Robin held his daughter's hand while they walked through the market of Nottingham. He still inwardly shuddered when he thought that he risked to lose her forever just a few days ago.
She wasn't supposed to ride, but Katerine took a horse anyways when her parents weren't watching and the animal darted. She would have fallen to her death if it wasn't for a stranger who saved her.
Marian asked Robin to find that man to thank and reward him, and that was one of the reasons why Katerine and Robin were in Nottingham that day.
Marian couldn't see the face of the stranger, but the little girl did and she could recognize him.
“Father? Are we going to the inn to search for the knight?”
Robin nodded. He knew that Marian wouldn't like Katerine to visit that place, taverns and inns weren't suitable for little girls, but it was the most likely place where they could find a stranger.
“Yes, but don't tell your mother. But first we have to go to the castle, the sheriff sent me a message and said he had to talk to me.”
The little girl pouted.
“It's so boring when you talk with the sheriff! It's all about taxes and rules!”
“I am the lord of Locksley, I have to take care of my lands and of the people who live there. It's important, Katerine and someday you'll understand it.”
“Maybe. For now it's boring.”
“Be patient and quiet and later we'll buy a few honey cakes from the market. And...”
“...don't tell mother!”
They both laughed and Robin stopped to lift the little girl in his arms and hug her. She was his and Marian's first child and he loved her dearly. She was precious to his heart and he couldn't bear to think that she could have died so easily.
He didn't know who that mysterious stranger was, but he knew that he would forever be in debt with him.
They arrived at the castle and a guard introduced them to the great hall, were the sheriff was waiting for Robin.
Sir Arthur was a decent man and he ruled fairly over Nottingham. Robin didn't always agree with all the taxes requested by King John, but this sheriff was completely different from Vaisey and he respected him.
Sir Arthur was waiting for him and he smiled at Katerine too.
“Did you want to see me, my lord?” Robin asked politely.
The sheriff nodded.
“I granted audience to a noble who traveled out of England for a long time. Now he is back and he'd like to settle in Nottingham, but there is a hindrance that must be solved. He claims to have old rights on some lands that once were given to his father, but those lands have been part of your estate for a long time now.”
“So he wants them back? Can he prove his claims are valid?”
“He's willing to pay a fair price for those lands. I suggest you talk to him, I think you can find an agreement that could satisfy both of you. He's waiting to meet you, shall I call him?”
While Robin and the sheriff were talking, Katerine began to get bored and she wandered in the hall, looking at the tapestries on the walls.
She was looking at a faded banner near the door, when it opened and a tall man entered the hall.
Robin stared at him in amazement, recognizing him.
But he was even more astonished when Katerine gave a happy cry and ran towards Guy, hugging him.
“Father! He's the knight who saved me!” She said enthusiastically, then she grabbed Gisborne's hand and began to drag him towards Robin and the sheriff. “I'm so happy we found you, sir! We were searching for you!”
Guy looked at the little girl and glanced warily at Robin.
“You were?” He asked her, softly.
Katerine gave him a bright smile.
“Yes, because you saved me! Father said that he'll always be grateful for what you did and he'll reward you!”
Guy stopped in front of Robin and the two men looked at each other in an uneasy silence.
Robin was the first to speak.
“So it seems.”
The sheriff gave them a surprised look, but Katerine spoke before he could ask anything.
“Father, did you already know him?!”
Robin averted his eyes because he didn't want his daughter to see his bitterness.
“It was a long time ago.”
“Almost another life.” Guy said, quietly. He glanced at Katerine. “She looks like her.”
Robin glared at him.
“What do you want, Gisborne?”
“My father's lands. Nothing else. They should have been mine, but I'm not going to force them away from you, I can pay their worth and I'm willing to do it.”
“I just want a place I can call home.”
Robin could remember too well the times when he and Gisborne were enemies and he thought that he didn't want him anywhere near his family.
He tried to kill the king, he's a traitor and he should have been hanged like Vaisey. Robin thought, but he knew that he couldn't accuse Gisborne for that anymore. Whatever Guy did in the past, now King Richard was dead and King John was on the throne.
But he knew that most of his dislike for Gisborne wasn't because of his actions against King Richard. Robin knew that Guy was little more than a pawn under Vaisey's command and that he just obeyed the sheriff's orders.
It was because of Marian.
He tried to marry her, to force her to love him and Robin found out that the jealousy he once felt was still alive in his heart.
He looked at Katerine, who was still holding Guy's hand, and he was tempted to grab the little girl and pull her away from Gisborne.
He didn't move. It would only scare his daughter.
The daughter who could have been dead if Gisborne didn't save her.
Robin looked at Guy, realizing that the man who once wanted to take everything he owned from him had protected the little girl that Robin valued more precious than his own life.
He despised Gisborne, but he was forced to be grateful to him.
“You will have your lands. For free. This is the reward I owe you for saving Katerine's life.”
Guy could have said that those lands were already due to him by birthright, but he just nodded.
“That's all I ever wanted. But I didn't save her to have a reward.”
“We'll be neighbors then?” Katerine asked, happily. “Maybe we could visit someday! I have two smaller brothers, Richard and Edward, and mother will have another baby soon! I hope it will be a girl! How many children do you have, sir? Maybe we could play together.”
Guy looked at her for a moment.
“I don't have any. I have no family.” He simply said and Katerine stared at him.
“Oh. It must be sad.” She said. “But if you feel lonely you can come and play with us.”
Guy noticed Robin's horrified expression and stifled a laughter. He smiled at the little girl.
“You are very kind, lady Katerine, but I'm afraid that I won't have much time to play. I'll have to settle on my lands and rebuild my manor so I won't be able to visit anytime soon.”
Or ever at all.
Robin relaxed a little in hearing his answer.
“Everything is settled, then?” The sheriff asked and Robin nodded.
“Get the documents ready and I'll sign them. Katerine, let's go home now.”
Robin held out a hand an Katerine happily grabbed it.
“Aren't we going to the inn?”
“It's no use now that we found who saved you.”
“Oh,” sighed the girl, disappointed, following her father out of the hall. She had never entered into a inn and she was curious to see how it looked like.
“It's not the right place for a little girl, your mother would disapprove.”
“But we're still going to buy the honey cakes, aren't we?”
“Of course we are!”
“Do you know, Giz? We should be drinking to celebrate. Or maybe sleeping in a soft bed… with a girl or two. What are we doing here?”
“Be quiet, Allan. Listen.”
“What? There's nothing to hear.”
Guy looked at the night sky and smiled. They were laying on a hill, with their backs on the grass of a meadow.
“Exactly. Can you hear the silence? No one is drawing their swords, no clash of metal, no bandits around, nobody is fighting or trying to kill other people. Nobody is trying to kill us.”
“Good point, Giz. Being safe is not that bad, but I could do with a drink.”
Guy passed him a flask.
“Thanks, mate. So these lands are yours now?”
Guy pointed at the little village at the foot of the hill.
“I'll rename it Gisborne. Guy of Gisborne will have a Gisborne, at last.”
“A wish coming true...”
“Yes, this one did.”
Allan knew that Guy was thinking of his other wish, the one that didn't came true and never would.
“Will you be fine, Giz?”
“Why shouldn't I?”
“Living this near to Locksley, I mean. Near to her.”
“They had three children, did you know? And another one is coming soon.”
Allan sat up and looked at him.
Guy sat up too.
“Locksley is near only if I decide to go there. If I choose to keep to my lands, and I do, it might as well be many miles away. I won't dwell on the past, Marian has her own life and it's time I begin living the one I want for myself.”
“Sounds fair to me. So, were are you going to build you manor?”
“You'll have to clear the ground first: it looks like there are the ruins of some old building there. It would be easier to build it somewhere else, don't you think?”
“No, it has to be there.”
“Those rubbles… Those scorched walls… Once they were my home.”
“You never told me about that times.”
“And I have no intention to do it now.”
“Come on, Giz. We've been friends for years, why are you always so secretive about your past? Don't you trust me?”
“You know I do. I just don't like to think about it.”
“And yet you want to build your manor on the ruins of your house...”
“Sounds foolish, doesn't it?”
“Not the craziest thing you ever did.”
“No? Which one was the craziest thing I did, then?”
“Maybe when you decided to steal that ship on the Mediterranean Sea and we took it back to its rightful owner.”
“It wasn't so difficult, all those sailors were completely drunk.”
“Giz, neither of us had the slightest idea of how to sail a ship, I can't swim and you were seasick. It's a miracle we're still alive and you say that it wasn't so difficult?”
Gisborne grinned and touched a little scar on his chin.
“The accident with the crossbow was worse. But I still don't want to travel on a ship again if I can help it.”
