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Chapter Text

Prince John’s army came, as inexorable as a storm, and it left, leaving death, fire and destruction on its path.
It was a night of flames, terror and pain, and, in the morning, only few persons wandered among the ruins of the town and the villages, pale and drained, like living ghosts.
Most of the survivors had lost everything: house, family, anything that they owned. They walked between the burnt houses and the corpses, in search of anything they could save from the fires.
A few of them were trying to help the others, searching for the wounded ones, and organizing a safe place in the forest where they could find sanctuary and relief.
Matilda, the healer who lived in the depths of Sherwood, hadn’t suffered the attack of the army. She was used to live in hiding, far from the other people, so the soldiers didn’t even know that there was her little hut in Sherwood forest.
The healer and her daughter had been safe during the destruction of the county, but at dawn they came out from their hiding to help the wounded. A few members of Robin Hood’s gang, shocked and trembling, had soon joined her, opening their camp to whoever was in need of help.
Matilda couldn’t see Robin around, and she wondered if he had been killed during the attack too.
The saracen woman, that girl who had joined the outlaws, didn’t know either, and she stumbled at Matilda’s side, checking corpse after corpse to see if any of them was still alive.
The healer glanced at her, a little worried: the saracen girl was clearly exhausted and she had a bandaged arm. Matilda was about to suggest her to stop and rest for a while, but then she noticed the deep pain in Djaq’s eyes.
She lost a loved one.
Probably helping the others was the girl’s only way to go on, to avert her mind from her own pain.
Matilda entered the hall of the castle, what remained of it, and she bent on the bodies of the people lying on the floor, bloodied and covered in burns.
Matilda froze touching the neck of another one of those men.
A heartbeat.
The healer was about to call for help, to shout that there was another survivor, but she stopped, recognizing who it was.
Guy of Gisborne, the black, dangerous dog of the sheriff, the man who came to her hut to arrest her, endangering both her and her daughter.
For a moment she was tempted to ignore that feeble heartbeat, to pretend that Gisborne was dead too and to leave him there, to rot in his own blood.
She sighed.
“This one is alive,” she said, calling two of the villagers who were helping her to carry the wounded to the camp.
They didn’t move.
“Why should we help Gisborne? He deserves to die. I’m not lifting a finger to save him.”
They dropped the makeshift stretcher they were carrying and they went away, shaking their heads.
Matilda couldn’t really blame them, she had been tempted to do the same.
She glanced at Djaq, and she saw that the girl was uncertain as well.
“He’s an enemy,” Djaq said, “but too many people died already...”
Matilda nodded.
“You’re right. If a life can be saved, we should try to save it, it doesn’t matter if he deserves it or not. Do you think we can lift him on that stretcher? He’s a tall man.”
“Not for a long distance, I’m afraid. I’ll see if I can find a cart.”
“Go, I’ll begin treating those wounds.”

Everything was just pain and suffering.
Guy wasn’t aware of anything else.
He had been lying on his side for days and days, too weak even to stir, lost in the terrible pain that pierced his body. He slipped in and out of consciousness, welcoming the darkness as a blessing, a merciful hand that closed his eyes and took him away from his pain.
Sometimes a gentle hand lifted his head, taking a cup to his lips, and helping him to drink little sips of a bitter draught, or some broth, or watered wine.
He didn’t know how much time had passed since he had been lying on that bed of straw, wrapped in a old ragged blanket, but day after day he began to be more conscious of his state.
He wasn’t alone. He couldn’t find the strength to open his eyes, but he knew that there were many other persons around him, and most of them had to be wounded or sick, just like him.
He could hear their laboured breath, smell their stinking bodies and often their pitiful moans woke him from the blessing of his sleep.
He knew that he stank too, just like them. Sweat, blood and worse.
Mercifully not the stink of rotten flesh, not yet at least.
But he felt the damp straw under his body and he hated that sensation. He wasn’t a child, a part of his mind remembered him that he should have been able to wake up in time to relieve himself without wetting the bed and it made him feel ashamed. But even when he was awake, he was too weak to move. He always tried to wait as long as he could, but at last he was forced to piss where he was, in the wet straw, feeling disgusted of himself and deeply humiliated.
At least he was naked, so he didn’t have to feel the disgusting sensation of wet clothes sticking to his skin.

One day it wasn’t pain or discomfort to wake him up, but a fresh touch on his face. Guy opened his eyes and he saw a tired faced woman kneeling at the side of his bed. She was holding a wet towel in her hands and she was using it to gently dab at his face.
Her face was familiar, but Guy couldn’t remember where he had seen her before. His thoughts were confused, his head heavy and clouded.
Matilda stared at him, a little surprised.
“Oh. You’re awake at last.” She gave him an ironic grin. “I should have known that a rabid mutt like you wouldn’t be so easy to kill.”
When she talked, Guy recognized her: the healer, the foul mouthed woman who the sheriff had tried to kill, accusing her to be a witch.
He gave her a worried glance: that woman had all the reasons to hate him, and he surely wasn’t able to defend himself in his weak state.
But even if her words were harsh, the touch of the woman was gentle. She kept cleaning his face with the wet towel, washing away sweat and dirt.
It was a relief.

Matilda kept working in silence for a while cleaning Guy’s face and his body, and changing the bandages that wrapped his wounds. Every once in a while, she looked at his face, at his closed eyes, and she thought that now Guy of Gisborne didn’t look so menacing.
Not at all.
He opened his eyes again.
Blue eyes.
Blue, lost, and full of pain and confusion.
She took some pity on the man.
“Your fever broke tonight, that’s why you were sweating so much” she said, “I believe that you will survive, even if it will take a while for you to recover completely.”
Gisborne just stared at her, as if he hadn’t heard or understood her words, and Matilda wondered how much damaged he actually was.
She felt sad for him, for all the other ones who had suffered and the ones who lost their lives.
All this because of a single man. The Sheriff, that pile of stinking crap, was the only one who really deserved to die, but his death had unleashed sorrow and tragedy for everyone else.
For a moment she felt angry at Gisborne: that knight was the henchman of the Sheriff, he had much blood on his hands as well, probably he deserved to suffer too.
But now that she could look at them, his eyes weren’t evil.
Just lost.
“Now lay still where you are and don’t worry about anything. I’ll change this damp straw, so you can sleep comfortably,” she said, gently.
Guy managed to gave her a little nod, even if any movement drained him of his strength, and Matilda noticed that he had blushed when she had talked about the soiled straw.
Her gaze softened.
He’s a proud man. Probably he’d never been so ill before, unable to get up from bed even to relieve himself.
She worked quickly, putting aside the dirty straw and replacing it with armfuls of clean and dry one.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she commented, “it’s just how the body works, it’s a natural thing and it’s not your fault if you are too weak to get up.”
Guy kept his eyes closed. The words of the woman were kind, but he still hated to feel so helpless.
He hoped that the woman would finish her work soon, so he could slip back in the oblivion of sleep, in that dark place that soothed his pain and kept his mind away from thoughts and memories.
He didn’t want to know, he didn’t want to remember, because he was sure that an even harsher pain would come with memories.
At the same time he didn’t want the witch to go away, he wanted her to keep talking, to give him the care that nobody had given him since his parents had died.
He was lonely and scared.
Suddenly, an agonized cry broke the silence of that place. A voice, the howl of a madman, of someone who had lost his mind.
Guy shivered. He felt broken, but the man who was crying was behind that, he sounded as if he was in Hell already.
Matilda got up and hurried away, probably to help that man.
Gisborne shivered: something in that screaming voice unsettled him deeply, but he wasn’t sure why.
Then he understood, suddenly: it was Robin Hood’s voice.

Chapter Text

Guy woke up, sensing a presence near his bed. He knew that it wasn’t Matilda because the woman wasn’t silent at all: he could recognize her steps when she was still far away, and then she was always talking, to the other sick people or to herself.
This presence instead was extremely quiet, as if that person was holding his or her breath to be even more silent.
He didn’t perceive danger, though, but he was somehow reluctant to open his eyes, fearing to be hurt.
When he finally did it, he realized why.
The girl was sitting on the ground at the feet of his bed, her back straight and tense, and she was staring at him, an indecipherable expression on her face.
She noticed that he was awake, and Guy could read some relief in her eyes.
He, instead, could feel nothing.
He was aware that Marian’s safety was one of the big question he had avoided asking to himself or to others, one of the question that were gnawing at his soul, but that he was too scared to ask.
If she was dead, he didn’t want to know, he had the sensation that he couldn’t bear to live in a world where Marian didn’t exist.
But she was alive and in good health, he could see her with his own eyes, but he didn’t feel happy or relieved.
He just felt nothing at all.
Marian instead looked to be quite emotional, and her eyes welled with tears.
“I thought that you were going to die too,” she whispered, and Guy wondered who else was dead.
Not Hood. He could hear his screams, his anguished cries, and they never failed to chill his blood.
Hood wasn’t supposed to scream like that, he was always so confident, always ready to laugh in front of danger. What could have happened to make him scream like that?
If Hood was so broken, how could Guy, who had never been as strong and brave as him, stand to remember what happened during the siege?
Marian was looking at him, expecting some reaction, but Guy didn’t know what to say.
Robin screamed again, and Guy was startled, but this time he saw a deep, excruciating pain in Marian’s eyes and he suddenly understood her feelings.
“You love him,” he said, his voice low and hoarse, but emotionless.
The girl stared at him, horrified, tears flowing freely on her face.
“Guy...” She began, her voice trembling and broken.
“I’ve been blind. I see it now. It’s so clear...”
Marian had expected him to be angry, heartbroken in front of that revelation, but his voice, deprived of any emotion, shocked her.
She burst out in tears, hiding her face in her hands.
Guy just stared at her without saying anything until she was able to speak again. But this time the girl couldn’t look at him.
“I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt you...”
“Shouldn’t you be with him?” Guy asked, in a flat tone, and Marian began weeping again.
“Robin doesn’t want to see me,” she sobbed, aware that she shouldn’t talk about Robin to Guy, but unable to refrain herself. “He can’t even look at me, as if… as if I were a monster. Or a leper...”
A leper.
Guy could almost hear the voice of the sheriff pronouncing that word with contempt. He realized that Vaisey was dead, that he would never hear his voice yelling at him or giving him orders, but, again, he didn’t feel anything.
“So Hood doesn’t want you, and you come here?”
Marian shook her head, vehemently.
“It’s not like that! I’d come anyway! I value our friendship!”
Guy stared blankly at her.
“Friendship?” He whispered. “Were we friends?”
“I’d come,” she repeated. “And I am in debt.”
She saw a flicker of surprise on Guy’s face. The first resemblance of emotion that she could read on his face since he woke up.
“In debt? With me?”
“Don’t you remember?”
Guy closed his eyes for a moment. His head ached, and he felt exhausted. Maybe he didn’t want to remember.
“Not much.”
Marian looked at him for a long while, her face as pale as his, even if she hadn’t been wounded.
“I’m so sorry...” She whispered again, bending to place a light kiss on his cheek, then she turned and ran away.
Guy had opened his eyes at the touch of her lips, but he didn’t stir, staring at the canopy of trees for a while.
Once he used to sleep under a roof, in Locksley’s manor or at the castle, but now he had become so used to see the branches and the leaves swaying softly in the breeze, that that time looked almost to have belonged to another life.
It was another life. He thought, nothing could ever be like it was before the siege.
Once he had a soul.
Guy closed his eyes and he let sleep take him again.

Chapter Text

Matilda sat under a tree with a mortar in front of her and she kept grinding herbs with rhythmic, skillful movements. While she worked, she looked around: it was the middle of the afternoon in a sunny, warm summer day, and the camp was quiet.
There weren’t as many wounded people as there had been just after the siege: some of them had died, others were healed and had gone back to their villages to try to rebuild their lives. Only a few of them were still at the camp, and most of them were still too weak to move from their beds.
Matilda was afraid that some of those persons were going to be crippled for life.
Now, most of them were sleeping, after eating the lunch that Rosa and Djaq gave to them. Matilda felt proud of her daughter: she had to take care of her baby, but still she found the patience and the time to help the wounded, to feed the ones who weren’t able to do it on their own, and to chat with those ill, shocked persons.
Matilda glanced at her patients, and she sighed when her eyes stopped on the dark, lonely figure of Guy of Gisborne. The bed of the man was apart from the others and nobody ever stopped to talk to him. The outlaws allowed him to stay there at the camp to heal from his wounds, but they almost completely ignored his presence.
Gisborne, in turn, never made any attempt to interact with the others. He just sat on his bed, staring at the ground or at the trees, uninterested in the surroundings.
Matilda couldn’t understand what he thought: he looked to be numb, devoid of any emotion, but she suspected that his behavior was very far from what he was really feeling.
The woman sighed again and stood up. She glanced at the curtain that hid Robin’s bed, then she looked back at Gisborne. Robin was out of his mind, expressing all the pain he was feeling, but Matilda suspected that the two men, those two enemies, where equally wounded and they just had different ways to face their wounds.
Now Robin was in a deep drugged sleep, the only way she had to give him some rest, some hours free from his pain.
Matilda picked up the heavy mortar and the herbs, and she walked towards Gisborne.
The knight didn’t move, even if Matilda knew that he had heard her approaching, so she cleared her voice.
“Do you mind if I sit here for a moment? This thing is heavy.”
Guy glanced at the mortar she was holding and he nodded, so the woman put the stone mortar on the ground between them, then she sat down with a tired sigh.
“The work of an healer never ends, you know? When you finish to treat the sick and the wounded, you have herbs to collect and remedies to prepare. Luckily most of the people wounded in the siege need less cares now. Most of them can move on their own, they are able to eat without help and soon they’ll be able to go back to their lives.”
If they have a life to go back to.”
“If they don’t, they can make a new one.”
Guy didn’t answer, and Matilda inwardly sighed.
“Do you ever move from this bed, except for attending to your needs or to wash up? You are still weak, but your wounds are almost healed, some exercise would be good for you. You’d heal more quickly.”
“Oh, I see.”
Matilda frowned.
“They are in a hurry to send me away from here.”
“That’s what you think?”
“Can you deny it? Do you believe that they want me to stay at their camp?”
The woman stared at him for a moment.
“What about you?”
“Do you want to stay here?”
Guy was surprised by her question, he had never really thought about what he wanted to do.
“I’ve nowhere else to go.”
Matilda thought that many of the villagers didn’t have a place or a house to go back to, but at least they had hope and the will to build a new life, to find what was left of their family and friends and to help each other. Gisborne really had no one.
It was mainly his fault, of course, but she couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.
“Well, nobody is going to send you away, not for now at least, but you could try to make yourself a little more welcome, don’t you think?”
Guy looked at her, frowning.
“What do you mean?”
“You are always here, on your own, moping in your own misery and you don’t even try to talk to the others.”
“Why should they want to talk with me? They all hate me.”
“Maybe, but they are helping you anyway. When Rosa or Djaq or any of the others come to bring your meal, you could try to thank them instead of lying on that bed like a dead man. Or you could try to make yourself useful.”
Matilda looked at him: Gisborne had a confused expression on his face, but he was actually listening to her.
“How?” He asked, in a whisper, and Matilda smiled.
“It’s true that you are still healing and you can’t work like the others, but there’s a lot you can do even from your bed.”
“They wouldn’t accept my help.”
The woman handed him the pestle.
“Well, I would. So you can help me. Here, I’ll show you how to grind and store those herbs. If you can do it, I’ll have more time to find more herbs in the forest and I’ll be able to treat more people. The fields have been destroyed, and this winter many of the villagers will have to face hunger and poverty. Diseases and contagion often come with famine, I fear that I’ll need many remedies when people will begin to get ill.”
Guy took the pestle, and he looked at it.
“And do you think that this can make a difference?”
“Anything can make a difference. Look at this wound, for example...” She touched his shirt in a place close to his heart. “If the blade went just a little deeper, you’d be dead for sure. But you are alive and you can be useful. I’d really appreciate your help. Will you try at least?”
Guy nodded.
“I will.”
“Very well,” Matilda said in a practical tone. “Look, you have to use the pestle like this, see? Now try.”

Chapter Text

Rosa lulled the child she was holding in her arms and her daughter laughed, happy of those cuddles.
“Rosa!” Matilda called, approaching. “Come, help me with Robin, we must tend to his wounds.”
“Did he rip the bandages again?” The girl asked, worried, then she glanced at the baby. “I was trying to make her sleep, but she’s still quite awake. Wait a moment, I’ll leave her with Djaq.”
Matilda shook her head.
“No, that girl is already too tired, she works too much, let her sleep. Leave Alice with him.”
Rosa’s eyes widened.
“With Gisborne?!”
“Why not? He has nothing else to do and he can watch her.”
Her daughter hesitated.
“Do you think we can trust him?”
“Alice is my granddaughter, I’d never put her in danger. Now hurry, Robin needs our help.”
The two women walked towards Guy’s bed, and the knight lifted his eyes to look at them. Matilda thought that it was an improvement, a few days ago he would have kept still, staring at the trees.
She took the baby from Rosa, and she held her in her arms, showing the little girl to Guy.
“This is Alice, Rosa’s baby.”
“So you are going to keep her for a while, while Rosa helps me.” Matilda said, placing the little girl in his arms.
Rosa was startled to see her child handed to that dangerous, evil knight, and Guy had a shocked expression on his face, but he took Alice from Matilda’s arms and he held her safely.
It’s not the first time he holds a baby. Matilda thought, glancing at him, and once again she wondered who was the real Guy of Gisborne.
“Come, Rosa,” she said and both the women turned their backs to Guy, disappearing behind Robin’s curtain.
Gisborne looked at the child in his arms, and the little girl looked at him. She was very young, no older than a year, but she didn’t look scared to be left with him. She grabbed one of the laces of his shirt, and she pulled it, giggling.
Guy held her gently, careful to not hurt her, and he thought that Matilda had to be insane to trust him with her grandchild, but not really displeased that she did.
For a moment, just for that moment, he felt at peace. He was aware that it was only because he couldn’t remember at all the events of the siege and that sooner or later he’d have to pay the toll for those missing memories, but for now he tried to enjoy that quiet moment.

“Why do we have to keep him here?” Little John growled, looking at Gisborne, who was sitting on his bed at the edge of the camp, eating from a bowl. “The poor doesn’t have enough food and yet we feed him.
Djaq took a bowl too and sat close to John, a sad look on her face.
“I know. But he needed our help too, we couldn’t let him die, not when so many lives were already lost.”
“He seems to be well enough now. He should go away.”
“Matilda says that he’s still too weak. To be honest, he didn’t cause any trouble to us. He’s very quiet.”
Little John looked at his own food: he had the impression that every bit that he ate was stolen from one of the poor. Why should he feel guilty for eating a meal, when Gisborne didn’t?
“Him, I don’t like.”
“I think that it doesn’t matter anymore who we like. We, the few who are still alive, must try to help each other or we won’t survive.”
A wild scream from Robin silenced them, and Little John shook his head without speaking.
It wasn’t right, he thought, Robin didn’t deserve to suffer like that, not when Gisborne was getting better day after day. It was all wrong.

Guy let the spoon drop back in the bowl, hearing Robin’s cry, and once again he wondered what happened to the outlaw. But even if he was curious to know, he was afraid to ask.
Knowledge could bring memories, and ignorance was bliss.
He didn’t want to remember, not ever.
At night, his sleep was full of nightmares, he never woke up really rested, but mercifully he couldn’t remember any of them when he was awake, and he didn’t want to.
But Robin’s screams were still terrifying to him, like the howls of a banshee, the promise of a sorrow to come.
The numbness in his mind made him feel empty, unable to feel deep emotions, but it was still better than the agony that was tearing Robin apart.
Guy felt the stare of Little John, so full of hatred, and he tried to ignore it. Somehow he could understand the outlaw and he couldn’t blame him for it. He couldn’t complain, his enemies had mercy on him, they saved his life and gave him sanctuary even if he had always tried to capture or kill them. If they despised him, so be it.
He looked around, searching for Matilda, the only friendly face in the camp, but he knew that when Robin was crying like that, the healer was probably at his side, trying to soothe his pain.
Guy noticed a movement, at the other side of the camp, and his eyes spotted the familiar figure of Marian, half hidden between the trees. The girl wasn’t wearing a dress, but clothes similar to the ones of the other outlaws, and a shadow was half hiding her face, like a mask.
The Nightwatchman!
Guy was startled. He had never realized it, but now it was so clear and he wondered why he had never recognized her.
“Maybe I didn’t want to see it...” he whispered, unable to avert his eyes from her.
He should have been angry, he should feel betrayed, but again he felt nothing.
Do I still love her?
He didn’t know.
He wondered if he would ever be able to feel emotions again. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to.
However he kept looking at her, remembering the strange words she had told him the only time she had talked to him after the siege.
She was in debt with him.
Guy wondered what that meant, but he didn’t have the chance to ask her.
Marian’s behavior was strange: she wasn’t sleeping at the camp, but she was often there, especially when Robin was crying, like a moth attracted by a flame.
That wasn’t strange, Marian loved Hood, it was normal that she wanted to be with him, the strange thing was that she never dared to get close to him. She stood at the edges of the camp, half hidden between trees and undergrowth, and she looked at the closed curtain, an expression of deep sorrow on her face. The other strange thing was how the others treated her.
Guy thought that it was normal that they treated him with contempt, it was right, they had always been enemies and they were even too kind to let him stay at the camp, but he couldn’t understand why they looked at Marian with the same disdain they usually reserved for Guy.
Nobody, except for Matilda of course, looked at the girl, nobody ever talked to her, and Guy had the impression that they all avoided her.
Like a leper.
Marian had said that Robin treated her like a leper too, and Guy couldn’t understand why.
If she was the Nightwatchman, and now Guy was sure that she was, Marian and the outlaws had to be allies, friends, why should they treat her like that?
Something terrible had happened during the siege, something that had changed everything.
Guy averted his eyes from Marian too.
He didn’t want to know.

Chapter Text

Gisborne was trying to avert his mind from Robin’s barely human screams. With time he didn’t get used to them, but, instead, the insane pain in the outlaw’s voice wrecked his nerves.
He didn’t want to hear, he didn’t want to think about the siege, he didn’t want to remember.
Guy hid his head under the pillow, hoping to stop Robin’s voice, but it didn’t work.
Then he heard the shriek of another voice, Rosa, he thought, and hurried steps rushing away. Guy was about to lift his head to see what was going on, when a trembling hand shook his shoulder, startling him.
He sat up in bed, finding himself face to face with Matilda. The healer was pale, and she was holding her arm, the sleeve of her tunic soaked in blood.
Guy looked at her, alarmed.
“Are you hurt?”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing. But I need your help.”
“With… him?”
Guy didn’t want to see Robin, to find out why he was screaming so much, but Matilda needed his help, and she seemed completely sure that he would give it to her.
He didn’t reply, but he got up, and he followed her behind the curtain.
Robin Hood was laying on a bed, actually he was tied to it, but somehow the ropes that held his arms had been cut loose, and the outlaw was flailing his arms, trying to fight against Djaq, who was holding his wrists and trying to stop him.
The girl was bravely resisting, but she was about to succumb, so Matilda nodded at Guy.
“Grab his right arm and keep him still, Djaq, keep holding the left one.”
Both Gisborne and the girl obeyed, and together they were able to hold Robin until Matilda succeeded in tying his arms to the bed again.
When she did, they all took a moment to take their breath, tired for the struggle: Robin was wounded, weak, thinner than Guy had ever seen him, but he had tried to get free with the strength of a madman or a beast, howling all the while.
At last, Matilda managed to force him to drink a remedy, and finally Robin slipped into a drugged sleep.
Only then, Matilda allowed Djaq to check the wound on her arm, and to wrap it in clean bandages.
Guy stared at the long cut, and Matilda smiled at him.
“Don’t worry, it bleeds, but it isn’t deep. A little more than a scratch. How are you?”
“Yes, you. Do you feel any pain? I shouldn’t have asked for your help, your wounds are still healing, but Little John isn’t at the camp and you were the only one strong enough to stop him before he could hurt Djaq too.”
Guy looked at Robin, horrified.
“It was him?! Was he the one who cut you?”
“That was an accident.”
With a sigh, Matilda went near Robin, and she took his left hand.
Guy stared at it in horror: it was covered in blood, damaged by deep cuts, and Matilda began to carefully tend to it.
Djaq and Matilda traded a glance, then the saracen girl put a hand on Guy’s shoulder.
“Come, let’s go, we should let her do her work, there isn’t any danger, now.”
Gisborne stared blankly at the girl: it was the first time that one of the other inhabitants of the camp touched him in an almost friendly way.
Matilda nodded at him.
“Go, please.”
Gisborne stood up to follow Djaq, and Matilda smiled at him.
“Thank you, your help has been precious today. Djaq, please, find Rosa, she was upset.”
Guy and Djaq went back to the camp, closing back the curtain. Guy found out that his hands were trembling, but a quick glance at the girl made him understand that Djaq was very upset too, maybe even more than him. She was fighting bravely to hide it, however, and she turned to look at him.
“Come. Let me find Rosa, then we can sit near the fire and have some mulled wine. I think we all need it. Wait for me there, and sit down, you’re pale.”
Guy found himself obeying her, but he knew that she was right: he was feeling a little faint both for the shock of seeing Robin like that and because he wasn’t still fully healed. He was also weak after laying in bed for such a long time.
The surprising thing was that the saracen girl looked to be actually worried for his well being.
She came back after a while with a sobbing Rosa, and she made her sit in front of the fire too, then she filled three cups with strong, hot mulled wine before sitting as well.
“I’m so sorry!” Rosa bawled, sniffling. “It’s my fault!”
“You couldn’t imagine that he could steal that knife from your belt. I didn’t think he was strong enough to use it to cut the ropes so quickly.”
After a while, little Alice began to cry, and Rosa hurried to reach her cradle, leaving Guy and Djaq alone near the fire.
They sipped their wine in silence for a while, then it was Guy to talk.
“He was trying to hurt himself... He was fighting with all his strength to hurt himself…”
Djaq stared angrily at him for a moment, as if she didn’t want to answer, as if Gisborne had no right to speak about Robin, then she sighed and any trace of hostility disappeared from her eyes, leaving just pain and exhaustion.
“He lost so much... We all lost too much, but he lost more than anyone else,” she said, then she went silent, her eyes welling with tears.
Guy understood that she didn’t want to talk about the siege, that she envied him because he didn’t remember it and she wished that she could forget everything too.
But she couldn’t.
And Guy didn’t ask.

Chapter Text

Matilda pointed at a little plant, half hidden under a bush.
“That one. Take the leaves, but don’t touch the roots or it won’t grow back.”
Obediently, Guy knelt to the ground to pick the leaves and to put them in the basket he was carrying.
He looked at the last leave before putting it away, and Matilda pointed at its edges.
“This herb is good for the stomach and when you can’t sleep well. It tastes good too, so it’s a good ingredient for most remedies. You can easily recognize it from its shape, see?”
Guy nodded.
He had found out that he liked to listen to Matilda’s explanations about her herbs. When she talked like that, she reminded him of his mother, when she used to prepare simple remedies for the little ailments of their family.
He was afraid of memories, but those were sweet ones. Safe, if he just kept to them and he didn’t think of the tragic end of his childhood.
“The bark of that tree is good for fever, isn’t it?”
Matilda gave him a surprised look.
“How do you know?”
Guy grinned, pleased to see her surprise.
“My mother knew how to use herbs, I still remember some of it.”
“Really? Tell me what you remember. Come, let’s sit under that tree, we both need to rest a little.”
“Is your arm troubling you?”
Matilda inwardly smiled to see that Gisborne actually cared for her. The man had worried her after the siege, with his complete lack of emotions, and she had feared that he had been damaged forever, like Robin, but day after day he was beginning to show more interest for the world, his mind healing as well as his body.
She feared the moment when he would remember about the siege, when he would have to face his pain instead of running from it, but for that there was nothing that she could do, except supporting him now and showing him that he could build another life even if he had lost everything.
She could only hope that this new life was enough to give him the strength to face his demons when they finally reached him in the hiding places of his mind.
“My arm is just fine,” she said. “Rest and time, and it will be as good as new. But now tell me what do you know about herbs and remedies.”
Guy sat at her side, in the shadow of the tree, leaning his back on the trunk and he began to tell Matilda about his childhood, trying to remember only the happy times.
The healer listened, interested.
“You mother sounded like a wise woman.”
“She was.”
“I wonder why you chose to work for that horrible little man, you’d have been a good healer.”
Guy’s face darkened when she mentioned Vaisey.
“Not everything is a choice. However he’s dead now, it’s all in the past, I don’t wish to dwell on it.”
Matilda glanced at him. It was the first time that Guy mentioned the sheriff’s death.
“Do you remember what happened to him?” She asked, warily.
Gisborne shook his head.
“No, but he must be dead. There’s no other reason for all this destruction. I know that Prince John’s army destroyed Nottingham, I’m not that dumb to ignore it, but I can’t remember what happened. It’s as if all this happened to somebody else, to a man who’s dead in the siege. Maybe it’s true, maybe the man who I was is really dead in the siege.”
Matilda gave him a sad smile.
“You’re right, the sheriff is dead, but you aren’t. Maybe you’ve been dead inside when you worked for him and now you’re just awakening back to life. You’re a better man than I thought, Guy of Gisborne, and I’m glad I had the chance to find it out.”
Guy blushed at her unexpected praise.
“And I’ve been glad to find out that you’re not a real witch,” he answered, gruffly, to hide his embarrassment.
Matilda laughed heartily.
“That time I gave you a good scare, didn’t I? You should have seen your face when they pulled me out of water after such a long time and I was still alive. You really believed that I was in league with the devil, didn’t you?”
“It was Hood, right?”
“Of course it was Robin. He had found a way to make me breathe underwater, something involving a pair of bellows and canes and who knows what else. But it worked.”
“Well, then you were in league with the devil,” Guy said, with an ironic grin.
“Don’t be mean, Guy. I think that you know perfectly well that Robin’s heart was in the right place. You were enemies, but now there’s no more reason for bad blood between the two of you.”
“Oh, there is reason for it, believe me.”
Matilda sighed.
“Maybe, but is it right to hold on it? You are both different men now, both facing a difficult time. Is it wise to dwell on hatred? Do you really wish to keep hating Robin, even when you both suffered so much because of the sheriff?”
Guy smirked, bitterly.
“Of course you defend him.”
Matilda shook her head, and she took Guy’s hand, tenderly.
“I care for both of you, but for now Robin is beyond my help. I can heal his body, not his mind. Maybe with time his situation will change, but now I worry for you, my boy. Hate isn’t good for anyone, it gnaws at your soul and eventually it can destroy you. Let it go. I know that it’s not easy to change the habits of a whole life, but it would do you a lot of good. Try at least.”
Guy kept silent for a while, thinking about Matilda's words. The truth was that he had already lost a big part of the hatred he used to feel for Robin. He couldn’t forget the wrongs he had to withstand for Robin’s fault when they were kids, and the humiliations that Hood had inflicted on him when he became an outlaw, but how could he keep hating a man who was already in hell?
What worse fate could he wish for him, other that the punishment that Robin’s mind was already inflicting to himself?
Guy remembered the deep cuts on Robin’s hand, the way he struggled to keep hurting himself, and he shivered. He could pity him, he thought, and pity was incompatible with hate.
“I’m living at his camp... His men helped me even if they hated me… I guess that’s because Robin taught them to have mercy, to give people a second chance. Am I wrong?”
“That’s what Robin used to do, and that’s why people loved him so much.”
“If so, I’m in debt with him. I may not like Robin, but I’m not an ungrateful man.”
Matilda nodded, inwardly smiling at the fact that Gisborne had to find a reason for his truce with Robin, something that could let him keep some pride.
Men! Sometimes they are like children...
“Very well,” she said, getting up and stretching her back, “it’s time to go back to the camp and let Djaq and Rosa rest for a while. Are you tired?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Good. Do you think you can help me tending to my patients? Let’s see if you could really be a decent healer.”
“Are you sure? Those people won’t let me get near them...”
“The ones who still need our constant cares are too ill to care about who is helping them. When you were so poorly, it didn’t matter if an alleged witch was treating your wounds, did it? The question is another: do you wish to do something good?”
“I don’t know if I can be useful, but I’ll try to do what you ask me to.”
Matilda rewarded him with a wide smile.
“That’s all I wanted to hear. Let’s go. And take some of that bark, on our way to the camp.”

Chapter Text

Guy looked at the bows, huddled in a corner of the camp. There clearly were more weapons than men able to use them, and most of the bows were covered in dust.
Robin Hood’s bow wasn’t with the others, it was placed on the lid of an empty trunk, with its quiver, and it was kept clean, but it made him shiver because it reminded him of a relic, even if Robin Hood wasn’t dead, yet.
“What are you doing here?!”
Gisborne turned, startled, and he glanced warily at Little John.
“We don’t have much food, Matilda asked me to go and hunt something in the forest.”
“If you think that we will trust you with a bow you are out of your mind.”
Djaq reached them, worried.
“But we do, John. Guy is one of us now.”
“Gisborne will never be one of us!”
“But we need him! You work a lot and we know it, but without Robin, Much and… Will… without them, we can’t feed all the wounded people and the villagers who need our help! I try to hunt as much as I can, but I also have to help Matilda. We are too few, we can’t even rob the travelers, even if there were any, and anyways we don’t need gold, we need food! Gisborne is strong enough to use a bow, now, so he’s going to do his part, just like us.”
“Look, I know that you don’t like me,” Guy said, looking at him, “but I won’t betray you. I don’t know if I could survive on my own, and I know that I have a debt with you all because you let me stay here, so let me repay this debt somehow. I’m not a good archer, but I can try.”
Little John glared at him.
“Betray us and you’re dead. And don’t try to touch Robin’s bow.”

Guy looked at the hare, drawing the bow, then he released the arrow, realizing immediately that he would miss his target. His arrow embedded itself into a tree, but the hare fell to the ground, hit by another one.
Startled, Guy looked around, trying to see who had shot it, and he jumped when he heard a voice, just behind his back.
“You’re a terrible archer, you know?”
The girl lifted a finger, disapprovingly.
“And you didn’t hear me approaching. If I were an enemy, I could have killed you even too easily. If you want to live as an outlaw, you have to improve a lot.”
Guy looked at her, annoyed.
“I don’t want to live as an outlaw. But I don’t have much choice, don’t you think?”
Marian went to pick up the dead hare, with a little sigh.
“I know. No one of us wanted to live like this.” Marian pulled her arrow out of the hare and she held the dead animal to him, like a peace offering. “Here, take it. Little John will complain and say that you are useless if you go back empty handed.”
Guy ignored her.
“I can still catch a prey without having to rely on your pity. And I’m not afraid of Little John.”
Marian shrugged.
“Suit yourself. I was just trying to help, no need to be so proud.”
“I’m trying to do my part. And then, if you give me your prey, they’ll complain about you not doing your part.”
“To do it, they should acknowledge my presence,” Marian said, bitterly, and Guy noticed tears in her eyes just before she turned away her face to hide them.
“Why do they ignore you? You’re always at the camp, but they never talk to you...”
“You don’t remember, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
Guy glanced at her, uncertain.
“Do you want me to leave you alone?”
Marian grabbed his hand.
“No, please!”
The girl sighed.
“You are the only one who doesn’t despise me. For now. I feel so lonely.”
Guy nodded. He still didn’t know what he felt for Marian, once he had loved her deeply, but now all his emotions were tangled, damaged, maybe forever. But he could understand her loneliness because he was very lonely too.
Djaq and Matilda talked to him, but they were the only ones, all the others still feared or despised him and even the ones who didn’t openly show those feelings just avoided him.
“So… what do you want me to do?”
Marian let his hand go.
“I don’t know.”
Guy glanced at her. He had never seen Marian so uncertain and dispirited.
It was as if the siege had changed everything, for all of them: some were dead, others crippled for life, Robin Hood had lost his mind, Guy a good part of his memory, and Marian her courage.
We are all alike.
“Well, you could help me with my aim, so I won’t go back to the camp empty handed.”
Marian smiled at him, grateful, and they walked through the forest, searching for another prey. After a while, they saw a pheasant, and the girl put a finger in front of her lips to tell Guy to be silent.
The knight nocked an arrow, and he drew the bow, ready to shoot, while Marian quietly approached, touching his arms to adjust his stance. He released the arrow, and this time he hit his prey, but Marian noticed the grimace of pain that crossed his face.
“Guy! Are you hurt?”
He shook his head.
“It’s nothing. Some of my wounds still ache a little if I overdo. I just put too much strength in drawing the bow.”
Marian lifted a hand, as if she wanted to touch him, but then she let it fall.
“I’m so sorry...” She mumbled, then she hurried to pick up the pheasant.
Guy was sure that he had seen tears in her eyes.

Matilda reached Gisborne at the river, looking at him. The man had his chest naked and he was washing up, scrubbing away every trace of sweat and dust from his skin.
The healer looked at the many scars that crossed is back and his arms, trying to check if they were healing well.
Guy heard her steps, and he turned to smile at her.
“It’s a very warm day, but the water of the river is always freezing,” he commented, while the woman sat on the bank, close to him.
“The pheasant is almost cooked,” Matilda said. “It will be good to eat some meat today. Thank you for catching it.”
“I have to confess that I’ve been helped.”
“By Marian?”
Guy looked at her, surprised.
“How do you know?”
“She was waiting for me to come back at the camp and she asked me to check your wounds, she was worried.”
Guy frowned.
“I told her it was nothing, just a little pang, nothing to be worried about.”
“Well, let me judge that.” Matilda patted the grass in front of her. “Come, sit here and let me see.”
Guy obeyed, and the healer carefully checked each of his scars.
“Does this hurt, if I touch it?”
“A little.”
Matilda nodded.
“It’s normal, nothing to be worried about. There was a lot of damage, but your wounds healed well. You probably will feel pain when you are tired, if you strain yourself too much or when the weather changes, but there’s no danger. You’ll have to live with some pain, but I’m sure that you can endure it well enough.”
“Why was Marian so worried, then?”
“I guess that she feels responsible.”
Guy frowned.
“If she was unhurt during the siege, it was because you shielded her with your body.”
Matilda nodded, and Guy realized why the girl had told him that she was in debt with him, why she was at his bedside when he woke up, but still he couldn’t say how this new knowledge made him feel.
“When the siege was over, she thought that you were dead, and she ran away in shock. When I found out that you were still alive and took you to the camp, she was even more shocked and she felt terribly guilty for abandoning you there after you saved her life.”
“I can’t remember anything.”
“Do you want to remember?”
“I don’t know. I think I don’t.”
The healer patted his shoulder.
“I can’t say what it would be best for you, but it doesn’t matter. Your mind will remember what happened when it’s ready for it, or maybe never at all. It’s how it is, and we can’t do nothing to change it.”
“Matilda? Often I don’t understand what I feel, if I feel anything at all. Do you think I’m broken? That I lost my mind like Robin?”
Matilda caressed his cheek, motherly.
“Who isn’t a little broken, after what we all had to endure? I’ve been lucky, I didn’t lose much in the siege, but still my heart breaks to see what happened to the county. All those lives lost, so much suffering… And you were in the middle of it, how could you not be broken? But you are doing your best to survive and you are doing well. You should be proud of yourself.”
The woman smiled, switching to a down-to-earth tone.
“But now hurry up to get dressed and come, or they will end up eating all the pheasant without us.”

Chapter Text

Marian pointed at the wild boar, and Guy shook his head.
“It’s too dangerous,” he whispered, “if we miss, it will charge at us.”
“Then don’t miss,” Marian said, drawing her bow.
Seeing that she was going to try the shot, Guy hurried to nock an arrow too and they shot at the same time.
Luckily both their arrows found the target and the boar dropped dead.
Marian grinned widely.
“This will feed a lot of people.”
“How are we taking it to the camp? It looks heavy.”
The girl frowned.
“Can’t we carry it? You are strong, and I’m not a frail, weak maiden.”
“I never thought you were,” Guy said, with a smirk, “but that boar is big and heavy, and we are quite far from the camp.”
Marian though for a moment.
“But we are close to Locksley. I’m sure I’ve seen an abandoned handcart there. It was broken and half burned, of course, but I think that we could fix it easily and use it to take our boar to the camp.”
Guy glanced at her, uncertain and a little afraid.
Since the siege, he had been living in the forest and he had got used at being surrounded by trees and bushes. They offered hiding places and protection, and they made him feel safe.
The soldiers had destroyed towns and villages, but they never ventured in the depths of the forest.
Gisborne could now understand why the outlaws had chosen to build their camp there, why they considered the forest as a home.
To go back to Locksley, to the place that once had been his... and Robin’s, it was weird and unsettling. But he would never show those cowardly feelings to Marian, so he helped her to lift the dead boar and to drag it to Locksley.

Guy wouldn’t have recognized the place, if he hadn’t known that he was in Locksley: the houses of the peasants had been burnt to the ground, the field were abandoned, blackened by the fires, and the church didn’t exist anymore. The only trace of its former existence was the bell, broken and lying on the ground in the midst of burnt rubble.
Guy glanced at Marian, remembering the day he had waited for her there, hopeful and anxious to marry her. When he still thought that she was a fair, graceful girl, so pure that she could cleanse his own blackened soul.
How wrong I was! How blind!
Marian wasn’t an ordinary maiden at all, not a frail, innocent lady who needed protection.
She was fierce, even dangerous, and he wondered how he did never notice it before. Even after she had punched him at the altar to run away, he had kept underestimating her, blinded by the feelings he still had for her.
If I can see her now, it’s because I don’t love her anymore? Do I still feel anything for her?
He wasn’t sure.
He enjoyed her company and he liked to go hunting in the forest with her, but they didn’t talk much and he never thought anymore about marrying her.
Maybe we are friends, now?
He wasn’t sure either. He didn’t have much experience about friendship, he never had. Probably the closest thing to friends that he ever had were Lambert and Allan, and it didn’t end well in both cases.
Guy realized that he had never asked how Allan was killed in the siege and he thought that he probably should have.
“Here’s the cart!” Marian said, interrupting Guy’s thoughts, and the knight looked at the half broken vehicle. The handcart had most of its boards burnt or broken, but the wheels were still working, and Guy and Marian could hoist the boar on it.
“Will it hold until we reach the camp?” Guy asked, looking at the rickety cart, and the girl nodded.
“I think so.”
Guy glanced at Locksley’s manor: the building was burnt and in ruins just like the villager’s huts, but it was partly made of stones, so part of it was still standing.
“I wonder if there is something useful inside the manor… Maybe some of the metal cookware is still usable, Matilda would appreciate more pots to prepare her remedies.”
Guy secretly hoped that he could find some of his personal belongings, even if it was unlikely.
Probably the soldiers had plundered the manor before burning it. Still, he moved to enter the manor.
“Guy, wait!” Marian cried, alarmed. “We have no time! We should go back to the camp.”
Gisborne glanced at her, a little surprised.
“We just caught a big boar! Of course we have time, usually we spend much more time trying to get enough prey to feed everyone.”
“It could be dangerous, the walls could fall on your head.”
Guy thought that it looked like she didn’t want him to get inside the manor, but he couldn’t understand why.
Maybe she worries for me.
“It’s alright, Marian. I know that probably the house will be empty. I already know that I lost everything I ever owned, I won’t be shocked, I promise,” he said with a smile, then he pushed the door and entered the manor before Marian could say anything else.
He stopped on the threshold, looking around, in surprise: the hall of the manor was still in decent condition, and it looked like someone had been living in it. There was wood in the fireplace, pots and dishes in a corner, with some food stored in them, a sort of bed in the other corner, covered with many blankets. In the rest of the room, somebody had piled some of the chests and trunks he had once used to keep his riches. Most of them were half burnt and damaged, roughly repaired and all huddled together.
Guy opened one of them, and he saw that it was full of every kind of everyday items, as if somebody had collected anything still usable that they had found in the destroyed village.
He wondered who was living there, and he placed a hand on the hilt of his sword.
He heard a noise in the adjacent room, and he unsheathed his weapon, rushing there to see who it was. Marian tried to stop him, but she couldn’t reach him before he slammed the door open.
Gisborne froze, in shock.
The little room was almost empty, except for a bed, a chamberpot and a little table near the bed with water and food on it. A man was lying on the bed, and he sat up with a jump hearing the door being opened.
Allan A Dale.
The young man reached for a knife, holding it in front of himself.
“Who’s that?” He cried, frightened, “Marian, is that you?!”
Guy didn’t answer, too upset and shocked to utter even a single word. Marian hurried in the room, and she put a hand on Guy’s arm, to make him lower the sword. She noticed that the knight was trembling.
“It’s alright!” She cried to Allan, then she looked at Guy. “Let me explain.”
Gisborne kept staring at Allan.
“I thought he was dead...” He whispered, and Allan lifted his head, surprised.
“Giz? Is that you?”
Guy was surprised by those words, and he looked better at him, realizing that Allan’s eyes weren’t looking at him, and they had a blank, unfocused stare.
“Can’t you see me?”
“Can’t see anything at all, mate.” Allan replied, almost defiantly.
Guy reached him, and he dropped himself on the bed, too upset to keep standing.
“I thought you were dead,” he repeated.
Guy knew that he should have asked about Allan’s fate, but he never did, and he wondered why.
Since he had woken up after the siege, he had been completely sure that the young man was dead, even if he couldn’t say why he was so sure of that.
Suddenly, a memory of the siege hit him: he was in the courtyard, frantically shouting orders at his men, and Allan was at his side, then a rain of stones hurled by a trebuchet fell on them, and Allan was hit by one of them, right on his head. Guy, miraculously untouched, had seen Allan lying dead on the ground, his head covered in blood, and his open eyes staring blankly at the sky.
“I’ve seen you die!” He said again, shivering, burying his face in his hands, as if he wanted to stop more memories from coming into his mind.
“Almost,” Allan said with a half grin. “If it weren’t for Marian, I’d have been buried too.”
Marian put a hand on Guy’s shoulder as to comfort him.
“He seemed dead, not even Matilda realized that he was still alive, so they left him with the other corpses until some volunteers came to bury them all in a grave they had dug near the castle. I still couldn’t believe what happened, and it looked like both you and Robin were going to die, so I kept wandering, unable to think sensibly. I went to the castle, probably hoping that it was just a nightmare, and I arrived when they were taking away the bodies. I recognized Allan, and it was a shock: he was a traitor, almost an enemy, but he was someone I knew, a familiar face, and it made everything real. Those I was seeing weren’t just bodies, they were real people, who had friends, families, just like Allan once did...”
Guy lifted his face to look at her. He could understand what she was saying, he could relate with the sensation that the siege had been unreal, because he still felt it.
“I couldn’t stand it,” Marian said, “I felt that I had to do something, I couldn’t let them bury him like that, as if his life never mattered. So I took his body, to give him a proper burial.”
“And, surprise! She found out that I was still breathing.” Allan intervened, with a grin.
“So you kept him hidden at Locksley and you told no one.” Guy said, his tone perfectly flat.
“The other wouldn't have accepted him at the camp.”
Guy stared at her.
“They gave sanctuary to me.
“You aren’t a traitor, Giz.”
“I was their enemy! I tried to kill them!”
“But you never betrayed their trust, you didn’t disappoint them. It’s different.”
Guy stood up, shaking his head.
Marian was staring at the ground, unable to look at him.
“You said that I was the only one who listened to you, the only one who talked to you… That you were completely alone...” Guy said, in a low voice.
Now it was Allan’s turn to look hurt.
“We spent time together, hunting in the woods,” Guy continued, bitterly, “and I know most of your secrets... You are in love with Hood, you are the Nightwatchman...”
Marian jumped at his last sentence, surprised that he had discovered that secret too.
“And you offered me your friendship… Lies. More lies...”
“No! I wasn’t lying to you!”
“But you didn’t tell me about Allan!” Guy cried.
“Well, you never asked about him! How could I guess that you cared?! How could I know that you care about anything?!”
Marian burst out in tears and she ran away, slamming the door behind her back. Guy just stood there, unable to react or to think, until Allan called him.
“Hey, Giz!”
Gisborne sat on the edge of Allan’s bed, feeling suddenly exhausted. Allan carefully moved to sit at his side, and he searched for Guy’s arm with his hand.
“Don’t be mad at her. It’s true that she takes care of me and that I would be dead without her help, but she isn’t as strong as she tries to appear. All this is difficult for her too.”
Guy sighed.
“I’m not mad. And probably she’s right, I don’t remember how to care. Or how to feel...”
“Oh, nonsense, Giz. If it’s true that you don’t have feelings, why are you weeping, then?”
“I’m not.”
“I just felt something wet falling on my hand from your face. I surely hope it’s a tear and not snot or something worse!”
Guy touched his face, surprised to find out that Allan was right and that it was wet with tears.
Am I out of my mind?
“You’re just a little lost.” Allan said, as if he had guessed his thoughts.
“Lost?” Guy repeated, flatly, and Allan grinned.
“Aren’t we all?”

Chapter Text

Guy closed his eyes, burying his face in his hands, feeling empty and exhausted.
He didn’t know what to think or what to do, and he wished that he could just curl in a corner and fall asleep, forgetting everything else.
But he knew that he couldn’t. Allan, whom he had believed dead, was right there, Marian had run away, crying and upset, and surely Matilda was waiting for him at the camp and she would get worried if he didn’t come back after sunset.
“Hey, Giz? So, what have you been up to?”
Gisborne struggled to keep calm and to answer Allan’s question.
“Didn’t Marian tell you?”
Allan shrugged.
“She barely talks. At first I tried to ask her about the others, but she never answered, she just wept, so I supposed they were all dead. It was a surprise to hear your voice!”
“Don’t tell me about surprises,” Guy said, with a low, joyless laugh.
Allan grinned, then he became deadly serious. Guy thought that he had never seen him looking so somber.
“So, Giz, can you tell me what Marian won’t say? Are they all dead? Do you know what happened to them?”
“I can’t remember what happened during the siege, but some of your friends are still alive.”
“Not all of them, right?”
Guy began shaking his head, then he remembered that Allan couldn’t see him.
“No, not all of them.”
“Who survived and who died?”
“Djaq and Little John are alive, while the servant and the other boy aren’t.”
“Much and Will are dead?”
Guy nodded, cursed himself for his stupidity and forced himself to answer aloud.
“Yes,” he said, then he noticed that Allan was pained in hearing those news, and he awkwardly tried to comfort him. “I am sorry.”
Allan wiped his eyes with a sleeve, and shook his head.
“No, you’re not, you don’t even know their names, but thanks for trying to be kind to me.”
Guy sighed.
“The sheriff is dead too.” He added, not sure if it could make Allan feel better or not.
The other frowned.
“Well, that was the point of it all, wasn’t it? If the sheriff were still alive, Prince John’s army wouldn’t have attacked us.”
“Guess so.”
“But I don’t know how he died. Not for natural causes, I suppose. You knew, I think, but there was no time to talk about it during the siege.”
“I can’t remember.”
“What about Robin? You told me about the gang, but you didn’t mention him. Is he alive?”
“Sort of.”
“What do you mean?”
Guy told him that Robin was alive, but out of his mind, and that Matilda had to keep him drugged or tied all the time to avoid he could hurt himself.
Allan couldn't believe it, but he knew that Gisborne wasn’t a liar, so it had to be true.
“How do you know for sure? You make it sound as if you have seen him...”
“I have. I’ve been living at the outlaw’s camp since Matilda took me there to treat my wounds.”
“Unbelievable… And Marian said nothing of all this...”
They both kept silent for a while, then Allan sighed.
“Giz? Will you come back to talk to me sometimes? I’m grateful to Marian for saving me, but she’s not much company. I’m always here, trapped in this room, day after day… You don’t have to come often, just once in a while, to talk for a few moments, so I’ll have something new to think about when I’m alone...”
Guy stared at him, in shock.
“I’m not leaving you here! Who knows when Marian will come back!”
“I have food and water and I can add wood to the fire if I’m cold, I’ll be alright. After all she’s rarely here. When she leaves I’m afraid that someday she won’t come back, but till now she always did...”
“Apart from your sight, are you wounded? Can you walk?”
“Since I’ve been wounded, I only walked inside this room, but I’m well enough, I think.”
“Then come with me.”
“At the camp?” Allan hesitated. “They’ll send me away.”
“I don’t think so. Matilda wouldn’t allow that, and maybe she could help you. Maybe there’s a cure for your eyes...”
“I think you are wrong, but thanks anyway.”
“Will you come?”
Guy hated his own pleading tone, but it seemed very important to him that Allan came at the camp, even if he couldn’t explain why he wanted it so much when all his other feelings were so numb.
“If this doesn’t work, will you take me back here?”
“It will work.”
Allan grinned.
“What are you waiting for, then? Help me packing!”

“You never talked about pushing a cart all the way there...” Allan panted, out of breath. “And then what’s on this cart? Did you pack the whole Locksley?”
Guy stopped for a moment, exhausted too. He had been pulling the handcart, while Allan pushed it.
“Our dinner: a very big boar. And I filled a trunk with a few pots and my clothes. Could you believe that some of them didn’t burn in the fire? It will be nice to wear something clean without having to wait for my clothes to dry...”
“Marian has been hoarding everything she could find in the village or in the manor. I’m not sure why, but her ‘finds’ where the only things she gladly talked about. Talking about a half burnt pair of breeches wasn’t so exciting, but hey, better than nothing, don’t you think?”
Allan touched the load of the cart to feel how big the boar actually was, and he grinned touching a metallic surface.
“Giz, what’s this? It seems a sort of shield.”
Guy blushed glancing at the yellow and black shield he had loaded on the cart: it was useless in the forest and it was just more weight on the handcart, but he couldn’t help taking it with them. It had the coat of arms of his family on it and he didn’t want to leave it behind.
“We’re almost there,” Guy said, to change subject, then he looked around, not so sure anymore, “I think...”
“You think? Giz, are you sure you know the way to the camp?”
“It’s the first time I got so far from the camp, and it was Marian who led me to Locksley. But I’m sure we’re almost there.”
“Oh, well. We’re lost.”
“We are not lost.”
“Do you know the way to the camp?”
“I’m sure I can find it.”
“Look Giz, I’m blind, you don’t know the way… Admit it: we’re lost.”
Guy rolled his eyes, annoyed.
“Fine! But we’ll get there, eventually. For now we have food, we have water and we have blankets, even if we should spend a night here it won’t be so terrible.”
“And if it rains, we can always use your shield to cover our heads.”
Guy snorted in frustration.
“Very funny, Allan,” he growled, and the other man grinned.
“I wasn’t complaining, Giz. Being lost in the forest with a friend is still much better than being all alone in the same room day after day.”

“I knew we couldn’t trust him.”
Little John hit the ground with his staff, as to stress his words, but Matilda crossed her arms in front of her, resolute.
“I’m sure he didn’t betray us! If he isn’t here something must be happened. We should be searching for him, instead of listening to this nonsense!”
“He could reveal the position of the camp!”
“Why should he? And then who could be interested in it? The county is still half destroyed, the new sheriff surely has better things to do than arresting a few outlaws who didn’t even rob anyone in the last few months!”
Rosa glanced at Matilda, lulling her child. She couldn’t help being worried, Gisborne still scared her a little, but she also trusted her mother, and Matilda was sure that the knight wouldn’t betray them. So she just didn’t intervene while her mother and Little John were glaring at each other.
It was Djaq who spoke next.
“He was with Marian,” she said, quietly.
“With her?!” Little John growled, while Matilda frowned.
“What were they doing?”
“Hunting. It’s a few days that they go hunting together in the forest.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?!” John asked, his face dark.
Djaq shrugged.
“Matilda knew, and they weren’t doing anything wrong.”
“We can’t trust neither of them!”
Matilda looked at Djaq, worried.
“When did you see them last?”
“This morning, when Gisborne went to hunt. I saw him meeting her in the forest, and then they went away.”
“Guy should be back by now,” Matilda said, worried. “I’m going to search for him.”
“What about Robin?!” John asked, angrily. “You can’t abandon him to search for Gisborne!”
“Robin is sleeping, I gave him a remedy just a moment ago, and you can watch him. I understand that you aren’t going to help me to find Guy, so you can stay at the camp.”
The healer took a dagger, put it on her belt, then she grabbed a torch and she went out of the camp.
Djaq moved to follow her, but she stopped for a moment, noticing Little John’s dark face.
She gave him a little shrug.
“I can’t let her go alone in the forest at night. And Gisborne and Marian could actually be in trouble. I know what you think of them, but we can’t abandon them if they are in danger.”
The girl went after Matilda and Little John shook his head, disapprovingly, then he went behind the curtain to sit next to Robin Hood’s bed.
Rosa held Alice close to her heart, and she sighed, worried. She hated when the people around her were angry or when they fought.
She thought of her husband, away to fight a war, for a king they didn’t even know, and she wondered if he was still alive and if he’d ever come back to her.
“My little one,” she said, cuddling the baby, “I wish we could all live in peace, we suffered too much already. Too much.”

Chapter Text

Allan was dreaming.
He was riding a horse, following Gisborne in the forest, and his heart was divided: Giz wanted him to show the way to the outlaw’s camp and Allan didn’t want to disappoint him, but he also didn’t want to betray his friends.
The forest was beautiful, the leaves of the trees were dark green and the branches formed a sort of roof, a promise of shelter, almost a home. Allan wanted to go back to that simple life between his friends, but at the same time he didn’t want to lose the power and the safety that Gisborne could give to him. He didn’t want to be cold or hungry, he didn’t want to risk being hanged: he had been on the scaffold once, and it was enough.
I must advance.
I should go back.
Then Gisborne turned to look at him, giving him an unusual pleading look.
“Allan, don’t betray me. Please, Allan.”
The young man woke up with a jump, and at first he thought that night had fallen while they were riding because he couldn't see anything, then, after a moment he remembered that he was blind.
He sighed, dispirited.
When he dreamed, he could still see, and some mornings it was harder to realize that his sight had been damaged during the siege. Gisborne had told him that maybe Matilda had a cure for him, but Allan didn’t believe it. Or at least he didn’t want to.
He had resigned himself to his fate and it had been very hard, he couldn’t bear to have his hopes crushed again.
But not everything of his dream had faded away: he wasn’t alone. He could hear Gisborne breathing slowly not far from him, still asleep.
Allan remembered how the knight had asked him to go to the camp with him, almost pleading him, and he smiled, even if he was still feeling uncertain about it.
What if the others decided to send him away? What if they still hated him for his betrayal?
Robin once had menaced to kill him if he dared to show his face at the camp again, and Allan shivered, remembering the cold blade of his dagger pressed against his throat.
But Robin was ill, unable to menace him again, and half of the gang had died in the siege.
Much and Will…
Will had been his friend, almost a younger brother, and Allan had missed his friendship. He had hoped that they could be friends again someday, but now this wasn’t going to happen. And Much…
He was always discussing with him, always bickering about stupid things, and they used to spend more time fighting than actually being friends, but still it was absurd to think him dead.
Unbelievable, as Much himself would have exclaimed, outraged.
Allan found himself crying, and after a moment, Gisborne turned, pushing away his blanket, probably awakened by Allan’s sobs.
“Allan?” He mumbled sleepily, “Are you alright?”
The young man stood up abruptly, turning his back to Gisborne’s voice to hide his tears.
“I need to piss,” he muttered, taking a step forward, and he heard Guy getting up too.
“Do you… do you need help?” He asked, awkwardly.
“I’m blind, not a helpless idiot!” Allan blurted, suddenly angry, walking away, his hands in front of him to feel if there were bushes or trees in his way.
Gisborne didn’t follow him.
Allan kept walking for a while, until he was sure he was far enough, then he found a tree and he began unlacing his breeches to relieve himself against its trunk.
He felt a little guilty for lashing out at Gisborne like that. After all the knight was only trying to offer his help, but Allan already hated his condition, he couldn’t accept the humiliation of having to be helped even to pee.
Still, it wasn’t Guy’s fault if he had been wounded. Actually, the knight had acted bravely during the siege, trying to save the town and the people in it.
Allan sighed, turning to go back and reach Gisborne to apologize. He walked for a few steps, before realizing that maybe he had walked too far away, and that he wasn’t sure to be able to find the way back.
“Very well. We were already lost, and now I’m even more lost...”

Guy didn’t move when Allan walked away. He felt his cheeks growing hot, and he knew that he was blushing after Allan’s harsh words.
He knew even too well how humiliating was being ill and not being able even to attend to one’s own needs without help. The memory of Matilda changing the wet straw of his bed made him blush even more.
He thought that his stupid, awkward words had hurt Allan’s feelings and that maybe he wouldn’t want to come to the camp with him anymore, now.
Guy waited for a while to be sure that Allan had finished, then he began to follow him, determined to apologize.
He didn’t see Allan nearby, and he was beginning to worry, afraid that he could have wandered too far in the forest and got lost, when he heard a blood-curdling cry.
It wasn’t Allan, it was the voice of a woman, but just a moment after, Guy heard Allan’s frightened voice, asking what had happened. He ran in that direction, and he saw his friend after a while: Allan was standing near a tree, and he was turning his head around, trying to understand who had cried.
He heard Guy’s steps, and turned towards him.
“Who’s there?!”
“It’s me Allan. Who cried?”
“Giz! You came! I don’t know who it was, it came from there, I think.”
Allan pointed in a direction, and Guy saw only bushes at first, then he spotted a small figure lying on the ground, half hidden by the undergrowth. He hurried there, and he lifted the unconscious woman in his arms.
“It’s Djaq!”
“Djaq? Really? What happened to her? Why was she crying like that?”
Guy looked at the girl, she didn’t seem wounded or ill, just in a swoon.
“I think that she has seen you. She must have thought that you were a ghost or something like that.”
They both turned, hearing a rustling in the bushes. Guy’s instinct told him to unsheathe his sword, but he couldn’t because he was holding Djaq.
Instead, he got closer to Allan, putting himself in front of him, ready to protect both the young man and the girl, somehow.
Luckily, he didn’t need any weapon, because it was Matilda who burst out from the bushes.
“Djaq!” She cried, then she looked at Gisborne. “Oh! Guy! Here you are, my boy! I was so worried! We’ve been searching for you all night! But what happened to her? Put her on the ground, let me see.”
Guy looked at the healer, surprised by her words, and he obeyed, making Djaq lie on the grass.
When he bent to put the girl down, Matilda saw Allan behind him, and she stared at him, petrified.
“He was dead!” She exclaimed, in shock. “I’m sure he was dead! I’ve seen his body!”
“Surprise!” Allan said, with a half grin.
Matilda approached to look at him, and she touched his face, still incredulous.
“No, you’re not a ghost, but now I can see why she fainted.” Matilda touched Djaq’s forehead, then she glanced at the two men. “You’ll explain me everything, but first we should get her warm. She was already exhausted, the shock must have been too much for her.”
“We have a fire going, and blankets, not far from here.” Guy said, trying to be helpful.
“Very well, carry her there. I’ll take care of her, and then we can talk.”

Matilda wrapped a warm blanket around Djaq’s body, and she gently patted her face, until the girl began to wake up.
“Matilda...” She said weakly. “I’ve seen...”
“I know what you have seen, and it wasn’t a ghost, my child. It really was Allan, but now be quiet, you need to recover a little.”
“Allan… alive?”
“Alive. I know, I know, my dear, it seems impossible, but it’s true.”
The girl began crying. She tried to wipe away her tears, and the healer caressed her forehead, gently.
“It’s alright, child, don’t be ashamed of your tears, it’s normal to weep for the ones you love. Drink this now, it will make you sleep for a while. After some rest you’ll feel much better, I promise.”
She put a flask to her lips, and Djaq obeyed, swallowing the bitter remedy, then she slipped into a deep sleep and Matilda went to reach Guy and Allan near the fire.
The both looked worried and a little upset.
“Will she be alright?” Allan asked. “I never meant to give her a scare!”
Matilda sighed.
“She’ll recover, don’t worry. But I can’t say if she’ll be alright. She’s a brave girl, but she is suffering a lot. She hid her pain and worked hard, even too hard, to help the others, but I know that the wounds of her soul are still raw. Who knows? Maybe she needed this shock to vent her pain. Today is the first time I’ve seen her weeping openly since the siege.” The healer turned to look at Guy. “That’s why you didn’t come back to the camp? We were all worried.”
“Not everyone, I bet.” Guy said, with an ironic grin to hide that he was moved to hear that some of them could actually worry for him.
Matilda grinned back.
“Well, Little John was worried that you had betrayed us, so for a reason or another we were all worried. I’m glad to see that you are fine, and that your hunt had been a success,” she added, glancing at the boar on the cart. “What else did you find?”
“My clothes and some pots for the camp. I thought you could use some of them to prepare your remedies.”
“And a pretty shield, I see.” Matilda laughed to see that Guy had blushed. “Not really useful, but I understand why you wanted it, it’s a piece of home, isn’t it?” She turned to Allan. “What about you? You can’t see, this is clear, but do you have any other ailments?”
Allan shook his head.
“I feel well enough. Sometimes my head aches, but it doesn’t happen often now.”
The healer touched his head gently, checking him carefully.
“Can you see shadows and lights?”
“No. Nothing at all.”
“Matilda, can you cure him?” Guy asked.
“There is nothing I can do. He could get his eyesight back someday, I’ve heard that it could happen, but I know no remedy that could help. It’s already a miracle that he’s alive.”
The woman looked at the two men, and she was surprised to see that Guy looked more upset than Allan because of her words.
He claims that he forgot how to feel, but that’s clearly not true.
Matilda looked at Guy, so disappointed in his hopes, at Allan, lost in the darkness and trying to be brave and at Djaq, sleeping like a child, with her cheeks still wet with tears. She felt a sudden fondness for them all, a desire to soothe their pain and protect them from further harm, a feeling similar to the tenderness she felt for Rosa.
My children. My lost, broken children.
“I wonder if Marian is alright. She was upset yesterday...”
Matilda looked at Allan, a little surprised that this concern came from the young man instead of Guy.
Gisborne said nothing, staring at the flames, and the healer wondered what changed in a single night.
“Marian is a strong girl, she never gave up even in the most difficult moments. Now let’s have some breakfast, then we’ll have to take Djaq back to the camp and see that she can rest and recover. After we do this, we’ll search for Marian if she doesn’t show up on her own.”

