Marian sat near the fire, in disbelief. She had been away from the camp for a good part of a day and a whole night, and nobody even noticed!
When she had come back, Robin had welcomed her with a kiss, smiling and not even a little worried.
“Have you been in the forest for a walk?”
Then he had yawned, tired, because they had been at the castle for the whole night, running from the sheriff’s guards after robbing him.
Marian had been too shocked to retort that she hadn’t been out for a walk, and she had just watched him going to one of the bunks to sleep.
What if I were in danger? What if I needed your help? Your comfort?
Marian looked at the outlaws, all sleeping just like Robin, united in that too.
They were a family, parts of the same thing, and Marian felt that she couldn’t really fit.
She felt terribly alone and once more she wished that she could be back at home, with her father.
The following days passed, boring and uneventful, and Marian tried her best to become a real member of the gang, but she always ended up helping Much in the kitchen or mending torn clothes or damaged weapons. It was as if Robin didn’t trust her skill as a fighter, as if after what had happened with Carter, he considered her like a reckless child not to be trusted with a weapon.
She was aware that she had been reckless that time, but then again Robin always risked his life, often just to show-off, and nobody ever complained.
Marian sighed, fighting back the tears that prickled her eyes. She didn’t want to cry, to show the others how sad and vulnerable she felt, to let them see how much she missed her father.
Everyone of the outlaws had lost someone who was very dear to them, but they didn’t weep, they were strong and they went on without lingering on the past. She was ashamed to show them her sorrow, as if it was a confirmation that she wasn’t good enough for the gang.
A sudden commotion averted her from those sad thoughts, and she saw Robin and Will coming back to the camp accompanied by a crippled man, a young messenger with only one leg.
Robin looked very excited, and the outlaws gathered around him.
“Who’s that man, Robin?” Little John asked.
“He’s Laurence McLellan, a messenger from the King! He took a big risk: he went to Locksley and asked for the master of the manor, thinking that it still belonged to me. Luckily Gisborne wasn’t at home, and we were able to take him to the forest before the guards could notice him.”
“Where is Gu...Gisborne?” Marian asked, a little worried to hear that he hadn’t gone back to Locksley yet.
Robin glanced at her for a moment, a little surprised, then he shrugged.
“I don’t know, and I don’t really care. Thornton said that he got a message from him saying that he had fallen ill, and to cancel the celebration expected for his birthday, but Gisborne isn’t important now. Look! This is a message from the King!”
He went on talking about the message and of a special pigeon that could take another message to the King in just a few days, but Marian wasn’t listening anymore.
Her thoughts wandered to Guy, and she hoped that he was feeling better, then she realized the meaning of Robin’s words.
Celebration for his birthday? Is it Guy’s birthday today?
She wondered if he was still ill and what he was going to do on that day if he wasn’t back to Locksley.
She glanced at the outlaws: they were all excited by the King’s message, and they were deciding what answer they should send to the King. Suddenly, Marian found the air of the camp too oppressing, she felt jealous of the King, and for once she found herself hating him.
He went to the Holy Land to fight a war, leaving the country in trouble, and still he sent orders and dictated Robin’s life with his requests!
She blushed, ashamed of her own thoughts.
This is betrayal! He’s the King: when he comes back everything will be fine.
She went closer to Robin, trying to join the general excitement, but she couldn’t put her heart in it.
Then the outlaws got ready to go out of the camp and Marian moved to follow them, but Robin stopped her.
“It would be safer if you stay here.”
“Where are you going?”
“We’ll set the pigeon free with the message to King Richard, but we’ll take him far from here so it can’t be intercepted by the guards of the sheriff, and then, on our way back, we are going to ambush the convoy from the castle, taking the money of the taxes that Vaisey is sending to London.”
“I want to help you!” Marian said, but Robin shook his head.
“No, Marian. It will be dangerous, I have to focus on the ambush, I couldn’t protect you.”
The girl was about to say that she didn’t need to be protected, that she had been the Nightwatchman for years and she could fight like each of his men and maybe even better, but she kept silent.
She knew that Robin wouldn’t listen, that he’d keep seeing her like a weak maiden who needed protection.
“Very well,” she said with a sigh, “I guess I’ll go to see Matilda, then.”
“Are you unwell?”
“No, but she always needs help to pick her herbs, to dry and to store them. When you were away in the Holy Land, I often helped her, and she gave me the remedies for the poor.”
Robin nodded, and Marian could see that he was relieved for her choice. She felt saddened, because it was even too clear that his attention was all for the King, now. Maybe she was being childish, but she would have wanted to be comforted, to feel the most important person in the world for him.
Allan gave a sad glance at the inn, before mounting on his horse. At his side, Gisborne was doing the same.
“So it’s time to go back to Locksley… Who’d say that I could miss this inn?”
