Chapter 1: Trust
Marian peered out of the window of her room and looked at the torches moving away in the night: they looked small and far, now, like fireflies.
Finally she allowed herself to a sigh of relief: Nottingham was safe, as well as all its inhabitants.
She would never have thought she could be pleased to hear the voice of the sheriff, but his return had saved everyone from certain death and had saved her from having to answer Guy's question.
"Marry me now. And make it the last thing we do."
Marian sighed again, but this time it wasn't out of relief. She hadn't an answer to that question, she couldn't have one.
If she thought of wedding, the face that appeared in her mind was only Robin's one, so the answer to Guy's question couldn't have been a yes, but how could she have said no to a man who had chosen to die by her side? How could she dare to deny the last plea of a dying man?
Yes, definitely the return of the sheriff had been providential, she concluded, but she wasn't able to remove completely the sense of guilt that pricked her conscience.
A soft knock at the door startled her, tearing Marian from her thoughts.
"Come in." She said aloud and she wasn't too surprised to see Guy standing in the doorway.
Gisborne gave her a slight smile, pointing to the fruit basket that he held in his hands.
"With all the excitement today, there has not been much time to eat, you must be hungry. Unfortunately there was not much left in the kitchen."
Marian took an apple and contemplated it, suddenly worried.
"My father ..." She whispered. "I Have to ..."
"I ordered Allan to bring him food." Gisborne interrupted her and Marian smiled, grateful.
That spontaneous smile seemed to surprise Guy and Marian was suddenly aware of how strong was the influence that her slightest gesture had on him.
She remembered every single time she had taken advantage of his feelings for her to manipulate him and help Robin and she was ashamed of her actions.
Marian took a knife and approached the fireplace, turning her back on Guy to hide the redness of her face. She began to peel the apple, pretending to be focused on that work so she wouldn't cut herself.
"Thank you, Guy." She said, throwing a piece of apple skin into the flames and she watched it blackening "For everything."
She heard him taking a few steps around the room, behind her, then a slight creak of wood, accompanied by the rustle of cloth made her realize that he must have sat on the bed.
"I was going to run away." Said Guy and Marian was surprised by the subdued and a bit trembling tone of his voice, the same that he could use in church to confess a terrible and painful sin. "I came out of the gates of Nottingham to save my life and I was ready to leave it all behind."
"But you did not."
"Death scares me, but I would not be able to be alive in a world where you are not there."
Marian held her breath hearing the quiet tone of his voice. Gisborne was not trying to be romantic or to impress her, he had simply expressed a fact, and at that time he was completely true, in a way she would never be able to be.
She did not know how to answer to his words. She brought the apple to her lips and broke off a piece with a bite so she wouldn't be forced to do it.
The siege of Nottingham had made her discover that Guy of Gisborne was not only the black knight at the orders of the sheriff who she could cheat without much remorse.
He loved her sincerely, it was clear. Now that feeling didn't seem a nuisance to bear for convenience anymore, but it made her sad because she wasn't able to return it. It made her feel guilty for not having understood the extent of it before.
Marian was grateful for that undeserved affection and for all the times he had protected her in the name of that love. Perhaps she couldn't fall in love with Guy, but she couldn't pretend anymore that she didn't care at all about him.
She finished chewing the apple and decided she had to say at least this: that he was a friend and that she understood his feelings. And she would never deceive him anymore, she decided, but she could not say that.
"Guy ..." Marian began to say, turning to him, but she stopped immediately seeing that Gisborne was leaning with his shoulder on the cushions of her bed and that he had fell asleep.
She threw the apple core in the fireplace and went near the bed, but Guy didn't move even when she put her hand on his shoulder.
Marian smiled sympathetically.
After a day like that it was normal that Guy was exhausted: she felt exhausted too and she had not even had the responsibility of the entire city on her shoulders.
She brushed a strand of hair from his face with a tender gesture and she was saddened to see the sign of the scar that she had caused when she hit him a moment before leaving him at the altar, humiliating him in front of all the people of Locksley.
A little further down, on the cheekbone, there was another sign, a newer bruise. Marian was sure she didn't see it during the siege, so he had it made after the return of the sheriff and she had no doubt that it was his fault.
Often she had seen him hitting Guy to vent the frustration of some failed plan or because Gisborne couldn't catch Robin Hood or the Nightwatchman.
Marian couldn't understand how Guy could stand the behavior of the sheriff. Once she had asked him and Gisborne had replied that he had no one and that the sheriff was his only way to come to power.
Marian had despised his ambition, at the time, but now she had the impression that the real answer to the question was the first part of the sentence: Guy had no one.
She sighed, sincerely sorry for him and shook him gently to wake him, but Guy merely turned on his side without opening his eyes.
Marian smiled, amused, and gave up waking him. She just took off his gloves and boots and undid the belt with the sword from his waist, which she placed on the floor beside the bed. Then she took the blanket that was on the chair next to the fireplace and used it to cover Guy.
She wondered where she was going to sleep, as Gisborne was occupying her bed. At that time of the night she doubted that the servants would be willing to prepare another room for her, indeed, after the narrow escape she doubted that in the city there was still someone sober enough to be able to work.
She yawned, tired, and decided that if Guy had fallen asleep in her room, there would be nothing wrong if she had taken advantage of his accommodation.
Satisfied to have come to a decision, she was guided by a sudden impulse: she bent over Guy and touched the bruise on the cheekbone with a light kiss.
"Sleep well." Whispered fondly and started to get up, but Guy, still asleep, grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her toward him, causing her to lose her balance.
Marian fell on the bed and Guy held her in his sleep, holding her close.
The girl started to pull away, laughing to herself for that awkward situation, but she turned serious in seeing the pained expression that Guy had while he slept. She wondered what nightmares populated his dreams and she stroked his hair with one hand, instinctively, to reassure him.
Gisborne squeezed harder.
"Do not leave me, Marian." He whispered in his sleep and the girl felt like crying.
She closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder, hugging him in turn. She knew that Guy would never hurt her and it felt completely safe to sleep next to him.
She trusted him, she understood all of a sudden.
"I'm here." She said softly as she fell asleep.
Chapter 2: Believe
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?
Chapter 3: Ambush
Guy spurred his horse and made it get around a fallen log, then he continued to advance into the forest without turning to look if the soldiers were following him.
The guards of Nottingham were not worth much, but Guy hoped that at least they were able to keep up with him without getting lost .
Maybe he should give them more precise orders, send them to explore the undergrowth bush to bush in search of some trace of Robin Hood, but had the feeling that the exploratory mission was just a waste of time.
Hood knew the forest better than them and that random search wouldn't certainly give any result, but Gisborne had to at least give the sheriff the impression that he was doing something to find the outlaw.
And then that useless ride would give him at least a bit of time to think.
What had happened with Marian that morning worried and embarrassed him at the same time. He had had no intention of ruining the reputation of the girl and he hoped that consequences wouldn't be too unpleasant for her, but at the same time he wished that the sheriff's insinuations had been true.
He sighed to himself: when he alluded to the marriage, the silence of the young woman was way too eloquent and Guy had no more illusions in that sense.
Even if he knew that, the thought of Marian's body so close to his when they woke up filled him with a warm feeling that was as new as pleasant. If only Marian had managed to reciprocate his feelings for her!
An arrow pointing to his head brushed against him, and planted itself in a nearby tree. Guy looked up just in time to see a man who disappeared in the bushes.
"It is Robin Hood! Get him!" He shouted, launching the horse in pursuit of the man.
The hooded man seemed to vanish into thin air, then he showed for a moment and ran away again, luring Gisborne and the soldiers into a chase.
Guy bowed his head to avoid a low branch, but he didn't slow the pace of the horse: if that man was really Robin Hood or one of his friends, he would catch him.
He vaguely noticed that the chase had brought them forward in a forest area that he didn't know well, but he didn't think of a trap until his horse fell in a ditch hidden by dry foliage.
Gisborne was thrown off the saddle and fell a few meters ahead, landing painfully on his back. Behind him, the neighing of horses and the cries of surprise of his men made him understand that he wasn't the only one who fell in the ambush.
He tried to pull out his sword, but, before he could move, he found himself with a knife at his throat. The hands of two men grabbed him, pinning his arms and legs, while a third one took his sword. They abruptly pulled him standing and they tied his arms behind his back.
Gisborne looked at them: they weren't Robin Hood's men, he was sure of this, but he could not recognize any of those people because they all wore a mask on their faces. There were many of them, at least thirty, and they were slaughtering mercilessly the soldiers who had fallen from their horses, hitting them with swords.
Only three of the guards weren't killed and they were bound and pushed abruptly beside Guy.
The injured horses whinnied in pain and weakly moved at the bottom of the pit with their legs broken, but none of the outlaws bothered to put an end to their suffering.
"Who are you?" Guy shouted and one of the men struck him on the face with the back of his hand.
"You have no right to speak, dog of Nottingham. We know who you are and that is enough. Today you will pay for your sins."
Looking in Guy's eyes, the man approached one of the captive soldiers.
"Their fault is to have obeyed you and for that the sentence is death." Suddenly, he cut the prisoner's throat while his companion did the same with another soldier. The two men fell to the ground, writhing weakly before they stood still.
Gisborne watched them die, terrified, and, behind him, the last surviving soldier, a young man in his teens, began to cry and moan in terror.
The outlaws pointed a finger at Gisborne.
"Your sins are much more serious, sheriff's dog. For years you have oppressed the people of the villages and everyone here has lost someone dear because of you or your master, but it's over now. You will die, but before killing you, each of us will take a little satisfaction."
The bandits untied Guy's hands to take off his coat and jacket, then they tied him to a tree, with his face against the trunk.
The young soldier kept crying and the leader of the bandits slapped him to force him to open his eyes.
"You are lucky, boy, you shall remain alive. You'll look carefully everything we do to this dog and then you'll go back to the sheriff with a message. You will describe what you saw in detail and then you will tell him that this is the fate of the oppressors."
The first lash came suddenly and caught Gisborne by surprise, tearing a cry from him, but the second one was not immediate: the bandits waited a few seconds so the pain could grew, becoming more intense.
Guy remembered that once the sheriff had said something like that: if the floggings were too close together, the pain of the second would have damped down the first one, so if he had to whip a prisoner it was better not to hurry.
Apparently the bandits knew it very well.
Guy, however, would have preferred not to be aware of what awaited him.
Marian listlessly ate, annoyed with herself for her own weakness.
She was ready to risk even her life for what she thought was right, so she shouldn't give so much importance to her compromised reputation.
Robin would understand the situation, or at least she hoped so, her father had already accepted that she was the Nightwatchman and she had never cared about other people's opinion. So why did the sheriff's dirty allusions upset her so much?
Maybe she was less courageous than she had always thought, but she didn't want to admit it.
She was aware that her silence had hurt Guy's feelings and she was genuinely sorry for that.
Marian sighed: keeping her conscience at bay was much simpler when she still did not care for him.
She pushed her plate away and got up from the table. She decided to leave the castle and go for a walk to distract her mind for a while.
She wished that Guy would return early from his mission so she could speak sincerely with him and clarify things at least with him. She hated the sheriff for having forced him to go on the hunt for outlaws. She knew very well that the order the sheriff had given to Guy was unnecessary and it was just a way to punish him for his delay.
At least, Marian thought, today it was a market day and she would be able to pass time more quickly while she waited for the return of the black knight.
The girl smiled to herself thinking that Guy looked younger as he slept and she gasped in surprise when she found herself face to face with Robin Hood.
"Robin! What are you doing here?" She asked, blushing. She felt strangely guilty about having met him while she was thinking of Gisborne.
Robin looked at her, raising an eyebrow.
"Can't you guess?"
Marian hated the sheriff with her whole being: it was clear that Robin must have already heard the rumors about her and Guy.
"I do not like riddles, Robin."
"And I do not like to hear that Gisborne went to bed with my betrothed." Robin retorted with a poisonous tone that surprised the girl.
"Since when do you listen to the chatter from the tavern?"
"When all Nottingham speaks about it, it's hard to ignore gossips."
Marian blushed with shame and irritation.
"And what do you believe, Robin?"
"If Gisborne dared to put just a finger on you, I will kill him with my bare hands."
"Guy hasn't done anything wrong!" Marian blurted. "It was just a misunderstanding!"
"Guy? Are you defending him now?"
"Don't you trust me anymore?"
"You have not answered my question, it is so hard to do it? Did you sleep with Gisborne or not, Marian?"
The girl hesitated, and when she finally answered, her tone was uncertain.
"This is not a no." Robin said bitterly, then he turned away and he disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.
"Robin!" Cried Marian, slamming a foot on the ground, but he was already gone.
The girl returned to the castle, furious with Robin, with the sheriff, with the whole world, but especially with herself. Her uncertainty had managed to hurt Robin's feelings. Not bad, she thought, two in one morning: how many more people would she be able to disappoint before the day ended?
She decided not to go to see her father for the moment. Perhaps gossip had not yet arrived in the dungeons, but in any case she wanted to avoid seeing a look of disappointment even on his face.
She returned to her rooms, and she threw herself on the bed with a sigh, burying her face in the pillow.
There was still the smell of Guy on the sheets, but she did not mind, in fact it was vaguely comforting.
That night she had never felt threatened in any way, and sleeping with Guy had been an entirely innocent thing, even though no one would have believed it.
Marian fell asleep cuddling the pillow.
Guy panted after yet another blow.
He had stopped counting the lashes after the tenth one and he kept slipping in and out of unconsciousness and pain.
When he thought he was about to lose his senses at last, a new burst of pain came to wake him up and he no longer had the strength to cry.
They would kill him, he was perfectly aware of this, and he had no more energy to react, he could only hope that the end would came quickly and that it would put an end to that unbearable suffering.
"Now we will send you to hell!" Shouted one of the bandits, approaching him with a dagger and Guy could only think that if he was going to cut his throat, at least the end would come quickly. He kept his eyes closed and thought of Marian, how she had embraced him only a few hours before: if he had to die he wanted this to be his last thought.
"No! Let's hang him, just like he has done with our loved ones!" Shouted one of the other outlaws and everyone else joined in.
The one with the knife grinned and used the blade to cut the ropes that bound Guy to the trunk of the oak, while other two men dragged him to a more suitable tree, a plant with a branch leaning over a cliff. In the bottom of the ravine, the river was flowing fast and furious.
"Look boy," said the bandit to the young soldier "he will be hung to that branch and we will leave him there to rot. The ravens will be happy. Tell the sheriff, tell him what happened to his dog!"
Gisborne was barely conscious, but those words filled him with a mad terror. As a boy he had risked being hanged unjustly and now everything in him rebelled at the thought of ending in the same way.
He would accept any other death, but not this one, he could not end like this, not with a noose around his neck.
Despair gave him back some energy and Guy tried to fight, to escape the grip of the men who held him.
He managed to pull one away and the bandit fell into the ravine, banging his head against the rocks before falling into the river, but Guy was unable to break free from the grip of the other one.
The outlaw with the knife, furious because of his companion's death, pounced on Gisborne and stabbed him, leaving the knife stuck in his chest, then he pushed him down with a kick, throwing him into the river.
He watched him disappear under the water, then he turned his back to the cliff and approached the young soldier, pulling out another knife from his belt.
"Did you see? This is how we kill the oppressors. Do not forget any detail, you have to tell everything to your sheriff." He took the hand of the boy and pressed it against the trunk of a tree, then he cut off his little finger with his knife. "This is to be certain that you won't forget anything. Now go away!"
The boy howled in pain, then the bandits let him go and the young man staggered away.
Chapter 4: Dead and Alive
Tuck led the donkey to the cave and tied him to one of the bushes growing near the entrance to allow him to graze the leaves while waiting for his return.
Finding that shelter had been a lucky chance: the cave was hidden deep in the forest so it was safe, and it was also dry and small enough to be heated with a simple fireplace. That refuge would allow him to rest for a few days, to replenish stocks of herbs and to smoke more meat or fish before resuming his journey.
The friar scratched the donkey's head between the ears before leaving him alone. He wouldn't be gone long, just long enough to take some water from the river, and he didn't think that any thief could find his mount before his return.
As he approached the river, the cawing of many crows made him understand that the corpse of some animal, or worse, must be somewhere near. He glanced from behind the bushes and sighed: the river had washed ashore the bodies of two men, leaving them stranded on the sandy beach and hungry birds were preparing to make havoc of them.
The friar ran toward them, waving his hands and the crows flew away, cawing their displeasure.
Tuck looked at the nearest of the two bodies and sighed, making the sign of the cross: the man was definitely dead, his neck broken and his head bent at an impossible angle.
The friar took off his coat to cover the corpse, he would bury it later, and walked over to the other body.
Tuck shook his head as he bent down to check, he was sure he would find another dead body: the man's back was covered in blood and the friar could see the hilt of a dagger planted in his chest.
When he touched his neck to determine the death, the man let out a soft moan of pain that startled Tuck.
He recovered quickly from his surprise and he immediately began trying to help the wounded stranger. He looked briefly at the wounds on his back, definitely signs of lashes, and he decided to ignore them: they bled a lot and the greatest danger would be that of an infection, but for the moment they could wait.
The dagger wound worried him a lot more: if the blade had touched the heart or the lungs, he couldn't do much to help the man.
The hilt was tilted, a sign that the blade had entered in diagonal: perhaps it struck a rib and had slid along it without going too deep, but he couldn't know if the tip of the dagger had pierced the lung if he didn't pull it out first.
He tore a piece of the robe he was wearing to obtain a swab, then he pulled the knife from the wound, trying to be fast, but delicate.
He watched the blood that began to flow immediately from the wound: it was copious, but it remained fluid without foaming or making air bubbles. For the first time since he had seen the bodies on the bank of the river, Tuck allowed himself to a smile.
Marian took an apple from the fruit basket and began to listlessly peel it. It was Guy who brought her that basket only the night before and that kind act caused that absurd chain of misunderstandings that had put her in a difficult situation.
The girl looked at the sky outside the window: now it was dark and the first stars were beginning to appear, but Gisborne had not returned to the castle yet.
Marian wondered if he had decided to avoid her. Perhaps her silence had hurt him more than she had imagined and Guy had returned directly to Locksley not to see her.
The door of her room was opened abruptly and Marian was not surprised to see the sheriff who entered without asking for her permission. The ubiquitous armed guards came behind him, and Allan, who seemed uneasy for some reason, was the last to enter the room.
“Ah. I don't see him. Weird.” The sheriff said, irritated, looking at the bed. “Tell us, Lady Marian, where is Gisborne?”
“Why should I know?”
“Because when that idiot tends to disappear, I usually find him around you trying to get under your skirts. Oh. Maybe now that he succeeded he lost interest, isn't it?"
Marian stopped just in time from throwing the bitten apple in his face and she just looked at him with disgust.
“Perhaps Sir Guy preferred to return to Locksley tonight.”
“If he had, I would know.” The sheriff said, then he gestured imperiously to the guards and left.
Marian cast a worried look at Allan and the young man shrugged because he had no idea of where Guy was.
The girl looked up at the dark sky, restless: at night Sherwood Forest could be a dangerous place.
He was dead.
He was dead and that had to be hell: icy cold that reached to the bone while the flames from his nightmares licked him, burning him alive. Guy felt the burn on his back, the pain too strong to think he could bear it for eternity.
Someone was touching him, maybe it were the devils themselves who came to drag him further down into the depths of hell, because every touch of those fingers unleashed a new stab of searing pain down his back.
Guy opened his eyes with a groan of pain, trying to escape that contact, but the hands that a moment before had tortured his back tightened on his arm and held him still.
“Calm down.” Said a voice, authoritative and reassuring at the same time. “Now you're safe, but you must not move or the wounds will reopen. Now breathe more slowly. Slow.”
The man's voice had a relaxing, almost hypnotic cadence and, as he spoke, he had continued to hold Gisborne with one hand, while with the other he stroked his hair with the gentle and repetitive movements that he could have used to reassure a wounded animal.
Guy stopped panting in panic and began to realize that the place where he was was not hell.
He was lying on the ground on a sort of bed made of dry leaves and grass and he was turned on his side.
The hand of a stranger held him in that position, but, even if he had wanted, he couldn't move because both his back and his chest hurt too much. The bed had been placed next to a fire, but, even if he could feel the heat of the flames on the skin, Guy had the impression he was freezing and he could not stop shaking.
He wanted to ask the stranger what had happened to him, but he could not speak.
“I know it hurts,” the man said, sympathetically “but I have to clean the wounds that you have on your back or they will get infected. Drink this, it will alleviate some pain, but it won't be pleasant.”
The man lifted his head and brought an herbal tea to his lips. Guy drank it greedily despite the unpleasant taste: he was thirsty and he felt so cold that the warmth of the drink was a comfort to him.
The stranger let go of his arm, now that he was certain that Guy had stopped fidgeting and he went around the hearth so Gisborne could see his face.
“My name is Tuck. I don't know what happened to you, son, but here no one will hurt you.” The monk smiled apologetically. “Except for the pain needed to take care of your wounds, obviously. Now let me take care of your back, then you can sleep.”
Guy was completely feeble, but managed to make a tiny nod. The monk nodded, filled a bowl with the herbal liquid that was boiling in a pot and went to sit behind him.
“Now try to be still, it will be very painful, but necessary.” He said, then began to clean the wounds of the lashes with the warm infusion.
Guy moaned in pain: the friar had not lied, whatever substance he was using to treat him, it stung terribly, but he forced himself to remain still. He closed his eyes and tried to think of Marian, of the sincere and grateful smile that she had given him when he told her that he had sent food to her father.
It didn't matter how strong the pain could be, he decided: he had to survive to see her again, whatever it was the price he had to pay.
He slipped back into unconsciousness thinking of her.
Marian yawned as she walked into the courtyard of the castle. That night she didn't sleep well. When she tried to close her eyes she found herself thinking of Guy. Of Guy who had not returned to the castle or to Locksley that night, of Guy who was maybe angry at her.
She looked out from one of the windows of the porch, hoping to see him coming on horseback from the main gate, but the figure of the black knight could not be seen anywhere.
She however noted some commotion near the gate and she hurried to the courtyard. She arrived at the top of the stairs at the same time the sheriff came out the other door and Marian thought that he must have been called by a servant while he was in his chambers.
Near the gate, a group of guards had gathered around another soldier who was walking unsteadily, clearly exhausted and upset. Two soldiers held him by the arms to prevent him from falling, but the boy continued to drag himself to the foot of the stairs, shaking convulsively.
Marian realized that he clutched a dark bundle to his chest and he had a hand wrapped in a rag soaked in blood.
The sheriff looked at him, vaguely disgusted and the boy stopped in front of him, beginning to sob convulsively.
"So? These whining must go on for long?"
"They killed them! They killed them all and I had to look ..." stammered the young soldier. "They said it was a message to the oppressors of the people and that's why he had to die ..."
"Who are you talking about, boy?" The sheriff interrupted him, irritated by those confused words.
"I don't know, they were masked, they were so many! A trap! It was a trap. They killed them all and then massacred him. Everyone except me ... The blood, there was so much blood ... Each of them has whipped him and they would have hanged him, but then they stabbed him to the heart and he was thrown into the river. They said he had to die because he was the sheriff's dog..."
"Who are you talking about?!" Marian shouted suddenly, interrupting the groans of the boy and everyone looked at her.
The young man dropped to the ground the bundle he had held in his arms and Marian realized with horror that what at first had looked like a bundle of rags, was actually a black leather jacket with clasps shaped like wolf heads, a jacket that she knew all too well.
Then the boy spoke, confirming what she already knew by now.
"Sir Guy. Those bandits killed Sir Guy and all my comrades..."
Chapter 5: Absence
Marian found herself staring at the ceiling beams, as she was enchanted by the grain of the wood.
Apparently she was lying on her bed, but she had not the faintest idea how she got there. She did not remember at all when she went back to her room or when she retired for the night and then, she noticed, it wasn't night.
She was lying there staring at the ceiling and she felt light-headed.
Her arms ached and she realized that she was clutching her chest and that she was holding something soft, warmed by contact with her body. She got that thing closer to her face and she took a deep breath: she could recognize the smell of leather, horses and, mixed with them, another weak, but very familiar scent.
The black jacket she clutched in her hands smelled of Guy and if Marian closed her eyes, she could imagine very well to be near the Black Knight, as always.
Usually, when Marian was at the castle and Guy wasn't busy with his duties to the sheriff, he was never too far from her.
Sometimes his presence, so intrusive, had annoyed her, but now Guy wasn't there.
There was his jacket in Marian's hands, but he was not there.
Because he was dead.
Marian's fingers tightened convulsively on the jacket and the girl sat up in bed with a muffled cry.
That thought was absurd, unreal.
Guy of Gisborne could be many different things: the ruthless henchman of the sheriff, an arrogant, passionate man and sometimes absurdly naive, but not dead.
Guy was the kind of person who in one way or another always managed to come out more or less unscathed from even more disastrous failures and Marian thought that it was impossible to associate the terrible end told by the young soldier with him.
Gisborne captured and tortured by unknown outlaws and then killed without any mercy, between insults and derision?
The sheriff's dog...
The words of the soldier sounded all too clearly in Marian's mind and the girl was horrified at the thought that maybe those were the last words that Guy heard in his life.
A soft knock on the door made her turn her head towards it and she said to come in.
Allan was at the door and Marian thought he seemed to have aged suddenly. He looked drawn, with no energy, and the expression on his face was tired.
He entered the room and closed the door behind him, leaning with his back to it.
“We followed the boy's directions.” He said flatly. “And we found them. Everything was as he had said: dead horses, the massacred soldiers...”
“And Guy?” Marian whispered, almost voiceless.
“I found his coat thrown in the mud and then there were ropes tied to a tree. The trunk...” Allan paused and swallowed, as to dispel an attack of nausea. “The trunk and the grass around it were splattered with blood... And his sword was on the ground, next to the bodies of the guards... We looked along the cliff and on the banks of the river, but we could not find his... his body.”
Allan broke off with a kind of sob, and then he handed the bundle that he had been holding in his hands to Marian. The girl did nothing to take it and she didn't answer, apparently petrified.
Allan took a few steps towards the girl who was sitting on the bed and he laid next to her Guy's sword, without its scabbard, but wrapped in the black leather coat, stained with mud.
“Gisborne would have wanted you to have them, I think.”
Marian looked at the sword, as if she was hypnotized and she touched the sharp blade with a finger, without noticing the twinge of pain when it cut her skin. She looked at the drop of blood that appeared on her finger, bright red against the pallor of the hand, then she stared at it as it slid on her fingernail and fell down.
The drop of blood landed on Guy's jacket, that the girl was still holding on her lap.
Marian looked at it: a small ruby gleaming against the black leather.
Then she began to scream.
Tuck went back into the cave, holding up the pointed stick on which he skewered the fish he had caught.
He stuck it in the ground next to the fire so that the smoke would hold the flies away and he checked the liquid that was boiling in the pot.
He poured a bit in a bowl and he tasted a sip to control the right dosage of the herbs he had used, then he walked over to the wounded man and approached the bowl to his lips. Guy drank, but didn't try to open his eyes and he lay curled on his side, shivering despite the blanket that was wrapped around his body.
Tuck touched his forehead and he wasn't surprised to find it hot with fever. He took a clean cloth, dipped it in the bucket of cold water that he had just brought from the river and he used it to refresh the face and the neck of the wounded man.
He pulled back the blanket and removed the bandages to check the wounds and he was glad to see that they didn't seem to have infected. He dabbed them with the ointment he had prepared and Guy moaned in his sleep, but he did not regain consciousness.
Since he had brought him into the cave, Guy had opened his eyes just a couple of times and he had lost consciousness again almost immediately, but Tuck wasn't worried for that reason: to heal, his body needed time and energy and sleeping would help him to save his strength.
The real danger could be a fever or an infection, but the wounded man was young, strong and not weakened by disease or malnutrition, therefore Tuck had good reasons to think that he could recover. He dipped again the cloth into the bucket and put it back on Guy's forehead, then he returned to sit by the fire, took a knife and started to clean the fish.
The sheriff bit into a chicken leg, tearing off the meat with his healthy teeth and he chewed furiously.
He was still angry about what happened: that idiot Gisborne has been killed in the most stupid way he could imagine and he had lost the opportunity to assassinate King Richard.
The plan was almost perfect: they would have reached the king in the Holy Land to kill him before Robin Hood could show him the Pact and warn him of their conspiracy.
The problem was that Vaisey had assumed that Gisborne would be the one to kill the king. Other than that silly infatuation with the leper, Gisborne had always obeyed his orders without any protest, even the most senseless one, given to him for the only purpose to check his blind loyalty.
If he had ordered it, Guy of Gisborne would kill the king, the sheriff was sure of it.
His henchman was a perfect weapon and now he had lost him.
Vaisey didn't feel sorry for the Gisborne's death, he would not hesitate to sacrifice him, blaming the regicide on him, once he exhausted his purpose, but Vaisey couldn't stand the idea that the many years he spent to train the black knight to obey him had been wasted without achieving the minimum result.
Now he had to find someone else to carry out his plans.
The sheriff pulled another bite from the chicken leg.
Chapter 6: Legacy
Marian's horse galloped and for a moment the pleasure of the ride with the wind in her hair banished all other thoughts. Her horse was fast, but he had a soft and secure step, and he always gave her the impression that she could fly.
Guy gave her the horse as a present when he was still convinced he could win her heart with expensive gifts that she regularly ignored. That one was perhaps the only gift that she had truly loved and that made her feel grateful to him.
But now to think of Gisborne and his clumsy attempts to please her, made Marian feel sad and that feeling hushed the joyful emotion she always felt when riding at full gallop.
She reined the horse to slow down while she entered into the forest. She thought with a shudder to the bandits who attacked Guy and she tried to dismiss her fear.
The question that tormented her was too horrible to be expressed in words, but she just had to find an answer, so she could not go back.
She stopped the horse, suddenly certain of not being alone, and a moment later the familiar figure of Robin Hood broke away from the shadow of a tree to meet her.
Robin came over and looked at her with an unreadable face while Marian dismounted.
For a few seconds, they looked at each other without speaking, but in their eyes complicity and joy were gone. A short time ago, just a look was enough to understand each other and they were happy for the simple fact of being together.
Marian was the first one to break the silence.
“Guy is dead.” She said flatly, although her own words sounded wrong.
Robin remained impassive.
“Did you kill him?”
The neutral expression of Robin seemed to crumble to that question and Marian knew that something had broken forever between them.
“That's what you think?”
The girl looked at him with tears in her eyes.
“You said that you would have killed him if he had dared to touch me... I keep thinking about those words... I know it wasn't you, you're not a murderer, but then I remember your anger and doubts come back to torment me. I have to hear it from your voice, Robin.”
“Gisborne deserved death.” Said Robin, dryly and Marian shuddered to hear the frost in his voice. “But I didn't give it to him. I'm not a coward, Marian, I don't make ambushes and the fact that you had to ask me to be certain destroys me.”
The outlaw turned away and she called him with a sob.
“No, Marian. No.”
Marian covered her face with her hands to hide her tears, and when she returned to look up a little later, Robin Hood was gone.
She put her face close to the nose of the horse and she closed her eyes, suddenly exhausted. She knew she had ruined something asking that question to Robin, but, if she didn't, the doubt would have devoured her from within.
The breath of the horse touched her cheek as a kind of caress and Marian lifted a hand to scratch his muzzle.
She had never felt so alone in her life.
Allan went to the window of the porch overlooking the courtyard of the castle and he looked nervously at the gate for the umpteenth time in a few minutes.
Marian finally came back, riding her horse and Allan hurried to meet her.
She seemed surprised to see him come running.
“Allan. What happened?”
“You have to come right away! They're just waiting for you!”
“Who's waiting for me?”
“The sheriff, your father and a notary who come to the castle a few hours ago. He says he has a document that concerns you, and you must all be present.”
She frowned, puzzled. She had no idea what they might want from her, but she hurried nonetheless to follow Allan, after entrusting the horse to a groom.
When she entered the main hall, Marian immediately noticed that the sheriff was annoyed and her father could barely conceal his anxiety.
Vaisey babbled some insults about the futility of women, then he rudely urged the notary to proceed now that the leper had finally deigned to arrive.
The man did not flinch in front of the sheriff's attitude and stretched out on the table an important looking parchment, certified by wax seals.
“What is it?” Marian asked, intrigued.
“The will of Sir Guy of Gisborne. I was instructed to inform you of his last wishes.”
The girl said nothing, silenced by those words. Although she kept reminding it to herself, Marian could not yet fully realize that Guy was dead and she was terrified from that official document. When the notary would explain its contents to them, the death of Guy would have seemed much more real and she did not want that to happen.
“Did Gisborne wrote a will?” The sheriff asked, with a glint of greed in the eyes. “And what did he leave?”
“The land and the village of Locksley will be returned to the sheriff of Nottingham so that it can manage them on behalf of the King, with the exception of the house of Sir Guy and his personal property that will be left to Sir Edward and his daughter Marian.”
The sheriff gave a malignant chuckle.
“Sir Edward is my prisoner. I do not see how he can inherit anything.”
The notary shook his head gravely.
“Sir Guy left precise instructions about this matter: if Sir Edward will not be granted a pardon, a package containing highly sensitive information will be delivered into the hands of King Richard. In fact, I took the liberty of preparing the necessary documents for the release of the prisoner, you should only sign them, my lord.”
Vaisey looked at the notary, suddenly livid with rage.
That was blackmail and the absurd thing was that it came from Gisborne.
From a dead Gisborne!
He thought of calling the guards and of ordering them to execute everyone on the spot, but he was certain that the notary had taken care to make sure that at least one copy of that document would arrive at its destination in case of his untimely end.
Gisborne was aware of all his plans, and if he had listed just a small part of them in that document, Vaisey would be hanged for treason in a very short time.
He decided that losing Locksley Manor and Gisborne's proprerty was a small price to pay to keep the secret and he angrily signed the documents prepared by the notary, then he affixed its seal on them.
“Apparently Gisborne made sure to pay his mistress.” He said, looking at Marian with disgust. “Now go away, I don't want to see any of you in the castle again. You have until sunset to leave.”
Allan personally checked that the servants of the castle put the last trunk on the cart, then he took the reins.
Sir Edward and Marian came walking slowly. She helped her father, who was still unsteady on his feet, but she seemed to be paler than her ill parent.
Allan helped the man to get on the cart, holding out his hand and pulling him up, then he turned to Marian to help her too, but she was already climbing on the cart by herself and she sat next to her father.
Allan snapped the reins and the horse began walking slowly. Marian gave him a puzzled look.
“What are you doing here? I could drive the cart myself.”
“I worked for Gisborne, not for the sheriff. Now that he's gone I have no intention of being at the mercy of that devil. If you will consider me as if I were a part of the inheritance, I will come to Locksley at your service, otherwise I'll find some other place to go.”
Allan had spoken lightly, but Marian recognized a veiled plea in his words. If she and her father had said no, he would have no place to return to.
Certainly the outlaws wouldn't agree to take him back it in their gang.
The memory of her last conversation with Robin gave her a pang of sorrow, but she forced herself to dismiss that thought and she smiled to Allan.
“I'm afraid that the pay won't be very high, though.”
Allan shrugged again with indifference, but his expression visibly relaxed.
For a while they remained silent as the horse trotted along the dusty road, then Marian turned to her father.
“Were you aware that Guy left a will?”
Sir Edward shook his head.
“No, I never expected anything like this.”
“Maybe it goes back to the time when you promised to marry him.” Allan suggested. “Probably he forgot to cancel it after you left him at the altar...”
Marian looked down to not let them know the remorse caused by those words, but it was his father who answered.
“No, I saw the date on the document. Sir Guy has signed that will shortly after the destruction of Knighton Hall. I have the impression that this could be his way of making up for the fire..."
“Guy never said anything about it.” Marian said, amazed.
“I think that he had repented of his act.” Edward commented and Marian snapped, nervously.
“If it is true, then why did he leave you to rot in the dungeons?!”
Marian tried to remember all the anger she felt towards Gisborne when Sir Edward had been imprisoned in the dungeons of the castle and she tried to revive it, thinking about the conditions in which her father had been forced to live. She also remembered Guy's cold rage when he had forced her to beg him not to burn Knighton Hall and all the hatred she had felt for him when he finally had set fire to her house.
Guy of Gisborne was also this, Marian didn't want to forget it, in fact she made an effort to think of him as the cruel henchman of the sheriff, like she did in the past.
Maybe if she succeeded hating him, it would be easier to continue her life and not to think how Guy's one ended.
Allan shook his head.
“Now you are unjust. Gisborne wasn't a saint and everyone knows it, but he always made sure that your father was treated with dignity. He often instructed me to bring nutritious food or an extra blanket to Sir Edward when he could not do it in person."
Marian turned to look at her father.
“Guy came to see you?”
“Yes, but he never talked much. Usually he just asked about my health and if I was treated well by the guards and then he went away without another word.”
“If he was so worried about your health, he could have set you free!”
“Not even he could openly oppose the orders of the sheriff. And then I imagine that if he let go of me, you would not stay to the castle.”
“No, not really.”
Marian said to herself that this was another reason for not feeling too sorry for the death of Guy. How could she miss a man who had used the weakness of her father to keep her tied? Yet she could not help but think that this was nothing more than another demonstration of the feelings that Guy felt for her, another facet of his desperate need to have her near.
She remembered that last night, when he had embraced her in his sleep, begging her not to leave him and she was forced to turn her face away to dry a tear in secret. She didn't want to be seen by Allan and her father.
“Marian.” Sir Edward called her gently and she looked at him. Her father touched her cheek with a finger. “Do not be ashamed to mourn him. Maybe he did it the wrong way and maybe he wasn't the person that you had chosen, but Sir Guy was really in love with you, otherwise I would not have agreed to give your hand to him.”
The girl nodded.
Chapter 7: Search
Guy leaned against the wall of the cave and he closed his eyes for a moment to avert a sense of vertigo.
He walked only a few steps to get to the entrance of the cave, and yet he felt so weak that he had the impression of being on the verge of losing consciousness.
He allowed himself a kind of wry smile at the idea: in those last days he had been unconscious for so long that passing out again wouldn't be hardly new.
He opened his eyes and he took another step, just enough to look out, and he was forced to shield them with his hand, dazzled by sunlight.
He crawled out of the cave and looked around, trying to figure out where he was: around him there were only trees and bushes. In the distance he could hear the murmur of the river and the sound of it made his stomach tighten, reminding him the time when he had been dragged to the edge of the precipice and they tried to put the noose around his neck, with the river that was raging at the bottom of the cliff.
A hand touched his shoulder and Guy screamed in terror. He made a sudden movement to escape that contact, but he lost his balance and fell to the ground, gasping in pain.
“Quiet, son, it's me.” Tuck said, holding out a hand to help. “I didn't mean to scare you.”
Guy nodded briefly, but he made no move to take the hand of the monk and he tried to get up by himself.
Tuck didn't take offense for that gesture of refusal, he merely lowered his hand again with a smile and sat down on a fallen log nearby, inviting the other to imitate him with a nod.
This time Guy accepted the invitation and staggered up to the trunk, hurrying to sit before he lose his strength and he risked falling again.
Tuck watched him carefully: he was pale as a ghost and he seemed to be just back from the grave, but, for the first time since he had rescued him, his eyes seemed to be more present, free from feverish delirium and dizziness and he had managed to get out of bed on his own and take a few steps.
“It seems to me that you are feeling a bit better.”
Guy looked down at his chest and he touched the wound left by the blade of the knife, following the length of it with the tip of a finger: just a few centimeters below and it would have pierced his heart.
The cut had been closed with neat stitches and, although it still hurt, the wound was dry and it didn't show signs of infection.
“It's healing.” He said, amazed. “How...”
“It's been almost two weeks since I found you.”
Guy looked at him incredulously and Tuck gave a small nod to confirm his words.
“For a few days I feared that you wouldn't survive, then the fever broke, but you still slept most of the time. You lost a lot of blood and suffered a lot, your body needed time to begin to heal. Do you still feel a lot of pain?”
Gisborne looked at the friar, wary. After being tortured and almost killed, his first instinct would have been to flee somewhere isolated and lonely and hold off any other human being. Earlier, when Tuck had touched his shoulder, Gisborne had felt his heart racing wildly while a creeping sense of cold had threatened to paralyze him.
But the open and serene expression of the monk wasn't threatening at all and Guy vaguely remembered his reassuring presence between all the nightmares and the delusions of the previous days.
“Yes.” He answered. “But it's bearable.”
“Unfortunately, the wounds inflicted by a whipping aren't quick to heal. Who did this to you?”
Guy looked away from Tuck and shook his head.
“I don't think I want to talk about it.”
Tuck stared for a second, and preferred not to insist. His question brought new shadows on the face of the other man, and the friar didn't want to upset him further.