Chapter Text

“I can walk, really.” Djaq looked at Guy, who was kneeling to the ground in front of her. “I was just shocked to see Allan...” Her voice broke, and her eyes filled with tears.
“Do you really want to contradict Matilda? And I think she’s right: you kept working day and night to help everyone, and you overexerted yourself. You need to rest or you could get ill. Come on, climb on my back.”
“What about you? Your wounds just healed, won’t I be too heavy?”
Guy chuckled.
“Heavy? You?! Are you trying to unman me? I’m perfectly well and strong enough to lift two of you!”
The girl smiled, and at last she accepted to let him carry her. She put her arms around his neck, and she leaned her face on his back while Guy easily lifted her.
“Are you ready?” Matilda called, and Guy nodded. The woman and Allan were pushing the handcart and they all moved to go back to the camp.

Guy had exaggerated when he had said that he could have carried two girls like Djaq. Actually, one was almost more than enough and he was struggling to keep walking without showing his effort.
The healed wounds on his back were aching, and his shirt was soaked with sweat, but he would never admit that he was tired.
On his back, Djaq was so quiet that he wondered if she was asleep.
He remembered a day of many years ago, when he was traveling with his younger sister, trying to reach their relatives in France. Isabella had twisted an ankle on a rock, and Guy had carried her on his back for an awful, exhausting day.
But now that memory made him feel melancholic, and he wondered if his sister was still alive, if she was living a happier life. Maybe in the future he could decide to go and search for her. Maybe.
He wasn’t sure if he wanted to do that, yet, but it was a chance, a possible decision that he could make.
“Are you tired?” Djaq asked softly.
“Not at all!” He boasted. “You should worry for Allan and Matilda who have to push the handcart with my prey!”
Djaq smiled.
“That’s a big boar.”
“And a trunk full of clothes so that he could feel pretty and clean, and an incredibly useless heavy shield!” Allan added, grinning.
“You could do with some washing, I can smell you from here.” Guy replied, and Allan grinned back at him.
“Are you sure it’s not the boar?”
Djaq chuckled, and both Allan and Guy felt contented for cheering her up.

When they finally arrived at the camp, Gisborne helped Djaq to lie down on her cot.
Luckily Little John wasn’t at the camp, so Guy didn’t have to lose time in justifying himself or giving explanations: he grabbed one of the soft blankets he had brought from Locksley, and he went straight to his own bed, falling asleep immediately.
Matilda smiled.
She went to check on Robin, he was still asleep and Rosa was watching him, then she went back to Allan to lead him to another bed and to give him a quick tour of the camp.
“It seems different now that I can’t see it. Bigger.”
“Once you get used to it, it will be easier to move around.”
If they’ll let me stay.”
“It seems to me that Djaq already accepted you. Little John might be a little more difficult, but I think we can deal with him. The question is another: do you wish to stay?”
“Giz wants me to stay, and I missed my friends...”
“But I don’t want to be a burden on their shoulders. Look at Djaq, once she would never have fainted like that! She’s exhausted and unwell. Giz told me that you still have to care for a lot of ill people and that you are all working hard to take care of them and to feed everyone. I don’t want to be just another mouth to be fed.”
Matilda patted his shoulder.
“If this is the only thing that worries you, I don’t see where is the problem. If you don’t want to be a burden, be useful.”
“How? Have you noticed that I’m blind?”
“So? You are young and strong and you still have two arms and two legs. I’m sure that there are a lot of things that you can do to help us, we just have to figure them out. Don’t worry lad, we’ll manage.”
Allan hoped she was right.

Marian didn’t want to go back to Locksley, thinking that Guy could be still there. She was afraid to face him, she didn’t want to see that now he despised her too.
But she felt that she had to go back for Allan. It was true that Guy probably wouldn’t abandon him, but since she had nursed him back to health, she had been the only responsible for his survival.
Without her, he couldn’t find food or water on his own, or wood for the fire. If she didn’t come back to Locksley at least once every two or three days, he would starve.
She felt guilty thinking of all the time she had spent loitering at the edges of the camp while Allan was all alone at Locksley, waiting for her return.
She had been cruel to him, denying him her company, but how could she talk with him when any subject could lead to the siege?
The girl sighed, thinking about Guy’s words.
Lies. More lies.
She knew that the knight felt deceived, and she felt sad for that.
I should talk to him, try to explain.
But what if he refused to listen?
She walked back to Locksley, feeling miserable.
Allan wasn’t there anymore, his room was empty and there was no fire in the fireplace. Marian noticed that some of the trunks had been opened, and a few items were missing.
They went away. And now I am alone.
She nestled in her bed, wrapping herself in a blanket and she cried herself to sleep.

Robin was lost in a darkness with no end.
He had been wandering for a very long time, but he found no way to free himself from that crawling, icy night that surrounded him in every direction.
He wanted to run away, to leave everything behind and be free, but he had a chain around his neck, with a big millstone attached to it.
He had to carry it everywhere he went, and its weight menaced to make him sink through the ground.
If I stop, it will take me to hell.
When he looked at the millstone, he could read words carved on it.
Every time he looked at it, he found a new accusation.
He knew they were all true.
When he touched the stone, he left a bloody handprint, the visible mark of his fault.
My hands are covered in blood.
Sometimes he tried to punish his guilty hands, to hit them to be relieved from his burden, even if only for a while. But it never worked: he could hurt himself, but the pain never went away.

Chapter Text

Matilda looked at the villagers, gathered around Little John to get food and supplies. After getting their share, many of them came to her to show her a wound or to tell her about some ailment and receive a remedy. The healer quickly checked them, and she divided them in two groups: the ones who really needed her cares and those who only needed a dressing for a small wound or a simple remedy.
“It’s just a little burn. Go to my assistant, he’ll see to it,” she said to an elderly woman who had touched a hot pot while cooking. The woman gasped and shook her head in fear, then she rushed away, forgetting her burn.
“It’s no use, Matilda, I told you. Nobody will accept to get treated by me,” Guy said, with a sigh.
“Then they don’t really need our help. Don’t be too disappointed, they have their reasons to fear you, but sooner or later they will understand that you are trying to help them.”
“I think that many of them don’t need that food either,” Guy said, looking at he people gathered around Little John. “They are strong and young, they should be able to work and feed their families.”
Matilda nodded.
“I told Little John the same thing. We are few and we are trying our best to help the survivors to rebuild their lives, but some of them just get what we give them without even trying to work hard to survive on their own.”
“The sheriff said they were just parasites.”
Matilda slapped his hand.
“The sheriff said a lot of horrible things, and you should forget them all, you should be ashamed of repeating his words! Fool!” She scolded him, then she softened her tone, “But it’s true that some of those people could try harder.”
Guy lowered his gaze, in shame.
“Maybe I should go back to the forest and try to get some prey.”
“You are going to stay exactly where you are. Today you are my helper and people will have to get used to it.”
“But I’ll keep scaring your patients...”
“This means that we’ll save herb and bandages for people who really need them.”
Matilda went inside one of the newly rebuilt huts of the village to check a sick woman, while Guy waited outside. The villagers kept glancing at him, but they kept their distance, wary.
Little John distributed the last supplies, and he sadly shook his head when they asked for more. Guy knew that the big man had given everything he had to them, even his own meal.
The outlaw didn’t like Guy and Gisborne returned the feeling, but he had to admit that Little John really tried his best to help people, even to his own detriment.
Now he looked really sad because the villagers were asking for more food, and he couldn’t give it to them. The people, instead became louder and disgruntled, complaining because they didn’t get enough supplies.
Guy walked to reach them and he crossed his arms, staring at them.
“Is there any problem here?” He asked, and the crowd got silent. “John gave you everything he had, what else do you want?”
A woman glared at him.
“Our children are hungry!”
“Have you even tried to feed them on your own, instead of just relying on charity?” Guy pointed at a group of trees at the edge of the village. “Look there! Nobody climbed those trees to get the apples, and those fields are abandoned. Why aren’t you cultivating them? And the forest is right there, I don’t see people going there to search for food. You can set trap and snares, pick berries and mushrooms, and there are a lot of plants that are edible. If you can’t recognize them, we can teach you, but there’s a lot of food there that you could find with just a little effort.”
“But Robin used to give us all we needed!” Another man said.
“Well, Robin isn’t here now. John, Matilda and the others are all doing their best to help who needs it, but it’s time you do something as well.”
“Why should we listen to Gisborne?” A woman cried, and the others approved, nodding and commenting.
Guy looked at them and he felt defeated. Probably Matilda was wrong: he could try to help, but nobody would ever accept his efforts or listen to him.
He gave up, and he turned to go back in front of the hut to wait for Matilda, when Little John spoke.
“Gisborne I do not like,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “but this time you should listen to him because for once he’s right!”
The people stared at him, disconcerted, but Guy was the most surprised of them all.
“I agree,” Matilda said, approaching them and putting a hand on the shoulder of both men, affectionately. “Everyone who is able to work must do their part. So, who’s going to pick up those apples? It might be a job for the children, they’re always climbing trees for fun anyways, the young men could work in the fields and go hunting, while the women could pick vegetables and berries and set a few snares. The elderly people and the ones who are too weak to work can dry, store and preserve the food you gather, so there will be supplies for the winter. John, show them how to build a simple snare, Guy come with me, I need your help with my next patient.”
The villagers were too surprised to complain, and Little John began to teach them how to catch little prey with simple traps, while Gisborne followed Matilda.
The healer smiled at him.
“Maybe you’re not a complete fool after all.”
“Even if I still think that most of them are parasites? John gave them everything he had, and they were demanding more! Am I like the sheriff for thinking that they don’t deserve our help?”
Matilda shook her head.
“What did the sheriff do with parasites?”
Guy lowered his gaze.
“He got rid of them.”
“I didn’t see you trying to kill any of them. Instead, you tried to show them how to stop being parasites and become useful. That was the right thing to do. You’re not like the sheriff, my boy, not at all. Now come, it’s time that they let you do your work.”
She entered in another hut, and Guy followed her. A woman was lying on a cot and she was startled when she saw Gisborne entering after Matilda.
“What is he doing here?!”
The healer ignored her words, and she looked at the arm of the woman, roughly bandaged and swollen.
“What happened?” She asked, beginning to carefully unwrap the bandages.
“I tripped and fell,” she answered quickly, but she kept staring at Guy, frightened. “Please, don’t let him touch my children!”
Matilda glanced at the kids, huddled in a corner of the room: there were a little girl who could be no more than four or five years old, a younger boy and a baby in a cradle. They looked dirty and scared, and they were all weeping.
“That’s exactly what he’s going to do, instead.”
Both Guy and the woman looked at her, in shock.
“Please, take the two older children outside and take care of them. They could do with some washing and surely they are hungry, find some food for them. And ask Little John to come here.”
“No! Don’t let him take them!”
Matilda stared at the woman.
“Your arm is broken, I’ll need to fix it or it won’t heal right. It will be very painful, but necessary. Do you really want them to see and get even more scared?”
The woman began to sob.
“No, of course not, but Gisborne...”
“Gisborne will keep them safe.” She nodded at Guy. “Go. And take them far enough that they can’t hear their mother scream,” she added, lowering her voice.

Marian hid behind a tree, looking at the people of the village. Matilda, Guy and Little John were there, to drop food and to help them.
She had brought some supplies too, and later she would wear the mask of the Nightwatchman to distribute them, but first she took some time to watch, unseen.
She saw Guy entering a hut with Matilda, and then he came out after a while carrying two wailing children in his arms. The people looked at him disapprovingly, but nobody tried to stop him while he went away from the village, entering the forest and moving towards the river.
Quietly, Marian began following him to see what he was going to do.
Gisborne found a place where the water was slow and shallow, and he stopped, putting down the children. The two kids looked scared, but they didn’t try to run away, probably more afraid to get lost in the woods than to stay with the tall, dark man.
“Come on, take off your clothes and step into the water,” Guy said gently, looking at the children, then he turned to glance at the tree where she was hiding, raising his voice a little, “and you could come here and help instead of spying on me!”
Marian was startled, and she made a step forward, revealing herself.
“How did you know I was there?”
Guy grinned.
“Once you told me that I should be more careful of enemies approaching from behind. I think I improved a little, don’t you think?”
Marian glanced at him, almost shyly.
“And am I an enemy?”
Guy shook his head, kneeling to the ground to help the little boy to remove his tunic.
“Of course not.” He wrinkled his nose. “And this one clearly needs to learn how to use a chamberpot.”
Marian came closer, still ashamed to look at him.
“I’m sorry Guy. I should have told you and the others about Allan...”
Guy looked at her.
“Yes, you should have told us, and that’s why you get to wash these,” he handed her the boy’s soiled clothes and a piece of soap with a grin, then he apologized too. “But I shouldn’t have lashed out at you like that.”
Marian hurried to soak the dirty clothes in the water.
“So, are we still friends?”
“Wash those clothes and the little girl and we’ll see,” Guy answered with a grin, but he was interrupted by the little girl, who splashed at him, indignantly.
“I’m not little! I can wash on my own! And my name is Beth!”
Marian burst out laughing seeing Guy’s surprised look, and the knight grinned at the child, giving her another piece of soap.
“Very well, Beth, go on, then.” He glanced at Marian, who was still laughing, and he gave her a little push, making her lose her balance. The girl fell in the water with a cry of surprise, and she turned to glare at Guy. The knight was sitting on the river bank, with an amused expression on his face, and he was scrubbing accurately the little boy, who was giggling at seeing Marian so soaked.
Little Beth was laughing too, no more frightened by the tall knight, now.
“You should watch your back too,” Guy said, ducking to avoid the little boy’s wet breeches that Marian had thrown at him.

Some time later, the two children were sitting on the grass, wrapped in a towel and eating a piece of bread while their clothes dried up, hanging on a bush. Guy’s shirt and Marian’s dress were drying there too, and their owners were near the children, sprawling in the sun to get warm after their “battle” in the cold water of the river.
Marian was wearing a chemise, and she had a towel wrapped around her body as well, while Guy was shirtless, stretched on the grass with his eyes closed.
The girl looked at him, thinking that she had never seen Guy looking so relaxed.
And handsome.
She felt the sudden impulse to touch his skin, and she almost moved her hand to do it, but she stopped and she harshly reproached herself for those thoughts.
What am I doing?!
But still, the temptation of feeling the warmth of his body under her fingers seemed almost overwhelming to her.
What about Robin?! I shouldn’t…
Half asleep, Guy turned on his side, and Marian saw the scars on his back. The sight of them was enough to force her back to reality.
Guy had received those wounds to protect her, to save her life, even after she had deceived him and lied to him so many times.
I owe him my life, and I only hurt him…
She dropped her hands in her lap, blushing.
What she had been about to do wasn’t right.
They were both still too hurt and broken to understand what they really wanted or felt, she couldn’t risk hurting Guy, or herself, to follow the whim of a moment, yielding to her loneliness.
The girl turned to look at Guy, with a little jump. The knight was looking at her, ruffled and half asleep, and Marian averted her eyes.
“You should take the children back to the village, they’ll be worried by now.”
Guy sat up, stretching his back, and he smirked at her.
“They were already worried when they saw they were with me. But you’re right, it’s late. Alright, kids, it’s time to go back to your mother. Get dressed.”
Guy retrieved his shirt and the clothes of the children, and Marian took her own dress. After a while, the two children grabbed Guy’s hands, with no fear at all now.
“Will you come to play with us again?” Beth asked, looking at both Guy and Marian. “It was fun to play in the water.”
“Maybe.” Marian answered with a smile, leaning to caress their heads.
“Come at the camp,” Guy said softly, meeting her gaze. “I missed hunting with you, and I think that Allan would be happy to chat...”
“Maybe,” she repeated, feeling suddenly shy. She handed him the bag with the food. “Here, take this to the village, from the Nightwatchman.”
Guy didn’t insist, and he just nodded, taking the bag, then the children, now eager to go back to their mother, claimed his attention again and he followed them to the village.
Marian stood there for a while, watching his back while he walked away, then she turned with a sigh and she took the opposite direction.

Chapter Text

“Will he ever get better?” Guy asked, looking at Robin’s face. He was asleep after Matilda had given him a sleeping draught.
The healer sighed, rubbing the outlaw’s chest with a wet towel.
“I hope so. Sadly, we can’t do much for him, other than avoiding that he can hurt himself. Now, help me turn him, please.”
Guy obeyed and he made Robin roll on his side, so Matilda could wash his back. It was strange to touch his lifelong enemy to help him instead than to fight him.
Looking at him, so helpless, made Guy wish that they could fight like they used to do once. It wasn’t natural to see Robin so weak and broken.
“I thought that nothing could really defeat him. He never gave up, even against the worst plans of the sheriff. I’ve seen him in hopeless situations, and he laughed in front of danger...”
“During the siege he met his worst opponent.” Matilda began to brush gently Robin’s ruffled hair.
“Who?” Guy asked.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s much easier to accept and forgive other people’s fault. The hard thing is being able to forgive yourself.”
Guy gave her a surprised look.
“Are you saying that Robin can’t forgive himself? Why? What did he do?”
“Don’t you know? I thought you had heard it by now.”
Guy shook his head.
“The others never talk about Robin, and the people of Nottingham are still too scared to talk to me.”
“Well, at least some of them now dare to let you treat them. It’s an improvement, don’t you think?”
“Guess so. So, what is Robin’s fault? What did he do?”
Matilda hesitated.
“He killed the sheriff.”
Guy stared at her, in shock.
“What?! But why? He knew about his agreement with Prince John! He knew that killing him would destroy the county! He brought doom on us, and we are taking care of him!”
Matilda looked at Robin’s face, sadly.
“Do you think he doesn’t blame himself? That he can forgive himself? Look at his hands, at the cuts he inflicted on them. He’s already punishing himself, in the worst possible ways.”
“I can’t understand why he did it. In the past he had other chances to kill the sheriff, even before the pact with Prince John, but he never did, he had that crazy no-kill policy… What changed now?”
“I don’t know what really happened. People say that he killed the sheriff to save Marian, but that’s all I know.”
“Marian? She never told me about this...”
“Have you noticed how the others treat her? They blame her for the siege, they think it’s her fault. That’s why they barely tolerate her presence.”
Guy looked at Robin, pensively.
“I wonder if anyone knows what really happened that day.”
“Maybe you do, my boy, you were right there. But you don’t remember it.”
Robin moaned in his sleep, his face twisted in distress, and Matilda hurried to finish washing his body before tying him back to the bed so he couldn’t hurt himself.
Gisborne looked at the man who had destroyed the lives of so many people, and he thought that he should hate him for that, but he couldn’t feel anything but pity for him, and a deep sadness for them all.
I’d rather not know. I hope I’ll never remember.
Allan picked up the heavy bag, full of food and remedies, and he carried it on his shoulder, while Djaq took his arm to gently lead him.
At first it wasn’t easy to walk in the forest like that, having to rely completely on another person to avoid tripping on the uneven path or slamming his head on low branches, but Djaq was very careful, always warning him in time if there was a danger or an obstacle on his path.
Now he trusted her completely, and walking to the villages was much easier, even pleasant.
He carried her bag, and in return she took him with her, chatting and making him feel normal again.
She never treated him like a cripple, but she just acknowledged that he couldn’t see and she gave him the help he needed to lead an almost normal life. If something funny or interesting happened around them, she described the scene to Allan so that he could imagine it in his mind.
People in the villages welcomed them gladly, knowing that they were there to bring help. Most of them remembered that Allan had worked for Gisborne, but they thought that he had been punished enough with his blindness. This, along with Allan’s friendly attitude, made them forget their spite for him soon enough.
“Were are we going today?” Allan asked.
“Did they already rebuild the houses?”
“Yes, most of them. Of course not all of them. Many families have been destroyed and a few of the survivors went to live with the relatives in other counties. But all the ones who still live there now have a roof on their heads. I think that they are rebuilding the tavern too.”
“Good news, then! I wonder if the pretty maid who used to work there is still alive...”
“That pretty blonde girl? Jen? I think I’ve seen her at the market last week.”
“Even better news! Too bad I won’t be able to look at her, but hey, who knows, maybe she’ll let me touch...”
Allan didn’t stop grinning even when Djaq gave him a light slap on his hand.
“Men!” She exclaimed, rolling her eyes. “They never change!”
“Some do. Look at Giz. Who could ever think that he’d end up helping Matilda? And she says that he’s good at it too. When people don’t run away in fear, of course.”
Djaq chuckled.
“He’ll earn their trust someday. After all, if Little John accepted him, anyone can.”
“I’m glad that you accepted me too.” Allan said, a little awkwardly. “I know that I wronged you all, but...”
“It’s in the past.” Djaq interrupted him. “In the past.”
And she didn’t want to think of the past, of the times when they were all together, without the ghost of betrayal between them, all alive and healthy, working together to trick and rob the sheriff.
She missed Will and Much sorely, and Robin too, even if he wasn’t dead. They had been part of her family, and she was heartbroken over the loss of more members of it.
“Maybe Giz should dress like Matilda, so people would be less scared...” Allan commented, and Djaq couldn’t help laughing at the idea of the knight wearing Matilda’s rags.
“I don’t know, I think he would be even scarier,” she answered in a light tone, but in her heart she was grateful to Allan for his silly comment because she knew that he wanted to make her feel better and distract her from sad thoughts. She grinned, amused. “And then he looks good in black, it would be a pity changing that. He’s a handsome man.”
Allan grinned back.
“True, but not as handsome as I am! And I look good in any color! Come on, admit that!”
Djaq just laughed again.

Guy stretched on his bed, but he didn’t close his eyes. He stared at the trees, at the leafy branches moving in the breeze, and he thought of Robin.
He knew very well what it meant to carry the burden of guilt every day of his life. He would never forget the fire that destroyed his manor and killed his parents and Robin’s father, he’d never forget that it started for his fault. Rationally he could persuade himself that it had been an accident, that he had never meant to do it, but deep inside the guilt gnawed at him, telling that it was his fault.
Maybe that was the reason why he had started working for Vaisey, he suddenly realized. His conscience kept telling him that he was already damned for that horrible sin, so it didn’t really matter if he sinned again, he was going to hell anyways, so he should better try to take everything he could in his mortal life because it was the only chance he had.
And Robin, who had always been the hero of the people, who enjoyed so much being loved by everyone, how could he bear the responsibility for the death of so many people? His actions had condemned the very people he was trying to protect, weak, helpless persons who trusted him.
No wonder that he had lost his mind.
Guy didn’t want to sleep, not when his thoughts were so dark, but he was tired after a long day of helping Matilda and hunting in the forest, and the quiet rustling of the trees lulled him into a deep slumber.

Guy found himself in the castle, in an empty room. No furniture, no tapestry on the walls, no candles or fire in the fireplace. But it wasn’t dark: even if he didn’t see any window, he could see clearly the stones of the walls, dark with dampness.
His heart was beating too fast, and he was scared, even if he didn’t remember why. It was something out of that room, something so terrifying that he didn’t dare to go near the door to listen what was going on in the corridor. He could hear muffled sounds coming from there, but he couldn't discern them.
Something, something terrible, was coming for him and there was nothing he could do to save himself.
Guy realized that the dampness on the walls was too dark to be water.
It was blood.
Blood seeping through the stones.
He unsheathed his sword, but the blade was broken, useless.
He couldn’t fight. He couldn’t run.
It was like being a pawn on a chessboard, with no winning moves left. As he thought that, he actually found himself on a chessboard, and he was riding the chess piece shaped like an horse.
He was the knight. And there was just a move he could do: sacrifice himself to save the queen.
Guy looked at the other pieces closing on him, enormous and invincible, and he closed his eyes, expecting to die, but they never touched him.
Instead, he heard the sound of a lute, playing a lively, if slightly out of tune, music.

Guy woke up, his hands clenched on the blanket of his bed, and he recognized with relief the trees of the forest above him, a reassuring, familiar roof.
The nightmare was already fading from his mind, but something troubled him. He realized that he was still hearing the music of the lute.
Then Allan voice joined the instrument.

“We live in the heart of Sherwood,
under a green dome,
a gang of merry men
in a camp we call home

A knight as dark as night,
a man so big and tall
but the one without his sight
is the best of them all

Our ladies are brave and strong
they heal, they help, they fight,
They are, believe my song,
like stars, a guiding light

Listen to my voice,
smoother than the king's wine,
listen and rejoice
because I might be blind
but for a coin or a cup of ale
you’ll get a song from Allan A Dale!”

Guy got up from his bed, and he reached the others. They were all gathered around the fire, and they were all looking at Allan, who was holding an old, battered lute.
“What’s this?” Guy asked, puzzled. “What are you doing?”
“Can’t you hear? I’m singing.”
“Of course I heard, you woke me up.” Guy didn’t add that he had been actually glad to be awoken from his nightmares. “The question is: why are you singing?”
Allan held up the lute to show it to Guy.
“Do you like it? Djaq bought it for me from a merchant.”
Guy sat with the others, helping himself to a piece of bread and some cheese, and he looked at Allan, amused.
“So are you going to become a minstrel?”
“Why not? I don’t need my eyes to sing.”
“But we still need our ears!” Guy said with a grin.
“Hey! It wasn’t half bad!”
The one without his sight is the best of them all? Really?”
Allan laughed.
“You’re just jealous because I called you dark knight. But if you behave I could write a song about you.”
“I doubt it would be very successful.” Guy said, with a resigned sigh.
Allan shrugged, moving his fingers on the lute to play a simple tune.
“Who knows, Giz? Who knows?”

Chapter Text

Guy couldn’t sleep.
That afternoon, when he went to Nettlestone with Matilda, he had to face once again the hatred of the people.
In some of the villages people were beginning to at least ignore him, a few even accepted that he could treat some of their minor wounds or ailments, but the people of Nettlestone completely rejected him.
A handful of peasants even dared to throw rocks and mud at him, and if Matilda hadn’t intervened, the situation would have ended badly.
But she had stopped him from unsheathing his sword, and she had harshly reproached them for their action, then she collected her remedies and she went away, dragging Guy with her, claiming that she only treated humans and not beasts.
When they were far enough from the village, she had turned to Guy, scolding him with even harsher words for thinking of using his sword on those people.
“See? That’s exactly why they despise you!”
Guy sighed.
One of the stones had grazed his forehead, leaving a bruise, but what hurt most was the realization that Matilda was right about him.
He wasn’t good with people, he had never really had the chance to learn how to interact with others, and he only had the example of the sheriff, who despised almost everyone.
Guy got up from his bed, giving up any attempt of sleeping. He wanted to go and sit near the fire and drink a cup of the mulled wine that Matilda had prepared the day before, but he changed his mind and approached the curtain that concealed Robin’s bed.
The outlaw was alone, but Matilda had made sure that he couldn’t hurt himself. Robin’s arms and legs were chained, with chains long enough that he could move a little and sleep in a comfortable position, but not enough to allow him to hurt himself. The cuffs closed around his wrists and ankles were padded with soft cloth to protect his skin, and a soft blanket covered his body, but Guy still felt pity for him.
He sat on the stool near the bed, trying to understand if Robin was awake or not.
Matilda drugged him only when he was too upset now, and it still happened often during the day, but, when he was quiet, she preferred to keep him awake so that it could be easier to feed him, or to attend to all his other needs. During the day, she forced him to get up and walk a little, but only when both Guy and Little John were at the camp, because she knew that they were the only ones strong enough to stop him, if Robin tried to hurt himself or the people around him, lost in some of his waking nightmares.
When she unchained him, she was always careful to give him some remedy so that he was a little sedated, calmer, even if awake.
Apart from the moments when he cried and fought against the demons of his mind, Robin just lay where he was, completely unresponsive.
“Hood?” Guy called in a whisper. “Do you need anything?”
No answer, of course.
“Do you listen when we talk to you? Do you hear, at least? Matilda thinks that you do, that maybe our words will eventually reach you...” He paused for a moment, looking at Robin, as if he was waiting for a reply. “What do I think, Hood? The truth is that I’ve no idea. I can’t understand people, often I can’t understand myself, how could I understand you? You’ve always been so different from me and I could never realize why everyone loved you so much even when you misbehaved. Once I always tried to be good, to follow the rules, but people never forgave me even the smallest error, they always found so easy to hate me, even when I did nothing wrong. It’s still like that, even if I have to admit that now they have more reasons to despise me...”
Guy sighed. He didn’t know why he was talking to Robin that way, why he was revealing him his most personal thoughts. Probably it was because he inwardly thought that Robin couldn’t hear him, that it was a safe way to vent.
Or maybe he secretly wished that Robin could hear, that he would actually listen to him, that he could share his vulnerability with another human soul.
“Why, Hood? You killed the sheriff and destroyed their lives, and people keep loving you. In the villages they always ask when you are going to come back, they mourn your absence. I tried to save them during the siege, or at least that’s what Matilda and Djaq told me, I can’t remember, and now I’m working to make my part, to help people even if I’m not really good at it, but they still hate me, they seem to think I’m a devil or some monster… They blame even Marian for the siege, not you. Never you.”
Guy paused again.
“What about me, Hood? Do you think I blame you?” Guy grinned, ironically. “ No, Hood, not at all, actually. Weird, uh? I spent my whole life blaming you for everything, but now that I could have a reason, I don’t. The truth is that I understand you. You did it for Marian, didn’t you? I can’t remember what really happened, but for what I know, they all agree: you killed the sheriff to save Marian. I almost gave my life for her, it’s a miracle if I’m alive, so we both sacrificed everything to save her. But now you can’t bear the burden of your guilt, you keep thinking that thousands died to save just one, and that’s why you rejected her too. But still I can’t blame you, because I think that in your place I would have done the same. The only difference probably is that I wouldn’t believe that killing the sheriff and destroying Nottingham would condemn me to hell: my soul was damned already.”
Guy stopped talking, feeling silly.
What was the use of talking to someone who would never answer, who maybe couldn’t even understand his words? He could as well talk to a tree or to a horse!
But maybe he just needed to say those words aloud.
Gisborne stood up with a tired sigh, and he decided that he could go and have that cup of wine after all. He gave another glance at Robin, then he went away, wondering if it would be better to take a pot to warm the wine on the fire or just drink it as it was.
He didn’t hear the silent whisper coming from Robin’s lips after he had left.
“Kill me... I’m already in Hell... Make this end.”

Matilda checked her patients, and made sure that they were all sleeping peacefully. If they kept improving, she thought that at the end of the week she could send them back to their homes. Their families, in the meantime had rebuilt their houses and got settled, so they could take care of them properly. Once they could go home, they wouldn’t have to tend to sick people at the camp, except for Robin. It would be a relief for them all, and they would have more time to get ready for winter.
It was going to be a difficult winter: a lot of crops were burned, supplies had been destroyed and many families had lost many members. People would risk starving, and if they were weak, they would risk getting ill and dying.
The healer thought that she would have to pick more herbs, to prepare her remedies and store them so they were ready when she would need them. Maybe Gisborne could help her with that, she thought with a sigh.
She felt bad for reproaching him so harshly that afternoon, but if he wanted to do his part he had to learn how to keep his temper in check, and unsheathing a sword against the people wasn’t certainly the right way to get along with them.
She was thinking that she’d have to talk with him the next morning, when she heard his voice, barely more than a whisper, coming from behind Robin’s curtain. She couldn’t make out the words, but she could recognize the bitterness in his tone and she felt sad for him.
After a while, she saw him coming out from behind the curtain, and going to the pantry to take the jug containing her mulled wine.
Matilda cleared her voice not to startle him, and Guy turned to look at her, frowning.
“Can’t you sleep?” She asked. “Is there something that’s troubling you?”
Guy looked away, a little embarrassed, clearly worried the she could have heard his words to Robin.
“It’s nothing.”
Matilda took the wine from his hands, with a little smile, and poured it in one of the pots Guy had brought from Locksley.
“Let’s put this on the fire. The nights are still warm, but mulled wine tastes better when it’s hot. Here, now we’ll just have to wait for a while.”
The healer put the pot on the fire, then she lifted a hand to push away a lock of hair from Guy’s forehead.
“Let me see this bruise, does it hurt?”
Guy shook his head.
“It’s nothing.” He repeated.
“I know. And I also know that it hurts all the same.”
They both knew that she wasn’t talking about physical pain.
Matilda smiled at him.
“Now, now, my boy, are you mad at this old, crazy witch for yelling at you?”
Guy shrugged.
“I must admit that threatening those people with my sword wasn’t the best idea I ever had, and then you yelled at them too.”
The healer grinned.
“You all deserved it. But you must be careful with your temper, Guy. It’s dangerous to give in to your anger, it’s too easy to do things that you will regret later. Things that you can’t undo.”
Guy nodded, blushing.
“Like burning Knighton Hall. I wish I could take it back.”
“But you can’t. And you can’t give life back, if you kill somebody in the heat of your rage.”
“Maybe I should just stay here. Away from people.”
Matilda took the pot away from the fire, and poured the wine in two cups, handing one to Guy.
“It would be wrong, my dear. You have your faults, but you are a good man, I can see that, and people will see it too, when they learn to know you. If you don’t kill any of them, of course.”
Guy returned her half a smile.
“I’ll try.”
“You’ll better try hard or I’ll whack some sense in that donkey head of yours!”
“And I bet that it would hurt much more than a simple stone thrown by a feeble peasant,” Guy said affectionately, his smile wider and less sad now.
“You can bet!” Matilda looked at him. “Maybe you should drink your wine and go to bed, you must be tired.”
“I couldn’t sleep yet.”
“Very well, then. Tell me what spices I used in the mulled wine.”
Guy gave her a surprised glance.
“A healer should be able to taste herbs and spices and he must remember their use and the unwanted effects they can have. You can’t sleep and I understand that, but this doesn’t mean that you should waste your time moping or staring at the flames. We can use this time to train you, so sip that wine and tell me what ingredients you can recognize. Then, you’ll tell me all you remember about each of them.”

Chapter Text

Allan put a hand on Guy’s shoulder, and he followed him along the path. The first times he walked in the forest with someone guiding him, it had been much more difficult for Allan, needing help to avoid obstacles and dangers, but now it was easier.
Little John had made a sort of staff for him, shorter and lighter than his own, and Allan used it to feel if the ground in front of him was safe and to find obstacles, so he could move in safety. He didn’t really need to touch Guy to follow him along the path, but to do so made it easier and faster, and however Gisborne didn’t seem to mind.
“So, is there any prey around?” Allan whispered.
“I can’t see any.”
“Neither do I,” Allan replied with a grin.
Guy blushed.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean...”
Allan burst out into a laugh.
“Come on, Giz! Do you really think that I could be hurt by your words? I’m blind, we both know that, there’s no reason to avoid words like ‘look’ or ‘see’. It wouldn’t make me less blind, don’t you think? And don’t feel too sorry for me, after all I can’t see, but you can’t sing.”
Now it was Guy’s turn to grin.
“Neither do you.”
Allan chuckled.
“You’re just jealous because you don’t have a lute.”
“We won’t have dinner either if you keep chattering and scaring all the animals of the forest.”
“Hey! Look!” Allan exclaimed suddenly.
Allan chuckled.
“I don’t know, you are the one with the eyesight!”
Guy couldn’t help grinning too.
They kept walking for a while, then they heard a rustling in the undergrowth, and they froze, holding their breath to find out if it was a prey.
“Put down the bow!” Marian called, coming out from behind a bush. “Probably you would miss me, but it’s better not to risk.”
“I wouldn’t miss! My aim improved a lot!” Guy said, annoyed, then he realized what he was saying and blushed a little. “Of course I wouldn’t shoot at you. But if I did, I wouldn’t miss.”
“Then my archery lessons worked. I’m a better teacher than I thought.” The girl replied, smugly.
“Actually, I think that his aim improved thanks to my lessons,” Allan said, smirking.
Guy rolled his eyes.
“Maybe it would have been better if you had become mute instead of blind. At least we’d have some peace.”
Allan put an arm around his shoulders, pulling him in a sort of friendly hug.
“Come on, Giz, I know that you like listening to me. Both when I sing and when I chat.”
Once, Guy would have shoved him away, snarling, but now he just shook his head with an amused snort.
“Get off me,” he grumbled, but his tone wasn’t menacing at all. “Just shut up for a moment and let’s try to catch our dinner, shall we?”
Marian laughed, and she took an arrow from her quiver, showing it to Guy.
“Are you up for a little challenge?”
Gisborne lifted an eyebrow.
“What kind of challenge?”
“To see if your aim really improved.”
“Do you want to see who of us shots more prey?”
The girl grinned mischievously.
“Actually I was wondering if you can catch at least half the prey I’ll get.”
Guy stared at her, a little outraged by her words.
“I could easily get twice!”
“Start with half,” she replied, then she vanished in the undergrowth.

It was almost sunset, when Allan, Guy and Marian decided to go back to the camp. Both Gisborne and the girl were quite disappointed, while Allan was happily whistling.
“Would you shut up?” Guy grumbled after a while, lifting a hand to push a lock of wet hair away from his face.
“Hey Giz, it’s not my fault if you fell in that brook. But I still wonder how you didn’t see it.”
“It was hidden by the bushes, and I was focused on following that hare,” Guy said, trying to keep some dignity and to refrain himself from shivering. The weather was still warm, but the water of the brook was freezing.
His only consolation was that Marian looked miserable either and she surely wasn’t going to mock him for returning to the camp empty handed.
She had no prey too, and she was scratching her hand furiously, after falling in a patch of nettles.
“Let me see,” Guy said, holding a hand to her.
Marian glared at him.
“It’s nothing.”
“You’ll flay that hand if you keep scratching like that. Let me see.”
Reluctantly, the girl let him look at her hand. Guy’s fingers were cold after his unwanted bath in the brook, and his touch gave her a little relief.
“It was just a bunch of nettles,” she said, trying to ignore the pain she was feeling and to hold back the tears that clouded her eyes.
Unexpectedly, Guy took her hand to his lips, and she felt his tongue on her skin.
She looked at him, startled.
“What are you doing?!”
Guy let her hand go, and he looked at her, blushing.
“I… I’m sorry! I wasn’t thinking! Matilda says that licking the rash left by a nettle eases the pain… I… just wanted… but of course I should have just told you... ” His voice died and he looked at the ground, embarrassed, while Marian just stood there, holding her hand and staring at him, red in face as well.
Allan laughed loud.
“Really! These are the moments when I regret being blind! I’d pay to see the faces of both of you.”
“Shut up, Allan!” Guy and Marian yelled in unison, then Guy looked around.
“I’m an idiot,” he said without looking at Marian, “but Matilda’s advice works. Lick that hand, while I search for some dockweed. I’ll be back in a moment!”
Guy disappeared in the bushes before she could reply. Allan was still chuckling, but she ignored him, instead she took her aching hand to her lips to follow Guy’s suggestion.
She blushed even more remembering his touch, his hands so cold and then the warm, intimate contact of his mouth on her skin, the same skin where she was pressing her lips now.
She was happy that Guy went away and that Allan couldn’t see her expression.

Gisborne went back after a while, holding some big leaves in his hands. He crushed them between his fingers to squeeze the juices out of them, and he applied them on Marian’s hand.
“Here, this should help,” he said, still embarrassed.
The girl nodded.
“Thank you.” She answered, shyly, and they were both quiet for a while, until it was Allan to break that awkward silence.
“Hey, Giz. You’re taking this seriously, aren’t you?”
“This healer thing. You aren’t just helping Matilda to thank her for saving you, you like it.”
Guy pondered for a moment.
“I spent my life fighting and killing at the sheriff’s orders. It’s nice to do the opposite for a change. To help, to save lives instead of ending them.”
Allan patted his shoulder approvingly, then he grinned.
“It’s a good thing, but you should be careful.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re becoming so good at saving lives, that you are saving even those of the prey you’re supposed to catch!”
Guy sighed, feigning affliction.
“I wonder why I decided to take you to the camp that day!”
“Because you needed a friend?”
“Or maybe I was out of my mind...”
The two men kept bantering for a while, while they walked back to the camp, and Marian followed, just a few steps behind, nursing her hand.
Guy’s remedy was working, easing the pain and the itch, but if she thought of his first remedy, she could feel her skin growing hot where his mouth had touched it.
She watched him, still wet after falling in the water, his face a little flushed, and she thought that he was so different from the Guy of Gisborne who she had known before the siege.
When they went hunting in the forest together, he looked free, relaxed, even playful sometimes, almost like Robin was once, before he left for the Holy Land.
Marian frowned, with the sensation of being disloyal.
She missed that younger Robin.
She missed Robin.
But she couldn’t help enjoying the time she spent with Guy, having somebody who actually liked to be with her.
He’s my friend. Just like Allan.
But Allan had never made her blush.

Chapter Text

“I wish you could go back to be yourself, Hood.”
Guy dropped himself on the stool near Robin’s bed.
“Even if I know perfectly well that if it should happen, you’d keep remembering me these words just to make fun of me. But it doesn’t matter. I’m serious Hood, we need you.”
A yellowed leaf fell from a tree, and Guy bent to pick it up.
“Summer is over and people are not ready for winter. We’re trying to do our best, but it’s not enough. I’m not even sure if we can survive winter.”
Robin was awake, but he didn’t react to Guy’s words.
Gisborne sighed and he approached the bed to make Robin sit, propping his back with pillows, then he took a cup filled with a warm fluid and held it close to Robin’s lips.
“Drink this. It’s made with St. John’s wort, Matilda says that it might help, that it makes people feel better. She gives it to all of us, she thinks that we all need it. I’ve no idea if it really works, what I know is that it’s awfully bitter, so I added honey to it. I think that Little John would thank me for this, if only that wouldn't mean having to admit that even I can do something good for once.”
Guy put the empty cup aside, and he crossed his arms in front of him, looking at Robin.
“You are never going to answer, right? Are you still there, at least? Oh, I think you are, you are not one who is so easily defeated, you always come back somehow, if only to annoy me. So, do it! Laugh at me, if you must, try to kick me out of the camp and fight me if that’s what you want, but just do something! Anything!”
Gisborne was tempted to grab Robin’s arms and shake him, but he didn’t, afraid that he could harm him. Robin looked frail, too thin and pale.
He went to sit back on the stool with a sigh.
“Look, I don’t know why I am still talking to you. Why I should care if you come back or if you just stay there and rot in your bed… Why should I care for you when you always ruined my life? But I found out that I care for your friends. I thought I had lost my feelings, that I would never be able to care for anything or anyone at all, but it wasn’t true. Sometimes it’s still hard to understand what I feel, sometimes I know that I should be happy or sad and I just can’t, some other times I wake up in the middle of the night, scared to death or feeling heartbroken and I don’t even know why. What I know is that somehow I got to care for them and they want you back.”
Guy paused for a moment, then he stared at Robin again.
“You’ve always been surrounded by people who love you, it has always been easy for you to make new friends, but this is all new for me. I’ve always been alone, I’m not good at being liked by people and I’m not used at having friends. But it’s nice. I like feeling part of something. Part of a family. So try to get better. For them, at least.”

Gisborne went away and Robin didn’t move.
He had heard his words, each one of them.
Robin didn’t know why his enemy felt the need to sit near his bed and speak to him like that, revealing his inner thoughts and exposing his feelings so openly. But he was sure that Gisborne was wrong.
Completely wrong.
How could anyone wish to have him back? Why should they want him to get better? He was a murderer, a traitor, the cause of bloodshed and destruction.
Who in his right mind could still feel anything but hate for him?
He couldn’t forgive himself, how could they wish him well?
“I would forgive you, master. You know I would.”
Robin looked at Much, standing at the foot of his bed. Red rivulets of blood coming from under his cap were in contrast with the deadly whiteness of his face, his eyes blank, dead as he was.
You can’t forgive me. You are dead.
I killed you.
I killed everyone.
“Maybe, but I still love you, master.”
Robin closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, Much was gone.
You shouldn’t.
Nobody should.

Guy went to reach the others, sitting near the fire. Only Allan, Rosa and the little Alice were there, the young man torturing his lute to sing silly rhymes, the other two laughing and clapping their hands.
Allan heard Guy’s steps, and he grinned.
“Hey, Giz! Alice loves my songs, she’s a clever girl.”
“Kids always love jesters and fools,” Gisborne commented, helping himself to some stew.
“I’m not a fool! I’m an artist!” Allan cried, outraged, while Rosa and Alice giggled.
“Where are the others?”
“There was a fire in Nettlestone,” Rosa said with a sigh. “A man from the village came this morning at dawn to call for my mother. At least two houses burned and some persons were hurt, so both my mother and Djaq went there to help. Little John went too, to help clearing the rubble.”
“Why didn’t Matilda call me too?” Guy asked, frowning.
“She didn’t want to leave me and Allan alone with Robin and you were already with him, so she thought that it was quicker to leave the things as they were.”
“And the people of Nettlestone hate me. Last time I went there, it didn’t go well, maybe Little John was a better choice after all...”
“Don’t feel bad for that, Giz. Someday they’ll trust you too, you’ll see. And now you get to listen to my songs, aren’t you happy?”
“I think I’ll go hunting, instead. I won’t go far, so if you need help with Hood, just call me and I’ll be back in a moment.”
“You don’t appreciate good music, mate.”
Guy finished his meal, while Allan kept improvising little tunes to show him that he was the best minstrel in the forest.
“You are the only minstrel in the forest, Allan.”
“What did I say? If I’m the only one, then I’m also the best one.”
Guy went to take a bow, amused.
As always, he looked at Robin’s bow and his smile vanished as he wondered if it would ever be used again. Sometimes he was tempted to grab it and use it to go hunting, just to dispel its aura of sacredness, but he didn’t dare.
He chose one of the other bows, and he was about to head to the forest, when Marian arrived to the camp, riding a horse.
The girl was out of breath, clearly upset.
“Where is Matilda?!”
“She went to Nettlestone with Djaq, there was a fire.” Guy said, and the girl moaned in anguish.
“It’s too far! She’ll never make it in time!”
“What happened?”
“Thornton’s daughter, Hannah… She’s in labor, but there’s something wrong. It’s taking too long, and she’s suffering too much.”
Guy dropped the bow.
“I’ll ride to Nettlestone and I’ll fetch Matilda.”
Marian shook her head.
“To go there and come back will take too much time! No, Guy, you’ll come with me to Locksley to help Hannah, and we’ll send someone else to Nettlestone.”
Guy stared at her, alarmed.
“You are Matilda’s apprentice.”
“I know nothing about childbirth!”
“But you know something about herbs and remedies. Matilda is teaching you. It’s still better than nothing. Now come, hurry!”
“What about Robin?” Guy said, hesitating.
Rosa looked at him.
“Don’t worry about him, we’ll give him the sleeping draught before you go. Marian is right, you must go and do your best until mother arrives. If you are going to become a healer you can’t retreat when people needs help.”
“But I don’t think I can help! I could make things worse!”
“Maybe, but still, for now, you’re Hannah’s best chance. You might fail, but at least you have to try.” Rosa nodded at the door of the camp. “Go, saddle a horse, I’ll fetch a healer’s bag for you.”

Chapter Text

Thornton stood just out of the door of the hut, anxiously looking at the path that went into the forest, trying to see if lady Marian was coming back with Matilda.
Inside, his only daughter was crying in pain. Two of the women of the village were trying to help her, but the baby wasn’t born yet, and Hannah was becoming weaker.
The old man feared that his daughter would die and he wondered why he was still alive if he had to lose all the ones he loved.
He and Hannah had survived the attack of Prince John’s army, to lose her now would be too unfair. But life wasn’t often fair to servants and poor people.
Finally he saw two horses approaching at a gallop and he was relieved to recognize lady Marian, but when they went closer, Thornton realized that Matilda wasn’t with her.
He was surprised to recognize his old master, sir Guy of Gisborne, following lady Marian’s horse. Thornton thought that Gisborne looked different: he was still wearing his dark leather clothes, but he seemed to have lost all his arrogance.
Actually, Thornton thought, he looked nervous, almost scared. He remembered the only other time when his former master had been so unsure and hesitant: the day of his wedding with lady Marian.
And after all, he had all the reasons to be.
Guy and Marian dismounted, and Thornton went to greet them.
“Sir Guy,” he said, respectfully, out of habit, then he turned to the girl. “Lady Marian… Where is Matilda?”
“Young Eddie, the son of the miller, is riding to Nettlestone to fetch her. Meanwhile I brought her apprentice with me.”
Thornton was confused.
“Her apprentice?”
“Me,” Guy said, and the old man stared at him.
“You, sir Guy?”
Marian nodded before Guy could answer.
“Matilda is training him. Maybe he can help until she arrives.”
From inside the hut, Hannah screamed again.
“Is that true, my lord? Can you really do something for her?”
Thornton looked at Guy: the knight was pale and he looked terrified.
“I… I don’t know. It’s true that Matilda is teaching me, but she began not a long time ago.”
The old man nodded.
“I appreciate your honesty, sir Guy. Please try to help her, my daughter is the only family I have...”
Marian put a hand on Guy’s arm, startling him. She tried to smile and to look reassuring, both for Thornton and Guy.
“Come on, let’s go inside.”

The two women in the hut let out a cry of fear when they saw Gisborne, but Hannah didn’t react, too tired and in pain to care.
“What is he doing here?!”
“This is not a place for men!”
Marian glanced at Guy: he was deathly pale and he seemed to agree with the women, so Marian grabbed his hand to avoid that he could run away.
“He’s here to help,” she said fiercely, “Matilda chose him as her apprentice and she’s teaching him how to use herbs and remedies. He can help.”
The women stared at them, unconvinced, but then Hannah whimpered in pain.
One of the women took Hannah’s hand, trying to comfort her, but the other one walked to Guy, and stared at him.
“Why should we believe you? You’re not our lord anymore, we don’t have to obey you. I don’t know why you are here, but we won’t let you hurt her. You already did enough.”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” Guy said quietly, but Marian intervened, annoyed.
“I said that you can trust him!”
“And why should we believe you ? Do you think that we don’t know what you did? That we didn’t hear about it? Even Robin’s gang despise you, that’s why you live all alone in the ruins of the manor! Go away, both of you!”
Guy glanced at Marian and he saw her eyes filling with tears, but the expression of the girl was stern, ready to fight. She was still holding his hand, and Guy tightened his fingers around hers.
He weakly shook his head.
“Marian, we can’t force them to accept our help,” he whispered.
Hannah cried, in pain, then she began sobbing.
“Help me! It’s too much! Please do something!”
The woman who was holding her hand caressed her head sympathetically, but Hannah swatted her hand away, in rage.
“Don’t touch me! Make this pain go away!”
“Hannah, you must be strong and bear it...” The woman began to say, sweetly, but Hannah interrupted her, harshly.
“Shut up! Sir Guy, come here!” Hannah yelled, and when the knight obeyed, she grabbed his shirt with unexpected strength. “You said you have herbs and remedies and that you know how to use them, is it true or are you here to mock us? Can you really help me?” she asked, in a threatening tone.
“It’s true that Matilda is teaching me, but I don’t know much about childbirth,” he answered.
The girl’s face contorted in a grimace of pain, and she held her breath, grabbing Guy’s shirt even harder. When the pang eased a little, she let out a sob and she looked at Guy.
“Try. You can’t do worse than this. Help me.”
“Are you sure?”
The girl let out a sort of growl.
“Just do it.”

Guy told the two women to bring him boiling water and some wine, then he turned his back to them and he placed his bag on a table, opening it to look at the herbs and the remedies that Rosa had put inside it.
He frantically tried to remember all their properties and possible uses, and to think what he could do to help the girl.
When Annie had given birth to her baby, she hadn’t suffered so much. One night, one of the other kitchen girls had sent word to him that the baby was about to come, and at dawn Annie was already holding Seth in her arms, tired, but in good health and proud and happy to show him his son. And that was almost everything he knew about childbirth. He had a younger sister, but he had been too young when his mother gave birth to Isabella and he didn’t remember much.
One of the women came back with the wine, and she gave it to Marian, then she went out of the hut again to boil more water. Marian placed the jug of wine on the table, near the vials and little bags containing Matilda’s herbs and remedies. Guy was still choosing them, and Marian glanced at his face.
She had only seen him so worried and tense during the siege, but then he had seemed to know what to do even if the situation was without hope.
“Marian?” Guy whispered. “Have you any experience with this?”
“You are the healer’s apprentice, Guy,” she whispered back.
“But I’m a man. This is a women’s thing, I shouldn’t even be here, those women were right! So, do you know how it should work?”
“My mother died when I was born, I never had the chance to see anyone giving birth. Except for horses, maybe. I liked to go to the stables when a foal was born, even if my father didn’t approve.”
“Really? I used to do it too.” He glanced at Hannah. “Do you think it can be so different?”
Marian shrugged.
“I don’t know. Once one of my father’s mares was very ill during delivery. The groom said that the foal was in the wrong position...”
“Do you think this might be the case?” Guy whispered, then hearing another cry from Hannah, he spoke louder to her. “Just a moment, the remedy will be ready soon, I’m checking the doses.”
Marian shook her head.
“I don’t know, maybe. But if it is so we can’t do anything but wait for Matilda.”
“What happened to the mare?”
“She died. And the foal too.”
They were both quiet for a moment, then Guy looked at the cup he was holding: he had mixed a few herbs in it, then he had poured hot water on them.
“What did you use?”
“Yarrow, skullcap and willow bark to ease the pain, honey to give her some strength and for the taste. Matilda gave a similar remedy to me when I was wounded, but she added more herbs to make me sleep. Maybe it’s better if she stays awake.”
The knight helped Hannah to drink the remedy, then he went back to the table.
“What’s the wine for?” Marian asked, seeing that Guy was pouring it in another two cups.
Gisborne gave one to her and he took the other for himself.
“This is for us. For courage. We wouldn’t be of much help if we end up swooning or being sick.”
The girl nodded, feeling that Gisborne was right. Hearing Hannah’s screams made her to feel faint and Guy was as white as a ghost.
She sipped the wine, hoping to keep it down, then, when her cup was empty, she looked at Guy again.
“What now?”
Guy took a clean towel, dipped it in the basin, and he used it to gently wipe Hannah’s face, cleaning sweat and tears away.
“When I was ill, Matilda did this for me. It gave me a little relief, I hope it can help her too.”
Hannah had closed her eyes and she was taking deep breaths, trying to bear the pain. When she felt the fresh touch of the wet towel on her face, her hand searched for Guy’s wrist, resting on it. The girl opened her eyes and looked at the knight, and she couldn’t hold back tears.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, taking her hand away and placing it on her heart, “for a moment I thought it was the hand of my husband… I wish he could be here...”
Marian came closer to the bed.
“Is he...”
“He’s dead. I just want him to hold me and tell me that everything will be alright like he always did, but he’s dead! I miss my Jack so much!” Hannah sobbed for a while, stopping only when a new pang took her breath away. After a while, she become quieter and she stared at the ceiling of the hut, trying to hold back her tears. “But not for very long maybe… I think I’ll reach him soon...”
“No! Don’t give up!” Guy said, afraid that the girl could die before Matilda arrived. He sat on the bed, and he took her in his arms. The two women of the village, who had just come back with more hot water, looked at him in horror, and they were about to complain, but Marian stopped them with a fiery glare.
Guy held Hannah, trying to make her feel comfortable, and the girl lifted her head to look at him, surprised.
“Sir Guy?”
“Hush, and close your eyes. I’m not Sir Guy, now. It’s your Jack, holding you, I’m just lending him my arms. He’s here, close to you and he wants you to be strong. Fight for your life, for your child. Matilda will be here soon and she will help you more than I can do, but you must resist. You can do, I know it.”
Hannah looked at him for another moment, then she closed her eyes and she nodded, leaning her face on Guy’s chest and grabbing his shirt.
She had to live or her child, Jack’s child, would die with her.

“Hurry! Make those horse go faster!”
Matilda grabbed the side of the wagon, anguished, and she hoped that the driver could go faster.
When young Eddie had told her that Hannah was having a difficult birth and that Guy of Gisborne went to Locksley to help her, Matilda became terribly worried.
Guy was a good and willing apprentice, but he was still at the beginning of his training and she had never taught him nothing about childbirth.
Why would she? He was a man, even if he really decided to become a healer, he’d help sick or wounded people, surely not pregnant women. That was the job of a midwife, a man had nothing to do with it.
But now Guy was the only one who could help Hannah until she arrived to Locksley.
Matilda was scared both for the girl and the knight: if Hannah died while Guy was with her, the people of Locksley would blame him for that, no matter what.
Most of them already hated him, if they thought that he had caused the death of an innocent girl, they could hurt him, maybe even kill him.
When the wagon stopped, Matilda jumped down, and she ran to Hannah’s hut. Her father, Thornton, was pacing, worried and scared, and he smiled with relief when he saw her.
Matilda didn’t lose time talking to him, and she hurried inside, afraid of what she would see.
She stopped on the threshold, surprised: two women from Locksley, were in a corner, unhappy and with dark expressions on their faces, Marian was standing fiercely between them and the bed, and they were all looking at Guy of Gisborne, who was holding Hannah in his arms.
The girl was crying and in pain, but she was alive, clinging desperately to Gisborne’s shirt every time a pang seized her. The knight gently caressed her back, trying to comfort her.
When the door of the hut opened, he looked up, almost in disbelief.
“Matilda!” He cried, and the healer hurried to reach him and Hannah.
“How is she? Tell me everything you gave or did to her. Don’t let out any detail, but first get up from that bed, and help her to lie down, I’ve to examine her.”
Guy obeyed, immensely relieved to see her, and he quickly told her all the ingredients and the doses of the remedy he had given to the girl.
Matilda nodded.
“I’d have used different doses and I’d have added a few other herbs, but you didn’t do poorly, considering the circumstances. You couldn’t do much more than you already did, the baby is turned in the wrong position, but I can help her. Now go out, all of you, and let me work.”
Gisborne almost ran out of the door, and Marian followed him immediately, while the two women hesitated, curious to see if Hannah was going to survive, but then they obeyed too, afraid to anger the healer.

Chapter Text

Marian reached Guy almost at the edges of the forest, and she grabbed his hand to make him stop.
She was out of breath after running along the uphill path and Guy too, but the knight was also trembling.
“Guy?” She called, trying to meet his gaze, but Gisborne was staring at the ground, his face shielded by his hair.
The girl lifted a hand to touch a dark, wavy lock.
“It grew long,” she said softly, “it’s funny that I never really noticed till now.”
Marian pushed the hair away from Guy’s face and she rested her hand on his cheek.
“Guy? Look at me. Are you alright?”
Gisborne closed his eyes, and he leaned on her hand, taking comfort from her touch.
“I don’t know,” he whispered. “Are you?”
The girl shook her head, trying to hold tears back and failing at it. She felt Guy’s arms closing around her shoulders and pulling her in a hug.
Marian held him tight, leaning her head on his chest and she finally allowed herself to weep.

Thornton waited quietly outside his hut. He was tired, but he couldn’t rest, he could just wait.
Lady Marian had brought Sir Guy with her, claiming that he could help, and Thornton had let him try, even if he didn’t really believe her words.
Gisborne had been a stern master, interested only in obeying the sheriff, why should he want to become a healer?
But in all those years he had owned Locksley, Thornton had also seen a softer side of the knight, especially when he returned to the manor after a long day at the castle. Usually he just sat in front of the fire, alone or with his guards, eating a simple meal and just wishing to be quiet.
Probably the destruction of Nottingham had changed him too, like everyone else. Thornton had heard that Gisborne had acted bravely during the siege and that he almost died when the castle was taken.
The touch of Death always changed people somehow, and surely Gisborne was different now.
When Matilda arrived, Thornton saw his former master running away from the hut, clearly upset and followed by lady Marian. He didn’t know what that meant, if Gisborne had damaged Hannah, or if instead he had been able to give her some help.
But to know that, he could only wait.
Suddenly he heard a cry coming from the hut.
A different cry.
The cry of a baby.

Marian was sitting under a tree, her back leaning on the trunk. Guy was stretched on the grass at her side with his arms crossed under his head, and he was looking at the leaves moving in the breeze.
The hand of the girl was touching his hair, playing with the long locks and combing them with her fingers. It was a soothing sensation.
“Marian?” He called, softly, and the girl looked at him. “Thank you.”
“For what?”
“For telling those women that they could trust me. Did you really believe that I could help that girl?”
“I hoped you could, but that wasn’t the point.”
“What, then?”
“How they spoke to you. It wasn’t right, you were there to help, to do something good, and they couldn’t see that, they could only think of the past.”
Guy sighed.
“But they have a point after all. And I’m used to people’s hatred.”
“I’m getting used to it too.”
“You never told me why.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I wouldn’t despise you, whatever you did.”
Marian sighed.
“I know. But no.”
“That’s alright. Sorry for asking. After all I can’t even remember what happened to me, you don’t have to speak about it if you don’t want to.”
Marian hugged her knees.
“Sometimes I wonder if life is fair. Probably, if it were, I should have died during the siege.”
Guy tilted his head a little to glance at her.
“Do you regret being alive?”
She shook her head.
“I don’t want to die. But many other people would have deserved living more than I do.”
Guy’s lips twitched in a half smile.
“I know the sensation.”
Marian’s hand went back to caress Guy’s hair.
“What about you? Are you glad you survived?”
“I do. Actually, I think that this is the first time in years that I am actually happy to be alive. I know that it sounds crazy… I probably am half mad, I can’t remember the siege and often I’m not sure of what I feel, but still I’ve never been so free. Never since I was a boy.”
Guy closed his eyes with a contented sigh, relaxing under Marian’s touch and the girl looked at him, feeling strangely moved by his words.
“I’m happy you are alive,” she whispered, then, following a sudden urge, she bent down to kiss him.
Guy opened his eyes with a gasp, and Marian retreated hurriedly, holding her breath.
“Marian?” Guy stared at her, a confused, hurt expression on his face. “What does it mean?”
Tears filled her eyes, slowly going down her cheeks, and she stifled a sob.
“I… I don’t know...”
Guy lifted a hand to her cheek, wiping away a tear, but another followed, and another, sliding on her face and falling on his. He tasted their salt on his lips, and he felt like crying as well, even if he wasn’t sure of his feelings for her. But he was well aware of her feelings.
“What about Hood? You love him.” He whispered, and Marian burst up openly weeping.
“I do! I do! But is he still there?! Is he even alive?”
“His heart is beating...”
“That’s not what I meant! I know that his body is alive, but is Robin alive? Will he ever be back to be the Robin we know?”
Guy sighed.
“No. Nothing can be the same. Nothing. Not Robin, but not even us. We are different. Changed. Broken.”
Marian was still bending over him, the tips of her hair almost touching his face. She held his gaze.
“Guy? Do you still love me?”
Gisborne blinked, averted his eyes for a moment, then he looked back at her.
“I don’t know... I know I did, I remember that even too well, but now… It’s as if my soul had been shattered in a thousand pieces. Those fragments… they don’t always fit together… and they are sharp. They hurt… Some of them say that I still do, that I’m happy when I see you, that I care… But other ones are just like shards of ice, they smother everything else, they make me feel dead. How can I say if I love you or not if I can’t understand what I feel?”
Marian stifled a sob, and her fingers caressed his cheek, softly. His eyes were so absurdly blue, she thought, even when clouded by doubt and pain.
“I’m so sorry, Marian… I really don’t know… I’m sorry...” His voice broke, and Marian bent again to kiss his cheek.
“Don’t.” She whispered. “It’s not your fault.”
Guy pulled her into a hug, and she lay on him, leaning her head on his shoulder and snuggling in his arms.
They stood still for a while, finding some comfort in that hug, then Guy moved a hand to push back Marian’s hair and look at her. The girl moved her head to meet his gaze.
“Marian? Would it be so wrong?” He asked in a whisper.
“To kiss you again.”
Marian didn’t answer immediately. She had a hand on Guy’s chest and she could feel his heartbeat under her fingers, through the cloth of his shirt. It made her feel safe, reassured.
“I don’t know. Probably it is,” she said, “but I don’t care. I want it too.”
She searched for his lips, and Guy held her tighter.
Maybe he’s right, she thought, losing herself in his warmth, we’re both broken. But not alone. Not anymore.

The two women who had been sent out by Matilda didn’t stay by the hut, but they went to the pond, pretending that they were there to wash clothes and that they had lost too much time already helping Hannah Thornton.
The other women, curious, came to the pond with their laundry too, eager to listen what had happened in the hut, and especially what Guy of Gisborne had done.
“He must have some evil plan, I’ll never believe that one like him can choose to become a healer. He’s knight and a noble, he wouldn’t do it.” One of them said.
“Why is he always following Matilda, then?”
“And why is Matilda allowing him to follow her? Gisborne arrested her last year, she should want to see him going to hell!”
“Don’t you know? They say that she saved his life! He was wounded, almost dead, and she nursed him back to health.”
“I heard that he died and came back from hell...”
The women trembled in fear at the idea. They didn’t actually believe that, but they weren’t completely sure of the contrary either.
Gisborne was evil, everyone knew that, he was the one who made people suffer when the sheriff decided it, he was the one who burned houses and took people to the dungeons, the one who ordered to cut hands or to hang people. Nobody doubted that he belonged to hell.
“So, what did he do to Hannah?” One of the girls asked, unable to refrain her curiosity any longer.
“He and Lady Marian were both there, and they forced us to stay in a corner, away from the bed. We tried to send him away, but they must have done something to Hannah, poor girl, and she said to let him try...” The woman lowered her voice. “Gisborne and lady Marian kept whispering something, then he gave Hannah a foul smelling concoction...”
“Was it poison?!” One of the girls cried.
“I don’t know what it was, but Hannah kept suffering. But the worst thing happened later...” She paused, while the other woman who had been in the hut nodded with a somber expression on her face.
“Oh, yes, it was terrible...”
“What? What?! What did he do?!”
“He went to bed with Hannah, and he touched her,” the first woman said in a whisper, and the other held their breath.
“He did that to a pregnant woman? While she was about to give birth?!”
“It’s unholy!”
“In front of our eyes too! And lady Marian didn’t do anything about it… She stopped us from intervening!”
One of the women squeezed her laundry as if she wanted to do the same thing to Gisborne’s neck, while the other traded horrified whispers.
“Once I thought that lady Marian was a good woman, that she wanted to help us… She changed so much! I heard that we had to suffer so much because of her.”
“The attack of the army, do you mean? I heard that too.”
“Do you think that it was Gisborne who corrupted her?”
“Who else?”
The women were gossiping, but now even a few of the men of Locksley had stopped by the pond to listen to their words. Almost all of them had a reason to hold a grudge against Gisborne for the things he had done at Vaisey's orders, or they had now against Marian because they had lost families and houses in the attack of Prince John’s army.
The girl had been living in the ruins of Locksley manor, hoarding the things she had found in the rubble of the village, and, when they came back, the people of Locksley didn’t like that, but they didn’t dare to say anything against her because she was still a noble, the daughter of the former sheriff. They had rebuilt their huts, ignoring her presence, pretending that she was just a ghost haunting the burned manor.
But now those women were saying serious and terrible things about her and Gisborne, things that made them boil with anger.
Another man reached them, in a hurry, anxious to add his gossip to the other news.
“I just passed near Thornton’s hut. The old man was sitting on the steps, and he was crying like a child! Something must have happened...”
The crowd began to murmur.
“Probably Hannah died...”
“And her baby too.”
“It was Gisborne’s fault, he must have poisoned her...”
“And he raped her, they’ve seen him!”
“I heard that he was saying that he was possessed by Hannah’s dead husband!”
“That’s witchcraft!”
“Gisborne returned from hell and he corrupted lady Marian’s soul!”
“They killed Hannah!”
“We should do something!”
“Where are they now?!”
“When Matilda came, she sent them away! I saw them running from the hut. They took that path up there!”
A man grabbed a shovel, wielding it like a weapon.
“Let’s stop them!” He cried, and the others roared in response, taking their own tools.
“For poor Hannah’s soul!”
The crowd moved to follow the path and just a few, not brave enough to face a possible devil and his witch, were left behind.
They all cried and mourned for Hannah Thornton, a poor victim of two wicked demons, but nobody thought of stopping to Thornton’s hut to see what actually happened to her.

