Guy sat on the bed of his new room, and he looked at the shield painted in yellow and black, hanging over the fireplace. It had been in the hall of Locksley Manor, but Sir Edward ordered his servants to retrieve it, and the rest of Guy’s personal belongings, from the manor before the Sheriff gave the house to his new henchman.
Once Guy had thought that he could get the power, that he could have the world at his feet, now his whole world was enclosed in a single room.
The incredible thing was that he wasn’t as miserable as he believed he would be at the beginning.
He had nothing except for a few clothes and personal items, and his leg still pained him a lot, but he quite liked living at Knighton Hall.
Sir Edward clearly loved his daughter a lot, they were a family, and Guy felt like he had become a little part of that family too. They didn’t abandon him in disgrace, they took care of his wounds and gave him a home when everybody else would have turned their backs at him.
Guy was grateful for this, but gratitude wasn’t the only reason for liking his stay at Knighton Hall.
For the first time since he was a kid, he felt safe.
The house was a haven, a place where people actually cared for him and noticed if he was unwell or dispirited.
It was true that the servants still despised him, but he found a sort of truce with them: he only asked for their services when he really couldn’t help, and they politely ignored him the rest of the time, tolerating his presence in the house.
Guy used to ride a lot and to work for the Sheriff for most of the day, so now the long winter days he had to spend in inactivity were boring, and he sometimes felt restless, but he was learning to appreciate the small and simple things he had always overlooked.
He liked the hours he spent playing chess with Sir Edward. Guy wasn’t really interested in the game, and he suspected that he would always be mediocre at playing it, but he enjoyed the company of the old man.
At first they didn’t talk much, but in time Sir Edward began to tell him little facts about Knighton: the history of the lands and of his family, how he was worried that the extremely cold winter could be very difficult for the peasants, the way he used to manage his lands. Sometime he asked for Guy’s opinion, and Gisborne tried to find a sensible answer, always a little afraid that Sir Edward would laugh at him, calling him an idiot like the Sheriff did.
But the elderly lord never ridiculed his words, he considered on his advice, and if Guy was completely wrong on something, Sir Edward patiently explained him his errors, showing him another way to find a better solution.
Guy sometimes wondered what kind of man he could have been if he had a guide like Sir Edward in his youth, instead of the Sheriff.
Maybe I could have been a man worthy of Marian’s love.
Guy sighed, thinking of her. Living in her same house wasn’t easy because he knew that she’d never love him back, but he loved being able to spend so much time with her.
Maybe she’d never return his feelings, but Guy was learning to be happy to just be at her side.
She was kind to him, sometimes almost friendly, and Guy liked to talk with her, to listen to everything she said.
She went often to the market, or to visit the villagers, and when she came back home, she often told Guy about all the little events that had happened in the County, the funniest gossips she heard while she was in town, or she just described a nice flower she had seen in a field or how she enjoyed the taste of a apple she took from a tree. He listened to every word she uttered, and every little trifle she could tell him was a balm to his soul, like water in a desert.
When he halted out of his room and found her in the hall, or when they sat at the table, sharing a meal with Sir Edward, Guy felt warm and contented, as if he was part of the family too, as if he had finally found his place in the world.
Matilda and Lambert were an important part of his reduced world, too.
The first was probably the only person in the world that openly expressed her affection to him, a sort of rough and outspoken mother hen who took him under her protection. She called him with a variety of silly nicknames and she kept doing that in spite of all his complaints, and at last Guy just stopped complaining and he let her call him however she liked. In fact, if he had to be honest, he didn’t dislike at all her endearments, her affection was a comfort for him and he sincerely returned it, even if he would never admit it.
The friendship with Lambert, instead, had been a surprise. They had worked together on the black powder project, and they found out that they got along well, so sometimes they chatted while they were working on their project. Sometimes they went to the tavern together to share a meal or to drink a cup of wine, but Guy would have never expected a visit from Lambert after the accident. He had just assumed that he wouldn’t care for his fate, like everybody else.
But Lambert went to see him, and he came back almost everyday, just to chat with Guy and to entertain him on his sickbed with gossips from the castle. Even when Guy began to feel better, Lambert kept coming, just because he enjoyed the company of his friend.
Gisborne wasn’t used anymore to have a friend, a sort of family and a place to live where he could feel safe and welcome, but he liked the feeling of it.
Guy stood up, and he took the crutch to hobble to the trunk that contained his clothes, opening the lid to look at them: he still couldn’t wear his old leathers as they were too tight for his broken leg.
