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The Nightwatchman Doesn't Kill

Chapter Text

Marian looked at the little box, without opening it.
“Really, Sir Guy, I don’t need so many presents.”
Guy of Gisborne looked at her, the shadow of a smile on his lips.
“I’ll keep giving. We are betrothed, and I want to please my wife to be.”
Marian hid a little sigh and politely thanked him, then Guy went away, and she dropped herself on a chair near the fireplace.
She opened the little box and looked at the embroidered veil. At least, she bitterly thought, Sir Guy didn’t give her another necklace.
The door opened and her father came into the room.
“Was Sir Guy here again?” Sir Edward asked.
Marian nodded at the embroidered veil.
“Another gift.”
“At least he’s trying to do this properly.”
Marian looked at her father, her eyes glittering with ire.
“How can you talk like this?! Look at your face! He slapped you! He made that bruise! And how can a betrothal be proper if I accepted to marry him under duress?!”
Sir Edward shook his head.
“Your words are foolish! It’s your willfulness that caused all this! If you weren’t involved with the outlaws, you wouldn’t be forced to marry him!”
“At least they do something to help people! The peasants are starving because the sheriff takes everything they have.”
Marian glanced at the door and she got up from her chair.
“I have to go.”
“People in Nettlestone need food and remedies.”
“No, I forbid this Nightwatchman foolishness!”
“This is who I am, father! I have been helping people for five years, they need me!”
“I don’t want to see you executed! They will hang you if they find out what you do!”
“But they won’t! Sir Guy already came and went away, he won’t be back for today. No one will notice that I’m gone and then I’m not going there to challenge the sheriff, I’ll just take a few supplies to the poor. I’ll be perfectly safe.”
Sir Edward shook his head.
“When you marry Sir Guy, you will have to forget this Nightwatchman thing.”
Marian sighed.
“I know. That’s why I must do everything I can now that I’m still free.”

Guy of Gisborne spurred his horse to make him go faster. The sheriff didn’t like Marian, he kept saying that all women were like lepers, and he wouldn’t accept him neglecting his duties because of their betrothal.
He still had plenty of time to reach the castle before the beginning of his shift, but he also wanted to meet Lambert and work for a while on their project.
Guy smiled: if the black powder could improve the work in the mines, the sheriff would earn a lot of money from them, and Guy would get a big share too.
He already earned a lot of silver coins working for Vaisey, but he wanted more: if he was going to have a wife, he wanted to be sure to give her everything she could need, and he needed to know that she’d always have the easy and happy life she deserved.
He pulled the reins of his horse, realizing that he went to Knighton for two reasons, but that he only accomplished one of his tasks. He wanted to give a present to Marian, of course, but he also wanted to invite her and her father to Locksley next week, to celebrate the birthday of king Richard.
Guy blushed: the king was just an excuse to organize a party and make a public announcement of their engagement.
He wanted everyone to know that Lady Marian would be the future Lady Gisborne.
He sighed in frustration: when he talked to Marian to give her his gift, he had been so excited and overwhelmed by her presence, that he completely forgot to invite her at Locksley.
Guy decided that Lambert could wait: if he hurried, he still had time to go back to Knighton, ask her and her father to come to the party, and then go back to the castle before the sheriff could notice his lateness.
Guy turned his horse and began to gallop back to Knighton.
Gisborne knew that his guards were snickering behind his back, but he pretended he didn’t notice.
Once they used to laugh because he had a title, but no lands, now they were having fun in seeing him woo Marian.
Guy gritted his teeth, annoyed. He knew that sometimes he was way more shy and awkward than a man of his position should be, but he couldn’t help it. Talking to Marian made him feel vulnerable and soft, but also warm and hopeful: her pure soul was going to save him from all his sins.
A sudden movement along the road woke him from that reverie and Guy gasped when he recognized the masked figure of the Nightwatchman.
The masked outlaw was running away from Knighton and Guy was immediately worried: did that man attack the inhabitants of the house? Did he hurt Marian?
He cried at the guards to follow him, then he spurred his horse to chase the Nightwatchman.

Marian had just left her house, when she heard Gisborne’s voice. She was startled because she didn’t expect to see him coming back so soon: he should have been on his way to the castle, not at Knighton!
She hit the flanks of the horse with her heels, sending him in a gallop. She had to run away, she couldn’t let Gisborne to capture her or it would be the end both for her father and her.
The guards didn’t worry her too much: they were incompetents, and she knew that she could easily trick them and make them lose her tracks. But Gisborne could be very dangerous: he was a good rider, and his horse was fast.
Marian decided that she had to stop him, somehow: she took the path that crossed the village, and went back to Knighton Hall. She didn’t want to go home, of course, but she knew that the swineherd of the manor had a big dog who used to bark and bite at the horses who passed too near the pigsty.
If Guy of Gisborne kept following her like that, the dog would attack his horse, and he probably would stop him long enough to let her run.
Passing near the pigsty, she threw a rock on the swineherd’s shed, and the dog came out running.
Marian grinned, seeing that the animal was going straight towards Gisborne.
She spurred her horse again, taking a turn in the road and, after a while, she tried to glance back: she couldn’t see what happened to Guy of Gisborne because the houses of the village and the trees hid that part of the road, but she understood that her trick must have worked because nobody was following her anymore.
She felt a little guilty and she hoped that the dog didn’t bite too deeply, but after all Gisborne deserved it: the Nightwatchman never hurt anyone, so he shouldn’t try to capture her as if she was a common outlaw!

Guy bent forward on the saddle to make the horse go faster.
He wanted to capture the Nightwatchman and he wasn’t going to stop until he succeeded: that man already humiliated him too many times, and if he could catch him, the sheriff would give him a reward.
Guy glanced back: his guards were too far behind to be useful. He sighed and decided that he should do something for those soldiers: it was true that they were underpaid and overworked, but they were also completely useless!
He realized that if he wanted to capture the Nightwatchman, he’d have to do it on his own.
Suddenly, the outlaw threw a stone to a shed and Guy wondered why he did it, but, after a moment, a growling dog rushed out of the shed and ran towards his horse, trying to bite his legs.
The black stallion reared and Guy fell to the ground. He put his hands in front of him to dampen the fall, and a searing pain in his left wrist made him howl in agony, but he didn’t want to abandon his pursuit of the Nightwatchman.
He raised himself from the ground, cradling his injured wrist, and he saw that his stallion stopped at the other side of the road, grazing the tender grass.
Guy was feeling a little dizzy after the fall, but the pain made him angry: it was the Nightwatchman’s fault if he fell from his horse, so he needed to capture him and get a revenge.
Without thinking, Guy crossed the road to reach his stallion, and he didn’t notice that his guards were arriving, galloping at full speed. They were just behind the bend in the road, and they hadn’t the time to stop when they saw their master standing in the middle of the road.
Guy stared at them with horror, realizing that he hadn’t the time to run from them before being hit, and the soldiers tried to avoid him, but there were too many of them and Guy fell, trampled by their hooves.


Run Marian, run.
Leave behind you that dark shadow and his black horse.
That dark shadow who wants to marry you, no matter what, against your own will, against your own heart. He will change your life, you’ll be forced to change. And then who will help the suffering villagers?
Run Marian, run.
Run away from his eyes, staring at you, from his gifts, from his, and yours, awkwardness when you meet him. When he comes to your house, invading it with black and gold. How can the blue of his eyes matter, when it is hidden by so much black, inside and outside him?
Now slow down, Marian, slow down.
You left him behind your back, he’s far now, and you didn’t turn to look anymore. It has been so easy, as always, to get the better of him. When you fight him, when you run from him, it’s easy. It’s when he comes to your house, unwanted and undesirable, to talk about ‘friendship’ or about his dead mother that all your trick and fighting skills are useless.
‘Let Guy of Gisborne come in our house! Receive him with all the honors and the best wine of Knighton Hall! Give him everything he wants! He has power and he’s a threat! He is power. Leather clad power.’
“God, I can’t stand the sound of all that leather, when he moves,” Marian thought, slowing down her horse near the first village. She was going to leave some of her supplies there. “It reminds me of the slithering of a snake. God, I can’t stand the sound of his spurs when he walks. I hate everything in you, Sir Guy. But I have so much fun when I run away from you after a fight, when I beat you and slip away, like now.”
Don’t think about it anymore, Marian. Complete your mission, and go home.
For another night, you’re free. For another night, people won’t starve. They’ll be stronger to survive and stand up against evil.

Marian was tired after the third village, after leaving her bundles to them. She was feeling tired, and a little euphoric too. Everything went smoothly, not a problem, no obstacles. Everything was perfect. After that first chase, just outside her house, the rest of her mission went well, without any problem.
No Guy, no guards, not even in the other villages. Perfect.
But even so, she was feeling tired. Since she found herself in that engagement, she increased the frequency of her missions. And now she was really tired.
It was too late to ask the servant of her house to prepare her a warm bath. It would have been the best way to end such a perfect mission. But Knighton servants were too kind, and she was reluctant to make them work so late at night. So, when she arrived at the crossroads near her home, Marian thought, with a content smile, that she would have been happy enough to quickly remove her costume and the mask, hide them in the usual place in the stables, change her clothes, run home, and go to bed.
Marian entered the stables and tied her horse to a pole while she retrieved the dress she was wearing when she had left home, earlier. It was hidden in the usual place, under a old ruined saddle who nobody used anymore, but that nobody ever threw away.
When she untied the reins of her horse to lead him inside, in the usual stall, she realized that something was wrong. It was very wrong.
Why there were so many horses? The stables were almost full, there was only a single free stall.
Marian unsaddled her horse, put him in his stall, and she closed the door, forgetting to give him the apple she had saved for the animal and that now formed a bulge in a pocket of her dress.
She walked quickly to the door of her house, and she shivered. Not because of the cold. Marian was afraid.
Maybe the sheriff was there? At her house in the middle of the night? And why Guy wasn’t with him? She’d have recognized his black stallion between a thousand of similar ones. The only thing she liked in Guy was his taste for good horses. Nothing else.
Marian opened the door.
She had never seen so much turmoil in her own house. People were running all around, sweating and puffing.
Sebastian was running, stumbling in his haste to take logs of wood to the fireplace of the hall, unusually lit and stoked for that hour of the day. His younger son, Jude, was running upstairs, carrying more logs. Mary, from the kitchen, protested because she had been forced to wake up and she kept yelling that she’d just reheat the leftover broth because “I’m already doing too much and I just want to go back to bed!”
Susanne slammed open the cabinets of the hall. Many rolled bandages fell to the ground, partially unrolling because of the fall. James, the oldest servant of Knighton Hall, with his calm, but unusually stern and uncompromising voice, rebuked her. She had to pick them up immediately and take them upstairs because “they are all needed, immediately. All the bandages and the white sheets that are in the dresser. All of them.”
James spoke to her, then he turned to look at Julian, who understood his unspoken question. He answered that the second pot of hot water was ready and that he’d took it upstairs from the fireplace of the hall in a moment.
Burdened by the pot, Julian went up the stairs, closely followed by Susanne, overloaded with sheets and bandages. Marian looked at them, astonished, thinking that maybe her father was ill. She was about to run upstairs too, when she heard her father’s voice coming from the hall. She followed it, and then she saw them.
Yellow and black, multiplied by two, by three, by five. To her worried eyes, they looked multiplied by a thousand. Gisborne’s colors on their uniforms. The hall of her house had been invaded by the faithful guards of Gisborne, and her father was fussing and going back and forth, taking cups of wine to them. But no one was in the mood to celebrate. There was a grim air in the room: no boldness, no sauciness, no haughtiness. Just a sense of waiting, of something solemn and irremediable impending over them.
And her father was fussing, as if his worry could reassure them, keep them calm, just in case.
“We’ll do everything we can, be sure of it, everything possible. Take this now, drink, get warm,” Sir Edward said. He turned and he saw his daughter.
“Where have you...” he was about to say, without thinking. But he controlled himself and talked to her in a stern voice. “Marian, make yourself useful. Take those things and bring them to your room. Now.”
“To my room?” Marian said, amazed and uncertain. She looked surprised for a moment too long.
Her father grabbed her arm and dragged her in the pantry, closing behind them the door of that old little room where Marian used to hide when she was a child, between the fragrant cakes, the pieces of cheese and the jars of preserves.
Edward lit a candle, and he turned to look at Marian, furious and scared at the same time. He looked older. He spoke in a low tone, so they couldn’t hear him from the outside, but his voice was imperative so she’d understand. Perfectly.
“You and the Nightwatchman. You and this obsession for changing the world. You and this foolishness that will make us to end hanged or burned alive.” Edward pointed a finger to his daughter. “If he dies, if he dies in this house, we’ll be held responsible!” The tone of his voice became contemptuous. “They’ll consider us like traitors and we’ll die. For your fault. And for what? Do you really think that some bread and cheese and a few coins stolen by your own dowry can save them? We are done, Marian, and it’s your fault. Fool, you’re a fool!”
“I won’t give up the Nightwatchman, not now,” Marian answered in the same tone, low and firm, confident in herself and in her untouchable cause. “Father, people starve since Vaisey took your job and exiled you in your own house. And you didn’t even try too much to resist. I must do something for that people, I can and I want to do something. The Nightwatchman never hurt anyone in all these years!”
“You don’t understand, Marian. You are insane, you actually lost your mind,” Sir Edward said, surprised and angry. “He’s wounded. It’s your fault.”
“Who’s wounded, father?” The girl asked.
“Gisborne. He’s injured. He could even die. In my home.” Edward answered, his tone more hurried with every sentence, as if every moment he spent in that room could make him lose control on a situation that was already out of any control.
Marian was incredulous. She smiled in disbelief and with a little boldness.
“I just threw a stone. To a dog. Did the great Guy of Gisborne get scared in seeing an old dog? Did the mighty black knight fall from his horse? Did he bruise his regal, leather clad backside? Poor Sir Guy,” Marian said in a mocking tone “Poor betrothed of mine, wounded in his mighty… pride. He deserved it.”
Edward didn’t answer to her. He only said: “Come.”
They went out of the pantry. Edward took the sheets that he had asked Marian to take upstairs and he took the stairs, climbing them with some exertion. Marian followed him. She could feel an unusual warmth coming from her room.
That room had always been the best one of the house, the one with more hours of light during the day, the warmer one at night.
It has always been her room because she was born late, in the middle of the winter, and she had to be protected. She was a little girl, born thanks to a late miracle, and they always kept her warm and pampered. Adored.
She could hear voices coming from that room, now. Edward entered Marian’s room, followed by his daughter, and placed the clean sheets on a chair.
In the bed where she had slept since she was a sweet and lively child and an indomitable girl, not yet a bride, lied her enemy, her betrothed, almost as white as the sheet that barely covered his full nakedness. He had red blood on his forehead, from an open wound, red on his arms, the purple and the blue of many bruises, and the black of the horrible leeches that the village’s physician put on his body.
Guy of Gisborne lied in her bed. Injured. Unconscious. At the full mercy of that unlikely physician and his horrible beasts.
Marian was shocked and surprised to see an incredible frailty in his pale, asleep face. He looked lost. Suddenly, that face changed in a grimace of insufferable pain, and he looked like he was going to wake up. But he passed out almost immediately.
The situation was serious. The room was stifling with decay and consumption, with the smell of lost blood.
Edward looked at the physician who kept placing his leeches, and whispered in his daughter’s ear. “He fell, a horse trampled on him. The physician said that he can’t do more than this for him. He was chasing the Nightwatchman near our home, that’s what his guards said when they took him here. If he’s done for, we’re dead as well.”
Marian’s breath quickened, and her heartbeat suddenly hastened. She lifted her hand to dry an unexpected tear on her face.
It was actually her fault.
Guy was dying in her bed and it was the Nightwatchman’s fault. He had been chasing her.
“The Nightwatchman doesn’t kill. He doesn’t let people die. Not even enemies. Not even him,” Marian thought, resolved.
She ran away in the night, her heart wildly pounding, to search the only person in the County who could give her some hope and save Guy.

Chapter Text

The little cottage was well beyond the borders of the village, between the villages of the County and the deep of Sherwood’s forest. It was shadowed and protected by the first trees of the forest.
The person who lived there thought that the proximity of the forest would be a protection, a deterrent for the criminals.
A house where she could live in peace.
But some persons in the nearest village used to warn their children, partly in joke and partly in fear, that they shouldn’t play near that cottage.
It was nice, simple and well kept, and who dared to peek from the windows could see the tasteful and simple furniture, the warmth and the cosiness of the house. It was nicer than its inhabitants.
The villagers told the children that they shouldn’t play near the cottage, that they shouldn’t peek inside, or the witch could lure them with sweets or a spell. And they would never come back to their houses.
That woman knew how to do great things, and she did great things since she was young, for the inhabitants of the villages. Miracles, some people could swear they were miracles.
Many were grateful to her, many were suspicious of those miracles, and they avoided her.
She didn’t always succeeded in making miracles: she couldn’t save her husband, dead because of a plague, and she almost lost her only daughter for the same reason.
Years passed after his death, and many more years then, and she never met another man who could understand her how her husband did. Her young husband who had a sweet smile and a strong nature, used to defuse, with his sense of humor, her ironic and colorful way to talk to people...
He had been able to see passion and sweetness in her, the same sweetness she had when she hugged or scolded those children, now young boys or adult men, that she delivered to the world.
For many of them, if not all, she remembered the maneuvers she used to help them during birth, she remembered their mothers, the different ways they had to suffer or to rejoice, and she learned from a distance what happened to them when they grew up.
She followed their lives from a distance.
She took care of her daughter, she tried to save people from many illnesses, and she forgot about herself.
She learned to survive on her own, without a man, without help. She was proud of herself, and she expressed her pride in her way of speaking, everyday sharper.
She didn’t need anyone and she liked to ridicule with her words the men who looked too proud and contemptuous.
The passing of time changed her appearance, masking the beauty of her youth behind heavy features and a larger body. She wrapped herself in layers of clothes, with a thick band of cloth on her forehead to tie her long brown hair, grown without care.
She was really beginning to look like a witch, and she didn’t care.
The important thing was to avoid to be called like that too often. This was one of the reasons for living in the shadows, so she wouldn’t be noticed too much.
When she looked at herself in a mirror, she could only see a woman who was proud of her battles, won or lost.
People who really needed her knew how to find her.
Her daughter, now a young woman and a young bride, knew how to find her.

Marian arrived at the little collage galloping. Her knowledge of the territory, developed during the years she spent as the Nightwatchman, took her there without doubts or hesitation.
Marian was proud of this.
Even if her father was scared, she was proud of the woman she had become.
There was a lot in her that people didn’t know, they couldn’t even imagine who she really was.
It wasn’t dawn, yet, but Marian knocked on the door, hoping that Matilda, so abruptly awoken, wouldn’t be too ill-disposed.
The girl who knocked at the door was the daughter of the old Sheriff of Nottingham, a pretty girl who Matilda didn’t deliver.
The sheriff hadn’t trusted her, he had called a renowned physician for his beloved wife. And maybe this was the reason Marian was born and her mother departed from this world.
Seeing how upset Marian was, Matilda thought that the old Sheriff was sick, but the girl kept talking, confusedly, of a knight, of a horse, of serious wounds.
The only sure things, in her words, were her plead to come immediately to Knighton, and the leeches. Leeches used on a man who had supposedly been trampled by a horse.
If there was something that made Matilda mad, and that, at the same time, made her look with contempt at most of the other physicians and quacks in England, it was the horrible fondness they had for leeches. They used them for every kind of ailment, so, if their patients didn’t die for their sickness, the leeches would bleed them to death.
“Don’t say anything else, Lady Marian. I’ll take the wagon.”
At dawn, the two women arrived at Knighton.
Matilda entered the room, carrying a bag full of remedies and the instruments she needed. The man, her new patient, was in a terrible shape.
She went near him, and, with a disgusted expression on her face, she began removing the leeches from his injured body, with her bare hands.
“First of all, let’s get rid of these!”
Matilda glanced for a moment at the closed eyes of the man: he was a young man, with strong features, but with a pleasant, harmonic look. Pleasant for the eyes of a woman, at least. He had dark, thick, soft hair, ending in loose curls near his neck.
Matilda had the sensation she had already seen him in the past, and she turned to look at Marian and her father. Sir Edward was quiet and grim, and he looked at her with suspicion. Matilda noticed that he was worried to the point of terror.
“Who is this handsome knight? I can’t remember if I’ve seen him before. God bless him, he’s not the kind of man who can be easily forgotten!”
Sir Edward looked at her, amazed by her words, and he answered with utter contempt.
“This man is Guy of Gisborne, current lord of Locksley and Sheriff’s henchman. If he dies here, we’re all dead!”
Matilda noticed, on a chair, the black leather uniform of the man, and, on the floor, his black boots with shining spurs. She remembered him, now: the black knight on a black horse who spread terror and misery in the villages in the name of the Sheriff.
She looked at Sir Edward, angry and scared, and at Marian, who was leaning with her back on a wall, tired and fatigued, and maybe, Matilda suspected, scared for a different reason than her father’s.
Matilda looked at Sir Guy, disgusted.
“This black snake is more slimy, revolting and cruel than the leeches he had on his body! Let them bleed him to death! I won’t treat him!”
They tried to persuade her with many words, prayers and pleas, but at last Matilda accepted to take care of the man when she saw Marian crying. The girl couldn’t hold her tears anymore, and Matilda surrendered.
She rolled her sleeves, looked at the exhausted, unconscious knight, and at his clothes on the chair.
“Very well, but take away that horrible black stuff. Throw it away, burn it, I don’t care, but I don’t want to see it anymore,” she said to Marian and Edward, then she turned to stare at Guy. “And you, infamous Lucifer, let me see how strong you really are, if you really are a knight, fight as a knight can, or if you only dress like one. And when you wake up, don’t dare to smirk like you use to do when you oppress the poor, or I’ll gladly knock you down again with my own hands. And you can forget about collecting my taxes, next year.”
Matilda sighed, focused on her task, and she began to methodically clean the wounds on Guy’s head and bare shoulders with care, confidence, patience and precision. Marian watched her, worried.
Matilda lifted the sheet and looked under it, to look at the whole naked body of Guy. Marian, standing at the foot of the bed, couldn’t see it, but Matilda could.
She was an adult woman, a midwife, an expert healer, but the girl was still an innocent maiden.
Matilda reflected for a while, then she dropped the sheet, covering back the man’s body and she looked at the girl.
“Go, Marian, go and rest, now. I won’t hurt him, and I’ll try to do everything I can to save him. After all, I couldn’t injure him more than he already is. Please, ask your servant to find comfortable clothes for him, he will need them.”
Being unexpectedly dismissed, Marian could only thank the healer and go downstairs, in the hall.
She sat at the table, and buried her face in her hands.
“It’s all my fault,” she kept repeating to herself, until she fell asleep, exhausted, on that same table, her head resting on her arms.

Matilda looked at the man on the bed, as unconscious and still as if he was already dead. She was alone with him now, Sir Edward went downstairs with his daughter and the servants took the first chance to sit and rest in front of the kitchen fireplace, waiting to be of use.
Just a young maid, half asleep, was sitting outside Marian’s room, waiting for Matilda orders and ready to obey to her requests.
The healer saw that the girl was going to fall asleep, but she didn’t keep her awake: for now, she didn’t need her help and later, when she would, it would be better to have a rested helper rather than a sleepy one.
She removed the sheet that covered Guy of Gisborne’s naked body: the room was warm enough, so sheets and blanket weren’t really needed and Matilda guessed that they had been used more to protect Lady Marian’s innocent eyes than for the sake of the wounded man.
He was so bruised and injured that even the light touch of the sheet must have been painful for him. Matilda wondered if it was too late and if she could actually save him.
She looked at the knight: his chest was covered in purple bruises, and she gingerly touched his ribs. The man whimpered in his sleep, but he didn’t wake up. Matilda found many cracked ribs, and she thought that he was lucky that no one of them had punctured his lungs: for him, breathing was very painful, but he could still do it.
She had to find out if he had the same luck with the rest of his body: she could stitch wounds and fix broken bones, but if there was internal damage, only God could save him.
Matilda put a hand on his stomach and she smiled a little finding it soft and relaxed under her fingers, then she looked at the bed and at Guy’s discarded clothes, and she frowned.
She woke up the young maid and told her to call one of the guards who were with Sir Guy when the accident happened, and one of the servants who took care of him when they took him in that bed.
The girl ran downstairs, and came back after a moment, followed by a young soldier and Sebastian.
The two men looked nervous and uneasy, and Matilda wondered if they were afraid of her, if they thought she was a witch. But it didn’t matter, now.
“I have a few questions for you, try to remember every detail, it’s very important.” She looked at the guard. “After the accident happened, did Sir Guy threw up?”
“How did you know?” The guard said, amazed.
“It’s a common reaction after a serious injury, the shock and the pain can cause it. What I need to know if there was blood in it.”
“There was blood everywhere!”
“Try to remember, it’s very important. Did he threw up blood too, or was it normal sickness?”
The guard thought for a while.
“No, no blood, just puke.”
“Are you sure?”
The guard nodded, and Matilda relaxed a little, then she turned to Sebastian.
“The accident happened quite a long time ago, before sunset, right?”
The servant nodded.
“Yes, before sunset.”
“I checked his clothes and they are dry. Did he wet the bed after you took him here?”
Sebastian blinked in surprise.
“Are you asking if he pissed after the accident?”
“That’s exactly what I want to know.”
“He didn’t. Look: there’s blood on the sheets, he was bleeding a lot when they took him here, but they are not wet. Why is that so important?”
“If the hooves damaged his kidneys or his bladder, he’s as good as dead. I have to fix that broken leg and it will be extremely painful: if he’s going to die, I won’t torture him with unnecessary pain.”
The guard looked at her, worried.
“What are you going to do, now?”
“I’ll try to wake him a little and make him drink, until I’ll see if his kidneys stopped working or not, and if there is blood in it. If he isn’t damaged, we can hope he will live, and then I will need the help of both of you to fix his leg. Now you can go, rest while you can.”
The two men went downstairs, and Matilda sat for a moment on the chair at the side of the bed. She looked at the knight: he was so pale and frail, that she couldn’t believe he was the same person who obeyed every command of that steaming pile of crap who was the Sheriff of Nottingham.
She had lots and lots of new patients because of him: Vaisey made them starve taking all their money, he punished them with floggings and cutting hands and tongues, and he threw them out of their homes in the middle of the winter.
And that man, now lying in front of her, was the one who carried out those horrible orders, showing no mercy. The man who took Robin of Locksley’s house, when he had been outlawed.
Matilda thought for a moment that his sufferings were well deserved, but then Guy moaned in pain, and she felt ashamed for that thought.
He might be evil, but he was still a human being, and he was in a lot of pain.
She sighed, took a cup full of water, and went near the bed to wake him up.

Guy could still hear the sound of the hooves, hitting the ground all around his head, and he wished he could protect his face with his hands, but he couldn’t move.
He was lying on a bed, he realized, but he was too weak to open his eyes. There was pain in every inch of his body and he thought that he was dying. Or that he was already dead and in hell, tortured by hordes of demons.
He felt hot and cold at the same time and he wanted to wake up, but he couldn’t.
But he had to wake up. He needed to relieve himself, but his eyelids felt too heavy and he couldn’t open his eyes.
His mind wanted to drift into a deep sleep again, away from all that pain, but he couldn’t let himself to lose the little consciousness he had: if he did, he’d surely wet the bed, and he couldn’t let it happen.
His little sister’s face appeared in his mind, laughing at him.
“You’re twelve, Guy, but you’re still a baby.”
Somebody put an arm around his shoulders, and lifted him a little.
“Drink this,” a gentle voice ordered, but Guy kept his lips closed. The woman tried again. “Come on, you have to drink.”
“Can’t.” He managed to whisper, and Matilda looked at him: his eyes were open now and she was surprised to see how blue they were.
“Oh, you are awake, then. It’s a good sign, but I need you to drink.”
“Why? You lost a lot of blood, you should be thirsty.”
She saw him blush a little.
“I have to get up… I need to… Can’t wait much longer...”
Matilda looked at him, surprised. He was in a lot of pain, but he looked very worried at the thought he could wet the bed.
“You won’t get up for a very long time, I’m afraid, but I’ll help you with your needs. I’ll get a chamberpot, so you can relieve yourself and I can see if there’s blood.”
“You’re a woman...” Guy said, blushing even more, and Matilda laughed at seeing him so shy.
“I’m a healer. Now stop with this nonsense and let me help you. You will need all the help you can get, and you’ll have to put aside your pride for a while.”

Matilda smiled at the chamberpot: no blood.
For the first time, that day, she allowed herself to hope that her patient could survive.
She glanced at the knight: he didn’t stay awake for a long time, but at least she had been able to make him drink some water and a remedy for the pain.
She had splinted his broken wrist and bandaged all the other wounds, but she was worried for his leg. She couldn’t wait much longer before fixing it, or he would be a cripple for the rest of his life, but she knew that the pain would be excruciating and that no remedy could let him sleep during the ordeal.
Matilda went near the knight, and she put a hand on his forehead, caressing him with all the tenderness she could muster in her heart.
“This will be very, very painful, but it’s necessary, I’m sorry.”
Two guards and Sebastian, were waiting in a corner, looking at Guy of Gisborne with uneasiness, and Matilda called them with a nod.
“I’ll need your help, now. You must hold him still without hurting him. When I’ll fix his leg, he’ll be in pain, maybe he’ll try to fight, but he mustn’t move. You!” She looked at the young maid. “Go and call Sir Edward: he should be here while I do this because the knight might die, and I want him to see that I did everything I could. But don’t let Lady Marian to come here: this won’t be something suitable for the eyes of a girl.”
The maid obeyed, and, after a while, Sir Edward came, pale and upset.
“Will he live?”
“He might. But he will need a lot of care, and your servants must follow all my instructions.”
The old lord gave a weak sigh of relief: the other physician had said that there was nothing he could do to save Sir Guy, that he was going to die. Matilda at least gave them a hope.

