Marian opened her eyes, and she sat up in bed, stretching her back and yawning.
She heard a little thud on the closed shutters of her window, and she realized that it had been a sound like that to wake her up.
She smiled, amused because she knew perfectly well what it was.
However, she didn’t immediately run to open the window, but she took her time to get ready and to dress. Only after that, she opened the shutters, spotting immediately the trembling figure of Robin of Locksley, her betrothed, ready to throw another pebble at her window.
“It was about time!” He complained, but there was a laughter in his eyes, “I’m freezing out here!”
“You wouldn’t freeze if you came to see me knocking at the door and waiting for me in the hall by the fireplace, as any normal people would do.”
Robin looked at her, pretending to be offended.
“Do I look like common people to you?!”
“No, of course not. You are the most awesome archer in the whole county. And even the most foolish one!” She added, laughing.
Robin gave her a hurt look, and Marian smiled at him.
“Don’t be touchy, now. I wouldn’t marry anyone else, never doubt this.”
Robin smiled, and he began climbing the side of the manor to reach her window. He tried to kiss her, but she put a finger on his lips.
“What did you do to deserve it?” She asked playfully, and Robin looked at her with a sigh.
“Come on, Marian, I need a kiss. I just had the most awful nightmare I ever had in my whole life. I come here searching for some comfort.”
“Did you miss the target during an archery contest and everyone laughed at you?”
Robin sat on the windowsill with another sigh.
“No, it was way, way, way worse. It looked so real, and it was terrifying because of it. It seemed a possible thing, but everything was horrible.”
Marian stepped aside to let him in, nodding at him to sit in front of the fireplace. It wasn’t the proper thing to do, and she knew it, but even if her father should find Robin in her room, he would understand.
I’m so lucky to have a father who loves and trusts me so much.
She gave a blanket to Robin, and she sat in the other chair
“Tell me what happened in your dream.”
“It began when we were children: my father and Ghislaine never got married, but they died in the fire of our manor and the people of the village banished Guy and Isabella from the village because they blamed them for the fire, while I had the responsibility of being lord of the manor even if I was just a child...”
“Oh, that’s horrible! No wonder that you came here so early in the morning.”
“It was scary to feel so lonely. I lost everyone I ever cared for, and it felt so real. You know that when we were younger Guy and I didn’t get along so well, but in the dream I hated him because I thought that it was his fault if my father died...”
Marian took his hand.
“Come on, Robin, it’s impossible. You two are always bickering, but everyone can see that you couldn’t love each other more if you really were brothers. You couldn’t hate Guy.”
“But I did, and that’s only the beginning of the nightmare. Archer was lost, our parents never got to take him back home with us. Can you imagine that? Our little brother lost in the world, forced to grow up too early and to become a knave to survive. And Isabella… In my dream Guy sold her to a husband when she was just thirteen years old because they were both starving, begging in the streets of France!”
“Isabella? She was so shy when she was little, I couldn’t imagine her married at thirteen. And Guy marrying her off to a stranger? Come on, Robin, it’s really a dream. When last year that young noble from Shrewsbury tried to woo her, Guy scared him to death.”
Robin snorted, crossing his arms in front of him.
“Not just Guy. I sent him running too, and Archer hid a few frogs and leeches in his carriage. That man was an idiot, he had no respect for our sister!”
Marian burst out in a laughter.
“Poor Isabella, she will never marry if she waits to find somebody who could be liked by all of her brothers. You’re a jealous bunch, aren’t you?”
Robin blushed a little.
“We just want to protect her. And after this nightmare I know that it’s just right.”
“So, what happened next?”
“I left to go to war. I followed the King in the Holy Land.”
Marian’s expression darkened. She knew that Robin had really considered the idea of going to war to conquer glory and come back as a hero. She couldn’t imagine how heartbroken she would have been if he had decided to break their betrothal to leave and go risking his life in a far away land.
“Yes, now it looks like a nightmare,” she said, coldly.
Robin took her hand, and pressed his lips on it.
