Chapter 1: You Can't Fight a Storm
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.
Chapter 2: The Guest
Allan took a chair and he dragged it near the bathtub where Guy was bathing, dropping himself on it.
“So, who’s this mysterious guest?” He asked, grabbing a grape from the plate near the bathtub and popping it in his mouth.
“I know that he’s a noble and that he’s french. He owns some lands in England and the sheriff wants them, but I have no idea what he’s going to offer for them.” Guy answered, nervously. “Give me that piece of soap.”
Allan obeyed, and Guy rubbed the soap on his hair.
“He’s not going to give him Marian again, is he? ‘cause I don’t fancy going around to kill people...”
He shut up noticing Guy’s dark expression.
“I killed lord Winchester, you only drove the wagon, so stop complaining. Nobody will dare to touch Marian this time, I will never allow that!” Guy growled, and Allan shuddered.
“Well, let’s hope that he just wants gold and that he’s cheap enough to make the sheriff happy,” he said in a light tone, taking another grape.
Guy rinsed his hair and he glared at him.
“That is my food.”
“You weren’t eating it.”
“Did you do everything I told you?” Gisborne said, rolling his eyes. Allan showed no respect for him as usual, but he found difficult to really get mad at him.
“Sure, Giz. The castle is ready to welcome your guest.”
“You didn’t bathe.”
“Do I really have to?” Allan asked. “It’s freezing outside, I could get a chill.”
“Towel.” Guy ordered, and Allan hurried to obey as Gisborne finished washing up and stepped out of the tub. The knight grabbed the towel and he wrapped himself in it before answering. “I will need your assistance and I won’t have you stinking, so yes, you have to bathe. And you won’t freeze, it’s summer.”
Guy ended his sentence with a grin, and he suddenly pushed Allan, who fell in the tub with a splash.
“Oy!” Allan protested, and Guy grinned even more.
“You should thank me, the water is still warm, I could have pushed you in the water trough in the stables.”
Allan sniffed at the water, beginning to remove his now drenched clothes and throwing them on the floor.
“Hey, what’s this? Lavender? That’s what you nobles bathe in?”
Guy laced up his breeches before turning to smile at him, innocently.
“See? You’re privileged, I’m letting you use my bathtub, you shouldn’t complain.”
Allan grabbed another bunch of grapes from the plate at the side of the tub.
“Very well, as long as you don’t complain if I eat your food as well.”
“Use the soap too, lots of it.”
“Giz, I’m not as dirty as you think,” Allan said, in mock offense, then he stared at Guy, who was now wearing a long leather coat instead of his usual jacket. “Hey, you are wearing different clothes! What happened? Are those new?”
“No.” Guy rolled his eyes, and he thought that he surely wasn’t going to tell Allan that those clothes were the elegant outfit he wore the day he was going to marry Marian. “The sheriff ordered us to wear our best clothes.” He nodded at a bundle on the bed. “There’s something new for you too.”
“Oh really? Is that leather? Did you upgrade me to leather?”
“You are not ready for that, yet,” Guy answered in the same playful tone, “they are similar to the ones you already have, but they are new and clean.”
“This guest must be important if the sheriff paid for my clothes.”
“He didn’t.” Guy replied, and Allan lifted an eyebrow.
“So you did. Well, it doesn’t change what I meant: he must be important if the sheriff scared you in paying for my new clothes.”
Guy looked at him, serious.
“For your information, I’m not scared, but if we fail, he said that he will flog both me and Marian publicly and I’m sure he wasn’t joking. He wants those lands, God knows why, but if he won’t get them, he could even do worse than just flogging us. So, please behave yourself.”
Allan nodded. Even if Guy denied it, he was sure that Gisborne was scared and now he was scared too.
“I won’t let you down, don’t worry.”
“I hope so. Now hurry, finish washing up and get dressed, the guest will arrive soon.”
Guy and Allan were already standing on the stairs of the courtyard, a few steps behind the sheriff, when Marian arrived. Vaisey turned to look at her critically, then, apparently satisfied by the dress she was wearing, he nodded at her to wait at Guy’s side.
She quietly reached him and Allan, and she gave a surprised glance at the younger man when she noticed that he was trying to sniff her.
Guy cuffed his head.
“What are you doing?” He hissed in a silent whisper, and Allan shrugged.
“I was trying to understand if you made her bathe too,” he whispered back, while Marian blushed at the idea of Guy ‘making her bathe’.
This time Gisborne hit Allan much harder, but still very silently.
“Marian doesn’t need to be forced in a tub, you filthy idiot!” Guy said, then he too imagined the scene of him pushing the girl in a bathtub and blushed as well, hitting Allan on the head for a third time, just to be sure.
When the sheriff turned to look at them, they were calmly standing side to side, serious expressions on their faces. He stared at them, suspicious, then he pointed a finger at Guy’s chest.
“Mess this, Gisborne, and you all will pay.”
“Maybe you could give us more information on this man, my lord, if we are supposed to keep him entertained,” Guy replied and Vaisey poked him with the finger before answering.
“Don’t use that smug tone with me, Gisborne. Our guest is sir Roland de Belmont, he’s from France and he owns lands that I want, that’s all you need to know. Keep him happy or you’ll regret it.”
“So you don’t know much about him either.”
“Well, find out. I’m paying you for this, don’t I?” Vaisey turned to Marian and Allan, with a lecherous grin on his face, “And you, missy, make sure to be charming, our guest must feel loved. You too, in case he prefers pretty boys.”
Marian stared at him, outraged, and she was about to express her indignation, when Guy beat her to it.
“My lord! Marian is not...”
Vaisey interrupted him with a violent slap on his face, then he grabbed Guy’s clothes with a hand, pulling him closer while he pointed a dagger at his neck.
“She’s not what? She is anything I tell her to be, is that clear? Tell him, missy, or Gizzy won’t believe it.”
The sheriff pressed the blade a little more on Guy’s neck, nicking the skin, and Marian looked at the trickle of blood, horrified.
“Let him go! You’re hurting him!”
“I’ll cut Gizzy’s throat with my own hands if you only think of disobeying me and then I’ll hang both of you. Now tell him: will you do anything I ask you to do to please our guest?”
“Yes, I will.” Marian said with a sob, and the sheriff released Guy, pushing him into her.
“Good. Now go and get that mess cleaned, Gizzy, I don’t want you to drip blood on our guest.”
The sheriff turned to look at the gates, cheerfully whistling, and Guy ran back inside the castle, followed closely by Marian.
Gisborne stopped, turning to look at her in rage.
“You shouldn’t have promised to obey!” He cried.
“He wounded you! Let me see...”
She held a hand to his neck, trying to check how deep the cut was, but Guy stepped back, pressing a hand on it and shaking his head.
“It’s nothing! What if he wants to sell you to him? Will you obey to that too?!”
“Would I have any choice anyway? Like I had with Winchester?” Marian sighed.
“I won’t let anyone touch you again. Even if I have to kill or to die for it...”
“Don’t say it!” Marian cried, interrupting him. “Don’t you dare to even think it!”
She put her hand on his shoulder and this time he let her touch him. Marian sighed and she moved her fingers to his cheek, in a tender caress.
“I don’t want you to die for me, Guy. I couldn’t bear it.”
Guy closed his eyes, leaning his face on her fingers.
“I should protect you and I can’t...” He said, and Marian moved a finger to his lips.
“Hush, now. I know that you protect me, you always did, and you also suffered because of it. Do you think I don’t see how he treats you? Do you think I don’t know that my life at the castle would be much worse without you shielding me from his evil?”
Gisborne sighed, without opening his eyes and Marian thought that she had never seen him so vulnerable. Guy looked tired and hopeless and she felt heartbroken for him.
“Without me you wouldn’t be here. I asked you to stay, but now...”
Marian silenced him with a little kiss on his lips.
“Stop talking nonsense. Without you I’d probably have been hanged by now. I don’t regret my choices, not at all. Our friendship is important to me, Guy, you are important to me. So calm down, now, and let me see to that cut.”
Guy weakly nodded, and Marian gently moved his hand away from the cut, to look at it. She pressed an handkerchief on the wound and Guy winced at her touch.
“It’s not deep, and it won’t need stitches, I think. Does it hurt?”
“Not as much as my pride,” Guy said with a bitter smile, and Marian smiled back at him.
“Well, I can’t do much for your pride, but I can clean that blood. Come with me and let’s hurry before the guest arrives.”
Marian grabbed his arm, and she led him to her room.
“Sit there, near the window,” she ordered, while she hurried to fill the basin with water. She grabbed a towel and she dampened it, then she proceeded to clean away the blood on Guy’s neck.