“We shouldn't travel for a while if we're lucky.”
“You're right. We're home, at last.”
They sat for a while, looking at the stars and Allan thought that if he couldn't go to the tavern he might as well get some sleep.
He yawned and stretched on the grass and he was about to drift off when Guy talked again.
“Do you think the Nightwatchman will have something to do here?”
Allan stared at him.
“Are you bored already? And then you say that I'm a troublemaker!”
“I'm not bored, but I like to be the Nightwatchman!”
“Well, save your energies, Giz. I guess that we'll have a lot of work to do here if you want to be the lord of the manor.”
“I guess so.”
“Sleep, then. Or stay awake, if you wish. But be quiet, I'm tired.”
Allan rolled on his side and closed his eyes.
Guy looked at him, amused, then he stood up to look at the village, asleep in the darkness of the night. Those were his lands, the lands that belonged to his father and that had been taken from Guy when he was just a kid. Now he had them back!
Chapter 2: Embroidery
“I told you! But you never listen to me!” Allan gritted his teeth and pushed with all his strength to help Guy mount on his horse.
Gisborne slumped on the saddle with a pained moan.
“Shut up, Allan.”
“This Nightwatchman thing will kill you, I’m sure!”
Guy pressed a hand on his side: the wound was bleeding a lot, but it wasn’t very deep.
“It’s nothing. Maybe it will have to be stitched, but I’ll survive.”
Allan looked at him: Guy was pale and looked unsteady on the saddle and he was afraid he could faint and fall from the horse, so he mounted behind him.
“What are you doing?” Guy growled when Allan took the reins.
“Just making sure that you really survive.”
“I’m well,” Guy said, annoyed, but his word were proved wrong as soon as the horse moved: he felt a burning pain jolting through his body and black spots blurred his vision. He stifled a moan, but Allan noticed that he was shaking.
“Yeah, I see how well you are. Now be quiet and save your strength. I think you’ll need a healer this time.”
Guy wanted to complain, but he was forced to admit that Allan could be right: he was shivering with cold and waves of nausea washed over him, so he just kept his eyes closed and tried to breathe deeply to ease that queasy feeling.
When Allan stopped the horse, Guy wasn’t feeling any better, but he opened his eyes to look around.
“Where are we?”
“In Locksley.” Said Allan, dismounting. “Now come, do you think you can stand?”
“I don’t want to go to Locksley.”
“It’s not like you have a choice, mate, it was the nearest place. Now get off that horse.”
“No. Take me home.”
“You don’t have a home, yet. We’re building it, remember? And with that wound you can’t stay in a tent. Not in this weather.” Allan passed a hand through his hair to shake some rain from it, as to prove his point.
Guy began to stubbornly shake his head, but he realized immediately that it had been a big mistake because it just increased his nausea, making it unbearable. He hurried to dismount, he dropped to his knees and then he threw up.
Allan waited for him to finish, then he helped him to stand.
“Told you so. Now come, you need help.”
Guy nodded weakly and let Allan to haul him to the manor.
Gisborne was feeling terribly weak and he could barely walk. If it hadn’t been for Allan’s help he would have dropped to the ground and just stood there until he bled to death.
Marian was sitting near the fireplace, lulling her newborn baby, and Katerine, sitting in front of her, was struggling on her embroidery.
“Mother, do I really have to do this?” She asked with a pleading look and Marian nodded.
“Next time you are tempted to push your brother into the pigsty, you’ll know better.”
“But father laughed!”
“I’m afraid your father is too soft on you sometimes. Edward could have been hurt and Hannah had to wash both him and his clothes. You have to apologize to her and to your brother.”
“If I do, can I stop embroidering?”
“No, you can’t.”
Katerine sighed and went back to her work, while Marian put the baby in the cradle.
She was about to sit and take her own needlework, when she heard a pounding on the door.
She jumped, startled, and she hurried to the door, wondering who could it be.
Robin had to go to Nottingham and he said that he would stay there overnight, so she was worried.
The rain was changing into a storm and if someone was out in that weather, it must have been for a serious reason.
She opened the door and two men tumbled inside: one of them, clad in a brown cloak, collapsed to the floor, while the other tried to soften his fall, holding him.
Marian looked at them, worried and Katerine ran to grab her mother’s gown, scared.
“What happened, mother? Is he hurt?”
Allan answered her question and lifted his head to look at Marian.
“I’m afraid he is,” he answered, then he flashed a smile at the woman. “Long time no see, uh?”
Marian stared at him.
“Happy to see you still remember me, but now, if you don’t mind, a little help could be useful.” He said, nodding at Guy, still crouched on the floor.
Marian looked at the wounded man: she couldn’t see his face, hidden by the hood of the cloak, but if he was with Allan she had no doubt about his identity. Still, even if she already knew that he was back, she couldn’t really believe it.
Marian forced herself to make a step forward.
“What happened to him?”
“Bandits, they stabbed him.” Allan said, then he bent down to remove Guy’s wet cloak. He handed it to Marian and turned back to Guy to check how he was feeling.
Gisborne had his eyes closed and he was breathing heavily, rendered half unconscious by pain.
Allan noticed that his clothes were soaked with rain and bloodstained.
“He’s the knight who saved me!” Katerine said, in a trembling voice. “Mother, is he going to die?”
Her daughter’s words made Marian stir and forced her to really look at Guy.
He had changed, of course, but he was still the man who once had loved her so much that he found the strength to let her go.
She knelt on the floor and brushed a lock away from his face to touch his forehead: his skin felt cold and clammy and he didn’t open his eyes to look at her.
“No, Katerine, he won’t die, but we must take care of his wound. Go find Hannah and tell her what happened.”
The little girl nodded and ran to search for the servant, while Marian dragged a bench in front of the fireplace and turned to look at Allan.
“Make him lay on the bench. A bed would be better, but he doesn’t look like he can make it to the top of the stairs, not even with your help, and Hannah’s husband went to Nottingham with Robin.”
Allan helped Guy to his feet, he took him to the bench and made him stretch on it, then he opened the clasps of his jacket to remove it.
Meanwhile Hannah arrived and looked at the stranger, wide eyed.
“My lady, who are these men? Are we in danger?”
Her father, who had come into the room holding a basin filled with hot water, looked at the wounded man too.
“It’s Sir Guy!” He said. “I heard that he was back in Nottingham, now I see it’s true.”
Allan dipped a towel in the basin and he used it to clean the wound. The blade didn’t cut very deeply, but it was a long wound and it bled a lot.
Marian and Katerine stood aloof while Allan, Thornton and Hannah were taking care of Guy. The child was scared, but Marian didn’t know how she felt.
She was worried and sorry for Guy, of course, but she had a lot of other emotions mixed inside her.
She was happy to see him back and angry at him because he never went to see her after he returned to Nottingham, she was afraid that he could still love her even after all those years and at the same time she knew that she would be disappointed if he wouldn’t.
I wonder if he still remembers me.
She lowered her eyes on the cloak she was still holding in her hands and she winced. She knew that cloak very well because it once belonged to her!
Why was Guy wearing a part of her old Nightwatchman’s costume? She remembered a rumor she heard many years before, when Guy and Allan disappeared: the Nightwatchman had robbed the sheriff and Vaisey never got his money back.
Marian smiled to herself.
So it was really Guy.
She wondered why he was still using that costume and she decided that later she would ask Allan about it. But first she had to find out how serious his wound was.
She hanged the wet cloak on the back of a chair and she went to talk to Allan.
“How is he? Will he survive?”
“I’ll have to stitch that wound and, if it won’t become infected, he’ll be fine. He survived worse injuries. Do you have needle and thread?”
“I can do it.”
“I don’t want to be funny, Marian, but you weren’t the perfect housewife the last time I checked. Are you sure you can even handle a needle?”
“I got better at sewing during these years. There’s not much else to do when you are heavy with child.”
Allan looked at her for a moment, then he chuckled.
Marian smiled and took her needle.
“Keep him still while I fix his wound.”
Katerine looked at her, in shock.
“Mother, are you really going to sew his wound?”
The woman grinned at her.
“Does your embroidery look more interesting now?”
Katerine sat on the floor and looked closely at her mother while Marian began to stitch the wound.
She always thought that sewing was a waste of time, but now she was beginning to think that knowing how to use a needle could be actually useful.
Chapter 3: Not Anymore
The house was quiet.
Marian sat near the fireplace with her needlework on her lap, but her hands were still and she was lost in her thoughts.
The healer had come and she went away after treating Guy’s wound. Allan went with her to be sure that she made safely to her hut in the forest, leaving Marian alone with Guy.
Hannah and Thornton had told her to go to bed and that they would take care of Gisborne, but she gave them leave: she couldn’t sleep anyways, so she may as well watch over him.