Chapter Text

Marian closed her eyes, losing herself in Guy’s kisses.
She felt warm and safe, and for once she wasn’t thinking of the siege. The arms of the knight held her close, his hands gently explored her body, caressing her back and her hair.
Marian was a maiden, and a part of her mind suggested her that she should shrink away from those kisses and that kind of touch, that respectable girls don’t allow such improper things…
She wanted more.
Marian didn’t want Gisborne to stop, she wanted him to keep kissing her, to touch her body, every place of it, to fill with his warmth the emptiness she had in her heart.
Her hands moved on Guy’s back, finding their way under his shirt to touch his skin. She felt him flinch, startled by her touch, and then relax under her caresses, and this unexpected vulnerability made him more dear to her heart.
Marian wanted him to keep her safe, but she felt also the strong desire to protect him as well.
Guy’s skin was uneven, smooth and soft, but covered in fresh scars, and she felt his muscles moving under her fingers, reacting to her touch.
At first they were stretched on the grass, Guy on his back, and Marian laying over him, but then they rolled on their side, to be able to make their hug even tighter.
She had never been so close to a man, not even Robin when they had exchanged their first, shy kisses before he went away to the Holy Land.
The same annoying voice in her mind, reminded her that she should kiss like that only the man she truly loved, and after marrying him!
She pushed that nagging thought aside. She didn’t care.
There would be time for regrets, and it would just be another one to add to the burden she was already carrying, but that would happen later.
Now Guy could give her peace, he could make her feel better, and she wanted him.
Marian had never felt the overwhelming desire to give herself to a man, to surrender everything to him, to let passion rule over reason. In the past she had thought it impossible, she had been even too sure that her head would always be stronger than the impulses of her body.
But now everything was different.
She just wanted to give up, to find peace in those fleshly sensations.
She felt broken, shattered to pieces, and she knew that Guy was just like her. Maybe, just maybe, if they became one, they would be whole again, even if just for a moment.

It was Guy who slowed down, holding back his passion.
“Marian?” He called, his lips still pressed against hers. He closed his eyes and took a steadying breath, then he looked back at her. “Marian, stop. We shouldn’t.”
“I want this.”
“I don’t.”
The girl was caressing his head and she tightened her fingers on his hair, pulling it.
“Ow!” He yelped, in pain, then he noticed the hurt, angry look in Marian’s eyes and he hurried to explain what he meant. “Actually I do, I want this too. But not like this. Not now.”
Marian’s eyes filled with tears.
“I need this now.
“You think you do. You think that this will make the pain go away, that it will make things more bearable.”
The girl sniffled.
“Isn’t it true?”
Guy bent his head to kiss her tears away.
“It is. For a short while. That’s what happened with Annie… In the beginning it had been nice, it made my life at the castle easier and more enjoyable for a while. But you know how it ended. I didn’t love her, I used her and I hurt her. At the end we were all more miserable… You don’t love me, and I don’t know what I feel for you, we’d just end hurting each other...”
“I’m already hurting! What could the difference be?!”
“I couldn't bear to be the one who hurt you. For once, let me try to be a good person and do the right thing.”
Marian leaned her head on his shoulder with a sigh, burying her face against his neck.
“What if this is the right thing?” She pouted, and Guy brushed her forehead with a little kiss.
“It might be, an if it is so we’ll get there eventually, but we shouldn’t rush in to it. Let’s give us time to understand what we really want.”
“Can we still kiss or would that be wrong too?” She asked, and Guy chuckled, placing another little kiss on her lips.
“This can never be wrong and whenever you want to kiss me I’m always up to it,” he said, with a grin that was mischievous and tender at the same time.
Marian smiled.
When Guy had stopped, she had been disappointed, but now she could understand his reasons. He wouldn’t hurt her because he cared for her.
Maybe they weren’t in love, but she realized that they were becoming real friends, and maybe that was even better.
She tilted her head to kiss his cheek.
“Maybe we should go back to Locksley and see if Matilda needs us.”
Guy nodded. He got up, and he helped her to her feet.
Marian hugged him again.
“Hold me tight.” She whispered, and Guy obeyed.
It felt good.

Matilda smiled, patting the shoulders of Thornton.
“Come on, come on, silly old man, there’s no need to weep now. Hannah gave birth to a big, healthy child, and if she won’t take ill in the next few days, she will be alright as well.”
Thornton nodded, wiping his eyes.
“I know, I know, I’m being a sentimental old fool. I was so sure that they were both going to die, and then I heard the baby crying and I don’t know what got into me.”
Matilda chuckled.
“You are lucky that Marian, bless that child, was so quick in summoning me and that she had the idea of taking Guy here in the meanwhile.”
“Did Sir Guy actually help Hannah?”
“He couldn’t do much, but he did the right things: he gave her something to help with the pain, but mostly he gave her strength and hope. Poor boy, he must have been scared to death, these are not things for men. Have you seen where he went?”
Thornton nodded.
“He ran away as if he was being chased by a demon. He took the uphill path, and Lady Marian was right behind him.”
Matilda took a little flask from her bag, she opened it and she smelled it before plugging it back and putting it away.
“I should better go and find them. Poor children, they surely must be upset. This remedy will settle their stomach if they feel sick.”
The healer made sure that Hannah and the baby were alright, then she went out of the hut, and Thornton followed her.
They both frowned.
“Where is everyone?”
The village was empty, except for a few villagers who were gathered by the pond, chatting nervously. Every once in a while, they glanced towards Thornton’s hut.
Matilda looked at Thornton.
“Something isn’t right.”
They went to reach the villagers, and one of them looked sympathetically at Thornton.
“Be strong, we know how hard it is losing a daughter...”
Thornton frowned.
“Hannah is alive and the baby too. Matilda says that if she doesn’t get a fever in the next few days, she will recover...”
The other man was surprised.
“But they told us that she was dead! That Gisborne killed her!”
“Right!” Another man intervened. “They said that Gisborne poisoned her, and lady Marian helped him to kill Hannah!”
“Who’s the stinking pile of dung who says such idiotic nonsense?! If I catch him I’ll whack some sense in his lice ridden head!” Matilda cried.
“Everyone is saying that! That’s why they went after them! They want to kill the murderers!”
Matilda let out a curse, then she hurried to take a horse.
She didn’t like much riding, preferring to walk or to travel on a wagon, but now there was no time: she had to reach Guy, Marian and the inhabitants of Locksley before it was too late.

Guy was still hugging Marian, enjoying that tender closeness, when something hit him on the back, causing a sharp pang of pain that cut his breath.
He let Marian go, and he quickly turned, a hand moving to the hilt of his sword only to find out that he had left it in Thornton’s hut.
When he had held Hannah in his arms, the long sword was a hindrance, so after a while he had unbuckled the belt holding his scabbard and he had given it to Marian, who had placed it into a corner of the hut. But now he was unarmed.
The people of Locksley were surrounding them and they seemed to be in a sort of frenzy: their faces were dark, angered, full of hatred, and they were all holding tools or stones.
Gisborne froze: he had already faced an angry mob when he was just a boy, and he knew perfectly well how dangerous they could be. This time they seemed even more ferocious and eager to kill.
He reached for his curved dagger, but he kept it hidden behind his back, well aware that anything could unleash their fury.
At his side, Marian was staring at them, not yet understanding what those people wanted.
“Don’t move,” Guy whispered, “Not a word.”
He shifted a little so he was in front of her, shielding her with his body, then he looked at the villagers, trying his best to hide his fear.
“What do you want?!” He asked, proudly.
“You killed Hannah, and for this you must pay!”
Guy shuddered.
“So she died...” He said in a low, pained voice. Another stone hit him on the shoulder and Guy realized that if Hannah was dead, he was doomed. They would surely give him the fault.
Hoping to hold back all those persons just with a small dagger was foolish and he knew.
“Murderers! You’ll both die for your crimes!”
Guy was horrified to hear that those people wanted to kill Marian as well. He held the dagger in front of him, ready to fight to protect her.
“Marian did nothing! She’s just an innocent girl!” He screamed, and the crowd roared, enraged.
“She’s a witch! You both deserve to die!”
They didn’t dare to approach as long as Guy was holding the dagger, but they had the stones, and they began throwing them.
Marian was still shocked, but when she saw that the people of Locksley were trying to kill Guy, she moved to fight at his side, even if she realized that they had no hopes of survival, but Gisborne turned to her, and he took her in his arms, giving his back to their attackers.
“Guy! What are you doing?! Let me go!” She screamed.
Actually, she knew perfectly well what he was doing, because it was the same thing he had done during the siege, saving her life and almost losing his own.
“I won’t let them touch you. Not until I live.”
He held her tight, closing his eyes and trying to bear the pain. The stones were hitting his back now, painfully but not hard enough to do much damage. But sooner or later one of those people would find the courage to step forward and use a shovel or a spade on his head, and then it would be the end.

Chapter Text

“Have you all gone mad?! Stop immediately!”
Matilda voice, as loud and menacing as they had never heard it, echoed in the forest, and the healer stopped her horse between Guy and Marian and the angry mob.
A peasant who was about to throw another stone stopped, terrified by her fiery glare.
“What do you think you are doing?!”
“They killed Hannah! They must die!”
“Try to touch them, and I’ll hang every single one of you imbeciles! Oafs! Addled cretins! Hannah is alive and I expect that she will be well in a few days and the baby too!”
“But they said that Gisborne had poisoned her!”
“Gisborne helped her. Probably he even saved her life, so don’t even think to hurt him more than you already did.”
The people hesitated. Matilda had always helped them, she had saved their children and fixed their broken bones, treated every kind of ailments and helped most of the women to give birth safely.
They respected her, most of them owed her their life or the life of a member of their family at least.
Now she was so passionately defending Guy of Gisborne and lady Marian, claiming that they were innocent. And they weren’t so sure of their faults anymore.
Who was the first who had claimed that Hannah was dead, killed by them? They weren’t so sure now. And who had a real proof that Gisborne was a demon and Marian his witch?
With a difficult winter coming, they couldn’t afford to lose the help of the best healer of the county, who cared if Gisborne lived, after all? As long as he kept away from them, it didn’t matter.
One by one, the peasants turned and went back to the village.
Matilda kept her stare on them, to be sure that they wouldn’t come back, then, saddened and worried, she turned to take care of Guy and Marian.
Gisborne was kneeling on the ground, hurt and bloodied, with his face buried in his hands, while Marian was in front of him, her hands on his shoulders and a panicked look on her face.
Matilda hurried to reach them.
“Is he badly hurt? Let me see, my boy.”
She tried to push aside his hands, but Guy flinched, and Matilda saw that he was trembling.
Marian was weeping, and she looked at her.
“Matilda! He keeps shaking, and he doesn’t answer me… What did they do to him? Why did they want to kill us?”
The healer sighed, worried for both of them.
“Hush now, child, try to keep calm. We’ll talk later, but now we have to help him. Are you wounded?”
Marian sniffled, but she tried her best to stop crying, and she shook her head.
“Guy protected me. He shielded me with his body… Again.”
The older woman looked at them, and she felt terribly sad. She wanted to hug both Guy and Marian and comfort them, like she used to do with Rosa when she was a child.
“Come,” she said softly, talking to Guy, “let’s go back to the camp, my dear. When we are there I’ll see to your wounds, and then you can rest and recover. Can you mount? We won’t take this horse back to Locksley, that’s for sure! Come on, we’ll take you home.”
“No.” Guy’s voice was raw and hoarse, muffled by the hands that were still covering his face.
Painfully, he rose to his feet, freeing himself from Marian’s touch. “It’s too much… too much… All the blood... I can’t...”
Marian stared at him, upset, and she made a step to hug him, but Guy retreated, as if he was afraid of her touch, and he made a sudden dash for the horse, mounting with a jump, and kicking his sides to gallop away before Matilda and Marian could stop him.
“Guy!” Marian cried, then she turned to Matilda, bewildered. “He ran away! Where did he go?!”
The healer sighed.
“I think… I think that he remembered the siege.”

The horse ran freely and Guy made no attempt to lead him except for inciting him to go faster. Guy just wanted to run away, to go so fast that nothing could reach and hurt him, but, sadly for him, memories were faster than any horse.
The animal was running wildly among the trees of the forest, sometimes narrowly missing them, but Guy paid no heed to the danger.
There was blood on his skin because of the stones that hit him, and blood in his mind, lots of blood.
When the people of Locksley attacked them, he had just tried to protect Marian, to shield her holding her in his arms, but when the stones began to hit his back, he found himself somewhere else, in the great hall of Nottingham castle, surrounded by corpses, with the enemy soldiers closing on him and Marian. He had no sword because it broke earlier, and the whole room smelled of blood and death.
He and Marian, and the soldiers of course, were the only ones still alive: they had tried to fight, to lead the people against the attackers, but they were just common persons, unable to fight, and they fell one by one, like flies. Guy knew they had no hopes, and that they were going to die, so he did the only thing he could do: he took Marian in his arms, holding her tightly so that she couldn’t move, and he shielded her with his body, praying that it could be enough, that the soldiers would kill him and spare her life.
They hit him with no mercy, slashing his back with their swords, and the pain was so strong that Guy almost wished that they would kill him soon. Almost, because as long as he was alive, he could protect Marian, and for her he was ready to bear any pain.
He focused on her warmth, on her supple body, huddled in his arms, and his mind rejected everything else, all the pain, all the death, all the blood. When he couldn’t stand anymore, he fell on her, pressing her to the ground with his body, hoping that his weight wasn’t too much for her, that he wouldn’t crush her to death, but he had to keep shielding her from the blows of the soldiers…
When darkness claimed him, it was a relief, it took him away from pain at first, and from memories later, when he unexpectedly woke up.
But now the darkness had lifted, and all the pain was back.
It was too much.
The horse began to slow down, tired, his sides covered in white foam, and finally he stopped.
They were deep in the heart of the forest, in a place where the outlaws didn’t usually venture and they were surrounded by quietness. No human voices, no clangor of tools, not even the metallic clash of weapons, just a few birds singing and the rustle of leaves up in the trees.
Guy dismounted, firmly holding the bridle, even if the horse had no intention of wandering or running away, and he looked around.
He was alone, completely alone, and he felt thankful for this. After remembering the slaughter he had witnessed during the siege, he didn’t want to see any human being near him, he knew that he couldn’t stand meeting strangers and fearing that they could hurt him. He didn’t want to see the people he loved either because then he would live in the constant fear of losing them, of seeing them killed.
The horse moved, hearing the murmur of water, and Guy followed him, letting the animal to lead him to the river bank.
The horse went to drink, thirsty, and Guy, still holding the bridle, found himself stepping into the water.
It was cold, he realized, staring blankly at it.
He almost screamed when he saw a drop of blood falling on the surface, giving a pink tinge to the water before dissolving in the slow flow, then he realized that it was his own blood, dripping from a wound on his forehead.
Guy touched his face, finding it sticky with congealed blood, and he looked at his fingers, stained red. A moment later he dropped to his knees, emptying his stomach in the water of the river.

“It’s my fault!” Marian sobbed, “I asked him to come to Locksley! He didn’t want to, but I coaxed him to come! If anything happens to him, I could never forgive myself!”
Matilda shook her head.
“No, child, it’s not your fault. Those people were driven by fear and ignorance, you couldn’t imagine that they would attack you like that. Don’t fret now, but help me to find him.”
Marian nodded, trying to be brave.
“He was wounded, do you think he could be in danger?”
“Not because of his wounds. Those people were cowards, eager to kill, but not able to do it properly. They threw those stones from a safe distance, with enough force to hurt him, but not enough to do serious damage. But I fear for the state of his mind, if he remembered everything he must be in a great distress, I don’t know what he could do. Think of Robin, of his condition...”
“We must find him!”
Matilda nodded.
“We must, indeed. Come, we need the help of the others too.”

The horse grazed quietly at the grass, glad to rest in that peaceful place after galloping for such a long time in the forest. Once in a while, he gave a curious look at the man on the bank of the river.
That strange man wasn’t his owner, and he smelled of fear and blood, but unlike his former owner, he didn’t beat him, and the horse wasn’t afraid of him.
Now he was standing in the river, the water reaching his waist, and he was trying to wash away all the blood he had on his face and on his clothes.
Guy was shivering in the cold water, but he kept rubbing at his shirt until there were no traces of blood on it, then he threw it on the bank, making it land near his boots, and he grabbed a handful of sand, using it to scrub his body again.
He was aching, and he could see the big purple bruises that covered his arms, feel the pain of the ones on his back, suffer for the bleeding cuts left by the stones when they hit him with enough strength to break the skin, but he didn’t stop rubbing his skin. He needed to wash away the blood, to be cleansed.
The cold water left him shivering and exhausted, but it also stopped the bleeding, and after a while, Guy walked out of the river and lay naked on the grass, trying to get some warmth from the pale sun filtering through the leaves of the trees.

Chapter Text

Guy woke up when the sun was already high in the sky. When the memories of the siege came back to him, he thought that he would never be able to sleep again, but, instead, exhaustion graced him with a deep, dreamless slumber that gave him some reprieve from his painful memories.
He sat up, looking around, and was relieved to see the horse grazing the grass, a few paces from him. He didn’t want to see people, but he feared being completely alone, so he was grateful that the horse didn’t run away.
It was a worthless old nag, probably used to work in the fields or to drag a wagon to the market, his sides marked by lashes and his tail and mane tangled and dirty, but he had been there when Guy had needed to run away, and Guy felt grateful for that.
The knight got to his feet with some effort. He was sore, his whole body aching and stiff, and he was feeling cold and weak, but he made an effort to pick up his clothes and get dressed. They were still a little damp, but at least he had succeeded in washing away all the blood and the dirt.
He knew that he should eat something to keep his strength, but he was still feeling queasy, and he knew that he couldn’t keep anything down, not if his mind kept remembering all that blood, and the stench of death…
The nose of the horse touched him, and Guy turned with a start, but the animal just wanted his attention, curious, and Guy scratched his muzzle for a while, then he began combing his mane with his fingers and he kept working until it was completely untangled.
Taking care of the horse was good, it took Guy’s mind away from memories, and relaxed him a little and, when he finished, the knight was feeling a little calmer.
He realized that probably Marian and Matilda were worried for him, and he knew that he should go back, but he felt that he couldn’t yet. He needed to be alone, to think about his recovered memories, and try to accept them somehow, to find a way to live with them.
“I’d have preferred to never remember...” He whispered to the horse, and the sound of his own voice made him feel uneasy.
He mounted, but this time he didn’t incite the horse to gallop, putting him to a slow pace. He didn’t want to stay in the same place where he had spent the night, but he wasn’t going to run away like he had done the day before. He just wanted to wander in the forest and think.
At least, and this was a big consolation, he couldn’t blame himself for the siege. For once, he had no faults at all and he could have done nothing to avoid it. And during the attack he had acted bravely, trying to defend the town, its inhabitants and, first of all, Marian.
He could be proud of himself, but it didn’t really matter, he just would have preferred to be a spineless coward and never have to witness that slaughter.
He let the horse choose the path, and he let his mind go back to the day of the siege...

It was the dawn of a Thursday, and Guy was sleeping in his room at Locksley's Manor when he was awakened by somebody who was madly knocking at the main door of the manor.
He got up, annoyed and confused, swearing that if it wasn’t a serious matter, he would personally flog the man who dared being a nuisance at such an early hour.
Guy was about to get dressed, when Allan burst into his room, followed by a disapproving Thornton.
“I told you that the master isn’t up yet!”
“He will, as soon as I talk to him.”
Guy frowned, and he nodded at the servant to say that he could go, then he turned to Allan.
“So, what’s up?”
“You must come at the castle immediately! The Sheriff just arrested Marian! It’s bad, Giz, he wants to hang her, I galloped here as fast as I could to warn you, you’re the only one who can help her!”
Gisborne stared at him, appalled.
“What?! Why?!”
Allan hesitated, and Guy shook him.
“He found out that she’s the Nightwatchman...”
“What?! Are you out of your mind?!”
Allan glanced at him, in fear that Gisborne could hit him.
“It’s true, Giz… She tried to steal that document, the one signed by the black knights… What was its name? The pact of Nottingham?”
Guy was shocked, but he looked askance at Allan.
“You don’t seem surprised... You knew! You knew she was the Nightwatchman and you never told me!”
“If I did, you would hang her! I may be a traitor, but I don’t want to murder my friends!”
Gisborne let Allan go, and he hurried to get dressed. He couldn’t believe that Marian was the enemy who for years had baffled all his attempts to catch him… her, he corrected himself.
He realized suddenly that a year ago he had wounded the Nightwatchman, and that had to be the reason why Marian had been unwell before their failed wedding… It made sense, but Guy wasn’t sure if he felt more angry, betrayed or heartbroken.
“Well, it doesn’t matter now, because the sheriff will hang her!” Guy yelled, and Allan looked at him.
“Will you let him do it?! Giz, you claimed you love her, you can’t let her die!”
“She doesn’t love me.” He said in a flat tone.
Guy thought that he should forget his feelings for her, but he found out that he couldn’t.
Whatever she did, no matter how many times she would betray him or break his heart, he couldn’t stop loving her and he couldn’t allow the sheriff to kill her.
He grabbed his sword and ran out of the room, but he stopped on the threshold to look at Allan, who was staring at him in surprise.
“What are you waiting for? Hurry, let’s go!”

When Guy and Allan arrived at the castle, they were shocked to see a body dangling from the gallows, and Guy thought with dread that he had arrived too late, that he couldn’t save Marian. But then he gave a better look at the body, and he realized with relief that it was the body of a man.
He wondered who the poor man was, but he couldn’t see his face because the corpse had a hood on his head.
He was trying to put some order in his thoughts and decide what he could do to protect Marian, when the sheriff appeared on the stairs, announced by the usual fanfare.
Guy’s had the impression that his heart skipped a beat, because two guards were dragging out Marian, and the girl was desperately sobbing. Guy had never seen her weeping like that, and, when the sheriff began to talk, he understood the reason.
“People of Nottingham! As you know I’m always working to protect you from dangerous criminals, bloodthirsty murderers who could kill innocent people in their beds. Today I found out a conspiracy aiming to undermine the safety of the whole County, going against the will of the King himself. Those traitors plotted to steal important documents from my safe room to sell them to the enemies of England, endangering all of us! And the worst of it is that they were wolfs disguised as lambs, hiding between the good people of Nottingham! They took advantage of our good faith, and for this they deserve death! One of them already found his just punishment...”
Vaisey made a long dramatic pause, and he pulled away the hood from the dead body. The crowd gasped in horror, and Guy grabbed Allan’s arm, in shock.
“It’s Sir Edward! Marian’s father!”
Guy now could understand why Marian was crying like that. The sheriff wouldn’t have been content in just hanging her, he wanted to make her suffer as much as he could executing her father in front of her. The sobs of the girl wrenched Guy’s heart, and he found himself hating the sheriff for that.
“What do we do, Giz?” Allan whispered, really worried, now.
“I can’t let her die,” he said, touching the hilt of his sword. “I’ll claim my rights on her, I’ll tell the sheriff that she’s my wife to be and that I will keep her under control.”
“It won’t work, Giz. Not now that he knows about the Nightwatchman.”
“I have to try. If he refuses, I’ll fight the guards and I’ll take her away. Take the horses and go to the portcullis, make sure that it stays open for us. Wait for me there and be ready to run.”
Allan nodded and obeyed, leading the two horses out of the gate.
The sheriff grabbed Marian, dragging her to another noose and placing it around her neck, and Guy moved forward through the crowd, ready to stop him, but before he could talk, an arrow pierced the sheriff’s heart, and Vaisey fell from the platform, crashing on the cobbled pavement at Guy’s feet.
Guy stared at him, in shock, unable to believe what he was seeing: the sheriff was still, his eyes open, while a pool of blood under his body was getting larger and larger, almost touching Guy’s boots.
The crowd began panicking, and soon the courtyard was full of people screaming and trying to run away in every direction, while the guards where searching for the killer, aimlessly.
Guy averted his eyes from the body, unable to force himself to touch it, and he ran on the platform of the gallows to reach Marian. The girl was standing there, in shock, unable to move.
Gisborne removed the rope from around her neck, and he held her in his arms. A guard tried to grab her, but Gisborne sent him away, with a menacing snarl.
“I’ll take care of her now! Nobody dare to touch lady Marian!” He yelled at the soldiers, then he turned to the girl, softly. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Marian let him hold her, too upset and shocked to refuse his hug. She hid her face against his chest, sobbing, and Gisborne caressed her back, but his hands were trembling and his heart was beating too fast.
Allan made is way through the crowd and he reached them, worried.
“Giz, we should get inside the castle, I don’t know what happened, but people seem to have become crazy, they are trampling each other while trying to run...”
Guy helped him to climb on the platform. For now they were safe up there, but he agreed with Allan: a panicked crowd could be very dangerous and unpredictable.
He took Marian in his arms, and he ran to the door of the castle, closing it behind his back.
Only then, in the relative quiet of the hall, Guy fully realized what had just happened.
“The sheriff is dead...” He whispered, tightening his hold on Marian, as if her presence was the only thing that prevented him from swooning or being sick.
Allan stared at him, shocked. He had seed the commotion of the crowd, but he hadn’t noticed the body of the sheriff, his eyes fixed on Guy and Marian and all his concentration needed to avoid the panicked people.
“What? How?!”
Guy leaned his back on the door, and he took a trembling breath, but before he could explain, someone knocked imperiously.
“Open the door, in name of Prince John!”

Chapter Text

The horse reached the edges of the forest. Left to himself, the animal had searched a path to go back to inhabited places. The knight who was riding him was gentle enough, but the howl of the wolves and the sounds of the forest were scary for the old horse.
When Guy noticed that they were going out of the forest, he pulled the reins of the horse, equally scared at the idea of meeting people.
He tried to think rationally, to persuade himself that not everyone wanted to slaughter other people without a real reason and that he should go back to the camp, but he felt as if he was trapped in a nightmare, without hope of waking up. Marian, Matilda, Allan, Djaq, they all would want to talk with him, to touch him and take care of his wounds, to know why he had run away in the forest and how he was feeling…
He didn’t think he could do it, he wasn’t sure he could tolerate their care. He couldn’t explain what he was feeling because he wasn’t sure of it too, he just wanted to hide, to be quiet and allow the passing of time to dim his memories.
But deep inside, he knew that he couldn’t just disappear, his friends would worry for him.
His friends…
He realized that for the first time in his life after his childhood somebody cared for him, and he for them. He wasn’t used to that, and he found out that he missed them, even if the idea of meeting people was appalling.
Am I going mad?
Guy looked at the road in front of him. To go to the camp, he just had to go back into the forest and choose the right path, but he didn’t move.
He could just go back to the camp and hide there. His friend would eventually understand, they wouldn’t force him to come out of his safe den, they would protect him, like they did with Robin…
Guy thought of the outlaw, trapped in his own mind, closed in a prison of his own making.
Was that his fate too? To hide so deep in his fear that he would never come out of it again?
No, he wouldn’t be like Hood, he decided, so, even if he was terrified, he took the road to Nottingham.

Gisborne hadn’t been in town after the siege. When his wounds healed, he had just gone to some of the villages with Matilda or Marian, but he had not dared to go back to Nottingham again.
He met wayfarers and merchants on the road, and every time he had to pass near them, his heart sank in fear, but nobody paid attention to him, and after a while he calmed a little.
He was decided to overcome his fear, to leave it behind his back and he was determined to not allow it to affect his life.
Matilda thought that he could have a better life, that he could be a good healer, but now Guy doubted that. People must trust a healer, and it was clear that people would never trust him.
But he didn’t want to end like Robin, not because of his fear, at least.
If people hated him, he couldn’t do much to change their minds, but he refused to become a prisoner of his own mind, and that was why he chose to go to Nottingham.
Entering the town was a shock: Prince John’s army had looted and burned the villages, but the main target of their attack had been the town of Nottingham. Almost every house had been destroyed and only a few of them had been rebuilt, the other ones were still blackened ruins and piles of rubble.
Nobody was working on them because a great part of the inhabitants had been killed.
Guy remembered that very well, he had seen them falling, at first under the stones of the trebuchets, crushed like Allan, and then slashed by the blades of the soldiers, the same blades that had left so many scars on his back.
Guy pulled the reins to stop the horse, unwilling to run away, but unable to move forward.
Passersby walked around his horse, giving annoyed or curious glances at the knight who was standing still in the middle of the marketplace. Some of them were surprised and scared to recognize the former sheriff’s henchman, Guy of Gisborne, and they put a safe distance between him and them before stopping to stare at him.
“I thought he was dead...” A woman who was selling fruit and vegetables said, whispering to her customers.
“I knew he wasn’t! I heard that he follows that witch, the healer who lives in the forest. My cousin who lives in Clun had seen him carrying the bag with her remedies...”
“That’s not what I heard! A friend of mine said that just yesterday he killed a woman in Locksley to sacrifice her newborn baby to the devil...”
The other women gasped.
“Don’t be silly,” another one intervened, “I passed through Locksley this morning, and nobody died during the week. Surely nobody was killed. An old man, the former steward of the manor, said that there had been a misunderstanding about his daughter and that Sir Guy had been wrongly accused for that. By the way, they were searching for him...”
“To arrest him?”
“No, to be sure he was alright. That man told me that they threw stones at him.”
“It might be. Look at him, he does have a bruise on his face...”
“Maybe he came here to delate them to the sheriff… He will want to have revenge!”
“If so, why is he just standing there?”
The merchant shivered.
“He has a haunted look. I wish he’d go away, he’ll scare my customers!”
“Actually, it seems to me that people are stopping at your stall to look at Gisborne and gossip,” a moon-faced woman said, a laugh in her voice. “You should offer him a basket of fruit to thank him!”
“Are you out of your mind?!” The merchant cried. “I’d never dare going close to that man!”
“Neither would I!” Another one said.
The chubby woman laughed.
“You’re a bunch of wimps! Always ready to gossip behind people’s back, but you don’t have a bit of courage.”
The other women looked at her, offended and annoyed.
“Why, would you have the courage to go and talk to Gisborne?”
The woman shrugged.
“He’s just a man, not a devil, and right now he doesn’t look menacing at all.”
“You still wouldn’t dare.”
“Want to bet?” The woman snatched a couple of apples, and she walked towards the knight while the other women looked, in a terrified silence.
She wasn’t completely sure that Gisborne was as harmless as she had said, but she had noticed that the man wasn’t carrying a sword. He also looked somehow stunned and his eyes were unfocused, as if he was looking at something that wasn’t really there.
The woman knew that look, she had often seen that in the eyes of many of the people who had survived the siege, and, if she was right about it, she could feel some sympathy for the man.
She reached the horse, and she looked at Gisborne. His pale, haggard appearance confirmed her conjectures about him.
“Sir Guy?” She called softly, and Gisborne turned to look at her, visibly startled.
“What… What do you want, woman?!”
She held an apple in her hand.
“To offer you this.”
Guy frowned, confused, and the woman realized that he was very nervous, almost scared.
“You look like you could do with some food. But mainly because those gossips over there didn’t believe that I’d have the courage to come here and talk to you.”
“You made bets about me?”
The woman grinned.
“A lot of people thought you had died, to see you here, very much alive, caused some curiosity. They are all wondering why you came back.”
Guy looked at her. When she had called him, he had been about to run away, frightened, but she was just a chubby, good natured woman, not menacing at all, and he relaxed a little.
“Did you bet about that, too?” Guy asked, and the woman just smiled with another little shrug.
She was still holding the apple, and he took it, warily. He wasn’t sure if he still felt queasy or if he was just hungry, so he gave it a tentative bite, chewing it slowly.
It was sweet and fresh, and Guy didn’t feel sick after swallowing that first morsel, so he slowly ate the rest of it.
“Thank you,” he said in a low voice, lifting a corner of his mouth in a little smile. “So, is this enough to win your bet? Did you survive the terrible challenge of giving an apple to the evil Guy of Gisborne?”
“Oh, I don’t think you are evil, Sir Guy.”
He looked surprised.
“Really? You are one of the few.”
“It’s difficult to really consider evil someone who you remember as a child, even when you see him acting cruelly as an adult.”
“What do you mean?”
“I lived in a village on the lands belonging to the lord of Locksley. When I was young the village had been assigned to a brave knight who had fought for the King and it had another name...”
“Gisborne! You lived on my father’s lands!”
The woman nodded, with an open smile.
“I was a girl then, but I still remember Sir Roger and Lady Ghislaine. And you, of course. You were a quiet, gentle boy then.”
Guy averted his gaze, to hide his emotion. He didn’t expect to hear someone talking about his parents, someone who still remembered him when his life was still happy.
“That boy is dead,” he said, gruffly, grabbing the reins to make the horse move and go away, but the woman didn’t move.
“We all killed him, didn’t we? We did nothing when the bailiff sent you away. Nobody had the courage to help.”
“Yes, you did,” he said, his tone bitter and tired.
“I’m sorry.”
“It was a very long time ago. I have to go now.”
Still, the woman didn’t move, blocking his way.
“None of your business.”
The woman put a hand on the nose of the horse, caressing the animal, and she lifted the other, offering the other apple to Guy.
“I don’t think that boy is really dead. I see him now, in front of me, and I think that you feel as lost now as you felt twenty years ago. But now I’m not afraid to offer my help.”
“Well, you should! I don’t need anybody’s pity!” Guy snarled, but the woman didn’t step back.
“Nobody is offering you pity, Sir Guy. Just a good meal and a quiet place where you can rest for a while. You look pale and tired, and Nottingham isn’t a pleasant place to visit right now: all these ruins, the abandoned houses… Very sad and distressing, isn’t it? But my house is still standing, and I owe that to you.”
“To me?”
“The soldiers were about to ransack the street where I live, but then your guards tried to stop them, to slow down their advance, and the soldiers engaged in combat with you and your men. When you had to retreat, they followed you, neglecting to destroy my home. See, it’s not pity what I’m offering, just a way to thank you. So, will you come?”
Guy stared at her face, trying to decipher her expression, to understand if it was a sort of trap, but the woman seemed sincere.
“Do you really want me to?” He asked, accepting the other apple and giving it a bite.
“Of course!” She said, then she lowered her voice mischievously, “Aren’t you curious to see the faces of those gossips if they see me going away with you?”
Guy glanced at the group of women: they were all staring at them, wide-eyed and in shock, as if they expected him to turn into a devil and snatch the moon-faced woman to hell.
He kept nibbling at the apple while he pondered the offer of the woman.
She wasn’t scary at all, and she didn’t even fear him, moreover she was a perfect stranger, he didn’t have to worry about hurting her feelings if he felt dejected or hopeless. If he found out that he couldn’t tolerate being in her company, he could just go away and return to the forest to be alone and she wouldn’t feel bad for this. And he was tired and hungry, with no money and no means of defence. Accepting her offer seemed the only reasonable thing to do.
Guy finished the apple, giving another look at the group of gossips: they surely would have a shock if he acted friendly towards the woman...
Suddenly he felt amused and more lighthearted than he had been since he had recovered his memory.
He grinned, and he dismounted, offering his arm to her.
“Lead the way, my lady,” he said, and when she put her hand in the nook of his elbow, he didn’t flinch.
The woman laughed heartily.
“My name is Beatrice, Sir Guy.”

Chapter Text

Beatrice stood on the door, and she called the daughter of their neighbours, a teenage girl who lost both parents in the siege and who had to take care of two little brothers.
The girl was always ready to make chores in exchange for a few coins or food for the kids.
“Come here, hurry,” Beatrice said, handing her a bundle of clothes, “go to the well and wash these, then come here immediately.”
The girl looked at the clothes.
“These belong to a man… And they are a little ruined and worn, but these are fine clothes… Who...”
Beatrice put a finger in front of her lips.
“No questions and no gossip and you’ll get double pay.”
The girl nodded and hurried to the well, while Beatrice came back in her house, barring the door.
She moved slowly and without making sudden noises, and she knocked softly at the door of the room adjacent to the kitchen. Nonetheless, she heard her guest gasping in fear, and it took a few moments before his voice told her to come in.
Guy of Gisborne was still sitting in the tub filled with hot water, and he gave her a nervous glance.
Beatrice thought that he was high-strung, like a wild horse, too easily spooked, and she smiled reassuringly at him.
“Is the water warm enough, Sir Guy? The girl living next door went to wash your clothes, for now I brought you a few things that belonged to my son. They should fit, even if he wasn’t as tall as you.”
“Your son… Did he...”
Beatrice smiled.
“No, no, thank God no. I said ‘was’ because he was very young when he left home and he still had to grow up a bit. He went to York to learn a better job, and he has a family there, so he was safe during the siege. He’s younger than you, but he already has three kids.”
The woman glanced at Guy, and she saw that he had relaxed a bit, so she stepped closer to the tub to place the clean clothes and a few folded towels on a stool.
“Do you need anything, Sir Guy? Food? Wine?”
Guy shook his head.
“Not now, thank you.”
“Does it hurt?”
The knight stared at her, in alarm.
“Your back, you’re covered in bruises.”
“It’s nothing. If you have some lavender, just drop it in the tub water, it’s good for little wounds.”
“I think I have some, I’ll fetch it for you. Are you enjoying your bath?”
Guy gave her a little smile.
“It’s good. It isn’t easy to find a tub and warm water in the forest...”
“The forest? Have you been living there?”
Gisborne didn’t answer, and Beatrice didn’t press him. If he wanted to keep his secrets, she wouldn’t pry.
“I’ll bring you some lavender, then I’ll have to look after our dinner. If you need anything, just call me.”

Guy sat in the tub until the water began to get cold. After remembering the siege, he couldn’t forget all the blood, and he always had the impression that it was on his skin and that he could never wash it away. But hot water and soap were always better than the freezing water of the river.
After getting out of the bath, he dressed with the clothes belonging to Beatrice’s son, he took the razor she had left for him near the basin and he began to shave. His hands trembled at any sudden sound, but he managed to do it, with just a few little cuts.
Still, when he washed out the soap from his face he saw a drop of blood on his fingers, he felt immediately dizzy and was almost sick.
It’s nothing, just a scratch…
Guy took deep breaths, trying to overcome the waves of nausea.
But he couldn’t help remembering all the other blood… It had been everywhere, sprayed on the walls of the castle and flowing down the stairs of the great hall, on his blade and drenching his clothes, and its smell, mixed with all the other stenches that always accompanied death…
He bent on the basin to throw up, but even after emptying his stomach, he didn’t feel better, his stomach was still cramping, and he couldn’t focus his vision.
Beatrice came in the room just in time to put an arm around his waist to support him before he dropped to the floor.
“You are unwell!” She exclaimed, worried.
Gisborne felt ashamed for his weakness, and he wanted to say that it was nothing, but he couldn’t, he could only think of the blood on his fingers, on his face, and in his mind.
Beatrice helped him out of the little, overheated room, and she led him to a bench in the main room of the house, helping him to lie down.
“Was the water too hot?” She asked, putting a hand on his forehead, and Guy flinched and trembled at her touch. His skin was cold, but he was sweating, and he had a terrified look in his eyes.
“What happened, Sir Guy?”
“The blood…” he whispered, his voice broken, “It doesn’t go away… It’s always there...”
The woman noticed that he was rubbing at his fingers with his other hand, trying to clean a little smear of blood. He had a little cut on his fresh shaven jaw, and Beatrice realized that his distress depended on it.
She hurried to get clean water and a towel, and she accurately removed any trace of blood from his hands and from his face.
“It’s alright, Sir Guy, it was just a very small cut. No more blood, see?”
Gisborne stared at his hand for a long while, then he let it rest on his stomach and he closed his eyes with a sigh.
“I… I am sorry. I don’t know what got into me...”
Beatrice sat on a chair near the fireplace.
“Are you feeling a little better, now?”
“My stomach still aches, and I feel faint.”
“Lie down and try to rest for a while. When you wake up you’ll feel better.”
“I don’t want to sleep.”
“Why not?”
“I’m afraid of the nightmares,” Guy said, wondering why he was letting that stranger to see his vulnerability. He felt frail, crumbling to pieces like the ruined houses of the town.
“Just lie down then.” Beatrice said, taking a basket with her needlework. “By the way, you’re not the only one.”
“Many of the people who survived had nightmares or they began acting in a strange way. But most of them got better after a while. Have you been ailing like this since the siege?”
“No. I forgot everything. I woke up with no memories of it. Until now. I didn’t want to remember.”
Beatrice sighed.
“I often dream to wake up in a burning house. I’ve seen it happening during the siege and I’ll never forget the screams...” She stopped, putting a hand on her mouth. “Oh! I’m sorry! I had forgotten about your parents… I always talk too much, I apologize...”
“I had nightmares about that all my life,” Guy confessed, “but I survived. I guess I’ll survive these memories too. At least now it’s not my fault.”
Beatrice looked at the dispirited expression of the knight and she thought that the women of the market couldn’t be scared of Guy of Gisborne if they saw him now.
“When did you eat last time, apart from the apples I gave you?” She asked while she kept working on her embroidery.
“I’m not sure… Before getting my memory back. Two days, maybe three, I think.”
“No wonder that you feel so unwell, then. Maybe I should call a healer and ask for a remedy to settle your stomach, so you could eat something and get better...”
“Mint, fennel and camomile,” Guy said, and Beatrice looked at him.
“The remedy. Boil those herbs in some water or some wine, and it’s good for an upset stomach. If you want it to taste better, you can add some honey.”
The woman was really surprised.
“How do you know? Is it true, then? One of those gossips said that you were helping that healer who lives in the forest. Can it be?”
“Matilda,” Guy said with a smile, “her name is Matilda.”
“So it is true! Are you training to become a healer, then?”
“She was teaching me. But what kind of healer could I be if I become ill when I see a drop of blood?”
“Don’t think about it now, it will pass. When the girl comes back from the well with your clean clothes, I’ll send her to the marketplace to find those herbs.”
“Thank you. I’m in debt.”
“Don’t worry about it. I might have a profitable wager with those women at the market thanks to you, they will never believe that the terrible Guy of Gisborne knows how to use the herbs and prepare remedies.”
Guy grinned, amused.
“They’d think that I do it to prepare poisons.”
Beatrice laughed.
“Maybe. By the way, that healer, Matilda, does she know that you are here?”
Guy shook his head.
“Nobody knows.”
“Won’t she be worried for you? Maybe I should sent the girl to call her, so she could take care of your health.”
“I can’t see my friends, yet. I don’t want to see anybody.”
Beatrice added a few stitches to her needlework.
“But you are talking with me.”
“It’s different. You don’t know me, we’re not friends, I can’t hurt your feelings. I’ve seen Marian’s eyes when Hood rejected her, the pain she felt… They would want to help me, to be close, to talk about it... but I can’t… I just can’t...”
“So you just ran away? They will be hurt all the same, and worried too.”
Guy sighed.
“I know.”
“Can they read? You could send a message to them. If you write what you just said to me, they will understand. And even if they shouldn’t, at least they won’t think you’re lying dead in some ditch. The girl can bring it to the healer.”
Gisborne nodded. It sounded like a good idea, and it would ease the guilt he felt when he thought of his friends.
“I could do that.”
“By the way, you can hide here until you feel better. It’s a small house as you can see, but we can arrange a cot in that corner near the fireplace and nobody would bother you.”
“Why are you so kind to me?”
“I told you, I should have helped twenty years ago, it’s not often that one has the chance to make up for a wrong. And this house still stands because of you, so no need to thank me.”
Guy gave her a little smile.
“My mother always said to be grateful when a person is kind to you.”
“Your mother was a wise women.”
“Yes, she was.” Guy said, closing his eyes with a tired sigh.
Beatrice kept embroidering in silence and she let him rest. In the days after the siege, she had barred the door of her house, hiding indoors for as long as she could, just to feel safe, so she could understand his need for a quiet place where he could find some peace of mind and recover his health.
She looked at him, stretched on that bench with his eyes closed and his hands resting on his stomach, pale and distressed, but still a handsome knight. On his face, she could see traces of the child he had been and at the same time a reminiscence of the cruel, fiery henchman of the sheriff, and of the valiant knight who had tried so desperately to defend the town.
He’s a survivor. In time he’ll be alright.

Chapter Text

“Where have you been sleeping?” Matilda asked, glancing at Marian. The girl looked tired and disheveled, her hair tied in a ruffled braid.
Marian shrugged.
“Not at Locksley. I won’t go back there.”
The healer picked a leaf from Marian’s hair.
“For now the weather is still warm enough to sleep in the forest, but in a few weeks it will be too cold, you should stay at the camp.”
“They wouldn’t want me there. Maybe they wouldn’t turn me away, but I’d feel their contempt.”
“Come at my hut then, It’s small, but you could sleep with Rosa and the baby. I can ask Little John to go to Locksley and take all the things that you stored there. They would be useful to survive the winter.”
Marian nodded.
“Take everything. I wanted to share them with the people of Locksley, but now I’m not going to. Not after what they did to Guy.” The girl wiped her eyes, trying to hide her tears. “It’s been four days already… Where could he be? Matilda, do you think he’s alright?”
“I don’t know. He has the knowledge to survive in the forest, I just hope he also has the will to do it.”
The two women reached the camp, and Marian stopped, hesitating.
“Come, let’s have a meal, we’ve been searching for him in the forest all day. Don’t worry, John and Djaq had to take supplies to Clun, they won’t be back for a while, and Allan and Rosa have nothing against you.”
When they entered the camp, only Allan was sitting in front of the fire. Matilda frowned.
“Where’s my daughter?”
Allan shrugged.
“Haven’t seen her,” he said, grinning.
“Very funny, Allan.”
The young man became serious again.
“She went away earlier. One of the kids who know the way to the camp came to search for you. He said that a girl came to your hut saying that she had an important message for you, so Rosa went to see what was going on.”
“And she left you alone with Robin?!”
“Not a problem for me. He’s been quiet today, and anyways she gave him some of your remedy before she left.”
“I’d better check if he needs anything. Marian, please, fill two bowls with the soup.”
“Three,” Allan intervened, “I’ve been busy practicing my songs, I still have to eat.”
Matilda went to check Robin, and she came back after a while to eat with Allan and Marian.
“So, you didn’t find him, uh?” Allan asked.
“No. It’s as if he’s vanished. We couldn’t find any trace of him in the forest.” Marian sighed.
“We’d need Robin,” Allan said. “I’m sure he could find him.”
“He wouldn’t search for Guy, even if he were able to do it...” Marian said, sadly, and Allan nodded.
“Probably you are right,” he had to agree.
They ate in silence, downhearted.
They had just finished, when Rosa came back, carrying Alice in her arms and accompanied by a young girl, who had a blindfold on her eyes.
Matilda was about to begin reproaching her daughter for leaving Allan and Robin alone, when she noticed the frightened expression of the other girl.
“Were you searching for me?” She asked, gently, removing the blindfold.
“Are you Matilda? The healer?”
“In the flesh.”
“I’m sorry for being so late! I went to search for you and at the village they gave me directions for your hut, but when I arrived there was nobody there! So I came back to the village and a kid told me that you probably were at Robin Hoods camp, and that he would go there to search for you, then your daughter came and she led me here...”
“What’s up? Is somebody sick?”
The girl shook her head.
“I have a message for you.”
“I told her that she could give it to me, but she didn’t want...” Rosa said.
“I don’t want him to get angry at me,” she said, shuddering.
“Him?” Allan asked, and the girl nodded.
“Sir Guy of Gisborne.”

Marian stood on tiptoes, trying to look inside the window of the house, but a thick curtain blocked her vision.
She had secretly followed the girl who had delivered Guy’s message and she had seen her giving their answer to a middle aged woman living in that house in Nottingham, so Marian had waited, hoping to find out if Guy was really there.
She had been there, hiding in a stable on the other side of the street, for a few days, but she only saw the woman or the young girl who lived next door, sometimes with two younger children and no traces of Guy.
So she found the courage to come closer, to try to look inside.
Suddenly, a hand grabbed her cloak from behind, pulling her away from the window. She turned, ready to defend herself, only to find the angry face of the middle aged woman staring at her.
“You should be ashamed!” Beatrice yelled at her. “You and all that bunch of silly gossips! Do you think that I don’t know what you are trying to do?!”
“I’m searching for a friend!” Marian said.
“Nice try! As if I didn’t know that all of you stupid women are just trying to see if the terrible, scary Guy of Gisborne is hiding in my house!”
Marian looked at her, hopeful.
“So is he really here?!”
“No. Not to satisfy your morbid curiosity!” Beatrice was about to send her away, when the door of the house cracked open and Marian found herself staring at Guy’s blue eyes.
“Marian...” He said in a whisper, and Beatrice looked at him.
“Do you know her?”
Guy answered with a little nod, and she let Marian go.
“Guy! Where have you been?! We were so worried!”
The girl ran to him, but the knight stepped back, startled.
“We received you letter,” Marian said, hesitant after his reaction, “and I followed the girl when she went back to deliver the answer...”
“I asked to be left alone, and still you came to see me?”
Marian’s eyes filled with tears, and Beatrice glanced at both of them, then she spoke to Guy.
“If you want to talk with her, you should better go inside. Those gossips are always trying to see you, I thought she was one of them...”
“Guy...” Marian looked at him, pleading, and the knight nodded, stepping aside to let her enter.
Beatrice didn’t follow her inside.
“I have to go to the market,” she said, closing the door and going away.
Left alone with him, Marian looked at Guy: he seemed to be in good health, the wound on his forehead just a little trace now, but he wasn’t looking at her, as if he was afraid or ashamed of something.
She wanted to hug him, but she somehow knew that he would step back again to avoid her touch, and that would break her heart.
“I’m sorry, but I had to see you. We searched for you for days, and when we couldn’t find you, I was so afraid that you could be dead...” Her voice broke, and Guy glanced at her.
Marian nodded.
“You ran away, wounded and so upset, we couldn’t know what happened to you...”
“I… I couldn’t stay...”
“Did you remember, then?”
“Everything. All the blood... the death… the fear and the pain…”
“And you went away because now you despise me too.”
Guy lifted his gaze on her with a start.
“No! That’s not the reason! Marian, why should I despise you?”
“Because you should! Weren’t I caught by the sheriff, nothing would have happened! My father would be still alive! Everyone would be alive! And you, Robin, all the others, wouldn’t be so hurt! It’s my fault! All my fault!”
Guy looked at her, deadly serious.
“No. And I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t Hood’s fault either. He killed the sheriff, but only because he was quicker than me, I wouldn’t have let him to hang you. The craziness was that pact with Prince John. How could they think to exterminate a whole county, just to avenge the death of one man?”
“But my father died because of me. The sheriff hanged him to punish me...”
“The sheriff killed him. Not you. I have my faults too, I should have opposed his treatment of you and Sir Edward from the beginning, but I didn’t. I see it now, how wrong everything was...”
Guy put a hand on the girl’s shoulder, and he gently pulled her in a hug. A short while ago he had rejected her touch, but now he wanted to comfort her, and the contact with her body came natural and not startling at all. Soothing too.
Marian wept. It was the first time she shed tears for her father’s death after the siege, the first time she allowed herself to be weak and to give vent to all her pain. She felt that it was safe to do it now, in Guy’s arms, that he would understand.
Gisborne led her to sit on the bench near the fireplace and they sat there quietly for a while, until she calmed a little. She lifted a hand to caress his cheek, and she found tears there too.
“Guy, are you alright?”
“Can we ever be alright again?” He asked with a bitter smile.
“Why did you came here? Why didn’t you go back to the camp?”
“Why did you hide in Locksley Manor and never told us about Allan?”
Marian glanced at him, a little hurt, but then she realized that Guy’s words weren’t a reproach, but a real question.
“I’m not sure. I told to myself that they wouldn’t accept him, that they would treat him like a traitor, but probably it was because I was afraid. Allan fully depended on me, he couldn’t go away, but if he went back to the gang, I’d be completely alone again...”
“I wouldn’t have left you alone.”
“But you didn’t remember what had happened that day. I was afraid that you would despise me if you knew.”
“I don’t. But I’m afraid too. Beyond afraid, actually. I keep remembering those moments, seeing them again even when I don’t want to. It happens suddenly, even without a real reason, or maybe it’s something common, like a smell, a drop of blood… And it’s like being in a nightmare, but it isn’t a dream, they’re real memories...”
Marian didn’t take her hand away from his cheek, caressing him and pushing away a wavy lock of hair from his face.
“And when it happens you want to be alone… To hide your pain...”
Guy nodded.
“What about that woman? Why don’t you hide from her too?” Marian asked.
“Beatrice? She has been kind to me and I’m grateful, but she doesn’t suffer if I shatter into a thousand pieces. She’s a stranger, it doesn’t matter if she sees me then. She understands and she leaves me be until I feel a little better. I know how much you and the others suffer when you see Robin so out of his mind, I don’t want you to see me like that.”
“I can’t speak for the others, but I know how much I do suffer to think that you are facing all this alone, how terrified I was when I didn’t even know if you were dead or alive...” She stifled a sob, then she pulled him into a desperate kiss.
When they got apart, after a while, Guy stared at her, dazed.
The girl put a finger on his lips, playfully.
“You said that you’d always be up for this, you can’t complain now.”
Guy found himself grinning.
“True. I can’t,” he said and he kissed her again.

Beatrice went back home from the market, wondering if Gisborne would be all right. It was clear that he didn’t dislike that girl, but it was also true that the man was still very upset and frail.
She opened the door, and she smiled seeing that Guy and Marian were lost in a very passionate kiss.
They both jumped when they finally noticed her presence, and she laughed to see that they both blushed in an almost identical shade of red.
“So I suppose that you are going back to the forest, aren’t you?” Beatrice said, looking at Guy.
Marian stared at him, pleading him with her gaze.
“Are you? I don’t care if you’re broken or whole, I miss you. Come home with me. Please.”
Guy hesitated, afraid to say yes, but unable to say no. At last he nodded, weakly, and Marian hugged him again.
He held her back, and after a moment he relaxed a little. To think of going back to the camp, to go home with Marian was a comforting thought, much less scary that he had thought. For the first time since he remembered the slaughter, he realized that he wanted to see his friends, that he missed them, that he even wouldn’t mind listening to Allan’s silly songs or Little John’s grumpy remarks.
Beatrice smiled at him and Marian.
“Wise choice, Sir Guy,” she approved, “being with your family will help, and if you should feel overwhelmed you can always come here for a visit. But you’re stronger than you believe, you’ll survive. Now let’s share a meal before you go.”
She began arranging the table, and Marian helped her, happy and grateful that Guy had agreed to go back to the camp. The knight took a loaf of bread and he cut a few thick slices from it, handling the knife with care.
He placed them on the table, and they were about to sit down, when somebody knocked fiercely on the door.
“Open up, in name of the Sheriff of Nottingham!”

Chapter Text

Marian was worried when the soldiers entered the house, but she glanced at Guy and she noticed that he looked outright frightened: his face was as white as a sheet, and he was trembling.
She moved closer to him, and she searched for his hand. The knight jumped at her touch, but his fingers tightened around hers.
Beatrice looked at the guards, afraid, but not intimidated.
“What could the sheriff of Nottingham want from a simple woman? I paid my taxes in time last month.”
The leader of the soldiers, a young man with blonde hair, answered.
“The sheriff came to know that you are hiding a noble, sir Guy of Gisborne, in your house. The sheriff demands to see him.”
Two soldiers approached Guy, and they grabbed his arms.
“No!” Guy howled in fear, trying to resist, but the guards dragged him outside.
“No! Let him go!” Marian cried, then, seeing that they weren’t going to set him free, she followed them. “I’m coming too.”
“We only have orders to take Sir Guy with us.”
“I’m a noble too, Lady Marian of Knighton, the sheriff will see me as well.”
The leaders of the soldiers shrugged.
“As you wish.”

Even if they were close to the castle, the soldiers made Guy enter into a closed wagon, and Marian followed him inside, then the door was closed and locked from the outside.
As soon as they were alone, the girl hurried to kneel on the floor of the vehicle and to hug Guy, who had collapsed, shaking in fear. She held him close, trying to soothe his panic, and to comfort him.
“It’s not the old sheriff, don’t worry, this one won’t hurt us. We did nothing wrong, he has no reason to punish us.”
Guy forced himself to take deep breaths, trying to calm down. He felt ashamed to show his fear in front of Marian, but he couldn’t help it.
“I… I’m sorry...”
“No need to. It’s alright, I’m here. I won’t let anyone to hurt you.”
Gisborne sighed, calming down a little.
“I’m not afraid of that. Not really. It… it was when they knocked at the door…”
The girl looked at him, understanding immediately what he meant.
“It was exactly like the moment when sir Jasper went to tell us that Nottingham was going to be destroyed...”
Guy nodded, and Marian kissed his cheek.
“I was there, with you, remember? And we’re together again.”
Gisborne closed his eyes, burying his face against her neck and breathing in her scent. It was reassuring and slowly his panic faded away.
“Marian? What do you know about this new sheriff?” He asked after a while.
“Not much, I haven’t been to Nottingham very often. All I know is that he is working to rebuild the town and the villages and that people say that he didn’t hang anyone so far.”
“Well, let’s hope we’re not the first ones.”

The wagon came to a halt, and the soldiers opened the door. Guy noticed that they were in the courtyard of the castle, and he shuddered. Last time he had been there, Allan was lying on the ground with his head cracked open and Guy had been sure that they were all going to die.
Memories of the siege, and from before, were everywhere at the castle, and Gisborne was afraid that he couldn’t bear them. But Marian was there, still holding his hand, so he forced himself to hide his fear, to set aside his panic, and they walked into the castle together, escorted by the soldiers.
They lead them to the great hall, a route that Guy had followed thousands of times when he worked for Vaisey, until that last time, when they were surrounded by Prince John’s soldiers.
When they entered the room, Guy could almost see all the blood again, on the walls, on the wooden floor, streaming down the stairs. He stopped, and he closed his eyes for a moment as a wave of nausea passed over him, but when he opened them again, there was no blood at all.
The hall had been thoroughly cleaned, and the boards of the floor were shiny and new, replacing the old ones, too soaked with blood to be saved.
The sheriff was sitting on the chair that once had belonged to Vaisey, but the man looked completely different from his predecessor: he was a few years younger than Vaisey, and he was a tall and wiry man, with a mane of dark hair, just beginning to turn grey.
His gaze was piercing, but calm, the gaze of a men who was rarely in doubt, but who was used to ponder before acting.
The soldiers escorted Guy and Marian to the centre of the hall, then they retreated to the sides of the room. Guy was very nervous, but he noticed that those guards seemed to be more efficient than the old ones.
The sheriff looked at him, glancing briefly at Marian.
“So you are Sir Guy of Gisborne.”
Guy straightened his back, trying to look more confident than he really was.
“Yes, my lord.”
“We believed that you had died when the town was razed to the ground. Where have you been until now? Didn’t you think that it was your duty as Master of Arms to report to the castle?”
“I’ve been seriously wounded, my lord.”
“You look healthy enough now, but I had to find out that you were still alive and in town from the brainless chatter of a bunch of women! My soldiers reported to me that those gossips where talking about you, saying that you were hiding into the house of one of them. And it seems that they were right!”
Gisborne didn’t know what to answer, and before he could reply, Marian intervened.
“Guy is still unwell, my lord. His wounds healed, but he’s still suffering…”
“I believe that Sir Guy is well enough to answer my questions without a mediator. By the way, who are you, my lady?”
“I’m lady Marian of Knighton. My father, sir Edward, had been sheriff until sheriff Vaisey took his place.” Her voice broke. “He… he has been killed before the siege.”
The sheriff looked at Guy and Marian, and his expression softened a little. They were both pale and upset, and he felt some sympathy for them. He gestured to two chairs in front of the throne.
“Please, take a seat.”
They obeyed, and waited for the sheriff to talk again.
“I am Sir Roland of Ashworth, I’ve been appointed sheriff of Nottingham by King Richard himself.”
“The King is in England?!” Marian asked, in surprise.
“No, the King received a message from Robin of Locksley who accused the former sheriff Vaisey of being a traitor, plotting against his life, so he ordered me, his most trusted man, to go back to England and set the things right, removing lord Vaisey from his position. But when I arrived I found him dead, and a destroyed county. You were lord Vaisey lieutenant, Sir Guy, are you a traitor too?”
Guy paled even more at his question. He didn’t know if Robin Hood wrote his name too in the message to the King, so maybe the question of the sheriff was a trap and he was already dead.
“It was my duty to obey the orders of the sheriff,” he said.
“So you don’t want to see Prince John on the throne?”
“I don’t care about politics. Not anymore.”
“What do you want, then, Sir Guy?”
“Peace. To live in peace.”
The sheriff looked at him for a while.
“I heard worse answers. Would you swear loyalty to King Richard, if I asked you to do it?”
Guy nodded.
“I would, my lord.”
“And would you be true to your word? I heard many things about you, Sir Guy, and many of them weren’t good.”
The knight looked at him, proudly.
“I committed many errors in my life, but nobody could say that I’m not loyal. You can trust my word.”
“You were loyal to a traitor.”
“That was one of my errors.”
Sir Roland stared at him, and Guy held his gaze. The knight was pale, and clearly distressed, but the sheriff thought that he was sincere.
“Very well, then. Kneel and swear your loyalty to the King.”
Guy obeyed, and the sheriff accepted his oath in name of the King, then he turned to Marian.
“What about you, Lady Marian?”
“I’ve always been loyal to King Richard.”
“So you wouldn’t mind swearing it again, would you?”
When even Marian had pronounced her oath, the sheriff’s expression softened a bit, and he nodded for them to take their seats again.
“Very well, so we can begin right away.”
Guy frowned.
“Begin what?”
“The Council of Nobles.”
“Where are the others?” Marian asked.
The sheriff sighed.
“Dead. They are all dead. You have to forgive the abruptness of your convocation, it must have been unsettling, but when I found out that at least one of the nobles of the county was still alive, I immediately sent my guards to take you to the castle. I didn’t expect to find even Lady Marian. So the council now has two members at least.”
“Three, actually,” Guy said, and both Marian and the sheriff gave him a surprised look.
“What do you mean, Sir Guy?”
“Robin of Locksley is alive too. He is not well, but he is alive.”
“Robin?! Is it true?!”
“I don’t lie, my lord.”
“Where is he?”
Marian glanced at Guy, alarmed.
“He has been outlawed by the former sheriff, sign a pardon for him and for the members of his gang, and I’ll take you to see him.”
The sheriff frowned.
“Is this a blackmail?”
“No, a guarantee. I won’t risk the lives of my friends.”
“You just swore loyalty to the king and I’m his envoy, I could order you to take me to see Robin of Locksley.”
“Yes, my lord, you could. Will you do it?”
“I wouldn’t be much better than Lord Vaisey then, would I? I want a sincere answer from you, Sir Guy: was it Robin the one who killed the former sheriff?”
Gisborne reflected for a while before answering the question.
“I think so, but I haven’t seen him.”
The sheriff pondered the words of the knight, then he stood.
“My guards will accompany you to your lodgings, you’ll both be my guest for a while. I have to think, I’ll summon you later and I’ll let you know my decisions.”

Chapter Text

Guy stretched on the bed, and he stared at the ceiling, unsure of what he was feeling.
He was in the castle again, and for a weird coincidence they had assigned to him the same room where he used to sleep when he worked for Vaisey.
It was different now because all its furniture, the curtains, his things, had been destroyed when the castle was taken. The stones of the ceiling were still blackened by the smoke of the fires when the soldiers set everything on fire. It was a miracle that the castle itself was still standing and that it had only suffered minor damages.
It’s a miracle that I’m still standing. Even damaged.
His heart was thumping in his chest and he still shuddered at the thought of the soldiers dragging him and Marian into the wagon. He blushed to think how he had lost his dignity, crying and trembling like a madman.
But Marian hadn’t been disgusted by his fear. Actually she had supported him, helping him to calm down enough to be able to talk to the sheriff in a sensible way.
He wondered what was going to happen now.
If the sheriff wanted them in the Nobles’ Council, it meant that he wasn’t going to arrest or to harm them, but maybe he had changed his mind when Guy had asked for the pardon for Robin.
Gisborne wasn’t sure why he had talked like that. He didn’t care so much for Hood, they were still enemies even if he felt pity for the outlaw, but still Guy thought that he couldn’t let the fault for the destruction of the whole county fall on Robin’s shoulders.
If he hadn’t killed the sheriff, I would have done it. I couldn’t let Marian die. Robin is carrying a burden that could have been mine. And I know even too well how terrible is to carry the burden of guilt.
He turned on his side, looking at the table where there was the tray a servant had carried in the room. It was filled with food, good fresh food, cooked by the cooks of the castle and it was probably enough to feed a person for at least two or three days.
His friends in the forest couldn’t hope to enjoy such a plentiful meal, and Guy felt guilty because he knew that he couldn’t eat any of it without being sick.
He wished that Marian was at his side, but of course it wouldn’t have been proper to share a room with her.
He smiled a little, thinking of her kisses.
No, it wouldn’t have been proper at all.
He grabbed a pillow, new and clean like everything in the room, and he held it against his stomach, remembering the sensation of her warm body pressed against his when they had hugged in the forest, lost in a desperate passion.
Guy closed his eyes, and he allowed his exhaustion to drag him in a half slumber, hoping to dream that sweet, beautiful moment.
He fell asleep for a while, and he smiled as he dreamed: Marian was in his arms, asleep too, her hair loose and ruffled, tickling his neck and his face, and he felt safe and strong. He would protect her, and she’d give him courage. Nothing could hurt either of them until they were so close, their hearts beating steadily at the same pace.
Guy’s eyes fluttered open and he awoke with a start.
He was sure about his feelings now, he couldn’t be wrong.
I still love her.