Matilda took the splint away, but she still bandaged it tightly, to keep him from doing wrong movements.
Marian had sewn a few new clothes for him, while Sir Edward had found a chest with some of the clothes he used to wear when he was younger, and he ordered the servants to take it to Guy’s room, telling him to take whatever he could need. Most of them where too short and tight for Guy, but some other would fit, with just a few alterations.
Guy took one of the tunics that had already been fitted for him, and he wore it over the shirt that Marian made for him. They were both blue, two different shades of the same color. The shirt had the same color of his eyes, while the tunic was darker.
It was made of a good quality of wool, warm, soft and finely finished with silver embroiders on the hems, a tunic made for a nobleman, a Sheriff, and Guy wasn’t used to wear such fine clothes, even if they were old and a little worn.
He wasn’t used to wear different colors than black, either, and when he looked into a mirror, he had the impression of seeing a stranger.
Maybe he wasn’t too far from the truth, he thought: he felt different, changed, but he couldn’t say if that was a good thing or not.
Guy glanced at the window: the snow was still falling.
He sighed, uneasy at the idea that Marian was riding out there. She had left early in the morning to go to Nottingham’s market and she wouldn’t be back until afternoon, but at least she had ordered two of the servants to get the wagon and to go with her because she had to buy supplies to fill the pantry, almost empty after the storms of the last week.
Sir Edward had been feeling unwell in the last few days, and he was resting. Matilda had said that there was no need to get worried, but the old man had to recover and stay in bed for a while to get his strength back.
Even Lambert went away to visit his family and Matilda was busy treating the seasonal illnesses that affected the villages, so Guy had nothing to do, and he was beginning to get bored and restless.
Matilda said that he had to exercise his good leg, and Guy decided to follow her advice.
He took the crutch and he walked to the hall, then he glanced at the door. It was a long time since he last went outside, and he decided that he could try: he took the old winter cloak that Sir Edward gave him and he wore it. It was well worn and faded in some places, but it was made of thick, warm velvet and its deep blue matched the color of the tunic he was wearing.
Guy opened the door and walked outside: the snow was still covering the ground, and he thought that he had to pay attention or he’d risk to slip and fall. He noticed that the servants had cleared a path to the stables, and Guy decided to go there.
He shuddered before entering, remembering the sound of the hooves, stomping near his head when he had been trampled, but he took a deep breath and went inside: he had always been fond of horses, and he didn’t want to let his fears to influence him.
He relaxed, seeing the horses in their stalls, quietly eating their food. He was surprised to see his black stallion in one of the stalls, as he thought that the Sheriff took it too.
Guy called the stable boy and asked him why the stallion was there.
The boy gave a worried look at him.
“Sir Edward bought him from the Sheriff after he fired you… I think he paid a good price for him too.”
Guy wondered why Sir Edward had decided to buy his stallion, but he was glad that the Sheriff didn’t have him.
He scratched the horse’s muzzle, and the stallion sniffed his hand, searching for a treat.
Guy looked for the stable boy to ask him where he could find an apple for the horse and a brush, but the boy was nowhere to be found, so Guy decided that he would search for those things himself.
There was a little storage room in the stable, and Guy entered, hoping to find at least a brush.
Grooming his horse always relaxed him, and it didn’t matter that the stallion now was Sir Edward’s horse. He had missed this, being able of taking care of the stallion, at least.
Guy’s leg was beginning to hurt, and he was tired, not used anymore at walking and standing so much, but he really wanted to take back another little piece of normality.
He thought he saw a brush near a old saddle lying in a corner, and he went to take them, when he noticed a piece of cloth hidden under the saddle.
Curious, Guy lifted the old saddle, and his heart almost stopped: hidden under it there were a hooded cloak and a mask! The costume of the Nightwatchman!
Stunned, Guy took it in his hands, a million questions spinning in his head.
He took it closer to his face, searching for a clue that could reveal the identity of the Nightwatchman, and, instinctively, he sniffed the cloak.
It couldn’t be.
Marian. It smelled of Marian.
Guy could recognize the sweet scent of her skin, he was sure of that. And that cloak had Marian’s scent.
Suddenly, a lot of mysteries concerning the Nightwatchman made sense: Guy had always thought that he was a boy because he was too short and thin to be a man. And this explained why the Nightwatchman always seemed to know his plans…
His world, that was just beginning to be whole again, shattered in a thousand pieces.
