The travelers arrived at the inn late at night and the innkeeper looked at them warily, afraid that they could bring trouble with them, but the money he received was good enough to silence his fears.
The two men asked for a room and for food and the innkeeper lead them to a table while one of the maids went to make the beds with clean sheets.
The guests asked for a simple meal and ale and sat quietly at their table. The innkeeper looked at them from afar: they looked like they had just arrived after a very long travel, and not an easy one.
One of them was a tall man with dark hair and blue eyes. His curly hair was long enough to touch his shoulders, but he was keeping it tied with a leather string and it couldn't hide the faint scar he had near his left eye.
The innkeeper thought that he looked dangerous and he had the sensation he had already seen his face somewhere, but he couldn't say where or when.
The other traveler had a familiar look too, but he looked less scary than his companion: he had blue eyes and fair hair, but, unlike his friend, the expression of his face was open and relaxed and in his eyes gleamed an amused look.
The innkeeper took them their meal and tried to make small talk, even if the tall one unnerved him a little.
“Do you came from a very far place?”
“Yes. And no,” the tall one answered. “We traveled for a long time, but we might decide to settle down near our homeland at last. How are things in Nottingham, now?”
The innkeeper shrugged.
“They could be worse. We were worried when King Richard died and his brother John became king, but he's not bad as we thought. And the Sheriff he appointed is a decent man. Of course there are always lots of taxes to pay, but when I was younger it was much worse, the old Sheriff was much worse, we were all glad when King Richard hanged him for treason.”
The two travelers exchanged a look.
“So he died.” The tall man whispered, almost to himself, and a faint smile lightened his face for a moment.
“I don't want to be funny, but it seems he got what he deserved. He liked so much to hang people that it sounds right he ended up hanged.”
“Did you know the old Sheriff?” The innkeeper asked, trying to remember where he had seen the faces of those travelers.
“We were around when he ruled in Nottingham, but luckily we went away in time.”
“It was a wise thing to do. Those weren't pleasant times.”
“And what happened to Robin Hood?”
“Do you remember him too?”
The tall man shrugged.
“He was quite popular at the time.”
“He was one of the few who dared to oppose the sheriff.”
“Was? Is he dead too?”
“Of course not! He's alive and well, but he's not an outlaw anymore. When Sheriff Vaisey was hanged, Robin Hood had no reason to exist anymore. He's just one of the local nobles now.”
The innkeeper was about to go back to his work when the tall traveler asked him a last question, after a little hesitation.
“Does he… does he have a family?”
“Who? Robin of Locksley? Yeah, he's married and he has quite a lot of children. Oh, they're calling me, I've to go. If you need anything else, just ask to one of the maids.”
The innkeeper went away, unaware that now the tall man was staring quietly at his mug of ale. His companion looked at him, a little worried.
“Come on, Giz, you already knew that they would get married. You should have let her memory go by now.”
The other nodded, gloomily.
“But you didn't.”
“Allan, I will never forget her.”
“You should find a good woman, marry her and have a lot of children yourself, you know?”
“That's a little difficult to do when you don't stay in the same place for more than a fortnight.”
“But now we are going to settle down, right?”
“Well, if we keep traveling, maybe you should learn to have some more fun with the tavern girls.” Allan said, eyeing one of the maids. “I think I'm going to entertain that one telling her some of our adventures, do you want me to ask her if she has a friend for you?”
“No, thanks. I'll let you have fun for me too, I think I'll go to bed, I'm tired.”
“Your loss, Giz.”
“Enjoy yourself. Just, don't tell her anything about the Nightwatchman.”
“I wouldn't! Do you think I'm an idiot?”
“You already did. Twice.”
“I drank too much those times. And I never said that you were the Nightwatchman.”
Gisborne rolled his eyes.
“Oh, right. You bragged that you were the masked hero who went around to help people in need, but we still had to flee in a hurry. I'd like to stay here for a while this time, so just keep your mouth shut.”
“Trust me, Giz. Did I ever let you down?”
“More times than I can remember.”
“Good friend you are! I gave up everything to follow you!”
“You didn't have anything to give up, Allan.”
“Thanks to you. You're being ungrateful, now.”
Guy smiled at him.
“I was just kidding,” he said softly “I trust you completely, you should know it by now. And I am grateful.”
“I know, I know. And don't worry, I'll be careful.”
Guy stood up.
“Good. Have fun.”
Allan watched him going upstairs, a little worried for Gisborne. Eight years had passed since they left Nottingham, but to think of Marian could still upset him.
“Well, if he really wants to live here, he'll have to get used to it.” He said to himself, then he pushed that worry away.
Guy had changed a lot during those years: he got stronger and proved himself to be a brave and kind knight.
Without the sheriff, he became a better man.
“He even learned to smile, even if not very often.” Allan thought, then he shrugged. “Somehow he'll manage, after all he's the Nightwatchman. And if he doesn't, well, we'll just leave for another travel.”
He drank a gulp from his ale, then he called the pretty maid, smiling at her.