“It’s good that you always wear black clothes, nobody will notice the stains. Here, better. Now let me bandage it and we’re done.”
Guy looked at her, serious.
“I’m sorry, Marian, I should be stronger.”
“You are, most of the time, actually. If I had to spend so much time with the sheriff as you do, I’d become mad. Nobody could blame you if sometimes you feel overwhelmed.”
“I should be able to protect you always.”
“Now you forget who I am,” Marian said with a grin, “the Nightwatchman isn’t a frail maiden who needs constant protection. I can defend myself if needed. Guy? Shall we make a pact?”
“Yes. To protect each other. You are always there for me, you watch my back and you shield me from the sheriff, now let me do the same for you. Let me help you when things become too difficult, let me watch your back sometimes. I know that I can trust you when I need help, I’d like you to trust me as well, to know that when you are with me you are safe. You are strong, I am strong, together we can be even stronger.”
She held her hand to him, and Guy took it. Marian was glad to see that now his hold was firm, and that he had overcome that moment of desperation.
“A pact, then,” Guy said, with a smirk, “And of course we’ll both have to protect Allan as well.”
“Right, and I’m sure he’ll give us much work. Are you at ease knowing that he’s alone with the sheriff right now?”
Guy jumped to his feet.
“No, obviously. Let’s hurry,” he said, alarmed, and Marian couldn’t help laughing as she took Guy’s hand and they ran back to the courtyard together.
Guy let Marian’s hand go just a few moments before stepping outside. He turned to look at her, and they exchanged a quick smile, then they hurried to reach Allan and the sheriff, a little out of breath after running along the corridors of the castle.
Their situation was dangerous and he had the impression of constantly treading on the verge of disaster, but he was also feeling a little elated. Holding a girl’s hand and running with her was something he hadn’t done in years, not since he had been a child and he used to play with his little sister, when life was easier.
He had loved Marian for a long time now, but he was finding out that being friends with her was different. He didn’t know if the girl would ever return his feelings, and he suspected that she hadn’t told him everything about her relationship with Hood, but now Guy was beginning to believe that she actually cared for him, even if probably not as a lover. He wasn’t used to friendship, but it was a good sensation and it gave him the strength to keep dealing with the sheriff’s whims.
Hearing their steps, Vaisey turned to look at them, ready to say something unpleasant, but he never had the chance to do it because the portcullis was opened and a carriage entered the courtyard.
The sheriff looked at the vehicle, trying to conceal a greedy grin: the carriage was rather old and the coats of arms painted on its sides were faded and ruined. Vaisey was happy to see that: it probably meant that Sir Roland de Belmont wasn’t very rich, and the more he was in need of money, the easier would be for him to get his lands for a cheap price.
Four men, apart from the driver, formed the escort of the nobleman and Vaisey noticed that they weren’t refined as well. Those men looked more like rough soldiers than the servants of a noble, and the sheriff decided that he would have to be careful around them.
He could take Sir Roland as a hostage and force him to give away his lands, but he suspected that those men would defend their lord to the end, so it would surely be wiser to keep him pleased and persuade him peacefully.
At last, Sir Roland stepped out of the carriage and he looked at the sheriff, studying him with a cordial, but cautious gaze.
Guy made sure to place himself between Marian and Sir Roland, in an unconscious attempt to shield her from the sight of the nobleman. But Roland de Belmont luckily didn’t show any interest for the girl, nor the lecherous gaze of Winchester, nor the frivolous gallantry of the German count.
Instead, Sir Roland was looking at them all, with the serious look of a soldier studying his adversaries before a battle. He was a tall man with grey hair and a short beard, just a few years younger than Vaisey, and he had an air of nobility that made him look more dignified than the sheriff, despite the travel clothes he was wearing, a little old and quite covered in dust.
“Welcome to Nottingham,” Vaisey said, with an oily smile, “was your travel good?”
“The roads could have been better. You’ll have to forgive the state of my attire, lord Vaisey, but I preferred to ride on my horse most of the time, rather than being shaken in a carriage. I climbed on it just to enter the castle.”
“Hungry?” Vaisey asked cheerfully, rubbing his hands. “Dinner can be served any time now.”
Sir Roland smiled.
“Thank you, but if you don’t mind I’d like to change my clothes and bathe, first.”
“Of course, of course!” Vaisey said, then he turned to Guy, “Gisborne, show Sir Roland the way to his room, and make sure that he has everything he could need.”
Guy obeyed with a little nod.
“Please, follow me, my lord,” he said, politely, but the other didn’t move.
“Gisborne?” He asked, glancing at Vaisey, and the sheriff hurried to make the introductions, shooting an annoyed look at Guy, as if it was his fault if Sir Roland was interested in his name.
“This is my master of arms, Sir Guy of Gisborne, the woman is Lady Marian and the boy is called Allan, they all have orders to assist you in whatever need you could have. Anything. Just ask and they will obey.”
Sir Roland gave just a glance and a nod at Marian and Allan, but he stared at Guy for a little longer, until the knight began to feel uneasy. Guy cleared his voice, wondering why that man was looking at him with such attention.
Roland de Belmont smiled apologetically.
“Sorry, I was lost in thoughts. Please, lead the way.”
Chapter 3: If You Care for Me...
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.
Chapter 4: A Warmer Place
Marian inwardly sighed as they entered yet another village, Locksley this time: she could see from the fear and the hate on the faces of the villagers, that it wouldn’t go better than in the other ones.
The people, used to the sheriff’s abuse, clearly expected trouble as soon as they saw Gisborne, and Guy of course had no hopes of getting their trust in such a short time, so he wasn’t even trying. He wore the impassible mask of efficiency he always showed when he executed the sheriff’s orders and he sat on his horse, sternly watching the villagers so that they would at least show order and respect to the sheriff’s guest.
So far, there hadn’t been real troubles, but Marian had the impression that Sir Roland wasn’t pleased at all. He visited the villages and sometimes he spoke kindly to the villagers, but he seemed to be haughty and aloof with her, Guy and even with Allan, who at first had tried to defuse the situation with his jokes and his silly talk, but who now looked as nervous and unhappy as Guy.
Marian thought that Guy’s sensations had been right: there was something strange in the way Sir Roland looked at him and she was beginning to fear that it actually could be about the Holy Land.
The only thing that reassured her a little was that Robin didn’t knew who the french nobleman was and, according to Guy, Robin was the only one who had recognized him during the attempt on the king’s life.
She wished she could talk about her fears with somebody, but she could only discuss them with Guy or Robin, but Gisborne couldn’t reassure her because he was even more anguished than she was, while Robin just wouldn’t understand. For him, Guy deserved to be punished as a traitor and he probably would be happy to see him hang.
Marian shuddered at the very idea. She had come to care a lot for Guy, more than she could have imagined just a few months earlier.
She moved the horse closer to Guy and sir Roland, hoping to revive the conversation a little, but the french man barely acknowledged her presence with a quick glance, keeping his attention on Guy.
“So how long have you been here?” Roland de Belmont asked.
“Five years, six winters.” Guy answered, remembering only then that Robin had asked the same thing when he had returned from the Holy Land and that he had given him a very similar answer.
Hood had found the words to humiliate him then, and now Guy had a presentiment that sir Roland’s reply would be even harsher.
“You have no excuses, then.” The man said, in fact, in a stern voice.
“Do you believe you’ve been a good lord for these people?”
“I managed these lands according to Nottingham’s laws,” Guy said defensively, knowing very well that many of those laws were unjust and cruel, good only for the sheriff. But he resented the reproachful tone of the stranger: how could he judge his actions at Locksley after just a quick glance around? How could he know how many times, especially in the last few months, he had ignored many misdemeanors that the sheriff would surely have punished cruelly? More than once he had to suffer the anger of the sheriff as a consequence of his humanity and now this man was criticizing him for the opposite reason? “I did the best I could.”
“Then you aren’t good enough! Look at them. They should welcome their lord, be honored when he comes to visit them, be happy of his attention! But those people are frightened! When you look at them, they shy away, they hear your horse and they run hiding into their huts! Why should they fear a just, good lord?!”
Marian and Guy stared at him, dumbfounded, and even Allan looked at him, in shocked surprise, but he was the first one to react.
“Hey, wait a moment, sir. Aren’t you a little too harsh? Maybe it’s true that those people fear him because he collects the taxes and punishes their faults, after all who likes to have their tongue cut and their houses burned? But, hey, it’s not like Giz has many choices either!”
Marian pulled a face at him.
“Allan, you’re not helping at all!” She hissed.
