Guy was in the desert again: he felt the hot wind on the only exposed parts of his body: the skin around his eyes and his hands. The sword was too heavy in his hands, and his heart was beating too fast. Guy was afraid that the sleeping man in front of him could hear it, be awoken by his ragged breath, or by the smell of his sweat.
The blade trembled in his hands, and Guy knew that to kill the sleeping king he would need just a moment, but he couldn’t move, he was frozen by fear.
Then Robin of Locksley entered the tent, and King Richard woke up.
Guy’s only hope was to attack Robin and run away, but he couldn’t. He just stood there, staring at the two men until the guards came to arrest him.
King Richard walked to him and grabbed the scarf that covered his head, revealing his face.
“To death,” he said.
Guy woke up with a scream, and his hand ran to touch his throat, to feel if the noose was around his neck.
He was in his room, at Knighton. Safe.
He took a deep breath, trying to calm down. He looked around, hoping that no servants had heard him. Both Matilda and Marian said that sometimes he talked in his sleep, and now he was afraid to reveal his secret, the secret that could lead him to a certain death.
I must calm down, or it will be my undoing.
Guy looked at the window: the sky was still dark, with a hint of pink. It was almost dawn, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep.
He got up, and he dressed quietly, then he took his staff and walked out of his room.
The servants were already up, working in silence to be ready when the rest of the house would wake up.
“Oh! Sir Guy!” James said, rushing into the hall. “I didn’t know that you were awake. Do you need something, Sir? I’ll tell the cook to prepare a meal for you, if you wish.”
“No need for that. Please, just pack some bread and some cheese, and send them to the stables. I’ll have my horse saddled and I’ll go hunting in the forest, so I can train with my bow.”
“Do you want me to wake up Allan A Dale, Sir Guy?”
Guy thought for a moment. The company of the former outlaw would take his mind away from his worries, but Gisborne was afraid that Allan could ask what worried him so much, and he didn’t want to risk exposing his secret.
“No, James, thank you. Let him sleep, or his endless chatter will scare the preys.”
Later, Guy was riding through the forest. He knew that wandering in the woods could be dangerous for a man alone, but he had his bow, even if he was anything but a good shot, and he also had his staff and his sword. He was well able to defend himself from outlaws.
The morning was cold, but the quiet of Sherwood forest calmed him, it made him feel better. The shadows of the trees were reassuring, they were so different from the desert that now his dream was just a far, weak nightmare, too exotic to be real.
Guy took the bow, and he aimed to a bird, but he missed.
He was half disappointed and half glad for that: his aim was still terrible, but he was happy that he didn’t kill the little creature, as he didn’t want more blood on his hands.
But he wanted to find the arrow, so he dismounted and limped through the bushes to search for it.
He spotted it on the ground, near the edge of a cliff, and he thought that he had been lucky that it stopped there: a few steps further, and the arrow would have been lost.
Guy walked to the arrow, but instead of picking it and going away, he ducked to the ground: there were voices in the valley under the cliff, the voices of many men.
Gisborne wondered if he had discovered some hidden camp of outlaws, maybe it was Hood’s camp, he thought, but it was strange: he had searched it for many months, and never found it.
He was sure that he had already been in that valley when he had hunted Hood using the dogs.
Guy looked down, hiding behind a bush, and gasped: those men were not outlaws, but soldiers, and they wore King Richard’s colors!
He stood still, trying to breathe slowly. He knew that he should run away, but he couldn’t move.
Gisborne couldn’t stop looking at the King’s camp, trying to get a glance at the man who could seal his doom. He could still see in his mind the sleeping King of his dream, how terrible his eyes had looked when he had unmasked him, condemning him to death, and now he felt the morbid need to see him again, to be certain that the King was really there.
After a while, he spotted a crowned head coming out from the main tent of the camp, and Guy felt a shiver freezing the sweat on his back. The King was there! The man who could destroy him with a single word!
