Guy and Allan stood apart from the guards while the soldiers fought against the outlaws. Gisborne saw Marian for a moment, between the men of Robin Hood, then Robin dragged her away from the battle, making her disappear behind a stable.
He already knew that the girl was with the outlaw, but seeing her with his own eyes, even if only for a moment, hurt him deeply.
Then Carter arrived, and the battle became bloody: the man hit and killed the guards to get Hood’s trust.
Guy stared at the battle, astonished: he didn’t know that the plan implied losing so many men just to trick the outlaws in trusting Carter. The sheriff hadn’t told him the details of the plan.
“That’s a waste of lives!” Sir Edward said, disapproving.
“I had no idea that he was going to kill them...” Guy said, in shock, and Allan thought that he was talking to him.
“I surely hope you didn’t know, Giz! It’s inhuman!”
“Come, Allan!” Guy said, spurring his horse to reach the guards and shout orders to them. “Retreat! Take the wounded and withdraw!”
While they galloped away from Clun, Guy glanced back, hoping to see Marian again, but he couldn’t, so he pulled the reins of his horse and called one of the soldiers.
“Go back to the castle and take care of the injured men. You can have the rest of the day free.”
“Aren’t you returning with us, Sir Guy?”
“I have something else to do. Go.”
Guy turned the horse, and nodded to Allan to follow him.
“Where are we going?”Allan asked after a while.
“You are going to take me to the camp of the outlaws.”
The young man paled.
“I already told you that I can’t. I work for you, but I don’t want them to get killed, they were my friends...”
“Good friends indeed if you were willing to betray them for money.”
“I betrayed them because you tortured me!”
“This is wrong, Sir Guy!” Edward commented, giving him a disapproving look, and Guy had the decency to blush.
“I’m sorry for that,” he said, and Allan stared at him, dumbfounded.
“You are… what?! Giz, what kind of wine was that? Are you still drunk? Maybe I should get you to a healer...”
“No, you have to take me to the camp.”
“I can’t! Giz, ask me anything but this...”
“I don’t care about your friends, I need to see Marian!”
“What do you want to do to her?” Allan asked, worried.
“I have to talk with her. Just talk.”
“Will you arrest her?”
“Of course I won’t!” Guy snarled. “And I won’t hurt her! What kind of monster do you think I am?!”
“Well, Giz, you always said that the Nightwatchman deserved to hang...”
Guy stopped the horse.
“Allan, please, I need to see her. It’s important, I swear.”
“You always need to see her. What changed since yesterday?”
“Everything changed, believe me.”
“Because you found out the truth about her?”
“Because the ghost of her father visited me last night, and I keep seeing him!” Guy blurted, and Allan stared at him as if he had grown another head.
“Very well, Giz, I am taking you to see a healer.”
“That wasn’t a wise move, Sir Guy,” Sir Edward commented, shaking his head a little.
“I needed to tell someone!”
“Your friend will say that you are crazy or possessed. How can you help my daughter if people will consider you a fool?!”
Guy stared at the ghost (at empty space from Allan’s point of view.).
“Allan won’t betray me. You said he’s loyal. I trust him.”
Allan gave him a wary glance.
“Giz… Maybe you should rest for a while. It’s clear that the wine you drank had to be spoiled or something...”
“He can’t believe you.” Edward said.
“Well, tell me something that can make him believe. You said that you can read in people’s souls, didn’t you?” Guy replied.
“He’s scared and confused, and he doesn’t know what to do.”
Guy gave him a pointed look.
“I think that anyone would be confused if he saw another person speaking to empty air, don’t you think? Tell me something that I couldn’t know in any other way.”
“Giz… you are worrying me. Really...”
Gisborne stood still for a moment, then he nodded and turned to Allan.
“You dreamt about your mother last night. She used to sing a song to you and your brother, a little out of tune, but sweet and slow.”
Allan almost fell down from his horse.
“How can you know?! This… This is witchcraft!”
