Allan looked at the mariners who were getting busy with the maneuvers needed to get the ship ready to sail. He had never traveled by sea, and he was a little nervous, but also curious and excited, eager to find out what the future held for him.
Sir Roland was talking with the captain, making sure that their cabins were ready and that everything was in order, while Guy was sitting on a crate by the rail with the face buried in his hands, looking outright miserable.
Allan sighed and he reached him, dropping himself at his side.
“Go away,” Guy mumbled, without looking at him.
“Are you sure that you don’t want to say goodbye to her? We still have some time before we leave.”
“I already did.”
“You babbled something about being happy with Robin and then you turned your back to her and you ran aboard. That’s not saying goodbye properly, in my opinion.”
“What difference would it make? She will marry Hood and I’ll never see her again. And...”
“I already said goodbye to her in the courtyard of the castle, when I thought that we were about to die.”
Guy closed his eyes, remembering that terrible moment. Marian had kissed him and he had told her that he loved her, thinking that those would be his last words. What else could he say now?
The thought of never seeing her again was tearing at his soul, and he just wished that the ship would leave soon, putting and end to the temptation of running ashore and disgrace himself by begging her to love him back.
She loved Hood.
He had to accept that her heart didn’t belong to him, even if it was so painful that he almost regretted to be still alive.
Allan patted his back, sympathetically.
“I’m sorry, Giz. Let’s try to look at the good side.”
“What good side?”
“The sheriff didn’t try to kill you. You’re free now.”
Gisborne nodded, and they sat in silence for a while until Guy stirred, with a moan.
Allan looked at him.
“I’m going to be sick.” Guy said, then he jumped to his feet and rushed to the rail just in time to empty his stomach.
“But the ship hasn’t moved yet!” Allan exclaimed, shaking his head in amazement, then he reached Guy to help him.
Marian sat at a table of the inn, looking at the food in her plate, but she didn’t touch it. Around her, the group of pilgrims were cheerfully chatting and enjoying their meal.
Sir Roland had arranged for her to travel with those pilgrims headed to Kirklees Abbey, so that she could go back to Nottingham safely. The french nobleman had also provided her with money and a horse to guarantee her a comfortable travel.
I’m going to reach Robin… I’ll live in the forest with him and the lads… I should be happy…
Yet, her heart was heavy.
She had already joined Robin’s gang in the forest after her father’s death, and it didn’t go well. She wasn’t good at following orders, and Robin was always so busy with his mission, helping the poor and opposing the sheriff.
When Robin put her needs after the poor and the king’s, Marian couldn’t help feeling angry, and then she felt guilty because his mission was noble and important and she was just a girl.
Her heart tightened again, thinking of Guy. To him, she had never been ‘just a girl’.
I love you, Marian.
If the sheriff had hanged him, those would have been his last words, she thought, and she suddenly burst out in tears.
Now Guy was on that ship, waiting to sail away and she would never see him again. Absurdly, that thought was too painful, unbearable.
“What’s up, my dear?”
Marian looked up to see one of the pilgrims, an elderly lady, staring at her.
She wiped her tears, hurriedly.
“Nothing, it’s nothing.”
“This doesn’t seem nothing to me, my dear. This looks like heartache. Believe me, I lived many years and shed enough tears in my life to recognize it. I heard from that french lord that you are going back to Nottingham to be married, don’t you want to? Was it an arranged marriage?”
Marian shook her head.
“No, I chose it,” she said, but she couldn’t stifle a sob.
“Yet you’re not as happy as a bride should be. You can change your mind, you know? Until you are at the altar you can withdraw.”
Even when you are at the altar, actually, Marian thought, remembering her failed wedding with Guy, and her heart ached again at the memory.
I hurt him so much, and still his love didn’t falter.
“If your parents are forcing you to marry, you can always go to a convent and ask for sanctuary.”
Almost done this, too. She remembered how pained Guy had looked then, when she had asked to go to the abbey to find refuge from her problems at home. It seemed such a long time ago, now.
“My parents are dead.”
“Oh, I am sorry, dear.” The woman looked at her for a moment, then she nodded knowingly. “If no one is forcing you to marry, why are you crying then? Oh, maybe you love another? That’s why are you so unhappy?”
“I don’t love him!” She blurted. “But he loves me and I care for him… I will never see him again and this is so painful… I can’t bear to think of him having to go away, I can’t think that we won’t talk anymore, that we’ll grow old and die without meeting again. I’ll miss him so much and I know that he’ll be heartbroken… How can I think to be happy when I know that he will never be?!”
The old woman smiled.
“My dear, are you really sure that you don’t love this man?”
Marian stared at her, in shock.
“How could it be?! I always loved Robin!”
“Yet you are crying your eyes out at the idea of marrying him. Would it be the same if you were going to marry the other and leave this Robin? Try to be honest with yourself my dear, you’d regret it otherwise.”
