Guy slowed down his horse, allowing Allan to reach him.
His leg still hurt when the horse galloped, but Guy couldn’t resist. When he was on his horse he felt free, not burdened anymore by his injured leg. It was like being back to his normal life, except that his life now was much better than it had ever been before.
He wasn’t rich and he limped, it was true, but now Marian was fond of him, and Guy wasn’t living in shame anymore. He had found a place in the world, and now that he could ride again, the limp was less important.
This was one of the reasons that made him want to go to Nottingham’s market: he had some commissions to do, but mainly he wanted to ride, to be back in the world after being so limited in his movements.
The black stallion was full of energies, happy to get some exercise after being in the stables for such a long time. Guy patted the neck of the horse, affectionately, and smiled: the stallion was his horse again. Sir Edward gave it back to him, as a way to thank him for saving Knighton.
Guy suspected that the elderly lord bought the horse with the intentions of giving him back to him anyways, but Guy wouldn’t have accepted to get the stallion back only because of charity.
But now he had deserved it, and he was happy to ride his old friend again.
“Hey, Giz! Take it easy! I couldn’t keep up with you!”
Gisborne smiled at him.
“Sorry, I just wanted to see if I was still able to gallop.”
“I guess you are. I hope you’re going to slow down, now.”
“Don’t worry, I will. We can’t go so fast inside the town, and then somebody could see me and tell Matilda,” he added, with a guilty look.
He liked seeing Guy being so lighthearted, and he hoped that things would continue to go well for him. It was hard to remember that he had been the black knight who tried to capture his friends chasing them with the dogs, or the evil henchman who bullied the peasants who couldn’t pay the taxes.
Allan hoped that Guy would never change back to his old ways. He liked the man.
He’s my friend, Allan realized, and he knew that Robin wouldn’t approve, but he couldn’t change what he felt.
“So, what are we going to do when we get to Nottingham?”
“I need to buy some new clothes now that I can afford them, but it shouldn’t take too long. I’ll just look at the market stalls, I guess, it’s a long time I didn’t go there. How are you going to spend your part of the money we earned?”
“Don’t know yet. I guess I’ll go to have some fun at the tavern. Want to come, mate?”
“I thought that you had drank more than enough the other night. Matilda told me that you vowed to never touch wine again, ever in your life.”
“What you say during a hangover doesn’t count.”
“I might come, just to check that you don’t get in trouble.”
They arrived in town, and Allan helped Guy to dismount, then he took the horses to take them to a stable.
“Wait for me here, Giz, I’ll be back in a moment.”
Guy watched him go, then he looked around while waiting for him. The market was full of people, even if Guy doubted that many of them had enough money to shop. The merchants had grim faces, and they didn’t sell much.
Guy looked at the stalls, wondering if he could find a little gift for Marian. He touched the little silver cross that he wore around his neck, and smiled: she gave it to him because she cared and she had been worried for him. He wanted her to have something from him, but he didn’t know what to choose.
Not a necklace, he decided: the one he had gifted to her carried too many bad memories, and he wasn’t very proud of his behavior in that occasion.
Not a ring either: he already had the one that he bought for their engagement, and he wanted to give it to her when they would publicly announce their betrothal.
He stopped to look at some vases and pots, well aligned on a stall, wondering if Marian would like one of them to keep flowers in her room. Then, he thought, he’d have the pretext to bring her fresh flowers everyday.
He lifted his eyes, and he noticed that the merchants were looking at him in fear: they were a boy and a girl, probably brother and sister, and they were staring at him as if they had seen the devil.
Guy put down the vase he was examining, and went away with a sigh. He could try to be a better person, but he should never forget that he couldn’t run away from his past.
He was wondering if he should go back to Knighton, when a friendly voice called him.
“Guy! I can’t believe that it’s really you!”
Gisborne turned, and he smiled at Lambert. His friend reached him and grabbed his shoulder in a friendly greeting.
“Lambert! It’s a lot of time I don’t see you at Knighton.”
“That’s true. I went to see my family in York, and I had to stay longer than I intended because of the snow that blocked the roads. Then, while I was there, the Sheriff of York offered me a job, and I accepted, so I had to stay there until I finished it. But look at you! You look so much better!”
Guy smiled, a little shyly. He wasn’t used to have people who cared for him, and it still surprised him.
“I am better. Matilda says that I must walk on this leg to get my strength back. It’s painful, sometimes, but it’s still better than staying in bed.”
Both Guy and Lambert turned to look at Allan, who had reached them. The young man was looking at Lambert, in suspicion, and Lambert returned a cold stare at him.
“Who’s this man, Giz?” Allan asked, walking between Guy and Lambert, as if he wanted to protect Gisborne.
Guy glanced at him, frowning. He could feel the tension between the two men, but he couldn’t understand what was going on. Allan and Lambert had never met before, so maybe they were just wary.
“He’s Lambert, a friend of mine.”
It still sounded strange to pronounce that last word, but it was nice too.
“Is he your servant, Guy?” Lambert asked, and Allan glared at him.
