Guy was stretched on his bed, arms behind his head, and he was staring at the ceiling. Allan entered the room without knocking, and he helped himself from the tray of food that was on the table, before dropping himself in the chair in front of the fireplace and kicking off his boots to warm his feet at the fire.
Gisborne didn’t even look at him, and Allan gave him a surprised glance.
“Hey, Giz, you alive?”
“Yep. Why are you asking?”
“You didn’t yell at me, and I know that I did at least three things that annoy you.”
“Would yelling stop you from doing that?”
Allan looked at him.
“So, what’s the point?”
“I don’t know. It’s fun?”
Guy rolled his eyes.
“You have a strange idea of fun, Allan.”
“At least I have one, mate. What were you doing? Counting the wood grains of the ceiling?”
“I already know them by heart.” Guy said, flatly. “Not much to do when your leg hurts so much that you can’t get up from bed or get some sleep.”
Allan gave him a worried look.
“Are you in pain?”
Guy shook his head.
“Not now. No more than usual. I was thinking.”
“I was trying to find a way to find the money for the taxes.”
“Robin will surely help Sir Edward, if needed. You don’t have to lose your sleep about it.”
Guy sat up in the bed, with a sigh.
“I know, but I want to do something for them. They helped me, they didn’t let me down when the Sheriff fired me, and I’m living at Knighton when I could be starving in the streets...”
“Come on, Giz, that’s not true. Matilda would take you in her hut.”
“That’s not the point!”
“All right, all right, you want to help, but you have no idea how. So?”
“So I need an idea. We have a lot of flour, but no one wants to buy it.”
“Too bad it isn’t milk,” Allan commented.
“You’d sell it in a moment at Nettlestone. Their cows got a disease and there’s a shortage of milk there.”
Guy looked at the outlaw.
“How do you know?”
“I heard that last week, when we were taking some supplies there. The peasants told Robin about that problem and he gave them some money to buy new cows, but they will have to wait next month, when there will be a fair in Nottingham and there will be more cattle merchants. If you had milk to sell, they’d buy it in a moment.”
Guy stared at him.
“You outlaws have a lot of informations like this one, don’t you?”
“What do you mean? People talk to Robin, they ask him for help and they say what they need. So yeah, I suppose that we know a lot of these things.”
“Do you suppose that you could find out if there is some village that needs flour?”
“Yeah, I think that Robin could know.”
“Go and ask him then! Now!”
“Because once we know who needs the flour, we’ll take it there.”
Allan looked at him.
“Are you serious, Giz?”
“I am. If nobody here wants our flour, we’ll take it where they are willing to buy it for a higher price.”
“I’ll need your help. We can use Sir Edward’s wagon, and borrow some others from the people of Knighton. If you and James talk to them, I think that they will agree.”
“What if the outlaws try to steal it? We’re not the only ones in the forest, you know. And the others doesn’t steal from the rich to help the poor, they steal for themselves, and they can kill people too. They don’t come here because they’re afraid of Robin, but if you go to a distant village, they could attack your wagons.”
Guy reflected for a while.
“I need you to contact some of the guards who used to work for me.”
“Are you insane, Giz? Do you want me to talk to the castle guards?! I don’t want to end up in the dungeons or worse!”
“Not the castle guards. Lambert told me that most of my men went to work at the castle, but some of them refused to work for Vaisey and they went back to their villages. I’ll give you their names, tell them to come here. I’ll talk to them, and, if they accept my offer, they can escort the convoy.”
“How will you pay them? Suppose that we sell the flour… We’ll have to pay taxes, the wagons and their drivers, and the guards. Do you think that it will be enough?”
“It must be. If it isn’t, I’ll sell my sword. It’s good steel, it will cover the expenses. Will you help me?”
Allan glanced at him, impressed. That sword was one of the few things that Gisborne still owned, and it was very important for the knight.
