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Surviving a Bloodbath

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Chapter 1

Death of Robin Hood

Robin Hood was utterly, truly, and completely dead. Robin lay on the green grass on the clearing in the depths of Sherwood Forest. There were several white lilies clasped in Robin’s arms; it was Much’s idea to bury his best friend with lilies, Robin's favorite flowers. The outlaws planned to bury Robin in Sherwood, which he called his home in the past three years since his return from the Crusade and where he had spent a great many carefree days in his childhood and youth.

The outlaws stood near the lifeless and motionless body of their leader, their faces grim. They were shocked by the events of the day, not wishing to believe that Robin had died in the siege of Nottingham. It had been supposed to be the happiest day in their lives because Sheriff Vaisey and Isabella of Gisborne had finally been defeated and Vaisey's huge army of hired mercenaries had been buried under the ruins of the destroyed castle. However, everything had gone terribly wrong.

The outcome of the siege was disastrous for Robin Hood's gang. Allan had been tied up in the camp as he had been again suspected of having betrayed the gang; he hadn’t helped bring their enemies down. Allan's death had been ridiculous and meaningless, but Robin's death somehow had overshadowed Allan's. During the battle in the secret tunnel, Robin had been wounded by Isabella's poison-tipped dagger and then had died a heroic death.

Playing a fatherly figure, Little John wrapped his arms around Kate who was sobbing almost violently and uncontrollably, grieving the loss of her first love – Robin Hood. Kate couldn't believe that Robin had left her without saying her at least once, at least before his death, that he loved her. Robin told her that she was brave and beautiful, and then he walked away to die alone in the forest. It was beyond comprehension why Robin didn’t want to die with her by his side.

Tuck tried to encourage the outlaws not to give up and be strong. He said that Robin Hood was a legend and a spirit of England and that Robin’s spirit would live forever, long after they all would die. Tuck preached that Robin Hood was immortal because a legend could never die. The churchman reminded the outlaws that Robin himself had asked them to continue helping the poor and fighting against tyranny and oppression in Robin Hood's name and in the memory of Robin.

Much was absolutely heartbroken. Robin was everything to Much: Much loved and worshiped Robin with all his heart. Robin was not only Much's former master but also his brother and his best friend. It didn't matter that Robin hadn't always treated Much as his equal, though he made Much a free man in gratitude for the services in the Holy Land and had granted him Bonchurch. It didn't matter that Robin's superior, callous attitude often hurt Much’s tender heart. Much wanted Robin to see the day of King Richard’s return to England and live a long and happy life, which the hero surely deserved. He didn't know how he would be able to live without Robin.

Archer looked at Robin's corpse with vacant eyes, his gaze dull and sad. He wholeheartedly regretted that he had indirectly contributed to Robin's death by selling the Byzantine fire to the Sheriff of York and Vaisey and then by arranging the capture of Robin Hood and his friends in the tunnel and having them nearly buried in limestone. During the siege, Archer had even dared accuse Robin of causing deaths of many innocents – the deaths of untrained peasants whom Robin had been feeding with empty promises for a better future after King Richard's return and whom he had lured to fight for an abstract cause and unrealistic ideals.

With all his heart, Archer wished Robin Hood to be alive. He wanted to spend more time with Robin, his newly discovered half-brother. Robin's heroic behavior during the siege had impressed Archer to the core, serving as a great example for the young man and teaching him to think more about others than himself even in the most critical situations. Robin had also shown Archer that it was entirely possible to deeply care about the people whom he didn't know.

Archer was alone in the world: he had grown up alone and had never had a family who cared about him. A knave, an adventurer, and a renegade, he was interested only in earning money and providing himself with luxury. He had always been extremely selfish and self-absorbed, and he had cared only for himself, but many things changed when he met Robin Hood. During the few days they spent together, Robin demonstrated how much selflessly a good man can help even the most humble people. Archer was proud that Robin had been his half-brother, and he was ashamed of his behavior towards Robin. Archer swore that he would become a better man.

Unlike Robin Hood, Guy of Gisborne survived the battle in the tunnel and the bloodbath in Nottingham with minor injuries. He was the most shocked man among the outlaws. He had tried to save Robin from Isabella's blade when she had attempted to stab Robin from the back at the moment when Robin had lunged at Vaisey. But Guy had failed to save Robin: he had pushed Robin away from Isabella, but the blade had still scratched Robin's neck. Now Guy had to face the fact that his poison and his own sister had destroyed the legend of England. He couldn't believe how he could have been so stupid that he had given Isabella the poison as an act of mercy to her lost soul.

Guy swallowed hard. It was only his fault that Robin had been poisoned and had died. Guy had murdered Marian in a jealous rage in the Holy Land as she had confessed in her true feelings for Robin. Marian’s words about her love for Robin Hood were still ringing in his ears. He had deprived Marian and Robin of happiness on Earth and had ruined Robin's world. It didn't matter that Guy had also destroyed himself by killing Marian, because the truth was that he had never possessed Marian's heart. Eventually, Guy's sister, also Gisborne by blood and birth, had killed Robin. Guy shuddered at the thought that the Gisbornes had destroyed the two most unique people in England – Robin Hood and Maid Marian.

Gisborne looked at Robin’s body, tears of pain and grief splashing his cheeks. He was really emotionally broken, and he couldn’t help himself, letting tears freely stream down his face. He felt guilty, immensely guilty of Robin Hood's death. He had wanted to kill Robin so many times in the past, but now he was ready to do everything to bring Robin back – he would have gladly given up his own life to save Robin. He wished to go back in time and change the events, saving both Allan and Robin, but it was impossible. He blamed himself that he hadn't murdered Isabella in the dungeons when he had come to her and had given her the deadly poison.

In the final moments of his life, Robin had been as heroic and courageous as he had always been. Suffering from pain tearing his body apart as the poison had been slowly killing him, Robin had shot a flaming arrow into the castle through the open window and onto the barrel, and then the explosion had followed. Then Archer, Guy, and Robin had run away from the castle, heading to the forest and leaving behind the loud, powerful boom that had followed the explosion.

Guy was biting his lips. Deep in his heart, he was ashamed of himself that he had tried to take Robin's life in the past and that he had hated him. Definitely, once they’d had much bad blood between them, which had caused burning hatred to blossom in their hearts. That hatred had nearly destroyed them until they had learned the truth about their tragic past from Robin's long-lost father – Sir Malcolm of Locksley. The great revelation that Guy and Robin shared a half-brother had made their combine their strengths and save Archer. Later, Guy had allied himself with Robin to take Nottingham back from Isabella and take his revenge against his own sister.

Now Guy thought that it was ridiculous to hate Robin. Many things prevented Robin and Guy from reconciliation – "bad blood" in their veins, the secret love affair between Robin's father and Guy's mother, Guy and Isabella's unfair banishment from Locksley, Ghislaine's death at the hands of Malcolm, Guy’s regicide attempts on King Richard’s life and, most importantly, Marian’s death.

Nevertheless, Robin's good deeds and sacrifices for the sake of England, King Richard, and the people considerably overweighed all his flaws and weaknesses, making Guy genuinely admire and like Robin Hood. Robin could be called a show-off and a swaggerer, who needed people’s love and wanted to be admired by others, but he also was a prominent, brave, and competent leader, and a kind, compassionate, and self-sacrificing man who had always put the interests of England, King Richard, and the common people above his own needs and interests.

Guy had never seen such a courageous and strong man who could be so self-sacrificing and so caring about others in the last minutes of his life. Even when he had hated Robin Hood with every part of his heart, he had still admired Robin and had envied Robin. Guy had envied the hero that Robin had managed to win what he had craved to have – the people’s love and adoration. He had also been impressed by Robin’s inner strength that he had seen in his former enemy for the first time during the Saracen attack in the Holy Land: although Robin had been almost mortally wounded by Guy and had been heavily bleeding, he had fought with him in the King's tent, trying to save King Richard’s life. Guy had heard about Robin's legendary reputation and his great victories on the battlefields of Outremer, and the night of the Saracen raid had proved that.

On many occasions, Guy had witnessed Robin's foolhardiness in Nottingham when the former nobleman had fiercely fought against the Sheriff and had easily outwitted him, robbing the rich and giving everything to the poor. In the very end, Robin had again demonstrated his great courage and bravery, and his altruistic nature: knowing that he had been dying, Robin had been thinking about the people’s salvation instead of his own death and pain. Robin's death was a painful and slow one, but it was a heroic death because only Robin was capable of finding the strength and courage to shoot his last arrow and destroy their enemies.

Robin’s death was a great loss for England, King Richard, for the common people, and the outlaws. Yet, Robin’s death had more profound impact on Much, Guy, and Archer: Much lost a part of himself after Robin’s passing, Archer lost a chance to build a relationship with his blood brother, and Guy lost his newly acquired friend, loading himself with more guilt for Robin’s death.

Kate gave a hateful glance at Guy. "Gisborne, you are standing here, while Robin is dead. You should have died instead of Robin," she snapped angrily.

"Kate, you are not yourself. Gisborne is not our enemy. He helped us bring down Isabella and Vaisey. He tried to save Robin, but Isabella was too sly or perhaps just lucky," Little John objected.

Archer shook his head in agreement. "When we were fighting with Isabella and the Sheriff in the tunnel, Guy nearly died for Robin. He risked his own life when he placed himself between Isabella and Robin. If he hadn't pushed away Isabella from Robin on time, Isabella would have stabbed Robin to death and we would have been unable to help the people escape."

"Gisborne said that he had killed Vaisey! He deceived us! He played with us!" Kate yelled.

Guy glanced away, feeling both irritated and guilty. "I was sure that I had killed the Sheriff. My mistake was that I hadn't checked whether the man had been truly dead."

Kate shot Guy a scornful look. "I loathe you, Gisborne! You killed so many innocent people in cold blood. You are a murderer and a criminal. You oppressed and terrorized people in Locksley for years while Robin was fighting for England and our King in the Holy Land.”

“I don’t deny that I treated the peasants cruelly,” Guy said without hesitation.

Kate was quiet for a while, and then responded, “You are the Sheriff’s man, Gisborne! You are not Robin Hood’s man!” She narrowed her eyes at Guy. “Robin always was on the right side, while you always were a black-hearted villain and the lowest scum in the world. Robin was a hero and deserved to live, and you deserve only to die." She swallowed a lump in her throat. "You failed to save Robin because you didn't want him to live. You pretended that you wanted to save him."

Guy flinched at Kate's words. He didn't say that Robin's fight in the Holy Land was pointless; he had never understood the men who went to fight with Richard in the distant, godforsaken lands.

"Kate, you are overreacting. We all are aggrieved with Robin's death," Much said, his voice shaking with tears and shock from his friend's death, making it difficult to understand his words.

“I’m not overreacting,” Kate countered.

“Kate, I know that you are distressed, but believe me that Robin’s death is something worse for me,” Much said in a trembling voice. "I have known Robin for so many years. I grew up with him… and Marian. We were always together, spending so much time in the forest and playing our wild games with the children from Locksley and Knighton. We did so many things together."

"We all know how important Robin was to you, Much. Now you have to be strong. We all have to be strong. Robin would have never wanted us to give up," Tuck commented, his voice respectful.

Much was annoyed with Tuck's constant preachment. "Tuck, nobody understands how special Robin was for me. It is not only about our childhood friendship," he began, his voice edged with notes of displeasure. "When Robin decided to do his duty and join King Richard's Private Guard, I followed him, although he allowed me to stay in Locksley. I fought with Robin in Messina, Cyprus, and then in Palestine for so many years. Robin and I worked as a team on the battlefield, saving each other's lives. We saw so many war horrors and shared Saracen blood on our hands; we survived the war together."

“Much, the more you speak about the past, the more difficult it is for you to accept the fact that Robin is gone,” Tuck said insistently. “You are only hurting yourself again and again.”

Little John pursed his lips, irritated. “Tuck, let Much talk. He needs to talk. This is the way he feels better. And he tells us about Robin and we should be grateful for that.”

The outlaws appreciated that Much talked about Robin, even touching the forbidden topic about the years Robin had spent in the Holy Land; the hero had never talked to the outlaws about the war, choosing to bury memories and darkness in his heart. Memories about Robin were like the tribute to the memory of the deceased hero.

“Remembering Robin makes me feel better because I feel his presence close to me,” Much said; he drew a deep, hissing breath. "Looking at Robin now, I remember how Robin lay dying in Acre from the wound caused by Guy in the Saracen raid on the King’s camp. Guy stabbed Robin from the back, and Robin was very sick afterwards.” He paused, swallowing his sobs.

“Poor Robin,” Archer said quietly.

Much’s eyes darted between Robin’s body and Guy. “I nursed Robin back to heath when he succumbed to a fever that almost took his life. The King’s physician and Robin’s comrades didn't expect Robin to live. Everyone, even King Richard, gave up on Robin, but I always knew that he would survive. Against all odds, Robin’s fever broke in three weeks after the attack.” Much went still, his blue eyes shimmering with tears. He brushed his blonde curls back from his forehead, his eyes focusing on Robin's body.

Archer contemplated what he had just heard. He didn't know many things and was confused. The unexpected news that Guy had tried to kill the King and had attacked Robin in the process took his breath away. It appeared that he didn't know many things about Guy’s conflict with Robin.

Guy felt disgusted with himself. "I’m sorry." He remembered the day of the Saracen attack when he had almost killed Robin and how angry he had been that Robin had interfered with his plans. His cheeks turned crimson, burning with shame. "Robin was so brave on that night."

"Robin had always been brave. He taught me everything I can do in a fight – how to use a sword and a bow, how to survive and how to win battles," Much said.

“Robin was an excellent swordsman. I bet he was also the best marksman in the King’s army,” Guy acknowledged, his eyes at Archer. “Only Archer shoots like Robin.”

Archer’s lips lengthened in a tiny smile. “It is Locksley legacy.”

They smiled. They knew that Archer was Robin’s half-brother, and they accepted him into the gang because he represented Robin’s legacy and because Robin would have wanted that.

“It was impossible not to love Robin,” Much stated, his heart beating wildly in his chest. His heartbeat always accelerated when he thought of how much the people and he loved Robin. “Everyone loved Robin’s charming and outspoken personality. Everyone admired him for his honesty, courage, and loyalty. Everyone knew how noble Robin was.”

Guy didn’t say aloud that there were some people who were annoyed with Robin and didn’t like him, Definitely, not everyone loved Robin Hood, but Robin meant the whole world to Much. Guy was tactful enough to keep his thoughts to himself because he respected Robin’s memory and Much’s feelings, and he didn't wish to cause Much more pain. “I understand, Much,” he said flatly.

“Robin was the best warrior in the King’s Private Guard. He was the youngest Captain and the greatest one,” Much said proudly. “Everyone adored Robin’s fighting skills. On the battlefield, he fought like a beautiful wild animal, and everyone praised him.” A dark shadow crossed his face. “Only Robin didn’t praise himself, and he often wasn’t himself after a bloody battle. He could have been silent for hours, lashing out at his men if he was disturbed. He could seat on the sand, looking with vacant eyes into the emptiness and repenting that he had killed so many people on that day.”

John smiled. “This is all about Robin.”

“Did he regret going to the war?” Kate questioned.

“Yes, he did,” Much confirmed. “Robin missed everything and everyone in England.”

“Was he disappointed in the holy war?” Guy asked out of mere curiosity.

“Yes,” Much said. “Robin read Quran and considered the Turks the people equal to Christians. They were not just the infidels to kill in Robin’s world.” He sighed. “He was deeply disappointed with the Crusade that turned out to be so unholy, thinking that the war was pointless. I know that he wanted to go home and live in his estates in peace, but the King needed him and there was no way he could have been allowed to leave the Holy Land until he was injured in the Saracen attack.”

Guy couldn’t hold Much’s gaze and looked away. Inside he was burning with shame. It was Guy who had unjustly taken Robin’s lands and titles from him, destroying the hero’s hopes for a peaceful and quiet life. And now Robin’s dreams would never realize. Guy blamed himself for ruining Robin’s life and dreams. Guilt, like the heaviest, unbearable burden, pressed over him, suffocating him. His shoulders slumped down, and he could barely stand straight.

“But he started his own personal Crusade in Nottingham,” Guy pointed out matter-of-factly.

“Robin couldn’t seat and watch that people starved to death and were oppressed by the Sheriff,” Much parried, glaring at Gisborne.

“Of course.” Guy knew that Robin could have never made different choices.

“He never tolerated when innocents suffered. He always saved innocents even if he had to risk his own life,” Much continued; his expression was pained. “He always was a generous and kind-hearted lord. In the Holy Land, he always saved the Saracen children and women from the slaughter. He managed to keep his humanity even in the bloodthirsty war.”

Archer smiled admirably. “It is so rare when a favored war general keeps so much humanity.”

“Robin remained human because he was unique!” Much exclaimed. A sigh tumbled from his lips, his eyes filled with tears. "Now I feel as if my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I loved Robin the most in my life. I have never been a leader – I only followed Robin. I’m terrified beyond measure because I don't know how to live without him; I fear I cannot carry on without him."

Tuck offered Much a languid smile. “Much, you were like a brother for Robin.”

“You and Robin survived through many horrors and shared many burdens together. It means more than being a brother by blood,” Archer told Much, holding back a small, nostalgic smile. He regretted that he hadn’t grown up with Robin.

“Robin was like my brother, even more than my brother.” Much ran a hand across his tear-stained face, wincing at the almost physical pain of his own touch to his cheek.

“Like your second half,” Little John assumed.

“Yes.” Much nodded. Then he turned his gaze at Kate, remembering about Kate’s outburst of anger; he glared at Kate. "Kate, Guy helped us today. We cannot blame him for Robin's death."

Guy smiled vaguely at Much. "Thank you, Much." He stared at Kate, his eyes watery. "Kate, I did many bad things in the past. I committed heinous crimes, and I will probably never atone for them. You don't need to remind me of my faults and crimes.”

Kate measured the former Black knights with a skeptical look. “Really, Gisborne?”

“I swear it is true,” Guy said sincerely, his voice deep and low. “I would do everything to bring Robin back, but I’m not a magician – I cannot make Robin come back from the dead."

"Lies! Wretched lies! You cannot change! You are irredeemable!" Kate cried out.

"Kate, you are talking nonsense," Tuck reproached.

"Kate, it is not time and place to humiliate and insult each other," Archer said strictly, annoyed that the fuming blonde girl was unable to stop on time. "Please calm down and take a hold of your emotions. Don't insult Guy. Robin's body is here and is not cold yet."

"Robin said that Guy is one of us. Guy is not our enemy," Little John added, looking down at the pale and tear-stained face of the young woman.

Kate disentangled from John's embrace and rushed to Gisborne. She stopped near him, raised her hand, and slapped Guy hard, very hard across his right cheek, then spat into his face.

"Gisborne, you killed my brother! You killed Matthew! I will never forget the day when you killed him," Kate screamed at him in a shrilling voice that was thick with sheer hatred. "You should be dead! It is unfair that Robin died and that you are alive! Robin didn't deserve to die!"

John shook his head disapprovingly. "Kate, you are not yourself."

"Kate, calm down. You mustn't be violent towards Guy. Robin wouldn't have approved of your behavior." Tuck walked to her, but Guy extended his hand, signaling that it wasn't necessary.

"I agree that I should be dead and Robin must live." Guy gave a nod and made a step towards Kate. "It is unfair. It is absolutely unfair that I’m alive after everything I did."

Much brushed tears away from his cheeks. He looked at Robin's lifeless form and cursed Kate's hysteria in his mind, knowing that Robin wouldn't have disapproved of her actions. "Kate… Kate…"

"She is simply shocked," Archer made an attempt to defend Kate.

Kate broke into heart-wrenching sobs, her knees shaking. She closed her eyes and cried at the top of her lunges. She didn't care what others thought about her. She was hurting beneath her skin that Robin, her beloved Robin, was no longer the part of the world.

Unexpectedly to everyone, Guy approached Kate and elegantly hugged her, wishing to take away her pain; she didn't resist and pressed her face onto his muscular, broad chest.

The outlaws watched Gisborne and Kate in silence and awe.

Guy looked down at Kate's face, his heart in tatters. "Kate, I wanted to save Robin. I didn’t want him dead,” he said, black sorrow was creeping into his tone. “I swear that I wanted to save him. But I failed and Isabella managed to leave a scratch on his neck."

Kate’s eyes widened. “Is it really true?”

“Yes,” Guy said. “I would have never let Isabella have Robin poisoned if I could have stopped her on time.”

“Oh God,” Kate said breathlessly.

Guy tenderly stroked the girl’s hair. He repented that he had taken her brother’s life, wishing to comfort her and appease her pain. "Kate, I never meant to kill your brother. If I could have traded my own life for his life, I would have done gladly that." His jaw clenched in anger at himself. "I wanted to have only power and riches, and it was already too late when I realized that I didn’t need these things at all. I cannot take back what I did, but I can change and become a better man. I want to do good things and help the poor because I truly want that and in the memory of Robin as well."

Kate glared up at Guy. "I’m sorry. I don't know what came over me."

The gang smiled at Kate and Guy who stood wrapped in a tight, soothing embrace; it wasn’t an embrace of passion and an affectionate embrace of friends, but rather a comforting embrace of two people who lost someone very dear. They were astounded with Guy's confessions and a display of his tenderness and compassion towards a woman who humiliated him.

"Shhh," Guy whispered. "I understand."

"I loved Robin so much," Kate murmured. "And he died. Now I’m alone." It was a statement, a kind of comprehension offered, and she saw the pain in Guy's eyes.

In the days Guy had spent with the gang, he had noticed that Kate had been smitten with Robin, which wasn't strange because many girls dreamed of becoming Robin Hood's sweetheart. Yet, he doubted that Robin had genuinely loved Kate, for he knew that Marian was the only true love of Robin’s life. "I think you were charmed by Robin and tempted to be the hero's lady."

Kate was chewing her bottom lip, thinking that there was some truth in what Guy had just said. She was charmed by Robin, but she also craved to take a privileged position of Robin's girl in the gang. In Locksley, in Nottingham, and in the whole shire, probably even in the whole England, almost every village girl and young maid dreamt of being Robin Hood's beloved, the sweetheart of the handsome rightful Lord of Locksley, who was the people's hero and was rumored to be King Richard's favorite. Kate was only one of those many girls.

A tiny smile tugged at the corners of Guy’s mouth. "You are not alone. You have us."

"Still, I’m alone," Kate said automatically.

"You have all of us. You have me," Guy assured her, his voice very low and tight with emotion. "If you need something, tell me and I will help you. I swear that I won't offend you."

"Thank you," Kate replied softly; then she moved out of Guy’s embrace.

Kate glared at Guy. She would never forgive him for the death of his brother, even though she felt that she no longer hated him as much as she had hated him before. Guy gave her a small smile of sympathy, and Kate involuntary smiled back at him, somehow disarmed by Guy’s friendly look.

Kate turned her head and looked at Archer, Robin Hood’s newly found half-brother. She didn’t know Archer very well and she blamed him for almost killing Robin in a limestone trap, but she cannot help but admire his handsome face. In Archer's face and his eyes, there was a gleam of the inner fire which Kate could see when he stared at her with an attentive, curious glance. Archer smiled at her with sadness mingled with fascination, and she glanced away.

But then Kate turned her gaze back at Archer as though some supernatural force had drawn her eyes to his face. She smiled at Archer, and her smile was reflected by him. Then she fixed her gaze at Robin’s body, growing thoughtful, and Archer became serious too. Kate didn’t know about that, but Archer watched her from the corner of his eye, thinking that she looked lovely in her simple peasant dress, with the straying curls of her blonde loose hair. Archer liked that there was something spirited and uncommon in the young girl, and he had always liked spirited girls.

Kate noticed that Archer was staring her. She looked at him in silence and tried to smile, but then her expression contorted in anger. “Why are you looking at me, Archer?”

"Kate, you don’t look well today," Archer lied to her. He would have given her a compliment, but today it wasn’t a day for merriment; it wasn’t a good time to woo a girl that he liked.

Kate shot him a distempered look. “You are an ill-mannered idiot,” she told Archer.

Archer smirked. “I’m a little older than you. You should respect me,” he jested.

Kate looked as if she were going to slap him across his face. “Don’t make me angry, Archer.”

“That’s enough,” Tuck voiced his displeasure. “It is not a good time for bickering.”

“Robin and Allan are dead,” Much whimpered.

“Poor Allan,” Little John said sadly.

Much lowered his gaze. “We should have listened when he said that he didn’t betray us.”

Guy was bitterly ashamed that he didn’t defend Allan. Allan had betrayed the gang after Guy had tortured Allan, and now Guy felt personally responsible for the outlaws’ distrust to his former right-hand man. “It is my fault that you didn’t believe Allan,” he admitted.

John nodded gravely. “Yes, it is partly your fault, Gisborne.”

“Stop quarrelling! Stop it right now!” Tuck’s commanding voice resonated. “Robin and Allan would have wanted us to carry on instead of quarreling!”

“Tuck is right,” John agreed.

“We are Robin Hood!” Tuck cried out, trying to sound cheerful. “Just say that.”

“We are Robin Hood!” everyone else echoed, but Guy was silent.

“We are Robin Hood,” Guy said after a short pause. He didn’t want to be an outsider anymore, and he felt that he had to say those words, which sounded so strange.

A mournful silence ensued, and everyone stared at Robin Hood with grave eyes. Even forest creatures paused to stare at the body of England’s greatest hero with tearful eyes full of sorrow and pain. Overhead, the setting sun painted the sky in orange and yellow hues which reminded blood – Robin’s blood, and that intensified the grief of all the mourners over Robin’s death. Yet, the woods seemed filled with an intangible presence of someone, as if Robin weren’t dead, and maybe it was so because even though Robin was really dead, his spirit was alive and lived in Sherwood and in every of Robin’s men. Robin Hood was bigger than just one man, Robin of Locksley, who had given his life for England and King Richard and his people. They all were Robin Hood.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Tragic Reunion

All at once, the outlaws heard a hubbub of familiar voices that came somewhere from behind the trees. In a few moments, Will and Djaq appeared on the clearing. They swept their eyes over the outlaws, astonished to see inclined heads and gloomy faces. Not understanding why everyone was so gloomy, Will and Djaq felt rather uncomfortable. As they caught a glimpse of Robin’s body, their hearts sank into their throats as a horrible suspicion crept into their minds.

“Hello, lads,” Will greeted, his gaze wandering across the clearing and finally fixing on Robin’s body. Then he shook his head and turned to face his friends.

Little John broke into a sad smile. "Will and Djaq! What a great surprise!”

“What happened?” Will asked, staring at Gisborne. “What is this man doing here?”

“Gisborne is with us now. He was outlawed and turned against the Sheriff,” John explained.

“He switched sides. He no longer lives only for power and wealth. He is a changed, repentant man,” Tuck added, a small smile hovering over his lips.

Will and Djaq gave them suspicious looks, but said nothing, though they doubted that Gisborne could ever change and become a kind and compassionate man instead of a cruel and power-hungry man. They didn’t know several people in attendance, assuming that they were new additions to the band. They didn’t care about their identities at the moment. Their eyes were glued to Robin’s body.

Dread seized Djaq and Will. Their eyes went wide as they took in the picture before their eyes: Robin was deathly pale, looking as if he were sleeping, but his pose and appearance suggested that he was most likely dead. Did they arrive in Sherwood to Robin’s funeral?

“What happened to Robin?” Djaq asked straightforwardly, without preamble.

“Is he… is he…?” Will stammered. All other words struck in his throat.

Much gave a slight nod, his gaze frantic and desperate. “Robin… our Robin… is… dead.” He stuttered, unable to say that his best friend had departed to another world. “Robin died as a hero after the siege of Nottingham. Sheriff Vaisey and his mercenaries were killed when we blew up the castle.” He took a deep breath and went on. “Robin… was injured with a poisoned-tipped dagger.”

“Gisborne tried to save Robin and risked his own life. However, his sister Isabella still managed to murder our dear Robin,” Little John said evenly. He decided to reveal the truth at once, though it was probably dangerous for Guy because he mentioned the role of Guy’s sister in Robin’s death without giving detailed explanations.

Will and Djaq were amazed. They had never known about Gisborne’s sister.

Will gave Guy an odd look. “Gisborne has a sister?”

“I had a sister,” Guy confirmed. “Isabella and all the others in the castle were killed by Robin.” His mind drifted off to Robin’s bravery in the last minutes of the siege. “Robin’s last flaming arrow torched the Byzantine fire in the castle, and then everything exploded.” 

“Isabella is going to burn in the hellfire forever for all her evil doings,” Archer snapped angrily, cursing the moment when he had decided to help Isabella trap Robin and his friends in the tunnel. He didn’t feel that the woman was his half-sister. Any blood connection was lost when he realized the extent of her true wickedness, her vile nature, and her lust for power.

A murderous silence pressed over them. Everyone bowed; their faces wore grim looks of black grief and deep mourning.

“Robin will never be forgotten.” Djaq’s voice was cracking.

“Everlasting memory and glory to Robin of Locksley!” Will’s booming voice coursed through the chilly autumn air. All the others repeated his words.

“May Robin’s soul rest in peace,” Little John said.

Everyone bowed their heads in respect to Robin Hood, who gave his life for King Richard, England, and the people. His sacrifices and good deeds would never be forgotten.

“Lads, I’m happy that you are here,” Much broke the silence with a lugubrious smile. “Your arrival is one of the very few positive events in the past months.”

Little John nodded. “Very true.”

“We didn’t expect to see you here. Why did you come right now?”

“It is a long story,” Djaq began, her eyes fixed on Robin, her heart hammering hard, not in delight but in pain. “We traveled with King Richard’s party from Acre. Due to bad weather and storms, our ship was wrecked near the shores of Northern Italy, which forced the King to undertake a dangerous land route through the territory of the Holy Roman Empire. Unfortunately, the King was captured near Vienna by Duke Leopold of Austria. We were also taken prisoners, together with King Richard, and then we were kept in the dungeons of Dürnstein Castle; it is I daresay, a terrible place – cold and dirty.” She paused.

“Please go on,” Much prompted. “We want to know what happened.”

“After several weeks in captivity, we were released without the payment of ransom,” Djaq informed. “The King insisted on our release, and, of course, the Austrians couldn’t receive large ransom for us because we were only the King’s companions on the trip.”

“And you came back,” John said with a smile.

Will nodded. “Yes. The King ordered us to return to England, find Robin, and give Robin a vitally important message.”

Much already knew what their liege wanted. “Does King Richard want us to get him out of Austria?”

Djaq shook her head. “Yes. Richard said that only Robin could get him out of the mess.”

“Oh,” John breathed.

Much squeezed his eyes, then opened them. “Robin could do everything because he was Robin!”

Will’s face twisted into torment. “Oh, my Lord! Robin is dead, but Marian…” He stumbled with words, his face revealing a sheer shock.

“Robin and Marian are together, in Heaven. It is my only consolation,” Much muttered.

Djaq shook head. “We came here with a gift for Robin – with Marian.”

Much frowned, confused. “What?”

“There is something you don’t know,” Djaq said.

Words died into silence, and all eyes were at Djaq, who stood quiet, trying to find right words to tell the outlaws the truth, but it was difficult to find them. The shadows stole here and there, and the woods were filled with intangible and unreal influences, yet potent with the symbolism of someone’s unknown presence in the wilderness. And then there was the rustling of leaves between the trees, and Djaq knew that now she would have to explain many things to her friends.

A slender hooded figure of an average height emerged behind Will and Djaq. It was clearly a female figure. The figure passed the outlaws, slowly and gracefully. She crossed the clearing and approached Robin’s motionless form. She paused and stood rooted for a long moment, looking down at Robin. She crouched near Robin, then took Robin’s hand in hers and bowed her head.

“What is going on? Who is she?” Much pointed at the hooded figure.

“This is Marian.” Djaq looked at Much, then averted her eyes. “Marian is alive.”

“What? What?” Much shouted. “She died in the Holy Land! We buried her!”

“It is a bad joke. This I don’t like,” Little John grumbled.

Guy’s heart skipped a beat and then started beating faster. “Impossible!”

Kate stepped away from Guy, focusing her eyes on Much. “Marian? Who is she?” She had her suspicions, but she didn’t dare think that it was Lady Marian of Knighton, Robin’s former betrothed, who was rumored to have been murdered by Guy of Gisborne in a jealous rage.

