Allan used his sword to cut through the undergrowth, trying to follow the river. He was beginning to be worried for Gisborne, afraid that he could have drowned in the muddy waters.
So far he hadn’t found any sign of him, not even his corpse, so he could still hope, but he was afraid he couldn’t find him before the sun went down. If that was the case, would he have the courage to stay in the forest at night, alone, and keep searching?
He shuddered at the idea, but how could he abandon Gisborne? The knight was the only one who ever trusted him, the only one who gave him a second chance.
The only true friend he had.
“Giz?” He called. “Where are you?”
The forest was silent, and Allan sighed.
What if Gisborne was dead? And if he was alive, but he couldn’t save lady Marian, it would be terrible all the same.
“Love is only a source for trouble...” He muttered, but he stopped with a gasp, noticing traces and footprints on the muddy bank.
So at least one of them got out of the water…
Allan noticed that the footprints were too big to be Marian’s and he couldn’t help feeling relieved. Of course he hoped that both of them had survived, but he cared for Gisborne more than he did for the girl. He saw that the tracks headed to a path, and he followed them for a while, stopping abruptly when an arrow came flying at him, embedding itself in a trunk, too close to his head for his liking.
“Hey!” Allan cried, brandishing the sword and looking around. “Show yourself!”
Marian stirred in her sleep, with a little sigh. She wasn’t cold anymore and she was laying somewhere soft, wrapped in warm blankets. She could smell grass and damp leaves, and the smoke of a fire. The fire had to be close because she could also hear the crackling rustle of the flames and feel a pleasant warmth. But there was also another soothing sound: the deep voice of a man quietly speaking.
A known voice.
A friendly, reassuring voice.
She was too tired to open her eyes, but somehow she felt that she didn’t need to wake up because she was safe.
She slipped back in a deep slumber, dreaming of her father: she was a little girl again and Sir Edward lulled her to sleep, tucking the blankets of her bed and watching over her sleep.
“Why should we risk our lives for you?” One of the outlaw asked, shaking his head and giving Gisborne an hostile glance. “You were our enemy. You arrested many of us and hanged them.”
“I just enforced the law.” Guy replied. “And this is bigger than just you or me. You wouldn’t fight for me, it would be to defeat the evil and to protect the people you care for.”
“Which people? We are outlaws, dead men. Why should we care for anybody other than ourselves?”
Little John looked at the man who had just spoken, for a long moment, then he cleared his voice.
“What about your mother, Roy? And Forrest’s little brother… And... my wife and son.” He nodded at Guy and at the soaked cloak that was draped over a bush to dry. “Him, we don’t like, but for once I agree with his words. I saw how scared people are, the deadly silence that falls on the villages whenever the Sheriff or his men get closer. Once it was bad, but now it is worse. It’s evil. Wrong.”
“So, will you help?” Guy asked, hopeful and the other man nodded.
“Not you, keep it in mind. The people.”
“That’s what I said.” Gisborne smiled and they were all silent for a while, until they heard some commotion coming from the undergrowth.
A moment later two of the outlaws appeared, dragging Allan with them. The young man had a few scratches on his face and a bruise was darkening on his cheekbone, but his expression lightened up in seeing Guy.
“Giz! You alright, mate?” He blurted, but he was silenced by one of the outlaws who were holding him.
“Hey, don’t harm him!” Guy said, jumping to his feet, and Little John glanced at him.
“Friend of yours?” He asked, nodding at Allan.
“He saved my life and he fights the Black Knights too,” Gisborne explained.
Little John gestured the outlaws to release him, and Allan hurried to reach Guy’s side.
“Did you find her?” Allan asked, staring at his friend’s face to read his expression. He was relieved to see a smile on his lips.
Guy pointed at Marian, who was still laying near the fire, her face hidden under the blankets that wrapped her.
“She’s exhausted and unwell, but she’ll recover. As soon as she’ll be able to move, I’ll take her to see Matilda and she’ll heal her.”
“Matilda? The healer?” Roy asked. “Is she with you?”
“Yes. Do you know her?” Guy replied and the other man nodded.
“She gave a remedy to my mother a few years ago, even if we couldn’t afford it. She’s a good woman.”
After Roy’s words, the other outlaws seemed to relax, and they stopped glaring at Guy.
Allan sat near the fire with a contented sigh, warming his hands at the flames.
“Are you alright?” He asked again, but he could see that Gisborne wasn’t wounded, just tired and still damp after jumping in the river.
“I’m fine.” Guy said, sitting near the fire as well. “The others?”
“We won. And I have important news.” Allan stopped, and he looked at the outlaws, uncertain.
“You can trust them, they’re on our side. So, what’s up?”
“We took a prisoner. One of the guards survived the battle and we captured him.”
“I hope you didn’t take him to the cave, he could be very dangerous. Those guards are not common men anymore, there’s something evil inside them.”
“We didn’t, but the point is just this: he didn’t look possessed anymore! It seems he had been freed from that evil, his eyes were alive again!”
“What?!” Guy looked at him, in shock.
“He was wounded and confused, but he spoke like a normal man, as if he had just woken up. Tuck is going to examine him to understand what happened.”
“Really? This is true?” Guy stood up, shaking his head in awed disbelief. “This mean that it’s possible to free people from that evil... This changes everything!” Guy stopped, glancing at Marian, then he stared at Allan, almost threateningly. “Don’t tell her.”
“Why? Her father...” Allan began, frowning.
“I don’t want to raise her hopes until we’ll be sure that we can really save him. Weren’t it possible, it would break her heart once again.”
“I see. Are you coming? Tuck and Much are waiting for us with the prisoner at the ruined hut near the pond.”
Gisborne crouched at Marian’s side to brush his fingers on her forehead.
“Not yet. She needs to rest and keep warm and I can’t leave her now. As soon as she can be moved, I’ll take her to Matilda and then I’ll reach Tuck. Go to him, and tell him that we are both safe.”
Allan glanced at the outlaws, and he lowered his voice.
“Are you really safe?”
“We all have a common enemy, we must trust each other. Now go, I don’t want you to be in the forest when darkness falls.”
Allan nodded, standing up.
“Alright, Giz, take care.”
After Allan was gone, Guy finally realized how tired he felt. The outlaws were sitting around the fire, sharing a meal, but he felt too exhausted to eat, and he stretched out on the ground, close to Marian.
Even so, he couldn’t fall asleep, Allan’s news were too important and they opened a lot of new possibilities. Could they really save the people who had been corrupted by that evil? And how?
If there was hope for Sir Edward…
Guy turned on his side to look at Marian and he silently prayed to God that he could give her family back to her. He swore that he would do anything to keep her safe and to see her smiling again.
The girl stirred in her sleep, a hand slipping out of the blankets, and Guy held it, intertwining his fingers with hers.
I’m here. They’ll never touch you again.
He closed his eyes and at last he fell asleep, still holding her hand.