The arrow passed a few centimeters away from Guy's face and it planted itself in the head of the bed, where it stood, vibrating. Gisborne opened his eyes and he stared at it.
“He's come...” He whispered, weakly.
Robin waited, hidden in the trees, then, when he heard the clatter of hooves on the trail, he moved his horse and he waited for Gisborne to approach him.
Guy was holding the arrow that Robin had shot through the window of Locksley Manor and he held it up to show it to him.
“Really, Hood, you have to find another way to contact me, sooner or later you're going to hit me.”
Robin touched his cheek, in the same spot where Guy still had the thin scar left from Robin's arrow that had saved him.
“I am Robin Hood, I never missed even much harder shots.”
“You will continue to remind it to me, right?”
Guy shook his head, laughing, then he yawned.
“What's up, Hood? I was sleeping.”
“You complain a lot, but when I call, you always come quickly. I get the impression you don't mind that much.”
Gisborne didn't deny it and he just shrugged.
“Sooner or later Marian will find out and then there will be trouble for both me and you.” He said in somber tone, but Robin could see that he was actually amused.
“Why, are you scared that she could find out that the Nightwatchman's costume looks better on you than on her?”
Guy smiled and he covered his face with the mask that once belonged to the girl.
“So, what will we do tonight?”
“Deliveries. We emptied one of the stores of supplies destined for the sheriff's men, and now we have to distribute food to the poorest families. Ah, I almost forgot, take this!” Robin threw an object at him and Guy caught it. He stared at the wooden outlaw tag and Robin smiled at seeing his astonishment.
“Will made it for you, now you're one of us.”
Guy looked at him for a moment, then he nodded, put the tag around his neck without saying anything and he spurred his horse to speed up the pace, but Robin knew that Gisborne was just trying to hide his emotion.
He gave him a moment, then he reached him and for a while they rode in silence.
When he saved his life, almost a year before, Robin had thought he didn't want to have anything to do with Guy of Gisborne anymore. The thought that Marian had preferred Guy over him had hurt Robin and he would have preferred to relegate it in a corner of his mind and never think again of either of them.
It had been Gisborne who came to meet him in the forest, a few days after Barret's death. The black knight was still so battered that he struggled to stay on his saddle, but he came alone into the forest just to meet Robin, even before reaching Marian at Kirklees Abbey where she had taken refuge with her father.
That time Gisborne had completely put aside his pride and he expressed his gratitude so sincerely and looking so moved that Robin was no longer able to hold a grudge because of Marian. Neither of them ever spoke of that day again, but they both knew that that was the moment when they had stopped being enemies and rivals and they had finally buried past hatred.
Over time, the choice of the girl had stopped hurting him and surprisingly Robin found himself to appreciate the company of Gisborne who, although he couldn't openly support the outlaws, had insisted on working with them disguised as the Nightwatchman.
“Do you really think so?” Guy asked after a while and Robin nodded.
“You are part of our family now, although I don't think that Little John will ever admit it.”
“I was talking of the Nightwatchman's costume, Hood. Does it really look better on me?”
“Of course, with that mask I'm not forced to look at your face.”
“Yesterday I talked to Tuck, he gave me the recipes of several remedies that may be of interest to Djaq. He copied them from one of the books of the library of the abbey especially for her. By the way, how is she? It should be almost time, now.”
“The baby could be born anytime now, it should be a matter of days.” Robin said, smiling. “Later you can give Tuck's letters to her in person, now she and Will live near Clun, when we will deliver the food there, we will go to visit them.”
“I'd like to see them.” Guy said, recalling the joy of Will and Djaq when Robin had married them in the forest. He had his doubts that their marriage could be really legal because Robin was an outlaw, but it was also the best one in which he participated. Not that he had much experience when it came to weddings, but the other two times he had been punched by Marian and almost killed by Barret, so he had no doubt about which wedding to choose as his favorite.
“And what about you?” Robin asked, guessing his thoughts. “Did you already ask her to marry you?”
Guy shook his head. It was strange to talk about Marian with Robin, but it was also nice to know that she didn't cast a shadow anymore on their friendship and that he could trust Robin as a true brother.