“I don’t know what it is, but Sir Edward’s ghost is here, he speaks to me, and he can read in our souls. He told me about your dream. Need some other proof?”
An alarmed look appeared on Allan’s face.
“I don’t need anyone looking into my soul.”
“He says that it’s not as tainted as you think. He said the same about me as well.” Guy sighed, and looked at Allan, pleadingly. “Do you believe me? Please tell me you do.”
The young man thought that at that moment Gisborne seemed to be completely helpless, vulnerable, and he was strangely moved to realize that he was asking for his help, that he was trusting him so much.
“I guess that it wasn’t the wine, then. You look like hell, but I guess that I would too, if I could see a ghost. Is he evil and terrible? Is he haunting you for revenge?”
“Actually he’s quite kind.”
“It’s still scary. Maybe we should go and see a priest...”
“No. I have to see Marian. Her father just wants to protect her. When she will be safe, he can go to Heaven.”
“When? It’s more like ‘if’. With the sheriff around, nobody can really be safe. By the way, are you sure that he won’t need you? What if he searches for you and you’re not at the castle?”
“He’s busy with Carter. They don’t need me. And that’s a good thing because I don’t like that man.”
“Who? Carter or the sheriff?”
Both. Guy thought, but he didn’t say it.
“Take me to see Marian,” he said, instead.
“If I take you to the camp, they could kill you, and me as well. Robin was very explicit about it when he kicked me out of the gang...”
“I don’t care about Hood!”
“You should! I don’t want you to get hurt!” Allan almost shouted, and Guy was surprised by his outburst. The former outlaw let out a deep sigh. “Listen, Giz, I can’t take you there, but I could take Marian to you, would this be good enough for you?”
“I just want to see her.”
“I don’t think she will come to the castle or to Locksley, though...”
“I can wait in the forest.”
Allan looked at Guy, noticing how exhausted he looked, and he shook his head.
“No Giz, I have a better idea. There’s a inn on the road to Kirklees, it’s called ‘The Flaming Turnip’, don’t know why. It’s a decent place, clean enough I guess, and they cook well. Go there, eat something and take a room. You look like you could use some rest while you wait.”
Guy was about to complain and say that he didn’t need food or sleep, but he realized that it would have been a lie.
“Very well. Don’t make me wait too much.”
Guy spurred the horse, taking the road to Kirklees, without looking to see if the ghost was still following him or if he had decided to go with Allan to search for Marian. When Marian would arrive to the tavern, the ghost would surely be there as well.
The Flaming Turnip was quiet at that time of the day. It wasn’t a market day, so just a few patrons and two or three drunkards were sitting at the tables. Gisborne got a few wary glances when he entered the tavern, but soon people got back to their occupations and they didn’t pay much attention to him.
He sat at a table in a corner, and called the innkeeper, paying for a room and for a meal.
The maid took him food and wine and she left. Guy looked around, and he sighed in relief to see that the ghost wasn’t there.
He took a sip of wine, carefully, and a piece of bread. He was still feeling a little sick, and he wasn’t sure that he could eat, but as soon as he bit in the fresh bread, he found out that he was hungry, almost ravenous actually.
Guy ate his meal, glad to be alone for a while. Now Sir Edward’s ghost didn’t scare him like he did in the beginning, but it was still unsettling to see something that nobody else could, and then he was still the father of the woman Guy loved. Knowing that he could read his thoughts, look into his soul, was upsetting too, and Guy was still shocked by the revelations about Marian and Hood, and about the Nightwatchman.
The thought that he had almost killed her was so horrible that he had to push it out of his mind if he didn’t want to be sick, and he couldn’t stand to think about Marian in love with Robin.
He wished that he could do what the sheriff kept repeating to him: to forget about her, to move on.
He couldn’t. He still loved her, with all her faults, and he wasn’t sure he could ever stop.
Guy could be angry at her, despise her for all her lies, be hurt by her deceit, but love would still be there in his heart, stubbornly, patiently waiting to be rekindled.