“I will. And I have and idea too. When we go to sell the flour, we could buy any excess milk they have, and bring it to Nettlestone, instead of coming back with the empty wagons. We could double the incomes doing so.”
Guy looked at him and smiled.
“You are a genius, Allan! It could work! It could really work! Go, now! Go to talk with Hood! I’ll explain our plan to James and I’ll begin organizing the convoy. We need to be fast!”
Guy grabbed his crutch and hobbled out of the door, in search of the old servant.
The outlaw stared at him, in awe: he had never seen Gisborne so excited for something and certainly Allan wasn’t used at getting praises from him.
He thought that the knight was very different from what he looked when he worked for the Sheriff.
He liked that new Gisborne.
Allan felt uneasy under Robin Hood’s scrutinizing stare. Robin seemed to be somehow diffident and Allan had the sensation that he didn’t like seeing him so clean and dressed in the finer clothes that Gisborne had given to him.
“Isn’t that a little impractical to live in the forest?” Robin asked, ironically. “Because I suppose you are here to come back to the gang.”
Allan inwardly sighed.
“Not yet. Matilda says that I’m needed at Knighton.”
“I know, but I’ve been told that you are too friendly with Gisborne.”
Allan thought that it must have been one of the servants of the house, probably one of the boys: they disliked Gisborne and they were jealous of Allan because he flirted with the maids and the kitchen girls.
“Listen, Robin. I have to live in that house and Matilda wants me to help Gisborne, it wouldn't be nice if I fought with him every moment. Being civil with him is easier.”
And he’s not that bad when you know him better.
Robin looked at him for a long moment, wondering if he should believe him, then he decided to drop the matter.
“How is Marian?”
“Better. Matilda says that she isn’t in danger anymore, but that she has to recover.”
“Why did you come here, then? You should be at Knighton, helping.”
“I’m doing it. In fact I need to know if there are villages that need flour, so that we can sell Knighton’s stocks.”
“If they need money for the taxes, we’ll help them.”
“I know, and they know too, but first they would like to try earning it.”
Allan didn’t say that it was Guy’s idea because if he did, he knew that Robin would dismiss it.
Instead he kept quiet and Robin gave him a list of the villages where flour was needed and that could afford buying it.
Allan thanked him, satisfied, and he was about to go back to Knighton, when they heard the sound of horse hooves galloping through the forest.
“Guards!” Robin said, searching for a escape route, but after a moment he took the bow, realizing that the soldiers were too close.
Allan looked around, scared, while a group of Sheriff’s guards reached them.
Robin was shielded by the trees, and he could easily run away, but Allan was near the road and one of the soldiers pointed a spear at him.
He froze: they were too many. Robin could hit a few of them, but meanwhile the others would surely kill Allan.
“Well, what do we have here? Outlaws?”
The leader of the soldiers grabbed Allan by an arm, and the outlaw just stood still, speechless and terrified. He knew that he was close to death and that he couldn't find a way to escape. He could only hope that the soldiers would take him at the castle to be hanged instead of killing him on the spot, but the guard who caught him was already unsheathing his sword.
Robin was studying the situation, trying to find a plan to save both of them, but Allan knew that they had very few chances to come out of that situation unscathed, especially him.
Before the soldiers could do anything else, they all heard a wagon approaching along the road and they were all surprised to see Gisborne holding the reins.
Guy looked at the guards, at Robin half hidden in the trees and at Allan, pale and trembling.
“What’s going on?” He asked, and everyone turned to look at him.
The guards were surprised.
They had heard every kind of story about Guy of Gisborne: that he had been damaged beyond repair both in body and in mind after the accident, that he had been distraught when the sheriff fired him, that he lost everything and that he was insane and a cripple…
But now they could see him right there, in front of them, and he didn’t look a beggar or a madman at all.
He was thinner and paler than he once had been, and he was sitting on a wagon instead than on a horse, but Gisborne was wearing fine clothes, finer than the leathers he once used to wear, and he was looking at them fiercely.
