Marian shuddered, thinking to the danger her father was getting into. She had been afraid to lose him because of his sickness, but now that he was better he could be executed by the Sheriff for treason!
She ran to the door, but Guy grabbed her arm to stop her.
“Let me go! I must go!”
Gisborne looked at her, his eyes full of worry too.
“To the castle! I must warn him and all the other nobles!”
The knight shook his head.
“We can’t just tell him that the King is a fake.”
The girl glared at him, angry.
“Are you afraid that they could find out your secret? Would you let innocent people die to save yourself?”
Guy closed his eyes for a moment, hurt by her words, then he looked at her again, not afraid to hold her gaze.
“No Marian, this is not about me. I don’t want to die, of course, but we can’t just go and say the truth. The Sheriff knows that only Hood and I can recognize the real King, and if he thought that I thwarted his plans, he’d get revenge on me and to every person close to me, including Sir Edward and you. Probably on the whole Knighton, too.”
The girl’s eyes welled with tears.
“What do we do, then?”
Guy thought for a moment.
“I can’t reveal the truth, but Hood can. He’s already an outlaw, he can expose the Sheriff’s lies without putting in danger anybody else.”
“Let’s go to the forest, then!”
“No, you stay here. Go to bed and stay there.”
Marian’s cheeks flushed with rage.
“Because I’m a woman?!”
“No, because I’ll go to Nottingham and I’ll tell your father that you’re ill again and that he must come home immediately. Meanwhile Allan will go to call Hood in the forest.”
“My father will worry to death!”
“It’s better than hanging to death. I’ll tell him the truth as soon as we are out of the castle.”
Marian nodded, pale as a ghost.
Guy gave her a little kiss on her cheek.
“Go to bed and send for Matilda. I’ll do anything possible to take your father home safely, I promise.”
He turned to go, but Marian called him.
He looked at her, and the girl rushed to give him a hug.
“Be careful, Guy! Please be careful. I want you back safely as well.”
Guy smiled to her, grateful to feel her affection.
“I will,” he said, then he went away.
Guy and Allan galloped side to side, along the main road.
“Are you sure you understood what you have to say to Hood?”
Allan looked at him.
“Giz, I’m not an idiot, you already repeated it at least a dozen times. ‘It’s a trap to make the nobles testify against the Sheriff and then execute them.’ Sometimes you’ll have to tell the full story to me, I’m not sure I understood what’s going on.”
“Just tell Hood to go to the castle as soon as he can. It’s a matter of life and death.”
“As long as it isn’t my death...”
“I know, I know, you’re not in the mood for jokes. But are you sure that Robin will listen to you? Don’t get me wrong, but the two of you aren’t exactly in friendly terms...”
“This time he will listen,” Guy said, trying to sound sure of himself.
“Well, we have to part roads, now. I go that way.”
“Hurry,” Guy said, “and tell Hood to hurry too.”
For once Allan didn’t complain about Guy giving orders to him, and departed for the forest.
As soon as he was alone, Guy spurred the stallion to increase his speed.
When Guy arrived at Nottingham, the castle was different than usual, all decked with flags and banners, as if the real King came visiting.
Guy thought that this time the Sheriff’s plan was more complex, with more attention to the details.
The courtyard was crowded with people from the town, who were curious to see the King, and the guards at the doors were wearing new uniforms. Gisborne couldn’t see any of the nobles, and he guessed that they had to be inside, in the Great Hall.
He hurried to dismount: if the false King had arrived, he didn’t have much time to save Sir Edward from the trap.
Guy took his staff and limped to the top of the stairs, trying to move as fast as he could. The guards at the door crossed their spears in front of him.
Guy looked at them and noticed that they were sneering, clearly happy to humiliate him.
“Let me pass!” He said, trying not to lose his temper. “I have an urgent message for Sir Edward!”
The guards exchanged a look.
“No weapons are allowed in presence of the King. You must leave them here.”
Guy didn’t like the idea to walk in to the castle unarmed, but he took off the scabbard with the sword.
“Your daggers too, Gisborne. We know you have them.”
“It’s ‘Sir Guy’ for you,” he growled, but he handed them the knives.
“And that staff.”
“I need it to walk.”
“Then you could consider to crawl. We won’t let you go inside with that.”
Guy glared at them, wishing that he could smash the staff on the heads of those guards. In that moment he could almost understand why Robin Hood had decided to become an outlaw.
But Marian’s father was more important than his own dignity, so Guy dropped the staff to the ground and finally he could limp through the door.
He leaned with a hand on the wall of the corridor to steady himself, but he forced himself to keep walking even if his leg hurt without the support of the staff.