Marian was sitting at the table of the hall, and she was asleep, with her head on her arms.
She woke up with a start, and looked around, scared.
Somebody was crying in pain, and she paled in recognizing Sir Guy’s voice. He was crying as if he was being tortured, and Marian tried to run upstairs to see what was happening to him, but one of the guards stopped her.
“I’m sorry, my lady, but the healer said that you shouldn’t enter that room, now.”
“What’s happening?” She asked, the tears welling in her eyes. “Is he dying?”
“The healer is fixing his leg. She said that it’s very painful.”
“That’s terrible! He’s crying so much!”
“Actually it’s a good thing. That woman said that she wouldn’t do this if she thought he was going to die, so maybe there’s hope.”
Marian nodded blankly.
She understood what the soldier meant, but to hear Sir Guy screaming like that was horrible.
It’s my fault. I did this to him.
She wanted to run, to go away from the house so she wasn’t forced to hear.
She couldn’t do it, of course.
Marian turned to go to the kitchen and see if she could do something useful: she could check if more hot water was needed, or she could wash dirty bandages, anything that could distract her from her guilt.
But the servants were tired and cross: no one of them was happy of all that extra work, and Marian understood that she was in their way.
She went back to the hall, wondering if she should try to get upstairs even if the guard had said that she shouldn’t enter her room.

Chapter Text

Marian was about to walk upstairs, when a loud sound of galloping horses caught her attention.
She ran at the window to look outside: between the dust kicked up by the horses, she could clearly recognize six of the Sheriff’s guards, the hawks and the colors of Vaisey’s coat of arms.
When they got nearer, Marian could see the resolute and grim expression of the Sheriff of Nottingham: he was shorter, less strong and only apparently less menacing than his black armored guardian angels.
Sir Edward’s message to the Sheriff, sent with one of Gisborne’s guards, surely arrived to destination, but it couldn’t postpone the inevitable: Lord Vaisey decided to come and see with his eyes the conditions of his henchman.
Marian hoped that her father, hearing the horses, would join her in the hall to meet him together.
Since that treacherous and dangerous man had arrived in Nottingham, Vaisey had never come to Knighton before.
He never needed to go there because, when he took her father’s place, exiling him and Marian in Knighton, Vaisey put their house under surveillance.
Around the house she could see, almost every day and night, at least two dark shadows that resembled, in their appearance and movements, Vasey’s personal guards.
Even if he had the seal of Prince John and the authority to be Sheriff of the County of Nottingham, probably Vaisey was afraid that Edward could have powerful allies between the other nobles, or that he could plot to take back his place as Sheriff.
Or maybe the spies sent to keep an eye on their house had the simple, but effective purpose to remind to her father that he should avoid losing his time trying to plot against the Sheriff. Their presence was unobtrusive, but constant and evident, quite a threat.
Since Robin came back, their surveillance had became less strict.
In a first time, Marian had thought that it was thanks to her former betrothed, now outlaw, but eventually she arrived to a less exciting, but more realistic conclusion: her house and her life weren’t under surveillance anymore, directly at least, since Sir Guy began visiting her house, always more often.
Maybe it had been Sir Guy who ordered to give up the surveillance? Or maybe Lord Vaisey had thought that the frequent visits of Gisborne were an adequate deterrent to every attempt of rebellion from Sir Edward?
Marian had a strong sensation that if Vaisey could save the money needed to pay his spies and instead use the free inclination of Sir Guy to woo her, he’d surely choose the cheaper option.
In any case, the Sheriff was dismounting, or more exactly he was using one of his guards to dismount, stepping on the back of the man who was on all fours near the Sheriff’s horse.
Marian took a deep breath and she smoothed her dress with the hands, preparing herself to welcome the hateful little man in her house.
The door was opened all of a sudden, two guards entered, rudely, looked around like mastiffs, and stood at the sides of the door, letting the Sheriff inside.
Vaisey was wearing black clothes, like Guy, but the Sheriff’s clothes were made of richer fabric, decorated and embroidered with a fine and precious gold thread, black velvet damask, and fur of the same color. Those clothes suggested a dark and opulent refinement, peculiar in a man otherwise busy in plotting, starving the populace and making the executions of outlaws the main entertainment of the County.
He seemed to enjoy a lot those hangings, and he used them as a privileged stage for his cruel and gruesome witty remarks.
He was the main actor of the scene and the others, those poor condemned men, the desperate extras of his show. A dark one-man-show, daily, in Nottingham.
Marian hid the fear and the rage she felt for the man standing in front of her with the deportment and the movements of the noblewoman education she received since her birth, and she formally curtseyed to the Sheriff.
“Lord Vaisey, to what do I owe the honor of your visit? We weren’t waiting for you, I’m afraid we won’t be able to welcome you with all the honors due to your rank.”
Vaisey looked at the girl with a falsely bored glance, but he was actually trained to notice every detail and shade of other people’s language, so he could use their words to his advantage, or belittle or mock the other person for his own personal fun.
“Lady Marian,” he said “what did you want? Did you want me to take my personal fanfare with me to announce my arrival? I can make up for this!” He took a hand to his mouth like a trumpet and he sang the tune of the castle’s fanfare. “Well, now I announced myself and you, milady, are properly warned. Enough with the ceremonies, now. Where is Gisborne?”
“My lord, you didn’t need to trouble yourself coming here,” the girl quietly answered “my father sent you a message with one of Sir Guy’s guards to inform you that he was here and about his extremely poor health. We are taking care of him in the best way we can, and we were going to warn you immediately as soon as Sir Guy wakes up, I assure you.”
Vaisey smiled in his unpleasant way.
“Lady Marian, do you think that I’m worried about the competence of your family of taking care of Gisborne? That I couldn’t sleep at night because of his absence? A clue: no. It’s sure that you will look after him. He has been injured here. Your responsibility. And you’ll pay all the expense, the County won’t lose a penny for this. Not half a penny. So, where is the moribund? Let’s go and see how near to death is Guy of Gisborne, so, if he really is very near to death, I could make it faster. But you will still have to pay for the burial. I need him alive and standing, I have no use for him otherwise.”
“But, my lord...” Marian was beginning to be troubled by his confidence and complete indifference for the fate of his henchman, and worried because he was giving all the responsibility of the accident to her family. Maybe her father was right to be afraid. “Sir Guy didn’t wake up, yet...”
A loud cry of pain came from upstairs, followed by a sequence of short, weaker moans that suggested that the person who uttered them was suffering a lot, but was certainly alive.
“Well, when he moans he surely has a higher tone than his usual low monotone murmur. At least what is saying now is very clear and more useful of what he says when he works for me at the castle. He sounds quite alive. Very alive, indeed. He could still be useful. So, will you show me the way or will I find him on my own?”
He headed for the stairs, and Marian hurried to show him the way, flushed with embarrassment.
Entering the room, the Sheriff saw his henchman lying in bed, extremely pale and with his face beaded with sweat. An unpleasant woman, plump and dressed in miserable rags, was holding, turning, pulling and moving his leg with confident gestures.
Gisborne cried in agony.
“Gisborne! Stop mewling like a girl! Get up and go back to the castle!”
The black knight turned his head for a moment, to search with his eyes the person who called his name, then he passed out, exhausted.
Vaisey didn’t even try to hide his rage, and he turned towards Sir Edward, who was standing near the bed.
“Put him back on his feet. Immediately. At your expense. I won’t pay a witch like that one. And be careful, Sir Edward, I want him exactly as he was before: two legs, two arms, nothing more, nothing less. If you fail, don’t send me a messenger, just pay for the burial,” he said, and he went out of the room, covering his nose and mouth with a hand, as if he had breathed unhealthy air that could damage him too.
When he arrived downstairs, he turned to look at Marian who, pale after witnessing that scene, was going down the stairs after him, and she talked to her in a casually ironic tone.
“By the way, Marian, why there was a long red dress hanging in the wardrobe? And those little flowers in a pot? Did you place your gravely ill betrothed in the room of a maidservant?”
Marian was about to answer, but Vaisey kept talking.
“Oh, I see now… You already put your betrothed in your bed. I knew that your prolonged maidenhood could affect your reason. I don’t think that Sir Guy could help you with your frustration now, but hope never dies. Well, almost never. Too bad, you’d have been tolerable in a wedding dress. But not handsome enough to tempt me.”
Vaisey laughed out loud for his own remark, he walked faster with his short legs, like a trotting pony, and he grinned as if he had satisfactorily closed an annoying problem.
“Don’t bother accompanying me at the door, Lady Marian, I already know the way.” He called the guards with a nod, and they went outside before him, then the Sheriff of Nottingham went away.

Marian thought that the house was too silent now: the sheriff went away, Guy wasn’t crying anymore, and most of the servants went to bed to make up for the sleep they lost that night. Her father was standing in front of the fireplace of the hall, his arms crossed in front of him, his face grim.
Sir Edward turned to look at her.
“You’ll be happy now. Lord Vaisey said that we’ll have to take care of Sir Guy, that we must pay for all the necessary expenses, and I suspect that he will ask for a reimbursement because the accident happened here.”
“It’s not your fault if he crossed the road without looking!”
“No, it’s your fault. The Nightwatchman shouldn’t have been there. We will pay for all the cares he will need, of course, but remember that we aren’t rich anymore, Marian. We must be careful now.”
“Surely Sir Guy doesn’t wish to ruin his future wife.”
“If he lives. I was there when Matilda fixed his leg, and I thought that he was going to die, that his heart couldn’t be strong enough for all that pain.”
“How is he now? He isn’t screaming anymore.”
“He passed out after a while. Matilda is still with him.”
“Lady Marian, Sir Edward.” The voice of the healer startled them and they both looked at the woman who was coming down the stairs.
“Will he live?” Asked Sir Edward, worried.
“He might, if he’s strong enough and if there are no complications. But it won’t be easy for him.”
Marian glanced at her, and for once in her life, she felt shy. She knew that Sir Guy’s current situation was her fault and she felt guilty.
She didn’t like him, sometimes she hated him, but she never wished for him to be so badly injured, and she was really sorry for him.
“What do we have to do now?” Sir Edward asked.
“I took the liberty to give instructions to your servants, so they know how to take care of his needs, but he’ll need more than the simple help of servants.”
“What do you mean?” Marian asked, frowning.
“He’s unconscious now, but he won’t stay asleep for a long time. He has broken ribs, his wrist is broken too, and his leg is in a very poor state. I did my best to fix it, but even if it heals, he could walk with a limp. We can’t know for sure until he’s better, but that’s not the point. He will be in a lot of pain, and my remedies can’t help very much, for now. But you can,” Matilda concluded, pointing at Marian.
Marian looked at her, surprised.
“Me? How?”
“He’s your betrothed, isn’t it? Does he love you?”
“He says he does.”
“Then you can help. Sit near his bed quietly, let him know that you are there, but don’t talk too much, he needs rest. Listen if he wants to talk, offer him words of comfort if he looks scared, hold his hand when the pain will become too strong. Do you think you can do it?”
Marian didn’t want to do it. Guy of Gisborne wasn’t the man she loved, he wasn’t even her friend, how could she hold his hand? How could she be kind to the man who wanted to force her to marry him?
But he was suffering, almost dying, because of her actions, and she blushed, in shame.
“Yes, I will.”

Marian took a deep breath before entering her room. It was strange, that room had always been a safe haven, a place where nothing bad could happen to her, but now Sir Guy had invaded it, for the second time in a few days.
The first time he had been angry and dangerous, he accused her of betraying his trust, and he menaced to hang both her and her father.
She hated him, she had wanted to make him pay for hitting her father and she enjoyed his confusion when she gave him back the necklace that caused all those troubles to her.
Gisborne said that she had to proof her loyalty to the sheriff, and the only way to do it, was marrying him. She had been forced to accept and she hated him even more for that.
The only good thing she could say about Sir Guy, was that he looked really concerned for her safety, and ashamed for accusing her of consorting with the outlaws.
He had been right, of course, but he believed he was wrong, and he was ready to apologize to her and to her father, swallowing his pride.
Now he didn’t look dangerous at all: he was lying in her bed, pale and frail, and he had dark shadows under his closed eyes. At a first glance, Marian thought that he was perfectly still, but looking at him, she understood that he was trembling, in pain.
Marian sat in the chair near the bed, and Guy opened his eyes for a moment, then he shut them again.
Marian looked at him, and she thought that it was the first time that she saw him wearing something other than black leather. He was wearing one of her father’s nightgowns, clearly too short for him, and its white fabric made him look different, almost innocent, like a sleeping child.
His right leg was splintered and trapped in tight bandages, and it was lifted on a pillow. Marian could see that the bandages were soaked in some herbal remedy, probably to help with the pain and the swelling.
“You shouldn’t see me like this.” Guy’s voice startled her. It was little more than a whisper and it trembled with pain.
Marian didn’t know what she could answer, so she didn’t.
Guy talked again after a while.
“I think I’m dying...”
His voice was so helpless and lost, that Marian felt sincerely sorry for him. Instinctively, she took his hand: his skin was cold and clammy, and for a moment she was afraid he could be right.
“No, you won’t. I won’t let you,” she whispered, and Guy opened his eyes to look at her.
“Thank you.”
Marian shuddered. He shouldn’t thank her, it was her fault if he was suffering so much! She wanted to cry, to tell him that she was sorry and confess her faults, but she couldn’t risk her father’s life revealing the secret of the Nightwatchman.
She gently caressed his hand.
“Matilda said that you need to rest.”
Guy closed his eyes again, and Marian was glad of it. She could see pain and fear in them, and seeing the always powerful Guy of Gisborne so weak and scared was unsettling.
They stood in silence for a while, and Marian kept holding Guy’s hand. She could feel it trembling and tensing between her fingers and she knew that every little movement was the reflection of a sharp pang of pain.
She wished she could do something to ease his sufferings, but Matilda had said that she could only be there and comfort him with her presence.
He had been still for some time, and Marian was beginning to think he had fallen asleep, when Guy talked, in a hoarse whisper.
“Demons are clawing at me.”
Marian squeezed his hand a little.
“There are no demons, Sir Guy. You’ve been trampled by a horse.”
“No. This is a punishment for my crimes.”
Marian looked at him, and she wondered if she should call Matilda. Guy was staring blankly at the ceiling, and his words sounded incoherent, as if he was having some sort of nightmare or delirium.
“Marian!” He called, and his voice was almost panicked. The girl kept holding his hand.
“I’m here, Sir Guy.”
“You shouldn’t see me like this, but please, don’t leave me alone,” he pleaded. “You are the only light in the darkness, my only hope of being saved. Your pure soul will wash away my sins.”
“If you sinned, you should ask forgiveness to God. Do you want me to call a priest?”
Guy’s hand tightened his hold on hers, and Marian was surprised to feel that there was still some strength in him. It was as if he was clinging to her to be saved, somehow.
“No, no, I can’t reveal my secret to anyone. I can trust no one. Just you.”
Marian blushed.
You shouldn’t trust me, Sir Guy. I’ve never been sincere with you. You think I’m a pure, perfect maiden, when I’m the Nightwatchman, your enemy.
She was about to say something to try to soothe him, when Guy looked straight at her.
“I tried to kill the king,” he said, in a horrified whisper.
“What?!” She blurted, then she thought that he must be raving. “Sir Guy, I think you got a fever. I should call Matilda.”
“It’s the truth, Marian. Let me tell my secret to you, and your innocence will clean my soul. If I die, I’ll go to hell, I know. Only you can save me.”
“The king is in the Holy Land, Sir Guy. You’ve always been here, you can’t have done what you said. It’s just a nightmare, be quiet and rest, now.”
Guy shook his head.
“No, no. I wasn’t here. The sheriff told everyone I was sick, that I had to be quarantined, but it wasn’t true. He sent me to the Holy Land to try and kill the king.”
Marian remembered that he had been sick for many weeks and no one was allowed to see him, and she wondered if what Gisborne had just said could be true. If it was, it was a very dangerous secret: the sheriff would kill anyone who knew it, without any doubt.
“Hush now, Sir Guy, try to sleep.”
“I can’t. I must tell you everything. All my heinous crimes.”
Gisborne began describing to her all the horrible things he did, obeying the sheriff’s orders, all the tongues he ordered to cut, the peasants who were flogged or hanged or who had their hands cut just because they stole food for their families.
The girl wanted to go away, to let his hand go and run as far as possible, but she knew she couldn’t.
Gisborne committed horrible actions, but the real evil was the sheriff, he was the one who gave the orders. Sir Guy looked like a strong and powerful knight, but in that moment Marian realized that he actually lacked the strength to oppose the unjust orders of the sheriff.
Probably he didn’t really want to kill and oppress people, but he did because the sheriff told him to do so. He wasn’t all bad, but he wasn’t good either.
She found herself hating and pitying him at the same time.
Guy kept talking about his attempt on the life of the king, and this time Marian believed him. He described the travel to the Holy Land in every detail, and then the attack to the King’s camp, dressed as a saracen. Marian shuddered when Guy said that he stabbed Robin of Locksley, and for a moment she was tempted to say that it was true, that he deserved to suffer like that and that it was the punishment for his evil deeds.
She pursed her lips to keep quiet, and mentally sighed.
It wasn’t true.
No one deserved to suffer so much, not even an enemy and a traitor.
Guy kept talking for a while, and Marian wondered where he could find the strength to do so when he was so weak and exhausted.
“Don’t let me slip into hell, Marian, save my soul.”
After this, Gisborne seemed to fall in a sort of feverish sleep, and Marian decided to call Matilda.
The healer came yawning and she checked her patient.
“A fever was to be expected, but it’s a good thing if he can sleep for a while. He’s no worse than I thought. Did he say something?”
“Just nonsensical ramblings.”
“Well, please go out of the room for a while and let me care for his wounds. Then, if you aren’t too tired, come back, please, I think your presence is good for him. You could embroider, or take a nap on that chair, just stay there where he can see you if he wakes up.”
“I could sew a nightgown for him. My father’s ones are too short and tight.”
Matilda smiled at her.
“Good idea! He’ll have to stay in bed for a very long time, he’ll need comfortable clothes. I’m sure that he’ll be glad to wear something made by the woman he loves. Now go, I’ll call you in a short while.”

Chapter Text

Robin fixed, once again, the hood that covered a good part of his head and face.
He and Much had just completed another round between the houses and the shops of the village of Clun.
There were still so many individuals and families to be added to the list of recipients for aid deliveries, and the numbers were becoming bigger.
Robin was becoming increasingly aware that the life of the inhabitants of the County of Nottingham got worse, he could see how much their life became difficult. He saw their suffering, and their desire to overcome the difficulties in spite of everything, but he couldn’t always read the hope in their eyes.
This fact made Robin, with his infectious smile and his warm and compassionate eyes, very sad.
He would tell many things to King Richard, as soon as possible, when he’d return to England.
And King Richard, the valiant King for which he, Robin, had fought fiercely for years, since he was very young, would put an end to that situation, certainly.
The return of King Richard would bring justice to Nottingham. And justice would bring prosperity.
Robin believed that with all his heart.
For the people, it was just a hope, for Robin it was a warm certainty.
He felt lucky to have met the King in person, and he had admired his courage on the battlefield and his determination to find a way to end the holy war.
Robin hoped for peace, now. He had seen so much blood, too much blood, shed by the soldiers from both armies.
He wanted to forget that blood, but he could still feel it over himself, on his own skin.
Robin never told anyone about it. Not even Much, who had seen and lived at his side the same experiences, and who certainly would understand.
And if he did, once he had shared the pain, what could he do? To get completely numb with women and wine in a tavern?
No, Robin preferred not to waste time, and tears, talking and brooding about his suffering.
It was better to act.
He was a young man of action, in action he felt good, he felt strong. The danger urged him to think of solutions, including creative or insane ones, to escape. And, after all, this was funny too.
Very funny.
Nottingham, the castle, his guards, were nothing compared to the real war on the battlefield, Robin thought.
The important thing now was to gain some time, acting in the interests of the people, easing their physical suffering.
He had to give them hope, and, in the process, to discover and hinder, one by one, Vaisey and Gisborne’s intrigues.
Gisborne had unworthily usurped his feud and his home, until the return of the King.
Then everything would be as it was before the war, Robin thought: he would be back, really, and finally, at home.

The return of King Richard would also be the end of Marian’s forced engagement to Gisborne, Robin was sure.
He had admired how Marian, despite Gisborne’s blackmail, was able, with a simple sentence, to keep him at bay, procrastinating the wedding.
“I will become your wife the day the King will return to England.”
Smart move.
Marian had been good, cunning, even in a difficult situation like that.
When he thought of that inauspicious day, when Allan’s brother and his comrades were hanged and he couldn’t prevent it, and Marian had been forced to be engaged to Gisborne, he felt guilty.
Nothing had gone the right way that day.
All about timing.
He didn’t arrive in time to prevent the execution (and Vaisey, in his cruelty, had been brilliant to anticipate it), and he didn’t arrive in time to give the necklace to Marian before Gisborne came to her house. She had to show it to Gisborne at the last second, when the damage had already been done, so she didn’t hand to Gisborne only a silver necklace, but the golden keys to blackmail her and to force her to give in to his brutal will.
That day everything had gone bad, and Marian’s, Allan’s and his own lives had been changed.
Robin remembered his attempt to kiss Marian, in those days.
The girl had rejected him, yet to him, Marian’s look, her sinuous movements, the playful sparkle in her eyes, had made it clear that he could hope to regain his place in her heart.
He thought it was only a matter of time.
Robin was rediscovering a different Marian from the girl he had left behind five years before, and this Marian, the way she had changed, was something that fascinated him and, at times, she worried him.
He didn’t understand her, sometimes. He could hardly understand her. But he was fascinated by her, and he wanted to win her heart back.
He didn’t want to share with her just the same purpose to prevent injustice in Nottingham. He wanted her kisses, her caresses.
He wanted her.
And Gisborne was trying to take her away.
It had been a few days since Robin had seen her, and he was beginning to worry. He had asked Will to scout ahead in Knighton, for news, while he completed his round in Clun with Much. He saw him coming, at that very moment, to the place where they set their meeting. He raised his arm to tell him to approach: there was no danger in the air, if they talked discreetly.

Will had a very tense expression, he looked concerned.
“Robin,” he said, “there are Gisborne’s guards in front of Marian's house. The neighborhood said that they had already been there for a while. None of the neighbors could tell me why, but they are all very nervous about this situation. The guards are there night and day, and none of the neighbors saw Gisborne. It’s strange Robin, it's weird. Forgive me, I should have gone closer and maybe I should look inside the manor, but I was alone and…”
Robin interrupted him, shaking his head.
“No, you did well, going alone would have been too risky, go back in the forest and join the others. Later we will decide what to do.”
Will went away, and Robin began to walk towards Knighton. Much hurried to follow him and once he reached his master, he talked to him.
“But Robin, shouldn’t we go into the forest now? The direction seems wrong.”
“No, the direction is right, we’re going to Knighton,” Robin said, and Much’s eyes widened in surprise. “Aren’t you thinking to go and see Marian now? Will told you that it was dangerous to go alone!”
Robin smiled slyly, while accelerating, effortlessly, his pace.
“For one person, yes, but now we are two, right?” He winked. “We'll manage fine. They are just Gisborne’s guards, it’s like the house is unguarded, they’re useless... Let's go, I'm really curious to know what happens there.”
Robin was right. It hasn’t been difficult at all to climb to the window of Marian’s room, despite the presence of the guards at the entrance of Knighton Hall.
A breeze.
It had been more difficult to silence the constant doubts and concerns of Much, who was hidden in the bushes, ready to intervene at the slightest sign of danger.
Robin leaned inside the window, and what he saw in her room almost made him lose his balance.
Gisborne, that bastard, was sleeping in Marian’s bed, while the girl was sitting next to the bed and she had fallen asleep, an embroidery in her hands, resting her head against the headboard.
Robin tried to remain calm, and he took from his pocket the only thing he could use to attract the attention of the girl, a coin.
He took aim and hit the hand of the girl, who woke up with a start.
Marian opened her eyes, disoriented.
She saw Guy in the bed, still and asleep, and, looking in front of her, she saw Robin, who was standing in her room and looked at her, his arms folded.
Waiting for an explanation.
‘I didn’t need this too, now,’ Marian thought.
The girl stood up and said: “Follow me, in silence.” Robin looked at her with a scowl, but he followed her into the next room, where there was nobody.
Marian closed the door.
“What is he doing there?!” Robin said at once, as soon as she turned to look at him. “What? Did he lose his way home and then he got in your bed?”
Robin's eyes had become dark, demanding.
He wanted an answer.
“Did you give a good look at him, Robin? Didn’t you see that he’s hurt? Gisborne is injured. Seriously. He can’t be moved yet,” Marian said.
“I saw, I saw. It wasn’t a good reason to slip into your bed, Marian. And how did he get injured? Stumbling disastrously in his own spurs?” Robin pointed out the sentence with a mocking smile, wondering how Guy might have been injured.
“No,” Marian said, “of course he didn’t, Robin, he fell under the hooves of a horse. He’s been badly trampled.”
Her expression seemed angry and worried at the same time. A strange mix in which Robin could see anything but indifference to his enemy. And that worried him.
“And you charitably welcomed him here? Wasn’t there a way to bring him back to Locksley? Look, Marian, we’ll do it. I’ll send a message down to Much and he’ll arrange a comfortable, perhaps, wagon to send him back to Locksley. Nay, with the help of the gang we might even deliver him in Nottingham and unload him right there, at the entrance of the castle.”
“What’s the real problem, Robin? The fact that he is here, or the circumstance that he is in MY bed? I do not think this is the problem, or is it, Robin?”
“Marian, calm down, let’s not fight. Just tell me what's going on,” Robin said, recovering, with some difficulty, the control of his nerves and of the situation.
“I told you what is happening: Guy is hurt, badly. He can’t be moved for the time being. He must stay here. And we must take care of him.” Marian sighed gravely, raising her eyes to heaven, underlining the seriousness of the situation and also how much it annoyed her.
“Why here, Marian, why?”
“Because he has been injured here! Because he was chasing the Nightwatchman right here near my home!”
“Was he after the Nightwatchman? Marian, Gisborne has perhaps discovered you? You are in danger: if he knows anything, I have to make sure that he doesn’t speak, that he can’t denounce you. I have to silence him. Forever”
Marian looked at him in amazement.
“Do you want to kill him, Robin? Would you really kill in cold blood a wounded man who is unable to defend himself? Do you really think that? My God, Robin! No, this isn’t you. Anyway, Guy doesn’t know that I am the Nightwatchman!” Marian sighed, as if she had many other things in her mind.
Robin calmed down, but something in the attitude of the girl was more and more strange, suspicious. And, above all, why was she calling Gisborne by his first name, with such confidence?
“Well, then he can successfully continue to be the lackey of the sheriff, if he survives to his injuries,” Robin said. “You look strange, Marian. It could be that you are tired, it could be the burden of having him in your house, but it seems that something is annoying you. Is it me? I'm just here to help, I'm sorry if I've lost my temper. Talk to me, please, Marian.”
Marian looked at him, and, sighing, she told him that for the time being there was nothing he could do, and they had to wait and see how the events would develop. She told him that, as soon as possible, she would go to see him. She drew a shy, but confident smile, and waited for Robin, reluctant to leave her in that situation, to go away.
Taking the decision not to seek help from Robin, Marian had thought that it wasn’t the place, and the time, to tell what she had discovered about Guy. And perhaps it wasn’t even the case.
It was true that Guy didn’t find out who the Nightwatchman was, but Marian had discovered Guy’s horrible secret.
A regicide, in her bed there was a regicide.
Under her roof.
The worst kind of murder.
Almost like killing God, in the eyes of Marian, in the eyes of the world.
She was betrothed to a regicide.
It horrified her.
It made her feel sullied, too.
She knew that she couldn’t bear the look on Robin's face if she told him the news.
Who knows what he would say knowing that she was to be the bride of a regicide. The look of compassion. And anger. Unbearable for her.
And at the same time she had to prevent Guy from getting near the King again.
She should report him, now that she knew, and it didn’t matter how she had known. The expression of pain and confusion on Guy’s face didn’t matter either.
She could denounce him.
But there wasn’t a King to do so, he was far, away in a distant land.
And she didn’t like Robin's attitude about the Nightwatchman.
Reporting Guy to him might be fatal, for Gisborne.
But she could not trust anyone else: who knew how many others had collaborated to Vaisey’s plan in some way, either actively or keeping the silence? Maybe they were the same ones who had favored his rise to the role of Sheriff of Nottingham.
No, there was no one to tell, apart from Robin, without risking both her and her father’s lives.
But at the same time, Marian felt that it was just as dangerous to denounce Guy to Robin.
He could decide to take justice into his own hands, or maybe he could capture Guy and hold him prisoner in the forest for who knows how long, waiting for the return of the King.
Guy couldn’t survive to an imprisonment, not now, Marian thought.
If Guy should recover, she’d talk with him, she’d convince him of his fault.
She had fantasized the scene in her mind. She’d find a way, with him.
It would be difficult, but she would try.
Yes, she’d try.
She’d succeed.
Maybe Guy himself would confess his crime to the King, on his return to England.
She’d convince him to do so: Guy would kneel before the throne of the King, and he would ask for forgiveness, and mercy.
Yes, she’d persuade him, and Guy would do it.
Maybe with her at his side.
She would kneel next to Guy to plead for his cause, and perhaps the King, the just King who Robin always described to her, would pardon him.
Or he would condemn him.
But at least she’d have done for Guy everything she could.
No more guilt, among them.
It wouldn’t be, at least for this, her fault.
As it had been her fault that forced him in his sickbed...
In a corner of her mind, there was the terrible thought that probably, if Guy would heal, he couldn’t be able to try another attempt on the King's life. He wouldn’t be the weapon of a murderer anymore.
As the hours passed, Marian had seen Guy lying and suffering in her bed, clinging to her, with his words, his panting breaths, clinging to her as if she was the only one who could help him.
Everything in him had screamed for help, from her.
Marian couldn’t betray him.
She wasn’t a traitor.
And she wouldn’t be like Guy, Marian repeated in her mind, but she would try, at least, to help him.
The girl shut the window that Robin used to leave the house: she was alone again, to face the man who was lying on her bed.
She was alone, to face Guy.

