Allan yawned, stretching his back.
“Do you think they’ll ever go to bed?” He asked, looking at Marian. They were both sitting in a bench in the corridor just out of the great hall, where the sheriff had ordered them to wait.
“I don’t know, I’m tired too, but we must stay here. You have heard Guy, didn’t you? It would be very dangerous to disobey the sheriff.”
“Well, it never stopped you.”
“I know! But now it’s Guy who would suffer the consequences of what we do.”
Allan lifted an eyebrow.
“So you do care for him, after all...”
“Of course I do! He’s a friend...”
“Yeah, friend, my ass!”
Marian stared at him.
“I’ve seen you in the courtyard the other day. You didn’t look exactly ‘friendly’, if you want my opinion.”
Marian blushed, remembering their kiss, but she tried to look nonchalant.
“I never asked for your opinion! I… I had something in my eye, Guy was just trying to help.”
“With his tongue?” Allan asked, and Marian punched his shoulder.
“Ow! What? Did I tell a lie?”
She pointed a finger at him.
“That’s none of your business!”
“It is, instead! If you hurt him, and you usually do, who do you think will have to bear his bad mood? And then I’m tired to see a friend so ill treated by everyone.” Allan replied, hostile.
“I don’t want to hurt Guy!” Marian protested.
“Yeah, good intentions, great promises, and then? When will you stab his heart again?”
“I’m not going to do that!”
“So do you love him, then? What about Robin? Do you think I don’t know that when he’ll decide to call you back to him, you’ll abandon Guy again? Only, this time you will kill him.”
Marian wanted to deny, to tell Allan that he was just speaking nonsense, but she suddenly realized how much Gisborne had suffered for her actions in the past. And yet, his heart remained faithful to her. Allan had also touched a subject she was trying to ignore: Robin.
It was for him that she had risked everything, she had hurt people and caused deaths with her actions, all to help Robin’s just cause. She knew that at least one man, one of Guy’s soldiers, had met an horrible death because of the information she had passed to the outlaws, but that knowledge hadn’t stopped her from doing it again, over and over. She tried to appease her conscience by telling herself that it was for a just cause, that it was for the king, but if she had to be honest, she knew that she had kept doing it mainly because she wanted to prove herself worthy to Robin.
And where was Robin now?
She didn’t know what to reply, but mercifully Allan decided to stop that quarrel between them, changing the subject. Almost.
“Well, to kill him, he must survive the sheriff. Why do you think they requested his presence? I might understand if that man wanted to have you at the table with them, but why Giz?”
“Probably it’s another trick of the sheriff to taunt and provoke him...”
Allan shook his head.
“No, it’s the guest who wanted him, I heard him asking the sheriff, and I think that Vaisey was puzzled too. He consented, of course, but he kept giving wary glances at Giz, as if he suspected him of some trick.”
“What could he want from Guy?”
“I have no idea, but I hope it’s nothing that could go against the sheriff wishes or we are all done for.”
Guy looked at the food in front of him and he took a piece of meat, but he couldn’t bring himself to eat it. He glanced at the sheriff’s guest, wondering why he had insisted for him to dine with them.
Vaisey hadn’t been happy of it, of course. It had been an unexpected request, something that the sheriff hadn’t predicted, and Vaisey hated to be surprised.
Probably, Guy thought, that was the reason why the sheriff hated Robin Hood so much: the outlaw was unpredictable, always a step ahead of them.
Guy’s reason for hating him instead was different: apart from what happened in their childhood, Robin had every thing Guy had always longed for, and he threw it away for his stupid cause, as if a cruel king could be more important than his lands, than his manor... than Marian. And the worst was that he apparently didn’t care about them, and yet Guy, who had stepped in to take the things that Robin had so carelessly abandoned, couldn’t help feeling like an usurper.
I fought for them, I’d care for them better than him, and still I keep thinking that I don’t deserve them, that Marian will never love me…
Gisborne lifted his gaze, startled, and he met the eyes of the sheriff staring at him with a threatening look.
“Gisborne, Sir Roland just asked you a question, would you be so kind to answer?” He asked, in a mellifluous tone that Guy knew even too well. He wouldn’t allow any other distraction, so Guy told himself that he had to focus on the dinner and on the guest, pushing any other thought away.
He was wondering how he could admit that he hadn’t heard the question, when Sir Roland came to his help repeating it.
“I asked about your family, Sir Guy. Are you alright? You seemed to be lost in your thoughts.”
“I’m sorry, my lord, I am just a little tired.”
“You must forgive his manners, Sir Roland, he’s not used to refined banquets, our Gizzy is more at ease with the company of his soldiers.” Vaisey intervened in a light tone, and Guy hurried to nod.
