“Allan? What’s going on?” Guy asked, worried and tense, “Is the village under attack?”
“No Giz, quite the opposite, I think.”
“What do you mean?”
Marian woke up, awakened by Guy’s voice, and looked at him, worried.
“Guy? What happened? My father...”
Allan’s voice was cheerful enough to dispel their fears.
“I think they’re having a celebration of some sort. They’re roasting a pork!”
Marian and Guy exchanged a glance.
“Did you know anything about this?” Guy asked, and the girl shook her head.
“I had no idea.”
She was curious to know what was going on, but she was also relieved for the diversion. She knew that sooner or later she’d have to talk with Guy about her words at the Council, but she needed more time to clear her own mind.
Allan stopped the carriage in front of Knighton Hall, and some of the servants of the manor were waiting for them in front of the house, while all the others seemed to be very busy in cleaning and decorating the main hall.
Allan helped Guy and Marian to get down the carriage, and the girl looked at James.
“What are they all doing?”
“The people want to celebrate, my lady, so Sir Edward gave the order to open the manor, so they’ll have a warm place and food for everyone.”
“What are they celebrating?” Guy asked warily, looking at the busy villagers. He remembered a day, a very long time ago, when it was his mother the one who ordered a celebration in Gisborne to give people a new hope after a war that robbed many families of their men.
That has been the last time he had been in a feast, except for the banquets that Vaisey sometimes held at the castle, but those where never festive occasions.
That time, at Gisborne, he had enjoyed himself for a little while, then everything went awry and he had almost been hanged for Hood’s fault.
“They want to express their gratitude to you, Sir Guy, and their relief for Lady Marian’s recovery.”
Guy stared at him, dumbfounded.
They wanted to thank him? He was used to be hated and despised, not honored.
The servant smiled.
“You saved the village, Sir Guy, and you fought to protect the men on the wagons, risking your life for them. You fully deserve our gratitude. But I shouldn’t keep you, you’ll be tired and you have to get ready for the celebration. Sebastian prepared your best clothes for you, Sir Guy, and Susanne is waiting to dress your hair, My Lady.”
Allan knocked on Guy’s door before entering in the room. The knight was bare-chested and he was standing in front of the basin, but instead of washing up, he was staring at the wall, deep in his thoughts.
Guy turned to look at him, startled.
“Oh, it’s you...”
“Did it go so bad?”
“The Council. Was it so terrible?”
Guy sat on the bed with a sigh.
“Yes… and no. The Sheriff was horrible, as usual, but I expected that.”
“So? What troubles you?”
Gisborne looked at the outlaw and for a moment he was tempted to tell him about Marian’s words, to have his opinion, but then he shook his head.
“Nothing. It’s nothing.”
“What did you want?”
This time it was Allan who looked a little uneasy.
“Well, Giz, I wanted to ask you something...”
Guy waited, but Allan didn’t continue.
“Well? Just ask. You’ve never been shy, I don’t see why do you have to begin now,” Guy said, and Allan nodded.
“Would it be a big problem if I asked the lads to come at the party?”
“The lads?” Guy asked, then he understood. “Do you mean Hood and his men?!”
“I don’t think that Robin would come to a celebration where you are the guest of honor. But the others would. Maybe.”
“Their presence could be a danger for Marian’s family. If the Sheriff should know that outlaws came here...”
“But he won’t! Who’s going to tell him? Nobody in the village would. If he knew, I think that he’d hate to know that those people are celebrating you! He wouldn’t even notice them.”
“Why do you want to invite them? They wouldn’t care for this celebration, they all hate me.”
Allan sat on the bed, next to Guy, with a sigh.
“The truth is that I miss them. They are my friends, the only family I’ve left. It’s not that I don’t like being here, Giz, I do, really, and I know that you gave me more than I could expect and I’m grateful, but...”
“But I’m not one of the lads,” Guy said, with a smirk. “Go. If you’re sure that they won’t create troubles, invite whoever you want. After all they helped us to fight the bandits, so for a day I can pretend I don’t know that they are outlaws.”
Allan looked at him, astonished.
“Go, before I change my mind.”
The outlaws grabbed their weapons, hearing that somebody was coming through the trees, approaching the camp.
“Oy! Put them down!” Allan cried, startled by their reaction, “It’s only me!”
“Allan!” Djaq said, with a smile, “You’re back!”
“And what a nice welcome you gave to me!”
“You can’t blame us,” Much said, “you’re always with Gisborne now, and he had said that you can’t be seen with us. How could we imagine that you were coming here?”
Allan sat in front of the fire.
“Come on, mates, do you think that it could be enough to stop me from meeting you?”
“Well, after Gisborne said that you were his servant, you didn’t come here again,” Will pointed out, coldly.
Allan looked at him in disbelief.
“I’m here now!”
“Are you back to stay?” Djaq asked softly, and Allan shook his head.
“Not yet, I’m still needed at Knighton.”
“Why are you here, then?” Much asked.
“Where are Robin and John?” Allan asked back, a little annoyed by his mistrustful tone.
“Out to deliver food to the poor,” Djaq answered with a smile, trying to dispel the tension.
Allan relented and smiled back.
“I’m here to invite you all to Knighton. The villagers are preparing a celebration, and I’d like for you to come.”
“If we go there, Gisborne will have us arrested!” Much exclaimed.
“No, he won’t. I asked him, and Giz said that if you won’t make troubles, he won’t acknowledge your presence. You won’t be in any danger from him, I promise.”
“What kind of celebration?” Will asked.
“For Marian’s recovery, and for Giz, because his expedition saved Knighton.”