She glanced at Guy: he was still stretched on the bench, covered with a thick blanket and he was asleep. He was so still and his skin so pale that he reminded her of the statue she once saw in a church, sculpted on the tomb of a knight.
She shuddered at the thought and for a moment she was afraid that he was dead, but his chest kept moving in the steady rhythm of his breathing.
Marian looked at him: those eight years had left a few traces on his face, but she thought that he hadn’t changed much. His hair was longer and there were a few little scars she didn’t remember, but he still looked like the same Guy she once knew and she realized suddenly that she had missed him.
She wondered what happened to him during the years he was away, and she hoped that at last he could find the happiness that he never had in Nottingham.
She knew that she was glad that he had decided to come back, but she was also aware that Robin wouldn’t. And for sure he wouldn't like to find Guy at Locksley, but she couldn’t do anything about it.
The healer said that Guy couldn’t travel, at least for a few days, and, furthermore, he had nowhere to go. Allan told her that Guy was rebuilding the house that belonged to his family, but for now they were living in a tent near the construction site. After years of traveling they were used to it, but it wasn’t a suitable place for a wounded man.
The baby began to cry and Marian put aside her needlework and took her from the cradle, lulling her to sleep. She sat back, holding her in her arms and she began to hum a melody she remembered from her own childhood.
Guy come slowly back to consciousness, awoken by the throbbing pain in his side.
He was aching and he felt very weak, but now the pain was bearable and at least he wasn’t cold anymore and even the nausea had subsided.
He didn’t open his eyes, but he knew that Allan must have taken care of him because he was laying in a warm and dry place and he could heard the crackle of a fire.
He realized that he wasn’t wearing his clothes, he just had his undergarments on, but a thick and soft blanket was keeping him warm.
If it wasn’t for the pain, he could have said that he was comfortable.
He was about to call for Allan, when he heard the voice of a woman humming a lullaby. His heart began to beat faster: it was a voice he could never forget, not even in a hundred years.
He cursed inwardly at Allan: of all the places in Nottingham he had to take him to Locksley!
It took years to accept that she would never love him, years to let her go and now he was scared that if he saw her again, all his efforts could have been wasted in a moment.
I don’t want to love her. She isn’t mine and she’ll never be. I can’t afford to fall in love with her again.
But her voice forced him to open his eyes.
He didn’t want to see her, he was scared to do it, but he couldn’t help himself: he had to look at her.
She was sitting on a chair near the fireplace and her face was lit by the flames. Her hair was loose on her shoulders and she was cradling a baby in her arms.
She wasn’t anymore the young girl he remembered, the years filled her figure and softened her look: she was a woman now, still beautiful, but different.
A happy wife.
Guy kept looking at her: he had been afraid that just a glance at Marian could have made him to fall again in that mad love that almost ruined both their lives, but now all his heart could feel was peace and relief.
He was glad to see her, and happy to see her so serene.
To think that she was Robin’s wife and the mother of his children wasn’t painful as he thought.
Actually, it wasn’t painful at all.
Guy understood that he really had let her go.
Marian had the sudden sensation of being observed, so she stopping singing her lullaby and looked at Guy.
He was awake and he was looking at her.
Their eyes locked for a moment and Marian smiled at him.
“You woke up!” She said.
Guy gave her a shy smile.
“How are you feeling?”
“I’ve been better, but it’s not the worse injury I’ve received. I suppose I’ll survive.”
“You’d better do it. I spent a lot of time stitching your wound.”
Guy gave her a look of fake fear.
“Should I be worried now?”
Marian chuckled. She didn’t remember she had ever seen that playful side of Guy, but she liked it.
“Next time I might embroider it instead of just stitching it.”
“I hope there won’t be a next time.”
Marian stopped smiling and looked at him, worried.
“Are you in a lot of pain?”
Guy sighed, he hated to look so weak, but his wound ached a lot and he felt like his side was burning.
He gave a little nod.
“It hurts.” He whispered.
Marian put the baby in her cradle and took a little bowl from the table.
“Drink this, the healer left it for you. It will ease the pain.”
She hesitated for a moment, then she put an arm around his shoulders to lift him a little to help him drink the remedy.
His skin was warm under her hands and his scent, mostly of leather and horses, recalled to her mind the last time she had seen him, when she had told him that she was in love with Robin.
He had been hurt by her words and she had hugged him. She could still remember the doleful look of his eyes when he had told her to go away from the castle, letting her free to reach Robin.
Now she was holding him, they were near like that day, but when she looked at his eyes she could see pain because of the wound, but not because of her.
Marian put aside the now empty bowl and eased Guy down on the bench again.
“You should feel better soon,” she said in a comforting tone and he smiled.
“No, I have to thank you.”
“You let me have the life I wanted. You set me free.”
“I never forgot what you said that day. No, Marian, it was you who gave me the courage to be free.”
The woman smiled.
“We’re even then.”
“Are you happy?”
Marian’s face lit up in a smile.
“I am. And you?”
“If I survive this, I think I will be.”
“You must survive then.”
Guy closed his eyes.
“I feel so tired...”
Marian gently touched his forehead.
“Sleep then. You lost a lot of blood, you need rest.”
Guy kept his eyes closed and she thought he had fallen asleep, but after a while he talked again, in a low tone.
“I loved you for years… I thought I was condemned to love you forever. But now I don’t. I don’t love you anymore. I should feel bad about it, shouldn’t I?”
“No. It feels… good.”
Marian was surprised to hear his words and she suspected that he wouldn’t have been so sincere if it wasn’t for the healer’s remedy.
“Guy?” She called, but he didn’t answer, asleep again.
She looked at him and she thought that she couldn’t understand if she was feeling happy or not. Her vanity was disappointed, but to know that Guy didn’t love her anymore was a relief.
Now they actually had the chance to be friends.
She bent on Guy and kissed him on his forehead, like she did every night when she put her children to bed.
“Get well soon.” She whispered, than she sat back at her place near the fire.
Chapter 4: Then it Hurts.
Guy stared at the ceiling for a while, then he began to feel sleepy again. He had been awake only for a short time and he was already exhausted.
When he had woken up, it was late morning and Allan and Thornton helped him to wash and to attend to his needs, then the healer came again to check on his wound. She had allowed Hannah to feed him a light meal, but Guy wasn’t hungry at all, the pain was still too strong and he just wanted to be quiet and rest.
He could only swallow a few bites of bread and a cup of the remedy for the pain, then he had asked to be left alone.
“You should eat, Giz.”
“I can’t. Maybe later. I just want to sleep.”
Allan had looked at him, worried, but after a moment he had just nodded and went away, taking Thornton and Hannah with him.
Guy went back to sleep.
When he woke up again, he found out that he was feeling a little better and that three pairs of eyes were staring at him.
“I told you!” Katerine said. “See? He’s alive.”
The little girl was standing near the bench and two little boys, younger than her, were staring at Guy, wide eyed with curiosity and fear.
“Is it true that you have a cut on your belly, sir?” The older one asked, looking at the blanket that covered Guy’s body. The other one looked like he was about to cry.
“Did you bleed? Look, I scratched my knee yesterday.” Edward pointed at his chubby leg.
“It was a big cut and there was a lot of blood!” Katerine said. “And I’ve seen it!”
“I wanted to see it too!” Richard whined.
“You were already sleeping. Mother let me stay up because I’m the older sister.”
“No, you were in punishment because you pushed Edward in the pigsty, I heard mother! She said you had to do your embroidery before going to bed!”
“It doesn’t matter, I still saw everything! Mother took needle and thread to sew the wound!”
“Liar! I don’t believe you!” Richard cried. “You can’t sew people!”
“Actually, your mother did. She stitched my wound.” Guy said quietly and the three children stared at him.
“Really? Can I see it too?”
“Me too! Me too!”
“I’m afraid that you wouldn’t see much, the wound is bandaged now,” Guy said.
Katerine grinned at the two little boys, then she looked at Guy.
“These are my brothers. He’s Richard and he’s five years old and he’s Edward and he’s three.”
“You both look like your father when he was little.” Guy said, almost to himself.
“Did you know father when he was little?” Katerine asked. “Were you friends?”
Guy didn’t know how to answer. He couldn’t say that he and Robin had been friends in their
childhood, but they had played together and sometimes they had fun too.
He wondered how their lives would have been if their parents didn’t die in that fire.
“It was a very long time ago.” Guy said at last.
Little Edward pulled the blanket to get his attention.
“Does it hurt?” He asked, pointing at Guy’s belly.
“Of course it does!” Katerine said. “He has a cut on his side! It must hurt a lot.”
Edward stood on tiptoes and planted a light kiss on Guy’s cheek.