“What? I just said that Giz is a victim too!”
But Sir Roland wasn’t paying attention to him anymore, he was staring at Gisborne with unconcealed disgust.
“You burn houses and hurt people...” he said in a grave tone, “You should be ashamed of yourself. Your father would.” He concluded, then he turned the horse and he took the road leading out of the village.
Allan moved his gaze between him and Guy, not sure if whatever had just happened was his fault or what he was supposed to do now. But Gisborne wasn’t even looking at him, too shocked to do anything.
At last it was Marian who took the situation in her hands.
“Allan, quick, take the guards with you and follow him, if he returns to the castle alone without an escort, the sheriff will be furious. We’ll reach you as soon as we can.”
Allan nodded, and he hurried to obey, gathering the guards and launching the horse at a gallop.
Once they were gone, Marian turned to look at Gisborne, worried for him: Sir Roland verbal attack had been unexpected and his words cruel and unnecessary. She was feeling outraged for Guy: it was true that the life of the people of Nottingham was difficult, but it was the sheriff’s fault, not Guy’s.
At first she had criticized him too for obeying too blindly, but in time she had come to see that even rebelling openly wasn’t always the best solution. It might be more popular, of course, but even Robin’s action damaged people sometimes: he acted against the sheriff and Vaisey retaliated with doubled cruelty.
Guy had his faults, but he was a good man, Marian had no more doubts about it, and she knew that he didn’t enjoy punishing and executing people for the sheriff, but he had to do it anyways. Maybe Guy was loyal to the wrong man, but what right had that stranger of judging him and being friendly with Vaisey? And why had he to talk about Guy’s father?
“Are you alright? He shouldn’t have said such things...” She asked, concerned.
“I don’t care.” Guy said, but Marian recognized the cold, distant expression he often had on his face when the sheriff insulted him or when he had to execute some order he strongly disliked. She knew that sir Roland’s words had hurt him somehow.
“He’s wrong, you’re not like that.” She said, but Guy shook his head with a sigh and his expression softened a little.
“No, he was completely right, but thank you anyway,” he said with a bitter smile, “I can’t do anything to change the situation or his opinion and it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me, why should I care?”
But you do. Marian thought, sadly.
“We should better reach him. I can deal with his insults, but I’d rather avoid being flogged by the sheriff if I can help it.”
Marian nodded, but she thought that she was going to talk with Guy again after Sir Roland was gone. She didn’t want him to believe that it was right for him to live in shame or that everyone in the world despised him.
Marian and Guy reached Sir Roland and Allan shortly before reaching the castle. The french nobleman still looked aloof, despite Allan’s efforts to defend Gisborne somehow.
The young man slowed his horse a little to ride at Guy’s side for a while and talk to him.
“Look, Giz, I tried,” he said apologetically, “I really did. But I think he didn’t listen a single word of it. I wonder why people don’t believe me when I say good about you... That Jasper, the one who wanted to raze Nottingham, didn’t listen either.”
Gisborne was a little surprised because for once Allan looked completely sincere and really sorry for not being able to help him.
“It’s not your fault,” Guy said, then he kicked the sides of the horse to reach the nobleman, in a last attempt to appease him.
“Sir Roland, please wait.”
The man slowed his horse to look at Guy, and he waited for him to speak again.
“My lord, if my behavior offended you somehow, I apologize.”
“It’s not about your behavior, sir Guy, it’s about what you are.” Sir Roland answered, harshly, but then he softened his tone a little, seeing that Gisborne seemed to be really confused because of his words. “I guess it isn’t even your fault, after all, I probably had wrong expectations.”
Guy frowned, even more puzzled and also quite irked by now.
“Expectations about what? Why should you expect anything from me? The sheriff asked me to make your stay pleasant and I’ve been trying my best to make it so, yet you seem to despise me for what I do in my lands, lands that should hold no interest for you. Why should a noble from France care about the management of a small village in Nottinghamshire?”
“Those people were suffering, couldn’t you see that?!”
Guy stared at him, his blue eyes burning with rage.
“So? Is Locksley the only place where life is not so great for the poor? Is France an enchanted place where no one suffers and everything is just? Strange, I remembered it quite different, maybe it has changed since the last time I’ve been there, has it? I doubt it. When you’re poor, nobody cares, you are nothing, and that’s true everywhere in the world! Yet you blame me and only me for that...”
Marian urged her horse to reach Guy, worried to see him so angry and fearing the consequences of his anger. He stopped his rant seeing her, and she took the chance to whisper him a few words, hoping to calm him down.
“Guy, stop now. The sheriff...”
“The sheriff will have me flogged anyways! Can’t you see that?! It’s obvious that he isn’t going to give the sheriff what he wants, and he won’t because I disappointed him somehow. The funny thing is that I don’t even know what he expected from me, I tried my best and it seems that I disgusted him, so guess what? I just don’t care anymore! If I have to be punished, so be it, but I’m not going to humiliate myself further, trying to please someone who hates me for no reason. So, go to hell, sir! At least I’ll be flogged for something I deserved.”
Guy moved his horse forward, and he passed the gate of the castle, leaving the others behind. Marian exchanged a worried look with Allan, then she hurried to follow Guy.
The sheriff was waiting on the stairs, and he frowned when he saw Gisborne entering the courtyard first, with a thundering expression on his face, shortly followed by the lady leper, who, instead, looked upset and almost afraid. For a moment Vaisey feared that Hood had attacked his guest, but he relaxed when he saw Sir Roland arriving just a few moments later, with Allan at his side and the guards following after.
Still, he didn’t like Gisborne’s mood, Vaisey thought, noticing that the knight had dismounted hurriedly, almost throwing the reins at a stable boy, and that he would have walked away if lady Marian hadn’t grabbed his arm to stop him.
Now he was standing there, with the girl still clinging to his arm, and a defiant look in his eyes.
Vaisey was tempted to step down the stairs just to wipe that expression from his face with a good slap, but he refrained himself because Sir Roland was watching.
If Gisborne has messed this too, he will regret it. Oh, how he will.
“So, how was your ride?” He cheerfully asked to Sir Roland, instead. “Have you visited our pretty, merry villages?”
“It has been… enlightening.” Sir Roland answered, in a light tone.
“I hope that Gizzy here provided you a good service,” Vaisey inquired, still suspicious of Guy’s dark mood.
Roland de Belmont looked at the knight for a moment, then he turned to the sheriff.
“He gave me interesting suggestions about the next place I should visit, someplace warmer,” he answered in a deadpan tone.
If Vaisey was puzzled by that answer, he didn’t show it, but he kept his false amiable tone.
“Did he? Oh, I’m sure that whatever it is we can organize a visit, if you wish. But now, about those lands...”
The sheriff gestured towards the castle, suggesting that they could move to his office to discuss about that subject, and Sir Roland accepted graciously, following him inside.
As soon as they disappeared behind the door, Allan rushed to reach Guy and Marian.
“Have you lost your mind, Giz?!” He exclaimed, terrified, grabbing Gisborne’s free arm. “You told him to go to hell! Now he’s surely going to tell the sheriff! Come on, we need to go!”
Guy looked at him.
“Where?” He asked, in a flat tone.
“Where? Anywhere but here! The sheriff mustn’t find you! He’ll be furious!”
Guy didn’t follow him, instead he got free from their hold, and he dropped himself on the bench under the tree.
“So are you suggesting that I should run? That I should lose everything again? All because some noble fool disapproves me with apparently no real reason… No, I’m not going anywhere. If my life is worth so little, then why should I fight to preserve it?”
Lose everything again?
Marian frowned at those words, but she had no time to reflect on them, right now Guy needed her support and some comfort.
She sat on the bench at his side, and she took his hand, holding it between hers.
“Don’t be silly, now. Your life matters to me and I don’t want to see you flogged or hanged.”
“Too late for that, I guess.” Guy growled, in a sarcastic tone. “In case you haven’t noticed, I just told him to go to hell...”
“You could apologize.” Marian suggested.
“Or hide until the sheriff forgets about it.” Allan added.
“Till the end of time, then.” Guy said, then he sighed. “Marian is right, I guess, but I’m so tired of being always humiliated, always a pawn in the game of somebody else...”
“You don’t have to be sincere to apologize, Giz!” Allan took place on the bench, at Guy’s other side, “Or do you think that I really meant it when you forced me to promise that I’d keep away from taverns, girls and trouble? Just go to the french man, tell him that you were drunk or something and beg forgiveness: he’ll be satisfied, the sheriff will get his lands and he’ll be happy, and they’ll both leave you in peace.”
