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Guy woke up at the sound of someone knocking on the door. He sat up in bed, startled, and he saw that Robin had done the same, sitting in his cot and staring at the door with a frightened look.
“I’ll deal with it,” Guy said in a low tone, trying to sound reassuring, and he got up, but he couldn’t help thinking that the last time he had said something like that he had almost been tortured.
He walked to the door and he cracked it open, relaxing a little when he saw that it was just one of the guards of the castle and that the young man looked even more nervous than him.
“What?” Guy asked, and the guard winced.
“Sir Guy, the sheriff requires your presence, he’s waiting for you in his lodgings.”
Gisborne nodded.
“Tell him I’ll be right there.”
The guard left, and Guy turned to look at Robin.
“All right, Hood?”
Robin buried his face in his hands for a moment, and he sighed.
“That’s a stupid question, Gisborne, you know perfectly well that I am not. But I’ll survive. What about you?”
Guy stopped in front of the basin and he washed his face with the cold water, wincing when he touched the scratch on his face. He looked at his fingers, and he was relieved to see that there was no blood on them.
“Alive too and well enough, I guess. At least until the sheriff throws both of us in some dungeon.”
Robin grinned.
“In that case, no need to worry. Getting out of there has never been a problem.”
Guy rolled his eyes with mock exasperation.
“As if I didn’t know… Well, I’m going to see what the sheriff wants, is there anything you need before I leave?”
Robin shook his head, ashamed to think of the vulnerability he had revealed that night.
“Just go, I’ll manage. But let me know what he says about Isabella.”
Guy frowned at his words, but at last he nodded, then he finished getting dressed, and he left the room.

The sheriff was sitting at his desk, waiting for him, and Guy was once again surprised to see how different that room looked now, without all the cages and the poor imprisoned birds. A dog was dozing in front of the fireplace, and he lifted his head to look at Guy when the knight entered the room, then he went back to sleep, judging that the knight wasn’t a menace for his owner.
Sir Roland was looking at a parchment and he put it aside to stare at Guy.
“Oh, Gisborne, come in.” He nodded at the chair in front of the desk. “Have a seat.”
Guy obeyed, a little awkwardly. Vaisey used to make him stand whenever he called him in his lodgings to give him orders or to talk to him about some devious plan.
“Thank you, my lord,” he quietly said, and the sheriff looked at him.
“You are quick to obey, aren’t you? I didn’t expect you to arrive so soon after I called. Weren’t you sleeping at this hour in the morning?”
“I was, my lord, but when the sheriff calls, I’m expected to report as soon as possible.”
A servant appeared on the threshold and the sheriff nodded at him. The boy went away for a moment, and then he reappeared carrying a tray of food, followed by another servant with wine and cups. They placed everything on the desk and went away.
Sir Roland gestured at the food.
“Will you break your fast with me, Sir Guy?”
Gisborne looked at him, but he didn’t touch the food.
“Why did you summon me, my lord?” He asked, uneasily.
“To talk, hoping that today we are both calmer.” The sheriff looked at Guy, and he sighed seeing the bruise and the scratch on his face. “And I have to apologize for hitting you, I hope that it doesn’t hurt too much.”
Guy shook his head, touching his cheek with his fingers.
“The men who attacked me at Locksley did this to me, it’s not your fault, my lord.”
“Still, I gave up to my temper and I shouldn’t have.”
“I understand your reasons, both Robin and I were getting out of control and you had to stop us somehow.” Guy gave him a wry smile. “I have to admit it worked.”
Sir Roland looked at him, pensively.
“Tell me, Sir Guy, did the old sheriff usually hit you when he was displeased?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Yesterday, after I slapped you, I saw that both you and Sir Robin were surprised and shocked by my gesture, but while I saw a sparkle of outrage in Sir Robin’s eyes, you looked more resigned, as if you didn’t find it strange and out of place. I thought about it for a good part of the night, and I could find no other explanation than this: it had already happened to you, and often, I guess. Am I wrong?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter. He’s dead.” Guy said, anxious to change subject. He didn’t want to think about Vaisey. Not now. Not ever.
“I don’t want you to believe that it will happen again on a regular basis, Sir Guy. Violence sometimes is needed, but it shouldn’t be the easier way. I feel that I failed you, yesterday.”
“We didn’t make thing easy for you, either.”
The sheriff grinned, shaking his head.
“No, you didn’t, not at all. Well? Will you share this meal with me?”
Guy nodded, looking at the food. He wasn’t very hungry, but he knew that he needed to keep his strength and he didn’t have a real meal since the celebration at Locksley, so he helped himself from the tray, while the sheriff did the same.
For a while they ate in silence, commenting once in a while about the delicacies sent from the kitchen.
“Are you enjoying your meal, Sir Guy? My wife and my daughters aren’t very happy about the food at the castle, they say that it’s too simple.”
“I’m used to simple meals, now even more than a few months ago. The county suffered because of the siege and many fields were destroyed, we can be grateful that we have food at all.”
The sheriff nodded.
“Ladies can’t understand such things...”