Marian came back home, a smile on her lips. She set the heavy basket on the table. A maid ran to take the content, the good vegetables and the meat that Marian had bought from the weekly market in Nottingham. Marian prevented the young maid's hands, and quickly removed the white bundle on the top of the basket before she could take it.
Wrapped in the bundle, there was a scroll of parchment she had purchased from a minstrel at the market. The man used to tell stories about adventures in the sea and she enjoyed listening to them. He also was in society with a scribe who copied his tales on parchment to sell them to the nobles who liked them, so they could teach them to their own minstrels.
They were stories about crazy pirates and brave captains, and Marian always bought them when there was a new part of the story available for sale.
Once she read one of them with Guy, during one of the long days he had to spend in bed, and Guy had surprised her with his ability to read aloud with her, playing the characters of the story.
In the beginning Guy was reading his part in a flat, concentrated but monotonous tone, but then she snatched the scroll from his hands and she read it aloud, using a different voice for each character.
He gradually began to follow her, more timidly at first, grumbling like a pot of beans cooking over the fire, then sighing, and later with greater commitment, developing more abilities than she had.
He started to give so many different voices to the characters: Guy played voices that made her laugh to tears, while others made her feel almost frightened. Other voices moved her. Other voices made her feel a strange sensation, an indefinite, new sensation. In those moments, Marian forgot to follow her own lines on the scroll. She was focused only on listening the sound of his voice, until Guy had to say: "Marian it's your turn. The captain's line is yours to play."
But most of all, Marian was really, really amused when he played the voice of the frightened damsel, prisoner of the pirates on the ship.
She just did not want to play that role .
Not in stories, not in life.
Distracted from her fantasies, Marian heard the door closing behind her with a slam. She turned around. Guy was there, leaning heavily on the door, and he looked at her, eyeing her from her feet up to her face, finally focusing on her eyes. The gray-blue of his eyes had darkened, pupils dilated.
A serious expression on his face. Deadly serious, like the one she used to see on his face when he took the people under arrest in Nottingham, long ago.
Marian felt uncomfortable, as if in one gesture, the closing of that door, him in front of her, the world stood still, their time had stopped.
She felt trapped.
She was trapped.
She lowered her gaze on the thing that Guy was holding. She recognized her cloak. The one she used to wear to be the Nightwatchman.
The scroll fell from her hands. Marian didn’t even hear the sound of it landing on the floor.
She felt numb.
Now she was the captive damsel on the ship, and there was no captain to save her.
She felt lost. She felt she had lost something.
She became pale, and looked at Guy, surrendering to him with her eyes downcast, as if she was in front of the executioner.
Guy looked at her, and he felt as if he was dead inside. He had hoped that she wouldn’t recognize the cloak, that she had nothing to do with it, but he could see that she knew perfectly well what he was holding in his hands.
“Do you have an explanation?” His voice was cold, remote. Dead.
“Give it back to me, it's mine, Guy,” Marian said, clenching her fists, finding courage, believing in herself, in her values. “That's me. Only me. All of me. An explanation, Guy? Misery is the explanation. Desperation of people is the explanation. Overpowered, oppressed people are the explanation. Someone had to help them. I wanted to help them.”
Then, suddenly feeling like she was naked in front of him, she added: “You can’t even imagine the suffering of those people, of those families. Children, old people, their empty tables. Diseases, their harvests ransacked. Money gone. No future. And no present too. People condemned to die of poverty, to die miserably. That's my people, Guy. I had to do something, to be something, for them.”
Guy shook his head. He wanted to put his hands on her shoulders, to look in her eyes, and tell her that she wasn’t the one who had to help people, that it was foolish to think that she could do something for them, and that she would only risk her life.
She was standing a few paces away from him, and Guy moved to reach her, but, in the heat of his emotions, he completely forgot his conditions, and he didn’t take the crutch.
When he put his weight on the broken leg, it just gave way with a sharp jolt of pain, and Guy stumbled and fell to the ground, on his knees.
Seeing him falling to the ground, Marian felt a chill in her shoulders.
Even that was her doing. It was the Night Watchman's doing.
Diminishing a man, this man.
He would be poor, he was ailing and suffering right now. In front of her.
And it had been her. Her fault.
She felt she had said too much. To the wrong person.
Everything had changed between them.
He was different now, was he not?
‘Dear God, what have I done,’ Marian thought.