Then Guy looked better at him, and frowned: the man who was wearing the crown wasn’t King Richard! He could remember him well: the King had blond hair, and he was a strong man, while the man who was wearing the crown was shorter, thinner, and had dark hair, with a touch of gray.
What was going on? There was a man dressed like King Richard, surrounded by soldiers wearing King Richard’s colors, but he wasn’t King Richard.
Guy couldn’t fully understand what was going on, but he knew that he had to tell Marian about it.
She shared his secret, and she’d surely knew what to do. He mounted on his horse quietly, and he went back to Knighton.
Marian nocked the arrow in the bow. The target was just a dark spot in the light but persistent fog that surrounded her. It was early morning. Nevertheless, hitting the target was her priority.
She shot the arrow which embedded itself in the target, but Marian could not see at what level the arrow was stuck.
A noise of horses behind her, getting stronger and stronger.
Then silence and then noise of steps, so many steps.
A tall, massive man, surrounded by soldiers, advanced confident towards her. A long, large white mantle lined with ermine covered him, surrounded him, covering, in the movement, a lot of her visual.
He was dressed with a long, long white tunic, with a big cross drawn over, colored of a bright red. The fog seemed to drift to his passage, as if it bowed to so much power and dignity.
The man, apparently, coming close to her, seemed now to be even more massive and imposing. His big chest filled with medals. The facial features hard, massive, volitional. The sharp look, hawk's like.
The soldiers were standing behind him as the man made his last steps toward her.
Marian felt uncertain between fear and curiosity, but she couldn't do nothing but stare at the man, clutching at the same time the bow in her hands.
“Marian of Knighton, this is how you welcome your King?” The man said.
Marian felt the skin of her face blazing over a sudden heat.
Was this therefore her King, the King of England?
Marian bowed deeply in front of the man.
Looking from the bottom up, Marian saw him being even more impressive, imposing.
"My Sire," she said.
"I'm back, Marian, justice will now be done. The King wants it. What are you hiding? What are you hiding from your King?” He asked in a harsh and, at the same time, insinuating tone.
Without thinking, Marian answered as a little girl who was caught in a lie and still hoped, despite everything, not to be discovered.
"Nothing, My Sire, nothing, you've come back, finally. A man, evil, cruel, pervert, has dominated these lands using your name to harm us all."
"And did you fight him, Marian?" He said, looking at her bow.
"Oh, yes, Sire, I fought him the best I could," she said, proudly, proud of what the Nightwatchman had done. Perhaps the King knew. Of course, the King knew of her courage and her efforts.
Maybe Robin had spoken to the King of her.
"Not enough, Marian, you haven’t fought enough. You've been beaten, you've lost."
Marian lowered her head with shame.
She felt vulnerable, impotent, accused of something she did not understand. How could she defeat Vaisey all alone? Yet she had put it all in this venture, risking life, home, family, just to hinder Vaisey.
"Sire, forgive me, I humbly ask forgiveness. I tried to fight him, to hinder his path, but I couldn’t defeat him," the girl said.
"Despite your efforts, it is up to the King to put an end to this abomination," the man said, "and I will do it. Look at him for a last time, look at his face, Marian, look at your enemy, defeated, ready to perish," the King said, with evident disdain in his hard voice.
From behind the white mantle, a black figure stained in multiple points by red blood was pushed by the soldiers in front of the King, and in front of her eyes, and literally thrown to the ground.
Ripped black clothes, wounds open, full of mud and blood, Guy loudly fell to the ground in front of her, hands and feet chained.
Marian threw herself at the feet of the wounded man, terrified, shocked.
Slowly Guy opened his eyes and recognized her, whispering her name with a broken voice, as in a painful but definitive farewell.
His eyes were full of fear, and sorrow, and of an indomitable sadness that broke her heart.
Marian remained on her knees, searching for his face with her hand, in a desperate caress, looking imploringly and desperately at the King.
"Sire, no, not him, please, spare him from your right wrath. I beg you, he's not the monster, it's Vaisey, it's Vaisey who gave him the orders, he's the monster, he. Take him, arrest him. He is pure evil. He is the devil!"