“Some do.” Guy interrupted him, and the sheriff laughed.
“Oh, right, lady Marian… She’s a fierce, spirited woman, isn’t she?”
“Oh, she is...” Guy began, with a smile, then he looked at the sheriff, frowning. “My lord? I don’t think we are here to talk about food or about my betrothed...”
The sheriff pushed the empty plate aside and he stared at Guy.
“No, we are here to talk about your sister. What do you expect me to do?”
“I don’t know, but I beg you, don’t let her husband take her back. That man will kill her sooner or later.”
“Are you aware that he has every right on his wife?”
“Yes, I am, but I won’t let her suffer anymore because of my wrong choices. If somebody has to pay the price for it, it will be me.”
Sir Roland stared at Guy.
“Lady Isabella is legally married to a man from Shrewsbury, she is not under the jurisdiction of Nottingham, so I can’t take her under my protection. It could cause problems and tension between counties and I cannot allow it...”
Guy stood up slamming his hands on the desk.
“I won’t allow him to hurt her! Whatever it takes...”
“Shut up, Sir Guy,” the sheriff said in a calm tone, not impressed at all by Guy’s outburst, “and sit down, please, I’m not finished yet.”
Gisborne dropped himself on the chair, instinctively obeying to the sheriff’s commanding tone.
Sir Roland nodded in approval, and he continued, with a little smile.
“I cannot protect her, but I can protect you. Sir Guy, you are one of the few remaining nobles of this county, and your life is precious. Your sister’s husband can ask you where she is, but if you say that you don’t know, I have no reason to believe otherwise. You have been wounded by those man, they menaced you, attacking you at your manor without any proof that you were hiding a fugitive, so you can press charges against them. I will provide guards and protection so you won’t be in danger again.”
“What about Isabella? People know that she’s been at Locksley. They could talk.”
“So what? A woman can visit her brother and you surely couldn’t have known that she had run away from her marriage if she didn’t tell you.”
“But she did!” Guy shook his head in disbelieve. “Are you suggesting me to lie?”
“It’s not a suggestion, Sir Guy. It’s an order.”
“But...”
“You obeyed more questionable orders, what now? Can’t you lie for your sister’s sake?”
Gisborne nodded.
“Of course I can, but this won’t solve the problem. She will still be married to that beast.”
“It will give her time. Maybe she could get an annulment of her marriage somehow. I’m not an expert of such things, but I wrote to a friar I met in the Holy Land a few years ago. He’s a wise and well educated man, expert in religious and legal matters, if there is a way, he’ll know.”
“Do you think there is hope?”
“There’s always hope, Sir Guy. This place, this town, is the very demonstration of it. When I arrived I only found death and rubble, but it’s slowly coming back to life.” The sheriff gestured at the room with a kind smile, and Guy sighed.
“I hope you are right, but what will she do until your friar answers? It’s a long way to the Holy Land and Isabella is alone, she can’t go back to Locksley, but she can’t stay at the camp on her own for months...”
“We are lucky, I heard that he came back to England a few months ago, I wrote him asking to come as soon as possible. It will be a matter of weeks, not months.”
Guy felt a little relieved, but he was still worried.
“Still, she can’t be alone and I can’t go to see her… Maybe Robin...”
“No! No one of my nobles will be allowed to meet lady Isabella, and this is an order too.” The sheriff said, sternly.
“Robin isn’t good at following orders if they go against his conscience, and I can’t abandon my sister again...”
Sir Roland searched Guy’s gaze.
“Is this really alright with you?”
“What do you mean? Is there anything alright about all this?”
“Sir Robin and your sister. Adultery is a sin.”
Guy thought about it for a moment, and then he shrugged.
“Actually, I don’t care. We all carry the burden of terrible sins already, one more won’t make a big difference. If Hood can really make Isabella happy, I’m ready to accept it.” Guy chuckled bitterly, holding the sheriff’s gaze. “For sure I won’t cry for Thornton: if Isabella decided to betray her husband, he fully deserved it.”
“Well, I don’t care either, but for the sake of everyone, you’ll both have to keep away from lady Isabella. And lady Marian too. We’ll think of a safe refuge for her, but nobody must suspect that any of us is behind this or we’ll lose every chance to really help her. Is that clear?”
Guy nodded.
“So, will you be able to keep both Sir Robin and yourself at bay until we find a way to help her?” Sir Roland asked, with a tired note in his voice. Guy stared at him, his blue, deep gaze pointed at his face in the attempt to find out if he was sincere.
“Will you really help her?”
“It’s a promise,” the sheriff simply answered, and Guy relaxed a little, finally lowering his eyes with a nod of acceptance.
“Then I agree.”

Marian glanced at the corridor, to be sure that it was empty, the she lifted her gown a little and she ran to the end of it, hurrying to reach the stairs. She began climbing them at a fast pace, but she slowed down as she got out of breath.
She wished that she could reach Guy and stay with him for a while, but the other women would constantly keep an eye on her, and they would surely criticize anything she could say or do. She missed the freedom she had only a few months ago, and she reproached herself for those thoughts.
