Chapter 1: Don't Be Late
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!”
Chapter 2: Family
A weight lifted from Marian's heart the moment she saw the two galloping horses.
Guy had arrived and he was running to her.
The girl hurried downstairs, avoided being noticed by the guests, and she slipped out of Locksley's door just as Guy got off his horse.
She smiled at him, glad to see him, then she frowned as she noticed that Gisborne seemed to avoid putting his weight on a leg.
“What happened to you? Are you hurt?”
A flash of concern passed into Guy's gaze, immediately replaced by an amused smile.
“I admit, you got me: this morning I challenged Archer again and we went a bit too far. He gave me a few bruises, but you should have seen how I managed to disarm him in the end.”
Marian shook her head and she rolled her eyes.
“Really, Guy, when you're dealing with that Archer, you seem to be two competing kids. Sooner or later, you'll end up getting seriously hurt and when it happens, do not expect me to nurse you.”
Another smile slowly spread across Guy's face as the black knight leaned toward her, looking into her eyes.
"Would you mind so much taking care of me?" He asked, lowering his voice in a seductive whisper, a moment before putting his lips on those of Marian.
The girl clung to him and she closed her eyes, abandoning herself to that kiss. Guy's body was solid and warm as ever and his arms were a safe haven and made her feel protected.
When the kiss ended, the girl leaned on his chest and sighed, smiling.
“Guy, you're terrible, you distract me to avoid getting a reproach.”
“Why, don’t you like this?” Gisborne asked, constellating her face and her hair with small kisses.
Marian looked up to meet Guy's eyes: once she never thought she could see such a serene and joyful expression in his gaze. Only once she saw a trace of it, on the morning of their unfortunate marriage when Guy had waited her outside the church to tell her that he had dreamed of that day.
Marian raised a hand to stroke his cheek, giving up scolding him for fighting with Archer and smiled sweetly at him.
“I'm just afraid you can get hurt, Guy.”
“It won’t happen, don’t worry.”
Guy patted her back with one hand to reassure her. The thought that the girl was worried about his health filled him with a joyful warmth that made him want to be able to hold her in his arms for life.
Was that what it felt like to be happy? Guy wondered, unable to stop smiling.
He thought he would kiss her again and then again, but the sound of the door opening broke the spell, and Gisborne glared at Thornton, pulling away from Marian.
The girl blushed, but the old servant remained impassive as he turned to Guy.
“Sir Edward was beginning to worry about your delay, Sir Guy, I will tell him that you have arrived.”
“I'll do it, Thornton, thank you,” Marian said, then she looked at Guy. “I'll wait for you inside.”
Guy nodded and he waited for them to go back inside before looking for Allan.
The young man had just left the stables and he was heading towards him.
“When Archer arrives, tell him that he and I fought this morning. He gave me a lot of bruises, but I disarmed him,” Guy said in a low voice and Allan smiled, ironic.
“You know that sooner or later all these lies will be discovered, right?”
“She noticed that my leg aches, I couldn’t say how it really happened, could I?”
"Maybe you should go and see a physician, Giz.”
“It's nothing. But if it can reassure you, I'll see Tuck tomorrow. If I still feel pain then, I'll ask him to check if it's all right.”
“Good. If anything happens to you, I don’t really want to deal with Marian. And certainly I don’t want to be the one who will tell her the truth about the Nightwatchman.”
Guy burst out laughing.
“Don’t worry, there won’t be any need for that. I’ll try to be more cautious next time.”
Allan gave him a skeptical look, then decided to change the subject.
“So it will be official tonight, uh?”
Guy's expression lit up.
“Giz, it’s disturbing to see you smile like that, you will frighten the guests, they aren’t used to it.”
“Stop it, Allan.”
“Hey, look, I'm happy for you. Really.”
“I know,” Gisborne said, then he took the ring that would go back on Marian's finger that evening, and he looked at it. For a year he had worn it around his neck, waiting for the moment when he could return it to Marian and finally that moment had arrived. That little silver ring had given him comfort in difficult moments, reminding him of the reason to go on, and now it seemed strange to him not to feel it on his skin anymore.
“I bet you're sorry to give it back to her.” Allan guessed, noticing his look.
It was true, having the ring with him was a bit like having Marian always by his side. But the space left free by the ring had not been left empty.
“A bit. But look here.” Guy showed him the leather tie hidden under his shirt and Allan widened his eyes to see the wooden tags that were hanging there.
“What about these?! Are you officially a member of Robin Hood’s gang now?”
“After we saved him, Robin managed to convince the others that they can trust me.”
“It was about time,” Allan said, and Guy realized that the young man had suddenly become sad.
“Nothing. I'm glad they accepted you, seriously, Giz.”
“But for them I will always be a traitor. You have changed, it is true, but there is no doubt about your loyalty: first you were loyal to the sheriff, now you are loyal to Robin. But I deceived them, I lied and betrayed their trust, they will never believe that I am sincere.”
“So why would they tell me to give you these?” Guy asked, pressing something in his hand and Allan stared in disbelief at the wooden tags, identical to those of Gisborne.
“You too risked your life to save Robin, didn’t you?” Guy said, smiling to see Allan's surprise.
“Now hide them and let's go inside, they're waiting for me.”
Sir Edward lifted the pitcher and poured the wine into three cups. He handed one to Marian, standing on his right and one to Guy, on his left, before taking the third for himself.
The servants walked among the guests, serving drinks to them. When everyone had a cup in his hands, Sir Edward raised his own.
"These are often hard times, but we're meeting tonight to celebrate a happy occasion, the engagement between my daughter Marian and Sir Guy of Gisborne, lord of Knighton.” Sir Edward smiled at his daughter and put a hand on Guy's shoulder. “As you surely know, my daughter is the only remaining member of my family, the joy and support of my old age, and I confess that I have always feared the day when she would leave my house to marry someone, but today I'm not sad to give her hand to Sir Guy. I owe a lot to Sir Guy of Gisborne, in fact, I owe him everything. Without him I would have lost my daughter, my house, life itself and for this reason I will be eternally grateful, but despite this I wouldn’t have approved this marriage if I hadn’t seen with my own eyes the deep feeling that binds him to Marian. Today I don’t say goodbye to a daughter, but I’m proud to welcome a new son in my family. We all drink to the health of Sir Guy and Marian, with the hope that their marriage can be happy and fruitful!”
The guests raised their cups, astonished by Sir Edward's speech.
Many of the present nobles remembered all too well the actions of Guy of Gisborne when he worked for the sheriff, and they were perplexed to hear such warm words about him. Some of them had been present the first time Gisborne had announced his engagement to Marian, and they remembered that Sir Edward hadn’t shown much enthusiasm that time.
But the most surprised of all was Guy, who had not imagined that Marian's father could estimate him to the point of comparing him to a son in front of the guests. Sir Edward's words had amazed and moved him, and Guy felt so confused that he didn’t know how to respond to that speech.
Yet he had to say something, everyone was watching him, waiting to hear what he would say.
He looked at Marian, as if seeking help, and the girl smiled to encourage him.
Guy answered her with a small, shy smile.
“When someone asked me about my family, I couldn’t do anything but answer in the same way: that I didn’t have one. If I were asked the same question now, my answer would surely be different. Now I am no longer alone in the world and for this I am deeply grateful.” Gisborne raised his cup. “To family!”
Guy took a sip of wine, trying to ignore all the eyes on him, then he stared at Marian and approached her, holding the ring in his hand.
The girl's eyes widened in recognizing that jewel: it was the same ring that Guy had given her more than two years ago, the one he had put on her finger, telling her that she meant everything to him.
“I thought it was lost...” She whispered, amazed. “Did you have it?”
“I found it when you were a prisoner of Barret and I kept it, first as a keepsake, and then in the hope of being able to earn the right to return it to you. I have worked hard to be worthy to offer you my love and I will continue to do so in the hope of not disappointing you. Did I succeed, Marian? Will you accept to marry me?”
The girl looked at him, still thinking about their first engagement. At that time Gisborne had left her no choice, putting the ring on her finger in front of everyone and informing those present that she had agreed to marry him, but now he had completely exposed himself, letting her choose freely.
She had already said yes when he had shown her the new Knighton Hall, but now Guy was giving her the chance to change her mind, to answer his question again in full awareness and not on the wave of the emotion of the moment.
Meg's thought made her hesitate for a split second, but it was enough for her to look at Guy's eyes to find all his love for her.
She held out her hand with a smile so that he could put the ring on her finger.
“Yes, Guy. Yes. I want to marry you.”
Robin Hood threw another log on the fire and he handed Guy a blanket, taking one for himself, then he sat down in front of his friend.
“At this time you should be in bed, it's late night,” Robin said, suffocating a yawn. “What are you doing here?”
“I would have come sooner, but the festivities went on late,” Guy smiled, pointing at the sack he had placed on the ground next to him. "I brought you the food left from the feast.”
Robin glanced at his sleeping companions.
"I'm sure they'll be happy when they wake up, especially Much, but you could have come tomorrow morning too.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight anyway,” Guy said, with a sort of giggle and Robin looked at him, smiling slightly.
“Are you drunk, Gisborne?”
“A little, maybe. Certainly not as much as Allan. I am just happy, more than I deserve and in a way that I didn’t think possible.”
“So you came here?”
“The celebration wouldn’t have been complete without having the rest of my family close to me, don’t you think? And since you can’t come to Locksley, then I came to the camp.”
Robin smiled at him warmly, surprising once again how things had changed in a few years.
When Gisborne announced his engagement to Marian for the first time, Robin's first thought was to kill him. Officially the real reason for his murderous rage was to have discovered that Guy had tried to kill the king, but Robin knew that this wasn’t the only reason for his hatred, and that jealousy because of Marian had played a very important part in his desire to kill Gisborne.
Now he was simply happy for him, with no regrets about what could have happened between them if Marian had not fallen in love with Gisborne.
He had loved the girl once, and he still cared for her, but the love of the past no longer existed, dissolved like snow in the sun.
Sometimes Robin felt lonely, but he wouldn’t want to go back, and he was completely honest in his being happy for Guy.
“I am pleased you did,” he said. “But really, Guy, maybe you should try and get some sleep.”
“I told you, I can’t. And even if I were calmer, I don’t think I could, now the bruises are quite sore.”
Robin got up from his seat, rummaged in a trunk and came back to Guy with a leather bag.
“One of Djaq's medicines. She no longer lives in the camp, but Will comes regularly to bring us the remedies she prepares. Go back to Locksley and take it, it will ease the pain and make you sleep.”
“Oh yes. I know that. She had given it to me some time ago for the lashes on my back. Thanks, later it will be useful, but now there's something I want to know.”
“The document we stole today... What was it about? It was worth it?”
Robin took the parchment and handed it to Guy.
“Hard to say. It looks like a list of people. From what I understand, they should be guests of the sheriff, coming to the castle in the next few days, but I don’t know them. Do you?”
Gisborne began to read the list.
“They aren’t black knights, more than anything else they seem to be little nobles without too much power.”
“Maybe the sheriff is looking for new allies...” Robin hypothesized, then he jerked his head up to hear that Guy had made a choked sound. “What's up?”
“I know this one,” Guy said, pointing at one of the names on the list.
“Thornton? Is he a relative of the Thornton who works in Locksley?”
Guy shook his head and Robin worried to see how upset he was.
“No, Hood. This is the man to whom I sold my sister...”