"The devil's accomplice is the devil himself. You will soon be free from his evil spirit. You'll be free to marry Robin, now. Everything will be as it should have been, as it was before the war. Leave him to me Marian, let me do it."
The King took out his big, hard sword, and raised it against Guy's body.
Guy, in a last effort, tried to push Marian away from him with an arm, ready and resigned to die, whispering "I love you" at her. A small, sad smile on his face.
Marian threw herself on him to protect him, but now there was nothing in her hands. There was nothing. Only the cold ground.
Marian looked up, her eyes full of tears.
The King turned his back to her. He went away, shrugging his shoulders, his big white cloak moving slowly, leaving a wide stream of blood behind him.
Marian opened her eyes.
She was now sitting on the bed, her eyes full of tears, her heart pounding strongly in her chest, murmuring like she was chanting.
"I love you, Guy, I love you too."
Marian got up from the bed, her heart still pounding. She was afraid.
Afraid of that new feeling that was born in her heart, and afraid of her dream.
She didn’t want to lose Guy. She couldn’t lose him.
Not now that she loved him.
She wanted to run to his room, just to be certain that he was there and that he was well, but she forced herself to calm down first, and get dressed.
Only then, after doing that, she allowed herself to get downstairs. She went to knock at Guy’s door, but the door was already open, and the room empty.
She felt her heart sink, terrified that her dream could be true, and that Guy was gone, lost forever.
“James?” She called, trying to hide the emotion in her voice.
“Yes, milady?” The elderly servant immediately came in the hall.
“Where is Sir Guy?”
“He woke up very early this morning, before dawn. He went to the forest to hunt, to practice with the bow.”
“Did Allan A Dale go with him?”
“No, milady. He went alone.”
Marian forced herself to keep calm, but she was really worried. What if Guy crossed the path of the king? What if he was arrested?
The girl wanted to take a horse and run to search for Guy, to find him and take him back at home, safely.
It was insane, she thought. Probably Guy was perfectly well, and he just went for an early ride after being confined in the house for such a long time.
Nevertheless, she went to the stables.
She was about to saddle her horse, when she heard the sound of hooves approaching.
A moment after, Guy’s stallion entered the stables, and the knight dismounted.
Marian looked at him, holding her breath: he was fine, unhurt and free, and he seemed to get better everyday. Now he didn’t need help anymore to get on and off his horse, and he was strong and healthy. He still limped, but it didn’t matter to her.
The knight looked preoccupied, deep in his thoughts, but he noticed her, as if he always knew where she was.
“Marian?” He said, a little concerned.
A moment later the girl threw herself in his arms, pulling him in a tight hug.
“You’re back! Thank God you’re back!”
Guy held her close, really worried now.
“What happened, Marian? Is someone ill?!”
The girl closed her eyes, her cheek pressed to Guy’s face, and she breathed in the scent of his skin, grateful that he was there, safe and well.
“I was afraid that something could have happened to you,” she confessed, still hugging him. “I was terrified that you could be in danger!”
Guy didn’t understand why she had been so scared for him, but he was deeply moved that she cared for him so much. It was a warm sensation that he had rarely experienced in his life.
He remembered how his mother had hugged him when the return of his father had saved him from being executed. She kept her calm in front of the people of Gisborne, but later, in the privacy of the manor, she had hugged him, crying and crying, thanking God that her son had been spared.
Marian behavior reminded him of that moment.
He lifted a hand to caress her hair.
“I’m here, you don’t have to worry for me. I’m perfectly well.”
She touched his face, moving her fingers to trace his chin, to comb his hair, and then she kissed him, her eyes full of tears.
Guy kissed her back, tenderly, with such emotion that he felt that he could weep too, and when the kiss ended, Marian leaned her head on his chest, with a sigh, listening to his heartbeat.
“I had a dream, a nightmare,” she whispered. “The king wanted to kill you...”
“Maybe we had the same nightmare, then. I always dream that, since I heard that he was going to come back to England.”
