Guy went to search for Allan, while Marian began gathering all the women of the castle to give them instructions in case of an evacuation. Her task was difficult because she had to get them ready to leave with no delays, but she had to be careful to avoid alarming them too much. However, Guy was sure that she could do it.
He found Allan who was talking with Sir Jasper, and he inwardly sighed: he had to inform Allan of the sheriff’s death, but of course he couldn’t do it with Prince John’s envoy there.
“What are you doing here? Didn’t I give you a job to do?” He asked, harshly.
“You did, I’m on it.”
Allan left, and Jasper grinned.
“Your boy really wants to save you.”
“This isn’t about me.”
“Exactly. I dislike you, but you don’t have to fear for your life. As a Black Knight, you and your family will be allowed to leave the town unharmed.”
Guy was about to say that he had no family, but Sir Edward appeared, lifting a finger to warn him.
“Allan and Marian are coming with me,” Guy said, and Jasper lifted an eyebrow.
“I said family, not friends.”
“Allan is my half brother,” Guy lied, “and Marian was my betrothed once, I have reasons to hope...”
“Reasons to hope? That woman can leave with you only if you are married, and why I should believe that that boy is your brother? No one ever mentioned it.”
“Half brother. A foolish error of my father with a servant, Allan doesn’t even know about it.”
“He has no resemblance with you.”
Sir Edward pointed at his eyes, and Guy understood his suggestion.
“What about his eyes? They’re blue, just like mine. And if he weren’t my half brother, I’d never keep one like him working for me. My father was a leper, when he was banished from our village, he made me promise that I would take care of my younger brother. I wish that he had been faithful to my mother, but I can’t ignore the bonds of blood.”
Forgive me, father, I have to lie about you to save Allan. It’s for a greater good...
Jasper shrugged as if he didn’t care.
“Very well, take the boy if you wish, but if you want to take the girl with you, you’ll have to be married.”
“Well, I can’t marry her between now and sunset, can I?!”
“Why not? She’s hardly going to say no, is she?”
Robin stopped his horse near the walls of Nottingham. His friends were close to him, but they all looked upset while they watched the army that was slowly surrounding the town.
“Master, you can’t do it, I beg you!” Much pleaded, distressed, “It’s foolish! A suicide!”
“It’s funny, Much: Gisborne used your same words...” Robin said, and his friend shook his head.
“No, Master! That’s not funny at all! For once Gisborne is right, you should listen to him! You should listen to us!”
“I’m not going to abandon those people, Much. If I can do something to protect them, I’m ready to die for them.”
“You can’t do it, Robin!” Little John growled. “If you die, who’s going to help the poor?!”
“You will do it.” Robin pointed at him, then at Will, Djaq and Much. “And you, you and you. You are Robin Hood, you can keep fighting our fight even without me.”
“I’m coming with you, no matter what you say, Master!” Much said. “If you die, I’ll die too of heartbreak, so I can as well die while fighting at your side.”
“Robin, I will come too.” Little John said, gruffly, but Robin shook his head.
“No. You must stay away from the town. If we can evacuate Nottingham, the people will need help to survive and to have a fresh start, and, even if everything is lost, I want you all to remember us, to talk about our fight and give hope to the people, so that this could never happen again. I need you to survive: if you keep my memory alive, Robin Hood will never die.”
The outlaws understood that they couldn’t make him change his mind, and in turn they hugged him.
“I’m still coming with you,” Much said, stubbornly, and Robin nodded, moved.
“Thank you, my friend. We shared so many dangers during war, we’ll face this together too.”
They said goodbye to their friends, then Robin and Much hurried to sneak into the town before the army completely surrounded it.
“You have to marry her.”
Guy stared at the ghost, and he sighed.
“It’s my greatest wish, but she’ll never agree.”
“If you don’t ask, of course she won’t.”
“She loves Robin Hood. She would never marry me. You’ve seen what happened the last time I tried.”
Sir Edward scoffed.
“What? The town is going to be destroyed and you are afraid to get punched again? And why are you so sure that she’ll refuse?”
“You know your daughter. She wouldn't marry me just to save her life.”
