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The Nightwatchman Doesn't Kill

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Robin pointed the sword at Guy’s throat, panting. Gisborne was lying to the ground on his back after another fall, his eyes closed and his face pale, completely out of breath.
“I think we can stop for today,” the outlaw said, a little worried, but Guy shook his head.
“No. I just need to rest for a moment.”
Robin sat to the ground near Gisborne.
“You are exhausted, I think that you should go home, eat something and get some sleep.”
“I don’t need food or sleep to drive me.”
“Don’t be an idiot now. You won’t be of any help to your sister if you arrive to the trial overtired and without energy.”
Guy opened his eyes, staring at the canopy of trees over their heads.
“I must keep training.”
Robin stretched himself on his back too, crossing his arms behind his head.
“You’re not bad Gisborne, really.”
“I’m not good enough. I still can’t defeat you.”
Robin grinned.
“Why? Do you think anyone could ever defeat me?”
Guy rolled on his side to look at him.
“You always have to boast, don’t you?” He said with an ironic smirk, but the tone of his voice wasn’t bitter.
Robin smiled at him.
“Listen, Gisborne. I wouldn’t train you if I didn’t think you can succeed. We’ve been rivals for a very long time and once I’d have wished to see you dead, but now it’s different. If I were sure that you’re going to lose the duel, I wouldn’t let you go and face certain death. If this were just a useless sacrifice, I would stop you.”
“Really, Hood?”
“Sure. You are a good swordsman, and you are stronger than you look. If you can’t defeat me, it’s partly because I know that your leg is not as weak as it can seem, so I won’t fall for the tricks I taught you, and partly because this is not the real thing.”
Guy sat up, looking at him.
“What do you mean?”
“Now we’re training, when you fight against me there isn’t the life of your sister at stake.” Robin grinned, and put a hand on Guy’s chest, on his heart. “When you’ll have to fight for her, I know that you’ll do it with all your heart. The love you feel for her will give you strength, I’m sure of it.”
Guy glanced at Robin’s hand, surprised. He still wasn’t used to be treated with kindness, especially when he was away from Knighton, and surely not by Robin. They weren’t enemies anymore but those words, and that touch, probably meant that they had become more than allies, friends maybe.
Guy nodded, and he touched for a moment Robin’s hand with his own.
“Thank you,” he said, grateful, and Robin smiled at him, then Guy stood up, holding his hand to help Robin to his feet. “I guess you are right, I’d better go home now.”
Home. It was a sweet word, having a home was another thing he wasn’t used to, but now, thanks to Marian, Sir Edward and the kids, it was real to him. A place where he was welcome, a place where he could go back after an exhausting day and where he could feel safe.
If only Marian was there to welcome him with her sweet love… Guy’s thoughts went to her, and he prayed that she was safe and that she had found the traveling court.
He was worried, he knew that the world could be such a dangerous place, especially for a woman, but he forced himself to have faith in her.
She will succeed. She will be back soon.
His worst fear was that she could came back too late, that he could die during the trial by combat without seeing her one last time.
Come back Marian, come back to me.
“Gisborne?” Robin called him, and Guy turned to look at him, startled. “Are you all right?”
Guy nodded.
“Yes, I was thinking.”
“Don’t think too much, just believe that you can save your sister. We can save her, you’re not alone, Gisborne.”

When Guy arrived at Knighton, the sun was already setting, so he was surprised to see Matilda sitting on a bench just out of the manor. He hurried to dismount and the woman stood up to reach him.
“Why are you here?”Guy asked, anxiously. “Is Sir Edward ill? Or the kids?”
The woman shook her head, smiling at him.
“They are all as well as they can be, don’t worry, love. I came here to see you.”
“Me?”
“What are you up to?”
“What do you mean?”
“The kids, Sir Edward, Allan and everyone else here at Knighton think that you spend the whole day at the castle, following the orders of the Sheriff.”
“I do.”
“Not the whole day, love, don’t try to deceive me. I see people, I cure the inhabitants of the villages and sometimes the merchants who go to the market in Nottingham, and all of them love to gossip. One thing they all mention is the description of the humiliating tasks that the Sheriff gives to you. I’m sorry, sweetie, but a lot of those peasants still hate you, they have fun to see you so ill treated.”