Guy woke up hearing a knock at the door. At first he looked around, a little confused, then he remembered that he was at the castle as a guest of the sheriff.
The knock repeated.
“Come in.”
A servant entered the room carrying a bundle of neatly folded clothes and Guy’s own boots, accurately cleaned. The man put the clothes on a chair, and he gave a little bow to Guy.
“The sheriff hopes that you find something of your taste between these clothes and apologizes if there isn’t much choice. He said that he’ll summon a tailor soon, so you can order something suitable for your station.”
Guy nodded at his old clothes, lying in a disorderly pile on the floor, where he had dropped them before going to bed.
“I don’t need anything fancy. Please, have those cleaned and mended.”
“As you wish, my lord.” He looked at the untouched tray on the table. “Wasn’t the meal of your liking, Sir Guy?”
“I wasn’t hungry.”
“Shall I ask the cook to prepare something else for you, my lord?”
Guy shook his head.
“Maybe later. Please, leave me alone, now.”
The servant bowed and went away, and Guy lay on his back with a sigh, looking at the light that was filtering between the curtains of the window. He went to bed early, as soon as the sheriff ordered the soldiers to escort him to his lodgings, but he had laid there completely awake for a long time after realizing that he was still in love with Marian. That feeling, hidden and numbed for such a long time after the siege, had come back all of a sudden, strong as ever, even more now that he had known Marian better in the last few months.
Now he knew every side of her, and he loved all of them.
He didn’t want to have his memories back, but they had brought his love back with them, and Guy found out that it was a comfort.
He realized that his love for her was different now, it had grown on their new friendship and it was stronger, but less obsessive. He knew that Marian didn’t love him, but Robin Hood, but now it didn’t matter so much as it would have once.
Now Guy didn’t just want her, he cared for her, he wanted Marian to be happy, even if that meant to let her go.
After all, it was a comforting thought.
Nothing could take that away from his heart. Whatever happened to them, he would always have his love for her.
Guy got up from bed and he looked at the pile of clothes, choosing brown buckskin breeches, a black shirt and an equally black velvet tunic, embroidered in silver. It was the simpler of the tunics that had been brought to him, but still Guy felt a little awkward because he wasn’t used to that kind of fine clothes. He had always donned black leather, strong clothes suitable to a knight or a soldier and now he felt strangely vulnerable wearing those warm, soft, clothes.
Buy in a way they suited his mood, his frailty, and his renewed love for Marian. Thinking of her made Guy feel warm and soft.
Another knock on the door.
This time it was a soldier, the blonde young man who had arrested them the previous day. He was standing on the threshold, with his arms crossed and an impatient expression on his face.
“Sir Roland wants to see you,” he announced, in a tone that left Guy no choice than obey.
He’s me! Guy realized. He took my position at the castle.
Gisborne followed him, wondering if Marian would be there too, but when they arrived at the room of the sheriff, only Sir Roland was waiting for him.
The young lieutenant went away, closing the door at Guy’s back, and Gisborne looked around, nervously, feeling trapped.
The room was different now than when it had belonged to Vaisey, all the birdcages were gone, and so was the grotesque portrait hanging in front of the safe that depicted the former sheriff as a saint, surrounded by birds. The bed had new curtains, of a deep green, and the tapestries on the walls depicted hunting scenes, in brilliant colours.
Guy was still looking around, when the sheriff talked to him.
“Is this place very different than you remembered?”
Gisborne immediately gave him his full attention, a little startled by his voice.
“Yes, my lord. Very.”
“We have been lucky that the fire mainly damaged the furniture and not the whole castle. Many rooms are still uninhabitable, I hope that you found your lodgings comfortable.”
“Yes, my lord, thank you.”
“Please, sit down, I wish to talk with you.”
Guy obeyed.
“Where is Marian? I thought...”
“Are you two married?”
“No! But...”
The sheriff stared at him, watching his expression attentively.
“But you wish you were,” he said, making Guy blush. “Lady Marian is in her rooms, perfectly safe and you don’t have to worry for her. Her father was kept in great esteem by the King and she will surely have all her lands back, including the means to rebuild her family house. But we aren’t here to talk about lady Marian.” The sheriff paused, and Guy waited for him to continue, a little uneasy. “Sir Guy of Gisborne… But there is no Gisborne...”
“There was, once.”
“It was a part of Locksley estate, awarded to your father for fighting for the King. Don’t be so surprised, I began collecting information on you as soon as I found out that you were alive. You’ll find out that I’m no fool, Sir Guy.”
Guy couldn’t reply. He knew perfectly well that the sheriff couldn’t have received flattering information on him. People hated him, and they would surely tell Sir Roland all the horrible things he did for Vaisey. Probably the sheriff would kick him out of the castle, Guy thought, or he could even leave him to rot in the dungeons or dangling from the gallows.
“Tell me about Robin Hood’s gang.”
“What?” Guy asked, in surprise.
“Yesterday you tried to blackmail me. You said that you wouldn't reveal where is Robin of Locksley until I grant a pardon to those outlaws, can you deny it?”
“No, my lord.”
“So, tell me why should I pardon a group of cutthroats.”
“They are not cutthroats! If they used to steal, they did it to help the poor, and they don’t kill people.”
“Yet, you tried to capture them for years, with the intention of hanging them. And now you ask for them to be pardoned.”
“I didn’t know them then, and I had to obey the orders of the sheriff. As Master of Arms, I had to enforce law.”
“As the sheriff of Nottingham I should do the same, don’t you think?”
“My lord, you have the power to take a decision and to be merciful, I hope you’ll have wisdom as well.”
The sheriff glared at him, fiercely.
“Do you have any doubts about it? And you didn’t answer my question, yet, why should I pardon them?”
“Because they don’t deserve to die for their good heart! They could have left me to die after the slaughter, but they cured my wounds, they gave me food and shelter and I came to know them, to appreciate what they do. I won’t betray the trust of my friends.”
“And what about Robin of Locksley, is he your friend too?”
“No, he’s not.”
“But you asked for him to be pardoned as well.”
“He shouldn’t have been outlawed at all, now I see that.”
“He killed the sheriff, the punishment for that is death. But his action also destroyed the county, losing hundreds and hundreds of lives. And you dare to ask me to pardon him?”
Guy shivered, and he forced the memories of the slaughter out of his mind. Now it wasn’t the time to give up to fear, to let it take hold of his senses.
“I do,” he said boldly, “because he can’t forgive himself, he’d never ask for a pardon, and probably he’d welcome death as a relief. But he doesn’t deserve to die. Hood… Robin gave hope to people, I can see that. Even now they don’t blame him, they want him back. They despise Marian because Robin killed the sheriff to save her, they think that if she hadn’t tried to rob the sheriff and got caught, nothing would be happened, they say it’s her fault if their villages have been burned! They blame her, they blame the sheriff, they even blame me… But not Robin, never Robin! If you hang him, they’ll hate you, just as they hated the old sheriff.”
Sir Roland looked at him.
“I think that you have other, personal reasons to ask for this, but I guess that you wouldn’t tell, so I won’t bother asking. So, what do you suggest?”
“Pardon him, pardon all of them. They will help you to rebuild the county, they are already helping.”
“People say that Robin Hood is dead.”
“He is unwell. He can’t forgive himself and his mind can’t bear this burden, but in time...”
“In time? Sir Guy, the county needs to be rebuilt now. Why should I give a place in the Nobles’ Council to a man who can’t do anything for the people?”
Guy took a deep breath.
“He will. I think that nothing can really defeat Robin Hood, someday he will be back to his old self. And even if he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter, he’ll still give hope to people.”
The sheriff didn’t answer. He looked at some scrolls on his table, then he melted some sealing wax and impressed his signet on each of them. Without speaking, he pushed them across the table to Guy.
Gisborne picked the parchments and he looked at them, almost in disbelief.
“You granted a pardon to them, and you also gave them some land!”
“If they have an income, they won’t be tempted to rob people anymore. But now, let’s get to more serious matters: as soon as we finish talking, you will take me to see Robin of Locksley.”
Guy nodded.
“I will, my lord.”
“But first we’ll have to settle the management of Locksley. If I pardon Robin, the village will go back to him, have you considered this? You will lose it.”
Guy thought of the villagers surrounding him with stones and tools, ready to kill both him and Marian for a crime they didn’t commit, and he felt a cold rage gnawing at his soul.
“I don’t want Locksley anymore. I despise that place.”
“Too bad Sir Guy, because you will live there for now. I will give you back the lands that once belonged to your father and some more, but you will manage Locksley for Robin until he is better. You will rebuild the manor and you’ll live there. You will both live there.”
“We both… who?”
“You and Robin of Locksley. It will be your duty to see that he is well cared for and you will manage his estate for him. Of course your work will be rewarded, Sir Guy, a part of Locksley incomes will be assigned to you.”
Guy stared at him in shock.
“My lord… why?”
“You told me that Locksley can get better, that he can help the county now. Well, you will show me if you were sincere: if you really believe in Robin, you can certainly take care of his well-being and of his properties until he’s better.”
“People won’t accept me.”
“They won’t have much choice.”
“I won’t have much choice either, will I?”
“You’re brighter than you look, I see. Now go, as soon as you are ready, you will take me to the forest to bring the pardon to your friends, and then we’ll go back to the castle. Tomorrow we will go to Locksley and you will take possession of it. I expect you to take good care of the village, better than you did under Vaisey I hope, and to rebuild the manor as soon as possible. When Locksley will be settled, then you can take care of your own lands. You will have a Gisborne again.”
The sheriff stood up and Guy understood that he was dismissing him.
He found himself out of the sheriff’s rooms before he could really realize what Sir Roland orders meant, clutching the bunch of precious parchments to his chest.

Chapter Text

Guy pulled the reins of his horse, and he glanced at the guards before turning to the sheriff.
“I can’t take them to the camp, my lord. The others would think I betrayed them.”
The leader of the soldiers glared at him, distrustful, ready to unsheathe his sword, but the sheriff just nodded at him.
“It’s alright, William. Wait for me here. Will it be enough, Sir Guy?”
The blonde soldier shook his head in disapproval.
“My lord, it’s unwise...”
“It would be unwise for Sir Guy to hurt me. If anything should happen to me, he has everything to lose, he would never get his lands back and you’d hunt him day and night to execute him. I think I’ll be perfectly safe.” Sir Roland looked at Guy. “Well?”
“I should blindfold you, my lord. The location of the camp is a secret.”
“My lord!” William cried.
“So be it.” The sheriff covered his eyes with a piece of cloth. “Gisborne, take the reins of my horse, and lead the way.”

Matilda, Rosa, Djaq and Allan were sitting around a blanket spread on the ground where she had gathered the herbs she had just collected. She and Djaq were dividing them by type, while Allan tied them together, and Rosa hung the bunches to dry while little Alice followed her grabbing her gown, still unsteady on her little legs. Robin was there too, sitting under a tree not far from them, and staring blankly at the ground. He wasn’t tied, but Matilda had given him a remedy to calm him, and she was keeping an eye on him.
The healer’s gaze became sad every time that she looked at Robin, so defeated and broken, and she felt a weight on her heart when she wondered if Guy was also suffering like him.
At least, she thought, he had sent a message to them, that meant that he still cared for his friends, it was already something. And Marian had followed the girl who had delivered the message, so she was surely keeping an eye on him. Matilda hoped that she was alright too, and once again she felt full of anger at the thought that the old sheriff had succeeded in hurting so many people even in death.
Robin, my boy, you don’t deserve to suffer like this just for killing a rat.
“You’re becoming good at tying those herbs,” she said, giving a little pat on Allan’s shoulder, “I just hope it won’t rain or they won’t dry. We’ll need them this winter, I’m afraid.”
Allan gave her a smile, but he looked dispirited too, like the others.
“I wonder if Little John will find something for dinner. Much at least was good at catching squirrels,” he said. “Maybe I should try to go and hunt something, even if I am like this my aim can’t be worse than Giz’s, don’t you think?”
“Do you think he will ever come back?” Djaq asked, quietly.
“If he doesn’t, I’ll go to find him and I’ll drag him to the camp, that he wants it or not,” Allan said, decided, even if he hadn’t the slightest idea of how he could do it.
“He needs time and quiet,” Matilda said, with a sigh, “I really wish we could help him, but Guy asked to be left alone, we should respect his choice.”
“Time and quiet aren’t always enough, are they? Look at Robin, they didn’t help much.”
The healer ruffled Allan’s hair, affectionately, to comfort him, and to get some comfort back too.
“Patience, my boy. Let’s give him some time to calm down and heal, I know that you miss him, I miss him too, but we must wait. For a while, at least.”
Allan was about to reply, when Little John came back to the camp, out of breath.
“He betrayed us! He took soldiers in the forest with him! They’re coming here!”
The others jumped to their feet, worried.
“Who’s coming? What happened?” Djaq asked.
“Gisborne! I’ve seen him entering the forest with a group of soldiers!”
Matilda frowned.
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve seen him, with my eyes!”
“And are you sure that he’s taking them here?”
“I came back here immediately to warn you, but where else could he be taking them? I always said that we shouldn’t have trusted him!”
The healer shook her head.
“Well, I still trust him, and if he’s back, I’ll welcome him with open arms. I’m sure that he won’t do anything to hurt us. Just wait and you’ll see.”
Little John grabbed his staff.
“If he betrayed us, he’s dead.”
They waited in a tense silence, broken only by little Alice’s whimpers. The child could feel that her mother and the others were scared and nervous and she began weeping. Rosa took her in her arms, trying to lull and quiet her.
At last, the secret door of the camp opened, but only two men came in: Guy of Gisborne and a stranger, who had his face half covered by a blindfold.
“Are we there, Gisborne? Can I take this off, now?”
“Yes, my lord,” Guy said, removing the blindfold from the sheriff’s face, then he dared to give a shy look at his friends. “Well… I’m back.”
Guy made a step towards them, but Little John wielded his staff, fiercely.
“Who is that man? And where are the soldiers? I’ve seen you leading them here!”
“They are waiting in the forest, I wouldn’t take them to the camp! And this man is the new sheriff of Nottingham!”
The others gasped in fear, and sir Roland lifted a hand.
“Don’t worry, my presence here is not a danger for any of you. Sir Guy, talk with your friends, I’ll just wait over there.”
The sheriff spotted the logs that the outlaws used as seats around the fire, and he moved to go and sit there.
Everyone was speechless, and they were all staring at Guy and at the sheriff, unsure of what was happening, then Allan grinned, happily, and spoke, breaking the silence.
“So you’re back, Giz! I bet that you missed my songs!”
Matilda wanted to run and hug Guy, but she forced herself to keep calm, and she approached him quietly, afraid to startle him.
“How do you feel?” She gently asked, noticing that Guy was keeping his gaze to the ground and that he looked somehow distressed. “Come, let’s go behind that curtain for a while, so I can check your conditions and we can talk for a moment. Lads, take some food and wine to the sheriff in the meanwhile.”
The healer touched Guy’s arm, and she felt him jump at her touch, but he followed her to Robin’s empty bed, behind the curtain. Only then she allowed a few tears to fall on her face.
“I’m so glad to see you, my boy! I was worried.”
She spoke in a low voice, but she didn’t try to touch Guy again. Unexpectedly, it was the knight who suddenly stepped forward and hugged her.
“I’m sorry...” He whispered. “I’m so sorry...”
The healer hugged him back, and for a while they didn’t move, both of them taking comfort from that embrace, then Matilda caressed his face with a motherly gesture, and she led him to sit on the bed, sitting at his side.
“It’s all right, dear. I understand you, I really do.”
“John thinks I betrayed you… I’d never do it. I can explain why I took the sheriff here...”
Matilda shook her head.
“Later. I know that you wouldn’t harm us, we’ll have time to talk about the sheriff later, now I want to know about you. Those people at Locksley threw stones at you and you look so pale. Will you let me check your wounds?”
Guy looked at her, and he tried to smile.
“I’m fine, really.”
“No, you are not. But I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want.”
Gisborne nodded, and he began to take off his tunic and the shirt.
“I know, Matilda. But my wounds are almost completely healed, check them if you want.”
The healer smiled.
“I see. The bruises are fading, the wounds are clean and there is no damage. Have you been treated by a healer in Nottingham?”
“I put lavender in the water when I took a bath, and I used a few herbs to make an ointment to clean those cuts.”
Matilda chuckled and she placed a kiss on his forehead.
“I knew that you were a good apprentice! You’ll see, you will become a very good healer in time.”
“I don’t think so.” Guy said, and Matilda noticed that his gaze had suddenly darkened.
“Why? People will learn to trust you, they will forget, and anyways you could always go somewhere else, in a new place where they don’t know you.”
“It’s not that.” Guy sighed, dejectedly. “You are right, I’m unwell. Maybe people can forget in time, but I can’t. If I see blood, I can’t help thinking of the slaughter, remembering it, and I end up being sick.”
“So that’s why you are so pale, poor child. But it will get better, I’m sure. You were right, you need time and quiet, but you are strong, you will be fine, I know.”
Matilda held his hand, and Guy smiled at her.
“I hope so.”
“A week ago you wrote that you couldn’t bear to see anyone, and now you are here. You are getting better. By the way, have you seen Marian? When your letter arrived, she came to search for you.”
“She’s at the castle now, but she doesn’t know that I’m here or why. The sheriff didn’t give me time to see her before leaving for the forest.”
“That man… Do you think we can trust him?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I think we can. The king sent him to Nottingham, so he’s not an ally of Prince John. He agreed to pardon Robin and all the other members of his gang, that’s why we are here. He wants to see Robin too, it seems that Hood, Marian and I are the only nobles still alive in the county, he needs us to rebuild the Council.”
Matilda looked at him, surprised.
“Maybe you won’t need to work as a healer then.”
Guy sighed.
“He’s giving me back my father’s lands, but he wants me to manage Locksley for Robin, until he’s able to do it on his own. The sheriff said that we will both have to live there, once the manor is rebuilt. Probably I will need a healer if I do as he says… I don’t want to go back there, Matilda. Not ever.”
“But you went back to Nottingham and you’re none the worse for it.”
“I’m not sure of this. But you’re right, probably I’ll survive this too. Do you think that Robin will be better sometime?”
“We can’t know for sure. I hope so, but I’m relieved to hear that he will spend the winter in Locksley. The manor is ruined, but what’s left of it it’s still warmer than the camp. He is unwell, I was afraid that he could get sick in his weakened state if he had to pass a winter here.”
“If we don’t end up killing each other...”
Matilda smiled.
“I’m sure you won’t. Maybe spending more time together might be good for both of you.”
“I don’t see how.”
“You can understand him, now, how he feels and how vulnerable he is, and Robin could find a way back into his life following you.”
“Or we might both get lost and end up as two madmen...”
Matilda gave a little squeeze to his hands.
“You are strong, Guy, you won’t get lost, or, if you do, you’ll always find your way back.”
“I wish I could be so sure...”
“Well, I have no doubts.”
Guy gave her a weak smile.
“I hope you are right. But now we should better go and tell the others about the decisions of the sheriff. Matilda, he wants to talk to Hood, do you think it will be possible?”
The healer let out a little sigh.
“I’ll give him something to wake him up, at the moment he’s calm because I gave him my remedy. But I don’t know if Robin will listen to the sheriff. When we talk to him, he never replies, he just sits there, still and silent.”
Guy nodded and he wore back the shirt and the tunic, then they went to reach the others.
When they moved the curtain aside, they stopped, staring at the scene in surprise: Sir Roland was eating a simple meal of bread and cheese, and he was laughing at something Allan had said. Rosa and Djaq were giggling too, and little Alice was sitting on the ground at the feet of the sheriff, happily playing with some pebbles. Only Little John was standing apart from the others, near the place where Robin was sitting, and he was warily looking at the sheriff.
“Oh, Gisborne!” The sheriff called, noticing Guy. “Come. It seems you didn’t lie, your friends are nice people. This one is funny,” he said, nodding at Allan, “I wonder if he’s as good at singing as he says.”
“I can show you...” Allan began, but Guy interrupted him, grinning.
“Not now, Allan. I already have to deal with my memories, I’m not sure if I can bear your silly songs too.”
“As if I didn’t know that you came back because you missed my music!”
“Actually, I came back to give you these.” Guy handed the sealed parchments to Allan and Djaq, and he reached Little John to give one to him too, but the big man didn’t move to take him.
“What is it?” He asked, suspicion in his voice.
“A pardon, for all of you. You’re not outlaws anymore. There is one for Hood too. And you’ll get some lands as well.”
“A reward for helping the people of Nottingham and for your loyalty towards King Richard.” The sheriff answered in place of Guy, but John shook his head, unconvinced.
“It can be true for Robin, but why should you reward me, Allan or Djaq? We’re just common people, why should you care? Maybe the pardon, but the lands? Why should the sheriff give something to us instead of taking them?”
Sir Roland shrugged.
“Sir Guy tried to blackmail me to get a pardon for all of you. He seems to care very much for his friends. I will need his help in the near future and there will be much to do to rebuild the county, so I thought that he would be more willing to work for me if he knows that his friends are safe and provided for. The healer and her family don’t need a pardon, but they will have a reward too.”
Matilda looked at Gisborne and she smiled at the sheriff.
“Rosa and I don’t need gifts or lands, we already have anything we could wish for, but if you really want to reward me, just don’t be like the former sheriff. Be a good man and don’t harm people, it will be enough.”
“I hope I won’t disappoint you, madam,” the sheriff said, with a smile, then he glanced at Robin, who was sitting under a tree, apart from the others. “But now I need to talk to Robin of Locksley.”
“He is unwell...”
“I know, Gisborne told me about it, but still I have to see him.”
Matilda nodded.
“Go and wait behind that curtain, then, we’ll take him there. But please, be gentle, don’t upset him. Guy, come.”
Matilda walked towards Robin, and Guy followed her. Little John was reluctant to leave Robin’s side, but at last Matilda was able to persuade him to sit with the others near the fire.
The healer crouched near Robin, and she made him drink from a little flask.
“This should be enough to clear his head from the effects of the other remedy.” She turned to Guy, lowering her voice. “I don’t want to tie him, but be careful, we don’t know how he could react in front of the sheriff. Be ready to stop him.”
Guy nodded, and they both took one of Robin’s arms to help him walking. Once again Guy was shocked to see how thin Robin had become.
Once, he had been a worthy adversary, they had been equals in a fight, but now Guy knew that he would easily win, even if he was weaker than usual and not completely well.
They walked behind the curtain, and the sheriff looked at Robin, noticing every detail of his appearance.
“Sir Robin, I’m glad to see you. I’m sir Roland of Ashworth, the sheriff of Nottingham, sent here by King Richard himself.”
Guy had the impression to see a flicker of emotion on Robin’s face, but it was just a moment and then his expression became blank again.
Robin lifted his head to look back at the sheriff, and Matilda and Guy traded a surprised glance, waiting for a reaction. Then Robin spoke, for the first time in weeks.
“Are you here to hang me?” He asked, in a flat tone, and the sheriff hurried to shake his head.
“No, of course not! You’ve been pardoned, you’re not an outlaw anymore. Sir Robin...”
“Then, I’m not interested.” Robin said, interrupting the sheriff, then he got free from Guy’s hold, and he lay on his bed, turning his back to all of them.

Chapter Text

When Guy rode through the gate of the castle, Marian was in the courtyard, and she ran to him. He had barely the time to dismount before she crashed into him, closing her arms around his back, in a crushing hug.
“Where have you been?! They told me that you weren’t in the castle, but nobody knew where you had gone, and the sheriff wasn’t there either! I was afraid that he had changed his mind and that he was going to harm you...”
“I’m not going to execute one of the three nobles still alive in the county, Lady Marian,” Sir Roland said, stopping his horse near them. “I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t squeeze him to death either, I still have some use for him.”
The girl stared at the sheriff for a moment, then she let Guy go, blushing.
“Did I hurt you?” She asked, worried, seeing that Guy looked startled because of her sudden embrace. “I’m sorry, I was so scared when I couldn’t find you!”
Guy lifted a hand to touch her cheek, and he smiled at her. He hadn’t expected her reaction, but he couldn’t deny that it pleased him.
She cares for me!
“I am fine. Come, I’ll tell you everything.” Guy took her hand and was about to lead her away from the courtyard, when he hesitated and looked at the sheriff. “Do you need my presence, my lord?”
Sir Roland waved a hand, dismissing him.
“Go, but be ready for tomorrow.”
Marian followed Guy along the corridors of the castle, and up the stairs leading to one of the towers.
“What happens tomorrow?”
Guy didn’t answer, but he kept climbing the stairs until they arrived to a door. He opened it, and they found themselves outdoors, at the top of one of the towers. The sky was almost too blue for an autumn day, and Marian went near the parapet to look at the town.
From there, the people looked small, like little ants, hurrying around aimlessly.
“Guy? What happens tomorrow?” She repeated, and Guy sighed, sitting on the ground and leaning his back on the wall of the tower. Marian sat at his side, looking at his face.
He didn’t seem to be unwell or wounded, but he was troubled by her question.
“Is it so bad? Did the sheriff order you to do something terrible?”
“Yes and no. He will give our lands back to us: you’ll have Knighton, I will have the village that belonged to my father, and Hood will have Locksley back.”
Marian was a little disconcerted by his words.
“But these are good news… Unless you wanted Locksley for yourself, but it belongs to Robin, you knew that...”
“That’s the point! I don’t want it! I don’t want to have anything to do with that place and that people ever again, but the sheriff ordered me to manage it for Hood until he’s well again! I will have to live there! With Hood!
Marian looked at him, half worried and half surprised, then she smiled at Guy.
“I was afraid that he could decide to hang you because of what you did for Vaisey, this is a little better than that, don’t you think?”
Guy couldn't help grinning.
“If you put it in this light, I can’t disagree.”
“So tomorrow you’ll have to go to Locksley?”
“Yes. The sheriff will tell the people that they will have to obey me. I’ll be lucky if they won’t decide to finish what they started last time we’ve been there...”
Marian hugged her knees, her face darkening at that memory.
“You’ve been a fool. Taking all those blows to protect me… Guy, you should stop doing that...”
“I can’t,” he said. Because I love you, he added in his mind, but he didn’t say it aloud. Instead, he grinned ironically. “I’m a knight, remember? It’s my duty to save damsels in distress. I can’t help it.”
Marian playfully punched his arm.
“Fool. And I’m not a helpless damsel, I’m the Nightwatchman, remember?” She turned her head to look at Guy, suddenly serious. “Guy, can you make a promise to me?”
“I have the impression that a promise to you could be more dangerous than any angry mob,” he answered, the corner of his lips still lifted in a grin.
The girl snorted, unsure if she felt angered or amused.
“Don’t be silly! I just want you to promise that if we will ever be in danger again, you’ll let me help you to defend ourselves instead of just protecting me like a frail little girl.”
“If I don’t promise, will you punch me?”
“I have no choice, then,” Guy said, with a laugh in his voice.
He should have been terrified to go back to Locksley, and surely that fear would come back at night, turning his dreams into nightmares, but just being there with the girl made him feel light-hearted, almost happy.
Once my love for her made me feel anxious, afraid of losing her. I wanted her, I needed to feel she was mine and the uncertainty of her love tore my soul to pieces... It’s different now. I know that she doesn’t love me, but it doesn’t matter. What I feel is enough to fill my heart and I will never doubt of it.
He stood up, pulling Marian to her feet, then he knelt in front of her, taking her hands.
“My lady, this knight swears obedience to you.”
The girl laughed, then she made him get up, and she hugged him, leaning her head on his chest.
“I’m so glad that you are well, Guy. I’ve been so worried for you...”
Guy knew that she was talking of the previous days as well, since he had run away from the forest and once again he felt guilty for that.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t in my right mind… I’m not sure if I’ll ever be again, actually.”
Marian lifted her head to look at him, and she felt the urge to kiss him once again, but she didn’t move, scared by that desire, so strong and overwhelming.
She thought that it was wrong, that she shouldn’t want to kiss a man whom she didn’t love, that she should wait for Robin to be well again. Marian buried her face against Guy’s chest again, red with shame. She should be at Robin’s side, worry for him as she used to do in the days just after the siege, when she wandered at the edges of the camp, like a ghost. She should cry because Robin wasn’t getting better, not smiling because of Guy’s words, she should feel lonely and shattered, mourning for a still alive man…
But she couldn’t.
When she was with Guy, when she kissed him, she felt alive, she had the impression that there could be hope and she wasn’t so frightened anymore. It was a sensation she hadn’t felt for a long time, since she was a child and her mother’s embrace could wipe away any fear or sadness.
In his arms she felt safe, at home.
“Marian?” Guy called her name, a little worried for her prolonged silence, and she tightened her hold on him, tilting her head a little to search his gaze. His eyes were bluer than the sky, and she had the impression that they could look deep into her soul. She wanted to avert her gaze, suddenly scared to reveal her vulnerability to him, and equally scared to see his own, but she couldn’t stop looking at him, spellbound.
I’m like a moth flying into a flame…
Still looking at him, she closed the distance between their lips, losing herself into a kiss, and only then she was finally able to close her eyes.

A flutter of wings startled them, and Guy shivered seeing the falcon that had just perched on the parapet of the tower.
“What’s up?” Marian asked, seeing that Guy had paled.
“It looks like the sheriff’s falcon. For a moment I thought that he was here too...”
“He’s dead. He can’t hurt us anymore.” Marian said, resolute.
The bird flew away, and Guy let Marian go to reach the parapet and look down.
“Once he killed a man, a scribe, pushing him down from here. I was right there, watching, and I did nothing.”
Marian looked down too and she shuddered.
“He is dead.” She repeated. “We are free from his cruelty now.”
Guy nodded, trying to keep calm.
“Marian? Will you come to Locksley with me tomorrow?” He asked, with a pleading look. “I’m afraid.”
She gave him a surprised glance.
“I’m sure that the sheriff will take the guards with him, you won’t be in danger, I’m sure.”
“No, I’m not afraid that they could hurt me, I’m afraid of myself. When I think of those people, I feel a deep rage, I crave for revenge and I’m scared to go back to my old self, to the Guy of Gisborne who has been trained by the sheriff to have no mercy… But when I am with you, I’m a better man, I find easier to do the right thing.”
Marian didn’t say that she too felt a strong contempt for the people of Locksley, and she just nodded.
“I will come.”

Guy turned in his bed, hitting the pillow with his hand, as if he was punching an enemy, then he rolled on his back and he opened his eyes with a muffled cry, his hands tightened on the blanket and his heart beating too fast.
“A dream...” He whispered, “Just a nightmare...”
He sat up in the bed, taking deep breaths to calm down, and he just stood still for a while, listening to the silence of the night. His room was dark, only lit by the moonlight entering from the open window. The air was cool, almost cold, but Guy’s nightshirt was damp with sweat, so he took it off and he got up to walk to the basin and wash up.
The water was cold too, but he didn’t care, he just wanted to wash away the nightmare that had woken him up.
In that dream, he was in the castle, and the people of Locksley were gathered in the courtyard, with their hands tied and trembling with fear. Some of them were crying, all of them were terrified. Then Guy walked out of the castle doors, and he sat on the throne of the sheriff, looking at all those white faces. He had already seen them, their features twisted in a mad rage and ready to throw stones at Marian and him, just like they were now twisted in terror.
He was the strong one now, the one who could decide on life and death.
He chose death.
“Hang them,” he said, “hang them all.”
And the executioner obeyed, hanging them, one by one, and then piling their bodies in a corner of the courtyard.
Guy watched, regretting his orders after the first death, but it was too late to stop the hangman, now, or he would have to take the next place on the gallows.
It’s justice, they deserve it. I hate them, I don’t care…
At last there was nobody left alive and the people of Locksley, men, women and children, lay dead, filling the courtyard with their bodies, already beginning to decay.
Guy couldn’t stand the sight or the stench, and he ran back to his lodgings, but when he entered his rooms he saw his own reflection in a mirror: he had Vaisey’s face.
He had awoken horrified, feeling queasy and guilty, and it took a while to realize that he hadn’t killed those people, that he hadn’t become like Vaisey yet.
He lit a candle, holding it near the mirror to look at his reflection: he still had a light bruise on his forehead where a stone had hit him, but he didn’t care, he was just glad to see his face, even so pale and upset, and not the face of a ruthless murderer.
Gisborne felt tired and weak, and he knew that he should go back to sleep because he would have to look strong the next day, when they would go to Locksley, but he was too afraid to face his dreams again, so he began getting dressed.

Guy was on the top of the tower again, thinking of Marian’s warmth, of the sweetness of her kisses.
He looked at the horizon, at the sky that was becoming pink because of the first light of dawn. The sky was still clear, with no trace of clouds, and Guy hoped that the rising sun would wipe away all his fears.
Or at least a part of them, he thought, more realistically.
The cool breeze made him shiver, but he didn’t dislike it, it made him feel cleaner, blowing away the last remnants of his horrible nightmare.
He was alone on the tower, the castle still sleeping, except for the guards who were on the battlements, keeping watch and protecting the castle and its inhabitants. Guy was afraid to think of the day that was awaiting him, afraid to imagine what could happen at Locksley, but for now he enjoyed that little moment of peace.
A flutter of wings made him turn his head, and he saw the falcon again: the bird had perched on the parapet, not too far from Guy, and it was looking at him. Gisborne noticed that the falcon had a string of leather tied to its leg, a piece of broken jesses and that it didn’t look to be afraid of him.
“So you’re actually the sheriff’s falcon...” He said in a low tone, lifting a hand in front of the bird, as he had seen Vaisey doing countless times.
The falcon jumped on his wrist, his talons closing on the leather of Guy’s glove and its wings fluttered a couple of times before staying still.
Guy thought that the bird looked almost glad of having been caught, and he felt some pity for it, despite it being Vaisey’s favourite.
“Poor thing, you were lost too...” He said, then he carefully walked back inside the castle to entrust the bird to the care of the castle’s falconers.

Chapter Text

The people of Locksley panicked when the soldiers entered the village at a gallop, ordering them to gather in front of the ruins of the manor.
They remembered the times when Gisborne’s guards did the same thing to collect some extra tax or to punish one of them, and it never ended well for them.
Their fear grew when they saw the three persons who entered the village, riding just after the soldiers: Sir Guy of Gisborne, Lady Marian and a stranger.
All three of them were riding good horses and wearing rich clothes. Gisborne was still dressed in leather, but his jerkin looked more elaborate than his usual one, the leather decorated with carvings and buckles, dark, but not completely black. It was evident that he wasn’t helpless anymore and the villagers feared his revenge.
The stranger, the one who was wearing richer clothes, waited for the soldiers to stop after they had encircled the villagers, then he talked to them without dismounting.
“People of Locksley!” He said in a loud voice. “I am Sir Roland of Ashworth, the new sheriff of Nottingham.” He waited for a moment to give them the time to acknowledge the news, then he continued. “I speak here in name of King Richard. This village will be given back to its rightful owner: Sir Robin of Locksley, Earl of Huntingdon.”
The villagers all began to talk at the same time: was Robin Hood alive? Was he coming back? Why Lady Marian and Gisborne were there, then? Was the sheriff an enemy or a friend? Were the soldiers going to hang Gisborne as he deserved? Or was Gisborne going to punish the people of Locksley for what they did to him?
The sheriff let them talk for a while, then he silenced them with just a gesture of his hand.
“The able men will have to work to rebuild Locksley Manor and make it habitable as soon as possible. Until Robin of Locksley will be able to take his place as your rightful lord, Sir Guy of Gisborne will manage the village for him, and I expect you all to obey him, as if he were Sir Robin himself. Anyone who dares to disrespect or disobey Sir Guy’s orders will be liable of being punished.”
The sheriff moved his horse back and stopped at Marian’s side, leaving Guy in front of the people.
It was the moment that Guy feared most. Would they accept the sheriff’s orders, or would they rebel? It could end up in blood and death, and Guy wasn’t sure he could bear it, so it was up to him to make things work.
The villagers were deadly silent, waiting for his move, and Guy knew that he shouldn’t show himself weak. It was his chance to take revenge on them, he had all the rights to ask justice for being almost killed.
He remembered his nightmare, the corpses piled in the castle courtyard, and he shuddered, but he tried his best to hide his horror at that memory.
“People of Locksley!” He said in a loud voice, then he paused for a long time.
The people waited, terrified, looking at the soldiers and knowing that a single word from Gisborne could mean the death for all of them.
Finally, when Guy saw that they were all pale and scared, trembling in fear, he continued.
“Winter is nearer than you can imagine and the village won’t survive if we don’t get ready in time. Tomorrow all the able men and women will have to come at the manor to get their assignment and I expect everyone to do their part. We will have to store supplies for the winter and to fix the houses and make them warm. The manor will have to be rebuilt, but for now we’ll just work on the still standing rooms so that Robin of Locksley and I can pass the winter there.”
The villagers stared at him, wondering if he was going to say anything else, but Gisborne just dismounted and entered the manor. The sheriff and lady Marian followed him inside, while the soldier stood at their places, keeping watch.
The people of Locksley were disconcerted, not sure of what was going to happen in the next days.
Gisborne was back, and instead of killing them all to get his revenge, he had just given them instructions for their future tasks, hinting that Robin Hood would come back to Locksley soon and that he was going to live with Gisborne in the ruins of the manor. They didn’t understand what was going on. Was Gisborne an enemy? But the new sheriff seemed to hold him in his esteem and to trust him. Was this sheriff an enemy too? But even if he was, they couldn’t disobey him without being punished, so they had to accept Gisborne and follow his orders. They hated him and they all wished to see him dead, but they could just hope that the knight would be merciful.

Marian smiled at Guy, after she had closed the door behind her back.
“I’m glad that you didn’t take your revenge on them,” she whispered to him, while the sheriff looked around, looking at the ruins of the manor.
“They would have deserved a punishment, but I’ll give them a second chance. Sir Roland gave me more than I actually deserved, it seemed right to do the same. And I guess that I’ll need their help if I want Locksley to be profitable. Matilda says that the winter will be difficult for everyone.”
“I’m still proud of you,” she said, standing on tiptoes to place a kiss on his cheek. “And I loved that long pause. They were all terrified… They deserved a good scare,” she concluded with a giggle, making him smile too.
Before Guy could say anything to her, the sheriff came back in the main room.
“Only two rooms are habitable,” Sir Roland said, his tone lightly apologetic, “I’m afraid that living here won’t be very comfortable, Sir Guy, but I need you to be here at Locksley to keep order in the village and make those people work. The county will need the efforts of everyone.”
Guy shrugged, looking around.
“I’ve slept in worse places. I think that I can manage to make these rooms comfortable enough to spend the winter here.”
The sheriff nodded.
“I’ll leave some of the guards here, they are used to sleep in a tent. They will protect you in case of troubles, but I hope there won’t be the need for it. I’ll give you a few days to organize the management of the village, but I expect you to report at the castle within a week.”
“I will, my lord.”
If I survive.
The sheriff looked at Marian.
“My lady, we should go back to the castle. You can’t live in your lands for now, but I’m giving orders to have your manor rebuilt.”
The girl didn’t like much the idea of being trapped in the castle again, she was afraid that the sheriff wouldn’t allow her to leave whenever she wanted, but like Guy she had to obey too. She told herself that Sir Roland was an ally of King Richard, that he had to be a good sheriff and that he would do her best interests.
“Yes, my lord,” she said, meekly, then she looked at Guy. “Be strong, I’ll come to visit you soon.”
She followed the sheriff out of the building and Guy, left alone, was tempted to run to the door and bar it.
He was scared to think that now he was again in the village where people had tried to stone him to death, and even knowing that the guards were there to protect him didn’t help much. But he had no choice but to make it work. He had to gain the trust of Locksley’s people and work with them to please the sheriff.
A sudden knock of the door startled him, and he hesitated before opening. He was relieved to find out that it was Thornton.
The old man came in carrying a big basket, and he smiled at Guy.
“I’m glad to see that you are all right, my lord.”
“Thank you.”
“I’m the one who must thank you. I still hadn’t the chance to tell you how grateful I am for what you did for Hannah, my daughter.”
Guy thought of the girl who had been suffering so much to give birth and who had found some relief because of him. It all seemed so far in time, but it had happened no more than a fortnight ago.
“Oh, right. Is she fine?”
“Both Hannah and the baby are in perfect health, and we owe it to you.”
Well, at least two people of the village, three counting the baby, don’t hate me, it’s a start.
“I’m glad to hear that.”
He looked around: the manor looked emptier than it had been when he had found Allan. All the items and the supplies that Marian had stored there had disappeared. Thornton noticed his look and he hurried to explain.
“A few days ago two members of Robin’s gang came here to take everything away. Matilda was with them, and she said that lady Marian gave them her permission. When I heard that you were going to live here, I thought that you would need food and warm blankets, so I took the liberty to bring you a few things.”
He nodded at the basket.
“It was thoughtful of you, I’m grateful. Thornton? Would you accept to get your old job back? I’ll need a trusted person to manage the manor and probably I’ll need help with Robin when he will come to live here too..”
“So is it true? Robin is coming back? Is he really alive?”
“He’s alive, but he’s not well. I’ll manage the manor until he gets better. I hope I can do a better work of it this time.”
“Sir Guy, you look tired too. Please sit near the fireplace and eat something, I’ll start a fire and I’ll arrange a comfortable cot for you to sleep. Tomorrow I’ll see to have a real bed delivered here.”
“Two. Matilda wants Robin to come here as soon as the house is comfortable and warm enough. She says that he shouldn’t be at the camp when the cold comes.”
The old steward looked around.
“The fireplace is bigger here, but the other room is less drafty. It’s quieter too, maybe Sir Robin will be more comfortable there.”
Guy thought that the other room also had a smaller window and a strong door that could be locked, to avoid that Robin could wander away and hurt himself in one of his bad moments. The main hall could be improved too, using some boards to temporarily close the doors and the stairs that led to the destroyed parts of the house. They could use a thick curtain to divide the big room in two parts, so that Guy could have some privacy to wash up and sleep. It would be warmer too.
He explained his ideas to Thornton and the old man agreed, adding a few suggestion to optimize the use of the two rooms and make that ruined house as comfortable as possible until it was fully repaired.
While they talked, the steward wasn’t idle: he took a bundle with some bread and cheese and a flask of ale from the basket and he gave them to Guy, then he lit the fire and placed some sacks filled with hay in the warmest corner of the room, covering them with clean sheets and thick blankets.
“I’m sorry, Sir Guy, if I had known that you were going to live here, I’d have made it more comfortable before you arrived.”
“You’ll find out that I’m less demanding now than I was once. It will do nicely for now.”
Someone knocked, and Thornton hurried to the door, opening it to let two of the sheriff’s guards come in. The two men were carrying a trunk, and one of them looked at Gisborne.
“Your belongings, my lord. The sheriff ordered to have them delivered here. Where should we place this?”
Guy nodded at a corner near the bed, wondering what was inside the trunk. He didn’t have many things, surely not enough to fill such a big trunk.
He waited for the soldiers to go away before opening it, and he saw that the sheriff had provided him with new clothes and all the personal items he could need. Guy was glad to see that in a corner of the trunk there were his old clothes too, carefully cleaned and mended.
“Sir Guy, do you want me to empty the trunk and organize your things?” Thornton asked, respectfully.
“Not now. You were right, I am tired.”
Guy took a blanket, wrapped it around his shoulders and sat on the floor, in front of the fireplace, with a sigh.
“Do you want me to go away so you can rest, my lord?”
“No, I couldn’t sleep now. Sit,” he said, then he realized that it sounded like an order. “Please.”
“As you wish, my lord.” Thornton obeyed, a little awkwardly, lowering himself to the floor.
Guy took a piece of cheese and for a while he ate in silence, then he glanced at the steward.
“Thornton? Do you ever dream about the slaughter?”
The older man looked at him, surprised by his question.
“We all do. How couldn’t we? Every man, every woman who is still alive has lost someone during the attack. I’ve been lucky because Hannah survived, but my daughter became a widow.”
“What happened here at Locksley?”
Thornton sighed.
“The same that happened everywhere in the county: the soldiers came, and they killed everyone they could get, they looted and destroyed everything until the whole village was burnt to ashes.”
“How did you survive?”
“We ran to the forest. The soldiers didn’t dare to enter its depths. We hid, but we could see the flames through the trees, we could hear the screams of the one who weren’t fast enough. I think I’ll never forget that night.”
“How can you sleep?” Guy asked. “How can you go on living your lives?”
The old servant looked at him, thinking that the knight was very different than he remembered.
Now he could see the man Gisborne, not just the cruel henchman of the sheriff. Working for him, he had already seen a different side of him, but now Sir Guy wasn’t trying anymore to hide his humanity or his weaknesses.
“Our lives are the only things we still have, we can’t afford to spend them in fear. We survived and we can thank God for it, but we can’t keep thinking about that moment. We have to go on, and we try to do it as best as we can. Some days are easier, other harder, but we keep on living. Even if we often have nightmares at night or if we fear every shadow during the day.”
Guy nodded.
Thornton’s words couldn’t dispel his fears and they couldn't prevent his nightmare or his moments of terror, but they still helped because now Guy realized that he wasn’t alone in his weakness, that he wasn’t the only one suffering for it.
Everyone was scarred for life, each one in a different way, but they all went on living, and he would learn to do it too.

Chapter Text

The sound of men at work, hammering something in the manor, woke up Guy. The knight rolled on his side and he looked at the morning light filtering from the curtains. For once he had slept soundly, without nightmares.
He pushed the blanket aside and he got ready for another day, thanking mentally Thornton who had taken care to leave a tray with breakfast on the table. He was hungry.
When the sheriff had left him in Locksley, Guy had feared that he wouldn’t be able to manage the village, that people wouldn’t obey or respect him, but now, after a week, he was beginning to think that it could work. In the beginning, the villagers seemed to be scared of him, afraid that he could take a revenge on them, and they did what Guy ordered them, even if warily, as if they feared a trap.
But no trap came, and they were surprised that the evil Guy of Gisborne could choose to leave them unpunished after they had tried to kill him. But he gave them sensible orders, and the things he told them to do could really improve their chances of surviving winter: they collected food and firewood and they stored them, repaired the houses to shelter their families from cold, hunted little prey in the forest and collected edible plants, fruits and berries.
In turns, the able men worked on the manor to rebuild it. At first they were afraid of getting too close to the place where Gisborne lived and there were endless discussions to decide who would go to work there, but after a week with no accidents or problems, the men were beginning to volunteer because the ones who worked on the manor got a good pay and a free meal cooked by Thornton.

Guy had almost finished his breakfast, when Thornton knocked discreetly at the door before entering the main hall.
“Good morning my lord. Sorry to disturb you so early, but the healer, Matilda, would like to see you.”
Guy smiled at him, pushing the empty dish aside and standing up.
“She came! Let her in!”
Thornton obeyed, and a moment later the woman entered the room. She looked at him for a short while, then she warmly smiled.
“I’m happy to see you, my boy! How are you? You look better!”
Guy stooped down to let her kiss him on the cheek.
“Actually, I feel better. I thought that living here would be a nightmare, but for now things are not so bad. They hadn’t tried to kill me yet, at least.”
Matilda glanced at the table.
“I see that you are eating, and you’re not so pale anymore.”
Guy nodded.
“There’s a lot to do here, so many things to think about, that I don’t have much time for anything else and at night I’m so tired that I fall asleep immediately. If I have dreams or nightmares, I don’t remember them when I wake up.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I was worried for you, but I see that you are doing well. I still miss your company, you know, but I’m relieved to see that you are fine.”
“Do you really miss me?”
“Of course, silly man, don’t look so surprised. I got used to having you around. I hope that when you won’t be so much busy you’ll find the time to visit us. I still have a lot to teach you… if you are still interested in it, of course. Now you have a village to manage and soon you’ll have your own lands too, you don’t need to become a healer anymore...”
Guy looked at her, a little hurt by her words.
“Do you think that I became your apprentice just because I had no other choice? It was true at the beginning maybe, but I found out that I like to learn how to heal people. After spending most of my life hurting them, to save lives makes me feel good. If you still want me, I’m eager to keep learning.”
Matilda squeezed him in a hug.
“Of course I want you, you big oaf! But now show me what have you done here, what are you working on.”
Guy smiled and he pointed at the changes he had made in the manor to improve it and make the two rooms habitable.
“Thornton is a big help. He could find two real beds in less than two days, very comfortable too. Mine is there, behind that curtain, while Robin’s is in the other room. His is made of strong wood, heavy and sturdy enough if we should need to tie him to it. I hope it won’t be necessary, though. I checked and fixed the other room to make it both safe and cozy, it should be ready for him now, even if I’m not sure if this is going to work...”
Matilda nodded.
“I’m worried too, but Robin can’t spend the winter in the forest, it will be better for everyone if he will accept to live here. I will stay in Locksley too, at least until he will be settled. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you alone in this, we’ll organize everything to make it work. Show me the room, maybe I can give you some other suggestion and if it’s ready, I’ll take him here soon.”
Guy nodded, even if he feared the moment when Hood would be under his responsibility.
Matilda checked the room and she was satisfied, telling Guy to make just a few minor changes.
“How are the others?” Guy asked.
“They are getting used to their new status. They had been outlaws for years and now they own their own lands. It seems strange to them. They are living at the camp for now, while they are deciding what to do with their new estates. Little Alice is learning to walk now, Rosa is very busy running after her to keep her safe.”
“Is Rosa’s husband still at war? Do you have any news from him?”
Matilda sighed.
“How could we get news? He’s just a common soldier, how could he send a message to his wife, even if he were able to write?”
“Maybe you should accept the reward of the sheriff, for them at least. Rosa’s husband could never come back. War is dangerous, soldiers get killed, and even if they survive they could come home sick or crippled...”
Matilda noticed the sadness in his eyes and she knew that Guy was talking of somebody very close to him. But his words were sensible, she had to admit.
“I value my freedom too much to accept a gift from the sheriff. An important present comes with obligations, he’d expect my blind loyalty to him at least, and I’m not one to follow rules and duties. But maybe you are right. Rosa is not like me, she doesn’t have the gift of being a healer. She learned something about the herbs and how to care for a wounded man and she helps me, but she doesn’t like it. When she got married, she dreamed of having a nice house, a family...”
“She could have it. The sheriff can give her a house and the means to raise Alice. Here or in Nottingham, or in any of the villages. He needs the help of everyone to rebuild the county.”
Matilda looked at him.
“Do you trust this new sheriff?”
“For now he seems to be good enough, but I think I will never trust again anyone as blindly as I did with Vaisey.”
The healer nodded.
“Good idea. Trust your heart, usually it offers the best advice.”
Guy thought of Marian and he wasn’t so sure that he could trust the sensibility of his heart when the girl was around, but he said nothing, choosing to change subject, instead.
“Matilda? Thornton told me that you refused to treat the people of Locksley...”
“You can bet! I don’t help those who hurts the people I love! Those idiots almost killed you and Marian, they don’t deserve my remedies.”
Guy was moved by her vehemence and for a moment he was afraid he couldn’t hold back grateful tears, but he succeeded in hiding his commotion by looking out of the window for a moment. Once he could hide his feelings better, trapping them behind a wall of ice, but it was more difficult now.
When he felt in control of his emotions again, he turned back to her.
“Would you change your mind? Thornton says that a few of them are really sick and that the quacks they had called couldn’t heal them.”
“Do you want me to help the people who almost killed you?!”
“I’d want to hang them all, if I think of that,” Guy blurted, “but obviously I can’t. For the good of the village, it would be better to have all its inhabitants in good health. And after all, you took care of me, even if I hurt so many people, how could I deny them a second chance?”
“You have changed, Guy of Gisborne!” The woman exclaimed. “Very well, I’ll treat those people, but I have a condition: I’ll need the assistance of my apprentice! Come on, what are you waiting for? Take my bag and follow me.”

The people who were working outside stopped whatever they were doing to look at Matilda and Guy. The knight was walking at the side of the healer and he was carrying her bag. He looked nervous, while the woman had a decided expression on her face.
The villagers stared at them, surprised and worried, wondering if their lord had evil intentions or if he really wanted to help the healer.
When they passed in front of Thornton’s house, Hannah walked out of the door, holding her baby, and she waved at them.
“Good morning! It’s good to see you at the village again, Matilda, people missed your cares. Sir Guy, do you want to see the baby? He’s alive because of you.”
The girl came closer to show them her son and both Guy and Matilda looked at him, smiling.
“He seems to be in perfect health,” Matilda said, “Have you already chosen a name for him?”
“William, like his father. He’ll never know him, but I wanted my son to have something of my husband.” Hannah’s smile was sad as she answered, and Guy nodded.
“It’s a good choice.”
The girl glanced at Gisborne, shyly.
“Sir Guy… I’m so sorry for what they did to you...”
“It’s not your fault.” Guy said quickly, wishing to change subject.
“You were here to help me, I feel responsible...”
“Nonsense, girl.” Matilda interrupted her. “Nothing could excuse their actions. They tried to kill two innocent persons without even be sure of the reasons. They were ready to kill just because of gossip and personal hatred. If it were for me, I wouldn’t treat the people of Locksley for all the gold in the county, but Guy asked me to give them a second chance. Be sure to tell it to those gossips: if they will get better thanks to my remedies, they’ll owe that to the man they had tried to kill.”

Marian tied her horse to a bush, and she opened the secret door of the camp. She knew that Guy wasn’t there, of course, but she felt disappointed to see his empty bed, the black and yellow shield hanging from the trunk of a tree just over it.
“Marian? Is that you?” Allan asked, recognizing the sound of her steps.
The girl reached him near the fire.
“Did you write any new song?” She asked, not really interested in his music, but wishing to be kind.
“Yes, a ballad about my new lands,” he said, and Marian thought to hear some bitterness in his voice.
“Aren’t you happy about it? You always wanted to become rich, that’s why you went to work with Guy, isn’t it?”
“Yes… Now I don’t have to fear about ending as a blind beggar in the streets, I can have servants to help me with everything...”
“But the sheriff gave me Bonchurch, it’s the place that Much always wanted. He was always talking about it, of the beautiful life he would live there when he’d finally get it…”
“But he died before he could have it… And Knighton Hall will be rebuilt and my father will never see it again...”
They were silent for a while, thinking of the ones who didn’t survive the siege.
“Well,” Allan said after a while, “we are alive, but we risked dying too. I suppose we should value what we have, enjoy our life as long as we have it, make the best of it.”
Marian nodded, but she wasn’t sure she would be able to follow Allan’s advice. She felt vulnerable and lonely and she wasn’t sure of what she really wanted. Once she used to dream of marrying Robin, of being the mother of his children, but now she was just confused.
The man she loved wasn’t the same anymore, he was lost in his own mind, rejecting everyone and everything, Marian included, and then there were those new feelings she had for Guy, their friendship, but also the attraction she felt for him. More than once she had been about to give herself to him, searching some relief for her anguish, but she wasn’t sure of what she really wanted.
She had prayed for Robin in the first days after the siege, hoping that he would get back to her, that they both could have their lives and their love back, but now she felt that even if those prayers were granted, she couldn’t be completely happy.
The kisses with Guy, all the passion that she had found running between the two of them, were a betrayal of her love for Robin, even if he should get perfectly well by a miracle, she couldn’t go back to him with a clear conscience. And how she could turn her back on Guy and leave him alone in his nightmares and his fears?
What do I feel for him?
“Have you seen Giz recently?” Allan asked, startling her, and for once she was glad that he couldn’t see her blushing.
“Not since he went to live in Locksley. The sheriff kept me busy at the castle, he had a lot of questions about Vaisey and he wanted to know what my father used to do when he was sheriff.”
“I guess he has been busy too. He’s brave to go back there after all they did to him…”
“Do you miss him here at the camp?”
Allan nodded.
“He was always complaining about my music, but he took his time to talk with me. Now I’m often alone, the others are always busy with helping the villagers, hunting or taking care of Robin. Matilda and Djaq give me something to do, little jobs to make some use of my time, or I think of new songs, but it’s less funny when there is nobody around to listen them...” Allan paused for a moment, then he grinned. “Hey, why don’t we go to Locksley to see what Giz is up to? If you have a horse I could ride behind you.”
“I’m not sure if it’s a good idea...” Marian hesitated.
“Come on, it will be fun! And we could bring him that useless shield, I’m sure that he’ll be glad to hang it over the fireplace again!”

Matilda watched as Guy mixed in a cup some of the herbs he took from Matilda’s bag and poured boiling water on them, stirring the infusion until the water became dark. The patient, an elderly peasant, looked at him warily, equally afraid of displeasing Gisborne with a refusal and of drinking his remedy.
Matilda waited until Guy had filtered the infusion, then she took the cup and tasted a sip of it, nodding her approval.
“You did well, this is just like mine,” she said to Guy, then she offered the cup to the old man, “Drink, this will ease the pain in your back, but you must also rest and avoiding lifting weights for a while. And even when you feel better, you should be careful, you’re not young anymore.”
Them man hesitated, but he didn’t dare to disobey the healer and he drank the remedy, looking at Guy in fear, afraid that it could be poisoned.
Matilda rolled her eyes, and she was about to reproach the man, when another villager entered into the house running, covered in blood and with a crying child in his arms.
“Help! Please help!”
Matilda hurried to clear the table so that the man could lay the child down. She gave a quick glance at Guy, noticing the terrified look in his eyes, and she hoped that he wouldn’t give up to panic.
“What happened?!” She asked, beginning to examine the wounds of the child. The kid, about nine or ten years old, howled in pain and in fear.
The man who had brought him there was terrified too.
“Mark, my son, and his friend took the miller’s wagon while nobody was watching. They just wanted to have some fun, but the horse got spooked and they lose control of the wagon! It overturned, and Mark fell out of it.”
“What about the other kid?” Matilda asked, while she pressed a cloth on the boy’s forehead to staunch the blood. “Is he wounded too?”
“I think so, but he’s trapped under the wagon and nobody dares to get near that horse! That beast is kicking and biting, as if he was possessed by the devil himself! But what about my boy? Can you save him?”
“I hope so. He surely has a broken leg and a few cracked ribs. The cut on his head is not dangerous, but I must stitch it immediately. Guy!”
She turned to look at the knight, sorry to see his deep distress at the sight of the blood, but she called him again, in a harsher tone.
“Guy of Gisborne! Snap out of it immediately! You can panic or be sick later, but I need your help now. Go outside and take care of the other kid, free him from under the wagon and see if you can help him, at least until I can reach you. I know that you are good with horses and that you can do it. Go!”
The knight looked frightened, but he weakly nodded and he obeyed, running out of the house.

Chapter Text

Guy ran outside, his heart pounding too fast. The memories of the slaughter came back to his mind, even too vivid and detailed, and he just wanted to take refuge in the manor and hide there from everyone and everything, but he couldn’t.
A kid was wounded and in danger, and Matilda thought that he could help. Guy wasn’t sure of it, but he knew that he would bitterly regret if he didn’t try at least.
He immediately saw the overturned wagon and the people crowded around it, crying and screaming.
They were of no help at all, too afraid to get near the frightened horse, worsening his panic with their screams. The animal was still tied to the wagon and he couldn’t get free, and he was mad with terror. Guy could see the little boy on the ground, trapped under the wagon, his head too close to the horse’s hooves.
He was awake and, incredibly, he was the only one who wasn’t panicking, Guy could see the fear in his eyes, but the kid was trying to keep calm.
Meeting his gaze, Guy realized that he should keep calm too and do his best to save him. He could break down later, but now he had to do something.
“Shut up everyone!” He shouted, and the peasants backed out in fear, uncertain if they should be more afraid of Gisborne or of the horse. They parted to let him pass, relieved that someone else was doing something for the boy. It things went badly, they could always blame Gisborne for that.
Only the kid’s parents didn’t move. The mother was struggling to go to her boy, but her husband was holding her in his arms, to avoid that she could get crushed by the horse’s hooves. They both looked at Guy and the knight recognized them as two of the ones who had thrown stones at him. He saw the hopeless gaze in their eyes, a moment before they lowered them.
Those people knew that he had all the reason to ignore the whole situation, that they had no right to ask him for help. Guy looked at the horse, out of his mind and dangerous and for a moment he thought of Robin, trapped in his sorrow, just like that horse.
Guy unsheathed his sword and made a step forward, wondering if he would have to kill that poor beast, to put an end to his terror and save the kid. The horse reared, almost hitting him with his hooves, but Guy quickly avoided the danger stepping aside, then he saw an opening and he lunged forward, slashing the leather harness with his blade.
Suddenly free, the horse darted away, and Guy turned to the villagers.
“Come here and lift the wagon!” He ordered, then seeing that only the boy’s father had dared to move, he pointed directly at some of the men. “You, you and you, here, now!”
After a moment of hesitation, they obeyed and they helped Guy to lift the vehicle and free the wounded kid.
As soon as he was free, the mother ran to take him in her arms, but Guy stopped her.
“It’s my son! You won’t keep me away from my son!”
The woman tried to scratch him to reach the boy, but Guy grabbed her wrists, firmly.
“He’s wounded, if you move him, you could worsen his conditions. Go to him, but be careful.”
He let her go, and the woman crouched near her child, weeping. She gently took his hand, whispering endearments to the little boy. Guy knelt on the other side, and he looked at the kid, trying to understand how badly hurt he was.
The little boy was whimpering in pain, and Guy saw that his tunic was soaked in blood. The boy’s mother was pale and trembling, unable to do anything but whispering incoherent words from all the prayers she knew.
The knight took a deep breath and he reached for his curved dagger. The people of Locksley shuddered in seeing the blade, but Gisborne only used it to cut the tunic open without hurting the boy.
There was a large, bleeding cut on a side of the kid, and Guy pressed a wad made with the ripped tunic on the wound, trying to wipe the blood away and see how serious it was.
It wasn’t very deep, but it needed to be stitched to stop the bleeding. Guy tried to remember how Matilda used to treat wounds like that, every step she did to clean them with her ointments and how she closed them with neat stitches.
In the early days of his stay in the forest, when he was still too ill to leave the camp, he had asked her how she had been able to save his life even if he was so badly wounded and she had explained him in detail the right way of treating wounds and cuts, using an old piece of leather to show him how to do stitches correctly.
Guy remembered it all very well, but he didn’t know if he could do it. He was afraid of damaging the child, of killing him, and he was aware that if the worst happened, the people wouldn’t forgive him. It would be the end.
He was spared from trying because Matilda arrived and pushed him aside, taking the lead of the situation. She carefully checked the boy, then she ordered his father to take him inside one of the houses, where she could treat him. The mother had the task of pressing the wad on the wound to stop the bleeding until Matilda could begin working on the cut.
Before following them, the healer stopped to look at Guy for a moment, pale and upset, covered in dust and blood. She pulled him in a hug, giving him a loud kiss on his cheek.
“I knew I could trust you! Good job, my boy!” She said, then she hurried inside the house to treat her little patient.

Guy followed her with his gaze, relieved to know that now she would treat the kid and that he didn’t have to try stitching that wound. He looked at his hands, covered in blood, and he shuddered, jumping when someone touched his shoulder.
He was still kneeling to the ground, and he looked up to see Thornton, standing at his side with a wet towel in his hands. The man didn’t say anything, and he just knelt in front of Guy, beginning to gently clean the blood away from his hands.
“You saved that boy, my lord. I saw everything, if you hadn’t set that horse free, the kid would have bled to death or he would have been killed by the hooves.” Thornton spoke as he worked, and when he had removed every trace of blood, he took another towel from the basket he had carried with him, and he gave it to Guy so he could clean his face. “Do you want me to prepare a bath for you at the manor, Sir Guy?”
Gisborne looked at him. He still felt stunned, but he was calmer than he had thought possible. He shook his head.
“Not now Thornton, thank you. There is still something I should do.”
Guy stood up and he helped the older man to his feet, then he walked away from the village, to the edges of the forest.
He walked for a while, looking at the traces on the ground, then he saw the runaway horse, still scared and high strung, pacing among the trees, too close to the cliff. The horse saw him, and was about to run, moving closer to the edge, but Guy didn’t stir.
Slowly, he sat on the ground, whispering soothing words to the animal. The horse kept watching him, warily, but Guy didn’t seem a menace to him, and the horse calmed a little. Then the knight stretched on the grass, closing his eyes, and the horse came closer, curious to see what that strange man was doing.
Gisborne relaxed too, taking in the silence of the forest. There had been blood on his hands, and this was enough to make him remember of the slaughter, but for once the memories of the siege were softened by the knowledge that he had done something good. He didn’t know if the kid would survive his wounds, but he had done everything possible to save him.
It felt good. For once he was at peace.
Is this why Hood gave up everything to help people? To feel like this?
Guy opened his eyes, looking at the leaves of the trees.
If so, then how could Robin feel, knowing that he had caused the death of thousands of innocent people? No wonder that he had lost his mind.
The horse came closer and snorted, taking Guy away from those thoughts. He carefully sat up, holding a hand to the horse, and the animal let him scratch his muzzle.
After a while, Guy tried to mount him, and the horse let him. So, slowly because he was riding bareback, the knight led the horse back to the village, and he gave him to his owner.
The man was astonished, but somehow he managed to thank Gisborne before taking the animal back to the stable.