“I must first finish what I'm doing. It won't be long now, I've been working nonstop for months, you know. And this is also why you should let me sleep a little more at night, I am exhausted.”
“And you managed to keep hidden to her what you're doing all this time? You stay out all day and she doesn't look for you?”
“Officially, I am very committed to administer my lands to be able to pay the taxes imposed by the sheriff. And indeed it is true, I do that too. Sir Edward and Allan are helping me to hide the rest.”
“No wonder you're tired! I think that in the coming days we will not need the Nightwatchman and I think we will come to help you out.”
“Really? I appreciate it.”
“Don't thank me, I do it for the pure spirit of survival. If Marian were to discover that we could speed things up and we didn't, we are all dead. And now shall we begin to do the deliveries?”
“As you wish, brother of mine.”
Marian looked out the window, out of sorts.
Once again Guy had left very early in the morning and he still had not returned.
The girl had expressed her displeasure to her father and Sir Edward had explained her that Guy probably behaved in that way so he wouldn't feed the gossip of the people.
Already it was inconvenient that, not having a home, Guy was forced to live in Locksley under the same roof of Marian. If they were together all day, the villagers would have considered it a scandal.
They already think that I am his mistress, what difference would it make?
Marian did not express her thoughts to her father, he wouldn't understand, and she stood looking out of the window, restless.
She was worried about Guy's behavior. When he was with her, things were going well and he looked at her with so much love to dispel every doubt, but after a year nothing had changed between them.
When Gisborne went to pick her and her father up at Kirklees to return to Locksley, Marian had imagined that they would marry soon, that Guy wouldn't want to wait to become her husband and she began to wait for his marriage proposal.
This time she would have said yes without hesitation, with enthusiasm, and she had smiled imagining the moment when she saw the joy in Guy's eyes after her answer.
But the days became weeks and then months without Guy asking for her hand.
Maybe he changed his mind and he didn't want to marry her anymore? Or did he fear that she might reject him, leaving him at the altar again?
Once or twice she timidly tried to introduce the topic, but Guy didn't understand or he had pretended not to understand and he had changed the subject.
She sighed, she took a brush and she began to unravel the dark curls, vigorously. Her hair had grown back but it had not returned to its full length yet. On her face she still had the scar left by Barret's dagger and Marian hated that little sign on her cheekbone. It made her feel ugly and sometimes she wondered if Guy's hesitation to marry her depended on that reason.
It didn't occur to her that Gisborne had the body and the face marked by many scars too and that he would never consider her less beautiful just for that reason.
She tucked a strand of hair so that it fell on her face to hide that imperfection and she sighed.
She approached the door of Guy's room and cracked it open to peek inside, even though she knew he was not at home.
Sometimes she did the same thing at night to watch him sleep.
Since his return from the castle after dealing with the sheriff, Guy's sleep was no longer agitated as before. Sometimes he came home so tired that he went to bed almost immediately and then he sank into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Marian wondered why he was always so exhausted, but, if she asked, Guy merely replied that being able to make money from the lands that he had been granted by the sheriff was harder than he thought.
That was another mystery that worried the girl: Guy had said that the sheriff had agreed to grant him some lands, but he had never said more about it, and he had never offered to show her his property.
Marian had imagined that the sheriff gave him horrible and unproductive land and that Guy didn't want to show them to anyone so people couldn't see that he suffered yet another humiliation because of Vaisey.
A couple of times she happened to open the door of Guy's bedroom at night and find his bed empty.
On those occasions she hadn't no longer been able to go back to sleep and she had been mulling until dawn, tormented by jealousy.
Guy respected her and they had never shared more than a few stolen kiss, but how could she be sure that on those occasions when he disappeared at night, he didn't go to see any other woman?
The two of them were neither married nor engaged and it wouldn't be so strange for a free man to enjoy some distractions. It happened all the time and Marian wasn't so naive that she didn't know.
Yet the thought that Guy could see another woman made her feel sick.
Even though she knew that she didn't have the right to do it, she entered Guy's room, looking around to search for some clues that could confirm or deny her doubts.