Guy nodded. The Flaming Turnip wasn’t the best inn he had ever seen in his life, but he had spent a few peaceful days there, with nothing to do other than resting and eating good meals.
It had been a little boring after a while, but it was always better than working at the castle. Guy found out that he appreciated having some peace and enough time to rest properly once in a while.
He wasn’t used to it and he always had to work hard since he was a boy.
“I guess that we’ll have to make up for all the time we lost. The sheriff wasn’t happy at all,” he said, with a little sigh.
“Tomorrow, Giz. Today we are still free.” Allan kicked the sides of his horse with his heels. “What are you going to do when we arrive at Locksley?”
“I must stay at home in case there’s someone spying for the sheriff, it will have to look like as if I’m still on the mend. But I think I’ll order Thornton to prepare a bath for me.”
Allan grinned, and patted the pouch full of coins that he was carrying at his belt.
“Fancy another game of dice, Giz? You could win back a few coins if you’re lucky.”
“Or I might challenge you at chess, at least you won’t be able to rig the game.”
“My dice are not rigged!”
“Come on, I can recognized loaded dice when I see them. The sheriff used a pair of them to trick that German idiot, once.”
Allan gave him a cheeky smile.
“If you knew that I was cheating, why did you keep playing with me?”
“I didn’t have anything else to do. I couldn’t win, but I still had fun.”
Allan chuckled, and he noticed that Guy was trying to scratch his shoulders through the leather of his jacket, where he still had the burns from the touch of the ghost.
“Does that hurt?” Allan asked.
“Not anymore, but it itches.”
“Are you sure you are alright?”
Guy stared at him, amused.
“Are you really worried for me?”
“It has been scary! Bot Marian and I were afraid that you were going to die! And she doesn’t even know the real reason why you were sick, I guess that she still believes that it was because of the cold, or maybe food poisoning. But to think that a dead man touched you...”
Allan shuddered, while Guy blushed remembering that he had been sick in front of Marian. She hadn’t been disgusted by his sickness, but he still felt ashamed for that.
He now knew that he had no hopes with Marian, but still he wanted to show her his better sides.
“I’m perfectly well now,” he said. “And I actually needed some rest, after all. Even if the sheriff will make me pay for my absence, I’m afraid.”
“Well, let’s enjoy this last day of freedom, then. It’s useless to think about tomorrow, don’t you think, Giz?”
“You might be right, for once.”
They rode for a while, with no hurry, just enjoying that warm day of late spring, and they were almost arrived to Locksley when Guy saw the figure of a person who was walking along the road, and who made his heart beat faster.
He hurried his horse to reach her, and the girl turned to look at him with a smile, as if she was pleased to see him.
Guy glanced at her right: the ghost was there, hovering around her, a sad expression in his eyes.
“She is so sad...” Sir Edward said.
Guy unmounted to greet her, and Marian kept smiling, looking at him, but Guy could see what the ghost had told him: in her eyes there was a deep sadness, just barely masked by her smile.
“Guy! I’m glad to see that you are better. I was worried.”
“I am.” He answered, a little awkwardly. “How… how are you? Is the life in the forest very difficult?”
Marian stared at him, surprised that he was worrying for her comfort, when it was clear that he hated the fact that she had joined Robin’s gang. He was surely jealous of her relationship with Robin, but still he was trying to be nice and to care for her.
She let out a little sigh.
“I wish there were bathtubs in the forest. The water of the river is still so cold, and warming it at the camp is almost impossible...”
“You can have a bath in Locksley, if you wish, as my guest.”
Marian glanced at him, trying to understand if he had an ulterior motive for making that offer, but Guy looked sincere. He was trying to be kind to her, and she found herself smiling at him.
“Thank you, but if the sheriff should find out that I’ve been at Locksley, won’t you end up in trouble?”
“He doesn’t know where you are living now, and I’m not going to tell.” Guy said, and Allan grinned.
“If he asks, we’ll say that you went to a nunnery for a while, to mourn. You could say that you have joined with the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, at Ripley Convent.”
Marian found herself thinking that the quiet life of an abbey could be comforting for a while, and for a moment she wondered if she should actually do what Allan had suggested as a cover story for the sheriff.
“Will he believe that?”
“He will, if Giz shows him a letter coming from the convent and addressed to him, to Giz I mean, where you say that you want to be in peace for some time.”
“The letters from the convent have to be sealed by the Mother Superior.”
“I can manage that.”
Guy looked at him, lifting an eyebrow with a skeptical glance.
“I’m good with nuns.”
Guy laughed softly, then he turned to Marian.
“So, will you come to Locksley with us?”
The girl thought that it was strange to see him so relaxed, laughing for Allan’s cheeky words, and she found herself nodding.
