Chapter 1: There Was a Cherry Tree
Allan sighed, waiting for Gisborne in the forest, near a hollow tree.
“He should be back, by now,” he said under his breath, beginning to worry.
He sat under the tree and listened carefully, hoping to hear the clop of horse’s hooves on the path.
After a while his patience was rewarded and a masked horseman appeared between the trees.
Allan stood up to take the reins of the horse while the other man dismounted.
“It’s almost sunset! I was beginning to think that you were dead.”
Guy removed his mask and the scarf that covered his face and pushed back the hood of his cloak with a sigh of relief. The days were beginning to be warm and he was sweating under his costume, so he opened the clasp of the cloak and handed it to Allan.
“Why should I be dead?”
“ The forest is a dangerous place, there are outlaws and they are ready to kill. You know that very well.”
Guy touched his side, where the scar of a big cut still bothered him a little.
“That’s the point of the Nightwatchman being here: to make this place safe for the people who have to travel through the forest.”
“You shouldn’t go alone. Last time they almost killed you.”
“Last time I wasn’t alone, remember? You were with me, and they took us by surprise. It won’t happen again.”
While talking, Guy changed his clothes, and Allan hid the Nightwatchman’s costume inside the hollow tree, then they swapped their horses, Guy mounting on the black stallion and Allan taking the plain bay one used by the Nightwatchman.
Allan stifled a sigh: he knew that sooner or later Gisborne was going to get himself in trouble.
“Did you find any outlaws?”
“No, but I saw Hood. He had his bow and he was hidden behind a tree near the road. I think that he was keeping the travelers safe too.”
“Did he see you?”
“Almost? What do you mean?”
“I think he heard me and he shot an arrow in my direction, but I was quick to drop to the ground. I didn’t move for a while, then I crept away without being noticed.”
“Someday you’ll end up dead, Giz.”
“Well, not today,” he said in a casual tone “and I guess that someday we will all end up dead.”
“You know what I mean, Giz. I hope to die old and fat, in my own bed… Maybe with a couple of girls at my side to make my passing merrier.”
“And I hope to die old and surrounded by a loving family. But it’s not up to us to choose how we will leave this world.”
“Staying out of the path of blades and arrows could be helpful in delaying our departure, don’t you think?”
“Maybe you have a point here.”
They arrived in view of Gisborne Manor and they noticed a wagon parked in front of the house.
“Look, Giz. Somebody is waiting for us. Who could it be?”
“Let’s find it out.”
They hurried to reach the house, but when they arrived, nobody was there.
Guy and Allan dismounted and they warily went near the wagon to examine it. All of a sudden three children came running from behind the house, and they shouted for joy in seeing them.
“Uncle Guy!” Katerine called, running to hug him, and a moment after even Richard bumped against is side at full speed. Guy winced, feeling a jolt of pain from his recently healed wound, but he smiled at the children, sincerely happy to see them.
Little Edward arrived a little while after his siblings, his eyes full of tears.
“You are mean!” he whined “You left me behind!”
“Well, you get to climb on my shoulders,” Guy said, to soothe him.
The three years old child squealed in joy, but Richard scowled.
“That’s unfair! He always gets spoiled because he keeps sniveling!”
Allan smiled at him.
“Well, you can climb on my shoulders. Giz may be taller, buy I’m younger and I can run faster than him.”
Katerine looked at her brothers with contempt.
“You both are such babies. I prefer to ride real horses.”
Guy gave her a meaningful glance and the girl blushed, remembering that she was about to fall from a horse when she first met him.
“I hope you only do it when your father is around. By the way, why are you here? You are not alone, are you?”
“No, we are with daddy!” Edward said, giving a sudden tug on Guy’s hair, as if he was pulling the reins of an imaginary horse.
“Well, where is he?”
“Right here, Gisborne,” Robin said, appearing from the back of the house “I was looking at the manor: it seems almost finished by now.”
“It is. It’s very similar to the old one, don’t you think? I tried to remember every detail I could.”
“I think there was a cherry tree over there.”
“It’s true! I had forgotten it, but you are right. It was struck by a lightning when I was twelve. I’m surprised that you remember it, you were very young then.”
“Our parents wanted us to play together even if we didn’t get along very well, but I confess that when those cherries were ripe, I was much more eager to visit Gisborne Manor.”
“I want cherries!” said Edward and his father shook his head.
“It’s not the season yet. They will ripen later in the summer, in a month or two.”
The child began bawling and he tightened his clasp on Guy’s hair, making him wince.
“But I want them now!” he howled.
“How silly you are!” Richard said, sticking out his tongue at Edward, taking advantage of the fact that he was safely perched on Allan’s shoulder and away from his brother’s reach. “There is no cherry tree and it’s too early for cherries. You won’t have them!”
“I want them! You’re mean, Richard!”
Guy gave a worried glance at Robin.
“Make him stop.”
“I can’t,” Robin said, then he shrugged sheepishly “I don’t know how.”
“It’s your son!”
“It’s Marian who usually deals with their scraps,” Robin said, then he tried to take Edward in his arms, but the little boy was holding tightly Guy’s hair and he wasn’t going to let it go.
Allan put Richard down, and he tried to help soothing the screaming child, but Edward kept wailing at the top of his lungs until Katerine spoke to him, sternly.
“If you keep crying, sheriff Vaisey will come and he will take you away during the night!”
Little Edward gave a cry of fear and sought sanctuary in his father’s arms, while both Guy and Allan looked at the little girl, startled.
“What did you say?!”
“Sheriff Vaisey is an evil monster: he gets naughty children, he takes them away to torture them and they never ever come back to their homes.” Katerine looked at Guy, knowingly, and lowered her voice to a whisper. “It’s just a tale for little children, but Richard and Edward still believe to it.”
Edward began to sob, scared, and Robin gave a disappointed look at his daughter.
“I already told you that you shouldn’t frighten your brothers! Now he’ll have nightmares again. Come on, come on, Edward, don’t cry, nobody will take you away from home.”
Finally the little boy stopped crying and Robin put him down too.
“Now go and play quietly while I talk with Gisborne. If I see you fighting again, I’ll tell your mother.”
The children nodded obediently and ran to play. As soon as they were far enough, Guy turned to look at Robin, shocked.
“Sheriff Vaisey will get you at night?! I think that I will have nightmares!”
“She must have overheard me talking with the others about old times and I guess she imagined him as a devil figure, a sort of monster from a tale.”
“Well, you must admit that she’s not so far from the truth,” Allan said with a grin.
“Hood, why are you here? I don’t think you are just visiting, are you?”
“No. You might want to look at that wagon.”
Guy frowned: it was an old dusty wagon, but it looked somehow familiar. He suddenly realized why: it looked neglected and dirty and it didn’t have the curtains and the banners, but it was the wagon he owned when he lived at Locksley!
“This was mine!”
“When King Richard gave Locksley back to me, I told Thornton to get rid of all your stuff. I thought he had sold or burned it, but it seems that he loaded it all on this wagon and then he left it in a corner of the barn. I found about it just a few days ago.”
Robin removed the sheet that was covering the back of the wagon, revealing some shields painted in black and yellow, a few trunks, old rusty swords, and some harnesses and saddles.
“Now that you actually have a house, you can take all this stuff back and I will get back the corner of my barn.”
Guy looked at each object, in awe. When he had ran away from Nottingham, he thought he had left behind everything he owned except for the few things he took with him, but now Robin was giving him back a part of his life.
“Thank you.” He said, at loss for words.
“You must thank Thornton. He thought that it wasn’t right to throw away your stuff because someday you could be back. I suppose he was right. But now let’s unload the wagon, I’ll have to use it to take the children home and I promised Marian that we would be home before night. They weren’t supposed to come, but they really wanted to see you and visit your home. You can get the wagon tomorrow.”
“You’ll be late, the sun is already setting. I have a better idea, Hood. Call the children, we’ll accompany you to Locksley and they can ride with us. We’ll be faster without the wagon and Allan and I can unload it tomorrow, without haste.”
Katerine, Richard and Edward loved Guy’s idea, and they enjoyed their ride home, greeting their mother with enthusiastic squeals when they saw her waiting for them on the door.
“Look, mother! I’m on Sir Guy’s horse again, but this time he didn’t have to save me!” Katerine said, laughing, and Marian smiled at her.
“I’m happy to hear that no one risked their life today. Now go inside and wash your hands, dinner is ready.” She looked at the men. “Guy, Allan, are you staying for dinner?”
Gisborne gave a glance at Robin and the other shrugged.
“Not a problem for me, as long as you go back to your home afterwards.”
“I never say no to good food,” Allan said, hurrying to dismount.
After dinner, Allan and Guy were about to go away, but the children begged for a story before going to bed.
Guy looked out of the window and he noticed that it was later than he thought. Sharing a meal with Robin’s family had been pleasant and he felt almost at home. He and Robin Hood were old enemies, but he found himself enjoying their banter. He had the suspect that even Robin did not dislike it.
Gisborne smiled at the children.
“It’s too late for a story, now, but I will make a promise to you. Come visiting me in a couple of months and you will have both a story and a surprise.”
“What surprise, uncle Guy?” Katerine asked, sleepy.
“It wouldn’t be a surprise if I tell you, don’t you think?”
The children reluctantly followed Hannah upstairs and Guy and Allan took their horses to go back to Gisborne Manor. Before going away Guy grinned at Robin.
“Hood, when the children will come to visit me, I expect to see you. Maybe you won’t care for my story, but the surprise is for you too.”
He rode away before Robin could ask any questions.
“Allan, I will need you help,” he said after a while.
“I need a cherry tree.”
Chapter 2: As Silent as the Flight of an Owl, as Swift as a Fox
Robin waited and looked down, watching the people who crowded the streets of Nottingham.
He was perched on a roof with his bow beside him, ready to stop any thief who could take advantage of the market day’s crowd to rob people.
Nottingham had never been a safe town, but now, at least, the danger came from common criminals and not from its rulers. The sheriff was a decent man and he tried to be fair.
His only fault was his leniency. Sometimes it was a good thing, the old sheriff, Vaisey, never showed pity or understanding and he harshly punished even the innocents, while Sir Arthur, on the contrary, was inclined to be forgiving, and often petty criminals took advantage of his mildness.
So Robin, who spent years of his life fighting the authority and being an outlaw to help the poor, now felt he had the duty to keep people safe from bandits and outlaws.
He relaxed a little, but he didn’t lower his guard. That summer morning was warm and lazy and no thief seemed to be around.
Watching the crowd, Robin spotted Gisborne and Allan. The two men were looking at the market stalls and they seemed to be engrossed in an impassioned conversation, or at least Allan was, while Gisborne just listened to him, nodding now and again.
Robin wondered what they were talking about and if they were plotting something evil, but he dismissed that idea. Maybe he would never really like Gisborne, but he had to admit that since he came back to Nottingham, he behaved like a decent man.
Not trusting him, Robin had questioned the peasants of Gisborne’s lands about their new master, but they had no complaints about him. They told Robin that he administered his lands fairly and that their crops had improved during the last months thanks to his advice. The rebuilding of his manor gave work to many men and they earned good wages from it, so they were happy that Gisborne was back. The ones who remembered the old times were more cautious on what they said, but they couldn’t speak ill of him and they hoped that he had really changed.
Robin sighed. Marian and the children were friendly with Guy and Allan, more than Robin liked, but he couldn’t blame them because Guy saved the kids’ lives more than once.
He was grateful for this, of course, he just wished that he wouldn’t regret giving Gisborne some trust.
Robin averted his eyes from Allan and Guy, and he went back at watching the crowd. He thought he had seen a shifty man following a woman, so he was alert and ready to intervene, but after a while the man took another road and Robin relaxed.
He was startled when something hit the straw of the roof, landing near his feet. He noted that it was an apple and he looked down in the street to see who had thrown it. He met Gisborne’s eyes. Guy was eating another apple and he waved at Robin.
“What are you doing up there, Hood? Spying on us?” He asked, with an amused grin.
“Should I? Do you have any secrets I should know?”
Guy laughed, but Robin had the impression that he had blushed a little, as if he actually had a secret.
“I just need a horse for my wagon and I already spotted a couple of them that seem fine. I’ll check them later, now we were going to eat something. Care to join us?”
Robin gave him a surprised look, then he nodded. If Gisborne had some dark secret, that was the chance to find it out, if he didn’t, Marian would have been happy to know that he was at least trying to be more friendly with Guy.
“Why not?” He slipped to the edge of the roof and he dropped down, landing in front of Guy and Allan.
“So, what were you doing on that roof, mate?” Allan asked, with his mouth full of food, chewing a piece of meat.
Guy rolled his eyes.
“In eight years I haven’t been able to teach him better table manners,” he said, looking at Robin with a little shrug.
“And I couldn’t teach him how to have fun,” Allan replied, eyeing the maid who approached their table with three mugs of ale, and smiling at her.
The girl gave him an annoyed look and Guy grinned.
“I don’t think we share the same idea of fun, Allan.”
“See, Giz? We agree, then: you keep your table manners and I’ll keep my ways of having fun.”
“As long as you don’t get us in trouble. No more tricks or cheating. If you get arrested I’ll leave you in the dungeons, this time.”
Robin chuckled and both Allan and Guy looked at him.
“I always found strange that you chose Allan as your minion, but it seems impossible that he’s still working for you after all this time.”
“I don’t work for him! We are friends. And Giz can be a little dull sometimes, but he is not that bad.”
Guy shook his head with a resigned, but affectionate smirk.
“See what I have to tolerate? No respect at all. But he’s right: we are friends.”
Robin was surprised by his words.
“You changed, Gisborne.”
“I know. That’s what freedom makes to you. You didn’t, though: you still like to be mysterious and smug.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You still didn’t answer Allan’s question: why were you on a roof?”
“I’d have answered if only you two didn’t start bickering. It’s not a secret or a mystery: I was just keeping people safe. There are a lot of outlaws and thieves in Nottingham, especially when it’s market day.”
“And there are rumors that I want to find out for certain. People talks of a mysterious masked man who wanders in the forest, as silent as the flight of an owl and as swift as a fox. Maybe it’s just the prattle of a drunken man, but it could be another outlaw.”
Guy took a sip of his ale to hide a little smile.
The Nightwatchman: as silent as the flight of an owl and as swift as a fox...
He liked that.
“If we see him, we’ll let you know, Robin. And if you need help to catch him, just call us,” Allan said, with a brazen smile on his face and Guy almost choked on his ale.
“I’m positive that I won’t need any help.” Robin said. He had been about to say ‘Gisborne’s help’, but he corrected himself in time.
“But I could use your help with my horse,” Guy said, eager to change the subject of their conversation to a safer one “I’ve been away for many years, so I don’t know the seller. Is he honest?”
“He can overprice a little his horses, but they are good beasts.”
Robin looked at Gisborne: he was examining one of the horses, a black mare with a white spot on his muzzle and he stopped to scratch her between the ears, smiling at the animal.
Robin wasn’t used to see kindness in Gisborne’s actions and once again he wondered if a man could change so much in just a few years.
But maybe he didn’t change so much and this was the true Guy of Gisborne.
When they were kids he could remember Guy being kind, sometimes, even if he rarely was kind to Robin.
Maybe Marian was right and Guy was actually a good man, misguided and damaged by Vaisey.
But it wasn’t easy to forget all the horrible things he did when he worked for the sheriff, the persons he killed, the attempt on the life of the king, and the wound that Robin received that day and that almost killed him.
Maybe I’m thinking too much. Maybe I just have to wait and see.
“I think I chose the horse I want,” said Guy with a happy smile. Robin almost smiled back before remembering that he didn’t like Gisborne and that he was just being civil to him because his family had a soft spot for him, and because now they were neighbors, after all.
“Good for you.”
Guy took the black mare by the bridle and he lead her out of the fence after paying the horse merchant. He and Allan were about to say goodbye to Robin and head back to Gisborne Manor, when they heard some screams and a commotion behind their backs.
They turned just in time to see that the fence was open and that all the horses of the merchant were running wildly along the street. A masked person was riding one of the horses and was snapping a whip to make the others run faster.
Allan jumped to one side of the road and Robin had just the time to push Guy to the other side to avoid to be both trampled to death. The horse merchant came running after a while, trying to follow the thief and screaming that he had been robbed.
Allan, Robin and Guy got slowly to their feet, stunned and dirtied with the dust of the road.
“So it’s true! There is a masked man and he’s a thief,” Robin said, a little ashamed because he couldn’t stop him.
Guy was confused: he had thought that the rumors were about the Nightwatchman, but now there was another masked man.
He looked dejectedly at the now horseless street.
“He stole my mare!”
Chapter 3: The Horse Thief
“Giz, I think that we should stop,” Allan said, worried, but he kept following Gisborne through the forest.
“I will take my mare back. I won’t let that masked outlaw to rob me and mar the Nightwatchman reputation.”
“Tell me, Giz, how exactly us getting killed will help you stopping that man?”
“We won’t get killed.”
“Do you think it’s wise to hunt for him like this? We are just two and we don’t know how many accomplices he might have.”
Guy knew that Allan had a point, but he kept pursuing the masked outlaw, following the traces of the stolen horses.
“I’m not going back home without my mare. If you are afraid, you can go.”
“As if this is the first time I follow you in some foolish enterprise. No Giz, if you’re going to get yourself killed I’ll be at your side. And I expect that you’ll use your last breath to admit that I was right.”
“Admit that you missed our adventures too.”
“Maybe. But why aren’t you using your costume? Aren’t you afraid that the outlaw could target you if you force him to give you back your horse?”
“Well I couldn’t claim that I own that mare if I’m wearing the Nightwatchman costume, don’t you think? And I plan to arrest that man too.”