Gisborne sighed. He was tired and dispirited, and he wished that he could just run away from everything.
He wondered if the sheriff had noticed his absence, but he realized that he didn’t care.
Sir Edward’s words about souls made him understand that he didn’t like the sheriff. He was bonded to him by his oath of loyalty, and he still wanted the wealth and power that Vaisey could give to him, but he despised the man, the darkness of his heart.
Guy wondered if Sir Edward’s words were true, if his soul wasn’t really completely black, if he could still have some hope to be reunited to his family in Heaven someday…
But if he kept being close to Vaisey he would surely lose any hope. The evil nestled in his soul was like a disease, a plague that would defile Guy’s heart for sure and that would take any hope from him.
I wish I had never met him…
“Why don’t you leave him, then?”
Guy lifted his eyes to look at the ghost: Sir Edward was back, and he looked like if he was sitting at the table with him. Guy could see the grain of the wood of the chair through his face.
“It’s not so easy,” he said, taking care to cover his mouth with a hand, so people wouldn’t notice that he was talking to himself.
“Why not? Find another master, a better one.”
“If I leave him, he will destroy me. You know the power he has, you were afraid of it.”
“You could go away.”
“And to be banished once again? To lose everything I earned in all these years?” Guy asked, with rage.
“Would you still be so reluctant if you could take Marian with you? If you could have a fresh start with her somewhere else?”
Guy stared at him, astonished.
“Are you suggesting that I kidnap your daughter to take her away from Nottingham?!”
“Of course not!”
“She would never run away with me willingly. She… she went to live in the forest... with Hood… If she… if she loves him, why should she come with me?”
Sir Edward gave a sympathetic look at Guy.
“Sir Guy, I know that this situation is difficult for you, and I’m sorry if my requests make you suffer, but I know my daughter. I don’t know if she could really be happy to live in a forest, and to be part of a gang of outlaws. Marian had never been good at following orders, and in a gang there can’t be two leaders. I suspect that she isn’t enjoying her life in the forest too much. If you talk to her, if you find the right words, maybe she could consider a different option.”
“I’ve never been good with words. And anyways she never listened to me.”
The ghost rolled his eyes.
“I know even too well, she always had issues with listening to reasonable advice. But this won’t stop me from trying to help her, because I love her. She is my beautiful, lovely, willful daughter and I’d do anything to protect her. Even if this should mean being a ghost for eternity.”
“I guess we have something in common. I will try, but I don’t know if I can succeed.”
Marian followed Allan, annoyed. She was still irked after her argument with Robin. He was mad at her because she threw herself in the middle of the battle, trying to rescue the inhabitants of Clun.
She knew that she had been reckless, but she hated the condescending tone used by Robin, as if she was just a stupid child.
She had been the Nightwatchman for years and nobody could ever catch her! While Robin had been the really reckless one, being outlawed just a few days after coming back from the Holy Land.
After the heated discussion, she had left the camp in a huff, expecting Robin to follow her to make peace, but he didn’t, apparently too busy with that Carter who wanted to join the gang.
Little John had tried to comfort her, but she rejected his attempt. She had wanted Robin’s understanding, not the sympathy of the big man.
She had told Little John that she needed to be alone, to take a walk in the forest, and she left.
She had walked for a while, then she had stopped into a glade, to train at knife throwing. Then Allan appeared from behind a tree, and she almost hit him with one of her daggers.
The young man claimed that he didn’t have bad intentions, but that he was there on behalf of Guy of Gisborne. The knight needed to talk to her about an important matter and he wanted to meet her.
“Well, tell him that I am mourning my father. That I took refuge at the abbey and that I went into seclusion.”
“He knows that you are here.”
Marian had paled.
“Who told him?”
“Not me, I swear! He found out somehow. Maybe leaving Robin’s arrow tied to the rope you used to flee wasn’t such a brilliant idea, was it?”
“That is another reason to avoid him. If he knows about Robin and me, he could be dangerous...”