When the sheriff sounded so kind, it was the moment when he was more dangerous.
“Come on, answer.” The sheriff urged. “Tell our guest about your family...”
“I don’t have one, my lord,” Guy said quickly, to stop Vaisey from making some remark about his leper father or about the fire. “Both my parents died when I was very young.”
Sir Roland stared at him with his piercing eyes, and Guy had the impression that the man knew about his faults. His gaze made him feel guilty, and he was half expecting Sir Roland to accuse him of the fire that had killed his parents, even if he couldn’t possibly know about it.
“No family, then.” Roland de Belmont said in a grave tone, and Guy felt that he hadn’t believed him.
“No, my lord.”
The nobleman seemed somehow disappointed by his answer and the sheriff scowled at Guy.
Gisborne felt confused, he knew that the sheriff wanted him to please their guest, but he couldn’t understand what Sir Roland wanted to hear.
“Do you enjoy hunting, Sir Roland?” Vaisey asked, in the attempt of getting his guest’s attention and improving his mood, “we have a good falconer at the castle and I’d be honored to borrow my best bird to you.”
Guy gave a surprised look at the sheriff and he thought that if Vaisey was willing to give his falcon to Sir Roland, even if just for a short time, he had to need those lands really badly because he was very jealous of it.
But the nobleman declined the offer, with a kind smile.
“I’m afraid I never acquired the taste for that kind of leisures, lord Vaisey, and I don’t want to keep you from your duties, but I’m sure that Sir Guy could show me the surroundings, tomorrow.”
“With pleasure, my lord,” Guy said, relieved that Sir Roland had asked for something that he could easily do. Still, the nobleman kept staring at him with a fixity that made Guy uncomfortable.
He was tempted to ask if he had done something wrong, but he knew that Vaisey wouldn’t like it.
After a moment of uneasy silence, Sir Roland spoke again.
“You do look tired, Sir Guy. I think you should better go back to your lodgings and get some rest, I expect to start early in the morning tomorrow. After all, lord Vaisey and I have to discuss about some lands I own… Boring, uninteresting stuff, I expect you’d fall asleep after a short while.”
Guy glanced at Vaisey.
“May I be excused, my lord?” He asked, and Vaisey waved him away.
“Go, go, Gizzy, what are you waiting for?” He said, impatient, then he turned to his guest, his jeweled tooth shining at the candlelight as he smiled. “Well, about those lands...”
Marian had fallen in a doze, and she was leaning her head on Allan’s shoulder, who had been sleeping for a long while by now. She was startled awake by the sound of a door being opened and closed, and she saw Guy standing just outside the door of the great hall with his eyes closed, leaning his back on it.
She stood up, pushing Allan aside.
“Guy! Are you alright?!” She asked, reaching him.
Gisborne looked at her, a little surprised.
“Marian? Why are you still here? It must be very late...”
“The sheriff ordered us to stay here, in case our services were required, and then we were worried for you.”
Allan woke up with a yawn, hearing their voices.
“Hey Giz,” he said drowsily, “you survived. What did they want?”
Guy glanced at the closed door, and he walked away from it before answering.
“I have no idea.”
Marian and Allan followed him along the corridor.
“You seem troubled, Guy...” Marian said, and he nodded.
“That man unsettles me, I can’t understand what he wants and what I should say to please him. He kept staring at me, but I can’t imagine why he’s so interested.”
“Maybe he doesn’t trust the sheriff and he’s trying to understand if you are a menace as well,”
“If that was the case, shouldn’t he be wary with the sheriff too? No, he’s at ease with Vaisey, he just keeps looking at me.”
“Maybe he likes you. Some men do.” Allan suggested, and Guy glared at him, embarrassed because he had said such a thing in front of Marian.
“I don’t think so. It was more as if he knew something unpleasant about me. Can’t figure what, though.”
“Hey Giz, is there anyone in Nottingham who knows anything pleasant about you, presents excluded?” Allan asked with a grin, but Marian looked at Guy, worried, and she got closer to him so that Allan couldn’t hear.
“Do you think it could be about the Holy Land?” She asked, in a whisper. “Could he know about it?”
Guy paled at the idea. He knew very well that an attempt on the king’s life could be punished with death, but he shook his head.
“Only if Hood told him, there were no other witnesses.”
Marian touched his arm, in the place where his scar was, and she searched for his gaze, a resolute expression on her face.
“Well, there is no proof. And anyways, why should he care about it? He’s french, it’s not his king. It can’t be about that, Guy, it must be something else.”
“Hey Giz, if you and Marian have finished whispering to each other, we could call it a night. And if you haven’t... well, you can continue on your own, I’m going to bed.”
“Sir Roland wants to visit Nottingham tomorrow, so be ready at dawn, you are coming with us,” Guy ordered.