“Better?” The little boy asked.
“What?” Guy asked, startled.
“The pain. When I scratched my knee, mother gave me a kiss and sent the pain away.”
Guy stared at him, surprised and a little moved, then he nodded.
“Yes, better. Thank you.”
Richard sat on the floor near the bench.
“Will you tell us a story, sir?”
“Mother said that you and your friend traveled for many years, is it true?” Katerine said.
“Then you must have a lot of stories to tell.” She sat on the floor near her brother and Edward joined them immediately.
“A story, sir, please!”
“Children!” Marian voice called them from the door. “Guy is wounded, you should let him rest. Now go outside and play.”
The children sighed, but they obeyed their mother and went away. Marian entered the room and sat near Guy, holding the baby in her arms.
“I’m sorry they disturbed you, did they wake you up?”
“The boys look like Robin, less annoying though. Katerine is identical to you.”
“I still haven’t thanked you for saving her. She can be so reckless...”
“I’m not surprised, knowing her parents,” Guy said and Marian giggled.
“How are you feeling today?” She asked, turning serious.
“Why? Do you want to kiss me better, too?”
Marian stared at him, looking so dumbfounded that Guy laughed.
“Just kidding. It still hurts a lot, but I feel a little better.”
“You changed.” Marian said with a smile. “I’ve never seen you joking.”
“You too. We never talked like this, before.”
“Like friends.” Guy smiled too. “I like it. It’s easier now. Once I were always afraid that I could say the wrong thing, that I could ruin everything and lose you.”
The baby began to whimper and Marian cuddled her.
“She’s Marian. Robin wanted to give her my name, but I think we’ll just call her Mary.”
“A girl, then. Katerine will be happy. When I met her at the castle she said she hoped for a little sister.”
Marian gave him a surprised look. Robin had told her that he met Gisborne at the castle and that he granted him some lands for saving Katerine’s life, but he didn’t like to talk about it, so she didn’t know that her daughter had talked to Guy too.
“You have a nice family. Except for Hood, of course. Your father?”
“He passed away two years ago.”
“He would have died in the dungeons of the castle if it weren’t for you. He lived to a old age and he died peacefully in his sleep because you kept your promise and helped him to reach the abbey. When he heard that you ran away from Vaisey, he was glad.”
“I was glad too. I think that leaving the castle was the wisest thing I ever did.”
“Someday you’ll have to tell me what you and Allan did during these years. I bet you have a lot of interesting stories to tell.”
“You sound like your children now.”
“I will wait until you are better. You are very pale and I can see that you’re suffering. When Robin will be back, we’ll move you upstairs so you can rest in a real bed and be more comfortable.”
Guy thought that when Robin would be back to Locksley, he’d just kick him out of his house, but he didn’t express his doubts to Marian. He just nodded and uttered his weak thanks to her.
“I’ll let you sleep now and I’ll make sure that the children won’t wake you up again, but first there’s something I’d like to know...”
She hesitated and Guy looked at her.
The woman put the baby in her cradle, then she took Guy’s cloak and she showed it to him.
“About the Nightwatchman? I found out when you left the castle. The costume was hidden in your room.”
“I told you so many lies...”
“I was distraught when I realized that I had stabbed you. I couldn’t forgive myself. I was so sorry, I never wanted to hurt you. Well, I guess that now I know how you felt that time.”
“You kept the cloak.”
“And the mask. The rest of the costume didn’t fit me, of course, but I ordered Allan to have a new one made for me in secret.”
“So you became the Nightwatchman?”
“Don’t tell anyone. Not even Hood.”
“Why? Using my costume to rob the sheriff was a good idea, but why didn’t you burn it afterwards?”
“I wanted to understand you. To know why you couldn’t love me, why you despised me.”
“I didn’t. I always knew that there was a good side of you.”
“Well, I wanted to find that good side. So I took your costume and I tried to act like you. To act like Hood. I still hoped that if I became more like him, you could change your mind and love me instead. I began helping people for a very selfish reason, don’t you think?”
“It doesn’t matter. You still helped them.”
“In time, I realized that I was being deluded, that I already had lost you to Hood and even if I saved all the people in the world, you still wouldn’t love me.”
“But you kept being the Nightwatchman. Why?”
Guy gave her a shy grin.
“I like it. It’s exciting, I feel so free when I am the Nightwatchman… When people is happy and grateful for the help I give them, the look I see in their eyes makes me think that I’m worthy, that I can amend the evil I did for the sheriff and that I can be a good person. It makes me feel well. Except when I get slashed open, of course. Then it hurts.”
“Sleep, now. I’ll give you the remedy and I’ll let you rest.”
She helped him to drink the medicine and she gave him a little kiss on his cheek.
“What did I do to deserve this?” Guy asked, amused.
“I’m kissing you better, after all. You are a good person, Guy. And your secret is safe with me.”
He smiled and closed his eyes, drifting into sleep again.
Guy woke up with a startle, hearing a heated discussion coming from an adjoining room.
He recognized Robin’s voice and he shuddered.
“He’s come...” Guy whispered to himself and he stood still, laying on his back and holding his breath to listen.
“You took him to my house?!” Robin said, his voice thick with contempt.
“Hey, what could have I done? I had no choice.” Allan replied defensively.
“There’s always a choice!”
Guy rolled his eyes with a sigh: certain things never change and Hood’s corny phrases still had the power to annoy him.
“Yeah, the choice was letting him to bleed to death.”
“Like he did in the Holy Land, after he stabbed me?”
“He’s changed! When he left the sheriff he become a different man. A better man. Believe me, Robin, it’s the truth.”
“I trusted you and you betrayed me for Gisborne, now you ask me to believe you when you’re still defending him!”
“If I stand up for Giz is because he deserves it.”
“Who? Gisborne? Tell me, Allan, why does he deserve it? Because he’s so good at cutting tongues or tormenting peasants? Or because he can burn houses so well? He’s dangerous, he’s always been and I don’t want a nasty wolf in my house, or anywhere near my family.”
“I don’t want to be funny, Robin, but that very wolf saved your daughter from a painful death.”
“He had his lands for that.”
“Giz was right!” Allan said and his tone was bitter.
“Right about what?”
“He didn’t want to come here. He was wounded and in severe pain and still he kept asking me to take him home or anywhere that wasn’t Locksley.”
“You should have obeyed him.”
“If I did, he would be dead.”
The door opened and Guy looked at it, startled, thinking that Robin would come and drag him out of the house, regardless of his wound, but the person who entered the room was only Thornton.
The elderly steward came near the bench, carrying a tray of food.
“Lady Marian thinks that you should try to eat something, Sir Guy. Let me help you.”
“Not hungry. And anyway, I think that your master wouldn’t agree. He’d rather give that food to the pigs rather than to me.”
“Surely you’ll find an agreement, sir.” Thornton said, politely and Guy scoffed, shaking his head.
“Maybe when he’ll have kicked me out of Locksley. But I won’t give him the pleasure to do it, give me my clothes, please.”
“Your clothes, sir?”
“I’m going home, Thornton.”
“Forgive me, Sir Guy, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. You are too weak even to sit and I can see that you are unwell, maybe you’re getting a fever. The healer said that you should stay in bed and keep yourself warm. If you go back to your tent, I’m afraid you’d get sick. The nights can be very cold at this time of the year.”
“It doesn’t matter, I won’t stay where I’m not welcome.”
Guy strove to sit and he tried to stand before Thornton could stop him.
“Give me my clothes now.” He ordered, trying to ignore the pain, and he wrapped the blanket around his shoulders with a shiver, then suddenly he felt lightheaded and collapsed to the floor with a groan.
“Sir Guy!” Thornton knelt to aid him and called for help. A moment later Robin and Allan rushed into the room.
“Giz!” Allan ran to help Gisborne. “What happened?”
“He tried to stand.” Thornton answered. “He heard you arguing and he wanted to go back to his lands. I couldn’t stop him in time.”
Robin looked at Guy, still slumped on the floor and he heavily sighed.
The wound seemed to be more serious than he had believed and Gisborne was writhing in pain.
Robin had thought that Allan was exaggerating, that he was making excuses for taking Gisborne to Locksley, but maybe he wasn’t lying, after all.
He knew he had no choice, now.
Maybe Gisborne was a dangerous wolf, but he was severely hurt and if Robin kicked him out, he’d likely die.
“He can’t stay here.” Robin said and Allan glared at him.
“Robin! You can’t...”
“Shut up, Allan! I won’t have him in the hall. Help me, we’ll carry him upstairs. Thornton, send for the healer, then light the fire in the guest bedroom.”
Allan smiled at him, relieved.
“Thank you, Robin...”
“Remember, I want him out of Locksley the moment he’s fit to travel.”
