Robin and Guy exchanged a quick glance before turning their attention to Marian. The girl looked very annoyed and ready to rebuke them.
“We weren’t fighting!” Robin said, trying to look more outraged than guilty.
Surprisingly, Gisborne nodded, agreeing with him.
“He’s right, we weren’t.”
Allan stared at them, surprised, but Marian wasn’t convinced.
“Why did you chain him to the wall, then?” She asked, and Robin couldn’t find a good answer.
“He was teaching me how to pick this lock,” Guy said, with a completely innocent look, “so we can open and close these manacles when we need to, without the sheriff knowing.”
Robin was quick to nod.
“Exactly,” he said, “You shouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions.”
Allan lifted his eyebrows in ironic surprise, while Robin took his dagger to show them how to open and close the lock.
“If you have an hairpin it will work even better.”
“You have a lot of practice with hairpins, don’t you?” Marian asked, and Robin grinned.
“Why, are you jealous?”
Marian glared at him, while Guy blushed a little.
“I have hairpins,” he said, awkwardly, nodding at a little box on the table, “over there. Take one of them.”
The girl walked to the table and opened the box, wondering why Guy should have hairpins in his room. When she opened the lid, she was even more surprised: the box was full of jeweled hairpins, trinkets, brooches, and even a small, feminine dagger, similar to the one she once used to hid in her hair. Like the one that her father used to escape from the dungeons the day he was killed.
That sudden memory hurt her deeply, but she hid her sorrow and grabbed a hairpin, wondering why Guy had so many jewels in his room.
“They were for you,” he said quietly, as if he had guessed her thoughts. “Gifts that I bought for you when we were betrothed, and that I never had the chance to give you. Actually I purchased some of them even after you left me at the altar.”
“Guy...” Marian looked at him, touched by his confession, while Allan was expecting Robin to react to his words attacking Gisborne, and he was ready to separate them in case they should begin to fight, but the outlaw just cleared his throat, even if the expression of his face was grim.
“Do you want me to teach you how to open this lock or do you prefer to stay chained to that wall?” Robin said to Guy, without looking at Marian. “Look what I do, then try yourself.”
After a few attempts, both Guy and Marian succeeded in picking the lock of the manacles.
Robin looked at them, and, for once uncertain of what to do, he glanced at Sir Edward.
The ghost smiled encouragingly at him.
“Robin, now you know that you can trust Gisborne. Please, forget your rivalry for now, and work together to keep Marian safe. Sir Guy, Robin, if you really love her, and I know that you both do, now it’s the time to prove it. Don’t think of your own happiness, but do your best to protect her, to give her the good life she deserves. Do you think you can do this for her?”
The two men looked at each other for a moment. They couldn’t answer to Sir Edward’s question, but they exchanged an imperceptible, although reluctant nod.
“I have to go now, before your useless guards wake up,” Robin said to Guy, “but remember: hurt her and you are dead.”
“I’d never hurt her. Hood, think about what I said. Make your choice.”
Then Robin was gone, and Marian and Allan stared at Guy, confused.
“I’m not sure of what just happened, Giz, but you two didn’t kill each other, so I can be contented.”
“What choice?” Marian asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Guy said, putting the manacles aside, and removing his shirt, “We don’t have much time, the sheriff will expect me to show up at work on time.”
He threw the shirt at Allan.
“Find a clean one identical to this one. They’re there, in that trunk. Marian, I’m afraid that you’ll have to keep your nightgown under the dress, unless you have another identical one, the sheriff mustn’t suspect that we could get free from the chain.”
Marian nodded, thinking that she could search for another one in her room later. She combed her hair while Guy finished washing up, and she looked at the burns on his skin, wondering how he got them. Only the sheriff could be so cruel to inflict wounds like those, even if their shape was so weird.
He must have some strange torture device, she thought, but how could he be so evil to hurt his most loyal man?
She was also curious to know what happened between Guy and Robin while she was away, because she couldn’t believe that Robin went away without any further discussion, just trusting to leave her with Guy.