“At dawn?” Allan protested, but then he saw how nervous Guy was and he hurried to agree. “As you wish, Giz. Goodnight!”
Allan walked away with a wave and a grin, and Marian turned to look at Guy, as soon as they were alone.
“Can I come too?”
Gisborne hesitated. He was still afraid that Sir Roland could take some interest in the girl, just like Winchester did, but the man had barely looked at Marian, and Guy knew that having her at his side would be reassuring. Roland de Belmont unsettled him because he couldn’t understand what he wanted, maybe Marian could see the situation from her point of view and help him to figure it out.
He nodded at last.
Marian closed the door of her room behind her back, and she sighed, tired and worried.
She had tried to be optimistic and supportive as long as she had been with Guy, trying to dispel his fears, but now that he had accompanied her to her room and went away to his lodgings, she couldn’t help being afraid for him.
She knew that Gisborne wasn’t a fool, and if he thought that Sir Roland acted in a strange way towards him, it was probably true. The sheriff was another danger too, and she could just pray that Sir Roland visit would end soon and in the most satisfying way for Vaisey, otherwise there would be hell to pay for all of them.
But even if everything should go well, there was another impending catastrophe: what if the sheriff really ordered Guy to go to the Holy Land and try to kill the king again?
She didn’t know what they could do in that case. She was sure that this time Guy wouldn’t survive and she also knew that he didn’t care for the king, but that he was trapped in his role at the castle no less than she was a prisoner under house arrest.
Marian was deep in her thoughts, so she couldn’t stifle a cry of fear when a figure emerged from the shadows of her room.
“Robin!” She said, breathless, when he stepped into the light of the candle. “You scared me!”
“I thought you’d be happy to see me.” Robin said, with a grin.
“I’d be happier if you didn’t lurk in my room like a thief.”
“Well, I am a thief, that’s what I do, I rob the rich to help the poor,” Robin answered, cheekily. “So, what can you tell me about the guest of the sheriff?”
Marian rolled her eyes.
“Robin, forget it.”
“What? If the sheriff invited him here it’s surely for some reason, and Vaisey’s reasons are never good. So, whatever it is, I feel I have to stop it.”
Robin stared at her, frowning.
“Marian, that man can be an ally of the sheriff or a victim, in any case we have to do something.”
“Says who? Please, don’t do anything this time or we’ll end up in trouble. Guy said that the sheriff could become dangerous if...”
“Guy said? Since when should I listen to Gisborne? And you shouldn’t have nothing to do with him, either. In fact you should leave the castle, there’s no reason why you should risk staying here if you can’t give us the information we need.”
“So I’m here just to give information to you?! That’s what you think?” Marian asked, beginning to lose her patience. She was tired and worried and Robin surely wasn’t helping.
“What other reason could you have?”
“I gave my word...”
“To Gisborne?” Robin said, with a scoff.
“Guy saved my life! He didn’t tell the sheriff about the Nightwatchman!”
“Yes, after he arrested you. He put your life in danger and then he spared it. How convenient! Now you feel in debt, but he was only manipulating you!”
“You also believed that he wouldn’t go to the Holy Land to attack the king. Guy wouldn’t... How can you be so gullible when you have to do with Gisborne? He’s a traitor, Marian, you shouldn’t trust him!”
“But I do! He has a good side and he would never hurt me.”
“He already did! He stabbed you and you almost died!”
“He didn’t know I was the Nightwatchman then.”
Robin looked at her, and he shook his head with a sigh.
“He’s poisoning your mind, Marian. Someday you’ll find out I’m right about him, I just hope it won’t be too late by then. But I need to know about the guest of the sheriff. What does he want?”
“Robin, let it go, Vaisey will become dangerous if he won’t get those lands!”
“So he wants lands? Where? In the south?”
Marian blushed, realizing that she had just given Robin the information he wanted and she hoped that it wouldn’t become a problem.
“I don’t know… maybe...”
“This must be a trap for the king! Probably Vaisey wants those lands to gather mercenaries there and attack him when he returns to England, I can’t allow him to succeed.”
“Robin, please! If this thing goes wrong, the sheriff will flog Guy...”
She was about to add ...and me too, but Robin interrupted her.
“I don’t care about Gisborne! The safety of the king is more important.”
“The king, always the king! He’s more important than everything and everyone isn’t he?!”
“Of course he is!”
Marian turned her back to him, trying to keep calm.
“Maybe you should go before the guards find you here,” she said, and Robin stepped closer to her.
“Come with me.”
“Go,” she said with a sigh, without turning, “And Robin? If you care for me, please don’t do anything tomorrow… Do it for me.”
At last she turned, ready to plead for it, but Robin wasn’t there anymore.