The ghost rolled his eyes.
“She didn’t seem to dislike you, just a while ago. And yesterday... And the other day... You don’t kiss someone that you don’t like.”
Guy stared at him, in disbelief.
“What? Are you keeping a list of all the times we kissed?”
“Of course I did! I might be dead, but I’m still her father.”
“However, she will never accept.”
“Who? Accept what, Giz?” Allan asked, reaching him in the hall and looking around. “Were you talking with… him?”
Guy nodded, and Allan gave a better look at him.
“Are you alright? You look like you’ve been in hell and came back.”
“The sheriff is dead and Nottingham is doomed, but we must keep it a secret,” Guy said, in a flat tone, and Allan stared at him.
“You are safe, your life will be spared because I’m a Black Knight and my family will be free to leave the town before it’s destroyed.”
Allan frowned, really worried now.
“Giz? What are you saying? Have you gone mad?”
“It’s true, Jasper told me. It’s part of the agreement with Prince John: Black Knights have protection from any harm.”
“So are you going to leave?”
“If there’s no hope I will, but I will take you with me.”
Allan sat on a chair, in front of Gisborne.
“That’s nice of you, Giz, but I’m not part of your family. They won’t let me leave.”
“I told Sir Jasper that you’re my half brother.”
“What?! And did he believe you?!”
“I’m not sure, but he agreed to let me take you with me.”
Allan lifted his eyebrows, impressed.
“Shall I have to call you brother, now?”
“I told him that you don’t know about it, that your mother was one of the servants at our manor.”
“I didn’t think that you could lie so well, Giz.”
“I did neither.”
“What about Marian? Did you tell him that she’s your sister? It wouldn’t be very believable, I’m afraid.”
Guy didn’t answer, and he just sighed.
“What?” Allan asked.
“I can save her only if she’s family. And to be family, she’ll have to marry me before sunset.”
“Why aren’t you asking her, then?” He asked, unaware that Sir Edward was nodding in approval.
“That’s what I keep telling you, Sir Guy, at least ask her.”
“Asking me what?”
Allan and Guy turned to look at the balcony, startled, and they saw Marian, looking down at them.
The girl went down the stairs, looking at Guy and wondering why he looked so embarrassed.
Allan opened his mouth to answer, but Guy silenced him with a glare.
Marian gave them a questioning look, but she didn’t ask for an explanation, instead she turned to Guy, a grave expression on her face.
“I talked to Sir Jasper, to ask him to allow at least women and children to leave...” She said, and Allan and Guy looked at her.
“Did he accept?”
“No. He said that the best examples are written in blood.” Marian’s voice broke a little. “What are we going to do?”
Allan looked at her.
“Well, you could marry Giz.”
“Allan!” Guy snarled, while Marian stared at them without understanding what he meant.
“We should focus on the situation of Nottingham, now. This has nothing to do with it.”
Guy glanced at her, shyly, and he couldn’t help thinking that at least she didn’t immediately say no.
“Actually, it does,” Allan explained, “Sir Jasper will let Guy and his family go away from the town. If you marry him, you’ll become his family, you’ll be safe.”
“Are you going to abandon the people Nottingham?” She asked, and Guy could feel a vein of contempt in her voice.
“I...” Gisborne began, and stopped, not knowing what to say.
“Would it change anything to them if he stays and dies too?” Allan intervened. “He would be an idiot to give up this chance, and you’ll be an idiot if you don’t take it as well!”
“We can’t leave people here to die! There are women, children, innocent men who don’t deserve to be killed!” Marian shook her head, disappointed and hurt.
Guy was silent, his face pained and sad, but Allan wasn’t going to relent.
“Is death better, then? Do you prefer to die than marrying him?!”
Marian opened her mouth to answer, but she didn’t say anything.
She couldn’t answer that she would marry Guy just to save her life, but she realized that if she said that she preferred to die than marrying him, she would break his heart and he didn’t deserve it.
“That’s an interesting question,” said a voice from the door, and they all turned to stare at Robin.
The outlaw was leaning on the door jamb, an unintelligible expression on his face.
