Guy’s heart was beating faster while he went up the stairs, helped by Allan, but it wasn’t because of the effort. He was worried for what he was going to do.
Arrived upstairs, he waved Allan away, and the outlaw nodded and went back to his work: they had to organize the trip and finish loading the wagons with the sacks of flour.
Guy waited for him to go away, then he hobbled to Marian’s door, and he took a deep breath before knocking.
He was worried.
He knew that he had to inform her of their project, in fact they were going to sell the flour produced in Knighton, and that belonged to Sir Edward. He should have asked the permission of the elderly lord, but Marian’s father was too sick and Guy knew that he hadn’t to be burdened by new worries.
But he had to tell Marian.
She was better, and she wouldn’t be too stressed in knowing what Guy was going to do, but he couldn’t help being afraid that she could find the whole thing silly, a waste of time and resources.
Vaisey, he knew, would have ridiculed his idea, just because it came from Guy, undermining him as usual.
Marian was not the Sheriff.
But he couldn’t help thinking that she would laugh at him, or that maybe she would be mad at him.
Marian was sitting in her bed, still cold, and vaguely bored. She would have liked to be able to stand up and leave the bed, but Matilda had advised her to prudence and attention. And if there was one thing that gave Marian a great deal of discomfort, it was inactivity.
She raised her eyes to the ceiling, sighing, when Guy came in from the door, his face a little flushed He seemed slightly tired and a little embarrassed, at first. Insecure.
What a strange contrast to the Guy she knew. But in a few seconds she saw him picking up his thoughts. And he took a more upright posture, his own. Elegant, in his own way.
He wants to tell me something, she thought.
“Guy, come in, you can come closer. Matilda says that my illness is not dangerous to others, come closer to me,” the girl said.
Guy walked to the bed, and looked around, uncertain if he should stand, or sit on the chair at its side.
He glanced at the girl, and he felt both nervous for what he had to say, and relieved to see that she was better than the last time he had seen her.
At last he decided to sit. Standing with the crutch and all, was both painful and awkward.
He sat and put the crutch on the floor, then he lifted his eyes to look at Marian. The girl was waiting, a little frown on her face betraying her impatience.
“Good evening, Marian. I hope that you feel better...” He hesitated. “I...”
“Please, Guy, please continue. Is there anything that you want to tell me? You look worried. Is it about my father?” Marian felt guilty because she couldn’t take care of him in these days of her illness, and Guy seemed to want to say something difficult, something tough.
Marian encouraged him with her eyes.
Guy looked at her, surprised.
“Your father? Oh, no, it’s not about him. Well, actually it is too, but not about his health, sorry if I worried you. His situation is unchanged. Matilda said that he needs to rest and to be quiet, that’s why I need to talk to you. Maybe you will think that I haven’t acted properly, and probably it’s true, but I didn’t want to speak about it before I was sure about what to do… I wish I could have spared every trouble to you, but I have to tell you because I can’t talk to Sir Edward, he could be upset and I don’t want to damage his health. But still, I can’t act on my own without asking for your permission, but I hope you will agree. I know that now it’s a little late to ask you, but we needed to act fast because the situation is serious.”
“What situation, Guy? Tell me. Let me help you.” The girl tried to get out of bed, but Guy reached out to her, as if to stop her, and looked at her with a serious, but gentle, almost melancholic, look.
As if he was about to leave.
To leave her.
Marian didn’t understand why this hypothesis made her feel suddenly so agitated.
“I have to go away, Marian,” he said, looking at her, “but I’ll be back in a few days. Please promise me that you will take care of yourself while I’m not here. I wish I could stay to help you, but I must go. For Knighton.”
She gasped. For a moment everything around her was black, completely black.
She didn’t understand.
“Guy! Why are you going away now? You're not fully healed! You still need help! And what does Knighton have to do with this? The Sheriff... it must be something about the Sheriff! Did he come here? Nobody told me that! Has he threatened you, somehow? Has he threatened my father? I will not allow it. If it's the last thing I do, come what may, I will not let him!”