Chapter Text

The apparent calm of the night at Knighton Hall was torn by a cry of fear, of pain, the sound amplified by the natural silence of the house.
Marian stood up from her chair and she walked over to Guy.
She had learned, in those early days, that when Guy’s sleep was so restless, she had to speak as calmly as possible to him, to call his name before she could try to touch him, to avoid that he could accidentally hit and hurt her.
Marian's voice had become the first guide for Guy, helping him to tread through the fever and the remorse that dotted his difficult and painful sleep.
The remorse of a murderer, the girl thought.
But when she saw him suffering so much, she couldn’t refrain from helping him.
Maybe she did it for mercy, which can’t be denied to anyone.
She was taught that mercy shouldn’t be denied even to the most dirty and miserable of the human beings. And Guy was so stained by his own guilt, in her eyes.
Maybe she did it because she was feeling guilty too.
A moment without thinking, considering, the consequences, and she had committed a reckless act that nearly killed Guy, and that could still kill him.
Whatever the reason, mercy, remorse, or simple human compassion, Marian approached Guy, calling him by name, softly.
She couldn’t consider the possibility that she was, above everything else, worried about him.

Matilda had told her, seeing her in trouble during one of Guy’s first crises, that she shouldn’t consider him as a man in those moments, but like a wounded animal. She had to approach him very cautiously, quietly, showing him that she wasn’t afraid of him and that she wasn’t going to hurt him further. Eventually, though, Matilda told her to think of him like a lost child, who is consoled when he hears his mother's voice.
Marian had begun to call Guy when he was so agitated, talking to him calmly, to make him feel that she was with him, that he wasn’t alone in his nightmares, and that they would walk out of that scary place of his mind together.
Then Guy, lost in the middle of nowhere, in that dark place of his dreams, red with blood and burning with fire, began to calm down, slowing his nervous, violent, snappy movements, as if he could actually hear her voice.
She saw that Guy relied on her: the features of his face began to relax, his breathing was less frantic, and Marian could now take his hand without fear that, in his turmoil, he could hurt her.
Guy grabbed hard her hand, then his hold loosened, his eyes still closed. His face became sad and only then Marian rested Guy’s head on her bosom.
Marian had seen mothers of the villages holding their children like that, when they were crying for a fall, or a scare: they took them gently in their arms, speaking softly to them.
She had remembered that during the nights when Guy was delirious with fever and she didn’t know how to help him. Marian had begun to do the same with Guy, holding him in her arms while he was still wrapped in the final part of his nightmare.
She realized that this worked: Guy calmed down completely, his expression serene. His head didn’t seem so heavy, and she leaned her back, tense and tired, to the headboard of the bed.
Guy didn’t seem a wild, injured animal, or a frightened child anymore. In those moments he was only Guy, he was just a man. Who needed her, only her.
Marian trembled at the thought, and she was often tempted to get up, leave him there, run away and never return.

But his breathing was now quiet, his heartbeat slower, as if it was beating in unison with hers. And Marian stood there, holding him in her arms, not capable to leave him alone.
She too, then, felt calm. The world stood still around her, around them.
Everything, with Guy resting on her heart, made her relax and to drift into a quiet sleep too. 
Falling asleep to the sound of Guy breathing had become, in a few days, a bad habit for her. He was her unwanted betrothed, her enemy, and the enemy of the kingdom. Yet, at that moment, Marian wanted nothing more than to see him resting quietly, and to drift into sleep herself, too.
It was strange, the feeling of having Guy's head on her chest. It was something she had never done, not even with Robin during their engagement.
A young noble woman, a well-educated girl, a good girl, will not allow such contact to her betrothed, she had been taught.
The gentle but firm distance was the key part of her education, as soon as she had become a girl. And she, instead, wanted to study the epic chivalry, the story of heroes, their deeds, business, battles and battle strategies.
She had been given a different type of education to become a true lady.
An education made of choices. But her choices had to be limited to the ability to combine colors, and knowing how to embroider, to recognize a good fabric and a honest supplier for her home and family.
And they especially taught her how to behave with men. She had learned how to keep the right distance between herself and men. Distance. The only element that would lead her safely, a respected maiden, to marriage.
She had learned to alternate firmness to smiles. Also towards Robin, the first who made her heart beat, her first, warm, cheerful love.
She had been sorry, when she was younger, that she couldn’t give him another kiss, another caress, that she could not embrace him. But they expected a gentle firmness from her, and Robin, young too, and playful by nature, seemed to enjoy that cheerful courtship game, that was spontaneous and natural for two people who had grown up so close, despite the times when she had to put a limit to his exuberance.
It was all natural and intended, their falling in love. Their families smiled at them in approval, they met in planned occasions and also in unscheduled occasions, sought out by Robin to see her in secret, but in the end, under the consenting eyes of everybody.
They met at Knighton, and at Nottingham Castle, where Marian had moved when her father, who had been in his youth a skilled, strong, brave knight, had been assigned the role of the County Sheriff.
Even there, the young Robin came to her to steal a caress on her face, a kiss, hiding between the columns of the inner courtyard of the castle. For this reason also, Robin seemed to know every means to enter and leave the castle, undisturbed. He had learned to know it so well when he wooed her.

The war was far away, in the Holy Land. Marian didn’t hear and didn’t see how it was a burden for people.
She hadn’t known someone dear who departed for that sacred and far away place and never returned.
She smiled at the young Robin, stopping his hands if he grew bolder, and she walked away from him, allowing him to look at her one last time, before disappearing into the corridors of Nottingham Castle.
Then it came the order to raise taxes, to help soldiers and the King in the Holy Land, because the war was hard and difficult, and it could be lost. And Marian saw her father raise taxes, losing his smile at the same time. He wouldn’t found it anymore.
Edward was burdened by the weight of his office. The war began to be a weight for Nottingham. Then Robin had changed: he began to speak of the duties coming from his rank, saying that he became an adult and had responsibilities towards the king. He hadn’t been able to promise his return, and before long he had left her.
He was gone, to the Holy Land, for the King.
She had suffered for his absence and for the malicious and compassionate glances of the people.
And yet, young as she was, her pain seemed to her the only problem in the world.
Other young men tried to approach her. She rejected them with firmness, without a smile.

Lord Vaisey had arrived, and Guy with him, and Marian and her father found themselves out of the castle, instantly.
The suitors didn’t come for her anymore, but that didn’t bother her. It was a relief.
Her concern was for her father, she had always considered him strong, just, wise, like a rock.
After he had lost his job, the other noble families kept a respectful and courteous distance from him, and, during those years, he had become fragile, indecisive, resentful, fearful, unable to oppose anything and anyone.
Once she had left the castle and returned between her own people, she had become aware of their suffering. The people had become poorer, then many of them had begun to suffer from hunger or diseases that they could no longer afford to cure.
This had deeply impressed her, and it had given her a reason, a purpose for her life.
She wouldn’t wait for another knight, for a nice, handsome, bold young nobleman who could replace Robin and bring her to the altar.
She had decided to act.
The more her father seemed to withdraw into himself, to give up politics and retire to the seemingly quiet and rural life of Knighton, the more she had begun to act for the good of the community, to heal the damage that the Sheriff and Guy had done.
She distributed just food, and some coin from her worthless dowry, from house to house. But she did it in secret, wearing a mask, and she learned to fight and to defend herself.
She learned to be a bold knight herself.
She liked that idea: it defined her as a person, and above all, it made her smile.

In those dark years, illuminated only by her work as the Nightwatchman, nobody came as a suitor, and Marian was often at her father’s side on public occasions where the presence of Sir Edward was required, in the place that would have been of her mother if she were alive.
She had to be present at his side dressed in her best clothes. It could be a religious celebration, a party, a meeting of the council, a public proclamation, or a hanging.
On all those occasions, Marian had felt Guy's eyes on her.
The man was dark, older than her, always dressed in black leather, his appearance proud, solemn and deadly. They said, about him, the most horrible things, and they probably were all true.
He watched her, always, constantly. He stared at her, followed her. His gaze didn’t leave her for a moment.
Marian thought that his stare was a form of fierce hostility towards the family that she represented. Nothing else.
Then he began to approach her father on public occasions, to speak with him privately, and she couldn’t hear them talking. She had then seen Gisborne confabulating with the hated sheriff, as they were plotting something about her.
She hadn’t realized that Guy was asking to them both, the permission to approach her, the permission to woo her.
She noticed it a little at a time, when she saw Guy moving away from the Sheriff and coming to her, offering his arm to lead her to the other side of the hall during a party, or to invite her to dance, his offer always declined, or to ask if she had eaten enough, or if the party was of her liking.
In the beginning, Guy had appeared demanding, direct, confident in front of the important men of Nottingham, and she had resumed her gentle and firm distance she had once used with Robin, in the same way one could wear gloves again when winter returns.
Guy instead took his gloves off when he tried a contact, even just a slight touch with his hand.
But he did no more than that, and Marian had thought that it was nothing more than a public display of his heightened status , and that he acted in the same way with who knows how many other noble girls of the Kingdom.
People also said other things about him, between Nottingham corridors.
They said that some maid had stayed in his room a minute too much, and that she had found herself in bed with him.
It was said of Guy that he was powerful and demanding even in bed. Maybe even violent.
Especially it was said that he was very passionate.
One of those girls, one of those who had met him several times, got pregnant, had his son and he had abandoned him. Marian and Robin had saved him.
Marian had shrugged, thinking about the "powerful and passionate" Guy, who was forced to compel a maid to indulge him because he could not honestly find a companion of his same lineage. She thought that he didn’t behave like a knight. He had been a coward.

She couldn’t imagine that, as soon as Guy entered in Locksley as the master, his only thought and goal would be her, that he would begin to show up at her home to offer that unwanted and dangerous friendship, full of demands and gifts.
It was the prelude to the true and proper courtship, awkward on his behalf and even more unwanted by Marian.
But in all this time, Guy had kept looking at her in the same dark and continued manner, and Marian had understood, in fear, that perhaps that was a sign of passion in him.
She feared that he just wanted to own her. And she knew that his passion was meant for her alone.
She only had a few weapons left, and a very little time to escape from it, or to enjoy her freedom and her youth.
Guy had insisted, stressing the fragility and the social precariousness of her family. Marian had begun to falter. And the return of Robin had not been enough to change things for the better.
Perhaps he had even worsened the situation. Guy began a silent, continuous, relentless siege to her house, to her life, to her.
She had fought, but she had to succumb to his blackmail, trapped by him, and she found herself betrothed to Guy.
Robin was not in a position to help her, and perhaps he wouldn’t even want to marry her, Marian wasn’t certain about this. Robin seemed to be unhappy for her, he wanted to help her, but he couldn’t.
And now she was living in a delicate, precarious balance. Her house was the last bastion that protected and reassured her before Guy, with his arrogance and his dark passion, could put an end to her youth, to her fierce freedom, and to her hidden independence.
The only alternative was to take the veil as a nun, and Marian didn’t want to get away from Guy and then simply shut herself in another type of prison. She didn’t want to stop being herself and being oppressed by an even higher power.
With Guy suddenly at her home with his visible pain, injured for her fault, Marian had to put her life on hold, and not only her life, even that same unwanted betrothal, because Guy now could die.
But even more, with Guy wounded in her house, Marian had to put aside every habit she had, every usual and proper behavior prescribed by society, by social conventions.
Her house was in a storm too. It was beyond conventions. Continuously.
Everything revolved around Guy, in those days.
All revolved around Guy, his moments of calm, and his moments of agitation, his moments of intense pain; Matilda and her concoctions and her maneuvers; the servants of Knighton, obviously not happy about having to serve a man so despised and contemptible; Guy’s guards; her father, always agitated, always accusing her of the situation; and, above all, herself.
She revolved around Guy after that he, for months, perhaps for years, had turned around her.
Now she was constantly concerned to heal his wounds, constantly worried that he lacked nothing.
That nothing was being spared, despite her father's concern for money. She worried for him, doing everything she could to avoid he could die.
Guy always asked for her, in delirium and in the few moments when he was half awake. He just wanted her desperately, asked about her, even when she wasn’t there, despite the entire small world that revolved around him.
She felt guilty. In the worst moments she was nervous and rude in her manners. The father began to scold her even when she was away too long from the Guy’s bedside.
Sir Edward welcomed her with harsh words.
"He asked about you, where were you?"
And she felt even more trapped and guilty.
In those days, in those nights, Guy, in pain or fear, had just called her, he only wanted Marian.
A few other times, when the pain was too strong, he had heard him calling his mother. In those moments, when he relied on the help of his dead mother, Guy really seemed a child to Marian’s eyes.
His voice changed, and it really seemed that of a frightened child. And Marian, seeing him so vulnerable, felt a deep emotion.
She thought that death had to be like that: a child’s invocation to go back forever in the warm arms of his mother.
Marian had understood, in the long hours next to him, that it wasn’t only the fever and physical pain to make him restless, relentless, but also a pain of the soul.
A pain that was born and grown from all the evil that Guy had perpetrated for year as a servant, aware and willing, of Vaisey.
Yet Marian had tried to get away from Guy to take some time to breathe, even in those early days, after the incident, but she returned to him feeling even more miserable.

In one of those moments, Marian saw Robin, who came back to have a look at the situation.
Their meeting had started badly and ended worse.
Robin had done nothing wrong, and she had acted on impulse, responding angrily to the umpteenth time he interrupted her.
"He must find your bed very comfortable, to stay there so much," Robin said, and she snapped at him, with angry words. Robin realized that he had exaggerated and tried to hug Marian to comfort her, but she immediately stepped back from his arms. 
To make things worse, she had wriggled herself out of his arms dramatically.
She had seen the disappointment in Robin’s eyes, who went away silently.
But Marian had neither time nor the heart to stop him. She felt that her fate was now linked to Guy, if he lived or died.
Robin couldn’t do anything to help her. In his dangerous situation, anything he could try would expose himself, Marian, and her father to a dreadful fate. If they ran away, maybe with the help of Robin, abandoning Guy to his fate, they would be held guilty of his death, condemned and sought for it. 
Perhaps there would be consequences on the poor people of their fiefdom too.
If Guy died despite they gave him every possible care, even without running away, however, they would be considered guilty all the same.
There would be an investigation and there was a concrete risk that they would discover the identity of the Nightwatchman.
Vaisey would happily put the noose around her neck with his own hands, just to be sure to see her die, and then he’d enjoy the show.
At the sound of the trumpets and fanfare.
If Guy survived, Marian would have to marry a man who had really done terrible things, more than she had seen or feared, or heard talking about.
But in his delirium he had asked for her help, so that she could help him to redeem himself.
She had seen him suffering because of his own faults.
Marian felt powerless in front of the fear that Guy expressed in his nightmares.
She felt helpless remembering the seriousness of what he had said to her in his heartfelt confession.
And she clung with all her might, to this thought, to this little, big, hope.
She began to pray to God for him. To pray that he could live. She would have never thought to do this for him.

At dawn, Matilda entered the room. She saw this girl, considered by many good and kind, and by many others just proud and defiant, sound asleep.
She kept softly, her hand through his hair, the head of the Dark Knight, who everyone considered scary and lost.
He held his hands around her waist, and all his body seemed to reach for her. She did the same, only with more sweetness.
Neither of them would let the other go, dressed in white as angels fallen from the sky to the world, exhausted as soldiers at the end of a long and fierce battle.
To Matilda they just looked like a man and a woman who desperately needed each other.
She had seen them, and understood. She recognized, in that scene, something that once she had had, and lost. She recognized love in them.
Matilda smiled, watching them: there was hope, and not just that Guy lived.
She didn’t want anyone else to see them like that: she closed the door firmly behind her, and, softly, she woke Marian, before any servant could see them so inconveniently, gently, embraced.

Chapter Text

Matilda watched closely while Sebastian, Julian, and two of Gisborne’s guards lifted Sir Guy from the bed and make him sit in the chair near the fireplace. The servants arranged the pillows behind his back, so that he could be as comfortable as possible, while the guards carefully positioned his broken leg on a padded footstool.
During the whole operation, Guy didn’t stir and remained perfectly still, holding his breath, his skin covered by cold sweat. Only when the guards and the servant went away, he allowed himself to a weak sigh.
“This hurts so much,” he whispered, and Matilda patted his face with a wet towel.
“I know, I know. But you can’t stay in bed all the time or you won’t get better. Now take some deep breaths.”
“That hurts too.”
“Do you prefer to get sick and die? Cracked ribs are painful, but believe me, getting a cough or pneumonia would be much worse.”
Guy closed his eyes and obeyed her, taking deep, painful breaths until she told him to stop.
Matilda nodded in approval, and she smiled at him.
“I thought you’d be a terrible patient, but you’re doing well. I know you’re suffering a lot, but keep following my instructions and I promise that it will get better.”
“I’m so tired of this pain,” said Guy, dejectedly, and Matilda sat in front of him, taking his good hand to check his pulse.
“I think you will survive, Sir Guy. When I first saw you I wasn’t sure you could. But your health is improving. Your recovery will be long and painful, but you’ll get better.”
Guy looked at his leg, and he frowned.
“Will I be able to walk and ride again? It looks terrible and it hurts so much...”
“We won’t know until it’s healed. But you must consider yourself lucky that I didn’t have to amputate it.”
Guy gave her a startled look, and Matilda patted his hand.
“Don’t think about it, now. Do what I say and your health will improve. It will take time, but you are strong and you’ll recover.”
Guy frowned.
“I don’t know if I have time.”
“What do you mean? The only thing you have is time, now. You can’t do anything but waiting to get better.”
Guy didn’t answer. He couldn’t tell her that he was sure that the sheriff wouldn’t wait too much. He had to go back to his work as soon as he could, but he knew that Matilda was right when she said that his recovery would be very long. More than a week after his accident, he was still weak, in pain and unable to move on his own. He needed help for everything, and his only relief was when Matilda’s remedies eased some of his pain and allowed him to sleep.
“Nothing,” he said, with a sigh. “I feel sore and tired.”
Matilda gave him a sympathetic look.
“I hope you feel hungry too,” she said, taking a bowl of soup from the tray on the table.
“Not so much.”
“But you have to eat, you need to keep your strength.” She placed the bowl on his lap and gave him a spoon. “Here. You have a good arm, try to eat on your own. I’m going downstairs to prepare a poultice for your leg, it will help with the swelling, but I’ll be back soon. If you need something, just call: a servant is sitting outside the door.”

Sir Edward was in the hall, looking at the flames of the fireplace, when Matilda came down the stairs.
“How is he?” He asked, anxiously.
“I think he will survive. His conditions didn’t get worse and the fever broke two nights ago and didn’t come back. We must be careful because he’s not out of danger yet, but I feel optimistic.”
“That’s a relief. When will he be able to go back to Locksley?”
“Are you so eager to get rid of him?”
“I am afraid for our safety. If he should take a turn for the worse while he’s under my roof, we are finished.”
Matilda looked at Sir Edward, thoughtful.
“Does he have a family?”
“Who? Sir Guy? I don’t think so, not here, at least. He came with the Sheriff four years ago, but I’ve never seen him with family or friends. All he ever does is working for the Sheriff or wooing my daughter.”
The healer shook her head.
“He won’t be able to travel for a month or two, at least, but even then I’d advice against sending him back to Locksley or to the castle.”
Sir Edward frowned.
“It would be a heartless thing to do.”
“Heartless? How so?”
“That young knight may be the cruel henchman of the Sheriff, and God knows how much I hate the things he did, but he has nobody. He’s completely alone, with no one to care for him. Nobody came to visit him since he got hurt. He wouldn’t have been able to see people, of course, but nobody even tried, or sent a word inquiring about his health. If you send him away, he’ll be at the complete mercy of his servants and of his guards. I don’t know if those people are loyal to him, but they can’t give him all the cares he will need. After such a long illness, he’ll feel dejected and in low spirits and he might have to come to terms with a permanent injury.”
“A permanent injury?”
“His leg. The damage is bad, I can’t guarantee that it will heal completely. He might be crippled for the rest of his life, I can’t foresee the outcome of this injury. What would happen to him, then? Whatever happens, he will need the support of a family, or some friends, at least. You and your daughter are the closest thing he has.”
Sir Edward shook his head in disbelief.
He never thought that Guy of Gisborne could need the help of his family. In his mind, he was the danger, the wolf who could destroy them all, and he never stopped to think that he was just a human being.
He was afraid of him, and he hated both Gisborne and the Sheriff for what they did to people, but Sir Edward had a kind heart, and Matilda’s words made him think.
The healer went to the kitchen to prepare her remedies, and Sir Edward walked upstairs.
He peeked from the open door to look at Guy of Gisborne, to see if there was some truth in what Matilda had said.
Sir Guy was sitting in the chair near the fireplace, his wrecked body propped up by pillows, and he was slowly eating some soup from a bowl he had on his lap. Every time he lifted the spoon, his moves were cautious and stiff, as if every little gesture was painful and difficult.
The knight looked pale, sad, and extremely alone, and, for the first time since he knew him, Sir Edward felt sorry for him.
He walked into the room, and Guy stopped eating to look at him. Edward thought that he looked young and lost.
“Sir Guy...” he began, uncertain of what to say, and the knight gave a puzzled look at him.
“Lord Knighton.”
“I hope you are feeling better, Sir Guy.”
“No, I don’t.” Guy said harshly, and Edward winced. Guy noticed the confusion of the old lord, and he softened his tone when he talked again. “I don’t feel better, but the healer says that I should survive, so maybe I am a little better, after all.”
“Is there anything that you need, Sir Guy?”
“A miracle, maybe?” Guy snapped, then he sighed and apologized to Marian’s father. “I’m sorry. Pain isn’t good for my temper. I am really grateful for your help, but please ask Matilda: she knows what I need more than I do.”
Sir Edward nodded gravely.
“I will. If there is anything that we could do for you, just ask: we’ll do everything we can.”
“Thank you,” Guy said, a little surprised, then Sir Edward went away, leaving Gisborne to wonder why the elderly lord had been so kind to him.
He knew that his presence at Knighton was an inconvenience to him and Marian, and that they were probably taking care of him only because they feared the consequences. But the way Sir Edward talked to him and offered his help was as if he really meant it, as if he cared.
Guy wasn’t used to kindness anymore, and it worried him because he didn’t understand Sir Edward’s reasons for it.
He sighed. It was useless to have suspects on the elderly lord because he was completely at his mercy.
He picked up the spoon again and resumed eating the soup he had no appetite for. He had to do everything he could to get better soon, and the only way to do that was to obey Matilda’s instructions.

A few days later.

Guy heard the steps of the servants coming up the stairs, and he closed his eyes, pretending to be asleep. He had learned to recognize all the persons who lived in the manor, just listening to them.
After all, listening and thinking were the only things he could do, and often his thoughts were just too dark to indulge in them. Listening to the voices, the steps, and the sounds of the house was better for his mind.
Sir Edward was slow and a little hesitant, especially when he was in his room, as if he was always afraid to anger him; his guards walked heavily, their boots resounding on the steps. Marian was the only one who could take him by surprise, silent as a mouse.
The two women who were coming now were two of the youngest maids of the house, silly creatures always ready to giggle and tattle.
They clearly disliked him and Guy returned the feeling, so he preferred to stay still, with his eyes closed until they would go away.
The two maids entered the room carrying a trunk and they dropped it in a corner of the room.
“All this effort for nothing. I wonder if he’ll ever use this stuff ever again.”
“Be quiet! He could hear you!”
The other one shrugged.
“He doesn’t scare me anymore. Look at him, he’s as good as dead. Even if he survives, he won’t be the same anymore. The Sheriff will get rid of him, sooner or later.”
“He has his guards, if he should hear you, he could order them to punish us.”
“See that wound on his head? Sarah told me that probably he’s been damaged, that he has become mad because of it. At night we go back at our homes, but she lives at the manor, and she heard him screaming as if he’s possessed by the Devil. I pity Lady Marian.”
“She’s betrothed to him. If he doesn’t die she’ll have to marry him. Can you imagine it? To be married to a cripple and a madman...”
The two girls shivered in horror, then they went back downstairs, complaining that they had to wash the towels and bandages used by the healer.
Guy waited until they were gone before opening his eyes again. He glared at the empty door, then he searched the room with his eyes to see what the two maids carried. He recognized the trunk that he usually kept at the foot of his bed in Locksley, and sighed.
The two girls had been rude and unpleasant, but Guy knew that their words weren’t completely wrong.
Maybe he would never be able to get up from his sickbed and probably he would be crippled for life.
The trunk contained some of his leather clothes, his swords and daggers and other personal belongings.
The items in the trunk were like parts of another life, a life that would never come back.
He tried to sit in the bed, but he was still too weak and he wished that he could at least be able to take care of his more personal needs instead of having to call a servant just to relieve himself.
The two maids were just stupid girls, but their words were able to deeply hurt him, awakening all his fears.
They said that the Sheriff would get rid of him, and Guy was afraid that it could be true: Vaisey needed a strong henchman, someone who could carry on his plans, a weak and crippled one would only be a nuisance to be removed.
He tried again to move on his own, but he was stopped by Matilda’s voice.
“What do you think you are doing?”
Guy looked at her, startled and angry.
“Just trying to reach the damn chamberpot!” He snarled.
“More like trying to hurt yourself. If you fall from the bed, you’ll get seriously injured. Here, let me help you.”
Gisborne had no choice but surrender to her cares, embarrassed and frustrated.
“I hate this. I hate this so much.”
Matilda softly laughed.
“I know, love, I know. But don’t be ashamed, it’s not your fault if you can’t move, and I’m used to this kind of things.”
“Don’t call me like that!” Guy growled, making her laugh even more.
“As you wish, Sir Guy. Today is not a good day, I see.”
“It won’t be a good day until I’ll be like I was before!”
“Are you planning to sulk until you’ll be healed?”
“What if I do?”
“You are free to do whatever you want, of course, but moping won’t help you to get better.”
“Go away.”
Matilda looked at him, unimpressed.
“I will, don’t worry, but not because of your temper. I have many other patients to visit. Is there anything else that you need before I go? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Want something for the pain?”
Guy sighed.
“No. Not yet. I don’t want to sleep now, nightmares are haunting me every night. Where is Marian?”
“I haven’t seen her when I arrived. Maybe she’s not at home.”
“Well, find her, and tell her to come here.”
Matilda ruffled his hair like she would do to a dog or a little child, much to his annoyance, then she went away, stopping on the door and turning one last time to look at him.
“I’ll be back this evening and I hope to find you in a better mood, love.” Matilda said, stressing the last word in a mocking tone and earning another snarl from him.