“Like you captured Robin Hood many years ago?”
Guy glared at him.
“It’s different! Hood is clever and now I’m not burdened by the incompetents guards of Nottingham.”
“Sure. If we fail, we’ll fail on our own.”
“We will not fail.”
“I hope you are right, Giz.”
Guy halted the horse and dismounted to examine closely a set of hoofprints, slightly different from the other. He put a finger to his lips to tell Allan to be quiet, then he tied his horse to a bush and he resumed the pursuit on foot.
Gisborne ran through the trees, as silently as he could, while Allan waited with the horses, ready to intervene if Guy called for him.
The traces he was following lead Guy on a separate path and, after a while, he spotted a man who was riding a horse through the trees. He had his face hidden by a hooded cloak and Guy kept running to reach him.
Being on foot, he wasn’t forced to follow a path and he could easily overtake him. Guy climbed on a tree and waited for the man to arrive, then he jumped onto him, knocking him from his horse.
The man reacted and they rolled on the ground, fighting, until Guy grabbed the hood of his adversary’s cloak and pulled it away to look at his face.
“Hood?!” He stared at Robin. “What are you doing here?!”
Robin pushed him away and got to his feet, annoyed.
“I was just trying to find the horse thief. At least until you pounced on me! What are you doing in the middle of the forest?”
“Trying to get my horse back,” Guy muttered, standing up too. “Now what?”
“Now we hope that he didn’t hear us and we keep following the thief,” Robin whispered, but he had barely finished his sentence when they heard the sound of a galloping horse.
Robin and Guy tried to unsheathe their swords, but the black mare burst out of a bush, with the masked man riding her bareback.
The thief was holding a rope, knotted in a noose and he threw it at Robin and Guy, trapping them together and dragging them behind the horse, through the thorny bushes of the undergrowth.
Allan heard all the commotion and he recognized Guy’s voice screaming for help, so he hurried to search for him. It wasn’t difficult for Allan to follow the traces of the mare through the undergrowth and he was able to reach her after a short time.
The horse had been slowed by the tangle of thorns and she was neighing and rearing, so Allan had to calm her before he could help Guy and Robin. The two men were lying to the ground, tied together and they were covered in scratches and bruises after being dragged through the thorns and the bushes.
Allan cut the rope to free them.
“Giz, are you alive?” He asked, worried, “Robin?”
Guy sat up with a moan and he gingerly touched is cheek, finding a bleeding cut.
“I think I am. Hood?”
“Me too,” Robin said.
“Are you hurt?”
Gisborne stood up.
“I’ll survive. I’m just sore. Luckily the horse couldn’t run too fast through the thick vegetation.”
“I was going to catch the thief, when Gisborne attacked me.”
“How could I know? I thought you were the thief!”
“So, while you were fighting, the real thief caught you and tied you to that horse?” Allan asked with a grin and they both nodded, annoyed and a little ashamed.
Allan burst up in a laugh.
“It’s not funny!” Guy said.
“Not at all!” Robin agreed.
“Actually it is. Where did he go?”
“I think he dismounted shortly after he caught us and he ran away,” Robin said “maybe I could have heard which direction he went if you weren’t screaming so loud.”
“Well, forgive me if those thorns were painful! And you were screaming too.”
“Not so loud as you.”
“I heard both of you,” Allan said “and the important thing is that you are not badly hurt. You’ll get the thief another day. And Giz...”
“At least you got your mare back.”
Guy squirmed on the saddle to find a less painful position. He had bruises in every part of his body and he felt sore. He glanced at Robin and noticed that he was suffering his same discomfort.
Robin’s face was full of scratches and cuts and Guy knew that his own face was covered in similar wounds too.
“Come to Gisborne Manor with us,” Guy said suddenly.
Robin looked at him.
“Why should I?”
“You can’t go home looking like that or you’ll frighten Marian and the kids. At my house we can have a bath and get all those scratches cleaned.”
Robin glanced at Guy and thought that he was right: Gisborne looked miserable, covered with dirt and blood and he surely was in his same condition.
“You’ll have to borrow me some clothes. It’s the least you can do since you knocked me from my horse.”
“If you don’t mind wearing black leather,” Allan said with a grin, “we traveled all around Europe during these years, but the local style of the places we visited couldn’t influence his taste in clothes. Always leather and always black. I already told you, he’s a little dull.”
Guy gave him an annoyed look, but couldn’t hide a little smile.
Later, at Gisborne Manor, Guy’s servants filled two bathtubs with warm water and medicinal herbs to ease the pain and prevent infections. Guy closed his eyes and rested his head on the edge of the tub, while Robin helped himself to a bowl of cherries.
“I can’t believe you really planted a cherry tree in the same spot were the old one was.”
“I told you, I want my house to look like the old manor, in every detail. I just hope this tree doesn’t get hit by a lightning too, carrying it here hasn’t been easy at all.”
“I can believe that. So this was the surprise you promised to my children?”
Guy nodded and took a handful of cherries too.
“I was waiting for more cherries to ripen. These are the very first ones I eat from this tree. In a week or so your kids will have all the cherries they can wish for.”
“We’ll visit, then.”
Robin glanced at him, a little surprised. Gisborne seemed really eager to spend some time with his children and Robin wondered if Marian was right when she said that Guy longed for a family of his own.
“And sorry for pouncing on you,” Guy added after a while.
“Well, now you can say that at last you captured Robin Hood,” said Robin with a grin, grabbing another handful of cherries.
Guy relaxed, enjoying the warm water on his sore muscles and the sweet taste of the cherries and thought that if, when he worked for the sheriff, somebody had told him that nine years later he would have shared a bath with Robin Hood, eating cherries, he would have never believed it possible.
He burst out in a laughter and Robin looked at him, startled.
Guy almost choked on the cherry he was eating and it took him a while to catch his breath enough to be able to speak. Robin thought that the last time he saw him laughing like that must have been when they were kids.
“I was just thinking that Vaisey would turn in his grave if he could see us now,” finally Guy managed to say.
He looked at Robin and when their eyes met, they laughed together.
Chapter 4: Not Good at Wooing
Marian sighed, contentedly: it was the first time she went away from Locksley after Mary's birth and she was happy to spend some time with Robin. The children were in their rooms at the castle with Hannah and the wet nurse, so Robin and Marian were free to enjoy the celebrations for the return of the sheriff's daughter. Lady Rowena never married and she had spent many years in a convent, but now she was back at the castle to live with her parents.
“Is she a nun?” Marian asked, and Robin shook his head.
“No, she's about your age and she lived with the nuns, but she never took her vows.”
“Is she pretty?”
“Why, are you jealous?”
“No, silly, I was wondering if she could be a good match for Guy.”
Robin raised his eyebrows.
“Are you trying to search a wife for Gisborne?”
“Why not? He wants a family, so he has to find the right woman for him and if we can we must help him.”
Robin looked at her, a little jealous.
“You care a lot for him, don't you?”
“He's a good man and we are friends. He gave up his love for me and he let me to be happy with you, now I want him to have a loving family too. Can't you see how happy he is when our children want to play with him?”
Robbin nodded. He knew that Marian was right.
“Well, he'll have a good chance to find a suitable bride tonight. The sheriff invited a lot of nobles and I know that many of them took their unmarried daughters with them, hoping to find a good husband for them.”
“Do you think they'll want Guy as a husband for their daughters?”
“Gisborne isn't young, but he's a noble and he and Allan earned a little fortune during their travels. He wanted to buy his lands from me for a very good price when he came back to Nottingham.”
Marian smiled, happy, and she looked at Robin.
“Tell me, husband, with all these pretty girls here at the castle, will you end up thinking that I'm old and that my beauty has faded?”
Robin put a hand on her waist, searching her eyes.
“Your beauty will never fade for me. You're my love, the mother of my children, my whole life.”
He kissed her passionately and after a long time he stepped back with a sigh.
“It's better to go now, or we'll never made it to the banquet.”
“Would it be so terrible?”
“The sheriff wants us all to be there tonight. It would be an insult to skip the celebration for his daughter.”
Marian sighed too.
“Let's go then.”
Guy took a piece of bread and he ate it, then he lowered his eyes on the table again, without saying a word.
Marian looked at him, puzzled.
Guy was sitting in front of the sheriff's daughter and near two other unmarried girls, Alice Glasson and Rosemary of York, but he wasn't talking to them and he looked like he wished to be very far from there.
“I heard that you traveled a lot,” Miss Rowena said, and Guy barely nodded.
“Well… yes… I did,” he said, but he didn't add anything else and the three girls shared an annoyed look before they began talking about gossips and fashion, ignoring Guy.
Marian shook her head in disbelief: how could he hope to find a wife if he didn't even lift his eyes from the table to look at the girls? And they were all attractive women too, each of them with the qualities to be a good wife for him.
The sheriff's daughter asked Guy about his travels and that could have been a chance to charm them with his adventures.
Marian knew that he was good at telling stories, she had heard when the children asked him to tell them another adventure. When he did, she often listened too and she had the impression that she could see the scenes he was narrating.
Marian glanced at him and she remembered how awkward he was when he had tried to woo her, many years ago. He used to give her presents, trying to impress her with his wealth and acting as a proud and overbearing man.
He's shy. She realized suddenly. He had always been and she never really understood it till now.
She looked at Robin.
“We should help him,” she whispered.
“How? It seems he's not interested at all.”
“I think he is. Tonight it's too late, but tomorrow you could talk to him, see if he likes one of them. And I'll talk with the ladies and try to understand what they think of him.”
Robin wasn't sure it was a good idea.
“Maybe we should just mind our business and let him be.”
Marian glared at him and Robin sighed.
“Fine, I'll talk to Gisborne, but don't be surprised if he will get mad at us.”
The day after the banquet, Marian took her embroidery and went to sit among the ladies. The younger, unmarried girls were sitting a little apart from their mothers, chatting happily.
Marian, being a mother of four, was expected to sit between the older ladies, but she chose a seat among the younger ones.
She chatted with them for a while, then she dropped a nonchalant comment about Guy and she waited to see the reaction of the girls.
“He's an attractive man, don't you think?” Marian said in a light tone.
“Actually I find him rather dull,” Lady Rowena said “I spent the last few years in a nunnery and I am tired of seeing people wearing black clothes.”
Marian noticed that the woman's dress was made with bright and colorful silk.
“I heard that he used to work with the evil sheriff. My mother said that he did horrible things in the past.”
“I know it for sure,” Miss Alice Glasson said, lowering her voice “I have proofs. Have you seen my mother's servant?”
“Who? The one with blond, curly hair?”
“Yes, Annie. She used to live here once and that man, Gisborne, seduced her. They had a child and he tried to murder him, abandoning him in the forest.”
The other women gasped in horror.
“I'm sure he didn't,” Marian said. She remembered the abandoned boy, but she was sure that Gisborne didn't want to kill him “Sir Guy wouldn't hurt a child.”
Miss Alice looked at her, annoyed.
“Well, take a look at the boy if you don't believe me. He's identical to that man.”
“Is he at the castle?” Marian asked, surprised.
“My mother never travels without Annie and Annie would never leave her son alone.”
“Well, it's a shame. A murderer of children shouldn't show his face were there is decent people.”
“Actually, he saved my children!” Marian said, trying to defend Guy, but the ladies ignored her words.
The conversation wasn't going how she had hoped. She wanted to help Guy to find a good wife, but her words didn't help him at all. On the contrary, they only lead to very unpleasant memories of Guy's past that didn't put him in a good light.
She gave a resentful look at the other girls and she focused on her embroidery.
If they were so superficial to judge Guy on old gossips, she thought, maybe they weren't the right women for him.
Marian sighed. She really cared for Gisborne and she wanted him to be happy. She felt a stab of guilt: she was afraid she had ruined his chances to have a family.
Then all of a sudden she realized that Annie's child, Seth, was Guy's son too. He was family.
Maybe Marian had just destroyed Guy's hopes to find a wife between the guests of the sheriff, but there was something she could do for him: Seth was his son and she could help them to get close.
“Oh, I found you, at last!”
Robin entered the stables, walking towards Guy.
Gisborne was taking care of his horse and he gave a surprised glance at Robin.
“Were you searching for me?”
“I know it sounds unlikely, but I was.”
“Marian asked me to do it.”
“Not to repeat myself, but why?”
“She thinks you need a wife.”
Guy looked at Robin, surprised.
“I do. But why should it have to do with you, Locksley?”
“We watched you at the banquet, yesterday.”
“You were awful at wooing those ladies. You barely talked to them.”
Gisborne blushed a little.
“None of your business, Hood.”
“That's what I told Marian, but she'll keep fussing until you are happily married.”
“And she'd like me to marry one of those ladies?”
“I think that's the general idea, yes.”
“I should know them better before I decide to woo one of them. I don't want to marry a woman only for her good looks.”
“Maybe to know them better you should try talking to them,” Robin suggested with an ironic smile.
“You have a point, Hood,” Guy said, with a laughter, then he became serious again. “But it's not so easy.”
“Maybe you shouldn't think that you might marry one of those ladies. Just talk to them like you'd do with a friend.”
“Not very good at making friends, either.”
Robin patted him on a shoulder.
“But you're not that bad. My kids liked you immediately, and Allan is your friend too. By the way, where is he? I haven't seen him around.”
“He preferred to stay at Gisborne Manor. He said that there are too many nobles at the castle, but I suspect that he's just trying to improve his acquaintance with one of the girls of the village.”
“Maybe you should ask for his advice.”
“If I wanted a one night adventure with a girl, yes. But he's not the best example if you want to form a family. A girl, in Spain, wanted to marry him after they spent a couple of nights together and she unleashed her father and her brothers on us. We had to run away and we rode for two days and two nights in a row before they gave up. And that was only after I paid them a good sum.”
“You surely had no time to get bored during these years.”
“Sometimes I wished I had the time to get bored. When I wake up at my manor and I realize that no one is running after us and that we are in no immediate danger, I still can't believe it. It's nice.”
Guy smiled and he took a bucket to fill it with water for the stallion, when a boy entered the stable running and bumped into him. Guy steadied him and looked at the child: he was a child about eight or nine years old and he had dark curly hair and blue eyes.
“I'm sorry, Sir,” the child said “I was just playing hide and seek with the other boys, I didn't know there was someone here...”
“No damage done,” Guy said, unaware that Robin was staring at him and at the boy “I won't tell anyone that you are hiding here. Hood, I think that I'll go practicing with my bow, want to join me? I learned a trick or two during my travels, I might even beat you.”
Robin nodded, absentmindedly, and he kept looking at the boy: he looked a lot like Gisborne when he was a kid. It was like looking at a ghost from the past.
He followed Guy out of the stables and they found themselves face to face with a woman.
“Seth, are you here?” she called, before noticing the two men, then she stared at Gisborne and she became very pale. “Guy?!”
Guy recognized her, startled.
“So you are still alive, you evil dog. I heard you had disappeared from Nottingham and I hoped you were dead. Murderer of children!”
Guy looked at her in horror. He thought that Robin's gang had rescued the baby after one of his guards abandoned him in the forest, but Annie's words… Could they mean that the child was dead?
“No! I never meant to hurt him! I couldn't afford to let the sheriff know I had a son, but I never wished for him to die!”
Annie moved forward, took the dagger Guy was carrying on his belt and she pointed it at his neck.
“Liar and murderer!”
“Annie, let me explain...”
“Explain what?! You left him in the wood, to die!”
Robin grabbed Annie's wrist.
“Killing him is not a good option, believe me.”
“He deserves to die!” Annie yelled.
“Mother? What are you doing?”
The three adults turned to look at the boy. Seth heard his mother's voice and he went out of the stables to see why she sounded to be in distress.
Annie dropped the dagger and she began crying while Guy just stood there, looking at the boy, stunned.
“Mom?” Seth asked again “Who is that man? Why are you menacing him?”
Neither Annie nor Guy answered, so it was Robin the first who spoke.
“Seth? This is your name, right?”
The boy nodded.
Robin looked at him for a moment: no wonder that he reminded him of a younger Gisborne.
He smiled a little and pointed at Guy.
“Well, boy, I'm quite sure that he is your father.”
Chapter 5: Not For You
Marian hurried to reach Robin, worried.
A page came with a message from her husband, earlier, and Robin asked her to reach him at the stables. She wondered why and if something bad happened to him.
When she arrived, she was surprised to see that Guy was there too.
The knight was sitting on a hay bale and he looked pale and somber. A woman was sitting on another bale, with a young boy near her, while Robin was standing and pacing between them.
“Robin!” Marian called, and she could see relief in both his and Guy's eyes. “What happened? What are you doing here?”
“She's Annie,” Robin said “and the boy is Seth.”
Marian remembered the gossips of the ladies and understood immediately, but before she could say anything, Guy spoke.
“He's my son.”
“You lost the right to call him son when you left him to die in the forest!” Annie yelled and Guy glared at her.
“I already explained what happened, woman! I agreed that he was to be raised at the abbey and I ordered my men to take him there, but my guards ran away with the money and abandoned him.”
“You didn't care to rescue him, did you?!”
“Hood already found him, what could I do?” Guy looked at Annie and he blushed a little. “And I admit that at the time I didn't worry too much. He was safe and if Hood could take care for him, it suited me too.”
“Monster! You made me believe that you loved me! That you were happy that I gave you a son!”
“I cared for you! But you always knew that we couldn't have a future together. I didn't lie on this.”
Annie shook her head with a sigh.
“I know. But yet I hoped...”
“What? To be my mistress forever and give birth to more children that I could not legitimate? If Vaisey knew about him, or if he suspected that you weren't just the adventure of a few nights, you would have been in danger. When Hood sent you both away from Nottingham, I was relieved. Even if I could never know my son.”