Thornton was waiting at the door of the manor and was relieved to see that his master was coming back. Gisborne looked tired and a little upset, but he was also more confident, more pleased with himself than he had seen him since a long while.
“Where have you been, my lord?”
Guy glanced at him, wondering why Thornton wanted to know, but the old man seemed to be just curious, without malice.
“I went to retrieve that horse. He went up the hill, very close to the cliff and I didn’t want him to fall down. It wasn’t his fault if he was scared.”
Thornton nodded respectfully.
“It was kind of you, Sir Guy, the miller needs that horse to work. I rekindled the fire in the hall, do you want to rest in front of the fireplace for a while?”
Guy shook his head.
They both saw Matilda hurrying in the direction of the manor, and they stopped talking, waiting for her to reach them. The woman stopped in front of Guy, and she took his hands, looking at him.
“Are you alright? I didn’t want to leave you alone, but I had to treat that boy...”
“I’m fine, Matilda, really.”
“The blood… You told me that you couldn’t stand its sight...”
Remembering the red stains on his hands, Guy felt queasy for a moment, but the sensation passed almost immediately.
“That’s what I thought. No more than a fortnight ago I cut myself while shaving and I have been sick just for seeing a drop of blood. But this time it was different. I was afraid, but it wasn’t an overwhelming terror. I could do something to stop that blood, I wasn’t completely helpless like I have been during the slaughter at the castle...”
The woman smiled.
“I told you, you are strong. And you are getting better day after day.”
“Will the kids be all right?” Thornton asked.
“They both have broken bones, cuts and bruises, but they should heal completely in a couple of months. The can consider themselves lucky, they could have died, and at least one of them would have, if it wasn’t for you.” She turned to give a proud look at Guy and the knight smiled shyly.

When Guy sat at the table of the manor, Matilda was already gone, her skill needed in other villages. Thornton served him a meal, and began to eat, hungry for once. He glanced at the old servant when he carried another tray and placed it on the table.
“Yes, sir Guy?”
“Do you think it will be a cold winter?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“I hope not. The village is not ready, I know. Since I arrived, the situation has improved, but it’s still not enough. People will need shelter and supplies. They should work harder now, but they won’t listen to what I say.”
“Some already do, and maybe more of them will, now.”
Guy chewed a piece of meat. It was tender and it tasted good, and Gisborne thought that Thornton was good at cooking too. When he had managed Locksley for the first, Guy had never thought of appreciating the work of the servants and he just gave orders to them, but now he could see how precious the help of the old man was.
There was nothing regarding the manor that Thornton wasn’t able or ready to do and he had always respected his master, even when Guy was still working for Vaisey.
“Oh, I think lady Marian is coming here, sir Guy,” Thornton said, standing near the window.
Guy pushed the food aside and he stood up checking his clothes to be sure that there weren’t traces of blood and dirt on them. He glanced at the window, eager to see if the girl was really coming, but then he went to sit in front of the fire to avoid showing how anxiously he was waiting for her.
“Sir Guy, are you alright?” Thornton asked. “Maybe you’re sitting too close to the fire, you look flushed.”
“It’s not the fire. I love her.” Guy blurted and he immediately shut up, wondering why he had felt the need to share his feelings with a servant.
Thornton looked at him, hiding his surprise for those words.
“Really, my lord?”
“Not a word to her, Thornton.”
“Of course, sir Guy. What...”
“What am I going to do about it? Nothing. She doesn’t love me, she loves Hood.”
The old servant lifted his eyebrows in surprise.
“I know what you are thinking,” Guy said, in a bitter tone. “You’re afraid that when he comes here I could damage Hood, that I could kill him to get Marian. But I won’t, ease your mind.”
“I never thought that you could, sir Guy.”
Guy looked at the man and he was surprised to see that he was sincere, that somehow he had some trust in him. He thanked him with a nod, but he couldn’t reply because they heard a knock at the door and Thornton went to open it.
Marian came in, holding Allan’s arm to lead him.
Guy smiled, sincerely pleased to see both of them.
“You both came!”
“I knew you had missed me, Giz,” Allan said, smugly.
Guy laughed and he grabbed his arm to take him to a seat.
“I’d never think I would say this, but I actually did! I’m sure I’ll regret my words as soon as you try to sing, but I’m glad that you came.”
“It’s nice to not see you too,” Allan said with a grin, dropping himself on a chair.
Guy turned to Marian and they looked at each other, suddenly shy.
“You look better,” Marian said after a moment of awkward silence, finally daring to lift her gaze to Guy’s face. “You were worried about living at Locksley, but you’re not so pale anymore.”
“I’ve been working a lot, with so many things to do there’s no much time left to think, I think it’s a good thing in my case.”
Marian smiled.
“The sheriff kept me busy too, he wants to know everything about the time when my father was sheriff. Often it isn’t easy to answer his questions, at that time I was very young, not so much involved in my father’s job.” She paused for a moment, remembering how little her world looked then. At that time she was a little more than a child, discovering love for the first time and her whole world revolved around Robin. The first, awkward kisses stolen when her father didn’t see, the fascination for his archery skills, the sweet emotion when they got engaged and all their innocent dreams. Dreams that were shattered when Robin told her that he was going away, that he was leaving for the Holy Land to fight for the King. It was the moment when Marian had realized that Robin’s dreams and her dreams were going in different directions. “It was so long ago, it seems a different life...”
Guy noticed Marian’s change of mood, and he thought that she was thinking about the siege.
“It is a different life, isn’t it?”
“Exactly, Giz,” Allan said, “It’s a different life. We are alive, and we should try to enjoy that. By the way, we brought a present for you, where is it, Marian?”
“On the horse, wait a moment.”
The girl smiled, and she went outside to retrieve Guy’s shield, glad that Allan’s intervention had distracted them from sad memories.
Gisborne smiled, seeing the shield, a little moved by the idea of Marian and Allan to bring it back to him.
“You could have spared the effort to take it to the forest last time, Giz, it will be back at his place over the fireplace, I guess.”
Guy shook his head.
“No, not there. I’ll hang it in the corner where I sleep, over my bed. Locksley isn’t mine, I’m just managing it for Hood.”
Marian remembered a time of some years ago when Guy took the manor from Robin, how proud he had been of claiming the village, of having lands in his name again.
“But you’ll have your Gisborne,” she said, with a smile, “You’ll hang that shield over the fireplace of your manor. Have you already seen your lands?”
“Not yet. The Sheriff will give them to me when Hood will be able to manage Locksley on his own. Maybe never, I guess.”
Marian shook her head.
“It isn’t fair!”
“I think that Sir Roland wants to be sure that I will work for Robin’s sake. The sooner I put in order Locksley’s affairs, the sooner I’ll have my reward. I guess that he has his reason for not trusting me completely. But at least he had told me that in the meanwhile he’ll give orders to have the manor rebuilt. If I’ll have my Gisborne, I won’t have to live in a burnt ruin.” Guy stopped for a moment, and he blushed, lowering his gaze to the ground. “I… I’m glad that the sheriff will rebuild your house too. I wish I never burned it, if I could, I would take it back, I’ll always regret what I did...”
Marian stopped him putting a finger on his lips.
“It was in another life.”

Chapter Text

When the sun rose, Guy was already riding his horse around Locksley, making sure that everything was in order. The villagers had worked hard in the last few weeks, and they had managed to collect food and supplies. Guy hoped that it would be enough to survive the winter.
Everyone did their part, even the elders make themselves useful helping to prepare meat and to preserve food so that it could be kept unspoiled for months. They also cured the skins of every prey they caught, even the smaller ones, so that they could sew warmer winter clothes, or nail them on the walls of the huts to cut out drafts and keep the warmth in.
Outside every house there was a pile of firewood, and the young men kept adding logs to them whenever they had the chance.
A few of the villagers were already awake and working in the village when Guy passed, and they gave him a begrudging greeting, finally acknowledging his authority over the village.
They still hated and didn’t trust him, but since he was back in Locksley, they had to admit that Gisborne had worked hard for the village, just like them. His suggestions were sensible, and he didn’t take unfair decisions yet.
The sheriff had left some guards with Gisborne, but the knight never ordered them to threaten the villagers. The soldiers kept watch on the safety of the village and they protected Gisborne, but they rarely had much work to do, so sometimes they took turns to help rebuilding the manor.
Guy made the horse take the path that went up the hill, to the forest, but he stopped before reaching the trees, in a place where he could see the whole village from above.
Gisborne dismounted and he sat under a tree, remembering only then that it was one of Robin’s favourite places when they were both kids. If he remembered well, Robin once had told him that his mother had been buried there, on the hill, so that she could watch over him and his father.
More than once, just after lady Locksley’s death, Guy remembered to have seen Robin disappearing up the hill and coming back after a long time with his eyes red and puffy.
Once, in one of the rare times when they didn’t quarrel over silly things, Robin had taken him to his mother’s tomb and they had both said a prayer in front of the cross with her name. Isabella, who had wanted to follow them, had got tired halfway and Guy had to carry her on his back and then she had knelt near the tomb with them and she had tried to say a sort of prayer too, her little hands folded and her eyes closed.
Guy got to his feet, and he looked around to see if the tomb was still there. He found it after a while, covered in weeds and neglected after Robin had gone to the Holy land and then had been outlawed.
The cross was slanted and covered in moss, but Guy could still read the name of Robin’s mother carved in the stone.
He uprooted most of the weeds, and decided that he would ask one of the men from the village to come up the hill to finish the work and to fix the headstone. He wished that his own parents could rest in a tomb too, but they never had one. When he and Isabella had been chased away from their lands, nobody cared to make a grave for their parents. And after all there was nothing left to be buried.
With a sigh, Guy turned his back to the tomb, and he took his bow, aiming at the trunk of a tree to make some practice in archery. His arrows embedded themselves in the bark, close to each other.
He couldn’t compare himself with Hood, but his aim had improved, and he often succeeded in catching a pheasant or a hare when he went hunting.
Something cold touched his cheek, and Guy lifted a hand and his eyes to the sky. A snowflake alighted on his palm, followed by another.
“He’ll come with the first snow...” Guy whispered, then he hurried to retrieve the arrows and he mounted, urging the horse to go back to the manor.
Thornton was waiting for him in the hall, and he was ready to take Guy’s cloak, hanging it to dry near the fireplace.
Gisborne went close to the fire to warm his hands, but he didn’t sit down.
“Is everything ready?” He asked, even if he already knew that it was.
“Yes, sir Guy. I just added a log to the fire in sir Robin’s room and I put fresh sheets on the bed.”
“Have you checked the lock of the chains?”
The old servant gave him an uneasy glance.
“I did, but… Will those be really necessary, my lord?”
Guy sighed.
“Look, Thornton, I’m not going to keep Hood as a prisoner because I want to. Matilda says that it’s for his own sake. He has improved, he no longer has those fits where he tries to hurt himself. Almost, actually, it happened only once last month... But he rarely speaks and nobody knows what he is thinking and what he could do if we leave him unattended. He has demons clawing at his mind, a sorrow bigger than we could imagine, so we must be careful, even if it means chaining him or locking him into a room...”
“Is it that bad, sir Guy?”
“I’ve seen his hands, the cuts he has inflicted on himself, and once I had to stop him while he was holding a dagger, trying to hit his own flesh. He had cut Matilda on her arm, and he didn’t even realize what he had done. He’s calmer now, but if I learned a thing is that looking quiet is not the same of really being calm. You can appear perfectly calm and have a storm in your soul.”
The old servant realized that Gisborne wasn’t talking just about Robin, but he was referring to himself too.
“I will help you, my lord. I’ll try to help both of you.”
The knight gave him a weak smile, grateful for his words.

Matilda came, making her way through the snow and, except for Rosa and Alice, all the others were with her. Little John was holding Robin’s arm, leading him towards the manor, while Djaq was leading Allan, who, for once, wasn’t chattering or trying to be funny.
Guy waited just out of the door of the manor, Thornton faithfully at his side.
Matilda nodded at Guy to greet him, then she turned to look at Robin.
“See? You’re home now. Locksley is yours again.”
“Locksley.” Guy said, in a respectful tone. That moment reminded him of the time when Robin came back to the Holy Land to get his lands back. He had felt humiliated and angry then, deprived of the lands that should have been his by right. Now, instead he was just worried because he didn’t know if their cohabitation would work.
The house was still little more than a ruin, but the workers were keeping building new parts of it and fixing the ones that could be salvaged and Guy glanced at it before turning back to Robin.
“I expect the manor to be ready at spring, maybe early summer, but it’s already comfortable enough for both of us. Soon another room will be ready so Thornton and his family can come back to live here. I know that it looks bad, but it could be worse, and soon it will be completely repaired...”
Robin didn’t even look at him or at the manor, he kept staring at the ground, ignoring everyone.
Guy glanced at Matilda, and the healer answered with a little shrug. They both knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.
Gisborne stepped aside to let Little John help Robin inside, then he immediately followed to show them Robin’s room.
The big man entered warily, as if he were expecting a trap, and he checked thoroughly every corner of the room to see if it was safe and comfortable enough for Robin. Only after his examination, he let Robin to the bed, and gently pushed his shoulders to make him sit on it.
He glanced at the chains.
“These I do not like.”
Matilda looked at him, a little annoyed, as if it wasn’t the first time they were having the same argument.
“These are necessary for now. And it wasn’t Guy’s decision, I told him to put them here.”
“I could stay here. Watch him.”
“Even you will need to sleep or to attend to your needs once in a while. It will be safer for him to be unable to leave this room. And I think that we should give him the sleeping draught only when it’s really necessary now.”
Matilda knelt to the floor and she closed a manacle around Robin’s ankle, locking it with care. The young man didn’t react, as if it didn’t concerned him at all.
“I won’t leave him at the mercy of Gisborne.” John said, obstinately.
“You don’t have to,” Guy intervened. “There are empty huts in the village, I had one fixed for Matilda, but you can choose any of the empty ones. If you wish you can spend the winter there.”
“You can be sure I will.”
“Hey, Giz, can I stay too?” Allan asked.
“I thought you were staying in your new manor.” Guy said, and Allan looked a little embarrassed.
“Maybe in spring. I think that in winter it would be lonely, I’d prefer to stay close to my friends, so, do you have an hut for me too? I’ll have incomes from Bonchurch, I can pay for it if you want.”
“Really? You’d prefer spending the winter in a peasant’s hut rather than staying in your own manor?”
Allan nodded.
“Of course, and after all you’d be lonely and sad too without the chance of listening to my ballads.”
Gisborne grinned, then he looked at Djaq.
“What about you?”
The girl shrugged.
“I suppose I’ll stay too. I’m a girl and I’m a saracen, I don’t know if people would accept me as the lady of the manor in the lands that the sheriff gave me. For now I’ll just get the incomes while somebody else manages them for me, I’d rather stay with my friends.”
Guy nodded. He knew perfectly well that people were wary of strangers, and they wouldn’t respect a woman as the only owner of the lands, he had seen that happen with his mother.
“It will be like being at the camp again!” Allan said, happily, “only warmer.”

Guy moved a little the curtain that closed the window, to look out: the snow was still falling and the village was all white, but the people didn’t go to get warm in their homes, they were still gathered around the manor. Thornton was at the door, keeping it slightly ajar while he talked to someone outside, then he shook his head, and closed it.
Guy turned to look at the man.
“They are still there...”
“They want to see Robin. They want to see that he is really alive.”
“They want their hero back.”
Thornton nodded.
“Maybe… could it be good for him to see them?”
Guy shrugged.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think he wants to.”
The old servant sighed. He had known Robin of Locksley since he was a child, and seeing him so empty and defeated broke his heart.
Thornton looked at Guy: his master had turned back to the window, looking at the snow outside. He looked calm, but the older man knew that he was worried and scared.
Once he used to think that Guy of Gisborne was a ruthless and cruel man, similar to the man he worked for. In time, working for him, Thornton had began to see another side of him, a human, vulnerable side that Gisborne had tried his best to keep hidden under a mask of ice. But now that Vaisey was dead, the ice had cracked, revealing the man who Gisborne really was. A man that Thornton could care for.
“Sir Guy, you’ll get cold if you stand near the open window.”
Guy glanced at him, surprised because of his words. It still seemed strange to him to have people who got worried for him, but he didn’t dislike the feeling. He dropped the heavy curtain and went near the fireplace, where Thornton had already placed a comfortable chair.
“Have some soup, my lord, you must be hungry and it will warm you. If you wish, I can bring you a blanket too.”
Guy took the bowl with the soup, but refused the blanket.
“I’m used to the cold. The sheriff didn’t care about the weather, so I had to ride even when it was snowing, or during a storm if he needed me to go somewhere...” He ate a few spoonfuls of the soup, then he looked at the other man. “Do you know, Thornton? If it weren’t for the destruction that followed, I’d be grateful for his death. I’ve never been free, never since I met him.”
Guy knew that he wasn’t completely free now, nobody was, after all, but he wasn’t feeling trapped at least. Sir Roland had given orders to him, he had forced him to manage Locksley, but he wasn’t telling him how to do it, he wasn’t forcing him to be cruel and he didn’t demand impossible things like Vaisey did, punishing him when he couldn’t accomplish them.
Thornton was filling another bowl of soup from the pot boiling in the fireplace.
“Are you taking that to Hood?”
“Yes, Sir Guy. He hadn’t touched the tray I took to his room last night. I’m worried for him.”
Guy finished his soup, and put the bowl on the floor, near his chair, then he stood up.
“Leave it, I’ll do it. I’ll take it to Hood.”
“You, sir Guy?”
“Yes. Those peasants will keep knocking, trying to see him, it’s better if you send them away. I’m not good at talking with people. I think I can manage taking a bowl of soup to Hood, the worse it could happen is that he throws it at me.”

Robin was sitting on the bed, in the same position where Little John had made him sit the day before. The only evidence that he had moved at all was the chamberpot, half hidden under the bed and not empty anymore.
“Good morning, Hood,” Guy said, in the same flat and slightly bored tone he once used to report the situation of the castle to Vaisey every morning: he used to tell the sheriff about anything unusual, making lists of who had paid the taxes and who hadn’t, reported possible problems and suggested solutions. Usually Vaisey didn’t even listen, but Guy knew that he expected his daily report and that he would punish him for neglecting to tell even the most unimportant news.
Even Robin didn’t seem to listen at all, but nonetheless, Guy had decided that he would describe him every single thing that happened in the village. The sheriff had decided that Guy had to work for Robin of Locksley, so he would do his job with care.
“We managed to finish drying and storing part of the supplies before it began to snow, I don’t know if they will last all winter, but it’s better than nothing. Most of the crops had been destroyed, but we sent all the able people to hunt and to collect fruit, berries and edible plants. We also worked on the huts, rebuilding them and fixing the damaged ones to make them safer and warmer for winter. We are doing the same with the manor, too: the available rooms are warm and comfortable and soon it will be completely restored. Then we are planning to rebuild the church. Before summer, if the winter won’t be too hard, I think that the village will almost be like it was once, maybe better now that the sheriff won’t oppress the people.”
Guy glanced at Robin, but the other man hadn’t moved at all and apparently he hadn’t listened a word.
“Here.” Guy said, dragging a little table in front of Robin and placing the tray with the food there. “Eat something, Thornton prepared the soup and his daughter baked the bread.”
Robin kept ignoring him, and Guy rolled his eyes.
“Eat.” He said in a harsher tone. “If you don’t, Matilda said that I should tie and spoon feed you, but frankly, I’d prefer to avoid the experience and I guess that it would be the same for you. Your choice, Hood, I’ll be back later.”
Gisborne turned his back to him with a half sigh, and he walked out of the room. Robin looked at the closed door and he resentfully thought that Gisborne should be happy now that he had him trapped, tied with that chain, and prisoner in his own manor.
He could escape easily, picking the locks, but he didn’t even try. Why should it matter? Where should he go? To do what?
He didn’t want to see people, he wouldn’t bear to see the pain in their eyes, a pain that he had inflicted on them with his actions.
Gisborne had talked for a long time, as if any of the things he said mattered. Why should he care for Locksley? He had cared once, and look at what happened: so many families destroyed because of him.
And the manor, the house of his father, burned to a ruin, just like the old Gisborne’s manor...
I should have died in the fire. He thought, not knowing that Guy had thought the same thing about himself for almost twenty years.
The warm soup smelled good, and it took Robin back in his memories, when he was the lord of Locksley, happy, proud and respected by everyone. He felt as if he had the whole world in his hands then, in those peaceful days before deciding to leave for the Holy Land, and his life was simple and satisfying. Robin once loved to spend the whole day in the forest, training with his bow or meeting the pretty daughter of the sheriff, Marian, and when he went home hungry and tired, the faithful servants were waiting for him, a tasty meal already served on the table of the hall, while the maids worked to fill a bathtub with warm water and to prepare his bed with clean sheets so that he could bathe and sleep comfortably.
Thornton used to cook that good soup even then, especially in winter, when the hot broth would warm Robin from inside.
But now he looked at the bowl with disgust.
He didn’t want to eat, he didn’t want to be pampered or comforted, but he knew that Gisborne’s menace wasn’t vain. Matilda had already done it, tying his hands and legs and forcing him to eat, spoonful after spoonful, like an infant. And if he spit it out or ended being sick, she didn’t give up, she just took another bowl and she started over, until he kept down his meal.
He had no doubts that Gisborne would do the same, and probably he would have fun doing so, too.
Reluctantly, Robin took the spoon, and he forced himself to eat that soup, even if he had no appetite at all.

Chapter Text

Guy was walking through the forest, Vaisey’s falcon perched on his wrist, and he was looking at the sky: the forest was all covered in snow, everything was white, but the sky was dark and it promised more snow soon.
The bird was nervous, his talons hurting Guy’s skin through the too thin leather of his glove, the little bell attached to his jesses jingling at the same rhythm of Guy’s steps.
The falcon screeched, and finally Guy allowed him to fly, a dark shape against the dark sky.
Gisborne stopped, and he looked around: he was in a glade and the trees surrounded him, but he couldn’t see a path anymore: the trunks were too close, leaving him no space to pass through them, like the bars of a cage. The only open space was the sky above him, and Guy looked up, following the flight of the falcon with his gaze.
It was snowing now, white snowflakes, almost too white against the dark sky. Guy removed one of his gloves and he lifted a hand in front of him, with is palm up, watching the snowflakes falling and melting on his skin, little cold touches, as light as kisses.
Up in the sky, the falcon circled and cried again, diving on a prey, a little bird fluttering over the treetops, and catching it in midair.
A drop of blood fell on Guy’s palm, and he stared at it in horror, then another one hit the snow at his feet, and another.
Guy looked up: it was no more the blood of the little bird dripping from above, but every snowflake had turned red, leaving a crimson mark wherever they fell. Guy stared at the snow, slowly turning red, at the red blotches that stained is skin, and he wanted to run away, but he couldn’t: he was trapped and he had no way out.

He woke up, panting, and he put a hand on his chest to steady is pounding heart.
A dream. It was just a dream.
He was safe in Locksley, in his warm, comfortable bed, and there was no blood on his hands. No visible blood at least.
Guy didn’t move and he looked at the familiar shape of his shield on the wall, at the colours of his family, a little scratched but not faded yet. He felt the need to relieve himself, but he waited, taking the time to let the fear he had felt in the nightmare vanish from his mind and he listened to the sounds of the manor.
It was early, before dawn, and the workers hadn’t yet started their job on the rebuilding of the manor, and he couldn’t hear Thornton’s steps behind the curtain, so it had to be really early because the faithful servant always arrived at dawn to be ready to serve him and Robin, to prepare their meals and to take care of whatever they could need.
Of almost all their needs, Guy thought with a sigh.
Guy reluctantly pushed the blanket away, and he shivered: the fire was still burning in the fireplace, but the room was still cold. He would have gladly stayed in the warmth of the bed for some more time, but now he really needed to use the chamberpot, so he hurried to get up and retrieve it from under the bed.
When he was finished, he wondered if he should go back to bed, but he decided against it. Later that day he would have to go to the castle and give his weekly report to the sheriff, telling him how Locksley was going. Guy walked to the window and moved the curtain to look out: everything was covered in snow, just like his dream.
Gisborne began to get dressed, trying to forget his nightmare.
I’m not the only one having bad dreams.
He glanced at the door of Robin’s room, hearing the muffled cries coming from there. It was nothing new, Robin always cried in his sleep, tormented by nightmares and memories.
Guy opened the door and glanced at the former outlaw: Robin was turning in the bed, pulling at the long chain that tied his ankle to a ring in the wall.
Guy approached the bed, cautiously, and he put a hand on Robin’s shoulder to shake him awake.
“Hood, Hood, wake up! It isn’t real, it’s a dream.”
Robin opened his eyes with a cry, and he stared blankly at Guy for a moment before realizing where he was: in Locksley, with Gisborne who acted both as a caretaker and a jailer.
Robin didn’t know why Gisborne bothered, they weren’t friends, there had always been bad blood between the two of them and not without reason, but now Guy seemed to have forgotten the past, the whole life before the destruction of Nottingham. He once said that the sheriff had ordered him to take care of Robin and to manage Locksley, but it wasn’t just that: sometimes Guy seemed to really care, as if he actually wanted to help him, to ease his pain somehow, and Robin didn’t understand why.
Now he was doing it again, Gisborne had a worried look in his eyes, and Robin found himself hating him even more for that.
“No, it isn’t,” he growled, “it’s not a dream, it’s the bloody reality. And that’s worse than any nightmare.”
Guy looked at him, a little surprised. Usually he didn’t get any answer from Robin.
“Maybe it’s true, but blaming yourself won’t change it.”
Robin grabbed Guy’s shirt, with rage. Gisborne knew that he could easily free himself because Robin was weak and unwell, but he didn’t move.
“Who should I blame? I shot that arrow. I killed everyone.”
“You saved Marian,” Guy said, softly. “I would have done the same.”
“You?” Robin laughed bitterly. “You would have killed the sheriff? No way. You were just his dog. Each one of the people who died would have deserved to survive rather than you, Gisborne.”
“I know,” Guy said, blushing, but then he looked at Robin, searching his gaze. “But what is done is done, we can’t change the past. We are alive and we can only try to do our best to have a better future.”
Robin glared at him.
“There is no future.”
“That’s what I thought when I woke up after the siege. I was wrong. Matilda...”
“I don’t care.” Robin interrupted him. “I don’t care about Matilda’s words or about you. If you found a way to live with all this, good for you, but I don’t care. I don’t want a future. Now go away.”
Guy didn’t know what to answer, but he suddenly felt angry at Robin.
“We’ve never been friends, Hood, and I often thought that you were a fool to throw everything away just for your ideals, but deep inside I admired your courage, I envied your strength. I would never have imagined that you were a coward.”
Gisborne turned his back to him and went back to the main hall. He took the warmest cloak from the trunk that the sheriff had sent to him when he went to live in Locksley, and he grabbed a bow and a quiver, but when he was about to go outside he stopped and put them away, choosing to take Robin’s bow and arrows, instead.
He opened the door and was startled to see Thornton on the threshold, about to enter. Even the old servant jumped in surprise, but he was quick to recover his calm.
“You’re up early, my lord.”
“Couldn’t sleep.”
Thornton nodded sympathetically, knowing that both his masters were tormented by nightmares.
“Are you going out? If you wait just a moment, I’ll prepare your breakfast, my lord.”
“Later. I’m not hungry yet. I want to go hunting now.”
“It’s going to be a cold day. Be careful, sir Guy, I think it will snow again.”
The knight nodded.
“I will. Thornton? Keep an eye on Hood, I think it’s not a good day for him.”
“Yes, my lord. I think that Little John will come soon. He always spends his time here when he knows that you are away.”
Guy thought that he should hurry to go before the former outlaw could come and see that he had taken Robin’s bow. The big man surely wouldn’t like that and Guy wanted to avoid troubles.
He took his horse, and he headed to the forest.

Guy followed the path that went uphill and soon the trees surrounded him.
It was snowing again, and he remembered his dream.
He was taken by the irrational terror of finding himself trapped between the trees while the snow became red with blood, but nothing of that sort happened and he shook his head, trying to laugh of his own foolish fear.
When he was deep in the forest, Guy dismounted, took the bow and nocked an arrow, ready to shoot. He walked trying to be silent, searching for a prey, and he tried to remember Marian’s archery lesson.
He saw many possible prey, but he only managed to catch a small hare and a couple of birds, the rest of them flying or running before he could hit them with his arrows.
After hunting for some time, he gave up, feeling cold and a little dispirited.
Guy sighed, putting the bow back on his shoulders before he mounted again: Robin’s bow was a good weapon, better than any of the other ones he had at Locksley, but Guy still wasn’t a very good archer. He had improved his aim, but he still missed too often.
Probably Robin would be able to shoot a second arrow just a moment after the first, in the rare case he missed a prey, but Guy knew that he would never be so quick.
If Marian was here, she would hit the prey when I fail.
But Marian was at the castle and she rarely had the time to go to Locksley and see him. When she did, often Allan was with her and Guy never had the chance of being alone with the girl.
Guy missed her, the comfort of her hugs, the kisses they had shared, the passion he felt for her, but he knew that it was all different now. How could he think of kissing her at Locksley, with Robin laying in his room, just behind the wall? Not that the situation was very different when both him and Robin lived at the camp, but at least then Hood wasn’t under his responsibility.
The thought of kissing Marian, of wanting her, sounded more like a betrayal now.
Still, he couldn’t help hoping that he could see her at the castle later that day.
He hoped that Hood could get better, that he could go back to his old self somehow. They would be rivals of course, and Guy would probably have to go away from Locksley, to begin again somewhere else, in his Gisborne, where people probably still hated the former henchman of the sheriff.
But at least, with Robin back in his right mind, strong again and not a pathetic wreck anymore, Guy could fight fairly to conquer Marian’s love.
Guy was close to the village, when he spotted Matilda, walking in the forest with a basket on her arm, picking the few herbs and berries that she could find under the snow. Smiling, he stopped the horse and waved at her.
The woman went to meet him, happily, and she hugged Guy as soon as he dismounted, then she stepped back to look at him.
“It’s good to see you, my boy, I’ve been so busy last week and in the few moments when I was free, you weren’t at the manor,” she said. “You look well, how are you feeling?”
“My health is good. I work a lot and sometimes I feel very tired, but it’s good, I sleep better at night.”
“No more nightmares, then?”
Guy rolled his eyes, with a sigh.
“That would be good, but no, I still have them. But not every night. Often I’m so tired that I fall asleep as soon as I touch the pillow and when I open my eyes again it’s already morning.”
“What about the people of Locksley? Do you still hate them?”
“They obey me. When I ask them to do something, they usually do it now, and I don’t even have to menace them. Some of them look... respectful.”
“Does it surprise you?”
“I’ve managed Locksley for four years, five winters, but they never respected me. Feared maybe.”
Matilda smiled.
“You are a different man. A better man.”
“I dismissed the guards, I sent them back to the castle. I don’t think that the people of Locksley will be a danger for me now, and it’s too cold for them to sleep in a tent.”
“Good idea. I won’t have to treat their colds and you’ll have less mouths to feed.”
Guy nodded.
“I hope the village will have enough food for the winter. I wish I were a better hunter.” He glanced at his prey.
“You’re doing your best, love. You’re taking good care of the village.”
“Hood doesn’t care. He doesn’t even try, not at all. I tell him about the village, I describe what I am doing and the problems of his once beloved peasants, but he doesn’t even listen.”
“He needs time, be patient my boy. You know how painful it is.”
“But he was stronger than me, he had always been! Nothing could defeat him, he never lost his courage, not even when his father died or when the sheriff outlawed him. Why doesn’t he fight now?”
“He’s lost. He must find his way.” Matilda caressed Guy’s cheek. “You are doing well. Keep up the good work, I’m proud of you. But now come with me.”
Matilda smiled.
“To the village, don’t you have to check that all is in order? I have to treat a few patients, we can do both things at the same time. And we’ll continue your training as a healer too, you still have a lot to learn.”

Chapter Text

Marian sat with the other ladies, in the warm hall of the castle, torturing her embroidery. Her stitches were far from being neat, and she knew that the other women had noticed her lack of skill.
She was bored. The sheriff often talked with her about her father’s work, and that was tolerable because she could do something to help the county, giving suggestions to sir Roland or pointing to him the people who needed help.
But then there were those long hours when she had to stay at the castle and pass some time with the other ladies and she wished she still had the freedom to go wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted.
But the new guards of the castle were better than Vaisey’s ones, not so easily fooled, and she knew that they would stop her if she tried to sneak out.
She put aside her embroidery and she walked to the window, pulling the curtains aside to look out, but immediately the other ladies started complaining.
“Lady Marian, you’re letting the cold wind enter the room. Please put that curtains back in their place, we don’t want to get ill.”
The girl rolled her eyes with impatience, but she averted her face from the other ladies so they couldn’t see her disappointment.
“I need fresh air,” she said quietly, “I think I’ll go for a walk in the courtyard.”
She hoped that the other women wouldn’t decide to follow her, but luckily for her they had no wish to go out when it was snowing. They gave her the usual look of surprise and half contempt, but nobody tried to stop her.
As soon as she was out of the room, she had the impression of breathing better.
She sighed, and she hoped that her house in Knighton could be ready soon.
The life at the castle was too oppressive for her. The sheriff and the other people living there were kind and they treated her with respect, but she missed the freedom she once had.
Maybe there’s something wrong in me. When I was in the forest I felt lonely, now I just want to be alone.
She went to her room to get a cloak and she went outside, on the porch that looked on the courtyard.
It was snowing and two guards were using shovels to keep the gate clear.
Marian looked at them, remembering a time of her childhood, when Knighton was covered in snow and her father had ordered the servants to clear a path from the manor to the stables just because she had been worried that the horses could get cold. She had walked on the just cleared path, her arms loaded with old blankets that she put on the horses’ backs.
Her father had suggested that the stable boy could do it, but she hadn’t trusted him, so Sir Edward had to lift her in his arms to allow her to place every blanket on each horse.
Marian looked at the courtyard, all covered in snow, and she wiped away her tears. The gallows weren’t there anymore, the new sheriff didn’t want to see them until they were needed, not very often nowadays, but she could never forget the terrible day when Vaisey had hanged her father. She didn’t know what had happened to his body after the attack of Prince John’s army, she couldn’t bear to ask because she was afraid of the answer.
When she came back to the castle, she couldn’t find his body, and then, when she found Allan and realized that he was alive, she didn’t have any more time to search for her father’s corpse.
Thinking that he was probably buried in a nameless grave was painful and she wished that she could at least cry on his tomb.
Marian was glad that nobody liked to go out when it was so cold, because she couldn’t hold back her tears anymore and she didn’t want anyone to see her cry.
She hid her face in the hands, and she felt angry when she heard the guards opening the gate.
Who was coming to disturb the quiet of the courtyard? She wanted to be alone, she didn’t want to meet strangers or to go back inside the castle with the other ladies.
She glared at the newcomer: it was a man riding a white horse, his face hidden by the hood of his black cloak. She wished that he would turn his horse and went away, leaving her to her grief, but her heart filled with joy when he pushed back the hood.

Gisborne had just dismounted, when he heard his name. He turned to see Marian running towards him regardless of the snow that covered the courtyard. She had almost reached him when she slipped, and Guy stepped forward to catch her in his arms before she could fall.
The girl crashed on him, and Guy held her tight, amused by the impetuosity of her arrival, but his smile faded when he realized that the girl was weeping.
He glanced at the guards at the gate, who were looking at them with the curiosity of who had nothing else to do.
“Let’s go for a ride,” he said, and he lifted Marian in his arms and on the saddle of his horse. “Is your cloak warm enough?”
The girl nodded, and Guy mounted behind her, turning the horse to the gate again.
He carefully lead him on the road, then he headed for the river, crossing the fields covered in snow.
Marian was huddled against his body, warm and soft in his arms, and Guy struggled to hide the love that filled his heart. He didn’t know why she was weeping and if he could do anything to help her, but he was willing to comfort and protect her in any way he could.
He slowed the pace of the horse and for a while they rode in silence, looking at the falling snow, then Marian straightened her back a little and she looked around.
“It’s so quiet...” She whispered. “And everything looks so different… So peaceful.”
Guy stopped the horse near the river and they dismounted, walking along the bank for a while until they reached a place where the trees grew near the water.
Marian looked around, enchanted, and Guy smiled.
“I always liked this place. In spring it’s full of flowers and in summer it’s always cool because of the shade of the trees.”
“Do you come here often?”
“I used to, when I wanted to get away from the sheriff for a while. I’m glad to see that it hasn’t changed.”
Marian sighed.
“Everything else did.”
Guy looked at her, saddened by the bitterness of her tone.
“That’s why you were crying?”
She was about to say that she wasn’t crying, to show him that she was strong and proud, but she ended up nodding miserably.
“I miss my father,” she whispered, and fresh tears filled her eyes. She just wanted to see him again, to take refuge in his hug and to listen to his voice comforting her. “I miss him so much!”
Guy’s arms encircled her, and she clasped him, searching the warmth of her father in his hug.
He always protects me.
She felt safe in Guy’s arms, and she realized that he seemed different from the last time they had been alone together. He was stronger and more sure of himself, not so scared and broken anymore, as if the wounds of his soul were finally healing.
She knew that she should have been happy for him, but she felt more lonely and sad, almost betrayed, angered that he could get stronger when she felt so frail.
Suddenly she pushed him away, and Guy stared at her, surprised by her reaction and worried that he might have been inappropriate somehow.
“I’m so tired!” She sobbed. “Everything keeps changing and I can’t keep up! Everyone I knew is either dead, lost or they are finding their way... and I’m always behind, alone.”
“I… I am right here.”
“But you have Locksley now, and then you’ll have your lands. You are working so much for it, and you like it, I can see it. There’s a new light in your eyes, you are getting better and better day after day and you are building your future. While I’d just want to go back.”
Guy looked at her, frowning. Was she crying because she was afraid that he could forget her? That he could found a new path in his life, a future without her?
The idea sounded so absurd that he almost laughed. She was the one who loved another, she the one who could live without Guy, but his heart would be hers forever and he had no doubts about it.
He took her hands, holding them firmly in his.
“I won’t leave you behind, never. I promise.”
Marian glanced at him, and when she met his gaze, she couldn’t avert her eyes again.
He was saying the truth, she was inexplicably sure of it, and she suddenly knew that he still loved her.
She was afraid of that love and comforted by it at the same time.
Some things never change.
She nodded, hoping that he wouldn’t say it aloud, because she wouldn’t know what to answer.
The girl wanted that love, longed for it, but she wasn’t sure if she could return Guy’s feelings, she didn’t know if she still loved Robin or if she would ever be able to love anyone at all again.
Guy stooped a little to kiss her on the forehead, gently, then he let her hands go and he turned to look at the river.
“I know how you are feeling,” he said and Marian looked at him, alarmed and afraid that he could guess her thoughts. But Guy seemed to be lost in some old memory of his own. “You will always miss your parents. I still do.”
The memory of her father’s death came back, painful as usual, and she felt guilty because she was also relieved that Guy didn’t realize how confused her feelings for him were.
“Sometimes I’d just want to be a little girl again and run to find refuge in my father’s arms. Life was so much simpler then.”
“I wish it was possible too. But we can’t.”
Marian sighed.
“What do we do, then?”
“We go on, we fight for our future, and sometimes we fall. Then we get up again.”
“I don’t want to fall. I don’t want to feel like this.” She wiped her eyes, angrily. “I hate being so weak and helpless.”
“Do you think I like it? Sometimes my nightmares are so terrible that I feel scared and hopeless for the whole day… But some nights I don’t dream at all and I feel good. Some days are nice and I find myself thinking that I can still be happy. At first I didn’t believe Matilda when she told it to me, but things are getting better. Time is a good healer.”
Marian let her hand slip in Guy’s hand and she gave him a grateful glance when his fingers closed on hers, warm and protective.
“Thank you,” she whispered, and Guy smiled at her, shaking his head.
“You were at my side when I needed support and now I’m here for you. That’s how we go on, we help each other.”
Marian stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek.

The horse walked slowly through the snow. The weather had worsened while they were walking along the river, and the snowfall was heavy and it made difficult to ride.
But Guy was a good rider and he led the horse through the fields and towards the castle, slowly but steadily.
Marian was riding behind him this time, her arms around his waist.
“Are you cold?” Guy asked, turning his head to look back.
“No, I’m fine.” She inwardly smiled: it was true. Guy’s body was warm and they were so close that she couldn’t feel cold. Actually, that closeness made her feel even too warm, and her cheeks were flushed not only because of the biting wind.
“We’re almost there,” Guy said.
Too bad. They both thought.
When they finally reached the castle, the sheriff was waiting for them, a disappointed look on his face.
“Are you out of your mind?” He asked, harshly, looking at Guy. “Taking a lady to ride in a storm! And alone with her too! Don’t you care for her safety or her reputation?”
“It wasn’t snowing so much when we went out for a ride,” Marian replied, miffed, “and I’m perfectly safe with Guy.”
“My lord, I would never do anything to endanger lady Marian. We just went out for a ride and we came back to the castle as soon as the snowfall became too heavy.”
The sheriff looked at them, skeptical, and he shrugged.
“Gisborne, come, I have been waiting for your report about Locksley. Lady Marian, will you excuse us?”
The girl nodded, and she took leave, going back to her lodgings, still red in face, half angered and half embarrassed because of the allusions of the sheriff.
Sir Roland headed to the great hall, and Guy followed him, just a few steps behind, like he used to do with Vaisey.
The sheriff sat on the chair, and he looked at Guy, sternly.
“I hope that you will marry her if your ‘rides’ should become ‘fruitful’. She’s a noblewoman, not a kitchen lady. I won’t be tender if I should hear of any children left in the woods.”
“My lord! I...”
“Shut up, Gisborne. I know more about your past than you’d like, I think. People loves to talk, especially when they can say bad things. Don’t act outraged now, because we both know that you haven’t been a saint in the past, but be glad that I don’t care as long as you serve me well.”
Guy blushed in shame, but he held the sheriff’s gaze.
“I would never damage lady Marian.”
“Because you respect her, you love her, and you’d marry her even now if you could...” The sheriff said, in a dismissive tone. “But now let’s go back to business, shall we? Tell me about Locksley.”

Marian had been afraid that Guy would go back to Locksley before she had the chance to see him again, to be sure that he wasn’t mad or too hurt because of the words of the sheriff. When she saw him entering the great hall at dinner, she felt relieved, and she smiled when he sat at her side.
“I thought that you already went back to Locksley!”
Guy shook his head.
“The sheriff forbid that because of the storm. I could have gone back, I know, it wasn’t that bad, but he said that he didn’t want to take the chance of losing one of his three nobles.”
Marian smiled.
“Well, I’m glad he did, I’d have been worried to know you out there.”
Guy looked at the table, blushing a little.
“I’m sorry if I embarrassed you. I didn’t think about your reputation and I should have done it. I just wanted to cheer you up.”
Marian took his hand under the table and she squeezed it.
“I know. And you did. And after all it’s not as if I still had a reputation. People still thinks I’m responsible of the attack.”
“People are idiots.”
Marian laughed at his words because Guy’s expression reminded her of a grumpy child.
“Thornton will be worried if you don’t come back tonight.”
“I don’t think so. Before I left he was the one who suggested that I stayed at the castle for the night if the weather worsened.”
“He cares for you safety, too.”
“It seem so strange to me. I’m not used to it.”
Marian looked at him, saddened by his words.
“That’s a pity. But it’s all different now.”
Guy smiled at her.
“See? Change is not always bad.”
Marian nodded, but she wasn’t sure of it. Maybe it was true for Guy, and in fact his situation could only improve now that he was free from Vaisey, but what would be waiting for her in the future?
What if it is always bad for me? What if I’ll never be happy again?
“Will Thornton be alright... with Robin?” She asked, averting her thoughts from an unpleasant subject to another painful one.
“I think so. When I’m not there, Little John usually stays at Hood’s side. I guess that he’ll spend the night there, and however Locksley is calmer lately.”
“Do you think he will be better someday?”
Guy looked at her, trying to see how much love for Robin of Locksley still was in her gaze, but all he could see was sadness, sorrow and worry.
“I don’t know, maybe. I thought I had no hopes at all, but I survived and you survived too. Why not him? He’s always been stronger than both of us.”
We survived, true, but we will never be the same again.
Marian didn’t say it aloud. For Guy probably it was a good change, she thought, but she felt completely lost and she didn’t even know what to wish for.
She was still holding Guy’s hand under the table and she didn’t realize that until she met the disapproving glances of the other ladies sitting at the table. They were looking at her and Guy, half sneering, half scandalized, and she wished that she could challenge them and wipe that contemptuous expression out of their faces. But they were the wife, the daughters and the sisters of the sheriff and she was forced to be polite.
She blushed a little because of their critical looks, feeling as she was doing something wrong, as if holding Guy’s hand was a dirty, sinful thing, but then Gisborne asked her something and she turned to look at him, meeting his gaze.
She held her breath for a moment when she saw his eyes, so incredibly blue and full of warmth, and her heart pounded faster. She wasn’t sure why she was feeling so emotional, and what she actually felt for Guy, but she was suddenly sure that whatever it was, it was something pure, innocent, and that those ladies had no rights to make her believe that it was wrong.
She kept her hand where it was.

Chapter Text

“Sir Guy?”
Gisborne was coming back to the castle after checking his horse in the stable, and he turned to see who had called him: it was one of the servants of the castle, the man in charge of the falcons.
Guy looked at him, wondering what he wanted.
“My lord, could you come with me? It’s about the former sheriff’s falcon...”
Guy remembered the bird he had retrieved a while ago.
“What about him?”
“The poor thing is suffering. I think he misses his owner.”
It’s the only one. Guy thought.
“I’m sorry. But why are you telling it to me?”
“I hoped that you could come and see him. He knows you, maybe seeing a known face could cheer him up a little. He’d need some exercise too, but I don’t always have the time to give him all the attention he’d need.”
Guy followed him, and actually the falcon seemed to recognize him.
Gisborne had never enjoyed too much having to assist the sheriff when he trained the falcon, mostly because his task was usually to hold a bowl full of raw meat, but he felt some pity for the bird. He knew even too well how it was to be alone and lost.
He picked up a feather and he used it to gently caress the falcon, then he suddenly had an idea.
He turned to the servant.
“Do you think that I could use him to hunt?”
The man nodded.
“Of course! It would be good for him! I can teach you how to do it, Sir Guy.”

Robin didn’t look back as he walked in the snow, getting as far away from the village as he could.
He felt some remorse for Little John because he knew that the big man would surely blame himself, but it wasn’t enough to make him go back to the manor.
Little John had always disapproved the chains, and as soon as Gisborne went away, he had freed Robin, trusting him.
It had been clearly a misplaced trust, Robin thought, just like all the people of the county had been wrong at believing in him.
It was cold, and the snow was high, making it difficult to walk, but Robin didn’t care. His feet were beginning to become numb, and he welcomed that numbness. Dying out there, in his beloved forest, surrounded by the whiteness of the snow wasn’t a bad way to go, he thought.
His friends would be sad, but Robin thought that it was for the best.
I’m already dead, now they will have a closure at last, they’ll grieve for a while and then they will keep on living, without this burden.
Robin wondered if he should just sit under a tree and let the cold claim his life, but he found out that he couldn’t. He didn’t care for his life, but he just couldn’t let it go without a struggle.
I’ll keep walking, until I find myself walking in hell.
He shivered, his body wasn’t as strong as it once had been, and he had taken no cloak when he slipped out of the manor. As soon as Little John fell asleep, Robin went away, silent as a shadow.
It wouldn't take much, now, soon his sufferings would end.
He heard sounds of hooves between the trees, and he lifted his head, alarmed: were they already searching for him? Where they going to deny him his peace?
He hid behind a tree, waiting for the horses to pass, but they weren’t his friends.
A woman was riding too fast, passing dangerously too close to the trees, and two men were following her closely. The woman was forced to stop because the undergrowth was too thick now, she was trapped.
One of the men grabbed the reins of her horse, while the other one clasped her hair, dragging her to the ground.
“Did you really think that you could get away from your husband?” The first one said, with contempt. “Our lord will pay us well when we bring you back.”
“But first we will have some fun,” the other one said, with a lecherous grin. “He said that he doesn’t care how we are going to bring you back, as long as we do.”
He kept grabbing her hair, pinning her to the ground with his weight, and with the other hand he began lifting her skirt. The other man dismounted to hold her too.
The woman shrieked, but she couldn’t free herself. Robin had a glimpse of her long legs, almost as white as the snow, trying to kick the two men away, but they were too strong for her.
“Help me!” She cried. “Please! Somebody, help!”
Robin didn’t know what to do. He felt empty, he didn’t care about anything or anyone, and then what difference could the life of a single woman do against the thousands of people he had killed?
But something moved in his soul, a sparkle of his old self was awakened by the screams of that woman.
He didn’t have any weapon nor strength, but he had to do something. If he should be killed trying, so be it, it was what he wanted, anyway.
He picked up a stone, big and heavy enough to crack a skull if hurled with enough force, and he threw it at one of the man, stunning him, while he ran towards them, ready to fight.
It was a desperate plan, but also the only one he got.
The woman didn’t lose time: the man who had been hit by the rock had released her hands, and she quickly reached under her skirt, pulling out a little dagger that she thrust in the man’s heart.
She kicked the body away from her, and she looked at the pale, scrawny man who had came to her help and who was now fighting with the other soldier. He was losing the fight, but the woman hurried to get up, and she stabbed Robin’s opponent in the back, more than once, until he stopped moving, then, as soon as she was sure that her assailants were dead, she dropped herself to the ground, and she burst out in tears.
She sobbed for a while, then she realized that the man who had helped her was still lying on the snow, pale and still and that he wasn’t wearing a cloak.
She shook Robin until he opened his eyes, and she pulled him into a sitting position.
“Are you hurt?” She asked.
Robin stared at her: she had long, curly, black hair, and blue eyes. Robin had the impression that he had already seen her, but he couldn’t remember when or where. She was dishevelled and upset, but her gaze was fierce, and she was staring at him.
“Don’t you have a cloak?” The woman asked, frowning. “You’ll freeze to death.”
Robin didn’t have the courage to say that that was the idea, so he just kept silent and he didn’t complain when the woman took the cloak of one of the dead men and put it on his shoulders.
She stood up, and she held a hand to him, pulling him to his feet.
“We should go away from here.”
“You killed them...” Robin said, and the woman stared at him, a defying look in her eyes.
“They wanted to rape me! And I couldn’t let them taking me back to my husband! I’d rather die than letting him touch me again! He’s a monster! He enjoys torturing me. I lived in a nightmare for years, but I’m free now and I will never go back there.”
She stopped for a moment, looking at Robin and her gaze softened.
“You’ve seen hell too, isn’t it? I can see it in your eyes. What were you doing here, all alone and without a cloak?”
Robin didn’t answer. Going in the forest to die was what he had wanted, but he couldn’t admit it openly, not in front of a woman who was ready to fight so fiercely for her life.
“Come, help me to find my way out of this forest, I can’t remember it. Funny, I thought that I would never forget even the smallest detail of our horrible travel away from Locksley, but it seems all so different now.”
“Have you already been here?” Robin asked, surprised.
“When I was a child. I thought I’d never came back again, but I learned that my brother returned in this county as well. It was all his fault, so he has to help me now. He owes it to me.”
“Your brother?”
“Guy of Gisborne. Do you know him?”
Robin stared at her. Now he knew why that woman looked so familiar.
“You are Isabella?!”

Marian looked at Guy, who was riding the white horse, the falcon perched on his wrist, and she thought that both the animals once had belonged to the former sheriff. Guy’s black stallion had disappeared during the siege of Nottingham and she knew that the knight surely missed him.
Sir Roland had given the white horse to Guy when he had decided that he should manage Locksley for Robin, and the knight had to learn to know him. Vaisey’s horse was more high strung than the black stallion, but he was a good beast, strong and fast, and Guy got used to him soon.
Gisborne and Marian were riding side to side in the snowy fields around the castle, and a few servants with bows and dogs were following them.
The falconer was riding at Guy’s other side, teaching him how to hunt.
Marian looked at the falcon, flying high, and then diving on the prey, and she held her breath every time. She felt sorry for the prey, but to see the hunt of a falcon was exciting.
Guy thought that using that bird could improve his results when he would go hunting for the village, and that it would help that poor lonely falcon too.
The sheriff watched too, apparently satisfied to see that the knight was interested in that activity, normally enjoyed by the nobles.
Marian glanced at Guy, thinking that the falcon might look fierce, but Guy was really handsome at that moment, wearing a black cloak and riding a white horse, his hand lifted to wait for the falcon to gracefully land on his wrist.
She smiled at watching him, but then she saw a man, a peasant, to judge from his clothes, arriving on a galloping horse. She recognized him as one of the men from Locksley and she immediately worried.
The man stopped in front of Guy, trembling and upset.
“What happened?” Gisborne asked.
“It’s Robin! He disappeared!”
Guy paled.
“What?! What do you mean?!”
“He walked away from the house and we can’t find him! He’s been away since dawn at least!”
“No!” Guy cried, handing the falcon to the falconer and immediately kicking the sides of the horse to gallop away.
“Gisborne! Wait!” The sheriff cried, but the knight was already too far away to be stopped. Marian instead was about to run after Gisborne, but the sheriff turned to her, harshly. “Stop. Lady Marian, don’t even think to run away like that.”
The girl looked at him, anguished.
“Haven’t you heard?! Robin could be in danger! We should go to Locksley and search for him too.”
“And we will, but not at that foolish pace on this frozen ground. A noble in danger is enough, two are already too many, you at least will be safe.”

Guy spurred his horse, terrified. He knew what the words of the servant meant: Hood had no reason to go out of the manor other than to go to meet his end.
Little John must have ignored the chains! Fool! He should have known that Hood would run away as soon as he had the chance!
But obviously the big man was blinder than Allan when he looked at Robin. He couldn’t see how broken he was, how desperate, but he could only remember the Robin of the past and believe that he was immutable.
But he wasn’t.
He wants to die, and he will if I don’t find him in time!
Guy urged the horse to go faster, even if the hooves slipped a little on the snow, but he led him firmly, and they didn’t fall.
He didn’t know why he cared so much for Hood, but the thought that he could die was enough to fill him with fear.
I’ve seen enough death! I won’t allow you to die too! Not under my responsibility!
He raced trough the trees, not slowing down until he arrived near Locksley. The village was empty, all its inhabitants gone to search for Robin.
Guy jumped off the horse, slipping and crashing to the ground, in the snow, but he got up immediately and he ran to the manor, hoping to find a trace: probably Thornton would be there, awaiting news of his master and he could tell him what happened.
He slammed the door open and stopped on the threshold: Thornton was there, in fact, but also Robin was there, standing in front of the fireplace, while the old servant rubbed him with a blanket.
Gisborne felt suddenly furious, and he charged Robin, grabbing him by his damp jacket and slamming him against a wall.
“Where have you been?!” He yelled. “Don’t even try to deny it, I know what you wanted to do! But I won’t allow you to even think to give up! I forbid it! I won’t have also your blood on my hands!”
Robin had been surprised by Guy’s sudden arrival, but now his words awakened a sparkle of rage in his soul too, and soon he was also inflamed by a fiery anger.
“You talk about blood?! I have the lives of half county on my conscience! How could I live with this burden? I can’t forgive myself! Maybe it’s easy for you, but I can’t!”
Guy slammed him against the wall again.
“Easy for me?! Easy?! Twenty years and I can’t still forgive myself for what I have done!” He chocked a sob, lowering his voice. “My parents… your father… my sister… Do you think that it’s easy for me? Twenty years, and every single day I have to carry that burden on my soul and I will never forgive myself. I know exactly what you are feeling!”
“If you know, you should leave me in peace then!” Robin cried, now openly sobbing
“No!” Guy’s cry was almost a howl. “I won’t! Because I am a coward, and I was alone, hated by everyone and yet I have survived! I’m still surviving… No. I’m living.” He was still pinning Robin to the wall, staring into his eyes, while Thornton was looking at the scene, worried and uncertain if he should try to intervene. “Hood… You’ve always been the strong one, the brave one! The boy who was never defeated, who never lost his courage… And you are loved by everyone, you are supported, you have friends… No. I won’t let you give up. You must survive. You must.”
Robin couldn’t understand why Gisborne cared so much, he had never seen the knight so upset and talking in such a passionate, desperate way, with tears in his eyes. He was so shocked by Gisborne’s reaction, that he couldn’t say anything to him.
They were just staring at each other in silence, when the door of the other room opened and Isabella came out, her hair still damp and wearing one of the dresses of Thornton’s daughter.
She looked at Guy, in surprise.
“Guy? Mon frère doux? Es-tu vraiment?
Gisborne stared at her for a moment. His outburst had made him flushed, but now every trace of colour drained from his face, and he stepped back from Robin, looking at him and at Isabella in horror.
“Hood? Are you dead? And am I dead too? Did I fall from my horse and died? She came to take me, to drag me to Hell! Did you die sister? Did you die because I gave you away? Yes, you must have died, you couldn’t be here otherwise… I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
He backed away, trembling, until he touched the curtain that hid his bed, and he yelped in terror, then he turned and took refuge there, in the corner, trembling and sobbing.
Isabella stared at Robin, still leaning against the wall, damp from the snow, as pale as a ghost and quietly weeping, and at the curtain where her brother had disappeared, then she looked at Thornton.
“Are you the only one in this house who is not completely out of his mind?”

Chapter Text

Matilda ran inside the manor, sighing of relief as soon as she saw Robin. She ran to him, pulling him into a crushing hug.
“I’m so glad to see you, dear boy! I was so worried! How are you? You’re all damp and cold, come, dear, we must dry you or you’ll get ill.”
Thornton discreetly approached her.
“I can help Robin, but probably you should talk to sir Guy, he was very upset.”
“Guy? Is he here? What happened?”
Thornton nodded at the curtain.
“He’s there. He was very upset with Robin, but then he saw lady Isabella and he was really shocked.”
Only then Matilda noticed the other woman.
“Lady Isabella?”
“I’m Guy’s sister. What happened to him? When did he lose his mind?”
The girl was pale, hiding her fear under her harsh words, and Matilda thought that she would have to have a chat with her too, but now she was really worried for Gisborne.
“I’ll explain later. Can you stay with Robin and Thornton while I talk with your brother?”
Thornton smiled at Robin and at Isabella.
“Come, we’ll go in the other room, it’s warmer and I’ll serve you a hot meal.”
The man held Robin’s arm, and he led him in the other room, while Isabella followed, worried and confused, but still relieved to have escaped her husband’s men.
As soon as they were gone, Matilda pulled the curtain aside, and she quietly approached Guy. The knight was on the floor, huddled to the ground in the corner between the bed and the wall, and he was still wearing the thick black cloak, his face completely hidden by the hood.
Matilda felt sorry for Guy, and she gently called him.
“Guy, dear boy?”
She saw him jumping at the sound of her voice, and she hurried to reassure him.
“Quiet, quiet, it’s me, Matilda. You’re safe, my dear, you’re safe.”
Guy lifted his head a little.
“Matilda? Am I dead?” He asked, in a trembling, haunted voice, and the woman hurried to hug him.
“No, no, my boy, of course you aren’t dead! Why do you ask?”
Gisborne took refuge in her arms, and he let her push back the hood of his cloak to caress his hair.
“I saw her... How can she be here? It must be a ghost, a lost soul who came to torment me!”
“Your sister? She’s really here, I saw her too. I don’t know why or how she arrived at the manor, but she’s no ghost, I can guarantee it.”
Guy didn’t answer and he just burst out in tears, like a frightened child.
Matilda let him weep for a while, soothing him with little endearments and encouraging, loving words.
“Come on, dear, let’s take this cloak off, it’s too thick to wear it inside, you must be sweating by now. Here, better, don’t you think?” She put the cloak aside and she dipped a clean towel in the basin to clean his face with soft, caring gestures. “Don’t worry, it’s all right. Everyone is fine, Robin is safe, your sister too, nothing bad happened. Here, here, my boy. Come, sit here on the bed and try to relax a little.”
Matilda sat at his side, keeping an arm around his shoulders. Guy leaned on her, and he closed his eyes, feeling a little calmer, but also tired and empty.
“I’m sorry…” He whispered after a while, and Matilda kissed his cheek.
“Sorry? Why should you be sorry, dear? You did nothing wrong.”
“I’m acting like a fool. I should be strong, but I’m not. As soon as I think I’m better, the smallest thing is enough to shatter me… I feel like I’m losing my mind...”
Matilda smiled at him, reassuring.
“Oh, but you’re not losing your mind, my boy. You’re just very upset, but who wouldn’t?”
“I don’t know what got into me… I couldn’t even think that Hood could die, I couldn’t stand it… I don’t know why I care so much… And then I saw Isabella...”
“When they told me that Robin had disappeared I had been scared to death too! And when I saw that he was well I wanted to kiss and to kill him at the same time for the scare he gave us. And I can only imagine how upset you can feel after seeing your sister after so many years...”
Guy took a deep breath and he wiped his eyes.
“I should talk to her...”
“No, my boy, not now. We are all too upset and soon the others will come back here, as soon as they know that Robin is alright. You need to be calm to talk to your sister, and now you’re not. She’s tired and upset too, I think. I’ve seen her just for a moment, but I think she was scared. Lie down and rest without thinking about anything, you will have the chance to talk tomorrow, in a quieter moment. If you wish I can give you something to make you sleep.”
“No, no. I think I don’t need it, I feel so tired...”
Matilda smiled, and she waited for him to remove his jacket and his boots and lie down on the bed.
She made him turn on his stomach and she began massaging his shoulders with slow, soothing movements, and she was glad to see him relaxing and slipping into a deep sleep. She bent to give him a gentle kiss, then she covered him with a blanket and she let him rest.

Marian hurried to dismount, anxious to have news of both Robin and Guy. She almost ran to the door of the manor, followed closely by the sheriff, and as soon as they entered the hall, Matilda came out from behind the curtain and she put a finger on her lips to tell them to be quiet.
“It’s all right,” she said in a low tone, “both Robin and Guy are well, but they both need quiet, let’s go outside and I’ll explain you what happened.”
They obeyed, and Matilda told them everything she knew.
“Guy’s sister is here?” Marian asked, curious.
“Yes, but I don’t know how she arrived at the manor, apparently she met Robin in the forest and they came back here, but I don’t know anything else. There will be time for explanations later.”
“Is Robin of Locksley safe? Maybe I have been wrong to put him in care of Gisborne...” The sheriff was frowning, but Matilda looked at him, fiercely.
“Don’t even try to suggest that it’s Guy’s fault, because it’s not! That poor boy is doing his best, even more than anybody could expect from him! He takes good care of Robin and of Locksley, and I won’t let anyone blame him.”
The sheriff didn’t reply, and Marian looked at the healer.
“How is Guy? When they told him about Robin he was so upset...”
“He was very distressed both because of Robin and his sister, but he calmed down, and now he’s sleeping.” Matilda smiled. “He’ll be fine, don’t worry, he’s stronger than we think.”
The girl glanced at her, shyly.
“Can… Can I see him for a moment? He really scared me when he ran away like that, galloping in the snow. I need to see that he’s well.”
Matilda stared at her for a moment, then she nodded.
“Just don’t wake him up.”
Marian disappeared in the manor and Matilda thought that it was interesting to see that the girl had asked to see Gisborne and not Robin.

Marian pushed the curtain aside, holding her breath. She was worried because she had already seen Guy losing the control of his emotions and falling prey of that overwhelming fear. Earlier that morning, looking at him while he hunted with the falcon, she had thought that he looked strong, brave and handsome and she had been happy to see that he was getting better day after day, but now she was afraid that he would never be really well again. Like Robin. And like herself.
Guy was peacefully asleep, lying on his side and hugging the pillow, his face half hidden by long, wavy locks of dark hair.
The girl smiled to see him. He seemed to be well, unharmed by his dangerous ride in the snow.
His cheeks were a little flushed and Marian found herself kneeling by the bed to push away a lock of hair and brush his face with a gentle kiss. His skin was both soft and rough with stubble, slightly damp, and it tasted salty under her lips.
The corner of his lips twitched in a smile when Marian’s lips touched his face, but Guy didn’t wake up and Marian stood up, reassured.
She turned, feeling a presence behind her back, and she found herself staring at another woman, a stranger who had a familiar look.
Marian realized that she had a resemblance to Guy, unsurprisingly, if she was his sister.
Isabella was looking at her brother, and her gaze was both hard and worried at the same time.
The two women looked at Guy for another moment, then they both went back to the hall, leaving him alone.
“Are you his wife?” Isabella asked, and Marian looked at her, in surprise.
“No, of course not! We are friends.”
Isabella gave her an incredulous look.
“Do you always kiss your friends while they are sleeping?”
Marian blushed at her words, but she didn’t know how to reply. Guy’s sister reminded her of Guy as he had been when he worked for Vaisey, half frail and half dangerous, cruel to hide vulnerability.
“I didn’t know Guy had a sister...” Marian began, and Isabella laughed.
“It doesn’t surprise me. I guess that as soon as he got rid of me, he never thought about me again. Be careful with him, don’t let him fool you. Maybe he can say that he loves you, but he will abandon you, he will leave you alone to face danger. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t want to see him again.”
“Guy wouldn’t!” Marian said vehemently, then she lowered her voice, remembering that the knight was sleeping. “He risked his life to protect me, more than once.”
“Well, probably you are worth more than his own sister, then. He gave me away when I was thirteen to marry a stranger who made my whole life a living hell, and he never searched for me again after that.”
Marian was about to say that it was impossible, but she remembered the baby who Guy had abandoned in the woods, and she wasn’t so sure that he wouldn’t have been able to give away his sister. He had done terrible things, even if now he was a better man.
“I guess it doesn’t matter now,” Isabella said, bitterly.
“Why not?”
“He’s mad. How could he help me?”
“He’s not mad! Have you any idea of what happened here? You can’t blame him for being still shocked, but he will be fine.”
“That’s what happened to the other one, too?”
Isabella nodded at the door of the other room.
“Robin. He wasn’t like that when we were children, he was always so sure of himself, and now that servant is treating him like a helpless baby.”
Marian sighed.
“You can’t remain the same when you see so much death and sorrow.”
Isabella nodded.
“I know. You see hell, and you change forever.”
“But we survived. And someday we’ll be back to a normal life, things are already getting better.”
“Do you really believe that? Things never get better. At least it never happened to me...” she glanced at the curtain, “ us.”
Marian looked at her.
“How was Guy when he was little?”
“Why do you care? Because you are… friends?”
“I’m just curious. I can’t imagine him as a child. I donn’t know much about him, he always said he didn’t have a family.”
“He doesn’t. He lost the right to be my brother so many years ago.”
“Yet you are here to ask for his help.”
“He owes that to me!”
Marian shook her head.
“He’s still your brother. You must feel something for him, surely.”
“Hate maybe.”
Marian decided to change subject.
“Did you say that you knew Robin as a child? How is it possible?”
Isabella gave her a surprised look.
“Didn’t Guy tell you? We grew up here, in a village not so far from Locksley.”
Isabella nodded.
“I was very little when our parents came here, I was born in France, but I don’t remember it. Guy did, that’s why he wanted to go back there when our parents died. Bad choice. My brother has never been good at making choices.”
Marian nodded, with a little, bitter smile.
“I know, but he’s improving.”
The sheriff and Matilda came back to the manor, and Sir Roland said that it was time to return to the castle. Marian was reluctant to follow him, she was worried for Guy and Robin, and Guy’s sister intrigued her, she wanted to learn more about their childhood, but Matilda urged her to go.
“Robin and Guy both need peace and rest now, that’s what I told Little John and Djaq too. Don’t worry for them, they will be fine.”
Marian obeyed with a little sigh, then she turned to Isabella.
“Do you want to come at the castle too? I’m sure there is a free room there.”
Sir Roland nodded.
“We don’t lack space, that’s for sure.”
“Thank you for the offer, but I have to talk with Guy. I need to stay here for now.”
Isabella didn’t say that she was afraid of the sheriff: if he should find out that she had killed her husband’s men, he could decide to punish her, or he could choose to send her back to her husband.
I’d rather die than going back there.