Marian came home, loaded with her two baskets. She had crossed the whole village to search what was needed in the manor.
Now that all the servants were dedicated to Sir Guy and his demands, there was no one else who could go to the market and get the necessary supplies.
In any case, Marian had thought that getting some fresh air out of the house, and thinking about her own commissions, would do her good. She would do anything, just to get away for a moment from the house, from the chatter of the servants, from her father’s lamentations, and above all from Sir Guy, and his need to keep her close day and night.
The morning air was cool, and Marian had been happy to walk outside.
As long as she kept away from people, everything had gone well. As she passed, they were all polite and respectful.
No, not everyone, actually.
Some of them had begun to turn their backs at her, to greet her with less respect. Above all, she had heard them mumbling, whispering behind her back after she passed.
Marian had heard them, but she didn’t stop, continuing her errands.
She had bought the bandages that Sir Guy needed, fruits that would be good for his meals, a dark blue length of cloth to sew a tunic and comfortable trousers that he could wear at home when he would be able to stand and spend more time out of bed. She also bough bread, cheese, small things that she noticed to be of his liking.
She put the basket with the food on the kitchen table, and, looking at it, she realized that everything she had bought, was for him.
She wondered if her very existence would be dedicated to him, to please him, after the wedding.
Or maybe, she would spend her life to assist him.
The return of the King would bring changes. But there were too many possibilities, and the more Marian tried to think of possible developments, the more she felt confused.
Above all, Marian thought that she needed more time, that Guy needed more time before the King returned.
Marian felt that she was now divided between the sake of her people, who needed the immediate end of the oppression, and her own, and Guy’s, sake. They needed time to heal, to speak, to understand each other, to convince Guy to change his life, and who knows, maybe to persuade him to break their betrothal, setting her free.
They needed time.
For a moment, Marian hoped, prayed, that King Richard returned as late as possible in England.
Feeling shame for this last thought, Marian went upstairs.
Matilda met Marian with a smile, and she told her that Guy was asking for her, and that she was trying to avoid that he could overstrain himself.
Marian was annoyed by the sly way in which Matilda turned to her when she referred to Guy’s need to be with Marian.
As if Matilda thought and consequently insinuated that there was any feeling between them.
How could she even think about it?
Between them there was only obligation and compassion on her part, needs and domination on his. There was no room for anything else.
Matilda glanced at the blue length of cloth, and at the new bandages, that were in the basket that Marian was carrying in her room, now occupied permanently by Guy.
“Beautiful, it will look stunning on him. It has been chosen with loving care”
Marian was embarrassed by those words, and she was about to answer her in a piqued tone. She wanted to say that there was nothing that could be defined ‘loving’. She stopped when her father came into the house and Sir Edward turned to his daughter, reproachfully.
"What are you still doing here? Sir Guy asked for you, and you were not here! Hurry up, don’t make him wait.”
Marian rolled her eyes, while Matilda laughed softly, and she went towards the room of her demanding Lord.
Guy was sitting in the bed, his back supported by many pillows, and he had his eyes closed.
Marian thought that he was probably asleep and she was even more annoyed because of her father’s scolding: if Sir Guy was sleeping, he couldn’t miss her.
She was about to leave her basket on the table and go back downstairs, when Guy stirred.
The girl mentally sighed and looked at him: his expression was grim and his eyes looked darker than usual, as if, instead of being blue like the water of a ocean, they had the same color of stormy skies.
“Where have you been?” He asked, and his voice was stern.

Chapter Text

Marian was surprised by his harsh tone, but she replied to him, trying to stay calm.
“I went to the market, we needed some supplies for you. Sir Guy, please take a look at this length of cloth… it's of a beautiful shade of blue…”
Guy didn’t even glance at the cloth.
“Why should I care for shades of color? I guess that you just wanted to go away from here. Away from me.”
Marian was tempted to reply that she desperately wanted to stay away from him. At least for a few hours.
The girl felt the weariness deeply in her bones.
Guy's voice, deep, possessive and terribly demanding made her angry.
“The cloth is for you,” she said, “everything I've got from the market is for you. Everything I have done these days is for you. And is this still not enough?"
Guy looked at the girl, surprised by her sharp tone.
It wasn’t the first time that she berated him like that: when he had asked her to show him the necklace, a few days ago, she had been angry at him.
He still was ashamed when he thought about it: he had doubted her loyalty, and Marian proved him wrong.
She eventually accepted to marry him, but he couldn’t help wondering if she did it only to protect her father.
That doubt was like a thorn in his side, and now it was much worse: how could she like him when he was so broken and weak?
He was afraid that she could break the engagement, and his own helplessness made him touchy and irritable.
He wanted to be the one to take care of her, to buy her gifts, not the other way round.
“I don’t need your help.”
The stubbornness of that man gave her even more discomfort than his possessiveness and exclusiveness.
Marian wondered how she would be able, really, to marry him, and to live with him.
The King's return would allow her to escape from her engagement to him, but, maybe, it would also be the end of Guy's life.
His confession.
That thought made her shiver.
But the man's stubbornness prevailed in her reaction.
"The moment you will be healthy enough,” she said, “you will not need nor me, nor anybody else. But the responsibility for your current conditions is mine, for now. Ask and you shall receive, my lord!”
Guy lifted his eyes to look at her.
“Your responsibility? What do you mean? How could this be your responsibility?”
He glanced at the blanket that covered his injured body, and he felt even more angry.
“It’s the Nightwatchman’s fault! That miserable outlaw keeps defying me, but the first thing I’ll do when I get better will be capturing him. He shall hang, and I’ll watch him swinging on the rope.”
The girl realized her sudden mistake: she had to fix it, immediately.
A further distraction could be fatal for her.
She was afraid.
At the same time, Marian could not understand why he was so angry and concentrated on catching the Nightwatchman. She never did anything really wrong, until that fatal night. What the Nightwatchman did was nothing, until then, in comparison to what Robin and his gang at the castle were doing in and out of the Castle, and around the County.
Yet, Guy seemed to attack the Nightwatchman relentlessly, trying to catch him with increasing anger.
"Sir Guy," Marian said with a calmer, more controlled tone, “you have been injured in the vicinity of this house, we needed to take you home immediately, so we took care of you here, without losing precious time or risking your health to bring you back to Locksley." She made a pause. "I am your betrothed, Sir Guy. It’s my responsibility to help you regain your health, to help you in everything you might need.”
Marian approached Guy, and slowly touched the man's forearm, like a slow caress.
“In sickness and in health.”
She smiled at him, vaguely seductive.
“Sir Guy, there is something I do not understand,” she added, inadvertently. “With all the enemies of the Crown out there, why would you stubbornly do anything to capture just him. What is the Nightwatchman for you to risk your life to this extent,only to get him? From what I hear around, he carries just food, or just a little money to poor people. What’s wrong with this? Pity is due from the Lords. Compassion towards others should be our first thought. Please, give up your insane hunt to catch him, My Lord.”
Guy looked at Marian’s hand on his arm, and his heart started beating a little faster. Her touch was like fire, scorching and distracting, capable to numb his mind, but the words she said, took him back to reality in a moment.
He moved his good hand to clutch Marian’s wrist, and he looked at her.
“Do you think he’s harmless?! Be careful, Marian, these are dangerous words, if somebody else should hear you, you’d be suspected of betrayal. That man doesn’t just feed the poor. He defies the authority of the Sheriff, every time he gives them food or money, he’s inciting them to rebel and someday they will try to disobey the law, and they’ll end up hanged.”
Marian felt trapped, Guy's hand was gripping her wrist, his long, slender fingers just above the slight scar that the Nightwatchman had recently suffered from him.
One wrong move and she would be at his mercy. And now she knew that Guy wouldn’t have had pity on her, if he had discovered the truth.
She felt lost. And then there were his eyes fixed on her, watching her, challenging her, with anger, with conviction, with fury, with passion.
As long as he had been weak, Marian had not been afraid, or embarrassed to touch him, to hug him even, and had let him embrace her. But now, with him suddenly strong, threatening, suddenly returning like the man who was, she felt an extreme heat from his touch, a sensation she had never felt on her skin before.
She only wanted to flee from him, to flee quickly.
She had never felt like this, in all those years, even when she had to free herself from unwanted advances from one or two of her suitors.
Guy's deep warmth, his strength, the possessiveness in his eyes, made her feel guilty, dirty, and not because she was the Nightwatchman, but because his gaze made her feel strangely, deeply exposed.
“Sir Guy! Remember, we are still promised. This is inappropriate. If someone saw us....I have a reputation to keep. Please let me go. Now.”
Guy stared at her, blankly, then he released her from his hold. She looked afraid of him, disgusted maybe, and he thought that it was because of his conditions.
This thought made him even angrier. He hated to be weak, forced to depend on servants to attend to his most basic needs. And it was the Nightwatchman’s fault.
If once he could have decided to listen to Marian’s words, and believe that the man just wanted to help people, now it was a personal revenge. That outlaw destroyed his life, and he had to pay for it.
“If being here bothers you so much, you can go. I don’t need anyone’s pity!”

Marian was relieved, freed from his touch, but his words kept hurting her. She wanted to go away, to leave him there. She really didn’t understand how to deal with Guy. But she would still have the last word, in that absurd competition between them.
Where would he find another woman to look after him?! Another woman willing to waste her sleep, her energy and her heart for him!
“Sir Guy, I do not feel ANY pity for you!” Marian looked at Guy, regaining her self confidence and her detachment. “You are intractable today, and I'm tired. I'm just very tired. I will send someone to help you.”
Marian left the room.
Guy looked at her back. He was the one who told her to go away, but he had the sensation he was the one to be dismissed.
“Stop immediately!” He shouted, even more angry than before.
Marian heard Guy shouting, in a tone of voice so strong and so peremptory that she went back hastily. No one, absolutely no one could dare to speak to her that way. And in her house!
"You! You! Don’t you dare to talk to me in that tone! I'm not your servant, nor your maidservant. Never! Never again you will talk to me in that tone. You! You don’t deserve anything. You are bad, you are cruel, a threat to the Kingdom. A threat to the King! From me you will have nothing but assistance, I am ashamed of what you did! And here I was! Hoping that you could really be a better man! I was wrong, so utterly wrong!”
Guy’s heart skipped a beat. He had never seen Marian so furious, and a part of him liked that wild side of her.
He was so mad and frustrated, that a verbal fight with her could have been satisfactory, a good way to vent, but then her words filled him with fear.
Why was she talking of the King? She talked as if she knew his darkest secret.
He looked at her, unsure, but calmer.
“What… what do you mean?” He asked, lowering his voice.
Marian came back to Guy, feeling stronger. She finally had an advantage over him for once.
“Isn't it true that in the period in which they said you were ill, and there was need for you to be quarantined , you were actually in the Holy Land?” She said, almost in a whisper, mimicking and imitating his facial expressions and his posture, his conspiratorial tone.
Guy froze. He tried to keep a straight face, but he couldn’t think clearly.
How could she know? She couldn’t have guessed, and only two other persons knew about his secret: Vaisey, and the physician who lied about his illness.
Guy couldn’t believe that either of them could reveal his attempt to kill the king to Marian.
Maybe Locksley had recognized him?
But if that was the case, why revealing the truth to Marian, instead of accusing him?
His heart pounding, Guy grabbed again Marian’s hand and he stared at her.
“Never repeat those words. Never. You’ll die if you do.”
Marian felt herself tremble. Was Guy really threatening her to die by his hands? How much longer she would and could have to endure such a thing from him?
No More, Marian thought.
She felt tears, born from anger, forming at the corners of her eyes. Instead of trying to hold them, she let them fall, and she stared at him, at his eyes.
“How dare you threaten me, Sir Guy? How can you even think of marriage, of a family while threatening your future wife of death? What kind of man are you, for real, Sir Guy? I know. You told me yourself. You are not good at keeping secrets. And now you won’t do me any harm. It will be our secret. And you will have to behave differently from now on, if you really want to marry me.”
Marian prayed to God that Guy didn’t understand the truth, she was truly terrified that he really might hurt her, or to turn his rage against her father.
But in his fevered delirium Guy had asked her to help him. Those words had to have a value. They had to mean something. She prayed God, to listen to her silent prayer. She stared into Guy’s eyes, feigning conviction and firmness.
Guy could feel Marian’s arm tremble between his fingers, or was he the one who was shivering in fear? He slowly shook his head, trying to dispel the dizziness that was cutting his breath short, giving him the sickening impression of being, again, on a ship headed for the Holy Land.
“Me? How is that possible?!” He asked, in a urgent whisper, and he was surprised to notice that Marian shrank away from him, in fear. She repeated that he was the one who revealed that secret to her, during a feverish night. Guy realized that she was afraid of him, as if he could actually hurt her.
“After today, never talk about it again, not even to me. If the Sheriff should suspect that you know, he’ll kill you. Your father too. And me. We’d all die. Your life… my life… they are all in your hands now.”
Guy wanted to keep talking and tell her that he never wanted to put her in danger, that he really loved her, and that she was his only hope to become a better man. He was also bubbling with rage, and scared to death at the same time, all his emotion jumbled together in a overwhelming mixture.
His mind was in a turmoil and his body pained him beyond his endurance.
He looked at Marian, unable to utter any other words, and he had the impression that her figure was clouded by dark spots, dancing in front of his eyes.
He felt waves of nausea washing over him, and for a moment he feared that he was going to be sick in front of Marian. But soon darkness enveloped him, and he mercifully slipped in a place where there was no pain and where he could be unaware of his illness.
He collapsed back on the pillows that were propping his body upright, and he passed out.

Chapter Text

Matilda couldn’t understand what had happened to the man. She had left him in decent conditions, as far as he could be. Something must have happened.
When she came back to visit him, and now this had become a pleasure rather than an obligation, poor fellow, she had found him deeply unconscious again, his face marked as if he had suffered a great stress. She could also see a bit of sadness, of defeat, on his face.
At the moment he was fervently assisted by Marian, who seemed to be oscillating between his same stress and much, much more guilt.
It seemed that the clock had been turned back to the first time she saw him, when he was suspended between life and death, but he was much more seriously injured then, so much that she wasn’t even sure she could be able to help him.
However, now, apart from his present state of unconsciousness, the strangest thing was that Marian wasn’t going to leave him alone, not even during her routine medical examination of the knight.
Marian did no more than turning around when it was really required.
Anyway, the worst seemed to be passed: he wasn’t bleeding, he hadn’t new wounds, and he hadn’t suffered new fractures. Just a big, sudden stress.
Perhaps he had tried to move again, to try a too demanding movement for his present physical forces. Or, maybe he had received some grave news.
Matilda looked at the girl, so suddenly alarmed and just as prostrated as Gisborne appeared to be, and she understood that maybe Marian knew something.
So, she began discreetly to ask the girl what had happened.
But Matilda's discretion and kindness to the young woman began to quickly fade, as soon as the girl told her to have had a discussion with him that rapidly transcended in words and feelings, She told her that, in the end, he was deeply agitated and he had tried to move beyond his means.
In short, Matilda found herself scolding her like a little girl, a really reckless young girl.
A silly one.
A stupid one.
Just barely she managed to restrain herself from calling her stupid. She was the daughter of a Lord, after all.
It has been hard, very hard to help Guy to heal, and she was still not sure what would be the ending result of all her cares.
She had seen in the eyes of the man the fear of not being able to do anything, the sense of humiliation of his present condition, and, above all, his loneliness.
If, in the early days of her cares, Matilda had thought that the Knight really deserved to suffer for all the evil he had perpetrated in Nottingham, after having him before her eyes for days she changed her mind: the more she looked at him him, the more she saw a man.
A man in a serious illness.
He looked proud and stubborn to everyone, including his betrothed, while he really was just trying to maintain a dignity, in a difficult and not entirely dignified condition.
She had stopped calling him Sir or any other bad epithet when she thought of Guy.
He had something different in him than other patients that she had had.
At times he seemed suspiciously like an animal beaten for a long time, which was very odd in a man who had exercised so much power. And his pride seemed to hide some secret misery that he would not have told anyone.
In addition, there was the way he seemed increasingly tying his very existence to the daughter of Lord Edward Knighton.
When Guy was looking for Marian, and asked the servants to call her, there was command in his voice. But when he had given the order, and he was waiting her to come, in that very moment, Matilda had seen in him the anxiety of a man taken by a very strong feeling, a feeling that he had never felt before, something that he seemed unable to control completely.
Anyway nothing in Guy, she thought, was now under control, not his physical condition, not his fears, and now even not his feelings. But Marian was his first thought.
She guessed that he must have made control and discipline his life, before his illness. But is this not, in short, a knight?
She had seen many worse men than him.
Lost people. Lost souls. Totally lost souls. Souls condemned to hell.
Guy had seemed to be like them, at first.
Then, she understood: to Matilda, Guy seemed, at times, like the captain of a ship in bad waters, full of serious flaws, desperately hoping that the dim light he saw far away was the light of a lighthouse, a safe harbor.
Marian was that light for him: desperately near and far at the same time.
Time for other questions, Matilda thought.
“Marian, forgive my impudence, but there is something that I’ve been wanting to ask you, for quite some time now”
“Just ask, Matilda,” Marian said, “you know, I am indebted to you, I’m in great debt.”
“Is your future marriage the result of an agreement between families, as is the tradition among the nobles?” The older woman asked.
“No, I don’t know Sir Guy's family. I know nothing of his life before he came to Nottingham. It's an agreement between my father and him, but perhaps it is safer to say that it is the result of an agreement between him and me. He wanted me, strenuously. We came together, to my father's presence to tell him that we would get married, when the King returns to England.”
Matilda thought for a moment about what the girl had said, then she laughed.
“Oh poor boy!” Matilda said “Poor fool, to agree to wait for something that may never happen just to hope to have you as his wife.”
“The King will be back in England!” The girl said, with impetus.
“Maybe,” Matilda said “or maybe not. It 's a war, Marian. Many men left for it, few came back from there. Many were lost and buried in the sand. But this is not the point. Probably the King will return, you're right. What makes me really laugh is the very idea that, in order to have you, THIS man has leapfrogged every rule. Something in both your and his behavior tells me that he must have behaved very badly towards you also. Nothing irreparable, I guess, otherwise you'd be married already, and you wouldn’t be so embarrassed when I have to undress him. But at the end of all, his marriage is linked to the most unlikely event possible at the time. How incredible. You, young girl, must really be very important for him to make a nonsense of the sort. The second most powerful man in Nottingham... Dear God, what a story! Well, Marian, I can tell you, having checked everything in him, that I'm pretty sure of this: Guy will wake up again. But when our ‘sleeping beauty’ will wake up, please, send for me. He will really need someone to listen to him complain and moping, now.”
Matilda left the room, and Marian began to think about the words that the older woman said to her, while she looked at Guy sleeping.
In that moment she realized that Matilda was right; she had been smart, and reckless at the same time to choose the return of the King as the one condition for their marriage.
But Guy had accepted it only for a lack of intelligence? What Guy really hoped? What Guy really wanted from her? There were higher-ranking women and with much greater wealth to choose.
Younger ones.
Easier ones.
Watching the ‘sleeping beauty’, as Matilda called him, for a moment she smiled, thinking that, at least in this, Matilda was actually right.

Guy turned to give a glance over his shoulder, and he spurred his horse: armed soldiers were following him and he had to run. They were wearing King’s Richard’s uniforms, and Guy knew that if they reached him, he would be hanged or quartered as a traitor.
Then an arrow hit his horse and the animal fell in the sand of the desert. The soldiers captured Guy and dragged him to the king, forcing him to kneel in front of him.
“I didn’t choose to kill you, I just followed the orders of the Sheriff!” Guy pleaded, but King Richard just looked at him, without speaking. Robin of Locksley was at his side, the arms crossed in front of him and his face stern. “Please! I don’t want to die!”
“You tried to kill the king!” Robin said. “The punishment for this is death.”
Guy kept his eyes down, not daring to look at King Richard. He was kneeling on the stone floor of a castle, now, and his leg was hurting, sending jolts of pain through his body.
“Please, Majesty, have mercy on me. I’ve been misguided, I’ll never be a menace again.”
The King looked at him.
“I won’t accept your pleads, but I might be lenient if somebody else is willing to talk in your favor. Someone who can guarantee for you and who will accept to take responsibility for your future actions.”
Guy looked around, but all the other nobles turned their backs at him, and common people glared or spit in his direction. Robin gave him a disgusted look, and he went away too.
Guy saw the slender figure of Marian, and he reached out for her.
“Marian, please, only you can save me...”
The girl looked at him with contempt.
“I despise you,” she said, and she abandoned him too.
King Richard looked at Guy.
“Well? Who will defend you?”
“I have nobody...”
“Then you will die.”

Guy woke to the sound of his own moan of terror. He opened his eyes, looking around in fear, afraid to see the guards coming for him, but he found out that he was in Knighton and that nobody was trying to kill him.
For a moment, he stared at Marian, who was standing near the bed, and the girl looked at him, then she turned her back at him, like in the dream, and she ran out of the door.
Guy stood still, looking at the empty door: his whole body was aching, and he felt empty too.
Marian had been looking at him with a expression he had never seen on her face before, and he assumed it was disgust for him.
Maybe King Richard wasn’t going to execute him for now, but the dream was true: he had nobody.
Before he could stop it, a tear rolled on his cheek, followed by another, and before Guy could move his good hand to wipe them, Matilda entered the room, and rushed to the side of the bed.
“You woke up at last, love,” she said in an affectionate voice, dipping a towel in the basin and beginning to clean away tears and sweat. “What’s up, now? Why are you crying?”
Guy gave her a half-hearted glare.
“I’m not crying!” He snarled. “I’m just in pain.”
Matilda nodded.
“Of course, silly me for thinking otherwise.” She finished cleaning his face, and she touched his forehead. “I don’t think you have a fever, but you look pale. Apart from the pain, how do you feel?”
Something in his tone made Matilda understand that it wasn’t just physical tiredness, but that he was dispirited as well. She wondered what Lady Marian could say to him to make him so miserable, then she decided that it didn’t matter and that the only thing she could do was to try to cheer him up.
“That’s because you are not eating enough, love.”
“Not hungry.”
Matilda helped him to sit in the bed, propping up his back with pillows, then she smiled at him.
“Here. Now close your eyes.”
“Didn’t I save your life? You should trust me by now. Stop arguing and close your eyes.”
Guy gave a glance at her, and he saw she was smiling kindly. He obeyed, with a little sigh.
Matilda looked at him for a moment, and she thought that he was desperately trying to look strong and proud, but she had seen fear in his eyes, fear and loneliness.
She reached for the little basket she had taken with her from the kitchen and took a little bowl full of honeyed walnuts. She took one, and held it to Guy lips.
“Here, try this.”
She expected him to fuss or to ask what she was trying to give him, but he meekly obeyed, parting his lips to accept the bite.
His complete trust moved Matilda, and she smiled as she watched him chew the walnut.
Guy opened is eyes in surprise, and looked at her.
“There’s honey in it!”
“Yes, love, do you like it?”
Guy nodded.
“It was a long time I didn’t have any. The Sheriff doesn’t have a taste for it. He doesn’t like any kind of sweetness.”
“You’re not the Sheriff, thanks to God,” she said, placing the little bowl in his lap, “so you can eat the rest of it. It will be good for your health, and it has a pleasant taste too. My daughter loved this kind of candy, she was overjoyed when we had the chance to get some honey. Now eat, and after that I’ll help you wash and get changed in a clean nightgown, and then I’ll comb your hair.”
“There’s no need for it.”
“Of course there is! Don’t you want to look good?”
“What for? People despise me. Why should they care about my appearance?”
“Eat. If you are busy chewing, it will keep you from talking nonsense.”
“It’s no nonsense. Name someone who cares for me.”
“Me, for a start. And Lady Marian, I guess.”
Guy lowered his eyes with a deep sigh.
“She feels only contempt for me, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, really? Why was she so worried for your health, then? When you passed out, she got a good fright.”
“I guess she’s afraid of a retaliation.”
Matilda burst in a hearty laughter, and she bent to give him a motherly kiss on his cheek.
“I would have never thought that the dark and cruel henchman of the Sheriff could be such an innocent soul!”
Guy growled her to stop, but Matilda could see that he wasn’t as annoyed as he tried to look, and she guessed that he probably craved all the little attentions she gave to him, even if he would never admit that.
“Eat, and stop brooding. Thinking too much is bad for your health. I care for you, if that matters, and I’m sure other people will too, if they get to know you better. But now put your energies in getting better, sweetie.”
“Don’t call me like that.” Guy said, gruffly, and Matilda laughed again.
“Come on, I know that you love it, love.

Chapter Text

Marian led the unexpected and friendly guest to a seat in the hall. She was intrigued and impressed by him.
It wasn’t the first time since the accident, that this man came to inquire after Sir Guy’s conditions, and his perseverance and affection made a great impression on her, as well as the idea that Gisborne could know someone who not only wasn’t afraid of him, but on the contrary, could care for him.
One would have said he was sorry to know that Sir Guy was sick.
But true.
Marian gave once more a discreet look at the guest: he was still a young man, black eyes, black hair, a vibrant light in his eyes, a thoughtful way to look at the things, an observer, but he seemed shy and awkward at the same time, as if he were not used to be in front of a woman, or other people in general.
Marian assured him, that this time he probably could meet Sir Guy personally, as soon as Matilda’s daily visit was over.
Through the window, Marian saw a shadow prowling, stealthy and fast in the garden. She raised her eyes to heaven, and sighed, praying the guest to excuse her and to wait for her. She'd be “right back, in a moment”.
Marian approached the hidden guy, with a playful tone of voice.
“I can see you! Robin, you should be more cautious. Can I help you? Or did you come to pay a visit to Sir Guy too?”
“Who is that man, Marian? It’s not the first time that I see him here. Some other sheriff’s lackey?” Robin asked.
“I don’t believe so. At least he is not arrogant like Vaisey’s guards, or inept as Gisborne’s. And he is genuinely concerned about Sir Guy. I understand your astonishment, and it was mine too, at first. But it’s a positive thing, for Gisborne,” Marian replied.
“You just fail to see that Gisborne is rotten, totally rotten. And he is dangerous, even now. That man is an alchemist, Marian. I have investigated. I asked around, and now I know who he is.”
“I can imagine your methods, Robin. Have you courted his sister, or maybe his mother, this time?” The girl said.
“He has no sisters. But why do you care about HOW I investigate?” Robin asked, smiling maliciously, approaching her.
Marian pushed him back, gently but firmly.
“No, I don’t care, really. It was just… a confirmation.”
“You cared, once, I remember, very clearly. You used to be very angry when some other girl was interested in me. Angry… like you are, right now,” Robin said, playfully.
Marian smiled.
“Oh, Robin, all the girls in the village were ‘interested’ in you. And that wasn’t fun, at least not for me. But I couldn’t say the same about you: you liked that. A nice habit, for you, to be admired and desired. By everyone.”
Robin tilted his head to one side, his gaze softened.
“I liked that you didn’t like it, that's all. YOU were my betrothed, there were only glances, from both sides, nothing more.”
Marian went on, masking her sudden anger.
“But then you were gone, and best regards to the ‘betrothed’, and I actually don’t care about it now. You see, I can joke about it, now. I can share a laugh about it with you. That’s the difference. It's been so long ago, Robin. I have other things to think about, now.”
“Yes, you have other things to think about: for example, you have to find out what this guy is plotting with Gisborne, and report it to me.” Robin replied, a little wounded. “I don’t think anything positive can come from this meeting, and you could help me to find out what’s happening.”
“Are you asking me to spy on my own house, Robin?” The girl asked, astonished.
"Either you do it or I do it, the choice is yours. As you well know, it’s not an effort for me to climb up to your room!”
“Not now, Guy is awake and watchful. He could see you. It could be trouble for us all,” the girl said, alarmed.
“Your choice, Marian,” Robin replied, firm on his intentions.
“I’ll do it. Come back at sunset, discreetly,” the girl conceded.
“Discretion is my middle name,” Robin said, and walked away, smiling.
Marian sighed, and she went back into her house.

Matilda removed the bandages and the splint, freeing Guy’s wrist, then she carefully examined it.
“Does it hurt?”
“A little.”
“Close your hand, slowly. Stop if it is too painful.”
Guy obeyed, and Matilda nodded, with a smile.
“Congratulations love, now you have two hands again.”
“Is it healed?”
“It’s still weak because it has been immobilized for a month, but yes, your wrist is fine. You have to try to use it as much as you can to regain your strength.”
Guy sighed.
“I wish I could say the same for the rest of my body.”
Matilda patted his hand sympathetically.
“Patience, my boy, patience. With the wounds you received, you can’t hope to be healed after just a month. You’re lucky to be alive.”
“I know, but I need to get better soon. The sheriff won’t wait for me.”
Matilda uttered a row of profanities, and Guy couldn’t help but smile hearing the colorful way she used to describe Vaisey.
Matilda grinned.
“Here! That’s what I want to see on your face. If you’d smile more often, people wouldn’t be so scared of you, love.”
“I don’t have many reasons to smile, Matilda.”
“Then make them. Try to see the good in the little things.”
While talking, the woman took a brush and began stroking Guy’s hair.
“I can do it myself. After all I’ve two hands, now.”
Matilda bent to brush the top of his head with a light kiss.
“Let me do it, please. I loved to brush my daughter’s hair, but now she’s a married woman. I miss her, especially at night, when my house looks so empty now that she’s not there.”
“So I’m a replacement for your daughter, now? Woman, you have no respect for my dignity.” Guy had talked in a gruff tone, but Matilda could see amusement in his eyes.
“Now I respect you a lot more than I did a month ago.”
Guy gave her a surprised look.
“You are the only one, I think.”
Matilda knew that he was talking of Lady Marian.
Since their fight, a couple of weeks ago, the girl began to avoid him. At night she still watched over his sleep, soothing him when he had nightmares, but as soon as he woke up, she rushed away, making excuses to stay away from his room.
Matilda often wondered what happened between them. If Marian didn’t care for him, she wouldn’t lose her sleep to sit near his bed at night, and she wouldn’t spend so much time sewing new clothes for him.
“No, not the only one. In fact, you have a visit. I wanted to check your conditions before allowing him to see you, but I think that you are strong enough to see people, if you want to.”
Guy was even more surprised, and a little afraid.
“Who could want to see me? It’s not the Sheriff, isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t let that bald heap of donkey crap to see you, if I can avoid it, love. Your visitor is a young man, he said he’s a friend of yours. His name is Lambert, I think.”
“Really? Lambert came here?”
“He already came a few days after the accident, but you were too sick to see anyone. Do you want to meet him? He’s waiting downstairs.”