Marian lowered her eyes, afraid to look into her soul, but she forced herself to imagine the opposite situation. How would she feel if Robin went away and she was left with Guy?
She realized that she already knew: Robin had left her to go to war and he had been away for five years. She had missed him, she had been heartbroken for a while, but then she got used to his absence. Even now, even after his return, he has often been distant, too busy with more important things to be always at her side.
Guy had always been there, instead.
No matter what, he had been at her side, faithful to his love, even when it only damaged him.
And now his place would be empty forever.
“If I let him go, there will always be a hollow in my soul...” She whispered, and the elderly woman smiled.
“See, my dear? It wasn’t so difficult. The mind may be stubborn, but the heart never lies. Go, reach him before it’s too late.”
Allan walked back on the deck and Roland de Belmont glanced at him, a little worried.
“How is he?”
The younger man shrugged.
“Asleep. Poor Giz, he was already exhausted and unwell and being so sick drained all his energies.”
“I’ve never heard of anyone being seasick before the ship left the harbor.”
Allan looked pointedly at him.
“Hey, look, in just a few days he has been menaced by the sheriff, blamed and reproached by you without even knowing why, punched and almost drowned by Robin, then he had been dragged in the courtyard by the guards believing that he was about to be hanged, only to find that he had been traded by the man he had served loyally for years in exchange for some lands. On top of this he has to leave England, he found out that he had ruined his sister’s life and that she hates him and he had to say goodbye to the love of his life, who’s going to marry another. I’d throw up too, even without any ship involved.”
Sir Roland smiled.
“You’re a good friend, Allan. I’m glad you decided to come with us.”
“Well, I’m glad that you saved him from the sheriff. Maybe you disapprove the bad things he did to obey him, but Giz has another side that he couldn’t show. The sheriff disapproved humanity, he actually punished Giz when he showed this ‘weakness’. But even so, Guy can be a good man, I know it. And I hope he’ll now have the chance to be finally free.”
The older man nodded.
“Roger was almost a brother to me, and I always imagined that his son had to be exactly like him, but I was wrong. I had many expectations and I was disappointed, but I realize that I have been too harsh in judging Sir Guy without even knowing him. When we’ll be home I hope that we’ll get to know each other.”
Allan looked at him, warily.
“What if you won’t like Giz when you know him? Will you send him away too? Will you get rid of him somehow?”
“Of course not!” Sir Roland replied, frowning. “It doesn’t matter if I like him or not, he’s the son of my friend and I should have cared for him and his sister so many years ago, if only I had known. I have no heirs, my wife died in childbirth and I’ve been busy fighting in too many wars to think of marrying again. Now I’m tired of blood and battles, I’m too old for that, and I have no one who will inherit my lands when I’ll die. I have no family, nobody who can have claims on my wealth, so I feel free to follow my heart and to give a manor and some lands to each one of my friend’s kids. Isabella lives in a nice place by the sea with her children and Guy will have a similar place too, no matter what. Those lands will be theirs forever, I owe this to their father. I would have died a long time ago if it hadn’t been for him.” He smiled. “Of course I hope that Sir Guy and I will get along well, when we get to know each other.”
“Maybe you will, you don’t seem that bad.” He looked around, noticing some movement on the ship. “Hey, what’s up?”
“We’re about to depart.”
“Will it be a long travel? I’m worried for Giz.”
“Not very long, a day, or maybe half a day. It depends from the weather and the winds. The sea can be rough in the channel, though.” Sir Roland looked at the pier, noticing some commotion. “What’s going on there?”
“There’s a horse running through the crowd,” Allan commented, then he widened his eyes in surprise. “Hey! It’s Marian!”
The girl unmounted in a hurry, and she ran towards them, jumping on the ship at the same moment when it was moving away from the pier. She almost lose her balance and Sir Roland and Allan grabbed her arms, helping her to get safely aboard.
“Marian! What are you doing here?!” Allan exclaimed.
“Coming with you,” she panted, out of breath for the run, “Where’s Guy?!”
“In the cabin, seasick already.”
“I must see him.”
Sir Roland frowned.
“Maybe we should let him sleep, so maybe he won’t get sick again.”
“Oh, believe me, he wouldn’t mind barfing all the way to France if she’s with him. Go to him, Marian, but be ready with the bucket.”
The girl rolled her eyes at him, but she ran below deck, her heart beating fast.
The cabin wasn’t difficult to find, and she stopped on the threshold for a moment: Guy was laying on a bunk too short for him, and he was asleep. The girl stepped into the small cabin and she almost stumbled on the bucket that Allan had left near the bed. She looked at Guy, sickly pale and lost in a fitful sleep, his dark hair ruffled and damp with sweat, and her heart began to beat faster while her eyes welled with tears.