“Don’t worry. I guess that the problem will be forcing him to stay until he’s well enough.”
Chapter 5: Apples
The first thing Guy noticed when he woke up was that he was in a real bed.
The room wasn’t too warm, but he was sweaty and he could feel the nightgown he was wearing sticking to his body.
He lifted a hand to lift a lock of wet hair from his face and he found out that his arm felt heavy and that that simple action had left him very tired.
He looked around and saw Allan who was napping on a chair near his bed. The young man woke up with a startle and looked at him.
“Giz! You’re awake!”
“Allan, give me my clothes, we’re going back to my lands. I won’t stay were I’m unwelcome, not even for another moment.”
“You already said that, mate. Three days ago. And look how well it went.”
“Three days ago?”
“Yep. You succeeded in ripping the stitches and reopening your wound, slamming your head on the floor and getting a fever that almost killed you. Do you have any other brilliant ideas? No? Good. Well, how do you feel?”
“Weak. My side is terribly sore and my head is aching...”
“Serves you right for being a stubborn idiot, Giz. You’re lucky to be alive.”
“So, am I stuck in Locksley for now?”
“You can bet. You won’t get up from that bed until the healer says you can. I swear that if you only try again to do something stupid, I’ll tie you.”
“I don’t think I can go anywhere right now.”
Allan patted him on the shoulder.
“I can believe that. You looked so miserable that even Robin felt some sympathy for you. And he was resolute in kicking you out of Locksley just a few days ago. But now that the fever broke, you’ll feel better soon.”
“I hope so.”
Robin came back home after spending the day in Nottingham and he smiled when he entered the house. It was cold outside and Locksley was warm and cozy after riding in the freezing wind.
He was carrying gifts for the children and he expected that they were eagerly waiting for him, but the children were nowhere to be seen.
Robin scowled: he knew perfectly well where he could find them.
He went upstairs and he heard Gisborne’s voice. The man was talking about some adventure aboard a ship and every now and then Allan commented with some funny anecdote that made the children laugh.
Robin looked from the door and his mood worsened: Gisborne was sitting in the bed with Edward nestled at his side. Richard was sitting at the end of the bed while Katerine was perched at the other side and she was braiding a lock of Guy’s hair while she listened to his story. Allan was standing near the fireplace and he was eating an apple while Guy was describing the sea during a tempest.
“Don’t believe him. During the tempest he was in his cabin, terribly seasick. I’ve seen the sea, but he spent most of the time looking at the bottom of a bucket.”
The children laughed and Guy glared at him.
“Thank you, Allan.”
“I only said the truth, mate.”
“And what happened next? How did you survive the tempest?” Richard asked, but he never got an answer because Robin entered the room and Guy stopped talking. The kids ran to their father, happy to see him and Robin hugged each of them and then he gave them the gifts he had bought in Nottingham.
The children ran downstairs to show their new toys to Marian.
Robin glared at Guy.
“I’m letting you stay here until you are healed, but I don’t like you being near my family.”
“It’s not like I can go away if they come here,” Guy said, with a shrug, “and I’m not the one who can tell your children what they should do.”
“They just asked for a story, Robin.” Allan said. “It’s too cold to play outside and they were bored.”
“I wonder why he didn’t tell the story of the traitor who tried to kill the king or the one about the houses he burned, then.”
“Hood, if I could go away from Locksley I’d do it, believe me.”
“Well, Giz, the healer said that you can’t. Even if your wound is getting better, it’s too cold outside and Gisborne Manor is only half built yet.”
“Make the builders to work faster, then.” Guy growled and Robin glared at him.
“Overworking the peasants again? It seems that you kept you old habits, after all.”
“I'm paying them! Their work will be well rewarded, you can ask them if you don't believe me.”
“Oh, I will. Trust me, I will. I gave you those lands, but I won't let you mistreat the villagers.”
“Suit yourself. If you have time to lose, go and ask them if I'm a good master or not.”
Robin curtly nodded.
Hannah knocked on the open door before entering the room.
“Sir Guy, the healer just arrived, are you ready to see her?”
“Let her in.”
Allan began to go towards the door to leave the room and he gave a questioning look at Robin, who didn't move.
“I think I'll stay here while she examines your wound.” He said, looking at Gisborne and the other just shrugged.
“What? You think that I'm enjoying my stay? I'll be glad when she lets me go back home. But if you wish to look, do as you prefer, I don't care.”
Guy wasn't completely honest, he actually didn't dislike so much living at Locksley. He liked talking with Marian as a friend more than he did when he loved her and he enjoyed telling his adventures to the children. When they gathered around his bed, he felt a happy warmth he hadn't experienced in years, since he lost his parents.
It felt like he had a family.
He just had to remember that it wasn't his family.
The healer came, gave a surprised look at Robin, but she didn't object and she began working. She undressed the wound to examine it and Robin had a look at it for the first time.
It was a long cut on the left side of Guy's belly and Robin thought that Gisborne had been lucky it wasn't very deep because otherwise he would have been eviscerated.
Even so, it was a serious wound and Robin knew that Gisborne would have to stay in Locksley for a few weeks at least.
The healer put a salve on the cut before wrapping it in bandages again, then she looked at Guy.
“The wound is getting better, it's clean and it's healing well, but you aren't. You're too weak and pale, are you eating properly?”
“I'm never hungry. And if I force myself to eat, then I feel sick.”
“Well, you should keep trying. After losing so much blood, you need to regain strength. If you are careful, you can get up from bed and sit on a chair for a while. You may also walk a few steps inside your room if you take care and make sure you don't fall. Maybe you'll feel more like eating if you are not always in bed.”
“Maybe.” Guy said, weakly.
“Good. I'll be back in a couple of days to see if you're feeling better.”
The woman walked away and Robin looked at her for a while.
“Are you satisfied, Hood? Do you still think I'm faking?” Guy asked, bitterly.
“I don't. How did you get that cut?”
“I thought Allan already told you.”
“Allan says many things. It's not really easy to discern the truth. I'm asking you.”
“What makes you think that I'm more reliable?”
“You're a traitor and a murderer, but you're not good at lying. You never were. So, what happened?”
“It's like Allan said: outlaws, in the forest. They attacked us and we tried to fight, but they were too many and one of them hit me. I think I killed a couple of them, so they ran away. I can't remember much afterwards.”
Robin looked at him: he thought that Guy said the truth, but not every bit of it. He was hiding something, but Robin couldn't guess what.
He nodded and went away, deep in his thoughts.
Katerine was waiting for him on the stairs and Robin lifted her in his arms. The little girl kissed his cheek and smiled at him.
“Father, how is Sir Guy? I saw the healer going away.”
Robin curbed a twinge of jealousy and stopped himself from giving her a harsh answer.
Why do you care?
He remembered that Guy saved her life and that to her innocent eyes he had to look like a hero.
He didn't want his children to like Gisborne, but he knew that telling them the truth about him would disappoint them and hurt their innocent souls. They were so young and he wanted to protect them from the cruelties of the world, there was no need to spoil their childhood for now.
He was forced to grow up suddenly when he became an orphan and he wanted his children to be happy as long as they could. Even if that meant having to be kind to Gisborne in front of them.
“He'll be fine, in time. He needs to eat and rest, so you shouldn't go to his room without being asked.” Robin said, thinking that he'd make sure that Gisborne wouldn't invite them at all.
“Father, did you play with Sir Guy when you were little? What games did you like to play?”
Robin seldom thought of his childhood, but now he was forced to do it to answer her question.
When their parents were alive, they often urged Guy and Robin to play together and to be friends and sometimes they got along well, but they also fought a lot.
“Archery of course! I was the best shot of the village, so I always won. Sometimes we played with wooden swords.” Robin didn't say that in the last case Guy was often the winner.
“Were you always rivals? Mother says that we must learn to have fun together and not fighting each other.”
“Sometimes we went to play near the river, catching frogs or fishing and once we stole the apples from the tree of a neighbor.”
“Father! Stealing is wrong!”
“I know. And when our fathers found it out, we both got a good flogging.”
“Did it hurt?”
“I think I couldn't sit down for a day or two and Guy's father was even more harsh on him. He was a soldier, a year later he went to war in the Holy Land.”
Robin realized that when they stole the apples it had been the last time that Gisborne behaved like the child he was. When his father went away, he changed, trying to take his place as the man of his house. He was always so grave and scrupulous that Robin thought he was boring and dull and he liked to make fun of him.
“Poor Sir Guy. Were the apples good, at least?” Katerine asked and Robin laughed.
“Yes, yes, they were.”
The little girl went happily to play with her brothers and Robin sighed. He didn't like to remember the happy past he lose too early, but now he could see that Gisborne lose everything too that day and for a moment he felt sorry for him.