She was silent, fully aware of the ambiguity of her conduct toward Guy now.
She had lied to him.
Marian stretched her hand out to him, as to help him raising from the ground.
She didn’t want to see him like that. Never again.
Guy swatted her hand away, like an annoying bug. He was trembling with rage, hanging his head to avoid looking at her, his hair falling on his face and hiding his expression.
“You! It was you! You destroyed my life!”
It was true.
She destroyed his life. His horrible, wicked, ruthless life.
Marian didn’t want to kill him, that night. She hadn’t thought, there was no time, she had acted, unaware of the possible consequences.
Then she had seen the results of her mistake and she tried to rectify it. To help him, her enemy.
He was her enemy in that moment. God, he was.
And a wounded man too.
She had helped him. With her whole being.
“I didn’t want it to happen, Guy... I did not... I'm sorry, Guy. So sorry...” Marian said, her voice reduced to a whisper.
Guy struggled to get back to his feet without her help, and he stood in front of Marian, pointing an accusing finger at her.
“But you did it! I had everything… I had a future. And now I have nothing, because of you! My life is in tatters because you wanted to imitate Robin Hood!”
Marian raised her voice, suddenly feeling angry. No one could say a thing like that, considering her actions to be a pure imitation of those of a man.
“Oh no, Guy, no,” Marian said, bitterly, “you can’t tell me that, especially you, you can’t tell me that. Have you forgotten, Guy? You've come out of nowhere, you and Vaisey, a few years ago. And everything changed, for the worse. I had to do something. We've known each other for years. You and me. The Nightwatchman and you, Guy. Robin Hood was out of the picture, then. You fought me for years, before Robin Hood. You chased me for years. And you never caught me.” Marian smiled, boldly. “I'm not Robin Hood. I didn’t want to imitate anyone. No man. It was the Sheriff's cruelty. He has made you a slave in his hands, and a cruel man. He taught you to be cruel, never looking in the eyes of the people you damaged in his name, following his will. Did you want it too, Guy? And Vaisey has made ME the Nightwatchman. The sheriff has made people poor, and hungry. Looking for help. The Nightwatchman was born from this, to fight him by repaying people for what had been taken away from them. Food, remedies, a little money. I didn’t steal anything from anyone. It wasn’t money from the taxes. It was my money, Guy. Mine.”
“You could be hanged if the sheriff knew what you did!”
“Me? Hanged for what? For sharing what was mine with other people? I wanted to be an help for the people who needed it. You killed people for that hideous man, you have ordered your men to cut tongues, for God’s sake, Guy. I’ve never, never killed anyone! The Nightwatchman doesn’t kill, Guy! I never harmed anyone!”
“You did! You harmed me.”
Sir Edward got up from his bed. He was feeling better, but his illness worried him: he was getting old and frail, and he was afraid that he could die, leaving Marian alone.
This was one of the reasons that made him agree when Sir Guy decided to marry Marian. At that time, he had thought that Gisborne was a dangerous man, but he had enough power and money to protect Marian and take care of her.
He seemed to love her, and Sir Edward had thought that it was better to die knowing that she was married to a strong man who would protect her, than to leave this world leaving her alone and helpless.
After the accident, Edward found out that Sir Guy was a better man than he had believed, but now he was also poor and powerless, unable to defend and provide for a wife. The elderly lord wasn’t sure of what he should do about their betrothal, if it would have been better to forbid it, or if he should leave the decision to Marian.
For now, he was taking time. They couldn’t talk of marriage until Sir Guy was better, and Sir Edward hoped that, in time, Gisborne would take the right decision, breaking the engagement.
Sir Edward got dressed, and he went downstairs, a little worried, not knowing if his daughter came back from the market.
He was relieved when he heard her voice, but worried again when he realized that she sounded upset and distressed and that her voice was coming from Sir Guy’s room.
He hurried to the door, but it didn’t open, locked from the inside.
Sir Edward tried to listen and went pale hearing Marian talk about the Nightwatchman.
Did Sir Guy find out about that secret?! Would he denounce it to the Sheriff?!
From inside, Guy’s angry voice seemed to prove his fears true.
“I should report you to the Sheriff, he’ll hang you, he’ll burn your house!”
Sir Edward didn’t wait to hear more: he was afraid for Marian’s safety, now.
Sir Guy knew that he had been injured because of the Nightwatchman, and now he’d surely want to take his revenge.