Marian grabbed his hand, as if to hold him.
Guy stared at her hand, startled. He had been nervous about her reaction, but he didn’t expect her words. It was almost as if she didn’t want him to leave, as if she wanted him to stay at Knighton.
“Yes, it’s the Sheriff’s fault, but he didn’t menace me or your father. Not directly, at least. It’s about the taxes: James said that this month Knighton couldn’t reach the requested sum.”
Marian was astonished.
“But it’s not possible,” she said. “We've always paid taxes. My people are good people. They are good workers. We have always tried to help them. How can you help us? The Sheriff took Locksley from you! I don’t want you to give up your money for us, you could need it in the future.”
The girl approached him, more closely, looking into his eyes, looking in his blue, deep gaze for an anchor of salvation to the fear she was feeling.
“What are you going to do, Guy? I don’t want sacrifices on your part... and... and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
“James said that this month the taxes were doubled. I don’t know why, maybe the Sheriff wanted to punish you and your father for helping me. That’s why I have to do something.” Guy sighed. “Marian, I wish that I had money and I’d be glad to use it to pay the taxes of Knighton, but I don’t. The Sheriff took everything I had, except for a few personal items that your father managed to take from Locksley for me. That’s why I need your permission.”
Marian felt moved for the sincerity with which Guy was talking to her, about her situation, their situation, now. He was genuinely worried, He really wanted to help her. She felt sure of his intentions. And Vaisey... that wicked, ruthless man. Her contempt for the man, already very strong and rooted, climbed another step toward fury, something that now bordered the desire for vengeance in her.
She had suffered too many wrongs from him, and too many people around her had suffered his bullying. Including Guy.
“My permission to do what, Guy?" She said.
“To sell the flour produced here in Knighton to the villages near York. I got the information that they need it and that they are willing to buy it for a higher price. And on our way back we’ll buy some milk and we’ll sell it to Nettlestone. I know that I should have asked earlier, before organizing everything, but we weren’t sure that it could actually work and I didn’t want to worry you when you were so ill...”
It was an idea.
A good idea.
A honest idea.
Completely unexpected coming from Guy. Marian had never thought that there might be such a capable person behind the hard mask and leather of Vaisey's guard.
She was amazed.
She realized that she had underestimated him, she had considered only his appearance, his manners, his way of doing, talking, when he was working for the hated sheriff.
Yes, that was a good idea. She had to support him, for the salvation of all of them. Also his.
She had to be his guide, his strength, his inspiration.
But maybe Guy was, silently, about to become her own strength, her own guide. Knighton's salvation. Her salvation.
Life is so strange, Marian thought, smiling.
"Yes, Guy, you have my permission, and my blessing, for that matter. But why do you speak with plural? Who will come with you?" She asked, a sweet smile on her lips.
Guy smiled at her, relieved that she approved his idea.
“Allan A Dale, a few of my former guards and enough people from Knighton to drive the wagons. We will try to get there and back as soon as we can. We need to be fast, the taxes are due soon”.
“Is Allan the boy from Robin's gang?” Marian was surprised and pleasantly surprised that Guy could think of collaborating with a man who had been his opponent until recently. “You surely have some hidden talent, Guy.”
She smiled openly.
“Yes, he was an outlaw. Now he works for me, and, don’t tell him, but he proved himself really useful. It was him who got the information about the places where we could sell our flour. He asked Robin Hood. Of course he didn’t tell him that this was my project.”
“And you'll need every possible help in this risky journey, so it's a good thing, in the end, to have his support,” she added.
Who knows if one day Guy could find an agreement with Robin for a bigger, better purpose, she thought.
“I understand,” she said. “Be careful, be cautious, and I hope everything will be fine. Knighton counts on you. I count on you. Godspeed!” Marian replied.
Guy got up, and bowed to Marian.
A small bow who was right in their world, but now, that bow seemed too formal for the liking of the young girl, no longer needed, between them.
Guy resumed his crutch, heading toward the door.
Marian got up from the bed with sudden, fragile strength but strong impetus, and Guy just caught her in time in his arms, almost losing his balance in the process.
