Robin Hood crawled along the branch of the tree and leaned his head to look down, returning to hide as soon as he saw the soldiers passing just below him.
He went back to the trunk, taking care not to make any noise and he stared at the Nightwatchman, shaking his head slightly.
“Are they still there?” Guy whispered, annoyed. “When they worked for me the guards were never so efficient.”
“Apparently Archer is doing a better job than you did when you were in his place, even though he is much younger.”
“Except when he gives us information about the sheriff's plans or allows us to escape undisturbed.”
“It's true. Archer doesn’t want to capture us by choice, but you never managed to get me,” Robin teased him and Guy hit him on the arm with a playful punch, but strong enough to hurt him.
“Stop it or they'll hear you!” Robin hissed, rubbing his arm and throwing a reproachful glance at his friend.
Guy had meanwhile climbed a taller branch and he was tying a rope to an arrow.
“What are you doing?” Robin asked, perplexed.
"If we can get to that tree over there, we'll be out of the guards' path and we can go away undisturbed.”
“As long as the rope holds and the arrow doesn’t come off. Look Guy, nobody knows we're up here. The best thing to do is to wait for the changing of the guards and take advantage of that moment to escape.”
“Absolutely not!” Guy said, alarmed.
“That rope is too thin, it will break. Waiting here will also be inconvenient and boring, but we are not in a hurry.”
“You're wrong, Hood. Maybe you have time to waste, but I absolutely can’t stay here!”
Robin looked at him, intrigued by Guy's anxious tone.
Gisborne pointed at the sky that was beginning to turn red.
“Look, it's almost sunset and I must be in Locksley before it gets dark. Sir Edward has organized a party to celebrate our engagement, I can’t be late.”
“Oh. Why didn’t you tell me when I called you?”
“Because you needed my help to steal this stupid document and because you had assured me it would be a quick and easy job.”
“And you said that this place was not guarded by soldiers.”
“Vaisey often sent me to meet the messengers of his allies in this inn and no one ever thought that it was necessary to patrol the outside of the inn before the scheduled time for the meeting.”
“Well, you never thought of it, Archer did. Couldn’t you warn him in advance?”
“If he behaves differently than usual just before our theft, the sheriff might get suspicious. He’s already risking a lot to pass information to us, I don’t want to put him in danger.”
“Quite right. But now we are risking our necks.”
“You can stay here if you prefer.”
Guy held out his bow and shot the arrow, hitting the tree he had aimed at. He pulled the rope to make sure the arrow was firmly embedded in the trunk and then he tied the other end to a branch.
Robin looked at him and smiled.
“And miss the opportunity to blame you when the rope breaks and makes us fall into the arms of the guards? If you have decided to go on with this madness, we will do it together.”
“But I go first.”
“I am lighter than you, when the rope will break under your weight, at least I will have already brought the document to safety.”
Guy gave him a dirty look, but he stepped aside to let him pass.
Robin took the bow and passed it over the rope, then he gripped it with both hands and let himself slip from tree to tree.
Gisborne looked at him getting down from the tree before imitating him, hoping that the rope would hold him too.
Halfway between the two trees, Guy allowed himself to think that everything would be fine and that he and Robin would manage to escape unobserved.
A moment later the rope broke, making him fall.
Marian looked at herself in the mirror with a sigh, covering the scar that marked her cheekbone with a finger. When she did so, she could pretend that the scar wasn’t there, to delude herself that a hidden thing didn’t exist if she chose to ignore it.
It was the same thing she did when she thought of all the times when Guy had disappeared in the middle of the night, or when she had seen him coming down from the bedrooms of a tavern. They weren’t important things and she could pretend she never noticed them. And if she didn’t know about them, then they never happened.
But she couldn’t pretend that her hair was longer, just as she couldn’t forget the woman she had seen in Guy's arms, the mysterious Meg who had seduced him before her eyes.
Marian turned her back to the mirror, closing her eyelids to keep the tears from coming out.
She didn’t have to cry, she had no reason to do it, and especially not that evening.
Not before the engagement party.
Guy chose me. He asked me to marry him.
The rest didn’t matter, it didn’t matter.
Now she knew why Guy had waited so long to make his proposal, now she understood the reason for so many secrets. He had built a house for her, tried to make up for the fire at Knighton Hall, and he did it secretly to surprise her.
Marian found herself smiling as she thought about how much work Guy must have done for her sake, how many sacrifices he made to rebuild the house and to make Knighton's lands productive enough to pay for the sheriff's taxes.
Now she understood why he was often so tired when he returned to Locksley in the evening, and why he got up so early in the morning. The thought of what he had done for her warmed her heart.
I love him for this too.