Lambert followed Matilda upstairs, and the woman opened the door for him, but she didn’t enter.
He walked in the room, feeling a little nervous, and he looked at the man lying in the bed: he was used to see Guy of Gisborne as a strong knight, tireless and never idle, always dressed in black leather, but now he was gravely injured, weak and unable to move.
Lambert didn’t know what to say, and he shyly waved at him.
Guy smiled, sincerely happy to see a friendly face, and this disconcerted Lambert too.
“Lambert! I didn’t expect your visit. Please, take a seat.”
The man sat on the chair at the side of the bed and he put the basket he had brought on the bedside table. He nodded at it.
“Apples. You like them, don’t you?”
Guy gave him a surprised look.
“Yes. How did you know?”
“You told me once, while we were working at our project. You said that when you were little you used to climb on trees to get the better apples.”
“Yes, I did. And I still like them, thank you.”
Guy felt a pang of shame. Lambert remembered that he liked apples, but Guy had no idea of the tastes of his friend.
While they worked on the black powder, they sometimes used to chat, but Guy couldn’t remember at all what they said.
“How are you?” Lambert asked. “I came to visit you when I heard the news of your accident, but the healer didn’t let me see you.”
Guy shrugged, with a sigh.
“I’m still alive. Matilda says that I’ve been lucky.”
“Did she say when you’ll be able to come back to the castle?”
“Not very soon, I’m afraid. My ribs and my leg still hurt a lot. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to walk again.”
“Don’t be negative, now. You’ll walk, and when you do, I hope I’ll be able to give you a demonstration of our black powder.”
“Are you still working on it?”
Lambert nodded.
“It’s our project. It will be very useful for the mines. It will improve the life of the miners, and they’ll be able to increase the production without endangering their lives.”
Guy didn’t answer immediately.
He could have used the black powder to persuade the Sheriff: even injured he might still be useful to him. Bringing him a way to earn more money would push Vaisey to be more patient and to wait for his recovery.
But the Sheriff would have not been satisfied to improve only his earnings from the mines, he would have wanted to use the black powder as a weapon.
Guy shuddered in thinking what that substance could do to a human body, and he thought that, in comparison, being trampled by a herd of horses would be nothing.
He looked at Lambert.
Maybe Guy didn’t remember the fruit he liked best, or what he liked to do in his free time, but he was certain that his friend would never accept to do something that could make people suffer. And if he refused to obey the Sheriff, Vaisey would kill him.
“You must stop working on it,” Guy said, abruptly.
“Why? I’m almost there. I think it’s a matter of weeks, days maybe.”
“Stop. Working. On it.”
Lambert looked at Guy: he couldn’t understand why he had changed his mind.
“You commissioned me. The mines...”
“Forget the mines. If you want to live, stop working on the black powder and destroy the ledger with the formula.”
Lambert wondered if Guy was menacing him, but he realized that he looked almost afraid.
“Are you asking me to destroy the work of months?”
“I am. You can keep the money, and, if I can, I’ll pay you the rest of the sum I promised you, but I don’t want you to keep working on it. The Sheriff will use it as a weapon if you give it to him.”
Lambert looked at him, in shock.
“As a weapon? I can’t believe he would, it would be horrible and inhuman.”
“The Sheriff is a demon. Destroy the ledger. Please.”
The other man looked at him for a moment, and he thought that Gisborne looked really frightened.
He took a decision.
“I will, I promise. But now enough with talking of work, I bet that you are bored to death.”
Guy sighed.
“You guessed right. When I’m not sleeping or writhing in pain, I can only stare at the walls of this room. I think I know every wood grain by heart, by now.”
Lambert smiled sympathetically.
“Don’t you talk with the inhabitants of the house?”
“With Matilda, when she is not busy with her other patients.”
“Nobody else?”
Guy thought of Marian, she was the one he wanted to talk with, but she kept avoiding him.
“Well, if you want, and if the healer will allow me, I’ll come to visit you again, and I’ll tell you what happens in Nottingham.”
“Would you do this for me?”
Lambert smiled.
“We are friends, you’d do the same for me.”

Marian, hidden behind the door, couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
Was it possible? Was Sir Guy really discouraging Lambert, the alchemist, from continuing his, their, experiment on the ‘black powder’, whatever it was, for fear that the Sheriff could use it as a weapon against people? A man who had been so close to kill a King, so ready, eager, to obey every single, bloody, order of a raptor Sheriff, could be capable to say that?
It was completely unexpected and shocking. She didn’t know whether to be more surprised by the idea that Gisborne, although it was to prevent a catastrophe, was doing something for the good of someone, or by the simple, striking idea that such a powerful weapon like the one described could exist.
On one thing Marian now was in perfect agreement with Guy: the Sheriff was a demon.
Or a wannabe demon.
And he would succeed sooner or later in becoming it.
Marian felt her skin crossed by a shiver, a cold one. She had to report it to Robin, absolutely. She walked away from the door and from the corridor, silently and with light steps, before Lambert had finished speaking with Guy.
That day, Marian was tempted to bring herself the lunch to Gisborne. Maybe to reward him with a smile. But she didn’t wish that Guy could suspect that she knew. So she just checked his lunch with painstaking care: everything had to be perfectly cooked and served, and enjoyable for the man.
The sunset came, and with it Robin came too.
Marian squeezed herself into a heavy cloak. It was cold, and she had to be fast and effective in explaining to Robin what she had discovered. No fuss, no jokes this time. The situation was serious.
Robin immediately sensed the seriousness of the situation from Marian’s tense face.
She was beautiful, even she was so cold, and hasty, and he wanted to tell her how beautiful she was.
He wanted to play less with her and to talk to her of their feelings too.
They never did, really, since he had returned from the Holy Land. But Marian stopped any further intention from him with a glance, and told him that the situation was serious.
Deadly serious.
“So Gisborne asked the guy to stop the research and to get rid of the lab diary? And do you believe him?” Robin said.
“I heard him myself, with my own ears. He didn’t know that I was listening, he was sincere. And very scared. We are underestimating Vaisey, Robin. The Sheriff cannot think of using a weapon like that on the poor people of the County,” Marian replied.
Robin remembered for a moment how Gisborne was like, when they were both very young, when Gisborne was a reserved, serious and conscientious boy.
A good boy.
Boring, too.
Especially from the perspective of a lively and cheerful little boy like Robin was. Before everything became worse, for everyone.
He banished the thought from his mind.
“Even just to know that such a weapon exist empowers the owner, enabling him to blackmail everyone, even before using its destructive power. Continue to listen to them, you did a good job. You will be really l useful to us, Marian. Let’s hope that your patient doesn’t change his mind now. Meanwhile, I and my men will search the diary, to be sure to destroy it.”
Robin made a sort of rushed bow, gave her a smile, and walked away quickly.
Perhaps Vaisey was more of a dull collector of taxes sent by Prince John, Robin thought. He could become dangerous. Or was there some other reason for him to be there? Something that Guy knew about Vaisey? Robin felt even stronger the suspicion that there wasn’t one, but two war theaters.
One here, and one in the Holy Land. And King Richard was aware of just one of them. But which were the armies deployed in this one, in England? Who was white and who was black? Robin still didn’t know, but he would find out, for the King’s sake and for his beloved England.
Robin would die for them both.

Vaisey lifted his arm and the hawk came back and landed on his wrist. A servant, a scrawny boy just out of childhood, was holding a bowl containing strips of fresh meat.
The boy took a piece of meat and, trembling, offered it at the hawk. The bird took it, painfully pecking at the fingers of the servant.
Vaisey looked at the boy and noticed that he had to stifle a cry and that he looked pretty scared.
The sheriff grinned.
Usually it was Gisborne who had to keep the bowl when Vaisey wanted to train his hawk, just because the sheriff knew the knight hated that humble job.
Guy of Gisborne was disgusted by the smell of the raw meat and Vaisey enjoyed seeing his discomfort when he had to hold the bowl for him. He also enjoyed the power that came from giving him that simple chore, because it was the demonstration that Gisborne was like an obedient dog, ready to do anything the sheriff asked, no matter how much he hated it.
Too bad that now Gisborne was completely useless, hurt by his own stupidity and incompetence.
The mere thought of the accident made Vaisey seething with rage: he had plans for Gisborne, plans that that were based on his obedience and his gullibility, and now he had to come up with new schemes and plots.
The young servant was startled by a sudden movement of the hawk, and he let the bowl fall to the ground. A piece of meat landed on the sheriff shoe and Vaisey looked icily at the scared boy.
He nodded to a guard.
“Flog him. Ten lashes. Maybe next time he’ll learn how to do his job properly.”
The frightened boy burst up in tears, pleading for mercy, but Vaisey just looked at the guard.
“Make it twenty lashes,” he said, then he handed the hawk to another servant and went away while the guards dragged the boy to the courtyard to flog him.
Vaisey went back into his studio and sat on his chair. The bird were chirping in their cages and, coming from the window, he could hear the screams of the young servant who was being punished.
The sheriff closed his eyes and listened for a little while, then he looked at the parchments on his table, humming a cheerful tune.
He put aside a part of them, annoyed again. Usually it was Gisborne who took care of those boring, unimportant things regarding the administration of the castle and he couldn’t be bothered with them.
He would have to pay somebody to take care of that stuff, and he decided that he would take that money from Gisborne. After all it was his fault if he had to hire somebody else to do his work.
Vaisey noticed a sealed parchment that appeared to have traveled a lot before reaching his table and he smiled looking at the seal. The sheriff opened the scroll and read it twice, then he grinned.
“Well,” he said to himself, pleased, “this couldn’t come in a better moment. I suppose that I’ll have to take Locksley back and give it to him.”

Marian felt like she was little again: everything in her house suddenly seemed to be bigger. She opened the door and found her father, who was wearing a heavy cloak and a chain around his neck.
“Marian come, child, come.”
She approached him slowly, struck by the beauty of her father's clothes: blue velvet, the glitter of the gold chain, his sword, its golden hilt inlaid with subtle designs and a gem, as red as blood, on its pummel.
“Marian, the King, in his infinite foresight, thought desirable to confer me a high office. Your father will be the new Sheriff of Nottingham.”
Marian gasped, seeing his proud expression, the beauty of his clothes, the force transmitted from her father's movements.
Marian could hear the thoughts of her childish voice.
“One day I’ll marry a knight like him, one day I’ll marry a Knight of the King," then she began to chant, happily. “A knight, I will have a knight, I will be his wife, he’ll bring me a rose, he’ll unsheathe a sword...”
Marian turned. She heard another voice, and she looked around to find where it came from.
It was the voice of her father again, and he was there: gray walls behind him, no longer dressed in blue, but wearing black clothes, much less young, much weaker, much less happy and proud.
“Marian remember, we owe everything to the King, we owe him everything. All honor, every sacrifice is due to him. Nothing is more important of the King. Our family is devoted to the Crown. Disgrace betide us and destroy us if we will miss this oath! Never forget it.”
“Never forget...”
“Never forget...”
Marian walked with slow steps in a dark corridor, unknown to her. She looked at her hands and at her feet, advancing into the darkness. She was an adult again, no longer a child. She was wearing a red skirt that moved slowly to the rhythm of her stride.
Whispers in the air like distant echoes.
The sound of a strange voice, muffled by the wind .
Marian walked slowly, following the voice that was calling her, not knowing where she was going, but feeling that she had to go.
A dim light on the left, down the hall.
And then the voice took on a more full-bodied timbre, more and more full, more and more close.
He kept calling her.
She felt afraid, and she put her hand on the hilt of the sword.
She realized then that she no longer was wearing the red skirt, but she moved slowly because she was inside an armor, and the hilt belonged to her father’s sword.
The red gem shone, her heartbeat quickened.
The door opened and the sun blinded her, suddenly.
The fierce heat made her head to feel light.
A crown, in the sand.
A knight lying on the sand, disheveled, the cross on his chest, adorned of precious gems.
“My God, the King,” Marian thought. “It 's too late.”
Beside him, another man. A blue velvet cloak hid a knight, wearing a dark armor. He was kneeling, looking at the king, his face buried in his hands.
Marian thought that it was her father. But the knight turned to look at her and Marian recognized, in dismay, that it was Guy.
“Marian! I didn’t want to do this, Marian, I didn’t. Stop my hand, Marian. Save me!”
Guy looked at her, desperate, as he reached out to her. Marian drew her sword to point it at her enemy, toward the enemy of the king, of her father, the enemy of her family.
She wanted to hit him.
“Disgrace betide us!” Marian heard, her father's voice coming from afar. Marian looked down to look at her enemy.
"Marian, only you can do it. Save me," Guy said.
Then he closed his eyes, as if he was waiting for a punishment, and Marian distinctly heard Guy’s heartbeat, rhythmic, slow, strong.
The sword fell from her hands.
She was no longer wearing an armor, and she knelt beside him, holding out her arms to him.
The King moved, and Marian knew he was not dead.
She held Guy in her arms and he looked into her eyes, his own eyes of an intense blue.
“Save me, Marian, and save the King. Stay with me, Marian.”
Marian didn’t answer, she couldn’t answer, but she took his right hand and she held it between hers. She then realized that the intense heat of a few moments ago had disappeared, and that they were surrounded by grass. Small white flowers growing in a meadow. She was still kneeling, holding Guy's right hand in hers, and Guy, with his left hand, was caressing her face gently, his eyes fixed on hers, his lips parted in a smile.
She felt him, even before seeing him, bringing his lips to her face. Marian closed her eyes, waiting. Her heart in turmoil.
“Save yourself, Marian,” she heard him whisper. There was something playful, mischievous, in his voice.
Marian opened her eyes, feeling shaken, her heart pounding, in a room that she could barely recognize. Then she realized that she was awake, and that she had only dreamed.
She had fallen asleep on a rug by the fireplace of the living room, in broad daylight.
The long nights spent at Guy’s bedside were wearing her out, Marian thought.
They were altering her good sense. And she couldn’t afford it.
She had to provide her assistance to him, of course, but nothing more. She got up from the floor, her body aching, and she tried to resume her chores for the day, as if nothing had happened.
But at times, during the whole day, when she least expected it, fragments of the dream came back to her mind, troubling her.

Chapter Text

Guy gave a gentle nudge to his horse, and he took the path that lead up the hill. From there, he could see Locksley.
The villagers were busy working in the field, while the women were at the pond, and they were washing their laundry, laughing and chatting.
The crop was almost ready for harvest, and it was unusually rich. Guy smiled: even after paying the taxes to the sheriff, the village would thrive, and people would pass the winter without starving.
Guy felt oddly satisfied: he had always thought that he wanted power, but now he found out that the peaceful life he had in Locksley was what he really desired.
He was a good master for those lands, exactly like his parents had been when they were alive.
He spurred the horse, and he let him gallop along the path, enjoying the ride: it was like being part of the wind, light-hearted and free.
He reached his manor, and he dismounted, smiling at the servants who were waiting for him, all of them dressed with the colors of his family: black and yellow.
“Welcome back, master.”Thornton greeted him with a little bow. “Dinner will be served as soon as you’re ready.”
Guy nodded.
“Thank you.”
He entered into the manor, and he smiled at Marian, sitting in a chair near the fireplace with her embroidery on her lap.
She stood up, and she walked towards him, smiling.
“I missed you.”
Guy took her in his arms, and he brushed her lips with a light kiss.
“I always miss you when you aren’t at my side.”
“You must be tired, you’ve been away all day.”
Guy closed his eyes, still hugging her tight.
He was tired. But he was also very happy.

Guy reluctantly opened his eyes.
He usually didn’t mind waking up because his sleep was tormented by nightmares: he passed from the bad dreams that haunted his nights to the pain he had to bear when he was awake.
But today he didn’t want to wake up: the dream was so peaceful and pleasant that coming back to reality was doubly painful.
In the dream he was healthy, strong and free; his villagers respected him, and Marian was a loving wife.
Guy sighed, thinking that it was an impossible dream: he would never be free or loved, and Marian had only contempt for him. He forced himself to open his eyes, trying to forget the dream: it was useless longing for something he couldn’t have.
He was surprised to see Marian, deeply asleep and so very near to him: the girl was kneeling to the floor at the side of the bed, resting the head on her arms.
Sometimes, when he had his worse nightmares, he had the impression of hearing her sweet voice that soothed him in a peaceful sleep, but he had always thought that it was just a dream, the illusory effect of his own desires.
But now he was awake, his leg was hurting too much to be a dream.
Why was she there?
Guy realized that she was holding his hand. Actually, she had fallen asleep on his hand and now it was completely numb, but it didn’t matter.
He looked at the face of the girl, in awe, wondering what she was doing near him.
She was pale, and her sleep was fitful, as if she was having nightmares too.
Guy moved his other hand, brushing his finger on her hair in a light caress, afraid to wake her up, but wishing to comfort her.
“Don’t die...” She whispered, then she woke up, opening her eyes.
Guy moved his hand away from her hair, and he held his breath.
For a moment they looked at each other, then Marian broke eye contact, jumping to her feet.
“I have to go,” she mumbled, hurriedly, and she headed to the door.
“Marian, wait! Please.”
The girl hesitated. If Guy’s tone were commanding, she’d have just walked away, but his voice sounded uncommonly humble and pleading.
She turned to look at him.
Guy glanced at her, shyly.
“Where you watching over me?”
“You had a nightmare. I heard you screaming in your sleep and I was afraid that you were in pain. I just came to see if you needed help.”
“I’m sorry. I kept you awake.”
“You couldn’t help it.”
“Does this happen often?”
Guy looked at her: she was pale, and she had dark shadows under her eyes. He guessed that she hadn’t been sleeping well for days. Weeks maybe.
“Every night?”
Marian gave him a weak smile.
“What about the servants? They should take care of me.”
Marian shook her head. She didn’t want to say that they were disgruntled enough because of the extra work they had to do for Guy.
“They have a lot to do during the day, it’s better to let them sleep. I have nothing to do.”
“I owe you an apology. I am a burden to your family and I’ve been ungrateful and rude. I’m really sorry.”
Marian looked at him. The last time she had a conversation with him, Guy had actually been ill-mannered and snarling, but now he was talking in a subdued tone, and his apology sounded heartfelt.
Marian accepted it with a little nod, but she couldn’t forget his confession. She wasn’t sure that she could ever forgive an attempt on the life of the king.
“You were in pain, I can understand the reasons of your bad mood.” She conceded.
“It won’t happen again,” he promised, and Marian thought that he probably hoped to see a sign of friendship in her eyes, but she couldn’t trust him. Guy of Gisborne was a traitor of the Crown, the emblem of the evil she chose to fight.
But he was also a man. A very lonely man.
She nodded again, without looking at him.
“I really have to go, Sir Guy. Do you want me to send a servant upstairs, now that you are awake?”
Guy blushed a little and he wished that he could say that there was no need for it, but the truth was that he still needed help for almost everything.
“Yes, please.”
After a moment, Marian was gone and Guy was alone with his thoughts.
He couldn’t understand why Marian watched over his sleep, helping him when he was troubled by the nightmares. Maybe she didn’t hate him as much as he thought?
But how could it be possible if she knew his secret?
She told him, she yelled at him, how much she despised him for what he did.
An annoyed servant entered the room, and Guy hurried to hide his feelings behind a blank expression.
The servants of Knighton Hall did their duty carefully, following Matilda’s instructions and Sir Edward’s orders, but Guy knew perfectly well that no one of them was happy of having to take care of him, so there was no point in talking to them while they did their work.
He let the servant help him to wash and to change in clean nightclothes, and he closed his eyes, trying to think to something else rather than his humiliating situation.
He remembered the moment when he opened his eyes and saw Marian asleep. He could see in his mind every curl of her hair, the smooth perfection of her pale skin, he could also feel the weight of her head numbing his hand.
For a moment he felt in peace, almost happy: he loved her, more than ever, and nothing could change his feelings, but soon his heart sank again.
Guy had no illusions anymore: she didn’t love him back, and she never would.

Young Will had returned to the camp as quickly as he could: the long series of stakeouts and tailings needed to find out where Lambert, the alchemist, was hiding his working diary, was about to bear fruits: they would go all together there, now, to get it. And destroy it.
And if Lambert was... unwilling, they had to convince him to let them do it for him.
In truth, along the way, more than a doubt on the need for the destruction of the formula had occurred to Robin's mind.
A weapon like that could protect England itself, against invasion attempts from its traditional enemies.
Of course, it should be known only by King Richard, which Robin trusted with all his heart.
But even in the latter case, such a destructive force frightened him. Better to eliminate it forever.
Djaq, the young saracen girl, the most recent ‘purchase’ of the group of the outlaws, saved among the slaves that Vaisey had brought to work to the mines, did not agree with the idea, but the final choice, to destroy the ledger or to hide it, was up to him. To their leader. And, in any case, the majority of the group agreed with him.
They arrived and they found a real surprise: the young Lambert had already destroyed the pages of his working diary about his committee for Gisborne (and Vaisey's Mines). They were burnt, useless, by now mere ashes.
Lambert, trembling in the face of questions from Robin and his gang, suddenly assumed an upright and almost proud appearance, confessing that he had simply carried out a request for a ‘close friend’. And he himself, having changed so many times the formulation during the experiments, remembered no more details, and he wouldn’t remember them any more.
Guy had really done something good for once in his life.
A danger less for Nottingham.
Robin began to think that Guy could be an interesting ally for him, rather than an enemy. If there could be the occasion for this, Robin would have to seize it.
For the sake of Nottingham, mostly.
He could ask Marian to investigate more, to steal more of Gisborne's secrets, in order to understand more of Vaisey's plans.
But something bothered him, and it was not only the possible refusal of the girl to collaborate further, to steal more of the secrets of the Sheriff's dark servant.
Robin had a strange feeling that made him wet with sweat on his neck: he would pay a price to get this. Not necessarily to be paid with money.
For the moment there was no need to think about it, Robin told himself while returning to camp.
There were many poor people in Nottingham to provide for, as Little John reminded him.
And he was right, Robin thought.
Anyway he would continue to keep both eyes wide open about Gisborne, and Marian too, now,
hoping that their improvised ‘living together in the same place’ ended as soon as possible.

Sir Edward looked at Marian, worried. The girl came out of Sir Guy’s room in the morning, and she looked tired.
He wasn’t worried about decency, the knight was still too injured and weak to be a menace for Marian’s innocence, but she was always exhausted and nervous.
The girl put some bread and cheese on a tray, and Sir Edward nodded at the food.
“Are you taking it to Sir Guy? A servant can do it.”
“Not everything in the world is about Sir Guy, father. This is for me, I will have my breakfast in my room. In the guest’s room, actually, because Sir Guy is in my room.”
“Are you unwell?”
“No, father, I just want to rest for a while.”
The girl took the tray and went upstairs, and Sir Edward sighed.
Marian wasn’t the only one who was upset in the manor. He was constantly worried and afraid of the consequences that Sir Guy’s accident could bring on his family. If he should ever find out the identity of the Nightwatchman, they’d be doomed. Sir Edward was doing everything he could to please the knight, and he often had to scold the servants of the house, who were reluctant to work for Sir Guy.
Sir Edward finished eating his breakfast, went to the kitchen and asked the cook if she had already prepared a meal for Gisborne. The woman grumbled and began filling a tray with the fine foods that Matilda said he should eat.
“It’s a shame that he must have better meals than the ones you and Lady Marian usually eat, my lord.”
“He is very ill, the healer said that he needs nutritious and healthy meals.”
The cook filled a bowl with fresh cream, and placed it on the tray.
“Lady Marian should eat this, poor child. She’s so thin and pale… Instead, she just took some bread and a few pieces of cheese...”
Sir Edward thought wiser to keep quiet. He nodded at the tray.
“If you are done, I’ll take it to Sir Guy.”
“You, my lord?”
“Yes. I want to talk to him, I can as well take this upstairs.”

Guy was sitting on a chair near the window when Sir Edward entered in his room. Matilda had said that the knight didn’t have to stay in bed all day, so Sir Edward had ordered to bring upstairs his own chair, made with the finest wood and very comfortable.
Gisborne sat with his body propped up by pillows, and his leg resting on a padded footstool. He was looking out of the window, but from his position he couldn’t see much, maybe just a piece of sky.
“Good morning, Sir Guy, how do you feel today?”
Guy glanced at Marian’s father: the man was carrying a tray, and he placed it on the little table at the side of the chair.
“You shouldn’t do the servants’ work. Not for me.”
“I wanted to see how you were feeling, anyways, and calling the servants, waiting for them and giving them the orders would only be a waste of time. I just took the tray and took it with me, not too much effort.”
Sir Edward took another chair and sat in front of Guy, while Gisborne picked up the bowl with the cream and took a sip from it.
“Matilda says that milk, cream and cheese are good for broken bones...” Guy said, and Sir Edward looked impressed.
Guy shrugged.
“I don’t know, but the other physician said that I was going to die while Matilda saved my life, so I think I can trust her healing abilities...” Guy gave him a little smile. “And she doesn’t use leeches.”
Sir Edward was surprised to find a trace of humor in his words. He gave hospitality to him in his manor, but he rarely stopped to talk to the knight, too worried and afraid of making him angry and to bring troubles on his family.
“Marian says she’s the best healer in the county.”
Gisborne suppressed a little start when he heard Marian’s name, and he hid that flicker of emotion taking a piece of bread from the tray.
“I surely hope she is right.”
“Is there anything that we can do for you, Sir Guy? Do you need anything else?”
“Your family is already doing more than enough, and I’m sorry to be such a burden for you...” Guy stopped Sir Edward’s polite protests with a gesture of his hand. “No, sir, I know that my presence here is a great inconvenience, and I’m grateful. Without your help and the cares you provided to me, I’d be dead. I owe you my life.”
Sir Edward accepted Guy’s heartfelt thanks with a smile, but deep inside he felt that he didn’t deserve his gratitude: it was Marian’s fault if he got hurt, so it was Edward’s responsibility to take care of the injured knight.
For a while the two men didn’t talk: Guy finished eating, while Edward looked at the window, lost in his thoughts.
“When I sit here, I look at the clouds.” Guy said, suddenly. “Not too entertaining, but better than staring at the wall.”
“You must be bored.”
“You can’t imagine how much!”
Sir Edward smiled: Guy’s expression was incredibly similar to Marian’s one when she was little and she had to stay in bed for some seasonal illness. She couldn’t stand to stay idle and she always tried to get up from bed when no one was watching her.
“Please, wait a moment, Sir Guy, I’ll be back soon.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Guy answered, with a resigned grin.
Sir Edward came back after a short while, carrying a chessboard.
“Do you know how to play, Sir Guy?”
“Not very well, I’m afraid. I never had much time for games.”
Sir Edward smiled.
“Well, you have now. I can teach you, if you want.”
Guy nodded, surprised. He couldn’t believe that Marian’s father wanted to spend time with him.
Probably he was afraid that Guy could search revenge because the accident happened at Knighton, but he was glad for his offer.
“You aren’t going to throw the pieces at me if you should lose, are you?”
It was Edward’s turn to be surprised, now.
“Why should I?”
“The Sheriff did. And that’s one of the reasons why I rarely used to play. The Sheriff’s chess set is big and heavy.”