“I am here, now.”
The adults looked at Seth, startled. The boy had been quiet, looking at the father he had always believed dead and listening to the angry words of his mother.
Guy glanced at Annie, then he nodded.
“Yes, you are, and I'm glad I have met you. If your mother will allow it, I would be honored to know you,” he said, humbly.
Annie glared at him.
“You don't deserve it.”
Robin looked at her.
“But Seth deserves the chance to know his father.”
“A murderer of a father...”
Marian was about to intervene, but Robin talked first.
“He changed,” he said, and Guy gave him a surprised look “I didn't believe it at first, but he saved my children and he is a good lord for his peasants.”
“It is true,” Marian said “he won't hurt Seth, I can guarantee that.”
“Mother, I know that he did wrong, but I always wondered how my father was, if he was still alive and if I looked like him… Now he's here and he wants to know me too...”
Annie looked at her son and she felt like weeping. She didn't want Guy of Gisborne to be near him, but she knew that Seth deserved to have the chance to meet his father and that he would suffer if she didn't allow him to spend some time with him. She was afraid that he could be hurt or that Gisborne could take Seth away from her. She had trusted him once and he betrayed her trust, now she couldn't allow him to ruin her life again.
Marian understood that Annie was afraid for her child and she couldn't blame her for it, but she looked at Guy and she saw that he was looking at the boy with shame, regret and a longing sadness in his eyes.
“Our kids use to spend some time with Guy every day,” she said, even if it wasn't really true, they liked to listen to Gisborne's stories, but it didn't happen on daily bases “Seth could join them, so he could have the chance to be with his father, but he wouldn't be alone with him for now. I think he could have fun playing with our children, even if they are younger than him. Robin or I will be there too. Could you agree to this?”
Annie looked at her for a long while, then she nodded, then she turned to look at Guy.
“I'm doing this for Seth, not for you. Don't hurt him or I'll make you pay for everything.”
“I won't. Annie?”
The woman looked at him.
“Thank you. And... I'm sorry.”
Annie took Seth's hand and she went away without answering. The child turned to look at Guy and he gave him a little smile, then he followed his mother.
Guy covered his face with the mask and he lead his horse between the trees. His day had been full of emotions and he felt tired, but he was determined to find and capture the masked man before he could ruin the reputation of the Nightwatchman.
He also had to help some of the families of the villages of Nottingham who couldn't afford to pay the taxes and who didn't have enough food to survive. He tied his horse to a bush, and he walked towards the first village. He stopped behind a tree at the edge of the forest and he looked at the house of one of the families he had to help, then he tied a little pouch of coins to an arrow and he shot it so it planted itself on the door.
He smiled, satisfied, but a moment later he had to hide behind a tree to avoid an arrow aimed at him. He saw Robin Hood running towards him and he realized that Robin was trying to capture the masked man too, but he had mistaken the Nightwatchman for him.
Guy ran away, hoping that Robin didn't have the time to use his bow, but he could hear him getting nearer. Robin jumped and he grabbed Guy, dragging him to the ground, and Gisborne tried to free himself.
They fought for a while and Robin punched him, splitting his lip. Guy tasted the blood and he reacted with a kick and Robin fell to the ground, clutching his stomach. Gisborne felt a pang of remorse, but he took the chance to run away.
He couldn't reach his horse because Robin was in the way, so he ran through the forest at full speed, trying to be silent and to put as much distance possible between him and Hood.
He felt the blood dripping on his chin from his lip and he knew that he was going to be bruised where Robin had hit him, but he couldn't stop and go back to the castle: he had to find and capture the masked thief. It was his fault if Robin Hood had attacked the Nightwatchman and if he wanted to keep helping the people, he had to capture the mysterious thief.
Guy turned to check if Robin was still following him and he didn't see the rope tied between two trees until he hit it. He was stopped mid run and he barely had the time to realize that it was a trap before a log tied to a rope came down from a nearby tree and hit him on his back.
Gisborne fall, stunned, and he rolled to the ground, half unconscious. A moment later the masked thief was on him and he tied Guy's hands and feet with a rope, immobilizing him.
Guy forced himself to stay awake even if his back was aching and he felt weak and sick. He had tried to capture the masked bandit, but now he was his prisoner and if he couldn't get himself free, he would probably die.
He closed his eyes, pretending to be unconscious, and when the thief came near him to take his mask away, Guy moved suddenly, and threw his tied hands around the thief's neck, trying to choke him. He used his weight to drag the other down with him and they rolled on the ground, fighting.
Guy was tied, but he was stronger and taller than the masked thief and after a while, he succeeded in blocking him under his body.
Gisborne raised his head, ready to use it to hit the other in the face, when he suddenly realized that the body trapped below him was too soft on the chest to be the body of a man.
A woman! The masked thief is a woman!
He froze, shocked, and the thief took the chance to hit him with a knee and to free herself.
When Guy woke up, much later, it was almost dawn and he was alone, still tied and lying on the ground. The thief had run away, but at least he, she, Guy corrected himself, didn't kill him.
He used his tied hands to remove the scarf that covered the lower part of his face and bit into the rope, using his teeth to loosen the knots.
It took him some time, but at last he got free and he rolled on his back with a sigh: he was sore and exhausted and the thief had robbed him of the money he wanted to use to help the poor, but at least he was alive.
He sat up and removed his mask and his cloak, then he hid the Nightwatchman's costume inside a hollow tree and began walking back to the castle. It was going to be a long walk and he would have to find the way to go back to his rooms unnoticed and a good story to explain his wounds, but all he could think in that moment was that the masked thief was a woman.
Chapter 6: Horses
“What happened to you?” Marian caressed Robin's face, carefully touching one of the bruises he had on his body.
Robin stretched his back and he smiled at his wife.
“I almost caught the masked thief, but we fought and he ran away.”
“Really? What was he doing? Did he try to steal more horses?”
“No. It's strange, actually.”
“He shot an arrow to one of the houses of Clun, and there was a little bag of money attached to it. That family was about to lose their house because they couldn't pay the taxes, I was thinking to help them, but it seems that the masked thief already did.”
Marian gave a worried look at Robin: she knew that Guy was using the Nightwatchman costume to help people and she thought that Robin might have seen him and not the real thief.
“You should be more careful, then. Maybe he's just trying to help the poor, like you did once.”
“Maybe, but now it's all different: the sheriff isn't evil, he tries to help people who can't pay their taxes. And this thief didn't rob just the rich or people who deserved it. The horse merchant was almost ruined after he lose all his horses. Luckily the guards of the castle were able to find most of the stolen horses hidden in an abandoned barn not too far from Nettlestone.”
Marian nodded. She knew that there were two masked men, the Nightwatchman and the mysterious thief, and she had to find a way to keep Guy safe without betraying his secret.
“What I meant is that you should try to capture that man without harming him. Maybe he is not bad and he just chose a wrong way to do a right thing.”
“You're always so wise, wife of mine,” Robin said, hugging her and kissing the soft skin of her neck, then he stepped back with a sigh and continued to dress himself “I wish I could stay with you today, but I have to go to Locksley. Two of the peasants are fighting over the ownership of a donkey and I have to go and sort the things out before they hurt themselves. If I want to come back for the sheriff's banquet, and I have to, I must hurry.”
Marian kissed him.
“Go, then. I'll take the children and Seth to spend some time with Guy. You were kind to help him with Annie.”
“I still don't know how much we can trust him, but at least it seems he is trying to behave like a decent man. He might be a good father for that kid now, despite what he did nine years ago. Gisborne said that he will pay for Seth's training as a knight, it will be a good chance for that boy to improve his station in life.”
“Mother? When are we going to see uncle Guy?” Katerine asked, taking another piece of bread and covering it with honey before eating it.
Marian looked around, frowning.
Robin left early to go to Locksley and she took her time to get ready and wake up the children, so it was getting late in the morning when she and her older children finally reached the banquet hall to eat their breakfast, but Guy wasn't there and no one saw him that morning.
When he had lived at Locksley for a few months after being wounded, she remembered that he always woke up early and now she was a little worried to hear that he still didn't get out of his room.
Maybe Robin had wounded him without noticing, if they really fought that night?
“Later,” she told Katerine, with a little smile, “I'll leave you and Richard with Annie so you can play with Seth and I'll go to see if Guy is awake and if he has time to tell you a story.”
“Is he still in bed? Is he sick again?” The little girl asked, worried.
“Maybe he is just tired, don't worry. I'll talk to him and see if he is fine.”
“He'll be hungry,” Richard said, biting into a little cake.
“I'll take some food to him, if you don't eat it all,” she joked and the children laughed.
She waited for the kids to finish their breakfast, then she left Edward and Mary with the nurse and took Richard and Katerine to see Annie and Seth, then she ordered a servant to prepare a tray of food and she took it to Guy's room.
She knocked and she didn't get an answer, so she tried to open the door.
It was closed.
She knocked again, a little louder.
Still no answer.
Worried, she put the tray on the floor and she took a hairpin. She wondered if she was doing the right thing, maybe she should call a guard or a servant to open the door for her, but she also thought that doing so she could expose Guy's secret. Maybe he was hurt and he couldn't remove his Nightwatchman costume, or he had some wounds he could not explain…
She used the hairpin to force open the lock, then she lifted the tray and slipped into the room.
The light entered from the window, so Marian could see that Guy was still in his bed and he was having a fitful sleep, troubled by some nightmare.
She left the tray on the table and went near the bed, then she put a hand on his shoulder to wake him. Guy opened his eyes with a start and he grabbed Marian's wrists, trapping her.
“You're hurting me!” she cried, and Guy looked at her, confused, then he sat on the bed.
“Marian?” he said, letting her go “What are you doing here? It… it isn't proper...”
The woman grinned.
“I'm afraid that I've never been a proper lady. But I know that I can trust you, so it doesn't really matter unless I am seen here with you.”
Guy smiled, but doing so the wound on his lip reopened and he winced in pain.
Marian looked at him, worried, and she gave him the clean towel that was folded near the basin.
“What happened? You look terrible, are you hurt?”
Guy pressed the towel on his mouth to stop the bleeding and he gave her an innocent look.
“I fell from my horse.”
“No, but this is the official explanation for my bruises and scratches.”
“It was Robin, right? He was bruised too and he told me that he had fought against a masked man.”
“I hope I didn't hurt him too much. He attacked me suddenly and I couldn't avoid a fight. I had to flee before he could recognize me.”
“He will survive. You look much worse than him...”
“I'll survive too.”
“You should tell Robin that you are the Nightwatchman before you get seriously hurt.”
“It wasn't Hood. Well, not only him. He punched me a couple of times, he cut my lip and he gave me a few bruises, but it was nothing.”
“Who hurt you, then?”
“The masked thief. I fell in a trap.”
Marian's eyes widened in fear.
“He could have killed you!”
“She. The masked thief is a woman.”
“Are you sure?”
“Believe me, I couldn't be wrong on this.”
Marian didn't ask how he could be so sure, but she shook her head.
“You must tell Robin.”
“I can't. If I did he'd find out that I'm the Nightwatchman. And I don't want him to know that I've been beaten by a woman.”
“It wouldn't be the first time.”
Gisborne blushed a little, remembering when Marian was the Nightwatchman, then he smiled.
“True, but this time I will succeed. Don't tell Hood.”
“If you promise that you will be more careful. Look at you, you could have died!”
“I'm just tired and a little sore.”
Marian touched his chest with a finger and he jumped, in pain.
“A little sore?”
“More than a little sore,” he admitted “but I'll be better in a couple of days.”
“I have a salve that is good for bruises, I'll give it to you, it will help.”
“Do you think that you will be able to spend some time with the children, today? They can't wait to hear one of your stories.”
“I just need to sleep for a while, I'll reach you later. I spent most of the night in the forest and I'm deadly tired.”
“Eat something, I left a tray of food on the table.”
“Later, I want to sleep now. But thank you, you are too kind to me, Marian.”
He stretched on the bed and pulled a blanket over his head with a deep sigh.
“I'll see you later then, I'll send a servant with the salve. Sleep well, Guy.”
She was almost at the door, when Guy sleepily called her.
“Marian? Do you think that Seth will like me?”
“I think he will.”
“I want to be a father for him,” he said, then he fell asleep.
Marian looked at him for a little while: his sleep was peaceful now, and the expression of his face, half hidden by his long curls, was innocent, almost childish, and she felt the need to protect him, just like she would protect her children, even if she was younger than him.
“You'll be a good father, Guy, don't worry,” she said in a whisper, then she quietly slipped out of his room.
Robin came back to the castle late in the afternoon. He was tired: he solved the donkey dispute between his peasants, but then a few other inhabitants of Locksley came to him to ask for advice or to expose their troubles and Robin spent all day listening to their requests.
Entering the courtyard of the castle, he spotted his own children and Marian sitting under the tree, around Gisborne. Seth, with his dark curls so similar to his father's ones, was at his father's feet and he was closely listening to his words. While Katerine and her brothers were laughing, squealing and commenting Guy's adventures, Seth was extremely quiet, as if every word Gisborne said was very important for him.
Robin dismounted and he gave his horse to a stable boy, then he approached the tree. Guy stopped talking and looked at him, but Robin nodded at him while he sat near Marian. Katerine ran to hug her father and soon both Edward and Richard tried to climb on him.
“Father! Uncle Guy was telling us of the time he and Allan got lost while searching the cave of a hermit!”
“Did you ever get lost in Sherwood forest, father?” Richard asked and Edward hid his face against Robin's tunic.
“Are there wolves in the forest? I'm afraid of wolves!”
After a while the kids got quiet, Richard and Katerine perched each on a leg of their father and little Edward sitting on his shoulders.
“Look! I'm on a horse!” Edward laughed, then he kissed Robin's cheek.
A moment later, even Richard and Katerine were laughing and fighting to be the one who gave more kisses to their father.
Seth looked at them and he gave a little glance at Guy, wondering if his father could be as playful and loving as Robin of Locksley seemed to be. His mother often said that Guy of Gisborne was a cruel and heartless man, but sometime, rarely, he also heard her saying that there was a different side of him too.
Marian looked at Seth and Guy: they glanced at each other every now and then, but they were both too shy or too stubborn to get closer and play like Robin was doing with his children. The woman rolled her eyes: when he really wanted to be liked by someone, Guy became incredibly awkward and he often obtained the opposite result.
She looked at little Edward, with a smile.
“So your father is a horse, now?”
“Yes, he is!” the boy laughed and Robin smiled, amused.
“Well, why don't you try to ride him in a race?”
“A race?” Robin asked, raising an eyebrow and Marian winked at him.
“You could run to the other end of the courtyard and come back. Seth could ride on Guy's shoulders.”
Both Seth and Guy looked at her, surprised, and for a moment Marian believed that they would refuse playing, but then Gisborne smiled at his son.
“What do you think? Can we beat them?”
Seth nodded, his face brightened by a smile and Guy helped him to climb on his shoulders.
“I want to ride too!” Richard said, whining, and Katerine did't say anything, but she thought that if Seth, who was older than her, could play that game, she could do it as well.
“You two will ride in the next race,” Marian said and Guy and Robin knew that they were going to be horses for the rest of the afternoon.
“If Gisborne has the strength to run...” Robin said, looking at the knight “what happened to your face?”
“I fell from my horse. But I could beat you even with a broken leg. What about your face?”
“I almost caught the masked thief.”
“Not very funny when you fail to catch an outlaw, isn't it, Hood?”
“Save your breath for the race, Gisborne, you'll need it.”
“Are you ready? Go!”
The two men began running to reach the other side of the courtyard, their sons happily squealing, excited for the race.
Guy was tired, his back was aching and he knew that Robin was younger and that he was carrying a three years old child, smaller and lighter than Seth, so he didn't have many chances to win the race.
“Go, father! Run faster!” Seth cried, forgetting that he was shy, and Guy's heart skipped a beat.
It was the first time in his life that he had ever been called “father” and that simple word gave him a warm feeling and the desire to win that silly race for his son.
He ignored the soreness of his body and he ran faster, reaching Marian at the same time Robin did.
“Father? Who won?” Seth asked.
Guy and Robin were still trying to catch their breath, so Marian answered for them, to avoid they could begin fighting over the victory.
“I think it's a draw. You'll have to race again later, I think. But now it's Katerine's and Richard's turn.”
Lady Rowena, Rosemary of York and Alice Glasson entered the banquet hall, they glanced in Marian's direction, then they immediately averted their eyes, with a look of contempt.
Marian ignored their looks and held her head high with pride. She knew why the other women looked so outraged and disgusted and she could understand them.
She turned to look at Robin and Guy: they were sitting side by side and they were both asleep, exhausted after running all the afternoon to make their children happy.
Marian smiled, noticing that Robin was snoring a little, while Guy had his head on Robin's shoulder, and they both looked peaceful and satisfied.
It had been an important day for Guy because he began to know his son and the game they played formed a first bond between him and Seth, but Marian thought that Gisborne and Robin had fun challenging each other too.
It didn't matter if the other nobles thought they were rude or disrespectful, she was proud of them and she hoped that someday they could become friends.
She gave a little wave at the other ladies, then she turned her attention to the food.
Chapter 7: Dungeons
“Look at him, it’s a shame. A man like that shouldn’t be allowed in the castle,” Alice Glasson said, looking at Guy of Gisborne, who was in the courtyard, surrounded by Robin of Locksley’s children, and Seth.
“I tried to talk to my father,” Lady Rowena said, with disdain “but he said that Gisborne did nothing wrong since he came back to England and that he can’t judge him for what he did in the past.”
“I heard that he used to cut tongues of the peasants when he worked for the old sheriff...” Rosemary of York whispered and the other two girls shuddered in horror.
“Who told you?”