“Lady Marian was Robin’s wife. They were married several minutes before her death in Acre.” Tuck’s eyes were at the silent hooded figure near Robin’s body.

“Marian is not dead,” Will said. “She survived her mortal injury.”

Much’s eyes went wider; he didn’t believe Will and Djaq. “How is it possible? Djaq said that Marian had died after Guy had stabbed her. Marian died in Robin’s arms after the King had administered the wedding ceremony and had given them his large ruby ring. We buried Marian near Carter’s grave!”

Dumbfounded and numb, Archer and Kate turned their heads at the hooded female figure.

“Marian isn’t dead,” Will repeated. “She is alive. She is here.”

A hush fell over the clearing. All the eyes were fixed on the woman leaning over Robin. Will and Djaq said the truth – the lady was indeed Lady Marian of Knighton and of Locksley, the rightful Countess of Huntingdon and Robin of Locksley’s wife.

The sounds of muffled female cries sliced the stillness of the forest as Marian started sobbing, her bosom heavy with tears. Her small frame was shaking in a nerve storm of sobbing as the realization dawned upon her – her beloved husband was dead. Her heart was thundering wildly in her chest. Her throat constricted in spasms. Her entire body began shaking.

Marian’s inconsolable grief threatened the numbness, which had wrapped them all after Tuck had told them about the news of Robin’s poisoning. Her cries of pain and agony echoed the quiet sobbing of Will, Djaq, Much, Guy, Little John, and even Archer. It was extremely difficult to keep their emotions at bay. Kate’s face was stoic, her gaze unfocused, her tears dried; she was paralyzed in shock. Tuck was calm, gathering his composure and intending to support everyone.

Marian looked at Robin, her sapphire blue eyes shining with love for the hero. She loved him with all her heart and dreamt of meeting with him for so many months. She saw Robin’s handsome face in her sweet dreams that comforted her and guided her from the darkness to the light throughout so many months of pain and agony. Never had she imagined that she would overcome many obstacles, cheat death, and finally arrive in England, to Sherwood, only to find Robin dead.

Separated from Robin for more than a year, Marian had spent days and nights thinking about Robin. He hadn’t been with her and had possessed no substance, but he had always been in her heart. She had easily recalled his face in perfect details; she had imagined that she could feel his strong arms hugging her, stroking her long, dark hair, and caressing her body. Other happy memories had included minutes when she had been in his arms after they had been making love to each other at their secret rendezvous place in the forest; she had remembered how she had put her finger to his lips when he had started to say something, for she hadn’t wanted to speak about trifles in those short and sacred moments they had shared. Those memories had helped her recover.

Guy of Gisborne’s face had been haunting Marian in the continuous recurring nightmares, as well as in her delirium when she had been sick and had been fighting for her life. The scene of her demise in the deserted courtyard in Imuiz was haunting her every night since the day she had awakened for the first time after the struggle with death. Afterwards, every night she awoke in cold sweat from the nightmare about her death in Imuiz. At such moments, she had thought that she had almost physically felt the savage pain as Guy had thrust his broadsword into her abdomen.

Marian heard how Much told Will and Djaq what had happened to Robin. She wasn’t interested in the details who and how died on that day. She heard only that her dear Robin had died – she didn’t need to know anything else. As soon as she saw Robin’s body with flowers on his chest, she understood that it wasn’t a foul play. Her heart giving a loud thump, she rushed to Robin, her mind struggling to accept the catastrophic news that her beloved had died before she found him.

Marian persuaded herself that Robin couldn’t be dead. They were supposed to be together, live happily in Locksley, and have many children. They only had to defeat the Sheriff and release King Richard from captivity. Together they were stronger: they could do everything and survive through hell. Robin couldn’t be dead. And yet, there her husband lay, motionless and seemingly lifeless.

Guy’s heart was hammering harder and harder, nearly suffocating him. It couldn’t be true that Marian was alive. He had killed her in the Holy Land. He remembered how he had plunged his sword into her lower stomach as rage and jealousy had driven him to the point of temporary madness. Yet, he could see the familiar curves of her slim figure, the way she moved – he had no doubt that she was Marian. She looked slimmer, perhaps due to her sickness. His heart skipped a beat as he saw her near Robin. Guilt seized him as he tried to imagine what she was feeling now.

“Is she really Marian?” Guy muttered, his voice thick with emotion, his eyes drifting back and forth between Will and Djaq. “Didn’t I… kill her?”

Will shot Guy a disdainful look. “No, Gisborne, you didn’t, by a miracle.”

Guy smiled, though his eyes remained grave. “I cannot believe!”

Djaq regarded all the outlaws, sighed, and spoke. “It was my entire fault. Unfortunately, I made a mistake when I said that Marian had died. As she removed the sword from her body, she apparently passed out from pain and blood loss, and she didn’t breathe for some time. Probably, her heart didn’t beat for a while and she had a semblance of death. Then she came back to the land of the living, but her breathing was too shallow and irregular to be detected.” She lowered her eyes, as if embarrassed by the acknowledgment of her mistake.

“Go on. Tell us what happened to Lady Marian,” Tuck demanded.

“A heartbroken Robin was unable to bury Marian,” Djaq reminded as she ran her eyes over the astonished faces of the outlaws. “We buried Carter, but not Marian. Robin carried her body to her fresh grave and then placed her body on the sand. Then he said farewell words to her and went away. He was unable to witness how she would be put into the ground. Thus, we left King Richard and returned to Bassam’s house, asking the King’s guards to bury Marian.” She paused.

Will continued, “Then the Saracen raid happened, and those guards were killed. Marian was captured by the Saracens who discovered that she barely alive. They tended to her wounds and took care of her. She was very ill for five months and spent around seven months in captivity.”

Djaq sighed heavily. “Later, the Saracens heard the story about the brave young English woman who saved King Richard’s life and died from her wound. They heard that her body disappeared before burial. Matching the details, they realized who the woman was in reality.” She let out a small smile. “Robin was an infamous Christian general in the Holy Land. It seems that everyone knew the young brave Captain of the King’s Private Guard, watching him from afar.”

“We heard many stories about Robin in the Holy Land,” Will confirmed.

Djaq felt a little uncomfortable as she spoke about Robin’s past in the Crusade. “So the Saracens discovered that the woman was Captain Locksley’s wife, and the fact was reported to Saladin. Saladin sent his emissary to King Richard. Of course, Richard understood that the unknown woman was Marian. After prolonged negotiations about the terms and conditions of Marian’s release, the King paid ransom for her and took her under his protection.” She finished her tale.

Tuck crossed himself. “This is a miracle! It was God’s will that Lady Marian must live!”

Much gasped for air. “Oh, my Lord!”

“For the love of Heaven, tell me why everything is so complicated in my new family?” Archer complained, lifting his brows, his expression bewildered. “I’m truly amazed at your ability to seek out the most unimaginable situations.”

“You don’t know many things about us, brother,” Guy told Archer.

“Hmm,” Archer growled. “I think you should tell me more about yourself.”

“I will,” Guy pledged. “All in a due time.”

Djaq arched a brow. “Brother?”

“Archer is Robin and Guy’s half-brother. It is a long story,” Much replied.

Djaq blinked in disbelief, looking at Archer. “Oh.”

“Where is Allan?” Will questioned.

“Allan died several hours before Robin. The Sheriff shot him,” Tuck said sorrowfully.

A short silence ensued. Will and Djaq found it hard to accept so many bad news. Their eyes met, their mind drifted back to the blonde rogue who was their friend, had betrayed them to their enemies, had saved them from death in the barn, and had finally helped save the King.

Marian drew a deep, painful breath. Her head was still hooded, and nobody saw her face. She bent her head and kissed Robin’s still warm lips. It was a long, tender, and soft kiss, but then the kiss became intensive, almost desperate, as if she had been drinking from his mouth. As her lips left his, her fingers trembled as she touched the softness of his cheek, her other hand clutching his hand; her fingers entwined with his fingers calloused from years of archery.

She broke the kiss and stared at Robin. Reality was both a blessing and a curse for her: she was finally reunited with Robin, her husband, lover, and friend, but he was dead and she would never talk to him again. Even in death and peace, Robin looked handsome and charming, like he had always looked in life; she thought that there was something unearthly in his features. She took his hand in hers and kissed his palm and his wrist, her lips tenderly brushing his skin. Her fingers wrapped around his wrist, as if she were marking him forever.

Almost melting onto him, Marian kissed his neck and his jaw line, and then rested her head against his chest. She lifted Robin a little bit, and her hands went beneath his back, hugging him and pressing her head to his chest as she sobbed. She felt how light his body was, as if his soul had been all that weighed him to Earth, and with its departure, he became a creature of the air. Did he become so light because of death or was it a product of her delirium?

“I love you, Robin. I have always loved you, and I will always love you. For all the lives to come, I will never forget you. I will love you until my last day, my Robin, my beautiful, beautiful Lord of Locksley, my brave Robin Hood,” Marian whispered to him and to herself.

Marian continued sobbing, her throat aching, her heart broken into many small pieces. She imagined that she could hear Robin’s voice and could feel his spirit as intensely as she could when he was alive. She fantasized that behind the motionless, unresponsive front, Robin was still breathing, alive and only sleeping. Yet, her heart was growing heavier with every minute.

“Nobody will ever replace you in my life, my Robin,” Marian murmured, her head on his chest. “There will be no other man in my whole life. If you are dead, I will always be a widow in mourning for my dear, beloved, and unique husband. I will love you forever. Only you, my love. Forever.”

Marian looked at her husband’s peaceful face, then cradled his head in her arms. Her eyes took in his facial features, desperately wishing to believe that they would someday be together again, though now it was possible only after her own death. She put her arms beneath him, pressing her face to his chest. She couldn’t stop the fresh tears that filled her eyes and freely streamed down her cheeks. She let them flow, burning like hot lava on her hollow, pale cheeks.

John glanced at Marian, his heart in his throat. “Why didn’t you send a message with Lardner if you knew that Marian survived?” His voice was barely audible.

“We didn’t know about Marian’s survival for a long time,” Will said in a defensive tone. “We only knew that her body disappeared after the Saracen raid. We didn’t want to inform Robin that she hadn’t been buried by the King’s guards because we didn’t want to make him more devastated. In total, more than six months had passed before the Saracens contacted King Richard.”

Djaq sighed heavily. “As soon as King Richard ransomed Marian from captivity, he sent a messenger to my Uncle’s house in Acre. We were shocked to learn that Marian was alive. Next day we came to the Crusaders’ camp, and she was there, still weak but alive.”

As Djaq found it difficult to talk, affected by the news of Robin’s passing, Will spoke instead of her. “By the time we came to the King’s camp, King Richard had already signed the peace treaty with Saladin. The King said that Marian would travel with him and with his convoy because he wished to personally hand Robin’s treasure to his favorite general and his beloved friend.” He trailed off, watching Marian; his heart screamed in pain as he looked at the sobbing Marian.

At the words about Robin’s treasure, Kate blanched, visibly flinched, and averted her eyes. She clenched and unclenched her small fists, and it didn’t go unnoticed by the gang.

“We missed England and Sherwood. We missed all of you,” Djaq said huskily. “So we decided to go back. When we told King Richard about that, he recommended that we join him in his voyage.”

Will’s expression was tenebrous. “We should have helped you destroy the Sheriff.”

“We had to be here.” Djaq nodded, and a sigh of regret escaped her lips. “Now, when Robin is no longer with us, I wish we sent an urgent message as soon as we learned about Marian’s survival.”

Kate looked startled. She didn't say anything, not right away. She heard from the villagers that Robin Hood had married Lady Marian of Knighton on her deathbed in Imuiz, but she didn’t pay any attention to Robin’s late wife. She supposed that Robin had long buried his grief in the desert and that he had forgotten about Marian. After all, he didn’t speak about his wife, and the outlaws avoided even mentioning the woman’s name. Kate believed that Robin had fallen in love with her.

Kate was angry that another woman, not she, dared demonstrate her grief and sorrow so openly. What right did Marian have to stay near Robin? Even if the woman was Robin’s wife, Robin’s heart belonged to Kate. She wasn’t Robin’s wife, but she was Robin’s beloved and had a moral right to be next to the deceased hero instead of his wife. Resolute in her intentions, Kate dashed to Robin, wanting to take Robin’s body in her arms instead of Marian, to cradle him against her chest.

As Kate made a step towards Robin and Marian, she suddenly felt a hand on her right shoulder. Then someone clasped her forearm to restrain her movements. Not looking who the intruder was, she instinctively tried to resist but failed. The hand just squeezed her arm again harder than before.

Kate turned her head, and her gray eyes met with Guy’s steel blue eyes. “You think that you can do anything to me,” she threw over her shoulder. “You are mistaken. Let me go.”

“You are a spirited young girl, Kate.” Guy didn't want to argue with her, but he didn’t intend to let her intervene in Marian and Robin’s tragic reunion. “Stop here. You are going nowhere.”

She was amazed to see tears shining in his blue eyes. “Why?”

“Robin and Marian loved each other. They were married,” Guy said, feeling numbness overcoming him. “She is alive and she still loves him. He also loves… loved… her.”

Kate furrowed her brows. “And what?”

Guy swallowed heavily. “Let them have a moment of privacy. They deserve it.”

“I want to be with him,” Kate insisted.

Tuck gripped Kate’s forearm. “Kate, Guy is right. It is not your place to be there,” he chided. “Please respect the sacred marriage vows of Maid Marian and Robin Hood.”

“I understand.” Kate nodded reluctantly and took several steps back.

Tuck relaxed. “Good.”

Kate looked at Guy, surprised. “But why are you so affected?”

Seized by the tornado of emotions bubbling in his heart, Guy felt dizzy and lightheaded. His knees slowly buckled beneath him, and Archer reached him on time to support him. His expression evolved into sheer grief. “Vaisey and I traveled to the Holy Land to kill King Richard. Marian saved King Richard when he lay injured in the deserted courtyard and I tried to approach him to do the evil deed.” He again paused, his breathing erratic.

Archer looked very interested. “What happened then?”

“Marian and I had an argument,” Guy answered, mustering his courage. “She… said that it was over and that she would never let me kill the King because she was always fighting for England.” He hung his head in shame, tears running down his cheeks. “She… confessed that she loved Robin, not me, and that she would rather die than be with me. And then I… stabbed her.”

Guy shut his eyes as his mind replayed the gruesome picture of how he had stabbed Marian. He had made a step forward and had plunged his sword into her stomach, wishing to eradicate the source of his pain. He had acted like a brutal killer, like he had acted in many other cases when he had killed someone at Vaisey’s order or in an outburst of anger. He had met no resistance as the blade had penetrated her body. He had realized what he had done only when he stepped aside and had seen his sword driven her belly; then she had fallen on the ground.

The faces of the outlaws were shocked. They didn’t know what had really happened in the courtyard in Imuiz, thinking that Marian had stood between King Richard and, thus, Gisborne had disposed of her to get to the King and kill him. Nobody knew that Marian had provoked Guy.

Much looked abashed. “I’m saying nothing… I’m saying nothing.”

“Lady Marian found a bad time for love confessions,” Archer commented, shaking his head.

“Marian chose a bad timing to tell Gisborne the truth,” John commented.

“It was God’s will that Lady Marian had saved the King on that day,” Friar Tuck hankered to say. “We cannot prevent what God sends upon us, his children.”

Unexpectedly, Djaq gave Guy a sympathetic look. “She taunted you with her feelings for Robin.”

The outlaws gave Djaq strange glances, but she didn’t care.

Guy was still staring on the ground. “Yes.”

“Djaq, what do you–” Will began, but he was interrupted.

Djaq put a hand on Will’s shoulder. “Don’t say anything, Will,” she said pleadingly.

Guy was able to lift his eyes at last. “I didn’t know what I was doing when I… plunged my sword into her stomach.” More fresh tears came to his eyes. “I regretted my actions as soon as my sword penetrated her flesh.” Then a small play appeared on his face. “And now I’m just so happy that she is alive.” He brushed away tears with his palm. “I didn’t kill her! It is such a relief!”

Archer put a comforting hand on his brother’s shoulder. “It is good, Guy.”

"But now Robin is dead," Guy said in a low, trembling voice. "Robin loved Marian. I destroyed Robin’s world when I almost killed her. It doesn’t matter that I also destroyed myself – I destroyed Robin and Marian." Thinking of Robin’s untimely death, he looked heavenward. Then he turned his gaze at Marian whose head still lay on Robin’s chest. “God is cruel to them.”

It was extremely strange that they all discussed Marian and Robin with Guy of Gisborne of all the people. Robin’s death brought many memories back and pushed them to have a frank conversation.

“Oh no!” Kate wished only to run away from the clearing because the topic of Robin’s love for his supposedly dead wife hurt her too much. She still thought that Robin loved her, not his wife.

“Guy, at least she is alive. At least her death is not on your conscience.” Archer’s voice held no joy, only acknowledgment of the fact. “People make mistake and learn from them; they change. You have also changed: you have become wiser and better.”

“I changed, but it is too late,” Guy almost moaned.

“It is never too late,” Archer objected, his lips lengthening into a tiny smile.

“Kate, I’m sorry that I caused your brother’s death,” Guy repeated an apology again, a twinge of guilt in his tone. “I will forever blame myself for so many things that I cannot innumerate them.”

Guy’s words touched a sting in Kate’s heart. Kate nodded at him. “Thank you for your honesty.”

Guy watched Marian raise her head and look at Robin with eyes full of pain; then her head fell on Robin’s chest. Marian’s presence in the woods, so close to Guy and so devoted to her heroic husband, made Guy unable to feel a happiness that Marian was alive – he could feel only pain, her pain for the loss of Robin. The pain was a part of every breath he must force himself to take.

For so many years, Guy was falling deeper and deeper in hell, without hope for salvation. He had naively believed that Marian had been his redemption, and he realized that only he himself could save his soul from eternal damnation only after he had killed Marian. Guy had been furious that she had betrayed him by loving his sworn enemy, but later everything changed and now he even didn’t blame her for toying with his feelings and manipulating him. He didn’t hate Robin anymore – he wanted Robin to be alive and happily married to Marian. He blamed only himself for all his misery and mistakes.

Guy felt as if he were drowning in an ocean of guilt, and someone's hands were dragging him down, deeper under the water. He was burning in hell, and he would burn there forever, doomed to endure the eternity of damnation. He was falling deeper and deeper, knowing that it didn't matter how many people he would help and save right now – he would never be forgiven by God and he would never forgive himself. At least he didn't believe in forgiveness for himself.

Yet, Gisborne felt himself like a human being for the first time since the events in Acre. He had considered himself a monster who had murdered the only woman he had ever loved. But Marian was alive and he was free from the gravest crime he had thought he had committed. There was lightness in his chest he hadn’t felt for so long, and he discovered that it became easier to breathe.

Guy felt guilty over ruining Marian and Robin’s chances for a happy life on earth. He was guilty of wounding Marian, which had separated her from Robin for more than a year, and nothing could wash away his guilt. He had no right to stab Marian in a fit of furious jealousy: instead, he had to protect her and let her be happy with Robin. Now Robin was dead because of Isabella. It seemed that the Gisbornes were destined to destroy the happiness of Robin Hood and Maid Marian.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

A Miracle

 Marian covered Robin’s body with her own, holding Robin close to herself. She closed her eyes and captured his lips with hers, kissing him with sudden desperation and possession, her tongue slipping past his lips. His stubble beard brushed her sensitive flesh, tickling it. She was kissing him on his lips, as if she were trying to breathe life into his body.

She didn’t move for a long, long time, her lips on Robin’s lips. Then she raised her head and looked into his face, tears running down her cheeks. She slightly changed her position and tightened her arms around Robin’s back. She gently ran her hand across Robin’s cheek, and then put her hand on his neck, on the place where pulse throbbed.

Marian dragged a deep, shuddering breath. She thought that she felt a slow, very slow heartbeat. She shook her head, thinking that she had imagined it. But then she felt it again. And then the sound disappeared – she no longer could feel it. She laughed aloud at herself, her laughter disrobing the black sorrow that nested in her heart. It was a dream that he was alive and his heart was still beating and that he was breathing: she couldn’t accept his death and was desperately searching for any sign of life under her touch. It was now time to wake up from dreams.

She pushed her thoughts away, but the pain in her heart didn’t let her even breathe. Then she again felt a slow, hardly noticeable throbbing on Robin’s neck. She shook her head, confused. Was she mad? Did she imagine it? She slightly pressed her fingers to his neck, at the place where she thought she had felt a heartbeat before, but there was again nothing. The fog swirling in her head, she brushed her head across Robin’s neck, and suddenly and she felt the same. No, she was not in the possession of an incredible dream – she truly felt his heartbeat again and again.

Marian raised her head and removed her hood. “Djaq! Djaq! Come to me!” she cried out, her expression worried and yet hopeful. “Now! Now!”

Marian looked like a ghost of Lady Marian whom the outlaws had known before. Her cheeks were hollow, she was deathly pale and very thin, but still very beautiful. Yet, there was a visible difference in her: her features were harder, more determined, and probably even harsher. There was an imprint of countless hardships and corroding sorrow in the mimics of her face, in her demeanor, her posture, and in her every movement. Her alabaster skin and long chocolate hair, streaming down her shoulders, glowed in the orange colors of a sunset. Her long, dark eyelashes elegantly framed her sapphire blue eyes, large and expressive, swollen from tears.

Djaq immediately rushed to Marian. “What happened, Marian?” She arched a brow.

“Djaq, I can feel his heartbeat! He is not dead! He is alive!” Marian exclaimed.

The gang gasped in astonishment. They thought that Marian had imagined it.

Tuck shook his head in disbelief. “He was poisoned. He cannot be alive.”

Djaq knelt to Robin to examine him. She gave Marian a quick glance filled with both doubt and hope. With trembling hands, the young Saracen woman tried to feel Robin’s pulse, one of her hands on his neck, the other one on his chest, pressed to his heart. Not feeling anything, she unbuttoned Robin’s jerkin and ran her hand across his chest, pressing it to his heart. Then her eyes went wide as she felt a very shallow rise and fall of Robin’s chest and an extremely weak throbbing of blood on his neck.

“Dearest God! Robin is alive!” Djaq exclaimed. “He is in deep slumber, but he is breathing.”

Guy's face was cold-hard as iron. “It was a deadly poison. Nobody can survive.” Feeling pain straight from the deepest pit of hell, Guy again was overwhelmed with guilt that his poison had killed Robin. He didn’t dare hope that Robin was alive.

Djaq turned her gaze at Guy. “Robin is alive. Barely alive. He draws shallow and irregular breaths, and it is very difficult to feel his pulse, and it explains why you thought that he had died,” she explained, her eyes flashing with hope. “I need to know more about the poison. Maybe I can find a cure and save him. It is urgent, we have no time.”

Guy nodded once more, slowly, his expression astonished and simultaneously hopeful. “This poison is the thick amber liquid with the bitter and tart smell. It is a deadly poison which usually takes its toll on its victim slowly, gradually draining strength from the body,” he responded.

Marian’s eyes locked with Guy’s, and she narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously. “Ah, I see,” she said quietly as she realized how Guy could have learned about that poison. But it was not the time for discussions because they needed to save Robin; she would talk to him about the matter later.

“Now please tell me that you can save Robin,” Much intervened, his heart pounding harder in delight that his best friend still drew breath. “We must do everything to save Robin. We must go to the end of the world to find a cure if he is still alive and there is a small chance that he can survive.”

“He must be saved if he… can be saved,” Guy said resolutely.

“Robin must be saved. England and King Richard need him. We need him,” Marian stated, the corners of her mouth going up in a tiny smile. “I need him alive,” she added.

Guy stared at Robin, his eyes vacant. “Robin should live because Marian is alive,” he said, putting in his words his resignation that he had lost Marian forever.

Marian turned her gaze at Guy, and their eyes met. She gave Guy a suspicious glance, and he hung his head in shame, knowing that he didn’t deserve even to look at her after what he had done in Acre. There was a visible tension between Marian and Guy, and the air was charged with it.

Djaq inspected the scratch on Robin’s neck once again. She already guessed that it was a rare, deadly poison which was often used by the Saracens to torture the Christian prisoners and give them a slow, painful death in the end. It was a sheer miracle that Robin hadn’t died and had succumbed to slumber and unconsciousness. It could have happened only if Robin had been given the same poison in the past for quite some time, which had made him immune to its lethal effects.

“The Saracens use this poison on their Christian prisoners, torturing them by giving them a tiny dose of poison every day throughout several weeks or months and then a large dose that finally kills a long-suffering victim,” Djaq said, looking at the outlaws; her expression remained shut, as if it was a subject she preferred not to discuss.

Archer frowned. “That sounds awful.”

Djaq turned her gaze at Much. “Robin is alive only by a miracle. Also, it is possible that he has already been given the same poison in the past, for example, in the Holy Land.” Her eyes pierced Much’s face. “Much, was Robin ever captured and held captive when you fought in the Holy Land?”

Much sighed. “Yes. Robin and several other guards had been captured by the Saracens several months before King Richard’s troops conquered Acre. The Saracen soldiers from Acre’s garrison intended to capture Robin for a long time, but they always failed. They needed Robin because he was the Head of the King’s Private Guard, the King’s right-hand man and close confident. Robin was kidnapped not at Saladin’s order, but at the initiative of someone from his entourage.” He inhaled and exhaled sharply, his mind blocking memories about the horrors of Robin’s captivity. “We didn’t know where Robin was held for more than a month, fearing that he was already dead. The King sent several search parties in various villages and towns, but everything was useless. Fortunately, Thomas, Carter’s brother, as well as Robin’s friends Robert and Raymond, and I eventually found Robin in the dungeon, in the catacombs under the city of Acre.”

“Much, we don’t have time. Make a long story short,” Djaq nearly screamed.

Much turned his head away, staring somewhere among the trees. “It is just not easy to talk about these things.” Fear gripped him as he remembered how Robin had looked like when they had finally found him: Robin had been lying on the floor in his cell, half naked and half dead, moaning in pain, his back covered with numerous welts after he had been flogged many times by his captors.

“Much, please,” Djaq prompted the man to talk.

“Sorry.” Much nodded, struggling to concentrate. “Robin was brutally tortured and beaten. He was barely alive. He was also drugged.” He emitted a heavy sigh. “The King’s physician took care of Robin and saved his life. Robin awoke in a couple of weeks after we saved him, and he told us that they had him poisoned every day, and he was sure that he would die from the poison that accumulated in his bloodstream. But, to our surprise, Robin only felt better and better with every day. The physician explained that a small dose of poison was administered into Robin’s body every day to make him suffer; they planned to kill him by giving him a critical dose in the end.”

Little John whistled, his face dark. “Poor Robin.”

“The Holy Land is not a paradise even for the King’s friends,” Archer made a lame attempt to defuse the tension, but it didn’t help anyone. John, Much, and Will only glared at him.

At the thought of what had happened to Robin in the Holy Land and what horrors he had witnessed and had endured as the King’s soldier, Marian trembled all over. The feelings in her heart were as black as death itself. She had also spent many months in captivity, but she hadn’t been tortured because she had been a sick woman who had been barely clinging to life. Since the realization of her importance, Marian had been treated with utmost respect and had been even personally greeted by Saladin. Saladin himself had sent his envoys to negotiate with King Richard the terms of her release.

“Excellent!” Djaq cried out as warmth filled her heart. “What a great luck! This is just perfect! Robin is alive because he must have been tortured with the same poison. He may stay in slumber for several weeks or even months, but he has a good chance to survive.”

Archer smiled heartily. “So his body is resistant to this poison.”

Djaq gave a nod. “Yes, young man.”

Marian tugged at the sleeve of Djaq’s tunic. “Can you save him?”

Djaq gave a laugh. “If Robin is immune to this poison, then it means that he is not going to die. Still, there can be some consequences from poisoning, and we must wait until his body cleans out of poisonous toxins. We will help him by giving him some antidote pills. He will need quite some time to recuperate.” She pointed at finger at Robin. “This man is very lucky.”

Much took a step towards Djaq. “Save him, Djaq! Save Robin! I beseech you to save Robin!”

Tuck eyed everyone. A little smile moved his lips. “It is God’s will that Robin Hood is alive. Robin has divine power, like Lady Marian.” His smile grew wider. “England needs Robin Hood and Lady Marian.” His voice sounded dangerously confident.

Guy smiled at Marian, his heart gentled by the beauty of hers and warmed by the good news about Robin. “Robin Hood must survive. The legend must live.”

“Robin will live,” Marian asserted, her eyes sparkling with mirth as she looked at her husband.

With the resiliency of youth, Kate recovered from her tears and smiled. “Please save him.”

“Save Robin,” the outlaws said together.

“I love Robin, he loves me, you love us, and I love you all,” Djaq said, winking at Will. Then her eyes darted to Robin. “As I said, Robin may stay in his slumber for many weeks, but I don’t think that he will die. We must be patient and take good care of him.”

“The Lord brought Marian and you to us today. You will save Robin. And we all will be happy,” Much prattled, his face lighting up with a content smile. “We missed you so much!”

Will smiled. “We missed you, too.”

Little John gently took the hero’s body in his arms. He carried Robin to the outlaws’ camp and placed Robin on his old bunk, thinking that it was good that Robin hadn’t shared his bed with Kate, which was so important on the back of Marian’s resurrection. Much had the same thoughts, wondering what Kate would do right now. Marian and Djaq also came to Robin’s bed, the outlaws following them. Everyone’s mood greatly improved with the news that Robin Hood was alive.

Kate and Guy trailed after the others. They stopped in the clearing, from which they could observe the outlaws’ camp. Neither of them wanted to be in the overcrowded camp when everyone was fussing over Robin Hood. They needed solitude before their lives became exceedingly full.

“A lovely evening,” Guy told Kate who walked next to him. “Glory be to God.”

“Yes,” Kate answered. “Robin is alive.”

A contented smile formed on his lips as Guy looked at Marian who was trying to help Djaq. “Thanks to God that Marian is alive,” he said huskily. “It has been my most cherished dream to turn the time back for so long, so I could have acted differently in Acre.” Then, all his features clouded, and he growled in a hoarsened rasping voice. “I hate myself for what I did to Marian, but at least she is alive.”

Kate looked at Guy in amazement. “But Lady Marian is not yours,” she remarked sarcastically.

“The most important thing is that Marian is alive,” Guy answered with emotion in his voice. “And Robin is alive as well.” He paused, sighing deeply; it was so difficult to think that Marian had been so close but that she hadn’t belonged to him. “They still have a chance to be together.”

“Only if Robin survives,” Kate said in a throaty voice.

“He will recover,” Guy said.

Kate nodded at Guy, then turned around and stalked into the forest, wishing to be alone and think of her life. Guy stood in the clearing for some time, watching Marian and Djaq sitting next to Robin’s bed. Then he also went to the woods, in the opposite direction where Kate had gone before.

Djaq spent the whole evening near Robin. She poured sweet, green liquid down Robin’s throat, hoping that antidote would increase the cleansing of Robin’s body. Although Robin was relatively immune to Guy’s poison, he still needed some antidote to alleviate the pain he felt in his body even in unconscious state and guarantee that his body would be free from poisonous toxins. Djaq informed that they had to give Robin antidote every five-six hours during the first week, every day during the next two weeks, and then depending on the speed of his recovery.

Robin Hood was alive and everyone hoped that the hero would cheat death again.

In the evening, the outlaws gathered around the fire to eat the food Much cooked for them. Smoke from the fire filled the air like a thousand species, and the wind carried their voices through the silence of the night. The gang discussed the siege of Nottingham, Vaisey and Isabella’s deaths, Allan’s tragic death, and Robin’s poisoning. The atmosphere was tense, but everyone was delighted that Marian returned and that Robin was alive. Much, Guy, and Archer asked Will and Djaq many questions about King Richard’s capture; they even began to make plans how to save the King.

Marian didn’t need the outlaws now: she wanted the spend all her time with Robin. She sat on the edge of Robin’s bunk, holding his limp hand in hers, her eyes taking in his face. Robin still was a devilishly handsome and charming man she had fallen in love with many years ago, and yet he was not the same man. Robin’s features became sterner and some new, hardly noticeable lines creased his forehead and skin under his eyes. Now Robin looked exhausted and older than he had looked in Acre when Marian had seen him for the last time as she had been dying in his arms. Yet, he still looked younger than his real age, but the trace of hidden suffering was undeniable.