“No matter, son, but remember that I am always willing to listen.”
Gisborne was clutching his arms around his body as if he was feeling cold even though the warmth of the sun was quite pleasant that morning and Tuck took off the cloak he was wearing and placed it on his shoulders without a word.
Guy winced when he felt the touch of the fabric on his wounded back, but he wrapped himself in the cloak, hoping to warm up a little.
“Why do you do that?” He asked abruptly and Tuck looked at him, questioningly.
“Why did you help me? For all you know I may have deserved that. You may have saved a criminal from a deserved death penalty, how do you know that you didn't?”
“I don't know it.” The monk replied, quietly. “I do not even know your name. You needed treatment and I have given it to you, that's all. Saving your life was my decision and it has nothing to do with your merits or your sins. Those are only between you and the Lord. If you desire it, I can offer you the comfort of confession, but that's your choice.”
Guy stood up abruptly, ignoring the pain caused by the sudden move. The words of the friar had troubled him deeply but he could not make out the emotions that stirred within him. He would not talk to Tuck or seek divine forgiveness that he surely didn't deserve and he could not think straight. He felt like a wounded animal who only wanted to hole up somewhere to be able to lick his wounds in solitude, like a dog kicked and made angry and distrustful by pain.
The sheriff's dog...
Guy felt the gaze of the monk upon himself and something inside him made him feel uncomfortable, as if he was forced to somehow justify his rude behavior.
“I'm tired.” He muttered, returning to the cave, and in uttering them, he realized that those words were truer than he had thought.
He was tired and suffering in body and soul.
He dropped on the bed and curled up on his side wrapping himself in the cloak, then he stood staring at the flames of the fire, trying not to think about anything.
Allan could already see Locksley in the distance at the end of the road, but he did nothing to speed up the pace of his horse. Instead, the two men who were with him seemed eager to reach their destination and Allan thought they must have been tired and hungry after spending all day riding.
He was exhausted, but he had no appetite at all even if he and his companions had only consumed a frugal meal of bread and cheese during the day.
The two men weren't soldiers or knights although they carried daggers, they were just two of the servants who worked in Locksley. Allan had chosen them because they seemed to be stronger than their peers, but in a dangerous situation he knew he couldn't rely on them.
If they had found what they were looking for, their strength would be helpful, but that day their search had been fruitless and he had no desire to tell it to Marian.
Eventually they arrived in Locksley and Allan noticed that the girl was in the doorway waiting for their return. He also saw that a glance was enough for Marian to understand their failure: her anxious eyes had died suddenly, and her face had returned to take the blank and distant expression that it seemed to have become part of her.
Allan dismounted and gave the horse to one of the grooms.
“Nothing?” Marian asked, going towards him.
“No. Not even a trace.”
“I understand.” She said flatly. “Tomorrow you will try again.”
The girl looked at him, her eyes lit by a trace of the ancient ardor.
“I know what you mean, but I don't care! Tomorrow you will start searching again.”
“For how long, Marian?”
“For as long as necessary. You will continue to look until you find him and if you do not want to do it, I'll do it personally!”
“No!” Allan protested. “You won't. The forest is no longer a safe place, not for a noble, at least. The outlaws who killed Gisborne have made at least one other victim last week, I heard about it this morning, on the way to Clun. That people continue to attack travelers to rob and kill all those who seem to have a connection with Nottingham.”
Marian was startled to hear the words of Allan, both for the horrible news he carried, but also for the fact that the young man now seemed to have accepted the death of Guy as a fact.
“Who was killed?” Marian asked, sadly.
“Apparently a poor man who had no guilt but to be the younger brother of one of the allies of the sheriff. They say he was little more than a boy and he was found drowned in a stream, with hands and feet bound so he could not try to save himself.”
Marian shook her head, with tears in her eyes.
“We must do something to stop them. The Nightwatchman might...”
Allan grabbed her arms and shook her.
“The Nightwatchman will do nothing! You won't do anything like that, you won't even get near the forest!” Allan cried, his tone made threatening by panic, then he realized that he exaggerated and he let Marian go. “I'm sorry.”
The girl looked at him, surprised by that vehement reaction, but she had lost the strength to protest. Instead, she felt like crying.
“Those murderers can't be allowed to do whatever they want...” She whispered, trying to fight back the tears, but they now had begun to fall on her face and she couldn't stop them.
“The sheriff is furious, his guards continue to patrol the forest and I know that Robin is trying to find out who they are, but no one has yet managed to find them: they hit their victims and then they seem to vanish into thin air. They are too dangerous, so you have to stay here. Your father needs you, he would die if something happened to you.”
“But they keep attacking people!” Marian cried, then she lowered her voice and she looked at Allan with horror. “They killed Guy...”
“And if you care to respect his memory you must stay in Locksley.” He said. “When he was alive, Gisborne has always tried to protect you. He wouldn't want you to get killed because of his death.”
Marian was going to tell him that she wasn't going to be killed for sure, but she suddenly realized that she had once thought the same thing about Guy and probably that was the reason why she was struggling so much to accept his death.
If he had died like that, what would prevent the bandits to kill her too?
For the first time Marian was to face her own mortality and that idea terrified her.
“Allan... I'm putting you in danger too?” She asked, seized by a sudden thought.
“I doubt that they know that I worked for Gisborne and whenever we go into the forest I pay attention to wear common clothes. They wouldn't attack three simple travelers, their victims are the nobles and the soldiers of Nottingham.”
Marian wiped her tears, in vain because she could not stop crying.
“I know it's stupid and I shouldn't ask you to take this risk, but I can't accept it... I can never really believe it until I see it with my own eyes.”
Allan blinked to try to hide the emotion, but he failed.
“It's been a long time, and the forest is full of animals... There might be not much left...” He paused seeing that Marian had paled at his words, but she said nothing and he spoke again “But I will not stop trying. It's a promise: the body of Guy of Gisborne will have a proper burial.”
Chapter 8: A tomb with his name
Guy ran his hands through his wet hair to shake off a bit of water, but he didn't try to dry it. The icy water of the river he had used to wash had made him shiver, but at least the cold attenuated a bit the pain of his wounds.
Now they were almost completely healed and there was no danger of infection, but they still ached and Tuck said that it would take a long time to heal completely.
He slipped on a gray shirt that the monk had made from one of his tunics.
Tuck was bigger than him and Guy had lost weight since he was injured, so he was forced to tighten the shirt at his waist with his leather belt. The empty scabbard of the sword was attached to it and Guy missed the familiar weight of the weapon.
Not having his sword made him feel helpless and Guy hated that feeling.
He returned to the entrance of the cave and stopped before entering, pausing to scratch Tuck's donkey between his ears instead of reaching the friar.
Finally, Tuck got out of the cave carrying a bundle in his hands.
The monk looked at Guy, wondering once again what could have happened to him.
The physical wounds were healing well, and every day he was recovering his strength, but he spent most of the time in silence, lost in a world of thoughts that, judging from his expression, had to be anything but happy.
In all that time he had not told him even his own name and he had avoided any hint to how he had obtained the wounds that had almost killed him.
Tuck had not insisted, but he wished he could be able to relieve that pain, as he had done with the physical one.
The monk put his luggage in one of the saddlebags tied the donkey's back and handed a woolen cloak to Guy.
“Are you ready, son?”
The other wore the cloak in silence, then looked back at the muzzle of the donkey and sighed.
“I don't know. I think I am afraid.” Guy admitted and Tuck put a hand on his arm in a gesture of comfort. Guy stiffened slightly, but he did not avoid his touch.
“It wasn't an accident. They wanted to kill me and they will probably try again as soon as they find out that I am still alive. I don't know who they were, they had their faces covered to avoid being recognized.”
“Are you afraid for your life?”
Guy shook his head.
“I can defend myself from an attack, they won't take me by surprise anymore. But I don't know if I will ever be able to speak to someone without wondering if that person is one of those who want me dead.”
Tuck looked at him sympathetically.
“I can understand that, but you can not avoid people forever. Your family will be worried for you, now you are well enough to travel, it's time for you to go home and for me to move on.”
Guy didn't answer, but he nodded slightly.
He didn't say to the monk that he hadn't a family and that probably no one would be worried about his fate, but Tuck was right: he could not stay holed up in that cave forever.
He thought of Marian, of the time when he would see her again, and found out that thinking of her hurt him instead of being of comfort.
When he had been whipped, Guy had felt all the hatred and contempt of his attackers: for those people he was a kind of a demon, a monster who obeyed the brutal orders of the sheriff and an enemy of the people of Nottingham.
Did Marian also saw him like that as well? Was that the reason that the idea of marrying him seemed so intolerable to her? Did the girl tolerate him only for fear of retaliation and she actually felt only disgust for him?
Thinking back to the day when he set fire to Knighton Hall, Guy said that he could not blame her if she did.
And now she also had another reason to hate him.
Guy had really believed she could reciprocate his feelings, he never wanted to see the truth. Because of that stupid illusion he had unwittingly ruined her reputation and then he was gone for over a month and he couldn't even try to fix things.
Surely the sheriff made life difficult for her while Guy was away and that was another reason to return to the castle. He had to at least try to put a remedy to that situation.
Silently he took the bridle of the donkey and followed Tuck along the path that would take them out of the forest.
Robin Hood leaned back against the trunk of a tree and watched the two men who were on the path that followed the river, a few meters further down from the point where he was. From his position, Robin could keep an eye on a long stretch of the path and he would have been able to intervene in case of an ambush.
The other outlaws were checking other parts of the forest, but they were too few and for the moment the bandits had been able to act undisturbed.
Robin looked back at the two people who he had been monitoring: the first one was a stranger, he had never seen him around, and he was dressed as a monk, with a tunic of rough cloth tied at the waist with a rope. The other one was wearing a gray wool cloak with a hood that hid his face and he led a donkey holding a short rein.
Robin Hood thought that the second man had to be tired or sick because he sometimes leaned to the animal, as if he had to catch his breath. Overall these two travelers did not seem nor a threat, or possible victims of the bandits and Robin merely followed them with his eyes until they disappeared behind a bend in the path.
He returned to watch the forest: he wasn't going to tolerate the presence of such brutal killers and he would do anything to find out their identity.
Tuck glanced furtively behind him to check on Guy. He had recommended him to hide his face with the hood of his cloak so he wouldn't be recognized by any bandits, but that day the temperature was higher than usual and, after leaving the forest, the trees did not offer shelter from the sun anymore.
“If you are tired you can mount on the donkey.” The monk suggested, but Guy shook his head.
“I'm fine.” He lied. “It won't be long, this is the road to Locksley, we should get there before sunset.”
“In any case it's time to stop and eat. There is a house of farmers, probably they will sell us some cheese or fruit.”
Tuck went to the house to talk to its inhabitants and Guy followed him at a distance, pretending to be busy with the donkey to stand aside.
The wife of the farmer went back into the kitchen and returned a moment later with a basket. She gave it to Tuck with an apologetic smile in exchange for the money offered by the friar.
“I don't have much to offer, unfortunately, but these are hard times, after feeding my family there isn't much left."
“The crop didn't go well?”
“Oh yes, but the sheriff had raised the taxes again. The only good thing is that at least his henchman is dead, and, without Gisborne to control them, collectors sometimes arrive a few days later than usual.”
“Daughter, you should not rejoice in the death of a person.”
“Oh, I know it, father, but Sir Guy wasn't a person, he was a devil! If we couldn't pay taxes on time, his soldiers came to take our men to make them work in the mines and if the sheriff decided to punish someone, often it was Gisborne who carried out the sentence. I tell you one thing, father: when word spread that he had been killed, many of us celebrated. Certainly no one regrets him!”
“I've heard that those who have killed him called him "sheriff's dog" and in fact that is what he was, nothing more. And do you know what's funny? At his funeral, the sheriff didn't even come! There were only his mistress and a few servants.” The woman concluded with a sort of malicious satisfaction, then she smiled to the monk and she pointed to a wooden bench placed against the wall of the house. “If you want you can sit there to eat, it's really warm today and the shadow of the house keeps that place cool."
Tuck looked at Guy who was still staying beside the donkey, petrified by the words of the woman, and shook his head with a smile.
“Thank you, my child, but we will eat along the way. Our road is still long and we don't want us to be surprised by the night.”
They walked without speaking for a while, then Tuck took the bridle of the donkey from the hands of Guy and led the animal to the trunk of a fallen tree at the side of the road. He tied the donkey to one of the dead branches and sat down on the grass, leaning back against the trunk, then he motioned for Guy to sit beside him. He took a piece of bread from the basket and broke it in half, offering a piece of it to Gisborne, but Guy made no move to take it.
“I don't want the food of that woman.”
“Sir Guy of Gisborne, eh? That was why you didn't want to tell me your name?”
“I am not the sheriff's dog!” Guy growled, but Tuck was unimpressed at all by his anger.
“I told you, for me it makes no difference, it is not my place to judge. But at least now I know how to call you.” The friar said with a smile.
“I'm not a dog...” Guy repeated softly, in a whisper full of sadness and Tuck put a hand on his shoulder, saying nothing, then he got up to go rummaging in the saddlebags of the mule.
He returned holding something wrapped in a piece of cloth and a few strips of dried meat, which he handed to Gisborne.
“Here. You can eat them. I prepared them myself when we were in the cave.”
Guy accepted the meat with a nod of thanks, but he gave a puzzled look at the bundle that Tuck had in his hand.
“What is that?”
The monk sat down and put the bundle on the grass, between them.
“Later. Let's eat, first.”
Guy stared at him, uncertain, then he nodded and he decided to obey the friar.
He chewed the dried meat in silence, trying not to think of the words of the peasant woman.
They shouldn't have hurt him so much, after all she had said nothing that he hadn't already heard in the past, but this time he was upset.
He remembered one of the last phrases uttered by the woman: she said that at his funeral there was only his lover...
Now people was talking like that about her only because they associated her with him? And why did she come to his funeral when not even the sheriff was there?
Until recently it had not occurred to him that they could believe him dead, and it was chilling to think that somewhere there was a grave with his name on it.
“Open it.” Tuck said, distracting him from those morbid thoughts.
The friar pointed to the bundle and Gisborne obeyed: wrapped in the cloth, there was a dagger stained with dried blood.
In response to the puzzled look of Guy, Tuck pointed to his chest, where he had been stabbed.
“When I found you, it was still stuck in the wound. Look at the handle, it's decorated, it's not a common knife. Did it belong to you?”
“Then it must belong to one of the people who tried to kill you. Perhaps it might be useful to find the bandits, so at least you will not have to spend the rest of your life asking yourself who you can't trust. Now put it away and let's continue our walk. I wasn't joking, before: I have no desire to be still on the road when the sun will set.”
Chapter 9: Home
Tuck stopped to look at Locksley Manor: the sun was setting and the inhabitants had to have already withdrawn for the night because there wasn't any movement outside the house.
The monk turned to Guy.
“So this is where you live?”
Gisborne looked at Locksley for a few seconds before answering.
“Maybe. If they think I'm dead, the land will probably already have been returned to the crown. I have no heirs and I don't know if the sheriff may have respected my wishes.” Guy was horrified to think of the reaction of the sheriff when he read his testament. When he had stipulated it, Guy certainly had never thought about the possibility that it could be disclosed while he was still alive. “The current owner of Locksley might have an interest that I remain dead and act accordingly.”
“I can go to ask for shelter for the night and get informations about the situation. So, if now the house should belong to someone who is hostile to you, you would not be forced to reveal your identity.” Tuck proposed and Guy nodded.
“I'll bring the donkey in the stables in the meantime. He still need water and food, and if I were forced to flee I will take one of the horses. I'll wait there.” Gisborne took the reins of the animal to lead him to the stables, but he stopped after a few steps and turned back to the monk.
The other looked at him, waiting for him to continue.
“I might be forced to leave in a hurry... There may not be time to say goodbye. In that case I'd better say it now... Thank you for everything you have done for me. I owe you my life.”
Tuck accepted those words with a smile, then pointed to the stables with a nod.
“Now go. I will not be long.”
Sir Edward closed the account register of Locksley Manor and felt a bit more relieved. He feared that without the proceeds of the land they would not be able to pay the taxes imposed by the count and that they would lose the house again, but fortunately the goods that Sir Guy had left behind would be sufficient to keep the property for a few years.
Meanwhile he and Marian would have to limit spending and learn to manage well what they had, but they would be able to live in dignity without having to depend on the sheriff or anyone else.
“Sir?” Thornton approached respectfully and Sir Edward smiled at the old servant. The man had served faithfully Robin when he was still the owner of Locksley, then had managed the house for Sir Guy and now continued to work for him and Marian in the most efficient and respectful way. “A monk asked us hospitality for the night. He is directed to Kirklees Abbey with another pilgrim, but they were surprised by darkness before they could reach an inn. I made him sit by the hearth of the hall, but he would like to talk to you, sir.”
Sir Edward nodded. He and Marian were not rich, but he would not have denied a shelter and a hot meal to those in need.
“Tell him I'll be right there.”
“Ah, my lord?”
“I noticed that Locksley is still decorated with the colors and the coat of arms of Sir Guy. I can give orders to the servants to remove them and hang the colors of your family, if you wish.”
Sir Edward pondered the words of Thornton for a few seconds, then he made a decision.
“Hang our coats of arms, but do not remove those of Gisborne. Marian and I owe him our freedom, we will keep his colors to honor his memory.”
Guy finished to take care of Tuck's donkey before he allowed himself to think about his situation. He was afraid of what he would find waiting for him at Locksley and he hated that feeling of vulnerability and uncertainty.
Perhaps in Nottingham there was nothing left for him but hatred and contempt of the population and then for him it would be better to try to start a new life away from everything.
Away from Marian.
The very idea of not being able to see the girl again hurt Guy too much to dwell long on it, but in those days in the cave he had had too much time to think and he had arrived at a decision. He just hoped to have the strength to be able to follow it all the way: if Marian felt only hatred for him, he would make sure to remedy the difficult situation in which he had set her and then he would go away, freeing her from his presence for ever.
Why Marian should reciprocate or even tolerate the feelings he had for her? Guy could not understand how he could have been so deluded as to think that an innocent girl like Marian could have feelings for someone like him.
He had to recognize at least one merit to the bandits who had attacked him: they had managed to open his eyes.
With a sigh he came closer to the horses and he recognized one of his favorites: the elegant black stallion he used to ride on important occasions, when the sheriff asked him to accompany him in official occasions or when they had to receive important guests at Nottingham castle. The horse seemed to recognize his rider too and he pawed impatiently.
Guy came up to offer him a handful of hay and stroked his muzzle, grateful that at least that animal seemed pleased to see him again. He decided that if he were in the position of having to steal a horse and run away, he would choose that one.
Marian put her yellow rose on the grave, next to the slightly withered one from the previous day and to the other ones that she had laid on the tomb every evening since the funeral.
She waited for Allan to come back after searching for Guy's body and only then Marian took her horse and rode to the empty tomb of Gisborne to lay another flower.
The girl sat on the ground, next to the grave and put her hand to the stones which they used to cover the tomb: they were warm after being warmed by the sun all afternoon and that warmth reminded Marian Guy's skin when he had held her hand during the siege of Nottingham.
That time she had believed that they would die together, killed by the men of Prince John, and that contact had served to reassure both, to give them the strength to face the end bravely with the certainty of not being alone.
But now she was there, alive, while Guy had died alone, without nobody who could comfort him in the last moments.
Marian wiped a tear and she felt anger toward the people of Locksley: the villagers did not want the grave of Gisborne near those of their loved ones and they had pressed the priest so he wouldn't grant Guy a burial in consecrated ground. Marian and Sir Edward had opposed that idea and eventually the empty coffin was buried in the cemetery of Locksley, but in an isolated corner, at some distance from the other graves.
None of the villagers had come to the funeral and even the sheriff seemed to have already forgotten the years of loyalty that Gisborne had dedicated to him.
Only Allan, Thornton and Marian were present at the ceremony. Sir Edward would have wanted to be there as well, but his health was still too poor to allow him to leave the house.
It was during that sorrowful ceremony that Marian had sworn to herself that she would not forget Guy of Gisborne as everyone else seemed to have already done and that she would do anything to at least give a decent burial to his remains.
“I didn't think I'd miss you so much...” She sighed, smoothing the black satin ribbon that she had tied to the stem of the rose, then she got up and dusted her dress with her hand before mounting her horse.
She had to hurry, the sun was setting, and her father would be distressed if she was outside at night. After what had happened to Guy, Sir Edward had become more protective of her and Marian, concerned about the still poor health of her father, didn't want to worry him.
She spurred her horse and hurried back to Locksley.
Allan was waiting for her on the doorstep.
“Your father was beginning to worry.”
“Go tell him that I'm back. I will take care of the horse and then I'll join you in the house.”
“I can do it for you.” Allan offered, but Marian shook her head.
Her horse was a gift from Guy and she was determined to take care of him personally, as if while taking care of the animal she could make up for all the times she had ignored the Gisborne's feelings.
“Your father is talking to a guest. Apparently some friars asked hospitality for the night. I think the cook was waiting for your return to serve dinner.”
“I will come soon, go ahead to warn her.”
She dismounted and walked toward the barn, holding the horse by the bridle.
She was glad the arrival of the friars, speaking with travelers would have improved a little their mood during the meal, usually it was too sad because of her melancholy. It would have been good for her father to have a more cheerful company and perhaps listening to the news brought by the pilgrims would distract herself for a few hours too.
She stopped suddenly to see that there was already someone in the barn: a tall man wearing a gray wool cloak. He was with his back to her, and he was caressing the muzzle of one of the horses. Marian thought he should be one of the friars mentioned by Allan, at least judging from the simple fabric of his clothes. She was about to greet him, when the man became aware of her presence and spoke without turning.
“Tuck? How is the situation?” Guy asked, still looking at the horse's nose. He didn't trust his emotions and he didn't want the friar to see his disappointment in the case of a negative answer. His question was followed only by a deep silence and Guy wondered how terrible the situation had to be if friar Tuck himself hesitated to speak.
Slowly he turned to face him, feeling like a condemned man waiting for the judgment and he found himself staring at Marian, still and pale, who was looking at him wide-eyed.
The girl was left petrified on hearing the voice of Gisborne and even now that she saw his face, she couldn't believe to her eyes.
She closed his eyes for a moment, mentally berating herself. Eventually sadness had made her to become mad? Did she want so much to talk again with Guy that now her mind was convinced to see him? Perhaps Allan was right when he warned her, telling her not to let the desire to find the body of Gisborne to turn in morbid obsession, if now she was reduced to see ghosts.
She opened her eyes, but the image of Guy didn't go away, he was still in front of her. She moved as if she was hypnotized and she approached him, then she reached up and touched his face.
Her fingers didn't sank into the air. What she felt under her hand was skin, not fog, solid and warm just like hers and just a little rough where the beard was starting to grow back.
He was real, not a ghost.
“Guy...” She whispered. “Is that you? Are you alive?”
Gisborne looked at her, unable to move. When the pain was so strong that it seemed intolerable, he had clung to the thought of the girl, trying to resist and survive to see her again, but now that he was really in front of Marian, he could only think that she was so upset to see him because for sure she would have preferred to know him dead.
The touch of her hand on his face seemed to burn, but he was unable to escape that contact.
“Why, do you mind?” He said with a bitter smile, trying to appear indifferent.
He would go away, he thought, and she would be free. No matter how much it would hurt, but he wouldn't force her to endure his presence.
He just had to look away from her and then he might be able to move, to leave.
He closed his eyes and he was about to take a step back, but Marian moved first: with a start, she clung to him and hugged him so hard that it hurt, and she burst out crying with uncontrollable sobs.
“Where were you? They said you were dead... I missed you, Guy, I've missed you so much!”
Guy did not react, in disbelief.
Marian was crying for him?
If the arms of the girl had not made the wounds on his back hurt, he would have thought of an illusion, but the pain was sharp and true, just like the warmth of Marian's body against his and her tears streaming down his neck were real as well.
He embraced her too, sinking his face in her hair to breathe her scent and he smiled.
At that moment he did not care about what was waiting for him in the future and he didn't even wonder if Marian would ever reciprocate his feelings: she didn't hate him, she had missed him and she was crying for him.
For the moment it was enough.
“I'm home.” He whispered. “I'm finally home.”
Chapter 10: Alive
Allan wondered why Marian was spending so much time to look after the horse and didn't return home yet. Recently, he was often worried about her, both for her constant melancholy and for her security.
The bandits were becoming increasingly aggressive and Allan feared that sooner or later they would also come to attack people directly in their homes and, as Marian was considered the lover of Gisborne, he was afraid that she could be a possible target.
When Marian rode every evening to go to the tomb of Gisborne, Allan followed her from afar to protect her and he made sure to come back a few minutes before her so she wasn't aware that she had been followed. Sometimes the members of Robin's gang where the ones who watched her lonely ride from a distance and then, when he noticed their presence, Allan returned immediately to Locksley to stay with Sir Edward.
But now Marian had not yet returned from the stables and Allan had the fear that she might have had some problems. He decided to check out and he approached the building.
Immediately he heard that the girl was sobbing and he sighed: probably Marian had lingered in the stables to cry without being heard by anyone.
Allan was about to go back and leave her alone to vent her pain, but he decided to look from the door to check if she was all right.
He looked inside the barn and realized with horror that Marian was not alone: she cried desperately as a man held her in his arms.
Allan thought of an aggression and he acted instinctively, without stopping to think that he was not armed and that the stranger could be dangerous: he grabbed a broom lying against the wall of the barn and he grasped it with both hands, then he rushed at the alleged attacker and hit him in the back.
Allan's blow wasn't as strong as the young man wanted, but Guy was caught by surprise and he cried out in pain. He released Marian and spun around, ready to defend himself, but he stopped recognizing Allan.
Allan instead went pale, he cried out in terror and he blindly tried to escape from the barn, but ended up stumbling into a bucket of bran and he fell tumbling to the ground.
Guy and Marian looked at him for a moment, amazed by his reaction, then Guy came up to him to help him up, but Allan pulled back with a gasp of terror.
“I'm doing it, I swear! I'm looking for your body and I'll find it, I promise! Then you can rest in peace, but don't torment me, please!” Allan cried, trying to back away, leaving Guy to look blankly at him, then a flash of understanding lit up Gisborne's eyes.
“Do I look dead to you, Allan?” He asked, grabbing him by the arm to pull him to his feet.
Allan jumped at the contact, then he looked at him, upset.
“You aren't a ghost...”
Allan looked at Marian and she burst out laughing and crying at the same time.
“He's alive, Allan! He's really alive!”
In speaking, Marian had searched Gisborne's hand with hers and she held it, as if to convince herself of her own words. Guy had launched a surprised look to the girl, in disbelief at seeing such enthusiasm for his return.
Allan shook his head, still unable to believe his eyes.
“Well, now I understand why I could not find your remains...”
Guy suppressed a shudder when he realized the meaning of Allan's words. It was horrible to think that all this time the young man had tried to find his body, yet it was strangely comforting to know that he and Marian had wanted so much to give him a proper burial.
He did not know how to answer to Allan's words, but the arrival of Tuck took him out of his embarrassment.
“I came to tell you that there are no problems, Sir Edward isn't hostile to you.” The monk said with a smile “But it seems you've already discovered it by yourself.”
“Is your father free?” Guy asked, turning to Marian.
“We owe it to you, to your will.” The girl said, then she looked at him, worried. “Oh! What is going to happen when the sheriff will find that you are alive? He was furious, Guy!”
Gisborne shuddered at the thought, he was sure that Vaisey would find a way to make him pay for it, but for the moment he didn't want to think about it.
“I'll find a way to keep him at bay.” He said, trying to sound more confident than he felt, then he smiled at the girl and touched her cheek with a timid caress. “Maybe it's best that you go to warn Sir Edward, I don't want to scare him.”
“I'll go with you, my child, so I will explain how things went.” Tuck intervened.
Marian nodded. She reluctantly let go of Guy's hand and she left the barn, followed by the friar.
Allan glanced at Gisborne, then he noticed that Marian's horse was still saddled and he turned to the animal to look after him.
“I was not really scared.” He said, trying to sound nonchalant.
“I was only surprised. No one expected to see you alive again. Not after what that soldier said...”
Allan put away the saddle and Guy came up to the horse himself, starting to groom the animal.
“The boy? Did they really let him go, then?”
“Not unscathed, but alive. He said that you were dead, that you had been tortured...”
“If it wasn't for Tuck, he would have been right.” Guy admitted, darkly.
“I went there. I saw what they did...” Allan's voice broke, preventing him from continuing and even Guy said nothing. Both remained silent and kept brushing Marian's horse.
Marian rolled over in bed, waking suddenly once again in a few minutes. She felt tired, but, as she was starting to fall asleep, she began to doubt that she dreamed it all, that she had been deluded and that in the morning she would find out that Guy was really dead.
She hugged the black leather jacket and she said to herself that she could not have dreamed of the warmth of his hug, the feeling of Guy's body tight against hers, the smell of his skin when she pressed her face into his neck to cry her eyes out.
Yet, just as she had struggled to accept Gisborne's death, now Marian could not really believe that he was alive.
She left Guy's jacket on her pillow and got out of bed in silence. She slipped out of her room barefoot, carrying a single candle and she went to the bedroom door of Gisborne. She carefully pushed it, being careful not to make noise and she looked inside.
She let out a sigh of relief to see that the bed was occupied and only then she realized that she had been anxiously holding her breath.
Guy had tossed aside the covers and he stirred in his sleep, tormented by nightmares. He awoke with a scream and he saw Marian, standing in the doorway and looking at him, anxiously.
The girl went to the bed, worried.
“Are you well, Guy?”
Gisborne gave her a resigned smile.
“Bad dreams. I should be used to them by now.”
Marian picked up the blanket from the ground and placed it on the bed.
“If you struggle so much you're going to freeze... At night it is still so cold...”
Guy looked at her, now fully awake.
“And you are barefoot and shaking. Come, sit on the bed and put your feet under the covers. I don't permit you to worry about me when you're the first to die of cold.”
Marian obeyed with a chuckle, then she turned serious and she huddled on the bed beside him.
“Did you dream of the people who have attacked you?” She asked in a whisper, laying her head on his shoulder.
“Yes. And then there were the ones that I did hurt...”
“Are they so many?”
“My victims? Too many.” Guy admitted softly, expecting Marian to withdraw, horrified, but she didn't move and then he continued. “And then there was fire... There is always fire. They must be the flames of hell waiting for me, and one day they will eventually take me...”
Marian took his hand and held it without saying anything.
Although she had missed Guy a lot, she hadn't forgotten the horrible things he had done in the past under the command of the sheriff, but she never imagined that his actions could haunt him so much to take away his sleep.
Gisborne had never shown anyone this side of himself and she felt bad to discover that Guy trusted her so much when Marian had deceived him so often in the past.
“And what about you?” Guy asked shortly after. “Why are you still awake?”
“I was afraid.”
“To come here and find the room empty, to find out that I've dreamed about your return and once again having to accept your death...” Her voice cracked and Marian tightened her hold on Guy's hand.
“Marian? Are you crying? For me?” He slipped an arm around her shoulders and brushed her hair with a light kiss. “It's not worth it.”
“Yes, it is.” Marian said, then she fell silent, her face leaning on Guy's chest, listening to his heartbeat.
Chapter 11: Aknowledgment
Allan briefly knocked at the door of Gisborne's bedchamber, before opening it and entering the room. The Black Knight was sleeping on his side while Marian was curled up next to him and she was holding Gisborne's hand tight in hers.
Allan grinned, amused.
"Good morning to you both." He said, and Guy opened his eyes with a start. He relaxed in recognizing Allan, then he realized that Marian was next to him, holding on to his hand and that she was still asleep.
Gently he pulled his fingers from the girl's ones and he got out of bed, waving Allan to follow him out of the room.
"Take that grin off your face." He told Allan, menacingly. "Nothing of what you think happened."
"Hey, I don't think anything, Giz. And in any case it's none of my business."
"Exactly. And if I hear any gossip..."
"I wouldn't do anything to damage Marian!" Allan interrupted him, offended. "While you were gone I did everything I could to protect and help her!"
Gisborne looked at him for a moment, surprised at being contradicted by Allan, then smiled.
"I know and I appreciate it."
Allan looked at him, pretending to be shocked.
"Guy of Gisborne who thanks me? Have you been hit on your head?"
"Stop it. What did you want?"
"There, now I recognize you." Allan said, amused, then he handed to Gisborne an earthenware container closed with a lid and wrapped in a piece of canvas. "The friar left this for you, for your back. He left early this morning because he wanted to talk to the priest of the church of Locksley. He said he will stay there for a few days before resuming his journey."
"I'm going to talk to him before he leaves."
"Hey. Need some help with that?" Allan asked, pointing at the ointment.
Gisborne was about to refuse, but then he forced himself to nod, putting aside his pride.
He hated the idea of being touched by someone else, but he could not treat his wounds without help and at least he knew he could trust Allan.
He turned from him and took off his shirt in silence.
Allan let out an expletive and Guy stiffened.
"I don't want to talk about it, Allan." He said abruptly.
The other said nothing and simply spread the medicine on the wounds without wasting time and trying to be as gentle as possible. Gisborne stood still the whole time, but Allan could feel his tension and wondered if he was hurting him.
He was about to ask Guy, when a cry of horror coming from the door startled them.
Marian stared wide-eyed at Guy's back and Gisborne quickly put the shirt on.
"It looks worse than it really is." He said casually, but she shook her head.
"Do not lie to me, Guy." Marian stared at him, furious. "But when we find those bandits, I'll make them pay for all this!"
"No!" Guy and Allan shouted simultaneously.
"Marian, you mustn't have anything to do with those people, promise me, please." Gisborne pleaded "If you should get hurt, I couldn't stand it."
"They almost killed you! And they are terrorizing Nottingham!"
"We will find them and they will have what they deserve." Allan intervened. "But you must stay safe."
She gave them a look of defiance, but she gave up protesting, seeing that both were of the same opinion.
She sighed, irritated.
"May I ride up to Locksley? The child of one of the peasants is sick and they can't afford to call a doctor. I will take nutritious food to them, at least."
"Make sure that two servants accompany you." Allan said.
"Go at the church and talk to Tuck." Guy suggested. "He's not a doctor, but he is probably able to help that child."
Marian nodded and she went back to her room to get dressed.
Guy watched her go, then turned to Allan.
"I would like to accompany her personally, but I'm afraid I still am not able to protect her and for the moment it's better not to make people know I'm alive."
"Our men are trustworthy, but I can go with her if you want."
"I have another task for you, Allan." Gisborne gave him the bloodstained dagger with which he had been wounded. "You must find out who it belonged to. It is the only track that we have to find these killers. But be careful, if they came to know that you've got it, you'd be in danger."
"I know who could help me."
"Hood and his friends, I suppose."
"They no longer trust me since I betrayed them, but they also want to stop the killers. If it's possible to trace the owner of the dagger, they will find him."
Gisborne gave a curt nod.
"I don't care who you are going to ask. What will you say if they ask you where you got it?"
"Oh, no problem. I will say I've found your body. They will believe it, they already know that I've been looking it for days. And in the end it wouldn't even be a lie, in fact your body is here, I will only be omitting the small detail that it still breathes."
"An insignificant detail, right?"
"Absolutely." Allan grinned, putting the dagger away.
Sir Edward dismissed the servant who had set the table and he tried to eat something. He was still unwell and at his age he was struggling to recover, but he tried to get better for love of Marian.
He looked up from his plate, realizing he wasn't alone anymore and nodded his invitation to Gisborne, who hesitated at the door.
"Sir Guy." He greeted him cautiously, and finally the other decided to come in and sit at the table in front of him.
Gisborne looked at him.
"Last night we hadn't a chance to talk much..." Guy began, almost timidly, and Marian's father was surprised to see that the black knight seemed to be uncomfortable. In the past, Sir Guy had always been too self-confident, often overbearing and arrogant.
"I guess that's understandable. We were all surprised by your return."
"Me too, I admit. I didn't know how I would be greeted."
"Perhaps in the past there were differences between us, but now we are in debt with you."
Guy stared at him, surprised.
"Differences? I burned Knighton Hall, it seems a bit reductive as a definition."
Sir Edward smiled.
"If you had not thought to leave Locksley to us, by now I probably would have died in the dungeons of the castle and who knows what would have happened to Marian."
"Once I was dead, I wouldn't have had anything to lose by blackmailing the sheriff to ensure your safety, it wasn't a great gesture."
"What will you do now?"
"The sheriff won't dare to kill me, or the document that accuses him of betrayal will be delivered to the king, but when he finds out I'm alive he will do anything to make me pay for it. I'll probably have to go away and start over elsewhere, but first there are some issues that I need to fix."
"For me this is your home. Whatever you decide to do, remember that you will always be welcome here."
"Really? Would you think the same even if I were forced to go back to work for the sheriff?"
"Sir Guy, when I have agreed to give you the hand of my daughter, you already were at his command, I think."
"You wouldn't have done it if you hadn't been forced."
"I wouldn't have done it if I had not seen the good in you. And know that you still have my consent in this regard."
Guy gave him a sad smile.
"Marian is like you, Sir Edward. She, too, sees the good where there is none. And as to my marriage proposal, I decided to withdraw it. I thought Marian would learn to reciprocate what I feel for her, but I don't want her to accept for pity or because she feels obligated to me. Anyway, now I have nothing to offer her anymore."
"If I can give you some advice, Sir Guy, let her decide about it."
Marian urged her horse into a trot, outpacing the servants that were escorting her. The two men respected her desire to be alone with her thoughts, but they didn't lose sight of her, ready to intervene in case of problems.
The girl went to the church of Locksley to search for friar Tuck, but before entering she stopped to look at the small building.
Some time before, less than a year now that she thought well about it, the church was festively decorated with the colors of Gisborne and all the people of Locksley had been ready to celebrate the marriage of their lord.
Marian had felt trapped, forced to marry a man she didn't love and to turn her back to Robin. Eventually she ran away in the middle of the ceremony after punching Guy in front of everyone present.
If she thought of the painful scene she still felt a mixture of anger and shame for what had happened, but now she remembered something that happened a few minutes before that unfortunate ceremony.
She had dropped out of the carriage and Guy had come to meet her, excited and uncertain about what to do. She asked angrily if he had never attended a wedding and Guy had replied candidly he didn't.
Exasperated, Marian had abruptly ordered him to wait in the church, but now that she had learned to know better Gisborne, remembering her harsh words made her feel sorry for him.
She dismounted and went into the church in silence.
She walked up to the altar and looked at the place where Guy had waited that time, certain that she would have said yes.
"What would I answer now?" She wondered, unable to find an answer.
She felt confused, divided in half between mixed feelings.
To think that Guy had been killed had devastated her and it had made her understand how much she cared for him, but she also missed Robin, she missed that first love that was born in the innocence of their youth.
And what she felt for Guy was more than just affection or her feeling for him depended only from the sorrow of having believed him dead?
Marian couldn't understand it.
Two women walked by to put flowers on the altar and they threw her a disgusted look.
"Gisborne's whore..." One of the two whispered to the other, loudly enough to be heard from her, and they both came out of the church, indignant.
Marian was looking at them as they went away, thinking that she should feel humiliated by their contempt, but in reality she was only furious for their malignancy.
She spun around and found herself in front of the friar who saved Guy.
"Father. I haven't had the opportunity to express my gratitude for what you did..."
"Tuck, child, simply Tuck." Said the monk with a smile. "And it's better not to talk about certain things."
Marian nodded that she understood.
"A person we both know told me that you might know an effective remedy to cure one of the village children. He's been having a fever for days and the mother is afraid he isn't going to heal.
Tuck looked at the girl, studying her expression, then nodded. He made her wait in the church for a few minutes and he returned with a lumpy leather bag that smelled of herbs.
Marian showed him the road and the friar followed her along the path through the fields.
"It is generous of you to help the needy people of Locksley. Not many would be willing to do so after hearing some insults."
"They are just lies. And if people prefer to believe the gossip, I won't change my behavior because of this. My conscience is clear, I haven't done anything wrong."
Tuck smiled to himself. He had heard her name on Guy's lips while the knight was delirious with fever and pain and now the monk began to understand what had prompted him to cling to life so obstinately.
Chapter 12: Nightmares
Guy was completely alone.
The forest was dark and hostile, and he couldn't orient himself in the trees. He was walking slow and painfully, stumbling through the bushes of the undergrowth that entangled his legs scratching his skin.
He felt that someone was watching him and the forest resounded with disturbing rustles, but when Guy turned he couldn't see anyone. He put his hand to the hilt of the sword, but his fingers encountered only the empty scabbard.
He followed a twisted path until he reached a clearing and he saw Allan waiting for him, with his back against a tree and his arms crossed over his chest.