“He didn’t take it well, how could he? Giz still loves you, poor fool. But he really needs to talk you and he swore that he won’t hurt you. On the other hand, if you don’t go to meet him, he will come to the forest to search for you.”
Marian let out an unladylike growl, but at last he accepted to meet Guy and followed Allan.
They arrived at a tavern, and the girl glanced at the sign.
“The Flaming Turnip? I’ve never heard such a stupid name for a tavern.”
“I thought that a lady shouldn’t know the name of any tavern,” Allan said with a grin, and the girl glared at him.
“So, where is Guy?”
“I told him to take a room and to eat something while he waited for us...”
They entered the tavern, and looked around. Eventually Marian noticed the knight, sitting at a table in a dark corner. She looked at him, frowning.
“Is he talking to himself?”
Allan sighed and rolled his eyes.
“Since you left the castle he hasn’t been himself.”
“I left yesterday!”
Marian found herself agreeing with Allan. Just two days ago her father was still alive, an now in just a few hours he was lying dead, she had ran from the castle and she had managed to fight with Robin too.
She blinked to hold back tears, and looked at Guy: the knight looked dejected and upset too, and for a moment she softened towards him. He was suffering, just like her. Maybe for the first time they had something in common.
Heaving a deep sigh, she walked towards Guy’s table.
As soon as he noticed her, Guy scrambled to his feet, swaying a little. Marian wondered if he was drunk.
“You came!” Guy exclaimed, almost in disbelief, the he did something that surprised Marian: he turned to Allan and smiled warmly at him. “You did it! Thank you.”
“Why, did you have any doubts?”
The former outlaw grinned, and helped himself from the jug of wine. Marian noticed that it was still full, and she guessed that Guy’s weird behavior wasn’t due to wine.
Allan sat at the table and Guy winced. Both Marian and Allan glanced at him, a little worried.
“What?” Allan asked, and Guy hurried to shake his head.
He couldn’t say that Allan just had sat through Sir Edward’s ghost.
The ghost moved to an empty chair, an amused spark in his eyes to see Gisborne’s uneasiness.
“Guy?” Marian called, her tone a perfect mixture of worry and anger. “Why did you want to see me so urgently?”
Gisborne nodded gravely, and he pointed at the other free chair.
“Please, sit. Do you want to eat something? Or some other wine?”
Marian dropped herself on the chair, ungracefully.
“I am not here to have dinner with you! You should know that I am mourning my father.”
“I wanted to talk to you about him...” He began, then he stopped, uncertain on how to continue…
“Come on, Sir Guy, you can’t tell her that you can see my ghost!” Sir Edward snapped. “If you do, she’ll think that you are crazy and she will go away without listening to you! Don’t be an idiot!”
Marian wondered why Guy had suddenly blushed, but then the knight continued to talk.
“I wanted to say that I made provisions for his tomb. He will be buried in Knighton, near your mother’s tomb, I think you had to know it.”
The girl was surprised by his kindness, but then her thoughts stopped on the image of her father dead, trapped into a tomb forever, and she choked a sob.
Guy tried to take her hand, to hold it and offer some comfort to her, but she withdrew her fingers with a sharp movement.
“Thank you, but I’d rather not talk about this now… It’s too early. I need time. I need peace…”
Gisborne couldn’t help notice a note of coldness in her voice, a rejection, and it hurt him even more because his gesture had been sincere, with no second intentions. He glared at her, suddenly angry.
“And you have all the peace you need into the forest, amidst a gang of criminals, haven’t you?!”
Marian gasped, and glared at Allan, but Guy slammed his hand on the table.
“What? Feel betrayed? Like me, every time that I failed to capture the Nightwatchman? Yes, I know that too, and before you dare to berate him, it wasn’t Allan who told me the truth.” Guy’s voice was low and full of rage and sorrow, almost a growl. “Have you the slightest idea of all the times that I protected you from the sheriff? Of all the times that I suffered punishments from the sheriff because I couldn’t catch the Nightwatchman?! Of all the times that I dared to hope that you could care for me, when you just wanted to deceive me to help Hood?!”
