Marian sat under the tree in the courtyard, enjoying the fresh shadow of its leaves while she watched Guy, who was carefully checking the saddle of his horse, a few steps away from the tree.
The black stallion moved his tail to keep flies away, and shook his head, clearly enjoying the presence of his owner.
Marian smiled looking a them, and she thought that horse and knight were very much alike, both dark and a little morose, but with another side to them. A gentle touch to the horse and a kind word to Guy were enough to completely change their mood, revealing a better, tender core.
Only recently Marian had found out the real extension of Guy’s good side, finding in him a depth of feelings she had never guessed before. He loved her, and in the name of that, he had risked everything to save her life, even after finding out all the lies and her betrayal, forgiving her for being the Nightwatchman and for helping Robin’s gang.
Guy lifted his eyes from the buckle he was checking, searching for her gaze, and he smiled when he found it. Marian smiled back, sincerely happy to be in his company and moved by his unconscious need of her presence.
Stay and make this place bearable.
His words had broken her heart, and she had been glad to promise that she would stay, that she wouldn’t go back to the forest.
She didn’t regret her decision, not when she knew that it was so important for him. The time they could spend together was uplifting for both of them, an oasis of relief in the dark life at the castle.
Guy removed his gloves to fix a loosened strap on the saddle, and Marian noticed the dark shadow of a bruise on his wrist.
She stood up and got closer to him, frowning.
“What happened?” She asked, brushing the darkened skin with a finger, “it’s swollen and bruised… Did he hit you again?!”
Guy put a finger on his lips.
“Hush, Marian, you never know who could listen. It’s nothing.”
The girl didn’t relent, pushing the sleeve of his jacket up, to have a better look at his arm: the bruise was larger than she had thought, and it faded where the skin was marred by a ragged scar.
Marian sighed, touching the ruined skin.
“He always hurts you.”
“I guess I deserved this one.” Guy said, glancing at the scar.
He had confessed to her that he had actually tried to kill the king in the Holy Land, and she had been surprised of her own reaction at his admission. Instead of feeling disgusted or horrified, she had felt relieved that the incriminatory tattoo had been destroyed, that nobody could have a sound proof of his guilt.
“It’s in the past, Guy. Let’s leave it there and forget about it.”
Gisborne lowered his eyes, blushing, and Marian realized that he was trying to hide something from her.
“Guy? What’s up?”
“I can’t… Nothing, Marian, forget it.”
“Guy...” She crossed her arms, staring at him. “I thought we were friends. Tell me.”
Gisborne gave his back to her and turned to the horse, caressing his muzzle, but Marian understood that he couldn’t look at her.
“He won’t...” Guy said, his voice so low that she could barely hear him, “...he won’t let it stay in the past. He wants me to try again.”
Marian covered her mouth with her hands, to stifle a cry.
“No, Guy! You can’t do it!”
He dejectedly shook his head.
“Do you think I have a choice? He’s ready to kill if I don’t obey...” He finally turned to look at her and Marian saw that he had tears in his eyes. “He will kill both of us: me and you. And I can give up my life, but I could never risk yours.”
He looked away again, in shame, and Marian found herself hugging him tightly.
“We will find a solution,” she said softly, “don’t despair, I know that we can.”
Guy held her back, closing his eyes with a sigh.
“I don’t believe it, but thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you for being here.”
“How is your French, Gisborne, hm?” The sheriff finished painting his toenail black and he examined carefully the result. Marian looked at his foot with unconcealed distaste while Guy kept a straight face, used to the sheriff disgusting habits.
“My French, my lord?”
“Are you deaf, Gisborne?”
“I heard you, I was wondering why you asked.”
Vaisey lifted his gaze to look at Guy, grinning with satisfaction to see him worried and confused.
“Aren’t you half french, Gisborne? We’re having a guest from France and I expect you to make him feel at ease.” He turned his eyes on Marian. “You too, lady leper, time to wear your pretty clothes, last time the German booby appreciated them.”
Guy’s expression darkened remembering that guest, while Marian had to stifle a smile noticing that the knight was still jealous of the German count even after so many months. She knew that she shouldn’t encourage that kind of feelings, but she couldn’t help feeling flattered and desired.
“So do you plan to defraud this guest too?” Guy asked, and Vaisey stared at him, narrowing his eyes.
“Do I hear disdain in your voice?” He asked, pointing at him the little brush he was using to paint his nails. “Careful, Gisborne, I won’t tolerate any disrespect from you and your leper. Mess this encounter with our guest and I’ll have you flogged publicly. Both of you.”
Guy gave a quick warning look at Marian before answering the sheriff.
“Yes, my lord,” he said quietly, “what do you expect us to do, then?”
“This man, Gisborne, is not a gambling cretin like the German count, he won’t be so easily fooled by a few games and a deceiving pretty face, but he has something I want, and I intend to take it. So he must feel welcome, safe, ready to give us his trust. That’s your job, fail it and you’ll regret it bitterly. Now go,” he waved a hand towards the door, “go and make sure that everything is in order to welcome our guest.”
Marian followed Guy down the stairs, into the courtyard, and she put a hand on his arm to stop him. He was nervous and she could feel his bad mood. She was angry at the sheriff too, outraged by his despicable words and his disgusting behavior, but she knew that it would be better for everyone to calm Guy down.
“The count never seduced me, you know?” She said, surprising herself with her own words. Guy stopped abruptly, turning to stare at her.
Marian blushed. She had decided of being sincere, telling him the truth about the Count and her part in Robin’s plan to rob the sheriff’s gold, but those words slipped through her lips, brutally honest and very direct.
“It was all a ruse so the sheriff would allow us go riding in the forest on our own. Actually the count wanted to meet the outlaws.”