Guy hurried to reach him, comforted by his presence, but when he approached him, Allan opened his arms in a dejected gesture and Guy saw the blood dripping from Allan's cut throat.
Allan looked at him with the veiled eyes of a corpse and Gisborne cried, then he fled in a panic, trying to make his way through the increasingly dense bushes that held him.
Behind him something was approaching more and more with a great noise of broken branches and Guy could almost feel its breath on the back: soon his pursuer would be able to grasp him.
Marian returned home after spending most of the day along with Tuck to comfort the suffering families from Locksley. Many peasants shunned her, giving her malicious looks, but other ones were genuinely grateful and they seemed not to care about the gossip.
She felt tired, but satisfied and she smiled to see Allan sitting in the kitchen and eating with appetite.
“Where is everyone?”
Allan finished chewing before answering.
“Sir Edward retired early.”
“He sleeps too. In front of you he tries to look stronger than he is. You saw his wounds, didn't you? It will take some time for him to recover completely.”
“I'm going to see how he's feeling.” Marian said with a sad sigh and Allan smiled slyly.
“I bet he won't object.”
The girl looked at him reproachfully before heading to the stairs and Allan happily returned to take care of his meal.
Marian came to the door of Guy's room and she realized that he was fidgeting again in the grip of a nightmare.
The girl approached the bed, worried, and she touched his shoulder to wake him, but Gisborne cried and he reacted instinctively, hitting Marian hard enough to throw her to the ground, then he pounced on her, squeezing his hand on her neck.
The girl tried to loosen his tight, grasping his wrist with both hands and it was only then that Guy seemed to realize what had happened.
He pulled his hand away as if he had been burned and he jumped back and fell down on the floor.
“Marian.” He gasped, then he saw the blood on the lip of the girl, where he had struck her. “No... No!”
“It's all right, it was just a dream.” Marian said, trying to get close to him, but Guy stepped back with a jerk.
“Don't come near! Don't touch me!” Gisborne cried, horrified, then he got up and ran out the door.
The first impulse of Guy was to leave the house, take a horse from the stables and then get as far away as possible from Marian so he couldn't hurt her, but he only arrived near the stairs when he stopped suddenly, seeing Allan who was running towards him, alerted by the noise.
The image of Allan, dead and bleeding, he had seen in his dream appeared in his mind as the worried young man approached and Guy was filled with terror that he could hurt him too.
With a groan, he turned around and took refuge in one of the empty rooms, blocking the door behind him, then he collapsed to the ground, shaking.
Allan stared at the closed door, then he looked at Marian who had come running, shocked and with a bloody lip.
“What the hell happened?”
The girl ignored him and grabbed the door handle, shaking it.
“Guy! Open! You didn't hurt me, I swear.”
“Marian!” Allan grabbed her arm to get her attention. “You are hurt! Did he do it to you?”
Marian touched her lip and she looked down at her fingers, realizing only then that they were stained with blood. She dabbed at her mouth with a handkerchief, without taking her eyes off the closed door.
On the other side there was only silence.
“It was just an accident.” She said to Allan, then she returned to knock. “Guy!”
Marian gave a last look at the closed door, then she walked quickly down the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Allan asked.
“Stay here,” Marian whispered “do not let him go away. If Guy doesn't open the door, I will pass through the window, you know I am able to do so.”
“Won't it be dangerous? You're bleeding...”
“Allan! Guy would never hurt me voluntarily.” Marian scolded him, then ran down the stairs.
Gisborne could hear the voices of Marian and Allan beyond the closed door, but he couldn't make out their words. Even if they spoke more loudly, probably he wouldn't be able to understand their speech because he couldn't think straight.
He had struck Marian and her had pressed his hands to her throat threatening to choke her, it was the only thing he was certain about, and that thought was so horrible to made him sink in a paralyzing panic.
He hadn't realized what he was doing until it was almost too late and Guy did not dare to think what might have happened if he had a sword or a knife within reach.
Even so he had hurt her and the only idea of it was intolerable.
He thought vaguely that he should get out of that house, run away as far as possible before being driven out as the rabid dog he was, but he hadn't the strength to move. He lay on the ground looking at the wooden planks of the floor that were slowly being swallowed by the shadow as the light of the setting sun grew dimmer.
But he felt he was already enveloped in darkness.
Marian nimbly stepped over the sill of the window, pleased that her previous experience as the Nightwatchman made her learn how to climb without problems to the upper floor of the house.
She looked around and at first she thought it was the wrong window because the room seemed empty, then she saw Guy lying on the ground, completely still.
She approached him, worried, but Gisborne, seeing her, jerked. He stood up and backed up, hitting his back against the door.
“It's me, Guy.” Marian said, softly, taking a step forward.
“Don't come near! Stay away from me!”
“Nothing happened, it was just a nightmare.”
Gisborne raised his hand in front of him, trembling, and Marian saw that it was stained with red.
“This is a nightmare...” Guy whispered. “I shed your blood... It doesn't go away, my hands are full of blood and I can't clean them...”
Marian realized with horror that the blood on the hands of Guy didn't come from her split lip, but by a series of scratches on the back of his hand that he must have inflicted on himself trying to remove nonexistent stains.
She lunged forward and grabbed his wrist, abruptly.
“Stop it, Guy!” She shouted. “Calm down, now!”
Gisborne tried to move back again, slamming his back against the wooden door and Marian shuddered to think how much his injuries must hurt after hitting his back so hard.
“Don't touch me...” Guy pleaded, trying to break free from the grip of the girl, but without using force to avoid the risk of hurting her. “Leave me alone... I will destroy you... I destroy everything...”
Marian looked at him and she took a decision: Guy was so upset that he wouldn't listen to her words even if she tried to calm him down by talking for hours, so she had to do something to shake him and to get him out from that sort of nervous breakdown.
She pretended she wanted to back away from him and she took a step back, but instead of letting go of him wrist, she pulled it towards her with a jerk, causing him to lose his balance and simultaneously she tripped him with a low kick, then she whirled and she put her hands on his shoulders, pushing him to the ground.
Guy fell forward, painfully hitting the floor. He gasped, startled, but before he could get up, Marian threw herself on him, crushing him to the ground with her own weight.
“You can't hurt me, unless I let you!” Marian said, harshly. “I am not the helpless girl that you believe.”
“But I hit you!” Guy repeated, but this time his tone was less desperate than before.
Marian lifted her weight from him slightly, just enough to allow him to turn around to face her, but not enough to set him free.
“So? It is certainly not the first time you do it.”
Guy looked at her blankly.
Marian put her finger to his lips to silence him.
“I am the Nightwatchman.” She said quickly, before changing her mind.
Gisborne stared at her, stunned and Marian hurried on.
“I'm not lying, no more. I fooled you for so long, I robbed you after you had trusted me and I continued to pretend even though I knew that you really cared for me... I bet that now you no longer feel so guilty for hitting me.”
Guy watched her without reacting as he tried to absorb her words, then he shook his head in horror.
“If what you have told me is true...”
“Then it's even worse. I stabbed you... You could have died...”
“On the same occasion I've pushed you down the stairs. I kicked you down the stairs.” Marian reminded him.
Revealing the truth about the Nightwatchman, Marian had thought that Guy would react angrily, that he would reproach all her lies, but she wouldn't have expected that apathetic resignation.
She pulled away from him so she wouldn't hurt him, but Gisborne did not move and he stood lying on the ground with his eyes closed. Marian sat on the floor beside him and ran a hand through his hair, tenderly.
“I'm sorry... I'm so sorry...” She whispered, in tears and Guy opened his eyes to look at her.
“Do not Cry. Not for me.” He said, deeply sad, but now he was calm. “Never forget who I am, Marian, and what I do. Can't you see? I am nothing more than an angry beast capable only of biting the hand that has been kind to me... The sheriff's dog.”
“Don't repeat it!” Marian snapped. “I know very well who you are, Guy of Gisborne! I repeated it to myself every day, I tried to remember each of the horrible things you've done at the orders of the sheriff, every little thing that could convince me that it wasn't worth suffering for your death. Do you think it served to make your absence less painful? You are not a dog or even a demon and I don't want to hear it again.”
She bent over him and stroked his face to wipe away a tear, then she got nearer and lightly kissed him on the lips, as gently as she could.
When she parted from him, Guy looked at her, bewildered.
“This... What does it mean, Marian?”
She shook her head in confusion.
“I don't know Guy, I really don't know. But it hurts me to see you like that, I can't stand it.”
Gisborne got up from the ground and he held out a hand to help her, then he hugged her tightly.
“I can't stand the idea that I could harm you.”
Marian touched his back with his hand, making him jump.
“For the moment it seems that you are the most battered one.” She provoked him, managing to snatch a smile from him, then she stroked his face, affectionately.
“Thank you.” He whispered, and he brushed her hair with a kiss before letting her go.
Allan walked back and forth, stopping once to look at the closed door. Since Marian had left him there to guard the door, Allan had heard noises of fighting coming from the room, followed by silence.
The young man wondered if he should try to break the door somehow.
He wasn't sure he understood what had happened, only that Gisborne had hurt Marian in some way and that he didn't take the incident very well.
Allan went to the door and put his ear to the wood, but he didn't hear anything, so he raised his hand to knock.
At that moment he heard the noise of the bar that ran and then the door opened slowly.
Allan jumped back, pretending not to have been caught while spying and he glanced at Marian and Guy.
The girl came out first, a hand grabbing Guy's one and Gisborne followed her meekly, pale but much calmer than before.
“Hey, it's all right?” Allan asked, uncertain, and Marian nodded. She let go of Guy's hand after giving it a little squeeze and she encouraged him with her eyes.
“I'll wait downstairs. I'll go ask the cook to prepare us something for dinner, provided that Allan has not already completely emptied the pantry.
“Hey!” Allan protested, as she came down the stairs, giggling, then he turned to Gisborne, watching him closely.
“You look terrible, Giz. What's gotten into you just now?”
“Forget about it, Allan.” Guy said, weakly. He felt tired and confused and, had he not the fear of having another nightmare, he would have only wanted to go to bed and sleep without thinking about anything.
“What happened to your hand?” Allan asked, noticing the scratches. “Come on, let me treat it.”
“No need, it's nothing serious.”
“If Marian has left us with the excuse of the dinner it is only because she expects me to dress your wounds. And I'm not going to disappoint her.”
“Do as you like, then.” Guy surrendered, glaring at him.
Allan ignored Gisborne's irritation and he followed him into his room.
“Marian is the Nightwatchman.” Gisborne said suddenly while Allan bandaged the wounded hand and the young man looked at him, dumbfounded.
“Did she tell you?”
“You knew?!” Guy asked, accusingly, and the other shrugged.
“You know, I always tried to protect her. Even from you.”
Gisborne was speechless for a moment, then he nodded.
“Well, keep doing it, then. Even from me.”
Chapter 13: Roger of Barret
Robin Hood watched from a distance while the soldiers from Nottingham entered in the village of Clun on their horses.
A blond man with a squared face and hard eyes rode before the other men. He was dressed in gray, the same color of his cold eyes.
Much looked at the man who was giving orders to the soldiers, then he turned to look at Robin.
“I think the sheriff has found a replacement for Gisborne.”
“We can't hope for an improvement, right?” Will asked, noting that the stranger had run over one of the peasants with his horse as he galloped along the main road. Not satisfied, he stopped the animal and had hit with a lash the man who was lying on the ground, before resuming his ride.
“What do we do, Robin?” Little John asked, furious. “We can't allow people to be treated like that!”
Robin nodded and he nocked an arrow, throwing it to the new commander of the soldiers. The arrow planted in the ground in front of the horse's legs, making him rear, but his rider kept calm and soothed the animal with a steady hand.
“Maybe you don't know me yet, but you've probably already heard my name.” Robin shouted, showing himself with his bow, ready to shoot. “I'm Robin Hood and I don't appreciate when the people of Nottingham are ill treated.”
The blond knight stared at him, calmly. He motioned to one of the soldiers and the latter came up, dragging a weeping woman by her arm.
The commander grabbed her and pulled her into the saddle, making her sit in front of him.
“Ah, the famous Robin Hood doesn't like the way I treat the peasants? These beggars have not paid their taxes to the sheriff, they deserve to be punished.”
“Taxes are unjust!” Little John cried and the man laughed.
“It doesn't matter. They didn't pay so they are guilty and I, Roger of Barrett, am here to give them what they deserve.”
Robin tried to aim at him, but the peasant woman that Roger had used to shield himself continued to stir, making it impossible for him to shoot the arrow.
Roger of Barrett raised his hand and his soldiers took the bows, aiming in the direction of Robin.
“This type of treatment is more congenial to you, Robin Hood?” He asked, waving his men to launch arrows.
The outlaws were forced to retreat and hide behind trees to avoid being hit. Robin reappeared just in time to see Roger cutting the throat of his hostage and then taking another one immediately after.
Much and Will were forced to hold Little John to prevent him to flung himself against their enemies and Robin shook his head, shocked by the ruthlessness of the new master at arms of Nottingham.
“Let's retire.” Robin said, angrily.
“Did you see what he did?!” John shouted.
“Yes! But we can't deal with him blindly. We must first find a way to hit him or we will end up just causing more victims among the peasants...”
They returned to the camp in silence, not speaking to each other and with the feeling of having suffered an unacceptable defeat.
Robin had the impression that the new henchman of the sheriff would make them regret the death of Gisborne. He was always ready to obey every order of the sheriff, even the most infamous ones, but at least Guy of Gisborne had never enjoyed killing people for no reason, just to give a demonstration of power.
They had to get more information on that Roger of Barrett so they could prevent him from making other victims, Robin thought, angrily kicking a stone and his mood worsened further in seeing that Allan was waiting at the entrance of the secret camp, leaning with his back to the trunk of a tree.
“What are you doing here?” Said Robin, harshly. “You should know that you are no longer welcome here.”
“Come on, Robin, basically we are on the same side.”
“You made your choice when you decided to serve Gisborne, now you can't expect anything from us.”
“I work for Marian, now.”
Robin shook his head, smiling bitterly.
”You always find a way to turn the situation to your advantage, huh? Marian has always been too naive, she always finds something good in people, even when they don't deserve it.”
“If I'm not mistaken she had promised to marry you.” Allan retorted with a grin, then he raised his hands defensively, seeing that Robin had stepped forward menacingly. “But now I'm not here to fight.”
“Whatever you want, we do not care.” Little John said.
“I think you do. Or do you no longer want to find out who are the killers who attacked Gisborne? Many persons think it was you. Do you really want to be accused of drowning defenseless boys and killing people without mercy?”
“And how do you change that? Do you know the identity of the bandits?” Robin asked, skeptical.
“Not yet. That's why I'm here.”
Allan approached Robin and handed him a bundle.
The outlaw opened it, revealing a knife stained with dried blood.
“What is this?”
“That is Gisborne's blood. It's the knife with which he was stabbed.”
"You finally found his body...”
“Why do you think Marian didn't ride to his grave in the last few days? Find out who owned this dagger and you will find the killers.”
Robin rewound it in cloth and he put it away.
“And what do you gain from this? Did you give us this information out of sheer kindness? I doubt it, Allan.”
“Marian and I also want to find out. Gisborne has always treated me well, I owe him.”
“This sudden loyalty doesn't convince anyone.”
“Think of it as you want, but if you find out who owned that knife, I want to know.”
“You will be informed.”
“You can find me at Locksley, but you already know that.”
Roger of Barrett entered the great hall of the castle with the same confident ease that he would have shown if the entire Nottingham had belonged to him.
He approached the table where the sheriff was sitting and Vaisey looked at him, raising an eyebrow.
Roger threw a large leather bag full of gold coins on the table and grinned.
“A little taste. My men are bringing the rest of the taxes into the castle.”
Vaisey took a handful of coins and he let them slip through his fingers, then he laughed, satisfied.
“Have there been problems?”
“That outlaw, Hood, made a quick appearance, but we put him on the run without problems. Soon we will be able to catch him, I already have some ideas to do it. Apart from that, the peasants were willing to pay their taxes, I would say they were almost excited about it. At least, they were when they realized the consequences they would encounter otherwise.”
“Great, Barret, great. You are serving me well and I think we will get along very well. Tell me, boy, you aren't one of those who gets lost in romance, right?”
“Girls can be a pleasant pastime, but certainly not a distraction from my duties.”
The sheriff approved, satisfied.
“So you wouldn't be fooled by a pretty face?”
“Of course not. I know how to make women obey me.”
“So I have a proposition for you, please be my guest.”
Roger sat at the table, in front of the sheriff and he looked at him, waiting.
“A few time ago I was blackmailed, Barret. I had to give a property and grant a pardon to two people who did not deserve it.
“Do you want me to kill them for you?”
“No. I can't get rid of them, at least for the moment, but there's another way to get back what belongs to me. Sir Edward and Lady Marian can't be killed, but as sheriff of Nottingham I have the authority to find a husband for the girl. She is 'ruined merchandise', if you know what I mean, so I can't use her to get alliances with other nobles, but she's pretty, she could be a pleasant entertainment for a young and vigorous man and her husband would get her property when Sir Edward dies.
What do you think, Barret, would you like to get married?”
The other stretched his lips into a smirk.
“Didn't you say that you wanted to get your properties back? If I got them, what would you gain?”
Vaisey stared at him.
“I don't care to own that house or their meager possessions, but I can't tolerate that they continue to enjoy them after they obtained them with a blackmail. You're serving me well, Barret, you can consider it a way to reward you and to punish them.”
“Very good, then. Tonight I will make my 'proposal'.”
“Be careful, Barret, that woman is like a leper, she can ruin a man if he allows her to enchant him.”
“It won't be a problem. I know how to treat certain diseases.”
Chapter 14: Close Your Eyes
Guy reached for the nose of the black stallion and he smiled when the horse gently grabbed the apple that he had on his hand, starting to chew it noisily.
He watched him eat for a few seconds then he took an apple himself, sat down on a bale of hay and bit it without peeling it.
The horse came near him snorting, interested in the fruit and Guy offered him another one.
“So this is where you have been hiding.” Marian said, entering the stable and Guy looked at her.
“The cook keeps looking at me like I was a demon from hell and the other servants are always very careful never to be alone with me in the same room. At least the horses are a more pleasant company.”
She took an apple from the basket and sat next to Guy on the hay bale, smiling sympathetically.
“At least they don't go around gossiping. They are too afraid of you to risk of causing your anger. They will keep the secret.”
“How much longer?” Guy asked, sighing. “I don't know what to do, Marian. If the sheriff were to find out that I'm alive, he would take Locksley back and he would force me to destroy my confession. The only alternative would be to deliver it to the king, even though it would mean the end for me. That document accuses the sheriff of treason, but it also condemns me.”
“The king could grant you a pardon...”
“I doubt it. I tried to kill him, it is not one of those things that you are inclined to forgive. At best he could choose to spare my life, but then I would end up rotting in the dungeons of a castle. Apart from you and your father, I doubt that someone else would move a finger to intercede for me and, excuse me for saying so, you're not exactly influential between the other nobles.”
Marian looked at him, worried, and she wondered how he could be so calm when talking about a future so dark.
“All this to help us...”
Guy gave her a wry smile.
“If I was really dead, I had not much to lose, I certainly didn't expect to survive the reading of my will.”
Marian touched his hand.
”We will find a solution.”
Gisborne finished the apple with a last bite and he allowed the horse to take its core from his hand.
“If only I could be able to think more clearly... I always feel so tired and confused...”
The girl looked at him anxiously: she thought that he was too pale and she noticed he had dark circles under his eyes.
“You don't sleep enough, right?”
“It seems that I can't do anything else than sleeping, but when I wake up I'm feeling worse than before.”
“Because of the nightmares?”
“They get more and more horrible every night and now I also fear that I could hurt someone without realizing it...”
Marian raised a hand to touch his face, then she pulled him gently against her, letting him rest his head on her shoulder.
“Close your eyes.” She whispered. “I'll take care to keep bad dreams away.”
“No. I don't want it to happen again, like last night. I can't risk to hurt you.”
“It will not happen. I'll wake you right away, I promise. Trust me, Guy.”
Gisborne leaned against her with a sigh.
“I've always trusted you, do you know?”
Marian gently stroked his hair and she was glad that Guy had closed his eyes and he couldn't see the blush that had colored her cheeks.
It was true, he had trusted her too much and she often had taken advantage of it, deceiving and betraying him to help Robin Hood.
It wouldn't happen anymore, she had decided it the night after the siege of Nottingham, and now she was even more determined to keep that promise.
She listened while Guy's breathing become deeper and even as he slid into sleep and she wondered when exactly her feelings had changed so much and why she became so protective of the black knight.
The night before she had kissed him and she didn't know what had prompted her to do so. After all she was still in love with Robin Hood, wasn't she? Although things between them didn't work well lately, Marian was still betrothed to him, they never broke their engagement. Yet to think of the outlaw didn't fill her with the naive joy she once felt, but with an indefinite sense of guilt for both Robin and Guy.
Sooner or later she would have to make clarity in her feelings, she had to really understand how she felt about each of the two men, but for the moment she did not have the courage to do it.
The situation was still too confusing and risky to reflect calmly and Marian cowardly decided that she would wait for a quieter time to think about what she felt.
For now, things were fine like they were, she decided, looking tenderly at Gisborne who was peacefully asleep, confidently leaning on her shoulder.
Allan spurred his horse, throwing him into a gallop to distance the group of Knights of Nottingham who he had passed on the way to Locksley. He didn't know the blond man who commanded the group of soldiers, but the defiant and arrogant attitude with which he rode had left a bad feeling to Allan.
He hoped that the squad of soldiers wasn't directed at Locksley, but he was intimately convinced otherwise and he wanted to arrive well in advance to alert Marian, Gisborne and Sir Edward.
He rode faster than he ever had in his life and he was happy that Gisborne had chosen fast and strong horses for the stables of Locksley.
When he reached his destination he turned to look back and he estimated he had a few minutes before the arrival of the riders. He brought the horse in the barn and he was surprised to find Guy and Marian there, embraced on a bale of hay.
The girl looked at him with a start, surprised by his hasty arrival, while Gisborne did not move until Marian shook him gently to wake him.
Guy opened his eyes and looked around, still groggy from sleep.
“Allan is here.” Marian whispered. “He looks pretty nervous.”
“What's up?” Guy asked, now completely awake.
Allan gave them a curious look, then decided it wasn't the right time to make improper questions.
“Soldiers of Nottingham headed in this direction. Maybe they're not coming here, but if they do, you'd better not show your face.” He said, turning to Gisborne.
Marian gave him a worried look.
“I have to warn my father.”
“I'll stay here.” Guy said. “If I'll have to, I can flee on a horse.”
Allan took off the cloak he was wearing and gave it to Gisborne.
“Put it on. The stable is dimly lit, but the gloom may not be enough to hide you. If someone should enter, pull up the hood.”
Marian looked at them anxiously, then she hurried toward the house.
Allan hesitated, unsure whether to follow Marian or whether to stay with Gisborne.
“Go with her.” Guy whispered. “Protect her.”
“You are unarmed.”
“It doesn't matter. No one will notice my presence.”
Allan nodded and started to leave the barn, but the arrival of the soldiers stopped him at the door and forced him to go back to not attract attention.
“Too late...” He whispered to Gisborne, then they both went into hiding near the door, in a dark corner. In that place, Allan noticed, a crack between the boards allowed them to peek outside without being seen, and he had the feeling that Guy had deliberately chosen that corner to hide.
Allan glued his eye to the crack and he saw that from there they could see the front door of Locksley. Perhaps, if they remained in perfect silence, they could hear even the talk of the soldiers.
The young man glanced anxiously at Guy, but Gisborne didn't notice, as he was tense and concentrated at looking through the crack too.
Chapter 15: Taken Away
The blond commander dismounted and he knocked on the door of Locksley Manor in an authoritarian manner. Shortly afterwards, a servant opened the door, warily glancing at the soldiers stationing in front of the house.
"Who shall I say, my lord?"
"Sir Roger of Barrett." Said the other, in disgust. "And don't waste time, I want to talk with Edward and Marian, now."
The servant looked at him, outraged by the tone of the other.
"I will tell Sir Edward and Lady Marian that you are here, sir."He said and motioned to close the door, but Roger grabbed him by the shoulder and he dragged him out of the house, then he hit him with a slap, hard enough to throw him to the ground.
"I demand respect from servants." Roger said and he started to get in, but Marian appeared in the doorway and she looked at the scene, pretending to be surprised.
Roger looked at her with leer.
"As future lord of Locksley, I was simply putting in place an insolent servant."
"Locksley belongs to my father."
"Yes, yes I know, as payment for Gisborne's whore. I wouldn't brag about it if I were you, Marian."
The girl blushed.
"How dare you?! Get out immediately!"
Roger stepped forward and got in the way, preventing her from closing the door.
"You should be grateful, woman, not everyone would be willing to take already used goods."
"What do you mean?!"
"In a week you will become my wife."
"Are you delirious, sir? I'm not going to get married for the moment, and certainly not with you."
Marian said, indignantly.
"Your intentions don't matter, pretty girl. Sheriff's orders."
Marian looked at him in horror.
"He can't do it!"
"Oh yes. The sheriff has the authority to give you in marriage to anyone he wants. Especially now that your scandalous conduct is giving a bad example to the honest people of Nottingham. A whore has to be put in place, she doesn't deserve to be rewarded with a house and a comfortable life. You need a husband who knows how to get you back on track."
"My father will not allow it. He must be the one to give consent."
"You'd better leave by your father, darling. Everyone knows he has been ill for some time, if he should die of some disease nobody would be surprised and I am sure that you know that there are poisons that leave no trace." Roger hissed, without looking away from Marian's eyes and she realized with horror that the man's threat was not vain. Those cold eyes didn't know pity or warmth and Marian's indignation gave way to a creeping fear.
That man would kill his father without any remorse if she wouldn't accept to marry him. And if Marian had not agreed, she imagined that Roger of Barret could still get what he wanted, even if he had to drag her from the torture chamber to the altar.
"Let me talk to my father, at least." She said, indignantly. The only thing she could do was to take time and hope to find a solution.
Roger shook his head and smiled contemptuously, then grabbed her and lifted her on his horse, with the same care he would have reserved to a sack of potatoes.
"You're coming to Nottingham now: a comfortable cell in the dungeons, where I can keep an eye on you, is waiting for you. The sheriff warned me about you and I'm not going to let you manipulate me with your big, deceiving eyes as you did with that poor fool of Gisborne. That servant can talk to your father and bring your things to the castle."
Allan looked at the squad of soldiers retreating and dragging Marian away and only when they disappeared in the distance, he ventured to let go of the arm of Gisborne who he had grabbed when Roger of Barrett had spoken the first insult to the girl.
At these words Guy was about to throw himself at the commander of the soldiers, but Allan had stopped him by grabbing his wrist and since then Gisborne had not moved a muscle.
Allan looked at him, intimidated by the fierce hatred that he could see on Guy's face.
"That man is dead." Gisborne growled, pointing in the direction where the soldiers had left. "Remember, Allan, should it be the last thing I do in my life, I'll kill Roger of Barrett with my hands."
Allan nodded. It was perfectly all right to him, in fact he would have been very happy to help Gisborne. He was also furious for the way Roger treated Marian. She and her father had given Allan a home and a job and they had always treated him with respect and friendship.
Perhaps in the past Allan had been willing to betray Robin Hood for his personal benefit, but now he was changed and he was ready to risk his life to help the people he cared about.
"Leave a piece of him for me, pal." He told Gisborne, fiercely, then he sighed, worried, and looked at Guy. "But how do we get close to him and how do we save Marian? It's just the two of us against an army..."
Gisborne kicked a bale of hay to vent a bit of the frustration he felt.
"If only I weren't still so weak! But I won't allow that beast to touch Marian, that's for sure."
Gisborne tried to control himself, anger wouldn't help him to find a solution and it would only make him waste energies. "Come on, let's go to talk to Sir Edward, if the servant told him what happened, he will be shocked."
Allan followed him into the house and they found that Marian's father was agitated and beside himself with worry.
"Sir Guy!" He exclaimed seeing him enter. "They have taken Marian and I was afraid that they had found you too!"
Guy looked at him, confused. Sir Edward, while terrified for her daughter was also worried about his safety?
"I will bring her back home, I swear." He said vehemently and Marian's father looked at him with gratitude, but he was still afflicted.
"Who is that man? Does he really has the rights he says to have?"
"His name is Roger of Barrett." Guy said, pronouncing the name with disgust. "He was in command of one of the companies of the guards of the sheriff, but apparently he has found a way to make a career rather quickly."
"He took your place." Allan commented.
"Yep. And now he wants to take Marian too." Guy unhappily rubbed his temples and he looked at Sir Edward. "I'm sorry, it's my fault."
"I do not see how, Sir Guy."
"If I had left her alone from the beginning, you would still have Knighton Hall and your place in the council of nobles. If I'd had the courage to let her go, I would long ago have made sure to save both of you somehow instead of holding you in the castle. And if I had not fallen in that ambush like an idiot, the sheriff would not have discovered the contents of my will. If he now wants to give Marian in marriage to that animal, it is surely because he wants to get revenge for my blackmail. When I wrote it, I thought it was a good idea to protect you and repay you for the loss of Knighton Hall, but now I'm not so sure about it, I could have found another way. And now I don't know what to do..."
Edward touched his hand sympathetically.
"We all made our mistakes, Sir Guy. I should have taught Marian to be more docile and if I had been strong enough to protect her, we would have avoided many problems."
Allan gave them a skeptical look.
"To make Marian docile? I don't think it's humanly possible." Allan commented, stealing a smile from the other two, then Sir Edward turned back to Gisborne.
"I have faith in you, Sir Guy, I know you will do everything possible to save her. I entrust the life of my daughter to you."
"I'll make sure to be worthy of your trust, Sir Edward." Guy promised. "Come on, Allan, we must prepare, I need a sword."
"I can help you with this."Allan said. "Follow me."
Allan went upstairs and he stood at the door of Marian's room. He hesitated for a moment before opening it, then he entered. Guy looked at him, puzzled.
"What are we doing here?"
Allan looked around, feeling like an intruder in the room while the girl was away, then he saw what he was looking for: the sword of Gisborne resting on the mantelpiece.
He took it and handed it to Guy.
"This is yours."
Gisborne took it and he weighed it in his hands, before putting it back in its scabbard, empty for too long.
"Why is it here? I thought I'd lost it..."
"I found it in the forest."
"Why Marian has it?"
"She was so afflicted by your death, that I thought it was right to give her your things. Look, there's also your coat, and your jacket is on the bed.
Guy picked up the leather jacket that was next to Marian's pillow and he looked at it. It looked to him as if a whole lifetime had passed since he had worn it and it seemed unreal to think that during all the time he had been absent, the jacket had remained in the hands of the girl.
Yet it must have been true because he could smell the delicate scent of Marian on it.
"Did she really miss me?"
"She slept clutching your jacket for days. To quote the sheriff: a clue? Yes."
Guy did not respond because he didn't want to show to Allan that he was moved, but he took off the shirt he was wearing and pulled on his leather jacket. It fit a bit wider than once, but it was not a problem: if he survived after what he was about to do, he would have plenty of time to fully recover, otherwise he would be dead and it wouldn't matter anymore.
"Hey Giz, dressed like that, you look like the same old you." Allan said.
Guy was about to ask him why he should have looked different, but then he thought that in fact the attack had changed him.
He felt weak, insecure and vulnerable, as if coming so close to death had left him broken and damaged. Certainly he had fallen from his pedestal and he had discovered how little importance the things he had always wanted had.
Except for Marian.
She was the only one that really mattered, but he now had no more illusions. Maybe Marian cared for him in some way, but Guy did not expect anymore that his feelings might be reciprocated.
Certainly he had never done anything to deserve it.
"Great." He said to Allan. "We can't afford to be weak."
"What will we do?"
"You will take Marian's things and you will reach her at the castle. Try to stay at her side, protect her in any way you can, I will go to seek help."
"I can't show my face in Nottingham, that's for sure. As a servant of Sir Edward, you will have free access, instead. You heard Barret, didn't you? They expect a servant to bring Marian's personal effects." Guy took one of Marian's dresses and put it in Allan's hands. "Start to pack her things."
Allan obeyed, unconvinced.
"How will you get help? When they see who you are, people will take you for a ghost and, don't be offended, but I fear that they wouldn't listen to you anyway. Indeed, you would risk being attacked."
"I'll talk to Tuck." Gisborne paused. "And then I'll go to Hood's camp."
"Are you crazy, Giz?!"
"Marian is betrothed to Robin Hood, isn't it? That's why she refused to marry me, right?" He asked softly. "Do not lie to me, please."
Allan nodded weakly.
"She was in love with him, yes. I don't know how she feels right now, though. I know she cares a lot for you, when we thought you were dead, she was so sad, she couldn't accept it. And then, didn't you two sleep together? If she were still engaged with Robin I do not think she would have done it."
"Allan, we just slept. And that's it. Everything else was just a misunderstanding. I was supposed to silence those voices, trying to protect her reputation, but I didn't have time to do it."
"Nothing happened between you two?" Allan asked, genuinely surprised.
Guy shook his head.
It was not entirely true, there was that one kiss, but it probably came only from Marian's piety for his nervous breakdown. To remember his pathetic behavior of the previous night made Guy want to hide with shame, so he preferred not to think even to the kiss that followed it.
"Marian is completely innocent. If I think of the insults she had to endure because of me..."
"Still, going to get killed by Robin Hood does not seem like a great idea to me." Allan said, pushing a last dress in the bag that he had filled for Marian.
"Maybe, but it's the only one I can think of for now. I do not have a chance to get to the castle and probably I wouldn't even have the strength to free Marian. If I had to fight to defend her, I would be defeated now, in these conditions I would be completely useless. But if I could tell Robin Hood of her situation, he would rush to save her, I'm sure of this. That's why you have to tell me how to get to the camp of the outlaws, I know that you know where it is."
Allan looked at him, impressed by his words, then he smiled.
"Do you know, Giz? Marian should have married you when she had the chance."
Chapter 16: Imprisoned
The quiet of the road passing through Locksley was disturbed by the clamor of the hooves of a galloping horse. The farmers, who were by now starting to retire for the evening, went out of the doors of their houses, worried.
Since the sheriff had found a new commander, the soldiers often returned to haunt the villagers, demanding each time new taxes or other workers for the mine. The brief respite that followed the death of Gisborne was already over and, if possible, the situation was even worse than before.
Hearing the hoofs of that horse, the peasants were all afraid that a squad of soldiers was coming to the village, but the rider who was galloping at full speed was alone and he didn't wear the colors of Nottingham, but a gray cloak that hid his face.
He stopped the horse in front of the church, pulling the reins abruptly and he unmounted in a hurry, although a little rigidly.
Guy ran in to the church, then he forced himself to regain control and he stood before the altar for a moment to catch his breath. He didn't ride since the day he had been injured and that short gallop had been enough to make his wounds ache, but he wouldn't stop until Marian was safe.
The priest came to meet him, a bit worried.
“What brings you here at this time, son?” He asked, trying to recognize Guy's face, hidden by the hood of his cloak.
“I need to speak immediately with Tuck, the friar. Is he here?”
The priest looked at him, puzzled, the man's voice sounded familiar, but he couldn't figure out who he was and he wondered why he wanted to see the friar.
“I'm here.” Tuck said, approaching them.
Guy started to address him, but the friar warned him to be quiet with an almost imperceptible nod and then he spoke again.
“Come with me, son, I will listen to your confession.”
He led him into a small room at the back of the church and he closed the door behind him, then he motioned for Guy to kneel with him.
“I never expected to see you again so soon.” Tuck said softly. “What happened?”
Gisborne told him everything, trying not to give in to agitation and Tuck listened in silence.
“Tomorrow morning I will go to Nottingham Castle and I will ask to speak with Lady Marian.” Said the monk, even before Guy could ask him for help. “The rumors about her could be useful to protect her.”
“If there are doubts about the maidenhood of the bride...”
“Marian is absolutely innocent!” Guy interrupted him and Tuck waved him to be quiet.
“I said, if there are any doubts, a religious may recommend a period of isolation and penance to atone for sins in view of the wedding. The future groom could not see her until the day of the marriage.”
“So she would be safe from Roger of Barrett's attentions at least for a while!”
“Exactly. I will try to buy time for you to find a way to free her.”
“Thank you. Again. I sent one of my men at the castle, Allan A Dale, you can trust him.”
“Now go, my son. May the Lord protect you.”
Robin Hood ignored the voice of Much calling the outlaws to dinner. He was not hungry after the scene they had witnessed that morning and he continued to mull over to find a way to make Roger of Barrett pay for the death of the woman who he had killed so mercilessly.
Djaq came and sat next to him and offered him a bowl of stew.
“Robin, tormenting yourself won't bring her back to life. We will find a way to avenge her, I'm sure.”
Robin Hood nodded at her words and thanked her, but he did not take the food.
Much looked at him, anxious and hurt, and he started to protest, but the sound of the alarm bell that was as the entrance of the camp startled them all.
The outlaws exchanged a nervous glance: someone had come to the camp, but who could it be?
Allan perhaps? Or Marian? Or maybe someone had discovered their hiding place?
They took up their weapons in a hurry and they left the camp to surprise the intruder.
Robin stepped around a tree and pointed the bow against the man on horseback who seemed to wait patiently for their arrival. The intruder was wearing a cloak that hid his face and rode a black and fierce stallion.
“Stop!” Robin shouted and the man raised his hands.
“Put down your sword and come down from the horse. Slowly.” Robin ordered, still aiming at him “Now get on your knees and keep your hands up.”
The man obeyed and Robin approached him.
“Who are you? How did you get here?”
“Hood, Marian is in danger.” Guy said and Robin winced at hearing those words. He walked over to him and he pulled back the hood of his cloak, then he stared at him, stunned.
“He should be dead!” Much cried, scared, while Little John had taken a step back, making the sign of the cross.
Robin dropped the bow to the ground, he grabbed Guy by the shoulder and he pointed the sword at his throat.
“He doesn't look neither dead, nor a ghost.” He said to the other outlaws, then he turned to Gisborne. “How did you find this place?”
“I think you can guess, Hood.”
“Allan. He said he found your body.”
Gisborne looked at him in disgust.
“That doesn't matter, didn't you hear what I said? Marian is in danger. Roger of Barrett took her, he wants to force her to marry him.”
Robin pressed the blade on his neck, causing him to bleed a bit.
“What is this? A tradition? Anyone who works for the sheriff must try to force Marian to marry him?”
“If you knew what he's capable of, you wouldn't joke, Hood.” Gisborne growled and Robin grabbed him by the jacket, hauled him to his feet, slammed him with his back against a tree and then he pressed again the sword to his throat.
“I know it very well instead. What I want to know however is what are you doing here. What are your goals? Did you really think you could take us by surprise?”
“I triggered your stupid alarm on purpose! I came here to talk to you, to warn you against Barret.”
Robin looked at him with a skeptical smile.
“By sheer good nature, I suppose.”
“For Marian!” Guy shouted, angrily. “I don't care if you believe me or not, Hood, but she is in danger and now you know it. If you care about her, you can't let that beast to get his hands on her! You can kill me, I don't care, as long as you save her.”
“This I do not like, Robin.” Said Little John. “Are you going to listen to him?”
“He wants to draw us into a trap, master.” Much commented, wary.
“And now he knows where our camp is.” Will continued. “He will tell it to the sheriff...”
“Tie him.” Robin ordered. “Tomorrow we will go to Nottingham and find out whether he lied or not, then we'll decide what to do with him.”
Marian sat with her back to the wall in the corner of the cell farthest from the door.
The stone floor was cold, covered only by a layer of smelly straw and the girl did not dare to imagine how many insects and rodents infested the place.
In the cell there was nothing, no water, no food, no blankets, just a stinking bucket backed into a corner and only now Marian could understand how much worse her father's imprisonment could have been if Guy had not challenged the orders of sheriff to help him and make his life in the dungeons more comfortable.
The only good thing of the bars that imprisoned her was that they were standing between her and Roger of Barrett. The man had lifted her and thrown her on his horse to take her to the castle and Marian felt dirty where the hands of Barret had touched her.
Roger Barrett had held her close before throwing her in the cell, touching her body in a disgusting way, then he had her locked up, leaving her with an evil smile and with the promise that she would soon become completely his.
The very thought made her sick and the terrible smell of the dungeon certainly didn't help her to feel better. Marian closed her eyes and stood in her corner shivering with cold and fear.
It didn't matter that she had been proud and courageous when she was the Nightwatchman, now she was really afraid. Roger of Barrett had something inhuman in him that scared her to death.