“What about my pride?”
“Pride is overrated. Who cares about it when you risk your life? And then nobody will know, that man will go back to France and you’ll never see him again.”
“Well, even if I should accept to apologize to that man, we have to see if the sheriff will give me the time to do it...”
Marian gave a little comforting squeeze to his hand, not knowing what to say. She was well aware that Vaisey wouldn’t be understanding and that he would blame Guy for a failure, but she didn’t know how to help. The only thing she could do was to be at Guy’s side and reassure him that whatever happened, he wouldn’t face it alone.
Guy looked tired now, all the rage that had been burning in his eyes dissolved, leaving only ashes.
He buried his face in his hands, closing his eyes and massaging the bridge of his nose. Marian put an arm around his back and leaned her head on his shoulder with a sigh, while Allan just sat in silence, dreading the moment when the sheriff would arrive, seething with anger and ready to punish them all.
They sat there for a while, waiting, until the voice of the sheriff resounded from the door.
“Gisborne!” He cried, loud and piercing as usual, and Guy jumped to his feet, hurrying inside the castle. There was no use in delaying a punishment, he knew that very well, and when the sheriff yelled like that, it was better not to make him wait. Marian and Allan were right behind him, and Guy thought that their presence was a comfort, but also a worry, because he was afraid that they could be punished as well.
Strangely, the voice of the sheriff didn’t come from his office or the hall, nor from the war room, but from the corridor that led to the strong room. Some guards were running in that direction too, but when they saw Guy, they slowed down, letting him go first.
When he reached him in front of the door of the strong room, the sheriff was furious, but apparently not with him: he was pointing at the open door of the room.
“Gisborne! Where were you?! Blithering oaf! Never here when you are needed! Look, look there!”
Guy glanced at the room, and he was startled to see that it was completely empty. A arrow with striped fletching was embedded in a empty chest.
“Hood!” Guy exclaimed, and Vaisey gave him a slap on his arm.
“Yes, Hood indeed! You lose time visiting villages and Hood robs me! Idiot! What are you waiting for?! Find him! Take my gold back!”
Sir Roland was standing near the sheriff, quietly looking at Vaisey’s outburst, and Guy once again thought that the behavior of that man was strange.
But he had no time to lose with him, he had to search for Hood: they hadn’t met him on their way in, so he probably ran away in the opposite direction, maybe taking the corridor that led to the dungeons. If Hood was still there, Guy thought, maybe he could capture him and retrieve the gold, then the sheriff would probably forgive him for the quarrel with Sir Roland.
“Allan, take two guards, and check that all the escape routes are still closed,” Guy said, then he pointed at the other guards, “you, give orders to drop the portcullis, the others with me.”
Everyone hurried to obey and Guy was about to take the corridor, when Sir Roland stopped him.
“Sir Guy, if you don’t mind my men and I would like to join the search. They are trained soldiers, they could be useful.”
Guy looked at him, puzzled.
“As you wish, but...”
“It’s decided then. Please, lead the way.”
Marian waited for them to go away, then she gave a last glance at Vaisey, and she followed them.
Chapter 5: Stalemate
Guy waited while the guards checked every room on both sides of the corridor and he frowned when he spotted Marian appearing at his side.
“You shouldn’t be here, it could be dangerous,” he said.
“More for you than for me, Robin wouldn’t hurt me...” she whispered back and Guy’s heart sank to hear those words.
“You and Hood...” he began, his voice so low that she could barely hear him, “there is still something, isn’t it?”
She was spared from answering because the guards came back in the corridor, but Guy saw her troubled expression and he guessed that he had been right.
For a moment he felt so betrayed and full of rage that he thought that he could kill both her and Robin and have his revenge against all the persons who had betrayed him during his life, but somebody touched his shoulder from behind, startling him out of those morbid thoughts.
He turned immediately, grabbing the person who had touched him and slamming him against a wall, the unsheathed sword at his throat. Marian yelped in surprise at Guy’s reaction, while Sir Roland, the person in question, seemed to be completely calm, staring at the blade without any fear.
Guy let him go, and he stepped back, lowering the sword.
“Sorry… I...” he began, flustered, but Sir Roland stopped him before he could continue.
“No, Sir Guy. I should have known better than taking a soldier by surprise during an emergency. I appreciate your control, though. You could have skewered me and I couldn’t have blamed you for that.”
Gisborne sighed, unable to understand that man.
“Yet you blame me for everything else... But it doesn’t matter, I should better try to get Hood now, or at least retrieve the gold. If he wasn’t hiding in those rooms, he might be in the dungeons.”
“There’s a thing I don’t understand, Sir Guy, if that thief is trying to run away, why should he go in the dungeons? Isn’t he in his right mind? It seems quite a stupid thing to do.”
“Quite the contrary, indeed,” Guy said, glancing at Marian, but the girl was following them in silence, pale and worried, with an angry light in her eyes. He supposed that she disapproved his attempts to catch Robin Hood, but even if there wasn’t bad blood between them, what other choice did he have? If Guy let him go, the sheriff would want his head, and he was already in enough trouble to take any other risk.
“What do you mean?” Sir Roland asked as they walked down the stairs.
“Hood thinks that he has a way out, the drain of an unused cistern, that he could use to get out of the castle. He believes that we don’t know about it, but we do and the sheriff ordered to fill it with water, so he could be trapped there.”
Marian looked at Guy and at the guards and she feared for Robin’s life. If what Guy had said was true, it would be very difficult for the outlaw to run away unscathed. She was feeling angry, her rage growing step after step.
She had begged Robin to give up his robberies this once, for her sake, but he hadn’t listened to her and now he was risking his life!
She couldn’t ask Guy to have mercy without endangering them all, yet at the same time she was mad at Gisborne too because he was trapped at the service of the sheriff. Why couldn’t he have sworn loyalty to another lord? To a better lord? How could he have been so blind to put his whole life in the hands of Vaisey?
Marian prayed that Robin wasn’t there, that he had already found another way to flee, but when they arrived at the bottom of the stairs, there he was, kneeling in front of the opened hatch of the cistern.
“What’s up, Hood? Got lost?” Guy asked, pointing the sword at him, and Robin jumped to his feet immediately, the bow drawn and pointed at Gisborne. Robin eyes widened in surprise seeing both Marian and the mysterious guest at Gisborne’s side, then he glanced at the cistern full of water.
“I have to thank Allan for this, I suppose.”
“No, Hood, I have to thank Allan.”
“I have an arrow pointed at your head and you know that I won’t miss, do you still think you have a reason to be thankful? Move aside, Gisborne.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. You can shoot just an arrow before my guards get you.” Guy replied, staying between Robin and the stairs.
“One arrow will be enough. Let me pass or I’ll kill you.”
“No!” Marian couldn’t stifle an anguished cry and both Guy and Robin glanced at her for a moment.
“If I should let you run away with the gold, the sheriff will surely hang me in your place.” Guy said, looking back at Robin, “It almost happened once already and I don’t intend to repeat the experience, so if you want to kill me, you’ll have to get blood on your hands, for once!”
Marian didn’t understand what Guy meant, and she frowned to see that Robin had blushed, as if he was ashamed for some reason. But his guilty expression didn’t last much, replaced by a cheeky grin.
“As you wish, Gisborne. We’ll both die, but the sheriff won’t have his gold, I don’t have it anymore.”
“His gang! He gave the money to them!” Guy growled, and Sir Roland made a step forward, placing himself between Robin and Gisborne.
“What are you doing?!” Guy exclaimed, in shock.
“Sir Guy, you gave the order to shut the portcullis, so that man’s accomplices could be still in the castle. Send your guards to search for them before they find a way out. My men will be enough to take care of him.” Sir Roland said in a calm voice, but he could see that Guy was hesitating. “Think about it, you are in a stalemate, right now. Whatever you do, you’ll both end up dead, but if you can catch his accomplices, then you’ll have hostages, a leverage, and the gold. It seems to me that your sheriff cares for his belongings.”
“If I send my guards to search for them, how can I be sure that you and your men aren’t going to attack me, instead?” Guy asked. “For what I know, you’d surely be glad to see me dead.”
Sir Roland shook his head and he spoke in a grave voice.
“You are in error, sir Guy, I can give you my word. I’m standing between you and a deadly arrow, isn’t that enough to convince you of my sincerity?”
Robin scoffed, nervous and confused.
“So, you are an ally of the sheriff, then.”
Marian looked at the three men and at the guards. She was angry and terrified at the same time, afraid that somebody could make a move to break that frail balance. Then, she was sure, Robin or Guy, or both of them, would end up dead.
