Marian ran into the courtyard, followed by Allan.
The King was arriving, taking his time to reach the gates of the town, but she couldn’t wait.
She passed through the broken gate, and she stopped in horror: Guy was lying to the ground, terribly still and pale, with his face covered in blood. Robin was kneeling next to him, holding him with care.
He’s dead. The King is coming, Robin wouldn’t stay here with Guy if he weren’t dead or dying.
Allan stopped at her side, and Marian glanced at him, as to ask for help, but the young man looked to be just as scared and worried as she was.
She was afraid to move and find out that he was really dead, and in that moment she realized that she couldn't stand such a pain, that her heart would surely break.
With a cry, she began to run, dropping on her knees at Guy’s side.
“Guy! Don’t dare to die, you idiot! If you got yourself killed, I’ll never forgive you!” She cried, beginning to sob. Robin looked at her, his look half sad and half amused.
“So you really fell in love with him, didn’t you?” He said, and the girl looked at him, startled.
She knew that she was meant to be in love with Robin, that she had always thought that she was going to marry him, but now all that mattered to her was that Guy could be dead and that, if he was, the whole world would look like a barren desert to her, a world turned to ash.
“I do! Forgive me Robin, I think I do!” She sobbed.
Robin took her hand, gently, and he placed it on the wad on Guy’s forehead.
“Well, take care of your husband, then. Probably he’ll need a few stitches, but he’s fine. He fainted like a girl, but he received no serious harm.”
Marian looked better at Guy, and she realized that Robin was right: his skin was warm, he was breathing steadily, and all the blood on his face came from that little cut on his forehead. She breathed a sigh of relief seeing that he was just asleep, then she glared at Robin, recalling his words.
“What do you mean that he fainted like a girl? Do you think that girls can’t be brave?!”
Robin glanced at the body of the dead servant, still lying where they had put her, covered by Guy’s cloak, and he turned back to Marian, serious.
“Today I had the demonstration that they can be as brave as any men. Without the women of Nottingham, probably you would have found us all dead.” Robin smiled, looking at Guy. “And he has been brave, today. Very. Like any girl.” Robin laughed and stood up. “Forgive me, now, I have to go and meet the King. By the way, how did you find him in time?”
Allan had been looking at the other three, astonished to see that Guy was alive, that Marian had eventually confessed her feelings for him, and that Robin accepted her words so easily, without getting mad at neither of them. Actually, he looked to have grown quite fond of Guy since the last time he had met him.
“Robin,” Allan said, seeing that Marian was too overwhelmed by her emotions to answer coherently to his question, “we had been very lucky, actually, but it was also thanks to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your pigeon. The one carrying a message. The king received it on the ship, while he was about to land, and so he knew that the sheriff and Prince John were plotting against him to take his throne. So, fearing an ambush, he landed in one of the ports in the north instead than in the south. He was traveling to reach London when we met him, and Marian managed to inform him about Nottingham.”
Robin thought that it was almost a miracle and that they were all very lucky to be alive, then he walked away, reaching King Richard. He had to talk with him, to explain what happened to the sheriff and why he had been outlawed.
He sighed, thinking of Marian, but he had learned to understand when a battle was lost, and Robin knew that he had been defeated. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt as much as he had expected.
Guy woke up feeling a wet touch on his face.
“Marian?” He mumbled, before opening his eyes, and he heard a soft chuckle.
“That girl can be sure of your love!” Matilda said, and Guy looked at the healer. “Well, you’re awake at last.”
Gisborne looked around: he was in his room at the castle, lying in his bed. Somebody had undressed him while he was unconscious, he was wearing a warm, clean nightgown, and he had a bandage on his head.
The healer finished cleaning his face from the last traces of blood, and she smiled.
“You’ve been wounded while you and Robin were defending the castle. I’ve heard that you’ve both been heroic, I didn’t expect it from you.”
“Well, thank you so much,” Guy said, ironically.
“Come on, don’t be touchy, now. Just be glad that you survived, and that lady Marian cares so much for you.”
“Marian? Is she here?!”
“She is, and I had to fight to send her out of the room so I could examine and treat you. I think that she’s just out of the door, anxiously waiting to see you. I heard that she got quite a scare in seeing you lying to the ground, full of blood. Hey! What are you doing?” The healer exclaimed, seeing that Guy was trying to get up from bed.
“I need to see her!”
Matilda stopped him, putting her hand on his shoulders and pushing him, so that he was forced to lie down again.
“Not so fast, my boy. You will see her, but you won’t get up yet. That wound is just a scratch, but it bled a lot, and you overexerted yourself. Stay there and I’ll let her in.”
Matilda opened the door, and Marian rushed into the room. She looked at Guy, who was sitting in bed and looking at her, and she spoke to Matilda, her voice choked with emotion.