“That’s not a surprise. I know that. I can’t change what they think, if that’s how they have fun, so be it.”
Matilda gave a pointed look at him.
“That’s not all they say.”
“What else?”
“They all said that the Sheriff usually gets tired of his games soon enough. As soon as he is sure that he has hurt your feelings and your pride, he sends you away from the castle…” Matilda crossed her arms in front of her. “So, what do you do with the rest of your day? Why do you come home so late and looking so exhausted? What are you hiding from your friends?”
Guy smiled at her.
“I go to the forest to get some training with Robin.”
The healer looked at him, surprised.
“Really? Are you becoming friends now that you both know the truth about your parents?”
“Maybe. Robin is helping me a lot, I’m grateful.”
Matilda nodded.
“Why all the secret, my dear? Why didn’t you tell your friends that you spend time with Robin? I’m sure they would approve.”
“Can you keep a secret, Matilda?”
The woman glared at him, offended.
“You should know that I do!”
Guy lowered his gaze.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean that I don’ trust you...”
Matilda took his hands, with a smile.
“I know, I know, silly boy, no need to apologize. Come, sit with me on that bench and tell me everything. I think that you are very tired and that your leg is paining you, am I wrong?”
Guy obeyed, grateful.
“You are rarely wrong.”
“So, what are you doing in the forest with Robin? Why are you training so hard?”
“If Marian shouldn’t come back in time, I won’t let my sister face the false justice of the Sheriff. I’ll ask a trial by combat and I’ll fight for her life.”
Matilda held her breath for a moment, terrified, and she looked at Guy, at the tired face of the man who she had come to love as a son. She wanted to say that it was a folly, that she forbid him to throw away his life like that, but she suddenly realized that she couldn’t stop him.
Guy wouldn’t let his sister die, he couldn’t stand it. If Isabella should be executed by the Sheriff, Gisborne would never be able to forgive himself for selling her to her husband, he’d think that his sister’s situation was his fault and he couldn't live in peace if anything should happen to her.
“It will be dangerous, love.”
“Do you think I’m too weak to fight?”
Matilda stared at him for a moment, then she shook her head.
“I was thinking that I’m very proud of you. When you were hurt in that accident, everyone thought that you were finished, but look at you now! You’re strong and brave, ready to fight for the persons you love! Come here, sweetie, bend down a little.”
Guy obeyed, and the woman kissed his forehead.
“Of course I’m worried,” she continued, “anyone would be if a loved person was going to fight in a duel, but my worries won’t help you. My cares could, instead. I can prepare a few remedies to give you strength and on the day of the duel I can massage and bandage your leg so it won’t be a hindrance, not too much at least. And you have to eat well and have a good rest at night in these days. You’re so pale and tired! I bet that you didn’t eat properly at lunch either.”
“I can’t afford to lose time, Matilda. I have to win that duel for Isabella.”
“Rest and food are important too, love. You don’t lose time if you stop for a while to relax and keep your strength. Now listen to me: go inside, have a good dinner with your family and don’t worry about anything, enjoy the company of the kids and your friends, then take a bath, warm water is good for your body after training so hard, and go to bed. Can you sleep well?”
“Sometimes I can’t sleep at all. I keep thinking of Isabella. How can I sleep when she’s in the dungeons, in such a great danger?”
Matilda shook her head.
“This won’t do, love. You must rest if you want to win that duel. I can give you something to help you with sleep but it could slow your reflexes when you fight. It would be better if you could sleep without taking a remedy. When you go to bed try to think only of things that make you feel good and try to relax. Worrying won’t help Isabella.”
“I’ll try.”
“Good boy. Now go, your family is waiting for you.” The woman stood up, and she smiled at Guy, fondly. “I’m happy that you decided to tell me what you plan to do. I will help you, you can count on it, and you’ll succeed. You can do it, love, and you will.”

Djaq took a bunch of dried herbs and she began grinding them with a stone. She didn’t look at her work, repeating the same movement over and over, but she was lost in her memories.
In those memories she was very young, just a child, and she was sitting in the shade of the wall of the house. Inside, her father was treating a man, a farmer who got a bad cut on his hand while trying to remove a dead tree. She had asked her father if she could help him, eager to learn his art of healing, but her father had told her that she was still too young.