Marian was embracing him, hugging him. In silence, without saying anything. She slid her small hands over his back. She leaned her head on his heart, surprised to hear that it was now beating fast and madly.
Marian closed her eyes, listening to that unknown rhythm, different from hers.
Guy couldn't believe that Marian was so close to him. Her body, still a little feverish, was warm and soft in his arms, and her head was resting on his chest.
She could surely hear how furiously his heart was beating and he felt a little embarrassed for this, but it didn’t really matter.
Marian was hugging him!
She trusted him!
And if he succeeded, she would be proud of him!
He wanted to kiss her, not with rage this time, but with all his love, he wanted to hold her close forever and never let her go.
Guy lifted his hand to touch her hair, to caress the dark curls, shortened by the Sheriff’s punishment and not yet grown back to their full length. They were soft under his fingers and that simple touch filled his heart with a tenderness he had rarely felt in his whole life.
She was there, strong and fragile at the same time. Just like him, with his broken leg and wounded pride, he realized.
In that moment they were equals, both vulnerable, but with the strength to protect each other, somehow.
Guy didn’t kiss her. He just closed his eyes and kept her in his arms, relishing that moment.
Gisborne crossed the arms in front of him, watching the wagons being loaded. James was the only inhabitant of Knighton Hall awake at that time in the morning and the manor was silent.
Guy wished that Marian would come to watch them leave and bid them good luck, but he knew that the girl was still weak and that she needed as much rest as she could get.
He could still feel the warmth of her body in his arms, and for a moment he didn’t want to leave, he just wished he could run back to her side and hold her like that forever.
He ignored those thoughts, now it was important to focus on their mission and earn the money to pay the taxes and save Knighton. They didn’t have much time, and the trip could be dangerous.
Gisborne had talked with many of the guards who had worked for him, but only a few of them accepted a job that offered so few guarantees.
Those men weren’t skillful warriors, they were little more than simple peasants who became guards to earn money to feed their families. They weren’t brave or talented fighters as guards, and now most of them were afraid to travel far from their villages, risking to be attacked by the outlaws.
Just five of them had decided to join the convoy and Guy hoped that they were enough to protect the wagons.
He touched the hilt of his sword. It was a long time since he used it, and he wasn’t sure that he could fight at all with a injured leg, but its weight was reassuring.
He watched Allan, who was organizing the wagons, and getting them ready to begin their travel, and nodded, satisfied: when he wanted to, the former outlaw was smart and capable, full of ideas.
Allan reached him, smiling.
“Well, Giz, it seems that we are ready to go.”
“Good. Get on the last wagon, I’ll be on the first, so we can keep an eye on all the convoy,” Guy said, and James intervened, concerned.
“Are you afraid that the outlaws could attack the wagons?”
“Not in this part of the forest. Hood will let us pass untouched if he knows that we are doing this for Sir Edward, but when we’ll be out of his territory, we can’t know who we could meet.”
“This is dangerous, isn’t it, Sir Guy? The men who drive the wagons are not warriors or knights, they are just peasants, they have families.”
Guy looked at the old servant.
“And their families won’t have a roof over their heads if we can’t pay the taxes. They’ll have to take the risk. We all have to. Listen, I know that no one of you really trusts me, but I want this to work, I really do, and I’ll do whatever I can to protect all of them.”
“I believe you, Sir Guy,” James said, but he looked down at the leg of the knight, at the crutch that Guy still needed to walk, “but will you be able to do it? A couple of months ago you were almost dead, and you aren’t completely healed yet. If there should be an attack, will you be able to fight?”
“If needed, I will. I know that I’m not strong as I was once, but I won’t surrender.”
Allan glanced at him.
“Wait a moment, Giz.”
Allan ran inside the manor, and came back after a while, holding a bow, similar to the one used by Robin. He handed it to Guy, with a quiver of arrows.
“I’m not an archer. And where did you get this?”