“An old servant. She used to live in Locksley when he usurped the manor and she remembers him very well. He tried to force lady Marian to marry him and when she left him at the altar he burned her house...”
“And I’ve seen what he did to Annie,” Alice said. “I remember that she often cried for the shame of being alone with a child who was born out of wedlock. Sometimes she told me that I should never trust men because they take what they want and then they abandon you.”
“I wonder why lady Marian tries to defend him.”
“Maybe they were lovers.” Rowena hinted with a grin.
“And maybe they still are,” Rosemary added.
The three girls shook their heads in disapproval.
“It’s really a shame. He ought to be punished for his deeds.”
“Well, my father is too lenient to do it, but we might,” Rowena affirmed, with a nod.
Her friends looked at her with interest.
“What do you mean?”
“If you help me, we can give him a lesson.”
Katerine waved Guy goodbye before running to her father’s side and taking his hand. Richard took the other one, while Edward already took his favorite place on Robin’s shoulders. Seth gave a little squeeze to Guy’s hand before letting it go with a shy smile.
“I liked your story, father, and I’m happy that neither you nor Allan got hurt when you fell in that river.”
Guy smiled and he caressed briefly Seth’s hair.
“I’m glad we survived too. Now go, your mother is waiting for you.”
Guy glanced at Annie: the woman let Seth to spend some time with him, but she always kept her distance and she had made it clear that she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. When it was the right time to take Seth back to their rooms, she stood at the other end of the courtyard and waited for him.
The child made a step towards his mother, but he stopped and turned to look at Guy.
“Father? Will you really let me ride on a horse?”
“If Annie agrees, I’ll wait for you here tomorrow morning and I’ll teach you how to ride. Tell her that Robin of Locksley will be here too and that we will begin with a very calm pony. It will be very safe.”
Seth smiled, happy, then he ran to his mother.
Guy looked at him and he felt incredibly proud of that little boy. Seth was a little shy, but he was brave and lively when he played with Locksley’s children and he was grateful that he grew up strong and healthy.
When he thought of his own behavior when Seth was born, Guy felt a hot shame burning his soul and he knew that he had to thank Robin and Marian if his son was alive and well.
But he was determined to make up for his errors and to help Seth to be happy in every way he could.
He kept looking at him as the child reached his mother and began to happily chat with her, then he turned and went back inside the castle, with a little amused smile on his lips. Surely Seth was going to tell Annie the stories he told him and the games they made together and she would listen to her son, unwilling to spoil his happiness, but she surely would hate to hear him speaking of Guy.
He stretched to ease the pain he still felt after falling in the trap of the masked thief. The other scratches and bruises were almost healed, after a week, but the log that hit him on his back had hurt him more than he thought and he was still sore. He was tired and hungry too and he decided to skip the banquet with the other nobles and to have his dinner brought to his room so he could eat and go to bed early.
He was about to call a servant to give those orders, when he saw lady Rosemary of York rushing towards him with a worried look on her face.
“Sir, I beg for your help, please!” she said, trembling and looking at him with tearful eyes.
The girl stifled a sob.
“We wanted to visit the dungeons, but Alice tripped and fell and I think she hurt her ankle! Rowena is with her while I went to search help. I was so scared and I got lost in that horrible place!”
“Ladies should not go into the dungeons,” Guy chided her “it’s not a place for satisfying morbid curiosities. Wait here, I’ll call for help.”
The girl grabbed his arm before he could go away.
“Please, come immediately! They will be so scared! You can help Alice to walk and our mishap will end soon, if we wait for the servants to come, both Alice and Rowena will have a fit of hysterics.”
Gisborne sighed, but he accepted to follow the girl. He just wanted to retire to his quarters and rest, but it would have been easier and quicker to help the three womans than to go and call for the servants.
He made his way through the dungeons and he was glad to see that all the cells were empty. This sheriff assigned mild punishments, while Vaisey used to keep the prisoners to rot in their cells, just like he loved to keep wild birds in little cages.
Now the dungeons were mostly unused and guarded only when there was a prisoner, but they still were a dreadful place, still oozing with the memories of the suffering of the captives that were detained and died there.
He saw one of the girls standing near the door of a cell and he spotted the bright color of a girlish cloak on the floor of that cell.
“She’s there, please, help her!” Rowena cried and Guy hurried to enter the cell and lift the fallen woman. He frowned when he found out that the cloak was just covering a pile of straw, roughly modeled to give the impression of a body, and he turned with a start when he heard the door of the cell being slammed closed.
He stared at the three women standing on the other side of the bars, none of them hurt or in pain.
“What are you doing?!”
“This is the rightful punishment for all your crimes,” Rowena said, coldly.
“What?! Open this door immediately!” Guy shook the door, but he knew perfectly well that it wouldn’t open.
“This is where you deserve to be.”
The three women laughed, then they went away taking the torch with them, and leaving him alone in the darkness.
“Have you seen his face?” Alice Glasson giggled, but Rosemary looked rather worried.
“What is going to happen when he’ll get free?”
“He can do nothing,” Rowena said “I’m the sheriff’s daughter, my father will believe me, not him. If we say that we never went to the dungeons, Gisborne will just look like a liar and a brute if he tries to accuse three distinguished ladies.”
“Aren’t you afraid that he can have his revenge on us?”
“If he only tries, my father will throw him to rot into the dungeons, for real this time.”
Guy stared into the pitch black darkness of the dungeons’ corridor, listening closely to hear if the three women were coming back to free him. He waited for a while, then he had to resign himself to the fact that they weren’t coming back.
At first he thought that they were just playing a prank on him, but he saw the expressions of their face: the ladies had looked at him with contempt, almost hatred, as if they despised him, and their words were cruel.
Guy sighed and sat on the straw. He had hoped to know them better and maybe to woo one of them, but it was clear that he had no chances now. They must have heard of his past, of the horrible things he did for Vaisey and they hated him for that.
Will I ever be really free of that devil?
He shivered: the unused dungeons were colder than usual, but not less smelly.
Guy tried to call for help, but he knew that no one could hear him down there and crying would only make him thirsty.
He had no water nor food and he only had the light cloak of one of the ladies to shield himself from the freezing cold: if he had to spend the night down there, it wouldn’t be nice at all. He could only hope that someone would notice that he was missing and began searching for him, but who could miss him?
He lied down on the straw, wrapping himself in the cloak in the vain attempt to keep warm.
Guy spent the night in a fitful sleep, chilled to the bone and hungry.
He woke up at dawn feeling the need to relieve himself and because his back was aching. Usually the prisoners were given a bucket for their needs, but the cell was empty except for the straw on the floor. The cell was already filthy, so it didn’t make any difference if Guy used a corner of it to relieve himself, but it was humiliating and Gisborne was enraged.
“They will pay...” Guy muttered, going back to sit on the straw, feeling miserable.
Seth waited patiently, giving eager looks at the pony.
Robin smiled at him.
“If Gisborne is late, we can begin. I can teach you how to ride.”
The child shook his head.
“My father promised that he was going to teach me. I want to wait for him.”
More time passed and Guy didn’t arrive. Robin looked at Seth and he began to tell him one of the adventures of Robin Hood, but the child wasn’t listening and after a while he interrupted him.
“He won’t come,” he said, tears welling in his eyes.
“He’s just late, maybe he overslept,” Robin said, but he knew that something wasn’t right. Gisborne committed heinous crimes in the past, but he was loyal: if he made a promise, he would most likely keep it.
“Maybe my mother is right and he doesn’t care.”
“I don’t think so,” Robin said and he realized that he believed it, he wasn’t just saying it to soothe Seth. He smiled at the child. “If Gisborne is not here there must be a valid reason. I’ll go to search for him, meanwhile you go back to your mother, I’ll call you when I find Guy.”
Seth nodded, with a little sigh. He watched Robin going away, but he didn’t want to go back to Annie.
If he told her that Guy didn’t show up, she’d begin criticizing him and Seth didn’t want to hear her sharp words. He was beginning to like that new father and he still hoped that he had just been detained.
Maybe he was feeling sick, or the sheriff gave him some urgent task.
Seth sat in a secluded corner of the courtyard and he waited. After a while he saw Robin and Marian walking through the courtyard and they both looked worried. Seth held his breath to listen to their words.
“He can’t be vanished!” Marian said and Robin looked at her, helpless.
“He’s not in his quarters and it seems he didn’t sleep there. The servants searched him in the castle, but they couldn’t find him.”
“Maybe he went to his manor for some reason.”
“His horse is in the stables and no other horse is missing.”
“If he made a promise to Seth and he didn’t show up, something must have happened to him. Guy cares deeply for his son. Let’s go and keep searching for him.”
Seth waited for them to go away, and he slipped inside the castle, unnoticed. He was worried and he kept repeating in his mind Marian’s words.
Something must have happened to him…
Maybe his father was hurt or in danger!
That thought was enough to make him want to weep, but he didn’t want to cry, he had to find his father first!
He passed near the door of a room and he heard some voices whispering in secrecy, so he stopped to eavesdrop.
“What are we going to do, now?” lady Rosemary whined.
“Nothing, we’ll do nothing.”
“The sheriff gave the order to search him everywhere. I heard they are talking to dredge the moat. They will be so mad when they will find out we trapped him in the dungeons!” Even Alice was beginning to be worried.
“They won’t find out what happened. If he accuses us, we’ll just deny.” lady Rowena’s voice was calm and a little stern.
“But all the castle is in a uproar, now!”
“How could I know that they would care so much for that beast? Well, sooner or later they will find him, I just hope he is miserable in the meanwhile.”
Seth understood that they were talking of his father and he went back along the corridor: he had to find someone and tell them that his father was trapped in the dungeons!
He began to run, then he stopped abruptly when he passed in front of a dark archway. He shuddered because he knew that it was the entrance to the dungeons.
He was scared of that place, but he felt that he had to check if is father was alive and well.
Seth went down the stair and he stopped, scared by the darkness that surrounded him. Maybe he should go back upstairs and call for help, he thought, then Marian’s words came back to his mind.
Guy cares deeply for his son...
Seth realized that he cared for his father too and he wanted to see him, to be sure that he wasn’t hurt.
“Father?” he called, in a trembling voice.
“Seth?” Guy’s voice was surprised, as if he couldn’t believe that his son had found him, but to hear it made Seth’s heart to leap in joy.
“Father!” he cried and he ran down the stairs, but the steps were uneven and slippery and he couldn’t see well in the darkness. He tripped and fell down, into the darkness.
Guy heard Seth’s panicked cry and a loud thump, then a dreadful silence enveloped the dungeons.
“Seth?” he called, his heart racing in fear “Seth! Answer me!”
Gisborne began to shook the bars of the door with all his strength, trying to force it open. He cried for help in a frenzied panic until he lose his voice, but no one answered.
Guy dropped to the ground with a sob: he was weary and in pain, but it didn’t matter. He could only think that his only son was lying on the floor, wounded or maybe dead and he could do nothing to help him.
“Do you think he could be in the dungeons? Why should he go there?” Marian asked, following her husband.
“I think it’s the only place where we haven’t looked yet.” Robin answered with a little shrug.
They had just began going down the stair when Guy’s cry startled them.
“Who’s there?! Help! Please help!”
His voice sounded hoarse and desperate, broken as if he was weeping, and Marian and Robin hurried down the stair, using a torch to see were they were going.
Marian was the first to see Seth: the child was at the foot of the stair and he was very still, a pool of blood on the floor, under his head. She made a strangled cry and she rushed to help the child.
Robin followed her and he saw that Gisborne was closed in a cell and he looked like he had lost his mind. He had blood on his hands, his hair was damp and ruffled and he was on his knees, sobbing in despair.
“Help him! Please help him! Don’t let him die!”
Robin gave a look at the door of the cell and the child, uncertain on what to do first.
Marian ripped a piece of her gown and she pressed it on Seth’s forehead to stop the bleeding, then she carefully lifted the child in her arms.
“Free Guy. I’m taking Seth to a healer. He’s alive, but we must hurry.” Marian said, then she rushed upstairs.
Robin nodded and he looked around, in search of the keys, hoping that they were there or he would have to pick the lock. Finally he spotted them on the floor and he hurried to pick them up and open the door.
Guy burst out of the cell, but he stumbled and he would have fallen to the ground if Robin hadn’t grabbed his arm to steady him.
Gisborne was trembling and Robin thought that he had never seen him so terrified.
And that day he had been distraught too.
Robin put a hand on Guy’s shoulder.
“Calm down, Gisborne,” he said, trying to sound reassuring “Marian will take care of him as if he was one of our children, he will be well.”
Guy gave him a blank stare. He didn’t seem to notice that he was openly weeping in front of his old enemy, he was still too shocked and scared to care.
“I heard him fall… He cried and then there was only silence… I couldn’t help him… My son was dying and I couldn't help him… It’s my fault...”
Robin thought that he would feel exactly like him if something bad should happen to one of his children and he felt a sudden sympathy for Gisborne. He put an arm around his shoulder to help him to stand and he instinctively talked to him in the tone he used when one of his kids was scared or sick.
“No, it’s not. Come now, we’ll go to see how is Seth, then you can tell me what happened. Be quiet, it will be all right, I promise.”
Guy nodded and he let Robin to lead him upstairs.
He desperately wanted to believe him.
Chapter 8: A Wolf and His Cub
Robin sat on a bench, just outside the door of the infirmary and he stared at the floor. He still had a hand on Gisborne’s arm, but Guy didn’t seem to notice it: he was sitting near Robin, with his face buried in his hands and he didn’t move. Robin could feel him shiver every now and again.
They were waiting to know how Seth was, but the door continued to remain closed and nor the healer, nor Marian went out to give them any news.
Robin heard the sound of running steps, coming from the end of the corridor, then Annie’s voice pierced the silence, making both of them start.
“Where is he?! My baby! What happened to him?!”
Annie stopped in front of Guy and she grabbed him roughly, digging her nails in his arms and shaking him.
“What did you do?! I knew that I shouldn’t have trusted you! If he dies, I’ll kill you, Guy of Gisborne!”
Guy didn’t even try to react and it was Robin who stopped her, grabbing her wrists and pulling her away from Gisborne.
“Annie, stop! It isn’t his fault.”
“Seth said that he was going to see his father and now they say me that he’s wounded!”
“He fell down the stairs, it has been an accident. And if you blame Gisborne, you must blame me too because I left him alone instead of watching over him.”
Annie shook her head in disbelief. Robin always hated Gisborne, but now he was defending him, could it be that Guy was really innocent this time? She looked at him and she suddenly realized how upset he was: he was pale and disheveled and his hands were bleeding. Annie though that he must have touched his face with his bloodied fingers because his cheeks were smeared with blood.
But she was surprised to see the helpless expression of his face and the tears in his eyes. Could it be that he really cared for Seth?
“Guy? What happened?” she asked, in a softer tone.
“I’m sorry, Annie… I’m so sorry… I couldn’t protect him...” Guy’s voice was little more than a whisper, as if he was ill and she thought that she had never seen him so scared and frightened, not even when he searched her comfort after the old sheriff punished or humiliated him.
She was moved to see him like that. Once she had loved him and she knew that a tiny part of her heart would always belong to him.
Annie brushed away a lock of hair from his face.
“No, Guy, what happened to your hands?”
Gisborne looked at his fingers, surprised to see the blood on them. He forced himself to focus and he fought to regain his control.
“Oh. I think I cut myself when I tried to open the cell. I don’t know how.”
“Well, let me see,” she said, taking his hands in her own to examine them.
Guy looked at her when she touched him, then he stood still while she cleaned the cuts with a handkerchief. The careful touch of her fingers on his skin was soothing and it calmed him a little.
“For now this will do,” Annie said after a while “but they will have to be treated properly or they will fester.”
“Thank you,” he said in a dejected tone and Annie thought that in that moment he looked exactly like Seth when the child was sad for some reason. She dropped herself on the bench between Robin and Guy and she began to weep again.
“Seth is all my life, he’s my joy and my pride… If he… If...” She stopped, unable to express her worst fear aloud and she sobbed, hiding her face in her hands.
Guy didn’t try to speak to soothe her, but he gently put his arm around her shoulders and Annie leaned against his chest, still weeping.
Robin looked at Guy and Annie and once again he empathized with them, thinking that he only wanted to go to his children, hug them and make sure that they were all well. Instead, he remained seated on that bench and waited.
They could only wait.
Marian opened the door and she saw that Guy, Robin and Annie were waiting in the corridor. Guy jumped to his feet as soon as he saw her, but he also blanched and staggered as if he was about to swoon.
Marian noticed that he was looking at her with horror and she realized that her dress was stained with blood. She reached Guy and she took his hands, both to steady him and to reassure him.
“He is alive and the healer said that he should recover,” she hurried to say “he broke an arm and he lose a lot of blood, but the healer treated him and she said he will be fine.”
“Really?” he whispered, not daring to hope, yet.
“My child will live? Let me see him!” Annie pleaded, and Marian nodded.
“He’s sleeping now, but he’ll be happy to see you when he wakes up,” Marian said, with a smile, and both Guy and Annie rushed in the room.
Marian reached Robin and she dropped herself on the bench, now allowing herself to a shaking sigh. She wiped a tear with her hand and looked at Robin.
“I kept thinking that it could have happened to one of our children… I was so scared, Robin!”
Robin hugged her tight.
“I know. Me too.” He kissed the top of her head. “But you have been brave and you really helped him, maybe you saved his life.”
“What happened? Why was Guy closed in that cell?”
Robin shook his head.
“I have no idea. I think he spent the night there since he didn’t sleep in his rooms, but he was too upset and he didn’t tell me what happened to him.”
“I guess he will give us an explanation later, when he’ll be calmer and reassured about Seth’s conditions.” Marian sighed. “I want to see the kids, now.”