The old man ran out of the manor, heading for the stables. He couldn’t ask his servants for help, not if he wanted to keep Marian’s secret, so Robin Hood was his only chance now: he took a horse and spurred it, heading for Sherwood Forest.
Inside Guy’s room, Marian was shouting hard to the man, now.
“For what? Do you really want to denounce me to that evil, perverted man? To a man who’s a liar, an exploiter? A man who threw YOU away like an old and broken sock as soon as you couldn’t serve him, the moment you weren’t able to be the pleased executor of his violence and his thirst for gold, death and pain. He took away everything from you now, but he had taken off your dignity the day you’ve started working for him. Don’t you see, Guy? Don’t you see what he had done to you? You were his puppet, the lowest of his slaves, but convinced of being almost a king. His idiot!”
“So I am an idiot? What about you? A noble lady who risks everything only because you can’t accept the fact that you’re a woman! You could help the poor in a million of other ways, ma you have to endanger your and other people’s lives just to convince yourself that you are strong, that you are brave, while you’re just deluded and childish!”
Guy stepped towards her, using the crutch this time.
Marian felt him approach her. He couldn’t really hurt her physically. Not in his condition. But he was getting closer and closer to her. He was furious, disappointed, and she didn’t want him near her.
She was full of rage, like an uncontainable raging river.
She was furious at him: for all the years spent fighting him, and all the days and all the nights spent to assist him, seeing him suffer.
He approached her, almost brushing her, and she didn’t want to, she didn’t want him to touch her in that moment.
She pushed him away, convinced that she didn’t use enough force to hurt him, but Guy lost his balance, and slammed violently his back against the wall. His ribs had healed, but the impact sent a jolt of pain through his leg.
The immediate, extreme expression of pain on his face passed through Marian’s trembling body like an arrow.
Marian could no longer hold back the tears, because he could not understand the absurdity of his life with the Sheriff, and moreover, Marian was crying because she did not understand why this made her feel even more angry with him.
“It's better to be called childish, and deluded”, she hissed, “but to have followed my own heart, and my own head, rather than having sold my soul to that devil there, blindly following him, like YOU had. Don't you realize that he was going to make you commit the most wicked crime, without even messing up his hands with it! You were about to kill the King, Guy, the King!. You might as well trying to kill God directly ! You are a fool!” She burst into tears, loudly.
Marian's tears hurt him deep inside, and Guy just stood there, looking at her.
He was exhausted, in pain and he was feeling empty and dejected. From the look in her eyes, he guessed that Marian was feeling the same.
The girl looked at him, and she was shocked to see how lost he looked. She was openly crying, but Guy had tears in his eyes too.
“I didn’t want to, Guy, I didn’t mean to hurt you that night, believe me, I didn’t want to,” she said, deeply pained.
“What do we do, now?” Guy whispered, and Marian shook her head to say that she didn’t know either.
Without thinking too much about it, she made a few steps to reach Guy, and she put a hand on his shoulder to soothe his sorrow, and to find a little comfort herself.
Guy sighed, and there was so much sadness in that sigh, that Marian’s eyes welled with fresh tears, and she found herself hugging the knight.
Guy’s arms closed around her body, and she thought that now it was a little better, that their closeness was a consolation for them both. His body was warm, and, even when he was so weakened, Guy’s embrace made her feel safe and protected.
She had been able to hurt him so much, but he still tried to take care of her, even when he had all the reasons to hate her.
Marian looked up to meet his eyes. They were filled with anger, pain and sorrow, but also with something softer. She realized that he still loved her, no matter what.
They were too close, Marian thought that it wasn’t proper at all, but at the same time she didn’t care. They both needed the warmth of that hug, the comfort they could get from it.
She wanted to cry and be consoled, and she wanted to soothe him, to dispel the hopeless look in his eyes.
Their lips met, suddenly, and Marian couldn’t tell if it had been Guy who began the kiss, or if it was her the one who started it. She couldn’t think clearly, she couldn’t think at all.
They were kissing, and they both knew that they should stop, but neither of them was willing to do it.
It was warm.
It was sad and soothing at the same time.
It was overwhelming.
They both stepped back at the same time, with a shocked gasp, and they stared at each other for a moment, unsure of what they should do, or say.
Then the door was slammed open, and a moment later Robin was in the room, charging at Guy. He grabbed his tunic, and he pushed him away from Marian, dragging him to the ground with him.
Marian stared at them in horror, seeing that Robin had unsheathed a dagger, and pointed it to Guy’s throat.