Marian let her eyes travel down Robin’s prone form. She prayed that Robin would be able to recover from poisoning. She wanted him to live and be with her for the rest of their lives. For the first time in many years, she didn’t think about the poor and England, about fight for justice and peace. England, King Richard, Prince John, the poor, the outlaws, and everything else perished and only Robin remained in Marian’s world. She wanted to think only about Robin.

Marian was grateful that the outlaws didn’t ask her how she had spent all those months without Robin. She hated talking about her time in the Holy Land, wishing only to forget the days when she had been on the brink of death. It was too painful to remember how she had been spending hours in a bed, struggling to break from the clutches of death and fighting with fever and infection. She even didn’t like to remember the days when she had already awakened and had been waiting for news from King Richard about her ransom, then overcoming miles and miles on the open stillness of the sea on the way from the Holy Land, and finally languishing in the Austrian dungeon.

She lovingly caressed Robin’s cheek with her thumb. “Robin, you must live. You are strong, but together we are stronger: I will give you my strength to recover. Your mother called you a little bird, and you justified this nickname because you left me too many times like birds leave when seasons change. But you will never leave me again – I won’t let you leave me,” she thought.

Maria heard someone clearing his throat, and raised her head. As she stared at the intruder, she felt her heart skip a beat and then hammering harder. Guy of Gisborne stood in front of her, and she didn’t want to talk to him. As she saw him, all the gentleness was gone from her face. Her features hardened, her jaw clenched, her lips thinned, and her eyes focused and narrowed at him. She instinctively grabbed Robin’s scimitar and jumped to her feet.

“Gisborne,” Marian began menacingly, her hand gripping the scimitar, “what do you want?”

Guy cringed at the sight of Marian in a defensive position. Her predatory gaze and the firm lines of her mouth scared him. He again recalled how he had injured her in Acre, and his heart swelled with remorse for all his crimes, for all the lives he had taken and all the blood he had spilled.

“Marian, you don’t need to fear me. I will do nothing to hurt you,” Guy said softly.

She laughed bitterly. “Not this time?” she asked sarcastically.

“I’m not going to attack you physically or hurt you emotionally,” he continued, struggling to keep his voice steady. “I came to tell you that I’m happy you are alive.”

She eyed him attentively, and she could see that he said the truth. She sighed, then shook her head. “I’m sorry for my reaction.” She put a scimitar on the ground.

“I understand.”

“Please take a seat,” she invited as she seated herself onto the bunk.

Guy’s body slumped to the ground, not far from Marian. He looked at her and sighed with relief as her expression softened; then he looked down at Robin. “I hope that Robin will recover soon.”

“And so do I,” her metallic voice resonated.

They stared at each another in an ominous silence. Guy waited for her to speak, but she was silent. She gave him an expectant look, and he realized that she expected him to continue. He lowered his head, staring at his boots, unable to bring himself to talk to her.

“You are angry at me,” Guy broke the silence. He finally lifted his eyes to look at her.

“Angry, disappointed, hurt, and remorseful,” Marian said firmly, holding his gaze. “It is difficult to find words to describe what exactly I feel now.” She brushed away the dark curls from her forehead. “When we were in the Holy Land and the Sheriff shot the King, I knew that I had to save King Richard. I couldn’t allow you to kill him.” She swallowed heavily. “I taunted you with my true feelings for Robin. But I didn’t think that you would run me through with your sword.”

Guy hated himself for what he had done to Marian. “When we stood in the courtyard and you… told me about Robin and yourself, I didn’t understand what I was doing. I was enraged and blinded by jealousy.” That didn’t justify his actions, but he couldn’t offer her any other explanation.

“When Robin was jealous of you to me, he never hurt me physically,” she countered.

He raised a quizzical brow, a part of him pleased to hear that Robin had also been jealous. “I’m sorry.” There was nothing more he could say to her.

“You must be.” There was a touch of sarcasm in her intonation.

“I know that nothing can change what I did to you in Acre. Nothing can justify my actions,” Guy said honestly. “But I want to become a better man. Maybe one day you will see that I changed.”

Marian leaned forward and put her hand over his. “I definitely need time to adjust to your presence close to Robin and myself, but I’m glad that you finally turned against the Sheriff and Prince John.” Then she took her hand away and folded her arms over her chest.

He smiled wanly. “Thank you.”

“Welcome.” She talked to him in a half welcoming manner, not able to be completely friendly with him. She was civil and respectful, but cold, half-hearted and careful in choosing her words.

Guy wasn’t astonished by her chilly attitude to him after what he had done to her. He was worried about her heath and interested in how she had spent those months in the Holy Land. He hoped that there were no consequences from her injury, but he didn’t dare ask such details.

“How was your time in the Holy Land?” he questioned, the words sticking in his throat.

“Fine. I will tell you,” Marian conceded, with a dubious, hard glance at him. “I’m alright now, but I felt very bad for a long time. I spent many months in captivity, and it was hardly easy for me. At first, I was held somewhere near Acre, but then they took me to Jerusalem. I was alone and wounded, in a foreign land, surrounded by strange people, who, to their respect, treated me well and saved my life. Yet, everything was uncertain and my release was not guaranteed.”

He arched an eyebrow. “Why?”

Marian shivered as the memories replayed in her mind. “I was unconscious for several months and couldn’t tell the Saracens my name. In the worst case scenario, by the time I awoke I could have already been given to someone as a gift or could have become a woman in a royal harem.”

“But it didn’t happen.”

“Yes, it didn’t.”

“How did you avoid that?”

She sighed. “I owe many thanks to God and the rumors that helped the Saracens understand my true identity. Two things saved me – the reputation of the infamous Captain Locksley in the Holy Land and the tragic story about the English woman who had saved King Richard in Imuiz and then had married Robin of Locksley with her dying breath. If the story about my death hadn’t reached Saladin and his advisors and if they hadn’t remembered the former Captain of King Richard’s Private Guard, I would have probably ended up in the harem of Saladin or any other rich Muslim.”

Guy sighed. “I beg my pardon that I reminded you about that.”

“King Richard paid a huge ransom for me. Saladin turned out to be a greedy man.” She scoffed, but her mouth still was in firm lines. “Despite the peace negotiations with King Richard, Saladin didn’t order to release me immediately. The King spent two months discussing the size of ransom.”

“Then we all owe our thanks to the King.”

Marian studied Guy’s face for a moment, and then looked at Robin; she pointed a finger at Robin. “I suppose that Robin and I did enough for our King to be saved by him at least once.”

Guy followed her gaze, lingering his gaze at Robin, and then looked back at her. “You both deserve that more than anyone else.”

“Of course,” she replied, looking between Guy and Robin.

“Marian,” he called as though tasting her name, “will you ever be able to forgive me?”

Marian turned away. She caressed Robin’s cheek, looking at her husband with longing. She was silent for a while, thinking what she could say to Guy. Finally, she decided to tell him the truth, even if it enraged him. There was one thing that she would never forget and, perhaps, not forgive.

She stiffened as she faced Guy’s pleading eyes, her gaze icy. “I will try to forget, but I’m not sure that I will be able to forgive.” She took a deep breath. “You killed our child on that day.”

Guy gasped and shut his eyes as her words sunk in. He was shocked because he had never thought that there had been something more than a romance between Marian and Robin. Yet, it seemed that he didn’t know many things about Marian. In contrary to Marian ‘s expectations, Guy wasn’t angry and even didn’t feel betrayed and used: instead, he felt much guiltier than before.

He opened his eyes, but he was unable to look at Marian. “Your child? You and Robin…”

Her eyes flashed with anger. “I was carrying Robin’s child when you stabbed me. I lost the baby because of my injury and because of your inability to control your anger.”

Guy’s face was glowing with pain and remorse. “Robin never told me about that when he… blamed me for your death. He shouted that I killed his love and his wife, but he never… mentioned… his child.”

Marian glanced back at Guy and was pleased to see his painful expression. She knew that it wasn’t a good emotion to feel satisfied with Guy’s torments, but she could do nothing with herself. When she had realized that she had been pregnant, she had felt the joy of her life and she had laughed with the foolishness of a child in spite of the fact that she had been the Sheriff’s prisoner. She had wanted Robin’s child with a fierceness she had never known in herself before, thinking that Robin had died. 

Her features softened at the sight of Guy’s pain; she felt pity for him. She knew that she would have done the right thing if she had stopped the conversation and had spared Guy the knowledge about the death of her unborn child, but she wanted Guy to feel the pain he had caused her.

Marian again felt determined to tell Guy only the truth. She took Robin’s hand in hers and squeezed it. “Robin doesn’t know about the baby. I didn’t tell him before I died. He was absolutely heartbroken when we exchanged marriage vows, and I didn’t want to cause him more pain.”

He buried his face in his hands, biting back tears. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“I realized my condition on the ship to Acre. I couldn’t tell Robin because the Sheriff kidnapped me.” She raised Robin's hand to her mouth and pressed her lips to the knuckles before laying it back on the sheets. “If we hadn’t gone to the Holy Land, I would have left the castle. I would have found refuge in an abbey or a convent; probably some of Robin’s friends could have helped us.”

“You offered me to marry you if I killed the Sheriff and saved the King.” His voice was shaking.

“I thought that Robin was dead, and I had to save the King and myself.” She knew that her words were a painful blow for Guy, but the truth was better.

Guy hung his head. A sharp feeling of guilt ripped through his chest. His world came crashing in around him. He feared that he had damned himself with the double crime he had committed in the Holy Land – the attempt on Marian’s life and the murder of Marian’s child. He wished a thousand times over since the events in Acre that he had let Marian go and be happy with Robin Hood, but his wishes count for nothing. He couldn’t undo the harm he had caused Marian and Robin.

Meanwhile, Kate was hiding behind a tree, observing Marian and Guy. She couldn’t hear them, but their conversation interested her very much. She wanted to know how Marian was treating the man who had almost killed her in a jealous rage. She knew that Marian had once run away from the church in Locksley, leaving Guy at the altar and riding off on Robin Hood’s horse.

Kate was very interested in Marian’s relationship with both Robin and Guy. She watched Guy lower his head. With heart pounding in jealousy, she watched Marian caress Robin’s face and stroke his hair. Her heart was dark and filled with unshed tears, which lay within her, but she was trying to remain composed and stoic. She couldn’t let anyone see how heartbroken she was.

“Ah, you are here,” Kate heard the voice behind.

Kate turned around, still hiding behind the tree, and her gaze locked with Archer’s. “What do you want?” She gnashed her teeth in the impotence of anger. “Are you spying on me?”

Archer returned her unwelcoming greeting cordially, laughing at her and bowing to her. “I’m very glad to meet you alone, even if you don’t want to see me now.”

Kate stared at Archer with dazed eyes, charmed by his handsome appearance for a moment. She had a queer feeling that she was in the presence of a superior being. Archer’s voice was marvelously deep and musical, even deeper than Robin’s voice at the moments when Robin had talked to her in privacy. Archer was a handsome man, and he attracted her. His athletic body and his broad shoulders betrayed the real strength of the man. Kate looked at him in wide-eyed wonder, thinking that she liked his appearance more than even Robin Hood’s.

“What do you need?” she repeated at last.

Archer grinned at her. “You are a very pretty, girl. Do you know that?”

There was a pause between Archer and Kate as they stared at each other. Archer seemed ravished with delight when he looked at her, and his face expressed joy, his eyes sparkling. Kate lowered her eyes, feeling her cheeks flushing with pleasure as she enjoyed his attention to her.

But Kate wasn’t going to permit herself to be charmed by another cheeky rogue. “What are you trying to achieve?” she asked rudely as she lifted her eyes and stared with a challenge at Archer.

Archer was attracted to Kate more than to other women, but she didn't appear to understand his feelings. He didn't know what his sudden affection for Kate meant to him, but he wanted to talk to her and know more about her family and her. Some conversation had already taken place between them during the siege of Nottingham, but he craved to know her closer. Now, when Kate had lost Robin, Archer thought that she wouldn't mind his company.

Pointing in the direction of the camp with his hand, Archer said, “I was strolling in the forest when I discovered you behind the tree. So I came to ask whether I can somehow help you.”

Kate eyed him suspiciously. “I thank you, but all your attention is nothing to me.” Her expression evolved into sadness. “There is no comfort which I’m capable of receiving now.”

Archer offered her a bright smile. “I know that the sympathy of a stranger can be but of little relief to the former girl of Robin Hood, but you will, I hope, soon quit this melancholy.” He made a step to her. “Then you will be free to look around.” His smile widened. “The camp is full of boys.”

“How dare you tell me these things, you brute!” Kate cried out. Momentarily she felt her eyes tingle with tears of shame and humiliation. “You may be Robin’s brother, but you are not like him!”

“Yes, I’m not a married man,” he said simply.

“And you will never marry a girl because you are a crook and a knave,” she replied, trying to sound indifferent and trying to ignore the fluttering in her heart. She really liked Archer.

He only laughed at her. “Your rudeness doesn’t worry me because I like your spirit.”

“Don’t come close to me! I don’t want to ever see you again!” Kate almost screamed. Then she stalked into the forest, angry and offended, listening to the distant sounds of Archer’s laugh.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Confessions

Marian eyed Guy attentively. Guy looked not like the same man whom she had known in the past. Guy was thin and unkempt. His face was pale and unshaven, his eyes vacant. Her supposed death definitely had affected him very much. She could also see that there was an air of dignity around Guy she had never seen before, and she thought that he could have perhaps changed.

“Guy, I’m sorry too,” Marian said in a more personal voice. As he raised his head and their gazes met, she again saw the pain in his eyes. “I’m guilty of leading you to believe that there could have been anything more than friendship between us.”

“Did you ever think that you… could fall in love with me?” He wanted and needed to know.

“No,” she replied sincerely.

Guy twisted his features into a grimace of heavy displeasure. “I loved you, Marian,” he whispered. “And I love you still.”

“Oh, Guy.”

He didn’t wish to understand her words. He didn’t want to believe that she had been always playing with his affections.  “I could have loved you more than any other man had ever loved a woman.” He glanced at Robin’s face. “If you had only allowed me to protect you and show you how much I love you, I would have made you the happiest woman in the world.”

“But what if I hadn't been willing?”

"You were willing,” he protested. “You smiled at me so often when you stayed in the castle. You kissed me once when you returned to Nottingham from the abbey where you were grieving for your father’s death. Later I spared your life despite knowing that you were the Nightwatchman, and you promised to stay in the castle to make the wretched place more bearable.”

“You are wrong, Guy.”

“Why?”

Marian didn’t want to tell Guy some other things that would undoubtedly cause him more pain, but she felt that he deserved an explanation. “I smiled at you and was kind to you because I saw goodness in your heart even when others refused to see it.” She sighed. “A part of me wanted to save you, but there was never anything more than a promise of friendship behind my smiles.”

Guy felt his heart sink into his throat. “And that kiss?”

“I kissed you to distract you so that Robin and Carter could escape from the castle. I didn’t go to a convent after my father’s death: I was in Sherwood with Robin. When you discovered us on the tree where Robin and I found Lardner, I had to return to the castle with you.”

Guy thought that he had been an idiot because he had failed to nail down Marian’s lies and unmask her before. He could finally see how naïve he had been when he had dreamt he would marry Marian one day and that they would build a happy life together. Once Marian had told him that she had despised Robin Hood and Guy had believed her, but later she had given him many chances to doubt her words. Yet, even when Guy had wooed Marian, hoping to win her love, he had subconsciously understood that she could have never been his until Robin had been alive, so he had wanted Robin dead so much.

Guy looked defeated. “You never loved me.”

“I have always loved only Robin,” Marian supplied, gazing into his eyes; she said those words slowly, to let the words sink into Guy’s brain. “But you and I could have been friends.”

“You always played with me,” he accused her.

It was a more difficult conversation than she wanted it to be. “I manipulated your feelings. I did that for England and for Robin Hood as I needed to know what Vaisey and you were plotting against the king. Most importantly, I had to protect Robin from you and the Sheriff.”

“Now I see so many things clearly.”

“I’m glad that now you know everything because I had never liked deceiving you.”

Guy listened to Marian, struggling to accept that she had never even thought of loving him as a woman loves a man. A silence stretched between them, and Guy watched Marian stroking Robin’s hair that roguishly fell on the hero’s forehead. Guy loved to look at her beautiful face and to hear her voice; he wanted her to look at him with the same devotion she was looking at Robin with. Pain ripped through his chest at the sight of the sweet smile on Marian’s face when she caressed Robin’s cheek with her thumb because he could see love in her eyes, but it was not a love for him.

“You never thought that you could break my heart,” he stated reproachfully after a long pause. “You and Robin played with me, using my affection to spy on the Sheriff and me.”

Marian glared at Guy, her expression hard. It was almost the time of the sunset, and her face blazed in golden and red colors with the setting sun on the background. “Robin wanted me to leave the castle and stay with him in the forest. So please don’t accuse him of manipulating you.”

“You should have listened to Robin then.”

She gladly embraced her anger again because his accusations almost enraged her. “I apologize for causing you pain, Guy, but I had to spy on you for England, for the King, and for Robin.” She gave him another cold glare. “You were going to kill the King, you terrorized innocent peasants, and you were going to kill Robin because you hated him more than anyone else in the world. There was no way I could do my embroidery and simply watch the Sheriff and you doing your evil deeds.”

Guy understood Marian, and he blamed himself more than her, but he was still hurting because of the truth he had finally learned. “I committed many mistakes,” he said quietly.

“And so did I,” she said. “But I paid for all my lies. You almost murdered me, and my child died.”

“If I had known, I would have never done that. I would…” He abruptly broke off.

Marian huffed in annoyance and anger. “Stop lying to me and to yourself, Guy!” she lashed out at him. “Now you repent that you stabbed me, but you were a different man on the way to the Holy Land. You were driven by lust for power, hatred for Robin, and your dreams to marry me, even if you had to take me to the altar by force. You would have run me through on the spot, strangled me, or thrown me into the sea if you had known the truth about Robin and me.”

Guy shook his head. She was disappointed with him and gave up on him, and it hurt him so much. “I don’t know,” he whispered, his voice husky. The truth was that he didn’t know what he would have done if he had known that she had been carrying Robin’s child.

“I will try to forget this horror,” Marian said coolly, but her voice lacked confidence. “Don’t expect to have my forgiveness tomorrow, but I will be friendly and civil to you. I need time.”

“I understand.”

“Guy, listen to me,” Marian spoke gently. “Don’t inform Robin about the child. He shouldn’t know. Not now. We have more important matters than to dwell on the past conflicts.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t,” he promised. He agreed that it wasn’t a good idea to do that: Robin Hood would murder him with his bare hands if he had known that Marian had been with child when she had been stabbed. He didn’t want to quarrel with Robin after their reconciliation.

There was another thing Marian wanted to say; she thought that it would help Guy move on. “Guy, your feelings for me are not love,” she asserted. “They are obsessive.”

“No, I love you,” he shot back.

Marian sighed heavily. “This is a strange love,” she declared, with an ironic intonation that couldn't be missed. “When you love a woman, you let her go and find happiness with someone else if she doesn’t reciprocate your feelings.” She laughed, but it wasn’t a pleasant laugh. “You definitely don’t stab a woman if you feel a pure and deep love for her.”

“I know I’m guilty, and I cannot forgive myself for what I did. But I didn’t want to kill you. I was only trying to silence you when you told me you loved Robin. I always tried to protect you, and I–”

Marian interrupted him. “I have already heard that, Guy.” Her voice was as cold as steel. “You may love me and I believe your words, but your feelings are obsessive and unhealthy, unlike Robin’s feelings for me. Don’t delude yourself, Guy, and it will make your life easier.”

Guy shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“I have another question,” she continued, jumping to another important topic.

“What do you want to know?”

“Guy, was it your poison your sister used to kill Robin?” she asked straightforwardly.

Guy hung his head. “I gave Isabella a poison as an act of mercy. I didn’t want her to be hanged by the outlaws.” He sighed. “Whatever she did, she was still my sister.”

Marian stared at Guy incredulously. “Nottingham was besieged by Vaisey’s huge army, and you gave your enemy such an effective weapon against Robin Hood and his friends, as well as against yourself.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Guy, you are a knight and a warrior, though you never fought in the Holy Land or any other war. And you should know how a poison can be used: poisoned arrows and poisoned blades are often used by opposing parties.” She paused, waiting to see his reaction.

“I know about that.” Guy’s voice sounded hollow.

She scoffed. “What were you thinking, Guy?”

“I didn’t wish Robin dead.”

Marian turned her head and stared at Robin’s pale face, the pain gripping her heart. “I know that you and Robin reconciled, but there are some simple things you cannot do at war, Guy.” She turned her steely gaze to him. "I bet Robin didn’t know that you gave Isabella your poison.”

“Robin didn’t know that I went to Isabella’s cell and what I gave her,” he said truthfully. “We learned what Isabella did only when she scratched Robin’s neck with her dagger.”

“That’s what I thought. Robin would have never allowed you to do that.”

Marian only said the truth. Robin Hood had survived the bloody war in the Holy Land, and he knew how even most insignificant things can result in unnecessary deaths and give an enemy advantage in a battle. Guy didn’t have Robin’s military experience, as well as Robin’s gumption and strategic skills, and the thought what Isabella could do with his poison didn’t cross his mind.

Guy swallowed heavily. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks to God that he is alive.”

“Yes,” he whispered. “How did you… understand that it was my poison?”

“You knew too many details about the type of this poison, and I was attentive.”

“And you will tell others, won’t you?”

Marian didn’t want to create problems for Guy. She knew that the outlaws, especially Much and Little John, would kill Guy with their bare hands if they had learned that Guy’s poison had almost killed Robin. “I will tell nobody for your own sake. Later Robin will decide what to do.”

“Thank you,” he said gratefully.

Marian looked around. It was almost dark and she was very tired after an arduous journey from Dover; she dreamt of taking a nap next to Robin. “I’m tired,” she added.

Guy was quick and scrambled to his feet. “Of course. I’m leaving you with Robin. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she responded evenly.

When Guy was gone, Marian’s thoughts returned to Robin. She started stroking Robin’s sandy hair, a brilliant smile blossoming on her face. “When I was dying, you promised me to keep fighting for me, and you kept your word, my handsome and stormy outlaw,” she whispered as if he could hear her. “No words are enough to say how proud of you I’m. You defeated the Sheriff without me. You even befriended Gisborne and didn’t kill him, and for this I thank you.”

She traced the line of Robin’s jaw with her fingers and the line of his neck; she briefly delayed her finger on the injury that could have killed him if God hadn’t wished him to stay alive.

She swore many oaths in her mind, cursing the woman who had wounded Robin with the poisoned-tipped dagger, and she also felt uncomfortable after the conversation with Guy. Despite his remorse and repentance, she couldn’t easily forgive Guy and she also didn’t trust him completely. Gisborne had tried to kill Robin many times and almost killed her, and Guy’s sister had wounded Robin using Guy’s poison on her dagger. The gruesome role of the Gisbornes in their lives drove her to the verge of her sanity.

Marian bent her head and planted a kiss on Robin’s lips, her hands fingering along the rich curves of his body under the blanket. She made a throaty sound of pleasure that she was so close to him after so many months of separation and anticipation to meet him again. But now she was with Robin and he was alive. Soon Robin would recover and they would be together, always together.

“Robin, England, and King Richard again need your help,” Marian said softly. She chuckled, her eyes shining with love. “But now you are only mine. I love and need you so much. It is not the time to leave me, handsome. You will always be with me – on earth and then in heaven.”

During the next several weeks, everything in the lives of the outlaws was concentrated on Robin Hood's sickness and his recovery. Robin lay motionless on his bunk, his face ghostly pale, his expression peaceful, untroubled by worries and anxiety, which were gnawing at the outlaws. Robin didn't suffer from a fever, like it was the case when he had been wounded by Guy in the Holy Land. Instead, he tumbled to the dark abyss, in a strange, trancelike sleep that left him unconscious of his surroundings and events, and yet not entirely losing the fleeting glimpse of reality, for at times he reacted on Marian's tender touch or the words spoken by his friends about his fate.

Marian was always at Robin's side, taking care of him and watching him day and night, desperately hoping that he would open his eyes and smile at her. Djaq gave Robin special antidote pills several times per day; she could do nothing else to speed up Robin's recovery. Much was unusually quiet and didn't fuss over Robin as if Robin were his child; he helped very Much by dutifully following Marian and Djaq's instructions and taking a great load from Marian's shoulders when she was exhausted and could have drifted off to sleep almost standing on her feet.

With every passing moment, Marian feared that nothing would change with Robin's condition. She was bitterly conscious that Robin could stay in dark oblivion for a long time, even until his death, as Djaq said, and her stomach crawled at the thought that they had probably already lost their chance to be happy on Earth. She hoped, prayed, and longed for his recovery, fearing that the reunion she had been craving to have for so long would remain only her most cherished dream.

Marian intercepted Guy's frequent, sidelong glances at herself, ambiguous, but emphatically curious and searching for something in her face. Odd enough, she didn't feel any danger that had earlier seemed to flow from Guy. She feared Guy very much and didn't want to have close contacts with him, her almost murderer. At the same time, she was also curious how the Sheriff's cruel henchman had eventually turned against Vaisey and joined the outlaws whom he had despised and had wanted to kill. Guy's words that he had wished Robin to live sounded sincere.

Marian was told that young and handsome Archer was the half-brother of Robin and Guy, and it utterly confused her. Archer grinned as mischievously as Robin did and shared Robin's passion for theatrics, and it warmed Marian to him. Archer treated Marian with the utmost respect and care; he was obviously fascinated with her, and it made her smile. She had listened to a long and detailed tale about long-lost siblings and dysfunctional families; she considered it unusual that the mystery joined the former enemies with the purpose to destroy their enemies and vanquish the tyranny.

She had no certain opinion about Tuck, except that she wasn't fond of his religious fervor. Tuck was a quiet, contemplative man, at times annoying and dull but always able to encourage and inspire the people. Yet, Marian didn't like Tuck's words that Robin and she were destined by God to save England and the people of England. The monk believed that Robin and Marian possessed divine power and had divine immunity. Marian herself wasn't sure she believed in God anymore after everything that had happened to her, and Tuck's preaches irritated her.

And there was young Kate, a potter girl from Locksley, but Marian didn't remember her very well. Marian didn't like Kate's reaction to her return to Sherwood. Every time Kate noticed how Marian took Robin's hand in hers and spoke to him as if he were able to hear her, the girl stiffened and averted her gaze. Marian noticed Kate's awkward behavior in her presence in the camp, and she realized that the girl was embarrassed by her identity – Robin's wife.

The loud voice in the back of her head said to Marian that Kate had probably been infatuated with Robin. Every time she looked at Kate, she only smiled wryly, her expression attentive and stern. Feeling as if a fist closed around her heart, the pain of it making it almost impossible to breathe, she wondered whether Robin had already moved on, starting a romance with a mere peasant girl from Locksley. She didn't exclude that Robin could have a new romantic relationship, perhaps even of a sexual nature, trying to move on and leave past behind.

A myriad of questions whirled in Marian's mind. Did Robin move on so easily after her supposed death? Did he fall out of love with her? The very thought that Robin no longer loved her hurt her. She knew that Robin had loved her with all his heart before her death, and he couldn't forget her so quickly. She suspected that he had needed distraction; she understood him, but she didn't want to deal with that. But now Robin's relations with other women were not important because Robin's life was in danger.

Marian sat on Robin's bunk, holding his hand and stroking his hair. Robin looked very attractive, his hair falling rakishly across his forehead, his green linen shirt half-unfastened, revealing an indecent expanse of his smooth skin on his lean chest. He looked so peaceful that it even frightened Marian to the depths of her heart and soul, for she knew that he was not dead. She bent her head and checked the pulse on his neck: his heart was beating, and his breathing was steady and not labored. Relieved, she raised her head and saw Djaq standing near the bunk.

"You need to eat. Take it," Djaq said, holding a platter with pork and vegetable in her arms.

"Thank you, Djaq, but I'm not hungry." Marian straightened from her uncomfortable pose on the bunk, and, leaning slightly forward, took the platter into her arms.

"You should eat," Djaq repeated insistently.

Marian took a painful breath. "I cannot eat. I cannot sleep. I cannot do anything."

"I know," the young Saracen assured her. "But you will not help Robin if you persist in this unfriendly attitude towards yourself."

"Djaq, I just cannot." Marian's voice was slightly trembling.

Cocking an eyebrow at her, Djaq laughed at her. "Are you sure that Robin wouldn't have been angry if he had known that you are always refusing to eat while he is sick?"

Marian smiled vaguely. "Well, I will try to eat, but only for Robin and for you," she conceded. "I'm not hungry. I'm serious. I'm just worried."

Djaq shook her head. "I know what you feel." She looked over at the bunk, her eyes taking in Robin's pale features. "Robin is a strong man who survived through many hardships. He cheated death many times, and he will do it again."

"He once told me that he has a talent of cheating death, and I kind of agree with him," Marian said solemnly. "But I'm also well aware that he may finally run out of luck."

Djaq looked troubled for an instant, but then her face recovered confidence. "This time Robin was again too close to death, closer than ever before, but he is not dead." She put a comforting hand on Marian's shoulder. "Be patient. He will awake."

Marian gave a nod. "I pray he will awake. Can we do something else to help him?"

"No. We must wait," Djaq gave her verdict.

With their permission, Much and Will joined them during their meal. Sitting next to Robin's bunk, they ate in a perfect silence, looking between Robin and the green gloom of the forest that seem to close in on them as the darkness fell. Then they all sat silent for a long time, just enjoying a moment of silence, reveling in the refreshing coolness that had come at sunset. The rustling of the wildlife in the woods nearby drifted to them, soothing and thrilling at the same time.

Djaq gave Robin another dose of antidote; then Will and she retired, wishing everyone goodnight and asking to wake her up if there was even a slight change in Robin's condition.

Much and Marian remained alone, a long and tense silence strengthening between them. Much was going to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Marian because it was a good time for that. It was either now or never, and he decided that it was a right time for that.

Leaning against the trunk of a tree in some distance from Marian, Much seated himself on the ground, looking at Marian, his eyes full of uneasiness. Marian didn’t speak, waiting for him to break the silence because she knew that he wanted to tell her something important. But Much was quiet, trying to collect his thoughts and prepare for the embarrassing and candid conversation.

Much dragged in a deep breath. "Marian, I was always jealous of Robin to you," he began.

Marian stared at him incredulously, thunderstruck. "Why, Much?"

"I knew that you were more important to Robin than anyone else, even than I have ever been."

"Much, Robin loves you. You are his best friend."

Much nodded. "He had said the same before he died, before we thought that he had died." He sighed heavily. "I'm his best friend, but I will never be as dear to him as you are."

"Much, Robin loves you and me, but it is a different love. I'm his wife, and you are his best friend."

"I know, I know," Much said, preparing to talk to Marian about very serious things. "But there are some important things I want to tell you."

"I'm listening."

Much flashed a wan smile. "I had never understood how deeply Robin loved you until you died in the Holy Land. And then, only after your supposed death, I understood how truly important you were to Robin, and it was the moment when I stopped being jealous. I knew that a part of him had died as well, that you had taken that part, a large and good part, from him and all of us. You were everything to Robin, and after your death, his world died as well."

"How did you figure that out?" Marian swallowed, looking miserable.

"Robin was not himself for several months. He tried to kill Gisborne immediately after our arrival from the Holy Land, but he nearly died himself: Guy threw Robin from the cliff, beaten and unconscious, but Tuck saved him," Much said flatly. He stilled, hardly daring breath, his mind replaying negative moments of the past, and he stiffened. "It was a terrible time."

She felt anger simmering in her blood at the news that Guy had almost killed Robin. "And?"

"Yes, but thanks to God Robin survived," Much confirmed. "In the next several months, it seemed that Robin managed to move on. He prohibited talking about you and even calling you by your first name." He glanced into Marian's eyes. "Maybe some of us might have believed that he had begun to forget you, Marian, but it was a mistake."

"He didn't move on, did he?"