“It was one of Robin’s spares. We have an artisan in Locksley making them for us...” He stopped abruptly, and glanced at Guy, afraid that he had said too much. Nobody should know that people of Locksley were helping the gang, but after all Gisborne saved his life, he deserved his trust. He looked at the bow, and continued. “I know that you’re not an archer, Giz, but with a bow you could attack enemies even without moving from your seat on the wagon. Even if you aren’t a good shot, nobody likes to see an arrow pointed at them.”
Guy took the weapon to examine it: it was smaller than the usual bows, but it was curved so that it could shoot with the same strength of a bigger bow. It was made of a fine wood and Guy thought that it was a good weapon.
If the sheriff knew that an artisan from Locksley was creating such bows for Robin Hood, that man would end in the dungeons or even to the gallows. Well, that man was lucky because now Guy wouldn’t even think to tell Vaisey about it.
Actually he was beginning to sympathize with anyone who could oppose the sheriff and create troubles to him. Except for Hood.
“Hood let you take one of his bows?” Guy asked to Allan, and the other man shrugged.
“Well, I didn’t ask. He ordered me to stay at Knighton with you and I didn’t know if I could trust you, so later, while you were sleeping, I went back to the camp and I grabbed a few weapons. Just in case.”
Guy stared at him, surprised, then he grinned.
“Well, good for me, I got a good bow for free,” he said, nocking an arrow and aiming at the trunk of a tree in the distance. He let it go, but the arrow flew to the left of the tree, missing it completely.
“Well, Giz, maybe you got a bow for free, but you have to work on your aim, I think.”
“Stop laughing or I’ll practice using you as a target. Now help me to get on the wagon and let’s go.”
“Oh, wait a moment, I have this for you too.”
Allan gave him a little silver chain with a cross.
Guy looked at it, uncertain.
“Did you steal this from Hood too? Why are you giving it to me?”
“As if I’d give you jewelry! No, when I went inside to take the bow, one of the maids, the pretty one with blond hair, was waiting for me at the end of the stairs. She called me and she gave me this. I thought that she wanted to give it to me for protection, because she was worried for me, so I tried to hug her to get a kiss. Could you believe that she slapped me?!”
Guy smiled, amused.
“Yes, I can believe it very well.”
“However she was laughing, so I guess that she wasn’t too sorry that I tried. I asked why she was giving me a gift if she didn’t want me to kiss her, and she laughed again. She said that this was for you.”
“For me? That girl hates me!”
“Of course she does, you should have seen her expression when she said that. It looked like she had just drank a cup of vinegar instead of a cup of wine. However she said that it was not from her, but that it was from Lady Marian. So I took the necklace and promised that I’d give it to you, but I told her that I deserved a gift too because I was also risking my life for her too. I asked for a kiss, but she blushed and giggled. She said ‘we’ll see if you come back successfully’. Do you think I have a chance with her, Giz?”
Guy had stopped listening to him when he said Marian’s name, so he didn’t answer to his last question. He took the little chain, and put it around his neck, trying to hide his emotion.
Marian gave a gift to him, a cross to protect him. Did it mean that she cared for him?
He turned his back to Allan, and hobbled to the first wagon, so that the outlaw couldn’t see how moved he was. However he couldn’t climb on it on his own, so he waited near the vehicle for Allan to reach him, using those few second to collect himself.
He touched the little cross with a finger, then he turned to look back at the manor, thinking of Marian.
She was there, at her window, staring at him in silence, her expression halfway between pride and expectation. She still seemed fragile to his worried eyes, the white and warm shawl that wrapped her shoulders, protecting her from the cold.
She didn’t smile.
Was she worried about him?
The small silver cross on his chest was light and warm, now. Her warmth, his warmth.
He wouldn’t disappoint her, he’d do whatever he could to save Knighton and return to her.
Honestly, with honor.
Into Guy's eyes there was now awareness and pride, he was now exactly like the knight who had accompanied her childhood dreams. Even though he was climbing on the wagon with some difficulty, helped by other people.
Maybe that was the real courage, Marian thought. She felt really proud of him.
"Come back, Guy. Back at home, this home, my home, your home now. Come back,safe and sound," she whispered.