He waited for a moment, thinking, then he opened the door and went outside again: he had an idea.
Guy sat at the table and looked at the tray of food with a sigh.
He knew he had to eat something, but he couldn't.
He nibbled a piece of bread, but he was sure that the meat or the cheese would make him sick. He pushed the tray away, knowing that Allan would worry.
He was beginning to be worried too. He had been injured several times in the past, but he never felt so weak and poorly once the wounds had began to heal.
He was looking at the bread, trying to force himself to eat some more of it at least, when an arrow entered from the open window and planted itself in the wall, near Guy's head.
Guy looked at it, startled, wondering if Robin had decided to send him away from Locksley, after all, when he noticed the apple skewered on the shaft.
He looked at it in disbelief, then he pulled the arrow out of the wall and took the fruit.
After staring at the apple for a while, Guy attempted a wary bite at it.
It was juicy and fresh, although a little sour, but it tasted good and it didn't make him feel sick at all.
He ate it all and he felt a little better.
“I was right, then. You always liked apples.”
Guy turned in hearing his voice and he saw Robin standing on the threshold, holding a basket of apples. He entered the room and placed it on the table, within Guy's reach.
Gisborne looked at it, bewildered, and Robin grinned.
“It seems I found something you can eat.”
“You did this for me? Why?”
“Don't get me wrong, Gisborne, I just want you to get better so you can go away.”
“For once we want the same thing. Well...” He hesitated.
Robin nodded and he was about to go away when Guy called him.
Robin turned to look at him: Gisborne was holding another apple and he was looking at it with a little smile.
“These are from the neighbor's tree, aren't they?”
Robin didn't answer, he just grinned and went away.
Chapter 6: Blood on the Snow
Marian looked at the snow: the children were playing outside, thrilled and happy.
It didn’t snow very often in Nottingham and even when it did, the snow that blanketed the countryside rarely was so thick.
She wished that Robin was there, she was feeling playful and she would have loved to throw a snowball at him, starting a snowball battle with him and the children, but he had left early that morning to help the peasants of Locksley. He wanted to be sure that his people weren’t suffering because of the cold, so he was meeting with the former members of his gang of outlaws to bring food, firewood and blankets to the villagers.
She looked at Allan: the man was near the stables and he was cutting firewood with an ax, stacking it up neatly, so it was ready to be carried to the villages.
Marian knew that he would have liked to go with Robin and meet his old friends too, but she also knew that probably they wouldn’t trust him anymore, after being with Guy for so many years, so he just stood at Locksley and tried to make himself useful.
Marian heard footsteps behind her and she turned to see Guy.
She smiled at him.
“I’m glad to see that your health improves everyday.”
“My side is still stiff and I have to regain my strength, but you’re right, I’m feeling much better.”
He leaned against the door jamb, crossing his arms in front of him and looked at the children for a while, as if he wanted to impress that moment in his memory.
“That’s why I must go.”
Marian stared at him.
“Guy, no! How can you live in a tent when it’s so cold outside?! You’ll catch your death!”
“I won’t. A part of Gisborne Manor is now fit to live in. It’s just the main hall, but there’s a fireplace and Allan equipped the room with two cots so it will be snug and warm as it can be.”
“You could spend the winter here. Robin won’t send you away.”
Gisborne shook his head, with a wistful smile.
“I already overstayed my welcome, Marian. Actually, I was never welcome here from the beginning.”
The woman sighed.
She knew that Robin would never like Guy and that he had been kind to tolerate his presence at Locksley, but she wished that they could overcome the bad blood between them.
“Your wound… You didn’t tell Robin the whole truth, did you?”
“Why do you think I didn’t?”
“Those outlaws, they didn’t just attack you, am I right? You were hunting them, that’s why you were wearing the Nightwatchman cloak.”
“Does it matter if I did?”
“Yes, it does! If Robin knew that you help people...”
“He would just think that I do it because I have some evil plan or because I will have a benefit from it. And maybe it’s true, I’m the Nightwatchman because it makes me feel well, not because it’s the right thing to do.”
“Whatever the reasons, you’re doing good. I’m proud of you, Guy.”
Guy smiled shyly, still not used at being praised.
“Will you visit us sometimes? The children will miss your stories.” Marian let out a little sigh. “And I’ll miss them too. You and Allan had a lot of adventures, you traveled so far and saw so many interesting places… I confess that I envy you a little...”
“Don’t get me wrong, I love my family with all my heart and I wouldn’t change the choices I’ve done, but when I was forced to sit near the fireplace doing my embroidery because I was too heavy and tired to move or when I spent several weeks being constantly sick, I just dreamed that I could take a horse and run away from everything. I just wanted to be free, but I will never be because I am a woman and a mother.”
“You wanted adventures and I just wanted a family. We both long for what we don’t have.”
“Maybe we should be contented of what we have.”
“It would be wiser.” Guy smiled at her. “I promise that I will tell you our adventures whenever you want to hear them. But keep in mind that living them wasn’t so fun at all. Most of the times we were just scared and miserable and hoping that everything would end well and that we would survive.”
“And you can come and see the children when you want an audience for your stories or when you feel the need to be pestered by a group of little brats. But when you’ll have your own kids, you’ll value every moment of peace and silence and you’ll realize how fool you were.”
Later, Guy and Allan were riding through the snowy forest. The younger man looked a little worried and kept glancing at Guy.
“I’m fine, Allan.”
“I still don’t think it’s wise. You are not completely healed and maybe you shouldn’t ride. I bet that your wound is aching, now.”
“The healer said I could. Maybe it is a little sore, but if I don’t overstrain myself I won’t be in any danger. We are riding slowly and I’m wearing warm clothes. See? I can be careful if I want.”
“It must be a miracle then. Maybe it happened when you slammed your head on the floor a few weeks ago.”
He always said that he had no family and longed for it, but he now realized that Allan was family.
Maybe an annoying and troublesome member of his family, but he really cared for Gisborne and Guy for him. He was glad Allan had decided to follow him when he left Nottingham.
“Hey, do you want to go to the tavern for a drink before we go home?” Guy asked and Allan stared at him, surprised. Usually Allan was the one who forced Gisborne to have some fun, dragging him to the inn or the tavern, not the other way round.
“Did I ever refuse a drink, mate? But are you sure you’re not too tired for it?”
“I’m well. And I need to go to Nottingham anyways, I must find a tailor to have my jacket mended and I should buy a few new shirts too.”
“Let’s go then. We must celebrate.”
“That you are still alive and that you want to have fun, for once.”
When they took the road to Guy’s lands it was late afternoon and they both were enjoying the ride through the snowy forest.
Guy was feeling unusually good: he was happy to be riding after spending so many days in bed and inside Locksley Manor and the few mugs of ale he drank made him feel relaxed and light-hearted.
“Tell me, Allan, is Gisborne Manor going to be a good house?”
The younger man nodded.
“The builders are skilled and they are working fast. You’ll like it.”
They arrived at the crossroad and Guy frowned.
He dismounted and looked at the snow, worried.
“What’s wrong, Giz?”
“Hoof prints, many of them. A lot of horses came this way.”
“It’s a path, it’s normal to see hoof prints, isn’t it?”
“Not like this. These aren’t the traces of a traveler’s horse or of a train of wagons. These are warhorses! Look!”
Guy pointed to the pieces of a broken arrow, abandoned at the side of the path.
“Mercenaries, I’m afraid. You can guess it from the kind of horseshoes they are using: they’re not from here. They must be traveling to reach the Great North Road.”
Allan picked up the arrow.
“There’s blood on it!”
“They must be raiding the villages! He remembered that Vaisey sometimes hired mercenaries and they were terrifying: if they saw a possible prey they had no scruples, they took everything they wanted. Food, money, women...”
“It seems they came from Clun… But if they are going towards the Great North Road they’ll reach Locksley next!”
Guy paled, thinking of Marian and her children.
“The traces are fresh and they won’t move too fast, maybe if we ride through the forest we can reach Locksley before they do and warn the people!”
“It will be dangerous, Giz! And you are not fully recovered yet.”
“We can’t let them die! Marian said that today Hood went to help the villagers who live in the farthest part of Locksley, go find him! I’ll go to the manor.”
Guy used the spurs on his horse to make him go faster. Usually he’d have been gentler on his stallion, but now he needed his full speed.
He ignored the strain on his wound and the ensuing pain and kept a fast gallop between the trees.
Riding like that through a thick forest was very dangerous, but Guy didn’t dare to slow down.
The mercenaries could already be at Locksley and Marian and her children could be in grave danger.
