Marian sat on a rock by the sea, her bare feet dangling in the water. She looked at the sea, blue and calm and she thought that the Mediterranean sea at summer was the same color of Guy’s eyes.
She blushed at the thought and she hoped that he would be back soon.
How could I think of letting him leave without me, if I miss him already after a single morning apart? Marian smiled to herself, and she turned to look at the beach, hearing a sound of happy laughter.
She watched the two children, a boy of ten and a girl a few years younger, running towards her in a playful race while their mother followed shortly after.
Marian waved a hand to greet her, and the woman answered, with a smile.
The two kids greeted Marian with hugs and kisses, then they ran back to their games, and their mother sat on the rock at her side.
“Good afternoon, Isabella. They are always full of energies, aren’t they?”
The other woman rolled her eyes.
“That’s not always a good thing, especially when it’s time to put them to bed.”
Marian chuckled and Isabella pointed a finger at her.
“You won’t laugh so much when you’ll have kids of your own. Especially if they’ll be like my brother. Are you really sure that you want to marry him?”
“Absolutely,” Marian answered, with a grin, then she became serious. “Will you ever forgive Guy? I’m sure that he really didn’t know what kind of man your husband was.”
Isabella sighed, looking at her children.
“I guess that I already forgave him, he’s still my brother after all. But I am not going to tell him, yet. I think that I’ll let him suffer for some more time. He needed a good lesson and I like to hear him begging for forgiveness. He never did when we were kids, always too proud to say that he was sorry...”
Marian smiled. “Don’t be too cruel, poor Guy.”
“You’re too good to him, I hope he won’t make you suffer,” Isabella said, and she was surprised to see Marian bursting into a bitter laugh.
“You surely don’t know me so well, then. Allan is afraid that I am going to hurt Guy. Again. I pray I won’t.”
“Well, don’t. I may be harsh with him, but after all he’s the only family I have. I loved him dearly when I was little, and I suppose that somehow I still do... But don’t tell him.”
Marian smiled at her.
When they had arrived in the south of France, at the beginning of summer, at first Isabella had refused to see her brother, but then Guy, still weak, fatigued and unwell after their travel, had fallen ill with a high fever.
One day Marian had walked out of the manor to wait for the physician and she had noticed somebody quickly hiding behind a bush, so she had grabbed a stick and she had hurried to see who it was. She had been surprised to discover Guy’s sister, Isabella, nervous and tearful. She had tried to talk with her and at last the other woman had admitted that she was worried for Guy and that she wanted to have news about his health.
Guy’s fever had broken after a few days and he had recovered, so Isabella had resumed her grudge against him, but at least now she accepted to talk to him, if only to listen to his apologies.
She and Marian instead had become friends and for Marian it was strange, because she had always been lonely, too different from the other girls of her age to have close friends. But Isabella was a strong woman too, and even if she wouldn’t admit it, she cared for Guy, so they got along well.
“So, how is my brother?” Isabella asked, and Marian rolled her eyes.
“You could ask him.”
“Someday I will, for now I’m asking you.”
“He’s alright, now. The physician said that his fever was so bad because he was already weary and unwell and the travel exhausted him.”
“How bad was it on the ship? The last time we traveled by sea together, I thought that he was going to die.”
“I thought that we were both going to die! We spent most of the crossing sharing a bucket and being miserable, until we finally fell asleep. Or more likely we passed out. And yet, Guy keeps saying that it was one of the happiest day of his life.”
“So the fever did damage his head, after all. Why should he fondly remember being seasick?”
“He’s not happy about that part, but because I chose to come to France with him. It’s a joyful day for me too, because it was the day I realized that I loved him.”
“My brother is lucky,” Isabella commented, with some bitterness in her tone.
“His life wasn’t easy nor pleasant at all before leaving England. You blame him for the sufferings that his choice inflicted on you, but he paid the price for it too.”
They watched the kids who were standing on the shore and launching stones at the waves, and Isabella sighed.
“Guy and I used to play that same game when we had their age… I just hope that my children’s life will be easier than ours...” She looked at Marian and she grinned mischievously, trying to dispel her sadness. “I bet that Guy never told you that he wet the bed until he was twelve!”
Roland de Belmont pointed at the fields without dismounting from his horse, moving his arm in a wide gesture.