"Of course, he didn't," Much stated with conviction. "Robin could try to fool everyone that he was fine, but I knew that he lied to us and that he tried to lie to himself."

"Yeah, but…" She stumbled with words.

"What?"

"What about Kate?"

Much arched a brow. "And what about her?"

"Kate likes Robin too much. She has affection for him," Marian voiced her observations.

"You are right," Much confirmed with a sigh.

Her emotions in chaos, Marian remained silent, her hands clenching and unclenching in fists at her sides. She was well aware that underneath her anger was a growing feeling of betrayal and disappointment, for she didn't want Robin to be with any other woman in her absence.

"I have an impression that Kate was considered Robin's girl in my absence," she said after a long pause. "Is that so, Much? Please tell me the truth."

He leaned forward. "And if Kate became Robin's love interest, what will you do then?"

Marian felt her heart constrict in pain. "I will have to forgive Robin, but it will take time. After all, he thought that I was dead and had a right to move on."

"There also was Isabella," Much notified.

She raised an eyebrow. "Guy's sister?"

"Yes. At first, Isabella fancied Robin, and we thought that she was on our side. She even helped the gang on several occasions. Later Robin rejected Isabella, and she allied herself with Prince John; she started hating Robin and eventually almost killed him."

Marian looked at Robin, her heart beating faster. Obviously, Robin had enjoyed female attention in her absence. She had always known that Robin liked women and they liked him in return, but she had never thought that he would have two love interests in only one year after her supposed death. The role of those women in Robin's life wasn't something she wanted to think about, for that brought her devastating emotions, but she was also surprised by the burst of plain old jealousy that knifed through her at the news Much shared with her. She broke into a laugh at herself, aware that she was uncharacteristically jealous of Robin to Isabella, a dead woman and their enemy.

"Well, women have always been attracted to Robin, the handsome Earl of Huntingdon and the heroic Robin Hood," Marian said coldly, even a little ruefully. "Robin is a ladies man and he will never change. Women just fall to his feet and he doesn't need to pursue them if he wants to enjoy their attention."

"Do you think that Robin doesn't appear to worship you at your feet?"

Marian grinned. "Absolutely not! It would be awfully hard being put on a pedestal and adored."

Much shook his head in disagreement. "I hope that you are joking, Marian. You are the only woman Robin has ever truly loved and whom he will always love."

Marian cocked a brow. "Robin didn't replace me, did he?"

"No, he didn't. Never doubt Robin's true feelings for you. He loves you and only you."

Much decided to tell Marian the truth about Kate and Isabella to make Robin free from Kate's clutches and to help his best friend. Much decided that if he told Marian the truth while Robin was still sick, Robin would avoid the inconvenience of informing his beloved wife about some unpleasant private things. It was difficult for Much to begin to

to understand his former master, and he knew that Robin would explain everything to Marian in a way that would make things more complicated and rather awkward between them.

Marian looked somewhat embarrassed, and then a bright, charming smile lit up the contours of her pale face. "How do you know that?"

"It may seem that Robin was interested in Kate and Isabella as women, but only at first glance," Much replied, with an odd combination of exquisite politeness and hard bluntness in his voice. "Robin has never loved them. They wanted his attention and liked him, and he didn't reject their affection." He sighed. "Perhaps he didn't want to hurt them." Then he smiled. "But I know for sure that Robin has never had anything physical with them, only some… elementary things…"

"Euphemism, Much?" Marian asked, smiling at Much's shyness. Hope revived in her heart at the thought that Robin had been faithful to her, physically and in his heart as well.

Much made a face. "Yes." His cheeks turned crimson, but he had to speak directly. "I know for sure that Robin has never betrayed his marriage vows. Don't ask me how I know that. I just know."

"Are you really serious about that?" Her heart was beating faster in delight, and she let out the breath she wasn't even conscious of holding.

"Yes, I'm," Much replied; a blush suffused his cheeks. "When we thought that you were dead, Robin was not the old Robin whom everyone loved and admired. Even in a daytime, he was different; his eyes didn't sparkle, his cheeky smiles were fake, and even his posture of a swaggerer looked unnatural." He chuckled. "Robin can pretend very well, but he cannot deceive me."

"He always keeps his emotions to himself," she said in her throaty voice.

"Almost always," Much amended. "Now when he is alone and thinks that no one can hear him."

She looked curious. "I can't stand it a moment longer. Tell me what you know about Robin."

"I once witnessed Robin's confession near Sir Edward's grave," Much said truthfully. "Robin often disappeared at sunset. He didn't take anyone with him and said that he had some deals in Locksley. I was worried about him and followed him, and so we came to your father's grave."

"And what did you hear Robin say, if I may ask?" Marian asked, lowering her gaze. Her thoughts were whirling; she was frightened and excited.

Much laughed heartily. "Robin stood over Sir Edward's grave and wept like a small child. He begged him for forgiveness that he hadn't saved you from Gisborne's sword and that he had let him down after he had promised him to take care of you and never leave you again." He smiled, such a tender smile, but there were tears in the corners of his eyes. "Robin said that you are the only woman he has ever loved. He also said that he dreamt of dying to be reunited with you in heaven."

Marian felt as if her heart could burst out of her chest. She was so happy to hear that Robin had visited her father's grave and had said those words exactly to her beloved father, and she didn't know whether to laugh or cry. If he said those magic words over her father's grave, it meant that Robin still loved her, truly and deeply. Much's confession meant the whole world to her, and she was immensely grateful to the former manservant.

She lurched to her feet and approached Much. She kissed him on both cheeks, and her arms hugged him. They stood frozen in a friendly, warm embrace, and it brought them a sense of calm. In their frankness about Robin's life and their concern about his heath, they saw each other, and they felt strangely at peace, knowing that their Robin was alive and needed their support.

Marian drew back from Much, looking at the man with a large, happy smile on her face. Her eyes flooded with tears of joy. A lump formed in her throat, and she swallowed and scrubbed her eyes like a little child and sniffed back more tears. "Well, you did the right thing, Much," she said. "I think that Robin wouldn’t admit that to me."

Much nodded. "That's why I wanted to talk to you. For Robin and for you."

Marian smiled gratefully. "Thank you, Much,” she said happily.

Marian and Guy achieved a truce. I tried to explain why she lied to him and manipulated him, but I didn’t make Guy a victim as it would be unfair to say that Marian is the only guilty party.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Heaven on Earth

After her conversation with Much, Marian went to sleep on Robin's bunk, not intending to leave her husband alone even for a minute. She lay still, very still, thinking of her conversation with Much, a multitude of emotions coursing through her. She shifted slightly on the hard bunk, her gaze falling on Robin as the faint moonlight streamed in and illuminated his features.

Marian stared at her husband, her eyes taking in his handsome features and her hands stroking his roguishly cut hair, something almost like pain moved in her chest. She prayed that he would recover and they would be together. She loved him and he loved her, and she was happy in the sensation of that blissful delight; she was charmed, disarmed, and inspired by Much's confession.

Marian had no way of knowing how long she slept, but some strange sound snapped her into a sudden wakefulness. She lay still, all her senses straining to fix the point of the noise that had awakened her. A brief glance at the sky showed that she awoke at dawn. The sound came again, and she realized that someone was slowly approaching them; then she saw a female shadow standing near the bunk. She pretended to be asleep and waited for an intruder to reveal himself.

When Kate came into view, Marian decided to continue pretending asleep and observed Kate from the corner of her eye, anger simmering in her blood. Kate stood not far from their bunk and watched Robin, her expression revealing anguish and pain; as Kate's gaze fell on Marian, she grimaced in the moonlight and muttered something to herself.

Then another shadow, a tall and wide shadow of a male figure, emerged from behind the tree, and Marian realized that it was Guy. She heard Guy tell Kate something and saw him lead her away. She was grateful to Guy that he had saved her from Kate's annoying stare.

In spite of her protests, Guy led Kate to the nearby clearing, intending to talk to her seriously.

Guy watched Kate during the past days. He felt a kind of a kindred spirit in her as they both were in the same position: Guy still loved Marian, Kate believed in her love for Robin, whereas Marian and Robin fiercely loved each other. Having already understood that Robin had masked his regrets and pain with his cheeky grins and his seemingly devil-may-care attitude, Guy had no doubt that Robin had loved Marian. Guy and Kate appeared to be out of reach for the people they liked and wanted to be with, and it put them in a similar position.

Guy smirked. "Are you feeling a little better after watching Robin and Marian sleeping together?"

"It is not your deal, Guy of Gisborne," Kate hissed through gritted teeth, the palm of her hand itching to wipe that mocking expression off his face.

"You are depressed, aren't you?" he asked, his eyes taking into the tightened lines of her face.

She gave him a sidelong glance. "Is it so obvious?"

"Aren't you happy that Robin is alive?"

Kate turned away and continued walking. "Of course, I'm."

He studied her angry expression. "Are you angry with Marian?"

Kate scowled. "She came back from the dead and turned everything upside down."

Guy reached out for her shoulder, making her stop. "Stop talking and look at me."

"What do you want?" she snapped.

"Robin is sick; he needs a proper care. When he awakes, he will still need much time to recover."

"And what, Gisborne?"

"We must have a healthy environment in the camp," Guy said insistently. "Marian's presence shouldn't bother you. Her miraculous return is helping Robin recover much more than all of Djaq’s medicines."

"Gisborne, I think we are putting an awful lot of hope on the return of Lady Marian that may or may not help Robin recover." Her tone was insulting.

"With all due respect, Kate, I must say that you are wrong. I'm sure that Robin feels Marian's presence and it helps him feel better," Guy responded, his voice devoid of emotions, his gaze hard. "People always feel better when they are with those who love them."

"Robin loves me!" she cried out indignantly, her chin down to her chest.

His gaze softened as Kate bowed her head. "No, he doesn't. Robin loves Marian, not you. He may have some feelings for you, but they are different from what he feels for Marian," he assured her. "Marian is his wife. They married with her dying breath in Acre. Respect their marriage vows."

She looked hurt and agitated. Robin was married, and marriage vows were unbreakable, even and especially on the deathbed. Still, her heart refused to accept defeat so easily. "Robin liked and valued my company. He was attentive to me. He protected me."

Guy smiled. "Kate, you are an innocent and young girl. You don't know men and what they feel for women. You don't know life at all." He leaned closer to her. "I have known Robin for years. He has always been a true charmer and a flirt. His outspoken personality, his handsome looks, and the reputation of the hero undoubtedly attract women’s attention to him. Robin flirts and charms women, but it doesn't mean that it is something serious and that he wants something improper."

Kate shook her head. She looked defeated, wondering whether she was just an entertainment for Robin Hood. "Robin truly liked me. He kissed me after I kissed him."

"Kate, Robin will be very happy when he learns that Marian is alive."

"And what?"

"I ask you not to meddle into Marian and Robin's relations," Guy said insistently, stringently. "Don't show your feelings for Robin so openly. Don't make everyone feel uncomfortable."

"Why is it so important?"

"Don't create tension. We don't need it now."

She sneered. "You are so concerned about Robin when you hated him not a long ago."

He sighed. "Robin is not my enemy anymore. I do care for him."

"Nice to hear that from you," she said sarcastically, but with a hint of appreciation. "I will stay away from them." She shut her eyes for a moment. "It is too painful to watch his wife near Robin."

Guy raised her chin and glanced at her. "I watched you, and I see that you don't love Robin. You love the idea of being Robin Hood's sweetheart." His eyes were kind. "Think about what I said."

"I myself know what to do," Kate snapped, ignoring his heartfelt advice. Then she swung around and walked away, back to the main outlaws' camp and to her lonely bunk.

Kate stumbled into Archer who was preparing to leave the camp for target practice, which he usually had at dawn. Kate repressed a gasp as she looked into his handsome face; he looked so attractive that she felt goose bumps rippled all over her under his intensive and curious gaze.

Archer grinned. "Kate, is jealousy such a bad thing that you cannot sleep?" he asked teasingly.

 “Let me go,” Kate said sharply.

“I’m not holding you,” Archer retorted with a laugh; his hand was playing with a string of his bow.

“You are a rude and impudent man,” she snapped.

The teasing light vanished as Archer placed his hands on her shoulders. “And you are a shrill and pretty young thing, Kate.” A strange smile curved his mouth. “But you are also very foolish.”

Kate took his hands from her shoulders and took a step backwards. “You have no right to call my foolish,” she blurted out angrily, her fingertips grazing her wrists. “You don’t know me.”

Archer sighed. "I'm sorry if my words hurt you, but I meant to say something for your sake.”

“What do you want?’

“Robin is not yours,” he said directly. “Don’t waste time on someone who cannot be yours, Kate.”

“You… you…” Kate raised her hand to strike him, then lowered her hand.

Archer made a step toward her, but Kate held him off at arm's length. He shook his head, then said, “You are only tormenting yourself, Kate. Forget about your romance with Robin Hood.”

Kate wished to hit Archer for the truth he had just told her. But instead of lashing out physically at him, she swung around and walked to her bunk. As she seated herself on the edge of her bed, she heard his retreating footsteps as Archer walked into the forest. Kate put her hand onto the pillow and quietly wept, forcing herself to accept the fact that Robin was no longer available for her.  

In the bleak rays of the autumn morning sunlight, Robin shifted his body on the bunk. Feeling as if lethal fog surrounded him from all sides, he wasn't able to identify his surroundings at first, and only with a great effort of will, he managed to open his heavy eyelids. The first thing he became aware of was that he was not alone as he discovered Marian sleeping in inches from him. She looked so beautiful and so peaceful that his heart pounded harder at the sight of her lovely face and her full, rosy lips he was craving to kiss for so many months.

Robin looked at Marian for a long time, contemplating her features and luxuriating in the feeling of her physical closeness to him. He believed that he was in Heaven if Marian was near him. Robin smiled to himself at the thought that he had found her after his death and their most interesting adventure was still ahead. Unable to hold back the grin that had been threatening to break on his face since he had opened his eyes and seen her, Robin let it spread across his features, and then moved to his wife on the bunk. He reached out for her and pulled her closer to himself.

His eyes drowsy with desire, Robin felt an explosive mixture of love and tenderness slamming through his being. He couldn't wait any longer – he wanted to kiss and taste her. His mouth found hers and he crushed his lips on hers. He kissed her urgently, and she kissed him back, his hunger for her almost wild. He kissed her again and again, each kiss deeper and more possessive, more intimate than before. Her body was molded against his, her arms around his neck, and her lips were warm and generous under his, her tongue meeting and tangling with his.

“My Marian,” Robin whispered against her lips, and a hint of a smile appeared on his face, letting Marian know that Robin’s voice wasn’t a hallucination of her drowsy and sleepy mind.

Suddenly, Marian drew back from him, her eyes wide in amazement. "Robin," she whispered, glancing into his blue eyes darkened with passion, her hands slipping down to his chest.

With dazed, slumberous eyes, Robin stared at her, hunger for her flowing through him. "I have finally found you. I knew that I would find you in Heaven," he murmured. He groaned, and his lips again sought hers hungrily as he positioned himself above her, supporting his weight on his arms.

Startled, Marian glanced up at him as he leaned over her. "Robin, you are awake!"

"Marian!" Robin repeated her name like a mantra. "I have found you! I have been waiting for the moment to reunite with you for so long! And God granted my wish! Now you are mine!"

A look of bewilderment crossed Marian's features as her mind registered his words and she tried to understand their meaning. Then she became aware of what was happening to Robin and what he was thinking, and she laughed at him, easily and lightly. At that moment, she was delighted and happy that they had carried Robin's bunk to the small camp located quite far from the large camp where the other outlaws lived, so nobody could see them.

Robin wasn't going to wait any longer. His eyes fixed on hers, he stripped the shirt from his body and then removed his pants; then he removed her nightshirt and even her undergarments with the speed of an expert. Still in a daze from his unexpected awakening and more from hasty actions, Marian didn't protest, and gasped at the realization that they were already naked under the blanket. She trembled all over at the touch of his calloused fingers slid up to her neck and stripped her top off her shoulders while his hands explored her naked body with tenderness.

“Robin,” Marian whispered. She flexed her fingers against the warm flesh, and he groaned against her lips. Robin gave her a cheeky smile, and his mouth captured hers.

Robin broke the kiss and looked into her sapphire eyes. "It wasn't the way I planned it, my love, but I cannot stop myself," he muttered, and then he dropped a kiss on her mouth. "I have found you, and I'm happy for the first time since… your death."

Marian smiled at him. "I'm happier than you, my love."

"Marian, my Marian," he whispered, enjoying the sound of her name. "I’m the happiest man in Heaven! Now we are going to have our best adventure!" Gently, his lips found hers and he kissed her, and he could feel desire stirring in his veins. "You make me lose my head. I can think of nothing but being with you now when we are again together."

She grinned. "Robin, you have always loved adventures, right? It seems you will never change."

"Why should I change? I know you like me for being a cheeky rogue." Robin flashed a charming smile. "This will be our greatest adventure, my love. I promise." There was a wicked and mischievous gleam in his blue eyes. "What do you think about a delicious and pleasant reunion in Heaven?"

Not giving Marian time to answer, Robin thrust into her with one powerful movement, and she gasped, welcoming his invasion, feeling the pressure begin to build almost instantly, the need to taste again the joy he could give her urgent and demanding body. His mouth crushed down on hers, and he kissed her with tenderness they had never shared before. His lips and teeth grazed the skin of her neck, and she let out a small cry of sheer arousal and pleasure.

“I need you so much,” Robin whispered against her lips.

Kissing her neck, Robin began moving inside her, at first in gentle thrusts, then deeper and faster. Her arms tightened around his back, and she threw back her head, enjoying the glory of their reunion, the world exploding in crimson and gold behind her lids. Soon they reached a powerful release, happy that they were again together, marveling in the closeness to one another.

It was a long time before either one of them could move. And then Robin's body gradually slipped from hers with slow, languid movements, and he wrapped his arms around her warm body. She snuggled into his embrace, and they lay side by side on the bunk, their arms entwined, their lips slightly touching, their hands and fingers lightly caressing their flesh. They didn't speak for a long, long moment, and instead their eyes, hands, and mouths did that for them, as they continued kissing and caressing each other. They felt magically complete when they were so close.

Robin grinned. "It is marvelous to be in Heaven," he whispered, his lips brushing hers.

Marian smiled lazily. "Oh, Robin, you are such a fool."

He slid a finger down her nose. "Isn't that good to be together again?"

"If I told you that we are not in heaven, would you believe me?" she asked with a smile. "Or would you be even more arrogant than you already are and say that I'm deceiving you?"

"But Heaven is like Sherwood! Isn't that good?" Robin's eyes were happy and warm. He turned his gaze to look into the woods around, while his fingers caressed her bare legs.

She burst into laughter. "We are not in Heaven, Robin."

His expression changed into astonishment. "In hell? You cannot be in hell."

She smiled at him slyly. "Oh, Robin, Robin."

He glanced at her, a smile now on his face. "I'm ready to be in hell, but only with you."

"That's the problem that we cannot be there," she said, pointing her finger at his nose tip. "We are neither in Heaven, nor in hell. We are in Sherwood."

Robin laughed. "Are you trying to trick me, my dear wife?" He pulled her up into his arms and kissed her with explicit thoroughness.

Suddenly, the loud voices came from behind the trees and bushes, and then four figures appeared. Much, Guy, Archer, and Little John gasped for air at the sight of Robin tightly holding Marian in his embrace, the blanket covering only half of his body and Marian's body up to her shoulders.

"Well, well, well," Archer began, grinning impudently. "We disturbed lovebirds in their nest."

"This I like and don't like," Little John said as he studied the picture before his eyes.

"Euphemism," Much said more to himself than to the others. He blushed, but a warm smile manifested on his tired face because Robin had awakened and had obviously had a good time with his wife.

Blushing right up to the top of his head, Guy tossed his head. "Definitely, euphemism! We should leave," he managed to say. Then he strode away as fast as his legs carried him.

They all hurried to leave in a dazed silence to avoid awkwardness of the situation.

Marian thought that her entire body had turned crimson in embarrassment under the blanket, and she was ready to kill Robin with her bare hands at that moment. Robin was quiet for a long time, thinking and trying to realize what was happening around him. And then he laughed heartily, and as his laugh faded away, a large smile curved his sensual lips. Marian trembled in his arms, and his smiling face, his brilliant azure eyes laughing at her and the situation, wafted hazily through her brain, but, in spite of her embarrassment, she felt her lips form a tiny smile.

Robin gave her a searching, serious look. "How is that possible? We both must be dead." He hugged her, his lips almost touching her temple.

Marian leaned back on her elbow and smiled at him. "We are not dead, but it is a long story."

Robin bent his head and kissed Marian, his mouth melding urgently with hers, his hands travelling down her body. He kissed her with an increasing desperation and intensity, his tongue filling and exploring her mouth, his desire enflaming both of them as his hands reluctantly left her shoulders and slid to her breasts. Gently, he stroked and fondled her body until his finger didn't reach her stomach where he could feel a roughened flesh in the place where she had been stabbed.

Robin took the blanket away and looked at the long, ugly scar in the lower part of her abdomen. It was the scar from Guy's blade, and he felt his heart skip a beat. His fingers gently traced the scar, and Marian allowed him to do that, perhaps to let him understand that she was not a ghost.

The scar reminded Robin of the great tragedy on the day when he had married Marian and had become a widower in less than two minutes. The memory brought only bring grief and pain to him, and he shuddered in horror, then shut his eyes tightly. "Oh, God," he murmured.

"Robin, are you alright?" she asked wit concern. She covered them with a blanket.

"I’m fine." Robin opened his eyes and looked at her for a few long moments, as if he were unable to believe that she was real. "How could it happen, Marian? Why didn't I know that you survived?"

When Marian finished the long tale about her survival, she could see raw the pain and emotional scars etched into his face. It was a window to his soul, revealing what Robin had been through when he had believed she had been dead. He had rarely shown her his real emotions! Marian knew that he would grieve for her death and that he would try to move on in the end, but only now she began to realize how much Robin had been through in the past year.

Marian felt Robin stiffen beside her, and then she heard him sigh. He was very distressed to learn that she had been alive all this time and had spent so much time in the Saracen captivity.

Robin's expression became every serious. "It is a miracle that you are alive, Marian."

"Yes." She also found it difficult to believe that she had survived.

"Are… you really fine now, my love?" His voice was so low that it vibrated in his chest.

"Yes," she assured him.

"I should have been there with you and for you," he whispered.

She glanced at him, her eyes revealing the same pain she could see in his eyes. "I'm here now, handsome. It is already over." She cupped his face with her hands. "I'm here."

"My love, I will never let you leave me again," Robin breathed into her mouth. "I cannot live without you, and it is so good that we are alone here now. Everything and everyone else can wait."

He bent down and kissed her in her lips, passionately and hungrily. Her eyes closed and with an audible sigh of pleasure, her slim arms closed around his strong neck, her body lying fully on his. She returned his kiss fervently and passionately. A slow sweet fire ignited within their bodies.

Marian almost cried out aloud in disappointment when his lips left hers. "What?" she asked.

Robin smiled as his eyes took in her face that was flushed with desire, her mouth soft and red from his kisses. "You are the love of my life, Marian. I'm going to have Heaven on Earth with you here, right now." He gave a throaty laugh. "I think that we shall never leave this bunk, but stay here forever, locked in each other's arms. I know that they will not disturb us anytime soon."

Marian hit him on his chest and shot him a look of annoyance, but he captured her hand and planted a thread of tender kisses on her palm. Laughing at her annoyed expression, he jerked her head up and his mouth finding hers in an increasingly urgent kiss, his hand caressing her flesh and sliding down her flanks and stomach. Then they joined together again, and it was Heaven for them.

Three weeks more passed since Robin’s awakening and the embarrassing incident when the outlaws had seen Marian and Robin together in their bed. Since then, nobody disturbed them in the second small camp, not wishing to be in the same uncomfortable situation again.

Although Robin was not as physically strong as he had been before poisoning, he insisted that they would share a bed every night, not wishing to be separated from his beloved. Every night Robin and Marian were making love, and she taunted him that he was not England’s man through and through but a ladies man. Even though Robin was still recovering, he found strength to be together with Marian because his most cherished dream come true – she was alive and with him.

After their lovemaking, Robin and Marian often lay in each other’s arms, quiet and contemplating, enjoying the precious moments of privacy under the cover of the night. Though they had become lovers before Marian’s death in the Holy Land, they hadn’t spent even a single night together before. The experience was new for them, and they found that they had never been as happy as they were not. They had lost each other too many times, but now they were finally together.

Robin had taken Marian’s innocence in Sherwood Forest after the siege of Nottingham by Prince John’s troops when Vaisey had gone on his sleepwalking tour to find the outlaws’ camp and the Pact of Nottingham. She had found him in the woods in their rendezvous place after the Sheriff’s return to Nottingham, and they had stood looking at each other in a shocked silence for what had seemed to be eternity, thinking that they had almost lost each other on that day. Then Marian had taken the initiative and had approached him, having made up her mind what she had wanted.

Marian had kissed him as desperately as she had never kissed him before, and Robin had responded hungrily, his lips devouring hers. He had asked her whether she had been aware of what she had been doing to him, and she had nodded in agreement. Marian hadn’t wished to wait for more just in case one of them had died before the King’s return. She had allowed Robin to take her maidenhead in the woods; she had never regretted her decision. Later they had been intimate every time when she had come to Robin to the forest to inform him about the Sheriff’s plans.

Robin had told her that he had been careful and that she shouldn’t have conceived a child; but he had been mistaken in spite of his huge experience with women when he had always been careful not to sire a bastard on the women whom he had bedded in his former life of a bachelor. Marian suspected that Robin’s control had slipped away the throes of passion and nature had prevailed over his caution. But Robin had never known that Marian had been pregnant.

She wasn’t intending to inform Robin about the death of their unborn child; she had told Guy the same weeks ago. They had achieved a fragile peace, and she didn’t want to ruin it.

Marian was still mourning the loss of Robin’s child; she also suffered that she would probably never become a mother again. The Saracen doctors had told her that she would probably never bear children because her womb could have been seriously damaged; but they had also said that they hadn’t known for sure. She had also asked Djaq about the matter, and the answer had been the same. But Marian felt and hoped against any hope that she hadn’t become barren, dreaming that perhaps she was already carrying Robin’s child after sharing his bed for nearly three weeks.

Robin liked when his head lay on Marian’s chest because he could hear her heartbeat, the sound that was more precious than anything else in the world because it meant that she was alive. When she had removed the sword from her body, and he had believed she had died, he had been ready to sell his soul to the devil if it had meant that she would survive. Now he could hear her steady heartbeat, and he needed to hear it again and again to reassure himself that she was alive.    

But when Robin fell asleep, Marian could often witness how her husband suffered from nightmares, haunted by the war horrors he had seen and had done with his own hand in the Holy Land. Marian had known before that Robin had been changed by the war in the Holy Land and that he had been struggling with his demons alone, not allowing anyone to see the part of his heart which had been affected by the war. Yet, she had never known the magnitude of that damage.

She knew that she had to talk to Robin because there was many things they needed to discuss after their reunion. But she didn’t pressure him to talk about his nightmares and the dark sides of his life, hoping that he would open his heart to her by himself, which, however, didn’t happen. Marian only sighed as Robin refused to talk about the war and his nightmares over and over again.

Marian and Robin didn’t discuss painful themes for quite some time, enjoying the break between the battles. They were together, and only their reunion was reality. Nothing else mattered.

The first streaks of dawn were in the sky when Marian opened her eyes of strikingly blue color. She smiled at the sight of Robin’s peaceful face as her husband was sleeping next to her. Marian moved on the bunk and the covers slipped from her shoulder; she shivered with cold, snuggling closer to Robin. Autumn nights were already rather cold, and they had to use a very warm blanket to keep their bodies warm enough in the nighttime. Robin didn’t stir as she moved closer to him.

Suddenly, a spasm seized Robin, and he started tossing his head on the pillow, muttering something under his breath about the Saracen attack and the necessity to get help into the King’s tent. Marian took Robin’s hand in hers and bent her head down, then whispered into his ear that he was not alone. Usually, her presence soothed Robin’s nightmares, but now it was already too late because he was having the nightmare about the Saracen attack, his most special dream.

Robin awoke with a loud scream, his eyes wide-open and his breathing labored. He shook his head, trying to shake off the images of his fight with the masked Saracen – Guy of Gisborne – in the King’s tent. When he had this dream, Robin always awoke at the moment when he sliced Guy’s forearm, saw the black wolf's head tattoo, and then watched Guy escape before collapsing.

Marian released a sigh of frustration. In the past few weeks, she witnessed Robin’s sufferings from recurrent, terrible nightmares, his mind wandering in the battlefields of Outremer, though physically he was in Sherwood Forest. “Robin, how are you?” she asked with concern.

Robin shook his head, as if he were trying to shake off the last vestiges of the bad dream. “I’m alright,” he said in a trembling voice; he dragged a deep, excruciating breath. “You know that it always happens to me, my love. I beg my pardon that I disturbed you.”

Marian sighed heavily; she knew that he wasn’t fine at all. “Tell me about your dream, Robin.”

He glanced away. “Please don’t ask me about it.”

After Robin’s return from the Crusade, he always was like a closed book for Marian: she saw that he was no longer the same young man who had left her to fight for the King and achieve glory on the battlefield. She had often told Robin that he had needed to grow up, which had been a part of their flirtatious games they both had enjoyed a great deal. The truth was that she had known Robin had already grown up and become a man, but she’d had no idea what he had survived through until she herself had spent months in the Holy Land in the Saracen captivity. Robin had always refused to talk about the war horrors, but now Marian was determined to make him talk because she needed to know each and every part of Robin’s heart and soul, even the darkest parts of Robin.

“Robin,” she called him softly.

Robin turned his head and stared at her, his expression vulnerable, and she could see the raw pain in his blue eyes. “I don’t want you to know what I did in the Holy Land, Marian.”

Robin’s pain and misery made Marian’s heart ache. “You cannot always keep your true emotions to yourself,” she said softly. “You need to talk, Robin.”

“I cannot,” he objected.

He shifted his body, trying to find a comfortable position on the bunk and re-arranging the blanket around them. As he wanted to move away from her, she enfolded him in a tight embrace, wrapping her hands around his back and looking into his eyes, but he didn’t want to look at her and gazed away.

“Robin, we are married,” she said in a caressing voice. “We are a husband and a wife until death do us part.” She brushed away strands of his hair from his forehead. As he turned his gaze at her, she smiled at him. “I want to know everything about you, even the things you are ashamed to tell anyone. I want to understand you and help you, my love.”

Robin’s cheeks stung as if he had been struck because her words made him feel weak and ashamed. “Marian, I fear you may be disappointed in me if I give you a long tale about what I did in the Holy Land.” His voice sounded too fragile, too vulnerable. “I did too many horrible things.”

“Please tell me, Robin,” she pleaded.

“I’m sorry, Marian. I cannot,” Robin responded, his voice low and husky.

Robin had never talked about the war even to Much who had seen him in the worst moments of his darkness and knew what he was capable to do if he was seized by bloodlust. He had done taken too many lives, and he only wanted to forget about the years he had spent in the Holy Land. He was deadly with a bow and a sword, but he wasn’t proud of his outstanding fighting skills because it was too easy to kill for him if he didn’t control himself. He couldn’t talk about the Holy Land. It was beyond his moral and physical strength to remember what he had done there.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Love in the Woods

Robin continued staring into space, lost in his dark thoughts. Marian watched him with a concerned expression. The pain seized her heart at the thought that she had never seen Robin so vulnerable before. She had been accustomed to seeing the brave, arrogant and self-assured Robin, a famous hero and a cheeky rogue, but now Robin was only a young man who carried deep regrets in his heart and heavy burdens on his shoulders without complaints.

Marian cupped his face and kissed him on his lips. This time it was not a passionate kiss, but a gentle kiss, reassuring him of her love, of how much she wished to be his harbor from all the pain he was hiding in his heart.

She drew back and looked into his eyes. “Robin, I love you with all my heart, and nothing will ever change my feelings for you,” she said truthfully. “I don’t care how many people you killed and what you did. I love you with all your strengths and weakness, despite all your mistakes and for all good deeds you did for England and the people.” She smiled. “I love you, my Robin!”