Chapter Text

Sir Edward moved a knight, with a little smile, trapping Guy’s king.
Guy smiled back to him, with a resigned sigh.
“I guess that strategy is not my best quality.”
“Maybe not, but at least you accept defeat gracefully. Marian never did.”
Guy looked at him, curious.
“Really? Does she know how to play too?”
“We used to play when she was a child, during winter days, when it was too cold to go outside. She never liked it very much: she used all her pieces to attack my king, without planning in advance, and she was too rash, so I usually defeated her in a few moves. Then she began preferring other kind of games...”
Sir Edward stopped. He was about to say that Marian learned to fight with a sword, and that she loved to imagine that she was a knight, but he remembered that he was talking to the henchman of the Sheriff. If Gisborne knew that Marian was able to fight, he could guess the true identity of the Nightwatchman.
Playing chess with him, day after day, Sir Edward learned to know a side of the knight that he would never have imagined, and sometimes he found hard to remember that Guy was the same man who terrified the people of Nottingham and who obeyed the evil orders of the Sheriff.
When they played, they didn’t talk much, but when they did, Gisborne was polite and respectful, maybe even a little shy. Sir Edward couldn’t believe that he once slapped him, and forced Marian
in a betrothal under duress.
I must remember he is an enemy and a danger to us.
“Do you want to play another game, Sir Guy?”
Guy shook his head.
“I think I’ll try to rest for a while. My leg hurts a lot today, I couldn’t sleep much tonight.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. It must be because of the weather: it’s going to rain, later. Do you want me to call Matilda?”
“No need for that. She will come in the evening to check my injuries, but she always leaves some of her remedies, so I can take it if the pain is too strong. But she said that I’ll have to get used to pain, at least for a few months.”
“I hope you’ll feel better soon.”
“Thank you.”
“I’ll call the servants now, so they can help you to go to bed.”
Sir Edward was about to exit Guy’s room, when he heard somebody pounding on the door. He hurried downstairs, and he saw that Marian was already in the hall, trying to calm down the Sheriff, who was seething with anger.
“Where is he?! Tell him to come here immediately!”
“I already told you that he can’t, my lord!”
Sir Edward hurried to reach them, noticing Marian’s expression. The girl was trying to stay calm, but her father knew that she must be as angry as the Sheriff.
“Lord Vaisey! We didn’t expect a visit from you today. Please sit down, and share a meal with us.”
“I’m not here for a visit, and I certainly am not interested in your food. I want Gisborne, and I want him now!”
“I’m afraid that Sir Guy is still unwell...”
Vaisey ignored him, and he stomped towards the stairs.
Marian and Sir Edward hurried to follow him.
The girl gasped when they reached the room: somehow, Guy had managed to stand. He was favoring his broken leg, and he was clinging to the back of the chair to keep his balance, but he was as pale as a ghost, and clearly in a lot of pain.
“My lord...”
“I need you back to work. Immediately.”
“Lord Vaisey, Sir Guy’s health improved, but he isn’t healed, yet. He won’t be able to work for a few weeks, at least, if not months.” Sir Edward intervened, and the Sheriff stared at Guy.
“Is this true, Gisborne?”
“I’m afraid it is, my lord.”
Vaisey stood still for a moment, then he lifted a hand and slapped Guy with all his strength, making him fall to the ground with a pained cry. The sheriff bent down and grabbed the front of Guy’s nightclothes, pointing a dagger to his throat.
“Then rest in peace, Gisborne.”
Guy looked at him, frightened. He knew that the sheriff wasn’t joking.
“Please, my lord! I always obeyed you! I’ve always been loyal!”
“You’ve always been a useless idiot, Gisborne.” The sheriff said, in contempt. “Do you know how much your stupid accident cost to me?! I questioned your guards and I know perfectly well that it’s only your fault because you’re so stupid that you are not even able to cross a road! If you can’t work now, you’re useless to me.”
Guy closed his eyes. He was sure he couldn’t do what the Sheriff wanted, and he also knew that Vaisey would kill him. He knew too much of his plots, and the Sheriff would get rid of him.
Sir Edward saw that Marian was about to intervene, and he stopped her putting a hand on her arm, then he talked to the Sheriff.
“My lord, please, stop. I can’t allow bloodshed in my house, there must be another solution. Sir Guy is my daughter’s betrothed, if you kill him in front of her, she’d be very upset.”
Vaisey turned to look at the elderly lord. He was tempted to slit Guy’s throat just for spite, but he thought better. Sir Edward wasn’t a menace anymore, he was meek and cowardly, but he had been Sheriff in the past, and he probably still had supporters between the other nobles.
Gisborne wasn’t important enough to risk a rebellion that would have to be sedated in blood.
“Very well, if you really care so much for this useless wretch, you can keep him. But I’ll have a compensation for the damages he inflicted to me with his foolishness. I will have to hire and train a new Master of Arms, so I’ll take back the ownership of Locksley and all your belongings as a repayment, Gisborne.” The Sheriff lowered his voice to talk to Guy. “You can keep your miserable life, but if you ever try to thwart me, you are dead. Remember this very well: try to damage me, and I’ll have your head on a spike.”
He violently pushed Guy to the floor, and he stood up.
“Now he’s your problem.” Vaisey said to Sir Edward, then he walked away.
Neither Sir Edward or Marian bothered to see him to the door, but they both turned to Guy, who was lying on the floor, curled on his side.
Marian knelt on the floor, next to him.
“Sir Guy, are you hurt?”
She tried to put a hand on his shoulder, but Guy shuddered, covering his face with the hands.
“Don’t touch me! Leave me alone!”
The girl looked at him, worried, then she glanced at her father.
Sir Edward helped her to her feet.
“Go and search for Matilda. We don’t know if the fall hurt him, it’s better not to move him until she checked his injuries. Go, I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Running, scared. She was running, scared.
Marian had not even realized how afraid she was feeling, but her emotion was transmitted to her horse. From her reins to the neck of the horse, from her thighs to the animal's skin. Everything within her was screaming: run, run, run, he needs help.
As she ran to Matilda’s house, her heart pounding fast, she thought that she was completely crazy to feel like that for Guy.
She had heard him screaming of a primordial, sudden pain. Heartbreaking. She had felt her skin freeze.
She had seen him on the ground, Vaisey ready to kill him. She had seen the instinctive movement of Guy’s Adam's apple, and his eyes widened with fear and horror, but then closing, as if he accepted his fate of death, and, at that moment, Marian was about to lose her head. She had grabbed the hilt of a small knife inside the pocket of her dress and she had been about to pull it out and hit Vaisey, to kill him on the spot. She was about to risk her life and her father's to save Guy.
Her father had intervened, blocking her arm. He had faced Vaisey, as he never did before. But she had lost her control, for Guy.
Guy dead.
The sleepless nights, her fatigue, frustration and anger, his serious faults, they all had become nothing compared to that image.
Marian didn’t want to think about it, and there was so much to think about, so many things that would change now. But, for now, she just had to bring Matilda to Guy. Immediately.
She slowed down and then stopped the horse near the healer's house.
She got off the horse and she didn’t even bother to tie him up. She was surprised by the force with which she had knocked frantically at Matilda's door.
"Who the hell is wrecking the door! Double pay, only for THIS trouble!" Matilda shouted, before opening the door.
The woman saw Marian, her face red, full of sweat, her hair disheveled, something that looked like a tear sliding down her face.
It had to be about Guy, something happened to him. Poor baby...
She felt sad, and angry. She had become fond of the knight almost without realizing it. She was truly fond of the solitary and madly in love boy hidden behind the contemptible mask of the black knight.
"What's the matter, Marian?"
Marian had convulsively told her about the arrival of the sheriff and Guy's fall, then she described how he couldn’t get up from the floor where he stood trembling, and his pain. The girl was terrified that Guy's leg had broken irreparably.
"That slimy excrement! The swine! He should be bound and hanged like a sausage, and not going around ruining people's lives! What did he want to do? Ruining weeks of my work! To ruin him, more than he has already done? Poor baby. Poor son! Did you give him something for the pain, Marian? It must have been very strong, burning, stabbing him.”
Marian shook her head, explaining that Guy didn’t want to be touched by her, he didn't want her near him, and that they didn’t move him for fear of damaging him further.
"Oh kid," Matilda said, "if there is anything that Guy wants from this life is to be touched by you. No pity, no compassion. And to be forgiven, whatever he did to you.”
The girl brought her hands to her face, crying.
For stress, out of fear, feeling her guilt.
Matilda had the impression that she could hear the words ‘my fault’ amidst her broken sobs. She hugged her, caressing her back.
"Calm down, baby, everything will be fine, we will help him now and he will feel better. We will not give satisfaction to that filthy jester who is the Sheriff!"
Matilda patted her cheek, hoping that Marian could understand and resolve, soon, for her salvation and for Guy's, the complex tangle of her feelings towards the man.
His life and future was so severely compromised, she thought sadly, and prayed to God to be still able to help him once again.
She took a bundle with the sweet walnuts and honey that Guy had loved so much and gave it to Marian.
"This time you give these to him, Marian, when Guy will feel to eat something. Come on now. He needs us. both of us."
Matilda and Marian got ready to leave for Knighton.

While Matilda entered at a rapid pace into the house, Marian felt an arm grabbing her from a dark corner of the yard.
She grabbed her dagger, but a hand stopped her, and she found herself into the arms of a man with his face covered by a brown hood.
Marian pulled it down, revealing Robin’s tense face.

Chapter Text

Looking into Marian's eyes so closely, Robin loosened his tense features into an amused smile.
"What happened here, my darling? My men saw the Sheriff and his retinue of guards going out of here. What is still plotting Gisborne with him? There are strange movements in Nottingham that we can’t explain. Your ‘Sir Guy’ must know something..."
"He is not MY Sir Guy, and he is hurt, really hurt, Robin. Guy can’t be plotting anything with anyone. Not anymore. Least of all with that bastard sheriff," Marian said.
"Bastard indeed. Unusual choice of words on your part. You should be glad if Guy is out of the games, now. He is one less problem for Nottingham and its people. But, tell me, Marian, why Vaisey was here? And, above all, your ‘boyfriend in black’ is still not ready to go back to Locksley where he came from? I prefer him to be in MY house rather than him being HERE all the time."
"Jealous, Robin? You shouldn’t be. There is nothing except obligation between Guy and me. However, Locksley has now lost its guardian and tenant, and Guy his office in Nottingham. The Sheriff fired him. In order to collect your rents from Locksley, now you can go directly to the Sheriff. He has taken Locksley back."
"What? And what now? Gisborne isn’t thinking to stay here forever, is he? He deserves to go back to the dark hole where he came from. And stay there. Whatever it is. France. Or Hell. He and his family have ruined my life. He is responsible for destroying his family, losing his land, and now he even managed to lose Locksley. Well deserved. Cast him out of here, he has lost his power, also on you. He doesn’t deserve pity, not even yours. But there's still something strange here. We managed to stop Lambert, but he was already persuaded that his project with Guy should be destroyed. So why Lambert still keeps coming here to see him? Tell me, Marian."
"I don’t know, Robin," the girl said, leaving his embrace, annoyed by the idea of being always so under observation on his part, "For simple friendship, I suppose. I didn’t even imagine that he had a friend. There is no need for me to listen to them, no more. Instead I took the opportunity to rest a little bit. But... Robin… how could Guy damage your family?. He wasn’t even here when we first met, you and I, and we were very young at the time. He arrived later.”
Robin crossed his arms, disappointed.
"Ask him. I'm sure you'll kick his ass out of this house," he said, smiling bitterly, and he finally added "Guy of Gisborne, you came from dust and will return to dust."
They heard a noise behind them.
Marian nodded for Robin to keep quiet and leave her.
Robin bowed his head in a farewell and walked away, not before he had warned her again.
“Don’t underestimate him, Marian. Although he has done a good thing in the Lambert's business with the Sheriff, he is still lethal, and dangerous as well, Marian. He can still be involved in some intrigue. Be careful. I'll keep searching, anyway. I'll keep watching. For your sake, and your father's. And for the people of my country. And I'll find out what he has in mind and what the sheriff has in his filthy mind, with or without your help. Take care of you, Marian. Take good care of you. Farewell, for the moment."
Marian saw him leaving.
He was free.
No bonds, no obligations, except those to the poor people.
And Marian felt envious of his freedom.

Matilda rushed upstairs, and she looked around: Sir Edward was standing in a corner of the room, worried and upset, while Guy was lying on the floor, completely still.
“Are you out of your mind?!” Matilda yelled, looking at the old man. “How could you leave him on the floor?!”
“He didn’t let anyone to touch him. I covered him with a blanket to keep him warm, but it’s all I could do. That’s why I sent Marian to call you.”
Matilda expression softened a bit.
“Go, now. Let me talk with him. Probably I’ll need the help of the servants to put him in bed, but I’ll call when they are needed. Stay with your daughter now, she is very upset.”
Sir Edward nodded and left, relieved that the healer took the situation in her hands.
Matilda waited until they were alone, then she went to sit on the floor, near Guy.
She put a hand on his head and she felt him shuddering.
“Leave me alone.” He whispered.
“Sure. As soon as I have checked your injuries.”
“To be sure that that steaming pile of pig’s crap didn’t hurt you more than you already are.”
“They should have let him kill me.”
Matilda caressed his head, slowly.
“Don’t be an idiot now, love.”
“I have no reasons to live.”
Matilda put her hands on his wrists, and she forced him to move them from his face. As she suspected, his eyes brimmed with tears. She dried his face with her fingers, with the same sweetness she used when her daughter was little and cried for some little sorrow.
“I’m sure you still have a lot of reasons to live, you just have to find them out. Let me check your conditions, then we can talk. We’ll find a solution for everything, I promise.”
She gave him a little kiss on his forehead, and she gingerly touched his ribs.
“Does it hurt?”
“No more than it already did.”
“Good. I’ll turn you on your back now, tell me if you feel pain.”
Matilda carefully made him lie on his back, and she put a pillow under his head.
“What did he do to you? You have a cut on your cheek.”
Guy sighed.
“He slapped me. I think he was wearing his ring. Then he pushed me to the ground.”
Matilda carefully examined his leg, then she gave him a little smile.
“You have a few new bruises, but no serious damages. That’s a relief. Try to sit, now.”
She helped him to sit on the floor, leaning his back to the side of the bed. She was relieved to see that the Sheriff didn’t injure him too much, but she was worried to see how dejected and heartbroken he was.
She sat next to him, and she held his hand.
“Never say again that you want to die, love.”
“The Sheriff took everything I possessed. My home... The money I earned working for him... Everything. I have nothing and I have no chances to work again for somebody else. Don’t lie Matilda, I’ll probably be a cripple even if I can walk again... Who would ever hire a lame knight? I have no friends, no place to go… Sir Edward has no reason to let me stay here, now. I don’t want to end like a beggar. I prefer to die than living in shame.”
Matilda lifted her arm as if she wanted to caress him again, but she slapped him on the back of his head, strong enough to make him yelp in surprise.
“Why did you do it?!”
“I have many reasons. First: you are talking nonsense. Living in shame is always better than being dead. Second: you are not alone and you won’t become a beggar. I don’t think that Lord Knighton will send you away, but even if everything should go for the worse, you will have a place to go. I have a cottage in the forest, it’s small, but nice, and I have a free room now that my daughter got married. You are welcome there, love. Third: you’re insulting my skills as a healer. I did my best to fix your leg, you shouldn’t be so sure that you’ll be crippled. Fourth: being poor is not a shame. You should be ashamed for the people you hurt obeying the orders of that bald stinking swine, not because you lost your belongings.”
Guy blushed and hung his head, thinking that Matilda only knew a part of what he did for the Sheriff. If she knew his secret, she’d despise him too, like Marian surely did.
He shuddered, afraid to think to his future. It was clear that Sir Edward never wanted to have him in his house. Now he had the chance to send him away and Guy was sure he would do it.
“Would you really let me stay at your house?” He asked Matilda, in a subdued tone. “I have no way to repay you, everything I own is inside that trunk… There are mostly clothes, but maybe you can sell the swords and the daggers...”
Matilda snorted.
“Let me look better at your head.”
“There must be a injury I didn’t notice, and your brain got damaged, otherwise you wouldn’t talk like a drunken donkey. Do you really think I care for your money? I care for you, poor little idiot.”
Her words were harsh, but her tone was affectionate, and Guy found himself in tears again, overwhelmed by his emotions.
Matilda carefully hugged him.
“Poor boy… I understand how you feel now, but believe me, it’s for the best. You got rid of that stinking little demon, you should be happy. That monster never did anything good for you. You didn’t deserve to be treated like this, but you’ll be better without him. You’ll be free.”
Guy pulled away from her hug after a while, and he wiped away his tears, embarrassed for his weakness. Matilda gave him a reassuring smile.
“Now you are hurt and tired, it’s normal to break down in a situation like this, everybody would. Marian said that the old filthy goat pointed a dagger at your throat and that he wanted to kill you. She was really upset too, she came to my cottage in panic, crying, and she was barely able to talk in a sensible way. Your reaction is perfectly normal. But now try to calm down, love. Don’t think about it, sit here and take some deep breaths, then I’ll give you my remedy for the pain and we’ll get you to bed so you can sleep for a while. All right, love?”
Guy weakly nodded. He was exhausted and distraught, and he only wanted to surrender to oblivion, at least for a while.
Matilda patted his cheek and smiled.
“Good boy. Now, shall I call the servants or do you think you could manage to get in bed on your own? You found the strength to stand, earlier, didn’t you?”
Guy nodded again, and he sighed.
“I hoped that the Sheriff could see that I was improving and that he would wait for me to heal… I was just deluding myself, I always knew that he wouldn’t.”
“This doesn’t matter, sweetie. The Sheriff is an ungrateful idiot, but you still succeeded in standing. This means that you are stronger than I thought. Do you want to try again, now? Do it for me, love. Here, I’ll help you. Don’t put your weight on the broken leg.”
Matilda stood in front of him, stretching out her hands, and Guy grabbed them.
The healer smiled and she helped him to his feet, with some effort.
“Hey, you’re tall! I didn’t notice before because you were always sitting or in bed. Can you keep your balance if I let you go? Good. Now try to sit on the bed. Careful. In the next days we’ll do this again, you need to regain some strength in your good leg, and then I’ll get you a crutch and you can try walking a little with it. You’ll see, when you can move on your own, you’ll feel better too.”
Matilda handed him a little bowl with the remedy for the pain, then she helped him to lie in bed.
Guy was so tired that he barely managed to thank her before drifting into a deep sleep.
The woman looked at him for a while, tucked the blanket of his bed so that he could be warm and comfortable, then she bent to plant a kiss on his forehead.
“Sleep, poor boy. You’ll need all your strength in the next future, but I promise: you won’t be alone.”

So peacefully asleep, under blankets tucked around him like he was a child to protect, Guy looked like a strange image of innocence. The remedy for the pain had had its desired effect, and Marian thought that, at least for that night, she could have a serene sleep too, despite the hustle and bustle created by the Sheriff's visit, and its consequences.
Marian thought that Robin was wrong: having lost his position in Nottingham, Guy couldn’t really pose any danger to her, or to her father either, or, probably, for the whole County of Nottingham.
At least, as long as he ignored the real cause of the accident that had happened to him. He didn’t have to know that she was the Nightwatchman, or else Guy could take revenge, denouncing her.
Yes, of course Robin was right, Marian thought: Guy was still dangerous for her and her family. Or he could be.
Nevertheless, looking at him, Marian let go of the breath she had held, lost in thought.
She approached the sleeping man more instinctively than by reason, when Guy's eyelids began to move, more and more convulsively. Then his arms and legs.
Guy was in a nightmare, a scary one, murmuring meaningless words, until he found himself sitting on the bed, screaming.
"My Lord Sheriff!"
And his eyes were wide open, scared, his breath short.
Guy turned to his left and saw Marian, worried, standing beside the bed, her trembling hand extended toward him, to soothe him.
Ashamed, he realized that he had dreamed, but what he had seen in the dream was all true.
Painfully true: the men he had killed in the past, the people he had wounded, the souls who would persecute him perpetually, and the sheriff's disdain despite all that he had done, under his command, under his desire.
His loyalty, immersed in blood and pain, despised and thrown away.
His dignity lost.
All for nothing.
And Marian in front of him, now, her hand extended, frowning, silent, lost for words.
All he wanted would have been to take that hand, taking her whole in his arms, embracing her, and believing, as he kissed her hair and caressed her innocent face, that another life for him still could be possible.
A better life, a more worthy life.
That he could find a possible redemption. At her side.
Guy smiled bitterly.
That was just an illusion, now more than ever.
He would never be worthy of her. Worthy of a love she would never feel for him.
Pity, not love, called her to his bedside. And he didn’t want her pity. Especially now that he had nothing to offer to her, to her father. Not even the money or a more powerful position in Nottingham's society.
Guy felt useless now, even for Marian, as well as a burden for her.
Guy looked down to the crumpled sheets, then he looked at her and when he spoke his voice was cold.
"Go to sleep, Marian. It was nothing. Nothing that should trouble you at this time. This is not the place for a noblewoman."
“Sir Guy, there is no need for these words between us, it’s not the first night I watch your sleep, you know.”
She kindly smiled.
“Please, Sir Guy. If you need something... do you want me to bring you something warm from the kitchen, something that will help you get back to sleep?”
“Like a servant would do?” Guy said, sad, hard. He was once again ashamed to be a cause of concern for her. And just that.
“What do you mean? Is that what you think of me? Am I a servant in your eyes?” Marian replied, astonished, struck by the harsh tone with which he had spoken.
“I mean that a servant can bring me what I need. I don’t need your help, especially at night. You shouldn’t have troubled yourself for me all those days. And all those nights. This must not happen anymore. Go to sleep, Marian, just go to sleep. You shouldn't stay here, now.”
Feeling suddenly dismissed, the girl felt anger rising inside her.
All those nights beside him, losing her health and sleep.
Was it possible that he didn’t understand it? Her running in the forest for him, all her worries and fears for him... and not even a thank you, a please from him.
Selfish! Ingrate! Who did he believe to be?
“Sir Guy! You are not in the position to decide what I should or shouldn’t do in my own home!” Marian said, with great determination.
“I'm saying that it's improper for you. Just this. I do not need...” Guy replied, uncertain.
Marian didn’t seem to understand that he wanted to protect her, not being a burden for her even at night, and not to accuse her of anything.
"Do you dare to say that you don’t need ME? You are incredible Sir Guy, really incredible. Oh, sure, it's not me that you need. It's the SHERIFF you call in your dreams, in my bed, in my home. And you certainly don’t need him, now."
Guy shook his head, confused, angry, more for the tone of voice the girl had assumed than for the complete absurdity of what she was saying.
"It was a nightmare, Marian, just a bloody nightmare, and the sheriff gave me the only chance I could get to have something, to achieve something in my life."
“And what did you want to achieve in YOUR life? Serving that miserable infamous devil? To be remembered for killing a King? Being thrown away or killed by his whim?” Marian said, her discomfort, and rage, in her eyes.
“Lower your voice, Marian, they can hear us!” Guy whispered, angry, worried.
“Who? The servants? The servants whom YOU have always considered less than nothing? Servants you want around you, and servants you will have. Please, Sir Guy, call THEM next time you need something. Especially at night. It's improper, for me, you know. I'm going to sleep, now, on my own! Good night, Sir Guy,” Marian said, chill in her voice.
The girl left the room in a hurry and fury, and Guy couldn’t figure out how they could have had such an absurd discussion.
Such angry words.
He just wanted her to not worry about him.
He felt stupid, numb, he just could not tell the right thing to Marian, in the right way, and, worse, what he really felt for her.
He felt even sadder than before.
Marian's hardness had hurt him more than his fears.
He laid with his back to the door, hoping to sleep without thinking about anything, neither the past, nor the present, nor the future.

Chapter Text

Matilda arrived in Knighton Hall early in the morning, and she was surprised to see Lady Marian sitting on a bench just outside the manor.
“What are you doing here? You should be sleeping at this time in the morning, or watching him sleep, if there is still need for that.”
“I would, if he let me. He said that it isn’t proper for me to stay in his room at night, and that he doesn’t need my assistance. We have quarreled and since then I have kept away from him. I'm sorry for that. The servants took care of him, mostly I had to take care of my father too. Guy is so difficult, at times.”
“This is his pride speaking, poor boy. That’s the only thing he still has. Are you worried for him? That’s why you are still awake?”
“I am. Even if I know that I shouldn’t be. What about you? Why did you come so early in the morning?”
“I am worried too. He spent the last three days sleeping most of the time, and when he’s awake he just lies where he is, staring blankly at the wall.”
Marian picked up a pebble, and she threw it, hitting the fence in front of the house.
“Good aim!” Matilda said, lifting an eyebrow.
Marian snorted, suddenly angry.
“He’s an idiot! How can he mope like this for the Sheriff?!”
“He has nobody. For a long time, that filthy swine has been the closer thing to a family he ever had. Imagine how would you feel if your father sent you away after menacing of killing you.”
“My father would never do such a thing! How could Guy consider the Sheriff as family? It’s insane!”
Matilda shook her head.
“You’re lucky, sweetie. You can’t remember your mother, but you grew up in a loving family. Your father would do anything to see you happy, and the servants of the house always pampered you.”
“How do you know?”
“They still do. Most of them are mad at Sir Guy because they think that his presence in this house makes you suffer. They say that he shouldn’t be in your room, that you should be the one who sleeps in the most comfortable bed and the one who eats the finer foods.”
“It’s not his fault if he’s been injured!”
“And it’s not his fault if he’s been deprived of love.”
“Even if I had no one, I couldn’t consider the Sheriff as family.”
“You talk like that because you’re never been really alone. I don’t know much about Sir Guy’s past, but I think that he began to work for Vaisey when he was very young. Try to think about it: years and years of loyalty, and then his master throws him away only because he’s too ill to work.”
Marian quietly nodded. More than once Guy told her that, to him, loyalty was the most important thing.
Matilda patted her on the cheek.
“Try to be gentle with him, child, even if you think that he doesn’t deserve your kindness. But now go to rest and don’t worry, I’ll stay with him for a while. You are pale, we can’t blame your servants if they are worried for you.”
The healer walked into the manor, and took the stairs. She frowned to see there weren’t any servant near Guy’s room.
She knocked on the door, getting no answer, so she just walked in.
Guy was in bed, lost in a fitful sleep.
Matilda placed a hand on his forehead in a gentle stroke, and he seemed to calm down. She sat near the bed, and looked at him.
He was too pale, and his hair was ruffled and damp with sweat, the bedsheets were crumpled, while the blanket had fallen to the floor and no one cared to pick it up. Matilda frowned seeing that the tray with Guy’s dinner was still on the table at the other side of the room, untouched.
Guy whimpered in his sleep, and he woke up with a start.
“Matilda?” He called, a little confused, seeing the woman.
“Yes, I’m here, love. How do you feel? You look unwell.”
“The leg is paining me. I kept waking up because it hurts so much.”
“Well, let me see.”
She helped him to sit in bed, and began to check his leg carefully, touching and gently moving it.
“It’s healing normally, nothing to worry about. It will hurt for a while, but if you take my remedy, it should be tolerable.”
Matilda saw him blushing, and she glanced at the bowl she had left on the table the previous day.
“It’s still full! Why on earth didn’t you take it?! No wonder that you are in pain! And why didn’t you eat? I can understand that you feel sad, but you must eat, darling, or you won’t recover your strength.”
Guy averted his eyes and Matilda wondered why he looked so humiliated, then she guessed.
“Guy? Did anyone come to help you tonight?”
Gisborne stood still for a moment, then he shook his head.
Matilda stared at him, incredulous.
“Are you saying that no servant came to give you the remedy or your dinner, or to help you with your needs?”
“They just left the tray there. Nobody else came after that.”
Matilda shook her head, in disbelief.
“Why didn’t you call for them?!”
“They despise me, and now they know that I have no power to get a revenge on them. They wouldn’t come.”
The woman didn’t know if it was worse that the servants of Knighton Hall had decided to abandon like that an injured man, or the fact that Guy was accepting that situation as if it was perfectly normal…
“Poor dear! Do you need to...” She glanced at the chamberpot, half hidden under the bed, and Guy shook his head.
“That, I can manage on my own. But I can’t walk to reach the table over there. Could you give me the remedy? I’m thirsty and in pain.”
Matilda hurried to fetch the bowl, and she gave it to him, then she went to look at the tray on the table: the meat was cold and it had became dry, the bread was hard and stale, and there was no cream or cheese.
She looked at Guy: he had closed his eyes, leaning his back on the pillows, and was waiting for the remedy to lessen the pain.
Matilda kissed him on the forehead, and combed his hair with her fingers.
“Don’t worry, love, I’ll fix everything. Wait for me, I’ll be back in a moment.”
She took the tray, went out of the room and closed the door. As soon as she did, her reassuring expression disappeared, changing in a wild fury.
She pounded on Marian’s and Sir Edward’s doors, yelling that she needed to talk to them immediately, then she stomped down the stairs searching for all the servants of the manor.
When Marian and her father went down the stairs, they found all the servants gathered in the hall, and a seething Matilda.
“What’s going on?” Sir Edward said, and Matilda glared at him.
“You should know what happens in your own house! Or maybe you do, and that would be even worse.”
Marian looked at the woman and at the tray she was holding.
“Matilda, what’s up? What is it?”
The healer slammed the tray on the table.
“Look at this food. Would you eat it?!”
Marian and Sir Edward went near the table to look at it, and Marian wrinkled her nose.
“It doesn’t look good.”
“I wouldn’t give it to a stray dog! But they,” Matilda pointed at the servants “they thought that it was fit for a guest of your house!”
“He’s not a guest!” The cook said, in spite. “And I’d rather cook for a pack of stray dogs!”
The other servants nodded, agreeing with the cook, muttering their displeasure.
Matilda uttered a slew of rather creative insults at them.
Sir Edward looked at Matilda and at the servants, confused.
Marian was equally surprised, but then she realized what happened.
“Do you mean that they gave this to Guy?”
“No. They took this disgusting mess to his room, and they left it on the table, knowing perfectly well that he can’t walk to get it! No one of these beasts gave him water or food, not even the remedy I left to ease his pain! Nobody went to check if he needed something! Nobody cared at all!”
“Why should we?” Asked one of the maids, boldly. “He can’t do anything to us, now.”
“I wonder why he’s still here. We should throw him out like the dog he is, ” one of the stable boys added.
Marian was about to answer, but Matilda lifted a hand to stop her, then the healer stared at Sir Edward. The lord of the manor looked shocked to hear the words of his servants.
“Did you know about this?” Matilda asked, icily.
“I had no idea.”
“Do you agree with any of their words?!”
“No, of course I don’t!”
“Then do something! Immediately. Or I will get a wagon and I’ll take that poor boy away with me. I won’t be a noble lady, but I know how to treat a wounded man. I know how to have compassion of a human being.”
“That’s not a human being, he’s Gisborne!” The cook said, with contempt.
“He’s just a burden for this house. Even the Sheriff kicked him out, I wonder what are we waiting for getting rid of him too,” Susanne supported the cook’s words.
“Enough!” Sir Edward thundered. “I won’t tolerate this in my house!”
He slammed his hand on the table.
“Did I give you new orders about Sir Guy?!” He asked.
The servants traded worried looks.
“No, my lord, but we thought...”
“You don’t have to think! Nothing has changed. Sir Guy is a guest of this house and he shall be treated as such. Who doesn’t agree, is free to go. Now go back to your work!”
The servants scurried away, and Matilda nodded, satisfied, then she turned to Marian.
“Dear child, could you please go to the kitchen and see that they prepare some decent food for Sir Guy? I don’t trust them, please supervise their work to be sure they don’t play any trick on him.”
The girl, looking down in shame, went to the kitchen.