Chapter Text

When Guy woke up, it was already night. He knew immediately that he wasn’t alone and he opened his eyes, startled.
He saw Robin, sitting near his bed and staring at him.
Guy sat up and returned Robin’s gaze.
“What are you doing here?”
“Your sister is sleeping in the other room. I told Thornton to chain me to a leg of your bed if he really had to do it.”
“We don’t chain you because we enjoy that.”
Robin gave him an ironic grin.
“Really, Gisborne?”
Guy didn’t smile back.
“You went to the forest to die, didn’t you?”
Robin nodded.
“That was the idea. But I met your sister and I had to help her. I guess that she’ll never know that I’m still alive just because of her.”
Gisborne rubbed his eyes. He felt tired and sad, empty.
“That’s why we have to chain you. I can’t let you die.”
“Why? Why should you care?”
“I just can’t.”
Robin looked away, almost embarrassed.
“Would my word be enough?”
Guy looked at him.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been very clear, earlier. Do you think that I should live and carry my burden?”
Guy nodded.
“We all have to do it, you’re no different.”
“If I give you my word that I won’t try to take my life, would you agree to remove this chain? I can try to live, but not as a prisoner.”
Gisborne looked at him, warily.
“What would you stop you from lying to me? I don’t want another burden on my soul.”
Robin realized that Guy was really afraid that he could die, that he really cared even if he couldn’t understand why.
“It’s a promise, Gisborne, I won’t try it again.”
“You wanted to do it. You tried to do it, deceiving Little John and disappearing in the forest. You would be dead by now if it wasn’t for a mere chance. Why shouldn’t you deceive me?”
“Because I swear that I won’t! I’m Robin Hood, I don’t lie!”
Guy gave him a glance, surprised by that little outburst of pride, and he found himself believing him, wanting to believe.
“Very well then,” Guy said, taking a key from his belt and throwing it at Robin. The other man grinned and he didn’t move to pick it up. Instead, he just opened the manacle and dropped it to the floor.
“I’m Robin Hood, I don’t need keys.”
Gisborne stared at the chain for a moment, and he rolled his eyes.
“You don’t need keys, but you wanted my permission to get free. Why?”
The embarrassed look appeared in Robin’s eyes again.
“I wanted you to know that it won’t happen again.”
Guy nodded, ashamed in remembering his breakdown.
“So… what now? I guess that you want me out of Locksley as soon as I can. I tried to manage it better this time, I really tried, but it’s not easy...”
Guy looked at him.
“Really, Hood?”
“I said that I will try to live. But I don’t think I can be responsible for the people of Locksley again, not after I betrayed them, not after I ruined their lives.”
“Still, they would prefer you as their lord rather than me.”
“But I can’t. You want me to live, very well, but you’ll have to manage the village in my place.”
Guy recognized the fear in Robin’s eyes. He felt it too, but he found out that it was comforting to see that he wasn’t alone, that Robin was scared as well.
“You’ll have to tell me how to manage it. I’m doing my best, but I’m not always sure I’m doing it in the right way.”
Robin nodded, and they were both silent for a while.
“So, what now? Where do you want me to sleep?” Robin asked, a little awkwardly.
“I’m not giving you my bed.”
“Actually it’s my bed. And your sister took my room.”
Guy glared at him, but he stood up, and he made a gesture towards the bed, to leave it to Robin. He grabbed a bunch of blankets, and he went back to the hall, closing the curtain behind his back.
Robin looked at the curtain in surprise: he had wanted to tease Gisborne, but he hadn’t expected him to give him the bed without the slightest complaint. Somehow he felt disappointed in finding Gisborne so submissive.
Robin felt suddenly very tired, and he lay on the bed with a sigh. That day he had expected to die, to end his sufferings, but now something had changed. Now he was stuck with his burden and he had promised to keep living, even if he had no idea of how to go on, but he didn’t regret helping Isabella.

Isabella woke up with a muffled scream. She bit the sheet of the bed to silence a whimper, then she remembered that she didn’t need to do it anymore. Her husband hated to see her scared for her nightmares and more than once he had beaten her, saying that if she woke him up crying, he would give her a real reason to cry.
But now she was away from him, in a place where nobody wished to hurt her.
She burst out in tears, remembering what she had to do to reach that safe shelter. For the first time in her life she had taken two lives, and it had been even too easy. She knew that those men were almost as cruel as her husband and that they had deserved their end, but she was scared because she had actually killed them. In the moment after she had done it, she had felt almost happy, intoxicated with excitement and she got scared because it would be too easy to do it again, to use against the others the same violence that they usually used on her.
She shuddered: the thought that she could kill her husband too and be finally free was terribly wrong, but even so tempting…
Isabella got up from bed, knowing that she couldn’t sleep anymore, even if it had been an exhausting day and it wasn’t even dawn yet.
She took a candle, and walked out of the room, wondering where Guy and Robin went to sleep. The house was almost a ruin, and most of the rooms still had to be rebuilt. When she entered the hall, she didn’t see Robin, so she guessed that he was sleeping behind the thick curtain that closed a corner of the room, but she immediately saw Guy, sleeping on the floor, right in front of the fireplace.
Isabella walked to one of the chairs placed in front of the fire, silently, and she sat down, looking at her brother. She had the chance to see him only briefly earlier, and always in front of other persons.
Now they were alone, as they had been so many years ago when they had to run away from their lands.
Guy was sleeping on the floor, wrapped in a few thick blankets, and that reminded her of their travel even more.
How many times did they have to sleep on the ground? How many times had they to hide in a stable for the night, cold and hungry, so tired that they fell asleep even if they felt miserable?
She looked at her brother’s face, examining him closely, to find out how much he had changed.
He was a man now, so different from the boy she remembered.
I wonder how different I look to his eyes as well.
But still, she could find in him traits of the brother she remembered, especially now, while he was sleeping. The expression of his face was the same, worried even in his sleep and apparently innocent, when he was not. She knew that he had horrible faults, that he had done things which she could probably never forgive, but she also found out that she had missed him and that she was glad to see him alive and in good health.
I hate him, but I also can’t stop loving him.
Slowly she knelt to the floor, and then she lay down at his side, silently crawling under the blanket, and leaning her head on her brother’s shoulder, like she used to do when they were little and she felt scared for something.
Guy didn’t wake up, but his arm moved and encircled her, protective.
Isabella closed her eyes, tired, and she realized that now she could go back to sleep, and that for once she could feel safe again.

Guy opened his eyes and he was surprised to see his sister huddled at his side, peacefully sleeping in his arms. A lock of her hair was tickling his nose, and he lifted a hand to move it away from his face, remembering that he once had to do that same gesture often, every time that he and Isabella had to sleep together, close to warm each other at winter.
His little sister wasn’t so little anymore, but some things hadn’t changed.
He gave a gentle pull at the lock of hair and Isabella opened her eyes, lifting her face to look at him.
“Guy?” She whispered.
Gisborne grinned.
“Robin took my bed because he gave his room to you and you are here, sleeping on the floor… What’s the point of this?”
Isabella stared at him, a little surprised, then she grinned back at him.
“Did you get your senses back, brother? Or are you going to run away again?”
Both Guy and Isabella sat up on the floor, looking at each other.
“It was a shock to see you...”
“Because you felt guilty for abandoning me when I was a child. Or at least you should.”
Guy sighed.
“I didn’t abandon you, I tried to give you a good chance in life.”
Isabella slapped him, so quick that Guy couldn’t react in time to stop her hand. The slap was hard and painful, but Isabella’s expression hurt him even more. She was looking at him with rage and hatred.
“A good chance in life?! For who?! You sent me straight into hell! I was only thirteen and you gave me to a monster!”
Guy stared at her.
Isabella wiped away her tears, with rage, and she looked at her brother.
“My husband beats me, he had always done it, and he does everything he can think to make my life a hell.”
Gisborne didn’t move, unable to say a single word, to accept the horror of Isabella’s words.
“Guy?” She called after a while, and her brother jumped, startled, hiding the face in his hands.
Isabella realized that he was crying, and she touched his shoulder, worried.
When they were children, her brother rarely wept, not even in the worst moments, hiding every sorrow behind a wall of ice. Once she had thought him heartless, and it was unsettling to see him so emotional now.
“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry...” Guy whispered.
“You really didn’t know that he was so cruel, did you?”
Guy shook his head.
“No, but I should have. He offered me a good price to marry you and I accepted… I didn’t even try to get information on him, I just wanted to be free from the responsibility of taking care of you, I wanted to have the hope of a better life… But doing so I sacrificed yours!”
“You sold me to him?!”
Guy nodded, and Isabella was about to slap him again, but her rage suddenly vanished and she found herself hugging her brother.
“Are you apologizing, Guy?”
“I don’t deserve your forgiveness...”
Isabella sighed, and she gave him a little kiss on his cheek.
“I might forgive you all the same. But stop crying, it’s too strange to see you like this. You never apologized when we were kids, never, not even when you knew perfectly well that it was your fault.” Isabella grinned. “But now you said you are sorry, and I never though I’d hear these words coming from your lips. I think I’ll remind them to you very often from now on.”
Guy looked at her, and he smiled between the tears.
“You always loved to tease me.”
“Well, you gave me many reasons to do it. You used to wet the bed until you were twelve...”
“I hope you don’t anymore, Gisborne,” Robin said, pulling aside the curtain with a grin, “or I should consider sleeping somewhere else.”
Guy jumped to his feet, red in his face, and he glared at his sister.
“Isabella, shut up!”
The woman stifled a little laughter, but she stood up too, and she grabbed her brother’s wrist to stop him from fleeing from the room, then she turned to Robin, pointing a finger at him.
“You shouldn’t eavesdrop! And don’t dare to laugh at Guy, I can tease him, but you can’t. Stop grinning, or I’ll tell everyone of the time when you ate so many apples and you got so ill that you didn’t make to the chamberpot in time. Twice.”
Robin blushed and gave a shocked look at her.
“How do I know?” Isabella answered with a grin. “I overheard your father telling it to our mother so she could prepare a remedy for you. He also said that you threw up all over your bed.”
Guy chuckled and Robin gave him an annoyed glance, but they were both startled when the door opened and Thornton entered the manor.
The man noticed that both Robin and Guy looked to be embarrassed, while Isabella was grinning.
“Good morning, Robin. Sir Guy, lady Isabella.” he said, impassive. “You are up very early. Do you wish me to serve the breakfast now, my lord?”
Robin and Guy traded a look, uncertain on who of them had to answer, but Isabella preceded them both.
“Yes, please, I’m starving!”

Chapter Text

Marian held the reins of her horse, and she led him carefully through the snow, headed to Locksley.
The apprentice of the castle’s falconer was following her on a wagon, with the cage of Vaisey’s falcon well sheltered in the back of the vehicle.
The girl hesitated, afraid to find Guy distressed and broken and Robin still willing to die. She had been shocked when Robin had disappeared in the forest, unable to believe that he had really chosen to give up, to take his own life in the winter cold.
This wasn’t the Robin she knew, and it was her fault if he had changed so much.
Life can be so cruel and sad, Marian thought, dispirited.
It was still early in the morning, but she had left the castle as soon as she could, too worried for the two men to wait any longer.
Marian looked at the manor, ruined and barely habitable, but with many men from the village working on it, to restore it to its old glory.
It’s like us. We are broken, but one day we might be whole again…
She was still trying to find the courage to go inside, when she heard the sound of hooves coming from the road.
Guy of Gisborne arrived on his white horse, coming from the village, and he looked at her in surprise.
Marian smiled, relieved to see that he seemed to be fine.
Gisborne glanced at her.
“Marian! I didn’t expect to see you here… It’s very early...”
“Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Of course I am! Just surprised.”
The girl grinned, amused to see how worried he looked at the idea that she could misunderstand his words.
“I’m happy to hear that, even because I have a present for you.”
“A present?” Guy stopped the horse at the side of Marian’s one.
“Yes, a present. Is it so strange?”
“Actually it is. Nobody gave me any since a very long time.”
Marian thought of all the gifts that Guy had given to her in the past, and she wondered if he liked so much to give her pretty things because he never got presents from anyone.
“Here,” Marian said, handling him a small bundle wrapped in cloth, and Guy took it with a shy smile. “Open it.”
Guy obeyed, and he looked at the new falconer’s glove she had given him.
“I brought Vaisey’s falcon to you. You wanted to learn hunting with it, didn’t you? The boy on the wagon is the falconer’s apprentice, he has agreed to stay at Locksley to take care of the falcon and to teach you how to handle him.”
Guy nodded at the boy.
“Take the falcon in the stable or wherever you think it should be kept. Thornton will find you a room for you in one of the huts,” he said, then he turned to Marian, smiling. “Thank you, I really appreciate it.”
The girl glanced at him as soon as they were alone.
“Guy? How are you?”
Gisborne looked at her, moved.
“Were you worried for me?”
Marian nodded.
“When you galloped away like that, yesterday, I was afraid that you could get hurt too.”
Guy blushed a little, remembering his reaction.
“I am alright, really.” He paused for a moment, then he shyly looked at her. “Do you want to go for a ride? I have to check the traps I set at the edge of the forest.”
Marian eagerly accepted, and they rode side to side at a slow pace.
“I was surprised to find out you have a sister...”
“I was surprised to find her at the manor. I hadn’t seen her in years.”
“She seemed to be mad at you, yesterday.”
Guy nodded.
“She had every right to be. I hadn’t been a good brother for her. But I hope things will change now, I’ll try to make up for my wrongs.”
“I’m sure you will. Is she at the manor, now?”
“Yes, I asked her if she wanted to ride with me, but she preferred to stay at home to rest. She is still recovering after escaping from her husband. That man… he used to beat her… And it’s my fault because I gave her to him, just to have the money to become a knight...”
“She told me that her husband made her life a living hell. But she’s free now. Will you protect her?”
“I’m almost seventeen years late, but I will. I owe that to her.”
Marian glanced at him.
“I didn’t know that you and Robin knew each other when you were little.”
“Maybe it would have been better if we didn’t.”
Guy pulled the reins of the horse, and he dismounted, holding a hand to Marian.
“Let’s walk for a while.”
They tied the horses to a tree and they took the path going up the hill, until they reached a grave, covered in snow. Guy pushed aside the branches of a bush, and Marian saw another cross shaped tombstone, half hidden by the undergrowth.
“Whose tombs are those?” Marian asked, surprised.
“Didn’t Robin show them to you?”
The girl shook her head.
“No, we never went up here together.”
“These are his parent’s graves. Actually it’s only his mother’s tomb, his father’s is empty.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because it’s my fault if his father, and my own parents, died.”
Guy looked away, keeping his gaze on the village downhill, and Marian held her breath.
“But… It can’t be, Guy… What happened?”
Gisborne sighed, and he brushed away the snow from the trunk of a fallen tree so that they could sit on it.
“There is a reason if there was bad blood between us...” he began, and he continued talking, to tell her the events of so many years ago.

Isabella pushed the curtain aside, looking at Robin, who was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
“What are you doing?” She asked.
Robin didn’t move.
“Very well!”
Her tone induced him to turn his gaze on Isabella.
“If you have nothing to do, you can help me.”
“Help you to do what?” he asked, then his eyes widened when Isabella turned her back to him, revealing that her dress was half opened.
“Could you tie it? Thornton’s daughter cleaned it, but it seems that it’s too difficult to tie it without a maid. And you and Guy don’t have many servants here.”
Robin got up from the bed, uncertain on what to do. It was an embarrassing situation, but Gisborne’s sister looked so innocent, that he didn’t know how to refuse his help without looking like a perverted miscreant.
He awkwardly tied the laces, and when he was finished, Isabella handed a brush to him.
“Now do my hair, please.”
Robin stared at her, blankly.
“I have no idea of how to do that!”
The woman giggled.
“I know! I was just teasing you. I didn’t expect that you would actually tie the laces of my dress. I thought that you would be too embarrassed to do it, but you are a naughty boy, aren’t you, Robin?”
She took the brush back and she began brushing her hair, leaving it loose on her shoulders. She had dark, curly locks, similar to her brother’s, but much longer.
“I’ll just wait for Guy for this.”
“To fix your hair?”
“He was good at it. He had to learn when we were alone.”
Robin remembered how his own life had been sad and lonely when his father died, and for the first time he realized that for Guy and Isabella it had to be much worse, because they didn’t have a whole village to support them. He had always thought that Gisborne had deserved whatever happened to him, but he had never thought much about Isabella.
She had been just a child, innocent and without any fault.
“Was it very hard for you when you left the village?”
“When they sent us away, you mean. It was.” She answered, in a harsh tone. “For Guy it was even harder, I guess. I was just a child, heartbroken after our parent’s death. He loved them as much as I did, but he had to take care of me, of both of us. I think I have been cruel to him then, I used to tell him that it was his fault and that I hated him for that, but now I realize that he was just a boy too.”
Robin had never thought about that, he had never felt pity for Gisborne, and he still found difficult to do it.
“He killed my father, I can’t forget it.”
“It was an accident! And it was your fault too.”
Robin looked at her, resentfully.
“My fault? Are you out of your mind?!”
“Our father came back to talk to our mother! Maybe he would have taken us back to France to live together as a family until his death, but you saw him, and you called the people of the village! I was little, but I wasn’t stupid, I heard people saying that it was you who alerted everyone!”
“He was a leper! He couldn’t go back to the village! He was a danger for all of us!”
“He was our father!” Isabella began weeping. “You say that Guy killed our parents, but you killed them too! Mon frère just wanted to send your father away, but that fire would never have been started if your father wasn’t there.”
Robin stared at her, shocked by her words. He had always held Gisborne responsible for the fire, but now Isabella’s words made him feel guilty as well.
“I was a child and the leper scared me...” He began, but Isabella interrupted him, crying even harder.
“So was Guy! And me too! We were all children, but only Guy was blamed for it.”
Robin shut up, unable to find the words to reply. What she said sounded true, but he wasn’t ready to accept her words, he couldn’t take the burden of another fault.
Gisborne carried it for almost twenty years…
He was still standing there, almost petrified, when Isabella came closer, and she hid her face against his shoulder, searching for comfort. Robin awkwardly encircled her with his arms, holding her close, and hoping that she would stop weeping.
He felt his eyes wet with tears too, but he didn’t want her to see them, so he kept holding her, hugging her close to hide his face from her gaze.
The pain was overwhelming, as usual, but Isabella was warm and soft, and she needed to be comforted as well. Their closeness seemed to soothe her sorrow a little, maybe, so Robin kept holding her. He was surprised to find out that that hug felt good for him too, that a little warmth was finding its way into his ice cold heart.

“It’s funny, don’t you think?” Guy said, and Marian frowned: there was nothing funny in the story of his family.
“What do you mean, Guy?”
“Robin, Isabella and me. Living all together in the same house. If Robin’s father and our mother had been able to wed, it would have happened many years ago. We would have grown up in the same house, as if we were siblings. Sometimes fate has twisted ways to make things happen.”
Marian had been staring at the ground, but now she lifted her eyes to glance at him. Guy’s expression was melancholic, and she instinctively caressed his face with a hand. She wanted to comfort him, but she couldn't help noticing how nice it felt touching his skin, soft and rough at the same time for the stubble that covered his cheek. Guy turned, surprised by her touch, and a moment after, Marian removed the hand to press her lips in the same place.
Guy pulled her closer and he tentatively moved his head a little to kiss her.
Her lips were cold and soft, and they opened slightly to return the kiss and to deepen it.
Guy closed his eyes, his heart probably beating too fast, and he felt that he could lose himself completely in her, that just holding her could make him forget everything else. And a kiss could become his whole world.

Robin sat at the table, and he looked at the puzzled expression of Isabella while she listened to Allan’s usual nonsense.
The young man and Djaq arrived a short while ago, curious to meet Gisborne’s sister, while Little John didn’t enter and waited outside, still feeling too ashamed and guilty to show his face at the manor.
Robin mentally sighed, knowing that it was his fault, that John felt responsible for letting him escape. He didn’t dare to think how John would feel if he had succeeded in his attempt to go and die in the forest.
I’m sorry, my friend. I don’t deserve your devotion.
He forced himself to bring his attention back on Allan and Isabella.
Allan was brushing the woman’s face with his fingers, happily chattering.
“So you are Giz’s sister… He never told me about you!”
“It seems he never talked about me to anyone.” Isabella commented, bitterly.
“Oh, you must understand him, he never talked much about anything. If you worked for Vaisey, it was better that way. The former sheriff was capable to use any simple word to hurt you. If he knew Giz had a sister, it wouldn’t have been good for neither of you.”
Isabella wondered how difficult Guy’s life had been after leaving her with Thornton. She had always imagined him happy and free without her, and she had hated him for that, but she was beginning to realize that Guy’s life hadn’t been much easier than hers.
“Are you prettier than him?” Allan asked, still touching her face, and Isabella smiled at his cheeky questions. “I think you are, and I bet you have blue eyes too.”
“You guessed right. And I think we have some resemblance, now that you make me think about it.”
“Not the nose! Yours is prettier!” Allan said, touching it and making her laugh.
Robin was grateful for Allan’s silly chatter, he was glad to see her laughing because he had seen the fear and the pain in her eyes, and then if Allan was talking, maybe nobody would ask him about his attempt to get lost in the snow.
This hope vanished when Djaq went to sit at his side.
“You are not chained, I see.” The girl said, looking at him. “I thought that Gisborne would lock you in that room, and throw away the key...”
“I gave him my word that I won’t try it again.”
Djaq looked at him for a moment.
“And he trusted you,” she said with a light smile.
“He did.”
“John trusted you too.”
“I’m sorry,” Robin sighed, and the girl nodded.
“I know. I’m glad you met her,” she said, glancing at Isabella, “for both of you. And for all of us too.”
“Why does Gisborne care so much if I live?”
“Was he very upset, yesterday?” The girl gave him a sad smile. “He’s a good man, after all, very different from what I thought. He’s not heartless, you know? Not at all. Will you keep your word to him?”
Robin nodded.
“I will.”
They sat in silence, listening to Allan, who had just finished talking and had grabbed his lute, eager to sing his ballads to Isabella.

Guy closed his eyes, and he wished that that moment could last forever. Marian was in his arms, leaning on him and relaxed in his embrace, and he could still feel the warmth of her kisses on his lips.
I know that she isn’t mine, but my heart belongs to her. It always will.
If only he could stay like that forever, with the girl in his arms, so trustful and tender…
He felt her trembling, and he looked at her.
“Are you cold?”
The girl nodded and she stood up, drawing back from Guy’s embrace. Gisborne realized that she was lying, that she just wanted to end that tender moment for some reason, probably because she remembered that she was in love with Robin.
He let her go, saddened, but grateful for having at least that moment.
“I should check the traps and the snares,” he said, trying to ignore the sudden distance she had put between them, “We need all the meat we can get.”
Marian glanced at him, grateful to hear that he had chosen to talk about a common subject instead of their kisses. She felt ashamed, knowing that what had just happened had to be very important for Guy, but she really didn’t want to think about feelings, she was already struggling enough to go on, to keep living even if most of the people despised her.
“You are working a lot to take care of Locksley, even after what they did to you...”
“I’m trying to do my best. The past is in the past, now this village is under my responsibility and for once I want to do well, I want to be proud of what I do.”
Marian smiled, sincerely glad to see him so resolute.
He has been broken, but he’s healing, and I think he’s getting stronger than he was before.
“Let me help you, where did you place the traps?”
“Along that path,” he said, pointing at the trees.
Marian didn’t know well that part of the forest, but she nodded.
“Is it a good place? Do you usually get many prey?”
“There’s the river down there, so the animals often follow the path to reach the water. I rarely come home empty-handed now. And when I’ll learn using the falcon, it will be even better.”
“That poor bird has been lucky to be found by you.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I’m sure you will be kind to him. We paid a terrible price for it, but without the sheriff we are all better. We are free.”

Chapter Text

Guy looked at the new room, pleased: the workers had finished it the day before, and Thornton had already made it ready for Guy and Robin, moving there the bed that was in the hall and finding another one so that both of them could sleep comfortably. Guy smiled in seeing that the faithful servant had also moved his shield, hanging it at the head of his bed.
Warm blankets were neatly folded on the beds, two identical chests were at their feet, and a thick curtain covered the window, blocking cold drafts.
Soon more rooms would be ready. When the weather allowed it, the people of Locksley were working fast to rebuild the rest of the house, and now that they weren’t so scared by Gisborne anymore, they spent more time at the manor, even because they hoped to see Robin.
Guy smiled to see that Thornton hanged a perfectly polished tray on the wall, to be used like a mirror. Once Guy had a glass mirror on the wall of his room, and obviously it had been destroyed during the attack, but the old servant had remembered Guy’s habit of checking his appearance in the mirror when he got dressed, and he had done his best to find a replacement for it.
Gisborne went back to the hall and he smiled with satisfaction. The corner of the room where he had been sleeping wasn’t hidden by the curtain anymore, and the bed had been replaced with a big shelf full of pots, bags and baskets, while bunches of dried herbs where hanging from the ceiling.
Guy was checking that every container was correctly tagged, when Robin’s voice startled him.
“I always wonder when you’ll try to poison us all with those herbs.”
Guy turned, annoyed, both for those words and because Robin had taken him by surprise.
“You know perfectly well that I wouldn’t!” He snarled, and Robin’s face twitched in a small grin at his reaction.
“Relax, I was just teasing you.”
Guy rolled his eyes.
“As if Isabella wasn’t enough.”
Robin, now serious again, looked at the herbs, tidily placed on the shelves.
“You are really into it, aren’t you? This healer thing… It isn’t just a diversion to spend your time.”
“Doing something to help people is good for a change. I’m not a heartless monster, Hood, I didn’t enjoy being cruel, but I had to obey the sheriff.”
Robin was about to say that everything is a choice and that he had preferred to become an outlaw to avoid obeying to cruel orders, but he kept silent. Reproaching Gisborne for what he had done in the past would be useless and it would only create more bad blood between them, and then how could he blame Gisborne, now that he had even bigger faults than him?
“I know,” he said, instead, and Guy glanced at him, in surprise. “Matilda wouldn’t choose just anyone as her apprentice, if she did, it means that she trusts you.”
Guy nodded, almost shyly.
“I’m glad she does. By the way, how do you feel?” He asked, looking at Robin. “You look a little better, less thin.”
“Why do you ask?”
Guy grinned.
“Because Matilda would flay me alive if I don’t take good care of you. And probably the sheriff would do the same.” He put a few ground herbs in two bowls, he poured boiling water in them, and he handed one to Robin, taking the other for himself. “Here, drink this.”
Robin warily smelled it, without drinking.
“What is it?”
“I have no idea. Matilda gave me a bag of this remedy yesterday, and she told me that I should give it to you, and take it as well. She said that it helps to avoid winter ailments, and that if we drink a cup of it everyday, it can make us stronger.” He took a sip of it and wrinkled his nose. “It tastes foul, though.”
“I wonder why all the remedies taste horrible...”
“I usually put honey in them, but we don’t have many jars left, it’s better to keep it and use it when we really need it.”
Guy sighed, then he emptied the bowl quickly, trying to ignore the bitter taste of the remedy. Robin glanced at him, then he drank too.
Gisborne placed the empty bowl on the table, then he took a cloak and turned to look at Robin.
“Hood? Would you come with me?”
“To the mill. There’s something off with it, but we couldn’t understand what is wrong. Maybe you could spot the problem, so we can fix it.”
Robin’s expression darkened.
“I can’t. I don’t want to see people.”
“They all wish to see you. I heard some of the workers say that they are eager to come here to rebuild the manor because they hope to catch a glimpse of you.”
Robin stared at the floor.
“I can’t face them.”
“You can’t hide forever.”
“Says who?”
“Look, Hood, they tried to stone me to death, but I still show my face around the village, I’m sure you can do it too. However, if you come, I’ll keep everyone away.” Guy paused for a moment, overcoming his pride. “Please Hood, I really need your help.”

Robin lifted the hood of his cloak to hide his face, and he clasped the reins of the horse, glad for the gloves that Gisborne had given to him because he could feel sweat on his palms, despite the freezing cold.
He didn’t know why he had let Gisborne to persuade him, but now he was out of the manor, on the saddle of a big brown mare, and he only wished that he could go back into his hiding place.
But he couldn’t: Guy was at his side, riding Vaisey’s white horse, and Isabella was at his other side, on a grey mare, not too young, but lively enough to keep their pace.
The woman had joined them while Gisborne was still pleading him to come at the mill, and she had been delighted at the idea of a ride in the snow. She had began entreating both her brother and Robin to let her come too and Robin soon found out that he had no way to escape the pleads of two Gisbornes at once.
So now he was outside and he felt like he was dying. The snow was too bright, the trees too tall, and he had the impression that everyone was looking at him. His heart was beating too fast, he could barely breathe and he could feel bile rising in the back of his throat.
He swallowed.
I can’t be sick in front of everyone, he thought, and this new worry worsened his nausea.
“Isabella?” Guy’s voice broke the silence, and his sister looked at him. “I forgot to take my bow and arrows, would you be so kind to go back to the manor and bring them to me? We’ll wait for you at the mill.”
The woman was about to reply that Guy could go and take them on his own, but she suddenly realized that her brother didn’t care for that weapon at all, but he just wanted her to leave him and Robin alone. Robin was very pale, and he looked to be in distress, so she didn’t complain and she turned back her horse.
“Hood?” Guy asked, as soon as she went away. “Are you alright?”
Robin didn’t dare to open his mouth to answer, and he weakly shook his head.
Gisborne took the reins of Robin’s horse and he headed quickly for the path that went into the forest, even if it wasn’t the shorter one to reach the mill. Robin closed his eyes, trying his best to overcome the waves of nausea and to keep sitting in the saddle.
When he was about to give up and humiliate himself, Gisborne stopped the horses. Robin saw that they were alone, in the woods, and he hurried to dismount and to rush in the undergrowth, managing to make just a few steps before being violently sick.
He felt so weak, and his stomach hurt so much, that he was afraid that he was going to fall to the ground and die right there.
He began weeping, frightened, unable to stop heaving and fearing that he couldn’t catch his breath.
Is this the end? Will they find me lying here, in a puddle of vomit? The humiliating end of Robin Hood...
A voice in his mind suggested that after all death was what he had wanted so much, that he should be relieved to go.
No! Not yet! Not like this!
He was about to drop to the ground, when he suddenly felt strong arms supporting his aching body.
Gisborne helped him to lean on the trunk of a tree until the nausea subsided and he stopped retching, then he half dragged him away from that place and he made him sit on a fallen log and he sat at his side in silence.
Gisborne had placed a hand on his back, between his shoulder blades, and he just kept it there, without saying anything, just waiting, until Robin’s breathing slowed down.
Only then, he talked again.
“Better?” He asked, offering him an handkerchief he had dampened in the snow.
Robin took it and he buried his face in the cold, wet cloth, hoping to hide his shame and to make the flush fade away.
“Thanks,” he mumbled, but he just wished that he could disappear or that Gisborne wasn’t there to witness his humiliation.
But the knight seemed to have no intention of making fun of his weakness.
“I’m sorry,” Guy said, instead, in a humble tone.
Robin dared to glance at him.
“You are sorry? What for?”
“I pushed you to come, when you weren’t ready for it. I should have known better, I should have remembered how frightening it can be...”
“I don’t want your pity,” Robin snarled, suddenly furious both at himself and at Gisborne. “We both know that I am done for, that I’m just a shadow of the man I was. You don’t need to fake sympathy, just to make me feel better!”
“I’m not faking anything, you idiot! I know how you feel because it happened to me too!”
Robin remembered Guy’s extreme reaction when he had tried to go to die in the snow, and he thought that maybe the knight wasn’t lying, but surely in Gisborne’s case it couldn’t have been that bad.
“What? Did you end up throwing up in a bush just because you are too scared to put a feet out of the door?!” He asked, in a spiteful tone, and he was surprised to see Gisborne grin.
“Change the bush with a basin and the door with a drop of blood, and your description will be quite accurate.”
Robin gave a puzzled look at him.
“For months I couldn’t remember anything about the siege, I could feel nothing at all, I felt dead inside. With time this got better, but still I had no memory of what happened. Then, when the lovely people of Locksley tried to stone me to death, I remembered, and it wasn’t nice. Not at all. Seeing the smallest drop of blood while I was shaving was enough to make me sick and to feel shattered… I know, believe me, I do.”
Robin waited for him to continue, but Guy didn’t.
“When did it pass? When did you became whole again?” Robin asked after a while.
“I didn’t. It’s still there. The fear, the horror, the nightmares… they are still inside me and I don’t know when they’ll come to the surface again. Probably they’ll never really go away.”
Robin averted his gaze.
“All this because of me...”
Guy shook his head.
“You are the only one who thinks so.”
“But it’s true.”
“Hood, you know that there never was much love between us… Do you really think that if I believed that you were responsible for that slaughter, I wouldn’t have already taken my revenge on you? No, Hood. It wasn’t your fault, nor mine and not Marian’s either. It was the sheriff’s fault, and prince John’s. One is dead, and I hope he burns in hell, and the other won’t dare coming in Nottingham, now that Sir Roland is the new sheriff. He’s very close to the king, and prince John surely wouldn’t be happy if his brother should learn the truth about his plots.”
Guy stood up, stretching his back.
“Are you feeling better, now? Do you think you can ride?”
Robin sighed and gave a little nod.
“Guess so.”
“Come, then. I’ll take you back to the manor,” Guy said, gently.
“I promised that I will keep living, so I guess that I’ll have to live with this.” He gestured at himself, almost in disgust. “If you can do it, I can too, surely.”
“Hey, what do you mean using that tone?”
Robin collected all his strength to grin at him.
“Nothing, I was just saying that I’ll come to the mill, after all.”
“You sure?”
“No, but let’s go.”
Guy smiled and he held a hand to him to help him to his feet.

When they reached the mill, Isabella was already there, a slightly bored expression on her face.
“Well, you took your time. I was beginning to think that I went to the wrong mill. I bet that Guy got lost in the forest, he always does.”
“That’s not true! It only happened once, in a forest I didn’t even know! Well… twice, maybe.”
“How about a dozen times at least?” Isabella grinned.
“Half of those times, you chose the way!”
“You were older, you should have known that it was wrong!”
“If I said that, you’d begin to whine and complain!”
“You always whined and complained!”
The miller was standing aside, half terrified, and he was looking at Gisborne and at that strange woman, uncertain if the knight was angered or not, and if, in that case, he was dangerous to him or to his family.
Robin, instead, was amused to see the two siblings bickering like that, their childish quarrel could somehow distract him from his anguish.
Robin grinned when Isabella picked up a handful of snow and she threw it at her brother, hitting him right in the face.
Guy shook his head to clear the snow away, like a big black dog, then he rushed towards his sister, with the intention of lifting her in his arms and throwing her in the snow, like he used to do when they were children and they had fun playing during winter, but as soon as he touched her, Isabella shrieked and she crouched to the ground, in fear.
“No! Don’t hit me, please!”
Guy froze, shocked by her reaction.
“Isabella… I’d never harm you, I swear… I was just playing… I...”
Isabella looked at her brother and she burst out in tears, jumping to her feet and running to hug him.
“I know, Guy, I know! But for years, he… he only touched me with the purpose of hurting me… When you grabbed me, I remembered his clasp and the pain that followed it...”
Guy held her close, burning with rage against Thornton who dared to hurt his sister like that and against himself, because it was only his fault if Isabella had to suffer so much. But now rage was useless, so Guy forced it in the back of his mind, and he tried to calm down to comfort Isabella, who was now quietly weeping with her face buried on his chest.
The miller had reached the rest of his family inside the house, too scared now to stay near Gisborne anymore.
Robin looked at Isabella. He had already seen her crying, after she had killed the two men sent to take her back to her husband, and he still couldn’t fully understand how she could be so fierce and so frail at the same time.
And Gisborne was like that too, he realized. Some moments he looked strong, perfectly in control of his life, but earlier, in the forests, he had confessed to Robin that he was broken too, that the scars of his wounded soul could come to the surface at any moment.
It’s not easy for them, either.
“That swine will never touch you again, I swear,” Guy said, trying to calm Isabella down. “If only he dares to show his face here, he will regret it bitterly. I will protect you, sister, how I should have done many years ago.”
“And you can count on my bow too,” Robin said unexpectedly.
Gisborne gave him a surprised glance, but he was surprised himself as well. He had been deaf to the pleads and the words of his friends and of the people since the siege, feeling dead and unable to care about anything, and now he was offering his protection to Gisborne’s sister, as if he was still able to protect anyone, as if he was still Robin Hood.
Isabella wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, like a child, and she gave a little kiss on the cheek to her brother and a trembling smile at Robin.
“Thank you,” she said, looking at him, and Robin was glad of the hood that covered his face because he felt his cheeks growing hot.
He nodded, then he turned to Guy.
“So, what’s the problem with this mill?”
Gisborne went to find the shuddering miller, and made him repeat what was wrong with the mill, while Robin listened.
The man kept moving his gaze from Gisborne to the other hooded man, nervously, wondering if he was really Robin Hood, as he had heard from the gossips. But he had also heard that Robin was dead too. Which was the truth? If it was really Robin, why was he with Gisborne? And why he kept his face hidden?
Stuttering, he managed to explain that the mill wasn’t working as it once used to do, that the wheel turned, but the millstone didn’t move properly, and finally he was free to go and hide back in his hut while Guy, Robin and Isabella entered the mill to look at its mechanisms.
Robin bitterly thought that Will would have been able to fix it in a moment, then he pushed away that memory from his mind or more would follow and he would end up breaking down again. He focused on the mill, and after a long while, they figured out that one of the wooden gears was ruined and had to be replaced.
Gisborne went to talk to the miller again and he told him that he would send a carpenter to fix the damage as soon as he could find one, then the three of them went away, with good relief of the poor man.

“Brother?” Isabella called, while they were riding back to the manor. “Why was that man so scared of you? He took shelter in his hut as soon as he could...”
Guy averted his gaze, in shame, then, after a moment of silence, he forced himself to answer.
“You had good reasons to hate me, didn’t you? They have reasons too. I worked for the former sheriff, and he was a devil. I wasn’t much better.”
“Nonsense, Gisborne,” Robin intervened, “you were nothing like Vaisey. Bad, yes, but not evil like him.” He turned to Isabella. “He made terrible choices in the past, but he seems to be back on the right path now.”
Guy looked at him, both surprised and grateful for his words, and Robin shrugged as to say that they were even, after Gisborne had helped him to keep some dignity in the forest, earlier.
“Maybe the miller will like you better now that we solved his problem,” Isabella suggested.
“He’ll give credit to Robin for it. But it doesn’t matter, I’m just glad that we did it. Tomorrow I’ll search for a good carpenter, hoping that there’s at least one left at the village. Do you know who could be the right man for this job, Hood? You know all the villagers.”
“You arrested one of them last year, we freed him, but he ran away to another town, and the sheriff killed another one,” Robin said, trying not to think of Will, who was dead too, like his father.
“I guess I’ll have to go to Nottingham, then. I bet that Beatrice knows someone.”
“Who’s Beatrice?” Isabella asked.
“Someone who was kind to me when I needed it. I’ll take the opportunity to check the market and see if we can trade some of the goods produced by Locksley’s artisans with more food. Maybe I could sell some of the remedies I prepared, the healers in Nottingham are terrible...”
Isabella looked at him, a sad smile on her lips.
Guy frowned.
“You reminded me of maman, just a moment ago. I remember that she used to make plans for our village when father was at war, and she always tried to have new ideas to improve the lives of the people. You had her same expression, Guy.”
“Oh. Really?” Guy had been taking aback by her words, and he wished that she was right. It would mean that something of his mother was still living in him, that she wasn’t completely lost to them.
“Really.” Isabella confirmed, and they rode the rest of the way to Locksley in a peaceful silence.

Chapter Text

Guy sat at the table in the main hall, trying to look perfectly calm and in control.
The rightful lord of the manor, Robin of Locksley, had vanished in the other room, as soon as Thornton had announced that two of the villagers had requested to see their lord.
Isabella was sitting near the fireplace, working on her embroidery, but glancing at her brother, curious to see how he would fare.
Gisborne felt nervous at the idea of having to interact with the people of Locksley in Robin’s place: he was sure that those people would be disappointed to see him instead of Hood, and he was afraid that they wouldn’t respect him and his decisions.
He was glad that that morning he had chosen to wear the warm, new clothes that the sheriff had given to him when he had moved to Locksley. They looked too elegant for his tastes, but he knew that the peasants would be impressed to see him dressed like a lord and not wearing his usual leathers.
The two young villagers, a boy and a girl, came into the hall with their heads down, intimidated and uneasy at the idea of having to do with the terrible Guy of Gisborne. They had hoped to see Robin of Locksley, of course, but Thornton had to have warned them because they didn’t look surprised to see him, just afraid.
Guy inwardly sighed, and he thought that at least those two weren’t between the ones who had thrown stones at him.
“Well, what do we have here?” He asked, then, seeing that the two of them didn’t dare to speak, he continued. “I suppose you didn’t come here just to see me, so, what do you want?”
The girl trembled, while the boy seemed to collect all the courage he had, and he glanced at him.
“To marry, my lord. We need the blessing and permission of our lord.”
Guy frowned. Was he so scary that those two peasants had to be half dead with fear just to ask such a simple request? Did the people really saw him as a devil?
He felt sad, remembering the time of his childhood when his father was a respected lord, and Guy could still believe that the people of Gisborne respected and loved his family. One day, he used to dream, he would be strong like his father and wise like his mother, the respected leader of his people.
Guy had completely failed at this when he had managed Locksley for the first time, but now he wanted desperately to do better, to learn how to be a good lord of the manor, how to gain the respect, if not the love, of the people, so that he wouldn’t fail again when he’d finally get his own lands.
“You have them, my blessing and approval,” he said, then, seeing that they didn’t look satisfied with his words, he added: “on sir Robin of Locksley’s behalf.”
The boy was pale and sweating despite the freezing cold outside, but he managed to talk again.
“What price are you asking for it? We are poor, but I’m willing to work hard.”
Guy remembered when he has asked a silver necklace from another loving couple as a fee for his blessing, and how wrong everything went after that. He scratched his cheek, unconsciously searching for the little scar that Marian had left him when she had ran away from their wedding ceremony.
Surely he wasn’t going to ask for a fee now. He didn’t have a need for it now, and he had the impression that it would only bring bad luck.
“No charge. Do your part to rebuild the manor, and it will be enough.”
The two young villagers thanked him profusely, still acting like scared rabbits in front of a hungry fox. They were almost at the door, still bowing to him and stuttering their thanks as they walked backwards, when Guy lifted a finger, struck by a sudden idea.
The boy and the girl froze, fearing that Gisborne was going to say that he had just made fun of them and that they couldn’t marry.
“Yes, my lord?”
“When do you think you are getting married?”
“A month from now, my lord. With your permission the first banns will be read in church next Sunday.”
“Very well, it will give us enough time.”
“Time for what?” Isabella asked from her seat near the fireplace, expressing aloud the question that hovered on the two lovers’ faces.
Guy grinned.
“Time for a celebration. Remember the last party that maman held at Gisborne?”
“The one that almost ended with your hanging?”
“Details. Until then, it was good, people were happy, they were enjoying themselves and everyone had enough to eat, for once. In a month, we will celebrate the wedding of those two, but it also will be a good omen for the rebirth of this place. The manor is being fixed and so is the village, my sister is back to me, and we are all taking back our life in our hands. It deserves some celebration, don’t you think?”
The two villagers nodded their approval, even if Guy thought that they were so frightened that they would have approved anything, and soon they were out of the manor and back to their huts.
Guy turned to Thornton and Isabella, eager to have their opinion and suddenly unsure of himself.
“You think it’s a foolish idea, don’t you? That it will fail as anything I do...”
“We don’t have many supplies, my lord, but I think that we could manage,” Thornton said, prudently, but he gave an encouraging smile seeing that his lord was so worried. “And it isn’t a foolish idea, Sir Guy. When Robin came home from the Holy Land he held a party too. The villagers will surely appreciate it.”
Isabella put her embroidery aside and she stood up, looking at Guy.
“Are you really happy to have me here? Do you really think that my presence is a reason to celebrate?”
Guy nodded.
“Of course I do, you’re my only family. I did wrong to you, but I’m really glad that we could make peace. I missed you, more than I realized...”
He couldn’t continue, because Isabella had run to him to hug him tightly, deeply moved.
“It will be a beautiful party,” she whispered to him, her voice trembling with tears, “and I won’t let anyone try to hang you this time.”

Guy released the arrow, but he missed the pheasant. The bird flew away, and Robin didn’t even try to shoot at it, even if it would have been an easy shot for him.
“Not bad, Gisborne. Once you were a terrible shot, but I think you improved.”
“But not good enough. I missed.”
“What? Are you worried that you won’t have enough food for your party?”
Robin’s tone was sarcastic, almost sneering, and Guy looked at him, piqued.
“It’s our party. To give hope and support to the people of Locksley.”
“I don’t remember you asking my opinion about it, so, as far as I am concerned, it’s your party, to try to get some approval from the villagers so maybe next time they won’t try to stone you.”
“It’s not only about this!” Guy replied, too honest to completely deny Robin’s accusation. “We both know that this winter will be hard for everyone...”
“So you decided to waste precious supplies for a celebration.”
Guy looked stubbornly at the bushes.
“I will catch enough food to sate everyone. And I would have asked for your opinion if you hadn’t made yourself scarce.” Guy grunted in frustration as he missed another bird. “You could help with the hunting, at least!”
Robin glanced at Guy, a little surprised.
“You really care, don’t you? This silly party means something for you...”
“I know that we should save all the supplies we can for harder times, but when those peasants came to ask for my permission to be married, even if they were so shy and frightened, I remembered something that my mother once said...”
Robin followed Guy along the path, silent as a cat, but he couldn’t help being curious.
“It was right before that party, the one when you almost got me killed...”
Robin blushed at the memory of that day, the shame of his behaviour still stinging after so many years, but he nodded, as to invite Gisborne to go on.
“I wasn’t sure at all that we should hold a celebration, after all I couldn’t see anything worth celebrating: many of the men didn’t come back from war, our father between them, the villagers despised maman because she was alone, without a husband and she was a stranger too, yet she wanted to rule our lands all the same. Isabella was lonely and shy, too different from the other kids of the village to have friends, while I still remembered the times of my early childhood in France, when our family was still whole and happy… There were other things too that made me unhappy, but this doesn’t matter, now. I told her my doubts about the party.”
“And what did she say?”
“She said that it was a chance to remember and honour the missing ones, and to show joy and gratitude to the ones who came back. She said that a celebration was always a good way to become united, to give hope and comfort, a good omen for the future.”
Robin sighed.
“Except for when everything goes wrong.”
“There will be no fire wheel, and it seems to me that you won’t use your bow to shoot anytime soon, so things shouldn’t go wrong this time,” Guy said, with a grin and Robin stared at him for a moment before grinning back.
“So… Hope, uh? Really, Gisborne, you are changed.”
“So are you, Hood.”
“True. For the worse, I guess, but I think I don’t completely dislike this new Gisborne.”
Guy frowned in surprise.
“This is high praise, coming from you. Should I go and call for Matilda? You’re not in your right mind if you start saying nice things about me!”
“Of course I’m not! You kept me chained because I lost my mind, did you already forget that?”
Guy rolled his eyes.
“Now you are back to your old self! Teasing me is always fun, isn’t it?”
“Always.” Robin grinned, then he nodded at the bushes. “But now, stop chattering and focus on that bow, weren’t you desperate to catch lots and lots of prey for your party?”
“Our party. And you could help instead of making fun of me.”
“Lift your elbow a little and relax your shoulders or you’ll keep missing.”
Guy did as Robin said, and this time he hit a pheasant. Another bird, startled, flew away.
“You won’t shoot, will you?” Guy asked, walking to the dead bird to pick it up.
Robin followed, his head down. He had his bow across his shoulders and the quiver on his back, but he couldn’t even think to use it. The last arrow he had shot was the one that had pierced Vaisey’s heart, bringing death and blood on the whole county.
“I can’t.” He admitted, in a low tone. “Robin Hood is dead, I guess.”
“Robin Hood is dead, long live Robin of Locksley,” Guy said in a dismissive tone, handing him the dead pheasant, “Here, if you don’t hunt, at least help carrying my prey.”

Allan played a tune on his lute, happily.
The young man was sitting on a bench outside Locksley’s manor, just out of the way of the workers that now were working to rebuilt the first floor, but not far enough that he couldn’t hear their words as they chatted during the work.
By now, he knew every gossip running in the village, and in turn the workers enjoyed working while listening to his lively tunes.
“Hey, Allan!” One of the villagers called at him, in a teasing tone, “How do you like our work so far?”
Allan tilted his head up, as if he could actually see what they were doing.
“The job is fine, the view not so much: you forgot to lace your pants today!”
The man glanced at his lap to see if that was true, while all the other workers burst up in a laugh.
“Did he actually look down?” Allan asked, with a giggle and another man answered, still laughing.
“You can bet he did! He wanted to make fun of you and he fell in his own trick!”
“Serves him right for trying to laugh at a poor blind man!” Allan said, and the men burst out in more laughters.
“You may be blind, but there’s nothing poor about you!”
Allan was about to make another jokingly reply, when he noticed that all the men had fallen silent and they were working quietly now.
“Hey, what’s up with you lot?”
“I guess that they are not comfortable at joking and laughing if I’m around,” a feminine voice said , and Allan smiled, brightly.
“Marian! I didn’t hear you coming!”
“Maybe because you were all too busy laughing.”
“Maybe. And you also have a very light step. Where you searching for Giz? He’s in the forest, hunting.”
“With the falcon?”
“Wrong bird!”
The girl frowned.
“What do you mean?”
“The falconer said that the weather wasn’t good for the falcon, too damp and no wind at all. So he took a Robin instead of a falcon.”
Marian dropped herself on the bench, at Allan’s side.
“Really? Guy went to hunt with Robin? And Robin accepted to follow him?”
Allan nodded.
“Weird, uh? One day he tries to die, and then he seems to come back to his senses. But I can almost understand him.”
“Because it happened to me too. I was miserable because I had lost my eyesight, I couldn’t accept my fate. But then I understood that there was no point in fighting the truth that I was blind. I’ll never see again the light of the sun, the flowers in the forest, the body of a tavern wench… Can you imagine a whole life spent in darkness?”
Marian felt her eyes welling with tears. She realized how terrible a life like that could be.
“Allan… I… I don’t know if I could...”
“Exactly, it seems impossible, but then you realize that there is no choice: you are blind. Once you accept it, it’s easier: you can begin to think how you can live with it, to find the things that can make your life bearable, enjoyable even. That man wasn’t wrong: I may be blind, but I’m not a poor man.”
“And Robin? What about him?”
“He tried to die, and he failed. I heard that Giz was so upset with him after his attempt, that at last Robin gave his word that he won’t try it again. I don’t know well what really happened between those two, but Giz didn’t chain him to the bed anymore, and Robin stopped acting like a fool. I guess that when he realized that he was alive and he had to keep living, he also realized that he couldn’t keep everyone at a distance, that he needed to interact with Iz and Giz at least, since they are sharing a home.”
Marian nodded, gravely, thinking that it was sad that Robin had accepted to talk and spend time with his former enemy, but didn’t even want to see her. She felt hurt, in feelings and pride and she was about to say something bitter, when she recalled Allan’s words and frowned, in puzzlement.
“Iz and Giz?” She asked, and Allan grinned.
“Short for Isabella and Gisborne. Actually it should be ‘Giz and Giz’, because they are siblings and they are both Gisbornes, but it would be a little confusing, don’t you think? So Iz and Giz it is! I might even make a song about them.”
Marian couldn’t help laughing at his nonsense.
“I’d like to hear it just to see Guy’s reaction!”
“I’ll have to start composing it if I want to sing it at the party. Unbelievable, uh? Giz who decides to hold a celebration at Locksley… And Isabella says that it was his own idea, nobody suggested it to him! Makes you wonder if he knocked his head too during the siege!”
“Come on, Allan, it isn’t the first time he does something like that. I remember a celebration for the King Birthday, parties for his birthdays, and...” she stopped, embarrassed.
“And the banquet for the wedding...” Allan concluded for her. “You see, Marian, no one of those celebration was really his choice, they all had another purpose. The party for the King was only a pretext for telling everyone that he was engaged to you. And the parties for his birthday? He needed them to invite people who could help him to get power, friends of the sheriff more than people who really cared for him. Maybe the only time he really wanted to celebrate was when he thought that he was going to marry you, but we both know that it didn’t end well for him.”
“Really? What happened?” Isabella asked, startling Marian, who hadn’t noticed her arrival.
“Giz wanted to marry her, she didn’t, so she left him at the altar after punching him with the big ring he gave to her.”
Isabella stared at the other girl, amazed, then she couldn’t stifle a little laugh.
“A big ring? Was it squared, with some big gemstones on it?”
Marian looked at her, in awe.
“How do you know?”
“It must have been our mother’s ring. Poor Guy, it was quite big, it must have hurt.”
Marian blushed in shame, knowing perfectly well that the biggest pain she had inflicted on Guy that day wasn’t the physical one.
“I...” She began, but Isabella dismissed her word by waving her hand.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure he deserved it, didn’t he? But ‘friends’, mh? I have the sensation that maybe you wouldn’t punch him again now...”
Marian stood up, blushing even more.
“You don’t know anything!”
Allan grinned.
“Well, you can always explain us what do you feel for him. Come on, Marian, Iz is right, you aren’t just friends. I mean, I’m your friend too, but you don’t go kissing me every time you have the chance to do it! Don’t deny it, I might be blind but I’m not deaf nor stupid.”
“That’s none of your business!”
“Actually it is,” Isabella said, “Guy’s my brother, the only family I have.”
“And he’s my friend. Listen, Marian, maybe it’s none of my business what you two do when you are alone, but Giz almost died for you. If it’s only a game for you, you shouldn’t mislead him. Be sincere about what you feel for him.”
Marian didn’t know what to say. Maybe Allan was right, but how could she tell Guy what she really felt, when she couldn’t understand it herself?
What about Robin? What could I feel for Guy when I am still in love with Robin? But… am I still in love with Robin?
“I have to go,” she said, trying to avoid thinking about her feelings, “just tell Guy that the sheriff accepted the invitation and he will send some wine and food for the banquet.”
The girl rushed to get her horse and she went away in a hurry, before Guy and Robin could come back to the manor. She couldn’t face neither of them right now.
“Did she go?” Allan asked.
“I guess we scared her, but maybe it’s time that she sorts her feelings out.”
Isabella agreed, then she turned to Allan.
“Hey, did you call me ‘Iz’ earlier?”
“Don’t do it again.”

Chapter Text

Robin wasn’t paying attention to the path, and he was letting the horse to choose his route, sure that the animal would follow Guy’s horse. Robin was fumbling with the buckle of the saddlebag after putting inside it the last prey they had found in the traps set by Gisborne.
When he was finished, he lifted his head, and he realized that Gisborne had to be in a world of his own too because the horses had wandered in a part of the forest Guy wouldn’t visit willingly, or so Robin thought.
He felt his heart thumping faster, and he struggled to keep calm.
“Gisborne!” He called, and Guy turned with a start.
“What where you thinking?” Robin asked, more harshly than he had intended.
“I was thinking about the north field, I think we should improve its produce. Maybe we should go to York and buy seeds of a different variety, so maybe next year the crop will be richer...”
“No, no! Can’t you see where we are?!” Robin interrupted him with an angry snarl.
Guy looked around and Robin saw his expression changing in awe, as soon as he recognized the place.
“Is this… Gisborne?”
“It hasn’t been called like that in years, but yes, that’s the place.”
“I haven’t been here since the fire.”
Robin was a little surprised.
“I thought you did when you first arrived in Nottingham with the sheriff.”
Guy shook his head.
“I couldn’t. Too many memories,” he confessed, then he glanced at Robin. “How is it now? Did the place change a lot in all these years?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been there either.”
While talking they had arrived near the edge of the forest, but they stopped the horses before reaching it.
“Maybe I should go and have a look… After all, these lands will be mine again...” Guy said, but he didn’t move, hesitating.
Robin nodded.
“Yes, probably you should.”
“Very well, then. Are you coming?”
Robin shook his head.
“I can’t. I’ll wait for you here.”
“I won’t be long.”
Gisborne led his horse out of the forest and for the first time in twenty years, he looked at the lands that had belonged to his father. The place hadn’t changed much, it just seemed smaller than he remembered, but the village was still there.
He couldn’t see the place where the manor had been because some trees hid it, but Guy decided that he had to go there, to look at the place where his parents died.
It was difficult for him, but he forced himself to go on. He was halfway to the village, when he heard Robin’s horse following him.
Guy stopped to wait for him.
“I’m coming too.”
“You said you couldn’t.”
“I also said I couldn’t live with this burden, but I’m still breathing.”
Guy didn’t reply, but he moved his horse so that Robin could ride at his side.
They rode at a slow pace, in silence, their memories becoming heavier at each step, but they were both secretly glad not to be alone.
The people of the village gave wary looks at them as they passed, some of the villagers recognizing Gisborne, and others Robin, but none of them, seeing the grave expression of their faces, dared to stop or talk to the two men.
They passed a bend in the road, expecting to see the burnt ruins of Gisborne Manor, but the building wasn’t there anymore. In its place a group of men were working to build a new manor, while other teams of workers, all wearing the colours of the Sheriff of Nottingham were working on the huts of the village, fixing and rebuilding the ones that needed it.
Guy and Robin dismounted.
Twenty years ago, in the day when their childhood ended, they had been standing there in the same place, witnessing death and destruction, but now they were looking at something completely different. It was a sight of hope and rebirth and it didn’t hurt as much as they had feared.
“My home… This will be my home...” Guy whispered, deeply moved, and Robin glanced at him.
He remembered the day when he had come back from the Holy Land, the sweet sensation of recognizing the beloved places he had left five years ago and knowing that he was back home.
That day he had suddenly realized that he had missed Locksley much more than he had thought possible. Leaving it behind to become an outlaw had been a difficult choice, losing his home for the benefit of the people.
Now, seeing Guy’s emotion, he understood that Gisborne never had the chance to go back home because his Gisborne was lost for good and that was the reason why he had wanted Locksley so badly: Robin’s home in exchange for the one he had lost.
They stood there, looking at the working men for a while, then, when they noticed that the workers were looking back at them with suspicious glances, they decided to go away because neither of them wished to talk to them to explain that they had every right of being there.

“It felt strange...” Guy said after a while. He and Robin were riding in the forest, slowly heading back to Locksley. “Being there with you, after so many years… The place is like I remembered it, but it’s also completely different. I thought that I couldn’t bear going back there, but actually I did. For a moment I…” He began, but then he stopped, shaking his head.
Robin looked at him.
“No, it was a silly thought, you’d just tease me.”
“I promise I won’t.” Robin said, wondering why he was so curious to hear what Gisborne was going to say. He has spent months not caring about anything at all, but now he wanted to know, as if it could make a difference.
Guy looked at him, wary and distrustful. He looked away, but finally he finished his sentence.
“For a moment, while we were looking at the manor, I had the impression that they were there, looking at us...”
“My parents. Their souls.” Guy gave him an ironic grin to hide his embarrassment and to prevent Robin’s teasing. “See, I told you it was silly.”
But Robin seemed to have no intentions of laughing at him.
“No, it wasn’t. I wish it could be true… or maybe not. I don’t think they would be proud of what we became.”
“Are you kidding me, Hood? You’re a hero of the people, I bet that your father would keep singing your praise to everyone if he were alive. He always did even when there was nothing to be praised.”
Robin looked at him.
“What do you mean with that?!”
“I mean that you were always coddled, even when you didn’t deserve it. Did your precious father whip you when you almost killed the priest and gave the fault of it to me?! I’ve been almost hanged, and the day after I heard him saying proudly to my mother that you had learned an important lesson and that it would make you a better man! You almost killed two persons because of your foolishness and you were praised just because you realized that it was wrong! I tried to protect my family and I was banished from the village! And not just me, Isabella too!”
“You killed your parents and my father! If that’s your way of protecting people, God save the ones you want to hurt!”
Guy pulled the reins of his horse to look at Robin.
“Do you really think that I killed them because I am pure evil?! Do you think I don’t have a conscience or a heart? That I didn’t carry the burden of this terrible guilt every day of my life?!”
“Why did you start the fire, then?!”
“I didn’t want to! I just wanted to send your father away! To keep him away from my mother and give a chance to our family! It was an accident, but everyone blamed me for that, and nobody, not one person, tried to defend me. Nobody even thought to ask me what happened, to listen to what I had to say! I had lost everything, but all they cared for was that your father was dead and that they finally had the chance to get rid of the half-french kids! To send away the ones who didn’t belong in their stupid village!”
“My father was protecting the village from the leper!”
“Your father wanted my mother for himself!”
Robin stared at him, uncertain if he had to hit Gisborne for his words or try to calm him down because he was clearly out of his mind.
“Are you raving, Gisborne?” He asked, threateningly, and Guy held his gaze.
“Of course you didn’t know, they shielded you from the truth as usual...”
“Know what?”
“Your father and my mother… They were lovers.”
“Oh, I wish I were a liar, Hood, but it’s true, I’ve seen them with my own eyes. Your father seduced my mother when my father was away at war. They had told us that he was dead, that he wasn’t coming back to us… But he did! And your father still couldn’t leave her alone, he wanted her for himself! They were going to be married when my father was banished!”
Robin stared at him, dumbfounded. He had no idea of that, but he also knew that Gisborne wasn’t lying. He knew that his father always tried to protect him, that he did everything he could to avoid hurting him in any way, but it was hard to think that he had never told him about wanting to marry Ghislaine…
“Well, if he did, she probably wasn’t so unwilling, was she?”
Guy glared at Robin, fighting the urge to punch him for his words. What stopped him was the thought of Marian.
Wasn’t he doing the same thing Sir Malcolm had done with his mother? And in his case it was even worse because Robin was alive, not presumed dead, and Guy was meeting Marian in secret, kissing her behind his back…
He sighed, his anger muffled by the guilt he felt.
“Maybe, but she still loved my father. If your father didn’t arrive, perhaps we would have gone back to France with him, to live as a family until his time came...”
“He was a leper! You would have been banished as well if people found out!”
Guy looked at him.
“They banished us all the same. I just wanted to protect my family and I destroyed it...”
Gisborne lowered his gaze and Robin didn’t know what to say. He had always thought that his father had been perfect, and now Guy’s words revealed that he was a man like the others, capable of loving the wife of another and hiding the truth about it even to his beloved son.
Strangely, that thought was a little comforting. Knowing that his father had faults too, made it a little easier to bear the burden of his own guilt, and to accept Gisborne’s.
They all made terrible mistakes and took bad choices and this shared shame made them equals.
“I wish we could change the past...” Robin said, dispirited, and Guy looked at him.
“We can’t. But we can remember it to make better choices in the future.”
Robin nodded. For once he agreed with Gisborne.
He wondered how their future would be, without realizing that it was the first time since the siege that he allowed himself to think of a future.
“A bonfire,” he said, suddenly, and Guy turned to look at him.
“For your… for the party. We should make a bonfire.”
Guy gave him an ironic look.
“Wouldn’t it be a waste of wood?”
“Maybe. Some people think that the fire of a bonfire can burn ill fate and turn sorrow to ashes, that it’s a way to renew life, like the bird of the myth.”
“What bird?”
“It’s called phoenix. When it’s about to die, it burns and then it’s reborn from its own ashes.”
“Like us.”
Robin pondered Guy’s words, then he nodded.
“Sort of.”
Gisborne smiled.
“A good omen… I like it. We’ll make a bonfire, it’s decided, then. We’ll need a lot of firewood...”
“I’ll help you. I don’t think I can shoot to help with the hunting, but I guess I can manage collecting wood...”
Guy looked at him in surprise, then he held a hand to him, and Robin shook it.