Robin nodded, he wanted to see them too, but he saw the sheriff, coming towards the infirmary, followed by his daughter and his wife.
“I think we will have to wait,” Robin whispered to Marian “he will want an explanation too.”
Annie rushed to the bed and she knelt at its side, fretting about Seth, while Guy stood a few steps behind, looking at the sleeping child and not daring to go near him, afraid to disrupt his rest.
Seth was pale and he had his eyes closed and bandages on both his right arm and his head. The healer was in a corner of the room and she was grinding some herbs to add them to the boiling pot hanging over the fire.
The woman noticed his stare and she went near him.
“This remedy will keep the fever away,” she said with a reassuring smile “and it’s good for cleaning wounds and cuts too. Let me tend to your hands, sir.”
Guy waved her away.
“It’s nothing, I just want to be with my son.”
“He is sleeping now, and your hands are dirty, sir. Those wounds will become infected and you could lose an arm or die. Sit there and let me tend to your wounds while the child gets his rest.”
As soon as she saw that Guy had obeyed her, the healer poured hot water into a basin and she washed his hands thoroughly, ignoring his winces of pain when she touched the cuts.
“You will have to endure some pain, sir, I have to clean these wounds very well.”
Guy nodded without looking at her, his eyes locked to the bed where Seth was peacefully sleeping.
“Do what you must.”
The woman finished washing his hands, she dried them with a clean towel, then she put a salve on the wounds and bandaged them.
“Try to keep them clean and if they should become infected, come to me immediately.”
“Will he actually recover?” Guy asked, distressed “He’s so little...”
“He’s your son and you seem strong enough, sir. You both are of a hefty kind, I think. Give him some time to heal and he’ll do just fine.”
“Guy! He’s waking!” Annie called and Gisborne reached the bed in a couple of strides.
He was surprised that Annie talked to him, but it didn’t matter now, he was anxiously looking at Seth.
The child opened his eyes and saw Annie.
“Mother! Why am I in bed?” he asked, a little confused, then he seemed to remember something and he looked at her, alarmed “Mother! We must call for help! Father is trapped in the dungeons, maybe he’s hurt!”
For a moment, Guy thought that he would burst up in tears in front of both Annie and the healer. He took a deep breath to keep his control and he made another step towards the bed, so that Seth could see him.
“I’m here, Seth, don’t worry,” he managed to say, choked with emotion.
“Father! Are you hurt? There’s blood on your face!”
Guy absently touched his cheek, but he smiled at the child.
“It’s nothing. I had a little cut on my hand and I touched my face. How do you feel?”
Seth’s eyes brimmed with tears.
“My arm hurts and my head hurts too...”
Gisborne looked at the healer.
“I’ll give him something for the pain,” the woman said, mixing a few other herbs in the pot and pouring some of the infusion in a little bowl.
Seth took a sip of it, then he turned his head in disgust.
“It’s bitter!” he whined.
Annie looked at him, worried.
“You have to drink it if you want to feel better...” she weakly said.
The child shook his head, and he began to weep, but Guy sat on the edge of the bed and looked at him.
“You’re right, it’s revolting. But it works. Look.” he lifted the shirt to show the scar on his belly to Seth and the child touched it with his left hand, impressed.
“It’s a big cut! Did it hurt?”
“Yes, it hurt a lot, ask Robin of Locksley if you don’t believe me. I’ve been very ill and I could have died, but that foul remedy helped a lot. The pain lessened and the fever didn’t kill me. I think you should drink it.”
“If you had to take it, I will drink it too.” Seth said, bravely, and he allowed the healer to give him the remedy.
“Good boy.” Guy bent to carefully kiss Seth’s forehead, near the bandage. “Better?”
The child smiled, sleepy.
Seth fell asleep and Annie gave a surprised look at Guy.
“You really care for him, don’t you?” she said quietly and he nodded.
“I do. I know that in the past I wronged both of you, but now I really wish I can be a good father for him...” he sighed “But I couldn’t protect him, today... I’m so sorry...”
“You are different,” Annie said “less proud than you were nine years ago. You learned to say sorry.”
“I hope that I learned more than just this,” he said, with a little smirk.
Annie smiled and they were quiet for a while, watching over the sleeping child. They heard some voices out of the door and she noticed that Guy tensed.
“Is there something wrong?”
Gisborne stood up and Annie saw that he was in a rage.
“Stay here, with Seth,” he growled and she didn’t dare to disobey him: she had never seen that dangerous look in his eyes, not even when he worked for sheriff Vaisey.
“And that child fell from the stairs? Poor thing.” Lady Rowena looked at Marian’s dress, shocked by the amount of blood that stained it. “Will he survive?”
In that moment the door of the infirmary was opened and Guy burst out of it, like a snarling wolf going for a kill. He grabbed lady Rowena and slammed her against the wall of the corridor, tightening a hand around her neck.
“Not thanks to you, murderous witch!” Guy yelled and the others looked at him in shock.
Robin hurried to pull him away from the girl before the sheriff could unsheathe his sword to defend his daughter. Robin struggled to restrain Guy from attacking Rowena again until Marian put her hand on Guy’s arm, looking at him.
“Stop immediately! What are you doing?!”
Gisborne stopped trying to get free from Robin’s hold, but he looked at Rowena with hatred.
“Ask her! It’s all her fault!”
“That man is clearly insane. Just look at him, he looks like a madman,” Rowena said, in disdain.
The sheriff gave a stern look at Guy.
“Gisborne! How dare you attacking my daughter?! I might have you hanged for this! Guards!”
Robin let Guy go and he turned to look at the sheriff.
“Wait. There must be a reason for this. Gisborne, calm down and explain.”
Guy pointed a finger at the sheriff. He was still furious, but he didn’t try to touch lady Rowena again.
“Your daughter and her idiotic friends attacked me! If it wasn’t for them, my son wouldn’t have been hurt!”
“What do you mean, Guy?” Marian asked, quietly. She was still holding his harm and she could feel him trembling.
“They tricked me and they closed me in a cell.”
“He’s raving,” Rowena said.
“You just left me there in the darkness with no fire, no food or water, not even a torch!”
“Liar. Father, you should really throw him into the dungeons.”
Robin shook his head.
“I know Gisborne very well and he’s not a liar. When Marian and I found him, he was actually trapped in a cell. If he says that you closed him in the dungeons, I’m inclined to think that it’s true.”
Lady Rowena glared at him.
“So you would believe to the words of a criminal like him? I know what he did, he should have been hanged like sheriff Vaizey! He should be rotting in a dungeon!”
“Seth risked to die because of you! He was searching for me and he fell down the stairs because you took away all the torches to leave me in the dark! You could have killed my son!”
Lady Rowena sneered at him.
“The same son you had with a kitchen wench and who you tried to kill, abandoning him in the forest?! I know what you did! I know how black is your soul!”
Marian tightened her hold on Guy’s arm and she mouthed at him to keep calm.
“Rowena! A lady shouldn’t talk like that!” the sheriff scolded his daughter.
“Ah! A lady! Maybe that’s the problem. She’s not a lady!” Guy said sarcastically “A witch, more likely! I do not wonder that you are still unmarried at your age and I bet that you are back to your parent’s home because they kicked you out of the convent!”
“How dare you?!” Now it was lady Rowena the one who moved to hit Guy, but her father stepped in her way.
“Shut up! All of you!” The sheriff said “Rowena, go to your rooms and stay there. Elizabeth, go with her.”
“Go or I’ll have my guards to escort you!” Lord Arthur turned to face Gisborne “You tried to harm my daughter and this is a serious crime, whatever reason you could have. You’ll be flogged and then you’ll leave the castle.”
“I came here to celebrate your daughter’s return. Now I see that there is nothing to celebrate, so I can as well go home!” Guy said, in spite.
Robin clamped a hand on his mouth.
“Shut up, Gisborne, do you want to be hanged?” he whispered.
“Enough. Guards, take him to the courtyard and see that he gets ten lashes.”
The soldiers dragged Guy away and the sheriff followed them.
Marian gave a worried look at Robin.
“Can’t you stop them?”
“No. The sheriff has been soft with his punishment. He could have decided to hang Gisborne or to let him rot in the dungeons until he dies, I’m afraid that he’ll have to endure this flogging.”
“Poor Guy. And to think that I hoped that he could marry that Rowena!”
Robin looked at her for a while, thinking, then he caressed her cheek to comfort her. When Marian was so protective of Gisborne he couldn’t help being jealous, but he was also feeling sympathetic with him. If his kids should risk their lives for somebody’s fault, he would become even more dangerous than Gisborne, so he could understand his rage perfectly well.
“Go and change your dress, tell the servants to pack and get our wagon ready, then take the children and be ready to go. When the flogging is done we’ll take Gisborne to Locksley so that he can be cured.”
“What about us?”
Marian and Robin turned and they saw that Annie was standing at the door of the infirmary.
“What do you mean?”
“Can we come with you? I will work hard to earn our stay, but if lady Alice Glasson had a part in what happened to Seth, I can’t work for her family anymore. And if we stay at the castle, Seth would be sad if Guy can’t come to see him.”
“Help Marian with the children and talk with the healer to see if Seth can travel. We’ll meet later, at the wagon, take the healer with you and make sure that she has the necessary to treat lashes wounds.”
The women hurried away and Robin reluctantly walked towards the courtyard: he always hated to attend floggings or executions, but he knew that nobody else would take care of Gisborne afterwards, so he had to be present to help him.
Chapter 9: No Apology Given
“Ten!” the sheriff said, and the guard used the whip for the last time.
Guy howled in pain and he leaned heavily on the gallows’ pole where he had been tied.
The sheriff looked at him.
“I hope you learned this lesson,” he said, harshly.
Gisborne raised his head a little.
“She deserved it,” he growled.
The sheriff nodded at the guard and the man flogged Guy again.
“You will apologize to my daughter.”
The sheriff looked at the guard.
Guy felt the taste of blood and he vaguely realized that he had bitten his tongue. He felt faint and he retched, but when the sheriff asked him again to apologize, he refused.
“Seth could have been killed,” he wheezed.
Robin rolled his eyes in exasperation.
Shut up, stubborn idiot!
The next two lashes took Guy’s breath away and he didn’t have the strength to cry anymore. He went limp and if he wasn’t tied he would have dropped to the ground, but he still denied his apology.
The sheriff was about to have him flogged again, when Robin stepped forward.
“My lord sheriff, please stop! I ask for your mercy!”
“He will apologize.”
“He’ll do it, but not today. I know him well, right now he’d rather get killed than give up.”
“He might get what he wishes for!” the sheriff said, sternly.
“My lord, please!”
Lord Arthur looked at Gisborne, disgusted.
“Take your friend and get him away from my sight. I don’t want to see him at the castle until he is ready to give a public apology to my daughter.”
Robin didn’t reply that this was very unlikely, but he nodded and he went to free Guy. He cut the rope with a dagger and he held Guy up because he was too weak to stand on his own.
He helped him to reach the wagon and he saw that there were two vehicles because Marian had found another one. She had filled its back with straw and she covered it with a blanket to make a sort of bed.
The children, Mary’s nurse and their trunks were on the first wagon, while Annie was sitting in a corner of the second one with Seth, sleeping in her arms. The healer was checking her remedies, preparing them to treat Gisborne’s wounds.
Marian looked at Guy, aghast, and she hurried to reach Robin and help him.
“What did they do to him?! He looks half dead!”
“He’s a fool. The sheriff wanted him to apologize and he refused. I had to intervene to avoid he could get himself killed because of his obstinacy.”
Together, they eased Guy on the wagon, lying him on his stomach and the healer began cleaning his wounds. Guy moaned and he writhed in pain and Marian sat near him, holding his hand to calm him.
Robin nodded to one of his servants and the boy took the reins of the second wagon, while Robin climbed on the first one to drive it home himself.
Annie had been sitting and looking at Guy for a while: he was in pain and lady Marian was trying to help him.
“Touch his hair,” Annie suggested “it used to soothe him when he was tense or aching.”
Marian glanced at her, remembering that they had been lovers, and she wondered if the other woman knew other sides of Guy that he never showed to her.
She followed her advice and she put her hand on Guy’s head, combing his ruffled locks with her fingers. Gisborne’s eyelids fluttered open.
“I won’t apologize… I won’t,” he mumbled and Marian couldn’t stifle a little smile.
“As stubborn as a mule...” she said in an affectionate tone, while she kept stroking his hair “Hush now, and keep your strength.”
Blood. Blood everywhere.
Guy could see it spreading on the ground, slowly, until it invaded the floor of his cell. He retreated because he knew that if he touched it, he would be damned forever for his sins.
It was the blood of the people he had killed for Vaisey and of the ones who had died because of his actions. Guy could see the pale forms of their bodies crowding the corridor of the dungeons and walking towards him.
He never cared much for the peasants or payed any attention to them, but now he could see their faces, every one of them.
They were walking towards him and they wanted revenge. A smaller ghastly figure was leading them and Guy screamed in horror when he recognized Seth.
He turned to run away, but he was trapped in the cell, so he just crouched in a corner, crying and hoping that the bars could stop them.
But they were ghosts and they could pass through wood and iron.
Guy could feel their fingers clawing at him, leaving the burning mark of hell on his back.
He screamed in terror.
Both Marian and Robin rushed to his room in hearing him, but it was Robin the one who got near the bed to wake him up.
He touched his shoulder, but Gisborne only cried louder, sat up on the bed, and he tried to hit Robin, but Robin was quick enough to grab his wrists to stop him.
He shook him a little.
“Gisborne, wake up, it’s me!”
Guy’s eyes slowly focused on him.
“Hood?” he winced in pain “What… what happened?”
“You have been flogged. And you got more lashes than you were due, just because you were a stubborn fool.”
Guy nodded. Now he could remember, even if his memories of the flogging were confused, as if it had been a sort of nightmare.
“He wanted me to apologize, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Then you can’t show up at the castle.”
“I don’t care,” Guy growled, then he looked at Robin, suddenly concerned “Seth… How is Seth?!”
He couldn’t shake off his mind the image he saw in his nightmare, the ghastly figure of his son blaming him for his death...
“He’s in better shape than you, right now. He slept peacefully and now he is still resting.”
“How can you know? We are at Locksley now, if I’m not wrong. Did you get a message from the castle?”
“He and Annie are here too. She didn’t want to work for Alice Glasson’s family anymore after Seth had been hurt because of their prank.”
Guy tried to get up.
“I need to see him.”
Marian got near him, shaking her head.
“Don’t be stupid, Guy. You have to stay in bed and recover. I think you’re getting a fever.”
“Don’t try to stop me,” he said, getting to his feet, but he barely managed to walk a couple of steps before Robin had to hold him up to avoid to see him collapsing to the ground.
He helped him to go back and sit on the bed and Marian touched his forehead.
“You already have a fever,” she said, and she walked away to come back after a short while with a bowl of the herbal remedy prepared by the healer. She handed the bowl to Guy with a sympathetic smile. “Drink this foul thing, then lie down and try to sleep. When he wakes up, I’ll take Seth to see you, but you must try to get better or he’ll be worried.”
Gisborne obeyed her. He drank the remedy, trying to ignore its horrible taste, and he lied on his stomach, closing his eyes. His back seemed to be burning with hellfire and his whole body was aching, but the medicine was making him drowsy and it was beginning to alleviate his pain a little.
“Don’t leave me… I don’t want to be alone in the darkness...” he mumbled, drifting off.
Marian frowned, looking at him.
“I’ve never seen him like that. It can’t be just the flogging, can it? These wounds are painful, but they’re not so serious. The healer said that the guard who had whipped him had been gentle, that he could have inflicted much more damage.”
“It’s true. I guess that he pitied him, thinking that he was out of his mind.”
“He wasn’t thinking straight, that’s for sure, or he wouldn’t have attacked lady Rowena.” Marian shuddered. “I couldn’t stand to know that one of my children is hurt and not being able to help… I wonder how much time he spent down there in fear after he heard Seth falling.”
Robin shook his head.
“I have no idea, but even if they were just a few moments, for a father it would always be too much.”
Marian sighed as she placed a damp cloth on Gisborne’s brow.
“I’m glad that you helped him. I know that you never liked Guy, but you’ve been kind.”
“It was the right thing to do. In this case I can’t blame him, I think I’d have acted in the same way if our kids were harmed.”
“They were worried for ‘uncle Guy’. Maybe you should explain what happened and tell them that he will recover. I’ll watch over him for a while and try to lower his temperature.”
“No, I can see that you are tired and upset. Stay with the children and try to rest for a while, I can take care of Gisborne.”
“You have seen him earlier, how upset he was and how he thrashed in his sleep. He might be ill, but he is strong and he could have accidentally hit you. If it happens again, I am strong enough to restrain him. I know how to take care of a wounded man, I saw enough hospitals in the Holy Land and sometimes I helped there, I learned what to do. And it won’t be for long: I sent for Allan, I think that he’ll be here soon.”
“Allan? Did you came for uncle Guy?” Katerine reached him as soon as he dismounted.
Richard had followed his sister and he looked at Allan, serious.
“He’s sick again. He has been flogged.”
“I know. It seems that Giz can’t do without me, uh?”
Edward arrived a few moments later, scowling at his siblings who didn’t wait for him.
“Seth is sick too. He fell down the stairs and he broke his arm and his head.”
Allan looked at the little boy.
“Who’s Seth? And where are your parents?”
“He’s in the hall, with his mom,” Richard said.
“Our mother is resting now, father is with uncle Guy,” Katerine added.
Allan nodded and he went inside, it was clear that he wouldn’t get any useful informations from the children, and he should better talk with Robin.