Chapter 3: One of the Missing Pieces
Marian finished filling the basket with the last pieces of bread and she covered it with a cloth, then she looked at Guy, who had just entered the kitchen.
She smiled at him.
“Good morning, future husband.”
Guy's gaze lit up when he heard her calling him that. He approached the girl to hold her in his arms.
“It still seems a dream to me.”
Marian touched his lips with a kiss.
“Well, you'd better believe it.”
They looked at each other with a smile, then Marian frowned, looking better at Guy's face.
“Do you feel well? You are pale.”
“I didn’t sleep tonight, and I have a headache. I’m afraid that yesterday evening I drank a little too much.”
Marian smiled, amused.
“Not as much as Allan, though. Sit down.”
Guy obeyed and he closed his eyes as Marian began to gently massage his temples.
“Is he still alive? Last time I saw him last night, he was making a marriage proposal to my horse...”
The girl burst out laughing.
“The stable boy said he saw him still there this morning, snoring in the hay. I imagine he will be sleeping in that stable for a while.”
“Today I'll do without him, then.”
Marian looked at him.
“Where are you going? If you don’t feel well, maybe you'd better try to get some sleep too.”
"I promised Tuck I was going to see him this morning. I'm already a bit better, but if the headache doesn’t go away, I will ask him to give me something for the pain.”
Guy didn’t tell her that he had just taken some of Djaq's remedy and that it was already starting to work. It would be too complicated to explain Marian how he could get it without involving Robin Hood.
“Speaking of pain, does your leg still hurt?”
“Just a little bit.”
Marian looked at him, suddenly serious.
“Yesterday evening I spoke to Archer. You're a liar, Guy.”
Gisborne froze, but he tried to keep an indifferent air.
“Why? What did he say to you?”
“That it isn’t true that you disarmed him, and that he was the one who won.”
Guy gave her an embarrassed smile to hide the relief, and he promised to himself to make his brother pay for that scare the next time he saw him.
Marian shook her head resignedly.
“You know I don’t like these challenges, Guy, regardless of the result. It’s not by saying that you have won even when it isn’t true that you will make them seem more acceptable.”
“Sorry, you are right.”
The girl bent over to kiss him on the forehead.
“You don’t have to feel obligated to be the best at all costs. I'm not in love with you because you're better than Archer or because you won a race against him. I love you because you are you. If you really have to challenge yourself, I don’t care who wins, the only thing that interests me is that you don’t get hurt. Or at least not too much.”
“I will do my best to avoid it.”
Marian was still massaging his temples, pausing from time to time to stroke his hair or to play with a disheveled lock and Guy captured her hands in his.
He paused to kiss the soft skin inside her wrist before letting her go and standing up.
“Now it's better for me to go.”
“Don’t you want to eat something?”
“Then wait for the servants to finish loading the wagon and we can go together, I'm going to Kirklees too.”
“Are you going to visit the orphanage again?”
“I want to bring the leftovers from yesterday's feast to the children. Even though I thought there were more of them.”
Guy blushed slightly thinking of the provisions he had brought to the camp of the outlaws.
“I bet that’s Allan’s fault: before I knew him, I couldn’t imagine that a single person could be able to eat so much,” he said in an amused tone, mentally apologizing to his friend and thinking that the next Nightwatchman's mission would have to supply the orphanage's pantry.
“Poor Allan, you should ask Tuck for some remedies to make him feel better.”
Robin woke up hearing Much's enthusiastic exclamations and he thought that his friend must have found the food brought by Gisborne.
He turned on his back, a little sore, and realized he had slept on the ground, by the fire, and not on his cot.
But there wasn’t the slightest trace of Guy at the camp, and the blanket that Robin had given him that night had been neatly folded and it was resting on one of the logs arranged around the fire, along with the parchment they had stolen from the sheriff.
After Guy had told him that the Thornton on the list was the man who had married his sister, Gisborne hadn’t spoken anymore and he had just stared at the fire, while Robin had ended up falling asleep.
He got up from the ground and stretched. He collected both the blankets and the document, leaving the blankets on the bed and putting safely away the latter. In the end he decided to reach his companions.
“Robin? Where does this food come from?” Little John asked. Much emphasized the question with a sort of grunt, too busy eating to be able to talk.
“Gisborne. He wanted us to celebrate his engagement too.”
“Where is he now?” Much asked, finishing chewing.
“I think he's back to Locksley. When he arrived at the camp it was late at night. After a while I fell asleep and when I woke up he wasn’t here anymore.”
“Taste this, master. It’s excellent,” his friend said, holding out his plate after helping himself with another portion.
Little John scolded him.
“Much, leave something for Will and Djaq, later we'll bring it to them.”
Robin smiled at seeing Much's outraged look at Little John's comment, then he took a meat pie and he began to eat it absently.
He was worried about Gisborne, he had seen how troubled he had been in thinking about his sister.
Isabella of Gisborne...
Robin remembered her well from his childhood. She was a couple of years older than him and sometimes she joined their games, but she usually didn’t break away from her mother's side, following her like a shadow.
The last time he had seen her, it was on the worst day of his life, in front of the burnt ruins of Gisborne's house, when she and Guy had been driven away without anyone doing anything to stop them.
During the fire Isabella had remained motionless next to her brother, as if she had been petrified, and even later, when all hope had been lost, she hadn’t spoken, nor cried and she had let herself to be dragged by Guy's hand as if she no longer had her will.
Gisborne had told him that he had sold her, that he had given her hand to a man he barely knew just because that Thornton had offered him a good price, and Robin wondered for the first time what Guy and Isabella's life might have been like after they had been banished from their lands.
“You can tell me the truth. You're sad, aren’t you?”
Robin jerked his head up. He hadn’t noticed that Little John had sat next to him until he spoke.
The man shook his head.
“Gisborne and Marian. This betrothal. She was supposed to be your fiancee, not his. It's normal for you to be sad.”
Robin stared at him, amazed.
“No. I wasn’t thinking of Marian. I'm happy for them, really.”
"One who’s really happy doesn’t sit staring into space, Robin.”
“I'm just worried about the sheriff's plans. He must have something in mind, but I don’t know what to expect, it has nothing to do with Guy, I assure you.”
Little John looked at him, unconvinced.
“Remember that in any case we are here for you.”
Robin nodded and smiled at him.
Guy held the reins with one hand and he had his other arm tight around Marian's waist with a proud, possessive look. His black stallion was tied behind the wagon because Gisborne had decided not to mount him, so he could travel at the girl’s side.
The wayfarers they met on the road gave them curious looks and both Guy and Marian knew that they wouldn’t miss the chance to talk behind their backs and to pretend to be shocked at the scandal of seeing them travel together, alone and so close to each other.
Guy grinned, noticing from a distance a group of peasant women who were gossiping and turning around to look at them from time to time. When the wagon passed close to the women, Guy pulled the reins to stop the horse and he stared intently at the group of peasants.
The women looked at him in dismay, too terrified by the fear of some retaliation to think they could run away.
Marian gave him a curious look, wondering what his intentions were. For over a year, many people considered her Gisborne's lover and treated her like a slut, and she knew that Guy could not stand that situation. On one hand, Marian wished Gisborne would lecture those malignant gossips, but on the other he was afraid he might overdo it.
Guy motioned for the women to approach, serious, and those came forward, trembling and throwing worried glances at the knight's sword as if they feared that Gisborne could use it to stab them at any moment.
Guy instead took Marian's hand in his own to show the ring to them, and he smiled in the most amiable way he could.
“Ladies, I have the honor to introduce you to the future Lady Gisborne. I know you are always very interested in other people’s business, so I thought you might like to know that Lady Marian has agreed to marry me.”
The gossipers stammered a few words of good wishes, and as soon as Guy restarted the wagon, they scattered in terror, running back to their homes.
Marian watched them run away, amused by their confusion, then her eyes met Guy's and they both laughed.
Allan was right, Guy thought. People were not used to seeing him smile and they were frightened when he did, but it didn’t matter, sooner or later they would forget his past and they would no longer consider him just as the sheriff's ferocious dog.
In the meantime he would try to live a happy life at Marian's side and, someday, seeing him smiling wouldn’t seem so strange anymore.
He held the girl close and Marian rested her head on his shoulder, still giggling.
Guy kissed her hair and sighed, satisfied.
He had the impression that slowly all the fragments of his life were returning to their place, making him stronger, more and more whole.
The memory of the list of names written on the stolen parchment suddenly crossed his mind, saddening him.
His sister was still one of the missing pieces.
If really Thornton was going to come to Nottingham, maybe that would have been the right opportunity to find Isabella and ask her forgiveness for not being able to take care of her.
Gisborne decided he would do his best to try and fix things.
He knew it was late to do it, that he should have looked for his sister many years ago.
I just hope it's not too late.
He looked at Marian and the girl smiled at him, radiant, turning those melancholic thoughts away from him.
Marian loved him and agreed to become his wife. Guy still struggled to believe it, but if that wasn’t a dream, then he could also believe that there was nothing really impossible in the world.
He took her in his arms and dragged her into a passionate kiss, regardless of the scandalized looks of passersby.
You are my betrothed and I want everyone to know.
Chapter 4: A Promise Kept
Archer stopped the horse in the middle of the road and he smiled.
“I know you're there, come out.”
A laugh answered him from the trees and a moment later the horse of Guy of Gisborne reached him, emerging from the thick vegetation.
“Sooner or later I will be able to get you by surprise,” Guy said, amused, and they both put the horses at a trot.
Archer raised an eyebrow, skeptical, then he looked at his brother.
“So what do you want? Where are we going?” He asked, hasty, and this time it was Guy who smiled.
“Why such a hurry? I know that the sheriff is out of town and he will stay away for a few days.”
“How do you know?! Guy! You didn’t rob another messenger, did you?! The last time they almost caught you, you'll end up killed... If you don’t accidentally kill yourself first.”
“The other time I just came down from a tree a little faster than normal.”
“And you used me to justify your wounds with your girlfriend.”
“In this regard, I’d prefer that you wouldn’t contradict my version of the facts,” Guy said, in a reproaching tone. "When Marian told me that I had lied to her, I thought she had discovered me.”
"If you use me as an excuse without even telling me in advance, at least don’t brag about defeating me. Also because it isn’t credible at all.”
Guy gave him a defiant look.
“Want to bet?”
“Whenever you want, brother.”
“Later, we have other things to do now.”
“To rob some other messengers, perhaps?” Archer asked, displeased.
“The last one didn’t even notice that he had been robbed. We stole the message only for a few minutes and we gave it back to him a little later, after sealing it again.”
Archer raised his hands.
“Guy, I don’t want to know anything.”
“Good, because I won’t tell you anything else. Only, I know the sheriff is not here and so you're free to come with me.”
“The sheriff left me the responsibility of the town, if there were any problems while I am not there, I would be in trouble.”
“Come on, Archer, you know very well that nothing will happen if you go away for a couple of days.”
“Of course, apart from Robin Hood who will have fun emptying the treasure room or letting all the prisoners escape from the dungeons.”
“I wouldn’t give you trouble on purpose!” Guy replied, offended. “And if you don’t trust my word, know that Robin couldn’t do anything like that even if he wanted to.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because I'm here.” Robin said, emerging from the trees.
Archer whirled around in surprise, and Guy pointed a finger at him, amused.
“Ah! You didn’t hear him coming, though!”
