Guy of Gisborne didn’t have the habit to get drunk, but that night he felt justified to find oblivion in wine.
In a single afternoon he had to face the shock of finding the dead body of Sir Edward of Knighton and to try to soothe Marian’s sorrow. Seeing her weep so desperately made him think of the saddest day of his life, when he had cried for the death of both his parents and the loss of their home.
That thought filled him with shame: even Marian’s house had been burned to the ground. By his hand.
He couldn’t complain if the girl looked so unwilling to be comforted by him.
When the girl left him to take refuge in her room, Guy had to bear the rage of the Sheriff, furious because Robin Hood robbed him, taking the Pact of Nottingham from his room, and making him lose a lot of his gold too.
Vaisey yelled at Guy for a long time, menacing to fire him and blaming him for the incompetence of the guards and for their inability to catch Hood.
When the Sheriff finally let him go, Guy went to Marian’s room, to check how she was, only to find out that she was gone, that she had run away from the castle as soon as her father was dead.
That was the moment when Guy decided that that day couldn’t get worse: he grabbed a jug of wine from the kitchen and sat in front of the fire to drink it, ordering a servant to take him another one when the first was finished.
Allan sat with him, and drank some wine too, but this time the former outlaw was too worried to see Gisborne drinking so much to get drunk as well. Allan wasn’t used to see Guy losing his control because of wine, and he felt that it wouldn’t be good for neither of them.
When Guy finished his second jug of wine, Allan dragged him back to his lodgings, with some difficulties because Guy was tall and heavy, but at last he succeeded in leaving him on the bed, and soon the knight slipped into a deep sleep.
Guy woke up in the middle of the night, hearing somebody who was calling his name.
He groggily sat up in bed, taking a hand to his throbbing head.
“Allan? What do you want?”
A lit candle was on the table, illuminating the room, but when Guy looked around, he found out that he was alone.
A dream, he thought, just a dream.
He got up, a little unsteadily, to use the chamberpot, and he sighed, remembering that he was feeling so wretched because Marian had left the castle.
She left me. Again.
He went to the basin to wash his hands, and he realized that he was still wearing the same clothes of the day before. He wrinkled his nose in disgust: they smelled of sweat and wine.
Guy began to undress, ashamed of his sorry state, and regretting to have drunk so much.
He poured more water in the basin and he began to wash up: it was cold, but he didn’t mind, it helped to clear his mind and to make him feel less foolish.
Gisborne took a towel to dry his hair, and he walked to the mirror, taking the candle with him. He looked at his face, tired and dejected, and he wondered if he looked so scary and evil that Marian had to choose to run away rather than staying at the castle with him.
He almost dropped the candle when he saw another person in the reflection. Guy turned around quickly, cursing because he didn’t have his sword, and this time he actually dropped the candlestick and jumped back, slamming his back against the mirror.
It can’t be. It’s impossible!
Guy put a hand on his chest, trying to slow his heartbeats and to catch his breath.
Surely he was still drunk and he had seen an image from a dream, a figment of his imagination.
He was sure that he had been alone in the room when he woke up, and he knew that he still was alone. If there was somebody else, he would hear the sound of his breath, sense his presence.
But he had seen someone, someone who couldn’t be there.
Guy took a deep breath and said to himself that he had to pick up the candlestick and light the candle again, so he could see with his own eyes that there was nobody.
He was about to do it when suddenly the image of Sir Edward of Knighton appeared in front of him, a flame burning in each of his hands.
Guy stared at him for a moment, then he collapsed to the floor, in a dead faint.
When Guy opened his eyes again, the light of dawn was entering from the window. For a moment he wondered why he was lying on the floor, then he remembered the nightmare that had frightened him so much.
I’ll never get drunk again if I start seeing impossible things.
“Really, Sir Guy, I didn’t think you were so impressionable...”
A voice talked very near to his ear, and Guy jumped, scared. He sat on the floor and found himself staring at Sir Edward, who was crouching to meet his gaze. He was staring at his room too, because the image of the man was half transparent, and Guy could see through him.
Guy tried to retreat, but he found the wall behind his back. To move, he would have to push the ghost of the old man away, and he wouldn’t touch him for anything in the world.
“No! It’s impossible! Go away!” He gasped, and Sir Edward nodded gravely.