In the past Guy had treated her with arrogance too and sometimes she feared his wrath, but even in his worst moments, Gisborne eyes had never been cold and dead like Barrett's ones.
To think of Guy made her want to cry.
Only a few hours before she had looked at him sleeping while leaning on her shoulder, and at that moment, she felt incredibly calm: the familiar and reassuring smell of horses was around them, and Marian had been listening to the sounds of the activities of the people of Locksley in the distance, the chirping of birds that had nested in the roof of the barn and the slow and regular breathing of Guy who for once was resting quietly, without being tormented by nightmares.
The late afternoon light filtered through the planks of the barn illuminating the atmospheric dust and Marian had thought that it was a perfect moment, a moment of peace that she would always remember fondly.
Shortly after, the arrival of the soldiers had ruined it, throwing her into a terrible nightmare and now she only wished that Guy of Gisborne would come to take her away from that cell.
Marian's eyes widened in surprise as she realized the direction her thoughts had taken.
She was betrothed to Robin Hood, she should hope it was the outlaw to come to her rescue. Only a short time ago, her first thought would fly at him, Robin was the one that she was supposed to imagine how the hero who run to her rescue.
Yet it wasn't him the one that she thought of, it wasn't from his arms that she wanted to be comforted.
She curled up on the straw on the floor and she closed her eyes, trying to evoke the feeling of Gisborne's arms holding her close and that thought made her feel protected.
Guy come to me, please, come back to me again...
Chapter 17: Just Go
Djaq walked away in silence from the camp: the other outlaws were in a deep sleep after such a heavy day, but she couldn't sleep.
She walked away from them and stopped a few meters from the tree where they had tied Gisborne, hiding behind another tree to secretly watch him.
He had been tied up, hands raised above his head, his back against the trunk of the tree and he had been gagged with a piece of cloth.
Surely even he wouldn't be able to sleep in that awkward position, Djaq thought with a bitter smile, thinking of her own insomnia.
When she closed her eyes, she could still see all too clearly the hand of Roger of Barrett that slaughtered that innocent woman. She was killed and the outlaws couldn't save her. That memory brought Djaq back to the Holy Land, at the time when she saw her twin brother die and she lose the only surviving member of her family.
She tried to send those memories away and she looked back at Gisborne.
His behavior had intrigued Djaq and she wondered what had driven him to search for his enemies' camp. Hadn't he thought that he could have been killed even before he had a chance to talk?
If he hadn't had his face hidden by the cloak and he had been recognized, Djaq had the impression that some of the other outlaw would have pierced him with an arrow from a distance without even allow him to open his mouth.
Not that his current situation was much better.
It was unlikely they would let him go. As Will had said, now Gisborne knew the location of the camp.
The girl looked back at the tied man, with pity, and she noticed that his position was not just uncomfortable, but it seemed to cause him a real suffering.
Djaq got little nearer, and she understood she hadn't been mistaken: the face of Gisborne was drenched in sweat and contracted in a grimace of pain, while his body was leaning to the ropes as if he hadn't the strength to stand.
“Hey...” Djaq whispered and Gisborne winced, then he opened his eyes to look at her.
Djaq made a few more steps forward to be seen in the light of the full moon, then she approached cautiously to Guy, took away the gag with a quick move and she stepped back again.
Gisborne looked at her without saying anything, surprised by her gesture.
“Are you hurt?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I studied medical arts in my country, I don't like to see people suffering, even if they are enemies.”
Gisborne weakly smiled.
“Don't lose any sleep for me, tomorrow I'll be dead, anyway. For real, this time.”
“If what you said is true, Robin will not kill you.” Said Djaq, but in reality she wasn't entirely sure of her words.
“No offense, but I doubt it. And if he won't do it, I'm sure another one of your friends will.”
“Why did you come here? You knew what was going to happen, right?”
“I did not have many other options.”
“Well, coming here and getting yourself killed doesn't seem like the best one, I would say.”
Guy chuckled and she looked at him as if he were crazy.
“Do you find it funny?”
“Allan said exactly the same thing.”
“Then maybe for once Allan was right. Coming to the camp wasn't the best choice.”
“Not for me, maybe. But it is for Marian. Now that you know the situation, Hood will rescue her.”
Djaq looked at him for a moment without saying anything, then she walked over to him.
“Can I trust your word? If I loosen those ropes and let you find a more comfortable posture, do you promise that you won't try to attack me?”
Guy looked at her, puzzled.
“Why would you do that?”
“I told you, I do not like to see people suffer. So, can I trust you or not?”
Gisborne nodded briefly.
“Although everybody seem to think so, I'm not a rabid dog. I won't touch you.”
Djaq began to loosen the ropes, then she took an instinctive decision and she cut them.
Gisborne, no longer supported by them, fell to the ground and he let out a groan of pain.
The young saracen bent down to help him, but Guy was able to sit up by himself and he held up a hand to stop her.
“Wait, please.” He gasped. “Just give me a moment before you tie me up again.”
He closed his eyes, trying to slow his breathing and to control pain. After being tied to that tree for hours, his back had begun to hurt a lot and he felt weak and exhausted.
Djaq crouched beside him and tried to put a hand on his shoulder. Guy escaped contact with a start.
“Do not touch me!”
She lowered her hand, but she didn't move away.
“Let me see your wounds.”
“I untied you, I trusted in your word. Now it's your turn to trust me, come close to the fire and let me look.”
Guy wondered what the intentions of the girl were. He didn't like the idea of showing his weakness to a member of the gang of Robin Hood, but the saracen girl had been kind to him and she untied him even if it would have been more prudent for her not to do so.
He gave her a nod and he followed her to the fire without making a sound. Djaq motioned for him to sit in a place illuminated by the flames and Guy obeyed. He undid the clasps of his jacket, removed it and stood there, waiting for Djaq to examine his wounds.
She examined at first the cut on his chest, now healed, then she looked closely at the wounds left by the lashes, and she held her breath.
“I understand why you didn't want me to touch you.” The girl whispered. “Will you let me treat your wounds? I will just graze them and I'll try not to hurt you.”
Guy glanced at the outlaws who were sleeping not very far from them.
“Why do you care so much? Your comrades certainly wouldn't approve.”
“It isn't necessary that they know it. Now hold still, this will relieve your pain a little and it will help the skin to heal faster.”
The girl quickly rubbed an ointment on his back, trying to touch him as little as possible then she motioned that he could put his jacket on.
“Now drink and then come with me.” Djaq handed him a bowl of water and Guy hesitated for a moment, then he thought that if she had wanted to poison him, she would not have bothered to treat his wounds. He tasted a sip: it was fresh, clean water, and only then Guy realized that he was really thirsty. He quickly emptied the bowl and he handed it back to Djaq.
She motioned for him to follow her and they walked away from the fire. When they got to the tree where he had been tied, Guy was surprised to see that Djaq was keeping to walk.
“Hey, shouldn't you tie me up again before they wake up? Soon the sun will rise.”
She shook her head.
“No. Take your horse and go.”
Gisborne looked at her.
“Would you let me go? Even if I know where your camp is?”
“I don't want you to be killed. There have already been enough deaths.”
“Thanks, but I'll stay. If I should run away now, they would blame you, and believe me, I'm tired of ruining other people's lives.”
“But you will die!”
Gisborne returned to the tree and he sat down near the trunk, next to the cut ropes. Djaq probably would refuse to tie him again, but he wouldn't move from there.
“Maybe it's better that way.” He said softly.
An arrow planted in the trunk of the tree, a few centimeters from Gisborne's head.
Djaq jumped, startled, while Guy just looked up in the direction of Robin Hood.
“Hood. Since when were you spying us?”
Robin got near with the bow pointed at him.
“For enough time to be able to state that if your answer had been different, the arrow would not have missed the mark. Djaq, would you really have let him to get away?”
“Do not blame her, she only showed compassion to the wrong person.”
Robin Hood pretended to be surprised.
“Gisborne, you almost talk like a human being, I'm shocked!”
Guy glared at him, but he didn't respond to the provocation.
Robin threw down his bow and grabbed his arm. Guy tried to get free, but Robin yanked him.
“What do you want to do?” Djaq asked, worried.
“Please, go back to the camp and wait there.” Robin said to her, more gently, then he pushed Gisborne forward. “Come on!”
The girl watched them go away through the trees and she wondered if she should follow them, then she took a decision and ran to the camp to wake up the others.
Chapter 18: Not Again
Allan looked at the portcullis that closed behind him and he had the unpleasant presentiment he had ended in a trap.
He snapped the reins to move the cart and he stopped it in the courtyard, at the foot of the staircase.
A guard came up suspiciously and he asked him what he wanted.
“We are the servants of Lady Marian, we brought her things. Orders of Sir Barret.” Allan said casually. “I really had no idea that a girl could need so many trunks!”
The guard smiled with the air of someone who knew a lot about women.
He walked away and returned shortly after with another soldier.
“Take those trunks, I will show you where to put them.”
Allan nodded and motioned to the two men who were on the wagon with him, telling them to obey to the guards' orders.
The first guard led the way, while the other soldier took one of the boxes too and they walked along the corridors of the castle.
They arrived at the door of a room and the soldiers let them in.
“You can leave everything here.”
Allan looked around: that room was clearly unoccupied and there was no sign of Marian. He put the bag that he had carried on the ground, then he turned to the soldier.
“I was hoping to see Lady Marian... Sir Edward, her father, entrusted me with a message for her.”
“Oh, look who's here! Gisborne's puppy! - A voice behind him exclaimed and Allan spun around, terrified at seeing the sheriff who was standing in the doorway. Behind him, Roger of Barrett watched the scene with an eerie smile on his face.
Vaisey stared at him and Allan took a step back.
“What's up? Without your owner, you don't know who are you going to wag your tail to? Do you know what, boy? You've chosen badly your master, very badly. He dared to blackmail me. If he had not got himself killed like a fool, at this time you would hear his screams coming from the dungeons. Oh, but I got a very interesting idea!” The sheriff waved to soldiers and the two men grabbed Allan firmly by the arms. “Since your master is dead, I could torture you in his place, boy, what do you say?”
Allan shouted, trying to break free, but the soldiers dragged him away.
Robin Hood pushed Gisborne forward, still holding him by the arm and Guy scowled.
“Get your hands off me, Hood, I'm not going to run away.”
Robin stopped and he let him go.
Guy looked around: they were deep into the forest, far away from the camp of the outlaws. The reason seemed all too clear.
“You don't have the courage to kill me in front of the girl, huh? Fair enough, Robin Hood is a hero and he can't get his hands dirty. Or if he does, not in front of his friends.”
Robin stared at him, baffled.
“Have you gone mad, Gisborne?”
“Didn't you bring me here to kill me?”
“Do you want to die so much?”
Guy seemed to think the answer for a few seconds.
“Not if I can help it.” He decided after a while. “Why did you bring me here, then?”
“I want to know the truth. Why did you come to the camp?”
“Like I said, Marian is in danger. Instead of making these idiotic questions you should think about how to help her!”
“You could have sent Allan. There must be a reason if you are here in person and I want to know it. When you decided to come to our shelter, you should have imagined that we wouldn't allow you to get away with impunity. You knew that you could be killed, yet you are here. Why?”
Guy looked at him angrily, then all his anger seemed to disappear suddenly.
“Because there was nothing else I could do. Barret will force Marian to marry him and the only options I had were either to go to knock at the gates of Nottingham and be killed by the first archer with a good aim, or to come here and ask for help to my enemy and then get killed by him. What beautiful prospects, right? Between the two, I chose the one that at least would have been useful for Marian.”
Robin grabbed Guy by his jacket and threw him on the ground punching him.
“Don't you dare to pretend that you care about her, not after what you did to her! You took advantage of her, you forced her to go to bed with you and then you have abandoned her to the wickedness of the people! Did you hear how they call her? Have you ever witnessed the humiliation that she must endure every day because of you? If you really cared for Marian you wouldn't have allowed such a thing. Try to use her again as an excuse for your actions and I'll kill you for real! You are not worthy to speak her name!”
Guy got up from the ground without looking away from Robin. He touched his face where he had been hit by his fist, then he lowered his hand as if to seek the hilt of the sword.
Robin did not bother for that gesture because he knew that Gisborne was unarmed, but he prepared to defend against him, expecting an attack.
Guy instead didn't move, but he didn't look away from him.
“You're right, I am not worthy of Marian. I did terrible things, I tried to force her to marry me, I burned her house, I wounded her while facing the Nightwatchman and I have not been able to protect her, but I never, not even once, dared to compromise her innocence. Those rumors are false, completely false, and my only fault was that I haven't been able to nip them in the bud. Accuse me of whatever you want, you have a wide range of reasons to want me dead, but don't you ever dare again to say that I don't care for Marian. I love her! Even if she will never be mine.”
Robin found himself speechless. He had never heard Gisborne talking so passionately and for once he had no doubt that he was sincere, but he did not know how to relate to that unknown side of his enemy.
A desperate cry in the distance took him away from that embarrassment. Both Robin Guy startled to hear that scream because they knew it came from a man in the grip of a terrible pain.
“What was it?” Guy asked, still shaken by his outburst and concerned about the sudden cry.
Robin shook his head.
“It came from over there.” He said, pointing to a spot in the distance through the trees.
The screams were repeated, more and more harrowing, and Guy and Robin moved at the same time to run in that direction.
As they approached, the shouts became stronger and it was clear that the man who was making them was tortured by pain.
Suddenly a chilling silence fell and Robin motioned Gisborne to stop. He drew his sword and handed it to Guy, then he took an arrow and bent his bow, before starting to move again with more caution.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, then they went through a row of trees and emerged in a clearing. Robin was surprised to hear that Gisborne groaned.
He turned to look at him: Guy had become deathly pale, he was trembling and he looked straight ahead with horror.
“No... No... Not here... not again...”
“Hey, what's wrong?” Robin began, then he followed the direction of Gisborne's gaze and the words died in his throat.
At first glance, Robin had not seen the body of the hanged man because it was hidden by the other branches of the tree that grew on the edge of the cliff, but Guy had noticed him immediately because he already knew that place, he already knew which was the use of that branch reaching out into the air, with the river that flowed gurgling many meters below.
The same tree, the same clearing...
Robin lunged forward, but he stopped, seeing that Guy had not moved and he came back to drag him by the arm.
“Come on! Maybe he's still alive, but I can't bring him down alone!” He shouted, shaking him and finally Guy decided to move.
Together they recovered the body of the hanged, hoping they could be able to help him, but it was immediately evident that the man was already dead. Before being hanged, the poor man had been tortured with a knife or a sword because he had the body marked by deep cuts and his face was full of blood to the point of being unrecognizable. Most likely he would have died anyway even without the hanging, Robin thought, horrified.
“He's been... they have gouged out his eyes...” Guy whispered and Robin Hood turned to him, surprised by his shocked tone.
The death of this man must have been horrible, but Gisborne had certainly seen much worse scenes while working for the sheriff and he never flinched when he watched executions at Nottingham Castle.
Robin took off his coat and used it to cover the body, then he looked back at Gisborne who seemed to be sunk in some waking nightmare: he looked around with the look of a hunted animal and he was panting, panicked.
Robin touched his arm and Guy jumped, then turned away and ran blindly, disappearing into the trees. Robin Hood glanced at the corpse, then he let out a curse and ran after Gisborne. The killers could be still around and they shouldn't risk to attract their attention, not when they were only two, with only one of them lucid enough to fight.
He easily reached Gisborne and he grabbed him by his jacket, pulling him to the ground with him.
Robin put an arm on his back to keep him down, but Guy didn't even try to get up: he was on the ground with his face buried in the carpet of dead leaves, shaken by silent tremors.
Robin noticed with dismay that Gisborne was crying.
Chapter 19: Not Me, You
Marian awoke from a light and troubled sleep and she heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming down the dungeon's stairs.
She retired in the darkest corner of the cell to go unnoticed and she prayed that it wasn't Roger of Barrett. Fortunately there were only two soldiers dragging in their midst an unconscious prisoner.
One of them opened the cell next to Marian's one and the other pushed the unconscious man in it without the slightest care.
Marian gasped realizing that it was Allan.
She waited until the guards had gone away and she walked to the bars that divided their cells. She slipped her arm through them and managed to reach Allan's hand.
She held it and she tried to shake him to get him back to consciousness and, after a while, the young man opened his eyes.
“Allan! What are you doing here?” The girl whispered.
“Marian!” Allan exclaimed, sitting up. “Are you well?”
“I'm not hurt, for the rest, just look around. Why did you end up in jail?”
Allan rubbed his head where he had been hit by one of the guards.
“I pretended to be one of the servants who came to bring your stuff to be able to discreetly protect you, but apparently mine was not a good plan... It's better than Giz's one, however.”
“Why?” Marian asked, alarmed. “Where is Guy?”
“He went to seek help from Tuck. And Robin Hood.”
“Did you tell him where the camp is?! Allan, they will kill him!”
“Do you think I could stop him? Guy would go through hell for you. He has already done it.”
Robin Hood stiffened to hear a rustle of footsteps approaching through the trees. He got up quietly from the ground and he picked up the bow, then he held it out, preparing to defend themselves. He glanced at Gisborne, but he didn't see the sword that he had given him earlier, Guy must have dropped it into the clearing when he ran away.
The situation was dangerous: if the killers should attack them, Robin would have to face them alone and he wasn't sure he could overpower them.
It was with relief that he saw Djaq appear in the bushes.
“Robin!” The girl said, running up to him. “What happened? There's a body in the clearing...” She stopped suddenly seeing Gisborne who was lying on the ground. “Is he... dead?”
Robin shook his head.
“No. But I can't understand what happened to him...”
Djaq approached Guy and she watched him for a few seconds, then she took off her cloak and put it on him, like a blanket. She returned to Robin and she motioned for him to follow her.
They went back to the clearing and they met Much that was coming to look for them.
“Much, can you stay with Gisborne and keep an eye on him?” The girl asked, pointing in the direction from which they came. “But let him be quiet, do not talk to him.”
Much looked at his master, questioning him with a gaze and Robin nodded.
“Do as Djaq said.”
Robin waited for his friend to go away, then he turned back to the girl.
“Before, when you spied us as we talked, have you seen the wounds on his back?”
Robin shook his head.
“No, I started to follow you when you had already gone away from the fire. And I wasn't spying.”
Djaq looked at him skeptically.
“Eavesdropping is not spying?”
“I would say I was keeping watch.” Robin explained. “So Gisborne was injured?”
“He has been whipped. Many times. And he had a stab very close to the heart. It's a miracle he's still alive.”
They reached the clearing and Robin looked around more carefully: the ground was darker in some places and Robin realized with horror that those brownish patches were residues of dried blood. On one side there was a pit dug in the middle of the path from which a nauseating smell and the buzz of flies came. Robin saw that the bottom of the pit was covered with decomposed carcasses of many horses.
“Look at that tree.” He told Djaq. “The ground around it is covered with blood and there are still some ropes nearby.”
“Do you think this is the same place where Gisborne was attacked?!” Djaq asked, amazed.
“It would correspond to the stories that I heard and it would explain the reaction he had when we entered the clearing. In the Holy Land, I saw men in that condition after surviving a massacre, I should have known before.”
“Robin, what will you do with him? You're not going to kill him, right?”
The outlaw smiled bitterly. Some time before, Marian had asked him if he had killed Gisborne and now Djaq thought of him as a potential murderer.
“No, and I never wanted to do it. Take him back to the camp, we will decide what to do with him when I return.”
“Where are you going?”
“To Nottingham, to rescue Marian.”
“Do you already have a plan?”
Djaq looked at him, critically.
“No. But I'll find one.”
“I have a plan, Hood.”
Djaq and Robin whirled to look at Gisborne, who had just come out of the woods, followed by Much.
Guy was deathly pale, he was still shaking and his eyes were swollen and red, but his expression was serious and determined as that of a man who had just made a serious and painful decision and who was willing to make any sacrifice in order to pursue it to the end.
“Do you know how to make Marian escape from the castle?” Djaq asked.
“I am sure that Hood will find a way. He's always been able to come and go from Nottingham at will, I would be very disappointed if he doesn't succeed to do it now. My plan is for later.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you just make her run away, it won't be enough. Roger of Barrett will chase her, he will do anything to take back what he considers his. Marian will be condemned to live forever as an outlaw, or she will eventually fall into his hands. She must be protected, we must ensure that Barret has no more rights over her and the only way is that Marian marries someone else before being forced to become the wife of that animal.”
Robin shook his head with a scornful smile.
“And I suppose you want to volunteer. I should have known, Gisborne, another ignoble plan to take advantage on her. And to think that I was listening to you...”
“No! Not me.” Guy shouted and he pointed at Robin. “You! You'll marry Marian.”
“She is yours, she always has been yours. I refused to see it, but now I know. And now I have nothing to offer her, for the rest of the world I am a dead man. You will bring her out of the castle and you'll marry her immediately. I will make sure that it is possible, even if I'll have to threaten the priest of Locksley.
“And then? Will she be forced to live in the forest, waiting to be killed along with us by the sheriff's soldiers?”
“Of course not. You'll have to take her away, far from here. I am sure that you have friends, allies that can offer you protection, you could probably get to King Richard and join his court.”
“And what about us, master?” Much asked. “Without Robin Hood what will become of us?”
Guy looked at him, furious, and he grabbed him by the throat, causing him to slam his back against a tree.
“I'm willing to give her up, the love of my life, the one person for whom my life is worth living, the only one that has prevented my world to burn in the flames of hell! He can give up his stupid life as an outlaw! He can do it! He must do it!” He released Much and turned back to Robin. “Save Marian! Protect her at all costs! Give her the life she deserves, or I swear I'll kill you with my bare hands, Hood!”
“Calm down, now.” Robin said. “I will save Marian. I would have done it in any case, even without your threats.”
“Very well.” Gisborne said, weakly, then he turned his back to the other three and he started to walk away from the clearing.
Djaq saw him stagger and lean against a tree before continuing on and she looked at him, worried.
“Go with him.” Robin urged. “Bring him back to our camp. Much, get help from Little John and Will and be sure to return the body of that poor man to his family.”
“Are you going to Nottingham alone?” Djaq asked.
“It will be easier to get into the castle if I am alone. If I will need help, I'll find a way to alert you.”
Djaq nodded, then she ran away to reach Gisborne.
Chapter 20: Bereavement
Lying on his back, Guy was staring at the trees without really seeing them. He felt empty and he was cold, a freezing cold that was devouring him from inside.
“Are you sleeping?” Djaq asked softly, approaching the bed where he was laying.
“Maybe you should. You don't look so well. If you turn on your side, your back will hurt less.”
“It doesn't matter. At least the pain gives me the impression that I can still feel something. There is nothing inside me... Only emptiness and ashes... I feel dead. Maybe I am dead.”
Djaq sat on the edge of the bed and she dabbed his face with a wet cloth.
“You are not dead. You are tired and injured, you spent most of the night tied to a tree, you didn't eat anything for who knows how long, and you just said to another man that he has to marry the woman you love. It isn't strange that you're suffering, it would surprise me otherwise. By the way, why did you do that?”
“Why did you say to Robin to marry her? If you love her so much, why do you want to give her up?”
“What could I offer her? I have nothing left. If I persisted staying close to her, what could she have? The hatred and contempt from the people, a life on the run and probably a premature end. And she loves Robin Hood.”
“And you? What will you do now?”
“I don't know. I don't know if I can live without Marian.”
“Don't be silly, now.” Djaq held out a hand. “Come on, get up, come by the fire and eat something. It doesn't matter if you're not hungry, you need it. Come on, let's go.”
She grabbed his wrist and she pulled him. She wouldn't be able to move him if he was going to resist, but Guy reluctantly seconded her. He let himself to be dragged by the fire, and he accepted the food that was offered to him, without finding the strength to object.
He felt pathetic and defeated, without the slightest desire and lost like a dry leaf at the mercy of the wind, but Djaq's attentions could make him feel a tiny spark of heat.
“Have you ever lost someone you loved?” He suddenly asked, and he was amazed of his own question. Djaq looked at him in surprise, then nodded.
“My parents and my twin. They were killed in the Holy Land. I don't know what I would do if I were to lose Will. Probably I'd look for something important to do to be able to go on...”
Djaq blushed, realizing she had confessed to Gisborne something that she had never had the courage to admit openly even with Will himself.
“Yep, do you have something against it?”
“Why should I?” Guy said, with a half-amused smile, then he turned serious. “Once I had a sister, too.” He said and Djaq suddenly looked at him, surprised.
“Is she dead?”
“I don't think so. I gave her in marriage to a noble many years ago, she was just a little girl, but her husband had offered a good price for her.”
“You sold your sister?!”
“You shouldn't be so surprised, didn't you hear what people think of me? I'm the devil, I did much worse things. Anyway, I didn't have many choices at the time, at least I guaranteed her a decent life.”
“You might look for her, she's always your family, isn't she?”
“Maybe. Although I don't think I would do her a favor.”
Guy tried not to think of the last memory he had of his sister, how she had turned her back with hatred after she had pleaded in tears to let her stay with him. No, he decided, it would be better not to look for her.
“If Robin will go away, you may join our gang.” Djaq said and Guy stared at her as if she were suddenly gone mad.
“Me? Among the outlaws?”
“Have you forgotten that I am your enemy?”
“Do you want to go back to work for the sheriff?”
“So what's the problem?”
“Just ask your friends, I am certain that they will make a long list of reasons why they would rather see me dead than with your gang.”
Djaq smiled, then she yawned.
“I need some sleep, and you should sleep too. It had been a very long night.”
Guy sighed. The food, the heat of the fire and the company of the girl had made him feel a bit better, but he was exhausted. He knew he really needed to rest, but he also knew that as soon as he closed his eyes, the nightmares would come, more and more scary, or he would be tormented by a thousand distressing thoughts.
She took a bottle and poured a few drops of liquid in a bowl full of water, then she handed it to Gisborne.
“Drink this. It's a medicine invented by a doctor of my country: it will make you sleep and your sleep will be deep and dreamless. If there are news from Robin, I'll wake you, I promise.”
Guy took the bowl and drank it without hesitation. Djaq wondered if he trusted her so much that he didn't think to ask any question or if he simply had come to a point where he didn't care if what he had drunk were a poison or a medicine.
“Go back to bed.” She said. “It will begin to work soon.”
Tuck looked at the hard expression of Roger of Barrett, and he thought that this man was not to be underestimated.
He had thought to put pressure on him to allow the transfer of Marian to Kirklees Abbey for a period of penitence before the wedding, but it only took him a few minutes in the company of the knight to understand that he wouldn't be fooled easily.
Tuck had to try to get what he could without annoying Roger of Barrett, otherwise he would risk to compromise all the hopes to help the girl.
“I'm worried about your marriage, Sir.” He said, in a respectful tone.
“And why should you, brother?”
“Because of the rumors about your betrothed. People say she is compromised.”
“I don't care. She will do her duty as a wife and for the rest I shall put her in her place.”
“You should care!”
Roger sat up in his chair and leaned forward to give a threatening look at the friar.
“And why should I? It's just a woman, her job is to churn out heirs and bring a dowry. She isn't rich, it is true, but the sheriff will give me the lands of Locksley as a gift for the wedding.”
“The people won't respect you if you marry a sinner, they will say that you have been forced to settle, that you are weak.”
Barret stood up and he drew his sword.
“Be careful of what you say, brother!”
“Would you hit a man of God?”
“I don't think that you really want to find it out, so be careful of what you say.”
“My words were intended only to strengthen your position. The people of Locksley won't accept a marriage stained by her sins, but there is a way to fix it.”
Roger Barrett stared at him, but he didn't put away his weapon.
“The bride must purify herself and atone. Shut her up in a bare room, without comfort or entertainment, in the most complete solitude so that she can pray and ask for forgiveness for her sins. Let no one look at her or talk to her, and make sure that no man comes close to her. If you need someone to enter her room, send only modest and pious women to do so. On the wedding day she should come to church as a penitent, barefoot and dressed in cloth, ready to accept with gratitude the possibility of redemption that you offer her through marriage.”
The girl was pretty, with a luxurious wedding dress she would make a good impression, but the idea of the friar was much more interesting.
The sheriff had told him about her, how she had humiliated Guy of Gisborne leaving him at the altar in front of everyone and he was not going to allow her to repeat a similar scene. This time she would be the one to suffer the public humiliation and everyone would respect him as the man generous enough to grant forgiveness to a repentant sinner.
“Well, brother, I like your suggestion.”
“I can get her confession, if you wish.”
“Not now, friar, not now. She will confess her sins to you on the wedding day. Now go away.”
Tuck nodded and withdrew silently to the door.
Tuck stopped in the doorway and looked back at Roger. The man smiled and he continued.
“If you care so much to save a damned soul, go to Locksley tomorrow evening, around sunset.”
“The sheriff has decided to teach a lesson to my future father in law, to show him what happens to those who dare to make fun of him. My men are working hard to build gallows in front of the house.”
“The sheriff wants to hang Sir Edward?”
“No, just one of his servants, a certain Allan, a traitor who once worked for my predecessor.”
Chapter 21: The People I Hurt
Robin Hood covered his face with the hood of his cloak and changed his way to avoid crossing the path of a guard patrol.
He cursed under is breath: even that entrance was too well guarded.
He looked at the walls of the castle, frustrated, and he wondered how he could get inside: since Roger of Barrett had taken power, Nottingham castle had become practically impenetrable, with guards everywhere and bars that closed doors and windows that once were easily accessible.
The only option was to throw an arrow with a rope attached to it, and use it to climb the walls. It was a very risky solution, but Marian was inside the castle and Robin had to try to get to her at all costs.
Robin hid behind a row of sheets hanging on a washing line and he nocked the arrow, but a moment before he let it go, a hand rested on his shoulder.
"I wouldn't do it, son."
Robin whirled around to face the person who had spoken and found himself staring at the smiling face of a friar.
"There are guards in the courtyard too and on the walls, they would catch you immediately." Tuck added, then he pointed to a donkey that was waiting nearby. "It is not appropriate to speak about it here, where we can be heard. Walk with me for part of my way and we can talk."
Robin nodded cautiously and he followed the monk on the road that took them away from Nottingham.
"Who are you? I've already seen you a few days ago in the forest, but you're not from around here." Robin said.
"My name is Tuck and I follow the road that is shown me by the Lord, but I think I'll stay around for a while. You must be Robin Hood."
"I see that my reputation spreads fast, if you know my name."
The friar smiled.
"I know why you want to enter the castle, but I fear it's impossible. Even if you should succeed, escaping with Lady Marian would be a suicide."
"You don't know me well enough."
"And you don't know Roger of Barrett well enough either, son. That man is dangerous and he doesn't leave anything to chance. You won't be able to get in and get out alive."
"I won't leave Marian in the hands of that man."
"Lady Marian is safe for the moment. I persuaded Barret to impose her a period of isolation until the day of the wedding. No one will bother her until then and that will be the time when we can try to free her."
Robin looked at him, surprised.
"Were you also here to save Marian? It was Sir Edward who asked you to help her?"
Tuck looked at him, trying to figure out how far he could trust the young man. If Robin Hood was at the castle, it meant that Guy of Gisborne was able to find the camp of the outlaws and warn them, but Tuck didn't know what had become of the knight.
"And how did you know that Lady Marian is in the castle? Who told you that?"
"A person I know." Robin said, evasive.
"And what happened to that person? Did you kill him?"
Robin stared at him open-mouthed. It was the third person in a matter of days that accused him of killing Gisborne, did he really gave the impression of being a ruthless murderer?
"I'm glad to hear it. I guess you know where he is now, I need to talk to him."
Marian closed her eyes and covered her ears with her hands, trying to hide away from everything, but even so she could not stop the cries that came from the torture room.
They took him away a few hours earlier, dragging him out of the cell, and only God knew what they were doing to him.
Marian wanted to do something, anything, to change that situation but she couldn't.
She was chained and locked in a bare cell and she didn't have any weapon to defend herself or to open the locks. She had tried to deceive the jailer, but the man must have received strict orders because he seemed not to hear her words and he just left a bowl of moldy water and a loaf of dry and stale bread once a day on the floor in front of the bars of her cell.
Allan shouted again and Marian thought that she would rather be in his place. Allan had been caught only because he had tried to protect her, he had done nothing wrong, and she could not bear to hear him suffer so much because of her.
It occurred to her that Allan was not the only one to suffer for her. And the absurd thing was that those who she had hurt more were also those she loved most.
How many sorrows and worries had she given him since her mother died? How many times had she acted as ungrateful and how often had she put him in danger just because of her willfulness? In what difficult situations had she put him, reproaching that he wasn't brave? She had never been the daughter that her father wanted.
Maybe he was the person who she hurt more in her life and she often did it being well aware of what she was doing.
How many lies, how many deceptions, how many hopes encouraged on purpose and then disappointed... And Guy had forgiven her, he continued to love her always, even when she had been unnecessarily cruel.
Too often she had moved away from him, trampling his heart without even thinking about it, and he came back every time, wounded and suffering, maybe, but always firm in his feelings.
And now perhaps he could be dead, killed by Robin Hood in an attempt to help her, to save the ungrateful woman who made fun of his love.
He, too, suffered for her.
Robin: his childhood friend, the first love of her life, the boy who she had left with harsh words when he had chosen to fight for the king, the man she coldly received when he returned, her betrothed...
She never tried to understand him. She was really cold and she was often jealous of his dedication to the king.
She had never really accepted the idea she would always came in second place after England and she couldn't find for the hero Robin Hood the simple, joyful and spontaneous feelings that she had for the young Robin of Locksley.
He had changed, Nottingham had changed and she had changed too.
Everything now seemed more complicated, difficult and full of pain.
How much more pain could she still cause? How much more suffering?
Marian stopped fighting back tears and she allowed them to descend freely. Who could care for pride when she was locked in that horrible cell with the only company of rats?
She hugged her knees with her arms and wept for a long time, praying that her sobs could cover the cries of pain of Allan, then she stopped suddenly, paralyzed with terror.
She was no longer alone.
She looked up: Roger of Barrett was in front of her, standing in the doorway of the cell.
Guy awoke slowly. Usually it was some nightmare to tear him abruptly from sleep and he was now so used to waking up suddenly that he had almost forgotten how nice it was the feeling of being in bed with his eyes closed, awake, but still relaxed from sleep.
For once he felt really rested and he had to admit that Djaq had been right both about the medicine that she had given him, and for the words of comfort she had told him.
To think that Marian would marry Robin still broke his heart, that wasn't changed and probably would never change, but everything else was a bit better. His back didn't hurt at that time, probably because of Djaq's medicine, and, after sleeping for long enough, his mind seemed to be more focused and even his mood was better.
He was not dead, he didn't feel dead anymore, and in the midst of the ashes of his life perhaps there was still something to hold onto. Probably he would never be able to be happy, he didn't hope for it and he knew he didn't deserve happiness, but he would find a reason to go on, something that would at least allow his life to make sense even without Marian.
He listened to the sounds of the camp: the rustling of leaves and the soft voices of outlaws. Djaq wasn't alone anymore, she was talking to someone in a low voice and Guy tried to wake up completely to see if Robin Hood had returned to the camp and if Marian was with him.
He looked in the direction from which the voices came and he saw that there were only Much, Will and Little John, sitting with Djaq around the fire.
Much was cooking something in a pot and Guy discovered that he was hungry, despite the cooking of the outlaw being anything but appetizing.
He got up from the bed and smiled to see that Djaq had left a bucket of water and fresh clothes for him: he could wash away the mud, the dirt and the residues of dry leaves that stuck on him after the night in the forest and it would be a relief.
Chapter 22: Murderers
Djaq watched the bowl: she had serious doubts about the nature of the meat and the bread was old enough to be able to compete with a rock, but at least it wasn't moldy and, soaking it in the broth, it would become edible.
She was about to start eating when she noticed that Guy hesitated to approach the fire and she motioned for him to come and sit beside her. Will, Little John and Much looked at him suspiciously, but Djaq pretended not to notice their looks and put her bowl in Guy's hands, then she turned to Much to have another one for herself.
Much reluctantly handed her another bowl, shooting a look of disapproval to the food that she had offered to Gisborne.
Djaq began to eat in silence and even Guy said nothing.
She wanted to ask him how he was feeling, but he probably wouldn't answer in front of the other outlaws and still it was evident that his condition had improved. Gisborne was still a bit pale, but much less than that morning, the dark shadows under his eyes were smaller and he ate heartily, and the look in his eyes was not dull and devoid of hope anymore. He was still full of pain and suffering, but not dead.
Djaq noticed that Guy was looking at her and she smiled, receiving in exchange a grateful look, then it was Gisborne to surprise her, breaking the silence to speak to the three other outlaws.
"Who was it?" He asked, seriously. "The dead man in the clearing. What was his name?"
"Why do you care?" Little John asked, aggressive. "Why is him different from all the poor people that you killed or tortured?"
"John ..." Djaq began, trying to calm him, but the man put down his plate and stood up, furious.
"No! Don't try to defend him. He is a murderer, a ruthless oppressor and he deserved to die. If the purpose of these bandits is to free Nottingham from people like him, I think they do well and it's just a shame that they weren't able to complete their work! He should be dead, not staying here like nothing happened. I'm not going to share a meal or anything else with someone like him."
Little John turned his back and was about to go away when Guy stood up abruptly too. Djaq, Much and Will exchanged a worried look.
"You may be right about me, maybe my death wouldn't be a great loss, but don't you dare to praise the actions of those murderers." Guy said, sounding calm but menacing. "That's what they are: murderers, not heroes. They wanted to kill the sheriff's dog? To show to the whole Nottingham that I deserved to die? They could do it, they could take me and do what they wanted. I had twenty men with me that day and they killed them all without mercy, luring them into a trap by fraud, without giving them a chance to surrender or defend themselves. Two of them..." Guy paused before he could continue and Djaq noticed he had tears in his eyes. "... two of them had their throats cut in front of my eyes for no reason at all. They were tied, they couldn't react and yet they have been butchered like animals in a slaughterhouse. Tell me, great man, how were my soldiers different from your precious peasants? Hadn't they also their wives and children to go home to? Some of them were a little older than children themselves! And do you think it is right that they were killed because they worked for me just to feed their families? Now what do you say, are they heroes or murderers?!"
Guy was about to pounce on Little John, but Djaq stepped in front of him to stop him. Little John did not even turn to look at him and walked away from the camp without saying anything.
Much and Will looked at each other as if to ask if they should follow him, but Djaq shook her head.
"Leave him alone, I'm sure he'll be back." She said with a sigh, then she turned back to Gisborne. She took his hand and pulled him back to the fire and made him sit down. "John cares a lot for the villagers, for him it's not easy to forgive those who have harmed them, even if on behalf of the sheriff."
Guy stared at the flames and he wiped his eyes with his free hand.
"I can't blame him if he hates me, but those are just murderers, in what they did to my men there was nothing that could be considered just or even acceptable."
Djaq was still holding his hand and she squeezed it a little more, thinking that it wasn't right even what they had done to him.
Gisborne returned the hold for a moment, then he pulled his hand away from the girl on the pretext of collecting the empty bowl that he had dropped to the floor when he had risen sharply. The heat of Djaq's fingers on his was really comforting, but Guy had noticed Will's glare when she had taken his hand and he didn't want that there were misunderstandings between the two young outlaws because of him.
"Roland of Blackthorn." Much said in a low voice, and the other three looked at him. "The man killed by bandits was called like that."
"Godfred of Blackthorn is one of the black knights." Guy said. "This Roland could be one of his relatives."
Much shook his head.
"I don't know, but the people who have recognized the corpse, his servants, spoke well of him. He was a good and well-liked master and he left a widow with two young children."
Guy, Will and Djaq said nothing, but Gisborne thought that maybe he had found a reason to go on living even after losing everything he cared about. He decided that he would do everything possible to find those bandits and to prevent them from destroying the lives of other people.
Robin Hood led the friar holding him by the arm and made him go through the secret door of the camp, then, as soon as it was closed, he removed the bandage with which he had covered his eyes.
He checked with a look the situation of the camp and noticed that Little John could not be seen anywhere, while Will, Djaq, Much and Gisborne were sitting around the fire. None of them had noticed his return and the camp was surrounded by a grim silence.
Tuck and Robin came to him and the others turned to look at them. Gisborne stood up, surprised to see the monk.
"Tuck! Why are you here?" He exclaimed, going towards him, then before the friar could answer, he gave a worried look at Robin Hood, addressing him. "And Marian? Why isn't she here?"
Robin shook his head.
"The castle is impenetrable. We will have to wait for the wedding day to free her."
"And do you think to leave her in the hands of Barret until then?!"
Tuck put a hand on his shoulder to calm him.
"Glad to see you in good health, son. Fear not for Lady Marian, I persuaded Roger of Barrett to impose her a period of penance and isolation. He is convinced to humiliate and punish her in this way, but, locked in a room alone, she will be safe."
