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The Nightwatchman

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Guy held one hand pressed to his chest to calm his heartbeat and he tried to slow his breathing, but he couldn’t calm down. The nightmare had returned again, far too real, and he had woken up with the sound of the whip cracking against the skin of another innocent.
At first, Guy only dreamed of what actually happened, then the nightmares had become more complex and, instead of Robin, shouting under the blows of his whip, he had flogged all the people he loved, one after the other, and each time he had been forced to hit them without mercy.
The arrow that came in through the open window made him startle with surprise, then Guy ripped it away from the headboard, threw it under the bed with the others and he closed his eyes again, hiding his head under the pillow.

Marian took the flour bag, then she closed it and put it away with a sigh. What was the point in rushing to prepare a breakfast that no one would eat?
“Allan?”
Marian called the young man who was dozing in a chair by the fire, and Allan looked up at her.
"Are you sure Guy hasn’t suffered any more injuries than the blow to the head and the sheriff's kicks?”
“Physically Giz is fine, apart from a few bruises.”
“Why doesn’t he get up then? It's been three days, and he spent most of his time sleeping. I'm worried about him, Allan.”
“The sheriff has forced him to commit a terrible action and for Giz it must have been even more terrible if we think about what he suffered last year... I think it's normal that he's still upset.”
Marian watched the flames dancing in the fireplace.
"I would like to be with him, but I have the impression that he prefers to be alone. He said he obeyed the sheriff to protect me... Allan, is it my fault? Will the sheriff always have power over him because of me? If so, Guy will eventually hate me.”
“Now you are the second one in this house who doesn’t think rationally. Giz could never hate you, not even if you rip his heart away with your bare hands. If someone has faults, it's just Vaisey, not you two, and you know what? It's time for Giz to get out of his den.”

Guy had just fallen asleep when the sound of the door being slammed open suddenly made him wake up with a start.
“Hey, Giz!” Allan greeted him, closing the door behind him with another thud and approaching the bed.
Gisborne didn’t look at him and he answered without raising his face from the pillow.
“What do you want, Allan? Leave me alone.”
Allan sat down on the edge of the bed and leaned forward to look at him: Guy was lying on his stomach and his face was sunk in the pillow. The only portion of the face still visible was half hidden by tangled strands of hair that covered his eyes.
“You look like anything but in peace, my friend.”
Guy moved and turned on his side to look at him, in a bad mood.
“Go away, I'm tired.”
“Tired after three days spent in bed? Sorry, but it seems unlikely.”
“As I close my eyes, nightmares come to torment me. Do you have any idea how many times I used that damn whip, Allan? Hundreds. Thousands, maybe. And I could never do anything to stop it. Dream after dream, night after night, I am forced to hurt the people I love!”
Allan grabbed him by the arm and pulled him up to make him sit on the bed.
“And don’t you think it's a good reason to get up? What's the point of staying here and wait for the next nightmare?”
“I can’t do it.”
“Don’t say nonsense, Giz. You get up now, try to look like a human being again, and come to eat something.” Allan raised a finger to cut off the protest of his friend in the bud. "And don’t say no, or next time it will be Marian who will come and drag you out of here. Do you really want her to see you in these conditions?”
Guy didn’t answer, but Allan knew that eventually his friend would listen to him, and he squeezed his shoulder in a gesture of encouragement.
“Come on, now get ready, we'll wait for you downstairs.”
Allan went to the door and stood for a moment in the doorway, noting only then the arrows hidden under the bed.
“Sooner or later you'll have to talk to him, do you know?” He said, then he left the room, leaving Guy alone.
Guy shuddered and took a blanket from the bed to put it on his shoulders, but he didn’t return to lie down. Allan was right, if he didn’t decide to leave his room, Marian would tire of waiting and she would come looking for him, and he certainly wasn’t presentable now.
He stood up too quickly and he was forced to lean against the wall to avoid falling, then he approached the mirror to look at himself.
Since they had come back from Nottingham, he had practically not moved from his bed, not even eating, struggling with nightmares and guilt. He was ruffled, dirty and pale, and his long beard did nothing but highlight the dark circles under his eyes. The black shirt he wore was caked with dried blood and damp with sweat, and Guy pulled it out, letting it fall to the ground with the blanket.
He felt weak and sore, and after undressing himself, he realized that most of the pain he felt came from the dark bruises that marked the skin on his back and chest, where the sheriff had kicked him.
Thinking of Vaisey filled him with rage. That man was a devil and he did nothing but ruin his life in every possible way.
If the sheriff could see him now, he would probably enjoy humiliating him, mocking him for his weakness. That thought roused him from the apathy in which he had sunk, and pushed him to rebel against the anguish that oppressed him: Guy decided that Vaisey could torment and hurt him, but he wouldn’t be able to destroy him because he would never allow it.
He imagined using the whip to hit the sheriff and that mental image faded the horror of the nightmares that tormented him every time he closed his eyes.
Gisborne poured the water from the ewer into the basin and he threw some on his face: it was freezing cold and for a moment he thought of calling Thornton and ask for a hot bath, but he immediately changed his mind and continued to wash himself in cold water. It would be quicker, and the cold would clear his mind a bit, pushing away from him the daze of that sleep disturbed by nightmares.
When it came time to take the razor, his hands weren’t shaking anymore and Guy managed to use the sharp blade without getting hurt.
He looked back at himself in the mirror and allowed himself a small smile to see that he had managed to recover what Allan had called "a human look". He was still pale and upset, but at least he had recovered some energy.
He looked for some clean clothes and he put them on, then he approached the door, took a breath and half-opened it. The murmur of the voices of Allan and Marian, and the smell of freshly cooked food came from downstairs.
Guy leaned his head against the door frame and he wiped away the tears of emotion that had filled his eyes. No matter how sad or troubled he could be, those sounds, voices and smells were there for him and they always had the same comforting meaning: home.
Guy of Gisborne felt at home.