Robin smiled affectionately. “I love you so much, my Marian.” But then his smile quickly vanished, and suddenly his cheeks were burning with shame. “Forgive me if I have ever hurt you.”

“You hurt me when you left for the Crusade, but I have already forgiven you.”

He looked hopeful. “You have really forgiven me, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I have.” She was still holding his face in her arms.

“Marian,” Robin whispered. “I love you so much – I love your more than life itself. I cannot imagine that I will ever lose you again. I need to be with you every day, every hour, and every minute. I cannot imagine my life without you, my love. I cannot live without you.”

She heard that Robin often called her name as if she were his only saving grace in the world, and her heart pounded harder. “You will not lose me again, Robin.”

Robin leaned forward and kissed her on her lips, giving her another soft and reverent kiss, a kiss full of hope. “I will never let you go, my beloved Marian. We are meant to be together.”  

Marian had told him that they’d had forever when she had been dying in his arms, but a happy life together on earth was a much more tempting thing. “And we will be together, handsome.”

He smiled slightly. “Yes, my Marian, my love.”

“You are my Robin.” There was a laugh in her voice.

Your own Robin,” he corrected with a smile.

“Yes,” she said with a smile.

Robin smiled back at her longingly. “You are my own Marian.” His head lay on Marian’s chest and he could hear the rhythmic pounding of her heart.

Her smile became large and sensitive. “Only yours.”

Marian hugged Robin, and he kissed her on her forehead; then they lay back on the bunk.

“What dream did you have, Robin?” she inquired cautiously.

Robin stiffened. “It was the dream about the Saracen attack,” he whispered against her breast.

She kissed him on top of his head. “Please, don’t fear to talk to me.”

“The night of the Saracen raid was a difficult one.” He moved out of her embrace. His throat constricted, and it became painful to breathe as the images of the past resurfaced in his mind. “When Guy stabbed me, I was sure that I was dying; I was scared to die on that night.”

“It must have been a horrible experience.”

He emitted a heavy sigh. “I still don’t know how I saved the King,” he said in a shaking voice. “I don’t know how I managed to get to the King’s tent before it was too late.” He trailed off, collecting his composure. “Guy stood above King Richard, ready to strike a fatal blow. I was weak and was losing blood, but I fought with him for the King’s life and my own life as well.”

Marian placed her hand on his left side, on his puckered scar. This time, Robin permitted her to touch him there, though he flinched at her tender touch: he had never liked when she had touched him there because it reminded him of his failures, but today was an exception for him. 

She felt her heart skip a beat at the thought that she had nearly lost Robin on that night while she had been in England and hadn’t even suspected about that. “Robin, you saved the King’s life and you survived your almost mortal wound. This is all that matters.”

Robin swung his gaze to her, amazed. “How do you know that it was almost a fatal wound?”

“Did you forget that King Richard ransomed me from captivity?”

“Ah, I should have guessed. Did he tell you something about me?”

“He spoke a lot about you.” Robin had already begun to open up to her, and a torrent of hope surged through her that they could reach a new level of understanding they had never had before.

“What exactly did Richard tell you?”

“The King told me how heroically you saved his life from Guy despite being so grievously wounded. The physician was astounded that you were able to fight with the assassin because men usually either die on the spot or cannot stand on their feet with such a wound. He said that you almost died in fever.”

Robin looked up, at the sky that was glowing pink and scarlet-gold as the sun was rising from behind the trees. He knew that he had been too close to death on the night of the Saracen attack, and he had been really scared on that night. He had feared that he would fail to save the King. But he had feared death very much because he hadn’t wished to die before he’d had another chance, even if only a single chance, to ever see Marian again.

“In the Holy Land, I could have been killed many times. I faced great danger every day,” he informed, willing to open the depths of his heart to the woman he loved so much. “I wasn’t afraid of dying for King Richard and for England. I would have gladly given up my life to save the King or one of my friends.” He sighed. “But I still was afraid of death.”

"There was the reason for that," she pointed out.

Robin turned his gaze to her. Marian gasped as she saw his eyes shimmering with tears. There was so much deep-rooted pain in his eyes that her heart thundered wildly in her thorax. She shut her eyes for a moment, understanding for the first time in her life how deep Robin’s emotional scars were; when she looked at him next time, her own eyes were watery. She raised her hands to his cheek and, with her bare fingers, wiped the streaming tears from his cheeks.

He smiled, feeling how her fingers caressed his wet cheek. “Do you know why I survived in Acre? Do you know why I wasn’t killed in all the battles I fought and why I didn’t die of fever?”

“Tell me.” She wanted to know.

Robin sighed. Marian’s statement that she would love him despite all his mistakes moved him to the core, and he felt that he needed to give her true response. But it was extremely difficult for him to share his fears and insecurities, even with Marian. He felt defenseless as he wasn’t unprotected by his mask of a cheeky rogue, but he was willing to be candid because Marian deserved that.

“It is true that I almost died,” he managed to respond. “I was sure that my hours were numbered when my wound became infected.” He sighed. “I feared to die in Acre before I could see you again.”

Marian blinked her eyes at the sight of the bowed sandy-haired head. “Robin…” She was unable to continue as hot tears stung her eyes and her throat felt tight.

“Marian, you saved me in the Holy Land from death and despair.”

Marian arched a brow. “I saved you?”

Robin looked into the woodland, his eyes taking into the leaves on the crowns of trees which were turning all the colors of the rainbow as autumn chilled the air. He didn’t speak for some time, his mind racing, and he felt her hand begin a slow drift down his chest, drawing featherlight patterns across his skin; her actions brought him back from his thoughts and made him smile.

He swung his gaze to her, his eyes distant. “The holy war was bloodthirsty, and many people died during the siege of Acre. I buried many comrades; some even died in my arms. I often wasn’t sure I would see another day.” Fresh tears of pain and anguish glistened in his eyes. “Before I went to fight in all my battles, I thought of you, Marian. You were my guiding light among bloodshed and death which surrounded me from all sides.”

Marian smiled through tears. "Robin…”

“I have always loved you, Marian,” he whispered, looking into her eyes. “I loved you when I left for the Holy Land and you broke our betrothal. I loved you during all the five years I was fighting the pointless war which I began to hate once I realized that there is no glory on the battlefield.”

Marian gave Robin a warm smile, her heart beating so fast that she thought it would spin right out of her throat. Her emotions were in turmoil since the beginning of their conversation, but his admission surprised and impressed her. He even didn’t know how much his words meant to her.

She had once believed to think that he hadn’t loved her enough when he had chosen his duty to the King and his chance to chase after glory over his duty to her and the people. She had hated him for leaving her, and she had even wished him to never return from the war when rumors about his love affairs at court in Aquitaine before his departure to Acre had traveled to Nottingham. She had been outraged that Robin had already been with other women, so soon after the cancellation of their betrothal, thinking that he hadn’t loved her at all.

Now Marian knew that she had been mistaken. She became older and wiser, and she had learned that Robin had always loved her too, even if there had been many other women in his life while he had been away. His unexpected confession once again made her realize how desperately and deeply she loved him – beyond any reason and beyond measure. Robin Hood was the love of her life, and she knew that she would never love another man. She also knew that she was the love of his life, and she no longer had any doubt that he had loved her and only her.

She could almost hear the crack-crack-crack of her self-control, and the only thing she wanted was to embrace him. She instinctively leaned closer to Robin, so close that she could feel the warmth of his breath. His blue eyes shone like sapphires, looking into her soul. She bent her head; she kissed him, and he eagerly kissed her back.

He put his hands tentatively on the hip bones, trying to hold her away from his lower body, and then broke the kiss because they needed to talk. They had never been as frank with each other as they were now, and each of them knew that it was one of the greatest mistakes they had committed in their relations. But now it became too important to share what had happened to them. Each of them was a part of the new emotions coursing through their hearts.

Robin pulled away, a smile spreading across his handsome features. “Marian, I loved you even more at the moment when you targeted me from your bow on the front steps of Knighton Hall.”

She draped her arms around his neck. “I should have fired an arrow at you.”

He grinned sheepishly; his tears had already dried. “You would have missed, my love.”

She shot him an annoyed look. “I’m not as deadly with a bow as you, but I’m much better than others.”

“Your archery skills are better than those of the king’s soldiers.”

“Really?” She was surprised to hear that.

He chuckled. “Of course, my Nightwatchman.”

She giggled. “I wanted to shoot you so much, Robin!” she exclaimed. “You were so full of yourself that I wanted to wipe that cheeky smile out of you face!”

He smiled teasingly. “My love, don’t pretend – I know the truth. You would have never done anything that could have deprived you of a chance to see my charming smile again.”

“You are right. I would have never shot you,” she conceded, smiling back at him.

His grin widened. “And you would have never done anything that can wound my male vanity.”

Her blue eyes flashed in anger. “One day you will pay, Robin of Locksley!”

Robin’s expression changed into sadness. “I have already paid a high price for all my choices.”

She felt guilty. “I’m sorry. Now I know what you survived through.”

“It’s not your fault,” he said firmly. “You were right: everything is a choice, and it was my choice to abandon you and the people and join the Crusade. I’m alone responsible for my choices.”

Marian knew what bothered him. “Robin, I know that you killed countless Saracens in the Holy Land, but it was the holy war and you served the King. You made a mistake when you went to the Crusade, but you were young and you didn’t know many things you understood later.”

“I should have stayed in England. I should have married you,” he persisted.

“You made a wrong choice, but it made you a man you are now,” she said in cheerful tones. “I’m very proud of you, Robin. You saved the King’s life many times, you served England extremely well, and you sacrificed everything for the sake of your people when you returned to England.” 

There was a surprisingly modest smile on his face. “Yes, I did many great things for the King.” He grinned. "My love, are you praising me? You once said that I’m a fool!”

She frowned at him. “You know that I have never considered you a real fool.”

“Yes, you told me about that in the cave when you thought you were–” He abruptly broke off.

“When I thought that I was dying,” she finished.

He was unable to talk about her death. “Yes.”

“And I told you the truth, Robin.”

Robin pulled her into his arms, and pressed her to himself so hard that it almost hurt them both. Her arms encircled his back and clasped him tightly against her. As he buried his face into her hair and muttered words of love into her ear, Marian felt herself smile with a bright smile. She didn’t wish to move, feeling as if she belonged in his arms.

“In the Holy Land, everyone considered me a hero, and everyone envied that I had great royal favor,” he continued after a long pause. "I was Captain of King Richard's Private Guard, the King’s chief general, and I deserved my position because I proved myself as an outstanding warrior and a skilled military strategist. I received many praises and medals from the King.” He trailed off and cleared his throat. "But nobody realized that I paid a high price for glory and favor.”

“I know, my darling,” she breathed.

“The price is my troubled conscience,” he said uneasily. “I killed many people in the Holy Land.” He paused, feeling numbness overcoming him. “When I killed the first Saracen in my first battle, I felt that I would never be the same young man who once dreamt of glory.”

Marian let out a sharp intake of breath. “And how did you… cope?”

“I got accustomed to killing for England and for the King. Later, when I was disappointed in the holy cause, I killed to protect the King from his enemies and survive in that hell.”

“You were a soldier, and you killed on the battlefield,” she countered.

Robin shifted a little, stretching his legs across the bunk, then settled back against her side. “But I still killed people. And when you kill, a part of your heart dies,” he said in a far-away voice.

“We will save the King, and then it will be over.”

He laughed bitterly. “Will it really be over, Marian?”

“Why are you saying that, Robin?”

Robin didn’t answer, and then lifted his eyes to Heaven. He was lost in thoughts about the past.

Robin was quiet for a long moment. The sun had already risen, and Robin permitted himself to study the clouds driving across the sky. Marian was silent too, and Robin welcomed the stillness of the forest that greeted them. He squeezed his eyes shut, swallowing his pain at the memories about the events in Acre when King Richard had ordered to execute him and the outlaws.

Eventually, he gazed at his wife, his expression grim. “Richard disappointed me in Acre,” he supplied; a tide of pain ripped through him at the thought of the King’s betrayal. “He didn’t have any credible evidence that I was a traitor. He easily dismissed the facts that I had saved his life many times during the war.” He sighed. “We all could have died because of his mistake.”

Robin's reaction surprised Marian. “Robin, I talked to Richard after I had been ransomed and when I lived in the Crusaders’ camp during several weeks before our departure from Acre. The King regrets his hasty decision very much.”

Robin gave a hollow laugh. “I know that Richard repents of his actions, but it still means a little. If he hadn’t strung us up in the desert, everything would have been different on that day: I had a perfect plan how to save the King and you, but he ruined everything,” he said sorrowfully. “Richard asked me for forgiveness and I gave it to him, but I haven’t forgotten what he did.”

Marian eyed at him, amazed. “The King sent us to England to give you his request for help. Does it mean that you are not going to get him out of his prison in Austria?”

“I have thought a lot about Richard’s situation,” he began, then sighed. “Richard’s captivity is a strictly political matter. We cannot just go to Austria and launch a rescue mission because there will be a war with the Holy Roman Empire if the King suddenly escapes. Then Emperor Henry with ally himself with King Philippe, and then their troops will attack the Angevin Empire together.”

“And what are you planning?”

“I feel much better now, though I’m still not in the best shape.”

Marian put her hands on his shoulders, almost feeling his bones under her touch. Robin lost much weight after Isabella had poisoned him. “You are definitely not very healthy.”

Robin shook his head in agreement, frowning slightly. “Yes, it is true.”

Robin couldn’t deny that he hadn’t recuperated completely from the poisoning. He had several sparring matches with Archer and Much in the last week, and he noticed that he had become tired more quickly after an intensive fight than he had ever felt before. When he complained to Djaq about the matter, she assured him that he would feel much better in several more weeks, and he only hoped that the young Saracen was right. His sword fighting style was based on agility, speed, and unique types of blows, and he hoped that it would be enough to fight if they were attacked.

“What are we going to do?”

“I feel well and I can travel, so I suggest that we depart to Aquitaine very soon. We need to find Queen Eleanor because she will be the one who will negotiate the terms of the King’s release. We can do nothing without the Queen Mother.”

She gave a nod. “I agree with you.”

“Good. Then we will leave in a couple of days.”

“What about the people here, Robin?”

“The people of Nottingham will not be as oppressed as they were when Vaisey and Isabella ruled the town,” Robin said with confidence. “Prince John declared Nottinghamshire the most troubled area in England. He didn’t send his troops here yet, and there is even no Sheriff in Nottingham now.” He smiled smugly. “The Prince will always remember the siege and its outcome.”

Marian nodded. “Well, Prince John fears that Robin Hood will kill his entire army if he sends more soldiers here. You destroyed half of John’s domestic troops in England.”

Robin averted his eyes; he didn’t like that he had taken so many lives on that day. “I had to kill them,” he murmured. Their deaths hurt the families of Vaisey’s mercenaries, he thought with guilt, but then he reminded himself that those soldiers would have murdered all of them. “If I hadn’t dealt with Vaisey and Isabella, they would have killed us.”

“I know, handsome,” she said, guessing his thoughts. “Don’t blame yourself for what you did.”

Robin smiled impishly at her, his eyes twinkling in mischief; she knew what was on his mind, and she smiled back at him. Her face was so closer to his now, and her pleasant scent, like spring lilacs, filled his nostrils, and he felt the tidal rush of desire, drowning deep. He brushed his fingers through her hair and then ran his index finger lightly along her back. She hit him playfully on his chest, the sound of her accelerated heartbeat becoming a drumming in her veins.

He winked at her. “Don’t say anything, my love,” he warned, and then took her by the shoulders to kiss her on the mouth. “We have talked enough. Now there is some time for fun.”

“I was merely–” She was interrupted by his searching mouth.

“No. Be quiet.” He kissed her harder; her lips parted, and she began to kiss him back with hunger.

“Robin,” she moaned his name between his kisses.

Robin flashed a roguish smile. “Yes, my love,” he murmured against her lips. “It is me.”

Marian gave him her most beautiful smile. “You are one-of-a-kind.”

“No, you are,” he retorted; then he kissed her fiercely again.

Almost agonized with her need to be united with him, Marian pushed Robin away and propped herself on one elbow. She gazed at him for a long moment, her eyes a smoky reflection of her desire for him. Then she leaned down and started placing kisses on his chest and his shoulders, her head covered by the blanket which she didn’t remove to protect them from cold. Robin closed his eyes, enjoying her manipulations and gasping as he felt her hands go down his chest to his thigh.

Marian’s head appeared from beneath the blanket. She started lowering her head, but then she pulled back, smiling wickedly; he then brought his mouth to hers to prevent her from teasing him again. She broke the kiss and smiled at him mystically. Then she grabbed Robin’s shoulders and pulled him into a sitting position, straddling him. They sat in that intimate pose, the blanket still covering them, though it no longer was the main source of warmth between their bodies.

Robin traced her lower lip with his thumb. “My love, you were a quick learner,” he mocked. “And you have become an experienced seductress; you can tempt even a priest.”

“Incredible,” she gasped. “I admire your nerve, Robin of Locksley!”

He raised his brows in amazement. “Why, Marian of Locksley?”

She liked the sound of her new name, but her face didn’t betray her emotions; she feigned her indignation. “You dare tell me about such things,” she growled, feeling the twinge of jealousy upon remembering how many women had always been at his feet and how many love affairs he’d had.

“Marian, you are my true love,” he declared, gazing into her eyes. “When I was away, I didn’t live in celibacy, but… you were always in my heart. I was hurting that you were not with me and that you were probably already married, thinking that we would never be together again. I tried to forget you, but I failed.” He entangled his fingers into her hair and delivered a strong, fleeting kiss to her lips.  He then added, “And I have always been faithful to you – during our courtship before the Crusade and after I returned to Nottingham.”

“Even when I treated you so coldly after your return and when I was betrothed to Guy?”

Robin nodded. “Yes.”

Guy tried not to stay in Marian’s presence for long, and they were never alone, and she herself was rather distant to her almost murderer. It was difficult for her to forgive Guy for what he had done to her in Acre; she believed that it was enough she was civil towards Guy. Robin liked Marian’s cold attitude to Guy, and that she no longer turned a blind eye to Guy’s old sins. Guy accepted that Marian was Robin’s wife, and that Robin and Marian loved each other. Yet, Robin didn’t like talking about the past, still feeling jealous.

Her arms came around him. “My foolish and dear Robin,” she teased him. “How can you be jealous to Guy?” She gave him an incredulous glance. “Didn’t I prove that I love only you? I married you twice in the Holy Land – in the desert and when I was dying in Imuiz.”

“Yes, you did.” His voice came thin, guilty. “I’m sorry, my darling.”

“What about Kate and Isabella?”

Robin glanced into her eyes, expecting to find a trace of jealousy but he could see only curiosity there; he didn’t know that Much had already told Marian about his relationships with Kate and Isabella. Her words brought crimson color to his cheeks, and he felt a tart taste of guilt in his mouth. “I swear I have never shared anything more than… a simple kiss with them.”

“I believe you.” She was relieved that he confirmed Much’s words.

He smiled. “Thank you.”

“Why did you always need to be with so many women?” she spoke with measured displeasure. “I have to say that I have never liked that you flirted with village girls and ladies at the court when we were betrothed, even though I know that you were faithful to me.”

Robin wasn’t proud of himself, and he felt his cheeks burning with shame. “Marian, I was young and stupid. And women… always sought my attention, so I…” He stumbled with words.

“So you flirted with them and enjoyed their love and adoration,” she finished.

“Yes,” he acknowledged, albeit reluctantly. “I’m sorry.”

She smiled, reveling in his embarrassment. “At least you admit that.”

“Marian, I love only you,” Robin said sincerely. “Only you.”

He touched his nose to hers, exhaling as she exhaled, allowing their breath to mingle. He kissed her, and she responded by parting her own lips and letting his tongue into his mouth. His hands were roaming over her body, feeling her hot, delicate skin. He rolled on top of her, and then nudged aside her long hair to plant a thread of sucking kisses to her throat, fleeting at first, then harder, opening his mouth to savor her sweetness and giving her pleasure.

He would have gladly gotten rid of the blanket, but the air was chilly and he didn’t want them to catch a cold, though he still intended to claim his husbandly rights now. He looked up at her, grinning at her glowing face, and drew his tongue up her neck to her earlobe. She moaned and canted her neck, letting him more access to her throat, so he took it. He tasted her and breathed her in and listened to the sounds of her heart pumping, rushing to match his own.

They both were eager for more, aching to be united, forgetting that it was a breakfast time and that Much would come soon to wake them up. They didn’t care about the world and wanted to enjoy the moment. Robin penetrated her and she took him inside herself, and all other thoughts blew away. Her fingers clenched against his shoulders, she arched her back, and he heard a noise, a deep visceral sound of pleasure, which erupted from her throat. He nuzzled her neck and started moving slowly, easing further and further with each thrust, all their senses humming and vibrating through their bodies powerfully as pleasure was slowly building inside their core.

As they reached the release, they stilled, holding their breaths as the sensation lingered for a while and then slowly ebbed. When the passion that clouded his mind slowly faded away, Robin wrapped his arms around her torso, shut his eyes and held her tight, grinning like a fool. As Marian lay in his arms, she felt the utter bliss of their love in every part of her body and her heart.

She smiled tenderly. “I love you, my husband,” she whispered.

Robin gave her his rare smile of endless tenderness. “I love you, my wife.” He wrapped his arms more tightly around her, holding her as if he never wished to let her go.

There was a quiet rustle of leaves in the distance, and Much’s voice called, “Get up! Breakfast is ready! I cooked two rabbits and venison for you!” he shouted. Then Much hurried to leave in order to avoid the same embarrassing incident that had happened several weeks ago.

Robin grinned. “Indeed, breakfast is the urgent reason to get out of the bed.”

“We should go because Much would be offended.”

“But before we go, I want another kiss. Just one kiss, my love.”

Her eyes filled with emotion, and she laughed at him. “Fine, but only one kiss.”

Robin claimed her lips with his, a kiss so rough and sudden and demanding that it hurt; she kissed him back harder. The kiss deepened, and many kisses followed, and a scarlet bright flame of desire flowed through them. Robin seduced Marian with his caresses, and they made love until they got completely exhausted. Marian couldn’t resist Robin’s advances because he knew how to taste her, to be as slow and gentle as she needed and as passionate and possessive as she wanted.

Later Much grumbled that Marian and Robin had missed breakfast again, and Little John shook his head disapprovingly. Guy and Kate were solemn and quiet, suffering from pangs of jealousy; Robin decided that he had to make Kate leave the forest for the sake of everyone in the gang and more for Kate’s own sake. Others giggled and teased Marian and Robin, calling them lovebirds picking up berries in the forest when others didn’t watch them.

Marian blushed as if in shame, but Robin only laughed at her, saying that they could do whatever they wanted as a husband and his wife. But even despite her embarrassment and her desire to murder Robin for his ability to seduce her so easily, Marian was happy because she had Robin only for herself for the first time in many years. The love of Robin Hood and Maid Marian was blossoming in the woods, and their hearts belonged to each other forever.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Brotherhood

It was a chilly and misty morning, likely to end in rain, like many autumn mornings often ended in England. It was one of those mornings when even happy people take refuge in their hopes and dreams. Wrapped in each other’s arms, Marian and Robin sat under the great old oak, where they had buried the King’s one-legged messenger and where Robin had proposed Marian for the second time; they came there after breakfast which they didn’t miss for the first time in many days.

“Did you talk to Kate?” Marian broke the silence.

Robin sighed. “Yes, I did.”

“What did she say?”

“I apologized and asked Kate to leave the gang. Now she can return home, to her mother.” He felt guilty because he had never wanted to hurt Kate.

“Did she agree?” Her voice was tense.

“She didn’t protest.”

Marian was relieved that she wouldn’t have to tolerate Kate’s sulky glances anymore. She was free now to enjoy the minutes of happiness with Robin. “It is for the better,” she murmured.”

"Kate is young, and she has a long life ahead. She will get over her infatuation with me very soon.” He paused a little while, and then added: “She cannot love me as deeply as she claims: you cannot love someone whom you don’t know well and don’t understand.”

“Maybe she loves being Robin Hood’s girl,” Marian said with some irritation.

Robin didn’t want to speak about Kate, but the distress with which Marian spoke urged him to say something. "I’m sorry that I hurt you and Kate.”

She turned her glance at him with a sad smile. “Let’s try to forget about that, handsome.”

He smiled back. “That’s the best decision.”

Overwhelmed by loving tenderness, Robin and Marian clasped each other in a tight embrace. It was a moment of real happiness, a moment of glowing warmth in their hearts, and a moment of realization that they were finally together and that nobody would separate them again.

“I love sitting here,” Robin drawled, his blue eyes twinkling as he stared into Marian’s sapphire eyes. “We should come here more often.” He chuckled. “I mean you, me, and my bow.”

Marian bit her lip, not quite certain how to deal with his barb. She looked at Robin’s recurved bow that lay on the ground near them, and then her eyes flitted quickly to his face and back again to the bow and the quiver of arrows. Prince John had officially declared Nottinghamshire the area ruled by the most dangerous outlaws in England, and there was still no Sheriff in the town; yet, they still feared that they could be attacked, and if they left the camp, they were armed to the teeth.

As Marian stared at Robin’s bow again, a gleam of amusement appeared in her eyes, and she suddenly knew what to say to him. “I hope you are not going to profess your undying love for me here and right now, by comparing me to your weapon. It would be too old for my liking, Robin.”

Robin looked perplexed, but then the faint line of amusement curved his mouth, and his eyes were dancing with laughter. “Instead I can say that I love my bow more than I love you, Marian.”

A little frown marred her forehead as annoyance shot up through Marian. He was laughing at her and was again winning, she thought with a childish offense. “You are incorrigible!”

“But you love me when I’m bad.”

“Oh, yes, I do.”

“Ah!” Robin said, looking at her with new attention. “My love, I have an idea.”

“Do you want to be more heroic, Robin Hood?” Her voice sounded stern, but her eyes were sparkling.

“Let’s run a race, like in childhood.”

Marian laughed at his offer so hard that tears appeared in her eyes. Suddenly, she was transported back to the carefree days of her youth when Robin, Much, and she had spent countless hours in the Sherwood, playing their wild and noisy games. One of such games was having a race through the forest; if Marian, Robin, and Much had participated in this game, Robin had always won, while Much had always lost the competition. Marian had been very fond of the game.

“Why are you laughing at me?” he asked, confused.

“You are still recovering. You are in no shape to run wildly in the forest.”

Robin looked offended. “You must be joking, Marian.”

“I’m very serious.”

“No, you just fear that I will win again.”

“You know that I’m not a coward,” she protested.

Robin shook his head. “I’m not sure. You seem to have lost some of your courage lately.”

“I haven’t lost anything!”

“Then prove that,” he challenged.

"Alright. I will do that.”

They leaped to their feet. She didn’t have time even to blink before he took a step to her and slipped his hands around her waist, pressing her to himself. He bent his head and kissed her on the lips, and she eagerly returned his kiss. The kiss lingered as Robin was kissing her with a growing intensity, his exploring tongue filling her mouth, inflaming both of them with passion.

Robin broke the kiss and pulled away from his wife, creating quite a distance between them. Marian’s first coherent thought, after the sweet delight of being in his arms, was that she could see his familiar cocky smile on his handsome face. She shot him an annoying look and gritted her teeth, but he laughed at her and then grinned wickedly, tilting his head to one side.

“At times, I want to teach you a lesson, Robin.”

Robin’s grin widened. “I like kissing you – this is so nice. We should do this more often.”

She blushed. “No, Robin!” she cried out. “We have already become a laughingstock of Sherwood when they… found us together in… a bed. They understand why we missed so many breakfasts and dinners. They always look at us with wry smiles…” She paused, breathless from her enthusiastic and indignant speech. “Soon Much will murder us because even he is losing his patience.”

He flashed a cheeky smile. “They envy us, my love.”

“It doesn’t matter, Robin! We should be more discreet!”

“No, we shouldn’t. We are married.”

Marian stepped forward and gave him a quick jab to the ribs with her elbow. “You are an arrogant and shameless rogue, Robin of Locksley! I swear I will make you pay for that!”

He looked absolutely innocent, enjoying their heated discussion. “I like when you look at me in anger,” he teased, his gaze lingering on her flushed cheeks; then he locked his gaze with hers. “You have a chance to beat me in a race, Marian of Locksley. Shall we begin, my love?”

“Be prepared, Robin.” She stood straight in the same line with him. “Ready?”

“Always.” He put on his back his quiver and his bow. “And you?”

“Always,” she echoed.

“I always know how to get what I want,” Robin said, his lips curved in a sly smile. “When I kissed you, I wanted to make you angry and more determined to run a race with me.”

Marian felt like a fool at that moment. She should have guessed that he would do something to enrage hear to push her to do something outrageous; he had always acted in the same manner. She couldn't help it but feel furious with him, yet crazy with delight over her little good fortune to make him pay. She had already decided what she would do and how she would outwit him in their game.

“Fool,” she snapped in an angry ecstasy. Then she jumped forward and started running.

Marian was running so fast that the only thing she was sure of was that she would never cease to run unless she saw that she had left Robin far behind. She was heading to the clearing where they had often watched sunrises in their early youth, when Robin and Much had collected her from Knighton Hall for strolls in the forest in the dead of night, of course, without notifying Sir Edward.

Robin was running next to her, not wishing to let her win. She noticed that his movements were adroit and quick, thinking that he was probably physically stronger than she had initially thought.

The forest glittered in the autumn sunlight, and the trees were swayed slightly by the cold wind. Looking straight ahead and running along the familiar path, Marian was trying to decide which way to choose at nearby crossroads, so that Robin could lose her in the woods and then could find her on their clearing. Already out of breath, Marian turned to the right and continued running, her mind so entangled in her task to win that she no longer knew that Robin wasn’t with her.

Soon Marian reached the clearing and stopped near a meadow. She looked around, trying to catch her breath and enjoying the air of the woodland. And then she clenched her fists, her expression stunned, her eyes full of disbelief – she saw Robin on the opposite side of the clearing.

Robin was casually sitting on a log, his legs stretched out, with one leg crossed over the other, and there was a large cheeky smile on his face. Robin had won the race, and he was very pleased with his victory. Marian was lost for words, not knowing how he had managed to outpace her.

“How did you get here before me?” she inquired as she approached him.

Robin flashed a triumphal smile. “My love, you wanted to outsmart me by taking the shortest path to the clearing, but you have forgotten that I know the forest better than you do because I have been living here since my return,” he declared. “Sherwood is a magic place: the paths in the woods are like a labyrinth, and you can never be sure that you are taking the shortest one.”

“And I don’t know all of them,” she concluded.

“Definitely.”

She threw up her hands in frustration. “Well, you have won!”

Robin beckoned her to him. “Come to me.”

She seated herself on a log next to him. “What?”

“You didn’t demonstrate your courage, and you deserve a small punishment. I know how you can make up for your attempt to trick me.”

“Do you want me to hit you or slap you across your smug face?”

He laughed. “Then you should tickle me. It would be a sweeter revenge.”

Marian gave him a pointed look, but she was smiling: he had always been able to crawl under her skin by firing his snarky barbs at her. “I prefer to hit you. It is so romantic when wives hit their husbands,” she said mockingly. “And if I hit you, it will hurt very much, Robin.”

Robin folded his arms over his chest. “Will you aim at my stomach or at my chest?”

She let her gaze travel down his body. “Lower, my darling.”

He laughed outright. “Point taken,” he said. “I already want you to do that.”

She shot him an irritated look. “Will you stop fooling yourself and me, Robin?”

“Never, my love. Otherwise, there would be the fun in that?”

Robin smiled. He had always loved their bickering and squabbles. Marian was one of the few people who could keep him on his toes when he was shooting his barbs here and there. He admired Marian’s tongue and her quick and eloquent responses. He had always enjoyed their jests that were even a part of their serious arguments. Even if they had long and angry arguments, there was a simmering passion behind their words, which ultimately prevailed over displeasure.

Marian knew that she had been defeated in the race and in the jesting match as well. “At least I will never be bored with you.”

Robin scrambled to his feet and came to her. His arms encircled her waist, and he assisted her to her feet, and she stood up. “You owe me a kiss,” he whispered. “This is your punishment.”

As he pressed her tightly to himself, she could feel his hardness against her hips, and it made her feel like she was on fire. She was certain that her entire body would have been scarlet with shame if she herself hadn’t wanted him so badly at that moment, as much as he wanted her.