Djaq, Will and Much had approached and they looked at the friar, curious to know who it was.
"He's Tuck." Robin said. "He offered to help us to save Marian."
"Can we trust him?" Much asked, wary. "How do we know you weren't sent by the sheriff? Why should you help Marian if you don't even know her?"
"I asked him." Guy said. "Tuck is the man who saved me and I wouldn't hesitate to put my own life in his hands at any time."
Robin glanced at Gisborne, amazed. He wasn't used to seeing him demonstrate loyalty to someone who wasn't the sheriff.
"Do you have some ideas to free Marian?" Djaq asked.
"Not yet, but there is also another problem." Robin said.
"The sheriff has decided to hang Allan. The execution will take place tomorrow evening at Locksley, when the sun sets."
Marian didn't move. She watched Roger of Barrett who approached her. She was unable to move a muscle while something in her mind was screaming desperately to escape, to throw herself against the walls of stone, to death if necessary, but not to let that man touch her again.
Barrett grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to her feet, drawing a groan of pain from her.
She had the impression that time had slowed down, allowing her to note every detail of the man: from his short blond hair and cold blue gaze that seemed to pierce every defense, to every detail of the clothes he wore.
Roger of Barrett pulled a dagger from his belt and, instead of being frightened by the sharp blade so close to her face, Marian found herself absurdly thinking that the weapon did not fit the sheath: the dagger was simple, a very sharp knife without any decoration, created just to penetrate the human flesh, while the sheath was far more valuable, coated with silver and decorated with red gems arranged to form a pattern.
The man yanked her hair and Marian thought that she should have tried to save her life in some way or at least cry and scream, but she was beyond fear, she felt detached from everything, as if it weren't her to be there and that she was simply watching what was happening to a stranger.
"You are a sinner." Barret said with contempt. "You will come to the altar with the humility of a penitent."
He twisted a large lock of hair of Marian around his fingers and he stretched it, then he used the knife to cut it.
Roger of Barrett dropped to the ground the lock that he had cut and he grabbed another one and then another.
"You'll be locked in a room without food or water and you will pray for your damned soul, then you will come crawling to the altar and beg for my forgiveness. Only then I will allow you to be my wife. And remember, small, treacherous leper: if you don't obey everything that I command you to do, your father will suffer the punishment."
He finished cutting the last strand and he made a sinister smile, then he turned the blade on the cheek of Marian, touching the skin with the tip of the dagger.
"That's better, but there is something missing, something that will always make you remember who you belong to."
He pressed the blade more, tracing a bloody line on her cheekbone, short, but deep enough to leave a scar.
Roger of Barrett looked at the girl, pleased by what he saw: the woman who had stared at him with such contempt and pride was now just another of his victims, trembling and in tears, unable to rebel and completely in his hands. He turned away and gestured to the guards to take her away to shut her up in the bare room where she would await the wedding day.
Chapter 23: Try to Survive
Guy remained on the bed, motionless, lying on his side and staring at the glow of the fire in the distance. The outlaws had begun a discussion about how they should behave towards Allan, but he had not spoken and he had moved away from the others.
For the gang of Robin Hood, Allan was a traitor, it wasn't worth risking their lives to save a man who had abandoned them for money. Also, trying to prevent the hanging could jeopardize the rescue of Marian: if the outlaws were killed or injured in the attempt to free Allan, who would help the girl?
Gisborne could try to convince them, but how could he ask for help from others to remedy a situation that had arisen only because of him? It was him who made Allan a traitor and he had the stupid idea to send him to the castle to keep an eye on Marian without thinking about the risks.
As darkness fell, the outlaws stopped discussing and Guy heard them return to their beds one by one. He listened to their breathing becoming deeper and slower while they fell asleep and to the fire crackling softly, but he could not close his eyes even if he wanted.
He stared into the darkness, lost in thought, then realized suddenly that he wasn't the only one awake in the camp. Another person was lying in bed without sleeping, Gisborne was sure, although he could not say from what he understood it.
“Hood.” He called softly, and for a moment there was no answer. He began to think he had been wrong, when Robin turned in bed toward him.
“What do you want?” The voice of the outlaw was dry and bitter.
“Should I consider myself your prisoner?”
Robin pondered for a moment, he didn't know how to answer to that question.
“Why do you ask?”
“Your man, John, won't come back as long as I'm here, and you need him to save Marian. Will you let me go away or will you kill me?”
Robin gave a weary sigh.
“Go away, Gisborne. I'm sick of being considered a murderer, thirsty for your blood. Take your horse and your sword and disappear. Or stay, do whatever you want, I don't care. But remember that if you reveal someone where is the camp, then I will kill you with my bare hands.”
“I'm not going to do it.” Guy promised.
Besides, even if he wanted to betray them, who could he ever tell?
Allan regained consciousness and he immediately wished he'd be still unconscious: he was lying on the floor of his cell and he felt pain everywhere. He tried to move and he realized he wasn't seriously injured, although every movement caused him extreme pain. The executioner of Nottingham was clever, he knew how to inflict pain without damaging too much the body of his victims, in order to prolong the torment for a long time without causing death.
Allan dragged on the floor to get closer to the cell next to his; he felt only silence, but perhaps she had fallen asleep.
“Marian?” He called, trying to see her in the dark.
He struggled to sit up to look better, not getting any answer and he pressed his face against the bars to peer into the gloom of the cell.
Marian was not there.
Anguished, he wondered what had become of her. He noticed a dark mass on the floor of the cell next door and he reached out to touch it. His fingers encountered something soft and Allan gasped in horror when he saw what it was: a strand of long and thick wavy dark hair.
Guy finished saddling the horse at the light of the torch that he had planted on the ground.
The sword, that he had recovered just before, was a reassuring weight to carry at his waist and now it was also the only thing that he possessed other than the horse and the clothes he wore. Well, not all the clothes he wore belonged to him, he thought with a wry smile while he folded his black leather jacket and slipped it into the bag attached to the saddle. For the moment it would be more prudent for him to keep wearing the common clothes that Djaq gave him the day before and the gray wool cloak that had already been very useful in the past to hide his face.
He approached the torch to take it before leaving: the sun would rise within a few hours, but for now the darkness was still thick.
“Aren't you going to say goodbye?” A voice from the shadows asked and Guy stopped to wait for Djaq to approach. The girl stepped into the circle of light cast by the torch and she looked at him sternly.
“It's better that way. I have no desire to listen to the discussions and the protests of your friends. Hood agreed to let me go and I won't tell anyone where you hide. That is enough.”
“Where will you go now?”
“For the moment I'll go to Locksley, if I can approach without being recognized. I need to recover some things. Then I don't know, I'll think about it later, if I'm still alive.”
Djaq watched him, trying to look at his face in spite of the weak light.
“You're going to save Allan, aren't you?” She suddenly asked.
“Alone?! Are you crazy?”
“You have to think about Marian, I'm not going to jeopardize her safety for a problem caused by me. Anyway, from what I heard last night, very few of your friends would be willing to help a traitor. Allan is one of my men, I have to do it myself.”
“This is suicide, you know?”
“Maybe, but that's fine. I might be able to save him and then I would have done something good in my life, but if I die at least I'll know that I've tried.”
“I can't convince you not to do it, right?”
The girl came up to him and hugged him suddenly. Guy gasped in surprise and he was about to escape from that contact, then he thought that it would probably be the last gesture of affection that he would receive in his life and he hugged Djaq back. It was a nice feeling and it remembered him of the far away time of his childhood, when his sister clung to him to be comforted when she cried for a reprimand of their mother or for a scratch after a fall.
“Don't get yourself killed.” The girl whispered to him. “At least try to survive, promise.”
“I'll do anything to save Allan and survive too, it's a promise. But if I don't make it, I want you to tell Marian that I died free, doing something I believed in and that I was not afraid.”
“What I feel for her will never change, but I no longer have the right to say it.”
Djaq nodded and stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek.
“Good luck, may Allah protect you.”
Gisborne still held her for a second, then he pulled away and he mounted his horse. The girl handed him the torch.
“Thanks.” Guy said, not even trying to hide his emotion. He started to spur the horse, but he hesitated and turned back to Djaq. “Probably it's impossible, but if you ever find a way to contact my sister, tell her I'm sorry. Her name is Isabella.”
“Survive and do it yourself.”
Gisborne nodded, then he started the horse and he departed in the forest.
Marian tried to look out of the window, but the opening was too small and high to be reached, it was just enough to let some air in the tiny room.
The place where she was locked up was even smaller than cell in the dungeons. There was nothing, except for a wooden bench to be used as a bed, a chamber pot and a table with a pitcher of water.
She dipped a handkerchief and pressed it to her face to block the blood trickling from the cut on her cheekbone. She didn't have a mirror to check the wound, but she knew that it would leave a scar.
She touched her hair with one hand, it was so short now that it barely touched her neck and she scolded herself for the foolish vanity that made her suffer for its loss.
Perhaps with her hair cut and her face marked by the dagger of Barret she wasn't as beautiful as before, but if her destiny was really that of having to marry that man, then she hoped she had become so horrendous to cause so much disgust in him to keep him at a distance.
She sat on the bench and looked up, watching the piece of starry sky she could see from the little window. She wouldn't be able to climb up to it and in any case the room where she was imprisoned was too high to think she could jump off the window.
Unless she wanted to die.
And she didn't: she still hoped that someone would to come rescue her.
Chapter 24: Rescue
Sir Edward got out of bed even if the sun had just risen and the servants were still asleep.
He went downstairs in silence.
He couldn't sleep, but he didn't want to draw the attention of the servants and he didn't want their company.
He walked over to a window and he looked with horror at the gallows that had been raised in front of the house the day before, then he felt a presence behind him and he spun around, ready to cry for help.
Guy stepped forward in the light of the sun to show himself and he put a finger to his mouth to warn Sir Edward to be silent.
Marian's father approached him, agitated.
“Sir Guy! Where were you? Do you have any news of Marian?”
Gisborne looked at him: Sir Edward seemed to have aged suddenly since Marian had been taken away and his health seemed even weaker than usual. He made him sit in the chair next to the fireplace and he leaned towards him to speak.
“I can't stay long, no one must know I'm here. Marian is safe for now, Robin Hood knows what happened and he will save her on the wedding day. But you must arrange to escape, Sir Edward, do you have any friends that can offer you protection?”
“Yes. Marian will never be truly free if Barret can threaten you.”
Guy looked down in remembering that he had used the exact same threat to keep her in the castle.
“I have friends, yes. They can help me to escape and I will ask sanctuary to the abbey.”
“Well.” Guy approved. “Be ready to go away at the right time. On the wedding day there will be little time to act, but you can't escape before it or Barret will be suspicious. If I can, I will come to help you, but I can't guarantee my presence.”
“Help Marian and don't worry about me, Sir Guy. I may be old and sick, but I can take care of myself.”
“I have to get some things in my room and in Marian's room if you allow me, are there servants upstairs?”
“No, and don't worry, I'll keep them away for as long as it is necessary. Take anything that you might need, this is still your home.”
“Thanks.” Guy said, then he looked at Marian's father, worried about him. “Tonight, at sunset, no matter what happens, stay safe.”
He climbed the stairs quickly and he recovered his weapons first: he took another sword that he would attach to the saddle of his horse, some daggers and a saracen bow, similar to the one used by Robin Hood.
Then he decided to be optimistic and he put in a bag some clothes and objects that he would need if he could save Allan without being killed.
He left the weapons and the bag next to the stairs and he entered Marian's room. He saw his black coat still hanging on the wall and he decided to take it, not because he cared particularly about it, but because Marian had carefully kept it when she thought he was dead. He folded it and he left it next to the bags, then he returned to Marian's room.
What he was looking for was probably not in plain sight, so he had to rummage through the things of the girl. He didn't like the idea of doing it and it made him feel uncomfortable, but it was necessary.
He opened a chest at the foot of the bed and he quickly pulled out it contents, without finding what he was looking for. Instead, on the bottom, he saw a ring and he picked it up, incredulous. It was the engagement ring he had given to Marian long ago, a delicate silver circle with gems arranged to form small flowers.
He had never bothered to look for it or to ask it back, and he thought it had been destroyed in the fire of Knighton Hall. Marian must have had it with her that night, maybe she had thought to return it to him to appease his wrath and she had never had the opportunity to do so.
In any case it didn't matter, he thought with a sigh and he started to put it back, but he changed his mind and he decided to keep it in memory of Marian.
He took a ribbon from the trunk of the girl and he slipped it through the ring, then he tied it and put it around his neck, hiding it under his clothes.
He went back to search through Marian's things and he finally found what he needed, wrapped in a piece of cloth and hidden in the back of a closet. He took the bundle and he put it in the bag with the black coat, he collected the weapons and he went back down the stairs and outside Locksley Manor before anyone could notice his presence.
Allan clung to the bars of the prison wagon that carried him to Locksley, hoping to see some sign of the outlaws.
Maybe Robin Hood would have mercy on him and save him even though he was a traitor. If he knew about his execution... But the sun began to descend toward the horizon, and Allan couldn't see anyone coming to his rescue.
The trip ended without incidents and the sheriff's guards dragged him out of the cage, threatening him with the swords to bring him to the scaffold that had been erected in front of the main entrance of the house.
The sheriff was already seated in the front row, on a sort of wooden throne and Sir Edward was sitting beside him, held in his place by two armed guards.
Allan desperately tried to struggle, but the guards took him to the gallows and they brought him up to the platform, putting him on a stool, then they slipped the noose around his neck.
A priest came up to him and he smiled at him with compassion.
“Son, I'm here to absolve you from your sins, if you will confess them.”
Allan looked at him, terrified. Now he was beginning to realize that no one would come and that he would be hanged just like his brother.
Guy looked at the soldiers who carried Allan to the gallows and at the ones located around the place of the execution, holding flaming torches to illuminate the scene after the sunset.
It was typical of the sheriff: he wanted to enjoy the show to the end and in the best way.
Gisborne watched him, sitting next to Sir Edward and he felt only contempt for the man who he had faithfully served for so many years. He didn't know when and how it happened exactly, but Guy had changed and now he wouldn't be able to blindly obey Vaisey's orders.
Accepting it made things easier: now that he could no longer decide to go back, he might as well go all the way and see what would happen.
After giving up on Marian, Guy had not much to lose.
He spurred his horse to make him move forward, he held his bow, he took a deep breath and then he smiled: the mask that covered his face had the same scent of Marian.
“This is enough, or he will confess even the sins of his grandmother.” Vaisey said, pointing to the priest, and he sent him away with the same gesture that he would use to drive away a pesky fly. “Come on, hang him, I want to see some action.”
The sheriff had just finished speaking when an arrow flew past him, sticking in the wooden back of his chair, followed immediately by another one which struck the executioner in the leg, causing him to fall from the platform.
Everyone turned to look at the knight who had shot those arrows and who was drawing the bow again.
“That's the Nightwatchman!” The sheriff shouted, pointing at him. “Get him!”
Guy threw another arrow, hitting the nearest soldier, then he put back the bow on his shoulders and he spurred the horse, to make him gallop.
He had planned to make the soldiers chase him. He would make them follow him far from the gallows, then he would use the superior speed of his horse to outrun them so he could reach Allan taking the path around the village, free him and flee before they could get them.
He turned around to check the situation and he cursed. He had thought that the sheriff would just stand and watch as he usually did, but instead Vaisey had approached the gallows and was climbing the steps leading to the platform, with the clear intention of hanging Allan personally. Guy knew that he couldn't make it in time to save Allan's life, unless he followed the most direct route, passing through the midst of the soldiers instead of going around them as he had thought to do in the beginning.
Guy made a quick decision and he turned his horse, drawing his sword at the same time, then he urged him and he threw him at full speed towards the scaffold, hitting the soldiers who were trying to stop him.
He swept the first ones and he struck with the sword the next ones without slowing down his horse, pointing straight at Allan.
“Idiots, stop him! Kill the Nightwatchman! Take the bows, you idiots!” The sheriff shouted, looking at the men who were falling under the Nightwatchman's attack, then he turned to Allan and kicked off the stool from under his feet.
Gisborne saw with horror that Allan was struggling, trying to breathe and he urged the horse to go faster. On the platform, the sheriff had drawn a sword, but Guy wasn't going to be intimidated by that threat: he bent on the horse's neck, dodging Vaisey's swing as he passed near the gallows, then he straightened and he threw two knives towards the gallows. The first missed the target, but it still served to distract the sheriff, and the second cut the rope of the noose, making Allan to drop on the platform.
The young man tried to get up, but he still had his hands tied and he was struggling. The sheriff moved towards him with his sword to finish him and Guy started to turn his horse again and go back towards the gallows, but an arrow grazed his shoulder, just missing it, while another scratched his horse, making him rear.
Guy was able to stay in the saddle, but the archers of the sheriff were aiming at him and they prevented him to get close to Allan and to the sheriff. Within a few seconds they would also manage to hit him and he would die without being able to save Allan.
Gisborne tightened his grip on the hilt of the sword and he prepared to charge again: they would kill him for sure, but maybe he could stop the sheriff and distract the soldiers for a few seconds, giving Allan a few moments more to flee.
He lunged forward, expecting to be pierced at any moment, but the pain never came, instead he saw that the archers of the sheriff were falling, hit by a barrage of arrows that came from afar.
Had Robin Hood come to help him? Guy was deeply surprised, but he didn't allow his surprise to slow him down: he reached the platform at a gallop, struck the sheriff in the back with the flat of the sword, making him fall in the mud and he grabbed Allan, throwing him across the back of his horse, in front of him. Then again he spurred the animal and ran at full speed towards the forest, before the soldiers of the sheriff were able to regroup and to chase them.
Chapter 25: A Night in the Forest
Gisborne galloped for a long time before daring to stop the horse to allow Allan to pull himself up.
He freed his hands cutting the rope and the young man turned to look at him, stunned.
“Marian?” Allan asked, recognizing the costume of the Nightwatchman and Gisborne laughed.
“Do I look like Marian, in your opinion?” He asked, taking off the mask and getting an even more surprised look from Allan.
Guy raised his hand to silence him.
They were silent for a while, listening carefully to the sounds of the forest, then Guy made the horse move again.
“I don't think we're being followed.” He said softly. “But we must keep going. Are you hurt? Can you ride?”
Allan slipped the noose from his neck, looked at it in disgust and was about to throw it away, then he thought it was best not to leave traces and he put it in one of the bags attached to the saddle.
“It wasn't any fun, but I'm still alive and not too hurt. And in order not to fall into the hands of the sheriff again, I am also ready to ride all night.”
“Take the reins, then.”
Allan did so, a bit surprised.
Gisborne leaned against him and put his arms around Allan waist.
“Because I'm going to faint.” He said, weakly.
“Did they hit you?” Allan asked, worried.
Guy closed his eyes and pressed his face against Allan's back: after the tension had subsided, the strenght had suddenly left him, the wounds had begun to hurt again and only now he was beginning to be really aware of what he had just done.
Allan took the reins with one hand and used the other to hold onto the arms of Gisborne around his waist.
“Well, my friend, rest as long as you want, I won't let you fall.”
Robin put down his bow and gestured to the others to retreat.
By now, Gisborne's horse had had ample time to get away into the forest and the sheriff's soldiers would no longer be able to reach him.
He cast a last look at the confusion that reigned in Locksley. Vaisey's men were flailing, unable to regroup to chase the fugitives and the sheriff had been struggling in the puddle of mud in which he had fallen until a soldier helped him back on his feet.
Sir Edward, fortunately, had the foresight to take cover as soon as he realized the situation.
Robin allowed himself a laugh at seeing the sheriff shouting, furious, covered with mud from head to foot and he laughed even harder imagining the face the sheriff would do if he knew who had pushed him off the platform.
Robin followed the other outlaws, still incredulous for the scene he had witnessed.
When Djaq had told him about Gisborne's intentions, Robin hadn't given much thought to her words. The black knight was a broken man, broken in body and mind.
The previous night he had let him free to go away for that reason: Guy of Gisborne no longer had the strength or the will to be a threat. Robin had thought that sooner or later Guy would end completely crazy or that he would take his own life. Robin had no desire to witness such a humiliating end although in the past he had often wished for the death of his enemy.
Instead Gisborne had managed to surprise him.
Robin had listened to the words of Tuck and Djaq and he had agreed to go with them to Locksley.
After some hesitation even Much and Will had decided to go with them, while Little John had firmly refused.
Robin had made it clear that the rescue of Marian was more important and that he would not risk the lives of any of them for Allan and Gisborne.
They would intervene only if it would be possible to do so safely, but Robin didn't think that their presence could make a difference because he thought that Gisborne would do nothing or that, if he did, it would be just the act of a desperate man looking for a quick death.
When he saw the Nightwatchman, Robin was left speechless and for a moment he thought that Marian had managed to escape from captivity on her own.
When he realized it was Gisborne to hide under the guise of the Nightwatchman, Robin had realized that the black knight wasn't trying to end his life, but that his was a real attempt to save Allan: it was reckless, foolish and perhaps desperate, but with a certain logic.
Gisborne was ready to risk his life, but he hoped to survive, otherwise he wouldn't have bothered to cover his face to conceal his identity.
Robin looked at him galloping at full speed among the soldiers and he found himself thinking that it was a gesture that could be expected from Marian or that he could make himself, but that was completely unexpected from Gisborne.
In that moment he had nocked an arrow and he had ordered his gang to imitate him, then he had targeted the sheriff's archers, ready to cover the escape of Allan and Gisborne.
When he saw them disappear at a gallop through the trees, Robin had discovered that he felt relieved. Maybe those two were his enemies, but he had had no desire to see them die in that way at the hands of the sheriff.
Guy saw the sheriff who lunged at him to hit him with the sword, and he awoke with a start. He found out he was still on horseback, leaning against Allan's back.
He didn't remember much of what happened after they had fled into the forest, only short fragments of confused memories mixed with much more vivid and frightening dreams. As they rode in the moonlit forest, Guy had continued to slide in and out of a fitful doze and he had been conscious only for brief intervals.
Allan felt him move and turned his head to look over his shoulder.
“Hey, are you awake, Giz?”
Guy straightened on the saddle, moving away from Allan's back.
“Yes, now I am. Sorry.”
“You saved my neck, literally. Sleep as well as you want and I'll certainly won't complain.”
“Where are we?”
“Not too far from Robin Hood's camp. Or at least I think so. There is the moon, but in the dark it still isn't easy to find the way.”
“We're not welcome there, Allan. Neither you, nor I.”
The other shrugged.
“Do you have any better ideas? When the sun rises the sheriff's men will hunt us and we both need to get our strength back. Maybe he doesn't like us, but I hope that Robin won't refuse to give us shelter for a while.”
Guy said nothing. He had no desire to ask for help from Robin Hood, but Allan had a point, they were both injured and exhausted and they couldn't wander aimlessly in the forest, risking of being caught again by the sheriff.
He let Allan to find the way and he hoped they wouldn't have to deal with too many arguments when they would reach the camp. He felt so tired that he just wanted to lie down somewhere and sleep.
“It took you a lot of time to get here.” A voice from the shadows said, startling them.
Neither of them had noticed the presence of Robin until he had spoken.
“Hood?” Gisborne looked at him, amazed at his words. “You've been waiting for us?”
“Djaq feared that the sheriff's men were able to capture you.”
“At night it is not so easy to find the way.” Allan said, dismounting. He glanced at Gisborne to make sure he had the strength to stand up on his own, but the other dismounted without problems. If he was going to faint again, at least he did not show it.
Robin looked at Guy and he shook his head with a half smile, in disbelief.
“The Nightwatchman, uh?”
“Where did you get the costume?”
“I went to Locksley to look for it. I knew it had to be in Marian's room.”
Robin stared at him.
“How did you find out?”
Guy looked away. He didn't want to think back to that moment, to the despair and the terror he had felt after hitting Marian, the confession of the girl and the heartbreaking sweetness of the kiss that followed, the only and last one that he would ever have from her.
“She told me.” He just said, and fortunately Robin Hood made no further questions, but merely lead them to the entrance of the camp.
Chapter 26: One of Them
Guy rubbed his eyes with his hand, trying to ward off sleep, and he turned back to the horse. He had already removed the saddle and now he wanted to try to clean the wound that the horse had received during Allan's rescue, but the animal retreated as soon as he felt pain.
“He reminds me of someone.” Djaq said, approaching with a smile. “How's your back?”
“It hurts.” Guy confessed. “But it could be worse.”
“Try this.” The girl said, showing him a bowl full of a thick ointment with a spicy smell. “I've prepared it for your wounds, but it will be fine for his, too.”
Gisborne took a bit of the liniment with a finger and he smeared it on the wound of the horse with a quick gesture, before the animal could react, then he walked away, leaving him quiet.
“Now it's your turn, take off your shirt.”
Guy took the bowl from her hands and he shook his head.
“Don't be too nice to me, your friends wouldn't understand it. I don't understand it myself, to be honest. I thank you for the medicine, but it's better if I ask Allan to help me.”
Djaq nodded. She noticed the annoyed and grim look that Will had given her when she went to Robin to ask him to help save Gisborne and Allan. And Will was the last one to join the group when they had gone to Locksley.
“Once I hated you for what you did to my people.”
Guy looked at her, not understanding what she meant.
“I have never fought against your people.”
“But you tried to kill your king, disguising yourself as a saracen. Because of you the truce was broken and so many other lives have been lost in vain. You brought death and suffering both to my people and to yours.”
“It seems to be my fate.” Guy said without looking at her. When he had obeyed the orders of Vaisey, he had only thought of the advantages and the power that he would have gained from the death of the king. He blindly followed the sheriff without even stopping to think about the consequences that his action would have on the lives of so many people. He obeyed like a dog, and now he deserved to carry on his conscience the burden of those deaths. “Why did you help me, then? Why were you nice to me?”
“I helped you because you suffered. Hating a person for what he did is different from seeing that same person suffering before your eyes. I thought that your actions in my country didn't deserve any other punishment than death, but then, when I saw you tied to that tree and so sick, I didn't think that it would have been a good chance to kill you. I just wanted to ease the pain that was torturing you. That's why I helped, even if you didn't deserve it.”
Djaq looked at him: Guy listened with his head down, not daring to meet her gaze, and she knew that her words had hit him hard.
“If I were kind to you, it's because you're different from what I thought.” She said in a softer tone. “Not just the sheriff's killer.”
Guy looked at her.
“No. And you should be the first to be convinced of it. You can be better than the sheriff always made you believe and today you have demonstrated it. You just have to find the right path to follow and I believe you can do it.”
“I wish I could change a lot of the things I did in the past.” Guy admitted. “But I can't.”
“No, you can't. Remind them, remind them always, but don't let that destroy you. Make sure that your mistakes are your guide to becoming a better person.” Djaq encouraged him with a smile. “But now you go and try to get some sleep, I can see that you need to rest.”
Guy replied with a sort of faint smile and he nodded briefly, then he returned to the camp to look for Allan.
The young man was sitting on one of the logs arranged by the fire and he had taken off his shirt so Tuck could medicate the wounds that had been inflicted to him in the dungeons of the castle. He had many superficial wounds and his neck was marked by a large bruise left by the noose, but he seemed to be quite well. While the monk was busy treating the cuts and the burns on his back, Allan ate greedily, helping himself from a tray full of food placed before him.
“Hey, Giz!” Allan called Guy, seeing him coming and he pointed to the tray. “Are you hungry? Help yourself. Once you get used to Much's cookery, it's not so bad.”
Guy shook his head. He had not eaten for many hours, but at that time he didn't have the strength to do it. He just wanted to close his eyes and sleep, without dreaming, if possible.
He handed to Tuck the bowl that Djaq gave to him.
“Try to use this on his wounds.”
The monk looked at the thick liquid contents in the bowl and he sniffed, trying to recognize the ingredients. He smiled to himself thinking that sooner or later he would have to find time to talk to the saracen girl so they could compare their knowledge in terms of medicines and medicinal herbs.
“I will use it also on your wounds, later.” Tuck said, starting to bandage a cut on Allan's arm after treating it with Djaq's ointment. “Go to bed, when I'm done here I will come and check your back.”
Marian was alone and she passed through a dark and ghostly forest. The twisted branches of the trees tangled in her clothes and gave her the impression of wanting to hold her back, trapping her in a cage of thorny branches.
Then, in just a moment, with the typical illogic of dreams, she found herself sitting in a carriage drawn by galloping horses along a straight road that stretched to infinity.
A thick, heavy veil covered her face and it gave her the impression of not being able to breathe properly.
The carriage stopped suddenly, without a jolt: the moment before it ran at full speed, the next moment it was motionless.
The door opened and Marian came down, finding herself outside the church of Locksley.
At first the scene reminded her the one that she saw on the day of her ill-fated marriage to Guy: banquet and tents decorated with garlands of flowers and banners with the colors of Gisborne.
Marian searched for Guy with her eyes, expecting to see him coming to meet the coach like that day, so excited that he couldn't make a meaningful discourse, but he wasn't there.
There was no one outside the church. Not Guy, and not even the people of Locksley.
The girl came up and saw with horror that what she had mistaken for wedding decorations, however, were the preparations in mourning for a funeral.
Hers was not a bridal veil, but the black veil of a widow.
Marian began to tremble.
Who was lying inside the church?
Not Guy! Please Lord, not Guy! Not again!
Marian ran toward the entrance, slowed by the bulky dress and terrified of what she would see once inside.
On the altar lay the body of a dead knight, the sword resting on his chest like a cross, but Marian couldn't see his face.
She walked along the aisle and for a second it looked to her that the man lying on the altar had the appearance of Robin Hood, while the next moment he resembled Guy and she couldn't make out who it was between them.
None of them, I beg you!
Marian closed her eyes, she didn't want to see the dead man.
The wound on her cheek ached and she found herself thinking that the pain she felt had to be very similar to the one Gisborne felt when she hit him with the ring in that very same church, when she refused to marry him.
The cut was bad, but the chill of loneliness was much more painful and Marian burst into tears because she knew that that day she had inflicted on Gisborne also that second kind of suffering.
And if it was that pain to kill Guy? Or maybe the dead knight was Robin, the heart pierced by Marian's infidelity?
In any case, to whoever that body belonged, it was her fault.
Marian awoke with a cry of anguish and she looked around in panic before recognizing the bare room where she was locked.
She sat on the wooden bench and leaned her back against the wall, shivering at the contact with the cold stone wall.
It was just a nightmare, she thought, wiping her tears with her hands, there was no knight lying dead on the altar of the church of Locksley and she had not killed Guy or Robin.
Marian looked at the window and she watched the sky that was beginning to get brighter, but she did not feel more calm.
Guy and Robin...
If she could run away from Barret, sooner or later she would have to make a decision and it would break the heart of one of them.
If Roger Barrett would succeed in forcing her to marry him, both Guy and Robin would suffer, but she wouldn't have the time to see their pain: once she pronounced the vows, she would wait for the first opportunity to kill her husband and she would end up hanging from gallows for that, or, if she had not the chance to kill him, she would end her own life.
In any case she would rather die before letting him to touch her.
Chapter 27: Plans
Robin Hood folded his arms as he wistfully watched Tuck's moves.
The monk had finished treating Allan and the young man was fast asleep after emptying most of Much's pantry.
The friar had approached silently to Gisborne's bed and, with delicate gestures, he had raised the shirt on Guy's back without waking him, to spread a salve on his wounds.
Robin saw with horror the signs of lashes that crossed on Guy's back and he shivered in thinking of the pain that he must have endured. No wonder why Gisborne was in such a state, indeed Robin was deeply amazed that he could find the strength to save Allan's life.
Actually, what Gisborne did would have amazed him in any case: to risk everything to save a servant wasn't the behavior that he would ever expect from the black knight.
Tuck finished dressing the wounds, then he adjusted Guy's shirt and covered him with a light blanket. He paused to touch Gisborne's forehead to check his temperature and brushed his hair with a kind of caress before leaving his bed and heading towards Robin. All the while Guy had been completely still, sunk in an exhausted sleep.
“He'll be fine.” The friar said, even if Robin had not asked. “Over time he will recover.”
Robin gestured casually, as if to say that he didn't care that much about Gisborne's fate.
“He was tortured, but his injuries are superficial. He got a good scare, but fear didn't certainly took his appetite away. He is young and strong and with a little rest he will be as good as new.” The friar said, smiling cheerfully.
Robin nodded then he returned by the other members of the gang, followed by the monk.
The others had gathered in silence around the fire and they looked at him quizzically, waiting for him to speak.
Robin looked at Much: his friend looked uncomfortable, worried and nervous, as if he wanted to say something but he did not have the courage.
Will seemed to be in the same mood of Much plus a hint of anger in his eyes, while Little John stared into the fire grimly.
Djaq was the only one to look more serene, but she quietly remained in silence.
“What is it, Much?” Robin asked, wearily. “What's the matter?”
“What's the matter?! Do you need to ask, master?”
“Allan and Gisborne, I guess.” Robin said flatly.
“Why are they here? They are our enemies and they shouldn't be at the camp.”
“Much is right.” Will said. “We have already helped them to escape from the soldiers of the sheriff, I don't see why we should also welcome them here.”
“This I do not like, Robin.” Said Little John. “Gisborne is an enemy and Allan is a traitor, they both deserved to die.”
Djaq looked at Robin, like she wanted to intervene, but after taking a quick look at Will, she remained silent, merely giving him a worried look.
“When you help the poor, do you always ask if they deserve the food and the money you donate to them?” Tuck asked, answering in Robin's place.
“No.” Much said. “But in this case we know perfectly well that they don't deserve our help! Indeed, I fear that if we are not careful, they might take the opportunity to harm us. This whole thing could be a trap set by Gisborne to catch us .”
“I don't believe that. Whether they deserve it or not, sending them away now would mean throwing them into the hands of the sheriff and I will not have their blood on my hands.” Robin said. Then he paused and looked at them one by one before continuing. “And then we need them.”
“Do we need those two?” Little John broke, in disgust. “We do not need murderers or traitors!”
“Yes, we do!” Robin replied. “To save Marian I am ready to accept any help we can get, even theirs.”
“Freeing Lady Marian will not be easy. Roger of Barrett is a very dangerous man.” Tuck said and Robin nodded.
“Unfortunately it's true. I hate to admit it, but we could be in trouble against him. If Gisborne and Allan will want to help us to save Marian, I am willing to put aside our hostility for the moment.”
Much glanced doubtfully at the two sleeping men.
“Even if we let them work with us, will they be able to do it? They don't look very healthy, especially Gisborne...”
“That's what I thought too.” Robin said. “But you have seen what he did last night. If he faced the sheriff's soldiers alone to save Allan, I want him with us when we go to free Marian.”
Roger of Barrett watched the dying man: he was writhing weakly and his breathing was labored.
The hands of the poor man had been nailed to the trunk of a tree and the man's body was pierced by arrows and marked by lashes, but Barrett was not in the least disturbed by the sight, indeed he had a satisfied smile under the mask that covered his face.
He approached the dying man and he cut his throat, then he turned away from the corpse and he disappeared among the trees, immediately imitated by the other thirty masked men.
One by one, his men would hid the bandits' costumes and they would return to wear their soldiers of Nottingham's uniforms. Then the company would return to the castle, telling the sheriff that the bandits had managed again to escape their research.
Barret laughed to himself every time he saw the sheriff to go on a rampage for those failures: that idiot Vaisey certainly could not suspect that the company in charge of searching for the killers of the forest was formed by the bandits themselves.
He himself had selected these men over the years, choosing only the individuals who were suited to implement his plan: soldiers who were unscrupulous and willing to gain power.
Men like him.
This time the victim who they had chosen to kill was the warden of the castle: an ideal target to make people believe it was the vengeance of a band of peasants against the power of the oppressors.
In fact the identity of the persons who they had killed didn't matter much to Barret and his men, it was enough for them that they were related in some way to the nobility of Nottingham.
The only victims who had been decided at the start, even before he explained the plan to the other men of the band, were just two: Guy of Gisborne and the Sheriff Vaisey.
The death of the first had been central to allow Barrett to take his place as the sheriff's Master at Arms, the second would take place soon and it would ensure wealth and power to all of them.
Roger of Barrett smiled to himself when he thought of the day he killed Guy of Gisborne. It would have been sufficient to center it with an arrow shot from a distance, but he had chosen to lure him into an ambush for two very specific reasons.
To massacre Gisborne and all his soldiers in a so dramatically way, was a message much more effective, and its precise purpose was to make people talk of the bandits in the forest, to spread the legend of the outlaw gang that rebelled against the oppression of the sheriff.
The second reason was more personal, but not least strong: Barret had always hated Guy of Gisborne because of the position of power that he covered undeservedly. The black knight was not clever and strong as him, he often failed in completing the missions that were entrusted him by the sheriff and at times he was influenced by his own conscience. Yet, after years of incompetence, Gisborne kept his place alongside the sheriff while Barret was only the commander of one of the companies of Nottingham.
It was unfair, as it was not right that Gisborne had been entrusted with the village of Locksley.
Barret had enjoyed every single lash he had inflicted on the black knight and he had felt an enormous satisfaction to see him destroyed by the pain, humiliation and suffering so much that he didn't even have the strength to scream.
The only things that displeased him when he thought of that day was the regret of not thinking of crueler tortures for Gisborne and that he failed to hang him to the branch of the tree and leave his rotting corpse to the beaks of the crows.
Gisborne had got what he deserved and soon Barret would take possession of all that belonged to him: his position, his lands, his mistress.
Soon Barret would have much more than Locksley, he thought with a grin of satisfaction: he would have the entire county, or at least what it would be left of it.
His plan was simple but brilliant: he had intercepted and falsified a message directed to the sheriff, announcing the visit of one of Vaisey's allies on the day when Barret would marry Marian in the church of Locksley. So the sheriff would remain in Nottingham instead of being present at the wedding.
Barret would make sure to leave only his men guarding the castle and later, during the wedding celebrations, the soldiers would put on their disguises as bandits to kill the sheriff.
Perhaps the people of Prince John would destroy the city, but Barret didn't matter: no one could blame him because everyone would see him elsewhere, getting married.
When the waters would subside, Roger was going to capture and execute thirty peasants, accusing them of being members of the gang of assassins and then he would have them delivered to the prince to appease his favor.
If all went as it should, in the end he would become the Sheriff of Nottingham and his men would secure land and positions of power.
He was certain of one thing: he wouldn't allow anyone to undermine his plans.
Chapter 28: Almost Brothers
Robin Hood stood up from his seat by the fire and stretched, a little aching because he sat thinking for so long. Tuck, Will and Djaq went to Nottingham to collect as much information as possible about the marriage of Marian, Little John and Much had dedicated themselves to find food in the forest, while he was left to guard the camp and to reflect on how it was best to rescue the girl.
He took a few steps toward the covered area of the camp where some time before Will had built comfortable beds for all of them. Robin thought that he would have to try to rest, but he had too many thoughts that kept him awake.
He looked at Allan who was slightly snoring, and he wondered how he could sleep so peacefully after what he had passed. Gisborne's sleep instead appeared to be far less peaceful: the black knight stirred in his sleep and his face was contorted in an expression of deep distress and suffering.
Instinctively, Robin walked over to him and he put a hand on his shoulder to wake him. Gisborne opened his eyes suddenly, startled by the sudden touch, and he grabbed Robin's wrist with both hands, then he recognized the outlaw and he seemed to relax, but he didn't release his grip on Robin's arm.
“Oh. It's you.” He whispered, closing his eyes as if he was in pain, then Guy realized that he was still clutching Robin's wrist and he let him go. He sat on the bed and spoke to the outlaw without looking at him. “Hood, you'd better not come near me while I'm sleeping. I could react in the wrong way without realizing it.”
Robin looked at him, surprised by the pained tone of his words and he sensed that the Gisborne was warning him about something that had already happened to him in the past and which he still blamed himself for.
Marian. He must have done something to Marian. Robin guessed, with a twinge of worry for her and hostility towards Gisborne, but he didn't ask him anything about it.
“Do you think you will be able to work with us to prevent Barret forcing Marian to marry him?” He asked instead and Guy returned his gaze without the slightest hesitation.
“To help her, I'd be willing to collaborate with the devils in hell.”
“Well.” Robin approved. “Try to eat something and get your strength back, probably you'll need it.”
“Provided that Allan has left something to eat.” Gisborne commented with a half smile and Robin was surprised to find a trace of warmth in his voice.
Robin checked the food supplies and recovered a large piece of bread and cold leftovers of the previous meal. He broke the bread and he handed one half to Guy, who had followed him, then he returned to the fire and sat down on one of the logs that they used as seats. He put the dish with the meat on the ground next to him and made a gesture towards it to invite Gisborne to help himself.
Guy nodded and he sat down on the trunk, close to Robin.