He stopped when he saw the little boy sitting near the fireplace: the child was wrapped in a blanket even if the weather was warm, he had his arm in a sling and a bandage on his forehead. Allan was surprised to see that he looked a lot like Gisborne, with the same dark curls and blue eyes.
When the boy’s mother arrived with a bowl of broth, Allan recognized her and he understood the reason of Seth’s resemblance to Guy.
“Annie! You’re Annie, right? And he’s your son! The wee one we found in the forest?!”
Annie looked at him.
“Do you know me?”
“I never forget a pretty lass.”
“And you were one of Robin’s men...”
“Allan’s the name. So you’re back, uh? Because of Giz? You wanted the boy to know his father?”
“I didn’t know he was in Nottingham or I wouldn't come.”
“Come on, he’s not that bad. He changed a lot.”
“I know. He’s trying to be good with Seth.”
“Mom? Can I go to see father, now?”
“Drink your broth and eat some bread first. He’s sleeping now, you can see him later.”
The boy sighed, but he obeyed.
Allan thought that the son looked much more docile than his father, and he smiled at Annie.
“Well, I’d better go upstairs and see how is Giz.”
Marian yawned and she stepped out of her room just in time to see Allan climbing the stairs.
“You came! Guy will be glad to see you.”
“What happened to him?”
“He got flogged for trying to choke the sheriff’s daughter.”
Allan made a face.
“The same one who he was thinking to woo?”
“The sheriff has only one daughter.”
“Well, I guess there won’t be any wedding. What did she do to him?”
Marian noticed that Allan didn’t doubt that Guy had a reason for what he did, not even for a single moment.
“She and her friends trapped him in the dungeons and they left him there for a whole night...”
“He wouldn’t attack a woman just for that. Once a girl I met in a tavern did much worse to him, just to rob us, but even when we caught her, he didn’t hit her, not once. He just took our money and our horses back.”
Marian decided that she didn’t want more details on that story and she explained what happened after Seth fell down the stairs.
“So Giz got attached to his son?”
“Yes, he’s very fond of Seth.”
“Well, good for him. Even if he got flogged. What about Annie? Did she try to kill him?”
“A couple of times, I think, but it seems they now called a truce for Seth’s sake.” Marian gestured towards one of the bedroom doors “Go to him. He’s with Robin now.”
Guy woke up when someone applied a fresh, wet towel to his burning back, easing his pain a little. It smelled of herbs, but, unlike the remedy he had to drink, its scent was pleasant and it reminded him of his travels.
Gisborne remembered that he and Allan had slowly ridden through fields of purple bushes in a summer day, under the warm sun of France. The fragrant air was still in the summer heat and only the buzzing of bees and the clop of their horses’ hooves broke the silence.
It was a peaceful memory to dwell in, and Guy relaxed a little.
“I know that you’re awake, mate.”
Guy opened his eyes.
“You’d be lost without me, Giz. Look at you, I leave you alone for a few days and you come back all battered and in disgrace.”
“Oh, well, and now you have to pester me too.”
“Ungrateful wretch. Now be still.”
Allan removed the wet towel from his back and he replaced it with another one.
“I still had some. It’s good for the wounds and it smells nice. And that is good because you really need a bath, Giz.”
“It happens when you spend a night in a filthy cell,” Guy growled and Allan grinned.
“I see that you are feeling better. If you have the strength to be annoyed, you’ll be fine soon.” Allan touched his forehead and smiled “It seems that your fever broke already. I’ll tell Hannah to prepare a bath for you and to put more lavender in the water. It will help with the pain and you’ll rest better.”
“That’s a good sign too. I’ll fetch something for you. Oh, Giz, I’ve met your son, earlier. He wanted to see you.”
“How was he?”
“Oppressed by a fussy mother, but otherwise fine enough. I think that you’ll see him soon enough. Nice lad, he looks like you, but with a better temper.”
“Very funny, Allan,” Guy said, but he couldn’t hide a grin “but it’s true, I guess.”
“So, no wedding, uh? Really, Giz, you have no luck with nuptials: once you get punched, now you get flogged… Be careful or next time you’ll end up dead. Maybe you should just learn to appreciate the taverns’ girls.”
“I don’t want to have anything to do with women, at least for a very long while,” Guy said, with a sigh.
“As you wish, mate. Until next time.”
Allan kept quiet for a while, thinking, and Guy looked at him.
“Maybe you could get a dog,” Allan said, then he hurried to the door, noticing Guy’s scowl “I’m going, I’m going.”
Left alone, Guy closed his eyes with a little sigh. Allan’s silly chatter comforted him a little, but he felt miserable and confused.
He knew that Seth was in no danger, but he couldn't forget the terror he felt when he didn’t know if he was dead or alive. Only thinking of that made his eyes fill with tears. He also knew that lady Rowena and her friends were just stupid and cruel women, but their words full of contempt could still hurt him because he felt that they were not completely false.
He did all the things they accused him of, and he knew that if he didn’t run away from Vaisey, he would have been hanged at his side.
Those women knew very well how to hurt him and they had no mercy.
Lepers, Gisborne, they are all lepers.
The voice of Vaisey resounded in his mind, as if he was never dead, and Guy shook his head, burying his face in the pillow.
No, no! Go away! Let me free!
Chapter 10: A Mound Under the Moonlight
Thornton opened the door for him and Allan entered the hall, carrying two baskets of cherries.
Robin’s children greeted him with happy squeals and Marian thanked him, taking a handful of cherries before the kids ate them all.
“Hey, where is Giz?” Allan asked, looking around.
The woman shrugged with a resigned smile.
“I have no idea. I thought he was at Gisborne Manor.”
“I come from there. No traces of him.”
“He’ll be back. He always does.”
Allan sat down and took a piece of meat.
“I guess so.”
Annie entered the room bringing a pitcher of wine.
“Did you lose Guy again, Allan?” she asked, looking at him. “He came to see Seth this morning, but he left before lunch.”
“At least we know that until his son he’s here, Giz won’t leave without telling us.”
Marian glanced at Allan, worried.
“Do you think he could leave?”
He looked at her intently.
“Look, Marian, I know him well. What happened at the castle hurt him and I’m not talking about the flogging. The only other time when I saw him like that was when you told him that you loved Robin. He began riding away from the castle alone whenever he could and he detached from everything around him. The sheriff could yell at him for a whole morning and he just stood there with his arms crossed in front of him, but I’m sure he didn’t listen a single word. That obviously enraged Vaisey even more, but Giz just didn’t care. Then, one day, he came to me and he said that he needed my help. The next thing I knew was that we were aboard a ship after robbing the sheriff of all his gold.”
Marian glanced at the children: they were still fighting over the cherries and they didn’t listen to Allan words. She told them to go outside to play, then, as soon as they left, she turned back to Allan.
“And now you think he’s going to do something like that.”
“Of course he’s not going to rob your house, but I’m sure he’s up to something. I just hope that we won’t have to travel for other eight years before he gets over it. I’m beginning to enjoy the advantages of having a real roof over my head.”
“It took him eight years to get over her?” Annie asked, giving an incredulous glance at Marian.
“He can be a bit obsessive, you know. I hope this isn’t the case. Luckily he hadn’t the time to fall in love with one of those witches, or he would be utterly shattered and not only hurt and outraged.”
“How could we help him?”
“I suggested him to go to the tavern and to have a few tumbles in the hay with some of the girls there, but he refused.”
Marian stared at him in shock, then she blushed and giggled and Annie cuffed him on the back of his head.
“You’re a beast.”
Allan gave her a hurt look.
“What? I always found comfort in that!”
“That’s why I’m saying you are a beast.”
“Well, I’m the beast, but you liked to tumble in the hay with him.”
Annie boxed his ear and stormed away in a huff, and Marian couldn’t stifle a laugh.
“Well, she is right: you are a beast.”
Robin looked at Guy.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Aren’t you really thinking you can beat me, are you?”
“What if I am?”
“Well, I think you’ll be disappointed, but if you want to try, go on.”
Robin took his bow and looked at Gisborne while he held his own. It was similar in shape to Robin’s one, but it was painted black.
“May I?” Robin asked, looking at the weapon and Guy handed it to him.
Robin nocked an arrow and shot it to a distant tree, to test the bow.
“Good weapon,” he said, giving it back to Guy.
“It’s made of laburnum. There’s a forest in France where it grows and bow makers travel there from very far away to get this kind of wood. I used one of the bows we confiscated in Locksley as a model for it.”
“When I ran away from Nottingham, I took everything I could carry with me, including the best weapons from the castle armory. I just wish I could have seen Vaisey’s face when he found his strong room completely empty.”
“You already did. Every time I robbed him.”
“Well, do you want to keep talking or are you ready to challenge me?”
“As you wish, Gisborne. Choose your targets.”
Guy looked around, then he pointed at a tree.
“Are you sure? Don’t you want to try a easier target?”
Guy nocked an arrow, drew the bow and released it, hitting one of the fruits.
“I think I improved a little over the years.”
Robin nodded, impressed.
“You’re not so sure now, are you?” Guy said with a smirk, and Robin shot an arrow, hitting another apple.
“Don’t forget that I’m Robin Hood. Nobody can beat me with a bow.”
“I can certainly try.”
They spent some time shooting at the apples and at last Robin won, hitting two targets more than Guy.
“You did well.” He held his hand out to Guy. “You are right, your archery improved a lot.”
“Told you.” Guy took his hand with a resigned smile “But it seems that’s still not enough to beat Robin Hood.”
“You’ll have to content yourself with being the second best archer in Nottingham.”
“You’re always so smug! Beware, I can still improve and someday I’ll beat you, trust me.”
“Dream on, Gisborne.”
Robin walked to the tree to pick up the arrows and he took one of the skewered apples too. He threw it at Guy and he picked up another for himself.
“I’ll take these home too. Hannah can make delicious pies with apples and honey.”
Guy sank his teeth into his apple as he mounted.
“Well, save a slice of it for me, then.”
Robin gave him a surprised look and he mounted too.
“Aren’t you coming to Locksley?”
“No. Maybe later,” he said. He hesitated for a moment. “Robin?”
“I never thanked you for what you did for me three weeks ago. If it weren’t for you, I’d still be there getting flogged.”
“You chose the worst moment for being stubborn.”
“I won’t ask for her forgiveness. Never.”
“You will have to.”
“If you are forbidden to enter the castle, you can’t attend the Nobles Council.”
“Allan can take my place.”
“I know that you were right, but attacking a noblewoman hadn’t been a brilliant move. I believe you, and she’s to blame for what she did, but you could have pressed charges on her. You could still do it.”
Guy shook his head, grimly.
“What good would it be? This sheriff is better than Vaisey, but he wouldn’t punish his own daughter. And I just want to forget what happened.”
Gisborne spurred his horse and rode away.
Robin shook his head: he didn’t know what to think.
As soon as the healer allowed him to ride, Gisborne began to disappear in the woods for whole days, showing up at Locksley or at his manor to sleep, to eat a meal or to spend some time with his son or the children. Allan said that sometimes he set off for his wanderings in the middle of the night, sleeping during the day.
What he did all alone in the forest, nobody knew.
Sometimes, like that day, Gisborne joined Robin, asking him to do some training with their swords or challenging him in some contest.
Strangely, Robin didn’t mind.
In fact he didn’t dislike the time he spent with him, as if he wasn’t his enemy.
As if he wasn’t the traitor that once attempted to kill him.
Guy put on his mask and covered his mouth with the scarf, then he spurred the horse, searching for the traces of the masked thief.
He had lied to Allan, or at least he would have done it if he had seen him. Allan wanted Guy to promise that he wouldn’t be the Nightwatchman until his wounds were perfectly healed, but Gisborne wore his costume as soon as he felt strong enough to ride.
What happened at the castle hurt him in many ways. First of all, he had been awfully scared when Seth hurt himself and he had never thought that he could feel so bad for a bastard child he had with a servant. But in just a few days, Seth had wormed in his heart and thinking that he could have died almost killed him.
When he saw the dark scab on his forehead or his arm, bandaged and wrapped in a sling, Guy ached inside and wished that he could take Seth’s pain on himself.
Luckily the child was getting better day after day and he was back to his games with the other children, only slightly discomforted because of the sling.
But even if that burden was lifted from Guy’s heart, he still could not forget the cruel words of lady Rowena and her friends, the horrible, lonely, cold and dark night he spent in the dungeons and the humiliating punishment he had to endure under the mocking eyes of the populace.
He knew that he shouldn’t have attacked a woman, and he felt ashamed when he thought at his burst of blind rage, but he was determined: lady Rowena didn’t deserve an apology.
And maybe I don’t deserve happiness.
His sleep was disturbed and he dreamed of Vaisey more often than in the past, reliving in his nightmares the cruel acts he used to do daily, obeying to his orders. Sometimes, he knew, he had enjoyed the sense of power that came from those acts, the almightiness he felt when he could decide of the fate of the peasants.
Marian always said that she could see the good in him, but lady Rowena, instead, had been able to see the bad.
Who am I? Who’s the real Guy of Gisborne?
When he wore the Nightwatchman’s costume, he felt better, as if the mask could hide his worst side, as if he could actually be a hero.
But whatever he did to help the people, it never seemed enough to him.
Whenever he could, he put his mask on and went to bring food and money to the poor or he watched the roads to keep them safe for the travelers, when he couldn’t, he just wandered into the woods, lost in some daydream or recalling some comforting or entertaining memory of his travels.
Now he was trying to test a theory he had thought during the last few days: the masked thief kept robbing whoever passed through the forest and Guy was almost sure that she was following a sort of pattern, as if she knew the parts of the forest were there weren’t any guards watching the roads.
And then, when she acted, there was always an abandoned building in the surroundings: an old barn, some ruins, an empty hut… Probably she used them to hide or to disguise herself before attacking
In the previous days, Guy had explored the forest, searching for all those places and trying to memorize their location.
He also kept an eye on the guards, learning the routes of their patrol.
Now he was almost certain he could predict where the next attack of the thief would take place.
He knew that he should have warned the guards, or at least Robin, but he wanted to prove that he could do something good on his own.
Guy reached the old abandoned tomb he found a few days earlier, an empty mound hidden by the trees and he decided that he would wait inside until the thief arrived.
He entered the dark room, shuddering a little and he crossed himself. The tomb was empty, but he had the sensation that the spirit of the dead was still lingering around.
He chided himself for being superstitious and he forced himself to think that that place was just the hiding place of a criminal and there were no ghosts.
He crouched in a dark corner and waited.
After a long while, he was beginning to think that no one would come. He was tired, hungry and he was beginning to feel drowsy. He yawned and he was about to give up and go away, when he heard a light rustling near the entrance.
He tensed, ready to pounce on the thief and waited for her to enter the tomb.
She didn’t come and Guy frowned, wondering if she had guessed his presence. He silently moved, trying to get nearer to the entrance, when, all of a sudden, something flew through the entrance and landed near his feet. A loud buzz filled the tomb and Guy realized with horror that the masked thief had thrown a hive at him!
He tried to keep still, but the bees, frenzied, began to sting.
Luckily the costume could protect most of his body, but he knew that he couldn’t stay in the tomb for very much longer.
Guy ran out, but as soon as he was out of the door, something knocked him on his head and he fell to the ground, unconscious.
When he woke up, he was sitting on the ground, tied to a tree. His head was aching and he felt a throbbing pain where the bees could find his skin, but what really worried him was the masked figure standing in front of him.
He had been defeated again by that woman!
Guy angrily thought that he didn’t want to have anything to do with women again, but he gasped when he suddenly realized that his wish was likely going to come true: he was her prisoner and she would probably kill him.
He tried to tug at the ropes, but he found out that he couldn’t move at all.
The woman approached and she unsheathed a dagger.
Guy thought that it was the end, but the woman sat on her heels to look at him. Her face was hidden by a mask and her hair was wrapped in a cloth, so that none of it showed. Guy could only see her eyes, almost glittering in the red light of sunset.
She put her blade to his neck and Gisborne closed his eyes, frightened.
Forgive me, Seth, I really wanted to be a real father for you. I wish we had more time...
The dagger didn’t touch his skin, but it cut open the laces of his jacket, then, with another swift movement, it ripped the cloth of his shirt.
She’s going to pierce my heart!
The thief put an ungloved hand on his chest and Guy reopened his eyes with a start.
What was she doing?
She brushed her fingers on his skin and Guy stood still, staring at her. He could feel his skin burning where she touched it.
Then, abruptly, her hands went to his face and Guy thought that she was going to unmask him, but she only pulled his scarf away, revealing the lower half of his face.
She put a finger on his lip, as if she wanted to shush him, and she traced the outline of his mouth, slowly, barely touching him. Her other hand lowered her own scarf, showing her lips, full, and curled in a wicked smile.
The woman abruptly sat on his lap and Guy’s yelp of surprise was smothered by her lips, suddenly pressed on his mouth.
She kissed him fiercely and Guy could feel her hands on him, touching his face, his chest… and lower.
Guy had never felt more helpless: she could do everything she wanted with him.
He was at her mercy. If she chose to sink her dagger in his heart, he would die. If she wanted to inflict pain to him, he could do nothing but enduring it.
She was kissing him.
It was terrifying… And yet, strangely exciting.
Guy could do nothing, so he chose to surrender, not quite unwillingly, if he wanted to be honest.
He parted his lips and kissed her back.
Chapter 11: Say You're Sorry
Guy woke up slowly, aching all over. He was lying on his side and when he tried to get up he found out that his hands and his legs were tied together.
At least I’m not tied to that tree anymore.
He moved his head to look around and he noticed a dagger planted into the ground, near the remains of his shirt. He blushed, remembering what happened after the masked woman cut his clothes open, but he also felt like laughing.