“I won’t go, Marian, I promised.”
“But you wanted to.”
“Not anymore. Not after what I’ve seen in the dream.”
“Have you seen the war?”
“The bloodshed... I killed, Marian, I killed people just because they were fighting in a different army than ours, but they were still people like us, with hopes, dreams, families… My hands were dirty with too much blood and I kept having nightmares about it. It’s strange, isn’t it? To dream of having nightmares… But if this is war, I don’t want to go there.”
“And you needed a dream to realize that... We all tried to explain this to you, but you wouldn’t listen,” the girl said, bitterly.
“I didn’t go, did I?!” Robin replied, miffed, then he remembered more of his nightmare and he softened his tone. “I’m sorry. You know that you all care for me. If I went to war, Guy would probably follow me to protect me, but I don’t know what it would do to him. Don’t tell this to him, but one of the reasons why I decided to stay is because I wanted to protect him as well. I couldn’t put his life at risk, he’s not my real brother, but I love him as if he were.”
“One of the reasons?” Marian asked, looking at him, and Robin gave her his best smile.
“You are the other reason. How could I leave the love of my life?”
Marian blushed, happy because she knew that he was sincere. She wished that it were already summer because then they would get married. She was a little afraid of this new life that was waiting for her, but she knew that it would be beautiful to begin this adventure with Robin at her side.
Lady Marian, lady Marian of Locksley, she thought, blushing even more at the idea of being a married woman.
She was younger than Isabella, and she wished that her friend could find the love of her life too. It would be nice if they could get married during the same year, so they could share confidences and little secrets and grow their children together, so they would be friends as well.
Robin’s haunted gaze took her away from her romantic dreams, and she understood that his nightmare got even worse.
“It isn’t all, is it?”
Robin shook his head.
“While I was away, another sheriff came, and took your father’s place. He was a cruel, evil man, and Guy worked for him. He had sold his soul to that devil, and everyone expected that I did it too, but I couldn’t, so I became an outlaw. That part of the dream wasn’t so bad. Much was with me, and the young Will Scarlett from Locksley...”
“Will? He’s just a child!”
“He is now, in the dream I had spent five years away from home, when I came back Will was grown up, a brave young man. We lived together in the forest, and we fought the corrupted sheriff to help the poor people of Nottingham, oppressed by his taxes. There were also a big man, a giant with a golden heart, another cheeky outlaw, and a saracen girl...”
“A girl? In the forest? With a group of men?” Marian looked at him, scandalized.
“It’s not what you think! Whatever you are thinking… She was like one of the lads, and a good healer too. She saved your life when Guy stabbed you.”
“Guy would never stab me!”
“He didn’t know that it was you: you were dressed like a masked man to help the poor.”
“This is something that would be fun to do! But then again, I don’t need to use a mask to help the poor. But I still can’t believe that Guy could stab me: he’s always so serious, the one who keeps you and Archer out of troubles...”
Robin rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“That’s what was so scary in that nightmare: he was cruel, he was always trying to capture and hang me, he performed every order of that evil sheriff… But it was still Guy, I could recognize him, the brother I love… He could have become like that, if he had been banished when he was a kid, if he had been forced to fight to survive, if he had been deprived of love. My father and his mother helped us to grow up, teaching us to correct our faults, to become men they could be proud of. Without their guidance, we would be very different. We could hate each other.”
Marian shook her head.
“You couldn’t hate Guy.”
“I could. He was a traitor, he tried to kill the king… And he killed you.”
“Me?! Why should he kill me?”
“Because he was madly in love with you and you told him that you were going to marry me.”
Marian looked at him, in utter disbelief.
“Guy in love with me? This is the proof that your dream is foolish.”
Robin didn’t contradict her, but he knew perfectly well that that was the truest part of his dream. If his brother, four years older than him, still didn’t get married, it wasn’t just because he was shy and awkward with girls, but because he still couldn’t find a girl that he could compare with Marian.