The King went up on the long platform and looked at the crowd of nobles present saying:
"My Loyal subjects, We have survived the Holy Land. And We are grateful for your warm welcome. However, there are those amongst us who are disloyal. Who would plot against authority, who do not understand law and order. We must quash them now," the King said, looking sternly every single noble man in the hall. Then, suddenly, he turned his face looking straight to Vaisey.
"Arrest Sheriff Vaisey!"
"Me?"A surprised Vaisey said.
"Take him to the Dungeons!" The King ordered.
Two guards took a screaming and fighting Vaisey.
"Me? Me? Blithering oaf, me arrested? Arrest all of them! Idiotic Buffoon!”
Many rejoiced for Vaisey's imminent ruin, especially Lord Edward and Lord Merlon. Quite openly.
The King began to speak once the Sheriff was dragged away: "Good Subjects. We must judge the sheriff according to law. In such a case we will hear French evidence."
The King wants our testimonies, Edward thought.
Finally Guy reached the great hall, and he was relieved to see Sir Edward amongst the other nobles.
The room was in an uproar, with all the nobles talking to each other, clearly excited. Only the false King was silent, sitting solemnly on the throne.
Guy went down the stairs as fast as he could, almost stumbling, and reached Sir Edward, out of breath.
The elderly lord met him with a smile.
“I’m glad to see you here. Incredible news, Sir Guy, the Sheriff has been arrested, just a moment ago, and the King will collect our testimony to sentence him. It must be a relief for you too, you’ll be free from the man who hurt you so much!”
Guy shuddered, afraid that Sir Edward could say too much.
“You must come back to Knighton, my lord! Marian is very ill, she needs your presence immediately!”
The older man frowned. It was evident that Guy of Gisborne was upset, but his words sounded strange to him.
“Marian? It can’t be. I’ve seen her yesterday evening and she was perfectly well. It’s impossible that she got seriously ill in just a few hours.”
Guy grabbed Sir Edward’s arms and looked at him.
“But she is ill! And she needs you!”
Sir Edward studied his expression, and he thought that something wasn’t right. In the months when the knight had lived at Knighton, he had learned to know him a little better, and playing chess with him, he had always been able to understand when he was bluffing. Guy of Gisborne wasn’t a good liar, and now Sir Edward knew that he was lying, or at least he wasn’t saying all the truth.
“I know that you care much for my daughter, Sir Guy, but I’m afraid that you are exaggerating the situation. Yesterday Marian was perfectly fine, I don’t think she can be gravely ill. Maybe she’s just unwell and you are just too anxious.”
Guy was beginning to panic, afraid that Sir Edward wouldn’t listen to him.
“It was an accident! We were going out for a ride and my horse kicked her! Please, come home immediately! I wouldn’t have come here from Knighton if it wasn’t serious!”
Sir Edward stared at him, now beginning to be worried. Something still didn’t sound right in Gisborne’s words, but the knight was almost pleading him and it was clear that he was really worried.
Marian. My only daughter. But the King needs me…
He was about to follow Guy, when the King called his name.
Sir Edward froze.
He couldn’t disobey the King, could he?
“No,” Guy whispered, still grabbing his sleeve. “Don’t go, come with me.”
Sir Edward freed himself from his grasp.
“I must go. I’ll be quick, I’ll do my duty and then I’ll come home immediately.”
Guy saw that the false King was looking at Sir Edward, waiting for him to go out of the hall and give his testimony. Guy understood that he couldn’t delay him further without causing doubts.
He searched Sir Edward’s gaze, hoping that he would listen to him.
“Whatever you do, don’t testify against the Sheriff,” he said in a hurried whisper. “Trust me, I beg you. Remember: only speak in favor of lord Vaisey.”
Sir Edward stared back at him, his expression inscrutable, then he left the hall.
Allan had some trouble finding Robin in the forest. Neither he nor the other outlaws were in the original camp. Eventually he found them discussing the need to use an old cave, full of bats, as a new, and more secret base. Much was particularly agitated because of the animals. Allan was laughing at thinking how a man who had come back from a bloody war might feel terror for some stupid flying mice.
But it wasn’t time to joke. He got off the horse and raised his hands, indicating that he had not come with bad intentions.
"What do you want, is your new dark master who sends you? What does Gisborne want, now?" Robin shouted.
"He wants you to intervene right away. You must save Edward's life, and the other nobles who are still faithful to the King. They will be in serious trouble shortly: Vaisey's trap is already working and Edward is in Nottingham. They need your help, Robin, and yours too, boys. I'm not being funny but you should go immediately and postpone the moving."
“And what would the trap be?” Robin asked, “ What about Gisborne? And how did he know? Old friends in Nottingham?” Robin said with suspicion in his voice.
"The master of arms brought Vaisey's invitation to Lord Edward, and to other noblemen in the county. And he insisted that it was the right opportunity to denounce the Sheriff's actions to the King."