He failed in capturing the thief and ended up as her prisoner, but he was still alive, rather unharmed, and the night had been quite pleasant, after all.
He crawled towards the dagger and he used it to cut the ropes that tied him, wincing when he scratched his skin. At last his hands were free and Guy put his mouth on the little cuts on his wrists to stop them from bleeding.
His lips were swollen and they ached a little where the masked woman had bit him. Her kisses hadn’t been gentle at all, but Guy had never felt so overwhelmed while kissing a woman. She bit him, but he remembered clearly that he sank his teeth in her lower lip too, the droplets of blood trickling on her chin, her ragged breath muffled against his mouth.
Gisborne couldn’t believe that he spent the most sensual and passionate night of his life with a woman he didn’t even know. In the past, when he took a woman to his bed, he always searched in her something more than just the pleasures of the flesh. Annie used to listen to him, to give him comfort, warmth and the chance to vent when working for the sheriff became too hard, while Marian embodied all the virtues he admired in a woman and he had hoped to have her as a lover, a confident, and a friend. It was never just lust and, even in his youth, he liked the women who wanted to know him, the ones who could see who he really was.
And now he made love with a complete stranger for the best part of the night...
Guy used the dagger to free his ankles and for a while he just sat on the grass to catch his breath. He felt weary and his whole body was aching, but he also felt more relaxed that he had been in a very long time.
He touched his face and he burst out in a laugh: his clothes were scattered on the ground, but he still had his mask on.
So he didn’t know who the mysterious woman was, but she didn’t see his face either.
He slowly picked up his clothes and he dressed, leaving the ripped shirt on the ground, as it was ruined beyond hope of repairing. The laces of his jacket were ruined too, so he just left it open on his naked chest.
Guy thought that he had to go back to the hollow tree were he had hidden his everyday clothes and switch the Nightwatchman’s costume with them, but then he found out that Allan’s bay horse was missing.
Gisborne cursed under his breath: that woman stole one of his horses again!
Without a horse, walking to the hollow tree would take him a lot of time and he was already exhausted, while his manor was nearer, so he just decided to remove his mask and his cloak and to hide them in the undergrowth. His other clothes were plain enough, so even if someone should see him, they wouldn’t be able to recognize him as the Nightwatchman.
With a little sigh, he began walking back home.
Allan dropped on a chair, tired and nervous. He took a piece of meat and chewed it absent-mindedly, trying to think were he could go next to search for Guy.
He didn’t come back to Gisborne Manor or to Locksley and Robin said that he had seen him in the afternoon when they had an archery contest. After that, Guy simply vanished.
It wasn’t the first time that he went away from home to wander alone in the forest, but his absence was beginning to be too long. Usually he came back for the night, after being away for the whole day.
Another thing that worried Allan was that Guy had taken the bay horse. That meant that he planned to wear the Nightwatchman’s costume and Allan was afraid that in his upset mood Guy could take more risks than it would have been wise.
He waited for him all night and at the first light he went to Locksley to see if he was there. Allan was tired and hungry and he decided to go back to Gisborne Manor, eat a quick meal and then go out in the forest to search for Guy.
He glanced out of the window and he spotted a lonely figure, walking wearily towards the house.
Allan jumped to his feet and he ran to the door, staring at Gisborne.
“Where have you been? And what happened to you?!” he blurted, looking at him in disbelief. “Are you hurt? And where is your horse?”
“Too many questions, Allan. Choose one of them,” Guy said wearily, smirking.
Allan looked at him, dumbfounded: Gisborne looked like he had been through hell and back. His clothes were in disarray, and it looked like he had lost his shirt somehow, so that his leather jacket was open, revealing the bare skin of his chest. That pale skin was scratched and bruised and Allan was sure he recognized bite marks: dark purple blotches marring the tender skin of Guy’s neck.
Gisborne used to tie his hair when he wore the Nightwatchman’s costume, but now his dark curls were loose and ruffled, damp with sweat and the morning dew of the forest.
He didn’t seem to be seriously wounded, Allan thought with relief, but he looked like he had been beaten or like he had to fight for his life. Amazingly, he wasn’t in a grim mood at all.
Allan hadn’t seen him smiling since the day of the flogging, but now he could see a strange amused and excited gleam in his eyes. In the eight years they spent together, Allan had never seen that look in Guy’s eyes and it worried him.
Has he really gone mad, at last?
“Are you well, Giz?” He asked, nervously, following Guy into the manor.
“Tired. And hungry,” Guy said, noticing Allan’s breakfast on the table. He sat and began wolfing down that meal.
“Hey! That was my food!”
“You always help yourself to my food. You can’t complain.”
“At least you could tell me what happened to you! I’ve been worried sick!”
Guy looked up from his meal to look at him, surprised.
“You aren’t going to answer, are you, Giz?”
“Maybe later.” Guy stood up, his hunger sated, and he stretched his back. “Now I really need to sleep, please don’t wake me up.”
He headed for the stairs. Before going upstairs, Guy turned to look at Allan.
“Oh, I think I lost your horse, sorry. If I can’t get it back in the next few days, I’ll buy you another.”
Gisborne went to his room and Allan just stood there, shaking his head in disbelief.
“How can you lose a horse?”
He supposed that all his question wouldn’t get an answer soon, if ever.
Allan waited for a while, then he went upstairs to check if Guy was well. He pried the door open and he glanced in the room: Gisborne was on the bed, still dressed, and he was hugging his pillow, peacefully asleep.
Allan went back to the hall and he poured himself a cup of wine. He had a lot of questions and no answers, but he was relieved to know that Guy was home and that he was well enough.
“Well, I suppose that I’ll better go to Locksley and tell Robin and Marian that he’s back,” he said to himself, giving a dejected look at the meager remains of his meal, “maybe I’ll get there in time for breakfast.”
When Guy woke up, the sky out of the window was getting red as the sun was going down the horizon. Gisborne remembered how that same red light had shimmered on the blade of the dagger when the masked thief used it to cut his shirt.
He could still feel her touch on his skin and that memory made his heart to beat faster.
Guy was still shocked if he thought of the past night, but not in an unpleasant way.
He blushed, ashamed for those feelings. He had always scorned Allan’s suggestion to have fun with the tavern’s girls and now he couldn’t take his mind off the crazy night he had spent with that mysterious thief.
If Allan knew what he did, he would tease him for ages, Guy was sure of that. Strangely, he didn’t care much.
It was weird, he should have been enraged to think that that woman had been able to defeat him another time and that she took advantage of him, but actually he enjoyed himself more than he liked to admit.
He sat on the bed and he undressed, dropping his clothes on the floor, then he walked to the basin to wash. Later he would ask for a hot bath, but now he wanted to hurry because he was hungry again.
He looked at his own body as he cleaned himself with a wet towel and he wasn’t surprised to see the marks she had left on him in their wildest moments.
Guy took a jar with the salve that the healer gave him for the lash wounds on his back and he applied some of it on the scratches left by her nails and on the bee stings. Guy followed one of the scratches with his finger and he found himself grinning like a fool.
This time you won, my lady, but I’ll capture you.
“Oh. You are alive, then,” Allan said, dryly, when Guy reached him downstairs.
Guy gave him a sheepish grin.
“So it seems.”
“Well, do you plan to disappear again anytime soon? So that I know if I have to spend another sleepless night searching for your dead body.”
“Are you going to tell me where have you been?”
Guy didn’t answer and Allan stood up and walked to the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Why should I tell you? It’s clear that you don’t care for your friends, so you don’t deserve to know.”
Guy ran after him, reaching him when he had almost arrived near the stables.
Allan turned to look at him, crossing his arms in front of him.
“I’ve been with Robin in the afternoon...” Guy said.
“I already know that.”
“And then I tried to capture the masked thief.”
“Alone? You’re a fool.”
Guy nodded, with a little smirk.
“Did you have any doubts?”
“Not the slightest.” Allan looked at him. “And judging from your appearance, I can only guess that you found him.”
“And he beat you senseless again...”
“Something like that.”
Guy blushed and Allan thought that he had to be embarrassed for being defeated again. He just couldn’t explain his oddly cheerful mood: from what he knew, Gisborne was not one who took failures well.
“So that’s how you lost my horse.”
Allan grew very serious.
“I’m taking you to see a healer.”
“Why? I’m not unwell, just a little sore.”
“That was an apology. You must be about to die. That thief knocked your head really hard, didn’t he? The Guy of Gisborne I know is unable to say sorry.”
“I can, if I wronged a friend.”
“Say it again, then.”
“Tell me, how did he defeat you this time?”
Guy looked at him, trying to keep serious.
“The masked thief threw a hive at me.”
“A hive. Full of very angry bees.”
“Do you know, Giz? You are a utter fool, but this time I’m glad that I weren’t with you.”
Guy nodded with a laugh.
“Yes, it’s better that you weren’t there. Can we go inside, now? I’m hungry.”
“Maybe. Say it again.”
“That you’re sorry.”
Guy looked at him.
“Come on, Allan...”
“Do you want to be fed? Say it.”
“You’re having fun, aren’t you?”
Allan grinned widely and he gave him a friendly pat on his shoulder.
“You can bet, mate.”
Chapter 12: The Birthday Party
Marian smiled. It was a sunny day and the children were happily playing near the pond, throwing stones in the water, while Robin was supervising the preparation of the tables and the decorations for Katerine’s birthday party. The former members of Robin’s gang came early in the morning to help and to spend some time with Robin and the children.
They took their families with them so there were many children running around. Djaq and Will had three kids: a couple of twin boys who were the same age of Katerine, a three year’s old little girl, and now Djaq was pregnant again. Much came with his wife Eve and he was the proud father of two little girls, aged five and three.
Little John never forgot his wife and his son and he lived alone, but he often helped the children of Kirklees orphanage, who were almost a family to him. Today he took them to Locksley with a wagon, so they could have fun with the other kids and eat at the banquet.
Marian had little Mary in her arms, but she put her down on a blanket on the grass and she gave her a red and shiny apple to keep her entertained for a while. The baby was too little to walk and she was just beginning to crawl, but she loved bright colored things and she tried to chew at them with her toothless gums. Annie sat on the blanket to watch Mary so Marian could reach the other children and overlook their games to avoid that they could get in trouble.
Guy noticed that Allan stopped his horse and he turned to look at him.
“What’s up? We are almost there.”
Allan shook his head.
“I’m not coming.”
He tried to turn his horse to go back to Gisborne Manor, but Guy grabbed his reins to stop him.
“Don’t be an idiot.”
“Are you afraid that they’re still going to blame you for betraying them?”
“You know they will.”
“Robin accepted you. He accepted both of us.”
“The others are not Robin. They won’t forget what I did.”
“Maybe they’ll forgive you,” Guy said, softly, “and besides, we promised Katerine that we would go.”
“I don’t know, Giz…”
Guy gave him a resigned grin.
“Don’t worry, they’ll be too busy hating me to be mad at you.”
Allan gave him an angry look.
“You can’t understand! They were my friends, once, and I betrayed them! What can you know about friendship?! You don’t have any!” Allan snapped at him, but he regretted it when he saw Guy’s hurt expression. He sighed. “I’m sorry, Giz. I didn’t mean that. We are friends, don’t doubt it, but...”
“We wouldn’t be if I didn’t force you to work for me many years ago… You’re right, I’m not good with people. I’ve never been.”
Alan smiled at him.
“Well, you’re improving, aren’t you? Robin wanted to kick you out of Locksley just a few months ago and now he doesn’t mind spending time with you. The kids love you and Marian is a good friend for both of us. What I meant is that you have never been part of Robin’s gang, you don’t know how it was. We were almost a family and I destroyed everything...”
“Because of me...”
“Because I was a greedy idiot. I should thank you for torturing me, Giz.”
Guy looked at him, in shock.
“Because you gave me a good excuse to silence my conscience. I could say that I betrayed them because it was my only choice, that you forced me to do it. The truth is that probably you wouldn’t have needed to torture me, just to offer me more money.”
Guy nodded and they both looked in the direction of Locksley.
“Well, shall we go, now?” Guy said, with a little sigh.
“I guess that we can’t disappoint the children. If the others will hate us, at least we can cheer up with the banquet.”
Much reached out for a little cake and Djaq slapped his hand.
“What are you doing? It’s not time to eat, yet.”
He gave her a hurt look.
“That’s easy for you to say. I’m hungry.”
Djaq gave a disgusted look at the banquet and she sighed. She was still suffering from morning sickness and the scent of some foods nauseated her.
“It’s better to move away from this table, then. So you won’t be tempted and I won’t be sick.”
They went to reach Will and Eve, who were talking with Marian and Little John and watching the children at the same time. Robin was nowhere to be seen, but Much knew that he was going to make a special surprise for his daughter and probably he was getting his gift ready in time for the celebration.
Much spotted two horses coming towards Locksley, following the road, and he tried to understand who could it be. Robin’s friends were already there and the peasants of Locksley didn’t own fine horses, so maybe they were nobles from adjoining lands, invited for the sake of keeping good relationships with the neighbors. He widened his eyes when he recognized them.
“It’s unbelievable!” he said, outraged “It’s Gisborne!”
“There’s Allan too,” said Djaq, a trace of a smile in her voice.
Little John grumbled, looking at them.
“Those, I do not like.”
“How could they dare to come here as if they were friends?! I can’t believe that they have the courage to show up at a innocent child’s party! It’s… it’s a shame!”
Will said nothing, but he shot an hostile glance at Guy and Allan, who were still too far to ear their words.
Marian shook her head.
“They are friends. Guy saved our children twice and Allan is always helpful. Katerine asked them to come and she would be very sad if they didn’t. They are welcome at Locksley. And look at him.” She pointed to a child who was sitting near the pond, quiet and pensive, watching the other kids play. He had dark curls, blue eyes and his right arm was bandaged and in a sling. He had a little frown on his face, as if he was worried. When he saw Guy, his expression brightened and he jumped to his feet, smiling.
“Father!” he cried, as he ran to meet Gisborne.
Much stared at him.
“Is he the little one we found in the forest?!”
“Yes. Annie and Seth live here, now. Didn’t Robin tell you?”
“But… but… Gisborne abandoned him!” Much said, miffed because Robin never told him about Seth.
“That was many years ago. Guy’s changed and he’s trying to be a good father for him.”
Guy dismounted when he saw Seth running towards him and he caught him in his arms, lifting him to kiss him on the cheek.
“I’m not a little kid anymore, father!” Seth protested, laughing.
“I didn’t get to hold you when you were little, so we are allowed to make up for it now, don’t you think?”
The child nodded happily. Maybe he was a little too old to hug and kiss his parents, but he never had a father all his life and he was overjoyed to see that Guy loved him.
Seth gave an annoyed look at Katerine, but he didn’t complain when she hugged Guy too. After all, it was her birthday.
“Hello, Katerine. I wish you an happy birthday.”
“Maybe we should call her Lady Katerine, now,” Allan said and the little girl laughed.
“I’m so happy you came! But you’re late! Are you hungry? There will be a banquet with a lot of delicious treats! Hannah made honey cakes and an apple pie too! Do you like them?”
“Don’t be silly, Kat,” Seth said, rolling his eyes, “everyone likes cakes.”
“Actually, we once met a person who hated them. He despised all sweet foods and he only ate meat completely raw,” Allan said and the two children looked at him, horrified.
“That’s disgusting!” Katerine wrinkled her nose.
“Now you’re lying, Allan!”
“It’s true,” Guy said, “and he was a very dangerous man, he almost killed us, once.”
“Uncle Guy, tell us about him, please!”
“Yes, father, we want to know!”
“Maybe later. I think your friends are waiting for you, now. We should better reach them.”
“It’s an interesting story,” Allan said “a little scary, maybe. But remember, never trust someone who doesn’t like honey.”
Seth and Katerine laughed and they grabbed a hand of Guy each, then they walked towards the others, with Allan following just a few steps behind.
Guy took a sip of wine and he glanced at Allan, stifling an amused grin. His friend had been worried for nothing because, after a while, the members of Robin’s gang seemed to accept him and now Allan was laughing and talking with them almost as if he was still part of the gang and the time hadn’t passed.
They weren’t nearly as friendly with Guy, but he could understand them. It was already good that they politely ignored him and he was contented to be seated near Seth, at the end of the table.
“Father, you’re quiet.”
Gisborne looked at his son: Seth seemed to be a little concerned for him.
“I was enjoying the banquet. It’s good.”
The child glanced around.
“Allan is eating a lot, too, but he’s also having a lot of fun with his friends. You’re here, all alone.”
“I’m not alone, I’m with you.”
Seth gave him a skeptical look.
“Why don’t you talk with your friends?”
Guy didn’t know what to say. Saying that he didn’t have any friends apart from Allan and Marian sounded too pathetic, but it was the truth. Luckily he didn’t have to answer because Robin called him.
“Gisborne? I think it’s time.”
Guy stood up and everyone looked at him, wondering why Robin had talked to him.
“Time for what, uncle Guy?” Katerine asked, expressing the question that everyone was thinking.
“For your gift, my lady. Your father asked my help to choose it. I hope you will like it.”
The little girl giggled, excited.
“What is it?! What is it?!”
Robin and Marian exchanged a happy look, while Guy walked away from the table.
“If we told you it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore, don’t you think?” Marian said, smiling.
Robin held a hand to his daughter.
“Come with me.” He said, leading her in front of the house, in the middle of the meadow where the servants of the house usually used to hang out the laundry.
Marian tied a scarf on her eyes and Katerine stood there, eagerly waiting, surrounded by the other guests. Then, after a while, she heard Guy’s voice again, very near to her ear.
“Give me your hand.” Gisborne said, taking it, and, after a moment, he placed her little hand on her gift. She felt the soft hair of a mane between her finger and she was startled when the gift moved with a neigh.