Archer gave him an irritated look.
“Stop it, Guy!”
“I told you that Robin wanted to meet you, right? And you agreed.”
“All right, family reunion, then. But what was the need to drag me here? Was the forest no longer good to meet him?”
Gisborne and Robin exchanged a look, then Guy turned to his half-brother, serious.
“It's not just this. There is more.”
“Are you sure, Guy?” Robin asked and Gisborne nodded.
“Archer, you will never have to show anyone where we are going. I have entrusted my own life to you, you know it, but if you should reveal this secret, I will kill you and everyone who knows about it. Even if you're my brother.”
Archer looked at him, impressed by Gisborne's words, and realized he was serious. Robin also nodded gravely.
“Don’t underestimate this warning, Archer. Guy would really do it and I wouldn’t stop him.”
It was the first time since he knew him that Archer had the opportunity to see the darker side of Guy of Gisborne, the one that must have driven the sheriff to keep him by his side for so long despite his repeated failures, and he had no doubt that Guy would be able to put his threat into practice.
Gisborne had been ready to die to avoid hitting his brother, and Archer wondered what secret could be so important to push him to kill anyone to protect it. He told himself that he would find out soon and he smiled at the other two.
“And who should I tell?” He asked, lightly, then he looked at Robin. “So you're my brother too, aren’t you?”
“So it seems.” Robin said cautiously. Guy trusted Archer, but he still didn’t know him enough.
“I've never had anyone and now I find myself with all these brothers.”
“Once you get used to it, it's not that bad. Of course, it must be harder for you...”
The other two looked at him curiously.
“To know that you have the same blood as Robin Hood,” Gisborne said with a sneer.
"I would worry more about the other half of his blood,” Robin replied and Archer looked at them, shaking his head and pretending to be disconsolate.
“In any case, I'm in trouble.”
The two boys hid behind a bush and Thomas looked out in the direction of the house, furtively.
“They didn’t see us, did they?” Cedric whispered conspiratorially and the other shook his head, giggling.
“No, we have some time before they realize we aren’t cleaning the barn.”
“Then we can eat. I took bread and cheese from the kitchens.”
“And I picked up some apples.”
“Can I have one too?” Said a voice behind them, and the two boys started, frightened, turning around.
“Sir Guy!” Cedric exclaimed. “We didn’t hear you coming!”
Guy smiled at seeing the agitation of the two young men.
“Yes, I had noticed. What are you doing here?”
Thomas blushed, intimidated by the presence of the black knight.
“Well... We...” He began, stuttering, and Cedric came to his rescue.
"We were going to do our job, Sir Guy. We only had a little break.”
“Why were you hiding?”
The two boys looked at him guiltily.
Guy smiled, amused.
“Give me that apple and I'll pretend I haven’t seen you. Where is Adeline?”
“At home, with Seth,” Thomas said, handing him the fruit.
“Bring my horse into the barn and take care of him,” Guy ordered, pointing to the black stallion, standing a little further.
“In the barn, Sir Guy?”
“Why, is there any problem?”
The two boys exchanged a resigned look and sighed.
“No, sir. We were just going there to clean it.”
Guy laughed and walked to the house, biting into the apple.
Adeline frowned at the knock on the door, and she cast a worried look at Seth. The child was sitting on the ground in front of the fireplace and he was busy playing with a small horse carved in wood.
He looked up when he heard the knock, but he returned immediately to his game and Adeline hoped he would stay away from the door as she went to open it.
The people who lived in that house were not in the habit of knocking at the door, so they had to be some strangers, but they rarely received visits and since Seth was with them, Adeline had become more apprehensive.
She opened the door cautiously, then she opened it wide, relieved and happy to recognize Gisborne.
“Guy! Why are you here? I wasn’t expecting a visit from you. Did you come to see Seth?”
Adeline hugged him impulsively, then she pulled away from him to look at his face. The last time he had come to her, he was suffering and in need of comfort, but now Guy seemed much more serene, almost cheerful.
“Also, but not only,” Guy said, in a mysterious and pleased tone and Adeline smiled, thinking that for once he seemed very satisfied with himself.
“Do you want to tell me, or are you going to have fun to leave me hanging?”
“I finished building my house and Marian agreed to marry me.”
Adeline gave a little cry of surprise, then she hugged him again.
“I'm so happy for you, my little one! Now you have to tell me everything!”
Guy broke from her embrace, smiling.
“Oh, I will, but not now. I have another surprise for you.”
“Another one? Have you become the new sheriff of Nottingham, Guy?”
“No, not yet.”
Gisborne chuckled, then he took the bow and shot an arrow at a group of trees. Shortly thereafter, two riders sprang from the vegetation, heading towards them.
“Oh, there's Robin too... And the other one...”
Adeline turned to look at Guy, hesitantly.
Gisborne smiled at her.
“I had promised you, Adeline: I brought you Archer.”
Chapter 5: Lost Lambs
Guy of Gisborne watched the emotions that followed one another on Adeline's face, then she covered her face with her hands and burst into tears, too agitated to do anything else.
Guy took her in his arms and he stroked her hair slowly, with the same tenderness with which she had consoled him so many times when he was a child.
“It's all right, Adeline. I trust him, he's not as dangerous as you feared. He saved my life, do you know? And I saved his.”
Guy felt something touching his leg and he looked down: Seth had approached them and looked at them, worried.
“Why are you crying?”
Adeline wiped her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief and she gave the child a shaky smile.
“Sometimes you can cry when you're very happy, did you know?”
Seth looked at her for a moment, then he pointed a finger at Guy.
“Horse,” he ordered, imperious, and Adeline burst out laughing at Guy's puzzled expression.
“He wants you to take him on your shoulders,” she explained. “It's a game that sometimes he plays with Cedric and Thomas: the boys let him get on their backs and Seth pretends to ride a horse.”
Guy knelt down to allow the child to climb on his shoulders, then he stood up, smiling slightly.
The child had grabbed his hair with his hands, pulling it painfully, but Guy did nothing to stop him.
“When he is older I will give him a real horse,” he said proudly.
The thought of teaching Seth how to ride was a pleasant image in his mind, and it filled Guy with warmth, even though he didn’t know why.
Robin and Archer meanwhile had approached the house and Adeline looked at them, moved again.
“What did you tell him, Guy?”
“That he’s our brother, you can tell him the rest.”
Archer looked around, wondering why that house at the top of the hill was such a big secret that it could turn Gisborne into a ruthless murderer.
It didn’t seem so special to him: it was a not very large stone building, with a small barn nearby, and cultivated fields and fruit trees on the slope leading to the house. An old man was working in the orchard, while two boys had entered the barn, bringing Guy's horse with them. Archer had the impression he had already seen them both, but he couldn’t remember when.
He looked for his brother and saw that Gisborne was on the doorstep with a middle-aged woman.
Archer was surprised to see that the woman was in tears, but he gasped as he noticed the little boy Guy was holding on his shoulders.
Robin Hood let out an amused laugh as he saw his half-brother's amazed expression.
Archer watched both Guy and the child and came to the conclusion that there was no doubt that the kid was his son, he looked too much like him not to be.
“So that's the big secret, uh?”
"The sheriff doesn’t have to know, Archer. You don’t have to tell anyone, but especially not Vaisey.” Guy's tone was serious, even if at that moment, with his son on his shoulders, who was hopping and pretending to be on horseback, he seemed much less threatening than before.
"Don’t you trust me anymore, brother? After all, he's my nephew too, isn’t he? I wouldn’t do anything to put him in danger, you can be sure.”
Adeline looked at him for a moment, then she smiled at Guy.
“Don’t doubt him, he is sincere.”
Gisborne smiled back at her with affection, surprising Archer again.
“And you always understand when someone is lying, right?”
The woman caressed Guy's cheek, with an amused light in her eyes.
Archer gave a puzzled glance at Robin Hood to see if he too was amazed by Gisborne's unusually mild behavior, but the outlaw seemed to look at the scene with amusement, but without showing any surprise.
“Archer had a special talent for getting into trouble, but he always had a good heart. He hasn’t changed so much, I feel it.”Adeline said, and Archer looked at her, surprised to hear her mentioning his name.
The woman had talked about him as if she knew him, as if for some reason she loved him, but he had no memory of her.
He looked at Guy, caught in a sudden doubt.
“Is she our mother?” He asked him on impulse. “You said she died in a fire!”
Gisborne stared at him, startled by the question, then he shook his head with a sigh.
“Our mother is dead,” Guy glanced at Adeline. “But you didn’t go so far from the truth.”
“Come into the house, sit by the fire and I'll tell you everything,” the woman said gently, taking his hand.
Robin and Guy exchanged a look, deciding not to enter the house to leave them alone while they talked.
“Come, Gisborne,” Robin said, amused. “I think Seth wants to ride. Where are your reins?”
“Very funny, Hood.”
“You have to be careful, next time Allan could make a mistake and saddle you.”
“In your case it would be impossible to do such a mistake, no one would think of saddling a donkey.”
Robin grinned, broke a green, flexible shoot from a hazel and he handed it to the child.
“Here Seth, a whip for your horse. Make him gallop fast.”
The child enthusiastically welcomed the new toy and decided to try it immediately, startling Guy.
Gisborne lifted a hand with the intention of grabbing the switch and taking it away from Seth, but Robin stopped him.
“You know that if you take it, he will start to cry, right? Is this really what you want?”
Guy gave him a dirty look, then he got an idea and he smiled wickedly.
“Seth, would you like to play a better game? The one you're holding is not a whip, it's the shining sword of a heroic knight, and that - he pointed at Robin - is your opponent, an evil ruthless outlaw. Let's see if you can hit him.”
Seth approved the idea with an excited cry and lifted the switch as Guy ran toward Robin Hood.
Archer watched Adeline's face, trying to awaken some memories, but the times of his early childhood were a dark void in his mind. The first memories he had were those of a dusty road and a journey that never seemed to end. He didn’t remember ever having had a proper home, and indeed, he had never stopped in a place as long as at Nottingham Castle.
If Gisborne hadn’t approached him, perhaps Archer would have already set off again after earning as much as possible from the sheriff. Vaisey had great ambitions and in other circumstances Archer would have accepted any assignment from him, even the most dangerous, but his friendship with Guy had made the sheriff more suspicious and reluctant to trust him, while Archer had made sure to avoid compromising conversations and he just did job as efficiently as possible.
“And so it was you who took care of me until I was three...”
“I've never forgiven myself for losing your tracks. I spent many years of my life looking for you and now you're finally here.”
Archer smiled faintly, glancing uneasily at the woman's tears.
“I don’t remember anything, I'm sorry...”
Adeline wiped her face.
“It doesn’t matter, my dear. You don’t have to remember or feel anything for me. In your eyes I'm a stranger, I understand it very well, but it doesn’t matter. For me it’s enough to know what Guy already told me and that now I can see with my own eyes.”
“You're healthy, your life is peaceful and you're a good person. When we couldn’t find you I kept wondering what would happen to you, I was terrified that I could find out that you were suffering or that you had been ruined by the adversities of life, but now I know it's not like that and it's enough for me.”
Archer nodded and he approached the window to look out: Robin Hood and Gisborne were fighting each other without using weapons, while the child looked at them, sitting on the lawn a few feet away, inciting one or the other without making too many distinctions.