***

Robin shot yet another arrow through the window of Gisborne’s room, with a sigh, and he prepared himself for another useless wait, perfectly aware that even that night Guy wouldn’t come, just like the previous thirteen nights.
He waited a long time, watching the stars and listening to the sounds of the countryside, then he scratched his back distractedly and winced in pain when he touched the bandage.
A sort of stifled sob echoed his moan of pain, and Robin turned around, finding himself face to face with Gisborne.
“Ah, in the end you deigned to come!” He cheerfully scolded him, but Guy didn’t reply to his smile and he remained motionless, staring at the ground.
“I didn’t want to,” he said softly. “I was about to hide this arrow under the bed with the others and pretend I haven’t seen it...”
Robin looked at him, puzzled.
“Why?”
“I shed your blood... How could I look into your eyes after what I did?”
“Actually, you're not looking at me even now.”
Guy sighed and said nothing.
“What made you change your mind? Why did you come tonight?” Robin asked, approaching him.
"Why do you keep looking for me, Hood? I would understand if you don’t want to have anything to do with me anymore...”
Gisborne had spoken without looking up and Robin put both hands on his shoulders. Guy winced at the contact, but he didn’t lift his head.
“I didn’t want to do it, I swear, I didn’t want to! But I didn’t know what to do, I had no choice... I didn’t come here to ask for forgiveness, I can’t forgive myself, but I had to tell you how sorry I am...”
“Guy, look at me. Brother.”
Finally Gisborne decided to look at Robin.
“There is nothing to forgive. Nothing.” Robin said, seriously. "You think of the blood you shed and you feel guilty, but what I see is that you saved my neck, literally, putting your own life at risk. This is what I see, brother, and I'm grateful.”
“But...”
“Stop it, Gisborne, don’t be tragic. Among other things, you would also be quite a poor executioner, you haven’t put the slightest force in those lashes, Djaq said that it’s possible I won’t get any scars. If you think that what you did to me could be in any way comparable to what Barret did to you, take it off your head right away and stop feeling guilty. And now hurry up, you've rested too long, the Nightwatchman has work to do.”
Guy looked at him for a few seconds, trying to hide his emotion, then he smiled and nodded.
“As you wish, my brother. I'm ready.”