For a few minutes they ate in silence, then Robin realized that Gisborne was staring at him, but at the same time he seemed lost in some distant thought.
“What's up?” He asked, uncomfortable, and Guy winced as if the question had caught him by surprise.
“I was wondering if it would be so terrible to have you as a brother.” He replied impulsively, before he realized what he was saying.
Robin looked at him, stunned.
“How did you come up with a similar idea?!”
Guy smiled wryly. He felt a little embarrassed for having revealed his thoughts to Robin Hood, but the shocked expression of the outlaw amused him.
“I'm not mad, Hood. It was a rather concrete possibility.”
“Are you delirious, Gisborne?”
“No. Your father. My mother.”
“They had a relationship.” Guy looked at him, amazed at Robin's reaction of disbelief. “You really didn't know?”
“You're lying. It's absurd.”
“Yep. I would think that too if I had not seen it with my own eyes.” He said, with a certain malicious satisfaction in seeing Robin Hood's amazement. “They were going to get married.”
“But they didn't. My father never said anything about it to me...”
Guy turned serious and he looked down.
“They didn't have time...” He said softly and Robin looked at him, suddenly furious.
“Because they died! The fire! That's why you have set it?! You killed them to prevent them to get married?!”
“No!” Guy shouted, genuinely hurt by that accusation. “It was an accident! I would never do something like that on purpose, never! I did not have the courage to challenge the flames and I will bring this weight for all my life, but I never killed my parents and not even your father! Not voluntarily! I was not a murderer, then… I wasn't...”
“That's fine, I believe you!” Robin exclaimed quickly, to stop his impassioned outburst. He wasn't used to see Gisborne in that state and the aversion he felt for him began to mingle with the pity he would feel for any man marked by such a deep trauma.
“Stop it!” Guy snapped and Robin looked at him.
“Don't agree with me if you don't really think so. I'm not crazy.” Guy paused and smiled to himself, bitterly. “Or maybe I am. But I don't need your pity.”
“As you wish.” Said Robin, provocatively and Guy glared at him.
“Hey, it's you who wanted me as a brother.” The outlaw continued.
“I never said that!”
“Funny, I thought you did.”
Guy gave him an exasperated look, then he sighed.
“If our parents were married, I would have had to have you as a brother, but probably I wouldn't have met the sheriff. My life would have been very different...” Guy said, then, seeing that Robin Hood was looking at him, he continued in a lighter tone. “But I still can't decide which of the two alternatives is the least disastrous.”
“Very funny. Once you weren't so witty, Gisborne.”
“Things change, Hood. Once you would have killed me instead of helping me. I won't forget it.” Guy said, seriously, then he noticed the uncertain expression of Robin Hood and he realized that the outlaw wasn't sure how to interpret his words.
“That was a thank you, Hood.” He explained, in a bored tone. He picked up another piece of meat and he chewed in silence for a while, then he looked back at Robin. “By chance do you also have any apples?”
Allan awoke with a start when something landed on his pillow, almost touching his head.
The young man opened his eyes and he saw that the object that had almost hit him was an apple, red and ripe. He looked around to see where it came from and hi saw Gisborne a few meters away, watching him with an amused gleam in his eyes. The black knight was holding another apple and he bit it smugly, without saying anything.
Allan grinned, and he got out of bed to meet him.
“You did sleep enough, I would say. Come on, we need to talk.”
Guy motioned for him to follow him and they went back to the fire, where Robin Hood was waiting for them.
Allan sat in front of Robin and Gisborne and he noticed with some surprise that they both were looking at him with the same expression of anxious expectation.
Guy was the first to speak, staring into his eyes.
“Did you see her? When you were at the castle were you able to meet her?”
Allan didn't need to ask who he was referring to.
“Only briefly. I told her that you went to seek help from Robin Hood and she was worried, she was afraid that you were going to be killed by him.”
Robin rolled his eyes in exasperation.
“I have better things to do in life rather than killing Gisborne.”
“Good to know.” Guy commented in a light tone to hide his feelings. He knew it was foolish of him, but he could not help but feel moved and excited by the simple fact that Marian had been worried about him.
“Was she fine?” Robin asked, turning to Allan.
“When I saw her... she was.” He replied, but the hesitation in his voice worried the other two.
“What is it, Allan? Are you hiding something?” Guy asked, threatening, and Allan shuddered.
“The sheriff made me to be tortured. In your place, among other things. He wanted revenge for your will, but as you are believed dead, he decided to punish me.” Allan began, turning to Gisborne. “But you shouldn't feel guilty for that because you saved my life...”
“Allan!” Robin interrupted him. “What has that got to do with Marian?”
“What I meant is that while I was in the torture room I couldn't see her and when I got back to my cell she was gone, they had taken her elsewhere, but...”
He paused and gave a worried look to Robin and Guy.
“What? Speak, damn!” Gisborne yelled, anguished.
“On the floor of her cell I found this.”
Allan showed a lock of dark, wavy hair to the other two and then he lay still, afraid of the reaction they would have.
“They cut her hair!” Robin exclaimed, furious.
Allan glanced at Gisborne, worried about him. Guy had been watching the lock of hair without moving a muscle, as if he was petrified, then he turned to Robin and looked at him in the eyes.
“Hood. We have to save her. At any cost.” He said softly, in a tone that had made Allan shudder, then Guy stood up, turned his back to the other two and went away without another word.
Allan watched him go, wondering if he should follow him, but Robin shook his head.
“Leave him alone. He'll be back.”
Chapter 29: From the Underworld
Guy urged his horse to gallop, then he let the animal choose the path through the forest. When he went away from the camp, Guy lose no time in saddling the horse and now he was forced to keep his concentration on the ride to avoid a fall, but it was fine for him.
He had to focus on the gallop of the horse, following the movement of the muscles of the animal and avoiding any possible obstacle in the forest. They were all excellent reasons for not surrender completely to his darkest thoughts.
When he saw Marian's hair in Allan's hands, he had felt like he was sinking into a dark abyss of hate and despair and he knew that if he were in front of Roger of Barret, he would kill him without hesitation and without worrying about the consequences. He would take pleasure in destroying him, joy in spreading his blood and, when he had realized what he was feeling, Guy was afraid of the dark ferocity that burned in his heart.
His, he felt, was the soul of a murderer, of a vicious dog who longed only to bite his prey and this was the reason that made him leave the camp.
The darkness that surrounded him would eventually affect even those who didn't deserve it and Guy didn't want it to happen.
The horse slowed down, tired, and Guy humored him. Even the tumult that was raging in his heart was starting to subside, replaced by a deep sadness.
That was why he had to give up Marian, to keep her away from the destruction that always accompanied him, at any time of his life. Guy had the fear that sooner or later (it had already happened) he would hurt her, that he would eventually destroy her as he did with everything he had loved in his life.
A thorny branch, moved by the passage of the horse, hit him in the face, leaving a scratch on his cheek and the sudden pain shook Guy out of the state of self-pity that he was abandoning himself to.
He would give up Marian for her sake, he had already decided to do it and he wouldn't pull back, but he wouldn't allow the pain to destroy him.
He remembered the words of Djaq: he could become a better person in spite of all his faults and his defects and he had to at least try.
Not for Marian, not to win her love, nor to get the respect of the people around him, but only for himself.
To save Allan's life had been a crazy and frightening experience. If he thought about it, he still could not explain how they both had made out of it alive, but it was the right thing to do and for once Guy felt he could be proud of his actions.
Helping Allan had made him feel good, it had given him a bit of inner peace and it had lightened his soul a little.
Maybe if he worked hard to make sure that Marian could be happy, he would feel the same peace again, Guy thought, and maybe losing her wouldn't completely destroy him as he had always believed.
To give her up would break his heart and he knew it without a doubt, but if he could be one of those who took her to safety, that knowledge would help him to live in a world where Marian would never be his.
I can't have her love, but I can save her.
It wasn't much, but it was enough.
It had to suffice.
Guy of Gisborne took the reins of the horse and turned him to return to the camp of the outlaws: he had already wasted enough time, and now he had to join the others and find the best way to help Marian.
Marian waited patiently to hear the approaching footsteps down the hall and she stood there, hidden in the shadows by the door of her room. The muscles of her arms ached after holding the pitcher for so long, it was heavy even if it was empty, but she would wait for as long as necessary.
Finally, after waiting for a long time, the door to the room opened and the woman in charge to bring the water came in, carrying a bucket filled to the brim in her hand. Marian had watched her in the days before and she had even tried to bribe her to let her go, but she had simply ignored Marian, just pouring the contents of the bucket into the jug and taking away the chamber pot to empty it.
Marian lifted the pitcher and she brought it down with all her strength on the woman's head, then she stepped over the slumped body with a jump and she ran out the door, but she stopped when she found the road blocked by the spears of the soldiers who were guarding the corridor.
One of the soldiers dragged the body of the unconscious woman out of the room, and another one poked Marian with the tip of his spear to force her to return to her cell.
She tried to figure out if she could fight to try to escape, but the guards were too many and she was weakened by fasting for days and she was forced to obey.
“Bad move, Lady Marian.” One of the soldiers scoffed before closing the door. “You have to hope that you won't get thirsty, because you won't have any more water.”
Marian watched the door close, she picked up the empty bucket and she threw it in a fit of rage, she walked through the pool of water that had formed on the floor, she sat on the wooden bench and pulled her feet on, kicking away her wet shoes, then she hugged her knees with her arms, leaned her face on them and she burst into tears.
Robin Hood watched the members of his gang gathered around him, waiting. They were waiting to expose all the information they had collected about Marian's marriage so they could start outlining a plan of action, but Robin didn't look like he was going to start the meeting yet.
Allan was sitting apart and he looked worried, then the expression of the young man had opened in a smile of relief and Robin understood, even without looking, that Gisborne must have returned to the camp.
“Well.” He said, turning to the others. “Tell us what you have discovered.”
“The wedding will take place in the church of Locksley tomorrow at noon.” Will said. “And apparently the festivities will continue throughout the day until late at night.”
Robin nodded, casting a quick look over his shoulder: Gisborne had not joined them and he seemed busy looking for something inside a leather bag that he had placed on one of the beds, but Robin was sure he was carefully listening to every word.
“It seems that the sheriff won't attend the ceremony, but all the other nobles will be there.” Djaq added.
“What about Marian?” Robin asked.
“I heard that Barrett will make her reach the village on a reinforced cart, like the ones that are used for prisoners, escorted by several soldiers.
“We can't free her along the way, then.” Robin commented. “We will act after she enters the church, but we'll need a diversion to be able to enter the building without being seen.”
Guy approached the outlaws and they all looked up at him: he wore his black leather jacket and the long coat he always wore when he worked for the sheriff, his Black Knight's uniform, and he looked like to be the same Guy Gisborne who had terrorized the peasants of the villages in the county of Nottingham for years.
Gisborne sat next to Robin Hood and he stared at him.
“Do you need a diversion?” Guy asked, and the outlaw noticed a flash of amusement in his determined expression.
“Yeah. Any ideas?”
“How do you like a return from the grave?”
Chapter 30: Here Comes the Bride
Guy finished saddling the horse and he carefully checked that each belt was secure. He wouldn't leave room for the slightest mistake: the mission they would face in a few hours was too important to afford any error.
He took a deep breath to try to calm down. If he wanted to save Marian, he had to remain calm, but it wasn't easy not to think about all the things that could go wrong.
Gisborne had felt so upset and anxious only in two other occasions: in the Holy Land when Vaisey had ordered him to kill the king and the day of his marriage to Marian.
The fact that in both cases things went disastrously certainly didn't help to calm him.
He left food and water for the horse and he went back to reach the others. Robin was summing up the plan for the umpteenth time.
“So, is that clear? We will wait for Marian to come into the church, then Gisborne will attract people's attention and he will lure Barret out of the building. Meanwhile we will enter the church and we will block the door behind him. Tuck will convince the pastor to continue the ceremony, while you will aim with your bows at any guards or anyone who wants to oppose. As soon as the marriage is concluded, we will take Marian and flee. She and I will take the road to Portsmouth, and from there we will embark to reach King Richard in the Holy Land.”
Robin glanced at Guy, fearing that he had changed his mind about who should be the one to marry Marian, but the black knight didn't object.
“Someone should make sure that Sir Edward manages to reach Kirklees Abbey.” Guy said instead. “He told me he had friends who can help him escape, but it is essential that he reaches a safe haven.”
“I'll do it.” Tuck said. “After all that's where I was headed from the beginning.”
“Allan, you'll stay out instead, with Gisborne.”
“I do not need help, Hood, nor to be controlled. I said I'll take care of Barret and I won't pull back. I shall do my job, no matter what.” Guy said, annoyed, and Robin shook his head.
“I know you will, but we must take into account any unexpected trouble. To keep busy Barret long enough is essential. I saw him in action with the peasants of Clun and I know how dangerous and brutal he can be, if you'll be in two to keep him at bay, I'll feel more comfortable. And anyway, if I wanted to control you, I wouldn't choose Allan to do it.”
Guy looked at him doubtfully, then he nodded and Robin turned back to the others. “Now go, try to mingle with the peasants without being noticed, we have to be close to the church when Marian comes.”
The outlaws obeyed and they withdrew from the camp one at a time. Guy returned to the horse to complete the final preparations. He hung a second sword to his saddle and he took out every unnecessary weight from the saddle bags, leaving only the weapons that could be useful to him: some daggers and a quiver of arrows. He made sure that the saracen bow was at hand and then stroked the horse's nose with a sigh: he was ready, now he just had to wait for the right time to act.
Guy turned. Robin had joined him, staring at him with a serious expression.
“What is it, Hood?”
“You mustn't fight with Barret, remember. You just have to lure him out of the church and to keep him busy long enough. Don't try to be a hero.”
“Why, do you want to have the exclusive?”
“I mean it, Gisborne.”
“Didn't you see what he did? He must pay for how he treated her.”
“If you kill him, you will become an outlaw. The sheriff's guards would hunt you everywhere.”
“So? The sheriff wants me dead anyway, what would change? At least I won't have to expect a stab in the back. Anyway, I don't think that being an outlaw ever limited you.”
“Gisborne...” Robin began in a tone of warning and Guy stared at him, daring him with his eyes.
“I will kill Roger of Barrett, and you won't stop me.”
Robin approached Guy and, with a sudden movement, he tried to punch him, but the other ducked.
The two men began to fight and they rolled on the ground, trying to outdo each other. Robin managed to grab Guy by his shoulders and pushed him, causing him to slam the back on the ground with enough force to leave him breathless for a moment. Robin took advantage of the moment of weakness of his opponent to immobilize him.
“Now you see what I mean? Who says that it won't be Barret the one who kills you? Think, Gisborne: you are hurt, you can't beat him.” Robin said, panting because of the fight and Guy surrendered. He stopped struggling and he lay still, his blue eyes clouded by tears of frustration.
Robin released him and gave him a hand to help him up, not expecting Gisborne to really take it, but he did, accepting his help.
“I know.” Guy said with a sigh, without looking at him. “But Barret has hurt Marian and I can't stand it.”
“And that's why you want to hurt her, too?”
Gisborne raised his head sharply to look at him.
“What do you mean? I not would never hurt her!” He shouted, then he blushed and looked away, remembering the times when he had already hurt her, even if unintentionally.
Robin put a hand on his shoulder and Guy flinched at the contact.
“Your death would make her suffer. I hate to admit it, but I've already seen her cry for you. And if you should be killed because of her, Marian would never forgive herself.”
Guy looked at him for a moment, in disbelief at hearing those words and even more surprised to hear them coming from the mouth of Robin Hood, then he hung his head and he accepted defeat.
“All right. Today I won't fight with him.” he promised. “But one day Roger of Barrett will pay for what he did.”
“Tell me and that day I will come to help you out.” He said with ferocity. “But now we have to go, we can't make the bride to wait for us.”
Guy mounted his horse and he looked at him.
“Do you know, Hood? Maybe it wouldn't have been that bad...” He said, with a sad smile, then he spurred his horse and walked away through the trees.
Marian tried to look out of the wagon, but the vehicle in which she was traveling was completely closed and she could barely see shards of the landscape through a crack in the wood.
That distressing trip reminded her the nightmare she had a few nights before, the coach who dragged her to a church decked out in mourning.
It wasn't so different from the reality, Marian thought with a pang: the wagon was carrying her to a church and the marriage with Roger of Barrett wasn't very different from a funeral, her funeral.
She searched once again for a way to escape from the car, even if it meant having to throw herself in the dust of the road and being crushed by the hooves of the horses, but her hands were chained and the door was locked from the outside of the vehicle.
Marian closed her eyes. She was weak from fasting and the jolts of the wagon made her feel sick, but she didn't want this trip to end, she didn't want to be forced to marry that demon.
Allan looked at the cloud of dust in the distance, moving along the road that led to Locksley and he thought that it must be raised from the wagon that was carrying Marian. It was far and there was still time, but Allan was beginning to worry.
Finally he heard the hooves of a horse approaching and Gisborne joined him.
The black knight tied his horse next to Allan's one, in the trees, and he went near him to get a better view on the road.
“It took you time, Giz. I began to think that you had changed your mind.”
“Why would I?”
“You're only helping your rival to marry the woman you love, why should you have?”
“I'm avoiding that the woman I love and who I will never have, has to fall into the hands of a monster, Allan. This is what I'm doing.”
The young man looked at him, sympathetically.
“Are you ready?”
Guy took off his gray cloak he had used to conceal his identity and he tossed it to Allan.
“Not really, but it doesn't matter.”
Allan took the cloak and he put it in the saddle bag of his horse, then he looked at Gisborne.
“The black knight who's back from the dead...” He said in an amused tone. “You will scare them all.”
“That is the idea.”
“What will you do next?” Allan asked, turning serious. “When it's all over?”
Guy reflected for a while. He couldn't imagine his future once Marian had become the wife of Robin Hood, but he knew he had to make a decision quickly. Certainly he couldn't think of staying in Nottingham once they found out he was still alive.
“I will escort them to Portsmouth, we must be sure that they are able to embark without problems. Then I don't know, I suppose I could get on a ship too, to start a new life elsewhere.”
“A boat to where? Where will you go?”
“Not in France and not even in the Holy Land. I imagine any other place will be fine.”
“Some time ago, I heard from some pilgrims that in Rome the food is good and the wine is good too. How about it, Giz, shall we go and find out if it's true?
Guy looked at him, surprised.
“Shall we go? You want to come along?”
Gisborne stared at him for a moment in disbelief, then he smiled.
“Yeah, why not?”
Chapter 31: Forever
Robin Hood mingled with the crowd of peasants gathered at the church and he looked around quickly to control the positions of his companions. They were all, except Tuck, near the entrance and they tried to go unnoticed among the people of Locksley.
The friar wasn't an outlaw and he could move freely, so he did not need to hide.
The nobles, however, had already entered the church along with Barret, and they were awaiting the arrival of the bride.
The closed wagon arrived, pulled by galloping horses, and it was escorted by the soldiers of Nottingham. It went to a stop in front of the entrance of the church. A guard opened the door of the carriage and he brought down Marian, without the slightest kindness.
Robin saw her stumble and fall in the dust of the road and he was forced to appeal to all his self-control not to rush to her aid. He watched, shaking with anger, as the soldier pulled her up, dragging the chain that was fastened around her wrists.
She was barefoot and she wore a shapeless garment of rough cloth. The hair was cut short and a wound on her face made her look terribly vulnerable, but the soldier who was holding the chain did not relent and jerked her toward the church, dragging her like an animal led to slaughter.
Robin Hood had to restrain himself from planting an arrow in the heart of the soldier and he bitterly regretted that he had convinced Gisborne not to kill Barret. Now, he was the one who wanted to murder that beast.
Djaq approached Robin indifferently and she put a hand on his wrist.
“We have to wait.” She whispered to Robin and he looked at her, taking back control of his emotions.
Outside the church there were too many soldiers, they had to wait for Gisborne distract them to enter the church and barricade the doors behind them, shutting them out.
Marian stopped at the church door and she wouldn't have been able to move if the guard had not pulled her forward yanking the chain.
For the second time she had to enter a church to marry a man she didn't want, but now her situation was completely different.
The previous year she had entered the church with the pride and the appearance of a queen, willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her father. Guy had awaited her arrival with impatience, so excited he was almost incoherent, but at that time Marian didn't realize it. For her, the black knight was just the bully henchmen of the sheriff who had lied to her on the return of the king in order to marry her and she had despised him for that.
But now waiting for her at the altar there wasn't Guy, but the cruel monster who had pleasure in humiliating her and enjoyment from her pain, the man who ruthlessly forced her to get into the church dressed as a penitent, as if it were she the one who needed God's forgiveness.
Barret turned to her, a satisfied grin on his face, and Marian was tempted to turn and run away, but she knew it was useless because the soldiers would inexorably drag her back to the altar. Barrett gave a significant look at Sir Edward and Marian forced herself to walk towards the groom.
Once again she sacrificed herself to protect her father, but this time the sacrifice was much bigger, almost impossible to deal with and the girl thought that maybe she couldn't do it, and that she wouldn't be able to pronounce the wedding vows even to save her father's life.
Barret grabbed her shoulder with his hand and he pushed her to make her kneel next to him, then the priest, visibly uncomfortable, began to perform the ceremony.
He had just begun to speak when a terrified woman had entered the church running, screaming and crying. The priest was interrupted and everyone turned to look at her.
“The devil!” She cried hysterically. “It's here! He came back from hell to take revenge!”
Guy haw waited for Marian's carriage to arrive in front of the church and he saw from afar when the girl was dragged into the building by one of the soldiers.
Even from a distance he immediately recognized the familiar figure of Marian, despite the cut hair and the humble tunic she was wearing. His heart sank when he saw how she was treated.
Allan had whispered him to remain calm and Guy nodded. Later, he could let go of his emotions and give vent in some way to the anger he felt, but as long as Marian had not been rescued, he had to control himself and to make sure that everything was going as planned.
He mounted on his horse and he made the animal to take the road leading to the church, putting him at a trot.
Robin watched Gisborne approaching on his horse and he thought that if he hadn't known that he had survived the ambush, his sudden appearance would impress even him.
The black knight rode solemnly his fiery stallion, black as the night, and, as he passed, the peasants were struck dumb in the grip of a superstitious horror or they fled screaming. Even the soldiers of Nottingham did not dare to approach him and they kept prudently at a distance, staring at him with undisguised terror.
A screaming woman ran into the church and others followed to take refuge on holy ground.
Robin saw that his companions had joined the terrified crowd, using it to get into the church without being noticed and he moved to imitate them, immediately followed by Djaq.
Roger of Barrett looked angrily at the woman who had dared to disturb the ceremony and he thought that the soldiers would have to be punished for letting her enter the church. Soon after, other terrified peasants had swarmed into the church in a panic.
“What's going on?!” Barret thundered, furious, grabbing a terrified man for questioning him, but the peasant couldn't do anything but babble nonsense about the dead coming back from the grave and Barret pushed him to the ground in frustration.
He was about to kick him when an all too familiar man had appeared on the doorway of the church.
Guy of Gisborne.
Marian jumped to her feet and for a long moment she stared at the black knight. Her face lit up with joy and she shouted his name, beginning to run to him, but Barrett grabbed her by the arm and he pulled back, throwing her to the ground, towards the altar.
When the eyes of Guy met Marian's ones, the black knight had the impression that the world around him had ceased to exist, frozen by the girl's blue eyes that, at that time, on her face tried from captivity and pain, seemed even larger and deeper than usual.
I will love her forever.
The thought crossed Guy's mind and suddenly he was aware of the inevitability of that feeling. It was a certainty, a truth that couldn't be changed or denied in any way, such as the color of the sky or the depths of the sea.
And he would have to give her up.
He looked at her with the impression that as soon as he looked away from her eyes, his heart would shatter to pieces, crumbling into a thousand of sharp shards, then Marian moved to run to him and Barrett threw her to the ground, violently.
That gesture was enough to break the spell that had paralyzed them and Guy looked at Barret with hatred, drawing his sword, but without approaching him.
“Don't you dare to touch her!” He shouted. “You don't have any rights on her!”
Barret was taken aback when he saw him appear in the doorway of the church, for a moment he even felt fear in recognizing the man who he was certain he had killed with his own hands, but he recovered quickly.
He grabbed Marian by her hair and he tugged it, dragging her at his side.
“You should thank me, I'm going to make your whore an honest woman.”
Guy pointed the sword at Barret: he trembled with desire to reach him and run his heart through, but if he did so, he would only endanger Marian. He forced himself to follow the plan, he had to lure him out of the church at all costs.
“I'm warning you. Do. Not. Touch. Her.”
“Try to stop me. Or your damned soul doesn't dare to step on consecrated ground?”
“I won't stain a sacred place with your blood. Come out, unless you're too much a coward to face me.”
Barret let Marian go, then he drew his sword and strode across the church to attack Guy, determined to kill him once and for all. If Barret wanted his plan of becoming the new sheriff to work, Guy of Gisborne was to be killed and to stay dead, this time.
He attacked the black knight, but Guy, seeing him coming, turned his back at him and walked away from the church door, running to his horse. He mounted with a jump and Barret imitated him, taking an horse from one of the soldiers, then he spurred the animal to get it to gallop to reach Gisborne and he tried to hit his opponent with the sword to make Guy fall from the saddle.
Guy avoided the direct blow to his head and he took his horse away from Barret.
With a quick glance he noticed that the church doors had been closed, a sign that the plan was proceeding as planned. Marian soon would be safe from the aims of Barret and she would be lost to him forever.
Guy found himself feeling at the same time relief and excruciating sorrow, but then he was forced to set aside his own feelings and to concentrate to defend himself against attacks of Barret.
Robin Hood made him promise not to get involved in a fight, but Roger of Barrett didn't seem to be of the same opinion: he attacked Guy with ferocity, with the obvious intention to kill him and Gisborne struggled to keep his distance.
He raised his sword to parry a blow and the impact almost made him drop his weapon, while a pang of pain shot through his wounded back, taking away his breath for a moment. Guy took the horse away and he was forced to admit to himself that Robin had been right: he wasn't yet able to fight and if he had to face Barret, he would be defeated in a very short time.
He hated having to run away from his opponent, but if he was killed too soon he couldn't give Marian and Robin enough time to be able to get married.
He spurred his horse into a gallop, moving away from the church and he turned back to check what Barret was doing: the man had no intention of giving up the pursuit and he was following him closely.
Chapter 32: No
Marian had watched in horror Barret who drew his sword to chase Guy and she got up from the ground to try to stop him. She had only walked a few steps when someone had grabbed her, preventing her to continue and she had cried seeing the doors of the church that were closed and barred from the inside.
She looked back at the person who was holding her, ready to fight to get free and she found herself staring at the blue eyes of Robin Hood.
“Robin!” The girl exclaimed with joy, then she recognized the other outlaws. “You have come to free me! Come on, quick!”
The outlaw took her hand and he led her to the altar. Marian stared at him, surprised.
“Where are we going? We have to get out of here before they come back!”
Robin shook his head.
“We don't have much time, we have to hurry.”
“Hurry to do what?”
“To get married.” Robin looked at Tuck and the friar nodded in assent. Beside him, the priest of Locksley, clearly terrified, nodded weakly too.
“Once you are my wife, the sheriff can't force you to marry Barret.” Robin explained and Marian stared at him in disbelief.
She did not know what to say and she felt that the time was running at twice the speed than normal. Robin had just asked her to marry him and he was going to do it right away. She couldn't help but think that Guy had chosen to expose himself so much just to stop the marriage and she couldn't forget the look that he had given her when he entered the church.
“Guy...” She whispered. “What will he do when he finds out?”
Robin had looked at her for a moment and Marian had seen a flash of disappointment in his eyes, then the outlaw had smiled ironically.
“He knows already, in fact, to be honest, this was his idea.”
Marian stared at him, shocked, then Robin pushed her gently toward the altar.
“There isn't much time, Marian.”
He waved to the priest and the man began to perform the ceremony, sweating with excitement.
The girl looked around nervously. Robin was beside her, and his figure was reassuring as usual, but he seemed to be nervous. Tuck was standing a few steps from the altar, next to the priest, while the other gang members were aiming with their bows at the nobles seated on the benches of the church.
As for her father, he could not be seen anywhere and Marian wondered where he had gone.
For years she had dreamed of the moment when she finally would marry Robin, her first love, and now that she was really going to do it, the situation seemed absurd, completely different from what she had imagined as a girl.
She should have burst with joy and instead she wanted to cry. The lump in her throat felt the same as when, only a year before, she had been forced to marry Guy...
Marian realized suddenly that the feeling of anxiety she felt was closely related to the black knight.
Suddenly a lot of memories came to her mind, She remembered all the times when Guy stood at her side, protecting her from the cruelty of the sheriff or just waiting for one of her smiles, his timid attempts to woo her that she had always discouraged and the deep sorrow she had felt when she had believed he was dead.
The absence of Guy made her think that the world had somehow broken and its pieces were back in place only when she had hugged him in the stable of Locksley and she had started crying in his arms.
And now Guy was challenging Barrett to allow her to marry Robin...
She looked at the outlaw, the man she had always dreamed of sharing her life with since she was a kid, hoping to find comfort in his eyes, but Robin was looking serious, unsmiling.
He held her hand with a firm grip and Marian found herself thinking again about how much the hand of Guy trembled when she had taken it in her hands after she had kissed him.
She remembered what he had said the night of the siege, when he confessed that he was about to flee because death scared him, but that he didn't because he wouldn't be able to be alive in a world where she wasn't there.
If she married Robin, she would disappear from the world of Guy.
The image of her dream, with the knight lying dead on the altar, appeared all too vivid in her mind, but now she could see the face of the corpse and it was Guy, still and pale as a marble statue.
The priest asked her something and Marian looked at him, blankly.
The old priest looked at her, worried, and he cleared his throat, before repeating the question.
“Will you, Marian of Knighton, take this man, Robin of Locksley, as your husband and love him...”
Robin interrupted him.
The pastor looked at him, stunned and Marian stared at him with tears in her eyes.
Robin smiled sadly.
“This is what you would have said, isn't it? I don't want to hear that from your voice, and then I am saying it for you. No.”
Marian hung her head and she began to cry. Robin took her in his arms to comfort her.
“I'm sorry!” The girl sobbed. “I'm so sorry...”
Robin touched her tousled hair with a kiss and he held her as she wept. To know that Marian didn't want to marry him hurt him, but, if he wanted to be honest, he had to admit that a part of him felt some relief at the thought that the ceremony wouldn't be continued.
Something had changed between them, it was no use denying it. The sentiment that had bound them when they were younger had turned into something else over the years. Perhaps their bond was torn for the first time when he had gone to the Holy Land and that wound had never completely healed even though neither of them had the courage to admit it until then.
When Marian had asked him if he had killed Gisborne, Robin had the impression of not recognizing anymore the girl who was in front of him. The Marian who he had proposed to would never have asked such a question, she would not have needed to ask because she would have no doubts about him.
It was from that moment that his heart had begun to say goodbye to her without wanting to admit it, but now, in front of her tears and the expression on her face that made her look like a trapped animal, it made no sense to deny the truth.
“I know.” He whispered softly. “I know.”
Marian closed her eyes, resting her face in his chest. In the arms of Robin she felt safe, secure and she trusted him completely, but Robin was no longer the boy who had taken her heart and she was no longer the Marian who had given it to him so many years before. They had both changed and the simple and pure love of the past had turned into a deep affection.
“When did it happen?” Robin asked with a sigh.
“When did you fell in love with him?”
“But I do not...” Marian began to say, quickly, then she stopped, confused. She wanted to deny Robin's words, to tell him that she wasn't in love with Guy, but would it be the truth?
...I love Guy? This is what I feel?
She could not answer that question, but she knew that if she had any doubts, it wouldn't be honest to marry Robin, not even to be safe from the claims of Barret.
“I don't know... I don't know what I feel...”
She said, then she fell silent, her head bowed and Robin shook his head in resignation.
“Give me your hands, I will try to open these handcuffs and then I'll take you to safety. No one will force you to marry if you're not sure.”
Marian held out her shackled wrists, without having the courage to face him and Robin tried to pick the lock with the tip of his knife, but the hole was too small and he could not snap the closure.
He needed something more subtle. It occurred to him that he still had with him the dagger that Allan had given to him, the one that he should have used to identify the aggressor of Gisborne. That knife had a thin and sharp blade and it would probably be able to get into the keyhole.
He picked it up and began to force the handcuffs, being able to open them after a few seconds.
The shackles fell to the ground, but Marian seemed to be petrified, staring at the dagger.
“Sorry.” Robin said “It's still covered in blood, but it was necessary to get rid of the handcuffs.”
She shook her head. It was not the blood to upset her.
“Robin, why do you have Barret's dagger?”
“What?! How do you know who owned it?”
“I saw the sheath that he uses, it is decorated in the same way as the handle of this knife, I can't be wrong. Why do you have it?”
Robin let out a curse and he gave a look of apology to the priest who had stared at him sternly.
“Marian, are you absolutely certain? Without the slightest doubt?”
“Yes. It's the dagger that completes the sheath of Roger of Barrett. Why do you ask?”
Robin looked at her, worried.
“This is the weapon that has been used to stab Gisborne. If it belongs to Barret, then it was him who organized the ambush! He is the leader of the bandits!”
Marian turned pale.
“Robin... This means that Guy...”
“He doesn't know. And he is facing him alone.”
Chapter 33: The Road to Nottingham
Guy made the horse swerve to the side to avoid yet another assault from Roger of Barrett. The man seemed determined to kill him and he attacked Guy without giving him respite, chasing him closely and trying to hit him with a blow after another.
Gisborne was beginning to be in difficulty and he was beginning to think that the promise made to Robin was superfluous: he couldn't even hope to kill Barret, indeed he was the one who was in danger of dying.
His opponent threw a dagger at him and Guy lose his balance backwards to avoid it. Barret was quick to attack him and he tried to hit Guy with the sword. He missed him, but he made Gisborne to fall from his horse.
In a moment he dismounted and ran to reach Guy. He grabbed his arm and he twisted it behind his back, crushing him to the ground with the weight of his body, then, with the free hand, he pointed a knife at his throat.
“How does it feel to die for a second time?” He whispered, leaning on him to speak in his ear. “This time I will make sure that there is no doubt... sheriff's dog.”
Guy winced at hearing those words.
“It was you?!” He shouted. “You were the leader of the bandits!”
Barret planted a knee in his back with the sole purpose of causing him pain.
“I bet the lashes still hurt, right? It would have been smarter for you to stay dead.”
Guy tried to struggle to break free, but Barret was stronger than him and he had an advantage and Gisborne could not move. His only hope was to try to buy time and hope for a moment of distraction of his enemy.
“Why? Why do you want to kill me? What do you gain from my death?”
Barret pressed the blade on his neck and he grinned.
“Your job, your woman and soon, very soon, Nottingham, when the sheriff will go to hell to keep you company.”
Guy realized that Barret had no moral qualms, he did not care at all that the soldiers of Prince John would destroy the city and both he and Vaisey were only obstacles in his mad dash to power.
He had to stop him at any cost, to prevent him to implement his plan, but how? Within a few seconds Barret would slit his throat before he could do anything to avoid it.
“Guy! Guy!” Allan's cry made Barret spun just in time to see the horse of the outlaw galloping towards them and Guy took the opportunity to grab the wrist of the enemy and remove the blade of the knife from his neck.
Barret let go of Guy just in time and he jumped to the side to avoid being run over by Allan's horse, while Gisborne got up from the ground in a moment and he jumped on the animal, hoping to cling to the horse tightly enough.
For a moment he thought he would slip and that he would be trampled by the hooves of the horse, but Allan was able to grab him and haul him up on the saddle behind him.
“Are you okay, Giz?” Asked the young man, without slowing down the pace of the horse. “Is he crazy?! He wanted to cut your throat!”
“Barret is the leader of the bandits!” Guy said, gasping for breath. “He wants to kill the sheriff!”
Allan looked back at Barret who hastened to mount the horse to chase them.
“But if he kills him, Nottingham will be destroyed!”
“We have to stop him.” Guy saw his horse running on the road and motioned for Allan to reach it. “Go back to warn Robin, I will go to Nottingham. Barret is alone, he can't pursue us both.”
“But Giz, the sheriff wants you dead!”
“In this case it wouldn't suit him to kill me.”
Guy got off Allan's horse and he mounted on his own. The two men exchanged a knowing glance, then both spurred their horses, starting in opposite directions.
Marian looked at Robin, anxiously.
“What do we do? How can we warn him? Barret will try to kill him!”
The outlaws thought for a second.
“Do ring the bells, as if the ceremony had ended.” He ordered the priest, then he turned to Marian to give her an explanation, seeing the confused look of the girl. “The plan was that Gisborne held Barret long enough for us to get married. When he hears the bells, he will understand that it is time to retire and that he no longer has to distract Barret.”
Marian nodded, even though the situation seemed absurd. She did not know if it was stranger to think that Guy had suggested that she married Robin to save her from Barret or the fact that Robin and Guy were working together as allies without trying to kill each other.
The girl ran out of the church, followed by Robin and the gang of outlaws. The people of Locksley looked puzzled, seeing her escape from a marriage for the second time within a year.
She saw a horse coming at full speed and her heart sank when she recognized Allan.
Robin had told her that the young man was with Guy to help him. Why was he there then?
“Barret is the leader of the bandits!” Allan shouted, turning to Robin.
“We just found out. Where is Gisborne?”
“On the way to Nottingham, if he ever manages to get there. Barrett wants to kill the sheriff and Giz decided to warn him to avoid the destruction of the city. Barret is chasing him, if it were to reach him, it will be the end both for him and Nottingham.”
“Let's go then!” Robin said. “Even if I hate the sheriff, his death would only cause more deaths. Marian, you stay here...” He began to say, but she was no longer beside him.
A moment later he saw her galloping along the road leading to Nottingham.
Guy urged the horse to go faster, although its pace was already too fast for that road. Barret was just a few dozens of meters behind him and he was chasing Guy with the intention of killing him.
Gisborne knew his only hope was to be able to maintain that gap between them or to increase it.
His horse was more agile and faster than the one of Roger of Barrett, but that was pretty much the only advantage that Guy had. If they got to a physical confrontation, he would lose, as he had already found out earlier.
Without the providential intervention of Allan, he now would be lying on the roadside with his throat cut and Nottingham would have had no hope of salvation.
Guy hoped there was still time to do something. From the way he spoke, Barret was planning to take action soon, maybe the sheriff could be dead already.
From a point behind him, Guy heard a festive chime of bells in the distance, and for him, that sound, usually cheerful, took a tragic meaning. By now it was final: Marian was the wife of Robin Hood and he would have to bury his love for her in the deepest of his heart.
He would keep it there forever, as in a tomb.
Gisborne heard the sound of hooves behind him getting closer and he shook himself out of those sad thoughts to spur the horse again: if he allowed himself to be distracted, he would end up in a tomb. Him, the sheriff and most of the inhabitants of Nottingham.
The sheriff took one of the birds from a cage and he held it in his hands for a few seconds before transferring it to a bigger one, giving it a companion.
Vaisey grinned at the thought that that day Lady Marian, who had given him so much trouble in the past, would have found the companion that she deserved. Roger of Barrett undoubtedly would treat that little leper in the way she deserved.
Just to see the lesson of humility imposed on the girl it would have been worthy to attend the ceremony, but the sheriff could not miss the meeting with Godfred of Blackthorn, one of the most influential Black Knights.
Vaisey wondered about the reason for that meeting, but it had to be important, otherwise it wouldn't have been fixed so quickly. Perhaps there was a new plan to assassinate King Richard and they wanted him to be part of it.
The sheriff wondered if in that case he could count on his new henchman. Roger of Barrett was skilled and efficient, but Vaisey knew he could not have on him the same influence that he had on Gisborne, therefore he would have to test the loyalty of his new Master at Arms.
He fed the birds and he wondered why Blackthorn was so late, by now he should already have arrived long ago.
Vaisey decided to go and check the situation in person and he walked to the castle courtyard. He went out the front door and stood on top of the stairs as he watched the entrance gate. There was something strange that day: the castle was too quiet and there weren't the usual servants who lost time in the corridors, but only soldiers who did their guarding duty in silence.
Vaisey crossed his arms, annoyed. The delay of Blackthorn irritated him and he wanted to vent the anger on some servant, but there was no one to abuse at that time and that irritated him further, but he couldn't do anything but wait.
He didn't notice that the guards were keeping an eye on him, waiting for the right time to kill him.
Chapter 34: Cedric
Guy looked back: he had managed to outdistance Barret a few meters more, but it still wasn't enough: he wouldn't have time to find out how to enter the castle before being reached and killed.
