Guy gave a gentle nudge to his horse, and he took the path that lead up the hill. From there, he could see Locksley.
The villagers were busy working in the field, while the women were at the pond, and they were washing their laundry, laughing and chatting.
The crop was almost ready for harvest, and it was unusually rich. Guy smiled: even after paying the taxes to the sheriff, the village would thrive, and people would pass the winter without starving.
Guy felt oddly satisfied: he had always thought that he wanted power, but now he found out that the peaceful life he had in Locksley was what he really desired.
He was a good master for those lands, exactly like his parents had been when they were alive.
He spurred the horse, and he let him gallop along the path, enjoying the ride: it was like being part of the wind, light-hearted and free.
He reached his manor, and he dismounted, smiling at the servants who were waiting for him, all of them dressed with the colors of his family: black and yellow.
“Welcome back, master.”Thornton greeted him with a little bow. “Dinner will be served as soon as you’re ready.”
He entered into the manor, and he smiled at Marian, sitting in a chair near the fireplace with her embroidery on her lap.
She stood up, and she walked towards him, smiling.
“I missed you.”
Guy took her in his arms, and he brushed her lips with a light kiss.
“I always miss you when you aren’t at my side.”
“You must be tired, you’ve been away all day.”
Guy closed his eyes, still hugging her tight.
He was tired. But he was also very happy.
Guy reluctantly opened his eyes.
He usually didn’t mind waking up because his sleep was tormented by nightmares: he passed from the bad dreams that haunted his nights to the pain he had to bear when he was awake.
But today he didn’t want to wake up: the dream was so peaceful and pleasant that coming back to reality was doubly painful.
In the dream he was healthy, strong and free; his villagers respected him, and Marian was a loving wife.
Guy sighed, thinking that it was an impossible dream: he would never be free or loved, and Marian had only contempt for him. He forced himself to open his eyes, trying to forget the dream: it was useless longing for something he couldn’t have.
He was surprised to see Marian, deeply asleep and so very near to him: the girl was kneeling to the floor at the side of the bed, resting the head on her arms.
Sometimes, when he had his worse nightmares, he had the impression of hearing her sweet voice that soothed him in a peaceful sleep, but he had always thought that it was just a dream, the illusory effect of his own desires.
But now he was awake, his leg was hurting too much to be a dream.
Why was she there?
Guy realized that she was holding his hand. Actually, she had fallen asleep on his hand and now it was completely numb, but it didn’t matter.
He looked at the face of the girl, in awe, wondering what she was doing near him.
She was pale, and her sleep was fitful, as if she was having nightmares too.
Guy moved his other hand, brushing his finger on her hair in a light caress, afraid to wake her up, but wishing to comfort her.
“Don’t die...” She whispered, then she woke up, opening her eyes.
Guy moved his hand away from her hair, and he held his breath.
For a moment they looked at each other, then Marian broke eye contact, jumping to her feet.
“I have to go,” she mumbled, hurriedly, and she headed to the door.
“Marian, wait! Please.”
The girl hesitated. If Guy’s tone were commanding, she’d have just walked away, but his voice sounded uncommonly humble and pleading.
She turned to look at him.
Guy glanced at her, shyly.
“Where you watching over me?”
“You had a nightmare. I heard you screaming in your sleep and I was afraid that you were in pain. I just came to see if you needed help.”
“I’m sorry. I kept you awake.”
“You couldn’t help it.”
“Does this happen often?”
Guy looked at her: she was pale, and she had dark shadows under her eyes. He guessed that she hadn’t been sleeping well for days. Weeks maybe.
Marian gave him a weak smile.
“What about the servants? They should take care of me.”
Marian shook her head. She didn’t want to say that they were disgruntled enough because of the extra work they had to do for Guy.
“They have a lot to do during the day, it’s better to let them sleep. I have nothing to do.”
“I owe you an apology. I am a burden to your family and I’ve been ungrateful and rude. I’m really sorry.”
Marian looked at him. The last time she had a conversation with him, Guy had actually been ill-mannered and snarling, but now he was talking in a subdued tone, and his apology sounded heartfelt.
Marian accepted it with a little nod, but she couldn’t forget his confession. She wasn’t sure that she could ever forgive an attempt on the life of the king.
“You were in pain, I can understand the reasons of your bad mood.” She conceded.
“It won’t happen again,” he promised, and Marian thought that he probably hoped to see a sign of friendship in her eyes, but she couldn’t trust him. Guy of Gisborne was a traitor of the Crown, the emblem of the evil she chose to fight.