She knelt on the floor, near the bed, and she pressed a kiss on his forehead, stifling a sob.
Guy’s eyelids fluttered open and he looked at Marian. He blinked, then he gave a little laugh.
“I must be really sick this time.” He quietly said, “I’m raving.”
Marian grabbed his hand and he winced.
“I’m really here, Guy!” Marian exclaimed, and Guy sat up in bed abruptly, knocking his head on the upper bunk. The girl looked at him, worried, as he became even paler.
He closed his eyes, taking deep breaths, and Marian sat on the bunk at his side, caressing his back with her hand, in the attempt of giving him some comfort.
After a while, Guy opened his eyes to glance at her, trying to ignore the movements of the ship that were becoming stronger as it left the harbor.
“You are... here?” He managed to say and he looked at Marian, who was flushed, a little out of breath and disheveled as if she had run. Unexpectedly, the girl hugged him, bursting out in a desperate weeping.
“I saw the ship moving and I thought that I wouldn’t make in time! There… there were so many people on the pier and the horse couldn’t pass, so I dismounted and I ran! I… I jumped on the ship and I almost fell in the water… but I couldn’t let it leave, I couldn’t!”
Guy was so shocked by her sudden hug, that he almost forgot his nausea. He looked at the girl who was sobbing in his arms and he didn’t dare to hope that she was there for him. But he had to know, he didn’t want to get deluded, only to be disappointed again.
He caressed her face, brushing away her tears.
“Marian? Why are you here?” He asked softly, and she looked at him.
“Because I chose you.” She said, simply, and Guy just stared dumbly at her until he fully realized that she was sincere.
Marian nodded, smiling between the tears.
The ship made a sudden, sharp movement, diving down a big wave, and she gave a small cry, tightening her hold on Guy. She looked at him, worried, unable to keep her balance as the ship moved up and down. The queasiness hit her suddenly and she realized immediately that she was going to be sick. She tried to stand up and get out of the cabin before disgracing herself in front of Guy, but as soon as she moved, her stomach turned and she found herself throwing up in the bucket that Gisborne had retrieved from the floor and that he was holding for her.
He helped her while she was sick, keeping her hair away from her face and holding her in his arms.
“Better?” Guy asked, when her stomach was finally empty and she stopped retching.
“No. I still feel sick...” She moaned, giving a desperate look at the bucket, and she blushed at the idea that Guy had seen her like that. “I’m sorry… I wanted to go out, but I didn’t make it in time.”
Guy shrugged. “The bucket is there for that very reason...”
“I thought I could wait until I was outside… How did you know that I was about to...”
Guy gave her a resigned grin.
“Experience. Told you that traveling by sea is dreadful.”
“Agreed,” she sighed.
“Did you really chose to suffer all this... for me?”
“No, I just wanted to see France,” she said, and she rolled her eyes when he saw his smile fading at her words. “Of course it’s for you, silly!”
“What about Hood?”
“I would have missed you more. I’ll write to him, I owe him an explanation, but he doesn’t really need me. I think that in time he’ll be alright.”
The ship dived into another wave and they both paled, but Guy managed to smile.
“Hood would probably say that we are getting what we deserve, but I don’t care. You mean everything to me… Everything. If I shouldn’t survive this trip, I’d die happy because you chose to be at my side.” He paused for a moment, taking a deep breath. “But I think it’s my turn with the bucket now.”
Allan looked at the calmer waters of the french harbor with relief. It had been an unpleasant crossing and it took almost the whole day on rough sea to arrive to France. He had been sick a few times during the worst moments, and Sir Roland too, and Allan was afraid to find out how Gisborne had fared if he had been already so queasy before the ship departed. Nor him, nor Marian had showed up on the deck during the whole crossing.
“I just hope he survived,” he muttered, almost to himself. “Well, at least Marian was with him, she would have called for help, otherwise.”
“I think nobody ever died of seasickness,” Sir Roland said, hearing his words, “not in such a short time, at least. But I agree that one can feel really miserable, so, after we disembark we’ll stop in town for a few days to rest and recover before continuing our trip to the south. We also need to buy some things for the travel, the three of you didn’t surely have the time to pack your chests before leaving England, and we need supplies to feed my men and us as we travel.”
“Shopping for clothes and stuff it’s alright, but I don’t think I want to even see food now.”
Sir Roland laughed.
“You’ll feel better soon. Why don’t you go to check on Sir Guy and Lady Marian? We’ll disembark soon, see if they need help to get ashore.”
Allan nodded, and he went below deck, heading to the cabin.
Gisborne was lying on the narrow bunk with Marian huddled in his arms. They looked both sickly pale and quite disheveled, but they were sleeping peacefully, with Marian resting her face on Guy’s chest and Gisborne holding her tight and smiling in his sleep.
“Well, I guess that they’ll be just fine in the end.”