You will have to give me a few explanations, she thought, looking at Guy, but she had no time to say it aloud, because Guy was ready to begin his work and they had to get chained together again.
She followed Gisborne, who was headed to the sheriff’s chambers at a fast pace, Allan in tow.
Now Guy didn’t look anymore like the kind, caring knight who comforted her, but he was serious, professional, hiding his emotions behind a neutral expression.
Even Allan wasn’t joking as usual, not daring to risk enraging the sheriff.
They entered the sheriff’s room, and Guy stopped a few paces from the door, impassive, while she covered her face with a little cry, and Allan tried not to laugh: Vaisey was lying in a bathtub, completely naked, a satisfied grin on his face.
“You are late Gisborne, what’s up? You didn’t sleep well? Lady Marian, how did you enjoy spending the night with Gizzy? Can we assume that you aren’t a maiden anymore, hm? It was about time I’d say, but you’re lucky, many spinsters never get bedded in their lives.”
“My lord!” Guy exclaimed, horrified, and Vaisey burst out in a laugh.
“Oh, Gisborne, now don’t start blathering about you respecting her, and some other idiocies like that! If you didn’t take advantage of my gift, you’re just a poor idiot. Now stop losing time, and get to work!”
Vaisey stood up, and the other three turned away, disgusted, while a young servant hurried with a towel to dry the sheriff.
“Pat, girl, don’t rub,” he said, irritably, then he wrapped a towel around his waist, “Now you can look, lady leper, you can stop faking to be shy. Or maybe you don’t like what you see? I should be offended, but I won’t because I have no interest in your pretty face. Neither of them.” He turned to Guy. “Gisborne, I expect you to do your job, show me that you are not hindered by your leper friend, or I’ll throw her into the dungeons. We have a free cell, now that the old fart became food for worms.”
Guy glanced at Marian, and he saw her become flushed with rage, but she kept quiet.
“What do you want me to do, my lord?” He asked, in a flat voice.
“Go to Clun, get the taxes, and if they don’t pay burn their houses. You can go, now.”
When they walked out of the sheriff’s room, Allan glanced at the faces of the other two, and decided that he didn’t want to be too close to them, at least for a while.
“Well, Giz, I think I’ll go saddling the horses...” He quickly said, then he hurried away.
Marian walked fast down the corridor, her head low, avoiding the curious glances of the servants, until she reached the door of the closest empty room. Only when she and Guy were alone, she allowed herself to burst out in tears.
“I hate him!” She sobbed. “I wish he was him to die and not my father! He’s a devil, a true devil!”
Guy held her in his arms, feeling guilty and ashamed.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Marian. I wish I could stop him from treating you like that… I wish I had the power to do something.”
Marian looked at him: Guy was really upset, his eyes were darker with rage and sorrow.
She lifted a hand to touch his cheek, with a sigh.
“It’s not your fault.”
“If he dares to hurt you, I’ll kill him,” Guy whispered, then he stopped, a memory suddenly coming to his mind.
The sheriff was kneeling to the floor, his dying sister in his arms, and then Davina said something: “Prince John has made the Sheriff a promise. If my brother should die an unnatural death, then the county of Nottingham and everything in it shall be obliterated.”
Guy frowned, confused. He remembered perfectly well that Vaisey’s sister was already dead when he had arrived, that day.
It’s Hood’s memory! He realized. She told this to Robin. And it must be true…
“No. I can’t kill him,” Guy said. “Nobody can. He has an agreement with Prince John, and Nottingham will be destroyed if he is killed!”
Marian dried her tears, looking at him.
“Then we’ll have to find another way to defeat him, but I guess that for now we must obey. Let’s go to Clun and collect those taxes, if we must.”
Marian wrapped her arms around Guy’s waist, leaning against his back.
He had proposed to ride on the wagon, but she refused and mounted behind him. It had been a little difficult to climb on the horse while chained, but on the wagon they would both have been exposed to the mocking glances of the guards and of the people.
She had already ridden like this when Guy had saved her from lord Winchester, and now, like then, she felt safe with him.