She took a brush and went back to styling her hair, trying to hide its inadequate length, but soon she gave up with a sigh.
It was useless: she could embellish it as much as she wanted, but her hair was still too short and Guy, whether he had done it to surprise her or to hide a love affair, was still a liar.
He'd lied to her for months and she would pretend that everything was alright, that Meg never existed.
Because despite everything I love him.
Robin Hood stifled a curse in seeing Gisborne motionless on the ground after the fall. He used the bow, and his arrows hit the legs of the two guards who were rushing to get Gisborne, then he reached them and knocked them out before they could scream and give the alarm.
Even so, he knew he didn’t have much time: soon the other patrol soldiers would go around the corner of the inn and would notice them.
He ran to Guy hoping he wasn’t dead, and he unceremoniously shook him, ready to drag him away if he had been hurt too badly to move. Fortunately, his friend immediately opened his eyes and stood up on his own.
“Are you all right?”
“I think so.”
Robin looked over his shoulder, just in time to see the soldiers turning the corner and giving the alarm.
Marian looked down from the top of the stairs to observe without being seen the people who crowded the main hall of Locksley. The guests kept coming and they gathered in small groups to chat, waiting for her and Gisborne to start the party with a toast, but she couldn’t see Guy anywhere.
Marian saw Allan sneaking out of the kitchen with a plate full of food and she caught his attention by throwing at him one of the pins she had used to try to fix her hair.
The young man started to see the pin stuck in the wall a few inches from his head and he looked up at Marian. The girl motioned for him to reach her upstairs and Allan obeyed.
"I'll pretend not to see that," she said, looking at the food he had stolen from the kitchen, "if you tell me where is Guy."
“Ah, hasn’t he arrived yet?” Allan asked with an innocent air.
“If he were here I wouldn’t ask you where he is, don’t you think?”
“Where do you think he is? He’s at Knighton Hall. Today they had to plant the apple tree, maybe the farmer who had to bring it was late. And then you know how is Giz, right? He wants every detail of that house to be perfect, he'll be checking the leaves of that tree one by one to make sure they're not yellowed,” Allan lied. He knew very well that the tree had been brought and planted without any delays because he had been the one who monitored the work that morning. “You’ll see, he’ll come soon and if he should be late I’ll go and call him. In fact, do you know what? I’ll go and meet him now.”
“Are they still following us?” Robin shouted, bending over the saddle of the horse they had stolen to make him run faster. Guy, sitting in the saddle behind him, turned to look back.
“I don’t think so, but don’t slow down. I should already be in Locksley.”
“You're lucky to be alive,” Robin said, reproachfully.
“Oh, come on, say it. I know you're dying to say it.”
“I told you so. We should have stayed on the tree until the change of the guards.”
“In the end we managed to escape, you have your document and I should be able to be almost on time, what's wrong?”
“Gisborne, do you realize that you risked killing yourself just because you didn’t want to keep your girlfriend waiting?”
"Would you have dared to keep Marian waiting at her engagement party? It would almost be like not showing up in church on the wedding day!”
“Or like being left at the altar?” Robin suggested, earning a punch in the ribs. “Hey! Look, she did it to me too, we're in the same boat here, Guy.”
“But only I have the scar to prove it. And I don’t want to get another one, which will most likely happen if I don’t show up at the party in time.”
“Look, there's Allan,” he said, pointing at the young man who was riding towards them, taking with him Guy’s black stallion.
“Hey, Giz! You're late, I was starting to worry. Where are the other horses?”
Guy got off his horse and reached Allan, limping slightly. The next day the bruises that he got by falling from the tree would pain him, but fortunately his injuries weren’t too serious or too evident.
“We had some unexpected hindrances,” he cut short. "The horses are in a stable near the inn, you can get them tomorrow. Did you bring my clothes?”
“Why would I be here, otherwise?” Allan said, handing them to him. "Hurry up, Marian is waiting for you, I told her you were in Knighton checking the apple tree.”
Robin burst out laughing, Guy snorted and Allan looked at both of them, perplexed.
“What did I say so funny?”
“Nothing,” Robin explained, “but he practically threw himself down from a tree so that he wouldn’t risk being late.”
“Are you all right, Giz?” Allan asked, worried. At his friend's nod, he smiled at Robin. “Well, knowing Marian, I can understand him, I probably would have done it too.”
Guy gave the Nightwatchman costume to Robin.
“Can you hide it for me?” He asked, then he turned to Allan. “Do I have any scratches? Visible bruises?”
“I would say you are presentable.”
“Then let’s go. See you later, brother.”
Guy got on his horse and set off at a gallop, followed by Allan.
Robin raised a hand to wave at them.
“Enjoy yourselves! And you stay away from the trees!”