She took the scarf away from her eyes and she gave a muffled cry, staring at the pony in front of her.
“It’s a horse!” she cried, delighted and Robin and Marian looked at her with happy smiles on their faces.
“It’s your own horse and I will teach you how to ride him safely,” Robin said and the little girl blushed, remembering the day when Guy had to save her.
“And, as soon as his arm is healed, I’ll teach Seth,” Guy said, leading another pony for his son.
Katerine looked at him, a little surprised.
“Is he getting a horse too? It’s not his birthday!”
“True,” Guy said “but I have to make up for all the birthdays I missed.”
Allan yawned: he ate too much and drank way too much. He felt sleepy, but he was feeling happy and relieved. He didn’t expect to be forgiven by his friends and he couldn’t believe that they did.
He had the impression that he was part of a family again and he vowed to himself that he would never betray their trust again.
He gave a guilty look at Guy, feeling like he was betraying their friendship. For years they only had each other, but now Allan was finding his own place in Nottingham between his old friends, while Gisborne’s attempts to start a family failed. Luckily, Guy didn’t look sad or lonely, but he had a contented expression on his face and he smiled at Allan when he noticed that he was looking at him.
“How do you like your new horse?” Guy asked “Did I choose well?”
“He’s good. You have a good eye for horses, that’s why Robin asked for your help.”
“Do you really think so? I guess that it was Marian who forced him to ask.”
“She’s worried for me. Probably she thinks I was going to become insane after what happened at the castle.”
“You can’t blame her for that, can you? You acted like a madman, disappearing in the forest with that haunted look in your eyes. I was worried too.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I won’t do anything stupid, I promise.”
“Good to hear that.”
“Let’s switch our horses now.”
Allan stared at him.
“You just said you wouldn’t do anything stupid and now you want to go and get yourself beaten again.”
“You trust me so much.”
“You didn’t give me many reasons to do so, lately, don’t you think?”
“No, listen to me, now. I know you, we spent many years together and we survived even when we thought we were doomed, but this is not the Guy of Gisborne I know. Giz, if I knew that coming back to Nottingham would change you like that, I’d never have agreed.”
Guy stopped his horse to look at Allan.
“I didn’t change.”
“Oh, you did, believe me. You spent weeks in utter misery because of the prank of a group of stupid ladies!”
“Seth could have died!”
“Well, he didn’t, did he?! So stop sniveling about it!” Allan yelled, upset, and Guy stared at him.
“Do you think it’s wrong to worry for my son?”
“I’m not saying that it’s wrong, but look how you reacted: when you had to give up Marian you were hurt, but you tried to find a reason to go on, you never gave up even if you were heartbroken. But now? Seth will be fine and you were not seriously hurt, but you seemed to be lost, addled by your own misery. And the last time you went out as the Nightwatchman you came home half dead, acting like a fool. Are you trying to get killed? Is that what you are doing when you disappear in the forest?!”
“Allan, you’re drunk.”
“Maybe, but you are an idiot.”
Gisborne looked at him, speechless and Allan was afraid that he went too far, then Guy chuckled.
“Maybe you’re right, my friend.”
Allan relaxed and grinned at him.
“Giz, are you drunk too?”
“No, I am not. And I’m not trying to get killed, I promise. Can I have your horse, now?”
Allan dismounted and handed him the reins.
“I hope you know what are you doing, Giz.”
“You know I do. Be careful and don’t get hurt. I’m too drunk to take care of your wounds.”
Guy laughed and he mounted on the bay horse.
“Don’t worry, I just need some action. I’ll be back sooner than you think.”
Allan rubbed his temples with a pained look.
“Don’t wake me up.”
Guy grinned while he rode away. He didn’t lie to Allan, but his friend couldn’t imagine what kind of action he hoped to find.
He had a few ideas of where he could find the masked thief and he was determined to retaliate.
My lady, this time I’ll be the one who is going to capture you.
Chapter 13: I Don't Care Who You Are
Guy tied the horse to a tree, in a secluded glade, and he continued by foot until he reached the Great North Road.
Earlier, at the party, he had heard Robin talking to his friends about a guest of the sheriff who was expected to arrive at the castle before dark. Robin had been worried because the man was a rich nobleman who was traveling with just a few servants and no guards and he could be a perfect target for the outlaws who lived in the forest.
Guy thought that probably the masked thief was going to rob him and that would be the perfect chance for the Nightwatchman to capture her.
He chose a tree with a thick foliage and he threw a rope over one of the higher branches to climb it. Once he was hidden between the leaves, Guy sat on a branch and waited, watching the road below.
The forest was silent and he could hear only a gentle wind, rustling the leaves of the trees, and the chirping of birds. Guy began to wonder if the masked thief would come, maybe he had been wrong.
It didn’t matter much, after all: he was sated with the good food he ate at Katerine’s party, he wasn’t tired at all and it was pleasant to sit up there where the air was fresh and scented.
If the mysterious woman wouldn’t show up, he’d just go back home as soon as he grew tired.
Guy smiled. Allan had been really worried for him and he felt grateful and a little guilty. Maybe he would never have a real family, but at least he had good friends like Allan.
He was remembering the years they spent traveling together, when he heard the neigh of horses and the sound of an approaching wagon.
Gisborne looked at the road, suddenly alert, and he understood that the horses were galloping, at a pace normally too fast for a wagon. When he could see the vehicle, he noticed that the masked thief was holding the reins of the wagon and that she was whipping the horses to make them run faster.
In the distance Guy could hear angry shouts and the gallop of some other horses and he understood that she had stolen the wagon and its right owners were pursuing her.
He wondered if he should try to capture her, but he decided against it. If the pursuers arrived, they could think he was her accomplice and try to get him too. It was too dangerous and he would better stay on the tree and just watch.
He had just took this decision, when a wheel of the wagon hit a hole in the road and the axle broke. At that speed, the wagon tilted and crashed on a side, hauling the horses with it. The poor animals shrieked and neighed, panicked, kicking the air with their legs. The masked thief was lying on the ground and Guy wondered if she was dead, but then he saw her standing. The woman looked behind her, as if she was trying to understand how much time she had before her pursuers would catch her, then she looked at the horses.
She took a dagger and then she went near the animals to cut at their harnesses, trying to avoid their hooves.
Guy thought that she had to be crazy: she was about to get caught, but instead of running away she was losing time to free the horses before they got hurt.
A moment later he dropped down from the tree and he was at her side, helping her to cut the harnesses.
The masked thief gave him a startled look, but as soon as she understood that he was freeing the horses too, she went back to her work and soon the animals were free.
The horses, miraculously uninjured, got to their feet and darted, running away, while the Nightwatchman and the masked woman turned to look at the road behind their backs: now the pursuers were really close and they had no chances to run away unnoticed.
Guy looked at the the rope dangling from the tree where he had been hiding, he grabbed the masked thief’s wrist and dragged her to the tree, helping her to climb it. He went up with her as well and he withdrew the rope, so it couldn’t be spotted from below, then he pressed her against the trunk of the tree with his body so she couldn’t move. Guy took a finger to his lips to sign her to be silent and he hoped that the pursuers couldn’t see them.
They were already there on their horses and they were in a bigger number that he had thought. Guy heard Robin say that the nobleman was traveling only with a few servants, but he could see at least ten horses. When the riders dismounted to check the upturned wagon, Guy could see that Robin and the former outlaws were between them, probably to escort the nobleman safely to the castle.
He cursed mentally, knowing that it would be very difficult to run away from Robin, then he wondered why he should do it. The masked thief was there, squeezed tightly between his body and the trunk of the tree and she couldn’t escape: he had captured her!
She was a thief and he should hand her to the guards, he knew that it was the right thing to do, so people would know that the Nightwatchman was not an outlaw, but for some unknown reason he found that he couldn’t.
Even if she humiliated him more than once, and stole his horses, he realized that he didn’t want her to be flogged or hanged, even if that meant helping a thief to run away.
The owner of the wagon looked at it in despair: the axle was broken and the chests with his belongings were scattered all around, while the horses were missing. He cursed and sent his servants to search for the horses, then he looked at Robin.
“We must find the thief!”
“Well, he can’t be far. Unless he rode one of the horses, he must still be around.”
Much pointed at the hoofprints on the muddy ground.
“Look, Robin, these are fresh.”
Robin examined them and nodded.
“If he rode one of the horses, these would be more marked. The thief must be still around.”
He looked at the ground near the wagon and nodded.
“I can see footsteps here. At least two persons, one heavier than the other.”
“But the robber was alone!”
“He must have had an accomplice waiting for him, then. Look, the footsteps disappear in the undergrowth, but the bushes are intact.”
“And so? What does it mean?”
“They must have climbed one of the trees. It means that they are still around.”
Guy held his breath in hearing Robin’s words. He knew they were in trouble and that it wouldn’t be easy to run away undetected.
He glanced at the masked woman in his arms: he couldn’t discern her features under the mask, but he could feel her body, full and soft, pressed against his own and he could smell the sweet scent of her skin. Her hair was hidden under the hood of her cloak, but he wouldn’t have been able to recognize its color in the dying light of dusk.
That contact was...distracting.
He moved a little to balance on the branch he was standing on, and she kept grabbing his jacket, her breath fast and ragged.
She was worried and she winced when Guy touched her left arm.
Gisborne looked at her.
“Are you hurt?” He whispered, his voice so low that she barely could hear it.
She was startled in hearing him speak.
“Let me go.” She answered, in another whisper.
“What? You don’t like it when you’re the one who can’t move? You seemed to enjoy the other way around, last time.”
He used a finger to push down her scarf and he touched her lips.
“Are you insane?! Do you think it’s the right moment for this?!”
Guy bent his head a little and he put his mouth on hers, kissing her, then he smiled.
“If they catch us, it could be the last time I have the chance to kiss a woman. What better moment there could be?”
The woman glared at him.
“We have to do something!”
“I could give you to them,” Guy stated and he felt her body tensing “but maybe you’re right and I’m insane. I won’t do it. Answer me, now: are you hurt?”
“Why do you care?”
“I need to know what you are able to do, so I can find a plan to run away. If your leg is hurt, it would be useless to try running and we’d have to find another way.”
The woman nodded.
“My arm is sore, but I can use it. If it’s needed, I can run.”
Guy glanced down: Robin was examining the ground, trying to find the tree where they were hidden.
“Don’t move,” Guy whispered and he took the bow. Now the masked thief was free to go, if she had wanted to, but it would have been unwise trying to run without a plan.
“Can you hit him? If you do, the others won’t notice us when we run.”
Guy shook his head.
“I’m not going to hit anyone.”
“What are you doing with that, then?” she asked, in an angry whisper, pointing at the bow.
“Wait and see.”
Gisborne tied the rope to an arrow and he give it to the woman, then he shot it a few other arrows, each in a different direction, hitting the trunks of the trees around them. He shot the arrow with the rope too, between the others. Robin and the others looked around, hearing the thuds of the arrows hitting the trees, all around them.
Guy took away the string from the bow and he passed it over the rope, grabbing it with both his hands.
“Hold me tightly,” he said in a whisper “and don’t let me go, we are going to slide down to that tree. As soon as we touch the ground, be ready to run and follow me. Are you ready?”
The woman nodded and she hugged him with all her strength.
“Pray that the rope doesn’t break,” Guy said, then they jumped.
They slid down the rope, landing at the back of Robin and the others. The rope didn’t break and the arrow didn’t tear away from the tree until they were almost to the ground. It snapped at last, but they fell on their feet and Guy began running towards the horses, dragging the masked thief with him.
He mounted with a jump on Robin’s one and he hauled the woman behind him, then he spurred the horse, sending him into a headlong gallop.
Robin turned with a curse, and ran to take another mount to follow the thieves.
He was confused: the nobleman told him that the thief who robbed him was alone, and now there were two masked men.
Guy lead the horse between the trees, choosing the paths traced by the deers and going deep in the forest, in places that were rarely visited by men. Allan was worried for the days he had spent wandering in the forest, but now the places and paths he had discovered during his endless rides between the trees were useful to him. Guy suspected that not even Robin knew really well that part of the forest, those places were so wild and far from the roads that nobody in his right mind could have a good reason to explore them.
When the undergrowth got thicker, Guy and the masked thief dismounted, and Gisborne slapped the side of Robin’s horse to send him running along the deer path. He, instead, took the woman’s wrist and he lead her through the bushes, being careful to part them without breaking any twigs or branches. The ground was hard and dry, so they didn’t leave traces and Guy was moving, trying to be as silent as he could. The woman followed him without speaking and she didn’t try to run away.
The forest now was very dark and the moonlight couldn’t filter through the foliage, so Guy wasn’t really sure he took the right direction and he was afraid he could take a wrong turn and find himself face to face with Robin.
When the trees began to thin and he walked in a moonlit glade, he sighed with relief: that was the place he was trying to reach, a hidden glade that nobody else knew. He had found it out during one of his wanderings and he liked the peaceful silence of it. A little brook formed a pool and there was a small cave hidden in the rock cliff.
“They won’t find us here,” he said, in a low whisper.
The woman looked at him.
“Why did you help me to flee?”
Guy grinned, making a step towards her, without releasing her wrist. He was taller than her and she had to look up at him.
“Because you are my prey, lass.”
She looked at him, in spite.
“So you just want to rape me.”
“I don’t want to be funny, girl, but you had not so many scruples in doing that to me,” Guy said, trying to imitate Allan’s way of talking. Speaking to her was risky enough because she could recognize his voice, even if he was careful to keep it low as a whisper, and he didn’t want her to understand that he was a noble.
The woman grabbed her dagger with her free hand and she pointed it at Guy.
“Touch me and you’re dead.”
“That’s not fair, is it? You tied me. You let me think you were going to kill me.”
“You are a man. Men are dangerous. I despise them all.”
“Well, not every side of them, do you? It seems to me that you enjoyed it.”
“Let me go!” She tried to free her hand, but Gisborne didn’t release her wrist even if she was scratching his neck with the point of the dagger.
He made another step, pressing his body against her and she looked at her, searching her eyes. They were so near that he could feel her breath on his face.
“Tell me that you didn’t like it and I will. You just have to say that you don’t want this and I’ll set you free.”
The woman stood still for a moment.
“Don’t touch me.”
Guy let her hand go and he stepped back.
“See? You’re free. I don’t need to force myself on lasses. I can have plenty if I want.”
The masked thief waved her dagger.
“I can have honorable intentions, but I’m not an idiot, my lady. I won’t give you my back until you drop that knife.”
“Very well. Stay there, then. Don’t move.”
The dagger fell to the ground as the woman leaped forward, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him fiercely.
“Then, this,” she said, panting a little.
Guy smiled smugly.
“You lied. You want me as much as I want you.”
“I’m an outlaw, what did you expect?”
“I am an outlaw as well, but my words were true. I won’t force myself on a woman, so if you want me, ask.”
She looked at him, aghast.
Guy lowered his mouth to kiss the line of her jaw.
“Say that you want me. I know you’re stirred by me, but I want to hear you saying it.”
For a moment she was tempted to kick him in the shins and to tell him to go to hell, but he was so close, his body so warm and strong...
He was right, she desired him.
“Let’s make this clear, I’m the prey of no man. I do want you, but it’s my free choice. If you try to take my mask away, I’ll kill you.”
“Sounds fair to me, if you don’t try to take away my mask.”
“Fine. I don’t care who you are. Now undress.”
“I don’t care either. You first.”
The woman didn’t answer, but she kissed him again and Guy grabbed her, pulling her body close to his and searching for the laces and the clasps of her clothes while she did the same.
It was dangerous to trust her so much, she could decide to retrieve the dagger and stab him in any moment. If Allan could see him, he’d call him a lunatic and he would be right, but Guy couldn’t stop.
He wanted to make love with that woman.
He needed to feel so wildly desired.
He grabbed the thin fabric of her undershirt and he tore it away, his heart pounding hard, while she scratched his back with her nails. They were on the ground now, they didn’t know how or when that happened, and she was pinned beneath his body, her eyes half closed and her legs around his waist.
“I want you,” she said, her voice low and hoarse with pleasure “Take me.”
Guy was kissing her passionately and he smiled in hearing her words, his lips still on hers.
“As you wish, my lady.”
Allan woke up to a throbbing head and he vowed that he would never drink too much again...until next time.
He got up to wash his face in the basin and he sighed. It was still dawn, but he knew that he couldn’t sleep any longer.
Allan decided to check if Guy was fine and he worried when he realized that his room was empty.
He hurried downstairs to check if his horse was in the stables, just in time to see the door opening and Guy stepping inside quietly.
He looked tired and disheveled as if he had a fight, but he smiled at Allan.
“Giz! Where have you been?!”
“I’m sorry, I’m late.”
“You’re late, but you aren’t sorry at all, I see it in your eyes.”
Guy smiled apologetically and Allan gave a resigned sigh.
“Well, it seems that you had fun, at least. Did you find the masked thief?”
“What’s up, Giz? Now that you can’t fight Robin anymore, you need somebody else to challenge?”
“Yep, something like that. Don’t worry, I’m still in one piece.”
“Good for you, I feel too wretched to take care of your wounds, if you had any.”
Gisborne looked at him, with a fond smile.
“For once, let me be the one who takes care of you. I still remember the herbs that my mother used to ease headaches and to settle the stomach. I can make it for you, she taught me how to prepare it when I was a boy. She laughed and she said that someday I’d be thankful for that knowledge.”
Allan stared at him, then he nodded weakly.
Gisborne disappeared in the kitchen and Allan sat down heavily. Guy was acting strangely, but at least he wasn’t grim or depressed, and Allan hoped that it was a good thing.