That day he had killed a man for her, he had returned her to the arms of her father…
Her eyes filled with tears remembering how relieved her father had been to see her coming back unharmed.
“Guy?” She called.
The knight turned his head towards her.
“Are you alright? Do you want me to slow down or to stop?”
“No. I want you to go faster. Could you put your horse at a gallop?”
“Are you sure?”
“Hold me tight, then.”
Guy ordered the guards to keep escorting the wagon to Clun, then he kicked the sides of his horse.
Marian fastened her hold on Guy’s waist, and she enjoyed the ride. Guy’s black stallion was fast and powerful, more than any other horse she had previously ridden, and it was the first time that she could experience all his unleashed energy.
The road was straight and clear, and Guy let the horse gallop at his full power, without holding him back.
It was like riding the wind, almost like flying.
Marian closed her eyes and she imagined that the road didn’t lead to Clun, but to some imaginary place, somewhere where there was no misery, no sorrow, no sheriff.
Then, too soon, Guy slowed the horse, and Marian came back to reality. She was breathless, as if she had been the one who galloped, and not the horse. She could feel that Guy was panting too, and suddenly she felt flushed, her heart beating too fast.
The knight turned his head to glance at her, smiling.
“Did you enjoy the ride, my lady?” He asked, his tone unexpectedly playful, and she found herself smiling back to him.
“It was incredible! I loved it!” She answered, surprised to feel tears in her eyes.
Guy gave a worried look at her, and he helped her to dismount.
“A little too much, maybe?” He asked, gently. “Shall we walk for a while?”
Marian nodded, looking around: she could see the huts of Clun at a distance, but the guards and Allan were still far behind, forced to follow the slow pace of the wagon.
Guy took the bridle of the horse with his free hand, and wrapped the other around her fingers. He had removed his glove before taking her hand, and Marian could feel the reassuring warmth of his skin. The chain clinked between them at every step, but she didn’t mind.
She thought that being chained to Guy wasn’t such a terrible punishment, after all.
When he was so kind and caring, she actually liked to be so close to him.
Maybe I like it more than I should.
She felt her cheeks becoming even more hot.
Guy sighed, and Marian noticed that he was looking at the village, sadly.
“Are you alright, Guy?”
“You won’t like what we are going to do. The sheriff sent us to Clun too early, usually their payment is due at the end of the month, they won’t be ready. And if they can’t pay, I’ll be forced to punish them. He knows that, and that’s why he sent us here today.” Guy sighed again, a dejected look in his eyes. “I’m tired of burning homes. So tired. A moment ago I wished that I could just keep galloping and never stop, I wished that I could take you away from this, that we could be free...”
Marian stopped walking, and she suddenly hugged him. She didn’t want to see him so sad and defeated, and she hated the sheriff even more.
“We won’t burn anything, today. We will find a solution, I’m sure that we can.”
Guy held her close, comforted and grateful for her words.
She was right, he thought. He was still feeling upset and confused after sharing Robin Hood’s mind, he felt as if he had lived another life in just a few minutes, but he could see from the memories of the outlaw that there was always a solution. Sometimes it was just difficult to find.
But he had Robin’s memories, so he could as well try to use them.
The outlaw was incredibly good at finding always new ways of tricking him and the sheriff, so maybe Guy could learn from his experience, he could try to think as Robin did.
It could work. I can do it.
“Thank you,” he said quietly, the trace of a smile in his voice, and Marian lifted her face to look at him, and her hand to brush a lock of hair from his cheek, with a gentle caress.
He kissed her, or maybe it was Marian who kissed him, they couldn’t say for sure, and, for a moment, they both forgot about the sheriff and his cruelty. For a moment they were free, miles and miles away from there, still galloping on the wind. Happy.
It was just a short, eternal moment.
Then Allan, the guards and the wagon got closer and reached them. Guy helped Marian to mount again, and the girl hid her face against his back to avoid that the others could notice how flushed she was.
Guy, instead, was more successful in keeping a straight expression, but she could hear his heart beating fast under her hands.
“To Clun,” he ordered, and the others followed his horse.