When he arrived at the village, he thought he was too late: the houses were empty, a couple of them had been set on fire and he could see a corpse on the side of the road. The mercenaries were pillaging the houses of the peasants, taking food and all they could find. Guy heard the screams of a woman and he spotted two men who were assaulting a girl: one of them was holding her and the other had a knife and was about to rip her dress.
Guy unsheathed his sword, spurred the horse and aimed at the two mercenaries. He raised his sword and lowered it on the head of the one who was holding the knife, splitting it open.
The other one let the girl go and grabbed his sword to attack Guy, but Gisborne was faster and ran him through with his weapon.
The girl didn’t move and looked at him, frightened. Her face was splattered with the mercenaries’ blood, but she wasn’t hurt.
“Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me, please!” She wailed and Guy pointed at the forest.
“Run! Run away and hide! Don’t let them find you!”
The girl turned her back at him and began to run towards the trees, while Guy galloped to Locksley.
When he arrived in front of the house, an arrow, coming out of a window, almost hit him.
“Marian! It’s me! Don’t shoot!” He shouted, while he dismounted.
Guy ran to the door and began banging on it.
“Open! They’re coming!”
The door opened suddenly and Guy stumbled inside, almost falling to the floor, but Hannah steadied him while Marian ran downstairs, with Robin’s bow in her hands.
She was trembling and there were tears in her eyes, but she was ready to fight.
“Guy! You came back!”
“We must hurry! We must go away immediately, the mercenaries will come soon!”
Hannah looked out of the window.
“It’s too late!” She cried, anguished. “They’re here!”
“Bar the door!” Guy ordered. “Marian, we must defend the house until Robin comes, give me a bow. Hannah, push the furniture in front of the doors and nail the windows, Thornton, if there’s water in the kitchen, fill every bucket and be ready to douse the fire if they use incendiary arrows.”
Gisborne grabbed Marian’s bow and he rushed upstairs. The woman gave him an arrow and Guy shot from the window of the master bedroom, killing one of the mercenaries.
The others stopped their advance and Guy exhaled deeply to calm down.
“We can’t hold them back forever, but we can delay them. I sent Allan to search for Hood, but we must give him the time to arrive. Where are the children?”
“I closed them in your room. It has the strongest door.”
“No, I have a better idea. Stay near the window and shoot at the mercenaries if they come nearer. Don’t hurry and shoot only when you’re certain to hit, we can’t afford to waste arrows.”
Guy gave her the bow back and ran to the guest’s bedroom, opening the door.
The children cried out of fear, but when Katerine recognized Guy, she ran to hug him, sobbing.
“Sir Guy, I’m scared!”
Richard was hiding under the bed, with his brother and they were both trembling and crying, while little Mary was wailing in her cradle.
“Don’t cry! Do what I say and you’ll be safe. Now hush and come with me.”
Edward come out from under the bed, sniffling, and took Guy’s hand, but Richard didn’t move and burst out in tears.
Guy looked at him, concerned.
“Are you hurt?”
The child shook his head, ashamed.
“I wet myself.” He confessed and Guy almost laughed.
They were most likely going to die and the kid was worried for that!
“It doesn’t matter.” He said in a kind tone. “It can happen. Now come.”
The child crawled on the floor to reach him and Guy lifted him in his arms. He looked at the baby in the cradle, but he didn’t take her.
Marian shot an arrow, then turned to look at Guy: he was holding Richard while Katerine and Edward followed him closely.
Gisborne put down the child and began pushing the bed to move it.
“What are you doing?” Marian asked.
“Saving your kids. Thanks to you.”
He removed a panel from the wall, revealing a little hidden room.
“If the Nightwatchman didn’t rob me, I wouldn’t have thought to build a secret space to hide safely my money. Now, children, listen to me. You have to hide here and be silent. Don’t talk, don’t move, don’t cry and don’t come out. It doesn’t matter what happens or what you hear, stay still and quiet and wait for us.”
Marian looked at him.
“Mary! Where is Mary?!”
“We can’t hide her with them, she’d cry.”
Marian grew very pale, but she forced herself to nod.
“Do as Guy said and don’t be afraid, he’ll protect us.” She said to the kids and she kissed them as they entered the hidden room, then Guy closed the panel and, together, they pushed the bed in its place again.
Marian eyes filled up with tears.
“She’ll be safe, we’ll protect her with our lives. Now come and take all the arrows you can carry.”
He took another bow and many arrows.
“Where are we going?”
“On the roof. From there we can see our enemies and hit them before they can get near the manor.”
Marian shivered, but she followed him and Guy helped her to climb on the roof.
“What now?” Marian asked, once they were crouched on the roof, side to side.
“Now we hold our position and wait for your husband.”
Marian nodded and after a while Guy grinned at her.
“So, how do you like your adventure?”
“I’m scared. I just want my children to be safe. I just want it to end.”
“Told you so. Not fun at all.”
Chapter 7: Going Home
Guy of Gisborne stood for a moment, released an arrow, then he dropped again on the roof, lying flat in the snow that covered it.
Marian noticed that he was shivering and she began to unclasp the cloak she was wearing to give it back to him.
Guy noticed her gesture.
“No, keep it.”
“It’s your cloak.”
“I have warm clothes, you are only wearing that dress. You need it more than I do.”
“But you’re trembling.”
Guy took a deep breath. He was shivering, but it wasn’t only because of the freezing cold: he was exhausted, his wound was aching and he was afraid that they were all going to die.
“I will be fine, don’t worry.”
He shot another arrow to keep the mercenaries at bay, but he could see that they were gathering doors they tore off from the houses of the village to use them as makeshift shields to get near the house.
They were running out of time and Guy thought that if Robin was going to come, he had to do it quickly.
Guy looked at Marian and he saw tears on her face.
“Allan and I survived even worse situations.” He said, to soothe her distress. “We’ll make it.”
Marian nodded, tearfully.
“It’s the children… They will be so scared, all alone in that dark place… And Mary… My little Mary… I feel like I abandoned her...”
Guy hesitated for a moment, then he hugged Marian.
“You didn’t abandon her. I locked the door, she’s safe in her cradle. And the mercenaries won’t touch a newborn.” His last sentence was a lie and they both knew it, but Marian was still grateful for his attempt to comfort her.
“I feel like I sacrificed her to save the other children...”
“Nobody will be sacrificed. If it comes to it, we’ll go back in the house and we’ll defend the kids, all of them, with our lives. Now be quiet and try to keep your aim true.”
He let her go and they both resumed their watch.
Robin galloped at full speed, terrified.
He couldn’t even think what a group of mercenaries on the move could do to a village and its inhabitants.
“Are you sure they are mercenaries? You only saw their traces.” He asked, turning to look at Allan.
“Giz was sure. Vaisey used to hire them, he knows their habits.”
Robin hoped that Gisborne was wrong, but he spurred the horse again.
As they were nearing to Locksley, he saw the smoke: something was burning in the village.
Robin felt like his very soul was freezing and that cold didn’t come from the snow.
“Be ready to fight!” He cried to the former outlaws, who were galloping just behind him and Allan.
Soon they began to see people wandering in the forest: poor, scared peasants, some of them wounded too, who were shivering in the snow because they left their homes in rush with only the clothes they were wearing.
Robin halted the horse.
“What happened?” He asked to a young girl, whose face and dress were splattered with blood.
She was sobbing, but she managed to answer.
“Mercenaries. They are destroying everything! Burning our homes!”
“Are you wounded?”
“No. They wanted to hurt me, but that knight killed them and told me to run.”
“Was he riding on a black horse?” Allan asked and the girl nodded.
“Yes. And he was wearing a black cloak.”
“It must be Giz.”
“Robin, we must help this people!” Little John said.
“Do it. You and Djaq stay here and take care of them, while we go to defend Locksley.”
He spurred the horse, sending him into a gallop.
Guy shot the last arrow and watched another attacker falling down.
“What are we going to do, now?” Marian asked, her eyes wide with fear.
“They won’t get near immediately, but they’ll understand we have no more arrows. We must hope that the doors will hold.”
“What if they don’t?”
Guy unsheathed his sword.
“Then we fight.”
He handed Marian the long dagger he had on his belt.
“This is sharp and it can cut flesh very easily. Use it on our enemies and have no mercy.” Guy was silent for a moment, as to collect the nerve to go on. “If… if there is no hope… Don’t let them take you alive...”
He shuddered and Marian looked at him.
“Should I turn the blade on myself? It’s a sin, Guy!” She whispered in shock.
“I’ve seen what they can do to a woman, if they take you, you’d die anyway. Marian, God would certainly forgive that sin if it can spare an innocent soul from torture. I… I’ll do it for you if it comes to it, but you must know how to do it if I can’t.”