“We caught Robin Hood and one of his outlaws,” one of the soldiers said, uncertain, pointing at Allan.
“It doesn’t seem to me that you captured Hood. He’s over there, almost in the forest and he’s pointing a bow at you. Believe me, it’s not so easy to catch him.” Guy said, giving a sarcastic look at the outlaw.
The soldier used the spear to touch Allan’s neck, scratching him and making him bleed a little.
“We have this one.”
Allan closed his eyes, certain that he was going to die.
“No, you don’t,” Guy said, looking at the soldiers with a slight contempt. “Can’t you see that that man is not an outlaw?”
“He was with Hood,” the guard objected.
“You mean that he was being robbed by Hood, like the idiot he is,” Guy replied, rolling his eyes with impatience. “Can’t you see that he’s too finely dressed and too clean to be an outlaw? He’s one of the servants of Knighton Hall. My personal servant, even if he’s always finding excuses to lose time and avoid his chores,” Guy added, staring at the guard, and the man lowered his eyes, uneasy.
One of the other soldiers came near Allan, and examined him closely, stopping to sniff at him.
“It’s true!” He exclaimed. “He doesn’t stink! Actually, I think that he smells of lavender!”
The leader of the soldiers looked at Allan, wondering what he should do. The Sheriff would be mad if they didn’t capture any outlaws, but he wasn’t sure that Guy of Gisborne was really harmless after the accident, and he didn’t want to make him angry.
Guy glanced at Robin: the outlaw had been waiting, with his bow pointed at the guards, ready to attack, but also ready to run away.
“Shouldn’t you capture Hood instead of damaging my servants? If tomorrow he won’t be able to work, I’ll consider you responsible for this!” Guy said in his most menacing tone, then he turned to Allan. “And you, get immediately on the wagon! I don’t pay you for losing your time! I bet that you were going to the tavern again instead of doing your work!”
Allan looked at him, startled and confused, and he didn’t move.
Guy took the horsewhip, and he made it snap close to Allan’s face, almost touching him.
“I said to get on the wagon, NOW,” he growled, and this time Allan hurried to obey, clumsily climbing on the wagon. The guards sneered at him, then they turned their attention to Robin Hood, just in time to see him running away.
They all went after the outlaw, in pursuit, deciding to ignore Gisborne and his lazy servant.
Guy turned the wagon around, heading to Knighton. At his side, Allan was still too upset and surprised to talk. He couldn’t believe that Gisborne had risked so much to save his life. Guy had no power anymore, and if the guards hadn’t believed him, he could have been arrested and maybe executed for associating with an outlaw.
Allan realized that Guy had just risked to lose everything again, just to help him.
He glanced at the knight.
“Hey, Giz...” He began, almost shyly, and Guy turned to look at him, with a smirk.
“I bet that now you are not so sorry because I forced you to wash.”
When the wagon stopped in front of Knighton Hall, Allan had already recovered from the scare.
“So, Giz, what were you doing in the forest? Not that I complain, you arrived just in time to save me, but it was unusual for you to take the wagon on your own.”
Guy blushed a little. He didn’t want to admit how much he had missed going around on his own.
Now that he could use a wagon, he had some of his freedom back and he was beginning to appreciate even a single trip in the village or through the forest like he had never done before the accident. It wasn’t like riding a horse, but it was better than being trapped inside a house for weeks and weeks.
But Guy didn’t want to show what he considered a childish weakness to Allan, so he found another explanation, also true.
“I couldn’t wait to know if Hood gave you the informations we need.”
“So you came into the forest? Hey, man, you really care a lot for this project, don’t you?”
“I do. Well? Did he tell you something?”
“Sure he did! I have a list of the places where we can sell our flour. I think that if we organize the convoy well, we could be ready to depart tomorrow at dawn.”
“Good. Let’s do it.”
Allan helped Guy to get off the wagon, and he gave him the crutch before Gisborne could ask for it.