She thought that she could persuade Guy to let Robin go, and they would both live for now, but she also knew that Guy was right about the sheriff. If he let Robin escape, there would be no forgiveness, and probably Vaisey would hang both Gisborne and her for treason.
After a while, Gisborne took a decision, and he told the guards to go and search for the other members of the gang and for the gold. The men hurried to obey, and Sir Roland’s men disposed themselves at the foot of the stairs, so that Robin couldn’t flee.
“Wise decision,” Sir Roland said, glancing at Guy over his shoulder, without moving from his defensive position.
“Typical of a coward, Gisborne! Hiding behind other people!” Robin taunted him, trying to provoke him into action.
He hated being trapped, and the actions of the stranger had surprised him. That man was risking his life to protect Gisborne, and, judging from the knight’s expression, the latter had no idea why as well. The whole situation wasn’t just dangerous, but also strange, incomprehensible, and it make him feel uncertain, unable to make up one of his half plans. He insulted Gisborne in the hope of forcing him to make a move, knowing that he most likely would do some mistake, giving him a chance to run away.
He kept an eye on Marian. He would have preferred her not to be there, in such a dangerous place, and her dark, angered expression worried him.
As if she had guessed his thoughts, the girl stared at him.
“I told you to keep away!” She said in a low voice, in a tone she had never used when talking to him.
Guy turned his head to stare at her.
“You did? So you met Hood... When? You said that you wouldn’t betray me again...” He asked, hurt, and Marian moved her hand to brush his arm with her fingers.
“I didn’t betray your trust. I told him to let the sheriff have his way this once, I said that if he really cared for me he should do nothing. But here he is...” She had talked in a bitter tone and Robin resented it.
“How could you expect that I’d let them plot against the King?!” He said.
“I told you that you would put us in danger this time, but you didn’t care! Probably you didn’t even listen to me!” Marian said, distressed to the point of being almost in tears.
“Listen to you, or listen to what Gisborne makes you say? Can’t you see that he’s poisoning your mind?! He’s evil, he destroys everything and he’ll be the end of you! But he stirs you, that’s why you listen to his lies.” Robin yelled, and, before Marian could reply, Guy pushed Sir Roland aside, ran at Robin and tried to attack him with his sword, regardless of the bow pointed at him.
Marian screamed in fear, but Robin didn’t shoot the arrow and he nimbly dodged Guy’s sword, then he dropped the bow and grabbed Guy’s arm, bending it behind his back and forcing him to release the hold on his weapon as well. Quickly, he unsheathed a sharp dagger, and he pointed it at Guy’s throat, with a satisfied grin.
“I guess this is not a stalemate anymore, don’t you think, Gisborne? Now, if you want to live, tell your men to lock themselves in one of the cells.”
“Those are not my men, Hood, and if you run, I’m dead anyways. I’d rather die knowing that you’ll hang as well,” Guy snarled, trying to get free, but when Robin pushed the blade further against his neck, reopening the cut left by Vaisey’s dagger, he stopped struggling and he stood still.
“Robin, this is madness!” Marian cried, seeing the blood on Guy’s neck, and Sir Roland nodded at his men to enter one of the cells. He locked the door and held the keys in front of him, so that Robin could see them.
“Very well, I did as you wanted, now be on your way and let Sir Guy go,” he said calmly.
“Throw your sword in the cistern, first. Gisborne’s one too.” Robin watched as Sir Roland obeyed, then he nodded at the hatch again, “Now the keys, too.”
“Don’t do it!” Guy growled, but he shut up when Robin nicked at his skin again.
“Now stand there, away from the stairs,” Robin ordered, then he turned to Marian. “Come with me.”
The girl stared at him, and she shook her head, trembling with both fear and rage.
“I can’t. I gave my word I would stay. I told you, I won’t lie to Guy again...”
“You are my betrothed!”
“You should respect my choices, then.”
Robin realized that she wouldn’t follow him, and for a moment he was tempted to actually cut Gisborne’s throat. If Marian was staying at the castle instead than in the forest with him, it was all his fault, he had corrupted her mind!
He wanted to sink the blade in Guy’s skin, to take his life but he didn’t. Instead, giving way to his frustration, Robin punched him in the face and he pushed him in the cistern, then he turned his back to Marian, and he ran up the stairs.
Chapter 6: Do You Remember?
Guy was floating into a terrifying darkness, and he couldn’t see anything. For what he knew, he could have become blind.
He felt a weight on his chest, oppressing him, and he began to panic: was that the dirt of the grave?
Was he dead and buried, condemned to lay in the ground forever?
No, he didn’t want to be dead, he couldn’t bear the idea that hell was like that: to be lost in a black nothing, cold and alone with his thoughts.
He wanted to move his limbs, to try to get free somehow, but he couldn’t: he was too weak and that dreaded darkness too heavy. He could only lay there, listening to his pounding heartbeats.
Slowly, he became aware of the pain: his whole body felt sore and his head ached.
How can I be dead if my heart beats and I can feel pain?
His thoughts began to clear a little, and the darkness thinned, allowing him to see a flickering light, like the flame of a candle.
Guy blinked, and he realized that it was really the flame of a candle, quietly burning on the bedside table. He looked around, realizing that he wasn’t lost in a dark pit, but that he was lying in a bed, his own bed, in his lodgings at the castle.
He remembered Robin menacing to cut his throat, but nothing after that, and he wondered what happened, but he felt too weak to focus, and he soon slipped back into a deep sleep.
When he woke up again, he was feeling a little better, less confused at least. He saw a person sitting near the bed, but he couldn’t make out who it was in the dim light of the room, and he began to feel afraid.
What if it was Hood, eager to finish the job? If he wanted to cut his throat, he wouldn’t be able to defend himself.
“You’re awake at last!” The man said, moving the chair closer to the bed, and Guy could see his face at the light of the candle: it was Sir Roland.
The french nobleman was staring at him, a worried expression on his face, and Guy couldn’t understand why he was sitting at his bedside.
“What...” Guy began to say, but he couldn’t continue, interrupted by a fit of coughing.
Sir Roland hurried to fill a cup of water, and he put it to his lips, helping him to drink a few sips.
“Easy, easy, don’t speak now. You gave us a good scare.”
Guy frowned, giving him a questioning look, and Sir Roland went on.
“That man, the one you called Hood, punched you in the face and he pushed you in that cistern. When he ran away, we rushed to the hatch to help you out, but you didn’t resurface. Before I could do anything, lady Marian had jumped in the water to search for you and after a few attempts, she found you and she dragged you to the surface. For a few moments we thought that it was too late and that you had drowned, but then you began to cough out most of the water and we saw that you were still breathing. Don’t worry, the healer said that you are a little battered, but you will recover.”
Gisborne nodded, taking a few moments to fully realize what Sir Roland’s words meant.
So Hood almost succeeded in killing him again, and that ordeal explained why he was feeling so miserable and sore, but to think that Marian had saved his life was overwhelming.
He couldn’t understand why Sir Roland was there, though. The nobleman had made clear that he disapproved him and Guy had heavily insulted him, yet he hadn’t hesitated in stepping in front of an arrow to protect him and now he had been watching over his sleep.
Guy tried to talk again, and this time he succeeded.
“Marian?” He asked in a low voice.
“She’s alright. She wanted to stay here with you, but the healer forced her to get some rest because she was too upset. Your friend Allan wanted to keep an eye on you as well, but I asked him to let me watch over you.”
“Can I ask you a question, sir Guy?”
“The things you said about the sheriff… That he’s going to flog you, that he could hang you… is that true? Would he really hurt you if you disappoint him?”
Gisborne touched his neck and his fingers found the bandage.
“He would. He already did. And now he will probably kill me.”
“Why should he?”
“Hood disappeared with his gang and the gold, didn’t he?”
Sir Roland nodded.
“So it seems. Allan said that they used a passage he didn’t know.”
“Then I’m as good as dead. Without that gold he won’t be able to buy your lands. Even if you wanted to sell them to him, after what I said. I guess it’s too late to apologize now.”
“I think that I owe you an explanation, but not now. The healer said that you should rest and I agree with her, you still look unwell. Try to sleep some more, I have a few errands to do as well, and later we will talk, you and I.”
Sir Roland smiled kindly, and he touched Guy’s shoulder with his hand, in a sympathetic pat, then he stood up to leave the room, but Gisborne stopped him.
Gisborne was staring at him, frowning.
“Did… did we ever meet before?” he began, but then he just shook his head. “No, it’s nothing. You are right, I guess I’m still unwell and I can’t think clearly.”