“What are those two doing?” Archer asked, without addressing anyone in particular. His brothers were not fighting ferociously to defeat the opponent, but they seemed more than anything else to be willing to show off their skills.
Adeline approached him to look at them and she smiled. Guy had managed to make Robin fall to the ground and he was trying to immobilize him with his weight, but the other succeeded in freeing himself and grabbed Guy by the jacket, throwing him to the ground too.
“Don’t you see it? They're having fun, they want to show Seth how strong they are. They are playing.”
“At their age?”
“What's wrong with that? I don’t think they had many opportunities to have fun after the death of your parents, especially Guy. I'm happy to see them like this. They don’t look like they tried to kill each other in the past, do they?”
“I understand why Guy wants to protect this place,” Archer said, seriously. “It's a safe place, a shelter where you don’t have to watch your back.”
“Now you know it too. If you feel the need, the doors will always be open for you, remember.”
The young man smiled at her.
“I don’t think it will be necessary, but it's nice to know it.”
Chapter 6: Poison
Marian checked that the servants loaded the trunks on the cart without damaging them, and she sighed. She felt anxious and she didn’t like the idea of spending those days at the castle, but Guy had said it was necessary to go.
The sheriff was waiting for the arrival of many guests and he had organized a period of festivities, extending the invitation to all the nobles of Nottingham.
The girl would have preferred to excuse themselves somehow and decline the invitation so they could stay away from the sheriff, but Guy had insisted to go, even if she didn’t understand why.
For all of them it was always better to avoid having too many contacts with Vaisey, but maybe Guy wanted to take advantage of that opportunity to make everyone know about their engagement, Marian thought suddenly, and she found herself smiling.
That was certainly a good explanation, it had to be like that, Marian thought, and she wondered if Guy would take advantage of it to establish and announce a date for their wedding.
“Hey, Marian, where's Giz?” Allan asked, entering the main hall.
“He's already gone to the castle. He said he wanted to be there for the arrival of the first guests, we will reach him as soon as we are ready.”
"I have no desire to spend so much time near the sheriff. He always gives me the impression that he wants to see us all hanging on the gallows.”
“I think that's exactly what he wants, but he can’t do it. Not without a really valid reason and we will be very careful not to give it to him.”
“Talking about pigs, what happened to ours?”
“I went near the fence before entering the house, they all seem to be dead.”
“But it's not possible, they were fine just a little while ago!”
“A little while ago?”
“Yes, I brought them some leftovers and they ate with gusto.”
“Well, now they're all lying on the ground and I'm not sure if they're breathing. What did you give to those poor beasts?”
"Breakfast leftovers..." Marian said and she stopped abruptly.
Allan stared at her, worried.
“The same breakfast you gave to Giz?”
They exchanged an anxious look and they both ran into the kitchen.
The sheriff yawned, bored.
He hated getting up early in the morning, but he pretended to be jovial whenever one of the guests' carriages arrived. The local nobles were gathered in the courtyard of the castle, on the stairs, and they waited with the sheriff.
Vaisey could have let them wait more comfortably in the great hall, but if he had to stay there to welcome the guests, then the others also had to suffer with him.
They could stay there, standing under the sun.
He looked at Gisborne as the knight crossed the gate on his horse and Vaisey rolled his eyes, annoyed.
"Was it really necessary to invite him too?” He snorted, talking to Archer.
“He’s one of the nobles, my lord. They should all be present to show your guests that you can count on the loyalty of your subordinates.”
"I suppose he will take with him his leper friend and the dying old man. Archer, try to keep them away from me, today I'm not in the mood to endure that bunch of cretins.”
“I will do my best, my lord.”
“It couldn’t have been the pancakes!” Marian said, trying to sound more secure and quiet than she really felt. “I have prepared them many times and neither Guy nor the pigs have ever had problems.”
“The fact that most of the time the food you cook ends up to the pigs says a lot about your skills.”
Allan fished an empty bowl from the tub of dirty dishes and he sniffed it, wrinkling his nose. “Is it normal for it to smell like this?”
“I don’t know,” the girl admitted. “I do not know why, but they never look or smell the same...”
Allan looked up at the sky, thinking that if Gisborne was ready to eat any dish cooked by Marian for love, then he never wanted to fall in love.
“What ingredients did you use today?”
“The usual: eggs, flour, honey, some spice...”
Allan looked at the mess on the table.
“Shouldn’t there be more shells if you used the eggs?”
“Maybe some of them has fallen into the dough, but once it’s cooked, you don’t notice...”
"Poor Giz..." Allan said, then he stopped abruptly, noticing an empty bag. “What's this?!”
“The flour bag, isn’t it?”
“Where did you get that?” Allan asked, now mortally serious.
“On the top shelf... I dropped the flour bag I used yesterday and the flour fell to the ground, so I had to get a new one.”
“Marian... This is not flour.”
“What do you mean?”
Allan put a finger on the traces of dust left in the bag and sniffed it.
“Are you kidding me, Marian? Didn’t you smell it? Do you ever taste what you cook?!”
The girl looked at him angrily, offended because Allan's words had hit the mark.
“It's none of your business and Guy never complained! And anyway if it isn’t flour, what is it?”
"If it was on the top shelf it must be one of the drugs that Djaq had prepared for Giz when he was wounded..." Allan said worriedly. “How much of it did you use?”
“All of it. The bag was full. But if it's a medicine it can’t be dangerous, can it?”
“Ask the pigs.”
Guy got off his horse and he was forced to lean on the side of the animal so as not to lose his balance. He had the impression that the courtyard of the castle was circling around him and he was forced to close his eyes, breathing deeply to fight a sudden wave of nausea.
He had begun to feel unwell shortly after leaving home and he promised himself that in the future he would avoid eating Marian's pancakes when they were completely raw inside.
He took another deep breath to fight the malaise and he let one of the castle attendants take his horse away.
Guy went to the other nobles, cautiously: now the nausea seemed to have calmed down, but he was still feeling a little dizzy and had the feeling of not being able to think clearly.
Perhaps he would have done better to apologize and ask permission to retire to the lodgings that had been assigned to him, but he wanted to be there when the guests arrived to see if his sister really was among them.
He hadn’t seen her for more than sixteen years and he still wondered how she had changed in all those years. The last time he saw her, she was just a frightened young girl and now she must be an adult woman, a married lady and maybe a mother.
Guy remembered the last look, full of hatred and pain, that his sister had addressed to him. He felt nervous, his stomach tightened again and his heart beating too fast.
Perhaps, Guy thought, the sickness he felt wasn’t due to what he had eaten that morning, but to the anxiety and guilt he felt at the thought of seeing Isabella again after such a long time.
“Come on, Allan! We have to go to Guy, right away!”
Marian ran to the barn and Allan followed her, but, once mounted on horseback, he turned to her in a determined tone.
“We will not go to Nottingham. Not now.”
“But Guy... He could die!”
“Exactly. We must first go to Clun and talk to Djaq, she will tell us what we can do.”
Marian nodded, terrified and they both started the horses at a gallop.
“Were those pancakes more disgusting than usual?” Allan asked after a while. “Maybe Giz didn’t eat so many of them if the taste was horrible...”
“I do not know,” Marian sobbed. “I haven’t tasted them. I don’t know how many of them he ate...”
“Holy Heaven, Marian, I used to joke about it, but you really poisoned him!”
Guy briefly greeted the sheriff and he joined the other nobles on the stairs, hoping the guests' carriages would arrive quickly. They stood waiting in the sun and he had the impression that the temperature was much higher than normal. Even the light seemed too bright and it hurt his eyes, making his head throb painfully.
The sheriff approached him, looking at him with contempt.
“Well Gizzy, join the other noble parasites, like a good boy. I'm glad you decided to accept my invitation... A clue: no.”
“If I'm here it's not for you, my lord. I have other reasons and certainly the pleasure of your company is not one of these. In fact, I would gladly do without it,” Guy replied, on impulse, and Vaisey stood gazing at him for a moment, surprised by those insolent words.
Archer stared at his brother, amazed and alarmed. In the past, he had seen him accept far worse mistreatment and insults from the sheriff without saying a word, and now he was answering him in that provocative way without any real reason? What was he thinking?
“Are you drunk, Gisborne, or have you gone insane?” The sheriff asked in a derisive tone, noticing that Guy’s gaze was clouded and that he didn’t seem to be completely conscious.
“I've been crazy to serve you for all these years. How did I endure your black soul and all your disgusting habits for so long?” Guy stopped with a foolish laugh and he looked at Archer. “Did you know that he paints his toenails black? Have you ever held the bottle of paint? Because this was one of my very important assignments! When I didn’t have to oppress the innocents in his name, of course.”
“Gisborne, shut up or I'll have you whipped!” Vaisey hissed and, realizing that a carriage had entered the courtyard, he put a false smile on his face and sent Guy back to his place among the other nobles with a shove.
Chapter 7: Isabella
Djaq stroked her belly and she smiled to herself.
By now, she knew, it was almost time and soon she and Will would know the son or daughter generated by their love.
She sighed slightly at the thought that his son would never know the hot sand of the desert, but only the fresh shadows of the forest and she thought back to her family, who had long since rested under those sands.
She was far from her land and she would always miss it, but now the birth of her child would make her plant her roots in England forever. She would never return to her homeland, now England was her home, the place where her children and her children's children would be born.
She would always miss the hot sun of her land, but it didn’t matter: for what she had lost she had received back something equally important.
Djaq, my brother, I wish you could meet your nephew.
The girl sighed again and wished that Will didn’t go to chop wood in the forest that day: she felt melancholic and she wanted to have him close.
A frantic knocking at the door roused her from those thoughts, filling her with apprehension: she and Will were still outlaws even though they no longer lived with Robin's gang. Could it be that the guards had found them? What if the soldiers were coming to arrest them?
Certainly Djaq couldn’t escape, her pregnancy was too advanced.
She tried to stay calm.
“Come in, it's open,” she said aloud, and a moment later Allan and Marian plunged into the room.
Djaq stared at them, stunned. Marian was in tears and sobbed, while Allan was unusually serious.
“She poisoned Giz,” Allan said, pointing at Marian, who broke up in other sobs.
“I thought it was flour!”
Djaq looked at her without understanding.
“Let me speak, you have done enough for today,” Allan said turning to Marian, then he looked at Djaq and explained the situation quickly, but trying to be clear.
He handed her the empty bag and Djaq sniffed it.
“How much of it did he take?”
“We don’t know. Marian used the whole bag to make pancakes, but we don’t know how many of them he ate.”
The Saracen girl wondered how it could be possible to exchange a medicinal powder with the flour, but she didn’t say anything because Marian already seemed quite upset.
“Is he going to die?” Marian sobbed, and Djaq took her hand to calm her.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“But the pigs...”
“Are you sure they were really dead?”
Djaq smiled slightly.
“Poor Guy. It won’t be very pleasant for him, but he will be fine, you don’t have to worry.”
“Yes, don’t worry. But you won’t have to give too much weight to what he will say, sometimes an overdose of that medicine can cloud your mind.”
“What do you mean?” Allan asked.
“He could see things that don’t exist, or say things that he would normally keep for himself. A little like what happens to you when you drink too much, Allan.”
“But it's not true!”
“The other day you wanted to marry Guy's horse,” Marian pointed out, relieved.
“Hey, but if Giz went to Nottingham, maybe it's not good if he starts raving in front of the sheriff.”
Marian looked at him, worried again.