“Hood! You came back!” Guy stood up, surprised. “You are a utter fool!” He walked a few steps towards him, hopeful. “Or maybe you have a plan?”
Robin looked at him, fighting with his own conscience, then he sighed, taking a decision.
“I have one, now.”
He went closer to Guy, and the knight looked at him, worried.
Robin will never let me marry her, even if she should agree. And she won’t.
The outlaw grabbed Guy’s wrist, and Gisborne flinched, but Robin didn’t let him go. Instead, he grabbed Marian’s hand as well, and he joined them.
“You two will have to get married. That’s the plan.”
“What?!” Guy blurted, not sure that he had understood well. But Marian and Allan were equally surprised, and even Hood’s servant, who had followed him in the hall, was staring at them, open mouthed.
“The army is surrounding Nottingham, and there’s no way that we could evacuate the town without them noticing. If you have a chance to get out, you should take it, even if that means marrying Gisborne.”
“Marian,” Guy said, in a somber tone, “a marriage contracted in this situation could be easily annulled. I will respect your choices, but please, let me save your life. Marry me, and live.”
“We can’t abandon the people!”
“They won’t be abandoned, I will stay here and we’ll hold the castle until we can find a solution,” Robin said, with a cheeky smile on his face, “because I’m sure that we will find a solution. If the three of you can get out of the castle, it could be useful: Much and I will work from the inside, and you will work from the outside. If there is a chance to save everyone, we’ll find it.”
“What if there isn’t?” Guy asked, concerned.
“Well then, three lives spared will be better than no one at all, don’t you think?”
Marian looked at them, trying to think clearly. She couldn’t believe that Robin was asking her to marry Guy, and that Guy was giving her the choice to nullify the marriage, in case she should accept to marry him.
Both the men had surprised her, and now she didn’t know what to do.
Refusing to marry Guy, would probably kill all of them. She didn’t know if Guy would accept to leave Nottingham without her, and if he should choose to stay and die at her side, even Allan would be condemned too.
But how could she run away, leaving everyone else to die?
We have to stop that army, but Sir Jasper won’t listen to any reason. I have to think. There must be a way to save everyone…
Then a faint idea began to form in her mind: Sir Jasper wouldn’t listen, but maybe somebody else would...
“There could be a chance!” She exclaimed suddenly, and the four men stared at her.
“Do you have a plan?!” Guy asked, hopeful, and she was amazed to see how much trust he had in her.
“It’s just a possibility: it could be useless. If Sir Jasper won’t stop the army, maybe Prince John would, if we could talk to him. We could explain him what happened, that the death of the sheriff was an accident, and maybe, if we can offer him something that he wants, we could find an agreement with him.”
“He wants to usurp King Richard’s throne!” Robin exclaimed, horrified.
“The king is away, but the people of Nottingham are here, and they are going to die if we don’t do something,” Guy said, supporting Marian’s idea. “I don’t care about who sits on the throne, but it doesn’t matter: making a deal with Prince John doesn’t mean that he’ll become king anytime soon. We just have to find something that he wants, and offer it to him in exchange for the safety of Nottingham. Probably gold, a lot of gold, could do.”
Robin thought about it for a moment, glancing at Sir Edward’s ghost for some advice.
“It could work, Robin. The prince will need money to finance his plots, if Sir Guy and Marian offer him the means to hire mercenaries or buy new alliances, he could agree to spare the town. If he thinks that he can get a bigger advantage, he might disregard the agreement he had with Vaisey. Then, if you are afraid that it could be a real menace for King Richard, you could always rob him, take the gold back.”
Robin nodded at Guy.
“I’ll tell you where I hid the gold that we took from the sheriff in the past. My friends won’t like it, but I’ll write a message for them and they will help you.”
“And I’ll take all the money that we have at the castle, and my personal belongings in Locksley. It should be enough,” Guy added.
“Then we have a plan:” Robin said to Guy, with a grin, “you and Marian will get married, get out of the castle and persuade Prince John to withdraw the army. In the meanwhile we’ll hold the castle.”