***

“Guy, really, you should stop it,” Archer said, taking an apple from the basket. He looked at the fruit for a few seconds, then he put it back down, shaking his head. He didn’t understand why his half-brother liked these insignificant fruits so much, but there were also many other things that he didn’t yet understand in Guy of Gisborne.
Guy leaned back against the tree trunk and took a piece of cheese. He chewed it calmly before turning to Archer, smiling at him innocently.
“Why? I haven’t created problems for you anymore, have I? You know, I'm careful to hit when I know you're busy elsewhere, so the sheriff can’t accuse you of letting the Nightwatchman slip past you.”
"It’s not just about me, the guards can be dangerous too, and the sheriff has been furious since you set Robin Hood free. He wants the Nightwatchman's severed head to decorate his bedroom.”
"I don’t want to get you into trouble, but I have every intention of making his life a living hell.”
Archer sighed and shook his head, smiling.
“See that you don’t get yourself killed, alright?”
“I will do my best to avoid it. By the way, how about knowing the rest of the family? Robin wants to meet you.”
Archer nodded.
“Organize a meeting then, and remember that you and I still have a forthcoming challenge with the bow. Among other things, I haven’t yet complimented you for what you did when you freed Robin Hood... It still seems incredible that you managed to knock out all the archers on the walls without killing them.”
"I had nothing against them, those soldiers were merely executing orders, they didn’t deserve to die because of Vaisey.”
Guy took one last piece of bread, then he stood up and looked at Knighton Hall, smiling lightly.
It wouldn’t take long, now, not long at all.
As if he had been summoned by that reflection, the leader of the workers came towards them, warily looking at Archer.
“Well?” Guy asked, and the other smiled.
“One last stone and it’s done, Lord Knighton.”
Gisborne looked at him, incredulous.
“Really?”
He knew that the rebuilding of the manor was almost over, but he hadn’t expected that the workers could finish earlier than expected.
“Robin Hood and his gang helped the workers these days, they sped things up. There is that big man who is worth ten workers…" The man said enthusiastically, then he stopped abruptly, remembering Archer's presence.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Archer said, who had finally decided to take one of the apples and was pretending to be very busy peeling it with his knife.
“Sir Guy, come on. The honor of laying the last stone is up to you.”
The man led him to the house and to the fireplace in the main hall. At the center of the stone shelf was a square hollow and the leader of the workers presented Guy with the carved stone that should be inserted in that hole.
Gisborne looked at it, amazed: in the center of the block of stone was carved a shield that enclosed a wolf's head.
“Do you like it, Sir Guy? It’s the emblem of your family.”
“How did you know?”
“Robin Hood told us.”
“I still didn’t hear that,” Archer said, amused, then he looked at Guy. “What are you waiting for? Weren’t you in a hurry to finish this house?”
Gisborne lifted the stone and placed it in place, then he looked around in disbelief.
“It's finished... Now it's really finished!”
He took out Marian’s ring that he had worn around his neck for all those months and smiled: for the first time in his life, Guy really owned a house and some land, something to offer Marian.
He looked at the chief of the workers.
“Send everyone away, now,” he ordered. "Come tomorrow and you will be rewarded for your work, but now go home, when I come back from Locksley, I want no one here. Not even you, Archer.”
The brother burst out laughing.
“Don’t forget to invite me to the wedding. Go, now.”
Shortly thereafter, Guy of Gisborne was galloping at full speed along the road to Locksley.
Only a year before he had believed that his life would turn to ashes, that his every hope was destined to burn in the flames of a cruel fate, but somehow he had managed to cross that fire and came out of it stronger.
From those ashes a completely new and better life had been born and at that moment, while Guy ran to reach Marian, nothing seemed impossible.
Guy urged the horse to gallop faster.
He was in a hurry: he was impatient to reach the dream he had pursued all his life.