Marian had already understood a while ago that it would never be easy to satisfy Robin’s passions, and she welcomed the challenge. Yet, she still often found herself embarrassed at the thought that her own nature was as passionate and craving for indecent experiments as Robin’s. Robin had told her that there had been nothing bad in her desires and he encouraged her not to be restrained and reserved in intimacy with him, and she was grateful to him, yet still feeling ashamed of herself when she gladly reciprocated Robin’s advances.

Marian laughed lightly. “I will not protest, husband. I think I may like it.”

Robin was beaming. “Oh, you will like it, wife.”

Robin could only stand and stare at her beautiful face, longing to have her in his arms, to rain kisses over her rosy mouth, to never let her go, and protect her like the most precious thing on earth. He leaned forward and enfolded Marian in a powerful embrace; then he tenderly kissed her on the lips, his heart hammering harder in delight as her lips parted and she kissed him back.

Robin was head over heels in love with Marian. He was truly ensnared by his gorgeous wife, feeling that his love for her had grown stronger and deeper after their reunion, after they had almost lost each other to death. Marian became everything to him: now she was his world and his life, and he loved her more than he had ever loved her before. He loved her beyond measure, beyond the boundaries of the world and beyond everything reasonable he had ever known.

As he broke the kiss, Robin drew back, still holding her in his arms. “I love you,” he whispered.

Marian smiled lovingly. “I love you too, handsome,” she murmured.

Robin closed his eyes and kissed Marian again, gently at first, but with fierce passion as it lingered on. But the kiss wasn’t a long one. Marian moved out of Robin’s embrace as they heard the rustling of the leaves, understanding that they were stirred not by the wind, but by the people who were approaching the clearing. Soon the familiar voices came from beneath the trees, and Guy and Archer swung out of the branches.

“What a sweet surprise!” Archer greeted them, grinning impishly. “We have found our lovebirds!”

Guy sighed, not feeling as cheerful as Archer felt. He didn’t like that they met Marian and Robin alone. Every time when the couple left the main camp and headed to their own small camp for a night or if they went to the woods to have a target practice or to pick up firewood, Guy felt his heart sink in frustration. He accepted that Marian had been lost to him forever and was a married woman, but he couldn’t help but feel envious that Robin had Marian’s heart while he had nothing.

“We came here to have a sparring match,” Guy said, his expression unreadable, his eyes blank.

When Guy watched Marian and Robin together, he usually gave no sign of jealousy, though inside his heart was breaking. After they had found Robin and Marian in a provocative embrace in a bed, he took an oath that nobody would see any sign of his emotional state. Yet, if he witnessed Marian’s tenderness towards Robin, he again fell a victim to jealousy, and he had to try very hard to hide his feelings. He gave credit to the celebrated couple for trying to be discreet in public, but even a small act of tenderness, like a touch of Robin and Marian’s hands, made Guy jealous.

“So you found our clearing,” Robin began uneasily. He always felt uncomfortable when Guy was in Marian’s presence, knowing that Marian and Guy felt the same.

Marian tore her gaze from Robin’s face and looked somewhere into the woods. “I bet it was difficult to find the way here,” she said in a distant voice.

Archer stopped next to Robin; there was a large grin on his face. “This place is hidden quite well in the forest, but we found it a while ago and began to come here to practice swordplay.”

“Archer likes this place,” Guy supplied as he appeared at Archer’s right. He stood close to his young half-brother, as far from Marian as he could.

“Marian, Much, and I have been coming to this place since our early childhood,” Robin said, and a look of wistfulness crossed his face. “We played in this clearing and watched sunrises here.”

Marian smiled wistfully. “We spent many happy moments here.”

Archer sighed. “Pity I wasn’t with you.”

“I’m sorry that you didn’t grow up with me.” Robin gazed at Archer apologetically. “I’m sorry that our father abandoned you, and so I couldn’t take care of you because I didn’t know about you.”

Archer smiled at Robin, his heart deeply touched by Robin’s words. “It is not your fault, Robin.” Robin and Archer had already formed a bond of friendship and brotherhood in the past weeks.

Guy hated Malcolm of Locksley. “Malcolm ruined too many lives. I hope he rots in hell.”

“I’m indifferent to his fate. This man is not my father.” Archer’s voice was chilly.

Robin sighed heavily. “Guy, you and I met my father together when he revealed to us the truth,” he said, glaring at Guy, displeased. “My father was a broken and dying man. I know that he grievously wronged the Gisbornes so long ago, but he paid for his cowardice and mistakes.” He sighed again. “Don’t hate him, Guy, and it will make your life easier.”

Marian’s eyes were fastened on her husband’s face. “If your heart is filled only with hatred, it will eventually destroy you.” She looked at Guy. “Guy, you reconciled with Robin. Now you have to let the past go.”

Guy nodded. “I know,” he said simply. He had achieved peace with Robin, but he wasn’t sure that he would ever forgive Malcolm for what the man had done to the Gisbornes.

“Robin, do you want to have a sparring match?” Archer offered.

Robin smiled. “Why not?”

“Robin, please just be careful. Stop fighting if you are tired,” Marian demanded.

“I will be fine,” Robin told her in soothing tones.

Giving Robin a smile, Marian stepped aside. “Then I can leave you now,” she blurted out impatiently, wishing to escape. She was trying to feel at ease in Guy’s presence and she began to wear the air of a friendly attachment to Guy; but her attitude always changed to cold and almost hostile when she remembered how he had brutally stabbed her in Acre.

“I will find you later,” Robin promised.

Robin, Guy, and Archer watched Marian cross the clearing and disappear between the trees. Then Robin turned his gaze at Guy, nodding at him and signaling that he wanted to fight with him.

Robin discarded his bow and his quiver, giving them to Archer for safe keeping. Then Robin unsheathed his scimitar, and headed to the middle of the clearing. Guy drew his broadsword, walking to Robin and stopping in a small distance from him, preparing to fight.

Archer settled on a log, then placed Robin’s quiver and bow on the ground. “I’m an expert swordsman, and you have to fight well to please me. Don’t disappoint me, brothers.”

“Archer, it will be a beautiful swordfight,” Robin promised. Then he lunged at Guy, raising his scimitar up in the air and attacking his opponent with a diagonal blow.

Guy parried the blow. “And a difficult one,” he added through the din of clanging swords. He was well aware that Robin was more skilled with a sword than he himself was.

Guy and Robin traded numerous blows, each of them trying to disarm the opponent without causing harm. Guy attacked Robin with an overhead blow, hoping to knock out scimitar from Robin’s hands, but Robin ducked and easily deflected the blow. Robin was launching new and new attacks at Guy, who ducked and blocked the blows. Guy was more defensive than attacking Robin because Guy failed to match Robin’s speed and guess the type of the next blow.

Guy had noticed that Robin’s sword fighting style had been extremely unpredictable and very adroit when they had fought in the King’s tent in Acre. He had been stunned by Robin’s bravery and valor on the night of the Saracen attack, as well as impressed by the murderous quality of Robin’s swordplay despite the injury. Guy had also seen the same many times in Nottingham. Now Guy again had a chance to see Robin’s excellent swordsmanship, thinking that Robin was an extremely skilled opponent despite the fact that currently, he was not in his best physical shape.

Very similar thoughts were running through Robin’s head as he could see again the demonstration of his superiority in swordsmanship in his fight with Guy. He noticed that he felt stronger than a week ago when he had his last sparring match with Guy and Archer. Robin also didn’t feel as tired as he had felt before after any fight or even after a long target practice. His physical condition had improved, and he was relieved because it worried him since his awakening.

Guy failed to parry Robin’s next blow; his sword dropped from his hands. “Congratulations,” he said without a touch of anger. He had long gotten accustomed to Robin’s victories in their battles.

Robin sheathed his scimitar, and made a mocking bow. “At your service,” he replied.

“Bravo!” Archer cried out; he rose to his feet and walked to Robin and Guy.

Guy smirked. “Always showing off,” he said. “Will you ever change?”

Robin chuckled. “Why should I change if my show off entertains others and myself?”

“It can also annoy others,” Guy assumed as he sheathed his sword.

“I like to make you angry,” Robin teased. “I have always loved our little skirmishes.”

Guy was interested why Robin hadn’t killed him before because he’d had many chances and had almost always bested Guy in their fights. “Robin, you could have killed me many times since Vaisey had outlawed you,” he stated. “Why didn’t you do that? Did you want me to suffer in my misery?”

Robin smiled enigmatically. He had hated Guy since the moment when he had met him in Locksley; he had recognized him at first glance even after so many years of their separation. He had hated Guy even more after he had realized that Guy had attempted regicide and injured him in the process. After Marian’s murder in Acre, Robin’s heart was full of immeasurable hatred when he had set his eyes on Guy. But he hadn’t killed Guy in spite of all his hatred and loathing.

Archer appeared next to Guy. “I’m also curious to know.”

“It has nothing to do with my non-killing policy,” Robin declared, a strangely soft smile playing on his lips. “Perhaps I just couldn’t kill you even when I had a chance, Guy.”

Guy frowned. “I don’t believe you,” he snapped irritably.

Guy found it hard to believe Robin’s words. He had hated Robin fiercely since the day of the fire. After his arrival in Nottingham with Vaisey, he had dreamt of Robin’s death because Robin had been the only obstacle on the way to becoming the permanent Lord of Locksley. Later, after Robin’s return and escape into the woods, Guy had wanted Robin to be gone from his life even more because Robin had always been loved by the peasants and many nobles while he had been hated and despised by everyone. Even after Marian’s death, he had wished Robin dead until Robin’s father had freed them from bad blood.

“Guy, I’m a soldier and your former enemy as well, but I have always been quite sentimental,” Robin elaborated, his expression kind. “I have known you since childhood, and it is always difficult to take a life of someone who once watched you playing with other children in Locksley.”

Guy hung his head in shame because he couldn’t say the same about himself. If not for the necessity to reconcile with Robin in order to save Archer and defeat Isabella, he would have probably killed Robin in the end. “One day, your kindness may play a bad joke with you, Robin.”

“I agree with Guy,” Archer interjected.

Robin put a hand on Guy’s shoulder, and the older man raised his eyes to look at him. “It is better to be kind and generous than hateful and bitter,” he said with probably such a serious expression that Guy had never seen on Robin’s face before. “If you treat others kindly or at least fairly, they begin to like you and grow to love you over time; this gives you a feeling of self-fulfillment and peace.”

“You have always been a much better man than I can ever be,” Guy said with respect.

Robin shook his head in disagreement. “You are mistaken, Guy. Your parents were good and decent people, and you were a good boy in childhood. But you… had to survive through many hardships which hardened your heart. For many years, you didn’t realize the wealth of sympathy and kindness, but now you can unlock the goodness in your heart.”

Guy was silent for a long moment. “You are exaggerating, Robin,” he said at last.

“No, I’m not,” Robin objected. “Kindness and generosity are always hidden in the soul of a child.” He gave Guy a wink. “And you, Guy, were a better-behaved youth unlike me.”

“You were a disobedient child,” Guy retorted with a laugh.

“Oh, yes, I was,” Robin answered with an impish smile.

Guy reminded Robin of his childish pranks; they all laughed together heartily. Archer particularly laughed with such hearted amusement, enjoying the tales about Robin and Guy’s childhood. Something close to the bonds of brotherhood began to form between them, even between Robin and Guy.

There was a silly little grin on Robin’s face as he looked between Archer and Guy. “My tricks and pranks could have sent Vaisey’s whole army to run away into the woods without a fight.”

Guy rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. “They could have driven anyone to insanity.”

“Were you among them, Guy?” Archer asked out of mere curiously.

“I was a somber lad,” Guy began. “I have never understood Robin’s desire to always be in the center of attention. I didn’t like when Robin was running around wildly in Locksley together with other children, bragging that he had shot a bird or had learned to shoot as well as his father could.”

This time, Robin felt embarrassed. “Guy, I’m sorry for the arrow that injured that priest.”

Archer had no clue what Robin implied. “What do you mean, Robin?”

“A small incident,” Guy hastened to reply. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“As you wish,” Archer conceded.

“But I was not right on that day,” Robin said, his expression guilty.

Guy smirked. “But you learned a lesson, right?”

“I did,” Robin assured him. “I never lied again.”

Guy smiled. “Robin, I’m older than you, and I remember you very well in childhood. You were always a sweet lad, and you had your heart in the right place even when you were very young and didn’t always do the right thing.” He sighed. “You and I have always been different people.”

Robin had a thought which he wished to share with Guy. “We are different, but not as much as you may think. If I had been banished from Locksley with nothing, I would have made different choices – I could have been more like you.”

Gisborne laughed bitterly. “You would have never been like me, Robin. You would have been unable to do what Vaisey made me do, promising me power and wealth in return.” He ran a hand through his hair. “You would have left Vaisey years ago because you are stronger than me.”

Robin looked vulnerable for a short moment before his face turned blank. “I’m not as strong as it may seem,” he whispered. “I wouldn’t have survived in the Holy Land without Much who had always protected me and had risked his life to save me so many times. I couldn’t have won the fight with Vaisey and Isabella without my friends and without you, Guy.” A smile appeared on his face. “I cannot be very strong without Marian. She is my strength, and together we are stronger.”

Archer chuckled. “Robin Hood and Maid Marian give each other strength.”

Robin smiled dreamily as he stared into the woods, in the direction where Marian had gone before. “Marian is my ‘everything’. I need her as much as I need air to breath.”

“Robin, you love Marian, and she loves you,” Guy stated matter-of-factly, but with a touch of bitterness. “You deserve her more than any other man does, especially not a man like me.”

“I don’t think that I deserve Marian’s love, but I’m doing my best to make her happy. I will never let her down again,” Robin remarked; and then there was a silence for a minute or two.

“Robin, I wish you happiness with Marian,” Guy broke the silence. It was painful to say that to Robin, but he knew that Marian and he were just not meant to be together.

Robin gave Guy an admiring look, impressed by Guy’s unselfish words. “Thank you, Guy.”

Guy smiled slightly. “You are welcome.”

Robin put his arms on Guy’s shoulder, looking into his eyes. “Guy, I promise that I will speak with the King on your behalf,” he pledged. “I will vouch for you and try to get you pardoned.”

Guy gave Robin a skeptical look. “I tried to kill the King twice,” he said, feeling wretched and guilty. “Robin, I’m a traitor to King Richard. I almost killed you in the Saracen raid. I almost killed Marian before the King’s eyes. Do you really think that Richard may pardon me?”

“I will do what I can,” Robin said resolutely. But there was a slight, barely noticeable tremble in his voice as he didn’t know how the King would react to the news that his would-be assassin had suddenly switched sides. “Richard owes Marian and me his life, and I will remind him of this debt.”

Guy looked bewildered. “Oh, Robin, I cannot imagine that you will tell the King that.”

“I will,” Robin said. “You have changed, and you deserve to be pardoned.”

“But what if the King doesn’t agree to pardon Guy?” Archer inquired, feeling nervous.

“Don't be silly, Archer. The King always listens to me,” Robin said with confidence.

“It is very good.” Archer was relieved because he didn’t wish Guy dead.

“I will do my best to deserve your trust,” Guy pledged.

Guy didn’t tell Robin and Archer that he himself wasn’t sure the King would not pardon him. Regicide was a grave crime punishable by death, and Richard was a cruel and cunning man who could destroy anyone if it had suited his purposes and interests. If the King had sent his beloved Robin to die in the desert without having serious proof, Guy feared that his fate would be worse.

Guy was grateful to Robin for taking him into the gang and letting him fight with the outlaws against Vaisey and Isabella. He was even more grateful for Robin’s desire to speak with the King on his behalf. Robin had also overlooked that Guy’s poison had almost killed him and hadn’t shared this knowledge with anyone in the gang. Guy was happy that Robin wasn’t his enemy anymore.

Kate left the outlaws’ camp in the early afternoon. She didn’t try to find Robin; she hated Robin for breaking her heart, though she understood that he was a married man. Kate resented Marian, blaming her for her shattered hopes to be Robin Hood’s sweetheart. Before her departure, Kate talked only to Little John and Much, who wished her happiness and asked her to be careful in Locksley. Kate returned to Locksley and spent the evening weeping in her mother’s arms.

Robin, Marian, Guy, and the outlaws left Sherwood next morning at dawn. They headed to Dover to embark on the ship and cross the English Channel; then their route lay through Normandy, Anjou, and the north of Aquitaine to Poitiers. They couldn’t save King Richard from Austria, but they could help Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine collect a ransom for the King and they could thwart Prince John’s plans to seize the throne while the King was in captivity.

Everyone expected the future to be one of those supreme moments in life when all they hoped for or delighted in would come true. Fears were all gone: they had defeated Vaisey and Isabella and had saved England, feeling that now they could do the most incredible things. Their heads were filled with schemes and speculations about the new plan – to collect the King’s ransom and save England again because they knew that only they could do that.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

The King’s will

In the spacious living room in Locksley Manor, Robin of Locksley stood near the window, looking out, his eyes taking in the clear sky with the sun high above the hills. King Richard had finally returned to England, and Robin had been reinstated as the Lord of Locksley and the Earl of Huntingdon. Now Robin and Marian could live in Locksley, taking care of their people and ruling the lands which had belonged to Robin’s family long before the Norman conquest of England.

The past months were full of adventures. Robin and the outlaws had traveled to Poitiers and had met with Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had told them that they could do nothing to save the King and that she herself would negotiate the terms of her son’s release. Queen Eleanor had asked them to help to collect ransom for the King, so the gang had left Aquitaine and had returned to England, but only for a week. In London, the outlaws had stolen a chest of gold from Prince John’s treasury; then they had returned to Aquitaine to give the funds to the Queen Mother.

Robin couldn’t believe that the King had returned to England. He had been fighting fiercely against Sheriff Vaisey against tyranny; the outlaws had ruined all of his treacherous plots against King Richard. They hadn’t given Prince John a chance to seize the throne while Richard had been crusading in the Holy Land. For about three years, Robin had been dreaming of the King’s return, and now it finally happened. He should have been happy, but his mood was mournful.

Robin lost himself in an ocean of despair. After his return from Germany, King Richard had landed in Sandwich where he had been met by many of his loyal noblemen and knights. Robin, Marian, Guy, Archer, and the outlaws had also been there. The King had engulfed Marian and Robin into a warm hug, greeting his loyal subjects with a large smile on his face and presenting them to all his lords as the two finest heroes in England who had heroically saved his life. Then Richard’s gaze had fallen on Guy, and a smile had vanished from his face.

He drew a painful breath as he remembered how King Richard had ordered to arrest Guy in spite of the vigorous protests of Robin and the outlaws. Guy had been surrounded by the King’s guards who had shackled him. Archer had foolishly tried to prevent Guy’s arrest and had even unsheathed his long curved sword, but Robin had restrained his young hotheaded half-brother, understanding that it would only create more problems. Marian and the outlaws had watched Guy being dragged away by the King’s men while Robin had begged the King to release Guy but failed.

Since Guy’s arrest, Robin had already tried to talk to Richard three times, giving the King long and defensive speeches on behalf of Guy and saying how much Guy had helped him win the siege of Nottingham and defeat Vaisey. But the King had not relented in his decision to execute Guy and all other traitors. Shaking his head, Richard had replied that he couldn’t grant Robin’s request.

King Richard had decided to destroy all his enemies in England. The King’s loyal men had arrested all the Black Knights and had thrown them into a prison in Nottingham which hadn’t been destroyed by the explosion. Intending to have all his enemies executed in the same place, Richard had headed to Nottingham that had been the center of the conspiracy against him. Robin, Marian, and the outlaws had traveled home with the royal convoy. Guy had been transported to Nottingham under a heavy guard together with several other disloyal noblemen, whom the King had also planned to execute. Archer had stayed as close to Guy as he could during their voyage.

Suddenly, Robin had heard the footsteps in the hallway and then the sound of the opening door. He turned around and saw King Richard standing at the doorway. Richard was staying at Locksley Manor because the Castle of Nottingham had been destroyed and Locksley was the closest place to the town where Richard could spend several nights before departing to London.

Robin knelt, bowing his head to the King. “My liege,” he greeted.

The King smiled heartily. “Robin, please rise. I don’t wish to see you of all my subjects bowing to me when we are in private.” He used “I” instead of “we”, dropping the royal etiquette which he didn’t wish to follow in Robin’s presence. “I should bow to you for everything you did for me.”

“Thank you, milord,” Robin said as he rose to his feet.

“I bet you want to talk about Guy of Gisborne,” Richard said in a high voice.

Robin nodded. “Yes.”

“Let’s sit down,” the King invited, pointing at the two chairs in the corner, near the fireplace.

Robin and Richard seated themselves comfortably, and then a long silence reigned in the room.

“My liege, I beg you to reconsider your decision,” Robin said at last.

The King shook his head. “I’m truly sorry, Robin, but I cannot do that,” he responded dispassionately. “Guy of Gisborne will be executed as a high traitor together with all other Black Knights. The execution will happen today at noon, in the central courtyard in Nottingham.”

Robin still hoped for a good outcome. “Sire, Guy changed. He is no longer the man who served Vaisey. He switched sides and assisted me in defeating Vaisey when Nottingham was besieged by Prince John’s troops. He helped me save the surviving civilians when we escaped from the castle through the tunnels. He helped me steal money from Prince John to collect your ransom.”

“That doesn’t change the past,” the King replied unhesitatingly. “Gisborne tried to kill me twice, and I cannot forget about his attempts on my life.” He let out a sigh. “Gisborne stabbed you from the back, and you almost died in the Saracen attack. He actively plotted with John and Vaisey against his King. He killed Roger of Stoke, my loyal knight and your friend. He almost killed your wife, Lady Marian.” He smiled sarcastically. “He even made an attempt on John’s life.”

“I haven’t forgotten about his crimes.”

“So doesn’t he deserve a death sentence?”

“Yes, Guy is guilty. But doesn’t a changed man – a better man – deserve a pardon?”

“Not in this case,” Richard said coolly.

Robin flinched at the chillness in his monarch’s tone. “What do you mean, sire?”

The conversation wasn’t easy for the King, but he was ready to talk to Robin. Normally, Richard didn’t discuss his decisions with his subjects and didn’t explain anything, but Robin’s case was exceptional. He owed Robin his life, and Robin was his most loyal man and friend; he loved Robin.

“I have been absent from my country for too long. The Black Knights tried to kill me many times, and many of my loyal men died saving my life.

Robin sighed. “I understand that you cannot pardon other Black Knights, but Guy’s case is different. Guy proved that he can be loyal to you. He will never try to kill you again.”

Richard smiled sardonically. “My realm is full of traitors who can again start plotting against me with my brother if he promises to give them estates and titles.”

“You don’t believe that Guy can be loyal to you, milord?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” the King said indifferently. “A man, who was once ready to kill his King to earn power and wealth, can always try again if he is tempted by promises of riches. His loyalty cannot be unconditional and staunch – it can easily be bought.”

Robin was barely holding onto his temper. “Guy has realized that power doesn’t make a man happy if he has to act against his conscience.”

“You cannot know how Gisborne will act if he is given a chance. Therefore, I cannot pardon a man who tried to kill me twice but eventually switched sides because he suddenly developed a conscience. Gisborne is an ideal example of the man who cannot be trusted at all.”

Robin blanched. “Sire, you won’t change your decision, will you?”

The King gave a nod. “Gisborne will be executed today,” he said with authority. “Out of my love for you, Robin, I will cancel my order to have him hanged, drawn, and quartered.” He sighed. “He will be hanged, which is an easier punishment than he deserves.”

Robin quietly watched the King’s sad face that was rather responsive to every passing thought in Robin’s head. He knew that the King could predict in advance what he would tell him as his last attempt to save Guy from execution. Richard had always been able to read his mind very well, except only one case when in Acre he had considered Robin a traitor without a solid proof of guilt.

“My liege, you can pardon Guy out of your love for me,” Robin declared boldly after a long pause. “I saved your life many times in the Holy Land. I survived a nearly fatal wound I took for you. I fought for you in England, doing everything to stop the Black Knights.” He raised his voice. “But in return, you ordered to execute me when I arrived in Acre to protect you from Vaisey.”

The King's expression evolved into sadness. "Robin, I betrayed your loyalty. Believe me that I deeply regret that I was so unfair to you and your friends in Acre."

“But you can return your debt by pardoning Guy.”

“Robin, my debt to you is huge. But I also have a greater debt to the nation and the country.”

Robin looked lost. “I don’t understand.”

“Soon I’m going to depart to Normandy to fight against Philippe’s troops. I have to make sure that nobody of English lords, whom I pardoned, will again conspire with John to kill me. I want peace in England, and we need demonstrative executions which everyone will remember.”

Robin stared at his liege incredulously. “You want to make an example out of Guy, don’t you?”

“Exactly. I must eradicate treachery. I have to punish a foul traitor who once served John and then switched sides. Gisborne will become an example for all backstabbing parties.”

Robin jumped to his feet, his expression revealing his anger. “I have never imagined that I can ever be disappointed in you, sire. A fair King cannot execute a man who repented of his crimes.”

The King looked hurt. “Politics is a deadly thing, Robin. There is no heart in politics, and Kings often must make decisions which are ruthless and unfair.”

“I don’t agree with you, milord,” Robin retorted, bowing to the King and intending to leave.

“Robin,” the monarch called.

Robin stopped. “If you don’t need me, then I want to leave, with your permission, my liege.”

The Lionheart looked into Robin’s eyes, his expression almost vulnerable. “I hope that you will begin to understand the motives for my decision over time.”

Robin glared at his liege. “I don’t know.”

Richard snapped his fingers, and one of the guards entered. The young man bowed to the King and the Earl of Huntingdon; then he gave his liege the rolled parchment and was dismissed.

“Take it, Robin.” The King handed to his subject the parchment.

“What is it, sire?” There was a hint of impatience now in Robin’s voice.

“This is your permission to visit Gisborne. Without this document, you won’t be allowed to see him. You can take only Lady Marian with you.”

Robin dropped his eyes, gazing at the parchment in his hands. The blood rushed to his face as burning emotions coursed through him. He was furious, his hands were shaking, but he was trying to control his temper, knowing that he could only aggravate the situation if he quarreled with his sovereign. The world seemed so unfair that Robin wanted to scream in helpless rage. He had truly believed that he would be able to get Guy pardoned, but he failed.

“Thank you, milord,” Robin hissed.

The King of England knew that his favorite was displeased, but he wasn’t going to change his decision. “No tricks, Robin,” he said softly but with a ring of finality.

King Richard could have spared Guy’s life, but he needed to teach his brother John and nobility a memorable lesson – a bloodbath for traitors to settle fear in the hearts of his disloyal subjects. The Black Knights had caused deaths of many of the King’s loyal men, and Richard’s thirst for vengeance was unlimited. Guy was a former Black Knight who had eventually changed allegiances. To Richard, Guy seemed a turncoat who could run to Prince John tomorrow and betray his King again. Richard could never trust a man who had tried to kill him twice and who had even attempted to take John’s life during the coronation which Robin had ruined.

Robin bowed to the King and stormed out. He headed to the parlor where Marian and Archer were waiting for him. When Robin appeared at the doorway and then stepped into the chamber, Marian and Archer swiftly stood up from their chairs, wearing saturnine and worried expressions.

Archer smiled morbidly. “Robin, I guess that the King was unrelenting. I can see it on your face.”

“Yes.” Robin was barely able to speak.

Marian let out a sigh of frustration. “Did the King explain why he doesn’t want to pardon Guy?”

“Yes, he did,” Robin replied. Then he told them about his conversation with Richard.

Archer grunted, “Politics and power, right? That’s why the King needs Guy dead.”

Marian sighed. “I expected that, but I still hoped that the King would change his decision.”

“We can overpower the guards and get Guy out of the dungeons,” Archer said with conviction.

“We cannot do that,” Robin parried.

“Why?” Archer asked, anger boiling in his blood.

Robin rubbed his cheek, his expression lost. “Have you forgotten that the Black Knights are heavily guarded by King Richard’s troops? Or do you want to fight with the King’s whole army?”

“But we have to do something,” Archer snapped. “We have to save Guy.” 

“We can do nothing.” Robin’s voice sounded grave.

Archer looked at Robin expectantly. “You are Robin Hood. You can do everything.”

“No, I cannot,” Robin claimed. “Even Robin Hood cannot outwit every soldier in the King’s troops. If I try to break Guy out of the prison, the King’s men will only capture and detain me, but Guy will be executed in any case.”

Archer narrowed his eyes at Robin. “You just don’t want to go against the King’s decision.”

“That will give us nothing because I know that this time, we will lose for sure,” Robin made an attempt to explain, looking at Archer with apologetic eyes. “I confess that I overestimated my influence on the King. I just don’t know what he will do even to me if I try to openly defy him.”

Marian listened with breathless interest. “I’m in agreement with Robin. The King knows too well what Robin can do – he knows many of Robin’s tricks and strategies.” She sighed. “I’m sure that he has already done everything to toughen security measures in the prison.”

"I will try to do something," Archer stated. Then he stormed out of the parlor and the manor.

Robin came to Marian, and put his other hand on her stomach. “I cannot risk quarreling with the King; I don’t know how he will react.” He looked very sad. “I have to protect you and our child.”

Marian shook her head. “It is not your fault that the King doesn’t want to pardon Guy.”

Robin’s glance turned to guilt. “I will never forgive myself for my failure to save Guy.”

“You did everything you could, handsome.”

“I should have tried harder.”

Robin protectively wrapped his arms around Marian, and she gladly came into his embrace. He pressed a tender kiss upon her brow, him other hand resting on her still flat stomach. Marian was only three months along in her pregnancy, and she wasn’t showing yet. They were so happy that Marian had conceived in less than a year after their reunion. They had become a family they had dreamt of having for so long and, finally, had everything they needed for happiness.

Fearing that there could be some complications with her pregnancy, Marian had confessed to Djaq that she had been pregnant and had lost her baby because of her injury. Djaq had told her that she should be extremely cautious if she wanted to carry the child to term and not to suffer a miscarriage. Djaq had even revealed the truth to Robin about the baby Marian had lost in Acre, hoping that he would watch his reckless wife and make her be more careful and attentive to herself.

Marian tenderly ran her fingers through Robin’s hair. “My love, I don’t want Guy dead either, but you cannot go against the King.”

“It may sound selfish, but I cannot sacrifice our future,” Robin said; the pain in his voice made her shudder. “I hate myself for my inability to save Guy, but I must accept the King’s decision.”

“Yes,” she whispered nearly inaudibly.

If the King had wanted Guy dead so much, it wasn’t clear how their liege would act if Robin had helped Guy escape. The King loved Robin a lot, but everything could change in the next moment, like it had happened in Acre. Robin could try to save Guy despite the threat of punishment and repercussions from the King, but now he would have risked not only his own life, but also the lives of Marian and his unborn child: the King could order his execution in an outburst of anger, and then Marian and the baby would have become the family of a dispossessed and disgraced traitor.

Marian and Robin left Locksley and headed to Nottingham, intending to visit Guy in the dungeons. As they arrived at the outskirts of the town, they were shocked to see almost half of the King’s troops positioned in the area around the prison. Many Black Knights were imprisoned there, waiting for their death hour, and Guy was one among them; in an hour, they would be taken out of their cells and would be hanged, drawn, and quartered before the eyes of the bloodthirsty crowd.

Marian and Robin passed by the King’s men who were guarding the prison. Mane soldiers recognized Robin and his brave wife who had spent enough time in the Crusaders’ camp in Acre, so they bowed to the heroes of England and smiled earnestly at them. But Marian and Robin didn’t care about them, thinking only about the condemned man whom they failed to save.

Robin showed the parchment with King’s signature which permitted them to visit Guy. Then Robin and Marian were shown to Guy's cell by the guards. Guy’s cell was guarded by six soldiers from King Richard’s Private Guard; each of them greeted their former Captain with a smile. Having recognized Marian, the guards also bowed to her. One of the men then opened the door to the cell.

Dressed in a black prisoner’s uniform, Guy of Gisborne was sitting on a wooden bench, looking at the stone floor. His ankles and wrists were shackled; there was a thick chain around his neck, which was fastened to the wall. There was no way the former outlaws could have taken Guy out of the dungeons without creating a chaos and a noise in the prison. They really couldn’t save Guy.