“Yes,” Guy said, and Allan gave him a hurt look, but then Gisborne continued, “or at least he was at the beginning. Now he’s a priceless help, and a true friend.”
Allan looked at him with a surprised smile, but now it was Lambert’s turn to look annoyed.
“So this is a recent acquaintance, isn’t it? I never heard you talk about him.”
“He never talks about you as well,” Allan promptly replied.
Guy stared at them, trying to understand why their tone was so harsh, then he realized that they were both jealous of his friendship. He looked at them in disbelief, not sure of what he had to do.
He wasn’t used to be liked, and of course he wasn’t used to people fighting over their friendship to him.
“So, shall we go to the tavern, Giz?” Allan asked, giving a hostile glance at Lambert.
“I thought we could have the chance to chat for a while, I bet that you have many news to tell,”
Lambert looked at Guy, ignoring Allan.
“We could all go to the tavern, and have a good chat,” Guy said, a little uncertain, “but you two go first, so you can have the chance to know each other. I have some commissions to do and I’ll reach you later.”
With this, he hurried away.
Allan and Lambert looked at him, then they exchanged a look.
“Did he just run away?” Lambert asked, and Allan grinned.
“Well, he can’t actually run, but I guess that we scared him.”
They glared at each other, then they realized that they were acting like willful little kids, and they couldn’t help laughing.
“What now?” Lambert asked.
“Well, I guess that we could do as Giz said.”
“Go to the tavern and know each other?”
“Going to the tavern is never bad, right?”
Covered by a long green-brown coat, her face hidden, Marian saw Guy leaving Lambert and Allan, who entered a tavern together, and walking alone in the market. She was curious to know why he had separated himself from the two men and had gone around on his own.
The girl could easily reach Guy and reveal her presence to him, but she thought that it would be more interesting to follow him in secret. He had told her in the past that she had a very light step and that it wasn’t easy to find out her. And this, in part, was a lot of fun for Marian.
Marian noticed Guy hiding more in the cloak, as if he wanted to be noticed as little as possible. It was the same thing she was doing too, but she couldn’t understand why he did.
Guy stopped in front of a merchant, and he began to speak with him, seriously. The girl hid behind the long hanging necklaces of another stall. She saw him crossing his arms.
That image reminded her for a moment when Guy was still in Vaisey's service, his severity in those sad days.
She had the impression that he was adopting that ironic smile she didn’t like now, having seen him instead smiling openly, tenderly, with all his heart.
What was he doing, what was he asking?
The merchant pulled out a list and Guy picked it out of his hands, reading it carefully, then he handed it back to the man with a sharp gesture.
At that moment, a fat lady passed in front of her, and stopped right there, looking at the necklaces, preventing her from seeing Guy. When Marian managed to retrieve a good sight, Guy had moved away.
Marian began to look for him, trying to make herself as little visible as possible. A few minutes later, she saw him going out of a shop, frowning. She didn’t like to see that expression on his face, and she was distracted by that thought, so she didn’t notice that she was going to hit a man with a big sack on his shoulders. He didn’t drop the sack, but he was annoyed.
The man said, "Hey, is this the way to walk?"
Marian just made it in time to hide behind the sack. It seemed to her that the noise had attracted Guy's attention, he had stopped and maybe he was about to turn. But she saw him resuming his walk immediately.
Marian went on to follow him.
The crowd became thicker, and, despite the height of Guy, that made him more visible, and the fact that he used a staff to walk, the girl could now follow him with more difficulties.
When the crowd became even thicker, and merchants were trying to draw buyers’ attention in every ways, Marian realized she had lost sight of him completely.
I have to find him, she thought.
Marian walked through the crowd, crossed a stone porch, and when she passed through it she didn’t see Guy, positioned to the right of the wall, waiting for her.
Marian stepped forward when a voice called her.
The girl turned, and she saw Guy staring at her with a serious gaze.
"Guy!" she said, embarrassed.
She had been discovered. So much for that ‘light step’.
“Marian, what are you doing here?” He said, the tone still serious.
“Guy, I...” the girl stammered, not knowing what to say. She was ashamed to have followed him, and above all that she wanted to control what he was doing.
“Were you following me?” He said, peering into her face, studying her.
Marian looked at him with a mixture of fear and embarrassment, and subtle desire too.
"Yes, I was following you, I wanted to reach you and spend some time with you,” the girl said.
"You could have told me," he replied, gradually losing the serious expression on the face, relaxing his beautiful features.
"Do you really want to spend some time with me, Marian?" He asked, uncertain, still a little surprised that she really was interested in him, that she wanted to be with him.
Marian nodded with her head, and looked at him with sweetness.
"Certainly yes," she said.
Guy then smiled, with such sweetness in his gaze, and he gave her his arm.
"Walk with me," he said. Marian graciously took his arm and the two began to walk.
