Robin leaned his back against the trunk of the tree, stretching his legs along the branch on which he had climbed and he relaxed as he waited.
The night was clear and cool and the crescent moon was thin in the sky, perfect for not throwing too much light during a robbery.
The sheriff had just prepared a load of supplies for the soldiers of Prince John and the supplies had been accumulated in one of the barns of Nettlestone, ready to be sent at first light, but, if all went according to Robin's plan, tomorrow Vaisey would have a bitter surprise.
Robin looked at the position of the moon in the sky and he thought it was an hour later than agreed. They still had plenty of time, but he was beginning to think that his new ally would miss the appointment. He had wondered if the other members of the gang would accept him, but perhaps the problem would not exist at all.
“He won't come.” He said to himself softly, but his words were immediately refuted by the sound of footsteps in the underbrush.
Robin smiled to himself and nocked an arrow, not resisting the temptation to scare the newcomer.
He shot it, and the arrow missed the masked man who was advancing in the woods to the place of their appointment just by a few centimeters. The other jumped in surprise, then he took off the mask from his face and he looked up, irritated, looking for Robin in the branches.
“The usual show-off.” Said Guy, annoyed, finding the outlaws and glaring at him.
Robin laughed and he went down easily from the tree, reaching Gisborne.
“You know that I wouldn't hit you. But I was starting to think you weren't coming.”
Guy looked at him, offended.
“I promised to help you, Hood, do you think my word is worth so little?”
Robin smiled apologetically.
“No, I can say a lot of bad things about you, but not that you're not loyal.”
Gisborne nodded, accepting the words of the outlaw.
“Too bad you're not punctual in the same way.” Robin continued, amused. “I was waiting for you at least an hour ago.”
“I had to wait for Marian to withdrew for the night and to make sure she was asleep, and then...”
Guy looked away, a little embarrassed. “... I think I got lost in the forest.”
Robin laughed, then he apologized again.
“ I know, at night it isn't easy to find the way in the forest if you are not used to it. But it's funny anyway.”
Guy gave him a little smiled.
“Aren't we late?”
“We still have time.” Robin said, leading the way to a clearing where two common horses were waiting. Guy would have preferred to use his black stallion, but he would have been too recognizable.
Robin mounted and Gisborne watched as he climbed on horseback, noting the grimace of pain that had crossed his face for a moment.
“Are you really sure you want to do it? Not even a month has passed and you were in a pretty bad shape.”
“I'm fine. I still feel a bit of pain in my ribs and my back, but it's not a problem.”
“For you, it's still a big risk. If the sheriff were to find that you cooperate with us, he would make you pay dearly for it, he's just waiting an opportunity for revenge.”
Guy looked at him.
“Hood, am I mistaken or you're worrying for me?”
“Don't be too surprised, I always take care of my men. If you cooperate with us, it is my duty to make sure that no harm happens to you. However, if you have any doubts you still have time to stop, I won't blame you for it, know this.”
“Hood, I want to do it. I was the one to propose it, it's my idea, I'm not going to pull back.” Guy said vehemently, then he paused, hesitating. “As long as you want me... If my presence is not welcome, I can understand... Robin, you don't want to deal with me, is that so?”
Robin Hood looked at him: he was not used to see Gisborne so insecure and he instinctively gave him a reassuring smile.
“I can not guarantee for the others, but when they see that you're really willing to help they will accept you. I know you mean well, I'd just prefer to avoid to see you ending up hanged. Vaisey can't wait to see you dead.”
“That's why I am wearing the Nightwatchman's costume, right? The sheriff will never discover who I am.”
Robin stared at him with a grin.
“ You just gave me an idea. Put your mask on and when we reach the others, let me do the talking.”
“Aren't you going to tell your friends that the Nightwatchman it's me? They can't be so naive, they have already seen me dressed like this. And they certainly won't mistake me for Marian.”