Guy lifted his eyes from the floor and stared at Marian and Robin as the guard unlocked the door and let the couple go inside. The guard was unwilling to leave them alone with the dangerous prisoner, but Robin knew the man from the time when he had served the King in Palestine. Robin had assured the guard that he wouldn’t try to break Guy out, and only then the man left.

“I know why you came,” Guy began. “To say farewell to me before my death.”

Robin sighed heavily. “We couldn’t come earlier because King Richard prohibited everyone from visiting you. Marian and I needed an official permission from the King himself to see you.”

“The King allowed us to come to you before your… execution,” Marian said, her eyes downcast.

Guy smiled vaguely. “I’m glad to see both of you.”

Robin’s expression revealed the guilt he felt. “Guy, I ask for your forgiveness. I tried everything I could, but I failed,” he said in a low voice. “I never thought that it would come to that.”

The prisoner shook his head. “Robin, you don’t need to apologize for what it not your fault. You don’t need my forgiveness because there is nothing to forgive,” he said flatly, with his familiar smirk on his lips. “The King needs to make an example out of the treacherous and rotten-hearted man who tried to kill him twice and then ran to the opposite side, joining Robin Hood.”

Robin swallowed heavily. “Yes.”

Guy laughed. “I’m a political prisoner!”

Marian glanced at Guy. “Guy, we are very sorry that we cannot help you.”

Guy smiled at Marian, thinking how beautiful she was. “I know you are sorry. I feel and see it.”

“I would love to break you out of here, but I cannot do that,” Robin declared, a deep regret creeping into his voice. “You are so heavily guarded that breaking you out would be… impossible.”

Guy glanced around. “Robin, I understand everything. Once the King tried to execute you, when the Sheriff spun a story about your alleged treason.”

Robin nodded. “Yes.”

Guy let out a snort and laughed. “Robin, if you deprive the King of the brilliant chance to have his special prisoner executed for his crimes, he can severely punish you.” His gaze slid to Marian. “But you have to put Marian before everyone else in your life.”

Robin looked ashamed. “You are right, Guy. I don’t know what to expect from Richard.”

Guy smiled. “That’s why you shouldn’t have interfered. It was a pointless waste of time.”

“But I should have tried, and I did try,” Robin persisted.

Guy looked between Marian and Robin; then his gaze focused on Robin. “I was a cowardly and selfish idiot for a long time. I blamed everyone for my own mistakes and sins because it was easier to blame others than myself. I killed many people for a bleak chance of reward from the Sheriff.” He swallowed hard. “I lived in shame for so long, but I don’t want to continue that way. I want to pay for my crimes and die with honor.”

Robin felt more ashamed than before for his inability to save Guy. Guy really wasn’t the same man who had killed for power and wealth. “You are a good and decent man, Guy,” he said.

“I’m a wretched man,” Guy parried.

In one large stride, Robin was beside Guy. He knelt to Guy and took Guy’s shackled hands in his. “I’m sorry, Guy,” he said quietly. “We could have been friends and even brothers, but we were foolish and made many mistakes.” He smiled sorrowfully. “I wish we had been friends before.”

Guy smiled back at Robin. “I would have liked being your friend in another life, Robin.” He squeezed Robin’s hand. “Don’t blame yourself because you did nothing wrong to me.”

Marian stood watching Robin and Guy together. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she trembled all over. She could see that if Guy had been given another chance, he would have proved to everyone that he had changed. For the first time since the tragic events in Acre, Marian was able to feel old friendly affection for Guy, and at that moment she forgave him for everything he had done to her.

Robin felt tears stung his eyes. “Impossible,” he muttered.

Guy was moved by the sight of the unshed tears in Robin’s eyes. “Robin, you gave me freedom by allowing me to fight alongside you against Vaisey and Isabella. You gave me a chance for redemption.” Tears stung his eyes. “You did for me more than you should have done.”

“I will miss you,” Robin said sincerely.

Guy chuckled. “You will have no time to remember about me. You are not an outlaw anymore, and you will help rebuild Nottingham. You will help people now. You are a married man who will have a child in your arms soon. You will have too many other important things to do.”

Guy’s voice faltered. He looked away from Robin to Marian, letting his gaze dwell over her still slender figure. He had already known that Marian was carrying Robin’s child before his arrest. He had felt pain every time when he had stolen a glance at Robin caressing Marian’s abdomen. He had also been happy that God had given Marian and Robin what he had taken from them by the strike of his sword in Acre. But deep down, Guy envied that it wasn’t his child growing inside Marian.

Robin coughed, attracting Guy’s attention. “Guy?”

Marian felt uncomfortable under Guy’s scrupulous gaze. “Guy, we will always remember you.”

“What else can I do for you, Guy?” Robin asked as he rose to his feet.

A ray of dark humor touched Guy’s face. “Make sure that nobody spits upon my grave,” he said with a smirk. “Please bury me in Locksley, if you don’t mind.”

Robin’s chest was heavy with emotions. “I will do that.”

“Please look after Archer.” Guy regretted that he didn’t have more time to spend with his young half-brother. “He was a knave, but he can become a good man if he doesn’t make wrong choices.”

“I will,” Robin pledged.

Guy tossed his raven-haired head. “My son Seth,” he said, remembering the boy whom he had left in Sherwood to die. “Robin, I know that you found him in the woods. What happened to him?”

“Annie is working for Lady Glasson. Seth lives with her,” Marian interjected. She then told Guy how she had arranged everything for Anne and Seth to leave Nottingham and settle down at the Glasson Manor.

“We will take care of Seth,” Robin promised.

Guy hung his head. “I would have been a bad father for any boy. Seth is better without me.”

A bitter smile crossed Robin’s face. “Don’t exaggerate.”

“Thank you for Seth,” Guy said, still looking down at the floor.

“You are welcome, Guy,” Robin replied.

The heavy iron door opened, and the guard came in. “Your time is up,” he announced the guard.

Guy raised his eyes to Robin. “Robin, please let me talk to Marian,” he begged. “Just a minute.”

Robin nodded, unable to reject Guy’s last request. He exchanged several words with the guard, who nodded at him in agreement, allowing Marian to stay alone with the prisoner against the standard rules. Then Robin came to Guy and gave him a quick embrace around his shoulders. As he pulled away, he could see a warm, content smile on Guy’s face. Robin paused at the doorway, casting the last apologetic glance at Guy, and then he went out.

There was an ominous silence in the cell as Guy and Marian stared at each other. They did have only a little time to talk in privacy, but nobody dared say a word.

“I don’t know what to say,” Marian said eventually.

Guy’s expression turned pained. “Marian, can you forgive me for what I did to you?”

A look of mingled affection, regret and pain, came into Marian’s face, as she replied, “It was not easy for me, but I have already forgiven you, Guy.”

“But you said that you would probably never forgive me for the death of your child. You said that–” He broke off; hope flashed in his eyes. “Have you really forgiven me?”

“Yes, I have.”

Guy inclined his head in courtesy. “Thank you, Marian. Thank you.”

Marian strode forward and stopped next to the bench. She knelt to Guy. “When we were in the Holy Land, I told you that you were a decent man, not a killer, and I meant it.”

He blinked in amazement. “How can you say that after what I did to you?”

“Guy, you proved that I wasn’t mistaken when I saw a better side to you.” She trailed off, collecting her thoughts. “The way you are accepting your fate makes me proud of you.”

Guy smiled. “I don’t fear death because it will give me ultimate freedom from all my demons.” Tears suspended his voice, and he paused for a moment. “But I wish that I had listened to your words in Acre and killed the Sheriff instead of trying to kill the King. It was really my last chance to be a good man, but I failed to use it and instead I entirely ruined my own life.”

“You redeemed yourself,” she said hoarsely.

He gazed long and thoughtfully at the fresh young face of the woman he had loved so much. He was happy that she had finally forgiven him because now he could die with a light conscience. “You were the first one who saw goodness in me,” he said with a smile.

“I saw it, and now some others could see it too, Guy.”

Guy was shackled and couldn’t touch Marian’s face, but he could squeeze her hand. “Marian, I love you,” he murmured, looking into her eyes. “I have loved you since the day I met you after my return to Nottingham. I cannot stop loving you, even though you are Robin’s wife, and I respect it.”

Marian gazed away, letting her gaze wander across the cell. She felt guilty that she couldn’t reciprocate his feelings. Guy was one of the most handsome men she had ever met, but she had never been as attracted to him as she had always been to Robin. But his honest confession made her heart thunder in her thorax, and she could hardly concentrate and continue their conversation.

She bit her lip. “I’m sorry that I cannot say the same about myself.” She spent a few moments longer in a pressing silence. “We cannot choose those whom we love.”

He gave her a tiny smile. “Your heart has always belonged to Robin,” he said, surprised that he didn’t feel pain at the acknowledgment. “I should have never tried to take you away from Robin.”

Marian let out a sigh. “Thank you for your understanding and kindness,” she said softly.

The door opened and the guard entered the cell. “Lady Marian, you must leave. We cannot wait any longer,” he said. “Lord Huntingdon is waiting for you in the corridor.”

“One moment, please,” Marian pleaded, looking at the guard with eyes full of pain and despair.

“Fine,” the guard barked; then he slammed the door behind him.

Marian caressed Guy’s cheek with her hand. “Guy, I wish you to find peace in your next life.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek; then she climbed to her feet.

He was barely aware of the sting of tears in his eyes as he looked at her for the last time. “Marian, I wish you happiness with Robin and your child,” he murmured. “I wish you all the best.”

She’s cheeks were flushing; her expression changed into regret. She was too full of Guy’s words, and she knew that she would never forget this moment. “I’m sorry, Guy. I’m so sorry.”

With a heavy heart, Marian rushed to the door. She couldn’t look at Guy anymore, the pain was too great. She would pray for his soul as long as she lived, she swore. She was relieved that Guy had made peace with Robin and her. She had really forgiven him and didn’t wish him dead.

Marian walked away from the man whose love for her had always been unrequited, though she believed that Guy's feelings were quite unhealthy. Marian felt her heart leap with a burst of joy as she saw Robin at the end of the corridor. Robin opened his arms to her, inviting her into the warmth of his secure embrace. Her face lit up with a dazzling smile, and she started running to Robin, her only true love. Robin pulled her into a hug, and she felt she was home at last.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

A Bloodbath for Traitors

After Marian had left, Guy looked at the closed door for a long time. His mind was creating many what-if scenarios of what could have been if he had made different choices. Even if he had killed the Sheriff in Acre, Marian would have never married him if she had known that Robin had been alive; even if he had dragged her to the nearest chapel in Acre, she would have found the way out of their marriage. If he had been given a chance, he wouldn’t have married to Marian, but he could have found happiness with someone else, perhaps with Meg if she hadn’t died.

“Meg,” Guy whispered to himself as his mind replayed the image of the feisty young girl who had seen the better side to him and died trying to protect him. “You are in heaven, and we will never meet because I have damned myself and will be burning in the hellfire forever.”

Guy refused to have his last meal; instead, he asked to let him see a local priest. Guy had last been in a church in childhood, never in adulthood; now he felt that he needed spiritual nourishment. The guards told Guy that he had only ten minutes for a conversation with a priest because they already needed to collect him for execution, but that was enough for the prisoner.

The guards removed the chain from Guy’s neck and unfastened it from the wall; they also unshackled Guy’s ankles, though his wrists remained shackled. Then the door opened, and an old man with grizzled hair stepped into the cell. The priest’s face with sanguine lips and lambent eyes became dark when he recognized Guy of Gisborne in the prisoner, but he made no comments.

The priest looked at Guy. “My son, how can I help you?”

Guy stared at the priest with scared eyes. “My time approaches. I wish… to make a confession.”

The priest took a seat on the chair that the guard had brought for him, looking at Guy with curious eyes. Guy slowly rose to his feet, feeling pain in the stiff muscles of his back from sitting in the same pose for many hours. Then Guy knelt before the priest, his heart hammering harder; he was more nervous from his decision to make a confession than from his approaching death.

“Speak, my son,” the priest permitted.

Guy bent his head, submitting his soul to God’s judgment. “I, Guy of Gisborne, confess before God that I committed heinous crimes. I destroyed lives of many people to earn power and wealth. But there are two crimes which make me sick of myself.”

“Go on,” the churchman prompted.

Guy bowed his head lower, and said, with a trembling voice, “I almost killed the only woman I have ever loved. I will never get over the shock of what I did to her, even though she survived. The memory of my brutal attempt on her life haunts me since the day when I plunged my sword into her stomach.” He trailed off for a moment. “I will never wash away the blood of my victims from my hands, but the stain of her blood on my hands is blasphemous.”

They remained mute for some time; then the priest said, “My son, do you repent of this crime?”

“Yes, I do,” Guy assured him. “When I thought that I had murdered her, I believed that I would have willingly suffered many deaths if that had meant that she would have been alive and with her only true love – the man whom I hated almost all my life.” He paused. “Then the miracle happened: she survived and returned to her… husband. They love each other and are happy.” He shut his eyes. “Her survival gave me a chance to find peace with my conscience, and I’m content.”

“What is your second crime that troubles you so much, my son?”

“I sold my sister to her husband,” Guy acknowledged. “My sister and I were banished from Locksley. We lived in poverty, and at some point, I lost my hope to survive. Then I met a young rich nobleman who offered me much money for my sister’s hand in a marriage.” He paused, his cheeks burning with shame. “I accepted his lucrative offer and sold my sister to him. I destroyed her life.”

“Why did you ruin her life?”

Guy was so nervous that his palms were sweating and his hands were unsteady. “My sister’s life with her husband was a living hell. When I forced her to marry him, I didn’t know that he was a calloused beast. Later I didn’t meet her for many years.” He sighed. “This marriage made her a cruel woman who wanted to kill me to take revenge against me.” He swallowed hard. “In childhood, I promised to protect my sister, but I failed to fulfill my brotherly duties.”

The priest admired Guy’s honesty. Although Guy didn’t say the names of the two women, it wasn’t difficult to understand that he meant Marian and Isabella. Everyone knew that Isabella was Guy’s sister because she had spent enough time in Nottingham after her escape from her husband and until her death in the siege. Also, much gossip had already circulated in Nottinghamshire about the attempted murder of Robin Hood’s wife by Guy; the villagers still remembered how Robin had come to Locksley to kill Guy, but in the end, Guy had thrown Robin from the cliff.

“Something else, my son?” They didn’t have much time left.

“No,” Guy said calmly. Relief poured through him that he had found the courage to speak aloud about the things that were tormenting him the most. “God has taught me how to die, and I’m ready to pay for my crimes if it pleases our King to see me die.”

“We cannot discuss the decisions of our gracious King Richard. The King’s word is the law.”

Guy smirked, his head still bowed. “I know, and I respect the King’s decision.”

The old man smiled. “It is good to show your resignation and humbleness.”

Guy raised his eyes and clutched the priest’s hand. “Oh my God, I’m lost – forever lost!” he exclaimed with a piercing cry. “But maybe God can take pity on my lost soul, cannot he?”

The priest put a hand on Guy’s shoulder. “My dear son, if you are sincerely repentant and regret your sins, God will have mercy upon you.”

“Thank you,” Guy said, his face relaxing in a smile.

The door of the cell opened, and the guard paused at the doorway. “It is time,” he notified.

The priest blessed the condemned man and then left. The guards walked to Guy, looked at him, then at each other, and smirked at him as they shackled his legs. They told him that wagons for the transportation of the Black Knights to the central courtyard were ready. They forced Guy to stand up, roughly grabbing his shoulders, their faces breaking into broad grins of delight. The guards led Guy through the long corridor; he stumbled twice, but they forced him to continue his way.

Outside the prison, Guy saw five large wagons filled with the Black Knights who had signed the Pact of Nottingham and who had also provided Prince John with money to hire the army of mercenaries to fight against King Richard. He counted at least twenty people, all of them condemned to death. Guy recognized the Earl of Buckingham, the Earl of Durham, the Earl of Spenser, the Earl of Rotherham, and many others from the treacherous inner sanctum. It seemed that King Richard had craved a bloodbath in Nottingham for many of Prince John’s supporters, and Guy wasn’t destined to survive this bloodbath like he had survived the siege.

At midday, Guy stood near the gallows, watching the executions of the Black Knights. Guy was notified that he would be the last prisoner executed today because the King had changed the method of his execution to hanging. He believed that Robin had asked King to let him die a less painful death; he was grateful to his former enemy. Watching the execution of the Black Knights who were hanged, drawn, and quartered, Guy was relieved that he would die with more dignity.

Guy turned his head and saw Rebecca of Locksley in the crowd; Kate and Maggie, Rebecca’s surviving daughters, stood near their mother. Rebecca’s gaze locked with Guy’s, and her eyes flashed with hatred. Kate didn’t send him hateful looks, and Guy could swear that there was compassion in her eyes; they had reached a sort of truce when Kate had been with the outlaws.

“Gisborne, you are a cold-blooded murderer! You are evil, and today you will go to hell!” Rebecca screamed in a hissing voice, from between her gnashed teeth.

“Mother, please stop,” Kate pleaded. “Don’t be so cruel.”

Guy heard Kate’s words and smiled at her with gratitude. He was taken aback by the sudden display of Kate’s kindness. “Thank you,” he said to himself, knowing that she couldn’t hear him.

King Richard stood near the gallows on a small platform surrounded by at least twenty guards; he was looking at Guy. He secretly felt cold respect to the prisoner who seemed to be so indifferent to his fate. The King scanned the crowd, relieved that Robin and Marian weren’t there. He couldn’t see the former outlaws whom he had already pardoned. Obviously, Robin Hood’s men, who never killed if they could avoid that, didn’t want to witness executions, but it was even for the better.

The King took the parchment to read Guy’s sentence. “We, King Richard I of England, hereby proclaim that Sir Guy of Gisborne has been stripped of all his titles and lands. He has been proclaimed a wretched traitor! He has been condemned to death for two regicide attempts on our life and for one regicide attempt on the life of our brother John, for countless attempts on the life of Sir Robin of Locksley, Earl of Huntingdon, and for one attempt on the life of Lady Marian of Locksley, Countess of Huntingdon, as well as for the murder of Sir Roger of Stoke.” He unrolled another parchment and continued reading the list of charges leveled against Guy.

The crowd of people roared in excitement. Nobody loved Gisborne in Nottingham, and they were delighted that the King had restored justice in the shire. Even a few people, who knew that Guy had joined Robin Hood in his fight against Vaisey and Isabella, didn’t feel sympathy to Guy.

Guy lowered his eyes, feeling disgusted with himself. He knew that he deserved the hatred of all these people because he had caused them too much harm which couldn’t be undone. Guy cast a short glance at the King of England, thinking that Richard the Lionheart had indeed justified his reputation of the ruthless, practical, and vengeful King. He pulled his gaze away from the King, fearing that their eyes could meet.

King Richard was about to proceed to the final part of Guy’s sentence. “We hereby declare that Guy of Gisborne deserves a death sentence for murdering countless innocents during his service to Lord Vaisey, the former Sheriff of Nottingham and a traitor to England, and for numerous acts of oppression he committed in Nottinghamshire.” He looked around at the crowd. “Criminals like Gisborne are enemies of the people. They will never be given power as long as we rule in England.”

The nobles smiled at their sovereign and shook their heads approvingly; some lords, whom the King had pardoned for treason, had the decency to look away, ashamed that they were alive while Guy was doomed to die. The crowd exploded in cheerful cries because the King said what the people wanted to hear: Guy was sentenced to death for tyranny and oppression of the populace.

“Long live King Richard!” the people cried out together. “God bless our King!”

Richard smiled with satisfaction. He got exactly what he wanted: he reinforced his image of the fair and just King Richard and intimidated the nobles. The executions of the Black Knights and especially of Guy of Gisborne sent a signal to the nobles that everyone who would conspire with Prince John again would pay with their lives for treason and wouldn’t be pardoned. The King knew that the nobles would remember the bloodbath in Nottingham for a long time.

The townspeople almost danced around the gallows with arms high in the air claiming a victory of the good over the evil, if it could be called a victory. Everyone wanted to spill the blood of oppressors. Only a few people were silent and solemn, and Kate of Locksley was among them.

The corpses of the Black Knights lay everywhere around the gallows, blood gushing everywhere. Guy almost vomited when the heads of the executed Black Knights were impaled on spikes; then he heard the King’s order to hang other parts of their bodies on each gate of Nottingham. Richard nodded at one of his men, signaling that it was Guy’s turn to die. The guards surrounded Guy and roughly grabbed his shoulders, dragging him to the gallows. Guy didn’t resist, resigned to his fate.

Next moment, Guy heard a familiar male voice – Robin’s voice. He turned his head and saw Robin and Archer who were making their way through the crowd, heading to the gallows. Guy was close to tears, grateful to Robin and Archer for their last desperate attempt to save him.

“My liege, please don’t execute Guy!” Robin shouted desperately. “I beseech you to spare him!” He feared the King’s wrath, but in the end, he decided to try to save Guy again. He had grown to like Guy, despite all the pain the condemned man had brought to Marian and him.

Richard’s face twisted into a grimace of displeasure. “Detain the Earl of Huntingdon and his half-brother,” he commanded. “Don’t harm them. We will release them after the execution.”

At least fifteen guards surrounded Robin and Archer, who unsheathed their swords and started fighting. Robin was appealing to the King’s mercy over and over again, while Archer released a sequence of vulgar curses which he had picked up in taverns while traveling in the East. Robin and Archer fought bravely against the King’s men, trying not to harm them in any way, but they were outnumbered. Soon they were disarmed, and their weapons were taken from them.

Guy stood on the stool, and the hangman appeared near him. He looked at Robin and Archer who were being dragged away from the square; he feared that they would have to face the King’s wrath soon. He was relieved that at least Marian didn’t come to the courtyard as he couldn’t bear to think that she could have been detained together with Robin and Archer in her delicate condition.

The King gave a nod, and a chair was removed from beneath Guy’s legs. The ground disappeared underneath Guy, and he found himself hanging in the air. He felt that he couldn’t breathe. Blood rushed to his temples and his heart pounded harder for a brief moment before his heartbeat slowed and finally his heart stopped beating. Guy shut his eyes forever – he was dead.

When Guy opened his eyes, he saw Meg in the rays of the bright light as she met him near the gates to heaven. Guy smiled, understanding that he wasn’t going to hell after his death. He took Meg’s hand in his and hugged her, pressing her close to himself. He kissed her hungrily on her lips, and then pulled away, smiling fondly at her. She laughed at him, and he laughed back. Then Meg led Guy to heaven; their most interesting adventure was only beginning.

King Richard returned to Locksley after the end of executions. He knew that he would have a difficult conversation with Robin, whom the guards had delivered to Locksley Manor at his order. Richard dismounted and one of the guards had taken the reins from his arms. Richard was told that Robin and Archer had been knocked out because they had struggled with the soldiers so fiercely that it had been impossible to stop them without causing them at least some harm.

In the master bedroom, Robin lay on the bed, propped on the pillows; his hands were bound in the front. He regained his conscience half an hour ago and found himself in the bedroom alone; then the guards told him that the King had ordered to isolate him and Archer until his return. Robin busied himself with watching life in the estate that again belonged to him. Through the window, Robin could see the villagers who had already begun celebrating the King’s return and the return of their rightful lord; he himself had permitted to organize this feast.

A loud knock sounded at the door, pulling Robin out of his thoughts. Robin sat on the bed, and the blanket dropped to his lap. He blanched and trembled as his eyes met the King’s eyes.

The King was going to behave very informally. He settled on the edge of the bed, next to scared Robin. “Stop shaking with fright, Robin. I’m not going to punish you for what you did.”

Robin shivered slightly, his expression lost. “Why did you come to me, sire?”

Richard stood up and came to the window. He closed the shutter, so noises didn’t distract them; soon he already sat on the bed facing his most loyal subject. “Don’t think that your life is even in some danger. If you think that I can order your execution like I did in Acre, then you are mistaken.”

“Really?” Robin asked with a scoff.

“Yes,” the monarch responded with a sigh. “I will never do anything that can cause even some harm to you or any honest man who followed Robin Hood.”

“But Guy of Gisborne became one of my men, and I failed to protect him.”

The King nodded slowly. “Yes, he is dead.”

As Richard looked at the younger man, he realized that something was broken between them at the moment when Guy had drawn his last breath. When Robin had served in the Holy Land, they had been connected by bonds of the most sincere friendship, but now everything changed. There was not the least doubt in the King’s mind that it would take Robin much time to reconcile himself with the thought that his King had betrayed his hopes again, if it was possible at all.

“Where is he now? Did you…?” The words barely came out of Robin’s mouth.

“As I promised, Gisborne was only hanged. I didn’t order to quarter his corpse. Instead, I asked my men to deliver his body to Locksley, so you can bury him where you want.”

Robin gazed down, on the blanket that covered his lap, and a lump formed in his throat. He was grateful to the King for a small act of mercy: Guy was considered a traitor to the Crown, so it would have been normal if his body had been emasculated, disemboweled, beheaded, and cut into four pieces. At least they would give Guy a proper Christian burial in Locksley, Robin mused.

“Thank you, milord.”

The King placed his hand on Robin’s arm. “I know that you are angry with me.”

Robin glanced into the King’s eyes. “It is difficult to find words expressing how I feel.”

“You have to understand me, Robin.”

Trembling with fear, Robin began to speak about what mattered most to him. “My liege, you know that I always care for those who fight for you and for me,” he began. “Guy wasn’t my friend, but he became one of us when I accepted him into my gang.” He paused, hesitating; becoming braver, he went on. “Did it ever occur to you that I would never forgive myself for not saving him?”

Taking his hand away from Robin, the King glanced away. “It is complicated, Robin,” he said quietly. “The people suffered too much in my absence, and England bled out to raise funds for my ransom.” He sighed. “I’m not only your friend. I’m also the King of England who must guarantee peace in England, which can be achieved only with a right balance of bloodshed and mercy.”

The King didn’t like the conversation. He had never discussed his actions with his subjects as he was trying to explain everything to Robin. He spoke to Robin as though his favorite had been a small child who needed explanations about how people lived and the world existed, but Robin was too important to him, and he didn’t want to destroy the bonds that still existed between them.

“You had to execute traitors to intimidate your subjects,” Robin uttered, his heart beating so hard in his chest that he feared the King could hear it. “So you decided to take Guy’s life too.”

“Gisborne was a traitor to John and to me.”

“I know.”

“That’s why I executed him. I had to set a precedent, so my subjects know that if someone tries to kill me and then switches sides, hoping to get my pardon, their sentence will still be death.”

“Are you satisfied with your spectacle, my liege?” Robin snapped.

Richard frowned. “Robin, stop talking nonsense,” he stated harshly. “You are a dreamer, and you fail to understand how dark this world is.” He lowered his voice, his expression softened. “Kings have to execute and show mercy in equal measure to rule their kingdoms and protect their thrones. At times, you have to make sacrifices.”

“And so you sacrificed Guy’s life to achieve your goals.”

“Yes. It is better to execute one more traitor and ensure peace in England than to lose many of my men in the future if someone of these lords again tries to kill me and my men have to save me.”

Robin turned his head and stared at the closed shutter. “Milord, I’m not as naïve as I once was,” he responded in a voice that was thick and rough. “I understand that Kings cannot be always merciful. But I thought that you would spare Guy’s life for me.”

The King of England leaped to his feet. “Robin, I don’t know whether we can ever be as close as we were before, but I want you to know that I will always consider you my friend,” he said sincerely. “I love you most of all among all my knights, and my attitude to you will never change.”

Robin was deeply touched by the King’s words and he still loved his King, but he couldn’t speak about their friendship after Richard had executed Guy, at least not now. Yet, there was part of him that understood the King’s reasoning, perhaps because he wasn’t as idealistic as before.

“I’m sorry,” Robin murmured, his expression vulnerable. “I cannot say anything else now.”

The vulnerable look on Robin’s face was even more hurtful to the King than some mocking and angry words Robin had uttered earlier. He loved Robin too much. “I’m sorry too, Robin,” he said.

Richard then left the chamber. He ordered the soldier outside to untie the Earl of Huntingdon and not to guard him again. The guard obviously felt uncomfortable that he had to deal with his former Captain as a prisoner, although the King ordered to treat Robin respectfully. Robin thanked the young man and asked to leave him alone; the guard apologized and went out of the room.

Robin lay on the bed for a long time, his mind reeling. He was dreadfully shocked with today’s events, his heart overwhelmed with grief. His head was pounding in pain as he had been rendered unconscious by one of his captors. He had an idea to go downstairs and find Marian, Much, and his other friends, but he didn’t want to see King Richard who surely presided over the feast when the lord of the manor wasn’t there to play the role of a host. He didn’t want anyone’s company tonight.

He heard voices in the corridor, and an involuntary gasp escaped his lips at the thought that he would be disturbed. But then he smiled as one of the voices definitely sounded like Marian. The door flung opened and Marian entered the room, her face concerned as she stared at Robin.

Marian eyed him. “How are you, Robin?” She automatically placed her hand on her stomach.

Robin smiled at the sight of his love and at the thought that soon she would give him someone who would join their lives forever. But then he remembered that Guy was dead, and his heart dropped. “Come to me, my love. I need you so much,” he said in a hushed voice.

Marian took a step forward to the bed. The urgency in Robin’s voice alarmed her. As she moved towards him, she felt her face heating up as she admired his handsome face. She stopped near the bed and seated herself there, and he shifted to her, encouraging her to move under the large blanket that covered him. Then Robin gathered her into his arms.

“Did you talk to the King?” she inquired as she let him press her to himself.

“I did,” he said briefly.

“What did he say? Was it the same drivel he sang in the morning?”

Robin stared at her flushed face. “Almost the same,” he answered. “He also said that he still considers me his friend and that it will never change even if I probably don’t want to be his friend.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“What do you think about that, Marian?”

Marian was silent as she thought about the situation. “I don’t like what the King did to Guy and I think that it is unfair, but I can understand his motives.” She sighed wearily. “It is not easy for Richard and for you, Robin.”

He nodded hesitantly. “Maybe I will be able to forgive Richard over time.”

She could see Robin’s distress. “Handsome, don’t torment yourself. It is not your fault.”

“Allan also died because of me,” Robin accused himself, his voice hollow. “I should have believed Allan when he said that he didn’t betray us. But instead, I behaved like King Richard did in Acre: I believed in Allan’s betrayal because of Isabella’s fake announcement, without enough proof.”

“Allan’s death is not your fault. It is Isabella’s fault and Vaisey’s fault.”

“Maybe.”

“Definitely, Robin.”

Robin leaned down and kissed her softly. “Marian, I promise that I will never choose my duty to the King over my love for you again,” he said with a reverent note in his tone, his expression absolutely unguarded. “I swear I will never disappoint you again, my love.”

Marian was speechless. She didn’t expect that Robin would ever tell her something like that, even after Richard’s refusal to pardon Guy. Robin was a man of duty, who had gone to the Holy Land and had sacrificed their happiness to do his duty. Marian had been jealous to King Richard, thinking that Robin’s loyalty to the man could have been stronger than his loyalty to her. Robin Hood’s cause had been of highly political nature because the Sheriff’s political plots they had thwarted had been against the King.

Marian gave him a suspicious glance. “Are you kidding me, Robin?” she asked, forcing herself not to hope that she had become more important to him than his duty to the King. “You placed me below your loyalty to England so often.”

He looked ashamed. “I know,” he breathed softly.

She arched a brow. “And?”

Robin’s chest heaved with emotions. “Many years ago, I abandoned you because I thought and felt that it was my duty to help King Richard reclaim Jerusalem from the infidels,” he said, looking into her eyes. “But I quickly realized that I made a great mistake when I threw away a chance to be with you.” He sighed. “I regretted going to the war after the first battle in the Holy Land.”

“So quickly?”

“Yes. I was a fool to leave you. But I won’t choose my duty over my love for you ever again.”

“My Robin,” she whispered with a brilliant smile on her face.

“My Marian,” Robin murmured, his eyes sparkling. He kissed her tenderly, and then gazed into her eyes. “I’m sorry that I left you, my love. I’m sorry that you had to struggle for the poor alone. I’m sorry that I wasn’t here, by your side, when you needed me.”