“Maybe it's better if you go to get him back as soon as possible,” Djaq said, handing Allan a small bundle. “Dissolve this powder in water, make him drink a lot and then let him sleep, tomorrow he will feel much better already.”
Archer approached Guy, taking advantage of the sheriff's distraction.
“What's wrong with you? Are you crazy?” He whispered. "You asked me to persuade the sheriff to invite the local nobles and now you behave like that? Do you want to be kicked out of the castle like a dog?”
“I'm not a dog! And it’s the sheriff who deserves to be kicked!” Guy said and Archer silenced him before Vaisey could hear him.
“You are not well,” Archer said, looking at him, and he took Guy by the arm. “Come on, it's best if I accompany you to your room.”
At that moment Gisborne saw the black-haired woman who had just come down from the carriage and he wriggled away from Archer's grip to meet her.
The woman turned to look at him, frowning, and her haughty expression cracked for a moment.
Gisborne stared at her for a moment, as if hypnotized. He couldn’t think clearly, but he remembered how Isabella was when she was a child, and he had always imagined that when she grew up she would have become like her mother. Now that he saw her as a grown-up, he was surprised to discover that she was a woman completely different from the mental image that he had made of her in all those years.
He wanted to tell her, but he felt confused, partly because his head was spinning and partly for the emotion.
"You got old and you don’t look like our mother at all,” he said, with a giggle, and Isabella stared at him, icily. She turned to one of the coachmen of her carriage, took the whip from his hand and she used it to hit Guy several times, until he collapsed on his knees at her feet, then, without saying a word, she threw the broken whip to the ground and she climbed the stairs, entering the castle with an outraged air.
The sheriff approached Gisborne, chuckling. Archer followed him, watching his brother, worried.
“Well, well, Gizzy. Perhaps it might be interesting to have invited you at the castle, after all. As a matter of fact, I lacked a jester. What do you think, Gizzy? Do I have to get you a cap with rattles or will you keep making yourself ridiculous on your own?”
Guy closed his eyes, trembling for a sudden chill. It was strange, he felt hot and cold at the same time, his head was spinning and his stomach ached even more than before.
“I feel sick,” he said, and the sheriff burst out laughing again.
“I can believe it, Gizzy, you acted like an idiot in front of everyone, I would feel sick for shame if I were you.”
Guy leaned forward with a groan, giving in to nausea and the sheriff jumped back in disgust.
“I think he was really sick, my lord,” Archer commented, impassive.
“Take care of this pathetic fool and have everything cleaned before the other guests arrive,” Vaisey ordered dryly, then he turned his back on both of them and he went back into the castle.
Archer kicked the door open and he helped Guy to walk to the bed. His brother leaned heavily on him and he seemed weak. When Archer made him sit on the bed, Guy sagged, curling up on his side.
Archer watched him for a few seconds, then he poured some water into the basin and wet a towel that he then used to dab Guy's face.
Guy remained motionless, without opening his eyes.
“Thank you,” he said weakly, and Archer sat on the bed, shaking his head.
“I don’t understand you, really. You wanted so much to be invited to be able to talk with our sister and clarify the things left in suspense between you, and then you came to the castle completely drunk, acting like a perfect fool.”
Guy turned on his back with a groan. He felt weak and he still had stomach cramps, but at least now he was able to think clearly again.
“I wasn’t drunk.”
“No? Did you know the sheriff paints his toenails black?”
“Did I really say that?”
“And it wasn’t even the worst thing that came out of your mouth.”
“Yeah. I threw up almost on the sheriff's feet, what could be worse than that?”
“Getting lashed by your sister after insulting her instead of asking for her forgiveness?”
Guy put his hand over his eyes with a groan.
“What got me, Archer? I was convinced I had complimented her.”
“Wine doesn’t agree with you, brother, that's all.”
“I swear, I didn’t drink.”
Archer put a hand on his shoulder.
"I believe you, but that was the impression you gave. It must have been something you ate, then. You have no idea how many substances exist that can cloud a man's thoughts. How do you feel now?”
“Sleep, then. I have to go back to the sheriff, but I'll tell one of the guards to stay out of your door, if you need help, call him. And if you need to be sick again, here is a bucket.”
Guy turned back to his side, looking for a more comfortable position. His stomach still hurt, but at least the nausea seemed to have passed completely.
“You’re welcome. And don’t feel too bad, it happens to everyone to look like an idiot sooner or later. It must be said that you did it in style.”
Guy let out a faint smile, then he closed his eyes with a sigh: he felt so tired.
Chapter 8: I Don't Know and I Don't Care
Marian dismounted and Allan imitated her a moment later.
The girl looked around and saw a group of nobles gathered on the stairs, but Guy wasn’t among them. Fortunately not even the sheriff seemed to be present.
“Where will Giz be?”
“If he's unwell, probably in his quarters.”
Allan and Marian headed for the castle entrance, passing by the group of nobles on the stairs.
Those people were talking to each other in a low voice and Marian had the impression that they were looking at her, pointing to her secretly and laughing.
She sighed, exasperated.
All right, they considered her Guy's lover, but for how long that foolish gossip would go on?
Perhaps once the engagement was made public, things would improve, she thought. As long as Guy still wanted to marry her after learning that she was the one who poisoned him.
Allan looked around, admired: the castle was decorated with banners and flags and it seemed that the sheriff had done things on a grand scale to welcome his guests.
“I wonder if they gave him his old rooms,” Allan asked to himself.
“I would say no, since I live there now,” a voice behind them said, and Marian and Allan turned around, finding themselves face to face with Archer. “Are you looking for Guy?”
Marian looked at him, worried.
“Is he alright?”
Archer gave her a curious look. The girl's obvious anxiety made him realize that Marian must be aware of the reason for the state in which Gisborne was.
“Why do you ask?”
Allan gave the girl a resentful look.
“Because she poisoned him by mistake and now she feels guilty, that's why!”
“Allan!” Marian shouted, blushing, then she looked back at Archer. “So, how is he?”
Archer was tempted to keep her hanging for a while, but he realized that the girl was really worried and decided to answer her sincerely.
"I've seen him in better condition, in fact, but I think he's recovering. When I left him a while ago, he was sleeping.”
“Can we see him?”
Archer called a soldier.
"I have to go back to my job now, but Harold will take you to his lodgings." He shook his head in disbelief. “Poisoned... That's the reason of his behavior...”
Marian and Allan followed the guard along the castle corridors until Harold stopped at a door guarded by another soldier.
Allan looked at the man, puzzled.
“Why is he treated like a prisoner?”
“He’s not. Archer has ordered me to remain available to help Sir Guy if necessary.”
“In this case, then, could you bring hot water?”
The soldier obeyed and walked off along the corridor with Harold, while Allan and Marian pushed the door and entered Gisborne's room.
Guy was lying on the bed, on his side, in an apparently uncomfortable position and he was still completely dressed. Marian had already watched him sleep in the past, but even when she had seen him suffering for a high fever, Guy had never been as motionless and inert as he was now.
For a moment she feared that Djaq was wrong and that Guy was dead, but then she saw him breathe and at that moment she resumed breathing too.
She slowly approached the bed and reached out to touch his face. Guy's skin was warm and dry and Marian wondered if he had a fever. She moved a lock of hair from his face with a tender gesture, but Guy didn’t react to her touch.
Marian threw a worried look at Allan and the young man approached and put a hand on his friend's shoulder to shake him a little more energetically.
“Hey, Giz, how are you?”
Gisborne moved slightly and he sank back his face into the pillow with a moan.
Allan shook him again and finally Guy decided to open his eyes.
“Allan?” Guy looked at him, confused. “Is it really you?”
“Guy!” Marian came over and took his hand.
Gisborne smiled faintly.
“How do you feel, Guy?”
Guy smiled bitterly.
“Just like one who has thrown away his dignity and all hope of being respected.”
Marian let go of his hand, horrified. It was only her fault and she was afraid that Guy couldn’t forgive her for what she had done to him.
She took a step back, but Gisborne was too stunned to notice.
Allan shook him again to keep him awake and helped him to sit up.
He brought a cup to his lips.
“Try to drink this, Giz. Djaq said it will make you feel better.”
“Djaq? No, you'll explain it later, now I want to sleep.”
“Drink first. Slowly. Good.”
Marian watched from a distance, hidden by the dimness of the room, feeling useless and guilty. If Guy was so unwell it was only the fault of her superficiality and her selfish vanity. She had taken pleasure in the fact that Guy appreciated the food she cooked and she had never stopped to think much about the fact that he did it just to please her.
Once, Allan had told her that Guy would gladly accept poison from her, and Marian felt sick at the thought of what might have happened.
She wanted to take care of him and to try to make him feel better, but how could she think she was capable of it when she risked killing him just trying to make breakfast?
She looked at Allan as he made Guy drink the medicine that had been entrusted to him by Djaq (the girl had handed it to Allan, not to her and Marian could very well imagine the reason) and then while helping him to take off his jacket and boots before letting him lie on the bed again.
Marian wiped her tears with one hand, walking back to the door. Allan knew how to help Guy and he was doing it, while she was only able to hurt him and she was just standing in the way.
She slipped out of the room in silence and ran away, crushed by guilt.
When Guy awoke, he was surprised to see the rosy light of dawn entering the window of that strange room. When Archer had almost carried him into his quarters, it was still morning, he was sure of that, then he vaguely remembered the arrival of Marian and Allan. Allan had made him drink something and had helped him undress, but after that he remembered nothing at all.
He sat up on the bed and looked around: Marian wasn’t there, but Allan was sleeping on a mattress on the floor in a corner of the room.
Guy got out of bed with caution: he felt a little weak, but he wasn’t sick anymore.
He approached Allan and knelt to wake his friend.
Allan opened his eyes with a start and looked at him, then smiled, relieved.
“Oh, Giz. You feel better?”
Allan's gaze hardened.
“I don’t know and I don’t care.”
Gisborne looked at him, amazed by the abrupt tone of his friend. He had never seen Allan in that angry mood.
“She poisoned you, Giz!”
“She used one of Djaq's drugs instead of the flour yesterday morning.”
“Ah. Now I understand. But nothing serious happened, now I'm fine.”
Allan stared at him, with a grave look that made Guy worry.
“You're fine only because Djaq is a prudent person and she has good sense. Yesterday she told me that when she uses certain dangerous substances to prepare a medicine, she always mixes them with other herbs that empty the stomach if taken in excessive quantities.”
“So that's why I felt so sick...”
“And you must be happy, otherwise you would be dead.”
Guy sat on the bed with a sigh.
“If I had known that, I would have kept away from the sheriff...”
Allan looked at him, amused.
“Yes, I heard what happened. Well, he deserved it anyway. Are you still feeling nauseous?”
“No. On the contrary, I'm hungry. But I don’t know how I will find the courage to show up again.”
“You're alive, that's what matters. Yesterday I was really scared.”
Guy looked at him, struck by his friend's concern. The day before he hadn’t realized that he had been in danger, but Allan must have really been frightened.
“By the way, Giz, what happened to your face? You're full of scratches and red marks, it looks like they hit you...”
“With a riding crop,” Guy continued for him. “My sister. I'm not sure what I could have said to her...”
Allan patted him on the shoulder.
“Don’t think about it too much, it's just one more thing to apologize for. It can’t be worse than having sold her, right? If she can forgive you for that, she will also forgive you for everything else.”