She knew that it wasn’t the real reason for his refusal, but she pretended to accept that explanation.
The truth was that she was a woman, and the only thing she was expected to do was to obey, to become a quiet and meek wife and bear the children of the husband who her parents were going to choose for her. But deep in her heart she hoped that her future could be different, that she could have choices, just like her twin brother.
Her father was kind, he didn’t let her help with his patient, but he found a way to make her feel useful, asking her to grind some of the herbs he needed. So she was sitting there with a mortar in front of her, and she worked, listening to her father’s voice coming from inside the house.
The war was still far away from her life, she still couldn’t imagine the horror of the battlefields where so many men lost their lives, she was still completely innocent, the future still full of hope.
She knew that Djaq, her brother, was always ready to play with her, to share every secret of his heart, as they always did since their birth.
Now, in the heart of Sherwood Forest, the girl was doing those same gestures, but everything was so different... Her parents never got to choose a husband for her and Djaq was gone, just like dust scattered in the wind.
She lifted a hand to wipe her cheeks, to hide her tears before the outlaws could notice that she was crying, but when she looked around, she noticed that nobody was looking at her.
Robin wasn’t there, recently he rarely was at the camp. He was always busy visiting Guy’s sister at the castle, or helping peasants. In the last few days, he disappeared in the afternoon, coming back only at sunset, tired, dirty and disheveled, as if he had spent those hours fighting or hunting. If the others asked him where he had been, Robin never gave a clear answer, changing subject or being vague.
Djaq wished that Allan was there, but the young man was very busy at Knighton now that Guy had to go at the castle everyday and with all the kids living there. Will, the shy boy who always looked at her in silence, was often at Knighton too. Not willingly at first, but sent by Robin to build the furniture needed for the children and to fix a few parts of the manor that required the work of a carpenter. The first days he went there, Will came back dark in his face, unhappy to have to work to help Gisborne, but after two of three days, his mood improved, and now he seemed eager to go there early and to come back late. Djaq suspected that his sudden change of heart was related to the pretty blonde girl who Guy had hired to look after the kids. In that case, she’d be happy for Will, of course, but she also felt a little sad because now she was lonely, sad and angry.
Much and Little John were the ones who spent more time at the camp, but they were both too busy to notice her mood, one helping Robin and fretting about his new alliance with Guy, and the other taking food and supplies to the poor.
Djaq tried to follow Robin’s and Guy’s advice, to trust their words and wait patiently, but she couldn’t, her mind kept revolving around the same thought, over and over: her dear, kind, beloved brother was dead, while the man who had ruthlessly killed him was alive, in good health and still oppressing people, in a position of power. She couldn’t bear it, she couldn’t find peace until that murderer was alive.
The girl thought that surely Robin and Gisborne would help her to get her revenge. After they had solved their own problems, after they had saved Isabella, righted the wrongs and helped the poor.
She stopped grinding the herbs, dropping the stone she was using for that purpose.
I can’t wait. I won’t wait.

Marian decided it was time to have a proper dinner, and rest. She saw an old tavern and she decided to ask for a room for the night.
The old innkeeper stared at her, looking at her appearance with a glance that was halfway between curiosity and mockery. A woman alone in a tavern… She could bring trouble to his place, but she had paid, so he gave her the keys of a room upstairs, and he showed her a table.
People looked at her with equal irony and curiosity.
Marian deliberately ignored their looks: she didn’t want any trouble either.
Three rogues came into the room. One of them looked blatantly drunk, and the other two held him by the shoulders. The three of them talked with the innkeeper, who came out of the counter to show them a table. In doing this, the man didn’t notice that one of them had put a hand in his pocket, taking his money out. But Marian noticed the scene.
She was alone, and they were three of them. The drunk man didn’t seem to her so much as drunk and unfit as he looked at first sight and she didn’t know if they were armed.
She shouldn’t draw attention on herself, she thought, but she was still the Nightwatchman, deep inside, so she quickly approached the three men, her hand tightly holding a dagger hidden in a pocket of her dress.
“Return his money," Marian said.
The three pretended to be amazed by the accusation.