Guy closed his eyes with a sigh, and Sir Roland walked out of the door. He stopped on the threshold and he glanced at the knight before closing the door.
“So you remember...” He whispered to himself with a sad smile, then he walked away.
Allan ducked to avoid a heavy chess piece headed at his face, then he straightened up to look at the sheriff.
“I can swear it, my lord, we did our best!”
“Your best?! Do you call this your best?! A castle full of guards and yet you couldn’t catch Hood and his gang!” Vaisey grabbed another chess piece, a knight this time, and he aimed at Allan again, his eyes wild with unrestrained fury.
“We blocked all the passages, and we closed the portcullis as soon as possible.”
“All the passages except for one! The one they used to escape!”
“I don’t want to be funny, but nobody knew about that! Not even you, I bet!” Allan replied, but the sheriff got even angrier.
“Don’t be insolent or I’ll hang you at Gisborne’s side!”
Allan stared at him, in shock.
“You can’t really want to hang Guy!”
Vaisey stared at Allan, and he pointed a finger at him.
“That idiot is a failure. He had Hood in his hands and he let him escape! Your leper friend wasted her energies in fishing him out of that cistern because this time he will hang. He has proved himself useless and if I can’t trust him anymore...”
Allan desperately tried to think of something to persuade the sheriff that Guy was still more useful alive than dead, but he was afraid that in his present state of mind, Vaisey wouldn’t listen anyways.
He knew that insisting could be dangerous for him too, but he couldn’t let Gisborne hang if there was a way to avoid it.
He was about to plead again, trying to remember all the times when Guy had been essential for Vaisey’s plans, but he kept silent because at that moment Sir Roland knocked at the door and entered the room.
The sheriff glared at the nobleman and he was about to ask what he wanted, but even in his rage he remembered that Sir Roland still had something that he needed, even if by now it was very improbable that he would ever get those lands.
“Sir Roland,” he said, forcing his lips into a smile, “it’s late for a visit.”
Roland de Belmont smiled at the sheriff’s words as he sat in a chair at the opposite side of Vaisey’s desk.
“I know, Lord Vaisey, please forgive my impoliteness, but I felt that I couldn’t sleep before concluding our talk. You were about to show me the price you would pay for my lands, when we were interrupted...”
The sheriff glared at Allan and the young man paled. Allan knew perfectly well that now the sheriff didn’t have the means to buy those lands anymore and that he blamed both Guy and him for that.
Sir Roland probably arrived at the worst possible moment and Allan really feared that this time he couldn’t talk his way out of danger.
“Well, it seems that there has been a little hindrance about that,” Vaisey said, in a mellifluous tone, looking at Sir Roland, “but if you can have just a little patience, we’ll be able to gather the price you’ll request.”
Roland de Belmont looked at him, perfectly calm.
“I think we can reach an agreement, lord Vaisey, one that can satisfy both of us. It seems to me that you really want my lands, but you are short of gold at the moment. But you’re lucky, there something that I want more than gold, something that you surely can spare.”
The sheriff focused on him.
“What that would be?”
Sir Roland smiled.
Marian stopped in front of the closed door and she hesitated. She shuddered, feeling chilled to the bone even if the weather was warm.
She couldn’t help remembering how pale and still Guy had been when they had pulled him out of the cistern, she couldn’t forget the dread she had felt thinking that he was dead.
Now she was still afraid. What if the healer had been wrong? She imagined herself opening the door and finding him dead, his chest immobile and his skin white and cold…
She was tempted to turn her back to the door and run away, but instead she forced herself to push it and enter the room.
The light was dim in Guy’s lodgings, just a flickering candle on the bedside table, and for a moment she had the impression of being there to wake a corpse. Guy was lying in his bed with his eyes closed and perfectly still, and the candlelight drew ghastly shadows on his pale face. A dark bruise marked his cheekbone and Marian’s heart tightened remembering Guy’s shocked expression a moment before Robin’s punch hit him.
She knew perfectly well that Robin’s words had hurt him much more than his blow.
You are my betrothed!
Marian wiped a tear from her face, and she forced herself to make another step towards the bed.
Now she could see that Guy was alive, that his chest moved in the quiet rhythm of sleep, and even if she was immensely relieved, she couldn’t help feeling terribly guilty. She knew that she should have told him about Robin, but she had been a coward, and now she had hurt Guy again!
She stood at the side of the bed, looking at him.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I’m so sorry...”
Marian stooped to brush his face with a light kiss. Guy’s cheek was warm and soft under the roughness of the stubble, and Marian closed her eyes, breathing in the scent of his skin, so familiar by now.
Her eyes flew open, and she found herself staring at Guy’s blue gaze, deep and sad.
She stood up, blushing, and she made a step back.
“You’re awake! How do you feel?!” She blurted, but Guy didn’t answer. He looked at her for a few moments, then he sat up and he patted the side of the bed.
“Please, sit,” he asked, giving her a pleading glance, and she couldn’t help but obey.
“Hood said that you and him… Is that true?” He couldn’t bring himself to repeat the word, and he closed his eye in a grimace of pain when Marian nodded.
“Why are you still here? You should have gone with him.”
Marian took his hand and Guy winced.
“I promised to stay. Guy, look at me.” She waited until he opened his eyes again and she stared at him, holding his gaze. “I wanted to stay. I care for you and I don’t regret making that promise. My regret is another: I held back the whole truth from you and I shouldn’t have.”
“You were afraid of me.”
She shook her head. “No, not afraid. Not of you, at least. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but I did it all the same...” She concluded with a sob.
“Sir Roland said that you saved me.”
“How could I let you die? You fell in that cistern and didn’t resurface! I thought that you had drowned!”
She was openly weeping now, and Guy pulled her in his arms, trying to comfort her. Marian hugged him back, leaning her head on his chest with a disconsolate sigh.
“Marian? Are you crying for me?”
Marian tilted her head a little to look at him. “Is that so strange?”
“For me it is. I’m not used to people who worry for me.”
“Well, I do. And Allan too.”
Guy rested a hand on her back, keeping her close, but he averted his eyes from hers when he spoke again.
“Allan… Will you help him? Hood will protect you, but he surely considers Allan a traitor… Tell him that I forced him to work with me, that he had no choice, persuade Hood to take him back in his gang when...”
“Guy?” Marian interrupted him, trembling. “Why are you talking like this? As if...”
“As if I’m going to die? Because I probably will. You have heard the sheriff, he said he wouldn’t tolerate any other errors and look at what I did. I had Hood trapped and still I couldn’t arrest him, I couldn’t protect the gold and I insulted his guest… Now he won’t get what he wants, so he will have revenge.”
“He wouldn’t kill you! You are his most loyal man!”
“I’m not so sure of it. He warned me and I failed one time too many. Never underestimate his menaces.”
Marian stared at him, in fear.
“No! We must do something!”
“What?” Guy asked with a sad smile.
“You could run, get away from him and start a new life...”
“And then? I swore loyalty to the sheriff, what could I do if I betray him? Who would ever hire a knight who can’t be faithful to his oaths?”
“But you can’t just wait for him to kill you! When he wanted to give me to Winchester, you asked me to run...”
“And it worked so well...”
Marian stood up, shaking her head.
“I won’t let you give up, Guy of Gisborne! I won’t! Come on, get up and get dressed, we have to go!” She stopped, giving him a worried look. “How do you feel? Can you walk? The healer said that you should rest, but we must get away from the sheriff.”
“I’ll help you. I’m not leaving you alone until I’m sure you are safe.”
But then you will… Guy thought, sadly, but he relented, knowing that resisting would only put Marian in further danger. If he didn’t agree to run, only God knew what she could do.
He pushed the blanket away and he slowly got to his feet, swaying a little. Marian hurried to support him.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m feeling a little faint. Just give me a moment.”
“Here, sit back on the bed while I get your clothes. The ones you were wearing are still wet, where can I find some others?”
“In that chest over there.”
Guy looked at her while she hurriedly rummaged in the chest and he blushed a little thinking of the strange intimacy of that situation.
If she were my wife, it would be like this. Waking up with her at my side... sharing these common moments… Just being together… I couldn’t wish for anything else.
Marian came back to the bed, and she handed him a bunch of clothes.
“Here. Do you...” she blushed and she averted her gaze as she talked, “...do you need help?”
Guy couldn’t help chuckling.
“I think I can manage… unless you want to help.” He added, a little mischievously, and Marian gave an indignant slap on his arm.
“Hurry up, fool. I’ll wait just out of the door. Call me when you are finished.”