Marian nodded an listened carefully while Guy explained her how to kill an enemy with that dagger and the easiest way to put an end to her own life.
“Guy… I’m afraid,” she said, trembling. “I think I’ve never been more frightened in my whole life!”
Gisborne smiled at her.
“Don’t. Hood will come. I’m sorry, I had to tell you what to do, but it won’t be necessary, you’ll be safe. Now go.”
“Inside.” He gave her a key. “Take Thornton and Hannah and lock yourselves in the guest’s bedroom, with little Mary. Keep the window closed and sit on the floor, you’ll be safe.”
“Guy? What are you going to do?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll slow them down. During the years I learned a trick or two.”
The woman took the key and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“Be careful.” She whispered, then she went back inside the house.
Guy slid down the roof until he was on its edge and looked at the mercenary who was creeping towards the manor. Soon, his comrades would follow and they’d try to force the door open.
Guy waited until the mercenary was right underneath him, then he jumped with his sword drawn and he impaled him with it.
Gisborne rolled to the ground, stunned by the fall and he had barely the time to recover when he saw another man running towards him. He staggered to his feet and grabbed the sword of the dead mercenary, then he prepared to fight.
He knew that he was still weak and he could feel the pain from his wound, but he couldn’t afford to be defeated or Marian and the children would be in danger.
The attacker tried to hit him with a blow, but Guy parried, moving to the side. The man was stronger than him, but during his travel Guy had learned that strength wasn’t the most important thing to win a fight.
He had to be quick and cunning and try to use the enemy’s strength to his own advantage.
He began fighting, parring and attacking whenever he had the chance to hit his opponent, but he couldn’t defeat his foe. Guy was breathing heavily and he knew that he was getting tired, that soon he wouldn’t have the energies to move, let alone to win.
He landed a blow to the mercenary, sending him reeling, but Guy gasped in horror when he saw that two other men were running towards him, raising their swords.
He understood that he was about to die and he prayed to God that at least his sacrifice wouldn’t be in vain.
The enemies were about to hit him, when they fell to the ground, pierced by a rain of arrows.
Guy saw Robin, Allan and the former outlaws galloping towards the manor, ready to chase the mercenaries away, and he dropped himself to the ground, too exhausted to stand.
“Hood, it was about time...” He wheezed, then he closed his eyes and passed out.
Robin hunted the mercenaries, killing them with no mercy, until there weren’t any more left. A few of them had survived because they ran away, but Robin was sure they wouldn’t attack any other villages anytime soon.
He ran into the manor, frightened because the door was broken and unhinged and he was afraid he was too late.
“Marian! Marian! Were are you?!”
A moment later he heard a door being opened upstairs and Marian came running down the stairs.
She was in tears and she was holding a dagger, her grasp so tight that her hand was pale.
“Robin! Thank God you’re back! The mercenaries...”
“They aren’t here anymore. Where are the children?”
“Mary is with Hannah and Thornton, but come! Help me!”
She ran back upstairs and Robin followed her.
When she began pushing the bed, he wondered if the fright had maddened her, but he helped her and he was shocked when Marian removed a hidden panel and let the children out from the secret room.
“Father!” Katerine threw herself in Robin’s arms and the other imitated her just a moment later.
Robin hugged them all and Marian too, crying for the relief of seeing them alive and well.
“I was so scared!” Katerine sobbed. “Uncle Guy told us to be quiet, but it was so dark!”
Robin looked at his daughter, surprised.
He was about to continue when Marian interrupted him, alarmed.
“Robin? Where is Guy? Is he alive?”
Robin didn’t know. He was so focused on saving his family that he didn’t pay any attention to Gisborne.
“I think I’ve seen him fighting against the mercenaries when I arrived, but I’ve no idea of what happened to him afterwards.”
“Go and find him! If it wasn’t for Guy we’d be all dead.”
Allan rushed to reach Gisborne: he had seen him fall and he was afraid he could be wounded or dead.
Guy was lying in the snow and for a moment Allan thought he was really dead. He knelt beside him and began shaking him until he opened his eyes with a moan.
“What do you want, Allan? I’m tired.” He mumbled, turning on his right side to go back to sleep.
“Wake up, Giz! Are you insane? You can’t sleep on the snow!”
“Did you hit your head, Giz? Let me see.”
Allan began to finger his skull, searching for a bump, but Guy shook his hand away.
“Stop it! What are you doing?” He growled.
“Just trying to see if there was any damage. You looked so confused...”
“I’m just tired and sore.”
Allan helped him to stand and gave him his cloak, noticing that Guy’s clothes were drenched after lying in the snow.
“Come, let’s go inside and let me check your wound.”
“No, I want to go home.”
“Are you crazy, Giz? You’re weak, wet and cold, you can’t travel to your lands like this. ”
“Too bad because that’s what I’m going to do.” He walked to his horse and mounted.
Allan followed him, worried.
“You’ll freeze to death. I don’t want to hear you complain when you get sick and I’m not going to nurse you back to health.”
Guy sighed. He was still upset after the attack and he just wanted to hide into a quiet place and rest.
“Please, Allan...” He pleaded.
“Fine, fine, Giz. If you really want to go home, let’s hurry before you freeze.”
Allan mounted too and they began to ride home.
They were halfway through the forest when they heard the sound of approaching hooves and after a few moments Robin’s voice called.
Guy and Allan slowed their horses to let Robin reach them.
“Hood. What’s up? Is everyone well?” Guy asked, a little concerned.
“They are.” Robin hesitated. “Thanks to you.”
“So, what do you want?.”
Allan understood that Robin wanted to speak alone with Guy.
“Hey, Giz. I’m going ahead to light the fire, don’t be too late.”
He spurred the horse and left Guy behind.
Gisborne turned to look at Robin.
“Let’s keep riding, you must be freezing. I’ll accompany you to your house.”
Guy gave him a surprised look. Robin Hood sounded almost like he was concerned for his comfort.
“Marian told me what you did. You saved her and the children...”
“She did her part too. She can be deadly with a bow, did you teach her?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You should. Next time I could not be around.”
“I sure hope there isn’t a next time!”
“You can’t know what will happen.”
Robin nodded in agreement and Guy grinned.
“Teach her how to improve her aim, unless you are afraid she’s going to be a better shot than you.”
Robin shook his head.
“You’re not going to make this easy, aren’t you?”
“Me thanking you. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Guy actually looked surprised.
“Really. Marian and the children… They are all my life… You saved them and I’ll always be in debt with you.”
“Annoying, isn’t it? Hood, the hero of Nottingham, who has to be grateful to an evil traitor… Well, don’t.”
Robin lifted his eyebrows.
“Don’t be grateful. I didn’t do it for you. I care for Marian and the kids are nice even if they have you as a father. I didn’t want them to die.”
Robin gave him a threatening look.
“You still love her.”
Guy looked at him.
“No, I don’t. Not anymore,” he said and Robin realized that Gisborne was saying the truth.
The kept riding in silence for a while.
“Look, Hood,” Guy said “I think we are even. You let me stay at Locksley when I was ill and I repaid my debt helping to defend your house.”
“Well, then. We’re even.”
They arrived near Gisborne Manor and Robin looked around nervously. The last time he had been in that part of Locksley was many years ago, the day both Guy and him became orphans.
He always avoided that place to keep the sad memories away.
Robin dismounted and looked at the manor: Guy was rebuilding it on the ruins of his old house and Robin shuddered, remembering the day when the both stood in front of the burning house, looking at the flames that destroyed their childhood.
“This place didn’t change at all, don’t you think?” Guy said, dismounting too and reaching Robin to stand at his side. “When the manor will be finished, it will be as if time never passed.”
“How can you bear living here? You must be heartless to look everyday at the place where they died!”
Guy looked at him.
“The first time I came here after you granted me my lands, I cried.” He abruptly confessed. “I think I spend the best part of the night sobbing like a girl and hoping that Allan didn’t hear me. If he did, he’s been kind enough not to mention it.”
“And you still want to live here? You could have asked for any other land.”
“I suffered here, it’s true, but before the fire I’ve been happy. This is the only home I ever had and I want it back.”
Robin nodded, looking at the half built manor.
“It will be a good house.”
“I can’t have my family back, but it will be nice to have a home again.”
A cold gust of wind made them shiver and Robin put a hand on Guy’s shoulder.
“Go inside or you’ll get sick and I don’t want to have to lodge you at Locksley again.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t wish to have you around either. But someday I will visit.”
Robin smirked back.
“Not too often, I hope.”
Guy laughed and walked towards the house. At the door, he turned and lifted his hand to wave him goodbye.
“Well, Hood, see you around,” he said, then he entered the manor.
Robin looked for a moment at the closed door, then he mounted with a little smile on his face.
He was going home too.