Guy covered his face with his hands with a sigh.
He didn’t know if it was worse to think about the time when he would have to face his sister again or the one when the sheriff would surely have fun, mocking him in front of all the other nobles. Guy thought that maybe he would do better to go back to Locksley and not be seen around for at least a few months.
Allan sighed too.
“Maybe you should go look for Marian,” he said, reluctantly. "It's true that she nearly killed you, but she was also out of her mind with fear.”
Guy looked at the door, worried, and nodded. He didn’t want to be seen by the other guests of the castle, but he had to talk to Marian, to reassure her and to tell her that he wasn’t mad at her.
He saw the trunk he had brought from Locksley in a corner of the room, and he opened it to look for clean clothes.
After all, he couldn’t hide in that room forever, he thought resignedly, starting to get ready.
Chapter 9: Really
Guy looked around quickly, wondering where Marian might be. Every time he entered one of the common rooms of the castle he could clearly feel the glances of the others on him while he wasn’t looking, and, as soon as he turned, he saw ironic smiles and muffled giggles.
Gisborne sighed to himself: he had to expect the ill-concealed ridicule of the people after what had happened and he knew very well that the sheriff would take advantage of it to humiliate him in every possible way.
He saw Sir Edward, and the elderly lord came to meet him. Guy was consoled to see that his eyes were the only ones not amused and that indeed they showed a sincere concern.
“Sir Guy! How do you feel? Allan told me what happened...”
Gisborne smiled at him, grateful.
“I'm fine now. It was mostly my pride to be affected,” he admitted with a small sigh, and Marian's father smiled to encourage him.
“People quickly forget, wait for the next gossip or little scandal and they will no longer remember your misadventure. The important thing is that you're well.”
“Guess so. Where is Marian?”
Sir Edward smiled slightly.
"It seems to me that you have taken what happened better than my daughter. It is since yesterday morning that she hasn’t left her lodgings and she also rejected the food I brought her. I guess she feels guilty.”
Guy looked at him, worried.
“But she didn’t do it on purpose!”
Sir Edward shook his head and he put a hand on Guy's shoulder.
"Sir Guy, you would say the same thing even if my daughter should stab you in the heart, I'm afraid. With your last breath you’d find a way to excuse her. As a father I can only be pleased with your dedication, but I think this time Marian needed this lesson of humility. Her carelessness could have cost a lot to both of you. Suffering a little for her guilt will do her good and will push her to think a little more before acting, next time.”
"Maybe you're not wrong, but I'm fine now and I don’t want Marian to suffer because of me. Take me to her rooms, please.”
“Gisborne! I see you've recovered,” Archer said, approaching the two men. "If you look for Lady Marian, I can accompany you to her lodgings.”
Guy understood that his brother wanted to talk to him and nodded. He took his leave of Sir Edward and followed Archer along the castle corridors.
“So, how are you?” Archer asked after a while, after looking around to make sure that the corridor was deserted.
“I’m in good health, for the rest, every time someone looks at me I’d just want to hide.”
Archer burst out laughing.
“And you still haven’t met the sheriff.”
“Please, kill me now.”
“Look at the bright side, at least you're alive. Judging by the upset faces your friends had, you must have taken a big risk and survived without too much damage. It's already good, isn’t it?”
“This is true, even if I would rather not be the object of the ridicule of the whole castle.”
"I'm sorry for you, but I have to admit it was pretty funny. You should have seen the sheriff's face when you threw up at his feet.”
“Don’t remind it to me, please,” Guy said with a groan.
“All right, I won’t, but I think that the sheriff will definitely do it.”
Gisborne glared at him and Archer chuckled again.
“Don’t be mad, come on. You can still recover some of your dignity.”
“I don’t see how.”
“The sheriff has done big things to accommodate these guests, there are festivities, challenges and tournaments for anyone who wants to test themselves. You’re good with a sword, if you prove to be valiant in combat, people will forget your behavior of yesterday.”
“Do you think so?”
“I do. And then surely they thought that you had to be drunk, yesterday morning. Sooner or later anyone has made a fool of themselves after drinking too much, they will soon forget it if you don’t give too much importance to it.”
“I wasn’t drunk,” Guy said, tiredly.
“Yes, you were. Or at least you should say that you were. Being accidentally poisoned by your girlfriend is much more ridiculous than having exaggerated for once with wine.” Archer shook his head, laughing. “I still wonder how she could mistake a medicinal remedy for flour... And how you didn’t notice the difference...”
Guy let out a smile.
“Maybe you're right.”
Archer pointed to a door.
“We arrived. Come on, go and comfort the brilliant cook.” Archer left Gisborne in front of Marian's bedroom door and walked away down the corridor, but he turned around after a few steps, smiling with amusement. “Guy?”
“When you are married I don’t think I will accept your invitation for lunch,” he said with a laugh, then he hurried to go away before the brother could answer him.
Marian heard a knock on the door, but she didn’t move from the bed. Her father had already come to look for her several times, bringing food trays, but she didn’t want to eat or see anyone.
How could she allow herself to be comforted when she didn’t deserve it at all? She was an irresponsible fool and her stupidity had damaged Guy.
She shivered, clutching her pillow.
If he was alive, he owed it only to the foresight of Djaq, only to that.
Marian felt dirty, stained, just as if she had the blood of the man she loved on her hands.
She turned on her side, bursting into new sobs.
They knocked again and the girl covered her face with her hands.
Go away. I don’t want to eat. I don’t deserve anything.
She jumped up recognizing Guy's voice and her heart filled with joy and gratitude. If he was there, outside her door, it meant he was alive and he was fine!
She started to run toward the door, driven by the need to hug him, to make sure of his condition with her own eyes, but she stopped suddenly.
How could she? With what courage could she look him in the eye after what she had done to him?
And how could she endure his anger?
She stood still, her face streaked with tears and her heart beating too fast.
Guy knocked a third time without being answered, and for a moment he wondered if the room was empty.
He shook his head.
Marian was there, on the other side of the door, he was sure.
The silence was total, but Guy could feel her presence.
He leaned against the door with his back, without taking his hand off the handle.
“I know you're there, Marian. I waited so many times at your door... Waiting for a gesture, for a word... And you never answered, pretending not to be there, but I always knew you were there and that you simply didn’t want to answer because I was the one who knocked... Please don’t do it. Not again. Don’t leave me out...”
The door opened behind him without warning, risking to make him lose his balance, and Guy turned quickly to look into the crack that had opened. Marian stood by the door, clinging to it, as if to support herself and she didn’t dare to look up.
Guy looked at the girl's pale face, at her red, puffy eyes and at her tangled hair, and he felt as if something was melting inside him. He pushed the door and took her in his arms in a single movement, holding her to his heart, and Marian burst into tears, hiding her face on his chest.
Guy stroked her hair slowly, until the sobs subsided, then he put his hand on her cheek to lift her face. He smiled to find her blue eyes and wiped her tears with a finger.
“Don’t cry anymore, everything is alright,” he whispered, but Marian shook her head.
“You could have died! It’s my fault…”
Gisborne brushed a lock of her hair from her face and kissed her temple.
“Do I look dead? I'm fine, really, nothing happened.”
Marian leaned her face on his shoulder with a distressed sigh.
“Don’t say that, Guy. It isn’t true and we both know it. I saw how unwell you were yesterday and they told me what happened to you because of me. When I entered your room and I saw you on the bed, so pale and motionless I thought Djaq must have been wrong, I thought I killed you...”
Marian's voice broke again in other sobs. “I don’t know how I would do if I should lose you!”
“Really?” Guy asked, joyfully.
Marian gave him a puzzled look.
"Do you really care so much about me?"
The girl smiled at him between tears.
Guy lifted her into his arms and he made a half-turn before returning to hug her and kiss her.
“You make me happy. Really.”
Marian rested her face on his chest and listened to Guy's heartbeat for a while.
“I'm so sorry, Guy,” she whispered. “I didn’t want to poison you, it was a mistake...”
“It would be worrying if you had done it on purpose, don’t you think?”
“Indeed, yes,” Marian admitted, allowing herself to smile.
“Well? Is everything all right between us, then?” Guy asked, smiling at her with a knowing air. “Do you still want to marry one who made himself the laughing stock of the whole castle?”
“I would say I do. And do you really want a wife who can’t even tell apart flour from a potentially lethal medicine?”
“We’ll hire a cook.”
Marian burst out laughing and she hugged him tightly.
Guy kissed her again, then he pulled away from her and held out a hand.
“So, since you don’t fear the ridicule and you're not going to poison me again, how about going to have breakfast? I don’t know about you, but I'm starving.”
The girl was about to object that she would have to at least change her dress, untangle her hair and try to wipe away the traces of tears from her face, but she said nothing and took Gisborne's hand, smiling.
She was hungry too and she couldn’t stand the idea of having to separate from Guy, not even for a few moments. If the others had something to say about her appearance, they would have to laugh at her as well as they laughed at Guy.
She intertwined her fingers with those of her betrothed and they exchanged a happy look.
Everything else didn’t matter.
Chapter 10: In the Eyes of a Sister
Guy let go of Marian's hand just a moment before entering the great hall.
Long tables had been set in the hall and most of the guests were already sitting at their seats when Guy and Marian entered.
Gisborne tried hard not to notice the ironic gazes that had focused on him as soon as he entered, and he and the girl took a seat next to Sir Edward.
“Ah, Gisborne,” the sheriff said, malicious. “You're still here, I see. Are you going to dispense other pearls of wisdom today?”
Guy didn’t look up and he just shook his head.
“No, my lord,” he said in a humble tone.
He knew that the sheriff had just begun to have fun at his expense and that the only sensible thing to do was to endure any insult and wait for him to get tired.
Marian took his hand under the table and squeezed it lightly. Guy closed his fingers on those of the girl, grateful for that gesture of comfort.
“Good for you, Gizzy. Be careful to keep your mouth shut or I might decide to punish your insolence. I don’t think you have a lot of healthy skin on your back, if I were you I would do my best to keep it whole.”
Vaisey was about to say something else, but at that moment the servants, loaded with trays of food and jugs of fine wine, entered the hall and began to serve the meal and fill the goblets of the guests.
The sheriff imperiously stopped the servant who was about to pour wine into Guy's chalice and he spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear.
“No! Only water for Gizzy, I wouldn’t want to see again some unseemly scenes. You should thank me, don’t you think? I avoid making you even more ridiculous than you have already done.”
A buzz went through the room while the eyes of all present were staring at Guy, waiting for his reaction. The sheriff's insult was bad enough to push a knight to react violently to defend his honor, but they also knew that confronting the Sheriff of Nottingham would be madness to pay with blood.
Guy stood up and let his gaze wander over the guests sitting at the tables before he stared back at the sheriff. Neither his sister nor her husband were present, he noted absently before turning to Vaisey.
“It is true, my lord, yesterday morning my behavior was shameful and I would like to apologize to those who have been forced to witness it. But in my defense I can say that I am not the only culprit for what happened: even Lady Marian has a good part of responsibility.”
Marian held her breath and gave him a hurt look.
Why did Guy talk like that? Did he want to ridicule her in front of everyone?
Even Sir Edward was frowning and staring at him sternly, while everyone else was curious to hear how he would go on.
Guy took Marian's arm to make her stand up and he smiled at her, then turned back to the other nobles.