“We should come to Knighton to celebrate Gisborne?!” Much asked, horrified. “Robin would never come to celebrate Gisborne and neither should we!”
“There will be pork. And lots of food.”
Much glanced at him, interested.
“I have to go to Knighton, now, I must help with the preparations, but please come, do it for me,” Allan repeated, looking at each one of them for a moment before stopping his stare on Djaq.
Marian touched the warm and soft cloth. She was undecided on the color of her dress tonight. But that slight indecision was just a faint echo of the indecision she herself had inside.
She felt so much exposed to the Council, and before her people and the nobles of the County, Guy deserved an answer. A confirmation, or denial.
From that choice depended hers and Guy's life and future.
Still, Marian didn’t know how to decide, to choose.
She kept remembering how badly Guy had been acting for years to people, and to her family. But he had changed, he had put all his loyalty and strength into the service of Knighton.
For her, to protect her, for her sake.
She felt grateful for his help, even if she wanted to protect her own people and her family.
At the same time, the discreet, dignified, courageous, but not boasted manner that Guy had when he had taken care of her and of Knighton had impressed her, and made her think of him.
She had seen him pursuing a dream of wealth and power for years. And now he seemed to pursue the goal of living only a dignified life.
He wanted to have her by his side, to live a life with her. To share her life.
Was it all true? Would he always be so kind and loving to her, to her people?
There had been a time when all that Marian had dreamed of was a beautiful marriage with a young, strong and smiling young man.
A serene life, among their people.
Then that boy had gone, leaving her alone to face a world that quickly changed for the worst.
And she fought, like a man, better than a man.
It was now up to her to make a choice. Another one, much more important.
In Guy's eyes she saw love, understanding, sacrifice, but she failed to imagine the scene of a marriage full of cheerfulness and serenity like the one she had dreamed for years with Robin.
If she decided to marry Guy, to be his wife for real, for ever, would he impose his will on her, or would he let her be free to think and act?
What did it mean, after all, to be a wife?
Marian realized that she had never really thought about it, she had given that thought for granted, distracted by the events, by the sudden, violent changes in her young life.
She missed her mother, now. A mother's advice.
She decided to wear a long dark blue velvet dress for the party. Dark as the night. It would protect her from the cold, and maybe it would even hide her for a while from Guy's eyes, from his questions, from her own questions and doubts.
She smiled at her own fantasy. Hidden by a womanly dress? She had been hidden by a mask for years, for God's sake!
At that moment Susanne came in to help her change and comb her hair.
With slow gestures, Susanne combed her hair, Marian closed her eyes, slightly smiling.
"You are very beautiful tonight, my lady. He won’t be able to stop looking at you."
Marian opened her eyes.
"What do you mean, Susanne?"
"I mean...Sir Guy, he won’t be able to take his eyes off you, not that he had ever been able to, really," she laughed, leaving Marian's hair falling over her shoulders for a moment.
“You are not very respectful of Sir Guy, and you are wrong. We owe a lot to him. We wouldn’t celebrate a party tonight if it had not been for his help.”
"I know, my lady, I know, everybody knows now. I am grateful. I didn't want to be unfair to Sir Guy, I just wanted to say that he has always been different with you, even when he came here to visit you and he was cold with us, very cold, he has always treated you differently. He looked at you differently.”
“Oh Susanne, he is a man, he is no different from the others. A man wants with his eyes.”
"Of course, I'm not naive. Sir Guy had his series of adventures, women in his bed, but no, he had a way of looking at you differently, since the first time he came here. It wasn’t just wanting, it was different, and that look in his eyes has never changed in these years. He was fierce for years, but he looked at you differently. He was sick, very sick, these last months, but he looked at you with a warm stare. He loved you, ma'am. He always had, my Lady.”
Could that be the truth? Yet a small voice inside her seemed to whisper that yes, he had been this way to her from the beginning.
But Guy had entered her life on the worst of the ways, at the worst of moments, and in truth, he was by no means able to get her favor, an ounce of her interest. But it was true that he had always looked at her differently, from the beginning.
She wasn’t the only one, Marian thought, who wore a mask for years. He had, too.
Susanne resumed combing Marian's hair into a lovely style.
"Let's hope your children one day will have the color of his eyes, or his height. It would be the best from him."
"Susanne, it's too early to talk like this. I and Sir Guy..." Marian didn’t know what to say. But the girl, by now, was speaking her thoughts aloud and she went on.
"The important thing is that they do not inherit the same nose of their father."
"Susanne! You are really impertinent. Naughty girl, Sir Guy's nose is not wrong or awful!"
"Oh my lady, if the nose of Sir Guy has nothing wrong in your eyes, it means that it is not only Sir Guy who looks at you with dreamy eyes."
Marian blushed. She had never really thought about Guy's face features.
He had always been beautiful to her eyes. Of a beauty different from Robin's. But Guy's behavior had made him hateful to her eyes for years.
He was older than her. Never a smile, he was always in dark shadows, his apparent coldness and cruelty well shown, flaunted to the world, but he had never been ugly to her eyes.
And he was changing.
He smiled much more, a lovely smile, he was more gentle, warm.
She smiled at herself. Maybe it was time for herself, too, to change, to be different. But she was still afraid of making a serious mistake.
She let the girl finish her job. And, closing her eyes, for the first time in her life she tried to imagine Guy in a different role.
In her mind, she saw Guy sitting in front of the fire, holding tight an infant wrapped in a white warm cloth. With tenderness, with love, with reverence, touching his little nose with a finger, praying sweetly that he had not inherited his.
Smiling at his own son.
Their baby son.