“But that man is not the King!” Robin shouted. “I saw him at his ‘camp’. He is an impostor, and Alexander... knows the real King very well. My God...”, Robin said, taking full knowledge of the situation. “Alexander knows and follows the Sheriff's agenda. He wants to attract Edward and the others to face a fake King, They want to trap them, somehow. That's a trap, and Shrewsbury is a bloody traitor. And a thief too.” Robin thought about the royal seal on the message sent to him by the false king.
Allan said: “Look, Robin, there is no time: Edward has already left Nottingham to go to the castle. Guy is going there, to alert Edward, but he is alone. A lot of people could die.”
“And the proud dark knight is not enough to defeat a fake king, eh?" Robin said in a mocking tone. "Well, it's time for the true heroes to come into action, let's have a good time with the Sheriff, the Sheriff has put on a fair staging. So, boys, we will be on the stage too. Let's go.”
The outlaws took the horses. Much sighed with relief at the idea that for a while he wouldn’t see bats buzzing around him. Allan struggled to hold back laughter. But then he too started riding to Nottingham.
When they arrived in Nottingham, the outlaws pulled the hoods over their heads and mingled themselves with the crowd of servants preparing the banquet for the King and the court nobles. And in short, their knowledge of the castle led them to enter the great salon, unnoticed.
The false King, a old, tall man, with a gray beard sat on a big bench at the end of the hall. Vaisey was nowhere to be seen, not even his Master of arms was there.
The young Djaq thought that Gisborne could, for once, really be right.
Meanwhile Walter, Lord of Merlon, walked alone along the corridor, ready to give testimony against Sheriff Vaisey. He had been in silence for years in silence struggling under the sheriff's violences, without being able to oppose, humiliated, waiting for the right opportunity to rise against him. Now he proudly walked into the corridor.
He had been told: "Go left, a gauche, to give evidence for the Sheriff. Go Right, a droit, to give evidence against the Sheriff."
He turned to the right. He knocked on the door.
In the room he saw an old, curved man dressed in a brown robe that covered him almost completely, sitting behind a desk ready to take note of his testimony.
It’s time to get rid of tyranny, he thought.
“Do you wish to give evidence against the Sheriff?” The old man asked, his voice altered.
“I do,” Lord Merlon said, proudly.
“Good,” the man said, “God Save the King!”
He revealed his face to the astonished Lord, his identity: Vaisey, with his smiling face and mocking tone. He pulled a large dagger out of the brown dress.
Lord Merlon didn’t have time to unsheathe his sword, because a dagger struck him in his back several times, quickly. He fell on the floor did just in time to see the face of his assassin, the Master of Arms, Alexander of Shrewsbury. One last struggling, painful breath. And already the Master of Arms was ready to carry the fresh corpse in the next room, while Vaisey was about to welcome the next traitor in the same way.
He was hoping to see Lord Knighton in the room shortly. In their mortal trap.
In the meanwhile, Robin was searching for a way to enter the higher part of the castle. He took a cord and throw it to Much.
Much understood Robin 's intentions: "Climbing. You know I hate climbing."
Robin threw an arrow with the cord tied to it, hitting the wall in a very high place, near an open window. And he quickly climbed the wall.
Sir Edward walked along the corridor, his steps slow, his heart troubled. He kept thinking to the strange behavior of Guy of Gisborne, hearing again his words in his mind.
Marian sick or injured… Was it possible?
His beautiful daughter, his sweet, clever, brave daughter, the only good thing that he had accomplished in his life…
Sometimes Marian had accused him to be not brave enough, that it was his fault too if Vaisey took so much power, and maybe it was true… He had been a decent Sheriff, he had tried to be just and to do the best for the people of Nottingham, but what was left of all his work, of all his past?
Just Marian, beautiful like her mother and so full of spirit.
Could she really be in danger?
He thought of the first years of her life, when she ran to him after a fall, her knees scratched, and tears in her eyes, but not crying, trying to be brave and strong in spite of the pain. Then he would take her in his arms and hold her on his heart, her little, soft cheek pressed against his, her arms around his neck. He would clean her scratches, and then he would kiss them better, making her laugh.
“Father, you’re so strong and brave that the pain goes away. You scare every pain!”
Sir Edward wanted to run home, to see if she was really hurt and to do anything to keep pain away from her, if only he could.
But he knew that Marian wouldn’t want that. She hated the Sheriff for all the evil he brought to the County, she dreamed of the time when Nottingham would be free from him, and now it was his chance to make a difference.
If she was on her deathbed, she would use her last breath to say him to do the right thing, he was sure of it.
Please be safe, my child, be well. I swear, I’ll do this quickly and I’ll come home right away.
He made another step, looking at the doors: left to testify in favor of the Sheriff, right to accuse him.