Guy opened his eyes when he heard the door opening again. He expected to see Matilda, and he was surprised when Sir Edward entered the room.
The elderly lord looked around, noticing that the servants didn’t do their work to keep the room clean and to take care of the invalid, then he approached the bed and sat on the chair at its side.
“Sir Edward...”
“I came to apologize.”
“What for?” Guy asked, even more surprised.
“My servants had been very unfair to you, Sir Guy, and I’m afraid it’s partially my fault.”
“How could it be your fault?”
“After the Sheriff dismissed you, I didn’t express myself on your situation. I should have said that nothing changed, you are still a guest of my house and that they must respect you.”
“You are not obliged to give hospitality to me. If you want me to go away, I’d understand your reasons.”
“Do you think we need an obligation to help others? You are a welcome guest in my house, and you don’t have to feel in debt. Would you do something for me?”
Guy wondered what he could do in his conditions, but he nodded, grateful to Sir Edward.
“Name it.”
“Please try to get better at the game of chess. I am getting old and my health is not very good, especially in cold weather, so I’m forced to stay at home most of the time. Winter is coming and I see long, boring days waiting for me. Marian doesn’t like the game, and it wouldn’t be proper for me to play with servants, even if there was one of them smart enough to be a good opponent. But you are a noble, you are clever, and I enjoyed teaching you how to play. Will you indulge the whims of an old man and let me teach you to play better?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be a good match for you, but I’ll try.” Guy said, smiling to the old man, and Sir Edward thought that it was the first time that he saw a sincere smile on Gisborne’s face.
“Then we have a deal, Sir Guy. I’ll look forward to play with you. But now I’d better leave you to Matilda’s cares, or she’ll have another rant at me.”

After Sir Edward went away, Guy kept drifting in and out of sleep. Matilda’s remedy lessened the pain and he was tired after such a difficult night.
It hadn’t been only the pain to keep him awake, but even the loneliness. Since the Sheriff fired him, Guy had the sensation to be lost, a castaway drifting in an infinite sea, holding to the miserable wrecks of his ship.
He hated to feel so derelict, but he knew that he had touched the lowest point of his life, that he was completely defeated and helpless. Without Matilda’s and Lord Knighton’s kindness he would be dead, or a beggar in the street, shunned by everyone.
Guy woke up hearing that somebody was in his room, and he opened his eyes. He was surprised to see Marian.

Chapter Text

She hadn’t noticed that Guy was awake, and he didn’t talk to her. He didn’t stir, watching her in silence.
The girl was holding a tray of food, and she put it on the table, then she searched the room with her eyes until she spotted the little table near the window, that Guy and Sir Edward used to place the chessboard. Now the little table was empty, and Marian dragged it near the bed.
It was only then that she realized that Guy was looking at her.
"Sir Guy," said Marian, adding a shy smile, "you are awake, do you feel better? Matilda's remedy is helping you enough? I can give you some more of it if your pain is still so strong."
Guy gave her an uncertain glance.
He had been harsh with her in the last few days, he had been harsh with everyone actually, sending them away and asking to be left alone.
After he told her that it wasn’t proper for her to stay in his room at night, Marian had glared at him, coldly bidding him a good night, and she didn’t come back until now.
Guy nodded, shyly.
“The pain is bearable now, thank you.”
He talked in a polite tone, not sure of what to say.
Once he had hoped that she could learn to love him, that she could begin to be pleased by him, if he only could show her how well he could provide for her and her father. He had tried to show her that he had enough power and money to give her a good life if she would become his wife.
Now he had nothing to offer.
He was nothing.
He didn’t dare to look at her, and he just stared at his own hands, resting on the blanket.
Marian was surprised by the resigned tone with which Guy talked to her, but it was the undertone of sadness she had heard in those few words that she didn’t like. For the first time since she knew him, Marian wished Guy to feel better, not only because this would have made her responsibilities lighter, but simply because she wanted it. Marian wanted Guy to regain his health, to feel better, just because he was Guy. And she didn’t want to see him so closed in himself, so knocked down, so defeated.
She approached the knight further. Her hands trembled, almost imperceptibly. She had thought to give him a caress, but something blocked her: the thought of his past crimes, which clashed fiercely with the present vulnerability of the man in front of her. The need he had of her, against the fear of him that Marian still felt, despite everything.
In a strange compromise between consolation and fear, Marian gently put her hand under his chin, drawing, for a fleeting instant, his gaze, tense and deep, before he lowered his eyes again, never leaving the physical contact with her hand.
"Sir Guy, please look at me. Please," Marian said.
Seeing him being still silent, she spoke again.
"Forgive me, Sir Guy, it was my fault if you've been treated shamefully. I was... I was tired, and you no longer wanted to be with me. I didn’t know what to think. I have neglected you, I've left you alone in a difficult time. I shouldn’t have done so, but I didn't know what to say to you, which words could make you feel better, how to give some relief to your pain. I didn’t know what to say. Vaisey... Vaisey is a monster, he has hurt my family, he has damaged a whole lot of people and now he hurts you, ungrateful human being as he is. You had to expect, from such a perverse person, ingratitude."
Guy looked at her.
He could still feel her touch under his chin, as if her fingers had marked him with a firebrand.
Once he would have been happy and excited to be touched by her, but now her touch was almost painful and it filled him with sadness. It was the pitiful caress given to a mangy, starving dog.
“I guess I deserved what I got,” he said, bitterly.
Something, maybe the bitter tone of the knight's words, struck Marian, as if she had felt his suffering on her skin.
She would never have imagined that she could feel, even for a moment, so close to him.
Moreover, his gaze, directed at her eyes, made her feel an unexpected, strange, unimaginable heat inside. Marian looked down at his lips, then looked back at his eyes, but at the same time, she regained a physical distance from him.
Marian recovered.
It had been like looking down from the tallest bastion of Nottingham Castle to the ground below.
That sensation of dizziness that pushes the mind to wonder how would it feel falling from there, how would it feel to let the body to be free, into the air, before the violent end.
Flying, for a moment
"No one deserves to be abandoned in the worst time of their lives. No one deserves to be left in pain and in disease. Not even you, Sir Guy. In spite of your sins, and your wrongs. We won’t leave you alone." Then, she added, with even more fervor, "I won’t leave you alone, ever."
Marian turned her back for a moment to the knight, struck by an indefinable emotion, as if she had said too much and too quickly.
Guy frowned, looking at her back, wondering about the meaning of her last sentence. She sounded almost passionate, as if she really cared for him.
She was just being kind to a wounded man, because her soul was pure and gentle. Guy repressed a sigh and he thought that he had to be grateful to her.
Her kindness was painful and strangely comforting at the same time.
He weakly smiled at the girl.
“Thank you, I owe my life to your family. Sir Edward has been very kind to me.”
Marian turned back to the knight. His voice was deep now, but kind. A velvet note in it. She liked it.
Marian felt embarrassed about this last thought.
"Please, Sir Guy. No formalities, no obligations. I'm glad that you appreciate my family's efforts to bring you back to health. But perhaps I should feel jealous, if you have my father more dear to your heart than me," Marian said, accompanying her words with a vaguely mischievous smile.
Then she went on, with a more serious tone.
"I'm still your betrothed, am I not? Our... engagement... was sudden  , for me, and maybe I'm not the most suitable person to be close to you. To help you, to console you... I know little of you, and you know little about me. Sir Guy: you saw a pretty girl, coming from a noble family, and you have chosen her, knowing nothing about her. You know nothing of her disposition, what she wants, what she thinks. We are promised, and we do not know almost anything of each other. I had imagined my engagement in a very different way when I was a girl, but now we are here. You and I.”
Marian continued: “In this house, with you in my bed, I'm trying to take care of you as best I can, probably in the wrong way, but I'm not used to all this. To stand beside a man, all day long, all night long. To adjust my life in service of another life as well as to myself. Sharing my life with a man... We are here, me and you, no regard to conventions, customs, mores. Thinking not of what people will say. Please, Guy, no formalisms. We're already over this, you and me. Sometimes I just don’t know how to help you, I just don’t know how to be close to you..."
Guy looked at her face, trying to understand if she was really meaning what she had just said.
Marian was talking of their engagement as if she still believed that they were going to be married, she was trying to do her duty as his future wife, taking care of him, trying to know him better.
He couldn’t believe it.
Since he knew the girl, he had often been blinded by love, but now he could see perfectly well: in their future there couldn’t be any marriage.
How could he marry a noblewoman like her, when he had nothing to offer? He knew that he couldn’t drag her in a life of misery.
Guy had to tell her that she was free, that their betrothal had to be broken, but he couldn’t. If she hadn’t talked like that, maybe he’d find the courage to set her free, but now he just couldn’t.
Her words were a balm for his broken soul, a little ray of hope in the darkness.
She can really save me. She is an angel of salvation.
Sooner or later, Sir Edward would step in to break their engagement, Guy was sure of that. The elderly lord could be kind to him, but for sure he wouldn’t allow his only daughter to marry a penniless cripple.
Marian was looking at him, waiting for his answer. She was right, he loved her, but he didn’t know her well, they rarely talked and he had no idea of what she liked or what she thought.
She doesn’t know me, as well, and this maybe is for the best.
He was about to say something polite and impersonal, but he couldn’t, not when she had just opened her heart to him.
“Just stay,” he answered in a low voice. “It makes all this bearable.”
Marian smiled, and passed Guy the bowl with soup for him to eat. She noticed that it wasn’t warm enough, now, and she was about to bring it back to the kitchen to warm it up, but Guy stopped her arm and shook his head as if to say he didn’t care.
Marian let Guy begin eating his meal. As she looked at him, the girl thought she had exposed herself too much, saying things that just until a few days ago she would not even have imagined to say.
What engagement?
Had she forgotten how Guy had forced her into their engagement?
Had she forgotten his contemptuous, defiant attitude, his continuous pressure to her, his violent acts?
But now, the man who ate slowly, comfortably, his meal in front of her looked like a different person.
A person she didn’t know.
Matilda seemed to know things about him that she didn’t know. And she was amazed and felt hurt for that, partly.
If there was one thing she felt to be able to do was to observe: things, people, facts.
Guy seemed now to have escaped her ability to observe, to evaluate, to understand.
Matilda had shown her a different image of him.
Despite this, Marian feared that once Guy returned to be strong, he would return to be the man he was before.
Or maybe not.
Then she thought that the fact that Vaisey had fired him could be her opportunity to change things, to help him to be different.
A guide.
Matilda had said that Vaisey had been a bad guide.
Guy needed a good guide, and maybe he would be different, as a result.
A better man.
She did not know if she would succeed, or why she thought it was so important for her.
She felt she had a debt to him: if Guy was there now, it was her fault.
She would compensate him that way, she would help him to understand his mistakes, to repent.
Then maybe he would be the one to choose to put an end to their engagement. He would withdraw from it.
She would be free again. She’d have back her bed, her room, her things, the freedom to be what she wanted to be.
At that moment she thought that no man would let her to be free.
No one would love her enough for that. Her father, neither, could completely understand her.
She passed a slice of bread to Guy.
She poured his wine.
Guy looked at her, silently.
Yet that silence did not embarrass her, she felt free to think.
She felt hungry too, her hand touched her stomach. She was about to get up when Guy gave her a slice of bread.
Marian took it instinctively, and, when she did, she touched his hand.
She had taken his hand into hers so many times when he was lost in the fever's delirium, in the agony of his pain. But he did not know how many times it had happened. A gesture born from urgency. From necessity. No value.
Now he was there, awake, probably still very suffering, for a pain that was no longer just a physical one.
He was aware, and seemed to need her even more, now, much more than before.
Marian didn’t know if she would be able to fill that need, if she wouldn’t run away, at the end of everything. Run away from him.
His gestures now had another value. His words had now another value.
Everything she could say or do for him could have tied her closer to him when she could easily dissolve an unwanted bond with him, instead.
She thought that the shudder she had felt touching his hand was only because of fear. She tried not to think to the subtle suspicion that instead it could have happened because of a feeling.
She thought about what he had said, the real meaning of his few words.
Stay... Remain, just stay here, don't run away, don't avoid him, don't deceive him, don't put a distance from him, don't leave him, because, if you stay, when you stay close to him, all this, the pain of the body and the pain of the mind, of the soul becomes bearable, acceptable to him.
It seemed to her that in those few words he had conveyed a whole world that she didn’t know if she could or would accept, but for the first time since she knew him, Marian felt that Guy really felt something more for her and something different from the simple man's desire to possess a woman.
She couldn't do anything else at that moment but stay with him.
She re-assembled the tray with the empty bowls, but instead of taking it away using that as an excuse to leave Guy to himself, she took her sewing work and sat on the edge of the bed.
Ironically, she was sewing a tunic for him.
As she slowly sewed, with uneven stitches, Guy slid into sleep beside her.

Chapter Text

Matilda stepped inside Knighton Hall, brushing the snow away from her cloak.
Autumn changed into winter and the fields around Knighton were all covered by a white blanket of snow.
The healer went near the fireplace and held her hand to the flames, then she glanced at Sebastian.
“Where is everyone?”
“Sir Edward is upstairs with Sir Guy, they’re playing chess, while Lady Marian went to the market in Nottingham.”
“She did? With this snow? Blessed child, always so incautious! I just hope she’ll be back before the weather worsen.”
Matilda sighed and went upstairs.
Guy and Sir Edward were seated in front of the chessboard, but Gisborne wasn’t paying attention to the game: he kept looking at the window, a frown on his face.
His face lit up for a moment when Matilda entered the room, but he sighed when he recognized her, disappointed.
“This isn’t the best welcome I could get, love. You shouldn’t look so unhappy to see someone who cares for you, boy, it’s rude.”
Guy looked at her, startled.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Matilda. I’m happy to see you, I really am, I swear!”
The woman burst into a hearty laugh.
“I know, I know, you were just hoping to see somebody else. I bet that you are worried for Lady Marian.”
Guy blushed a little, embarrassed that his thoughts were so transparent, but it was Sir Edward who answered.
“He’s right to be worried. It’s snowing so much and it’s going to get worse, I’m afraid that the roads could be blocked if there is a storm. Like four years ago.”
Guy nodded.
“I remember it, it was the first winter I spent in Locksley. There was so much snow that people were trapped in their houses and they had to burn furniture because they couldn’t go out to cut wood.”
“There is still time before the storm comes.” Matilda said, trying to reassure both men. “By then, Lady Marian will be here, warm and safe in front of the fire. No use in getting worried now. That girl is smart, she’ll be home before she can be in danger.”
Sir Edward sighed.
“I hope you are right, but I wish that my daughter wouldn’t be so willful.”
Matilda chuckled.
“You can’t change her nature.” She glanced at the chessboard. “Who’s winning?”
“Try to guess,” Guy said, with a resigned smirk.
“You’d have a chance, if you pay attention to the board.” Sir Edward answered, smiling. “I’ll have to chide Marian even for this unsatisfactory game, I guess.”
The old man stood up and went downstairs, leaving Guy with Matilda.
The healer glanced at the window.
“Don’t fret, my dear, she’ll be safe.”
“I hate to think that if she should be in trouble, I could do nothing to help her.”
“I’m here to fix this, so now be calm and let me do my work. Stand up, sweetie.”
Guy put his hands on the table at the sides of the chessboard, and he pushed himself upright. He was favoring his damaged leg and he didn’t put his weight on it, but now he could stand without effort and he was able to walk a few steps with the help of a crutch.
Matilda knelt to the ground to examine his legs, then she stood up again.
“You are getting better, but months will pass before you can walk without a crutch or a staff. Your broken leg is slowly improving, but the unharmed one is still too weak. Do you use it enough?”
“I try to walk as much as I can, but there’s not much space in this room.”
“Don’t you go downstairs? In the hall you’d have more room.”
“I can’t on my own, and the servants aren’t happy to help me, so I prefer to avoid asking their help. Sometimes Lambert helps me to hobble downstairs, but he can’t stay here for a long time, so it’s not worth the trouble.”
Matilda nodded and pointed to a stool.
“Now take away your tunic and shirt and sit there.”
Guy obeyed, and Matilda carefully checked his ribs, touching them to see if they still hurt and asking him to take deep breaths.
“Did you have any trouble breathing? Pain?”
“No, not in the last few weeks.”
“It seems these are perfectly healed, then.” Matilda said, handing his clothes back to him. “You should be happy, love. You are alive and you are better, just as I always said. Now you have to get your strength back and to be patient until your leg heals too.”
Guy put his tunic back on, and he took the crutch, using it to reach the window.
He let out a sigh of relief in seeing Marian in the distance, carefully riding her horse on the snow.
“She’s back.”
“I told you. Remember: Matilda is always right.”
The woman reached him at the window, and she looked at the girl too.
“Don’t you think it’s time to give this room back to her?” Said Matilda, and Guy looked at her, frowning.
“Do you mean that I should go away from Knighton?”
“No, silly. But you don’t need to sleep in her bed anymore. There is a spare room downstairs. Now it’s used to store a few old pieces of furniture, but I guess that Sir Edward could find another place for them, and it could become your room. It’s warm and dry, and you could walk around freely, without stairs to climb. It would be good for your health, and she’d have her room back.”

She was out to get some air, despite the cold, for her errands, not at all frightened by the snowfall.
Yet, all the time she was away she had been lost in her thoughts, she had thought of him...

Go back home, Marian. He's waiting for you. You know it. He knows that you know. Don't rush, be careful of the snow, ice under the snow, he is worried about you.
"Are you dressed enough? Perhaps you would need heavier clothing." It’s not jealousy or possession, "I wonder if," he said, about the cloak that covered you for years, ever since you became a young woman, "it’s adequate to this cold weather."
Go back home, Marian, because he's sitting on a chair, near the window, and will see you coming.
You know it. You know he will lift his eyes from a long chess game with your father and he will see you, or, maybe, he has never stopped looking at the road since you left.
You know it, the first days you felt irritable in front of him. Then you felt annoyed, and you started hiding it your when you left him, behind your shoulders. Then you stopped feeling annoyed. It didn’t bother you anymore. You started to smile, in secret, instead.
Above all, there is a time when you come home and come back into the room when, almost imperceptibly, his eyes light up in the exact time he sees you. And you like it, now. And if there is silence around you, you may feel the breath he has restrained and finally let go, seeing you coming back.
And there is his smile, tender, simple, held back sometimes by the pain he still senses when he moves. Perhaps only diminished by the pain. But he smiles. And you didn’t imagine it could be so beautiful, that simple smile.
Go back home, Marian. Maybe it doesn't matter that he doesn't know anything about what you do.
About what you did, because since he's there you don’t do it so often. Since you've seen his wounds, his difficulties, you don’t feel like going out at night as the Nightwatchman, and, when you do it, because people still need your little help, you do your duty with a little less light in your heart, and you try to get back home soon, because it’s full night and maybe he sleeps quietly, or maybe not.
You know people need the Nightwatchman, for a while at least. Although now Robin is back, hood on his face, with a bunch of sympathetic, disillusioned renegades, who love him and lovingly help people. There's Robin, now and you could put your brown leather mask off . But you don’t want to do it. You wouldn’t want to. You still want to do things, you still want to give something of you. To feel the shiver of the night tight between the shoulders, feel the thin anxiety that creeps in your chest, and the awareness of doing good without glory. No hugs from grateful people. You don’t need hugs, you don’t need glory, you don’t need that kind of love. What if you just did your civil duty?
But the man now living in your home doesn’t know this, maybe he doesn’t imagine it, maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he hated you for that. Definitely hates you now. You are in every effort, in all his limitations, in every breath he takes. It is no longer a challenge. It is torment. But he still doesn’t know that behind the leather mask there is you. You're afraid he'll find out, now, more than ever. But he doesn't know, he is worried, he is waiting for you. Maybe it was so even before the accident: he was worried for you, he was waiting for you; everything was, among you, confused by unwanted, unnecessary gifts, and by his inability to pursue you coherently.
Maybe he was different. He was wrong before. You were just yourself. Or not: you were in a fortress on a rock, and he was, black leather gloves in hand, ready for battle, to storm the fortress, to reach you. He doesn't pursue you, now. He lives with you, lives in your own home, with your own family, shares your own life, but he doesn't pursue you anymore. Maybe he doesn't want, maybe he cannot. But he cares about you. Sincerely. And now, you like that. But you'd never tell him.
You want him to become a friend, but you don't think he can become a confidant. Inside, you're still afraid of him. You don’t know how bad he can be, inside, down into the bones, but you want him to hear what you have to say, the things you care about most, and the most secret ones.
Above everything else, You would like this indefinite feeling that you feel among you, which you see at the bottom of his gaze and when you look at him, and when you look at yourself in the mirror, lying hidden in the folds of a turned upside down daily life, will not hurt you, in the end.
Both of you. And you think this indefinite feeling among you will not end the moment Matilda will declare him healed and he will leave your home. The indefinite, between you and Guy, will end when you least expect, When he least expects. God only knows how much you are afraid of that moment.
And you suspect he's afraid, too.
And you wait: his wounds to be healed, your lives to be defined, yours and his. You wait the fog to dissolve, a less cold day. Maybe then you'll be free again. To be, to do, to risk. But that moment of light when he was looking at you, full of reassurance and relief, of serenity, that silent but constant contentment, in his light eyes, brightened by simpler, less fierce, less defensive, less offensive clothes, you will miss it. You know you will miss it, Marian.
You will remember and forget, even if you want to remember and not to forget.
He will remember and forget. Even if he doesn't want to.
You want something, between you two, to stay different. To be better. Whatever happens. When this long winter is over, and he will not be here anymore.
Go back home, Marian. Now you want to go home.

If Guy of Gisborne was now out of the game, Sheriff Vaisey was definitely in, Robin thought.
Indeed, the situation was, if possible, worse. At least, dogs were no longer used to try to find them and catch them by surprise.
"God, those dogs were really annoying," Robin thought. As Gisborne was no longer able to perform Vaisey's unpleasant, cruel, perverted orders against the people of the County, the Sheriff personally provided with his guards, most of the times, to claim taxes. With every means. House by house. A fire after another. In short: people were scared more than before, and Robin and the gang had gone from rebellion to something that began to resemble insurrection.
Robin did not know if he felt more angry, hearing the Sheriff saying to the terrified crowds, well protected by his soldiers, that all that money, all that bread stolen from the people, was in favor of King Richard in the Holy Land, while Robin had discovered that the Sheriff's climb to power had been largely favored by Prince John, or if he had felt more angry to see fear in the eyes of the people, and their hope wavered more and more despite his efforts.
Sometimes they had arrived in time to prevent attacks from the Sheriff and his men. Other times they had just arrived in time to save the situation, soldiers ready to drag people out of the houses, tongs in their hands, while they, with arrows, sticks, sweat, and heart, and collective effort, had forced the Sheriff and the soldiers to retire. Other times, though, they had come too late, and people had suffered, and lost everything. Sometimes they could only share the pain with them, and money, to rebuild the houses. Money, and their help, were never enough. The raids in the castle, risky, dangerous as they were, becoming more frequent. More than once their escape from the castle had been precipitous, and at the last second. But they had always escaped the jail and the executioner, and they had always found the way to salvation in the forest, and lost their tracks there.
They felt then relieved, joyful, strong and brave, blood pumped into the veins together with pride.
On those evenings, in the forest, eating what they found in the forest, was a joy, sharing a meal whatever it was, all together, once again. All of them still alive. His friends. Renegades, no rank , ready to save one another. Always loyal to each other. And Robin had not had friends like them even before the war. No one had stood up to help him in friendship after being declared an outlaw.
Not even Edward, Marian's father. For fear and opportunity, he had approved his daughter's engagement with the Sheriff's henchman. And he was still helping him now, in his home. Too close to the girl. And Robin was beginning to be very worried.
He was scared that Gisborne could discover the secret identity of the girl, and that he would report her to the authorities, or worse, that he would seek revenge against her, trying to kill her. Having lost power, and his place beside the Sheriff, did not make Guy potentially less dangerous, "The killer in him can always wake up on the occasion." Robin thought. He did not trust Guy, for his recent past and for his more remote . And he did not trust his constant presence beside Marian.
He did not want to say to himself, he did not trust even her so close to him.
By the way, Marian's actions as the Nightwatchman were less frequent and fleeting, now. Less risks for her. Although she was, he had to admit it, good.
But everything had become more difficult. The things, among them, made no progress.
Marian had become elusive. And Marian had never been this way. He had never considered Gisborne as a rival to Marian's affection. If he had managed to marry her, it would have been nothing more than a marriage of circumstance, of convenience. But the condition set for marriage by the girl and the serious physical conditions of the man made a marriage unthinkable between the two, now. But Marian spoke too much of Gisborne when Robin was able to see the girl. And this was disturbing . Robin was beginning to think he had been wrong to leave for war without first marrying the girl.
But the simplest truth was that he had felt too young and not ready to be a husband and father at all.
And his duty to others had been more important. Perhaps he wasn’t even ready now, but he was beginning to think he had made a mistake: he wasn’t entirely sure he could win back Marian.
If only Marian knew, how often he had thought and dreamed her during the war. If only Marian had completely followed her heart, and not the obligations she believed to have toward Gisborne, she would have realized that the admiration she felt towards Robin Hood and his actions was nothing more than a renewed passion for Robin of Locksley, his old betrothed.
But Robin had to think also about the bigger picture. He understood that Vaisey had accumulated a great deal of money in those years in Nottingham. And Vaisey didn’t spend that money for himself.
It wasn’t wasted in whores and parties, or real luxuries. Robin began to fear that Vaisey was something more than a noble grown rich on the backs of others, a staunch and tireless collector of taxes.
 Robin had begun to wonder how powerful Vaisey really was and how far his power and influence extended. Nottingham was not London or Canterbury. But it could have a strategic value in the right circumstances.
And, furthermore, it was strange that he had not yet hired a successor to the infamous, but powerful, role of second-rank commander which Gisborne had had. Perhaps his concerns were excessive, but Robin kept both eyes wide open.