“Don’t go too far, because you might need to stitch him again. I think I’m going to kill him.”
Matilda chuckled and she left them alone.
“Marian...” Guy called her, and the girl rushed near the bed, furious.
“You… You… Utter fool! Leaving in the night, like a thief! Running away from us... to get killed!”
Gisborne stared at her, surprised to see tears in her eyes, and he smiled at her, softly.
“I’m here. Alive.”
The girl sat on the edge of the bed, grabbing the fabric of his nightgown with a hand, and punching his shoulder with the other.
“Alive by miracle, you idiot! If you had died, I… I...”
Her voice broke, and she buried her face in his chest, bursting into a fit of sobs.
Guy took her in his arms, trying to comfort her, amazed to realize that she was crying for him.
“Marian? Please don’t cry… It’s all right. I had to come back, I couldn’t live with myself if I had ran away leaving everyone else to die, but I am alive, most of the inhabitants of Nottingham survived, and Robin is unscathed too, we can thank God for this. God… and the King.”
Guy blushed to think that the king whom he had almost killed now had saved his life, and he averted his eyes from her, in shame.
Marian sniffled, snuggling against his chest to find comfort in the warmth of his body. She was calmer now that she could hug him, now that she could hear his heartbeat, steady and strong.
After a while she parted a little from him, to lift her head and search for his gaze.
“Never run away from me again. Never. Promise that you won’t.”
Gisborne caressed her face, tenderly, a sad look in his eyes.
“You can’t ask me to stay when our marriage will be nullified, and you will marry Robin. He… he is a friend now, and I won’t resent him, nor you. But I think that I’ll need some time to accept that I’m going to lose you. I can’t force you to love me, but please, let me go.”
“No. I forbid it, you don’t have to go away. Now promise.”
“Marian, please. It would be a torture for me to stay here if you don’t love me. I can’t...”
Marian put her hands at the sides of his face, to force him to look at her.
“Do you love me?” She asked, serious.
“I will always love you, Marian.”
“Guy!” She interrupted him. “Are you dumb or what?!”
“Do I really have to say it? I’m asking you to stay because I love you too, you idiot!”
He stared at her, in complete shock, and Marian didn’t know if she should laugh or hit him.
She shook her head with a sigh.
“Really.” She confirmed, and she kissed him.
A month later.
Robin yawned, looking at the pile of parchments piled on the table. A soft knock at the door announced the entrance of Gisborne, and Robin noticed with dismay that the knight was carrying another bunch of scrolls.
“My lord sheriff,” Guy greeted him, standing in front of the table and dropping the parchments on it.
“Oh, stop it, Gisborne. Don’t go all formal with me now. I know that you do it just to annoy me.”
“Come on, Robin, I know that you love having me at your orders.”
“Be careful or I could order you to clean the stables.”
“It would still be better than what Vaisey ordered me to do. And then again it might be preferable than helping you with this stuff.” Guy gestured at the table, and Robin sighed.
“I never thought that there would be so much paperwork when I accepted to be the new sheriff.”
“You wouldn’t have refused anyways, since it was the king asking.”
“You didn’t refuse to be my Master of Arms, either.”
“Say what, Hood, I’m used to this job. And now that you got Locksley back, I need to live at the castle.”
“Just until Knighton Hall is rebuilt.”
“I’m trying to have it done exactly as it was. Your man, Will, is a good carpenter, he’s doing a good job.”
“Told you. Now let’s get to work, shall we?”
Guy sat at the table with a sigh, and he took a parchment.
“You said that we need to lower the taxes on plowing, but then we won’t have the funds we need to strengthen the walls, and you know that it’s necessary. Maybe we should raise a little the tax on the mills, instead?”
“No way. The mills can’t be taxed more than they already are.”
“But you must get money from the people. I know that you want to help them all, but you can’t hope to abolish taxes at all.”
“I know, I know,” Robin sighed. “Sir Edward?”
The ghost appeared.
“Robin, someday you’ll have to do without my advice. I taught you everything I could about my experience as sheriff, but I won’t stay here forever. I think that it’s time for me to move beyond.”
Guy looked at him, sadly.
“I will miss you, Sir Edward. I wish that I had met you before Vaisey, my life would have been so different...”
“Someday we will meet again, I’m sure of it. If I can find them, I’ll tell your parents that they can be proud of you.”
Gisborne looked at the ghost for a moment, then he put the roll of parchment back on the table.
“This can wait, Hood. We will find a solution, I’m sure, but now I think that it’s time for Marian to know the truth.”
“Are you going to tell her that you can see Sir Edward’s ghost? She’ll think that you are mad.”
“I have an idea. Come.”
Somebody knocked at the door, and Marian appeared on the threshold.
“Hi Robin, sorry to disturb you, but I need Guy. Will wants to talk to you about the manor.”