"Lady Marian is guilty because she has agreed to marry me, and I admit that I have celebrated our engagement too enthusiastically. The joy of having her by my side as future Lady Gisborne has pushed me to exaggerate with wine and to lose control of my actions. It was certainly foolish and inappropriate on my part and I beg you again to accept my sincerest apologies, but I hope that seeing my betrothed you may understand the reason for my recklessness.”
Marian looked at him, happy and moved, then she realized that the looks that the other nobles addressed to Guy were still amused, but less contemptuous than just a while ago.
“I always said that that woman would ruin you,” the sheriff commented in a bored and disgusted tone. "It's like leprosy, Gisborne, look how low you’ve fallen.”
Robin looked at Meg, puzzled: the girl was holding a piece of chalk and using it to draw a symbol on one of the inn's external beams.
“Do you think it will work?” He asked, skeptical.
The girl shrugged, and she adjusted the hood of her cloak that hid her face.
“Allan said that at the time this was the way he contacted Gisborne. And I know that your method is more fun, but you can’t shoot arrows inside the castle windows. Also because you don’t know what Guy's room is.”
Robin could not object and followed her inside the inn.
Guy looked at Marian and smiled at her from a distance. The girl had been surrounded by the other women who wanted to admire the engagement ring or who wanted to involve her in some funny gossip and Gisborne was happy to see her in company.
When word got out that she was her lover, Marian had been isolated and treated with disdain, but perhaps now the announcement of their engagement was beginning to settle things. Of course, there was always the possibility that those women were just curious to know if he behaved like a perfect fool even in private, but it didn’t really matter. Marian seemed to be happy to chat with the young ones and he was pleased to see her serene.
He left her to the company of those new friends and retired from the great hall.
He had consoled and reassured Marian, and perhaps he had managed to make up at least a little for the bad scene of the day before, but he still had a problem to solve and this time Guy had the impression that it wouldn’t be so simple.
His memories of what had happened were rather confusing, but he remembered perfectly the emotion he had felt in seeing his sister's face after such a long time.
There was still a faint trace of her childhood face in her, the one he remembered so well, but Isabella was a woman now, matured by a life he didn’t know at all.
What had she done in all those years? Were the smiles to sculpt the features of her face or her eyes had become so luminous because of the tears of some past pain?
He had left behind an immature teenager and had found a woman in the flower of her beauty.
The day before Guy had expressed his thoughts badly, but he hadn’t lied: Isabella didn’t look much like Ghislaine except for the color of her dark curls and white skin, but she had something of their father's pride in her.
Guy wondered what impression he had made in the eyes of his sister, except that of a drunken fool obviously.
When he had married her to Thornton, Guy's hands were not yet stained with so much blood, though his heart always carried the guilt of their parents' death. Then Guy still didn’t know what it meant to kill a man in cold blood, he had not sold his soul yet to the ruthlessness of the sheriff.
How had he changed in all those years? Was there still in him something of that Guy of Gisborne who had been Isabella's brother?
He turned the corner of a corridor and jumped as he came face to face with the object of his thoughts.
Isabella was alone, followed only by a maid, and for a moment she seemed surprised to find herself in front of Guy, then her gaze hardened and she started to go on, completely ignoring him.
“Isabella! Wait up!” Guy said, moving to block the passage.
His sister looked at him with disgust.
“I have nothing to say to you. Return to drown your vices in some tavern.”
“Yesterday I wasn’t myself, I said words that I didn’t mean, but it was a mistake, I assure you, I don’t have the habit of getting drunk.”
“Too bad,” Isabella said, icily and Guy looked at her, perplexed.
“Usually drunkards die prematurely.”
Gisborne stared at her, shocked by his sister's hateful tone.
“Would you like to see me dead?”
“Yes, Guy. If there was a divine justice, there would be nothing left of you but bones and ashes.”
Guy took a step back, frightened by Isabella's gaze.
His sister was not exaggerating and her were not impulsive words dictated by the fury of the moment or old grudges. Isabella would have really preferred to know he was dead, she would have liked to put a marble tombstone on his brother's grave and erase him forever from her world.
He shook his head, desolate.
“Why?” He managed to ask in a low voice.
“Do you know what you did to me?”
Guy understood that he was referring to the marriage with Thornton.
“I tried to give you an opportunity. I grabbed the only chance we had at that moment...”
“You killed me. While you were the one who deserved to die.”
Isabella turned her back and walked away without saying anything else, but Guy didn’t even try to follow her.
He took another step back and leaned against the stone wall with his back, trembling.
Chapter 11: Find Out the Truth
Allan hurried along the castle corridors, looking for Guy. He found him a little later and, when he saw him, he was worried: Gisborne was leaning against the wall of the corridor, keeping his eyes closed and looking pale and suffering.
“Do you still feel unwell, Giz?”
Guy straightened up and opened his eyes, running a hand over his face, tiredly.
“No, no, it's nothing.”
“Are you sure? Maybe you shouldn’t have got up so soon...”
“I'm fine, Allan.”
“I'm not being funny, Giz, it looks like you've seen a ghost...”
“Maybe that's true,” Guy said with a sigh, then he looked at Allan, trying not to think of Isabella's words. “Were you looking for me? What did you want?”
“There is the signal.”
“At the inn?”
“Better to go, then. We should try to get out of the castle without being noticed.”
Allan handed him a cloak with a hood.
“When we're out of the castle, hide your face. Signal or not signal, it wouldn’t do if people should see you entering a tavern.”
Guy gave him a half smile.
“Yes, better to avoid it.”
Marian smiled at the girls around her, a little uncomfortable. She wasn’t used to the company of other young women and their attentions pleased her, but at the same time they intimidated her a little.
They were all curious about Guy, though they tried to hide their indiscretion behind advice and suggestions for the upcoming wedding, each apparently anxious to share her experience with her.
A good part of those girls were about her age and among them she was the only one not yet married, while the others already had at least one or two children. Marian felt she was different from them, as if her inexperience had cut her out from the world of those girls, a world she couldn’t quite comprehend.
One of the young women suggested a certain type of fabric for the wedding dress, triggering an endless and heated discussion among the others who would have chosen a different quality. Marian wondered if it really was such an important decision and if Guy really would notice the difference as the other girls were saying.
The chatter of the others was silenced when another woman entered the hall, accompanied by her personal maid, and many of the girls threw curious looks at Marian.
The newcomer was supposed to be a few years older than them, but she was still in the flower of her beauty, though her expression was haughty and detached. The woman didn’t pay the least attention to those present and she reached her husband to sit at his side.
“What can you tell us about that woman?” One of the girls asked Marian, in a whisper.
Marian looked at her, perplexed, wondering why she should know anything about that woman.
"I know her name is Isabella Thornton.”
“Come on, don’t be mysterious, Lady Marian, surely you must know something more, since your future husband knows her.”
“Really?” Marian let out, amazed.
“Didn’t you know?” The other continued, with a mischievous light in his eyes. “Yesterday morning, when Lady Thornton's carriage arrived, Sir Guy ran to say something to her and she, in response, took a whip from the hands of one of the coachmen and hit him several times until he collapsed to his knees.”
Marian recalled the scratches and marks on Guy's face and paled. She had thought he had hurt himself by falling to the ground because of Djaq's medicine or that the sheriff had punished him, but no one had told her about Lady Thornton's reaction.
"I wonder what Sir Guy said to make her react like that.”
“Maybe they were lovers once,” another girl suggested, without worrying too much about the presence of Marian and unleashing the giggles of the others.
“Maybe they still are,” a third girl hypothesized, giggling.
Marian remained silent, her face flushed and her eyes bright with tears, without having the courage to say anything because she didn’t want to admit that Guy had never told her about that mysterious woman.
Marian looked at her with a heart tightened by a mixture of fear, humiliation and jealousy: Isabella Thornton was a beautiful woman, with dark, thick hair and piercing blue eyes, dressed with an elegance and richness that Marian could never have matched .
In comparison, she felt incredibly simple and insignificant, a naive and inexperienced girl, though in reality she was almost too old for marriage. If Guy really had any interest in that beautiful and sophisticated woman, how could she compete?
Guy and Allan entered the inn and one of the maids led them to a private room after winking at Allan.
Robin and Meg were already seated, and on the table in front of them there were a tray full of food and a jug of wine with four mugs.
Allan barred the door after entering and only then all four of them decided to take off the cloaks they had used to conceal their identity.
Robin looked at Guy and, from the amused gleam of his eyes, Gisborne understood that the outlaw must already be aware of his misadventure and that he was about to make one of his jokes.
“Not a word, Hood,” he said threateningly, sitting in front of him and pointing a finger to intimidate him. “I already have to put up with Vaisey, I certainly don’t need to listen to your nonsense.”
Robin raised his hands in front of him, innocently.
“Hey, I didn’t say anything.”
Guy gave him a dark look and took a grape from the tray.
“So what do you want? It’s not prudent to meet like this.”
"It would have been much more safe if you hadn’t attracted so much attention to yourself.”
Guy snorted and Allan looked at him, vaguely worried, then he smiled at Meg and refilled his plate.
"It wasn’t funny at all, Hood, and if you came here to make fun of me, then I will leave immediately.”
Robin was about to say that actually the scene must have been terribly funny, but Meg sensed his intentions and kicked him on the shin.
The outlaw winced, but closed his mouth and looked at Guy. The friend seemed to be in a decidedly bleak mood, and Robin sensed that it shouldn’t be only because of the incident with Marian's pancakes.
“All right, Guy?” He asked in a worried tone.
Gisborne looked at him, surprised for the question, then shook his head weakly.
“Isabella,” he just said.
“I gather that she wasn’t too happy to see you again.”
“She hates me... She wants to see me dead.”
“Give her time, she has much to forgive.”
“Yeah. But let's change the subject if you don’t mind. Why did you call me?”
“Did you discover the reason for this meeting? Why did the sheriff invite all those people?”
“Certainly not for mere hospitality, but I have no idea of his true purpose.”
“There's something wrong, there are too many messengers coming and going from the castle, we have to find out what Vaisey's intentions are.”
"I'll enter the castle and rummage through the sheriff's papers.”
“Would this be your plan? It's crazy, Hood. It would be in normal conditions, but with all the people that crowd the castle it's definitely impossible.”
“Do you have any better ideas?”
“I'm already in the castle. I'll spy on the sheriff, read his documents and discover his plans.”
Robin shook his head.
“No. If they should find you, the sheriff would have you hanged.”
“And my neck is more precious than yours?”
“I am already an outlaw, you have much more to lose.”
Guy looked at him.
“Exactly. The sheriff hates me, you can be sure that as soon as he gets the chance to hit me without fear of repercussions he will do it, so finding out his plans is also in my interest.”
“Giz is right. From the inside it will be much easier to act and in any case I will help him.”
“Alright then,” Robin said. “But try not to take too many risks. And we must establish signals to communicate in case of need.”
Meg had remained silent until then, but she looked at Guy and Allan, worried.
“My father is also among the guests. Pay attention to him, you mustn’t trust him. He was willing to imprison his own daughter in order to get what he wanted...”
Guy stared at Robin.
“I won’t let you down, you'll see,” he said, serious, then an ironic smile spread over his face. “And anyway, if they should discover me, I can always pretend to be drunk.”
Chapter 12: Shattered
"Do you think you're so smart, Isabella?”
A sudden chill ran through her body as she heard her husband's voice, low and deadly like a snake, ready to strike. Thornton stood by the door in the dark and he had clearly waited for his wife to come back to their room.
