Chapter 1: Heartbeat
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.
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.
“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...”
“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, 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.
“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 2: Leper
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...”
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.
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 3: Anything can Make a Difference
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.”
“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?”
“Very well,” Matilda said in a practical tone. “Look, you have to use the pestle like this, see? Now try.”
Chapter 4: The Same Disdain
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.
“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.
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 5: Deep Cuts
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.”
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.
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 6: A Decent Healer
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?”
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.”
“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.”
“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 7: A Terrible Archer
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.”
“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.
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.”
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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 8: We Are All Lost
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.
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.”
“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 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 9: I Know the Way
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
“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 10: My Lost, Broken Children
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.
“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.
“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.”
“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!”
“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 11: Burdens
“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?”
“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!”
“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.
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 12: The Healer's Apprentice
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.”
“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?”
“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.
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 13: Checkmate
“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?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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 14: So Easy to Hate
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!”
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.
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?”
“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.
“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 15: Nettles
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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!”
“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.”
I'm not an expert of herbs and natural remedies, I just searched the effects of the herbs that are used by the healers of this story on Google, so don't try using them at home.
Chapter 17: Wine for Courage
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.
“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?”
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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 18: Shattered in a Thousand Pieces
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 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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?!”
“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?”
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!”
“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 19: Not Until I Live
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.”
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.
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.”
“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?”
“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...”
“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!”
“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 20: Blood
“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!”
“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 21: The Siege
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.
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.
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 22: Gossip
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.
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.
“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.”
“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 23: A Safe Place
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...”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Maybe. By the way, that healer, Matilda, does she know that you are here?”
Guy shook his head.
“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.”
“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 24: Come Home
“Where have you been sleeping?” Matilda asked, glancing at Marian. The girl looked tired and disheveled, her hair tied in a ruffled braid.
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
“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...”
“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 25: The Council of Nobles
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?”
“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.”
“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 26: The Sheriff’s decision
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.
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.”
“Where is Marian? I thought...”
“Are you two married?”
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.”
“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 27: Are You Here to Hang Me?
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!”
“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.”
“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...”
“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.”
“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 28: A Flutter of Feathers
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 29: We All Do
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
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 30: Life in Locksley
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.”
“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...”
“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?”
“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?”
“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 31: A Different Kind of Blood
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.”
“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 32: First snow
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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“Maybe… could it be good for him to see them?”
“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 33: A Different Man
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 34: Some things never change
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.