“He can wait,” Guy said, “come inside and close the door. I was about to come to search for you: there’s something I need to tell you.”
The girl looked at him, worried.
“It’s hard to explain, but I think that I could show you. Give me your hand,” Guy said, taking her fingers, then he turned to a empty corner of the room, “and you take my other hand.”
Marian frowned, seeing that Guy was holding his hand to the empty air.
“Guy? Who are you talking to?”
“I can’t Sir Guy, if I touch you, you’ll be ill again!” Edward said.
“I’m not sure of it. Last time you were angered, I think that’s what had hurt me. Allan sat trough you, and he didn’t even notice. And even if I should be ill again, I don’t care. It’s worth the risk. She needs to know.”
“Guy? Now you are worrying me...” Marian said, seeing that Gisborne was trying to grab something at his side, then she let out a little cry when she felt a tingling sensation where Guy was touching her. She lifted her gaze on him, and she widened her eyes in surprise: her father was standing at Guy’s side and Gisborne was grabbing the wrist of the ghost.
Her eyes filled with tears.
“Father, it’s really you? Am I dreaming?”
“No you are not,” Robin answered for him. “We’ll explain everything later.”
Sir Edward gently freed himself from Guy’s hold. Gisborne swayed a little, and he leaned on the table for support.
“Are you alright, Sir Guy?”
“A little dizzy, but not ill like the other time,” Guy answered, then he glanced at Marian. “Can you still see him, now?”
The girl nodded, still too shocked to reply.
“Good. Hood, let’s go, they need to talk. And I think I need to lie down for a moment.”
Robin hurried to stand up, and he walked at Gisborne’s side to support the knight and help him out of the room. On the threshold, they both stopped to look at the ghost for a last time.
“Farewell, Sir Edward,” Robin said, with a little bow.
The ghost smiled at them.
“Goodbye Robin. Sir Guy, I can’t express how grateful I am. You fulfilled your promise: you protected her, you comforted her, you love her, and you are making her happy, and now you are giving us the chance to talk for a last time. Thank you, I would be proud to have a son like you.”
“It has been a honor, my lord.” Guy put a hand on his heart, and he and Robin went out of the room.
Allan walked into the porch, and he noticed Guy and Robin sitting on the stone bench where he often liked to doze when the weather was warm enough. Actually, Robin was sitting, while Guy was stretched on his back, with his eyes closed.
“What happened to him?” Allan asked, a little worried.
“He touched Sir Edward’s ghost to allow Marian to see him.”
Allan touched Guy’s hand, and he was relieved to feel that it was warm.
“How are you feeling, Giz?”
“Fine. Just a little tired.”
“Good,” he said, dropping himself on the bench near Robin. “So now she knows. Do you think that she’ll be mad at you for keeping the secret till now?”
Guy opened his eyes to glance a Robin, and they both let out an identical little sigh.
“Guess so,” Robin said, “but she’ll forgive us. She loves him, and well, she can’t be mad at the Sheriff of Nottingham, can she?”
A Year Later
The hall of the castle was full of guests, who had come to celebrate the birth of Sir Guy of Gisborne and Lady Marian’s first son, Edward. Robin held the child in his arms for a while, smiling, then he gave him back to Marian.
“You’re lucky, he looks more like you than like his father.”
“Very funny, Hood,” Guy said, but he smiled at his friend, offering him another cup of wine.
“At least you aren’t going to abandon this one in the woods, are you Giz?” Allan said, and Marian glared at him, while Guy blushed.
“Of course I won’t! And I apologized to Annie as well. She agreed to avoid trying to kill me on sight, when I guaranteed that I’ll provide for Seth.”
Robin grinned, lifting his cup again in another toast..
“I guess that I’ll have to ask Will to make a toy bow for little Edward too, as he did for Seth a few years ago.”
Guy rolled his eyes.
“I hope that my son won’t become as cheeky as you. I’m afraid you’ll be a bad example for him.”
Robin put an arm around his neck, and pulled him in a sort of hug.
“Come on, Gisborne, don’t disrespect your sheriff! And then I know that you love me.”
“Get off me, Hood!” Guy said, pushing him away, but they lost their balance, and they both crashed to the floor, laughing.
Marian shook her head at them, lulling the baby in her arms.
“Boys, I think you both need to stop drinking and to get some fresh air before you disgrace yourselves in front of the other nobles.”
Guy gave her a repentant smile, and he stood up, offering a hand to Robin to help him to his feet.
“I guess that Marian is right. Come?”
Robin followed him, muttering that it wasn’t right that the Sheriff was being sent out of his own castle.
They went outside, in the courtyard, and they sat on the bench, under the tree.
Gisborne stared at the full moon as he spoke, without looking at Robin.
“You’re a better man that I’d ever be, Hood.”