Isabella turned to him, but she didn’t look up, head bowed.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
She really didn’t know, she didn’t remember to have done anything to arouse her husband's wrath, but with Thornton one could never be sure of anything, often an insignificant detail was enough to make him cruel and vindictive.
"I don’t like people having my wife's name on their lips, you know.”
“I didn’t do anything to make them curious.”
“You whipped a man in front of everyone. Who was this man? One of your lovers?”
Isabella paled. She should have imagined that her husband wouldn’t like her behavior.
“No! It was Guy. My brother.”
“Ah. That little greedy parasite... But it doesn’t matter, you still didn’t behave the way I expect of my wife. Come here.”
The woman began to tremble.
“No, please, no. It won’t happen again. And then it happened yesterday...”
“It doesn’t matter. Do you think that a day, a month or a year can be enough to avoid the right punishment? Now come.”
“I beg you, no! I'll be a good wife, please...”
Thornton remained motionless, arms crossed in the dim light of the room.
“You're only making your situation worse, Isabella. Come now. And I don’t want to hear a single complaint.”
As white as a corpse, Isabella took a step toward her husband, shaking convulsively.
It's your fault, Guy. Only your fault.
Marian watched the people who populated the castle as she walked along the porch to look for her father or Guy. Usually only soldiers and servants roamed the stone corridors, and it seemed strange to see so many frivolous people walking around, intent on going from a feast to some other fun event.
Normally the gloomy rooms of the castle harbored only suffering and fear, and that almost forced cheerfulness made her feel uneasy. It was like meeting an acquaintance, usually austere, dressed in bright colors and extravagant style and having the impression of being in front of a stranger.
She saw the other women gathered in front of the arches of the portico that gave onto the inner courtyard and for a moment she was tempted to avoid their company and go away before they could notice her, but then she let herself be overcome by curiosity. The girls seemed very interested in what they saw in the courtyard and they commented with screams and silly laughter.
Marian reluctantly approached to look too and she understood immediately why they were so interested: many of the bravest men had gathered in the courtyard to train to fight ahead of the games scheduled for the following days.
Her gaze was immediately attracted by the figure of Guy and Marian was surprised: she hadn’t imagined that he was going to participate in the tournament.
Gisborne was in a corner of the courtyard and he was talking to Archer while they both waited for the other men to finish fighting and free some space. Marian smiled, allowing herself the luxury of being able to observe without being seen: for once Guy wasn’t wearing his black leather jacket, but to train more comfortably he had chosen a wide and soft black shirt, closed on the chest by intertwined laces.
He, like the castle, also looked different from usual: more lively and relaxed, less severe and, Marian blushed in thinking it, terribly attractive.
A rather explicit comment from one of the other women made her realize that she wasn’t the only one to be struck by the appearance of her future husband, and Marian frowned, jealous.
She tried to ignore the other girls and she looked back at Guy. Her heart sank when she realized that she had already looked at him from the same spot, but in completely different circumstances. That day Guy had been held hostage by Roger of Barret after fighting desperately to protect both her and the city, and Marian couldn’t help but watching as he risked to die.
She quickly wiped a tear, before the other girls could notice her emotion and she looked at Guy warmly, sincerely grateful to see him alive and well. And hers.
The men who were training ended their fight and then it was Guy and Archer’s turn.
Marian glanced at the other girls, approaching them to listen to their comments, and she discovered that many of them couldn’t decide which of the two men they preferred.
Their comments would have been fun, Marian thought, if they hadn’t been about her fiance.
With a sigh, she returned to look at Guy and Archer. The two men had reached the center of the courtyard and exchanged a defiant smile, then in a moment they had started forward, crossing their blades and all the women, including Marian, had held their breath.
Archer was younger and agile and he used unusual and exotic techniques, while Guy was taller and stronger than his opponent and he seemed to guess Archer’s blows with an infallible precision. Both were moving with a confidence that could only come from years of experience and with a speed that certainly had to put a strain on their resistance.
In addition to the women, the other knights also stopped to watch the fight, admired, and Marian found herself smiling between tears, proud of Guy's ability and at the same time worried that he might be hurt.
She had always disapproved of his challenges with Archer, considering them foolish and dangerous, but at that moment she could understand how inebriating the excitement of a fight could be and why Guy was so attracted to it. She hadn’t imagined that he could be so good with the sword and in Archer he seemed to have found a worthy opponent, someone who allowed him to really test himself.
The fight ended with the same speed with which it had began: Guy had managed to disarm Archer, making the sword fly away from his hands, but at the same time his opponent had made him stumble with a kick and pushed him to the ground, blocking him with a foot on the arm that held the sword.
The two opponents could have continued to fight even without weapons, or extracting the daggers, but both Guy and Archer decided to end the fight in a draw. Archer held out a hand to Guy to help him get up and smiled, satisfied.
The young women next to Marian sighed languidly, excited, and the girl thought they would do better to think of their husbands. She moved away from them, determined to reach Guy to spend some time with him.
Archer reached his brother, grinning.
“I told you, right? Did you see how everyone was watching us? They not even dared to breathe, so much they were taken from our fight! Keep it up and you'll see that soon they will no longer remember you like the madman who threw up at the sheriff's feet, but like the brave knight who almost beat Archer.”
“Almost?” Guy asked, with an amused smile. “Wait until the real tournament begins and you'll see. Today I didn’t want to exaggerate, but you will have to commit yourself much more next time.”
“I don’t expect anything else. But now it's better if I go before the sheriff looks for me.”
Gisborne nodded and thought that he didn’t envy Archer at all. When he worked for Vaisey, he was so used to it that he hardly noticed, but now that he was free, he could clearly see how oppressive the sheriff's presence had been in his life. Every moment of his day, every breath was dedicated to serving Vaisey and even when he thought he had some time for himself, Guy knew that Vaisey could call him at any time to give him orders.
Probably for Archer the situation was less oppressive, his brother had no other constraints with Vaisey if not the economic one and the sheriff couldn’t treat him as he had done with Guy, otherwise Archer would just quit his job and leave again, without other complications.
Guy took leave from his brother and decided to head to his quarters to change his shirt and wash before reaching the other nobles in the dining room: he was sweaty and dirty with dust after fighting.
He turned a corner and stopped, seeing his sister at the end of the corridor. Isabella stood in front of a window and looked out, lost in some thought.
Recalling the last words she had spoken to him, Guy was tempted to turn back without being seen by his sister, but he didn’t.
Even as a child, he recalled, Isabella used to stop by one of the windows of their house to look out, when she felt sad for some reason. She stood still and watched the landscape and lost herself in her thoughts.
Guy’s heart sank at the thought that even the window so loved by his sister had been destroyed along with everything else when their house burned, that Isabella could never again look at that corner of the country she loved so much, and that he was the one who took that consolation away from her too.
I destroyed everything... Did I also burn every possible relationship between us, my sister?
He forced himself to get closer to her, though he knew that Isabella probably would send him away again.
Marian hurried to reach Guy. Life in the castle kept them more separate than they were in Locksley, living in the same house, and she missed him.
She wanted to spend some time with Guy, tell him how much she had admired his duel with Archer and simply stay by his side.
She had seen him leave the courtyard and she imagined that he would go to his lodgings to change for lunch. If she were quick, they could spend a few minutes together before being forced to join the other guests.
She decided to go through a secondary corridor to avoid meeting other people, it wasn’t appropriate for a girl to go knocking on a man's door, even if he was her betrothed, and she wanted to avoid more gossip about them.
The passage she had chosen sprouted near Guy’s lodgings and Marian peeked at the main corridor to make sure it was deserted. She abruptly retreated to see the mysterious woman, Isabella Thornton, standing by one of the windows.
Marian looked at her, hidden in the shadows and struck by the woman's empty expression. She held her breath as she heard footsteps approaching down the corridor and her eyes widened when she saw it was Guy.
Guy's tone was sad and appealing at the same time, full of anguish, but not without heat. Marian noticed that he had called her by name, a sign of some confidence between them.
Who was that woman? Why had Guy never mentioned her?
“Isabella, please. Listen to me, I only ask you this.”
The woman didn’t turn to look at him.
“I don’t see why I should. I owe you nothing, Guy.”
“Once you loved me. Isn’t this a sufficient reason?”
“Once I thought you loved me too,” Isabella hissed, in a poisonous tone.
“I always loved you and you know it. There has not been a single day of my life when I have stopped loving you, and there is nothing that can change this fact. I was wrong, I know it perfectly and I understand that you can hate me for what I did, but even if you would rather see me dead, I will continue to love you as long as I have life.”
“You really have a nice way to prove it. After all this time.”
Guy bowed his head.
“How could I look for you? I was hoping you would be happy without me, how could I contaminate you with my sins?”
“You hoped. You hoped! But you never took care to ascertain. You never wrote to me, not a visit, I could have been dead for you and you could have been for me!”
“I know. I was blind, stupid and arrogant. I preferred to convince myself that you were fine, so I didn’t have to think about you. I couldn’t afford to miss you, it was a weakness.”
Guy took his face in his hands, but Isabella saw the tears that his brother tried to hide and, even if she hadn’t seen them, she would have heard them in his voice. It was strange, Guy had always been too proud to be seen crying by her.
“But I wasn’t fine. And you can’t change this.” Isabella looked around, afraid to see her husband coming, but she didn’t notice Marian who was listening, holding her breath, her face streaked with tears.
“I lived in hell because of you,” she added, with malice and this time Guy did nothing to hide his pain: he took a step towards her and held her in his arms, bursting into desperate sobs.
Isabella was about to free herself, but she didn’t move. For too long, no one showed the least affection for her, for too many years she was touched only to suffer pain or humiliation and, even if she hated him, Guy's embrace had awakened in her heart the faint memory of an ancient warmth.
There was a long lost time when her brother's embrace had the power to wipe away her little girl's tears and disperse every cloud, and even if none of those two children existed anymore, that memory remained.
“Give me the chance to earn your forgiveness. There must be a way I can fix it!”
Gisborne pulled away from her and Isabella looked at him for a few seconds. How many times, in the first years of her marriage, she had hoped to see him come back to her? How many times had she hoped to be asked for forgiveness, to be told that he would fix things in some way?
Now her brother was there, different from how she remembered him, but with the same look in his eyes as when they were small, when things were still going well, the look he had before the fire.
Isabella didn’t know what she felt. She hated him, but that sincere pain could touch her in some inexplicable way.
She closed her eyes. She felt tired and she just wanted the conversation to end.
“Go away, Guy. Leave me alone, keep pretending that I'm dead. You're getting married, right? Do it and forget about my existence. It's better for both of us.”
"What I feel for Marian has nothing to do with what's between us, Isabella. For years I have tried not to think of you, but I can no longer pretend that I do not care. Please.”
“Go, now.” She said wearily, and this time her voice was less harsh.
Guy nodded, wiping his face with the back of his hand.
As he did when he was a child.
“We'll talk again,” he said in a low voice and Isabella couldn’t tell if it was a statement or a question. She did not answer and watched him walk away down the corridor for a while before turning her back on him and going away.
Neither of them noticed Marian's presence.
The girl remained motionless, choked with restrained crying, until the corridor was deserted, then she turned and ran away sobbing.
She had the impression of having her heart broken in a thousand pieces and each of those sharp splinters pierced her to death.