“Don’t joke, Guy, it was horrible!”
“Do you care so much for me?” He asked, smiling, and Marian blushed, understanding that she had revealed her feelings too much. She had just found out that she loved him and she didn’t want to tell him so soon.
She gave him a little kiss on the tip of his nose, and she smiled back to him.
“Of course I do, you’re family, now.”
Guy looked at her, with a little smirk.
Marian shook her head, a little annoyed, now.
“I’m serious now, Guy. It could have been dangerous for you to go riding in the forest, the King has a camp there!”
“I know, I’ve seen it.”
Marian stared at him in disbelief.
“Did they see you?! Guy! I want you to keep away from the King! I don’t want you to risk your life!”
“Marian? How did you know about the camp? It’s not the kind of thing that a King says to the people...”
The girl blushed. She didn’t want to talk about Robin to him, but she had vowed that she would never lie to Guy again.
“Robin told me. He got a message from the King, he wants to meet him before he reaches Nottingham. It will be a good opportunity for Robin to warn him about the Sheriff.”
Guy frowned. He didn’t like to hear his rival’s name on Marian’s lips. But, amidst his jealousy, something in Marian’s words impressed him. There was something wrong in what she said, and soon Guy realized what it was.
“It can’t be.”
“Why?” Marian asked. “Robin was in the personal guard of the King, it’s normal that he wants to see him.”
“Yes, if that was the King.”
“What do you mean, Guy?”
“I came home to tell you about it… I was hunting in the forest, when I found the camp. I was hidden, so nobody saw me, but I could see everything very well. The soldiers wore King’s Richard's colors, and they had his coat of arms on their shields, but the crowned man who went out from the King’s tent wasn’t King Richard! It was another man!”
Marian stared at him, astonished.
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve seen King Richard. Very well, too. I am sure.”
“How can it be?”
Guy thought for a moment.
“It must be a plot of the Sheriff, a decoy of some sort.”
“But Robin got a message from the King, there was his seal on it!”
“Then the Sheriff set a trap for him. It could be a plan to capture Hood.”
Marian resumed saddling her horse.
“I have to warn him!”
Guy stopped her.
“Marian, you can’t!”
“But I can’t let him to fall in a trap!”
Guy inwardly sighed, saddened that Marian seemed to care so much for Hood too.
“And you can’t get yourself arrested. The Sheriff would do it for sure if anybody should see you with Hood. Think of your father, it would kill him!”
“What can we do?!” She asked, beginning to feel frantic.
“When should he go there?”
“There is still time then.” Guy looked at the girl, serious. “You stay here, Marian, I’ll go to warn Hood. I tried to capture him for months, it wouldn’t be strange if they should see me with him. I could always say that I was trying to arrest him to be back in the good graces of the Sheriff.”
“Would you really do that for Robin? I thought that you hated him.”
“There is bad blood between us, it’s true, but I hate Vaisey more than I hate Hood, right now. And I have to admit that Hood does something good for the people. He saved our convoy when we went to York, it’s time that I repay my debt.”
The girl hugged him again, grateful, happy and scared at the same time.
“I always thought that you could be a good man, Guy. Now I know it for sure.” She looked at him, serious and pale. “Be careful, I couldn’t bear to lose you.”
Guy cupped her face with a hand, and bent to place a little, tender kiss on her other cheek.
“I will always come back to you. Not even Death itself could keep me away from you.”
“Don’t talk about Death! Guy, there’s something I need to tell you. Something important. I just realized it... I...”
Gisborne put a finger on her lips.
“Wait. You’ll tell it to me when I’ll be back. See? Now you can be certain that I will come home again: I have to hear what you want to say to me.” Guy smiled, and he mounted on his horse. “I love you, Marian. Trust me.”
The knight went away before she could say anything, and she walked out of the stables to see him ride away.
She was worried for Robin, but she felt proud of Guy and scared for him at the same time.
I love you, that’s what I’m going to say, so be safe and come home soon.