Allan saw the sheriff coming and he did his best to blend in with the shadows of the hallway: that morning the man seemed to be in a very bad mood, more than usual if possible, and Allan didn't want to get noticed.
Usually, when the sheriff was in that mood, it was Gisborne who had to endure his outbursts, but that morning the sheriff was alone, followed only by two guards who looked like they wished to be miles away from Nottingham.
Allan flattened himself against the wall, trying to look insignificant, but his attempt failed miserably: the sheriff saw him, stopped suddenly and pointed a finger at him.
Allan hesitated for a moment, but the glare of the sheriff made him realize that it would be better not to thwart him.
"Yes, my Lord?"
"Where is Gisborne?"
"Usually, at this time of the day he is with you, my lord." Allan stammered, surprised by the question, but his words seemed to further irritate the sheriff.
"If I asked you where he is, do you think he reported to work this morning, you idiot? A clue: no!"
"Maybe ... maybe he is unwell. Yesterday it has been a difficult day."
"He is not in his quarters and apparently he didn't even set foot there, yesterday." Growled the sheriff, resuming his walk down the hall and waving to Allan to follow him. Behind them, the guards stopped to open the doors of the various rooms to control them. "At this time, that idiot should already be on the trail of Robin Hood to retrieve the Pact, the only excuse that he can have for not showing himself up on time is to have died during the night. Now find him, or you'll end up all hanged!"
Allan winced to that threat, and he realized that the two guards were terrified. It would not be the first time that the sheriff vented his frustration on the first ones that happened to be before his eyes.
"My lord, did you try asking to Lady Marian? Maybe she saw him." Allan suggested timidly. Maybe the Sheriff would calm down in front of the girl or he could decide to blame her, but in any case it might distract the sheriff attention from their necks.
"It will be better for Gisborne if he has not neglected the work to go wagging his tail around that leper." The sheriff said, bleakly, then pointed a finger at Allan. "Bring her here."
"No, wait! I think I'll talk to her personally." Concluded the sheriff with an evil smile. Even if he couldn't find Gisborne, he could still have a little satisfaction in mistreating the girl.
It was a long time that Guy of Gisborne didn't sleep so well.
Usually he woke up early, disturbed by frightening nightmares that often prevented him from going back to sleep. When he could, his sleep was restless and it never left him really rested.
Every night in his dreams there were the burning flames of a fire and he was never able to extinguish them: he had to watch as they tore away from him everything he cared about.
Then, more and more often now, the bloodied faces of the people who had killed on behalf of the sheriff appeared. They said nothing and they merely looked at him, parading before him in a kind of silent procession.
Not that night.
He was in a warm place, but there wasn't the destructive rage of the fire and, for once, Marian was fondly looking at him.
It felt good, he was completely at peace.
If he could choose he would have gladly continued to sleep, but a series of violent blows to the door forced him to open his eyes.
The first thing he noticed was that this wasn't his room, then he realized that he was not alone in that bed: the soft and warm body of a woman was curled up next to him and she held him in a hug, her face resting on Guy's shoulder and hidden by her tousled hair.
The girl moved in her sleep, disturbed by the furious knocks at the door and Guy found himself staring incredulously at Marian's face. Then the door burst open and the sheriff marched into the room, followed by Allan and by two rather upset guards.
Marian woke up completely with a cry of surprise and she stared at the intruders, shocked. Even Guy stood motionless beside her, like a rabbit hypnotized by the look of a snake.
The sheriff was the first to recover from the surprise and his expression changed from menacing to mocking. He laughed malignant and pointed his gaze on the girl.
"Well, who would have thought? Lady Marian is not so innocent and pure as we all believed."
Marian blushed furiously when she understood the implication of those words and Gisborne began to respond to the sheriff, but the man silenced him pointing a finger to him, menacingly.
"You are already quite late. But I recognize that this is a better excuse than being dead. Maybe now that you bedded her, you will stop wagging your tail around her like an idiot puppy. Now get rid of her and get to work! I want the head of Robin Hood."
The sheriff gave a last mischievous look at Marian and he left the room.
Gisborne noticed the presence of Allan and the guards who were still staring at them, open-mouthed for the shock and he got out of bed menacingly.
"Get out of here!" He growled, pointing to the door and the three men hurried to obey him without daring to protest.
Once they were alone, Marian covered her face with her hands, with a groan of despair and Guy turned to her, still confused.
The girl sighed.
"Nothing. You fell asleep and me too. Just this. But the sheriff thought we ..." She stopped, unable to continue because of the frustration and embarrassment and she wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand.
"I'll tell him that's not true..." He said, unconvinced, and Marian's glare pointed out the futility of those words.
"And do you think he will believe it?" She said, and Guy felt the bitterness in her voice. "Even if he did, he wouldn't lose the opportunity to humiliate me and undermine my reputation. And if he doesn't, Allan and the guards will spread the word."
"Oh no, they will not." Guy said, grimly.
"They are probably already doing it and then what would you do to stop them? Would you kill or torture them?" Marian said, angrily and Guy looked at her, saddened by her sharp tone.
Marian shook her head, already repented for snapping at him. She stood up, walked over to Guy and put a hand on his shoulder.
"It's not your fault."
Guy put his fingers on Marian's hand for a moment.
"I should protect you, but..." He said, with a sad smile. "If we marry the sheriff couldn't do anything against you, but if you haven't accepted my proposal yesterday to save your life I doubt you'd do it now just to protect your reputation. I'm not wrong, am I?"
Marian didn't answer. She wanted to say something, anything, just to dispel the veil of sadness from Guy's eyes, but she had promised not to lie to him anymore.
Gisborne broke the silence, removing his hand from Marian's with half a sigh.
"I thought so. Now I'd better go, I should have been out of the castle a long time ago."
He picked up the sword from the ground and he tied it at his waist, then he sat down on the bed to put his boots on. He noticed that Marian had approached and that she was standing in front of him and he looked at her quizzically.
The girl handed him the gloves, a serious look on her face.
"Be careful in the forest. Do not take risks just to please the sheriff."
"Why, are you afraid I might be able to capture Robin Hood?"
"I don't want anything bad to happen to you, Guy." Marian said softly. And this time she was sincere.
Gisborne took the gloves from her hands, slightly shaking his head. He gave her a wry smile and left the room with a short nod.
Marian listened to his footsteps retreating quickly down the hallway and she sighed.
He had not believed her.
After all, why should he?