Marian hesitated, uncertain. She wasn’t sure that the plan would work, and she didn’t like the idea of being forced into a marriage, but it was the only chance they had, so she had to get along with it.
She gave a little smile at Guy, who was looking equally dubious and worried.
“Yes,” she said.
The knight lifted his head to look at her.
“Yes, I will marry you.”
Guy was alone in his lodgings, feeling like a fool.
He knew perfectly well that their marriage was going to be just a fake, a ruse to force Jasper to let him take Marian out of Nottingham, but he couldn’t help feeling nervous, exactly like he had been the first time he had tried to marry Marian.
He still couldn’t believe that the girl had agreed, he had been sure that she would have willfully insisted to stay in Nottingham to fight at the side of the people and die with them.
Maybe she really believed that they could persuade Prince John? Guy wasn’t so sure of it, he wasn’t sure that the prince was going to listen to their plea, but he hid his doubts and completely supported Marian’s idea because the most important thing to him was to save her life.
Somebody knocked at the door, startling him.
“Come in!” Guy said, and he was surprised to see Robin entering the room and closing the door at his back.
Gisborne lowered his gaze, feeling guilty.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“The list would be too long, but right now I’m sorry for all this. She should be marrying you, I’m not the man she loves.”
Robin looked at him for a moment, studying the expression of his face.
“Maybe. But you still love her, don’t you?”
“I can’t help. Even if it’s wrong, even if she’ll never be mine, even if it will destroy me, I’ll love her forever. But I think that you’re not here to talk about my feelings, are you?”
“You’re wrong. That’s exactly why I am here.”
“What do you mean?”
This time it was Robin who averted his eyes. He looked different than usual: uncertain, reluctant, sad.
“This is hard for me, Gisborne. I would never agree, if I hadn’t seen what’s in your heart. I would never have trusted you with her. I want to be sure that you can give her a good life, that you’ll make her happy.”
“What’s the point of that? When all this is over, she’ll come back to you. When she does, I won’t try to stop her, don’t worry. I’ve learned that I could never keep her in a cage. I love her, but I must accept that she needs to be free. She is the one who will decide, and I’m sure that she’s going to choose you.”
Robin put a hand on his shoulder, with a sad smile.
“Not everything is a choice, my friend.”
Guy widened his eyes at his touch, but was even more surprised at his choice of words.
“If she wants you, I won’t force her to stay with me.”
“She can’t stay with a dead man, can she?”
Guy understood what he meant, and he shook his head.
“Don’t be an idiot, Hood, you’re not going to die. You always find a way to survive. Now you just have to hold the town until we are back with Prince John’s agreement. We will get it, I’m sure. Maybe we wouldn’t if it were just me to ask for it, but Marian can persuade him, I know.”
Robin went to the window and looked out.
“Look at that army, Guy. You will need time to get to London and see the prince, a few days at least. We won’t be able to hold the town for such a long time. Not against so many soldiers.”
“Are you saying that Marian’s plan won’t work?! That it will be useless to try?!”
Robin turned and put both his hands on Guy’s shoulders, searching his gaze.
“It won’t be useless because it will take her out of the city, to safety. I won’t give up so easily, I will try to hold the town, praying that you can go to London and back before we are all dead, but know that I wouldn’t blame you or Marian if we don’t succeed. Don’t let her feel guilty, because I know perfectly well that it’s just a desperate attempt, with very few hopes of success. Now go, marry her, and save her life, I entrust her to you.”
“Hood...” Guy closed his eyes for a moment, to collect himself and hide his emotion. He pointed a finger at Robin, menacingly. “Listen to me, Hood! Don’t dare to die. I will go to London and I will be back to stop the army, or I’ll find another way to save Nottingham, but be sure that I will come back. I expect to find you and the town still in one piece. You entrusted me with Marian, but I am leaving you a whole town, don’t disappoint me.”
Robin grinned, then he nodded at the door.
“Go now, or the bride will think that you abandoned her at the altar.”
Guy touched the little scar on his cheekbone, with an ironic smile.
“And I guess that she’ll want to keep the privilege of doing so.”