“These are good lands, the crops are abundant and the peasants know how to make the most of the fields. It won’t be difficult to manage them.”
“I hope so,” Guy said, unsure of his competence, “when I managed Locksley it didn’t go very well...”
“You had to collect unreasonable taxes from people who were oppressed and half starving, then. It won’t be like that here, unless you choose it. But I hope you won’t.”
“Of course I won’t!” Guy said, immediately, and Sir Roland smiled.
“I’m sure you’ll do well and remember that you can count on my help. I learned a few things in the last few years and I’ll be happy to teach you, if you wish.”
“I do, thank you.” Guy looked at his lands and he felt perfectly contented. It was an unusual situation for him, but he was enjoying every moment of it. “I’ll never be able to express my gratitude for all you did for me, Sir Roland.”
The older man shook his head, smiling.
“Don’t mention it. I misjudged you when we first met, but I think I know you better now, and I like what I see. I’m happy to be of help, it gives a purpose to my life. I feel younger since I met you, your sister and your friends. I never knew that I missed having a family, until I found one.”
“I know what you mean. I never meant to make friends with Allan, but his friendship became important to me.”
“By the way, where is he? He was right behind us when we left the market, but I can’t see him anywhere.”
“Is there a tavern at the village?”
Guy sighed, slowing down his horse to a halt.
“Then we should better go back and search for him there before he gets in trouble. He’ll never learn...”
“I think there won’t be no need to go back, look.”
Sir Roland pointed to a little cloud of dust in the distance, and soon after they saw Allan’s galloping horse getting closer.
The young man reached them, panting and Guy looked at him, lifting his eyebrows.
“What did you do this time? Should we run as well?”
Allan gave him a sheepish grin.
“I think I left them behind, but next time you go to that village, I think I’d better wait for you somewhere else.”
“You have no need to cheat people with your tricks, you fool!” Guy scolded him.
“Come on, Giz, I was just having some fun! You should try it too.”
“What? Risking to get beaten in some tavern brawl?”
“No, having fun.”
Allan gave him a skeptical look.
“At least you don’t scowl as much as you used to do, it’s better than nothing, I guess.”
“Why should I scowl? I’ve no reason to do it.” He shook his head in amazement as a smile spread across his face. “Allan? I think I’m really happy for the first time in many years.”
Allan looked at him in mock shock.
“We should celebrate then.”
“We will. As soon as Isabella forgives me, then I’ll be completely happy, I guess.”
“I’m sure that your sister will relent, in time,” Sir Roland said, with a benevolent smile, “Just keep showing her how sorry you are for your faults and keep offering her your brotherly love. I’ve known her for a few years now and I am quite sure that she wouldn’t be so angry and hurt if she didn’t care for you at all.”
“She was very worried when you were ill.” Allan added with a grin. “Sure, she resumed despising you as soon as you got better, but I think that it was still a good sign.”
Sir Roland nodded at Allan’s words.
“It’s true. But we were all worried for you. How do you feel now? Have you recovered completely?”
“I think I’ve never been better,” Guy answered. “I feel strong and now I can sleep better at night. I never fully realized what toll it took working for the sheriff. If I was unwell, I couldn’t take a day off to rest, and I was always on edge to be ready to satisfy his every whim. Now having to manage my own manor is also a challenge, but a good one, I’ve no fear of undertaking it and I know that I can rely on the help of all of you.”
“Oh, Giz, you’ll make me cry,” Allan said, pretending to be exaggeratedly moved and both Sir Roland and Guy laughed.
“Come on, you fool, I challenge you,” Guy said, grinning, “let’s see who can arrive to the sea first.”
“A race, uh? It’s always about horses with you, isn’t it?”
“That’s my idea of having fun. Still better than getting in trouble at the taverns, I guess.”
“Well, we’ll see if you still will find it so funny when I beat you,” Allan replied, accepting the challenge, but they both were surprised to see Sir Roland taking place side to side to their horses.
“Will you race too, my lord?” Guy asked, a little concerned.
“Why not? I’m getting old, but luckily I won’t be using my legs to run, and my horse is young and strong, just like yours. Be careful, my boys, I could surprise you. Are you ready? Very well, let’s go!”