When she was living on her own, hiding in the ruins of Locksley and despised by everyone maybe she was free, but surely not happy, not at all.
Now she was going to have her house back, someday, and she was going to marry the man she loved, so it would be really ungrateful to complain. But still she found difficult to be always in the company of those women who were so different from her.
The wife and daughters of the sheriff had no interests in common with her, and they were always talking about frivolous subjects. Marian tried her best to seem interested and sometimes she succeeded, especially when the girls gave her suggestions about little details for her wedding dress or about the flowers she could braid into her hair on that day. She liked to imagine the day of her wedding and she often thought about it, especially because she wanted to make it completely different from the first time, so that neither Guy or she would be reminded of that failed first attempt.
But after a while, even those pleasant subjects became repetitive and the girls often disapproved all her ideas, saying that they weren’t fashionable. Then the other women began gossiping about nobles they had known and Marian hadn’t, so she was excluded from a conversation she would have however found terribly boring.
She arrived at the end of the stairs and she pushed open the door leading outside, on the top of the tower, anxious to breathe some fresh air and to be on her own for a while. Surely, the other ladies would never come up there without an important reason.
Marian stepped out of the door and she was immediately disappointed to see that somebody was already there: she could see the figure of a man sitting in a corner, his back against the wall and his face buried in his hands. She was about to turn around before he could notice her, when she recognized Robin.
Marian hesitated, tempted to slip away unnoticed, but then she took a decision and she stepped forward.
“Robin...” She whispered softly, and she saw him wince before lifting his head to look at her.
“Marian.” He slowly stood up and he walked to the parapet to stare in the distance. “I was thinking. About you, too.”
The girl held her breath for a moment, nervous.
“Really?” She asked.
Robin nodded, without looking at her. He had his arms on the parapet, and he rested his chin on them, as if he was too tired to stand on his own.
“I feel I wronged you,” he said.
Marian sighed, and she couldn’t help thinking of all the times she had lingered at the camp hoping to see him and always being rejected.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she said.
“You all keep saying that, as if it hadn’t been my arrow to kill the sheriff… It was my fault and I have to live with it. Maybe losing my mind wasn’t really my choice, but I realize now that I hurt you all the same. All this,” he gestured at the horizon, pointing at the ruined houses and at the burnt fields, “all this destruction to protect you, and I failed.”
“You saved my life...”
“No, Gisborne did.” Robin paused for a moment. “I can’t blame you for choosing him.”
Marian stared at him, speechless.
“You knew?”
“I found out.”
“Robin… I...” Marian stammered, but Robin interrupted.
“Don’t. I already went through all this with Gisborne, and I don’t want to do it again. You sound like him, you know? Apologetic, worried, afraid that you are going to break my heart… As if I could be more broken that I already am… Just don’t, all right? I rejected you, he kept loving you no matter what, and in the end you returned his feelings. What else could we say?”
Marian lifted a hand to wipe away the tears from her face.
“I never wanted to hurt you, and maybe you won’t believe that, but neither did Guy...”
Robin turned to look at her, and he managed to smile.
“I know, he already told me. Life is strange sometimes… Just a year ago, I’d never have imagined that Gisborne could understand me, that he could be a friend… But he knows what I feel, how hard it can be just to keep on living. Look down, Marian, this tower is so high… Do you think it doesn’t call me? It would be easy: a jump and then every suffering would end...”
Marian looked at him, alarmed, but Robin shook his head and continued.
“Don’t fuss, I won’t. I gave my word that I won’t take my life and I’ll keep it. Funny, isn’t it? I owe my life to Gisborne… both of them.”
Marian frowned.
“Both of them?”
“When I met Isabella in the forest for the first time, I wanted to die and I didn’t because of her.” Robin paused for a moment and he averted his eyes again, blushing a little. “Now I want to live because of her,” he added, softly.
Marian didn’t understand immediately what he meant, but then she realized the meaning of his words and she gasped in surprise.
“Do you mean that...”
“It’s ironic, don’t you think? I destroyed a whole county for love and now it’s so easy to let you go...”
He suddenly burst out in tears, and Marian ran to him, crying too, and she opened her arms to hold him. Unexpectedly, Robin returned her hug and for a while they wept together, embracing each other.
Marian closed her eyes, resting her face on Robin’s chest, and she listened to his heart: now that Robin had stopped crying, it was beating steadily and slowly. Not like Guy’s: whenever they were so close, his heart fluttered, fast and pounding. Marian thought that now Robin’s heart would beat like that only for Isabella and she felt a little jealous and happy at the same time.
Marian and Robin were both crying because burying a dead love always deserved some mourning, but she also felt that it was right to leave it behind. She would always care for Robin and he for her, but they were now free to follow their heart without guilt or regrets.
She stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek.
“Be happy,” she whispered.
“I don’t know if I can, but I’ll try.” Robin said, moved, then he stared at her in mock horror. “And I guess I’ll better put some effort in it or I’ll be stuck with the wrong Gisborne for the rest of my life!”
Marian laughed, then they both became silent and watched the snow that had started falling again.