Marian kicked the sides of her horse, galloping away from Locksley. She felt flushed and upset, and she was wondering why Allan and Guy’s sister didn’t mind their own business.
“I don’t have to explain anything to them!” She growled, talking to herself. “They can’t understand!”
The horse whinnied at the unexpected sound of her voice, and Marian sighed.
Maybe Allan and Isabella couldn’t understand, but Marian couldn't either. She had acted on her instinct, but she wasn’t sure she could trust it.
She urged the horse to go faster, so she’d have to put all her attention on the road and she wouldn’t have to think about anything else.
But her mind kept going back obstinately to Guy and Robin somehow. She remembered how Guy had run away after getting his memory back, and she realized that she was doing the same thing: galloping away from painful thoughts.
She slowed down the horse and she let him free to choose the way, while she looked around. She was halfway between Locksley and the castle, on the main road, and that place was unchanged, untouched by prince John’s troops.
She remembered riding at her father’s side when she was just a child, on her first pony. She didn’t remember where they were going, maybe at the castle or at the market, but she still kept in her heart the memory of a sunny day. She had been proud to be able to ride to Nottingham on her pony, and happy that her father was giving her his full attention, listening to her childish chatter and telling her about the county and the people who inhabited it, explaining her his work and how the things worked. Marian had been a curious girl, and she kept asking more information about the people of the villages, their jobs, their houses and how they lived, getting worried and sad when Sir Edward told her of the poor, of the people who couldn’t afford food or remedies for their ailments.
She felt sad for them and she never forgot to give some bread or a little coin to the beggars, but she only realized the full meaning of poverty only later in life, when she discovered that the daughter of one of the servants of Knighton Hall had been very ill for a long time because her family had no money to pay a healer. But that day of her childhood had been happy and quiet and she could feel the warm love her father had for her.
She lifted a hand to wipe away her tears and his absence hurt her more than ever. She was so confused about her feelings and she craved for her father’s guidance, she longed to hear his voice giving her the wise advice she had always ignored in the past.
Once her father had told her that one day she would regret her wilfulness, and she knew that that was the day.
Marian closed her eyes to recall the image of her father smiling at her, opening his arms to welcome her in the comfort of a hug, but all she could see was his limp body, swinging on the gallows for her fault.
She hid her face in her hands, sobbing, and she wished that Guy was there to hold her in his arms and to comfort her with his warmth, as he had already done so many times after the siege.
She abruptly pulled the reins, and the horse stopped, shaking his head with a whinny, while Marian was shocked by that turn of her thoughts.
When her life was so sad and grim and her heart so full of sorrow, her mind turned to Guy to search for his love and his protection, her body longed to be held by him, to feel his warm skin against hers, to taste the touch of his lips, tender and demanding at the same time.
She wanted him.
Do I... love him as well?
In the past she had shunned his courtship, she had despised the dark henchman of the sheriff, but after the siege everything changed.
The hurt, the pain, had cracked Guy’s defences and Marian had been able to see another side of him, a weaker side maybe, but one that she could understand and be fond of.
And she was.
Do I love him?
She forced herself to look at her own feelings, even if she was afraid of the truth.
The truth is that I probably do.
Admitting it to herself was difficult and scary, but also liberating and her soul felt lighter.
Marian was terribly afraid, but at the same time excited to explore these new feeling that had sprouted in her heart.
“Guy,” she whispered, and her heart thumped at the sound of his name, filling her with a sweet, inebriating sensation.
She wanted to see him, to walk and ride at his side, to spend the rest of the day talking with him…
Kissing him. She thought, blushing.
She turned her horse, following the urgent need to reach him, and she was about to start galloping, when Allan’s words came to her mind and her smile faded.
Guy had gone hunting with Robin.
The man who had sacrificed everything for her.
The man who had loved her so much and who now couldn’t even look at her.
How would he react if he knew that she had fallen in love with his rival? Would it be the blow that destroyed him completely?
She felt like a traitor, undeserving of the love of anyone.

Matilda scraped the trunk of a tree with a knife to collect its bark, and she carefully put every scrap of it in the basket she was holding.
She heard the sound of horses approaching, and she hurried to hide in the bushes. After the siege, most people had worked hard to rebuild their lives, but some other had chosen the easy way, becoming thieves and robbers, dangerous outlaws who attacked people, taking away the few belongings they had.
She spied at the riders as soon as they entered her sight, and she found herself smiling fondly. What she was seeing exceeded her brightest hopes.
Robin, who just a few days ago had decided that he didn’t want to live anymore, now was out of the safe refuge of his room, unshackled, and he was riding at Guy’s side, looking almost like his old self.
Matilda knew that it wasn’t so easy, that it was too early to consider him, and Guy too, recovered.
Probably neither of them would ever be completely healed after what they had to endure during the siege, but they were better, and she could see it. Robin, who had looked so frail when he was at the camp, seemed healthier, while Guy appeared more confident, almost serene.
The two men were talking, engrossed in conversation, and that was an improvement too, considering their troubled past, the bad blood between them.
Matilda thought that maybe she shouldn’t interrupt them and she was about to step back and leave them alone, when Guy suddenly turned in her direction, a frightened look in his eyes.
“Who’s there? Show yourself!” He shouted, while Robin just froze, becoming noticeably pale.
Matilda hurried to step out of the bushes, smiling.
“It’s me, my boys, don’t fret.”
Guy exhaled a sigh of relief, and he turned to glance at Robin.
“Are you alright, Hood?” He asked softly, and at Robin’s tight nod, he turned back to Matilda, with an awkward smile. “Well, you startled us!”
Guy dismounted, shortly imitated by Robin, and Matilda approached them with her arms open. She reached for Guy, crushing him into an affectionate hug, and she lifted her hands to push his hair away from his face and plant a kiss on his cheek.
“You should cut or tie your hair if you go hunting, or it will get in front of your eyes. It has grown long, dear child, but I think it suits you, Maybe it will be better to tie it, after all, it would be a pity to cut those nice locks.”
Guy grinned at her words, amused. He had never paid much attention to the length of his hair, he simply had other things that took his attention rather than care about trimming it, but he relished Matilda’s words, being happy to know that he pleased her.
Maybe Robin would tease him for showing so openly the affection he felt for Matilda, but it didn’t matter so much. Hood had already witnessed his weaker side, and Guy had seen him raving and wanting to die, they were already over such insignificant things.
If Hood wanted to laugh because Matilda treated him like a child, so be it, Guy wouldn’t hold back his feelings for the healer just for that reason.
But Matilda had turned to Robin, and she had placed her hands on his arms, carefully, as if he had been a wild horse and she didn’t want to spook him.
“What about you, love?” She asked gently, and Robin shrugged without returning her gaze.
“I still breathe as you can see.” He said in a flat tone, looking at the ground, and Matilda caressed his cheek.
“Well, it’s a good start, isn’t it?”
“We’ll have a bonfire!” Guy said, and Matilda gave a confused look at him, so he went on explaining. “For the party. It was Hood’s idea.”
The healer stared at him for a moment and she smiled a little to see that Guy seemed to be so excited for a simple celebration when just a few weeks ago he had professed his hate and contempt for the people of Locksley. She was also surprised to notice that he had made sure to tell her that the bonfire had been Robin’s idea, as if he wanted to encourage him.
Matilda recalled the days after the siege, when Robin was just a screaming lunatic and Guy used to say that he couldn’t feel anything at all, and suddenly she felt moved to tears.
“It’s a good idea,” she said, now finally daring to gently hug Robin, who let her hold him, without moving. Matilda stepped back after a moment, then she turned her back to them to hide her emotion and she pointed at a tree. “Guy, you shouldn’t neglect your training. I know that you are very busy right now, but remember that a healer never stops learning. Tell me what that bark is used for.”
Guy glanced at the tree.
“For pain and to lower a fever, our mother used it too, it wasn’t a difficult question.”
Matilda nodded.
“Right. But it’s not so easy, either. Suppose you have to treat a knight who had suffered many wounds, and who is bleeding and is in a lot of pain, would you use it?”
“Of course. It would soothe some of the pain.”
“Surely, but it could be dangerous too. Willow bark can slow the healing of the wounds, and make them bleed even more. If the patient already lost a lot of blood, you must be careful with it. You’ll have to decide when it’s better to ease the pain and when it’s safer to make the patient suffer a little, but have the wounds healing faster. Sometimes it can be a difficult choice.”
“How do you know what’s the right thing to do, then?”
“Experience, instinct, knowledge. That’s what makes the difference between a good healer and a bad one. In part it’s a gift, in part you can learn it.”
Guy scraped a little piece of bark from the tree, and he looked at it, frowning.
“Matilda, do you think I have it in me? Can I become a good healer?”
“Who knows, my dear? I think you could, but we’ll find out in time, no need to worry about it now. Where you going back to Locksley?”
Guy nodded.
“We’ve been hunting for the party. I’ll ask the women of the village to bake some meat pies.”
Matilda smiled.
“Then you can give me a ride, I am going to Locksley too.”
“To see Rosa and Alice? How do they like their new house?”
“Rosa is happy to live there. I didn’t want to accept the sheriff’s reward, but now I see that I was wrong. I don’t need anything, but my daughter did. Now she has the means to take care properly of the child and she’s happy to have a place where she can work on her embroideries. She sold some of them at the market last week and she had good earnings.”
Guy waited for Robin to mount again, then he went in the saddle and gave a hand to Matilda to help her to mount behind him. The healer gave her basket to Robin, then she took Guy’s hand and let him pull her on the horse.
She put he arms around Guy’s waist, and the knight gently kicked the sides of the horse to make him move.
“Meat pies, uh?” Matilda said, smiling. “Then maybe we can have another lesson on herbs. Some of them have a pleasant taste, they can be added to the stuffing of a pie to make it taste better. Let’s see if you can name any of them, and then I’ll tell you if you are right and how to use them...”
Robin followed Guy’s horse, listening to Matilda’s calm voice, interrupted every now and then by Guy’s questions and comments. He didn’t care much about the properties of the herbs, but he found the quiet sound of their conversation soothing to his mind.
He rode to Locksley treasuring that unexpected moment of peace.

Chapter Text

Marian lifted a hand to shield her eyes and she looked at the falcon, up in the sky and far away. Then the bird suddenly plummeted, to catch his prey.
The girl hoped that the hunt was successful, but she was too far to see what happened. She could see Guy in the distance, riding with the apprentice of the falconer at his side, but Gisborne didn’t know that she was looking at him.
Since she had acknowledged her feelings for him, she hadn’t dared to meet him, uncertain on how she would behave.
She was almost sure that she had fallen in love with him, but how could she allow those feelings when they could deeply hurt all of them? She was afraid, and she felt guilty for that too.
Marian thought that she had made a mistake to go and look at Guy hunting, even if he wasn’t aware of her presence. Her heart longed to reach him, to let the love she felt for him free to flow, but she forced herself to stay hidden behind that tree.
I’ll see him at the celebration. We won’t be alone and nothing bad will happen.
The falcon flew high again, and Marian turned her back to the hunters, to avoid giving up to the temptation to reach Guy. Silently, and taking care to keep hidden in the undergrowth and behind the trees, she went back to her horse and she galloped away.
She didn’t want to go back to the castle, she couldn’t stand spending the rest of the day with the other women of the castle, listening to their shallow gossip and being humiliated by their neat, perfect needlework.
Marian wished that she could reach Guy and help him hunting, but she knew that she couldn’t, so she urged her horse to go towards Knighton, to see how her manor was being rebuilt.
She hoped it would be finished soon.
Marian was grateful to the sheriff for letting her stay at the castle and for giving her lands back to her, but she missed her freedom. She was aware that even at Knighton she wouldn’t be as free as she had been in the forest, but at least she could have the luxury of being alone if she wished to.
She was glad to see her old village again, even if the people didn’t look at her.
They still despise me. They don’t dare to say anything because they know that the sheriff is protecting me, but they still think it’s my fault.
Her heart went to Guy, remembering how the people of Locksley had turned against him, and she took some courage in thinking that now those people were beginning to accept him as their lord.
If he could find the will of living in a place where people had actually tried to kill him, she could find her place back in Knighton too, she was sure of it.
It’s another thing we have in common. We are both outcasts, but neither of us is going to give up.
Marian blushed when she realized that now she often thought of Guy and her as ‘we’, and she tried to push that thought out of her mind.
She went near the manor and she stopped her horse to look at the workers: the house was half done and she rejoiced at the sight. Maybe in spring she would be able to go to live there and finally begin her new life, her life as a survivor.
She turned her head in hearing some commotion and she saw a group of men gathered around a horse they were using to drag a beam of wood. The poor beast wasn’t in good shape: he was too thin and his black coat was marred by the scars of lashes and burns.
But he still had some spirit, and he was rearing and kicking at those men who were treating him so badly, fighting even when he didn’t have the strength to fight.
Poor horse. He reminds me of us. We are broken, desperate, but we still struggle to get our lives back…
She went closer, determined to stop those men from tormenting him.
One of them was about to strike him with a whip, but Marian took a pebble and she threw it at the man, hitting his hand and making him drop the whip.
The man turned to look at her, ready to start a fight, but he stopped when he saw Marian. He couldn’t attack a woman, and then he wasn’t sure how to feel about her: she had been the beloved daughter of Sir Edward, their rightful lord, but then it was also her fault if so many people died, and now everyone knew that the new sheriff gave many privileges to the surviving nobles like her and Gisborne.
“Why did you hit me?” He asked, in a hostile tone.
“You were about to hurt that poor beast.”
“It’s useless. Too easily spooked, and too weak to work hard, I barely have any use for it. The only way to make it work is to whip it until it moves.”
Marian frowned, enraged to hear those cruel words, but she tried to keep calm for the sake of the animal.
“It’s not a working horse, that’s evident. Why are you using him to carry weights?”
The man shrugged.
“I found it wandering after the attack. I know that’s not a good beast, but hey, I got it for free, so I might as well put it to some use.”
Marian looked at the horse, mad with fear and pain, and she suddenly know that she wouldn’t allow him to suffer anymore.
“Sell that horse to me.”
The man looked at her as if she had lost her mind.
“Why should you want this hellish beast? You surely wouldn’t have the guts to whip it, and the fear of the whip is the only thing that make it obey. It would trample you to death in a moment… my lady.
The girl wanted to slap him for the contempt he put in the last two words, but instead she put a few coins in his hands.
“I said that I want to buy him.”
“This is not enough.”
“You got him for free, you might as well have stolen him, and you are clearly mistreating him, so I daresay that I gave you even too much. If you don’t agree, we might ask the sheriff if that horse could be considered your lawful property or not.”
With a glare, the man grabbed the coins and threw the reins at her.
Marian hurried to free the horse from his harness, fearing that he would kick her, but the animal seemed to understand that Marian meant no harm to him, and he stood still until she freed him from his load, then he gladly followed her own horse, away from the village.
She only stopped when she was far away from Knighton, fearing that the man could change his mind and demand the horse back, but, when they arrived in a meadow by the river, she dismounted from her horse and she approached the black horse to check his conditions.
She expected him to retreat, to shy away from her, but instead he reached her hand with his nose, searching for her attentions.
Marian smiled, scratching his muzzle, surprised to see how trusting he had become in such a short time.
She sighed, seeing the scars on his sides. The burns were old, but the lashes were still raw and they had to hurt a lot.
The girl thought that she should do something to help the poor beast, and she wondered if she should call Matilda to see if she could treat him. But she knew that the healer was always very busy and that she barely had time to take care of all her human patients, would she come for a horse?
Guy! I could ask Guy! He’s fond of horses and Matilda is teaching him how to treat wounds.
Marian smiled, happy that she had found the perfect solution to help the horse.
And the perfect pretext to see Guy, a voice in her head suggested, but she promptly silenced it.

Marian was slowly approaching to Locksley, setting her own horse to a slow pace to not overexert the black stallion. The poor beast was meekly following her, and she wondered if Guy was still hunting with the falcon or if he had gone back to the manor in the meanwhile, so when the black horse reared and pulled at the bridle, she was taken by surprise and the reins slipped from her hand.
She looked at the black horse running away from her, in a field, and she hurried to follow him, afraid that he could get lost before she could cure him.
While she galloped after him, she was surprised by his speed: he was malnourished and wounded, but he was still able to run like the wind, his pace elegant and steady.
The horse didn’t look scared or panicked, but he was running so fast as if he was in pursuit of something.
Marian saw the falcon in the air, almost above her head, and she realized that Guy had to be close. It was only when the black horse jumped a hedge and she followed him, that she actually saw Gisborne at the other end of the meadow, waiting for the falcon to catch a prey.
Guy turned to look at them when he heard the sound of the approaching horses, and then, to her surprise, he dismounted and he began to run towards the black horse.
Marian cried, terrified to see that he was right on the horse’s way, and she closed her eyes, sure that he would be trampled to death, but when she dared to look, she was even more amazed: the black horse had stopped and he was happily neighing, while Guy had his arms around the neck of the stallion and his face buried in the tangled mane.
Marian hurried to reach them, and she was shocked to see how moved Guy was when he looked at her.
“My horse… You found my horse! I thought he was dead… Killed in the siege...” He couldn’t go on, his voice choked with tears.
Marian dismounted and she hugged him tight while Guy tried to hide his emotion and failed. She couldn’t see his face, but she knew that he was weeping.
Maybe he was ashamed of showing her this weaker side, but she didn’t care, to see him so vulnerable didn’t change her feelings at all, and however her face was wet with tears too.
Marian closed her eyes, leaning her face on Guy’s chest and enjoying the warmth of his arms.
Now she was really sure.
I love this man.

Robin turned in bed and opened his eyes, meeting Isabella’s gaze. The woman was standing on the threshold, and she was looking at him, an impish smile on her lips.
“Good morning,” she said, and Robin sat up in bed, returning her stare.
“Were you spying on me?”
“Actually I wasn’t. I was searching for my brother.”
Robin looked at the other bed, empty and apparently untouched.
“Well, he isn’t here.”
Isabella grinned.
“I bet he’s in the stables again.”
The woman smiled fondly.
“It was a long time since I’ve seen him so happy. He spent all day taking care of that horse, and I’m sure he spent the night there, to watch over him.”
Robin recalled hazy memories of his stay at the camp, when he was lost in his own mind. He wasn’t sure they were true, but he could remember Gisborne sitting by his bed and talking to him, sometimes wiping his face with a wet towel or helping Matilda to take care of him.
He had always preferred to consider those fragmented memories as dreams, parts of a longer nightmare, but the previous day, looking at Guy while he cleaned and treated the wounds on the side of the horse, he recognized the gentle movements of his hands, his careful touch, and Robin thought that maybe those memories were true and that Gisborne had really tried to help him in his lowest moment.
He didn’t like to feel in debt with Guy, but he also knew that he couldn’t help getting closer to him, since they lived in the same house.
Are we becoming friends?
The thought seemed absurd, but deep in his soul Robin felt that it wasn’t so far from the truth. They had survived a tragedy and the shared experience brought them to be closer instead of stressing their differences.
“Did he came to dinner? I went to bed early, yesterday.”
Isabella shook her head.
“I think Thornton took something to him before going back to his hut for the night, but Guy didn’t show up. I suppose we could bring him some breakfast and see if he’s still alive, but first I should see if Hannah already arrived, so she can do my hair.”
“I can help you with it,” Robin suggested, and Isabella laughed.
“You said you weren’t able to do it.”
“If your brother can, I’m sure I’ll be able too, and besides I’m a quick learner.”
The woman smiled.
“I don’t know if I can trust you,” she said, but she took a brush and handed it to Robin, before sitting on his bed. “But beware, if you pull my hair, I’ll get back at you.”
“Really? How? You don’t look very threatening, you know?”
Isabella grinned.
“Oh, but I am. Ask Guy. Once he tried to put a frog in my bed to scare me… Well, he never, ever tried it again. I bet he still remembers my little revenge.”
Robin found himself grinning back at her.
“I’ll better be very careful with your hair, then.”

Guy woke up feeling a warm breath on his face and he smiled when he opened his eyes and saw the black muzzle of his horse nudging at him. He lifted a hand to scratch the nose of the stallion and the horse softly neighed. Then even the white horse snorted from his stall, demanding Guy’s attentions.
Gisborne sat up in the heap of hay where he had fallen asleep and he stretched his back, a little sore for sleeping on the ground. He shivered and he wrapped himself tighter in the old thick blanket he had used to sleep, then he stood up and paced in the stable, trying to get warm a little.
He gave food and water to the white horse, scratching his muzzle for a while, then he went back to the black horse’s stall to check his wounds and apply some more ointment on them.
Guy was pained to see the scars on the sides of the horse and he couldn’t bear to think how much the poor beast had to suffer. He felt a dark rage surging in his soul when he looked at the lashes’ wounds. He was tempted to force Marian to tell him who was the man who dared hitting his noble stallion and make him regret his cruelty, but he was certain that the girl wouldn’t say anything because she knew what he was capable of.
He forced back his anger into the depths of his mind, and he tried to calm down, for the horse’s sake at least, because he could feel his inner turmoil and become upset too.
He caressed the horse’s neck with slow, soothing movements.
“You’re safe now, nobody will ever hurt you again. You’ll get better soon. I’ll make you get better.”
Guy took an apple from the basket that Thornton had brought to him late at night, before going away from the manor. Guy had eaten the bread and the cheese, but he hadn’t touched the apples, sharing them between the two horses.
The black horse neighed and took the apple from his hand, happily chewing it while Guy watched him.
“Guy?” Isabella’s voice startled both him and the black horse, who reared and kicked at the ground. Gisborne hurried to calm him, afraid that he could hurt himself against the walls of the stall. At last the stallion was pacified, and Guy left him alone, reaching his sister at the entrance of the stable.
“I didn’t mean to startle your horse,” she said, a little worried, “Will he be all right?”
“He suffered a lot and he’s still very afraid, but I hope that in time he’ll realize that he’s safe now.”
“You got better, didn’t you? And Robin too, why shouldn’t your horse do the same?” Isabella said, putting her hand on her brother’s arm while they walked out of the stables.
Guy gave a little sigh.
“I’m afraid we’re still very far from being well. Maybe it will never happen.”
“Oh, Guy, come on! You shouldn’t be always so gloomy. Your horse will get better and so will we. I want to believe that our lives are going to get better and better day after day, and you should believe it too.”
Gisborne smiled at her.
“I’ll try.”
Isabella nodded, satisfied.
“Now let’s eat our breakfast, I’m hungry. And then you should take a bath, you smell like one who had spent the night in a stable.”
“I actually slept in a stable.”
Isabella removed a piece of hay from his hair and she grinned, wrinkling her nose.
“Oh, rest assured that nobody would ever doubt it! Be careful or your girlfriend will mistake you for a horse and she’ll give you an apple instead of kissing you.”
Guy stopped dead in his tracks.
Isabella shrugged.
“Well, you can’t deny that you stink, brother. Anyone would after sleeping in a stable.”
“No, what do you mean with my girlfriend?!”
“Marian, who else? Do you have more than one?”
Guy grabbed her arms, then he let her go immediately, remembering how she had reacted when he had tried to throw her in the snow a few days earlier.
“Never say those words again!”
“Why not? Anyone can see that you are madly in love with her, what’s the point of denying it?”
Guy lowered his voice.
“Not here. Not when Robin is around.”
Isabella smiled mischievously.
“Oh, Guy, an illicit love! I didn’t know you were capable of being deceitful.”
“Stop it, Isabella! You know nothing! It’s not so simple!”
“Do you love her?”
Guy sighed.
“Of course I do. The world can turn to ash around me, but I will never stop loving her.”
“So, what’s the matter?”
“She’ll never be mine,” Guy answered, dejectedly. “Her heart belongs to Robin, they were betrothed before the siege.”
Isabella looked at her brother’s face for a moment, then she gave a little pat on his shoulder.
“Now, now, Guy, don’t be so tragic. I haven’t seen her and Robin spending much time together, did they?”
“It’s not so easy,” he repeated, “and I’d appreciate if you didn’t mention this subject again.”
Isabella rolled her eyes with a sort of annoyed huff, but she tried to content her brother.
“As you wish.”
But I’m sure that you are wrong. She cares for you too.

Chapter Text

Guy woke up to the sound of Allan’s lute, and he got up, yawning. He went to the door of his room and he looked at the hall from the threshold.
Surely enough, Allan was sitting in front of the fire, a tray of food placed on a stool at his side.
“What are you doing here so early?” Guy asked, rubbing his eyes, then he looked around, in surprise, “And where is everyone?”
“Come on, Giz, it’s not that early.”
“It is! It’s dawn!”
“Oh, really? Well I can’t see the light of the sun, it’s all the same for me.”
“It’s not the same for me! I was sleeping! Without nightmares for once.”
“You were the only one, then. I met Robin and Iz when I came here, they were going in the forest to collect wood for your bonfire.”
Guy went to sit in the chair next to Allan and took a piece of cheese from the tray.
“What? Together?”
“Robin said that you would freak out if he went alone and he didn’t want to wait for you to wake up. I think he prefers to go outside when nobody can see him. Iz was already awake too, so she decided to go with him to help carrying some of the wood. She gave this food to me before leaving.”
Guy remembered a time of their childhood when they had to find broken sticks in the woods, hoping to collect enough of them to get warm at night. Guy carried the heavier ones, while Isabella ran from tree to tree picking all the smaller sticks, imagining that she was picking pretty flowers like she once used to do.
He put that memory aside, and he glanced at Allan, who seemed to be perfectly at ease.
“By the way, how did you get here? Did you wake up Djaq at this ungodly hour?”
“No need for it, I know the way by now, I could come here with my eyes closed!” Allan said with a grin, and Guy couldn’t help smiling too.
“Just to wake me up, I suppose.”
“How ungrateful, Giz, you should be happy to know that someone enjoys your company.”
“Did I throw you out of the manor, yet?”
“No, but… hey! It’s your twisted way to tell me that you’re happy to see me?” Allan asked, striking the chords of his lute.
“Think whatever you like, but please, don’t start singing now, not when I’m still half asleep. Keep your music for tonight, will you?”
Allan carefully placed the lute on the floor, at his feet.
“So today is the big day, uh? I bet the people will love your party.”
“I hope so,” Guy said, and Allan smiled, amused.
“Giz, are you nervous about it?”
“Why should I?”
“Because it will be the first time you’ll have to face all the people of Locksley, acting as their lord.”
“I’m not their lord, Robin is.”
“But he won’t do it, probably he won’t even show up at all, so it’s up to you.”
Guy sighed.
“It will be good if they won’t try to burn me on the bonfire.”
Allan grinned.
“Feed them enough, and they will love you, you’ll see. Tell me, Giz, is your sister pretty?”
Guy frowned.
“I guess she is, but why should this matter, now?”
“Let her be at your side at the party. She’s a lady, she’s pretty, and I think she knows how to talk to the people to make them like her. Surely she can’t be worse at it than you. You’ll see, they’ll love her and they’ll begin to think that if you are her brother you can’t be too bad after all.”
“You make it sound so easy...”
“Because it is easy! People are simple: they want to live in peace and to have full bellies. Give them that and they’ll be happy. And men will be ready to believe anything if it’s a beautiful woman who’s talking to them.”
“What about the women?”
“Oh, you’re handsome enough to please their eyes. Remember to smile every now and then, don’t menace to hang the villagers and I think that you’ll be fine.”
Guy was tempted to hit Allan for making fun of him, but for once the young man didn’t seem to be joking.
“Do you really think that?”
“Of course they won’t trust you immediately, but it’s a start. Sooner of later they’ll see that you are not so bad, a few of them already do.”
“They come to work on the manor, don’t they? I heard that sometimes they quarrel to decide who’s going to work here for the day. They might dislike you, but they appreciate the money you give them and they are beginning to realize that you are giving them a fair treatment. Then there’s Thornton’s daughter who keeps saying that you helped her a lot when she gave birth to her child, and her friends are starting to believe her. One of those girls asked her if it was true that you were good at making remedies and if yours taste as bad as Matilda’s ones.”
“So, putting honey in my remedies could help me winning the consent of people?” Guy asked, in an amused disbelief, and Allan grinned.
“Maybe. And don’t forget the pretty sister. Marian could have been helpful to your cause too if they didn’t still hold her responsible for the attack.”
“It wasn’t her fault!” Guy blurted, then he frowned. “And why should she make some difference in the way the people of Locksley see me?”
Allan shrugged.
“Pretty sister, pretty wife, how could they help liking you in the end?”
Gisborne stared at him, speechless for a moment.
“Pretty… what?!”
“Why? Aren’t you two going to get married some day? You love her, you always did, why shouldn’t you marry her?”
“Because she would never agree and of course I’m not foolish enough to try and force her to marry me again. And then there’s Hood...”
Allan shrugged.
“What about him?”
Guy gave a pained sigh.
“He loves her, he killed the sheriff to save her life. She belongs to him...”
“He surely doesn’t show it, does he? Come on Giz, he’s not even looking at her! And don’t let Marian hear that she ‘belongs’ to anyone or I’m afraid that you’re in for another punch.”
“Very well, but she’s in love with him, not with me.”
“She has a funny way to show her love for Robin then, unless smooching another man every time she has the chance to do it is the new fashion when it comes to love...”
Guy blushed and stood up abruptly.
“Shut up Allan! It’s none of your business! And never say a word about this again!”
“Fine, fine, as you wish, Giz. I won’t mention it again. But sometimes I wonder who’s the blind one in this house...”
Guy paced in the hall, upset because of those words, but then Allan changed subject again, in a light tone.
“So, Giz, how is your horse? Thornton told me that you’ve been spending a lot of time in the stables, caring for him.”
Gisborne walked back to the fireplace, a light smile on his face.
“He’s doing better. He was in a very bad shape when he arrived, but he’s improving day after day. I ordered the stable boy to give him the best forage we can find and Matilda taught me which herbs are good for horses, so I add some of them to the hay.”
“And apples too, I bet.”
“He likes them. How could I deny him that simple pleasure after all he’s gone through?”
Allan nodded.
“You’re right, Giz. He deserves them, poor beast. Just like I’d deserve some more cheese, being so blind and all...”
Guy laughed at his cheeky suggestion, but he went to the kitchen and filled another dish for him, placing it on Allan’s lap.
“Here, eat up. But don’t expect me to treat you if you end up with a stomach ache tomorrow. I bet that you’ll stuff yourself at the banquet tonight.”
“You worked so hard to hunt for it, it would be rude not to taste a little bit of everything. I’m just being polite, see?”
“Sure, and you’ll have to try the wine too because the sheriff sent it, won’t you?”
“You said it, Giz. Who am I to contradict you?”
Guy shook his head, amused.
“Since I am awake, I should better see if everything is ready and check if there are any problems. Want to come?”
“Sure, why not? It’s not like I’ve anything else to do.”
Guy yawned.
“I see. Wait here while I get dressed.”
“Hey Giz, will you ride the black stallion? Can I get the white one, then?”
“We’ll both ride the white one. The other one isn’t well enough to be ridden yet. Maybe he never will.”
“You said he was getting better...”
“He is, but he’s still very scared. If the stable boy tries to touch him, he gets upset and starts kicking. He allows only me to touch him, nobody else. And even I can’t saddle him.”
“But he let Marian touch him, didn’t he?”
“Yes, Marian too. Probably he recognized her.”
“No wonder about it, you were always at her door. I bet that your stallion knew the road to Knighton by heart.”

The people of Locksley looked at the white stallion in surprise: by now they were used at seeing Guy of Gisborne ride around the village and managing it in stead of Robin, but he was usually alone.
Now, instead, Allan A Dale was riding with him, sitting on the horse behind Gisborne, his arms around the knight’s waist, happily chatting with him in his usual relaxed way. The surprising thing for the people of the village was that Gisborne didn’t look annoyed by his presence, and he was talking with Allan too, answering his endless questions and even smiling at his jokes.
The horse stopped in front of some fires where a group of villagers were roasting a few pigs and the boar that Guy had killed in the forest during a lucky hunt.
“Good morning, Sir Guy,” one of the men said, respectfully.
Guy nodded at the spits.
“Will they be ready for the banquet?”
“Yes, my lord. And the women are already cooking meat pies and cakes with the flour sent by the sheriff.”
Gisborne was about to express his approval when Allan spoke.
“Surely it smells good! Any chance we can have a taste?”
“Allan, we just had breakfast, are you never sated?” Guy said, rolling his eyes.
“I know, I know, Giz, I’m not really hungry, but it smells so good...”
“Well, you’ll have to wait, it’s still half raw, and my mother always said that you shouldn’t eat pork if it isn’t well cooked.”
“My mother never said anything like that!” Allan replied, then he hesitated and added, a little awkwardly: “Well, we never had the chance to eat pork, so maybe that’s why she didn’t...”
The men who were turning the spits had listened to them, amazed that the terrible sir Guy of Gisborne was discussing such a common subject like cooking with Allan, and even more surprised for the gentle tone he had used when he named his mother.
“So, is he right or he’s just being the usual pain in the ass?” Allan asked, and the villagers stared at him in dread, sure that Gisborne was going to punish harshly his disrespect, but Guy just snorted and looked at the man who had first spoken to him.
“Come on, tell him who of us is right.”
“But Giz, they’ll say that you are right anyway because they fear you! That’s not fair!”
“Ask Matilda, then, she won’t lie to you.” Guy said.
“Actually sir Guy is right, Allan,” one of the villagers intervened, “And I’m not speaking out of fear, anyone knows that you should cook well pig’s meat, I’m surprised you didn’t know that.”
“Of course I did!” Allan replied with a grin. “I just wanted to annoy Giz.”
“I wonder why I asked you to come with me this morning...”
“Because you love my company, of course,” Allan said, with a smug grin, and Guy just smiled, shaking his head in amused resignation.

Isabella dropped an armful of sticks on the handcart they had taken to the forest with them and she went to pick up some more of them. Robin reached her, dragging a big branch.
“Where did you find that?” Isabella asked.
“I think it broke because of the snow. It will spare me the work of cutting fresh wood.”
“You’ll still have to cut this branch or we won’t be able to lift it on the cart.”
Robin looked at it and sighed.
“I guess you’re right.”
He wished that Little John were there to help them, but the big man was already busy at the village, helping to set tables and benches and stacking wood for the bonfire.
Robin glanced at Isabella, who had begun snapping the smaller parts of the branch and loading them on the cart, and, looking at her flushed face, surrounded by ruffled dark curls, he was suddenly glad that there was nobody else around them.
The woman lifted her eyes and met his gaze, frowning a little.
“What’s up? Why are you staring at me?”
“I wasn’t staring at you, I was just thinking about the best way to cut that branch,” he replied, a little too hastily to sound completely sincere.
“I didn’t know that men blushed looking at pieces of wood,” she said, grinning.
“What? Are you jealous of a log?” Robin said, deciding to use her same playful tone, but the smile on Isabella’s face faded, leaving place for a haunted look.
“No. Of course not. I should remember that I should have nothing to do with that sort of things.”
She spoke in a flat tone, and she turned to snap more twigs from the branch, but Robin noticed that her eyes had filled with tears.
Of course… She’s a married woman. Even if her husband is a beast…
He felt angry at that thought, outraged to think that a man could be so cruel and low to hurt a woman like Isabella. Speaking with her, Robin had learned that Thornton used to hit her for any disappointment, to punish her whenever she wasn’t as submissive as he wanted her to be.
But Thornton’s cruelty couldn’t smother her spirit, she still had some fierceness in her and Robin found himself thinking that he, instead, appreciated it a lot.
He liked to talk with Gisborne’s sister, her inner strength gave him courage, and her wit entertained him, making him enjoy their discussions as much as he was beginning to appreciate bantering with her brother whenever they were together.
Both Guy and Isabella were succeeding in something he had thought impossible: making him feel alive again.
Robin glanced at Isabella, worried to see her so dispirited.
“Are you all right?” He asked, a little awkwardly, and Isabella lifted her head with a start, an angry glare in her eyes.
“How can I ever be all right when I know that I’ll never be really free?!”
“Your husband won’t find you, and even if he does, we won’t let him hurt you again.”
“Even if he never finds me, I’m still married to that beast! How can I begin to rebuild my life when I’m still shackled to him? Maybe I can live in safety, but I will never have a family of my own, I’ll never find out what love is, I’ll never have children...” She snapped a stick in half and she yelped in pain when she got a splinter in her finger. She tried to remove it, but she gave up after a while, with a deep sigh. “Sometimes I still hate Guy for what he did to me, even if I know that he didn’t know how much his decision would hurt me. And at the same time I love him even more than I did when I was a child because now I can understand him better. Funny, don’t you think?”
“No, there’s nothing funny, but I understand what you mean. Here, let me see that finger.”
Robin took Isabella’s hand, and he looked at the splinter, then he took her hand to his mouth and used his teeth to remove it.
Isabella didn’t stir during the whole operation, holding her breath. The touch of Robin’s lips on her fingers sent little shivers down her back, and the relief she felt when the splinter was finally out of her skin was mixed with regret because now he would stop touching her hand.
When Robin tried to lift his head, Isabella’s hand moved on its own, placing itself on Robin’s cheek.
The man lifted his eyes on her face, surprised by that sudden touch, but he didn’t pull back from it, he just looked at her, waiting.
Her finger moved slowly, dragging themselves in a slow caress, and Isabella heart thumped in her chest, strangely excited to feel the roughness of Robin’s beard under her fingers. It was a strange sensation, one she had never felt before in her life.
She wanted to keep touching Robin’s face, to find out if his skin was soft or not in the places where there was no beard, and to keep exploring him. She wanted to touch his hair, to follow the curved form of his ear and keep going down to his neck, and even further…
She blushed, not daring to move.
Robin’s skin seemed to be hot under her fingers, and she found herself wondering if his hand would feel equally warm on her skin.
She was disconcerted by those feelings: she had loathed and feared her husband’s touch and when she had run away from him she had been sure that she would never want a man to put his hands on her again, but now she longed to be touched by Robin and she wasn’t afraid of him, not afraid at all.
Robin had kept still too, but now he moved, lifting a hand to cup her face and he brushed a tear with his thumb.
“Don’t cry.” He whispered, and Isabella smiled between tears, moving her hand to touch his cheek.
“You’re crying too.”
She took her finger to her lips to taste his tear, then she impulsively got closer to him, and drank another tear directly from his face. A moment later Robin’s lips were on hers, and she had the instinct of running away, remembering the disgusting, angry kisses of her husband. But she didn’t move and she found out that Robin’s kiss wasn’t terrible at all.
She never felt menaced and his touch was sweet and tender. Robin wanted her, she could feel it, but she knew that he wouldn’t take her if she wasn’t willing too.
Isabella parted her lips a little, giving him her trust, and as their kiss deepened, she found out that she wanted more, that the kiss was just awakening a strange hunger in her, instead of sating her desire of touching Robin.
They parted for a moment, out of breath, and she saw that Robin was surprised as well, but she recognized in his eyes the same desire she was feeling: he was as scared as she was, but he wanted her as well.
Without speaking, they kissed again.

Marian stared out of the carriage, wishing that she was alone. The wife of the sheriff and two of his daughters were riding with her, chattering about silly gossip about people who Marian didn’t even know.
She felt nervous at the idea of going to Locksley and seeing Guy in front of everyone else.
What if they notice? What if they understand what I feel for him? What if he should find out?
She closed her eyes, remembering his emotion the last time she had seen him, when she had brought his horse back to him. Marian felt an overwhelming tenderness warming her heart and she was startled to hear the voice of the sheriff’s wife talking to her.
“Lady Marian, you are flushed, are you feeling unwell?”
Marian almost panicked, trying to find an acceptable answer. She knew why she had blushed, but the others mustn’t know. Luckily Helena, the eldest daughter of the sheriff, took the chance to tease her maliciously.
“I bet that she’s afraid to show up in front of the people. I heard that a lot of persons still think that it’s her fault if Nottingham has been destroyed.”
The younger sister, Catherine, faked to be shocked.
“How terrible! Is it true, Lady Marian?”
Marian wished that she could slap both those brainless girls, but she forced herself to smile. After all, their malice kept her secret safe.
“People can think whatever they want, but everything happened because of the old sheriff.”
“Don’t you care if people blame you?” Catherine asked, with a little shudder. “I couldn’t live knowing that everyone hates me...”
“Oh, you can survive much worse things, believe me.” Marian said, and the sheriff’s wife stared at her.
“You are right, Lady Marian, but this of course could make things difficult for you.”
“What do you mean, Lady Ashworth?”
The woman sighed.
“It will be difficult for you to find a husband, I’m afraid. When a man chooses a wife, usually he wants an innocent, inexperienced girl.”
“That’s why you chose such a fancy dress, Lady Marian? To find a husband at the party?” Catherine asked.
The other sister wrinkled her nose.
“Don’t be silly Catherine, it will be just a party for the villagers, there won’t be any suitable men. We are going there just because father wants to be kind to Sir Guy and Sir Robin.”
Marian forced herself to keep calm and to answer in a kind tone.
“I am still mourning for my father and for all the people of Nottingham, it’s too early to think of marriage.”
“Well, you shouldn’t wait too much,” Helena said, “how old are you? Men prefer younger girls, you know...”
Marian bit her tongue to keep silent and she just smiled, trying to imitate the shallow behavior of the other girls.
She lowered her gaze, looking at the folds of her dress, in an attempt to look proper and shy, but actually to avoid their silly gossip. She stared at the rich velvet of the dress, embellished by graceful embroidery, and she had to admit to herself that she had actually chosen a fancy dress and that she had spent more time than usual brushing and styling her hair. She had also accepted to borrow a silver necklace from lady Ashworth, and she felt a little ashamed because of her vanity.
I want to be pretty for Guy. There’s no need for it because he already likes me, but still I want to see admiration in his eyes… It could hurt us all, but I still want his love…
She touched the silver jewel, and she stifled a sigh, remembering the necklace that Guy once had given to her. It had brought suffering and pain to everyone, but she found herself wishing that she could have kept it, to wear a gift from the man she now loved and not the borrowed trinket of a woman she didn’t even like.

Chapter Text

Isabella sighed looking at her brother, and she gently nudged his side.
“Come on, Guy, don’t be so stiff, it’s a party, they’re not going to hang you.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that. Remember last time?” Guy answered, in a nervous whisper, and Isabella laughed.
“Oh, shut up, silly. This time it won’t happen and everyone will have fun. This was your idea, you shouldn’t be so nervous about it!”
“I know, but...”
“Just relax. I can understand you, I’m always afraid too, but for once let’s try to have a nice day.”
Guy nodded, with a grateful smile.
“Probably you are right.”
“I am right. See? Sometimes you can be sensible too.”
“Am I sensible only when I agree with you?”
“Of course!”
Gisborne laughed, and he leaned his back on the chair, a little more relaxed now.
He felt out of place sitting at the head of the table, in the seat that belonged to Robin, but the rightful lord of Locksley wouldn’t show up at the party, so Guy had to take his place.
He glanced at the hall, perfectly clean and decorated for the party, and he appreciated the efforts of Thornton and the servants. All the unnecessary furniture had been moved to the other rooms, leaving all the space for a big table laden with food. The chairs around it were for the nobles, but all the villagers were allowed to come in to get as much food and wine as they wished for, and to get warm in front of the fireplace.
Thornton was standing in front of Robin’s room, to guard the door and avoid that anyone could try to see Robin and upset him.
Isabella glanced at the closed door.
“I tried to persuade him to come in the hall at least, but he said he couldn’t stand it.”
“I can understand him. I’d like to go hiding in that room with him too, at the moment,” Guy said, gloomily, and Isabella laughed, lifting her head to kiss him on the cheek.
“You’ll do perfectly fine.” She smiled, tenderly. “I had forgotten how shy you can be, brother.”
“I’m not shy!”
“Yes, you are!” She said, teasingly, in the same chanting tone she used when they were little.
Guy couldn’t help chuckling.
“You’re terrible, Iz,” he said, intentionally using the nickname Allan had invented for her.
“Don’t call me that!” Isabella yelled, outraged.
“You told me that I should try to have fun.”
“To have fun, yes. To make fun of me, no!”
Guy’s grin faded when a servant came running inside to say that the sheriff was coming.
He stood up and went to the door, trying to hide his agitation. Isabella followed him and she waited at his side to welcome the guests.
She wasn’t the lady of the manor, but Robin hadn’t a wife that could claim that position, so Isabella, just like her brother, had to take that place, but she didn’t find it as difficult as Guy did. Actually, she rather enjoyed it, and she smiled to the sheriff and his family, welcoming them to Locksley.
In her own house, she never had the chance to act as the lady of the manor, because her husband despised that kind of entertainment and never held parties or celebrations in his home. If he wanted to have fun, he searched it out of the house, and Isabella was never included in it. Her only option was to stay at home and obey his every whim, being harshly punished whenever she wasn’t good enough according to his judgement, and this happened very often.
She never had the chance of having some fun or to spend a pleasant day, so she was determined to have it all now that she was free.
She glanced at the closed door of Robin’s room and her cheeks became a little flushed while she remembered his touch and his kisses. That unexpected passion had been deeply upsetting for both of them and Isabella couldn’t help thinking that she had betrayed her wedding vows, that now she was an unfaithful wife and that Thornton would have every right to punish her. The most surprising thing was that she didn’t care at all, she had no regrets for what she did with Robin: her husband had punished her for years for inexistent faults, now he deserved to be betrayed.
She was worried for Robin, instead. He was still so hurt and broken, that she feared to have upset him deeply, that he could regret it.
She wished that he would show up, that he could find the strength to join the celebration, so she could see that he was all right.
Isabella turned back to look at her brother, stifling a little amused smile. Guy was still nervous, but he was hiding it well enough as he talked to the sheriff and welcomed his wife and his sisters to the manor.
The ladies nodded their approval as they entered the room and took their seats, but Isabella saw Guy freezing as three young ladies entered the room just after the older ones. She inwardly grinned because she knew perfectly well why he was so nervous now: the daughters of the sheriff were very pretty, but Isabella knew that now Guy had eyes only for lady Marian, who had come into the manor with them.
Oh, brother, do you really think you could hide your feelings for her?
Isabella looked at Marian, who had stopped on the threshold, staring at Guy with the same expression of her brother.
And if you think that she doesn’t care for you, you’re blinder than Allan.
Isabella smiled to the guests, showing them their seats and breaking the spell between Marian and Guy before they both revealed themselves for the love-sick fools they actually were.
Marian sat at her place, staring at the table with her cheeks pink, and Isabella glanced at Guy, equally flushed. Meanwhile, the villagers had followed the nobles inside, and they had gathered in the hall, waiting.
All those people looked as nervous as Guy was.
Isabella put a hand on her brother’s arm, and she gave him a reassuring smile.
“I think you should say something,” she whispered.
“What?” He whispered back, anxiously.
“Something to start the celebrations. I think they are waiting a word from the lord of the manor. You, in this case.”

Guy stood up, looking at the people gathered in the hall, and for a moment he was tempted to run away. Most of the villagers were in the hall, huddled by the door and the walls, and the ones who couldn’t fit in the room were just outside it, looking at him from the door. The sheriff and his family, Isabella and Marian were sitting around the table, like the Matilda and her daughter, Allan, Djaq and Little John.
At first Guy was sure that he wouldn’t be able to speak and that, even if he did, people would just keep despising him. He was thinking of going to join Robin in his hiding place, but he couldn’t, because Marian’s eyes were on him, waiting for his words.
He noticed the couple who had asked his blessing to get married, standing in a corner and looking as frightened as he felt.
The young couple were wearing their best clothes and the girl had a wreath of holly on her head instead of flowers because it was winter.
Guy nodded at them, inviting them to get closer.
They obeyed, trying hard not to tremble, and Guy walked to them, stopping right beside the girl.
The young bride lifted her gaze to look at him, worried.
“We all had to endure hard times,” Guy began, “we had to face loss and suffering, we had to cross a dark valley before we could find the light again. Sometimes, very often to be honest, I doubted that the light still existed and that we would be able to see it again, but I was wrong. Look at this.”
Guy touched the wreath on the bride’s hair, picking a little branch from it, just a couple of leaves and a bunch of bright red berries.
“Holly is a powerful plant: it can be used to heal, it can be used to kill, but many people believe that it’s also full of magic, that it can keep demons away and be a protection from bad luck. It’s a symbol of hope and rebirth, a promise of warmth and light. You couldn’t have chosen a better plant as an ornament for your hair on your wedding day and I want to believe that your choice is a good omen for your marriage and for the future of all of us.”
Guy spotted the priest standing among the villagers and he called him with a nod of the head. The man, the same one who had begun celebrating the failed wedding between Guy and Marian more than a year ago, approached warily, still afraid that Gisborne could hold him responsible for his humiliation, but the knight just smiled at the young couple in front of them.
“You asked for the blessing of the lord of Locksley and I’m honoured to give it to you, together with mine. We still have no church, so we’ll celebrate your wedding here, at the manor, hoping that this is only the first of many happy moments for Locksley. We’ve seen the darkness and we are not completely out of it, I know that we’ll have to face many hard trials and that sometimes we will feel lost and hopeless, but today I want to remember to you all that there is a path to find the light again and that it will be easier to tread it if we do it together.”
Guy took a candle and used it to lighten another one, then he gave one to the bride and the other to the groom.
“You have my blessing and my wishes for a bright future. Be the torch that casts a light on the steps of your beloved.”

Marian realized that she had been holding her breath while Guy was talking, and she forced herself to avert her gaze from him and to look at the couple who was kneeling in front of the priest.
To see the same man who had been about to marry her and Guy awoke memories that Marian would have preferred to forget. A little more than a year ago, she had been about to become Guy’s wife and she had found the idea of it intolerable, but now everything had changed.
She glanced at Guy: he looked handsome in the rich clothes that he was wearing that day, and she wondered if he had been worried about his appearance as much as she had been earlier about hers.
She watched the young groom putting a ring on his bride’s finger and she shuddered, fearing that she would punch him. When the newlyweds kissed, instead, she sighed of relief and she couldn’t help glancing at Guy.
She met his gaze and she gasped, afraid to see resentment on his face, but she recognized her same relief.
Guy and Marian stared at each other for a moment, then they both burst out laughing at the same time.

Isabella sat at her brother’s side, and she turned her head to look at him, impressed. His words had surprised and moved her, and she felt proud of him.
She remembered a time of their childhood when she had admired him blindly, before tragedy struck in their lives. She would never have admitted that, but when she was little she thought that her brother was strong and brave, always ready to protect her, even if she loved to have fun teasing him endlessly.
When their father left for the war, everything changed: Guy became serious, worried about every little thing, always afraid. He always had nightmares at night and often he ended up wetting the bed.
Isabella didn’t understand why he did such a childish thing and she was ashamed of him. She hated hearing the servants snicker whenever they found his sheets wet, and she was cruel with Guy because he kept making a fool of himself. She couldn’t realize how anguished he was then, she was just angry at him because he wasn’t anymore the brave brother she had been so proud of.
Isabella realized that she had spent most of her life feeling resentment for Guy without being able to understand that most of the times he had been a victim too, as helpless as she was.
She blinked to hold back tears of love and regret, and she studied the expressions of his face while he traded glances with Marian. Isabella smiled to herself to see how lively he looked every time he put his eyes on that woman, how deep were the feelings he had for her, even if he tried his best to hide and restrain them.
Guy had told her to never talk of those feelings again, especially not when Robin was around, but Isabella inwardly grinned, thinking that it was her privilege as his sister to ignore his words.
After all she had very good reasons to think that Robin’s feelings for lady Marian weren’t as strong as Guy thought.
She blushed a little at the memory of what had happened in the forest that morning, and she felt even more determined to help Guy to obtain Marian’s heart.
If she loves my brother, they will be happy together and she won’t go after Robin.
Isabella wanted him.
She didn’t care if he was so broken and frail, because she was deeply wounded too and she could understand his pain very well. Being with him soothed her inner wounds, and she hoped that her presence helped him too, at least a little. The world was dark and scary, so terrible to face, but when she was with Robin, she could see a glimpse of the light that Guy had named in his speech, a little sparkle of hope in the darkness.
She looked at the people sitting around the table and crowding the room, and she realized that the person she really wanted to see at that moment wasn’t there, but he was in a room alone, hiding from everyone.
Isabella felt the need to reach Robin and be at his side, a need so strong that it was almost painful.
She noticed that Guy kept looking at Marian, but every now and then he cast a troubled glance at the closed door and she realized that he was worried for Robin too.
She touched his hand under the table and her brother immediately looked at her, a little interrogative frown on his face.
“Guy,” she whispered, looking at Robin’s door too, “are you afraid that all this commotion could be too much for him?”
“I don’t like the idea of him being alone while everyone else is having fun, even if it was his choice.”
“I could take some of this food to him and keep him company for a while,” she suggested, and Guy gave a surprised stare at her.
“You’ll miss Allan’s songs. I thought you were determined to enjoy every moment of this celebration.”
Isabella smiled to him.
“Maybe I overestimated myself. All this, the music, the food, all those happy faces, can be a little overwhelming. I like it, I really do, but I could do with a moment of quiet. And I’m sure that Allan will have the chance to sing for me again even more often than I could hope for.”
Guy chuckled.
“So are you leaving me to face the overwhelming celebration all alone?”
Isabella grinned, standing up.
“Of course not, left on your own you’d end up saying all the wrong things and enraging all the villagers.”
“I wouldn’t!”
She smiled and she bent to give him a quick kiss on his cheek.
“I know, I was just teasing you, but still I won’t leave you alone.” She turned to look at Marian and she spoke to her in a louder voice. “I have to absent myself for a while, could you assist my brother in my place? You were the daughter of a sheriff, so you must be used to celebrations like this one, and you also know the people of Nottingham, your help will be precious for the success of this party.”
Both Guy and Marian looked at her in surprise, but Isabella was unperturbed by their stares and she she rolled her eyes in mock exasperation, patting her brother’s shoulder.
“You know how men are, don’t you? They care for swords, horses and all those sorts of thing, but if they have to organize a party they are lost, and my brother makes no exception. Please sit here at my place, and be so kind to keep an eye on him for me.”
Most of the people in the room laughed at her words, while Guy blushed and glared at her.
“Isabella!” He hissed, but his sister had already disappeared and Marian was sitting at his side, her cheeks pink with embarrassment too.
“I’m sorry,” Guy whispered to Marian, glancing around nervously to see if people were staring at them, but mercifully the others were too busy enjoying the food to give them further attention. “I don’t know what got into her. Sisters!”
Marian giggled at the sigh that accompanied the last word, and she looked at him, amused.
“Are you?”
Guy frowned in puzzlement.
“Sorry. Are you really very sorry that I’m sitting at your side?”
Guy looked at her in surprise, and Marian was afraid that she had been too bold, but then he smiled, a warm, shy smile that melted her heart.
“No. Not so much.”

Chapter Text

Robin lay on the bed, in the dark room. The only light in the bedroom came from the fireplace and the flames created a dance of shadows on the walls. Robin stared at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of the party.
The people sounded happy and even Allan’s voice seemed more pleasant than usual.
Once Robin would have been happy to be at the centre of the crowd, with the attention of everyone on himself, but now he couldn’t bear the idea of facing any of the peasants from Locksley. He wondered how Guy was doing, but he didn’t dare to go at the door and look.
He was startled when someone entered the room, but he relaxed seeing that it was Isabella.
The woman came inside carrying a tray full of food and a jug of wine and she placed them on a little table near the bed.
“Hungry?” She asked, taking a chair and sitting on it.
Robin sat up in bed to look at her.
“Not really, but thank you.”
Isabella filled a cup with wine and handed it to Robin.
“Try this. The sheriff brought it and the guests seems to really enjoy it.”
Robin lifted an eyebrow.
“Are you trying to get me drunk?”
Isabella smiled.
“Why not? Sometimes I wish I could do it and forget everything else. But I guess that in the end it would be even worse. Did Guy ever tell you about the first and only time in my life I got drunk?”
Robin shook his head.
“Your brother and I didn’t have many chances or the will to talk, in the past...”
“You do it, now. And you seem to enjoy it too.”
Robin realized that it was true and that he felt at ease in spending time with Gisborne, even if they spent most of that time bickering about trivial things.
“Probably we both prefer leaving the past in the past. Some things are best forgotten, I guess. So, how did you get drunk?”
Isabella grinned.
“I was eleven or twelve and we were in France. When we first arrived there, Guy had hoped that our mother’s relatives would take us with them, but they rejected us, because they had disowned maman when she had married our father. We didn’t know about it, our mother never told us that her family blamed her for marrying an English knight… So we were alone in a foreign country and we had to fend for ourselves. Guy worked hard to provide for us, but there were days when we had to sleep in a stable, hungry and dejected. One of those nights, we found out a flask full of wine, hidden under the hay.”
“So you drank it?”
“Probably it belonged to some stable boy who wanted to hide his drinking habits to his master, but we were starving and thirsty, and Guy agreed to take some of it. He said that we should only get a little of it, just a few sips to quench our thirst and to get some strength. He let me drink a little, then he took the flask away, putting it back under the hay. But I was still hungry and feeling miserable, so later, when Guy fell asleep, I went to retrieve the flask and I drank it all.”
“A whole flask at twelve? On an empty stomach?” Robin asked, with a grin.
“At first it felt good: I had my belly full, and the wine made me feel warm and light, as if nothing mattered anymore. It didn’t last much, though: Guy woke up because I was giggling and singing and, when he found out what I had done, he was mad at me. He began scolding me, and at first I didn’t care, but then I began feeling guilty and sick. I cried and cried and I ended up throwing up on his feet. I don’t know if Guy was more angry or worried that night… I was as sick as a dog, and when I woke up in the morning I also found out that I had wet myself. I never told Guy about this part, because in the past I had teased him too much when it happened to him and I didn’t want my brother to get back at me.”
“But you are telling me now. Aren’t you afraid that I could tell Guy?” Robin asked, amused, but Isabella laughed.
“Oh, I know you wouldn’t. I trust you.”
Robin saddened at those words, thinking of all the people who had trusted him and who he had disappointed.
“Maybe you shouldn’t.” He said, bitterly.
“Maybe I should get you drunk, after all. I wanted to make you feel better, not to get you depressed.”
Robin tried to joke.
“So you want me to be as sick as a dog and throw up on your feet?”
“It would be better than seeing you wasting away in sadness. But I know another way to forget our sorrow. A better way. One that doesn’t involve throwing up on anyone’s feet...” Isabella said, looking at him and searching his gaze.
“Really? It sounds interesting...”
Isabella smiled.
“It is.”
She put a hand on Robin’s cheek, caressing him tenderly, then, after a moment, she stooped to kiss him.
Robin pulled her into a tight embrace, deepening the kiss, and Isabella responded to it with all her passion. Sooner than they could decide if it was wise or not, they were both laying on the bed, touching, exploring, discovering each other’s body.
Robin undid the laces of Isabella's dress, eagerly pushing it out of their way, and he could feel her fingers doing the same on his breeches, her touch both shy and daring, her hand trembling and warm on his skin. He didn’t know if the door of the room was locked or not, and he could hear the sounds of the party behind it, the voice of Allan singing, and the people chattering and laughing.
If Isabella hadn’t locked the door behind herself, a curious peasant or Gisborne himself could enter the room at any moment, but strangely this knowledge did nothing to diminish the passion he was feeling. Actually, the risk of being caught increased the excitement, if that was possible.
Isabella had been right: this was much more inebriating than wine.

“I think that they are enjoying this celebration.” Marian said, taking another bite of a meat pie and looking at the villagers. Locksley manor couldn’t accommodate them all, so people went inside to fill their bowls and mugs with food and wine and to get warm in front of the fire, but then they went outside to eat, so that everyone could receive their part.
She glanced at Guy, happy to see that he had relaxed a little since the beginning of the feast. His cheeks were still a little flushed, but he didn’t look like he wanted to run away anymore.
“Are these made with the game you caught?” Marian asked, and Gisborne nodded.
“Not all of them of course, but a good part of them.”
“You became good at hunting. I remember when you couldn’t get a prey to save your life.” She said, teasing him a little.
Guy nodded.
“I don’t particularly like to hunt, but it’s necessary for the sake of the village, so I have to do it as well as I can. The falcon has proven himself very useful.”
“If Vaisey knew that his favourite bird would end up helping us to feed the same villagers that he used to starve, he would be really mad...” Marian said, and Guy found himself grinning as he took another piece of the meat pie.
“Do you know? Now this tastes even better. And I wonder what he would say if he could see me.
Marian smiled.
“He’d hate to know that both of you, you and the falcon, are free now, and that you’re doing so well.”
“Do you really think I’m doing well? I’m not so sure of it.”
“Of course you are! Look at those people! They had attempted to kill both of us, but now they’re here, attending this celebration and enjoying it too! I’m sure that you are earning their respect day by day and they’ll come to see you as their lord.”
“I’m not their lord.”
“It doesn’t matter. Robin can’t take care of Locksley, you are managing it for him and you’re doing it well. You are the lord of the manor. What you said to the bride and to the people, earlier… it was good. Those were the words of a wise man, the words of a leader.”
Guy smiled shyly, and Marian felt a warm happiness in seeing the expression of his face, the slight flush that tinged his cheeks.
She wished they were alone so she could press her lips on that cheek, to taste his skin once again. Marian thought that she should avert her eyes from him, before people could notice her feelings, but she couldn’t. It was as if she was under a spell that forced her to look at him, to follow his every move, and to listen and treasure every word he uttered.
It seemed to her that it was the same for Guy too: all of his attention was on her, as if they were alone in a world of they own, even amidst the people of Locksley. The party, the music, the chattering of the guests, it was just a background, a pretty frame for the deep feelings flowing between them.
I love him and he loves me. We shouldn’t, but we can’t help it.
It felt right. But how could it feel so right when she knew that their love would deeply hurt Robin, who was already so broken?
I made a choice and I’ll have to face the consequences of it. But I’m scared.
She moved her hand under the table, searching for Guy’s hand, and she took it, holding it tightly.
Gisborne turned to look at her, surprised by that sudden touch, and he smiled when he met her gaze. He looked a little confused and hopeful, as if he couldn’t believe the feelings that he could read in Marian’s eyes, but he couldn’t help praying with all his heart that they were real.
He intertwined her fingers with his, and Marian didn’t shrink away but tightened her hold.
Thornton approached the table, respectfully, and spoke to Guy.
“My lord, maybe it’s time to set light to the bonfire,” he suggested, and Guy nodded.
“Is it all ready?”
“Yes, sir Guy. Djaq just led Allan outside and he’s ready to sing and play again so the people will dance around the bonfire. They are all waiting for you to start the fire.”
“Wait for me there, we’ll reach you soon.”
The elderly servant obeyed, and Guy spoke to the guests who were still sitting at the table.
“We all know that this one will be a hard winter and that we’ll all have to fight and struggle to survive and to heal the wounds inflicted to the people and to the land. As I said earlier, we need the light of hope to lead us through this difficult path, so we won’t get lost in the dark. The bonfire we are going to light is just a symbol of this greater light, a good omen for the times to come. I pray that we can find again its light and its warmth in our hearts and that the memory of this fire can give us the strength we need to keep going on. So let’s join our people outside and we’ll use this flame to dispel the cold and the darkness of the night.”
The guests cheered, lifting their cups in a toast, then they stood up and one by one they went outside.
Marian stood up too, and she glanced at Guy.
“Shouldn’t we wait for Isabella? Maybe for Robin as well?”
“I don’t know if they would enjoy watching a bonfire. They approved the idea, Robin even suggested it, but our parents died in a fire, I’m not sure how they would feel looking at the flames. If they want to see, they’ll come, if not, I won’t force them.”
Marian looked at him, worried.
“What about you? You lost your parents too… Won’t it be painful for you too?”
“Memories hurt, they often do, I can’t deny it. But the old sheriff already made me burn the houses of people who wronged him or who couldn’t pay their taxes, I already had to steel myself to do it. Tonight it will be different, this fire won’t hurt anyone, it will make people happy. I don’t mind lighting it.”
Marian didn’t let his hand go as they walked to the door.
Guy glanced at their joined fingers, wondering if she really wanted to be seen holding his hand in front of everyone. He gave her a questioning look, and Marian smiled, squeezing his fingers a little.
“I will stay at your side,” she whispered, looking bold and shy at the same time, and Guy smiled at her, warmly.
“Thank you.”

Isabella lay on her side giving her back to Robin, her naked body enfolded in his arms. Robin’s hand was resting on her breasts, and she took it to her lips to kiss his palm.
“What happened to your hands?” She asked, kissing the scarred skin, and Robin held her closer.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Isabella pressed her lips on the healed wounds again.
“Doesn’t it hurt?”
“It was supposed to hurt.” Robin mumbled, and she suddenly realized that he had inflicted those wounds on his own hands. She kissed them with even more tenderness, now.
She felt Robin’s other hand on her back, his fingers tracing her own scars, old and more recent.
“Who did this to you?” Robin asked, a trace of anger trembling in his voice.
“My husband. If I displeased him, he used to punish me. Often he used a switch or his belt.”
“He will never lay a finger on you again, I swear.”
Isabella turned to face him, brushing his chest with her finger.
“I broke my wedding vows, I betrayed him with my body and with my mind... If people knew, if he knew, he’d have any right to punish me. And he’d surely try to kill you.”
“Do you regret what happened between us?”
Isabella closed her eyes, leaning her head on his chest.
“No, not a single kiss. In your arms, I feel safe. I just wish I were free. Do you regret it?”
Robin bent his head to kiss her once more, tenderly.
“Probably I should, but I don’t. Not at all.”
They rested on the bed for a while, heart to heart, listening to the sounds of the party until they noticed that the chattering had moved outside the manor.
Isabella sat up in bed, wrapping a sheet around her body and glancing at the window.
“What’s up?” Robin asked.
“I think my brother is going to light the bonfire.”
“Do you want to go and watch?”
Isabella shook her head.
“I want to stay with you. Do you want to see it?”
Robin averted his eyes.
“I can’t face the people of Locksley, not yet.”
“I have an idea. Come, let’s get dressed!”
A little later, Isabella cracked the door open, and she smiled.
“I knew! The hall is empty, they are all outside, come, quick!”
She tiptoed to the stairs, holding Robin’s hand, and he followed her, feeling once again the subtle excitement he used to experience when he sneaked into the castle to rob the sheriff or to free some prisoner from the dungeons.
“Where are we going? The upper floor doesn’t exist yet.”
“That’s good, don’t you think? People won’t even think of coming upstairs, we can hide in the half-built rooms and watch outside unseen. Look, you can see the bonfire very well from here.”
Isabella sat on a beam, and Robin soon reached her.
They watched Guy putting a torch to the dry firewood, and after a while the flames began to dance.
Allan was playing a lively tune on his lute, and soon the peasants began to dance too, forming circles around the bonfire and holding their hands.
Guy and Marian weren’t dancing, but they were holding hands, lost in each other’s gaze.
Isabella looked at them for a while, and she knew that even Robin was watching them, his face grave.
“My brother loves her, are you aware of that, aren’t you?”
“Marian never gave Gisborne a reason to feel anything for her,” Robin said, his tone resentful, and Isabella looked at him, frowning.
“Maybe once, but look at her, now.”
Robin shook his head.
“I destroyed everything to save her...”
“So what? She belongs to you, now? Did you want to save her or to possess her? Guy saved her too, what now? Are you going to share her with him, or are you just going to start fighting again until one of you gets killed?”
Robin was taken aback by the sudden rage he could read in her eyes and he didn’t know what to answer.
“If you care so much for her, then why do you never look at her?” Isabella continued, “Why do you never talk with her? Whenever she’s around, you run away to hide yourself, and now you dare being jealous of Guy?! And my brother is an idiot! He dies after her, he’s a lovesick fool, but still he holds back his feelings because he’s afraid of hurting you! Look at them! Look closely, and then tell me that they are not in love!”
Robin didn’t look at Marian and Guy, but he stared at Isabella.
“Well, you surely forgave your brother if you’re so eager to see him happy with Marian. You really seem very passionate about this.” Robin said, bitterly.
“I don’t care for them!” Isabella cried, then she corrected herself. “Well, of course I don’t want my brother to be heartbroken, but that’s not the point.”
Robin looked at her, noticing her eyes brimming with tears.
“What’s the point, then?” He asked, softly.
“I don’t care if she will be with Guy… I just don’t want her to be with you.” She confessed, trying to keep a proud expression.
Robin’s gaze softened.
Isabella had given him all her trust, even if she was so hurt and afraid after years of violence, she had been a friend and a support, she came to search for him in the darkness and she had walked back to life with him, without asking for anything. And now she was crying for him.
He glanced at Marian again and now he couldn’t deny the truth. Once he had truly loved her, to the point of sacrificing the whole county to save her life, but such a sacrifice demanded a high price, and that price was the same love that had moved him in the first place.
He had rejected Marian because he felt that he couldn’t risk to love her again, if their love could cost the lives of so many people. Now he couldn’t blame her, or Gisborne, if her feelings had changed, responding to the deep love of the man who had been there for her during their hardest times.
“Isabella?” He called, softly. “Are you jealous?”
“Why should I?”
“Because I’ve been an idiot, I guess,” he said, taking her in his arms to kiss her again.