He had to gain ground at all costs. Guy looked at the road: in that point, it was parallel to the river.
To get to Nottingham, he had to cross the bridge, several hundred meters ahead and then come back for a long stretch up to reach the crossroad and take the road leading into town.
If only he could cross the river before the bridge, Guy could save a long way and get to Nottingham with a good advance on Barret. It occurred to him that a little farther there was a point where the river was narrower and perhaps a good horse could leap it. Maybe.
Guy knew that his idea was absolutely crazy and he had a good chance of ending up on the bottom of the river after killing himself and his horse falling on the rocks, but he also knew that he would die the same if he failed to distance Barret .
He urged his horse, still increasing the speed and he headed for the side of the road, hoping that the animal did not hesitate to obey his commands: if the horse halted, they would be killed.
The horse jumped and Guy closed his eyes. If they were to fall into the river, he didn't want to see it.
The jump lasted a long moment, then the horse's hooves hit the ground and the animal kept running. Only then Guy dared to look, in disbelief that he was still alive: he had really managed to cross the river, while Barret was left on the other side and continued to gallop toward the bridge.
Guy laughed thinking about the anger that his enemy was surely feeling, but he didn't allow the horse to slow down: every moment could be valuable.
The boy put down the heavy basket full of dirty clothes and the woman who he had accompanied to the washhouse thanked him with a smile and she handed him a bundle.
“Thanks, Cedric. Alone I wouldn't have been able to bring here all the clothes in a single trip. I'm sorry that I can not reward you with something better, but what I earn is barely enough to feed my children...”
The young man opened the package and he smiled seeing a large piece of bread just a little stale and a slice of cheese.
“This is fine, in fact I am the one who should thank you. Tonight I will help you bring the laundry at home.”
He said goodbye to the laundress with a wave of his hand and he went to find a quiet corner to eat in peace.
He walked between the rows of hanging clothes and he sat on the ground, partially hidden by sheets hung out to dry.
He preferred to be alone, away from others, and when he was forced to stand in the company of other men he was always terrified that any of them could be the masked bandit who forced him to witness a horrible massacre and who had severed one of his fingers for no other reason than pure evil.
Since then, he hadn't been able to fight anymore and he lived day by day. The hand had not healed completely yet, thus he had to earn something to eat as he could, helping the women working at the market or carrying baskets of clothes for the laundresses.
At night he often lay awake with open eyes in the dark for fear of seeing again in a dream what the bandits had done to his comrades and to Sir Guy. When he had those nightmares, he woke up screaming and then he could not go back to sleep until the sun rose.
Cedric finished eating his meal and he sighed, satisfied: the bread was not fresh, but it was plentiful and at least that day he wouldn't go to bed hungry.
He leaned against one of the poles used to hold the strings of clothes and he yawned: maybe he might be able to enjoy a quiet nap in that safe and isolated place.
He closed his eyes and opened them again shortly after hearing the sound of the hooves of a galloping horse. Cedric got up from the ground, carefully, to see who was coming and what he saw awoke him completely.
The black horse had stopped not far from him, then a knight dressed in black unmounted in a hurry.
The man sent away his horse giving him a pat on the side, then he pulled a ragged blanket by one of the wires and he used it as a cloak to cover himself before advancing in the streets of Nottingham.
Cedric had been staring at him, shocked, convinced that he had dreamed: he thought he recognized Sir Guy of Gisborne, but it wasn't possible, he had seen him die before his eyes!
Guy looked out the door of a stable to look at the castle gate and he sighed: even that entrance was guarded by Barret's soldiers, to enter the castle from there would have been impossible.
He began to worry: if he failed to reach the sheriff to warn him, everything he had done would have been useless and he no longer had much time.
He felt a hand that touched his arm and he spun around, drawing his sword. He found himself staring into the eyes of a young man, just a little older than an adolescent, who was looking terrified.
Guy lowered his sword and he spoke to the young man in a harsh tone. He had not heard the boy who approached him from behind and the sudden contact scared him to death.
“Do not ever do something like that if you want to live long, kid. I could have killed you. Now go away.” He scolded him, expecting to see the boy run away, but he didn't move and he kept staring at Guy, pale as a ghost.
“Sir Guy, it's you!” The young man cried and Guy saw that his eyes were filled with horror. “But how it is that possible? I have seen you die!”
“You saw me... You were in the clearing?!” Guy looked better at him and he recognized the young soldier who had been forced to watch as the bandits tortured him.
“That man planted a knife in your heart, I saw it with my own eyes, how is it possible that you are alive?”
Guy noticed that the boy was missing one of his little fingers and that the wound to his hand was still on the mend. He realized that this must have been the work of Barret. He recalled that Allan had told him that the bandits let the soldier to go away alive, but not unscathed, and now Guy understood what he had meant.
“Barret missed my heart: his blade was deflected and it didn't kill me.”
The young man's eyes widened.
“Barret? Roger of Barrett?”
“Yep, he's the murderer and now he wants to kill the sheriff. I have to find a way to get into the castle to warn him, but there are soldiers who are loyal to Barret guarding each entry.”
Cedric looked at him and then he smiled shyly.
“Sir Guy, I know a way to get in without being seen.”
“There is a passage near the kitchens. It should be locked, but for dishwashers it is convenient to use it to go to empty the buckets and the pots in the alley without walking the longer way and then they always leave it open. Sometimes I use that passage when I know that a relative of mine is on duty in the kitchen, sometimes she lets me to take away a piece of bread or some leftovers.”
“And then I was amazed that Hood was able to come and go as he wanted...” Guy said to himself, then he turned to the boy. “Come on, show me where it is.”
“Come with me, I'll show you.”
He guided him along the narrow streets of Nottingham and he pointed to a small door left ajar.
“From there we will arrive directly in the kitchens.” He said, then he looked at Gisborne, seriously. “Sir Guy? What will you do once you are inside the castle?”
“I must inform the sheriff of the danger and I'll protect him if I have to. If I fail, be sure to be away from Nottingham when the army of Prince John will come, boy.”
“Sir Guy, my name is Cedric. Let me help you, I don't want Roger of Barrett to destroy my city, he has already done too much.”
Guy looked at him, struck by the vibrant tone of the young man's voice. That boy was a little more than a child, but Barret had hurt him deeply too and Guy knew all too well the horror that he could read in Cedric's eyes.
“I have a task for you, Cedric.” Guy gave him one of the daggers that he had brought with him and he looked at the boy. “Once we enter, I will search the sheriff, you, instead, will have to make sure that you open the gates when you'll see Robin Hood and his gang. Let them come in, it's important.”
“Robin Hood, sir?” The boy asked, puzzled. When they were ambushed they were hunting the outlaws and now he had to let them in?
“Many things have changed, Cedric.” He said, in an almost melancholic tone. “They will help us. Open the gates, but be careful, don't take unnecessary risks.”
“Yes, sir.” Cedric said, excited.
From the day of the ambush he had not really lived, blocked by fear and memories and now, for the first time, he had the opportunity to be able to act, to do something to retaliate against those who had hurt him.
Sir Guy was alive and ready to fight despite the terrible tortures that were inflicted to him... If he had survived, even Cedric could succeed in recovering his life.
He wouldn't disappoint him, he decided. Guy of Gisborne had decided to trust him and Cedric would open the gates of the castle for him.
Chapter 35: For Nottingham
Sheriff Vaisey impatiently looked at the portcullis. He never liked to wait and he would make things difficult for Blackthorn when he would decide to arrive.
One of the castle guards approached him and Vaisey gave him a withering look.
“What do you want? Who gave you the permission to disturb me?” He asked rudely and the guard smiled with an insolent expression.
“Soon, no one will disturb you any more, my lord.” He said, pulling out a knife.
The sheriff drew a dagger too and he prepared to defend himself from the attacker, not noticing that two other guards were approaching him from behind.
He parried the blow of the man who had rushed at him and he struck him in the chest with the knife, then he winced when a few arrows almost grazed him. He whirled and he saw two men with knives clutched in their hands fall to the ground, pierced in the chest and the throat. Two more arrows instead had missed the mark and passed dangerously close to the sheriff, ripping the sleeve of his jacket.
Vaisey looked around to see who was the archer who had saved his life, but he saw only two other soldiers who were running toward him, armed with swords.
He prepared to defend himself, even though the fight was unequal, but a moment before being reached by those traitors, a man dressed in black stepped between him and the attackers.
He hit one by surprise, stabbing him with the sword, then he swung around to hit the other one and Vaisey saw his face.
Guy struck the second opponent, but he saw other soldiers who were coming to kill the sheriff.
“We have to protect us, we are too exposed here!” He shouted and he made way for the sheriff to the inside of the castle. He brought him into an empty room and barred the door behind them.
“Weren't you dead?!” The sheriff asked, then he pointed a finger at him, menacingly. “You have dared to blackmail me!”
“I've just saved your life!”
The sheriff saw the bow that Guy had on his shoulders and he pointed to the tear on the sleeve of his jacket.
“And your bad aim did this. It is fortunate that you didn't hit me, incompetent fool.”
Guy looked at him incredulously, he had just saved his life and the sheriff complained about a ruined jacket.
“If you prefer, next time I'll let those murderers kill you.”
“Stop saying nonsense, Gisborne, and explain what the hell is going on.”
“You have chosen my successor very badly. Barrett wants to kill you to take your place.”
“Roger of Barrett?”
“He tried to kill me and now he wants to get rid of you.”
“Apparently he is an incompetent too, since you're still alive. I wonder why everyone who works for me has to be a total inept.”
Guy gave him a look of disgust.
“You know, I’ve nally come to the conclusion that I don’t like you.”
“But you've defended me. Don't you wonder why you did it, Gizzy?”
“For Nottingham. I don't want it to be destroyed.”
“Oh, how heroic! What do you think are you going to obtain for this? Don't think that I can forget the trick of your will.”
“You didn't even come to my funeral!”
“Apparently I was right, as you're not dead!” The sheriff shouted.
His words were followed by a series of blows to the door.
“Come! They are here!” Said a voice from the hallway and Guy threw an exasperated look at the sheriff.
“They heard you!”
“You were shouting more than I did!”
“Well, now keep your breath to fight, that door will not hold up for a very long time.”
The sheriff stared at him.
“Gisborne, once you were not so insulting. I don't like this at all.”
“Get over it. Whether you like it or not, for the time being I am the only person willing to defend your life.”
“Oh, then I am in such good hands. I feel so lucky.”
Marian leaned forward in his saddle, urging the horse to go faster.
She had to reach Nottingham as soon as possible, every second of delay could make the difference between the life and death of Guy.
She felt the tears streaming down her face, unstoppable. She was more afraid than she had felt when she was locked in the dungeons of the castle at the mercy of Barret.
What would she do if Guy had already been killed? How could she bear to lose him before she could understand what she really felt for him?
She heard the clatter of the hooves of many horses behind her and she turned to look: Robin Hood, Allan and the other outlaws were riding to Nottingham with her.
Robin joined her and gave her an encouraging smile. Marian replied, smiling faintly through her tears: she realized that despite everything Robin was ready to help Gisborne.
Cedric glanced toward the gate, wondering how he could send away the soldiers to open it.
The dagger that Gisborne gave to him was heavy in his hand and it seemed to burn his skin. He had been one of the guards of Nottingham, but he never had the opportunity to kill an enemy before and after the ambush he hadn't been able to fight anymore.
Maybe he would have to attack the guards, to hurt them or to kill them if it was the only way to raise the portcullis and the thought terrified him.
He had never killed before, and certainly not in cold blood, and he wondered if he would be able to do it.
Yet, if it were necessary, he should do it.
Sir Guy counted on his help and if he couldn't let Robin Hood to enter the castle, the black knight would have to fight alone against all the soldiers of Roger of Barrett.
Cedric saw that the gate was opened to let Barret in. The man had arrived at a gallop with a look of pure anger printed on his face. The boy had been careful to keep hidden, but he didn't take his eyes away from the knight.
All that time Cedric had trembled in front of every man for fear that it could be the bandit who had severed his finger, but now that he knew who his assailant was, he no longer felt so scared.
He hated Roger Barrett and wanted him to pay for what he had done, but he wasn't a monster without a name anymore.
He kept watching and he heard that Barret ordered the soldiers to search for Guy of Gisborne and the Sheriff and to kill them on the spot, without losing time to take them prisoner.
Unknowingly, Roger Barrett had facilitated the task of Cedric, leaving the gate unguarded.
Cedric approached the mechanism that allowed to lift the gate and he waited to see the gang of Robin Hood.
Robin watched Marian galloping only a few meters ahead of him and he remembered with sadness the carefree rides when they were younger, when their greatest concern was to contend for the victory of a race, galloping along the streets of Locksley or Knighton.
He looked at the delicate profile of Marian, no longer hidden by the mass of dark curls and he admired her determined expression: since he had known her, Marian had never pulled back at nothing if she was convinced she was doing the right thing, and it didn't matter how difficult it could be or how afraid she was.
And now here she was, terrified, weary because of the imprisonment and maltreatment from Barret, yet ready to defend Nottingham without hesitation.
Proud and indomitable as ever.
And she wasn't his betrothed anymore.
The thought hurt, he could not deny it, but less than it would have hurt just a few months earlier.
Once he would have tried to take revenge on Gisborne, he would be mad at him for trying to seduce Marian, but now, if he wanted to be honest, he could not blame the black knight for nothing but being genuinely in love with Marian.
Maybe she still didn't even realize it, but he could see clearly that in the end of Guy of Gisborne's feelings would be reciprocated.
His opponent had won without even fighting and Robin couldn't do anything but accepting it.
He put that thought aside for the moment, there were too many lives in danger and he couldn't be distracted because of his troubled feelings. After all, they could all die in the attempt of defending the town, and then nothing would have mattered anymore.
They arrived in the town and galloped towards the castle. Robin wondered how they were going to get inside. They would have to check all the old passages that they used to enter and exit the castle, but probably Barret had closed them.
Robin was afraid that they would lose a lot of time before they could find a way to enter, but his fears proved unfounded because, when they arrived, the gate was opened to let them pass.
Standing by the door, a boy watched them gallop, and his face lit up with joy and pride as he waved at them with a mutilated hand.
Cedric was happy: he had managed to carry out the orders of Sir Guy and now perhaps the town would be saved, and it would happen thanks to him too.
Chapter 36: Innocence Lost
Guy raised his sword to parry a shot and he managed to disarm the opponent, making his sword to fly off, but he was forced to turn around quickly to block a second attack.
A little farther on, the sheriff had just managed to stab to death his opponent. Vaisey saw that Gisborne was struggling with two men at the same time and, instead of helping him, he took the opportunity to flee and look for another place to hide.
Guy pierced the soldier in front of him with the sword, but the one he had disarmed attacked from behind, hitting him with a punch to the back. The sudden and unexpected pain made Gisborne scream and the soldier knew he succeeded in hurting his opponent. He hit Guy's back again, violently, then he pushed him against the stone wall, causing him to hit his head.
Guy fell to the ground, stunned. He knew that if he fainted the other would kill him, but he didn't have the strength to lift his eyelids and he felt like he was being dragged into the darkness.
I failed... He thought with despair, then darkness swallowed him.
Marian ran along the corridors of the castle, anguished.
That place had always been linked to unpleasant memories, but she had never been so scared in walking through those halls and passageways.
There seemed to be hostile soldiers everywhere and Robin and the other outlaws immediately pledged themselves to fight with them, while Marian had entered the castle trying to pass unnoticed and hoping to reach Guy.
At every step she was terrified of finding out that she had arrived too late and that she was going to see him dead as in her nightmare. Every time she found an empty room she felt both anxiety and relief.
She wanted to call the name of Gisborne, but she dared not for fear of attracting the attention of the soldiers or, even worse, of Barret, so she ran, keeping to look for him.
She turned a corner and she found herself in front of the scene that she had most feared: Guy was on the ground, motionless, and a soldier was standing over him with his sword raised and ready to drop the blade on his neck.
Marian acted before even realizing what she was doing, moved only by instinct and desperation: she ran into the room and, with one fluid motion, she picked up a sword from the ground and planted it in the back of the soldier, piercing him.
The man fell to the ground and Marian stepped over him, dropping on her knees next to Guy.
It was a nightmare, there could be no other explanation. She was dreaming again and that was the nightmare with the dead knight, but now that knight was Guy.
He was lying on the ground, pale as a marble statue and equally immobile. A trickle of blood had run along one side of his face from a wound on his forehead and it formed a small pool on the floor.
Marian thought her heart would break in that moment, that she could not bear to lose him again.
I love him.
She suddenly realized it, just as she thought she'd lost him again.
Robin was right... I'm in love with Guy without even realizing it and now it's too late...
A tear slid down her face, followed by many others and the girl leaned over Guy to give him one last kiss.
Guy felt a warm drop touching his lips and he recognized the taste of salt, then a gentle breath came closer and he jerked awake, remembering the soldier who was about to attack him.
He was still alive, but if he didn't react quickly, his opponent would kill him. Guy opened his eyes and jumped up, banging his head first against Marian's one and then on the floor after falling back because of the unexpected blow.
Guy rolled to the side with a groan of pain, and then he realized that the cry of pain and surprise that had echoed his, came from a female voice. He opened his eyes and stared at the shocked face of Marian.
“Guy! You are alive!” The girl said, incredulous, and Guy nodded, equally surprised.
He clearly remembered he had fainted when the soldier attacked him and he had been certain he had no hopes, yet he was still breathing and, apart from the pain in his head and back, he was in a pretty good shape.
He looked around and he saw that the soldier who had hit him was lying on the ground, with a sword stuck in his back. Marian followed Guy's eyes and she put her hand to her mouth with an anguished groan.
Only then she could really realize what she had done.
“I killed him...” She whispered in horror. “I have taken the life of a man and it was so easy... It shouldn't be so simple...”
Guy looked at her, stunned.
“Did you kill him?”
Marian began to cry.
“He wanted to kill you! He was about to do it and I couldn't let him hurt you! I don't even know how I did it...”
Guy wanted to hold her to console her, but he didn't dare to touch her. He must not forget that now Marian was the wife of Robin Hood.
“It's not your fault.” He said softly, sadly “You did it to save me. I destroy everything... To take a life is too easy, you are right, but you should have never known that. Not you. I'd rather be dead than knowing that I ruined your life.”
Marian stopped sobbing and she looked at him. Guy's eyes were filled with tears and he didn't dare to look at her, as if he was ashamed.
She had just killed a man, and she felt terrible for what she had done, even though she had no choice. Something had changed forever in her, she no longer was the innocent girl that she had been just a few minutes before and that innocence would never come back again. She could confess her sin, regret it for life, but the memory of it would remain forever, and she knew that the face of the man who had killed would come to visit her in dreams.
She remembered how tormented Guy's sleep was and now, even if minimally, she could better understand why.
How many lives had he taken obeying the orders of the sheriff? How much weight had he to bring on his soul?
She should be horrified by him as Guy was of himself. Instead, only now that she had become a murderess she could understand him better.
“No, Guy. It's my fault and we both know it well. I was the one who killed him an if I could go back I'd do it again.” She approached Guy and hugged him tightly, pressing her cheek against his. “He was going to kill you, I couldn't let it happen.”
Guy returned the hug for a moment, then he pulled away, as if he was frightened by the contact.
“Marian? Where's the sheriff?” He asked suddenly, realizing that Vaisey was not in the room with them.
“I don't know. When I arrived there were just you and him.” She said, pointing to the dead soldier with a shudder.
“I have to find him. Try to be safe now, hide somewhere and wait until it's all over. I don't want to see you in danger.”
Marian picked up the sword of Guy from the ground and she handed it to him, then she took for herself the sword of one of the dead soldiers.
Marian took Guy's hand and grabbed it with decision. Guy tried to free himself from her hold, but she wouldn't let him.
“I'm not going to hide, I'm not a helpless girl and you know it. The Nightwatchman has always defended the innocent and now I'll protect Nottingham. I'll do it anyway, you know that too, but I'd rather do it by your side, Guy of Gisborne.”
Guy looked at her, trying to suppress the love he felt for her, to hide the emotion he felt at seeing her so brave and determined. Give her up was a more difficult test than he thought he could deal with, but now he had no choice, Marian married Robin Hood and he could not do nothing but try to be resigned.
“You should not fight at my side, Marian.” He told her in a whisper, and she stared at him, not understanding.
This time she didn't miss the flash of pain in Guy's eyes and Marian wondered what was wrong with him, but the black knight shook his head with a sigh and he took his hand away from hers.
“If you insist, let's go. We have to find the sheriff before Barret does.”
Chapter 37: Nobody's Wife
Guy ran down the hall, looking for the sheriff. Even without looking at her, he knew that Marian followed him closely, ready to fight at his side.
For him this was a whole new and strange feeling: he wasn't used to have around someone that he could trust and for the first time he considered Marian as a fighter and not as a young girl that needed to be protected.
He gave her a quick look, and his heart raced, in the grip of love and pain that now began to become familiar every time he thought of her.
She was pale, her face marked by a cut on her cheekbone, her hair short and wild and she was bundled in a torn and dirty robe, but Guy had never found her so beautiful.
A soldier appeared at the other end of the corridor and he ran towards them to stop them, but Guy did not slow.
“Duck!” He shouted at Marian and she obeyed immediately, dropping to the ground while Guy swung his sword to take down the soldier.
He held out a hand to Marian to help her up and they resumed running. She didn't let him go, she laced his fingers with hers and Guy couldn't find the strength to break free, even if his conscience told him that he should.
The touch of Marian's skin against his seemed to burn his fingers, but he wouldn't give up that moment for anything in the world.
He was wounded and in pain and he was running to face dangerous enemies that could kill them both mercilessly, but for Guy this was a perfect moment and he wished it could last forever.
It was the last time when he could pretend he didn't lose her, the last moment that he stole for himself before saying good-bye to her forever.
Only this time, only once and then never again.
It ended too soon when they found the sheriff.
Vaisey was surrounded by three soldiers who had managed to drive him in a corner of the chapel and he was trying to defend himself with his sword, but it was clear that he could not resist for long.
Guy lunged forward to attack them and divert their attention by the sheriff and Marian stood behind him to protect him and to avoid that they could hit his back.
The sheriff was able to hit one of the soldiers and Guy parried the attack of the other, while the third pounced on Marian and the girl raised her sword to strike him, but Gisborne pushed his opponent with a kick, turned around to knock down the one who attacked Marian and returned to face the other, impaling him with the sword.
He pulled the weapon free from the soldier's body and he fell to his knees, exhausted.
Marian leaned on him, worried.
“Guy? Are you well?”
“Oh, Gisborne, still with the leper!” The sheriff said, disgustedly. “I thought that after you bedded her, you'd get tired of her.”
Guy got up from the ground, grabbed the sheriff by his jacket and slammed him against the wall.
“Be respectful to Lady Marian or I swear that, even if it means letting Nottingham burn, I will deliver you into the hands of those murderers.” Gisborne growled , before letting him go, disgusted.
The sheriff looked at him, pretending to be impressed, then he stared at Marian.
“A lovely wedding dress, don't you think, Gisborne? I hope you have found equally fascinating the husband that I have chosen for you, lady Marian. Or should I say Mrs. Barret? No? Oh, Gizzy, apparently you have not been the only one to have been deserted at the altar. What do you think? Do you want to try again to make yourself ridiculous with her or will you leave the honor to someone else?”
“Be quiet, or you'll have to find some other idiot willing to save your life.”
“Gisborne, Gisborne, women have a bad influence on you. If you continue like this, your next move will be to team up with Robin Hood.”
“Why, who do you think is fighting against the other men of Barret?” Guy asked, grinning.
Roger Barrett saw another of his soldiers falling, pierced by an arrow and he growled in anger. Now his plan was falling apart, but he would get his revenge on Guy of Gisborne, even at the cost of making that revenge the last action of his life.
It was Gisborne who ruined everything, insisting on staying alive. He had stopped his marriage to Marian and apparently he had informed the sheriff of the danger, allying himself even with Robin Hood and his gang to protect Nottingham.
Barret no longer cared: he would find Gisborne and then he would kill him, so bloodily that Gisborne would bitterly regret he wasn't dead the first time.
Guy closed his eyes, breathing slowly and deeply to try to ease the pain of the wounds in his back.
Fighting against the soldiers who were threatening the life of the sheriff was too much effort for his condition and he had to try to take advantage of that moment of respite to regain his strength.
He, Marian and the Sheriff had barricaded themselves in the small chapel of the castle and they had blocked the door with some of the wooden benches. Maybe Robin Hood and his companions would be able to rid the castle of the traitors before the door gave way.
The sheriff had settled on one of the benches at the bottom, looking bored, while Guy and Marian were near the altar. Guy was lying on his side on one of the benches and he tried to get some rest, while Marian, sitting next to him, pressed a handkerchief to the wound on his head to stop the blood.
When she was certain that the bleeding had stopped, she tore a strip from the garment he was wearing and she used it to clean the blood from Guy's face, dabbing it with gentle movements. Her fingers lingered on his forehead and they sank into Gisborne's hair, transforming her touch in a tender caress.
Guy pulled back from her with a sort of shudder.
“Don't touch me like that, please.” He begged and Marian was hurt by the harsh tone of his voice.
Was he disgusted with her? She anxiously wondered if her appearance had changed so much that even her touch made Guy uncomfortable? Or was Guy disappointed because she had killed a man and she was no longer the pure and innocent girl who he had courted in the past?
“It's the hair, isn't it? Look, maybe now you are the one who has longer hair...” She said with a sad smile, wanting to comb with her fingers one of the strands that curled on Guy's neck, but not daring to touch it. “Or it's the cut on my face? I know that the scar will remain, but is it so horrendous? Did I became so ugly that you abhor being touched by me?”
Guy sat up and looked at her, stunned by those words.
“What are you saying, Marian? How could you think such a thing? Do you think that the beauty that I always saw in you depends on the length of your hair or the perfection of your skin? You are beautiful in every part of you, not only in appearance, and you will always be, whatever may happen. You've never been more beautiful than today, I can swear it on everything you want.” Guy stopped abruptly, fearing that he had said too much. He could not talk in that passionate way to the wife of another man, it wouldn't be honest.
“If it is true, why do you withdraw from me every time I touch you?” Marian asked, accusingly.
“Because I can't, that's why!” Guy blurted and the girl noticed that his eyes were bright with unshed tears. “You are the wife of Robin Hood, now, and I no longer have any rights!”
The girl looked at him in surprise, then she put a hand on his cheek.
“Guy? Look at me.”
The black knight looked up at her and Marian wiped a tear with her thumb, keeping her hand on the side of his face.
“I didn't marry Robin.”
“I didn't marry him. I'm nobody's wife.”
“Marian saw a whirlwind of conflicting emotions passing in his eyes in a few seconds, then Guy hid the emotion behind a wry smile.
“Did you leave him at the altar? And did you punch him?”
“From your reaction I guess I'm still the only one who had the privilege.” He said, then he turned serious. “Why didn't you marry him? As his wife, you would be safe from the claims of Barret...”
“I couldn't marry Robin when I have feelings for another man.” Marian said and Guy frowned at those words.
“Another man? Who?” He asked, unable to hide the jealousy and the girl looked at him for a long moment.
“Earlier you banged your head really hard, didn't you?” She asked, smiling.
Then she kissed him.
Chapter 38: Trapped
When Marian's lips touched his, Guy thought he was dead, or that he was in a dream. Maybe he was still unconscious and that was just a trick of his mind.
The other alternative, that it was the reality, seemed impossible. It meant that Marian had just confessed to have feelings for him, how could it be true?
Yet the girl's body was soft and warm against his, so concrete and real that it couldn't be an illusion.
After all, he didn't care, that moment existed for him and that was the only important thing.
He hugged her, almost desperately, and he returned Marian's kiss with all the love he felt for her.
When the kiss ended, the world continued to exist and Guy looked incredulously at Marian.
The girl was still hugging him and she had put her face on his chest, listening to his heartbeat.
Could it be true? Marian had left Robin Hood at the altar for him?
“Oh, Gisborne, if you could see how stupid your face looks right now!” The sheriff's voice broke the silence of the chapel and Guy turned to him, irritated.
For a moment he had completely forgotten his presence and the precarious situation they were in, but the sheriff's comment had made him come back suddenly to reality.
Vaisey raised his hands in a mock apology.
“But I didn't want to interrupt you, go ahead. I'm trapped here with nothing to do, I might as well enjoy the show. Go ahead, please. Only, try to make things a bit more interesting, you are disgustingly mawkish."
“Am I really trying to save your life?” Gisborne commented, exasperated. “On one thing you are right, I must be stupid.”
“Oh, Gizzy, how susceptible you are!” Vaisey commented. “Come on, Marian, give him another kiss so he will stop complaining and maybe he will decide to actually do something to take me away from this situation. I wouldn't say that placing a couple of benches in front of the door and then wasting time in smooching could be defined "trying to save my life"...”
The girl ignored the words of the sheriff, giving him a cold stare, then she looked up to meet the eyes of Guy.
The frown of the black knight stretched into a smile in meeting her eyes and Marian found herself responding to that smile while her heart began to beat faster.
A loud knock at the door startled all three of them, then the voice of Roger of Barrett rang, disturbing, on the other side of the wooden door.
Allan teased with the sword one of the soldiers to make him enter into the cell along with the other two who had been unarmed and wounded by Robin and Little John, then he closed the door and hung the keys to his belt.
“They'd deserve to die.” He said, looking at them with disgust and Robin nodded.
“Most likely they will be executed, but it's not for us to decide. They surrendered and they will testify against Barret, if necessary. Now come on, we have to find the sheriff.”
“I hope that Giz is still in one piece...” Allan said, to himself, then he glanced apologetically to Robin. “Hey, I know that probably you don't agree now, but Guy is a better person than it seems. You saw what he did to save me, didn't you?”
“We have no time for small talk, Allan.” Robin said, irritated. He could not blame Gisborne if Marian had preferred him, but he certainly didn't want to hear Allan talking of the black knight.
Allan looked at him, worried.
“What I meant...” He paused for a moment, hesitating, then he looked at Robin. “Don't hurt him, okay? I guess you must hate him now, but Giz has not behaved improperly towards you. He was ready to give her up just to save her, he would have done it, really. He risked his life to allow you to marry her, even though losing her would break his heart, I saw it with my own eyes. It's not his fault, don't kill him for what happened.”
Robin grabbed Allan by his shoulders and shook him.
“Stop!” He shouted and the other looked at him, puzzled.
“To think I'm a murderer thirsty for Gisborne's blood! I have no intention of killing him, but I'm tired of being accused of it. Now come on, or Barret might kill him while we talk.”
Marian glanced anxiously at Guy and she startled hearing another violent blow against the door.
Gisborne stepped in front of her, protective.
“I won't let him to get close to you.” He whispered, trying to sound reassuring and Marian took his hand and held it tightly in hers.
“Guy, don't let him take me. Kill me before he gets me.” The girl begged and Gisborne looked at her, shocked by her words.
“Don't even joke about it! I'd rather die than hurt you.”
“Falling into the hands of Barret alive would be much worse than death. Promise me, Guy: if there is no way to escape, you will take my life.”
“In that case, we will die together.”
“Stop with these tragic speeches, you blithering oafs!” The sheriff intervened, extending an arm to hit Gisborne on a shoulder. “Instead of staying there to babble about how you prefer to die, think about finding a way to save me!”
Guy looked at him and, while despising the selfishness of Vaisey's words, he was forced to admit that the sheriff had a point.
Barret soon would be able to break down the door and in that case they would all die. Guy knew he was not in the best condition to fight: the wounds ached and he felt weak from the loss of blood.
Roger of Barrett wasn't alone, Gisborne could hear the voices of at least five or six other men behind the door.
Even if Guy hadn't been wounded, their opponents would still have the numerical advantage and they would be able to overcome them easily.
They had to find a way to escape from the chapel before the door gave way, or they would have no hopes.
Guy approached one of the windows and hit it with his sword, smashing it.
“Do you have the slightest idea of how much it will cost me to repair it?!” The sheriff complained and Guy looked at him.
“Is it worth more than your life?”
“Aren't you thinking to escape from there, you piece of idiot? Don't you know how high we are?”
Gisborne went to the window and leaned a little to see better.
“I know very well, but I was not planning to go down. Look.”
Marian and the Sheriff came to him and saw that he was pointing at another window not far away.
“Maybe I can reach it by passing on that ledge.” Guy pointed a stone ledge that decorated the wall of the castle. “In this way I could attack Barret from behind and lure him away from here.”
Marian turned pale on seeing the distance that separated them from the ground.
“But it's so high! If you were to fall you wouldn't have the slightest hope to survive!”
“When that door breaks we still won't have the slightest hope.”
She hugged him tightly to whisper in his ear without being heard by the sheriff.
“Let me go. You know that I am agile, as the Nightwatchman I often had to flee on the roofs...”
Guy pretended to kiss her on the cheek to stifle a laugh.
“What's so funny?” Marian whispered.
“If we survive ask Allan to tell you the latest deed of the Nightwatchman.”
Guy took her in his arms and touched her lips with a kiss, then he took off his leather coat, dropped it to the ground and climbed on the windowsill before Marian could stop him.
“I will not fall, I promise. In one way or another I will come back to you.”
Chapter 39: Hunted
I will come back to you ...
Guy inched along the ledge, trying to stay close to the wall of the castle. He flattened himself against the wall and he closed his eyes when a stronger gust of wind threatened to throw him off balance.
He began to think that the words he addressed to Marian had been too optimistic: it would be extremely difficult to come back to her if he got smashed on the pavement of the courtyard after a fall from that height.
He forced himself to open his eyes and he tried to look only at his goal: the window that would allow him to enter the castle again. Should he look down, he would be stuck, he was sure, and he wouldn't be able to move a muscle anymore.
He moved a few centimeters, he took a deep breath and he moved again. He could not afford to panic and had to keep going: every second could mean the difference between the life and death of Marian, of the Sheriff and of everyone in Nottingham so he couldn't hesitate, even though he was terrified.
He didn't dare to turn around to look, but he knew that the eyes of Marian were fixed on him and that she had to be scared to death at the thought that he could fall.
Guy found himself smiling to himself, despite everything. The idea that she cared so much for him still seemed absurd, but at the same time it was a good feeling and he had not felt it in a long time, probably since before the death of his parents.
He was no longer used to being the center of the affection of someone and to feel loved made him incredibly happy and terribly scared at the same time.
Finally his fingers touched the edge of the window and Guy hastened to hang on to it and to climb over the ledge to return into the castle. He collapsed on the floor, panting and he allowed himself a moment to catch his breath before getting up.
He took the bow that he had kept on his back and he notched an arrow before leaving the room in which he had arrived. He silently looked in the corridor and at the end of it he saw Barret who, along with a group of soldiers, was still trying to break the door of the chapel.
Guy let out the arrow and then he immediately shot a second one, managing to hit two guards, then as soon as he saw Barret and the surviving soldiers moving to pursue him, he turned his back and ran down the corridor.
Marian had watched Guy, holding her breath until he had reached the other window, then she gave a brief sigh of relief when she saw him entering the castle again.
She knew that now for Gisborne would begin perhaps the most dangerous part of the whole plan.
He had to lure Barret away from the chapel, and Marian was worried for Guy, but she also knew that within minutes she would have to remove the concern for him from her mind and she had to make every effort to survive and to ensure that the sheriff would remain alive too.
She walked to the door, waiting, and soon she heard cries of pain and anger, and the sound of retreating footsteps running down the corridor, followed by complete silence.
Marian put the eye to a crack in the door and she saw that the corridor was empty.
She quickly moved one of the benches that they had used to barricade the door, while the sheriff deigned to drag the other one, then Marian cracked open the door and she looked out to see that there was no one, but they couldn't afford to waste time.
Marian took a sword and she held it in front of her as she left the chapel, followed by the sheriff.
Vaisey looked at her with an air of wicked fun.
“Do you really think you can scare someone just because you have a blade in your hand? In your comparison Gisborne could almost look like a brave warrior.”
“Guy is risking his life to save yours, you should be grateful!”
“According to him, he's doing it for Nottingham. You really could besot him for good with your heroic ideals, there is no denying to it. Women! Lethal as leprosy, only capable of ruining a man!”
Marian was going to argue that if there was someone who had ruined Guy's life that was just the sheriff, but she didn't say it. It was useless to waste time arguing with him, because he wouldn't certainly change his attitude.
“Let's go.” She said dryly. “We should look for a safer place.”
“I know one.” A voice behind them said and Marian and the Sheriff turned.
“Robin!” The girl exclaimed, relieved to see the outlaw.
“Hey, where is Giz?” Allan asked, looking at the girl, worried, and Marian returned an anxious glance to him.
“He lured Barret far from here. He made them to chase him, but if they should catch him...” Her voice broke with a sob and Marian looked at Robin, with pleading eyes. “Help him, please! I know I'm asking a lot, but don't let them to kill him!”
Robin stroked her cheek to wipe her tears with a tender gesture, but full of sadness.
“Do you really think I could stand by while they kill an innocent person just because he's my rival?” Robin asked with a sigh, then he turned to look back, hearin the approaching footsteps behind him and he smiled to see Will, Djaq, Little John and Much.
“Are you all right?” He asked, relieved to see that none of his companions seemed to have received more than a few superficial wounds. Then he turned to the three men “Take the sheriff in a safe place. Allan, give the keys to Much and then you, Marian and Djaq come with me.”
Allan grinned guessing the intentions of Robin and took the dungeon's keys from his belt to hand them to Much.
The sheriff looked at him menacingly, sensing what he wanted to do.
“Don't you dare...”
Allan silenced him by hitting him with a punch in the face and he watched him fall to the ground, then he looked at the others, who looked surprised and he shrugged nonchalantly.
“Hey, he tried to hang me. It wasn't any fun.” He said, then nodded in agreement at Little John who had bent to lift the sheriff unconscious to put him on his shoulders. “Put him in the smaller and dampest cell. It sure will be a very safe place...”
Little John gave him a half smile, then he turned and he walked toward the dungeon, followed by Will and Much.
Guy heard a hiss behind him and he ducked suddenly, just in time to avoid being hit by the dagger launched by one of Barret's men. The knife planted itself in a timber door, vibrating for the force of the impact and Guy preferred not to think of the damage that it would have done if it hit his back instead of the door.
Perhaps, he thought ironically, he had discovered one of the few advantages of having worked for the sheriff for so many years: when Vaisey was caught by one of his tantrums had a nasty habit of throwing against his subordinates any handy object and for Guy it had become instinctive to dodge to avoid being hit.
Passing near the knife, he grabbed the handle and pulled it off the wood without slowing down his run, then he held it by the blade, he turned to throw it back toward his pursuers and he kept running away without checking the outcome of the throw. A muffled scream and the thud of a body falling to the ground made him realize that his throw had hit the mark.
He glanced back and saw that unfortunately it wasn't Barret who had been hit, but in any case at least now there was one less person to chase him.
Guy slipped in a side passage hidden by a column and flattened himself against the wall, hiding in the shadows and holding his breath. It was a risk, but he was beginning to be short of breath and he felt that he couldn't run much longer without first resting for a while.
Barret and his men continued the pursuit along the main corridor and Guy waited until they had turned the corner before moving. He moved forward along the side passage without running and trying to move as quietly as possible.
He knew that it was a matter of minutes before Roger of Barrett was aware of his trick. They would come back to look for him and Guy had to take advantage of every second at his disposal to get away as much as possible and to try to disappear without a trace.
Weak and wounded as he was, he couldn't hope to defeat Barrett in a physical fight, the only advantage Guy had was a better knowledge of the castle and his only chance of survival was to be able to catch his opponents off guard.
The corridor ended near the kitchens and for a moment Gisborne thought he might take advantage of the same door that had allowed him to break into the castle to get out, but he immediately dismissed the idea: he couldn't run away, not while Barret was alive and until Marian and the Sheriff were still in the castle.
At that time in the kitchens there were only a few servants hanging around in front of the fire in the unlikely event that the sheriff wanted to eat something even though his meal had been served just hours before and one kitchen boy committed to wash pots and dishes in a tub. When Guy came in, they looked at him with terror: in their eyes he was a spectrum directly returned from the grave.
One of the girls fell to the ground unconscious, while the other two servants ran away screaming. Only the kitchen boy who was washing dishes stood in its place, trembling with fear.
Gisborne looked at him.
“Give me some water, immediately.” He ordered the young man hurried to obey him, without daring to look him in the eyes. He brought him a cup full of fresh water and Guy drank quickly, immediately feeling a bit better.
“Do you want more water, sir?” The kitchen boy asked, shyly.
“Thank you, but no, I haven't enough time.” Guy said, then he noticed a clay pot that was boiling in the fireplace, attached to a hook. “What is that?”