Guy gave him a look of amused surprise, and Allan shrugged, a little embarrassed.
“Hey, Giz… You risked a lot with those guards… If they didn’t believe you, you’d have been in big troubles.”
“Why shouldn’t they believe me? I wasn’t lying: you are my servant.”
Guy gave him a serious stare.
“You are now. You might not like this, but those guards now know you, they’ll remember your face and if they find you consorting with Hood again, the Sheriff will be more than happy than hanging you. And me with you as well. You can’t go back to the forest, you have to stay here and work here, or they’ll find out that I lied to them. We’d endanger even Sir Edward and Marian, so you have no choice.”
“I guess I can manage. Better than being dead, right?”
“You’ve such a good opinion of me, I see,” he said, sarcastic, and Allan laughed.
Better than you think, Giz. Way better.
Vaisey sat on the high bench, shaking his feet without touching the floor, while listening to the words of the soldier at the head of the patrol back from that bloody Sherwood Forest.
Only God knew why he hadn’t yet decided to set fire once and for all, to that bloody forest.
The only thing that had prevented the Sheriff to become the Nero of England was having to listen to Prince John who then would say, laughing: "A whole burning forest to take a single boy, a boy!"
Not only his soldiers were unable to capture Hood despite having intercepted him, but they had been also mocked and threatened by Guy of Gisborne...
Guy of Gisborne, for God's sake!
A cripple, poor, useless man against his armed guards.
Vaisey wanted to surround the Nottingham Castle with a beautiful moat full of water and Nile crocodiles just to throw his guards in the water and make them disappear.
Possibly along with Robin.
Awakening from his day-dreaming, he came down from the bench, passed over the imposing figure of Alexander and, without losing time in the middle, slapped the soldier, so strong that he made him waver and then fall to the ground.
“Useless men. I am surrounded by useless men. Your task,” Vaisey said, turning to Alexander, with black poison in the voice, “is turning these useless people, to people capable to capture and kill outlaws like Hood, on the spot, and not people who feel threatened by a poor cripple and his servant! Gisborne's servant!” Vaisey shouted.
“Servant? If Gisborne is now poor and cripple as you say, how can he have a well dressed servant in his service? And above all, why was Hood there with them?” Alexander said, not at all intimidated by Vaisey .
“Gisborne said that Hood was robbing his servant,” the wounded soldier said.
But another one, a younger one added, in a low voice: “It seems to me to have already seen him, among Hood's men.”
“Repeat it, boy, loudly!” Alexander sternly ordered.
“I, I think I've seen him before. He was among Hood's men.”
“Oh great, now Gisborne has a former outlaw for a servant,” Vaisey said, bitterly. But then he looked at Alexander, thoughtful and suspicious, and he began to think and suspect too.
If the boy was right, Gisborne had lied, or worse, had been in league with Hood.
He went from being the idiot of the castle to a possible enemy.
And perhaps he wasn’t entirely harmless, then.
What was happening in the forest?
Oh no, Guy was NOT becoming a danger to Nottingham. He would never allow him to be a danger to him, to his goals.
“Watch him,” Vaisey ordered to Alexander. “Find out what he does, with whom, who is involved with, and why. And report anything to me directly. Is everything clear? And I WANT my money from Knighton! Now go! All of you: go away!”
Alexander wanted to split his face, in two.
That old useless man, going so fiercely against Gisborne like a pervert lover who had been betrayed.
But no less, Gisborne had to be controlled.
The half-french couldn’t know that he had been the abettor of the failed assassination of King Richard inside the camp, but he never had to find out.
So he had to be controlled, strictly controlled. Studied, followed, because every man has a weakness.
The leper-woman maybe? Or something else?
Alexander had to find out what Guy wanted. Desired. Feared. To have leverage to use with him, in case.
Or to kill him, directly, if he should become really dangerous.
But not for Vaisey.