She found nothing, Gisborne's room was furnished even too soberly and there was nothing that could reveal something unusual. The only strange detail was a series of holes and scratches on the wood of the headboard about forty centimeters above the mattress. Marian wondered what could have caused them, but she couldn't find a plausible explanation.
She heard the hooves of a horse galloping along the road and she peered through the window, surprised to see that Guy was returning to Locksley at full speed.
She left Guy's room immediately and she went down the stairs, worried. That was an unusual time to see him coming, too late for lunch and definitely too early to come back home for the night.
The fact that he was in such a hurry was even more worrying and a number of catastrophic assumptions crossed the mind of the girl: King Richard was back in England and Guy had to flee to avoid being accused of treason, the sheriff had decided to take revenge after all, new enemies who were attacking the villages ...
Allan was busy courting one of the kitchen girls when he saw Gisborne stopping his horse in front of the house. Allan said goodbye to the young woman with a cheeky smile, promising they would be back on the subject and he went to meet his friend.
“Hey, what's up, Giz?”
Guy dismounted and threw the reins to Allan.
“It's done, Allan, finally it's done!” Guy said and Allan thought he had rarely seen so much enthusiasm in him. His face relaxed into a cheerful smile.
“Really? Now you don't have to wait any longer.”
“Exactly! Hold my horse, please.” Guy said, then he ran toward the house. “Marian!”
She went out the door, worried, and Gisborne reached her in a moment. He took her in his arms and lifted her off the ground, holding her, then he looked into her eyes, without putting her down.
“Come with me, I have to show you something.” He whispered anxiously, then he carried her to his horse, put her on the saddle and he mounted behind her. He took back the reins from Allan and spurred the animal.
“Where are we going, Guy? Has something happened?” Marian asked, trying to turn around to look at him.
“You'll see.” Guy said, then reconsidered and he pulled the reins to stop the horse. “Actually, you won't. It will be a surprise.”
He took a handkerchief from his saddlebag and he used it to blindfold the girl, then he spurred the horse again.
Marian wondered what had happened and where they were going, but after a while she relaxed: she couldn't see anything, but Guy's arms were wrapped around her and that was enough to make her feel safe.
She trusted him.
Now that they were so close, all the doubts and mysteries that had tormented her in his absence seemed to fade.
Gisborne stopped his horse and he helped her to dismount, then he took off her blindfold.
“Do you know where we are?” He asked smiling and the girl nodded, a bit puzzled.
What she saw before her was the view that she had seen since childhood every time she looked out the window of Knighton Hall.
The burned ruins of her house had to be exactly behind her, Marian thought, sadly.
She wondered why Guy had wanted to take her there, in the place where in the past he had managed to hurt her so much. She just wanted to forget the day he had set fire to her house, to erase those horrible memories from her mind.
“Why are we here?”
“Turn around.” He gently told her and Marian obeyed reluctantly. She didn't want to see the burnt ruins of her house.
She didn't see them.
In their place there was a new house, very similar, but not identical, to the old Knighton Hall.
The girl thought that she was dreaming, that she saw a kind of mirage, but she couldn't have dreamed of an entire house.
She spun around to look at Gisborne.
“That's what I was doing. I know you were wondering about it, do you think I didn't notice?”
“You have rebuilt Knighton Hall? Alone?”
Guy smiled and shook his head.
“No, I have been helped by many people, alone I would have never succeeded. All my life I have done nothing but destroy everything around me, willingly or not. I thought there wasn't another way, that it was my destiny, until my whole world turned to ashes. And it was then that I discovered that from those ashes something new could rise again, that I could rebuild my world and make it different. As I did with Knighton Hall.”
Guy knelt at her feet and took her hand.
“Marian, I ask you to build this world with me. Will you marry me?”
The girl fell to her knees too and hugged him tightly.
“Yes, Guy of Gisborne, I want to marry you! And I swear that this time I won't run away.”
“This time I will choose a smaller ring. It will be safer.” Guy said, teasing her, then he silenced the protests of the girl with a kiss and he held her close.
Their new world began from there.