“The soup for tonight, it has to boil for a long time. Do you want some of it, sir Guy?”
“No, but I was planning to offer some of it to someone I know. Come on, help me move it.”
Chapter 40: Find Him
Roger of Barrett went back down the corridor that he had just passed through, seething. Gisborne was able to deceive him and to cover his tracks, but he couldn't escape any longer and then for him it would be the end.
Barret noticed the side passage hidden in the shadows of the corridor and motioned to his men to follow him in that direction. Now he understood very well how Gisborne had managed to escape, but Barret was certain that he would catch him up soon. His rival was wounded and weak, he had no chance against him and Barret was rather surprised that he still had the desire to try to avoid his fate.
The corridor ended with a door and Roger burst it open with a kick. He and his men crossed the threshold and they found themselves in the kitchen, completely deserted except for the man dressed in black who stood waiting for them at the other end of the large room, pointing a bow against them.
Barret stopped, leaving two of the soldiers to set before him with their shields raised and he wondered what Guy was trying to do. Gisborne could not really hope to be able to shoot down six men with a bow and arrows before they reached and killed him. Probably it was desperation to make him act in that way: he no longer had the strength to run away and then he tried to fight to the end.
The only thing that puzzled Barret was the look in the eyes of his rival: he didn't see the desperation of a man with his back to the wall, but he could read some fun in them.
That look puzzled him: he was certain he had broken his enemy, that he had destroyed him, but Guy of Gisborne stubbornly refused to die and he continued to fight even when he could have no hope of surviving.
Guy shot the arrow, aiming above the heads of Barret and his men. He struck the clay pot that he had hung over the door with the help of the kitchen boy and the pot exploded, pouring the hot liquid on the six men.
Guy took advantage of their surprise and managed to hurl other arrows, hitting two of Barret's men before being forced to flee again.
Roger of Barrett cried out in pain to feeling the hot soup on the skin of his face, but he recovered quickly, overrun by a wild fury. Those burns would definitely leave deep scars on his face, he knew, but it didn't matter, now. The only thing he wanted was to capture Guy of Gisborne and kill him in the most excruciating possible way.
He moved with a kick the body of one of the fallen soldiers and he looked at the survivors: all three complained about the pain, but one of them had slumped to the ground with his hands over his eyes, blinded by the hot liquid. Barret drew his sword and pierced him from side to side without the slightest remorse, then he turned to the other two.
“If you don't want to suffer the same fate, catch Gisborne. Alive. I want him alive.”
Robin Hood bent over the body of a soldier who was lying on the ground with a knife stuck in his chest.
It was one of the men of Barret and he was dead, he observed, a sign that Gisborne was continuing to struggle to survive.
He glanced at Marian, capturing the anguish on her face, but he couldn't say even a word of comfort.
The choice of the girl had hurt him, it was useless to deny it, and it had left in him a tangle of confused and conflicting feelings that he was struggling to untangle.
To think that Marian was in love with Gisborne rekindled in Robin the ancient hatred for the rival, but the outlaw couldn't separate that feeling from the pity that he had began feeling for him after he saw how much Barret's torture had broken him. And he felt a certain admiration when he thought about the courage Gisborne had shown to save Allan and that he was still using to resist and defend Nottingham from Barret.
Robin also observed Allan and Djaq, noting the concern on their faces and only then he realized that somehow the black knight had managed to get their support.
Maybe it was for that reason that Robin had asked them to follow him, sending the others to protect the sheriff: he surrounded himself with people who in one way or another cared for Gisborne to avoid that the resentment he felt for him because of Marian could influence his actions.
He found and walked down the side passage leading to the kitchen. He did not know why, but he was sure that this was the direction chosen by Gisborne. His intuition was confirmed in finding the three Barrett's men slumped to the ground, lifeless.
Robin noticed the arrows and the broken pieces of the pot and he found himself chuckling: that was a trick that he could have used himself and he was forced to admit that perhaps he and Gisborne had more in common than he liked to think.
He found himself thinking, against his will, about the question expressed by Gisborne some time before: would it have been so terrible for them to become brothers? At that time that hypothesis seemed so absurd that he didn't think it worthy of consideration, but he was no longer sure of the answer he would give now.
Allan noted the tense expression of Marian and he smiled to her encouragingly.
“Hey, Giz won't let Barret to kill him so easily. You know that, right? He's already back from the dead once, for you. And if you told him you did not marry Robin Hood,” he said quietly, careful not to be heard by the outlaw “you can feel confident that he won't give up.”
Marian smiled back, grateful for those words and Allan noticed an amused and mischievous gleam in her eyes.
“Fine, you told him. And I would be very curious to know how, but I suppose that it's not my business.” Allan said, grinning, then he turned his attention back to the place where they had arrived exiting from the kitchens: they had traveled more corridors until they reached the porch that overlooked the courtyard of the castle.
Robin motioned to stop and the other three obeyed, approaching him with caution.
“What's up?” Djaq asked and Robin gestured to the people gathered in the courtyard.
“What are they doing there?” Marian asked, puzzled.
“Usually they flock so numerous only when there is an execution.” Allan said, equally amazed.
Robin noticed that people who had gathered in the courtyard of the castle looked like at the same time curious and scared and that many of them were praying.
“They must have heard of the return of Gisborne from the dead. Probably they came to see if it's true.”
“But they won't anything bad to him, right?” Allan asked, nervously. “They'll see right away that he's not really dead, right?”
The other three looked at each other doubtfully: Allan had not been present at that time, but they had personally witnessed the reaction of the peasants of Locksley when Guy had stopped Barret and Marian's wedding. Most of them mistook him for a demon who came back from hell and almost all of them were terrified of him. Who could predict the reactions of a scared crowd?
“Better to find him as soon as possible.” Djaq said.
Roger of Barrett growled an order to the last two men who followed him.
“Look for him! You have to find him!”
The soldiers were checking every room and every corridor, but Guy of Gisborne seemed to have disappeared and Barret was furious.
Of his company of faithful soldiers remained only those two, the others had all been killed or captured by Gisborne or by Robin Hood's band of outlaw, but it didn't matter anymore.
His plan to seize power had failed, his face would remain scarred for life because of the burns and the girl, Marian, had slipped through his fingers a moment before he could get her, but nothing, nothing in the world could take away his revenge.
Guy of Gisborne had destroyed everything and Barret would destroy him. No matter the price to pay.
Barret noticed the people gathered in the courtyard and he swore seeing that the gates had been opened, making it possible for Gisborne to escape from the castle. The thought that his enemy could escape made him mad with rage. He ordered his men to open the door and rushed down the stairs, grabbing one of the Nottingham's women by the hair and dragging her on the platform of the gallows. The other two soldiers did the same, taking hostage another woman and a little boy.
“Gisborne!” Barret cried, tugging the woman. “Do you care so much to protect Nottingham?! Let's see if it's true! Begin saving its inhabitants! Show yourself and surrender, or I will kill them one by one.”
Chapter 41: Faith
Guy looked at Roger of Barrett who was dragging his hostage on the platform of the scaffold and he squeezed the handle of the bow, quivering with rage, but he didn't nock an arrow: his aim was not good enough to hit his enemy without hurting the woman. And even if he could, there were the two other soldiers, ready to cut the throats of the other hostages.
That coward of Barret wouldn't make no qualms about killing women and children to get what he wanted and Gisborne stared at him with hatred: he wanted to destroy him, to make him pay for all the suffering he had caused.
But he could not.
Cedric's voice made him turn suddenly, frightened, but Guy relaxed slightly when he recognized the boy.
“It's the second time that you can catch me by surprise” he admitted, with a half smile “you may have a future as a spy or a thief.”
“Why not? So, if they catch me, I am already used to having my fingers cut off.” The young man replied in a tone deliberately light, then he turned serious and he looked at Guy, worried. “Don't listen to him. Even if you do as he says, he will kill the same those people. I know it and you should know it as well: people like him has no honor and no mercy.”
Guy shook his head.
“I know. But I can't stand here idly and do nothing. Not again.”
Cedric knew that Gisborne was thinking about the two soldiers in the clearing, those who had been slain before their eyes, because it was what he was thinking, too.
The thought that it could happen again was unbearable, but Cedric tried to stop Gisborne, grabbing his wrist.
“Please, Sir Guy, don't do it. This time he will really kill you and I don't want to see it again!”
Guy looked at him, surprised both by the unexpected contact and by the tears that he saw in the boy's eyes, then he freed his arm from his grip and looked in the direction of Barret.
“I know. But I don't want to see other people die at his hands. I am no longer willing to tolerate it.”
He looked for a moment at the bow in his hands and then he gave it and the arrows to the boy: he wouldn't need it anymore. Cedric accepted the weapon, amazed, and he forced himself to hold back tears. He understood that Gisborne wouldn't change his mind and he didn't want to show his weakness in front of his superior.
“Sir Guy?” Cedric asked, his voice trembling. “How can you go to him knowing what awaits you? Aren't you afraid?”
“I am. A lot. And I have so much, too much, to lose.” Guy admitted and Cedric knew he was not lying, then Gisborne recovered from that moment of vulnerability and smiled. “Cedric, you did good to open the gate, before. If Nottingham will be saved, it will be thanks to you too.”
The boy wanted to say something, but he didn't make it in time: a moment later Guy of Gisborne had left his hiding place and had entered the courtyard of the castle.
“I'm here, Barret! Let go of the hostages!”
Roger of Barrett realized that something had changed, hearing that the crowd gathered in the courtyard of the castle was suddenly struck dumb. A moment later the voice of Gisborne had broken the silence and Barret smiled wickedly.
Possible that his enemy was really that stupid? He had fought so much and then he'd sacrifice himself to save the lives of two or three beggars who he didn't even know...
Without letting go of the woman he was holding hostage, Barret took the whip hanging from his belt and he cracked it in the air, staring at Gisborne.
“Well, sheriff's dog, apparently you have stopped running away. Now drop your sword and approach me. Come here.”
Guy held his breath when he heard the sound of the whip, and for a moment he couldn't think straight: he felt that he had to turn and run as far as possible, to run away and escape the searing pain he knew all too well.
He couldn't face it again, he couldn't do it.
Then the moment of panic passed and he had not moved: he had not obeyed the order of Barret, but he didn't run away either: he just stood there, petrified, panting with terror.
Guy closed his eyes and he took a deep breath, then he drew his sword, looked at it for a moment and forced himself to open his fingers, letting the sword fall to the ground.
“Good doggy.” Barret said, then he pointed to the steps of the platform of the scaffold. “Now get over here, so that everyone can see clearly the deserved end of a bastard of Nottingham.”
Marian let out a groan of anguish at hearing the clang of Guy's sword falling on the stones of the courtyard, but even Robin, Allan and Djaq couldn't repress a shudder.
Robin had the bow ready, but he couldn't do anything: Barret and the two soldiers used the hostages to shield themselves and in any case he wouldn't be able to hit all the three of them in time.
Even if he could find an opportunity to shoot down one of them, the other two would kill the hostages.
“Why did he do it?” Allan whispered. “It is crazy... I know, even trying to save me was crazy, but now he has no hopes, they will slaughter him...”
Djaq gave him a reproachful look, hinting at Marian and Allan went silent immediately: the girl was deathly pale and she was weeping in silence, unable to look away from Guy.
Go away, run. Marian pleaded mentally, knowing that Guy could not hear her.
In the past she had often despised Guy because he was not as heroic as Robin Hood and sometimes she had been criticized him for not having the courage to rebel against the unjust orders of the sheriff, even knowing well that if he did, Guy would have been in a difficult position.
Now, it seemed, her wish was being fulfilled and Marian felt like she was going die.
Maybe Guy has never been brave and heroic as he was now, willing to sacrifice himself to save people who he didn't even know, but now the girl wanted desperately to see him back to be the old Guy of Gisborne, the black knight who wouldn't risk his life for the survival of unknown farmers.
Go away, Guy. I don't care to see you doing the right thing, I don't want to see you die heroically. I don't care who you are or what you do, I don't want you to be the best, I want you to live. Run away and come back to me, you promised.
Marian knew that in the end she would be ashamed for the selfishness and the meanness of those thoughts, but she was also well aware that now she would prefer to see the death of the hostages instead of Guy.
Everything in her rebelled against the idea that she could lose him again.
She had to do something, anything.
She started to run towards the courtyard, but Allan and Djaq stopped her before she could move, holding her in a sort of desperate embrace.
“Let me go! Guy!” The girl sobbed, trying to escape without success, and Djaq stroked her hair gently like she could have done to calm a little girl in tears.
“Trust Robin.” She whispered. “If there is even a little hope to save him, he will do it.”
Guy winced and closed his eyes in spite of himself when he heard the blast caused by the whip near his face.
Just a few centimeters and the whip would lacerate his skin or it would blind him.
Barret was having fun with him and Guy knew it, yet he could not be indifferent and aloof as he wanted.
He was afraid and he couldn't deny it, but he wouldn't run away.
A faint cry broke the silence of the courtyard and Guy looked up on hearing his name.
He could not see her in the shadows of the porch, but he knew that Marian had to be there and that thought comforted and grieved him at the same time.
He didn't want her to see him die, but at least it would not be alone this time, and her presence, although distant, would give him courage.
“Stop playing.” He said to Barret. “I am here and you can do whatever you want with me, but now let the hostages go.”
The other man laughed and Gisborne knew that he never had any intention to spare them. However things went, Barret would kill those people.
With a quick movement, Guy tossed the curved knife he had hidden in his hand toward the nearest soldier, hitting him in the throat and simultaneously he threw himself forward, towards Barret, trying to grab the knife that he was holding at the throat of the woman.
Guy grabbed the knife with his hand and he felt a stab of pain through his palm, then Barret hit him in the face with violence, but before losing consciousness, Guy managed to catch a glimpse of the hostage who managed to break free and escape, jumping down from the gallows and he saw another soldier who fell to the ground, pierced by an arrow.
Robin immediately took another arrow and pointed it at Barret, but he could not throw it because the other man was using Gisborne's body to shield himself.
The situation in the courtyard had changed in a matter of moments: Gisborne had managed to free two hostages and Robin had taken advantage of the confusion to kill the remaining soldier and free the third prisoner, but the situation of the black knight had not improved.
Barret had stunned him with a punch and then he had taken him hostage, pointing to Guy's throat the same knife he had used to threaten the woman a few minutes earlier.
Robin was looking for a minimum gap, an opportunity that would allow him to plant an arrow in the heart of Roger of Barrett without hitting Gisborne, but Barret seemed to be perfectly aware of the threat and he took care not to be unshielded.
“Robin Hood, huh?!” Barret cried with a crazy laugh. “Not even you can stop me to give this dog the end he deserves!”
“Let him go!” Robin looked out from the porch, showing himself openly. “You are alone, you have no hope of escape. If you kill Gisborne, you will die soon after, if you surrender you will be entitled to a trial.”
Barret yanked Guy, dragging him to one of the nooses hanging from the gallows.
“Do you think I care now? I will go to hell, but he will go first.”
Guy tried to wriggle free, but Barret pushed the knife a bit stronger, cutting his skin and Gisborne froze.
Rather than allowing him to hang him, he would have his throat cut, but he wasn't ready to surrender.
Guy didn't want to die, not now that Marian had told him how she felt about him.
The blow to his head just before had stunned him and the throbbing pain to his head was threatening to make him lose consciousness again, but Guy forced himself to resist.
No matter how strong the pain caused by his injuries was, Guy thought, he had to endure it and struggle to stay alive and conscious: Robin Hood was threatening Barret with his deadly bow, so maybe there was still a little hope, but he had to help him in some way.
He moved his head to the side slightly, to leave a small section of Barret's throat uncovered, and he looked at Robin.
“Hood, brother of mine! Do it now!” He shouted, then he closed his eyes and relied totally on Robin's aim.
Robin Hood released the arrow and the next moment he was seized by doubt.
The point to be hit was microscopic and far away, a slight error or a small movement and the arrow would pierce Gisborne's head.
Robin had always been confident in his abilities, but now he was afraid of himself.
A small part of his mind told him that if Gisborne died, Marian would be returned to him, and no one could blame him for having missed a shot so difficult. Robin was terrified that his hand might have hesitated, obeying that tiny dark instinct.
Brother of mine...
Gisborne had used those words to tell him that he trusted him and Robin prayed with all his heart that that trust was not misplaced.
He wouldn't forgive himself for a mistake.
He followed the flight of the arrow and saw Barret collapsing forward, falling from the scaffold platform and dragging Gisborne down with him.
From that distance Robin couldn't figure out if Guy had been hit by the arrow or if Barret had had time to cut his throat with the dagger: both of them were motionless on the ground at the foot of the gallows, surrounded by the people of Nottingham.
Robin didn't turn to look at Marian, Allan and Djaq, but he dropped the bow and ran to the courtyard.
He had to find out what he had done.
Chapter 42: Rest
“He's a demon back from hell...”
“They told me they have seen him riding a horse with red eyes that left footprints of fire...”
“My sister was in Locksley this morning, she saw him with her eyes: he came out from the grave to stop the marriage of his lover, but he couldn't enter the church.”
“He's a damned soul...”
Cedric made his way through the whispers of the people, concerned.
The crowd was approaching slowly to Guy of Gisborne and the expressions on the faces of those people frightened him.
The black knight was still on the ground, crushed by the corpse of Roger of Barrett and Cedric didn't know if Gisborne was dead or not, but he didn't want the people to approach him.
They all seemed under the influence of an emotion that was something between fear, hatred and superstition and Cedric knew that that mood could become very dangerous.
When he was young he saw a woman in his village who was accused of being a witch by a jealous neighbor and what happened after it hadn't been nice at all. The woman died and they had discovered her innocence too late, but nevertheless people still remembered her as "the witch" and avoided passing by the ruins of her house after dark.
The boy saw Gisborne's sword on the ground and he picked it up, then he held it up in front of him and Cedric stood between the crowd and the two bodies lying at the foot of the gallows.
The sword was heavy and Cedric had not wanted to wield a weapon after the ambush in the clearing, but he tried not to tremble and he turned to the people of Nottingham.
“He's not a demon.” He said aloud, in a confident tone that it wasn't usual to him. “It's only Sir Guy.”
“He was dead! There is a tomb with his name in Locksley!” A man shouted, making the crowd roar.
“No, he wasn't! I thought so too, but I was wrong.”
“It doesn't matter, he should be dead.” A woman said, with resentment. “Last winter he took away almost all our harvest, my children were starving. Alive or dead, we should quarter him.”
Cedric shuddered, but he didn't move.
“I won't let anyone touch him. Sir Guy fought for Nottingham, to save us all!”
“Liar! Gisborne would never have done that!” A farmer shouted, stepping forward threateningly, but he stopped when Robin Hood lined up beside the boy.
“Do you believe me?” Robin asked. “Guy of Gisborne didn't come back from the grave and he is now on our side, you have my word.”
Cedric shot him a look of gratitude and Robin approached him.
“Is he alive?” He asked in a whisper.
“I don't know. But dead or alive I would have defended him.”
“Stand back!” Robin shouted to the people, then he turned back to Cedric. “Come on, help me.”
They moved the body of Barret to the side, the arrow of Robin had pierced his throat, killing him instantly, and they both bent on Guy.
The black knight was still on the ground, with his face to the ground and the paved courtyard around him was sticky with blood, although it was impossible to tell how much of that blood was his and how much of Barret.
“Let's turn him on his back.” Robin said, worried, and Cedric helped him, then the outlaw bent on Gisborne and sighed with relief. “He is breathing, that's something.”
I didn't kill him with my arrow...
Djaq joined them and she knelt on the ground next to them to examine Guy's wounds and only then Robin took a moment to catch his breath.
He had really been afraid he had hit Gisborne and he was surprised of the enormity of the relief he felt to see that it didn't happen.
He looked up and he saw Allan who was carrying Marian in his arms, slowed down by the weight of the girl.
“What happened?” Robin asked, worried.
“When you shot the arrow, she fainted. I confess that I felt like doing it too, but in that case we would both end up on the ground.” Said Allan, gently laying Marian on the ground. “Giz?”
“He's alive, but I don't know nothing more than that.” Robin commented, glancing at Djaq.
She was pressing a piece of cloth soaked in blood on the neck of Guy, but she looked back at Robin and gave him a slight smile.
“Barret's dagger wounded him on the neck, but the wound isn't deep enough to be dangerous, even if it bleeds a lot. He has a nasty cut on his palm and many bruises from falling, perhaps even some cracked ribs, but I would say that overall he can count himself lucky. Look at that scratch on his cheek, your arrow has touched him, Robin. Only a few centimeters away and he would die too.”
Robin looked at the bloody line that marked Guy's face and shivered, deeply uncomfortable. He had missed him, but just slightly.
He looked away from the black knight and he turned to Cedric.
“Do you know where are Gisborne's lodgings in the castle? Help me to get him there, so Djaq can cure him.” Robin looked at Allan. “And you take care of Marian, please.”
Guy suddenly awoke from a confusing and distressing nightmare, and he opened his eyes suddenly, but he didn't dare move, paralyzed by pain.
He was lying on his back and that position made his wounds ache, but he couldn't turn on his side because the whole right side of his chest was plagued by an extreme pain when he tried breathing a bit deeper, while the left side of his neck throbbed with each beat of his heart. Even his left hand and his face hurt and he had a headache.
But I'm alive.
Guy blinked, still unable to believe completely to that thought.
He had no idea of what had happened after he had shouted at Robin Hood to hit Barret, but he woke up and he was still breathing and that was already much more than he had expected.
He heard a door open, followed by the sound of Allan's voice.
“Hey, Giz, you woke up!” The young man said, cheerfully, as he dragged a chair next to the bed and dropped on it with a relaxed air. “I must say that's a relief, Djaq didn't know how hard you hit your head. Marian will be glad to know.”
Guy forgot his pain at hearing the girl's name.
“Where's Marian? Is she fine?” He anxiously asked and Allan laughed.
“Yes, I see that you have not suffered major damage, after all.” He said with a smile, ignoring Guy's glare. “She's fine, better than you, I would say, although that is not that difficult. She wanted to stay here to watch on your sleep, but Djaq gave her some medicine to make her sleep, she was exhausted.”
Guy thought that she looked fragile and vulnerable after the mistreatment she had suffered from Barret and he nodded.
“Djaq was right.” He approved. “Barret?”
“Thanks to Hood?”
“Good.” He said, then he closed his eyes for a moment and he let out a groan. “Do you think Djaq could also give me something for the pain?”
Allan grinned and got up to take a bowl from the table.
“She already had it prepared, but she said to wait until you woke up before giving it to you.”
“As you see I'm awake. Hurry.”
Allan wasn't discouraged by the harsh tone of Guy and he helped him to sit up in bed, arranging the pillows so he could lean on them, then he put the bowl in his good hand.
Guy sipped the warm liquid, hoping for it to take effect quickly and he looked down at his bandaged hand.
The pain was sharp and the wound was throbbing, but Guy still could manage to bend his fingers.
“What happened?” He asked Allan.
“To grab the blade of a knife is never a good idea. Luckily you were wearing gloves, otherwise it would have been worse. But you managed to free the hostages.”
“You saved two of them and Robin freed the other. Don't you remember?”
Guy started to shake his head, but he thought better of it at the first twinge of pain.
“Not much. It's all confused.”
Allan pointed to the wound on his neck.
“Barret did that to you while trying to cut your throat, the scratch on your cheek, instead, was caused by the arrow that Robin used to save your life, everything else, cracked ribs and several bruises, depend on the fall from the platform of the gallows. Barret collapsed forward and dragged down you too, falling on you. For a while we thought you were both dead. Those weren't funny moments at all, believe me.”
Guy gave him a skeptical look.
“I think I was having less fun than you, do you know?”
“No doubt, man.” Allan said, hiding a flash of emotion behind a cheeky smile. “But I'm glad to see that you are more or less in a single piece. Even if you look like you have been trampled by a whole herd of horses.”
Guy chuckled, but he stopped laughing after the first stab of pain in the cracked ribs, then he leaned back against the pillows with a groan of pain and he closed his eyes. Perhaps Djaq's medicine was beginning to take effect because he started to feel sleepy, but he still managed to smile at Allan.
“I am happy to see you again, too. You can't imagine how happy I am.” He said softly, then he fell asleep.
Allan looked at him, surprised by those words, then he retrieved the empty bowl from Guy's hand and sniffed it.
“I have to ask Djaq what she put in this remedy...” He said to himself, amused, then looked at Guy before he left the room. “Well, Giz, sleep tight, you deserve some rest.”
Chapter 43: After the Storm
Guy leaned his hand on the wall of the corridor and he stopped for a few seconds to regain his strength, but he didn't think even for a moment to go back.
When he woke up the pain had seemed much more bearable, but now the wounds were beginning to ache again and he felt weak, but he didn't want to go back to bed.
He wanted to see Marian.
He wanted to be near her, to hold her and to hear her breathing, to get lost in her eyes and forget anything else. The need to have her close was almost a physical necessity, a kind of hunger that hurt his heart.
Maybe it was foolish of him not to ask anyone for help to get up and get dressed and more ever foolish to slip out of his room like a thief. Djaq probably would have scolded him for getting out of bed too early and Allan would be worried when he couldn't find him, but Guy wanted to see Marian and to be alone with her for a while.
He finally reached the girl's room and he pushed the door, hoping it wasn't locked from the inside, but the wooden door swung open obediently and Guy slipped into the room quietly, closing the door behind him.
Marian was still asleep.
Guy went near the bed quietly and he watched her for a while. The girl's hair, now so short, curled untidily around her face and it made her look younger and more vulnerable than usual, but Guy couldn't forget the courage with which she had fought alongside him and how she had struggled to defend him.
Marian had killed a man to save him.
Guy was sincerely sorry for the pain that that action had brought the girl, he knew very well that taking a life would change her forever, but he was also deeply grateful to her and he still struggled to believe that Marian cared so much for him.
She loves me ...
He bent over her, studying every line of her sleeping face and he wondered if he could wake her with a kiss.
He sat on the bed and leaned over her, bringing his face close to the girl, but he couldn't decide to touch Marian's lips with his.
Can I really do this?
In the past, when he tried to kiss her, Marian had hesitated or she had found an excuse to escape from an unwelcome closeness and now Guy was afraid that it could happen again.
He felt he was being a fool because Marian had made it clear how she felt for him, but he couldn't help but feeling anxious.
A voice inside him continued to suggest that he didn't deserve Marian's affection, that he must have it all wrong and that if only he touched her, she would turn away in disgust, and yet she was so beautiful, so beloved, that he couldn't stay far from her.
He touched her lips with a light and hesitant kiss, so full of emotion that his eyes filled with tears.
Marian opened her eyes and watched him, motionless, for a long moment then her eyes lit up with joy, and she hugged him, holding him tight.
“Guy! You are alive! You're really alive!” She sobbed, suddenly bursting into tears. “Djaq told me so, but I was not allowed to see you, and I thought that hers was just a lie to keep me quiet! I was so afraid, Guy!”
The girl hold was rather painful for his injuries, but Guy didn't think in any way to get away from her, every bit of that pain became precious because it was caused by the affection that Marian felt for him.
He caressed her face with his hand to calm her down and dry her tears.
“Now it's all right. I'm here.” He whispered softly, and she leaned against him, relaxing. She kept hugging Guy, her face resting on his chest to hear the beating of his heart and she closed her eyes with a happy sigh.
That moment was so quiet... It reminded her of the last time of serenity that they had before Barret came to subvert their lives, that sunny afternoon they spent in the barn with Guy who slept leaning against her.
Then, it was the black knight who needed her, it was him the fragile and broken one, but now Guy's embrace was protective and safe and in his arms Marian finally felt serene.
That was the place for her, the only one where she wanted to be and now she was sure of it.
Robin looked back at the castle walls and Little John and Much imitated him.
Djaq and Will were a few steps behind and they spoke to each other quietly. Every so often she laughed and looked at the young man with eyes full of joy.
“You'll accept it to end like this?” John asked, disgruntled. “Will you let Gisborne to take her away from you?”
Much glanced at him angrily, fearing that his words could hurt his master, but Robin only shook his head with a bitter smile.
“I wish I could blame Gisborne, but it would be dishonest of me. Marian is not the same anymore and so am I. Time has changed us and, even though it may hurt, to refuse to accept it would be useless. Even without Guy, most likely our paths would have parted, sooner or later.”
“This I do not like. It's not right.”
“We can't like it, but this is how it is: things change.”
Much put a hand on his shoulder.
“Not everything changes. You can always count on our friendship.”
“I know. And I am grateful for that. Now let's go back to the camp, it has been a busy day.”
“It is worthwhile to conclude it with a nice dinner.” Much said, opening a bag to show them a big roasted goose. “How about this? Courtesy from the kitchens of the sheriff.”
The other outlaws laughed, then they took the road that lead to the forest.
Allan went back in the kitchen with an untouched tray of food, he laid it on a table and he added another plate and a second glass of wine.
He had gone to bring dinner to Guy, but Gisborne seemed to have disappeared. Allan hadn't the slightest doubt of where he could find it, so he decided that he might as well bring something to eat to Marian too.
He finished filling the tray, he put in his mouth a little cake covered with honey and he walked to the girl's room.
He knocked vigorously before opening the door and smiled to himself to see that he was right: Gisborne was sitting on Marian's bed and the girl was curled up next to him with her head resting on his shoulder.
“I brought you some food.” Allan announced cheerfully. “Hey, Marian, don't squeeze him too much or you're going to break even his few ribs that are not broken.”
“Allan!” Guy snapped, glaring at him, while Marian broke away from him, blushing guiltily.
“I've been hurting you? But why didn't you tell me?”
“Marian, I think you could rip his heart and Giz would continue to smile.” Allan explained, peacefully, ignoring Guy's menacing glare.
The girl stared at the floor, trying not to think that the words of Allan were all too true. She was certain that she had broken his heart more than a few times, but Guy had never stopped loving her.
Without looking at him, she searched his hand and held it tightly.
“Um, Marian...” Intervened Allan again. “Maybe it's better if you take his other hand...”
Marian gasped realizing that Guy's hand was bandaged, she abruptly let it go and she blushed even more.
Guy laughed and hugged her tightly, ignoring his bruises and wounds.
“Stay by my side and I won't even notice pain.” He told her in a low voice, but Allan heard him and looked at him with an expression somewhere between amusement and disgust.
“Giz, I understand you, really, but you are becoming a bit too mawkish for my taste.”
“And you are speaking like the sheriff.” Guy retorted with a grin, then he frowned and he looked at the other two, suddenly worried. “Allan? Marian? Where's the sheriff? He is still alive, right?”
Allan and Marian looked at each other in horror, remembering only then that no one of them had thought of freeing Vaisey from the dungeons.
Chapter 44: The Dog Who Began to Bite
“No, Guy. Don't even think about it. No.”
Gisborne touched Marian's lips with a finger and smiled apologetically.
“It is necessary.”
She shook her head stubbornly.
“I will not go to Kirklees without you.”
“Your father is waiting for you and I have to work things out with the sheriff. I don't want you to be at the castle when I will free him from the dungeons.” Guy let out an amused grin thinking to Vaisey closed in a cell. “I bet that was Hood's idea.”
“And I don't want you to be there. He could imprison or kill you.”
“I saved his life, this must be worth something.”
“We are talking of the sheriff, Guy.”
“In case of danger I'll flee, I promise.”
“Let me stay, as you can escape, we can both do it.”
Guy put his hand on her shoulder and he looked into her eyes.
“Marian, you'll go to Kirklees, even if I will have to take you there personally and then I'll come back here to talk to the sheriff. Only that I would prefer not to ride more than necessary, it would be rather painful for me, so please, don't object and go with Allan.”
“Oh, yes. I would.”
The girl looked at him and she realized that Gisborne was serious: if she continued to resist, Guy had every intention of dragging her to the Abbey of Kirklees.
She pointed a finger at his chest, furious.
“All right, but if you won't reach me by tomorrow evening, I'll come back and then the sheriff will be the least of your problems!”
Guy smiled, unimpressed.
“Don't worry, you won't get rid of me. Now go and prepare for the trip, I have to talk to Allan.”
Gisborne left the room and she slammed the door behind him.
Allan, who was waiting in the hallway, looked at him and laughed.
“She didn't agree, uh?”
“Not really.” Guy said, walking down the hall.
“The journey to the abbey won't be any fun, I'm afraid.”
Guy did not answer him and Allan realized that he had changed mood.
“Hey, Giz, what is it?”
“I don't know what will happen with the sheriff, Allan. I tried to downplay things with Marian, but I really don't know what to do.”
“What can he do to you? If thing should go really bad, we'll go away from Nottingham.”
Guy grabbed the ribbon around his neck and he pulled out Marian's ring from under his shirt. He turned it around in his fingers and he looked at it sadly.
“What can I offer to her? Maybe for the rest of the world I am no longer a dead man, but I have absolutely nothing.”
“She wants you, Giz.”
“For how long, Allan? Do you think that it will be enough to get me when we won't have anything to eat or a sheltered place to spend the winter? I know all too well the misery and it's not what I want for Marian.”
Allan gave him a surprised look: he didn't know practically nothing about the Gisborne's past and it seemed strange to him that a nobleman could really know what it meant to starve or freeze to death, but he also knew that Guy was sincere.
“We'll think of something, I'm sure. Remember that you are not alone in all this, there are more people willing to help you than you think. Try not to get killed by the sheriff and we'll find a solution.”
Guy nodded and smiled, genuinely grateful.
They both turned to look at Cedric who was running along the corridor to reach them.
“I found your horse, Sir Guy. One of the merchants had seen him wandering along the street and he took him, but he agreed to return him immediately as soon as I said that he belonged to you.
The boy avoided to report the exact words of the merchant who had included several nasty comments about Gisborne and a good deal of superstition on his return from the dead. Cedric just said to Guy that he had left the horse in the stables.
“Thank you, Cedric.” Guy said and the boy's face lit up with a smile full of pride, then the young man said goodbye to both of them and excused himself, saying that his relative was waiting in the kitchen to give him some work to do.
Allan watched him go.
“That kid worships you, Sir Guy.” He commented, amused.
“I have yet to understand why, to be honest. But I'm glad that Barret didn't kill him, he's a good boy.”
“I told you, Giz, you're not alone. And now you also have a horse, what else do you want?”
“Some land, a house and not having to deal with the sheriff, but perhaps I shouldn't complain too much, until yesterday I didn't think I would be able to get out of this alive.” Guy said, seriously, but less worried than before. Allan's words had managed to cheer him.
To face the sheriff wouldn't be pleasant at all, but in one way or another he would survive.
“Well, my friend, you'll have to deal with the sheriff, but I will have to keep quiet your future wife after you have made her mad, later we can make comparisons about which of us had the worst time.” Allan said with a grin. “But then after the sheriff you'll have to face Marian too, so after all I don't envy you at all.”
“You are so comforting, Allan.” Guy said, with an amused snort. “See you later.”
Or at least I hope so.
“Gisborne!” The sheriff grabbed the bars of the cell door and shook them furiously. “Get me out of here immediately!”
Guy looked at him, but he didn't move.
“First I would like to know what are your intentions towards me.”
Vaisey stared at him open-mouthed, first surprised and then outraged by that answer.
“You are a traitor. Wait till I get out of here and you'll end up rotting in jail for the rest of your days.”
“If that's what you think, I'm afraid we have nothing to say.” Guy said, turning away from him to go away. “I hope for you that somebody will remember to bring you some food.”
“Gisborne!” The sheriff yelled. “You wouldn't dare do that!”
Guy spun around to look at him.
“Why shouldn't I? If you consider me a traitor, what would I have to lose if I leave you here?”
“I'll skin you alive, Gisborne! I'll make you regret being born!”
“Oh, you already did it, and too many times, I assure you.” Guy picked up the keys to the cell and rattled them. “But now I have these and I guarantee you that at the moment I am quite tempted to let them fall into some well. Unless you're willing to be reasonable.”
Vaisey looked at him with a murderous look, but kept his anger in check.
Something in Gisborne attitude worried him.
It had once been all too easy to manipulate him, to subtly hit him in his weaknesses that Vaisey knew all too well, but now the black knight had changed.
The sheriff had always criticized him for not being able to repress his compassion and Gisborne now seemed to have given up completely to that pathetic humanity, but, inexplicably, that change, instead of weakening him, seemed to have made him more independent.
“What the hell you want, Gisborne? I do not like blackmail.”
Guy crossed his arms and stared at him.
“I do not like being called a traitor. In all these years you have always had my loyalty, even when I shouldn't have given it to you. I damned my soul for you and I have done nothing to deserve your unjust accusations.
“And your will?” Vaisey pointed a finger at him. “It was a blackmail! You have dared to blackmail me!”
“I didn't took anything from you that I had not already widely earned. A house and my personal property, I don't think it is such a high price after having served you for all these years.”
“And the freedom of two dangerous rebels... You've threatened me, Gisborne, you'll pay for it.”
“Sir Edward and Marian were never really a danger to you, you know it. And for the rest I did just what you have always taught me: If you want something, take it. By any means.”
“You threatened to get your confession in the hands of the king!”
“My will wouldn't damage you. To give my property to Sir Edward wouldn't have changed anything for you and you wouldn't have had any reason not to fulfill my last will. So mine wasn't a blackmail. I prefer to call it a guarantee. Moreover, while I'm alive and I have something to lose, I for one have every interest that certain documents doesn't arrive in King Richard's hands.”
Guy looked at the keys of the cell and he threw them to Vaisey.
The sheriff grabbed them and he fumbled to open the cell, then he went out, slamming the door behind himself.
He approached Gisborne threateningly, but he didn't touch him. In the past he wouldn't hesitate to hit him, certain that Guy would have suffered any mistreatment without reacting, but he now had a strong feeling, almost a certainty, that Gisborne wouldn't have so many scruples to return the blow.
“Your attitude doesn't please me at all, know this.”
Guy looked at him, unruffled.
“And I do not like yours, but that didn't stop me from saving your life. If it wasn't for me, Roger of Barrett would have killed you and he would still be unpunished.”
“Do you expect to be thanked for this? You let Hood in the castle, and you allowed those outlaws to leave me to rot in the dungeons!”
“No, I do not expect gratitude. Not from you.”
“You are right because you won't get it.”
“I expect a payment.”
Vaisey looked at him as if he were crazy.
“Do you expect what?!”
“I just told you: as long as I have something to lose, it's better that my confession remains hidden. Right now I don't have much to lose, to be honest. If I don't get what I want I'll have to go away, I'll have to get away from England and at that point I might as well wash my conscience letting the king know what I did under your orders. I expect that I'll have to live on the run, but at least I will have the satisfaction of knowing that you've got what you deserve. And yes, this time this is blackmail.”
“You're dead, Gisborne. You can't even imagine how much you're dead.”
“Even in that case the king would receive the evidence against you. Maybe you should listen to what I ask, you might find that it isn't an excessive price to pay.”
Vaisey glared at Guy and threw the keys of the cell at him, with a cry of rage. Guy merely dodged them and he looked at him, waiting.
“So what the hell do you want?” The sheriff growled, shaking with anger.
“Not much. First: I don't want to work for you anymore.”
“I wouldn't keep you at my service not even by mistake. You're fired!”
“Well, as you see it is possible to find an agreement. My second request is for Allan. You have condemned him to death unjustly only out of spite against me, I want you to sign a pardon for him.”
“Oh, what a noble and moving deed, Gizzy, should I cry?”
“The third condition is that the provisions of my will remain in force: Locksley Manor and everything inside it will continue to belong to Sir Edward. For me I just want a piece of land, I am thinking of one in particular. It's currently in a state of neglect and it shouldn't be a big sacrifice for you to give it to me.”
Vaisey stared at Guy with hatred. He was tempted to kick him, to declare him an outlaw and to reject with disgust his blackmail, but the truth was that it wouldn't be worth of the risks: the demands of Gisborne were ridiculous and to satisfy them would cost the sheriff practically nothing.
If he contented him, Gisborne would become another meaningless noble pledged to follow his business to manage the land and to pay taxes. If he didn't, Guy would become a dangerous outlaw ready to do anything for revenge.
The sheriff's dog had learned to bite, so he might as well throw him a bone to keep him quiet.
And sooner or later Vaisey would find a way to get back at him.
“You think you're so smart, do you?” He growled.
“If I were really smart, you would be dead now and Nottingham would just be a pile of rubble.” Gisborne said. “Now, if you'll follow me, the notary awaits us in your studio.”
Chapter 45: A World That Will Not Turn To Ash
So this is the epilogue, I hope you liked reading my fanfiction.
The story doesn't end here, there is the spin-off "The Nightwatchman", a collection of missing moments "Embers" and a sequel "From Ashes, Through the Fire".
I will begin translating them soon, I hope you'll read them too. :)
Thank you for reading. :)
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.