets that shone like diamonds in the red light of sunset, and for a moment he thought that he had never seen Gisborne looking so carefree and relaxed, almost happy.
He was clearly satisfied of his new horse and he was enjoying the excitement of that race. There were no obstacles on the sand and the ground was soft. There, the horses could run at full speed without any danger and Allan hoped it was a good omen for their new life.
“Hey Giz, wait for me!” Allan shouted, then he kicked the flanks of his horse too, trying to reach Guy.
When they stopped, to let the horses rest, Gisborne dismounted and he patted the neck of the mare, smiling.
“I chose well, don’t you think?”
“You’re right Giz. I think I agree with all the choices you made recently. I like this place.”
“We won’t stay for long.”
“I know. But if you buy these lands, I’ll know that we have a place where we can go back if everything else fails. A sort of home.”
Guy’s smile faded.
“Do you have a family, Allan?”
The young man sat on the sand and fixed his eyes on the waves so he didn’t have to look at Guy.
“I had a brother.”
“Had? What happened?”
Allan glanced at Guy. It was unusual for Gisborne to care for other people, but he looked sincerely concerned.
“The sheriff hanged him.”
“Oh.” Guy averted his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Allan was about to say that it wasn’t his fault, but he stopped.
Actually it was.
Guy worked for the sheriff when they hanged Tom, maybe he had been the one who gave the order to proceed with the execution…
They sat in silence for a while, then Allan sighed. It was pointless to blame Gisborne for that. He couldn’t disobey an order from the sheriff and he had no reason to spare the life of his brother, to him, Tom was just an outlaw who deserved his punishment.
“What about your family?”
Guy hesitated for a moment before answering.
“Don’t have one.”
Allan had the impression that Guy was keeping back something, but he didn’t ask.
Instead, he touched the hilt of his sword.
“Will you train me?”
“Giz, here we can’t rely on the guards you had at the castle. They were incompetent, it’s true, but there were many of them. In this place we are alone. We must learn to fight together if we want to survive. I can hold a sword and thrust it against the enemy, but nobody ever taught me how to use it properly. In exchange I can teach you how to pick a lock and a few tricks you can use to earn money in a tavern.”
“Why should I learn how to scam people?”
“Well, Giz, you can never know. You could need it someday.”
“Who told you that I can’t do it already?”
Allan burst out in a laugh.
“You got me for a moment, Giz! I almost believed you. Come on, you’re a noble, how could you know the tricks used by people who live on the streets?”
Guy looked at him for a moment, very serious, as if he was about to say something, then he just scoffed, shaking his head.
“I arrested many of your kind. I learned a thing or two from them.”
Allan gave an uneasy glance at him, he didn’t really want to know how Gisborne came to know those tricks from the outlaws he arrested.
Guy said that they were equals, now, and maybe he really meant it, but Allan knew that it wasn’t true yet. He knew that Gisborne wasn’t bad after all, or he wouldn’t have followed him, but sometimes it was hard to forget the things he did for the sheriff.
“So, mate, will you teach me how to fight with a sword?” Allan asked, in a light tone and Guy nodded.
“I could use some practice too. I still have to regain my strength after being sick.”
Allan gave him a cocky grin.
“Don’t worry Giz, I won’t be too hard on you.”
“Do you really think you can beat me? I’ve been sick, not dead.”
“We’ll see. Don’t underestimate me, you might regret it.”
“As you said, we’ll see. Tomorrow.” Guy got to his feet, stifling a yawn. He was tired after spending the whole day at the market, and he realized that maybe Allan’s cheeky boasting wasn’t too far-fetched. His sickness left him weak and exhausted and he was still recovering, but he was feeling better everyday and surely some training would help him to get completely well again.
They went back to the little house and Guy went to bed immediately, curling on a side and sinking into a deep sleep.
Allan, instead wasn’t sleepy at all and he sat by the fire, slowly drinking a cup of the wine they bought at the market. It was strong and good, better than the one he sometimes stole at the castle.
He glanced at Guy, watching him sleep and he wondered when the knight began to trust him so much. Probably on the ship, Allan guessed, when he was so sick that he had no choice.
When they lived at Locksley or at the castle, Gisborne would have never gone to sleep like that, leaving the sword in a corner of the room and without a dagger under his pillow.
I could cut his throat and he wouldn’t notice.
Allan shuddered at the thought. When he had just began working for Guy, he had been often tempted to rebel and go back to Robin’s gang. When he understood that he could never return to his old life, he secretly blamed Gisborne for that and sometimes he imagined to kill him, to get a revenge for being forced to work for him.
Eventually he came to know him better and he understood that there was a good side of him that he couldn’t show, but it was only when Gisborne came to him, asking his help to rob Vaisey and flee, that Allan realized that Guy considered him a friend.
And now they were there, in a place so far from home and it would take only a moment to Allan to kill Guy in his sleep and to keep all the gold for himself.
Nobody would knew, nobody would ever accuse him if Gisborne disappeared.
Nobody would care.
Allan put down the empty cup and he walked towards Guy’s bed. The knight was sleeping peacefully, his dark hair ruffled and falling on his eyes, his arms hugging a pillow and the face relaxed in a innocent expression, like a slumbering child.
It would only take a moment.
Allan picked up a blanket from the floor and he put it back on Guy’s bed, then he undressed and he lied on his own bed.
Trust was a precious gift, he thought, and he wouldn’t betray it.
“Good night, my friend,” he whispered, closing his eyes.