Guy frowned at the last word and Marian knew that for him it was still difficult to accept that she had been working with Robin and his friends all the time. She felt guilty because she hadn’t found the courage yet to tell Guy that Robin had asked her to marry him and that she had accepted. Marian knew that Guy deserved to know the truth and she didn’t want to deceive him anymore, but she also knew that the truth would hurt him deeply and she hated the idea of making him suffer again.
If she had to be honest, she wasn’t even sure if that was still the truth. She hadn’t met Robin in a long while, and the rare times she had seen him in town, he had always been too busy plotting against the sheriff to have time for her.
She began to feel as sullen as Guy at those thoughts: when Guy saved her life after finding out that she was the Nightwatchman, she had promised to him and to herself that she wouldn’t betray his trust again, so she had told Robin that she couldn’t help them anymore, unless it was something she could openly tell to Gisborne. They had a big fight about it and since then, Robin had rarely showed up, and he seemed to have been too busy to remember that they were to be married, sometime.
“He kissed you.” Guy said harshly, startling her out of her thoughts.
“Who?” She asked, almost afraid that he could have guessed that she was thinking of Robin.
“The German booby,” Guy snarled and Marian found herself smiling at him, a little moved by his hurt, jealous look.
“A ruse too. The count was a friend, nothing more.”
Gisborne looked at her, frowning in the attempt to understand if she was being sincere, then he relented with a sigh.
“Forgive me Marian, I’m not myself.”
The girl gave a little squeeze on his arm, sympathetically.
“The sheriff is burdening you with all sorts of duties and responsibilities, it must be overwhelming.”
Guy shook his head, dejectedly.
“He’s always planning something and it rarely ends well, especially for me. He asks for more and more, and honestly I don’t know for how long I’ll be able to satisfy his requests. When I fail one time too many, it will be the end. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck.”
“Maybe you are,” she said, “but at least you’re not alone.”
Guy gave her a sad, grateful smile.
“Thank you. You’re the only thing that makes this place bearable. But now I should search for Allan and begin to make arrangements for the arrival of this guest. Will you help me?” He offered his arm, and Marian rested her hand in the crook of his elbow, walking at Guy’s side.
“Of course I will,” she said, glad to change the subject of their conversation, then she turned to look at Guy, thinking of a sentence the sheriff had said. “Guy? Why did the sheriff say that you are half french?”
Gisborne glanced back at her, in mild surprise.
“Because I am. My mother was from France and I was born there.”
Guy smiled at her astonishment.
“Yes. My father was rewarded with the village of Gisborne after he fought for the king, so we went to live there, but when I was a child we had a house in France. It was small and we weren’t rich, my mother’s relatives disowned her when she married an English knight, but I remember we’ve been happy there.”
Marian looked at Guy, impressed by the soft expression on his face while he was lost in his memories. She realized that she had never seen him really happy since she knew him, the only exception being, maybe, the time when she had kissed him to avert his attention and allow Robin to run away from the castle. She felt sad for him.
“I didn’t know...” She murmured.
“There’s so much that you don’t know about me,” Guy said ruefully, “and maybe most of it is better to remain unknown.”
“So, how is France? Or were you too young to remember?” She asked, willing to dispel his sadness.
“I was young, but I remember that the weather was warmer there, and I liked to play on the beach. We lived in the south, near the sea.”
Marian looked at him, impressed.
“I’ve never seen the sea... Sometimes I wish I could just run away from everything. I wonder what could happen if I boarded a ship and went away, far, far away from all this. Do you think that there is a place where people can be free and happy? Your France maybe?”
Guy looked at her, a little alarmed, as if she could really get on a ship and run away from him, then he realized that it was just a fancy, a desire to be free.
“I don’t think so. France wasn’t as good as I remembered it when I went back there after my parents died. Not at all,” he said bitterly, then he tried to dispel their melancholy with an ironic grin, “And from my experience, sailing on a ship is not as nice as you can imagine. Quite horrible, actually: the ship is small and vulnerable and it can’t resist the waves... it’s dragged up and down with no control at all and you keep losing your balance… and the contents of your stomach as well. I’ve been horribly sick every time I’ve been on a ship: every time I traveled by sea, I thought I was going to die.” Guy’s grin faded and he let out a trembling sigh. “I suppose that next time it would be better for me to actually die from seasickness rather than arriving in the Holy Land… They hung and quarter traitors there...”
Marian shook her head, unable to accept the hopeless fear she could see in his eyes, and she stood on tiptoe to suddenly hug him and press her lips on his cheek.
“You won’t go there,” she whispered into his ear, interspersing her words with comforting little kisses, “we will find a way, I promise you. You won’t have to go.”
“I’m like that small ship, I can’t fight the storm...”
She heard him sigh again and she thought that she wanted him to believe her words, that she wanted to really save him from the terrible storm that the sheriff was, just as Guy had done for her, probably more times than she could even imagine. Guy was holding her tight, almost desperately, and now he was kissing her too: gentle, fluttering kisses on her face and her neck, tender and full of sadness at the same time.
Without thinking too much about it, Marian turned her face a little, meeting his lips and placing a little kiss there too. She opened her eyes to look at Guy, and she met his gaze, deep and blue, just like the sea. He was staring at her, frozen, holding his breath, and for a moment Marian felt like a frail ship lost in a stormy sea too, overwhelmed by inexorable waves that she wasn’t able to control.
She closed her eyes and tightened her hold on Guy, then she kissed him again, desperately this time.
Maybe we can’t fight a storm, but we can abandon ourselves to it, become part of it, follow the winds and see if they will take us somewhere else. Somewhere better.