The little girl cried for help, but she knew that her father couldn't save her this time. He left early in the morning to go to the Nobles Council in Nottingham, leaving Katerine and her younger brothers at home with their mother.
Her father was far away and her mother couldn't come for sure: she was at home, but she was going to have another child very soon and she wouldn't be able to stop a running horse even if she knew that Katerine was on its saddle.
When she mounted, the little girl thought that going for a ride was a brilliant idea: she was bored and riding a horse looked so simple, everyone was able to do it and when she wasn't pregnant her mother loved to ride too. Climbing on the saddle was a little difficult for her, she was taller than her brothers, but she was still a seven years old girl after all, but she managed.
She succeeded in leading the horse out of the stable and she just wanted to ride around Locksley's pond, but the horse got startled and began running wildly along the main road.
Katerine cried for help, desperately trying to hold herself in the saddle, but she knew she was going to fall and get hurt.
“Are you sure that you want to go to Locksley, Giz?”
“I must. I need to see her.”
Allan yawned and shook his head, then he winced in pain: he had too much to drink and didn't sleep enough, but he didn't regret at all how he spent the night.
“This will lead us straight in the middle of big, big troubles, do you know it, right? Leave the past to be in the past, Giz.”
“I want to see her, but she won't see me, I'm not a fool, Allan. I'll stay hidden, she won't even notice me. I just need to see her one more time, to know that she is happy, that I did the right thing when I let her go.”
“You did, Giz. And I guess that it was better for both of you.”
Guy gave him a grateful look and he was about to answer, when they heard a panicked scream and they saw a horse running at full speed along the road, with a little girl holding on the saddle.
They understood immediately that she was about to fall and they turned their horses to run after the runaway horse.
Guy was the first to reach the horse, but he didn't try to stop it, instead he extended an arm and grabbed the little girl, pulling her on his own horse.
He pulled the reins to stop his stallion, leaving to Allan the task of reaching and stopping the other horse.
He looked at the little girl: he could only see her dark, curly hair because she was grabbing his cloak and sobbing desperately, with her face pressed against it.
“Are you hurt?” He asked softly. “Don't be afraid, you're safe now.”
The girl was startled in hearing his voice and raised her face to look at him.
Guy stared at her, astonished.
For a moment he thought he was back to the past, to the heartbreaking day when he learned the truth and let Marian free to go, changing forever both their lives.
That day he said that he wanted to kill Robin Hood and Marian began to cry, begging him to spare the life of the man she loved. She cried a lot that day, for Robin, but also for him, because she knew that she had hurt him so much.
And now the little girl sobbing in his arms was so identical to Marian that Guy had no doubts about who her mother was.
“You saved my life, Sir!” The girl said after a while, when she calmed down a little. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“No need to thank me, once your mother saved my life. You live at Locksley Manor, right? I'll take you home. Don't worry for the horse, my friend will catch it and take it back to the stables.”
“Do you know my mother, Sir?”
“I did. A long time ago.”
“Oh, she'll be happy to see you again, then!” She said happily, then she frowned, worried. “Do you think she'll be mad at me because I took the horse?”
“Well, she should be! It was a reckless thing to do, but with you being her daughter it doesn't surprise me so much.” He spoke in a serious tone, but he couldn't help smiling a little.
“Oh. I hope she won't make me embroider as a punishment.”
Guy chuckled and stopped the horse in front of Locksley Manor. He dismounted, then he helped Katerine to get down the horse.
“Go home now, and try to be more careful.”
The girl nodded.
“Aren't you coming to meet my mother?”
“Maybe another time.”
He had wanted to see Marian, to be sure that she was happy in the life she had chosen, but meeting her daughter made him realize that he no longer needed to see her to know: that little girl was the living proof that Marian belonged with Robin.
Marian ran out of the door, terrified: one of the servants came into the manor crying that he saw Katerine on the saddle of a running horse.
She could barely walk in those last days of pregnancy, but she was determinate to save her daughter, even if that meant she had to ride a horse to do it.
She almost burst out in tears when she saw that Katerine was unhurt: a tall stranger lowered her to the ground safely, then he mounted back and went away on his horse.
Marian wished she could see his face, but the man didn't look back and she could only see that his dark hair was long and curly.
But it didn't matter very much, in that moment: she ran to hug Katerine and the little girl began to sob again.
“I'm so sorry, mommy! I took the horse and it began to run! I was so scared!”
Marian knew that she should scold the little girl, but she was so relieved to see her alive and well that she just couldn't: she hugged her tight and cried a little too.
After a while she wiped off the tears, both hers and Katerine's.
“Promise you'll never do it again.”
The little girl nodded.
“The knight said I had been reckless.”
“He surely was right! Did he save you?”
“Yes. He ran after the horse and he grabbed me.”
Marian shuddered thinking of what could have happened if that man wasn't there.
“I'll tell Robin to search for him to thank him and offer him a reward. Did he tell you his name?”
“He just said he was an old friend.”