"What does this woman want?" One of the three said.
"We aren’t interested in local prostitutes," the other quickly added.
"Give him the money back now," Marian said again, her voice growing strong.
The innkeeper put one hand in his pocket and pulled it out empty saying: "It's true, bastards, give me back the money!"
The quicker of the three robbers grabbed the innkeeper by the neck, while Marian kicked another one who was moving against her, then she turned and hit the third robber with her elbow, the fake drunk, whose body hit a barrel and fell to the ground. Marian then aimed the dagger at the back of the robber who had attacked the innkeeper.
"Leave him now, or it will be bad for you!"
The man turned, looking at her defiantly. Marian wasted no time and punched him under the eye.
"You, annoying fly," the man said, looking at the blood on his hand after he had touched his cheek, then he tried to hit her with his own fists. Marian dodged a couple of blows and she jumped backwards.
Behind her shoulders there were now four corpulent men, followed by a distinguished man, about 50 years of age, richly dressed.
Marian thought she was lost, but the nobleman said, with stern voice: “Gentlemen, take those three thieves, and bring them to the sheriff, he will know what to do with them, it is not something that requires my attention.”
Then he looked at Marian: "To be a young lady, you have courage, and a fair talent for fighting among your qualities, not something that is often seen in England, and I've never seen you in Lincoln before. Who are you?”
“I am Lady Marian of Knighton, Nottinghamshire, my Lord.”
The man nodded towards her with an elegant sign of respect.
"It must be a new and unusual form of education for the young heiresses of the country nobility, probably not comparable to embroidery, I think."
"No, I have the education my father wanted me to have, including embroidery, of course (unfortunately, she thought). I am the only daughter of Lord Edward Knighton, the former sheriff of Nottingham, a knight of the realm."
"Oh old Lord Edward, I know THIS name, it had a certain reputation."
Marian thought she had spoken rashly, revealing her identity. After all, the man in front of her could be an ally of Vaisey, or Prince John's. A drop of sweat fell from her forehead to her right temple.
"My father was a great sheriff for the people of Nottingham. That's the only reputation he could have had." She said.
"He was a loyal man. I saw him once, five or six years ago. He was good, I agree, but not enough smart and strong to prevent the current sheriff's ascent to power, that shadowy dark figure, and his worthy helper, dark figure too, with him."
Marian understood that the man in front of her knew the fame Vaisey had, and, unfortunately, also Guy's.
"You did well, however, leaving Nottingham behind your shoulders. These are not good times for the people of that land. I'm sorry, let me introduce myself properly, my proud and gracious lady: I am Lord Ralph Murdoc, itinerant County Judge."
Marian's face passed in a moment from worry to amazement and then to happiness.
"Oh There you are! Oh my Lord, I have finally found you!" She said.
"Were you looking for me, Madam? What could motivate a brave young woman to travel and look for me?"
"A serious and blatant injustice, my lord, an unworthy injustice in England, something only you can find a remedy for, an injustice perpetrated to a young noblewoman," Marian said.
"An injustice committed to your detriment, madam?" Murdoc asked.
"No, against a young and noble mother of many children, accused of a crime that she did not commit, and who was imprisoned by Vaisey, without a regular trial." Marian decided in one shot to omit the family name of Isabella before the wedding with Thornton, and the farce trial that Vaisey was in truth organizing in Nottingham Castle just to provoke a reaction in Murdoc, and he reacted.
"Are you absolutely certain of your accusations?" The man asked.
“Yes. He wants to murder her, and make a public show for it.”
The judge looked intently into the girl's eyes.
Marian held his gaze proudly, certain of having, however, the reason on her side.
“Come, my Lady, please share my table and my dinner, and tell me everything you know. I'm afraid it's time for me to make a detour from my planned itinerary, to see Nottingham after a long time.”
“Too long, My Lord, really too long,” she said, approaching the table.
“We'll fix it,” he said, as she sat down before him.

The following day, at noon, Marian was inside a good and comfortable carriage, sitting in front of Lord Murdoc. Her horse had been united with those of the carriage. And soldiers on their steeds followed them.
King Richard's soldiers.
Marian, nervously, anxiously, silently begged God not to let her arrive too late in Nottingham.