“It’s surprising, indeed. I didn’t expect that you could see me. It must be because you were the first one to find my body just after I died.”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Guy cried, terrified. “Please don’t hurt me! I never wanted you to die!”
Sir Edward looked at him, puzzled.
“I never blamed you for that. Actually, I was surprised to see that you were so shocked by my death. And I appreciated that you tried to comfort Marian, even if I have to say that you weren’t very good at it.”
Guy closed his eyes, trembling.
“Sir Guy? You aren’t going to faint again, are you? Please look at me.”
Gisborne shuddered, but he obeyed, forcing himself to look at the ghost.
Sir Edward was standing now, holding a hand out to him, as if he wanted to help him to his feet.
He was smiling, his eyes kind.
Guy struggled to stand without touching him.
“Why are you here?” He stammered, and the ghost seemed to become sad.
“I think you know very well what ties me to this world, Sir Guy.”
The knight sighed.
Sir Edward nodded.
“You are trembling, Sir Guy. Are you afraid of me, or just cold? Get dressed and sit near the fireplace or you’ll catch your death. Then we’ll talk.”
The ghost disappeared and Guy sat heavily on the bed, upset.
Am I becoming crazy?
He was still shivering and he felt cold. He was only wearing his trousers, and his hair was still damp, and Guy decided that he should get dressed regardless of whether the ghost was real or not.
Guy opened a trunk, grabbing some clean clothes, and he wore them, struggling to close the clasps of the jacket because his hands were trembling too much.
He had to get out of that room, to reach his guards, so he wouldn’t be alone with his nightmares. As soon as he was dressed, he darted to the door, only to find Sir Edward on the threshold, an amused sparkle in his glance.
The ghost gestured to the chairs in front of the fireplace, and Guy obeyed him, dropping himself on one of them. The fire was warm, comforting, but Guy just wanted to run away.
Sir Edward sat on the other chair, in front of him, and gestured to a basket of fruit that was on a little table between them.
“After drinking so much you should eat something, Sir Guy. But if I must be honest, getting drunk is a habit that I don’t like. It doesn’t do good neither for the health nor for the mind.”
“It’s not a habit for me,” Guy said, defensively, and a bit irked. He could understand if the ghost of Sir Edward wanted to haunt him for burning Knighton Hall and arresting him, but why should he care about his habits?
Sir Edward smiled.
“Good for you, Sir Guy.”
Gisborne took a apple from the basket, but he put it back before biting it. He was feeling sick and his head was still aching, and he wasn’t sure that he could keep anything down if he tried to eat.
He leaned his back on the chair, tired.
“What do you want from me?”
“You owe me, Sir Guy. You burned my house.”
Guy hanged his head with a sigh.
“I’d take it back if I could.”
“But you can’t.”
“So you are here to punish me? What will you do?”
The ghost looked worried.
“No, no, Sir Guy. It’s not up to me to punish you. It’s true, some ghosts can take revenge on the persons who wronged them, but I won’t. Actually, I’ve forgiven you. I did it even before I died, because I could see that most of your evil actions came from the sheriff. I could haunt him, he would surely deserve it. I know that you tried to ease my stay in the dungeons, I could see that I had more blankets and better food than the other prisoners, and I guessed that you were the one who ordered the jailers to treat me well. But you are still in debt with my family, and this is the moment to settle it.”
Gisborne was pale, as if he was about to faint again or to be sick.
“How?” He whispered.
“I want you to take care of Marian.”
Guy stared at him, his eyes wide with surprise, and unable to reply.
“I know that you have feelings for her and that you deeply care for my daughter, so you must protect her, because I can’t do it anymore.”
“She ran away from the castle,” Guy said, bitterly.
“I know. She is in love with Robin.”
Guy winced. The words of Sir Edward hurt him deeply, but he realized that deep in his heart he already suspected that. He felt enraged, he wanted to lash out at Marian and to kill Hood, but Sir Edward’s ghost was looking at him, and his stare made him feel guilty.
He remembered Marian’s tears from the day before, the desperation in her eyes when she had seen the old man’s body, and the warm softness of her body in his arms when he had hugged her. Guy suddenly knew that she might be in love with Hood, but that this knowledge wasn’t enough for his heart to stop loving her.
“Why are you asking me to protect her, then?”