But he was also a man. A very lonely man.
She nodded again, without looking at him.
“I really have to go, Sir Guy. Do you want me to send a servant upstairs, now that you are awake?”
Guy blushed a little and he wished that he could say that there was no need for it, but the truth was that he still needed help for almost everything.
After a moment, Marian was gone and Guy was alone with his thoughts.
He couldn’t understand why Marian watched over his sleep, helping him when he was troubled by the nightmares. Maybe she didn’t hate him as much as he thought?
But how could it be possible if she knew his secret?
She told him, she yelled at him, how much she despised him for what he did.
An annoyed servant entered the room, and Guy hurried to hide his feelings behind a blank expression.
The servants of Knighton Hall did their duty carefully, following Matilda’s instructions and Sir Edward’s orders, but Guy knew perfectly well that no one of them was happy of having to take care of him, so there was no point in talking to them while they did their work.
He let the servant help him to wash and to change in clean nightclothes, and he closed his eyes, trying to think to something else rather than his humiliating situation.
He remembered the moment when he opened his eyes and saw Marian asleep. He could see in his mind every curl of her hair, the smooth perfection of her pale skin, he could also feel the weight of her head numbing his hand.
For a moment he felt in peace, almost happy: he loved her, more than ever, and nothing could change his feelings, but soon his heart sank again.
Guy had no illusions anymore: she didn’t love him back, and she never would.
Young Will had returned to the camp as quickly as he could: the long series of stakeouts and tailings needed to find out where Lambert, the alchemist, was hiding his working diary, was about to bear fruits: they would go all together there, now, to get it. And destroy it.
And if Lambert was... unwilling, they had to convince him to let them do it for him.
In truth, along the way, more than a doubt on the need for the destruction of the formula had occurred to Robin's mind.
A weapon like that could protect England itself, against invasion attempts from its traditional enemies.
Of course, it should be known only by King Richard, which Robin trusted with all his heart.
But even in the latter case, such a destructive force frightened him. Better to eliminate it forever.
Djaq, the young saracen girl, the most recent ‘purchase’ of the group of the outlaws, saved among the slaves that Vaisey had brought to work to the mines, did not agree with the idea, but the final choice, to destroy the ledger or to hide it, was up to him. To their leader. And, in any case, the majority of the group agreed with him.
They arrived and they found a real surprise: the young Lambert had already destroyed the pages of his working diary about his committee for Gisborne (and Vaisey's Mines). They were burnt, useless, by now mere ashes.
Lambert, trembling in the face of questions from Robin and his gang, suddenly assumed an upright and almost proud appearance, confessing that he had simply carried out a request for a ‘close friend’. And he himself, having changed so many times the formulation during the experiments, remembered no more details, and he wouldn’t remember them any more.
Guy had really done something good for once in his life.
A danger less for Nottingham.
Robin began to think that Guy could be an interesting ally for him, rather than an enemy. If there could be the occasion for this, Robin would have to seize it.
For the sake of Nottingham, mostly.
He could ask Marian to investigate more, to steal more of Gisborne's secrets, in order to understand more of Vaisey's plans.
But something bothered him, and it was not only the possible refusal of the girl to collaborate further, to steal more of the secrets of the Sheriff's dark servant.
Robin had a strange feeling that made him wet with sweat on his neck: he would pay a price to get this. Not necessarily to be paid with money.
For the moment there was no need to think about it, Robin told himself while returning to camp.
There were many poor people in Nottingham to provide for, as Little John reminded him.
And he was right, Robin thought.
Anyway he would continue to keep both eyes wide open about Gisborne, and Marian too, now,
hoping that their improvised ‘living together in the same place’ ended as soon as possible.
Sir Edward looked at Marian, worried. The girl came out of Sir Guy’s room in the morning, and she looked tired.
He wasn’t worried about decency, the knight was still too injured and weak to be a menace for Marian’s innocence, but she was always exhausted and nervous.
The girl put some bread and cheese on a tray, and Sir Edward nodded at the food.
“Are you taking it to Sir Guy? A servant can do it.”
“Not everything in the world is about Sir Guy, father. This is for me, I will have my breakfast in my room. In the guest’s room, actually, because Sir Guy is in my room.”
“Are you unwell?”
“No, father, I just want to rest for a while.”
The girl took the tray and went upstairs, and Sir Edward sighed.