Isabella’s children climbed on the rocks where their mother and Marian were sitting, and the little boy pointed enthusiastically at the three horses that were galloping on the beach.
“Maman, look! They are racing.”
His sister began to complain that she couldn’t see well, so Marian let her climb on her shoulders and then she stood up to look at the riders.
She blushed recognizing Guy and she looked at him, admired and worried at the same time.
With some surprise, she noticed that he was just behind Sir Roland, and they were racing at full speed, the hooves of the horses beating the sand of the beach and raising splashes of water when they touched the waves. Allan followed quite behind, not able to keep the pace with the other two.
After a few moments, the riders arrived near the rocks, stopping the horses in front of them, and Sir Roland turned at the two women and at the children, grinning.
“Good afternoon, my ladies. Kids.” He dismounted, glancing at Gisborne. “Sorry Sir Guy, I warned you about underestimating my skills at riding.”
Guy dismounted too, and he smiled at him.
“Oh, I didn’t. You were just too fast for us. But I still got to beat Allan, at least.” He looked at the two women and his gaze softened. “Hello Marian… Isabella...”
Guy opened his arms to welcome Marian in his hug, and he gave a hopeful glance at his sister, but Isabella wasn’t looking at him, suddenly busy at cleaning some invisible dirt on her kids’ faces.
Marian heard his little sigh and she stood on tiptoe to give him a little comforting kiss on the cheek.
She felt her heartbeat getting faster, and she thought that she wanted to marry him with all her heart now.
“Allan!” Isabella’s children ran to meet the young man, happily. “Will you play with us?”
“Sir Arthur, lady Elaine...” Allan greeted the kids with a bow, making them laugh. “It happens that I have some free time, so… What game do you want me to play?”
“Teach me to use a sword!” Arthur cried, but Allan noticed Isabella’s menacing stare and he shook his head.
“When you are a little older, eh?”
“Stones,” Elaine said, giving a shy tug at the hem of his tunic.
“She wants to learn how to skim stones on water,” Arthur explained. “A kid at the village could make three skips, but when we try, our stones sink immediately… Can you do it, Allan?”
“Of course I can!” Allan bragged, even if he had never tried. He grabbed the first stone he could find and he threw it at the sea, where it sank.
The children gave him a disappointed look and they turned to Sir Roland.
“Can you do it, grandpa Roland?” Elaine asked, pleadingly, and Isabella shook her head at her.
“Elaine, I already told you that you should call him Sir Roland!”
“Oh, don’t scold her,” Sir Roland said, “Who could ever call me like that? I like it when they do. But I don’t know if I can help with the stones, I never tried before.”
“Try at least!” Arthur said, “And Marian too!” He concluded, grabbing the girl’s hand and dragging her to the seashore.
Guy watched the others while they tried to skim the stones and he closed his eyes, remembering a moment of many years ago.
They were on a beach very similar to the one they were now, maybe it could even have been the same, and then he and Isabella weren’t much older than Arthur and Elaine. Their mother was sitting in the shadow of a tree, while their father was with them for once, and he was teaching them how to choose and throw a stone to make it jump on water.
They tried and tried, until at last Guy succeeded, and Isabella jumped in joy, proud of her brother.
Guy opened his eyes to glance at his sister and he was surprised to see that she was staring at him, her eyes sad, but not hostile for once.
“You made four skips that time,” she said softly, in a melancholic tone.
Guy sat on the rock, at her side, and she didn’t withdraw.
“Do you still remember that day?”
“It was one of the last happy days before father went to war. But I have a good memory. I remember everything, even the things I’d rather forget.”
Guy lowered his eyes, staring at the sand.
“You can’t forget...” He began, humbly, “Maybe… maybe can you forgive? I’m really sorry, Isabella.”
“Say it again,” Isabella said, “but this time look at me.”
Gisborne obeyed, searching her gaze.
“I am so sorry. I hurt you and I didn’t even realize how much, but I do now. Will you give me the chance to try and earn your forgiveness?”
Isabella looked at him for a while, then she pointed at the sea.
“Make five skips and I’ll think about it,” she said, with a little grin.
Guy stared at her in surprise, then a smile spread on his face and he stood up, bending for a moment to pick up a flat pebble. He turned to his sister, holding it up for her to see.
“Just watch,” he said, and then he threw the stone.