“Not for Marian, but for Allan. He had been pardoned by the sheriff, right? Even if he wanted to get back in the gang he'd have to hide his identity.”
“Allan isn't loved very much by your friends, either...”
“More than you.”
Guy was silent for a moment, then he nodded.
“I suppose so.”
“You have to demonstrate with facts that you can be a great help to us, and I am sure that then they will begin to trust you.”
“I hope so.” Guy said, in a gloomy tone which suggested that he was expecting the opposite.
Robin stared at him, curious.
“Why do you care so much? You never cared much for peasants, why are you now so eager to help them?”
Guy hesitated to answer, then he decided to be honest.
“I don't look forward to help them. I owe you my life, Hood, and I can do nothing to repay what you did for me. Locksley should belong to you, but the Sheriff would never agree to give your lands back to you. If I got Knighton and the house of Locksley, it was only with blackmail and because he had no use for them. Even so I know that sooner or later I will pay for what I did. I can't oppose him openly otherwise Marian, Allan and Sir Edward would be the first to suffer and I don't want them to suffer for my actions. This is the only way I can help you and I want to do it with all my heart.”
Robin looked at him, impressed by those words.
Guy interrupted him with a grin.
“And it's also a way to repay the sheriff of a small part of what he made me suffer all these years. Oh, believe me, even just this would be enough motivation to do it.”
The other outlaws were making use of Robin's absence to check and prepare the weapons, only slightly concerned for his delay.
Usually Robin always had a good reason not to be on time and often his most interesting plans were born during his delay.
What they didn't expect was to see him coming together with Nightwatchman. A Nightwatchman that certainly was not Marian.
“Allan wants to get back with us. Tonight he will help us to take away the supplies.” Robin began, pointing to his companion.
“Why the mask?” Much asked, puzzled.
“The sheriff has pardoned him. It will be more useful for everyone if he remains a free man, therefore, he can't be seen with us.”
“We might not want him to be back with us.” Little John said, ominously.
“We talked a lot, he really wants to help us.” Robin explained. “I'm willing to give him a chance.”
“Me too.” Will replied. “He deserved it, if only for the punch that he gave the sheriff...”
Much and Djaq also nodded.
“All right.” Little John gave in too. “But he should at least apologize to all of us for having betrayed us for Gisborne.”
“Now there is no time.” Robin intervened. “Come on, we'll talk after we empty the sheriff's storehouse.”
The others obeyed without further questions and they walked into the forest. Only Djaq paused for a moment to look into the eyes of the Nightwatchman and she smiled, amused, before following the other.
Guy looked back, urging the horse: the soldiers were chasing him closely and they had no intention of giving up. Fortunately, going that fast, they had no way to take aim with a bow, but he had to be careful not to let them get too close or they would strike at him with their drawn swords.
He wondered what had become of Robin. The two of them had the task to distract the guards while the others carried off the wagon loaded with supplies, but the outlaw couldn't be seen anywhere.
Judging by the number of soldiers who were chasing him, Guy thought he had done his job well, but now he had to find a way to escape without being captured or killed.
He turned back to look back, worried. They were gaining ground and his horse was not fast enough to outrun them, so he had to find another way to get by.
He noticed some commotion on his left and he headed in that direction, sensing that Robin had to be there. He looked around, locating him in the midst of a group of loose horses galloping along the streets of the village and he realized that Robin had freed them from the stables of Nettlestone.
Guy pushed his horse in the midst of the other horses and he leaned forward in his seat, staying low as much as possible to get confused among the other horses. He heard an arrow hissing next to him, a sign that the archers were able to organize themselves and he hoped that the aim of the guards of Nottingham had not improved since he used to command them.
Robin's horse came alongside his and Guy turned toward the outlaw.
“Any ideas, Hood?”
“Yes, let's not be hit.”
Robin walked the horse to a wagon that was at the side of the road and he grabbed a roll of rope resting on its platform.