“I know,” Robin said, with a grin, “no need to remind it to me.”
“I’m serious, Robin.”
“I think that you’re drunk, but let’s hear: why should I be a better man than you?”
“You should hate me. I took the woman you loved, and now we have a child. It could have been your son… I don’t know if I could stand it, but you do, and you keep being the best friend I ever had.”
Robin put a hand on his shoulder, smiling.
“Yes, you’re drunk and I’m sure that tomorrow you’ll deny saying those words. But it doesn’t matter. The truth is that I’m happy for you. Losing Marian had been painful in the beginning, but not as much as it should have been. She’s happy with you, everyone can see it, I don’t know if I would have been able to give her the same happiness.”
“Don’t you feel lonely? You should have a family too.”
Robin shook his head.
“The life of a Sheriff is too busy to feel lonely. And I have a family: you, Marian, the gang...” He realized that he was talking to himself because Gisborne had fallen asleep, leaning on his shoulder.
Robin smiled, then he thought that a nap could be a good idea for him too, and he closed his eyes, still smiling.
The captain of the guards came to wake them up at dawn.
“My lord sheriff?” The man called, hesitant. “Sir Guy? I’m sorry to disturb you, but your presence is needed.”
Robin stood up, yawning. He felt sore, his head ached and he was a little ashamed for getting drunk. A glance at Gisborne revealed that the knight wasn’t feeling much better.
“An unexpected guest arrived at the castle, my lord. She asked to see the sheriff.”
“It’s a lady from Shrewsbury, a widow.”
“Did she say what she wants from the Sheriff of Nottingham?”
“No, my lord.”
“I’m coming. Gisborne?”
Guy stretched his back.
“Go ahead, I’ll reach you in a moment. I need to see Marian: she’ll surely reproach us for getting drunk, I must at least let her know that I am still alive and that I was with you, or there will be hell to pay.”
“See? The advantages of freedom. Go, I’ll wait for you in the hall.”
Robin arrived into the great hall and he looked down from the balcony to look at the woman who was sitting in front of the fire with two little girls huddled at her sides: she had long, dark curly hair, and a black dress that made her skin look very pale. The girls were very young and they seemed to be afraid, grabbing their mother’s gown with their tiny hands.
Robin walked down the stairs to reach them.
“Good morning, my lady. How can I be of service to you?”
The woman looked at him, unconsciously wrinkling her nose a little, and Robin thought that maybe he should have followed Gisborne’s example and make her wait for a little time to make himself a little more presentable.
“Are you the Sheriff?”
“In the flesh. And you are?”
“Lady Thornton. My husband died recently.”
The woman’s face hardened.
“He deserves to rot in hell. And his family isn’t any better. As soon as he died, they sent us away, taking our home and lands and saying that we have no rights over them because I didn’t have a male heir.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that I don’t have a solution for your troubles. Shrewsbury is not in Nottingham’s County, I have no authority there.”
“I don’t want those stinking lands back, nor going back to that horrible place ever again.”
Robin looked at her, puzzled, but intrigued: she was a handsome woman and he couldn’t help thinking that she reminded him of somebody he knew.
Who? Marian maybe? For sure she’s spirited like her.
“What can I do for you, then?”
“I have a brother in Nottingham, you can help me to contact him. I’m not sure if I really want to see him, he ruined my life giving me to a cruel husband, and then he just disappeared for many years. Last year, though, I go a letter from him. I didn’t know what to think, and I wondered why he wanted to get in touch with me all of a sudden. I never replied, but now I thought that I could check if he is really as sorry as he claimed to be in the letter, and if he is willing to give us his protection.”
“This is something I can do.” He looked up at the balcony, noticing that Guy had just entered the hall, now looking completely sober and professional, and a bit chastened too. “Oh, Gisborne, come to meet Lady Thornton, she needs our help to find her infamous brother.”
Guy stared at the woman, incredulous, and the lady stood up to look at him.
“Isabella!” Guy blurted, not sure if he was more happy or worried to see her.
Isabella smiled at Robin.
“Well, you are efficient, Sheriff: it seems that you just found my brother. Guy, I think that we need to talk.”
Robin nodded at her, recovering from his surprise.
“Lady Thornton, I have to see to my duties, now, but I hope that we can talk again later. You and your children will be my guests at the castle until you find a better accommodation.”
They looked at each other for a moment, then Isabella averted her eyes, blushing a little, while Robin felt his heart beating a little faster. He turned and went up the stairs while Guy was coming down, meeting him halfway.
Robin put a hand on Guy’s shoulder.
“Don’t be a stubborn idiot, just apologize to her. She’s your sister, those are your nieces, they are family,” Robin whispered to him, “you’ve been apart for too much, now try to keep them close. And by the way, I was right, as always.”
“She’s still much nicer than you,” he answered, grinning.