He came to Nottingham knowing perfectly what to do, he couldn’t wait to help in getting rid of that evil man, but he hesitated.
He could still see the desperate, pleading gaze of Sir Guy.
Whatever you do, don’t testify against the Sheriff. Trust me, I beg you. Remember: only speak in favor of lord Vaisey.
That was the matter.
Could he really trust him?
Sir Guy did so much for Knighton, for him and for Marian, but now he was asking him to save the Sheriff from his just punishment.
Was he afraid that the king could punish him as well for working for Vaisey? And if so, was Sir Guy asking him to sacrifice the wellness of England just to save himself?
Before the accident, Guy of Gisborne did every kind of terrible things for the Sheriff, he acted cruelly, showing no mercy for anyone who dared to defy Vaisey’s authority.
When Gisborne forced Marian in their engagement, suspecting her of betrayal, he arrived to the point of slapping him just because he had tried to protect his daughter from his wrath.
It was true that after the accident he had changed, becoming a good man, acting almost like a son to him, but Sir Edward couldn’t forget the kind of man he had been once. It was like two different persons lived inside Guy of Gisborne, and he only trusted one of them.
He was pleading me.
A proud knight like him, begging him to speak in favor of the Sheriff!
Why, Sir Guy? Is that man so important for you? Are you willing to sell your soul to that devil?
He had thought that Sir Guy was loyal to his family now. His behavior was surely a big disappointment.
Sir Edward stopped, unable to take a decision.
The moment he was about to enter the door to his right side, Robin was behind him.
Robin put his hand on his shoulder and whispered: “Trap”.
Edward looked at him, surprised: Gisborne had been right.
In Vaisey's room, the Sheriff was looking forward for the next murder.
He heard another person coming in.
Without looking at him he said: "Do you want to give evidence against the Sheriff?"
The man didn’t answer.
Two quick arrows, instead, stuck in the table, entangling his brown robes.
Robin Hood was in front of him, armed, laughing, and saying: “A clue, no!”
And he left the room.
Vaisey shouted: “Help! Help!!”
Alexander, who was hiding in the next room, came in as soon as he saw the young Robin, released the Sheriff immediately, freeing him from the arrows.
Vaisey was furious.
"Why did not you stop him before? Idiot! We have to chase and arrest him! Your fantastic plan... Robin didn’t believe it, huh?” Vaisey took an arrow and snapped it at the man's backside, while Alexander was running out of the room. Alexander accused the shot and looked at Vaisey with anger.
"You wanted Gisborne's position. Now you have it. Let's go, idiot!!” The Sheriff said.
The two ran to the hall, while Alexander thought he would have his revenge, for this humiliation too. The sooner the better.
Much entered the great hall running and screaming: "It's a trap, it's s a trap. This is not the King!. Arrest that impostor!"
Everyone was astonished.
Allan said: "I knew it, Guy was right!"
The false king, in fear, shouted: "Get Him!"
Much, watching his friends in the background, said: "Run!"
Djaq, Little John, Allan and Will started to run, while Robin entered the hall running with a cord on his shoulder.
The guards tried to stop the outlaws, and in a few moments they were blocked by some of them.
Robin hit a guard on his face and shouted: "Shall we Leave?", creating a way to allow his comrades to flee.
"We're happy to see you," Will said, "Thank you, Robin."
Robin ran over the stairs of the hall, and a voice stopped him.
"Robin!" The sheriff shouted, "Not so fast, my friend!"
He was sure he was putting him in a trap.
Meanwhile Allan went frantically looking for Lord Edward, and finally he found him.
“Sorry to burst your bubble, Hood,” the sheriff said, holding a dagger under Much's neck. "But I'm sure you know how this goes, huh? Hands up!”
Robin glanced up in search of a solution, then he looked at the sheriff.
"Spoiled my game, Hood, tut-tut."
Robin shouted: "John, catch!"
But it was Will who grabbed the cord instead, while John took the guards by surprise putting a sack over their bodies, and Will passed the rope around them.
Robin pulled out and fired out an arrow, ending in Vaisey's shoe. Vaisey looked at his feet without understanding, but Much smiled, he moved away from the sheriff, and in a few seconds Vaisey found himself hanging on the ceiling as the tied guards were shipped down from the stairs as a counterweight.
Robin shouted: "Everybody still if you please”, pointing his bow to the guards, while Vaisey was wriggling, in the air.
"I think we can safely say... that an audience with the King has been suspended!" Robin said ironically, then, turning to his comrades, "Come on, lads. Let's go home!"
Robin and the outlaws went away as Vaisey screamed at Alexander, who had just entered the hall with a lot of the guards: "Get me down from here, you blithering oaf! Catch them!!!"
But Robin, Much, Little John, Will and Djaq were now far away.