Marian wasn’t the only one who was upset in the manor. He was constantly worried and afraid of the consequences that Sir Guy’s accident could bring on his family. If he should ever find out the identity of the Nightwatchman, they’d be doomed. Sir Edward was doing everything he could to please the knight, and he often had to scold the servants of the house, who were reluctant to work for Sir Guy.
Sir Edward finished eating his breakfast, went to the kitchen and asked the cook if she had already prepared a meal for Gisborne. The woman grumbled and began filling a tray with the fine foods that Matilda said he should eat.
“It’s a shame that he must have better meals than the ones you and Lady Marian usually eat, my lord.”
“He is very ill, the healer said that he needs nutritious and healthy meals.”
The cook filled a bowl with fresh cream, and placed it on the tray.
“Lady Marian should eat this, poor child. She’s so thin and pale… Instead, she just took some bread and a few pieces of cheese...”
Sir Edward thought wiser to keep quiet. He nodded at the tray.
“If you are done, I’ll take it to Sir Guy.”
“You, my lord?”
“Yes. I want to talk to him, I can as well take this upstairs.”
Guy was sitting on a chair near the window when Sir Edward entered in his room. Matilda had said that the knight didn’t have to stay in bed all day, so Sir Edward had ordered to bring upstairs his own chair, made with the finest wood and very comfortable.
Gisborne sat with his body propped up by pillows, and his leg resting on a padded footstool. He was looking out of the window, but from his position he couldn’t see much, maybe just a piece of sky.
“Good morning, Sir Guy, how do you feel today?”
Guy glanced at Marian’s father: the man was carrying a tray, and he placed it on the little table at the side of the chair.
“You shouldn’t do the servants’ work. Not for me.”
“I wanted to see how you were feeling, anyways, and calling the servants, waiting for them and giving them the orders would only be a waste of time. I just took the tray and took it with me, not too much effort.”
Sir Edward took another chair and sat in front of Guy, while Gisborne picked up the bowl with the cream and took a sip from it.
“Matilda says that milk, cream and cheese are good for broken bones...” Guy said, and Sir Edward looked impressed.
“I don’t know, but the other physician said that I was going to die while Matilda saved my life, so I think I can trust her healing abilities...” Guy gave him a little smile. “And she doesn’t use leeches.”
Sir Edward was surprised to find a trace of humor in his words. He gave hospitality to him in his manor, but he rarely stopped to talk to the knight, too worried and afraid of making him angry and to bring troubles on his family.
“Marian says she’s the best healer in the county.”
Gisborne suppressed a little start when he heard Marian’s name, and he hid that flicker of emotion taking a piece of bread from the tray.
“I surely hope she is right.”
“Is there anything that we can do for you, Sir Guy? Do you need anything else?”
“Your family is already doing more than enough, and I’m sorry to be such a burden for you...” Guy stopped Sir Edward’s polite protests with a gesture of his hand. “No, sir, I know that my presence here is a great inconvenience, and I’m grateful. Without your help and the cares you provided to me, I’d be dead. I owe you my life.”
Sir Edward accepted Guy’s heartfelt thanks with a smile, but deep inside he felt that he didn’t deserve his gratitude: it was Marian’s fault if he got hurt, so it was Edward’s responsibility to take care of the injured knight.
For a while the two men didn’t talk: Guy finished eating, while Edward looked at the window, lost in his thoughts.
“When I sit here, I look at the clouds.” Guy said, suddenly. “Not too entertaining, but better than staring at the wall.”
“You must be bored.”
“You can’t imagine how much!”
Sir Edward smiled: Guy’s expression was incredibly similar to Marian’s one when she was little and she had to stay in bed for some seasonal illness. She couldn’t stand to stay idle and she always tried to get up from bed when no one was watching her.
“Please, wait a moment, Sir Guy, I’ll be back soon.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Guy answered, with a resigned grin.
Sir Edward came back after a short while, carrying a chessboard.
“Do you know how to play, Sir Guy?”
“Not very well, I’m afraid. I never had much time for games.”
Sir Edward smiled.
“Well, you have now. I can teach you, if you want.”
Guy nodded, surprised. He couldn’t believe that Marian’s father wanted to spend time with him.
Probably he was afraid that Guy could search revenge because the accident happened at Knighton, but he was glad for his offer.
“You aren’t going to throw the pieces at me if you should lose, are you?”
It was Edward’s turn to be surprised, now.
“Why should I?”
“The Sheriff did. And that’s one of the reasons why I rarely used to play. The Sheriff’s chess set is big and heavy.”