Guy had fallen in love with her, probably since the first time they had met her, so many years ago when they were still children, but he had always kept that love hidden in his heart when he had realized that Marian returned Robin’s feelings. Robin knew that his brother had buried his feelings in his heart to avoid hurting him, and he was grateful for this.
He looked at the girl, shuddering to think that in his dream she was dead, lost forever to both of them. The idea of never seeing her again, of never being her husband, was too terrible, and Robin impulsively tried to hug her, but the girl jumped to her feet, laughing.
“Not so fast, Robin! My father will kill you if he sees you like that!”
Robin gave her a tense smile, unable to forget his nightmare, forced to remember how heartbroken both Gisborne and him had been.
“I forgave him, eventually. We made our peace and we fought together against the oppressors of the people.”
Marian listened to him, intrigued.
“I was sure of it! You two are meant to be brothers and friends. Did you win, at last?”
Marian looked at him, dumbfounded.
“Guy died in my arms,” Robin continued, “and I was injured to death, but I managed to kill both the sheriff and Isabella.”
“Isabella? Why should you kill her?!”
“She had turned evil too, she had tried to execute Guy, and she was the one who wounded me. Just Archer survived… Archer and some of my friends...”
When he stopped talking, Robin had tears in his eyes.
Marian relented, and she hugged him tight.
“Poor Robin, it must have been such a horrible nightmare, I’m so glad it was just a dream.”
“It seemed so real...”
Marian gave him a light kiss on his lips, then she stepped back, and she smiled to him.
“Well, it wasn’t, so forget about it and be merry. Today is Christmas Eve and tonight my father will have a celebration at the castle. There will be a lot of nobles coming from other counties, and the people of Nottingham will have a feast too. Father agreed to deliver some food to the poorest families so nobody will starve at Christmas.”
“I bet that the idea comes from you.”
Marian shrugged with a smile.
“I just want people to be as happy as I am. And that’s why tonight I will have a special mission. And you’ll have to help me.”
Robin grinned, amused.
“And what that mission will be?”
“We are going to find a husband for Isabella and a wife for Guy.”
“What?!” Robin burst out into a laugh, and Marian glared at him.
“I’m serious, Robin. There will be a lot of guests at the castle and many of the nobles will be of the right age. Your siblings, except for Archer, are shy. Even if they should meet someone they like, they won’t talk to them, so we must help.”
“I don’t know if Guy would appreciate that, and I guess that I’ll be busy enough keeping Archer out of troubles. That kid is always ready to get into some mischief.”
“Then he’s really your little brother! But Much can keep an eye on him. If he isn’t too busy looking at Eve, of course.”
“Really, Robin, you always say that Much is more a friend than a servant to you, but then you don’t notice that he’s madly in love with one of the young servants of Bonchurch. I bet that they will get married as soon as they can. Maybe you should help them, give them some land and a house.”
“You have planned everything, haven’t you? You want to find a husband and a wife for my sister and my brother, you want Much and Eve to start a family, you are giving food to the poor… What else?”
“Don’t make fun of me. I just want people to be happy.”
Robin remembered the horrible nightmare he just had, and he thought that she was right: there was so much heartbreak in the world, so much suffering, that it was their duty to give some happiness to the others when it was possible to do it.
In the dream, he had sacrificed everything, becoming an outlaw to help the poor, but in the real world he could still do something to improve other people’s lives. Sometimes even a little thing could make a difference and put a smile on a sad face.
“And I will help you!” He said to Marian, emphatically.
The girl looked at him, surprised that he would listen and approve her ideas.
“Really. We will make people happy. Actually, you could start now,” he said, with his usual cheeky grin.
Robin hugged the girl, and he kissed her, then he looked at her with a bright, innocent smile.
“See? Now I am happy!”
Marian laughed, unable to chide him, and Robin went out of the window, letting himself drop in the fresh snow, agile as a cat.
“I’ll see you tonight at the castle, my love!” He said, waving his hand at her and smiling. “And we’ll make everyone happy!”
Marian smiled. She already was.