"It's better you know, when you walk by my side," Guy said, smiling. "I was asking merchants how the local business was now, if there is abundance of something and what is needed. I guess they tell that to Hood spontaneously. With me it's harder," he said suddenly. "They barely talk to me, though. They're afraid I'll go back to ask taxes to them. I wonder if I will ever really conquer their trust, their confidence, or if for them I will always be like a black vulture, ready to tear them down...”
Guy's expression became sad.
Marian tenderly stroked Guy's arm: “You're no longer a falcon or a vulture like the ones that Vaisey breeds and trains. They are his slaves. You are free. And you don’t want to hurt people. With time, and a bit of patience, they will understand it. Let me help you if it’s necessary to get in their confidence. I have their trust.”
Marian stopped, forcing Guy to stand in front of her.
The girl looked at him in the eyes, and took his hands in hers.
"Let me tell you how much you are surprising me, every day more, you are so different now. Sometimes... it's also difficult for me to realize the man you are. But I see you now. And I'm proud of you."
Marian smiled, and Guy felt such warmth that he wanted to lift her into his arms, and let her dance, fly in his arms, embrace her, hold her, kiss her. But he thought that it could be a wrong thing to do now, and merely caressed her hands tenderly, telling her with a loud, moved, velvet voice a simple, sincere "Thank you."
The two resumed their walk together. Guy remembered the idea of buying a flower pot for her room, and he proposed to go back to the pottery stall with her to make her choose one.
The girl of the pottery stall took in her hands the vase that Guy of Gisborne was examining just a while ago, and put it back in its place with a snort.
“I wonder what he wanted,” she grumbled.
Her brother looked at her.
“Gisborne. I’m glad he’s not the lord of Locksley anymore, even if the new one isn’t better than him.”
“I heard that he had an accident and he was dead.”
“Did he look dead to you?”
The boy shrugged.
“No, but he was limping.”
“Too bad for him, I don’t care.”
She kept arranging the pots on the stall, with a sigh: they sold just a couple of them, not enough to buy food for the whole week, and certainly not to pay the taxes.
“Do you think that I should go to the castle and get a job as a guard?”
The sister stared at him, in shock.
“Matthew, are you crazy?! It’s too dangerous! I won’t allow you to risk your life like that!”
“But I’m the man of our house now! I should provide for all of you!”
Kate brushed his cheek with her hand, tenderly.
“You’re too young to become a guard, but don’t worry, we’ll manage somehow. These are hard times, we just have to be strong and work harder.”
The boy nodded, and Kate smiled at him, then she turned to greet a group of customers who had approached their stall.
She shuddered in recognizing them: it was a group of young men who she had already met in the past, during market days. They were arrogant knaves, always searching for a way to get in trouble and annoy people. Kate usually had nothing to do with them, because she usually went at the market with her mother and those boys were too coward to confront an adult, strong woman like her, they usually took advantage of weaker people.
But today Rebecca had to stay home because their little sister was ill, so the group of young men came to their stall, almost surrounding it.
One of them took a pot in his hands, and gave a lecherous look at Kate.
“That’s a nice pot, so full of curves...” He slurred, and Kate noticed with disgust that he was already drunk, so early in the day.
She glanced around to search for some support from the other merchants, but the pottery stall was a little apart from the others, and the closer one was a stall of a elderly farmer who was almost blind and who went to the market to sell the few eggs of her chicken.
It was clear that no help would come from there.
Kate inwardly sighed. She didn’t want to talk to those men, but she had to: they had to sell some of their vases, especially now that their sister was sick.
“My mother made it, do you want to buy it, sir? We have good prices.”
The boys laughed, and the one who looked to be their leader stared at Kate.
“Do you have good prices for something else, too?” He said, in an unmistakable tone.
“How dare you?!” Matthew cried, angry. “Don’t talk to my sister like that!”
“Oh, I think that she enjoys it,” the man replied. “Don’t you, pretty lady?”
“I don’t,” Kate said, icily, “now please, go away.”
The leader nodded at his friends, and two of them grabbed Matthew, while a third pointed a dagger to his belly.
“Oh, I think you will like me,” he said, staring at Kate, “you will. Or your little brother will die.”
“Let him go!”
The man put a hand under her chin, lifting her face.
“That depends on you.”
The one with the dagger used the blade to make a little cut on Matthew’s skin, and the boy yelped, then he began to weep, scared.
“You won’t dare!” Kate cried. “We are in the middle of the town!”
“Yes, and our fathers are the guards of the Sheriff. Do you think that they’re going to arrest us? I could take you on this stall and nobody would interfere.”
“Kate! Run away!” Matthew cried, but Kate looked at her brother and knew that he was terrified.
He had never been strong or really brave, and she always tried to protect him.
“Let him go, please,” she pleaded, but the boys just laughed.
Their leader grabbed her wrist to take her to a nearby alley, while the others dragged there her brother.
“Be nice to me and we’ll see.”
The man pushed her against a wall, and his hand lifted her skirt. If she were alone, she would have fought with all her strength, determined to die before letting him touch her, but the others were menacing her brother, and they could seriously hurt him if she didn’t surrender.
Kate closed her eyes and didn’t move.