She rushed out of the room, and Guy stripped off the nightgown he was wearing and quickly got dressed. He was feeling weak and all his body was sore, but he knew that he had to try at least.
Marian wouldn’t abandon him to his fate, so he had to make an effort to save himself even if he couldn’t see any hopes for his future. In the best case he’d end up poor and alone, a little more than a beggar, forced to leave everything behind once again.
Marian would say that Hood had done the same thing, and probably she’d try to persuade him to join the outlaws in the fight against the sheriff, but Guy knew that it would be impossible.
Even if he was willing to overcame his hatred for Robin of Locksley, Hood wouldn’t. He would never let him stay close to Marian and they’d probably end up killing each other, fighting for her love.
Maybe, if he could get a good head start before the sheriff noticed his flight, he could be able to gallop to Locksley and take the money he owned. It wasn’t as much as it had been once because the Nightwatchman, Marian, had robbed him, but it was better than nothing.
He didn’t want to go, to be alone in the world again, and yet he couldn’t stay, unless he wanted to die. With a sigh, he walked to the door to reach Marian.
The girl was waiting for him in the corridor, anxious and fretful, and she hurried to put an arm around Guy’s waist to support him, seeing him so pale.
“Can you walk?”
“Do I have any other choice?”
“Let’s go, then.”
They walked along the corridor, slowly.
Too slowly, Marian thought, but she could see that Guy was struggling to keep her pace. She was worried for his health, but they had to leave before the sheriff decided to punish him. They had to reach the stables unnoticed, then, once Guy could mount a horse, it would be easier.
They reached the end of the corridor and she was wondering if she should stop for a moment, to let him catch his breath, but when they turned the corner, they both froze: Vaisey was in front of them, surrounded by many guards.
“Going somewhere, Gizzy?”
Chapter 7: The Trade
Marian screamed when the guards seized both her and Guy, but Gisborne didn’t try to fight.
The sheriff looked at the girl, shaking his head.
“See, Gizzy? I always told you that women were like lepers, but you wouldn’t listen and look where she got you. I bet that it was her fault if you let Hood escape, isn’t it? Oh, don’t try to deny it, I know that I am right. And now she dragged you out from your sickbed to go where? Were you trying to run away? To betray me?”
Marian kept struggling, and the sheriff took Guy’s curved dagger, looking at the sharp blade, then he brushed it on Guy’s cheek.
“Missy, tell me, will you shut up and be quiet or should I cut Gizzy’s pretty face? And the same applies to you, Gisborne: try to fight or to run and your leper friend will pay the consequences of your misbehavior. Now shackle them both,” Vaisey concluded, talking to the guards.
Two of the soldiers pulled his arms behind his back and a third one closed the manacles around his wrists, then they did the same to Marian.
The girl was scared and furious at the same time, and she wished that the sheriff would die. She had been mad at Robin for not listening to her, but now she felt pure hatred for Vaisey. If only she could, she’d kill him with her own hands, without any regrets.
Guy, instead, looked stunned, defeated, as if he had no more energies to defend himself. He followed the guards staggering, white in the face, and the soldiers had to grab his arms to keep him from falling.
Marian looked at him, wishing that she could do something to ease his sufferings, but she couldn’t and her helplessness made her want to weep of frustration. She held her tears only because she knew that Vaisey would have enjoyed to see her cry.
When the sheriff led them into the courtyard, Marian’s rage subsided, leaving place for fear. She looked at the gallows in the corner of the courtyard and she shuddered in horror.
Was the sheriff really going to execute Guy without a reason other than revenge, and without a trial as well? She looked at the knight and she met his gaze: Guy was terrified too, even if he was trying to keep some dignity, but she could see how hurried his breath was and the trembling of his lips.
They were close to each other and Marian wondered if she was going to share Guy’s fate, if the sheriff wanted to hang her too. Impulsively, she lifted her head, standing on tiptoes to kiss Guy one last time: if he, or them both, were destined to die, they could steal a last nice moment for themselves, at least.
Marian didn’t close her eyes and she saw the surprise in Guy’s blue gaze, but then he returned her kiss with all his love, and she lost herself in it.
It was his way to say goodbye to her, and Marian found out that she couldn’t bear to see him dying, that she couldn’t accept the idea of losing him. She wanted to hug him desperately, to hold him tight, but they both had their hands shackled behind their backs, and after a moment, the soldiers pulled them apart.
“Don’t be afraid, you’re not alone,” she whispered, and Guy tried to smile at her.
“I love you, Marian.”
The sheriff rolled his eyes.
“Lepers, Gisborne, lepers. I always told you that that woman would be your ruin. I was right, as always. But now it’s time to say goodbye, Gizzy. Do you think I’ll miss you? A clue: no.”
Marian gasped as the soldiers dragged Guy and her away, afraid that they were going to hang them, but they passed the gallows without climbing the steps to the platform and they stopped in front of a carriage. Sir Roland de Belmont’s carriage.
The french nobleman was standing near his vehicle, holding a sealed parchment in his hand.
The sheriff looked greedily at the scroll, but sir Roland didn’t move. At last Vaisey nodded at his guards, and the soldiers forced Guy and Marian to climb on the carriage, pushing them with enough violence to make them fall on the floor of the vehicle.
Sir Roland smiled at Vaisey.
“I heard that the roads are unsafe. I came to know that another lord, Winchester I think, was killed shortly after leaving the town. Please, take your guards and ride with us until we meet the rest of my men, I’ll sign the deed and I’ll give it to you then.”
Vaisey glared at him, not happy at all.
“Are you trying to cheat me?! I can still hang them!”
“Not at all, lord Vaisey. It’s just a precaution. I left my signet with my men because I heard that the forest swarmed with outlaws. Escort me to my men and you’ll have your lands, then our ways will part forever and I won’t have any reasons to come back to England.”
The sheriff gave a wary look at him, wondering if he should order his guards to attack Sir Roland, but he decided against it. Maybe the other man would keep his word and he would get his lands almost for free.
“Get my horse ready!” He yelled, and shortly after a stable boy hurried to bring it to him.
Marian was pushed in the carriage, and she fell, landing over Guy. She tried to get up, but with her hands tied behind her back it wasn’t easy. She struggled for a while, then a pair of hands helped her to sit on one of the seats.
She stared at the person who had helped her, astonished.
The young man grinned at her while he knelt to help Gisborne too.
“Giz? Are you alright?” He asked, worried, seeing that the knight was still lying to the floor and didn’t move. “I think he has fainted.”
Sir Roland entered the carriage, closing the door behind him, and the vehicle moved immediately.
The french nobleman crouched at Allan’s side to look at Guy, then he looked at Marian.
“Is he wounded? Did they harm him?”
Marian shook her head.
“No, they dragged us in the courtyard and pushed us inside the carriage, but apart from this they didn’t use violence.” She looked at him and at Allan, confused. “Why are we here? What happened? We thought that the sheriff wanted to hang us...”
“He wanted to!” Allan confirmed. “Giz at least. He was talking about killing him when Sir Roland arrived...”
Sir Roland nodded at his word, but he didn’t say anything, focused on Gisborne. He opened his shackles with a key and he passed it to Allan so that he could free Marian’s arms as well, then he shook Guy gently, trying to wake him up.
Gisborne opened his eyes with a moan, then he sat up with a start, looking around.
“What...” he began, and Sir Roland gently put a hand on his shoulder.
“Easy, my boy. You’re safe, now. Here, let me help you.” He supported Guy as he lifted himself up from the floor of the carriage, and he made him sit at Marian’s side, handing him a flask. “Drink. It’s mulled wine, it will make you feel a little better. You too, my lady.”
Guy gave a questioning look at him, but he obeyed, taking a few sips and then passing the flask to Marian.
He was feeling stunned, overwhelmed by too many emotions, and weak, but the crazy pounding of his heart was slowing down a little and he tried to keep calm.
“Where is the sheriff?”
“You don’t have to worry about him, after today you won’t see him again.” Sir Roland said, and Allan grinned, looking at Guy.
“Sir Roland bought you from him.”
Both Guy and Marian stared at Allan.
“He traded his lands for you. And he also gave Vaisey some gold to get me and Marian as well!”
Guy looked at Sir Roland, puzzled.
“Because I’ve been searching for you for years. And I paid to get your friends as well because I didn’t trust to leave them in the hands of the sheriff. Allan told me how cruel he is.”
“You have been searching for me?”
“As I already told you, I owe you an explanation, Sir Guy. I think that now we have the time, it will take a while to rejoin my men.”
Guy gave an uneasy glance at the door of the carriage.
“I don’t know why you want me, but the sheriff won’t let me go away alive. I know too many secrets.”