“I will. The idea of hot water is too appealing to refuse.”
They walked along the road, Guy leading the horse by the bridle. After a while, the knight looked at Marian, frowning.
“By the way, why were you here, all alone? It isn’t safe.”
“I’m not a helpless girl, you should know it very well by now. I wanted to see Matilda, but she wasn’t in her hut, so I was going to Locksley to see if she was treating some of the peasants there,” she said, not completely sincere. In fact she wanted to see Guy, to check if he had recovered, but she couldn’t admit that.
“Why do you want to see her? Are you unwell?”
Marian smiled. Guy had just used the same words of Robin.
“You don’t have to see a friend only when you need something from her. Matilda is a good woman, I enjoy speaking to her when I have the chance.” The girl noticed that he still looked worried. “And I’m perfectly healthy, I can assure you.”
She saw him relaxing at her words, and she thought that she had never seen Gisborne looking so calm and peaceful. She didn’t want to spoil that quiet moment, so she kept her conversation on light subjects, commenting about the good weather or noticing the bright flowers growing in the fields.
Talking, they arrived at Locksley, and Thornton welcomed them, giving Marian just a slightly surprised look.
“Welcome home, Sir Guy. Lady Marian.”
Guy gave the instructions to prepare a bath for Marian, earning another surprised look from the servant, but Thornton hurried to obey.
While they waited for the bath to be ready, Marian and Guy sat near the fireplace, while Allan went to the kitchen and came back with a tray of food.
“Do you want me to go away, Giz? To leave you alone with Marian?” Allan asked, while chewing, a teasing look in his gaze.
Gisborne rolled his eyes.
“Don’t be an idiot. You can stay, but stop talking with your mouth full, it’s disgusting.”
Marian chuckled, reassured by Guy’s words. Once, he would have tried to seduce her, to woo her in his awkward, possessive way, but now he was just being kind and harmless, and letting Allan stay was a proof of his good faith.
She was happy that he tried so hard to respect her choices, but she couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed.
Did he give up on me so easily?
She felt fickle and childish, but she couldn’t help missing a little Guy’s devotion to her, his passion.
I shouldn’t even think about this. I love Robin, I made my choice.
Guy offered her a cup of wine, smiling to her, and she accepted it, her heart beating a little faster when she met his gaze, so blue and full of warmth.
“Is this to celebrate?” She asked, to avert her mind from that unexpected emotion.
Guy looked puzzled.
“To celebrate what?”
“Isn’t your birthday today?”
Guy stared at her, surprised.
“Oh. Yes. How did you know?”
“I heard that you canceled a party that was to be held today.”
“You are right. I didn’t go to the castle because I was recovering, the sheriff wouldn’t like to learn that I held celebrations when I am supposed to be sick. It isn’t a big loss, anyways. Actually it’s better this way.”
“Don’t you like celebrating your birthday?”
“Not since my parents died. Those parties are just to show that I can afford them, that I am the lord of Locksley and people must respect me. The people who usually attends to these celebrations are not friends of mine. They come because they must, to show the sheriff their loyalty, or because they have the chance to eat for free. I don’t care for them and they don’t care for me.”
Marian turned her gaze to the fire in the fireplace, following the dance of the flames.
“That’s sad. Birthdays should be moments of joy. My father always gave me a rose when I woke up on my birthday day...”
Her eyes filled with tears suddenly, when she remembered that Sir Edward would never see another one of her birthdays.
She stood up, and turned her back to Guy, in a vain attempt to dry her tears before he could see her crying, but Gisborne stood up too, and took her in his arms, pulling her to his chest.
“He will always be there,” he whispered, lifting a hand to caress her hair, “his love will be there on your birthdays, he will be at your side every day of your life. I’m sure he is here now,” Guy glanced at Sir Edward’s ghost, who nodded gravely, approving his words, “and he will always protect you.”
“I miss him. It feels like there is an empty place in the world, a void that can’t be filled.”
Something in Guy’s voice made her lift her face to look at him, and she was surprised to see a deep sadness in his eyes. She understood that they were sharing the same sorrow.
“You miss your parents too.”
“Even after twenty years, the void is still there. Sometimes I just wish that I could talk to my mother, to ask for her advice, but...”
Marian touched his face, catching a tear with the tip of her finger, and Guy flinched, startled by her touch, or maybe he was just surprised to find out that he was crying after such a long time since his parents' death.
The girl hugged him, lifting her face to give him a kiss on his cheek, wishing to comfort him, and to get comforted as well, but at the last moment, something changed.
Instead of pressing her lips on his cheek, she found his lips, pulling him into a passionate kiss.
Guy froze for a moment, astonished, then he hugged her tighter, returning the kiss.
Still sitting at the table, Allan stared at them, so dumbfounded that he dropped the food he was eating.