“Follow me.” He said, turning his horse to face his pursuers and he gave Guy one end of the rope.
Gisborne knew what he wanted to do and shook his head in disbelief.
“You are crazy...”
“To succeed the lunatics must be two. Are you in?”
They spurred their horses galloping side by side, and they charged the soldiers who were chasing them, then, shortly before reaching them, they parted, clutching each one end of the rope.
The guards who were ahead of the others were thrown from the saddle because of the impact with the stretched rope and they rolled on the ground, between the hooves of the horses who followed them.
Guy and Robin let go of the rope and they ran away in opposite directions without the soldiers, too busy to appease the frightened horses, could manage to chase them.
Much, and Will gave a bag of flour to Little John and the outlaw deposited it in the secret hideaway while Djaq updated the inventory of the stolen goods.
“The poor will have a lot of food for the winter.” John commented, pleased to see the store that was filled as they unloaded the wagon.
“I hope that Robin and Allan didn't have any problems.” Much said, always worried about his master.
“By now they should be here.” Will said and, as evoked by the words of the young man, Robin's horse emerged from the trees.
“Robin! Are you all right?” Much asked, while Djaq gave Robin a worried look.
“Where's the Nightwatchman?”
“I thought He was already here. I stood behind to take this.” He gave Little John a bag full of coins, removed from one of the coffers of the sheriff, then he turnet to look back at the forest. “I'd better go looking for him, he probably got lost.”
“Allan knows very well the forest, he wouldn't lose the way.” Will commented and Robin smiled, amused.
“Yep, Allan wouldn't lose his way.” He said, and he was about to go back, when Guy arrived into the clearing too. “Are you all right?” Robin asked, noting that he struggled to stay upright in the saddle.
Guy dismounted and he fell to his knees. Robin hurried over, worried.
“Have you been hit?”
Gisborne shook his head weakly. The cracked ribs ached, cutting his breath and making him dizzy, but he hadn't received new wounds.
Djaq approached him and took his pulse, then she helped him to sit with his back against a tree.
“Stay quiet for a while and breathe slowly, soon it will pass. But you shouldn't have made such efforts so soon with the injuries you received and you Robin, you shouldn't have let him to do it.”
“But Allan wasn't injured...” Much said, puzzled, not understanding what was happening.
Djaq glanced at Guy as if to ask his permission and, at his nod, she undid the coat and removed his Nightwatchman mask.
“Gisborne!” Little John growled in recognizing him and Much and Will also gasped in surprise.
Robin looked at them innocently.
“Perhaps you have realized that the Nightwatchman is not Allan... Guy decided to give us a hand.”
“And you trust him?” Much asked, stunned.
Robin Hood looked at Gisborne and he put a hand on his shoulder.
“Yes.” He just said, and Guy looked at him, amazed. Robin nodded with a smile. “Maybe you aren't in very good shape, but we worked well together. As far as I'm concerned, you are welcome among us.”
Djaq looked both with a reproachful look.
“Not for a few weeks, however, or those ribs will never heal.”
Guy nodded meekly. He felt a bit better, but he knew he had exaggerated and that he would need a few days of rest to fully recover.
“If you can ride, I'm taking you to Locksley. Otherwise we can use the cart.”
Robin held out a hand to help him up and Guy took it, letting him help.
“Thank you.” He just said, and he tried to mount his horse without showing how much effort it cost him. He let Robin to take his reins too and to lead the horse through the trees while he just concentrated on the difficult task of staying in the saddle without falling asleep.
He felt exhausted and sore and he knew that the other outlaws would take a while to accept his presence, but he was also pleased with the success of his first venture as the Nightwatchman alongside Robin Hood.
“Hey, Hood?” He called, and Robin saw an amused light in his eyes.
“When are we going to do it again?”
“So much for the gratitude towards me! You like to be the Nightwatchman, admit it.”
He thought. But he did not say it aloud.