“Don’t worry about that. I will sign the parchments only after we reach our escort. They are loyal men, they are many and they are well trained, your sheriff’s guards wouldn’t have a chance against them. And I was very clear with lord Vaisey: after I give my lands to him, I won’t have any other business in England and I’ll leave for France taking you with me. I have no interest in England politics so I’d have no use for his secrets. He will have those lands for free, actually he’ll earn some gold for them too, I’m not surprised that he accepted my terms.”
“You want to take me to France… why?”
“Earlier, in your room, you asked me if we already met, you have some memories of me, don’t you?”
“I’m not sure. I had the impression that we had already been in that same situation, me lying in bed and you touching my shoulder, but it can’t be, I’d remember it.”
Sir Roland smiled.
“You were very young then, just a child. We were in France at that time.”
Guy looked at him.
“Who are you?”
The older man sighed.
“I fought at your father’s side for many years, Sir Roger of Gisborne was a dear friend of mine, and once we were very close. I met you and your mother just once, when we, your father and I, were about to leave for war. Lady Ghislaine was very worried for Roger, but she didn’t blame me for taking him away from his family. I will always remember her warm welcome when I stayed at your house for a few days before leaving with Roger. Your sister was a little child, and you were very young, fascinated with our horses and our swords, but at night, when you remembered that your father had to go away, you cried yourself to sleep. One night I heard you sobbing, so I entered your room and I sat at your bedside for a while to tell you a few stories and to comfort you a little. Maybe you have some memory of it.”
“I remember a knight visiting our home when I was little, but that’s it. It was a very long time ago.”
“Indeed. I still remember that time fondly, Roger was a dear friend, even if we didn’t keep in contact after he moved to England.”
“That’s why you were so disappointed? Because my father would be ashamed of me?” Guy said with a sigh, averting his eyes.
“I shouldn’t have said that.”
“It’s true. I did horrible things at the orders of the sheriff. The people of Nottingham hate me.”
Sir Roland leaned towards him to put a hand on his arm.
“I judged you without knowing the situation. Now I know what kind of man the sheriff is, I don’t think he left you many choices.”
“That’s why you were so interested in Guy, isn’t it?” Marian asked.
“I was surprised to finally find him. Some years ago I was in England, returning from a battle, and I met a young widow. Her husband had been a cruel, violent man, and he finally got himself killed in a brawl with another squire. The woman, mother of two children, wanted to sell the lands she had inherited and go back to France, the place were she was born, but she needed protection for her trip. I was going back home too, so I traveled with her and her children, offering my help to get settled there. I was surprised when I found out that she was the daughter of my old friend Roger...”
“Isabella! You’ve seen Isabella!” Guy interrupted him, shocked by his words. “Ma chère soeur...”
Marian glanced at him, surprised to hear him talking in French, while Sir Roland gave him an ironic look.
“Not so dear, I believe, at least according to what she says about you. She claims that you ruined her life, selling her to a cruel man.”
“I found her a husband! He was rich and not too old, good looking too, I guess. It was the best opportunity she could have!” Guy exclaimed, incensed, but after a moment he lowered his eyes, blushing a little. “Well… the best opportunity we could have. If I didn’t accept to give her to squire Thornton, we’d both be starving somewhere in France. I would never have been a knight.”
“Guy, you sold your sister!” Marian said, staring at him in shock.
“Yes, I did! I also tried to force you to marry me, and I tortured Allan to make him work for me!” Guy said, defiantly. “What now? Are you going to give me back to the sheriff so he can hang me?!”
Sir Roland shook his head, chuckling, and the others looked at him.
“Surely you have your father’s temper, Sir Guy. When I arrived in Nottingham I watched you, searching for a trace of my old friend in you, but it was only when you told me to go to hell, that I saw Roger’s same sparkle in your eyes.”
“What happened to Isabella?” Guy asked in a subdued tone, looking at Sir Roland. “Is she well?”
“Your sister had a difficult life, but now she found some peace. She has a little manor and some lands and her kids are healthy and happy. She still hates you, though. If I can give you a suggestion, Sir Guy, don’t repeat what you just said to us if you want to have a slight hope to make peace with her. Just apologize.”
“That’s not a bad advice, Giz.” Allan said, nodding, and he looked at Sir Roland. “But why were we talking about his sister?”
“Because it was Isabella who told me about the fire. I hadn’t heard from Roger in many years, but I thought that he had been living in England with his family. When I learned that he had died so many years ago, I was really pained. Isabella told me that the last thing she knew of her brother was that he had sold her to a husband and then he had followed an English noble who had promised to train him as a knight.”
“It was Vaisey,” Guy said, his voice choked. “He promised to take care of me, he said that if I gave him my loyalty, I’d never be poor and alone again...”
“I decided to search for you, but I didn’t know where you could be. I traveled in England, to London at first, then I went to visit the lands I owned in the south. Your king gave them as a reward to me when I fought for him at Roger’s side, but I chose to keep living in France. I spent a few years traveling between England and France, but I never could find you. I was beginning to think that you were dead, lost forever. Then your sheriff invited me at Nottingham, and you can imagine my surprise when he called your name!”
Guy leaned back his head against the wall of the carriage, exhausted.
“What’s going to happen to me now?” He asked, weakly.
Sir Roland smiled sympathetically.
“You’ll come to France with me and I’ll help you to start a new life, like I did with your sister.”
“Even if I’m a monster?”
“If you were, you wouldn’t have any friends at all. And even so, I’d help you all the same. Roger saved my life in battle, more than once. If I had known that you and Isabella were alone, orphaned and lost, I’d have taken you with me. But now I have the chance to take care of both of you and I will.”
“That’s good for Giz, but what about us?” Allan intervened, “I appreciate that you didn’t leave us in the hands of the sheriff, really, but what’s going to happen to Marian and me? Will we have to go to France too?”
“Sir Guy has no choice, the sheriff would kill him if he remained in England, but you do. As soon as we meet my men, Lord Vaisey will have his lands and he’ll go back to Nottingham. Then you’ll be free to leave or to stay, as you wish.” Sir Roland answered.
“Marian?” Guy asked in a sad tone, “When you’ll go back to Hood, will you do what I asked you? Will you persuade him to get Allan back too?”
Marian looked at him, but she couldn’t say anything, too emotional to speak. She just gave a little nod.
“Oy!” Allan said, annoyed, looking at Gisborne, “I’m here, just in front of you, don’t you think that you should ask my opinion before making plans? Why do you think that I want to go back in Robin’s gang?”
“You have friends there. You miss them, I know that you do.” Guy answered, surprised by Allan’s tone.
“It’s true, I miss them, but it wouldn’t work, Giz. Robin said that he would kill me if I showed my face again and he wasn’t joking. Maybe Marian could persuade him, but do you think that it would be nice to stay in a place where you are barely tolerated? Do you think that they would ever trust me again? No, at the first problem they would turn against me.”
Gisborne lowered his eyes.
“I’m sorry… It’s my fault.”
“Well, don’t be. Hey, maybe we had a rough start...”
“A rough start?!” Guy interrupted him with a bitter laughter. “Allan, I had you tortured!”
“Details. What’s a little torture between friends? I suffered worse damages in tavern’s brawls. It doesn’t matter how it began, the point is what you gave me after that. I was just a petty thief, good with tavern tricks and lies, but you thought that I could be more than that. I got new clothes, a sword, a horse, and you let me work for you, you gave me your trust. Nobody trusted me before. Ever.”
“The sheriff keeps repeating that I’m gullible.”
“Oh, I’m so glad that we won’t have to listen to that old goat anymore! No Giz, it’s different: you’re a friend. And if I can choose freely, I’m coming to France with you.”
Guy stared at him.
“Why, don’t you want me to come?”
“Of course I want, but I thought...”
Allan grinned. “Don’t think too much, Giz. And then I heard that french girls are pretty and the wine is good, I believe that it will be interesting.”
The carriage slowed and came to a halt, and Guy looked at Sir Roland, worried.
“Why did we stop?”
The older man looked out and smiled.
“My men are here. Time to give Lord Vaisey what he wants and send him back to Nottingham. Stay in the carriage and don’t show yourself. I think that he’ll be more willing to let you go without giving us troubles if he thinks that you are all my prisoners, headed to a miserable future, am I wrong Sir Guy?”
“You are even too right.” Guy answered in a low voice, and Sir Roland touched his arm.
“Don’t worry, you’re safe now,” he said, smiling, then he opened the door and got out of the carriage.
Chapter 8: Across the Sea
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.”
Chapter 9: Epilogue
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.