“I cared for you!”
“Liar. You are lying even now because you are afraid that I could arrest you!”
“So this is a trap.” Marian said icily, her eyes bright with rage.
“No, because I am not a deceitful, fickle, ungrateful liar like you!”
Marian stood up, outraged. She had already been angry at Robin before coming to the tavern, but now Guy’s word gave full vent to her fury.
“Ungrateful? Should I have thanked you for burning my house to the ground? Or for arresting me and my father? Or maybe I should have congratulated you every time you evicted some poor peasant to give more tax money to the sheriff?! You talk of suffering… What about all the poor people who suffered because of you?!”
Allan shifted his eyes between the two of them, helpless.
“Giz? Marian? Maybe you should calm down...”
“Shut up, Allan!” They both shouted, in unison, then they resumed glaring at each other.
“I regret what I did to your house, I would take it back if I could!” Guy said, upset and tearful, “If only you could see the side of me that wants to build a home… I hoped to start a family with you, I hoped that someday you could see how much I loved you! I still love you, no matter what!”
“But I love Robin Hood!” Marian blurted, equally upset.
Guy moved towards her, and Sir Edward could see the blaze of madness that for a moment had darkened the soul of the knight. It vanished immediately, leaving just a broken heart, but for a moment the ghost had feared that Guy was going to hurt Marian.
The only thought enraged him, and he moved between his daughter and Guy, glaring at the knight.
“NEVER TRY TO HURT HER. NEVER!” He roared, and to add some emphasis, he grabbed Guy’s shoulders with his ghastly hands.
Guy’s wrath had already ebbed away before the ghost began to scream at him, and he was about to sit down and try to calm down. The mad fury that took possession of his heart, even if just for a moment, had frightened him. What if he had been holding a sword or a dagger?
He had already injured Marian once, and he couldn’t risk to hurt her again. He told to himself that he had to keep his emotions in check.
He shuddered when Sir Edward menaced him, and he was about to ask forgiveness to both him and Marian, when the ghost touched him.
Guy froze, unable to move.
The fingers of the ghost were unbearably cold and scorching hot at the same time, and he could feel the cold entering his body and reaching his same soul.
It was as if Death itself was touching him, draining any warmth from his body, and every pleasant thought from his mind.
It was all cold, icy cold, and desperation. No hope at all.
It was like Death.
Marian saw Guy becoming very still and very pale, any trace of color drained from his face. Allan turned towards him, worried, but before he could say anything, Guy’s legs gave way, and the knight fell to the ground.
Allan managed to grab him and he succeeded in slowing the fall, lowering him to the floor, but Marian thought that Guy was dead, that her words had killed him somehow…
She saw Guy’s face, ashen and motionless and she began to tremble, remembering how her father had been equally still and pale, just the day before.
“He’s dead...” She whispered, and her words were followed by a mumble of profanities by Allan, then the outlaw turned at her.
“No, he isn’t, but I think he is ill.” He touched Guy’s face, worried. “He’s too cold. Come on, gather a couple of servants, we need to take him to his room and try to warm him up.”
Marian didn’t argue, and obeyed, frightened. She paid some coins to the two young servants who helped Allan to take Guy upstairs, and ordered the maids of the inn to bring some water, both hot and cold, clean towels and a few extra blankets.
She waited by the door while Allan undressed the unconscious knight, her heart beating fast.
It wasn’t her fault if Guy had taken ill, surely, but she couldn’t help feeling guilty.
Sir Edward’s ghost stood near the bed, careful not to touch Guy again, and he stared at his own hands. He was shocked too because he couldn’t have imagined that Gisborne would react so badly to his touch. After all, Allan had sat on him and he hadn’t even noticed his presence.
“I’m sorry… I’m really sorry...” He whispered, but no one could hear his words.