Chapter Text

Guy looked at the bonfire: for the first time since his childhood he felt happy looking at the flames.
Marian was at his side, holding his hand, and this made all the difference.
The girl came closer to him, smiling, and Gisborne couldn’t help smiling back. He knew that the light-hearted happiness he was feeling wouldn’t last, that it would fade in front of the difficult winter they were going to face, but he was decided to enjoy it for as long as he could.
Probably the people of Locksley were doing the same thing without even realizing it: after the party they would be back to their humble lives and to the sorrow for their losses, but now they were putting everything aside to enjoy the feast, eating, drinking and dancing as if they didn’t have a single worry.
Guy looked at them, and he felt good, thinking that those people were smiling because of him, that his actions for once brought joy instead of fear.
He realized that this feeling was probably one of the reasons why Robin had loved so much helping the people in need. Guy didn’t doubt the goodness of his heart, but he also guessed that Robin needed to feel the love of his people. He was saddened to think how difficult it must have been for him to have lost it.
Suddenly he felt even too aware of the touch of Marian’s hand and guilt came back biting at his conscience. Was he taking her too from Robin? Would that be the final blow that would destroy him completely?
But Robin didn’t want to meet her, he shunned the sight of her and hid in his room whenever she was around, while her presence was like fresh air for Guy: he needed her, she gave him life and hope for the future.
I can’t give up my love for her. Not even for Robin.
He thought that he was really changed after the siege. In the beginning, when he had started wooing Marian, it was partly because he wanted to take from Hood everything he had ever owned: his house, his riches, his woman. He had wanted to destroy him, to see him grovelling in the dirt before his feet, but now that his wishes were granted, Guy found out that to see Robin like this pained him.
Are we friends, now?
“Guy?” Marian called him, and he turned to look at her. “You look troubled.”
“I… I think I am.”
Marian put an arm around his waist and came closer, leaning on him.
“Because of Robin?”
Guy nodded, a little surprised that she could read his thoughts so well.
“I don’t want to hurt him, I really don’t.”
“You came to care for him, didn’t you? I’m glad you did, he needs friends now, and I think that it’s the same for you too.”
“How can I be his friend, when...” he stopped, looking at Marian and unable to continue.
“When?” She asked, softly.
Gisborne shook his head, with a deep sigh.
Marian stepped away from him, and Guy thought that he must have disappointed her, but the girl grabbed his hand again and she began pulling him away from the crowd.
“Come.” She whispered, heading to the stables, and Guy followed her.
When they entered, the black stallion neighed in fear, but he calmed down as soon as he recognized Guy and Marian. Gisborne went to scratch the nose of the horse, turning his back to Marian.
“Guy? What were you going to say?” The girl reached him from behind, putting a hand on his shoulder.
Guy tensed up and he didn’t answer, but Marian didn’t give up.
She gently forced him to turn and look at her.
“Tell me, please,” she pleaded.
“You already know. And it doesn’t matter because you don’t feel the same for me,” Guy said, dejectedly.
It was dark in the stables, there were just a few lit candles and the light of the bonfire entering from the door, but Guy could see Marian’s expression: her determined stare was set on him, and she wouldn’t relinquish her demand until he answered.
“Tell me,” she repeated.
“I love you,” he finally surrendered, “I am a fool, and I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help loving you. Even if I have no hope. Even if it’s wrong. I love you and I always will.”
Marian moved her hand from his shoulder to his cheek, tenderly, then she lifted her face to kiss him.
When she stepped back, Guy was staring at her, bewildered, while she was smiling.
“You’re right on two things: probably this is wrong.”
She kissed him again and Guy held her tight, deepening the kiss until they were both out of breath.
Marian rested her face on his chest and she stood still, listening to his heart beating fast. She felt warm and safe in Guy’s arms and she knew that her heart had made the right choice.
“You only said one thing,” Guy whispered, caressing her hair, “what’s the other?”
Marian looked at him.
“You are a fool, Guy.” She said with an impish smile. “You are a fool if you think that I don’t feel the same.”
Guy didn’t say anything, he just kept still and he stared at her, but she could see the succession of emotions in his eyes: surprise, hope, fear and hope again.
Gisborne didn’t dare to ask if he had understood well, so Marian took mercy on him.
“I love you too, silly,” she said, searching his gaze so he could be sure that she meant it. She laughed softly: saying it aloud made her feel elated. “I love you, Guy of Gisborne.”

Sir Roland gave a glance in the direction of the stables and he rolled his eyes. Did Sir Guy and Lady Marian really think that nobody had noticed their disappearance?
He told to himself that he had to speak to Guy of Gisborne and push him to marry that girl before he disgraced her. Surely he wouldn’t mind too much having to wed the woman he loved, and a marriage between those two would make them both less troublesome.
The sheriff looked at the blind minstrel. He had heard that the young man was a friend of Gisborne, so he went to sit next to him.
“Who’s there?” Allan asked, feeling his presence.
“The sheriff of Nottingham.”
“The new one, I hope. I’m not fond of ghosts, and surely not of Vaisey’s ghost.”
“I am Sir Roland and you can be assured that I am no ghost.”
“That’s good to know. By the way, your wine was really good, too.”
The sheriff smiled, amused.
“And to be sure you had to taste many cups of it, didn’t you?”
Allan grinned.
“Who am I to turn my back on good, free wine? Do you want to hear a song, my lord? I can create one about your wine if you wish.” He said, slurring his words a little.
The sheriff thought that the young man would regret his choices in the morning, but for now his drunkenness could be an advantage.
“Maybe later,” he said, in a friendly tone, “but tell me, have you been a friend of Sir Guy for a very long time?”
“A couple of years, I guess, but well, we were not exactly friends in the beginning. We began working together after he tortured me.”
The sheriff thought that maybe Allan was really too drunk to make sense.
“He tortured you?”
“Yep, to make me betray Robin.”
“And you accepted to work for him?”
Allan shrugged.
“I didn’t fancy to go back in the dungeons and, hey, he used to pay well for simple information. He just wanted to know those little things that could stop Robin from stealing the sheriff’s money. Hadn’t it been for Vaisey, it would have worked fine for everyone.”
“Are you out of your mind?”
Allan frowned.
“Why do you ask? I’m a little drunk, I won’t deny that, but not so much, after all. I think I’m still capable of reasoning soundly enough.”
“Sir Guy tortured you and you call him your friend? How that is possible? Are you waiting for the right moment to get some revenge on him?”
Allan turned to him, in surprise.
“Why should I? Giz is not that bad, really. Sure, he did questionable things in the past, but that was mainly the sheriff’s fault. The old sheriff, I mean, not you, you seem decent enough. However, Vaisey was a devil, and he kept us all under his thumb. I’m glad he’s dead. Well, if his death hadn’t caused the destruction of the whole county it would have been better of course, but nobody is going to weep for his demise.”
“So, despite him torturing you, do you trust Guy of Gisborne?”
“Of course I do! Can’t you see how hard he tries to become a better man, day after day? Well, I can’t actually see that, but you know what I mean. After the siege he was a wreck, ask Matilda if you don’t believe me, but he still managed to help me, and he’s learning to become a healer to make up for the blood he had to shed at the orders of the sheriff. He’s trying his best to manage Locksley and I think he is making friends with Robin despite all their past enmity.”
Sir Roland found hard to believe him, even if the young man looked sincere.
“So, are you saying that Sir Guy is a saint, now?”
Allan burst out laughing.
“Are you kidding me?! No, no, he’s not a saint, far from it. Who can claim to be a saint, after all? Giz is just a man. He’s working hard to be a decent man and I think that he’s going to succeed.”
“What about lady Marian? I’m afraid that he could be a danger for her reputation. Does he plan to marry her or he’s just seducing her? I feel that I must protect the innocence of that lady.”
Allan was shocked by those words.
“Are you blind or what?!” He exclaimed. “Giz would die for her. He would marry her right now if he thought that possible. I can assure you, Marian is in no need of protection, she’s perfectly capable of making her own choices. Guy is the one who could be heartbroken in the end. If I had to be worried for somebody, I’d be worried for him, not for Marian.”
The sheriff didn’t know what to answer, so he just changed subject.
“Well, I think those people are waiting for you to play your lute and sing again, do you think you can manage?”
Allan grinned.
“Of course. I sing better when I’m a little drunk. Just listen.”

“I wish I could stay,” Marian whispered, closing her eyes to listen to Guy’s heartbeat. It was cold in the stable, but in his arms she felt protected, her skin burning where it touched Guy’s body. She kissed his naked chest, and she smiled to feel him shiver under her lips.
Guy was lying on his back in a heap of hay, and Marian was sprawled on him, in the warm refuge of his arms.
“Stay, then,” he murmured, kissing and nipping lightly on the tender skin on her neck.
Marian giggled.
“Don’t bite!” She laughed, moving her head to find his lips and stop him with another kiss. “And I can’t. The sheriff expects me to go back at the castle with him and his family. If I spend the night here they’ll think I’m a lost woman.” She rolled her eyes, and Guy couldn’t help laughing.
“Well, maybe you are a little lost.”
Marian blushed, but she smiled, touching his lips with her finger.
“Not completely, beware.” She sat in the hay, trying to fix and smooth her dishevelled clothes.
A little reluctantly, Guy helped her, then he began to tie the laces of his shirt, and looked around to find his jacket that he had dropped somewhere on the floor of the stable.
They both stood up, and Marian suddenly hugged him, her heart beating fast.
She was still a maiden: Guy had passionately kissed her, they had touched and explored each other’s body, but he had stopped before taking her, even if she was willing to love him completely.
She knew that he had put aside his own desire out of respect and care, but she couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed.
Marian wanted him.
She wanted to give everything to Guy, and take everything in return, to become one with him. She had already felt such a strong desire in the past, but this time her craving was born from love, and not from fear and sorrow. It was even stronger, now, almost overwhelming, and it made her want to forget her reputation and just stay in that stable with Guy.
But if she did, everyone would know and people would talk. She wouldn’t care too much, but Robin would surely hear those gossips and they would hurt him. He’d have to know, of course, they couldn’t hide the truth from him, but he didn’t deserve to know like that, not from the malicious lips of old gossips.
They would have to find the right, gentle words to tell him, and try to hurt him as less as they could.
“You know why I can’t stay,” she sighed, and Guy nodded.
“Robin.” He said, disheartened.
Marian looked at Guy, worried to hear his sad tone, and she was afraid that he could misunderstand her words. She put a hand on his cheek, to make him look at her.
“Guy, I love you. It took a while to understand my feelings, but I’ve never been so sure. I chose you. But I care for Robin and I don’t want to hurt him.”
“Neither do I. I don’t know why, or how it happened, but I came to care for him too, and I dread the moment when I’ll have to tell him about us. I asked him to keep living, I forced him to carry his burden, and now I’m going to make it heavier… But the alternative would be to give up my love for you, and, God forgive me, I can’t. Not now that I know that you love me too. I just can’t.”
Marian kissed him one last time. It was a sweet, tender kiss, interspersed with sadness, and when they parted, Guy dropped to his knees, holding her hands and looking at her.
“Marian, will you marry me?”
She looked back at him, speechless for a moment, then she nodded, her eyes welling with tears and too moved to talk.
Guy managed to hide his own emotion with a smirk.
“I’ll make sure to buy a smaller ring this time, then.” He said, touching the scar under his eyes, and Marian stared at him for a moment, then she slapped his shoulder, not sure if she should laugh or get angry.
“With a smaller ring I should punch you harder, then,” she replied in the same tone, and they ended up laughing.
“Go, if you must,” Guy said, giving her a little kiss on the cheek, “or I’ll drag you in front of the priest and I’ll marry you right now.”
“Why, do you want to save on the banquet making the most of tonight’s celebration?” Marian said, teasingly, and Guy laughed as she walked out of the stable.

Chapter Text

Guy waited for a while, then he went to reach his guests again. Marian was standing near the women of the sheriff’s family, trying her best to look innocent and quiet, but when their eyes met, he could see a sparkle of mischievous amusement in her gaze and he couldn’t help smiling back.
Sir Roland waited for the women to climb on their carriage, then he put a hand on Guy’s shoulder.
“It seems that the people of Locksley enjoyed this celebration, and I think you had a good time too, sir Guy.”
Gisborne glanced at the sheriff, wondering if there was a second meaning behind his words.
“I guess that you enjoyed Lady Marian’s company, didn’t you?” The sheriff said, and he lifted a hand to silence any reply. “Don’t waste your breath, Sir Guy. I know that you are going to say that you love her, that you respect her and that there was a perfectly innocent reason to bring her in a stable at night. I don’t really care as long as you don’t create a public scandal. Just be careful, the both of you.”
“My lord, I just asked her to marry me, and she accepted.” Guy said in a low voice, but proudly. “I think it was right to inform you, but for now we wish to keep it confidential until we can solve a few questions.”
The sheriff smiled, patting Guy’s shoulder.
“Well, I’m glad to hear this, congratulations. Be assured that your secret is safe with me, I’ll wait eagerly for you to announce the betrothal. But don’t take too long.”
Finally he climbed on his carriage too, and he went away, leaving Guy alone and free to think about the events of that night.
He could barely believe that Marian returned his feelings and that she had accepted to marry him.
Guy looked at the people of the village who were leaving the manor: they were all tired, full of food and wine, maybe too much wine, and some of them needed help to walk back to their huts.
In the morning they would probably feel sick and they would regret drinking too much, but for now they were blissfully happy, away for once from the pain and sorrow of their lives.
Marian’s love was making him feel inebriated too, and he found himself smiling like a fool.
He saw Allan lying to the ground in front of the dying bonfire, completely drunk and snoring loudly while hugging his lute. Djaq, the saracen girl from Hood’s gang, was trying to wake him up, but Allan just kept sleeping.
“Do you need help?” Guy asked, and the girl looked at him.
“I need to take him inside before he freezes to death, but this fool drank so much that he isn’t even able to stand.”
She had talked in a reproaching tone, but there was a sparkle in her eyes when she looked at Allan.
Guy laughed, and he bent to lift Allan from the ground, quite effortlessly. He made him stand, and he put an arm around his back to keep him upright, while Djaq hurried to support him on the other side.
“His hut or yours?” Guy asked with a smirk.
“Mine.” Djaq said, glancing at Guy. “I have my herbs and remedies there and I can take care of his hangover tomorrow morning. Unless you want him at the manor to practice with your herbs.”
Guy laughed heartily: he had wanted to tease her a little, and she was ready to reply and tease him, instead.
“No, thanks. I can do without a drunken fool throwing up on my floor, I’ll leave this pleasure to you.”
He helped the girl to take Allan to her hut and they dropped him on a bed. The girl wisely placed a bucket beside the bed, then she smiled at Guy to thank him for the help.
“Goodnight, Gisborne.” She said softly. “It has been a nice celebration.”
Guy nodded and he glanced at Allan.
“Take good care of him, he’s a cheeky fool, but I don’t dislike having him around.”
“You talk of him as if he was a pet dog.” Djaq said, a trace of mirth in her voice.
Guy shrugged.
“Well, I’m fond of dogs.”

After leaving Djaq’s hut, Guy stopped in front of what was left of the bonfire: now the fire wasn’t burning anymore and only the embers shone in the night. All the villagers had gone back to their houses and Guy stopped before entering the manor. He turned to look at the village and for the first time he didn’t feel out of place.
Those peasants were his responsibility now, and for once he had made people happy, he had provided for them, sating their hunger and giving them some hope for the future. It made him feel pleased with himself, and much more committed to Locksley.
Only now he could really understand Robin, why he loved the poor so much, even if they were often greedy and ungrateful. Robin had been responsible for them, he protected them and this surely took him to care for them. To be cheered, to hear them expressing their gratitude was satisfying, it felt good.
And now they are under my protection.
It was both a frightening and exciting thought, and Guy closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath.
“You did well tonight!” Robin said, from the door, and Guy jumped in fear, turning to look at him.
“Never do that again!” He said, pointing a finger at Robin. “Never creep behind my back like that!”
“Did I startle you?” Robin asked, innocently. “I thought you had heard me opening the door.”
Guy looked away, a little embarrassed.
“I didn’t. I was thinking.”
Robin leaned on the door jamb.
“I see. So, your party had been a success, after all.”
Guy nodded.
“Nobody tried to hang me this time, so I guess you are right.”
Robin walked a few steps away from the manor and he stopped in front of the embers of the bonfire, looking around.
“Isn’t this ridiculous?” He said, with a sigh.
“What? That nobody tried to hang me?”
“No. That I can only get outside if nobody is around. Now I’m fine enough, but if the people of Locksley should come out of their houses, I couldn’t help running away in fear.”
Guy reached him and he was about to put a hand on his shoulder in a gesture of comfort, but the thought of Marian made him feel guilty and he didn’t dare to touch him.
“Do you miss them? I think I realized just today how it feels to be liked by the people you care for.”
“I do.” Robin confessed.
“They don’t wait anything else than loving you again. Maybe you should let them.”
The other shook his head, in pain.
“I can’t.”
“Robin Hood would never say that.”
“Robin Hood is dead.”
“No, he isn’t,” Guy said. “I will never believe that. I can die, you can die, but the meaning of what Robin Hood has done for these people will never die.”
“I killed them.” Robin said, in a whisper.
“Will you ever forgive yourself?”
“I don’t think I can.”
“Let the others forgive you, then. Those people, they still love you, and they know perfectly well what happened that day. Don’t reject their love, or you’ll hurt them even more. They want you. They need Robin Hood.”
Robin turned to look at him.
“And you are an expert of unrequited love, aren’t you?” He said abruptly, in a harsh tone. “What will they do if I run away from their love? Burn my house maybe?”
Guy stared at him, shocked by his words. He wasn’t expecting Robin’s reply and was taken aback by its cruelty. Robin’s remark hurt, quite a lot indeed, but Guy couldn’t deny that it was well deserved.
“From my experience, they’re more for stoning people,” he said with a bitter smirk, “but I guess that in your case they’d just keep loving you and waiting.”
“Does it work?”
Robin gave him a dark stare.
“Loving and waiting. Does it work? You should know, that’s what you did with Marian, isn’t it?”
Guy froze.
“The people of Locksley want you back.” He said, looking at the embers and trying to take time to think about a sensible reply.
“That’s not what I was talking about. I saw you, holding her hand in front of the bonfire. I saw how you looked at her.”
Guy turned to look at Robin, trying to guess his feelings: was he angry at him? Or was he hurt?
He couldn’t say, his expression was indecipherable.
Gisborne felt guilty and frustrated at the same time: he didn’t want to hurt Robin, but he was also mad at him because of the way he had treated Marian after the siege. At last, anger prevailed.
“Really, Hood? So are you actually able to see her? And do you care of what she does? Maybe you can answer your own question: she loved you and she waited for you, even if she felt completely alone, even if she had to bear the guilt of what happened that day. She was always there, close to you, trying to help you, wandering in a place where she was barely tolerated just because she hoped to see you, and you rejected her, over and over. Did it work for her, Hood? She waited and she loved in spite of all her pain, did you give her your love in return?”
Robin shook his head.
“I lost the right to love her.”
“No, you blamed her for the destruction of Nottingham. You blamed her too, just like anyone else did.” Guy said, with a choked sob.
Robin was about to avert his eyes to hide the tears that were clouding his sight, but he forced himself to look at Gisborne and to be honest.
“I did.” He admitted. “I destroyed everything for her, and still I failed, I couldn’t even protect her. I couldn’t bear the shame of what I did, and I tried to blame my feelings for her.”
“It was never her fault!” Guy cried.
“No, but how could I allow myself to love her, if that love brought me so low, if it made me betray everyone else? Do you think that I didn’t want her to soothe my pain? Do you think that her embrace wouldn’t have been a comfort? That I didn’t wish for it? But every time I thought of her, I saw the mangled bodies of Much and Will, and the blood… All that blood. The love I felt for Marian was stained with that blood, tainted forever...”
Robin was openly weeping now, but he didn’t try to hide his tears because Gisborne was crying too.
“You didn’t blame her,” Robin continued, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “You almost died during the siege, you were broken like everyone else, but your love for her never faltered...”
Guy sat on a bench that had been placed in front of the bonfire, and he stared at the dying embers.
“Actually it did. For a very long time I didn’t know if I would ever be able to feel anything at all. I felt nothing, as if I had really died.” He paused for a moment. “Hood, I never blamed you, either.”
“But you love Marian, now.”
Guy nodded.
“I tried to stifle my feelings, God knows I tried.”
Robin looked at him.
“She was yours.”
“Was…” Robin murmured. He didn’t need to ask Gisborne if she now returned his love because he already knew, he had seen her gaze when they were in front of the bonfire, he had recognized the possessive hold of her hand on Guy’s arm, a hold that once was for him. He knew that he had lost her, that at last her feelings had been killed by his constant rejection and that new ones were born for the man who never left her alone in the darkest moment of her life.
Still, he couldn’t help feeling a sparkle of his old hatred for Gisborne rekindling in his soul. He wanted to lash out at him, to make him hurt as much as he did.
What stopped him was Guy’s submissive demeanour, as if he was expecting to be hit. For a moment Robin had the impression of seeing Isabella cowering in fear in front of her violent husband. And thinking of Isabella dissipated his rage.
With a sigh he dropped himself on the bench at Gisborne’s side, feeling suddenly very tired.
Letting Marian go was difficult, but less than he thought, he realized.
Guy turned his head to glance at him, worried for Robin’s lack of reactions.
“Hood?” He called, but he didn’t continue because he heard the sound of approaching horses coming from the road.
Robin had heard them too, and he jumped to his feet, trying to hide his trembling hands.
“Go.” Guy said, nodding at the manor. “I’ll take care of this.”
Robin fought with himself to keep his fear under control, but at last the increasing panic rising in his mind forced him to run and take refuge into the manor.

Guy stood up and waited for the horses to arrive in front of him. He felt nervous and he touched the hilt of his sword, wondering who could ride towards Locksley in the middle of the night.
He wished that at least the servants of the manor were awake, but he knew that they, and everyone in Locksley, were surely too drunk to notice the arrival of those strangers. Only Thornton, probably alerted by Robin sudden retreat, appeared on the threshold, nervous but ready to support him, and Guy gave him a grateful look.
There were five men, all wearing a livery with colours that Guy didn’t recognize, but that looked vaguely familiar to him.
“Do you know that coat of arms?” He whispered to Thornton, and the loyal servant shook his head.
“No, my lord. They are not from Nottingham, I think.”
The man who seemed to be the leader moved his horse forward, to face Guy. He had a hard, cruel face, marked by a scar, and Guy thought that he was a dangerous man, one of those knights who sold their services to whoever could pay for them.
“Are you the lord of this place?” The knight asked, with spite, looking at the huts of Locksley.
“The lord of Locksley is otherwise engaged at the moment,” Guy answered in the same contemptuous tone, “whatever it is the reason of your presence here, you can express it to me and I’ll deal with it in stead of the Earl of Huntingdon.”
“And who would you be?”
“Sir Guy of Gisborne.”
The knight looked at him with a malevolent grin, then he nodded to his men.
“This spares me the trouble of asking. Take him.”

Chapter Text

The four men surrounded Guy, without getting down from their horses, and they pointed their weapons at him: two of them were carrying a crossbow, the others had unsheathed their swords.
Guy wielded his sword too, while Thornton looked at them in fear.
“What do you want?!” Guy shouted, ready to fight.
The leader of those knights looked at him.
“I had orders from our lord to apprehend a man called Guy of Gisborne and question him until he gives us the answers our lord wants. So if you are Guy of Gisborne, it would be in your own interest to answer willingly.”
Guy glared at him.
“This depends on the question. Even if your attitude makes me think that I’ve nothing to tell you. And anyway, who’s your master?”
Two of the men unmounted and grabbed his arms, forcing him to drop the sword, while the leader got even closer and met Guy’s defying gaze.
He unmounted and slapped him hard, while his men held Gisborne still.
“You will answer my questions. You will tell me everything I want to know and maybe I’ll let you live.”
Guy didn’t answer, and he just glared at him, seething with anger.
Thornton was staring at them from the door, his eyes wide with worry, but he didn’t know what he could do to help. Guy shook his head a little to tell him to stay back.
“Kneel.” The leader of the strangers said.
“No way.”
The man nodded at his soldiers, and they pushed Guy to the ground, dangerously close to the remains of the bonfire. They kept him down, while the knight grabbed Guy’s hair, to push him even lower. Guy could feel the heath of the embers almost touching his face, and he glanced at the knight.
“What do you want from me?!” He cried, and the other laughed.
“Not so proud anymore, uh? Are you willing to talk now? Answer me.”
“How can I answer if I don’t even know the question?!”
“Our lord believes that you are hiding his wife from him, and he wants her back. So tell us where she is, and we could spare your pitiful life.”
Guy realized that they had to be mercenaries hired by Isabella’s husband and he lost any hope to come out of that situation unscathed. He would never tell them that she was right there at Locksley, but he also knew that he couldn’t hope to fight them all and survive.
This is the punishment for giving her to that man. I’ll pay that error with my life.
“I have no idea what you are talking about.” He said.
“Tell us immediately where is your sister Isabella.” The knight demanded.
Guy tried his best to look surprised.
“My sister? I haven’t seen her in years. I have no idea where she could be.”
“She ran away from her rightful husband, we have every right to take her back to him, and you won’t hinder us. I’ll burn your pretty face, and then we’ll see if you’ll be more willing to cooperate.”
He tightened his hold on Guy’s hair and pushed his head further down.
Guy closed his eyes, praying that he had the strength to withstand the pain. He felt panic starting to cloud his thoughts and he was afraid that he could lose control and say something that could put Isabella in danger.
Suddenly, the two men who were holding him screamed in pain, while their leader jumped back with a curse and Guy found himself free from their hold. He fell on the embers of the bonfire, but he rolled away from them before he could get seriously burnt, and he pounced on his sword, regaining possession of it.
He stood, ready to fight, and he saw that the two men who had been holding him were crouched to the ground in pain, holding their wounded arms. Guy saw the arrows embedded in their flesh and his heart began to beat faster when he recognized their fletching.
“Who’s there?!” The leader of those men cried, looking around. “Show yourself!”
“I am the lord of this manor!” Robin’s voice come from the unfinished first floor of the manor. Guy and the men in the courtyard couldn’t see him, but another arrow flew and embedded itself on the pummel of the saddle of one of the men. “Drop your weapons or you’ll end like your comrades.”
Guy took the chance to take away the crossbows and the swords of the two unharmed soldiers and he gave a crossbow to Thornton. Only the leader kept hold of his sword, seething with anger, but not the least afraid.
“So you are sir Robin of Locksley? Please don’t interfere, this is a question between my lord and his wife, and you’ll find that he has every right to demand her return.”
“You have no right to come into my property and menace and harm my deputy. Go away immediately.”
“I’m not taking orders from someone who is too coward to show his face!”
Guy prepared to fight, sure that Robin couldn’t find the strength to show up, but now at least the odds were in their favour.
He was surprised when Robin jumped from the first floor, landing nimbly in front of the men, his bow immediately ready to shoot again.
“You can see my face now, so go away. Tell your master that if he wants something he should try asking for it nicely instead of sending his minions and menacing people. And remember that this manor and these lands are under the protection of Robin Hood.”
The men hesitated, looking at their leader. They knew that they had lost this battle, but they wouldn’t retreat without his permission.
At last the knight relented and ordered them to mount.
“We will return,” he said to Robin, in a menacing tone. “Our lord has every right to want his wife back, the law is on his side. If you get in the way, you’ll regret it.”
As soon as the men rode away, Guy turned to Robin, in awe.
“You saved me! You faced those men and you sent them away!”
Robin gave his bow to Thornton and the faithful servant went back inside to put it away and to store in a safe place the weapons they had taken from those men.
Robin walked to Guy, and he looked at him.
“You are wounded,” he said, and Guy looked down, at his hands. Now that those men were gone, he could feel the pain, and he saw that they were covered in soot and blistered. His face hurt too were the knight had slapped him, and Guy could feel something trickling on his cheek. He touched it, and he saw blood on his fingers, then he didn’t see anything at all because dark spots began to dance in front of his eyes and the whole world went black.

When Guy woke up, he saw Robin’s face looking at him, and he wondered why he seemed so worried.
“Don’t move. I sent Thornton to fetch Matilda, she’ll be here soon.”
“Is somebody hurt? Isabella!”
Guy tried to get up, but Robin prevented him.
“She’s alright. She’s still sleeping and she doesn’t know about those men yet. Thornton said that it would be useless to give her a fright now, they won’t be back tonight.”
“Why did you call Matilda, then?”
Robin frowned.
“Seriously, Gisborne? For you!”
“I don’t think I’m seriously hurt,” Guy said, trying to sit again, and this time Robin let him. “My hands ache, but I just touched the embers for a moment, these burns shouldn’t be too deep.”
“You dropped to the ground in a swoon! I thought you were dead!”
Guy blinked, a little surprised, then he remembered the blood on his fingers and he realized what had happened.
“I have a cut on my face, right?”
Robin nodded.
“More a scratch than a cut, actually.”
“But it was bleeding, wasn’t it? I told you, it already happened to me more than once since I got my memory back: I cut myself while shaving and I ended up being sick. The sight of blood still upsets me, especially if it’s mine.”
Robin sighed.
“I almost let them hurt you... I only wanted to hide.” He confessed.
“But you didn’t! Just a while ago you said that Robin Hood was dead, but it wasn’t true! You faced those men and you used your bow… to save me!” Guy shook his head in disbelief, deeply moved. “Even after all we said… I’ve hurt you so much, but you still helped me… I’m grateful, I owe you my life, Robin. And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry! I tried to fight my feelings for her, I swear, but I couldn’t… I...”
“Gisborne!” Robin interrupted him. “Shut up, now.”
Guy looked at him and he nodded, meekly. Robin felt a little annoyed because, if Guy looked so vulnerable, how could he be angry at him for stealing Marian’s affection?
Robin held a hand to Gisborne, and he helped him to his feet.
“Come, let’s go back inside,” Robin said. “It’s freezing out here and Matilda will be here soon. If she finds us here she’ll scold us saying that we’re fools and that we’ll catch our deaths.”
Guy gave him a shaky smile, then he glanced at the embers of the bonfire.
“See, Hood, I was right: people always try to kill me at parties.”

Chapter Text

Matilda arrived quickly, seriously worried, and she checked Guy’s wounds thoroughly before relaxing a little.
“It’s nothing, my children,” she said to reassure both Guy and Robin, “I’ll put this salve on these burns and they will heal in a few days, and this wound on your face is just a little scratch, don’t touch it and it won’t even leave a scar.”
“It’s not nothing, Matilda. They came for Isabella and I lied to them. Her husband can demand her back. He can go to the sheriff and ask him to send the guards to take her. The sheriff knows that she is here, he could order me to give Isabella to them, but I can’t! Not again! I’d rather die!”
Matilda tried to calm Guy down.
“Of course you won’t leave her to her violent husband, my dear, this is out of question, but dying or ending up in the dungeons wouldn’t be a sensible solution, don’t you think? Try to keep calm, love.”
“No.” Robin intervened before Guy could reply. “This is not the moment to keep calm. Have you seen what that beast did to her? He whipped her! Her whole back is covered in scars! We won’t allow him to hurt her again.”
Matilda glanced at him, wondering how he could know about Isabella’s scars when they were completely hidden under her dress. And he, who had been too broken to care for his people or his own life, now he was so determined in protecting a woman he had known for such a short time...
The healer stifled a smile: it wasn’t the right time to show happiness, but she was hoping with all her heart that Robin was slowly coming back to his old self.
“Do you have a plan, Hood?” Guy asked, hopefully looking at him, and Robin inwardly sighed, aware that he couldn’t go back hiding from the whole world now. The strange thing was that, though he still felt terrified and helpless, he wanted to do something to help Isabella. And to help Guy too, he had to admit to himself.
“Not yet,” he said, “but let me think.”
Matilda finished bandaging Guy’s hands, then she took care of the scratch on his face, cleaning away the dried blood with a wet towel.
“First of all, you should both go to bed and have a good sleep,” the healer said in a determined tone, looking at the two men, “It’s been a long day and you’ll need all your energies in the next days, so try to rest as much as you can.”
“How can I sleep when my sister is in danger?” Guy asked, dispirited, and Matilda patted his cheek and gave him an encouraging smile.
“Try at least, sweetheart. And don’t lose your hope: we have already seen that there is a solution even for the most dire situation and I am sure that together we will find it. We all survived much worse events, I know that it will be alright in the end.”
“I will keep watch tonight, Sir Guy.” Thornton said. “I will wake you up if anyone should come to Locksley.”
“And I’ll stay with him so we’ll keep each other awake,” Matilda added. “Go now, both of you.”

Gisborne stretched on the bed, unwilling to sleep, but too exhausted to stand. Robin dropped himself on the other bed, sitting on it and burying his face in the hands. He looked overly tired too, and he was trembling.
“Are you alright, Hood?” Guy asked, turning his head to look at him.
Robin took a blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders.
“Will we ever be alright?”
Guy shrugged.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been completely ‘alright’ since that day. It doesn’t make much difference after all.”
“Since the day of the siege?” Robin asked.
Guy sighed.
“Since the day of the fire.”
They both were silent for a while, and Robin looked at Guy, thinking that he had fallen asleep at last: the knight was still, with his eyes closed, and the cut on his face was of a fierce red on his pale skin. Robin was still surprised of himself after finding the courage to face those men, earlier, and he wondered why the idea that they could hurt Gisborne had been so intolerable to him.
He realized with shame that not so long ago, he had been about to do exactly the same thing, menacing to torture Gisborne and to burn his face to get information from him.
“Guy?” He called, and Gisborne opened his eyes to look at him, surprised that Robin had used his name.
“How could you do it?” Robin asked.
“How could you forgive yourself after the fire?”
Guy gave him a hurt look.
“Robin… I didn’t want to kill them...”
“No, that’s not what I meant, I’m not accusing you.” Robin hurried to say, “I really want to know how did you forgive yourself because I can’t do it.”
“I suppose I never did.”
Robin rubbed his eyes with his hands.
“How could you live with that burden, then?”
“Did I have any choice? I had to take care of Isabella at first, I couldn’t let her down, and then, in time, you get used to it. It’s always there, weighing on your soul, but you learn to ignore it, to go on with your life. It comes back, don’t doubt it, it comes at you during the night, in your dreams, but you can live with it.”
Robin thought that, like Guy, he too had kept on living because of Isabella. If he hadn’t met her in the forest, he would be dead by now, and if Robin Hood was back, it was because of her too.
He stretched on the bed, closing his eyes and he thought of Isabella, remembering the warm softness of her body in his arms and the sweet scent of her skin, and he wondered how was it possible that she had become so important for him in just a few days.
She had taken his hand just when he was about to give up for the last time, and she led him back to life, step after step.
“I hope you are right,” Robin said, with a tired sigh.
“For once, I am. And we are not alone in this, remember it. We have friends, people who care for us… people we love. Maybe they can’t really understand how it is to carry our burden, but they are ready to support us. And if it’s not enough, remember that I know how you feel. You are not alone.”
Guy stopped talking and Robin heard his breath slowing down as the knight fell asleep. Robin thought that his presence was comforting and that maybe he would be able to sleep as well.
“You’re not alone either,” he mumbled under his breath, finally slipping into a deep slumber.

Isabella cracked open the door of the room, and she looked inside: both Robin and her brother were sleeping and she stood there for a while, watching over them.
She smiled tenderly, happy to see them so peaceful for once. When she and Robin had watched the bonfire from the first floor of the manor, she had been afraid that their peace could be disrupted by jealousy and rivalry, but it looked like that Guy and Robin had come to some agreement over Marian.
Isabella was glad for Guy, but even more happy for herself: she wanted Robin and now she knew that she had won his heart.
She closed the door, hearing a shuffle behind her, and she turned to see the steward, Thornton, entering the hall, coming from outside. The man looked cold and tired and his face was grim. If it wasn’t for his expression, Isabella would have thought that he had drank too much at the banquet, but now she understood immediately that something bad had happened.
“There is something wrong, isn’t it?” She said, and the man averted his eyes.
“You should ask sir Guy, my lady.”
“He’s asleep now, and I think that he would try to shelter me from reality. I’m not a weak, fragile woman, I want to know the truth, all of it.”
Matilda entered the hall too, and Isabella noticed that she looked as tired as Thornton. Nevertheless the healer held her gaze, fiercely.
“It’s her right to know,” Matilda said to Thornton, then she turned to Isabella. “After you went to bed, some knights came to Locksley, searching for you.”
“My husband’s men!” Isabella gasped, looking around in panic. “Are they here to take me?!”
Matilda put a hand on her shoulder, to calm her.
“No, not now. Your brother didn’t say that you were here, not even when they menaced to torture him.”
“Guy! Is he hurt?!”
“Nothing serious, Robin stepped in to defend him and they sent the knights away.”
Isabella’s heart thumped faster, in fear, but also deeply moved to hear that Robin had faced an enemy, and his own fears, to protect her.
“But they will be back, won’t they? And when they’ll know that Guy lied to them, they will retaliate somehow… Why didn’t you wake me up?!”
“I suggested to let you sleep, my lady,” Thornton said. “It will be a difficult time for all of us, it’s better to spare our energies and be rested when we’ll have to face danger.”
“And that’s why I ordered Guy and Robin to go to bed and sleep now that they can,” Matilda added with a sigh. “When they wake up, you’ll all have to talk and try to think of a plan.”
“There is only one possible plan...” Isabella said, with a grave expression.
“Don’t even think of going back to your husband, child!” Matilda exclaimed. “Guy would never accept it!”
“I’d rather die than going back to my husband. My plan is another, and I’ll need your help.”
“You can count on us.”
“Guy lied to those men, but they won’t believe him, they will come back and then, if they find out that he lied, they could hurt him. Maybe they could even get him arrested because the law is on my husband’s side… So we have to turn that lie in truth. I must go away. Now. Before Guy and Robin wake up.”
Matilda nodded. She hated the idea of a woman having to run away alone, hunted by men who wanted to drag her back to a terrible life, but she knew that Isabella was right.
“You could hide in the camp for now. My daughter can take you there and you would have some shelter. The sheriff knows about its existence, but I think that your brother can reason with him, maybe persuade him to help you somehow. And meanwhile we could think of some other hiding place and of a better plan.”
“Very well, call your daughter,” Isabella said. “I’ll pack my things and we’ll leave as soon as possible.”

Marian lay in bed, her eyes open, and she stared at the ceiling, but her gaze was unfocused, a smile on her lips. In her mind she was still in the stables of Locksley, with Guy.
She was tired after the banquet, but she was too excited to sleep. After the siege she had felt alone, scared, hated by everyone, but now, in the certainty of Guy’s love and remembering the warmth of his embrace, she felt safe and almost whole again.
“I will be his wife...” She whispered. “Father, I wish you could be there with us...”
Her eyes filled with tears as she thought of the last time she had seen her father, of the moment when the guards ripped them apart from their last embrace to hang him.
Even in that terrible moment, Sir Edward’s last words to her were of love and hope.
“Robin will save us,” he had said, “but if he won’t be able to do it, remember that you were right. You had the courage to fight injustice and I’m proud of you.”
Tears slipped on her face as she thought that at last Robin had tried to save her, but in the end it was Guy who saved her from the consequences of that attempt.
“You wouldn’t have expected that, father, did you?”
She felt terribly sad for Robin and for the end of their first, innocent love, and she really hoped that her choice wouldn’t break Robin’s heart as she feared it would.
Marian had no doubts on her feelings for Guy and she looked forward to the wedding with all her heart, she just wished that their love wouldn’t cause any more suffering.
With a sigh she sat up in bed, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to sleep even if she was tired.
She wanted to go back to Locksley and see Guy, so that she could be sure that it was all true, that he had actually asked her to marry him, and to see if everything was all right with Robin, but she knew that probably everyone at Locksley was still sleeping after the banquet and that the sheriff wouldn’t think very proper to go there on her own and so early in the morning.
She walked to the window to look outside, at the rising sun. Its light touched the houses of Nottingham, revealing that many of them had been rebuilt after the siege and that people were slowly going back to their lives. There were many blackened ruins still, but Nottingham was not a dead town anymore, there was hope now.
Just like in her heart.

Chapter Text

“I failed her.”
Matilda shook her head and she put a hand on Guy’s back, in a weak attempt to comfort him.
“No, you didn’t, and Isabella knows it. If she went away, she did it to protect you. Both of you.”
“We must go to the camp. Now.”
Robin paced in the hall, unable to stop. He had been dead to the world for months, but now he felt that he had to do something.
The thought of Isabella, all alone at the camp, hurt him almost physically, digging a hollow in his soul. The forest had always been a safe haven for him, but now he imagined to see it with Isabella’s eyes, and the trees were dark shapes, menacing and scary. He imagined her shivering of cold and fear in the abandoned camp and he longed to be at her side, to protect her from any danger.
“We. Must. Go.”
Matilda looked at them, worried. She knew that they were all in a dangerous situation and that they had to be careful, but she could understand their feelings and she shared them. She wanted to protect Isabella. She wanted to protect them all. But she didn’t know how to do it and she was afraid of losing them.
Guy met her gaze and he glanced at Robin.
“Do you have a plan, Hood?” He asked in a dispirited tone, and Robin shook his head, equally dejected.
“Let’s go to the forest and protect her.”
“No. That’s what we want to do, not what it’s best for her.” Guy hid his face in the hands for a moment and he sighed. “Isabella didn’t want us to get killed for her, that’s why she went away. I want to be at her side, to kill all the enemies who could menace her, but it would be foolish and in the end we would get killed while her husband takes her back to Shrewsbury again...”
“What do you suggest, then? To sit here and wait? It might work for you maybe, you’re used to love and wait, don’t you? But it doesn’t work for me.” Robin snapped at him, and Guy searched his gaze, in surprise.
Robin’s taunting words were harsh and uttered in a tone of contempt, but Guy could suddenly see through them.
“This is not about Marian and me…” He said, jumping to his feet. “You are in love with her! With my sister!”
Robin winced at his words, then he lifted his chin, staring back at him.
“So what?!” He asked, defiantly. “Do you have any problem with that?”
Robin waited for Guy’s reaction, his heart thumping in his chest. He had spoken in that bold tone to provoke Gisborne, but as soon as those words had left his lips, he realized that they were completely true. The idea of leaving Marian to Guy hadn’t been so painful because his heart had began to turn to Isabella from the very first moment he had met her, and now it beat only for her.
“Does she know?” Guy asked.
“I think she does.”
“And I believe she cares for me too.”
Guy looked at him for a while, not sure of what he was feeling, then he just sighed. Whatever he could think of Robin Hood falling in love with his sister, it didn’t matter until Isabella was in such a terrible danger. They had to find a way to save her from her husband and then they could discuss about everything else.
“I’m going to Nottingham, I need to talk to the Sheriff.” Guy said, hoping that Sir Roland could help them to find a solution.
He glanced at Matilda, and the woman nodded, approvingly, so Guy took his cloak and began walking to the door. Robin followed him, and he stopped Guy putting a hand on his arm.
“Wait. I’m coming with you.”
Gisborne looked at him, surprised both by his touch and his words.
“Are you sure?”
Robin shuddered at the idea of riding with him, in full view of everyone, but he forced himself to nod.
“We are in this together.”

“You look tired, lady Marian,” the Sheriff noticed, a little worried.
“It’s nothing, my lord. I just didn’t sleep well.”
“Did you sleep at all?” He asked, glancing at her pale cheeks and at her tired eyes. “Is it because of the wedding?”
Marian gave him a quick look, then she turned her eyes on the courtyard again, to look at the falling snow. They were on the porch even if it was cold, but Marian didn’t mind it: she preferred the fresh open air to the stuffy overheated halls of the castle.
“It’s normal for a future bride to feel a little nervous, isn’t it?” She asked, glad that she could use that reason to explain her anxiety. She didn’t want to tell the sheriff of the ancient rivalry between Robin and Guy, of the guilt she felt knowing that she was about to break Robin’s heart again…
“Are you willing to marry him?”
Marian turned to look at the sheriff, startled by his words.
“Sir Guy said that you accepted to marry him. Were you free in your choice?”
“Of course I were! Guy wouldn’t force me to...” She began, and she stopped, remembering that he actually once tried to make her marry him under duress. “Well, not again.”
Sir Roland gave her an inquiring look, intrigued by the complex relationship between the three surviving nobles of the county. In the past he had witnessed every kind of affairs, legitimate or not, but nothing as unusual as the situation he found in Nottingham.
“Do you feel obliged to marry him to protect your reputation?”
Marian looked at him, outraged, and for a moment the sheriff thought that she was going to slap him.
“I chose to marry Guy because we love each other! If I didn’t have feelings for him, I’d prefer to live in poverty and in shame than marrying him. It’s a choice I already faced in the past and I never gave up my freedom for convenience or fear!” She answered fiercely, and the sheriff couldn’t help smiling.
“Maybe I should ask Sir Guy if he marries you out of his free will,” he said, in a serious tone, but with a gleam of amusement in his eyes.
Marian stared at him for a moment, then she relaxed, and she couldn’t help but laughing.
“I don’t envy you, my lord. Between the situation of the county and us, your job must be difficult.”
The sheriff grinned.
“At least it’s interesting. When the King sent me back to England I was afraid that after removing Vaisey I would have to manage the boring, petty arguments between greedy, corrupted nobles and dull paperwork about taxes and laws…”
“And instead you found a half destroyed county to rebuild and just a bunch of nobles, too troubled by their own problems to really help you.”
“I always liked a good challenge, lady Marian.”
The girl smiled, she was beginning to think that maybe they could trust this sheriff, that he could actually do something for Nottingham.
She was about to answer that he surely had found one, when their attention was distracted by the guards at the gate, who had opened the heavy doors and lifted the portcullis.
She wondered who could travel in such a cold day, with the falling snow that menaced to become a blizzard soon, and she was shocked to see Guy entering the courtyard on his stallion.
The knight’s face was almost as white as the snow, and he had a red mark on his cheek, but what worried her most was his tense and exhausted posture. She thought that something terrible must have happened to him during the few hours they were apart, and she feared that it had to be about Robin.
Maybe Guy told him about their engagement and they fought, she thought.
She was about to run into the courtyard, when a second horse passed through the gate, and she stared at its rider in shock: Robin was there! Out of the manor and with Guy!
He looked extremely upset too, but she couldn't see in his demeanour the enmity she expected between him and Guy.
Unable to wait any longer, she rushed to the courtyard and the sheriff followed her, but when they arrived near the horses, Marian stopped, unable to face Robin, so Sir Roland spoke to the two men.
“Sir Guy, Sir Robin… We weren’t expecting your visit so soon. Did anything happen?”
Guy dismounted quickly and he turned to glance at Robin. When he saw that he had dismounted too, he turned back to the sheriff.
“I’m afraid so. We need to talk, my lord.”
The sheriff stared at him, and he guessed that both him and Robin of Locksley were very upset, almost frightened. Sir Roland could hear Marian at his side breathing too fast, and he saw that the eyes of the girl were pointed on the cut on Gisborne’s face, but she was biting her lips to keep silent, so he voiced her worry in her place.
“Are you wounded, Sir Guy?” He asked, but the knight shook his head.
“This is nothing. Nothing at all.” Guy said, looking at Marian to let her know that he was telling the truth about is health. He just wanted to hug her and let the girl comfort some of his fears, but he didn’t dare to even talk to her in front of Robin, afraid to hurt him, even after Robin’s confession about his feelings for Isabella.
“Let’s go inside before we all catch our death,” the sheriff said, turning his back to them and beginning to climb the stairs and heading to the door of the castle. Marian, Guy and Robin hurried to follow him.

The sheriff was silent as he sat on his chair and he looked at the three nobles of his council. Soon he would appoint more nobles, but for now Sir Guy, Sir Robin and Lady Marian were the foundations to rebuild a shattered county.
He was feeling enraged and he wished he could lash out at Gisborne, but he kept his anger in check, reminding to himself that he needed all three of them.
“So you lied to me about your sister.”
“No, my lord. I think we never really talked about her. Maybe I never mentioned the fact that she is married, but you never asked.”
The sheriff slammed his hand on the table, startling all of them.
“Are you kidding me, Gisborne?! Maybe you have no idea of the situation you put me in, do you?!” He asked, harshly.
Guy returned his stare, a resolute expression on his face.
“Her husband beats her! I’ll never let him touch her again!”
“She has scars on her back, deep scars,” Robin intervened in a low voice, almost a growl, “that bastard could have killed her, and he surely will if he takes her back.”
The sheriff pointed his stare on him.
“And, pray, how do you know that she has scars on her back?”
“I’ve seen...” Robin began, then he stopped abruptly, realizing what he was saying.
Marian was staring at him in shocked surprise, while Guy looked angry, but not as much as he could expect, but the sheriff wasn’t going to made things easier for them.
“Well, you put me in an even more difficult position: hiding a lady from her rightful husband, being an accomplice in adultery, lying… What do you expect me to do about it, now?”
Both Guy and Robin jumped to their feet.
“Her rightful husband?” Guy cried, “My lord, I would rather die than letting that man hurt my sister again!”
“I’d rather kill him, I don’t care about the consequences!” Robin said, and Marian realized that he was completely serious. She was scared by the look in his eyes, she had never seen Robin being so bloodthirsty.
The sheriff stood up with a roar.
“Shut up! Both of you! Fools!” He yelled, then he backhanded them across their faces so quickly and with such strength that they could do nothing to avoid the blow and they both crashed back on their chairs.
Marian couldn’t stifle an anguished cry and she was about to rush to them when the sheriff stare stopped her.
“Stay where you are, all of you or I swear that you’ll end up in the dungeons!”
“I don’t car...” Guy began with a growl, rage mounting fast in his mind, but he stopped when Marian put a hand on his arm, giving him a pleading look. Silently, the girl brushed his arm, trying to soothe him, then she took an handkerchief and she pressed it on his cheek. Guy felt the skin hot and smarting, and he realized that the sheriff’s blow had probably reopened the cut on his face.
The thought of the blood trickling on his skin made him queasy and light-headed and he closed his eyes for a moment, trying to keep some control on his emotions.
The sheriff noticed how pale he had become, and he sighed, sitting back on his chair.
“Sir Guy, are you feeling unwell? Sir Robin, please, take that pitcher over there and pour a cup of wine for him.”
Robin was still worried and furious about Isabella’s fate, but the shock of being slapped by the sheriff had taken him by surprise, calming him down enough to keep his rage in check. He couldn’t help worrying for Gisborne, so he obeyed the sheriff and he filled a cup with wine, handing it to Guy and putting a hand on his shoulder in a gesture of comfort.
The sheriff sighed again, then he took the pitcher and he filled three more cups, giving them to Robin and Marian and taking one for himself.
“Let’s calm down, all of us.” he said in a resigned tone. “You surely have a talent to make a difficult situation even more complicated, but maybe we can still find a solution. Drink your wine and let’s be quiet for a moment, then we’ll talk. But I warn you, I don’t want to hear a word about murdering people or getting killed.”

Chapter Text

The wind was howling, and it shook the windows of the castle, trying to penetrate the closed shutters. Robin turned in the bed, unable to sleep even if he felt terribly tired.
The room was too empty, its shadows cold and terrifying, and every little sound startled him.
He sat up with a nervous, embarrassed laughter.
It was ridiculous, he thought, he had never been afraid of the darkness, not even when he was a child, and yet now he couldn’t take himself to put off the candle on his bedside table.
If he closed his eyes, he had visions of Isabella all alone in the camp, or crying while her husband dragged her away, he could see the scars on her white, smooth skin, and her blue eyes filled with tears. And Gisborne’s eyes too, so similar to his sister’s and equally filled with fear, the blood trickling down his cheek and his face white and still as he dropped to the ground in a swoon.
Robin shuddered. If he tried to sleep he could also relive the terrible ride to the castle, with people who kept looking at him, calling his name, acclaiming him, while he only wished to disappear, to hide from their eyes.
He had managed not to disgrace himself only focusing on following Gisborne’s horse, his eyes fixed on the back of the knight, his thoughts on his sister.
But now he was alone in that room, and every unpleasant thought, every fear, every terrible memory, they were all assaulting his mind, making him feel as if he was about to die, his heart pounding in his chest and feeling more sick than he had ever felt when he had travelled by sea to reach the king in the Holy Land.
He got up from bed and he glanced at the chamberpot under the bed, but he decided against using it, choosing to reach the privy at the end of the corridor, instead.
He staggered out of his room, hoping that the colder air could ease his nausea a little, but as soon as he was in the corridor, he remembered that during the siege he had run along those same corridors, trying to stop prince John’s soldiers after he had killed the sheriff, and finding only blood and corpses, innocent victims, dead because of his actions. And it was there that Much had been killed and that he had lost his mind...
Robin could almost see the blood seeping from the walls and pooling on the floor, and he knew that he couldn’t keep his stomach from turning. He ran the last few steps to the privy, making it there just in time before being sick. He fell to his knees in front of the stinking hole on the ground and he threw up.
When his stomach was finally empty, he didn’t get up and he didn’t move, too exhausted and upset to do anything.
How can I hope to help her, when I can’t help myself?
The stones of the floor where cold and dirty, and Robin thought that he really should get back to his feet, but the simple idea of getting out of that room seemed too overwhelming.
He closed his eyes, trying to steady his breath and he found himself thinking of the words that Gisborne had told him just a few hours ago, that they weren’t alone.
He wondered how Guy was, if he too was suffering like him. With a pang of jealousy he thought that Gisborne probably was with Marian and that he was getting from her any comfort he could need.
That unpleasant thought gave him the strength to get up from the floor. He opened the door of the privy, deciding that he had at least to go back to his room, that he had to avoid to be seen like that.
He leaned on the wall of the corridor to walk because he felt weak and unsteady on his feet. When he arrived to a window he stopped to look outside and to take a breath of fresh air, but he was startled to see a lonely figure sitting in the courtyard by the tree, despite the wind and the snow.
Robin recognized Gisborne and he wondered why he was there all alone, sitting outside in the cold weather. Instead of going to hide into his room, Robin found himself walking towards the courtyard.

Guy pushed back the hood of his cloak and lifted his face to the falling snow, closing his eyes to better feel the cold touch of the snowflakes on his skin.
He listened to the silence of the night, broken only by the howling of the wind, and he tried to not think, but his mind kept going back to the conversation with Sir Roland.
The sheriff had been harsh, but at last he had decided to do nothing about Isabella and he had forbidden Robin and Guy to tell him where she was hiding.
“If I don’t know where she is, I won’t have to lie when her husband comes to ask it to me.”
But Sir Roland hadn’t said if he could save her from her terrible marriage. Guy suspected that the sheriff could sympathize with Isabella, but that he didn’t have the power to help her.
I will save you, somehow. Guy swore. I sacrificed your happiness so many years ago, and now I have to make things right.
Guy opened his eyes feeling, more than actually hearing, a presence in the courtyard, and he looked around until he saw Robin approaching.
Robin reached him, and Guy moved aside on the bench to leave him some space to sit.
“What are you doing here, Gisborne?” Robin asked, dropping himself at Gisborne’s side. “Trying to freeze to death?”
Guy glanced at him.
“Said the one who isn’t even wearing a cloak... You alright, Hood?”
Robin let out a ragged sigh.
“No, I’m not,” he admitted.
“Me neither.”
“Does it still bleed?” Robin asked, pointing at the cut on Guy’s cheek and Gisborne shook his head.
“That scratch is nothing. I may feel faint because of it, but it doesn’t matter, it isn’t important. I keep thinking of Isabella and I just wish that I could reach her to protect her, but I guess that it would only make things worse.”
“Do you think that the sheriff will actually find a way to help her?” Robin was dejectedly sitting on the bench, his eyes downcast and staring at the ground, and he had spoken in a low, hopeless tone.
“I don’t know, but probably he’s right to keep us here at the castle while he thinks about it. The guards won’t lift the portcullis to let us out.”
“How do you know?”
Guy sighed.
“I tried. How could I sleep when I remember so well how afraid of the dark she was when she was little? When we had to spend the night outside because we didn’t find a shelter, she was always terrified. She remembered the scary tales she heard from the servants about wolves and the wild animals that lived in the forests, and she was afraid that they would come to eat us while we slept…” Guy ruefully smiled at that memory. “She wouldn’t sleep if she couldn’t grab my cloak and she kept waking up and asking if I had heard this or that noise. At last I ended up staying awake most of the night so that she could sleep peacefully, knowing that I was keeping watch...”
“There are other ways out of the castle rather than the portcullis,” Robin said, but Guy shook his head.
“I don’t like that he had to give orders to the guards to stop us, but I think Sir Roland is right, actually. If we openly side with Isabella, we could be outlawed, we’d lose all the privileges we have as nobles and any power we could use to help her. My heart wants to go to her, but staying at the castle is the most sensible thing we can do for now. Even if it hurts.”
“That’s why are you sitting here under the snow?” Robin asked. “I thought you would be with Marian.” He added, a bitter vein in his voice.
“I wish I could,” Guy said, with a resigned grin, “but she’s more guarded than the portcullis. Until we marry, the sheriff won’t allow us to create a public scandal in his castle. She has to stay with the other women and do embroidery with them.”
“Oh, she’ll love it!” Robin said with an ironic grin and Guy smiled too.
“When I heard your steps, I half expected to see the Nightwatchman trying to run away from the castle.”
“Sorry to have disappointed you.”
Guy shrugged.
“I guess that your company is still better than being alone with my thoughts.”
He glanced at Robin, and he frowned, noticing how pale he was. He stood up, dusting the snow away from his cloak.
“Hood? Maybe we should better get inside. You look like you’re about to be sick.”
“Too late for that,” Robin muttered, but he got to his feet too, albeit a little unsteadily, and Gisborne grabbed his arm to support him.
They walked slowly to the main entrance of the castle, and Guy helped Robin to climb the stairs, worried to see how weak he seemed. He was afraid that he was going to faint or that he would slip on the snow covered steps and fall down on the hard stones of the courtyard. Once they entered the castle, Guy took one of the corridors, and Robin gave him a confused look.
“Our lodgings are not this way.”
“We’re not going there.”
“Where, then?”
“The kitchens.”
Robin gave him an annoyed look.
“I surely don’t want to eat, now.”
Guy opened the door of the kitchens and the servants who were working there looked at Robin and him, worried.
“We’re not here to eat, but I need a few ingredients. Now sit by the fire and wait there. You!” Guy called a scullion who was stacking some firewood near the fireplace. “Bring a chair for Sir Robin, and you,” he turned to one of the cooks, “let me see what you have in the pantry.”
The boy hurried to obey, running to fetch a chair for Robin, while the cook gave a wary look at Guy. She remembered him before the siege and she had always been frightened by him, but she also knew that during the attack he had bravely fought to defend the castle and she was grateful for that because, thanks to his resistance, she and a few other servants had the time to hide or run away.
“Are you hungry, Sir Guy?” She asked respectfully, but Guy shook his head.
“Do you have any herbs here?”
The cook gave a curious look at him.
“Herbs, my lord? We use some of them to cook, of course, they are there.”
The woman pointed at a shelf, and Guy examined the bags and the pots that contained the herbs, choosing a few of them.
“These will do. Now boil some water, not too much, but enough to fill a pitcher.”
The cook promptly obeyed, and she poured water in a pot, placing it on the fire. Guy added the herbs to it, took a spoon to carefully taste the result, and he added a few other pinches of herbs and spices from the bags he had selected, until he was satisfied.
He glanced at Robin, who was sitting by the fireplace with his eyes closed, and he added some more chamomile to the infusion.
“Do you have honey too, by any chance?” He asked the cook, and the woman nodded, still unsure.
“Yes, Sir Guy.”
The woman went to the pantry and came back after a moment with a pot of honey.
“Very well. Now take the infusion away from the fire, pour it in a pitcher and bring us two cups. And you, boy, take another chair by the fireplace.”
As soon as the servants obeyed, Guy poured the herbal infusion in the two cups, and added some honey to both of them, then he gave one to Robin, and kept the other for himself.
Robin looked at it, frowning.
“What is it, Gisborne? Have you decided to put me out of my misery by poisoning me?”
Guy sat on the other chair and he enjoyed the warmth of the fire for a few moments before answering.
“Quite the contrary, I’d say. This will make you feel better. I used herbs that soothe the stomach and others that can help to relax, and it’s warm, it helps after staying outside in the snow.” He drank first, emptying his cup to show Robin that it wasn’t poisonous, and he smiled. “And honey makes it taste good too.”
At last Robin decided to trust him, and began to drink the infusion. Guy looked at him for a while, pleased, then he turned to fill his cup again and he met the incredulous stare of the cook.
“What?” Guy asked, frowning, and the woman winced.
“Forgive me, my lord! I was just surprised!”
The woman hesitated, afraid of angering him, but she knew that when one of the nobles asked a question, the servants had no choice but answering.
“I had heard about it, some women at the market were saying that the healer, Matilda, claimed to have you as an apprentice, but I couldn’t believe it… Is it true, Sir Guy? Did she really teach you how to treat illnesses?”
Guy nodded.
“Well, she did, a little. She taught me a few things, but there’s still a lot I have to learn yet.”
The cook stared at him for a moment, impressed, then she gave him a respectful little bow and went back to do her work.
When Guy turned back to look at Robin, the other man was staring at him in mild surprise.
“I think you shocked her. The dangerous henchman of the sheriff who is able to treat stomach aches and colds...” Robin said, shaking his head with an amused look in his eyes.
“You are making fun of me again, it means that you feel better.”
Robin looked at the empty cup and sighed.
“I wasn’t making fun of you, Gisborne. Actually this isn’t half bad, I must admit it.”
“Now I am shocked, Hood, was that a praise?” Guy said, grinning.
“Maybe I was just thanking you.”
“Yes, you are definitely unwell,” Guy said, serious. “and I feel tired. Maybe we should get some sleep.”
Robin grimaced.
“I wish I could.”
“The nightmares... When you close your eyes, they come… They come even when you’re not asleep, they just lurk in the dark, waiting for you to be alone…” Guy sighed. “I know how you feel, Hood, even too well.”
“Don’t you have a remedy for that?”
“I wish I had. Some herbs make you sleep, but Matilda says that you have to be careful with them, that we should use them only when there is a real need.”
“Like when one tries to slash his own hands?” Robin asked, looking at the scars on his palms.
Guy nodded.
“Yes, we gave that remedy to you too. Did it send nightmares away?”
“No, it trapped me inside those nightmares. I wanted to wake up and I couldn’t.”
“I’m sorry. But it was necessary.”
Robin sighed.
“I know. And I suppose you are right, I’m exhausted and we can’t afford to be weak if we want to protect Isabella. I must at least try to sleep.” He stood up and Guy followed him.
When they arrived to Robin’s room, Robin opened the door and he glanced at the darkness waiting for him: the candle went off while he was gone and he couldn’t move from the threshold.
He felt silly for that irrational fear, and he tried to hide it, but still he couldn’t force himself to step into the room.
“Hood? Why is your fireplace unlit? This room is chilly.” Guy said, glancing through the open door, and Robin’s gaze flew to the fireplace. Gisborne was right: the fire in it was reduced to embers and Robin remembered that earlier a servant had come to knock at his door, saying that he had to rekindle the fire, but he hadn’t opened, feeling too upset to see anyone.
“I should have added some firewood to it, but I forgot.”
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll call for a servant.”
Guy frowned, and he looked at him.
“You can’t sleep in such a cold room.”
“Can I sleep in yours? If there’s a cot it will be alright, otherwise I can sleep on the floor, I’m used to it. I… I just don’t think I can be alone tonight.”
Gisborne glanced at him, worried to see Robin so vulnerable and unsure, but he nodded.
“Not a problem. The sheriff assigned us large rooms, there’s enough space for both of us and I’m already used to hear you snoring,” he concluded with a grin.

Isabella looked at the fire, and she added another log to it. The flames were warm and bright and they would burn at least until dawn, so she could go to sleep without fear of freezing.
The camp was strangely comfortable to be in the middle of the forest, and the sheltered part of it had been built in solid wood. The bunks were comfortable and there were no drafts, so with a good fire and thick blankets she didn’t feel cold, even if outside it was snowing.
She was alone.
Matilda’s daughter accompanied her, explaining her how to open and close the secret door and how to set the fire, then she went away because she had to care for her child.
It felt strange to know that nobody was around and once she would have been scared, but she found out that instead she was feeling very calm.
She was alone, but she was also free and safe, at least for now.
Nobody would find her there, nobody could hurt her.
Isabella wrapped herself in the blanket, and she smiled because it was Robin’s blanket and she could imagine his arms holding her. She wondered if he was worried for her disappearance, and she hoped that he and Guy would support each other and find a solution to free her from her cruel husband.
She sighed, knowing perfectly well that only death could set her free. It was to see if it would be her death or her husband’s.
Obviously she hoped for the latter, even if she knew that, whatever was going to happen, surely there would be a price to pay.
She prayed that it wouldn’t be too high.

Chapter Text

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.”
“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.