Marian stared into his blue eyes. Robin didn’t wear a mask: she could look into his soul, and she believed him implicitly, feeling confident for the first time in her life that he would never choose the King over his love for her again. She felt that now she loved him even more because she felt safer in her marriage, which was very important to her, even if she didn’t dare tell Robin about that. It seemed that now they had sorted out all their differences.

After their reunion, Robin had begun to open up to Marian: he had shared with her his fears and insecurities. She had enjoyed their frank conversations and his trust in her ability to understand his intricate mind, even his unusual believes in the equal status and rights of Christians, Jews, and Saracens. She had also shared with him many things that had happened to her in his absence, and she had seen that Robin had felt truly guilty of leaving her. She rejoiced that their relationship had deepened so much, feeling happy and secure.

“I forgave you a long time ago,” Marian replied truthfully. “It happened when I saw the scar on your side when I was tending to your arrow wound in Clun.”

“Really?” He looked amazed.

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Why?”

“When I asked you about the scar, I saw a brief flicker of pain in your eyes before you again began to tease me. I began to realize how difficult the five years of your absence were for you.”

“Then you did a perfect job of hiding your feelings while treating me so coldly.” He skimmed his fingers over the tresses of her hair, his other hand wrapped around her waist. “But I cannot say that I didn’t enjoy a challenge to charm you and to win your heart back.”

“You succeeded in winning me back.”

Robin smiled. “You lied that my charms ceased to work on you more than five years ago.”

“And my little note really sent you over the edge.”

“I didn’t believe you, my love.”

Marian grinned. “Did it wound your ego?”

“Oh, no, it was fun for me! I knew that you were affected by my return!”

“Perhaps, you have improved your charms after practicing on so many women.”

There was a mocking gleam in his eyes. “Please, don’t shame me again by telling me about my foolish love affairs. I will not survive a new assault.”

“Oh, poor Robin! This time I will take a pity on you!”

“Thank you, my love. I will not forget your today’s compassion.”

Robin’s mood improved after his talk with Marian. They came to Archer’s bedroom to check how he was doing after Guy’s execution and their temporary arrest by the King’s men. Marian and Robin were astonished to find Archer sitting on the bed with Kate on his lap as they quietly conversed. They watched Archer gently take Kate’s hand and lightly kiss it.

Robin cleared his throat. “I suppose you should stop displaying your indiscretions to us.”

Kate jumped to her feet and wanted to run away, but Archer didn’t let her go. He got to his feet and wrapped his arm around her waist. “Kate, you will stay here,” he told the frightened girl.

“As you wish,” Kate answered simply.

“What does that mean?” Robin wanted to know.

Archer glanced at Robin. “I’m mourning the loss of Guy. I cannot be alone.”

Marian shook her head disapprovingly. “Archer, you shouldn’t behave so. It is–”

Archer interrupted Marian. “It is not what you think.” He looked at the married couple, then turned his gaze to Kate. “I proposed to Kate because I’m in love with her. She can be here with me.”

Kate smiled. “I also love Archer, and I agreed to marry him.”

Archer had tried to woo Kate in the outlaws’ camp, but she had always rejected him. When Kate had returned home, she had spent much time thinking about her feelings for Robin Hood. She had finally realized that she had been only infatuated with Robin and had been seduced by the idea to be the hero’s sweetheart. Knowing that Robin and the outlaws had gone to Aquitaine, she had waited for their return in Locksley, and she had noticed that she had missed Archer more than the others. After the return of the outlaws, Archer had started secretly courting Kate, and she had quickly fallen for him. 

Robin and Marian were really at a loss for words. They came to talk about Guy’s funeral, not to learn about Archer’s plans to marry the girl who had once been in love with Robin.

It took Robin several heartbeats to make up a suitable response. “The timing is not perfect.”

A frown creased Archer’s forehead. “So I cannot let myself have some joy, even if I’m in mourning after one of my brothers was killed by King Richard?”

“I didn’t mean that.” Robin’s voice was weak. “We wanted to talk about Guy’s burial.”

The stillness was absolute. Nobody dared speak, as if they were giving tribute to Guy.

“Poor Gisborne,” Kate whispered at last. “I didn’t want him dead. I have forgiven him.”

“Damn King Richard,” Archer hissed.

A grave silence ensued. Their minds were swirling with images of Guy: Guy stabbing Marian in a jealous rage in Acre, Guy killing Matthew in the courtyard, Guy saving Archer’s life in the tunnel during the fight with Vaisey and Isabella, Guy mourning near the seemingly dead Robin Hood, Guy arrested by the King’s men, and, eventually, Guy standing on the gallows. Now Guy was dead.

“Guy has been taken to the stables,” Robin informed in a small voice. “Now the King and nobles are feasting downstairs, and we couldn’t take him into the manor.”

Marian lightly touched her husband’s arm. “We should bury Guy,” she murmured.

“Yes,” Robin said in half a whisper.

“We should go,” Archer whispered softly.

Kate shook her head. “Naturally.”

Outside the manor, Marian, Robin, Archer, and Kate were met by the lavish celebration. The peasants were feasting, laughing merrily; it was a long time since they had been given such delicious food and good wine. On the way to the stables, they passed by a large group of armed soldiers who were patrolling Locksley for security reasons. Life was going on as though nothing had nothing happened in Nottingham today, although Guy of Gisborne was dead. Only Marian, Robin, and Archer were mourning the loss of the man who meant a lot to them.

 

Chapter Text

Epilogue

The first light of day shone into the spacious master bedchamber through the half-opened window. In the dim tenderness of the sunshine, Robin opened his eyes and turned his head to look into his wife’s face, expecting to see her peacefully asleep on the other side of the bed. But he was mistaken because Marian was not alright – she lay on her back, her hands resting on her swollen belly, her eyes fixed on a distant spot. If he didn’t hear Marian’s labored breathing, he could have believed that she had already left this world.

Robin shifted on the bed closer to Marian. He gently put a hand on her stomach, and she took her hand in his, preventing him from touching the swell. She turned her gaze to him, and Robin’s concerned expression evolved into frank worry at the sight of Marian’s pale and pained expression.

“My love, how are you feeling?” Robin asked anxiously.

Marian smiled slightly. "He kicks a lot and doesn't let me sleep well."

Robin grinned. "It is a good sign."

"Yes. He seems to be a strong child."

He or she?” Robin gave her a wry smile, brushing her hair away from her face.

“I want a cheeky boy like you, Robin.”

“It is not surprising, my love.” His answer was a matter of fact, and there was a haughty, smug smile on his face. “You love me and you want our son to be as handsome and irresistible as I’m.”

Marian frowned at him and wanted to throw a snarky barb at him, but then she began to feel the same twinges of pain that she had already felt in the nighttime while Robin had been sleeping.

“Ah!” she cried out in pain, clutching her stomach.

“Oh my God!” Robin exclaimed, horrified. “Has something happened to the child?”

The pain subsided a little bit, and she was able to breathe again. “The baby is coming,” she gave her verdict. Then another wave of pain overcame her, and she groaned aloud. “I felt the same when you were sleeping, but I didn’t want to wake you up,” she added as soon as the pain receded a little.

Robin looked panicked. “Damn you, Marian! You should have warned me when you began to feel pains!” He climbed out of the bed and began to hastily put on his clothes. “My love, please wait a little bit! I will go and get Djaq here!”

In a moment, Robin stormed out of the bedroom and descended the stairs. He headed to Will Scarlett’s cottage in Locksley where Djaq and Will had lived after the wedding ceremony he himself had performed after the King’s departure from Nottingham.

Robin was lucky that Djaq wasn’t sleeping at such early hour: she always awoke early and went to the woods to pick up herbs like she had done in the times of their life as outlaws in Sherwood. When Robin, Will, and Djaq entered Locksley Manor, they could hear Marian’s loud screams even in the parlor, and Djaq immediately rushed to the bedchamber. They didn’t have time to send for Mathilda, so Djaq was presiding over the delivery, assisted by Sarah, Marian’s maid from the Knighton Hall, and Mary, one of the oldest servants at the manor, like Thornton.

When Robin wanted to go upstairs, he suddenly felt Will’s hand on his shoulder. “Robin, don’t go there. Djaq told you that you don’t need to be there,” he told his friend.

Robin tossed his head vehemently. “I want to be with Marian in case… something happens.”

Marian’s pregnancy was a difficult one mainly due to her trauma she had survived through in Acre. She had nearly suffered a miscarriage when she had been only five months along in her pregnancy, and Djaq had forced her to go on bed rest to preserve the child. After several weeks spent bedridden, Marian had been permitted to leave her bed for several hours in a day, but she had become tired so easily that she had returned to bed very quickly. Djaq had said that there had been no signs of dropsy or any other complications in her pregnancy, but they had been extremely careful in the last months.

Robin shuddered as he heard Marian’s new scream, his heart beating wildly in his chest. He had been very worried about Marian and his child, more for Marian, since her almost miscarriage, but now he feared the worst. He feared that Marian would die and he would lose her forever. Djaq had shared with Robin her suspicions that there could be a potential situation when he would have to choose between the life of his child and Marian’s life, and Robin had already decided that he would choose Marian in any case, but he prayed that it would not come to that.

“Everything will be alright,” Will asserted. “Marian is young and strong, and Djaq is with her.”

“Oh my Lord!” Marian screamed as a new tide of pain slashed through her. “It hurts!”

Robin felt a cold shiver running down his spine. He again wanted to go to his wife, but Will gripped his arm. “Robin, please stay calm,” Will requested.

Robin swallowed hard. “You know that my mother died in childbirth,” he said in a hollow voice. “She died when I drew my first breath.” He sighed. “And Marian has already almost lost this child.”

“I understand your fears, but you have to take a hold of your emotions,” Will replied softly.

“I want to be with my wife,” Robin declared at once. “I have to be with her.”

“No, Robin,” Will insisted. “Stay here.”

Robin nodded. “Fine, fine,” he conceded. “I will wait a little bit more.”

“We have heard that a marvel is happening here,” Archer stated as he appeared at the doorway.

“Good morning,” Kate greeted. She stood next to Archer, looking feminine in her delicate condition she had discovered a month ago; she wasn’t showing yet.

In spite of Robin’s pleas to postpone his marriage, Archer hadn’t listened and had married Kate in two months after Guy’s death. At first, Robin hadn’t been convinced that Kate had really fallen in love with his young half-brother, thinking that she had been merely infatuated. But the past months had proved that he had been wrong: Archer and Kate were happy in their marriage life and loved each other. Now Archer and Kate lived at the Gisborne Manor which Archer had decided to build in the memory of Guy: Robin had transferred the former Gisborne lands on Archer’s name, but Archer was officially known as Archer of Locksley, not Archer of Gisborne because the Gisbornes were not loved in Nottinghamshire.

Kate’s mother Rebecca and her sister Maggie lived at the Gisborne Manor. Rebecca was happy that Kate had managed to marry the lord of the manor, all the more the illegitimate half-brother of Robin of Locksley, the Earl of Huntingdon whom she had never been fond of since Robin’s childhood, but now she was using her daughter’s marriage to the benefit of her family. Rebecca had even begun to flatter Robin, trying to establish a contact with him, but she had failed; instead, she had only alienated Robin from herself. Kate had once apologized to Robin for her mother’s foolishness. Archer didn’t like Kate’s mother, but he loved Kate, so he tried to find common ground with Rebecca, though it wasn’t easy.

Robin had promised Guy to take care of Seth, and he had kept his word. Robin and Archer had visited Annie and Seth at the Glasson Manor to notify them about Guy’s death. Annie hadn’t been aggrieved with Guy’s death: she had declared that Guy had deserved death on the gallows for all his sins. Annie had given up on Guy when he had left Seth in the forest, and she hadn’t believed in his redemption. Robin and Archer had persuaded Annie to move back to Nottinghamshire, and the woman had gladly agreed. Now Annie and Seth lived at the Gisborne Manor because Archer had asked her to live with him instead of moving to Locksley, wishing to have Seth close to him and, thus, be closer to his deceased brother. Robin had also transferred a small plot of land on Seth’s name in the memory of Guy.

Robin permitted himself a small smile, relieved to see Archer and even Kate at such a difficult moment. “I’m glad that you came here. I was thinking to send someone to you.”

Kate smiled. “But we came by ourselves, Robin.”

Archer grinned. “I think we felt that we would greet our new nephew soon.”

Will smiled. “Are you sure that it will be a boy? Perhaps they should have a girl because it would be difficult for Marian to handle two men if the boy is like his infamous father.” He teased but his attempt at humor fell flat.

Feeling more nervous than before, Robin twisted his fingers. “I don’t care whether I have a son or a daughter. I just want Marian and my child to be healthy.”

Will, Kate, and Archer seated themselves into the chairs near a long table, while Robin started pacing the parlor back and forth. Robin shuddered every time when he heard Marian’s screams.

“Robin, don’t worry too much,” Kate said in soothing tones. “Childbirth is a normal thing for women.” She smiled as she put her hand on her abdomen where Archer’s child was growing. “Marian carried the child to term against all odds, and you will see that she will cope with childbirth too.”

Robin stopped in the middle of the room, glaring at Kate. “Kate, you know that Marian’s pregnancy is not usual, and it is important that there are no complications during childbirth.”

They nodded at Robin in understanding. Their minds drifted off to Guy of Gisborne who was dead for several months and had been buried in the family graveyard in Locksley, next to Robin’s mother and his other ancestors, except his father whose fate was unknown since their meeting in the woods. Nobody of them hated Guy anymore, even Kate who had been the most unrelenting in granting Guy her forgiveness for killing his brother. Even Robin and Marian, who could blame Guy for the danger Marian was facing in her pregnancy, didn’t hate and loathe the deceased man.

The memories about the day of Guy’s execution were still painful, but they were slowly getting over shock and heartbreak which had followed Guy’s death. King Richard had left Nottinghamshire in a week after bloodbath for traitors in the central courtyard, and life in the shire had continued in a routine way. The town had been filled with the quartered bodies of the Black Knights for a week while the King had still been there. Then Richard had appointed one of his loyal lords as the Sheriff of Nottingham because Robin had rejected his offer, not wishing to be given the power which had made so many people unhappy.

The former outlaws had been shocked with the execution of Guy because nobody had expected that the King would really proceed to such severe measures despite Robin’s pleas. Robin’s attitude to the King had been polite but cool and distant during the time when his sovereign had stayed in Locksley Manor, and both men had felt that their relationship would never be as deep and friendly as it had been before. Robin had even believed that Richard had begun to regret his choice to execute Guy at the price of their friendship. The farewell had been formal, and Richard had told Robin again that he had hoped his most loyal subject would understand the reasons for his choice. In return, Robin had promised to visit the royal court in Poitiers sometime in the future.

Two weddings had happened in a month after the King’s departure: Will had married Djaq and Much had married Eve; each ceremony had been performed by Robin as the Earl of Huntingdon, the lord of vast lands in Nottinghamshire and the liege lord of Much and many other local nobles in the shire. Soon Archer had married Kate, with a large feast they had given in Locksley because the construction of the Gisborne Manor had been only half finished by that time. The weddings had improved everyone’s mood, making the memories of the day of Guy’s death less gloomy.

Kate nodded. “I know, Robin.”

As Robin visibly flinched at the sound of Marian’s whimper, Archer rose to his feet and approached his half-brother. He put a comforting hand on Robin’s arm, smiling at Robin. “Everything looks fine, Robin, there is nothing for you to be concerned about,” he reassured the distraught man kindly. “It always takes time. Soon your child will be born.”

Robin sighed. “I hope so, Archer.”

“Have you thought of names?” Archer queried.

“If it is a girl, we will name her Katherine. If it is a boy, he will be Edward,” Robin answered in a calmer voice. “In the honor of Marian’s parents,” he added.

Archer gave an unpleasant smile. “You don’t want to name your son Malcolm, do you?”

“You still haven’t forgiven our father, have you?” Robin’s voice sounded sharp.

“What about you? Have you forgiven him?” Archer countered. He had already understood that Robin felt some kind of resentment towards Malcolm, but he hadn’t voiced his suspicions before.

Robin gazed into Archer’s eyes. “Not entirely,” he said sincerely.

“I understand,” Archer said; his eyes flew to Kate. “If Kate and I have a son, we will name him Guy.”

“It is a good choice for your child,” Robin responded with a sigh. “I can never do that, even though I still feel guilty of Guy’s death.”

Archer nodded in understanding, his eyes sympathetic. It would have been strange if Robin had named his firstborn son, or perhaps any son, in the honor of the man who had almost murdered his wife and had killed his unborn child. “I hope you will not object if I do that.”

Robin smiled. “Of course not, brother.”

Archer smiled back. “Thank you.”

During the next hours, Marian continued screaming as the labor progressed. Several times, Mary and Sarah came downstairs to bring bowls of fresh water and new linen sheets. Robin stopped and interrogated them; they told him that every possible precaution was taken to ensure that the mother and the baby both came through the ordeal of childbirth alive and whole. Robin wanted to go upstairs, but they insisted that he stayed in the parlor. Childbirth was a woman’s deal.

At midday, the door opened and several people stepped into the parlor: they were Much, Eve, and Little John. Since their marriage, Much and Eve lived in Bonchurch which now officially belonged to Much after the King had pardoned the outlaws and invested Much with the title of the Earl of Bonchurch. Little John had been working as a steward for Much and lived in Bonchurch, helping his new master to run the estate; John would have worked for Robin, but Robin would have never thrown out of the manor Thornton, the old steward of the previous Earl of Huntingdon.

Much ran to Robin and embraced his beloved friend. Then he drew back, there was a boyish grin on his face. “Robin, this is so good! I’m sure that this day is going to be the best day in Locksley since your own birth! We will celebrate the birth of your son and heir!” His smile became wider. “My godson will be the most handsome boy in Nottinghamshire, like you were in childhood!”

Robin sighed, wishing to lash out at Much. As usual, Much wasn’t thinking of the consequences of his words. The same had happened when Robin had been sitting on the hill overlooking Locksley on the day of Marian’s forced marriage to Guy while Much had talked about Bonchurch and letting Marian go if she had wished to marry Guy. Today Much seemed to have forgotten that Robin’s mother had died in childbirth and that his former master had feared Marian could die too.

“Oh, Much,” Robin breathed, irritated.

Archer gave Robin a tiny smile; he didn’t know how Robin could tolerate Much’s annoyance. “As Much is here, I’m leaving the two of you together.” Then he stepped aside and returned to Kate.

Much blinked. “What did I do wrong, Robin?”

“Nothing, Much,” Robin lied.

Little John and Eve came to Robin and Much. Eve stood at Much’s right, and he possessively wrapped his arm around her waist. John stood next to Robin, his eyes shooting daggers at Much.

“Much, it is usual for you to forget about small details and think about trifles,” John reprimanded. “I don’t think that Robin needs to hear about celebrations right now.”

“Oh dear! Am I in trouble?” Much said, his eyes large like two holes. “Robin, I didn’t mean anything wrong! I didn’t want to make you more nervous! I’m saying nothing, absolutely nothing!”

Robin managed a smile. “Don’t worry, my friend. You didn’t hurt me.”

Eve understood Robin’s concern. “Robin, be patient. Children are not born in half an hour,” she said with a knowing smile. When she had served Sheriff Vaisey as his spy at Bonchurch, she had been raped by one of the Sheriff’s guards and conceived a child. She had left to keep her disgrace in secret, but her daughter had died in a few hours after her birth.

“Eve, you heard a lot, but you cannot know about that.” Robin had no clue about Eve’s troubles.

Much gave Eve a smile, and she smiled back at him, grateful for the moral support. She had told him about her grief over her child’s death, and he had accepted her past without questions. They had decided not to share that with anyone, even with Robin. Much was inwardly impressed with Eve’s inner strength, and he loved her in spite of the fact that she hadn’t been a virgin when he had married her. He was afraid of imagining that one of their future children could die; if he had been in her shoes, he didn't know how he would have coped with the pain from the loss.

“Eve helped her mother raise her two younger sisters, but they died in childhood,” Much offered an explanation. “So my wife knows how children are born and raised.”

Eve gave a nod. “My sisters were much younger than me, and I helped my mother in childbirth.”

Robin gave Eve a compassionate glance. “I’m sorry that they died.”

“My condolences, Eve,” Little John interjected.

Eve smiled. “Thank you,” she said. “It was a long time ago, so it is not as painful as it was before.”

Robin blanched as they heard Marian’s new scream. He wanted to go upstairs again and almost ran there, but his friends pressured him to stay in the parlor. He struggled with them so much that they had to restrain Robin, holding him like a prisoner until he promised to control himself.

“It hurts so much!” they heard Marian wail as another wave of pain, the strongest one, washed over her. They couldn’t see that from the parlor, but Marian was clinging tightly to the hands of Sarah, barely aware of Djaq’s gentle, encouraging words to push.

They also couldn’t hear Djaq’s words spoken to Marian: “It is almost time now, Marian.” They couldn’t see Djaq take a linen towel to spread underneath Marian's hips for the child that was expected to be born soon.

Next moment, Thornton entered the chamber and offered some drinks to everyone. He also brought a silver tray full of delicacies for the guests. Robin was the only one who didn’t take anything.

“Master Robin, do you want something?” Thornton questioned.

“I only want my wife to survive and be happy with me,” Robin responded in a shaking voice, his eyes feverish. “So perhaps somebody should be sent to our bedroom to learn what is happening.”

Thornton wanted to console his master, but he could do nothing. “God will protect Lady Marian.”

Robin smirked grimly. “Did he protect my mother when she died?”

“It won’t happen again,” Thornton assured his master. He remembered the day of Robin’s birth very well because it had been a day of great joy and of great mourning for the people of Locksley.

Robin snarled and was quiet for a while. His eyes widened as he watched Mary running down the staircase and telling something to the other servants. In the next several minutes, Mary was bustling back and forth between the master bedchamber and the hall that they could see from the parlor; she was bringing more bowls of water and clean linen sheets upstairs.

“What is going on?” Robin shouted as he walked to Mary and almost stumbled into her.

Mary took a step back, holding a bowl in her arms. “Wait here, Master Robin. It’s almost over,” she said encouragingly. “Not much longer now.”

Robin looked as though he had been wounded to death by a Saracen. “Not much longer?” he asked in lowest tones possible. “Is… she… dying?”

Mary shook her head. “No, no! Lady Marian is very brave.”

"Are you sure?" Robin pressed anxiously. “She has been screaming for several hours.”

Mary smiled. “Master Robin, women always scream in childbirth,” she coached him. “Lady Marian is not dying. I meant that the child would be born very soon.”

“Thanks to God! Thanks to God!” Robin crossed himself. “She must live! She must live!” His tone was one of mingled relief, happiness, and satisfaction as Mary made her announcement.

“I should go upstairs and help Djaq,” Mary said with a smile. She knew Robin during his whole life, but she had never seen him so worried before.

“Yes, go there, go now.” Robin’s voice was conversational as Mary’s words calmed him down, but he was still anxious. “Let me know when I can enter! I must be the first one to go there!”

During the next half an hour, Robin was pacing the chamber with wide steps. Everyone watched him silently, not uttering a word. Soon, Marian stopped screaming, and Robin became more stressed out, almost breaking his own hands in distress. Then the baby wailed at the full pitch of what was an exceptionally healthy pair of lungs, and its bellows left no doubt that it was a strong child.

“Marian,” Robin whispered, all his concern about his wife. He ran upstairs, his heart pounding harder in fear that he couldn’t hear sounds coming from Marian’s mouth anymore.

“Master Robin, you would better wait here with us.” Thornton frowned slightly as he spoke, an almost paternally reproachful expression on his face. “Someone will come downstairs soon.”

Robin paused for a moment. “I don’t care! I just want to see my wife!”

“At least be careful on the staircase,” Archer warned, laughing at his half-brother.

Then Mary appeared at the top of the staircase. “Master Robin has a healthy son,” she declared with a large smile. “Both the child and the mother are fine.”

Cheerful cries filled the room, and everyone smiled with easy smiles. It was the happiest news that the heir of the Earl of Huntingdon and the Lord of Locksley had finally been born.

Will laughed. “Soon this disobedient boy will run around wildly and play noisy games.”

Thornton’s smile was larger when it had been on the day of Robin’s return from the Holy Land. “Like Master Robin in childhood.”

“At least now Robin will stop going mad,” Little John commented, smiling.

Much was beaming as though he had become a father today. “Robin has a son! I have a godson!” he cried out in delight. “I will love this boy so much! I will love him as my own child! I’m so happy!”

Eve smiled with a reserved smile. “I’m happy for you, Much.”

Much took her hand in his. “Eve, we will have a child when God wants that.” He cupped her face and kissed her shortly. “We have been married only for several months.”

Eve caressed her husband’s cheek tenderly. “Thank you, Much.”

Archer grinned sheepishly. “Oh, God! I’m so happy that I have a nephew!”

Kate took Archer’s hand and put it on her stomach. “Archer, you will have your own son soon,” she said, feeling a twinge of jealousy. “You will need many fatherly talents for our child.”

Archer smiled. “Of course, sweetheart.”

“I have already made proper arrangements for the celebrations and for the christening,” Friar Tuck informed as he stepped into the parlor. Now he served in the Locksley chapel which had been rebuilt after the restoration of Robin’s noble status. “The whole village is ready to celebrate.”

At the same time, Robin stood near the door to the bedchamber. He opened it, thinking that he had never been as afraid of something as he was right now. The picture that he saw dissolved all his fears: Marian was sitting on the bed, holding the swaddled infant in her arms. Though Marian was sweaty and tired, Robin thought that she had never looked more beautiful.

“My love, you are alive,” Robin said, feeling slightly breathless from running up the stairs. “You are alive.”

Marian stared at him with a weary smile. “We are alive, handsome,” she amended. “But I cannot say that it was an easy labor. So I hope that you won’t put me through it again in the next year.”

“God be praised that everything went fine,” Djaq said. “But Marian cannot resume her connubial duties for at least six months. She shouldn’t conceive again quickly because she has to recover from this difficult birth and become strong enough to carry another child.”

Marian blushed, lowering her gaze and staring at the baby in awe. “Oh,” she breathed.

“It doesn’t matter how much we must wait.” Robin stopped near the bed, his eyes focused on the child that stirred in Marian’s arms. “Most importantly, Marian and the baby are alright.”

“It is a real luck that Marian didn’t have serious complications in labor,” Djaq said, relieved.

Robin settled on the edge of the bed. “We have a child.” He could barely believe his eyes that he could see his child and Marian healthy and alive. “I want to hold our child,” he nearly demanded.

Tears came to Marian’s eyes. “It is your son, Robin,” she said as she gave the child to his father.

Djaq and Marian taught Robin how to hold an infant. As soon as the baby boy was settled in his father's arms, he opened his eyes of sapphire color – they were like Marian’s. Robin noticed that the silky hair on his son’s delicate skull was light brown, like his own hair. Robin laughed happily at the sight of the quizzical expression on his son’s face as he began to cradle the boy in his arms.

Djaq smiled. “I’m leaving you with the baby, but I will return soon.” She glanced at Marian. “Marian, you are exhausted, and you need to rest.” Then she went out of the room.

Marian and Robin looked at their infant son, mesmerized by the sight of the most beloved human being in the world who joined them forever. Their son was the product of their love despite all the troubles they had survived through after his return to England. It was an ecstasy to realize that now they were a happy family.

“Edward of Locksley, you are amazing,” Robin said quietly, addressing to his son.

Marian smiled as she lay back against her pillows. “My father would have been pleased.”

“Yes, he would,” Robin agreed.

Robin lifted his eyes and stared at Marian, both of them thinking of Sir Edward of Knighton who had died for King Richard and for England. The image in Marian’s mind was terrible as she remembered her father’s lifeless body as she had held the old man in her arms when Guy, his men, and she had found him in the street. Robin remembered about Sir Edward, but then his mind drifted off to the moment when Marian had died in his arms after their heartbreaking wedding in Acre. He was so happy that Marian was alive and that the horror had already been over.

She was thinking of Knighton with sadness. “I want to re-build the Knighton Hall. I want our son to know the place where I was born.”

He shook his head in response. “I approve of your idea. We can do that next year.”

“You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not,” he said. “I will gladly help you and we can afford it now when we don’t have to pay high taxes. I doubt that you understand anything in the construction of buildings.”

“As if you know anything about construction,” she scolded him.

“Will Scarlett knows. He will help us.”

“Oh, it would be great!”

“My love, you gave me all a scare today,” Robin told her in a mock-chiding tone.

Marian shot him an annoying look. “It is your entire fault, Robin of Locksley.”

Robin leaned forward, still holding the baby in his arms, to brush a light kiss on her forehead. “You were very willing to be with me and you tempted me, Marian of Locksley,” he said cheerfully.

She hit him playfully on his shoulder. “It wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t seduced me.”

He chuckled softly. “So we seduced each other.”

“Yes, but you were more naughty,” she teased.

Robin laughed. “I think you were, my love.”

“No, you, handsome.”

The child wailed, and Robin restored him to his mother’s waiting arms. Marian cradled the boy, humming a lullaby to the boy who soon stopped fussing and fell asleep in his mother’s arms.

Robin reached out a tentative finger to touch one of the chubby cheeks. “I love our Edward so much,” he whispered with a tender smile. Then he looked at Marian. “I love you so much, my Marian.”

Marian smiled festively. “I love you too, my Robin.”

“You made me so happy today.”

“I’m very happy too,” she said, her eyes focused on her son’s face. “Edward is the living image of you, Robin Hood. He has only my eyes – yours are a shade lighter.” She laughed. “He has your hair, your nose, your cheekbones, and your forehead. I’m sure that he also has your character.”

“But he is also the son of Maid Marian.” Robin’s eyes were glued to his son. “So even if he took after me in appearance, I’m sure that he has taken much of your stubbornness and strength too.”

Marian grinned broadly. “Then God help us, Robin.”

Robin grinned back. “God help us to handle him as he grows up.”

“I hope he will be not as troublesome as you, handsome.”

“Edward will be like you and like me because he is the son of Robin Hood and Maid Marian.”

“It looks like we have a bundle of trouble in our arms,” she summed up.

Robin looked at his son, an exclusively tender smile spreading across his face. “I will teach Edward to shoot with my Saracen bow and fight with a sword. He will be the best archer and one of the best swordsmen in England.” He gazed at Marian’s lovely face. “And you, Marian, will teach him to fight for justice with imagination – in the disguise of the Nightwatchman.”

Marian chuckled. “I will give strength both you and him,” she said, keeping her voice low not to awaken their son. “Together we all are stronger.”

“You are my strength, Marian.”

“And you are mine, Robin.”

Robin climbed into the bed beside Marian and Edward, drawing the silk coverlet closely around them. She didn’t object because Djaq didn’t come yet, and they still had some time alone. “Now we are a family, like we have dreamt for so long,” he said gently, smiling down at the sleeping baby boy. “I love you both more than anything in the world.”

Marian eagerly moved into his warm embrace, settling comfortably in his arms. “I love you both too.” She sighed contently. “We are together forever, my husband.”

Forever together, my wife,” Robin echoed.

Robin bent down and kissed Marian, and she responded avidly to his kiss; the child stirred in Marian’s arms. Robin and Marian were finally happy as all their dreams came true. They had made a long way to happiness and had suffered a lot, but they wouldn’t have made different choices if they had given a chance to change their lives. The importance they were able to attach to their happiness and the amount of passion in their joys and fears formed thanks to the hardships they had survived through. They wouldn’t have known the sweet happiness of being constantly in deep and sincere love if they had been different people.

"For every man there is a purpose which he sets up in his life. Let yours be the doing of all good deeds,” Robin Hood often told Marian and his friends, who had always supported him in their fight against Sheriff Vaisey of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne who had joined the outlaws in the end, though the King hadn’t forgotten about his past crimes. The purpose of Robin’s life in the wartime was his fight for justice and for peace, but in the peaceful time, his main purpose was Marian and their happiness because he loved his family more than his King and anyone else in his life.

Robin Hood and Maid Marian were in love with their fight for justice, their people, their honor, and their hopes for a better life. Most importantly, they were in love with each other and with their son; their love would not die even after their death. Robin and Marian were a legend that would echo through centuries, while their love would be glorified by bards and storytellers in the future throughout many lives to come. The love of Robin Hood and Maid Marian became immortal.

The End