“Because Marian is the most important thing in your life. Robin loves her, I won’t deny it, but he loves his King, his people and our England even more. I can’t blame him, I died for England, and in the past I myself chose my country over my daughter. When she had to marry you, in example. I wasn’t there because I thought that I could save England from the sheriff.”
“I thought that you weren’t there because you didn’t approve me,” Guy blurted, and Edward looked at him, his gaze softer.
“You should have more self confidence, Sir Guy. If you did, you wouldn’t rely so much on the sheriff, and things would be better for everyone. As I once told Marian, she could have done worse than marrying you.”
“It doesn’t matter. She loves Hood.”
The ghost smiled.
“This won’t stop you from protecting her.”
Guy gritted his teeth, enraged, because he knew that Sir Edward was right. He was feeling stupid and helpless and the sheriff would surely have laughed at him if he could read his thoughts.
Guy the gullible! He would say. The leper keeps betraying you, and you are ready to fall for her poisonous words again! Stupid, spineless, lovesick fool!
“You’re not gullible, Sir Guy,” Edward said, as if he could actually read his mind, “nor a fool. You love my daughter, and I’m glad you do.”
Gisborne looked at him, startled.
“Don’t do that!”
“Keep out of my mind!”
“It’s not something I choose to do, I’m sorry if this upsets you. It seems that when you die, you can read easily what is in people’s hearts, it’s as if their souls are exposed to my eyes.”
Guy blushed, his eyes downcast.
“Yours is not as black as you think, Sir Guy,” Edward said, gently, “you don’t have to be so ashamed. The soul of the sheriff is really black, and it tainted you as well, but underneath his filth, yours is not that bad. You committed serious sins and heinous crimes, but it’s not too late to change and be saved. There is hope for you, and you must believe me, because now I can’t lie.”
“I always thought that Marian’s pure soul would cleanse mine,” Guy confessed, and to his dismay the ghost burst out into a laugh.
“Forgive me, Sir Guy. Maybe you are a little gullible after all. Marian’s heart is in the right place, but she isn’t the pure, innocent angel that you think. She wronged you, she deceived you, even if she did it to help people in need, and she has her faults. We all have our faults, and my daughter makes no exception. Maybe it’s time you learn to see her for who she really is.”
“No, she wouldn’t lie to me.”
“She is the Nightwatchman.”
“No! It can be!”
Sir Edward smiled knowingly.
“Are you sure, Sir Guy? Try to think about it, about all the times you met the Nightwatchman. Once you cut his arm, and you found blood on Marian’s sleeve later that day.”
Guy covered his mouth with his hand, shocked.
“I stabbed the Nightwatchman! That’s why she was ill before the wedding?!” He jumped to his feet, his eyes wide with horror. “She could have died! I almost killed her and you are asking me to protect her?! Are you insane?! How can you say that my soul isn’t black when I stabbed her?!”
“Calm down, Sir Guy. Please sit, and try to breathe slowly.”
Guy didn’t listen to him, his thoughts in a turmoil, and he kept pacing around the room, distressed.
The ghost rose from his chair, and he seemed to become bigger and darker.
“SIT DOWN!” He bellowed, his voice unearthly and menacing, and Guy looked at him in horror, cowering on his chair and hiding his face in his hands.
Sir Edward rolled his eyes with a sigh: he never meant to scare the knight so much.
“Sorry, I just wanted you to calm down,” he said after a while.
Guy dared to look at him, his eyes damp with tears of fear and frustration.
“You wanted me to calm down? How? Menacing to drag me to hell?!” He snarled.
“I never did it!”
“Well, it bloody looked like it!”
“Sorry,” Edward repeated, then he grinned. “But it worked: you are sitting there and listening to me, now.”
Guy shook his head in disbelief.
“It doesn’t change what I did.”
“The Nightwatchman was robbing you, and you didn’t know that it was her. She has her faults, can’t you see it, Sir Guy? The point is that we can still love people, even if they are not perfect.”
Gisborne lowered his head in defeat. He didn’t think he had the strength to argue with that ghost, it was easier to surrender and do whatever he wanted.
“What do you expect from me?”
“For now wash your face, calm down and go to do your job. Nobody else should know that you can see me or they will think that you are insane, or that you are possessed. You must act normally. I will come back when my presence is needed. We will help each other to protect Marian. I have trust in you, Sir Guy, and I hope you will trust me too, in time.”
With those words, the ghost disappeared, and Guy was alone in his room again.