Chapter Text

Guy sat on the bed of his new room, and he looked at the shield painted in yellow and black, hanging over the fireplace. It had been in the hall of Locksley Manor, but Sir Edward ordered his servants to retrieve it, and the rest of Guy’s personal belongings, from the manor before the Sheriff gave the house to his new henchman.
Once Guy had thought that he could get the power, that he could have the world at his feet, now his whole world was enclosed in a single room.
The incredible thing was that he wasn’t as miserable as he believed he would be at the beginning.
He had nothing except for a few clothes and personal items, and his leg still pained him a lot, but he quite liked living at Knighton Hall.
Sir Edward clearly loved his daughter a lot, they were a family, and Guy felt like he had become a little part of that family too. They didn’t abandon him in disgrace, they took care of his wounds and gave him a home when everybody else would have turned their backs at him.
Guy was grateful for this, but gratitude wasn’t the only reason for liking his stay at Knighton Hall.
For the first time since he was a kid, he felt safe.
The house was a haven, a place where people actually cared for him and noticed if he was unwell or dispirited.
It was true that the servants still despised him, but he found a sort of truce with them: he only asked for their services when he really couldn’t help, and they politely ignored him the rest of the time, tolerating his presence in the house.
Guy used to ride a lot and to work for the Sheriff for most of the day, so now the long winter days he had to spend in inactivity were boring, and he sometimes felt restless, but he was learning to appreciate the small and simple things he had always overlooked.
He liked the hours he spent playing chess with Sir Edward. Guy wasn’t really interested in the game, and he suspected that he would always be mediocre at playing it, but he enjoyed the company of the old man.
At first they didn’t talk much, but in time Sir Edward began to tell him little facts about Knighton: the history of the lands and of his family, how he was worried that the extremely cold winter could be very difficult for the peasants, the way he used to manage his lands. Sometime he asked for Guy’s opinion, and Gisborne tried to find a sensible answer, always a little afraid that Sir Edward would laugh at him, calling him an idiot like the Sheriff did.
But the elderly lord never ridiculed his words, he considered on his advice, and if Guy was completely wrong on something, Sir Edward patiently explained him his errors, showing him another way to find a better solution.
Guy sometimes wondered what kind of man he could have been if he had a guide like Sir Edward in his youth, instead of the Sheriff.
Maybe I could have been a man worthy of Marian’s love.
Guy sighed, thinking of her. Living in her same house wasn’t easy because he knew that she’d never love him back, but he loved being able to spend so much time with her.
Maybe she’d never return his feelings, but Guy was learning to be happy to just be at her side.
She was kind to him, sometimes almost friendly, and Guy liked to talk with her, to listen to everything she said.
She went often to the market, or to visit the villagers, and when she came back home, she often told Guy about all the little events that had happened in the County, the funniest gossips she heard while she was in town, or she just described a nice flower she had seen in a field or how she enjoyed the taste of a apple she took from a tree. He listened to every word she uttered, and every little trifle she could tell him was a balm to his soul, like water in a desert.
When he halted out of his room and found her in the hall, or when they sat at the table, sharing a meal with Sir Edward, Guy felt warm and contented, as if he was part of the family too, as if he had finally found his place in the world.
Matilda and Lambert were an important part of his reduced world, too.
The first was probably the only person in the world that openly expressed her affection to him, a sort of rough and outspoken mother hen who took him under her protection. She called him with a variety of silly nicknames and she kept doing that in spite of all his complaints, and at last Guy just stopped complaining and he let her call him however she liked. In fact, if he had to be honest, he didn’t dislike at all her endearments, her affection was a comfort for him and he sincerely returned it, even if he would never admit it.
The friendship with Lambert, instead, had been a surprise. They had worked together on the black powder project, and they found out that they got along well, so sometimes they chatted while they were working on their project. Sometimes they went to the tavern together to share a meal or to drink a cup of wine, but Guy would have never expected a visit from Lambert after the accident. He had just assumed that he wouldn’t care for his fate, like everybody else.
But Lambert went to see him, and he came back almost everyday, just to chat with Guy and to entertain him on his sickbed with gossips from the castle. Even when Guy began to feel better, Lambert kept coming, just because he enjoyed the company of his friend.
Gisborne wasn’t used anymore to have a friend, a sort of family and a place to live where he could feel safe and welcome, but he liked the feeling of it.
Guy stood up, and he took the crutch to hobble to the trunk that contained his clothes, opening the lid to look at them: he still couldn’t wear his old leathers as they were too tight for his broken leg.
Matilda took the splint away, but she still bandaged it tightly, to keep him from doing wrong movements.
Marian had sewn a few new clothes for him, while Sir Edward had found a chest with some of the clothes he used to wear when he was younger, and he ordered the servants to take it to Guy’s room, telling him to take whatever he could need. Most of them where too short and tight for Guy, but some other would fit, with just a few alterations.
Guy took one of the tunics that had already been fitted for him, and he wore it over the shirt that Marian made for him. They were both blue, two different shades of the same color. The shirt had the same color of his eyes, while the tunic was darker.
It was made of a good quality of wool, warm, soft and finely finished with silver embroiders on the hems, a tunic made for a nobleman, a Sheriff, and Guy wasn’t used to wear such fine clothes, even if they were old and a little worn.
He wasn’t used to wear different colors than black, either, and when he looked into a mirror, he had the impression of seeing a stranger.
Maybe he wasn’t too far from the truth, he thought: he felt different, changed, but he couldn’t say if that was a good thing or not.
Guy glanced at the window: the snow was still falling.
He sighed, uneasy at the idea that Marian was riding out there. She had left early in the morning to go to Nottingham’s market and she wouldn’t be back until afternoon, but at least she had ordered two of the servants to get the wagon and to go with her because she had to buy supplies to fill the pantry, almost empty after the storms of the last week.
Sir Edward had been feeling unwell in the last few days, and he was resting. Matilda had said that there was no need to get worried, but the old man had to recover and stay in bed for a while to get his strength back.
Even Lambert went away to visit his family and Matilda was busy treating the seasonal illnesses that affected the villages, so Guy had nothing to do, and he was beginning to get bored and restless.
Matilda said that he had to exercise his good leg, and Guy decided to follow her advice.
He took the crutch and he walked to the hall, then he glanced at the door. It was a long time since he last went outside, and he decided that he could try: he took the old winter cloak that Sir Edward gave him and he wore it. It was well worn and faded in some places, but it was made of thick, warm velvet and its deep blue matched the color of the tunic he was wearing.
Guy opened the door and walked outside: the snow was still covering the ground, and he thought that he had to pay attention or he’d risk to slip and fall. He noticed that the servants had cleared a path to the stables, and Guy decided to go there.
He shuddered before entering, remembering the sound of the hooves, stomping near his head when he had been trampled, but he took a deep breath and went inside: he had always been fond of horses, and he didn’t want to let his fears to influence him.
He relaxed, seeing the horses in their stalls, quietly eating their food. He was surprised to see his black stallion in one of the stalls, as he thought that the Sheriff took it too.
Guy called the stable boy and asked him why the stallion was there.
The boy gave a worried look at him.
“Sir Edward bought him from the Sheriff after he fired you… I think he paid a good price for him too.”
Guy wondered why Sir Edward had decided to buy his stallion, but he was glad that the Sheriff didn’t have him.
He scratched the horse’s muzzle, and the stallion sniffed his hand, searching for a treat.
Guy looked for the stable boy to ask him where he could find an apple for the horse and a brush, but the boy was nowhere to be found, so Guy decided that he would search for those things himself.
There was a little storage room in the stable, and Guy entered, hoping to find at least a brush.
Grooming his horse always relaxed him, and it didn’t matter that the stallion now was Sir Edward’s horse. He had missed this, being able of taking care of the stallion, at least.
Guy’s leg was beginning to hurt, and he was tired, not used anymore at walking and standing so much, but he really wanted to take back another little piece of normality.
He thought he saw a brush near a old saddle lying in a corner, and he went to take them, when he noticed a piece of cloth hidden under the saddle.
Curious, Guy lifted the old saddle, and his heart almost stopped: hidden under it there were a hooded cloak and a mask! The costume of the Nightwatchman!
Stunned, Guy took it in his hands, a million questions spinning in his head.
He took it closer to his face, searching for a clue that could reveal the identity of the Nightwatchman, and, instinctively, he sniffed the cloak.
Guy froze.
It couldn’t be.
Marian. It smelled of Marian.
Guy could recognize the sweet scent of her skin, he was sure of that. And that cloak had Marian’s scent.
Suddenly, a lot of mysteries concerning the Nightwatchman made sense: Guy had always thought that he was a boy because he was too short and thin to be a man. And this explained why the Nightwatchman always seemed to know his plans…
His world, that was just beginning to be whole again, shattered in a thousand pieces.

Marian came back home, a smile on her lips. She set the heavy basket on the table. A maid ran to take the content, the good vegetables and the meat that Marian had bought from the weekly market in Nottingham. Marian prevented the young maid's hands, and quickly removed the white bundle on the top of the basket before she could take it.
Wrapped in the bundle, there was a scroll of parchment she had purchased from a minstrel at the market. The man used to tell stories about adventures in the sea and she enjoyed listening to them. He also was in society with a scribe who copied his tales on parchment to sell them to the nobles who liked them, so they could teach them to their own minstrels.
They were stories about crazy pirates and brave captains, and Marian always bought them when there was a new part of the story available for sale.
Once she read one of them with Guy, during one of the long days he had to spend in bed, and Guy had surprised her with his ability to read aloud with her, playing the characters of the story.
In the beginning Guy was reading his part in a flat, concentrated but monotonous tone, but then she snatched the scroll from his hands and she read it aloud, using a different voice for each character.
He gradually began to follow her, more timidly at first, grumbling like a pot of beans cooking over the fire, then sighing, and later with greater commitment, developing more abilities than she had.
He started to give so many different voices to the characters: Guy played voices that made her laugh to tears, while others made her feel almost frightened. Other voices moved her. Other voices made her feel a strange sensation, an indefinite, new sensation. In those moments, Marian forgot to follow her own lines on the scroll. She was focused only on listening the sound of his voice, until Guy had to say: "Marian it's your turn. The captain's line is yours to play."
But most of all, Marian was really, really amused when he played the voice of the frightened damsel, prisoner of the pirates on the ship.
She just did not want to play that role .
Not in stories, not in life.

Distracted from her fantasies, Marian heard the door closing behind her with a slam. She turned around. Guy was there, leaning heavily on the door, and he looked at her, eyeing her from her feet up to her face, finally focusing on her eyes. The gray-blue of his eyes had darkened, pupils dilated.
A serious expression on his face. Deadly serious, like the one she used to see on his face when he took the people under arrest in Nottingham, long ago.
Marian felt uncomfortable, as if in one gesture, the closing of that door, him in front of her, the world stood still, their time had stopped.
She felt trapped.
She was trapped.
She lowered her gaze on the thing that Guy was holding. She recognized her cloak. The one she used to wear to be the Nightwatchman.
The scroll fell from her hands. Marian didn’t even hear the sound of it landing on the floor.
She felt numb.
Now she was the captive damsel on the ship, and there was no captain to save her.
She felt lost. She felt she had lost something.
She became pale, and looked at Guy, surrendering to him with her eyes downcast, as if she was in front of the executioner.
Guy looked at her, and he felt as if he was dead inside. He had hoped that she wouldn’t recognize the cloak, that she had nothing to do with it, but he could see that she knew perfectly well what he was holding in his hands.
“Do you have an explanation?” His voice was cold, remote. Dead.
“Give it back to me, it's mine, Guy,” Marian said, clenching her fists, finding courage, believing in herself, in her values. “That's me. Only me. All of me. An explanation, Guy? Misery is the explanation. Desperation of people is the explanation. Overpowered, oppressed people are the explanation. Someone had to help them. I wanted to help them.”
Then, suddenly feeling like she was naked in front of him, she added: “You can’t even imagine the suffering of those people, of those families. Children, old people, their empty tables. Diseases, their harvests ransacked. Money gone. No future. And no present too. People condemned to die of poverty, to die miserably. That's my people, Guy. I had to do something, to be something, for them.”
Guy shook his head. He wanted to put his hands on her shoulders, to look in her eyes, and tell her that she wasn’t the one who had to help people, that it was foolish to think that she could do something for them, and that she would only risk her life.
She was standing a few paces away from him, and Guy moved to reach her, but, in the heat of his emotions, he completely forgot his conditions, and he didn’t take the crutch.
When he put his weight on the broken leg, it just gave way with a sharp jolt of pain, and Guy stumbled and fell to the ground, on his knees.
Seeing him falling to the ground, Marian felt a chill in her shoulders.
Even that was her doing. It was the Night Watchman's doing.
Diminishing a man, this man.
He would be poor, he was ailing and suffering right now. In front of her.
And it had been her. Her fault.
She felt she had said too much. To the wrong person.
Everything had changed between them.
He was different now, was he not?
‘Dear God, what have I done,’ Marian thought.
She was silent, fully aware of the ambiguity of her conduct toward Guy now.
She had lied to him.
Marian stretched her hand out to him, as to help him raising from the ground.
She didn’t want to see him like that. Never again.
Guy swatted her hand away, like an annoying bug. He was trembling with rage, hanging his head to avoid looking at her, his hair falling on his face and hiding his expression.
“You! It was you! You destroyed my life!”
It was true.
She did.
She destroyed his life. His horrible, wicked, ruthless life.
Marian didn’t want to kill him, that night. She hadn’t thought, there was no time, she had acted, unaware of the possible consequences.
Then she had seen the results of her mistake and she tried to rectify it. To help him, her enemy.
He was her enemy in that moment. God, he was.
And a wounded man too.
She had helped him. With her whole being.
“I didn’t want it to happen, Guy... I did not... I'm sorry, Guy. So sorry...” Marian said, her voice reduced to a whisper.
Guy struggled to get back to his feet without her help, and he stood in front of Marian, pointing an accusing finger at her.
“But you did it! I had everything… I had a future. And now I have nothing, because of you! My life is in tatters because you wanted to imitate Robin Hood!”
Marian raised her voice, suddenly feeling angry. No one could say a thing like that, considering her actions to be a pure imitation of those of a man.
Diminishing her.
“Oh no, Guy, no,” Marian said, bitterly, “you can’t tell me that, especially you, you can’t tell me that. Have you forgotten, Guy? You've come out of nowhere, you and Vaisey, a few years ago. And everything changed, for the worse. I had to do something. We've known each other for years. You and me. The Nightwatchman and you, Guy. Robin Hood was out of the picture, then. You fought me for years, before Robin Hood. You chased me for years. And you never caught me.” Marian smiled, boldly. “I'm not Robin Hood. I didn’t want to imitate anyone. No man. It was the Sheriff's cruelty. He has made you a slave in his hands, and a cruel man. He taught you to be cruel, never looking in the eyes of the people you damaged in his name, following his will. Did you want it too, Guy? And Vaisey has made ME the Nightwatchman. The sheriff has made people poor, and hungry. Looking for help. The Nightwatchman was born from this, to fight him by repaying people for what had been taken away from them. Food, remedies, a little money. I didn’t steal anything from anyone. It wasn’t money from the taxes. It was my money, Guy. Mine.”
“You could be hanged if the sheriff knew what you did!”
“Me? Hanged for what? For sharing what was mine with other people? I wanted to be an help for the people who needed it. You killed people for that hideous man, you have ordered your men to cut tongues, for God’s sake, Guy. I’ve never, never killed anyone! The Nightwatchman doesn’t kill, Guy! I never harmed anyone!”
“You did! You harmed me.”

Sir Edward got up from his bed. He was feeling better, but his illness worried him: he was getting old and frail, and he was afraid that he could die, leaving Marian alone.
This was one of the reasons that made him agree when Sir Guy decided to marry Marian. At that time, he had thought that Gisborne was a dangerous man, but he had enough power and money to protect Marian and take care of her.
He seemed to love her, and Sir Edward had thought that it was better to die knowing that she was married to a strong man who would protect her, than to leave this world leaving her alone and helpless.
After the accident, Edward found out that Sir Guy was a better man than he had believed, but now he was also poor and powerless, unable to defend and provide for a wife. The elderly lord wasn’t sure of what he should do about their betrothal, if it would have been better to forbid it, or if he should leave the decision to Marian.
For now, he was taking time. They couldn’t talk of marriage until Sir Guy was better, and Sir Edward hoped that, in time, Gisborne would take the right decision, breaking the engagement.
Sir Edward got dressed, and he went downstairs, a little worried, not knowing if his daughter came back from the market.
He was relieved when he heard her voice, but worried again when he realized that she sounded upset and distressed and that her voice was coming from Sir Guy’s room.
He hurried to the door, but it didn’t open, locked from the inside.
Sir Edward tried to listen and went pale hearing Marian talk about the Nightwatchman.
Did Sir Guy find out about that secret?! Would he denounce it to the Sheriff?!
From inside, Guy’s angry voice seemed to prove his fears true.
“I should report you to the Sheriff, he’ll hang you, he’ll burn your house!”
Sir Edward didn’t wait to hear more: he was afraid for Marian’s safety, now.
Sir Guy knew that he had been injured because of the Nightwatchman, and now he’d surely want to take his revenge.
The old man ran out of the manor, heading for the stables. He couldn’t ask his servants for help, not if he wanted to keep Marian’s secret, so Robin Hood was his only chance now: he took a horse and spurred it, heading for Sherwood Forest.

Inside Guy’s room, Marian was shouting hard to the man, now.
“For what? Do you really want to denounce me to that evil, perverted man? To a man who’s a liar, an exploiter? A man who threw YOU away like an old and broken sock as soon as you couldn’t serve him, the moment you weren’t able to be the pleased executor of his violence and his thirst for gold, death and pain. He took away everything from you now, but he had taken off your dignity the day you’ve started working for him. Don’t you see, Guy? Don’t you see what he had done to you? You were his puppet, the lowest of his slaves, but convinced of being almost a king. His idiot!”
“So I am an idiot? What about you? A noble lady who risks everything only because you can’t accept the fact that you’re a woman! You could help the poor in a million of other ways, ma you have to endanger your and other people’s lives just to convince yourself that you are strong, that you are brave, while you’re just deluded and childish!”
Guy stepped towards her, using the crutch this time.
Marian felt him approach her. He couldn’t really hurt her physically. Not in his condition. But he was getting closer and closer to her. He was furious, disappointed, and she didn’t want him near her.
She was full of rage, like an uncontainable raging river.
She was furious at him: for all the years spent fighting him, and all the days and all the nights spent to assist him, seeing him suffer.
He approached her, almost brushing her, and she didn’t want to, she didn’t want him to touch her in that moment.
No way.
She pushed him away, convinced that she didn’t use enough force to hurt him, but Guy lost his balance, and slammed violently his back against the wall. His ribs had healed, but the impact sent a jolt of pain through his leg.
The immediate, extreme expression of pain on his face passed through Marian’s trembling body like an arrow.
Marian could no longer hold back the tears, because he could not understand the absurdity of his life with the Sheriff, and moreover, Marian was crying because she did not understand why this made her feel even more angry with him.
“It's better to be called childish, and deluded”, she hissed, “but to have followed my own heart, and my own head, rather than having sold my soul to that devil there, blindly following him, like YOU had. Don't you realize that he was going to make you commit the most wicked crime, without even messing up his hands with it! You were about to kill the King, Guy, the King!. You might as well trying to kill God directly ! You are a fool!” She burst into tears, loudly.
Marian's tears hurt him deep inside, and Guy just stood there, looking at her.
He was exhausted, in pain and he was feeling empty and dejected. From the look in her eyes, he guessed that Marian was feeling the same.
The girl looked at him, and she was shocked to see how lost he looked. She was openly crying, but Guy had tears in his eyes too.
“I didn’t want to, Guy, I didn’t mean to hurt you that night, believe me, I didn’t want to,” she said, deeply pained.
“What do we do, now?” Guy whispered, and Marian shook her head to say that she didn’t know either.
Without thinking too much about it, she made a few steps to reach Guy, and she put a hand on his shoulder to soothe his sorrow, and to find a little comfort herself.
Guy sighed, and there was so much sadness in that sigh, that Marian’s eyes welled with fresh tears, and she found herself hugging the knight.
Guy’s arms closed around her body, and she thought that now it was a little better, that their closeness was a consolation for them both. His body was warm, and, even when he was so weakened, Guy’s embrace made her feel safe and protected.
She had been able to hurt him so much, but he still tried to take care of her, even when he had all the reasons to hate her.
Marian looked up to meet his eyes. They were filled with anger, pain and sorrow, but also with something softer. She realized that he still loved her, no matter what.
They were too close, Marian thought that it wasn’t proper at all, but at the same time she didn’t care. They both needed the warmth of that hug, the comfort they could get from it.
She wanted to cry and be consoled, and she wanted to soothe him, to dispel the hopeless look in his eyes.
Their lips met, suddenly, and Marian couldn’t tell if it had been Guy who began the kiss, or if it was her the one who started it. She couldn’t think clearly, she couldn’t think at all.
They were kissing, and they both knew that they should stop, but neither of them was willing to do it.
It was warm.
It was sad and soothing at the same time.
It was overwhelming.
They both stepped back at the same time, with a shocked gasp, and they stared at each other for a moment, unsure of what they should do, or say.
Then the door was slammed open, and a moment later Robin was in the room, charging at Guy. He grabbed his tunic, and he pushed him away from Marian, dragging him to the ground with him.
Marian stared at them in horror, seeing that Robin had unsheathed a dagger, and pointed it to Guy’s throat.

Chapter Text

Matilda was wearily making her way through the snow, carrying her basket full of remedies. She had herbs to treat pain, and she would use them for Guy’s leg, and a balsamic ointment for Sir Edward, to help him overcome the cold that was affecting him.
She was near Knighton Hall, when she saw two galloping horses.
She frowned, recognizing the riders: Robin Hood and Sir Edward.
Robin dismounted and ran inside the manor, while Sir Edward followed shortly after, staggering with exhaustion.
The healer was worried for him, he wasn’t well enough to ride, but she was even more worried for the younger inhabitants of the house: Robin’s expression was one of rage and fear.
Matilda dropped the basket, lifted her gown with her hands, and ran towards the manor too.
She got ahead of Sir Edward, entering Guy’s room before him, and she stared at the scene in front of her eyes: Guy was sprawled on the floor on his back, with Robin on top of him, and the outlaw was holding a blade at his throat, while Marian was looking at them, too shocked to move.
Sir Edward entered the room, panting, and he glanced at his daughter.
“Did he hurt you?” He managed to say, before turning very pale and falling to the ground.
Marian managed to catch him before he could hurt himself in the fall, and she slowly lowered him to the floor, glancing at the two younger men.
“Please, stop!” She screamed, terrified, her eyes feverishly looking for something, whatever she could use to stop them, but they didn’t listen to her, Robin still threatening Guy, and the other trying to push the outlaw away from him.
Marian wanted to reach them, and stop that madness, but her father was lying unconscious in her arms, and she couldn’t move.
Luckily, Matilda stepped in the room, and she stomped towards Robin and Guy. She put a hand on Robin’s wrist, taking the blade away from Guy’s neck, then with the other hand, she grabbed the back of the outlaw’s tunic, giving a tug to it, hard enough to make Robin land on his backside.
“What do you think you are doing?” She yelled.
Robin stared at her.
“Marian was in danger! He was going to hurt her!”
Matilda lifted an eyebrow, looking at the girl.
“Were you?”
Marian blushed, remembering the kiss, but she managed to shake her head, then she looked at her father.
“Help him, please!”
Matilda glanced at the elderly lord, and noticed that he was waking up.
“He’s just an old fool who overexerted himself. He’ll be fine if he follows my instructions.” Matilda turned her attention to Robin. “Were you really going to kill him? Attacking an injured man!”
Robin glared at Guy: his enemy was still lying on the floor, his eyes closed, and he didn’t move.
“I have to. He knows a secret and he will reveal it to the Sheriff. I can’t allow him to put people in danger! I have to silence him.”
Matilda slapped him on the back of his head.
“Now don’t be an idiot, Robin! I was your mother’s midwife, I helped her to give birth, and you know I love you, but I won’t tolerate this foolishness, not even from you! What is the secret you are talking about? That she’s the Nightwatchman?!”
Marian and Robin stared at her, in shock, and even Guy opened his eyes, trying to get up to look at her in surprise.
“How did you know?” Marian whispered.
“It seems that I was the only one who didn’t,” Guy commented, bitterly.
Matilda helped him to sit, then she stood between him and Robin, and smiled at Marian.
“It wasn’t so difficult to guess, when you went to my hut to buy remedies, and then people said that the Nightwatchman came and gave them some medicine.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Robin said. “We can’t risk that he reveals it to the Sheriff.”
“So you want to kill him?! And then what? Are you going to cut my throat too? I know her secret too, what’s the difference?”
“He’s Gisborne!”
“And I’m Matilda. Answer, if you can: what’s the difference?”
Robin shook his head.
“He’s evil, he’s the Sheriff's henchman!”
“Not anymore, but it doesn’t matter. Some say that I’m a witch, that I can curse the fields and that I kidnap children. So, then, what’s the difference?”
“You didn’t do those things! But he killed people! He starved them! He drew them out of their houses!”
“If he’s guilty of crimes, you are not the one who can judge him. If he deserves a punishment for his actions, let the law administer it.”
“How, if the law is corrupted?!” Robin angrily cried.
“Then it will be God who’ll judge him for his actions. Are you God, Robin Hood?”
“No, of course I’m not! But I can’t let Gisborne endanger Marian.”
Matilda gave an exasperated sigh, and turned to Guy, who was still sitting on the floor, surprised that she would defend him so passionately.
“Are you going to tell her secret to anybody, love?”
He looked at his leg, with a sarcastic smile.
“How could I? It’s not like I can go anywhere. And even if I could, I wouldn’t. I’d never do anything to damage the woman I love. Even if she almost killed me.”
Marian looked at him, a mixture of amazement and surprise. She was amazed to have heard him so openly, clearly expressing her feelings for her in front of anybody, she was surprised because despite the pain they had inflicted each other with their words, his love for her was still strong, persistent. It was real, warm, undeniable. She trembled.
Robin was incensed at his words, and for a moment Matilda was afraid that he was going to attack Guy again, but the outlaw turned to Gisborne, threatening him with his glare.
“Betray her secret, and you are dead. Touch her, and I will kill you with my own hands.”
Matilda nodded, satisfied.
“Go, now,” she said, using a gentler tone. “I have to take care of Sir Edward and we all need to calm down. If somebody should see you here, you’d be the one to endanger Lady Marian. Go. There will be another chance to talk about this in the future.”
Robin gave Marian another reluctant look, then he went away, as quick as he came.
Once he was gone, Matilda looked around, and inwardly sighed: Marian and Guy were both upset, almost stunned, and Sir Edward looked to be unwell.
It wasn’t going to be a easy day.
She carefully helped Guy to his feet, checked that he hadn’t been injured by Robin’s attack, then she made him sit on the bed and bid him to stay there until she came back.
Matilda helped Marian to take Sir Edward to his room, then she sent the girl to retrieve the basket with the remedies she had abandoned in the snow.
Marian was upset, but Matilda knew that making her busy with taking care of her father would help her to calm down, and both Marian and Sir Edward would benefit from that.
She treated the elderly lord, giving him a remedy to prevent a fever, then she gave the balsamic ointment to Marian, leaving her with thorough instruction on how to use it and how to care for the old man.
Once she was sure that the girl was absorbed in her occupations, Matilda went downstairs.
Guy was still where she had left him, sitting on the bed with a lost, dejected look in his eyes.
Matilda went to sit next to him, and she gave him a sympathetic smile, patting his hand.
“So, do you want to talk, my dear? I think you need it.”

Marian poured another medicine into the cup and passed it to her father.
“Can’t you understand the risk you've taken, facing Sir Guy all by yourself? You scared me to death, Marian!” Edward said, looking at her daughter.
“I know, and that's why I'm sorry, Father,” Marian said, “but nothing happened in the end, there was no need to call Robin. No need at all. Guy and I, we were...”
Edward interrupted his daughter's speech.
Guy and I? What does ‘Guy and I’ mean? There is no ‘Guy and I’, and there will not be!” He said.
“ Oh no... You know nothing about anything about us. Father, I want to decide on my life. It's for a mistake of yours, mostly, that I was engaged to him. Your weakness. I'm not like that, Father, I'm not weak. I don't want to be weak.” Marian pointed out: “We were fighting, sure, and sure we had a hard fight. Very hard. But we would have come to a conclusion anyway, together, possibly without involving Robin in the picture! He could have killed him, for God's sake. Guy wouldn't hurt me, not after everything that had happened betw...” Marian stopped for a moment, then she added, with more emphasis : “Believe me, Father when I say that I can defend myself from him. And no one can tell me what I can or can not tell to him, nor how!”
“Don't you dare talk to me like that, Marian,” the old man said, with a hard tone in his voice, “your mother never dared to address me like that, with that tone. Your mother and I have NEVER had a dangerous fight like that, do you want me to believe that the one between you and Sir Guy was just a quiet quarrel? Marian, you should be careful with him, he's always like a wolf. He looks like a faithful dog now, but if he swore allegiance to the sheriff again, he would not hesitate to tear you to pieces, like a wolf. And he would have all the reasons now.”
“But he didn’t. He knows everything about me now and he has not betrayed me,” Marian replied, “You've heard him too, he says he loves me. Still.”
“So he says, and so it looks. And it was also what he told me the first time he came here to talk to me, to ask for you. He told me he loved you,” her father said, sighing.
“And that was enough for you to decide to give me, my life and future to the enemy's ally,” Marian replied, a sad tone in her voice.
“No. He was powerful and menacing, but his eyes seemed sincere to me, his feelings true. Feelings expressed in a few words, simple words. I wasn’t so different from him when I was young. I was not as jovial and loved as Robin was. I was a warrior in my youth, I was right, but I was rough. Your mother has changed me, for the best."
“And you expect me to change him, Father?” Marian asked, astonished.
"No, I expect, I hope, that you will be safe, in the end. Forgive me, Marian, forgive me, my daughter, my dearest.” And the old lord fell asleep, leaving Marian alone, to her thoughts.

Chapter Text

“You all knew and nobody said a word to me.” Guy talked without looking up, as if the floor boards were so interesting that he couldn’t bear to look away from them. “What else are you hiding from me? I trusted you! But maybe the sheriff was right: trusting people is a weakness...”
Matilda sighed.
“Well, my boy, don’t be an idiot, now. I understand how you feel, but you shouldn’t follow the advice of someone who betrayed you like that.”
“Like what? Like everyone else do?! You all lied to me!”
Matilda gently squeezed his hand.
“Did you ever stop to ask yourself why people are so afraid to tell you the truth?”
Guy lifted his eyes from the floor to look at her.
“Yes, love. Afraid. People fear you, they see what you did in the past and of course they wouldn’t tell you anything that could enrage you.”
“I wouldn’t hurt Marian. If she told me that she was the Nightwatchman...”
“Then what? What would have you done if you knew? Would have you defied the sheriff for her?”
“Maybe I would have!”
“How could she know? You were always punishing outlaws, cutting their hands and their tongues, and you often said that you wanted to capture the Nightwatchman to hang him. How could she trust you?!”
Guy couldn’t find an answer, so he didn’t say anything.
Matilda patted him on the cheek.
“There’s another thing you must consider, my dear: maybe, if she were alone, she could have told you the truth, but she has her father to protect. If you decided to arrest her, Sir Edward would be finished too, and Marian can decide to risk her own life, but not her father’s. You were a danger to both of them, you can’t deny it. You still are.”
“No, I’m not. I’m not a danger to anyone, now. The mangy dog who made me fall from my horse is more a threat than me.”
The woman laughed.
“Well, at least you are prettier than that old mutt!” She said, drawing a little smile from him. “Or at least you will be if you let me comb you hair, you’re all ruffled, now.”
She didn’t wait for him to answer, but she grabbed a brush and began stroking Guy’s dark curls. Gisborne didn’t even try to complain, needing her affectionate cares too much to send her away.
Instead, he closed his eyes, relaxing a little under her touch.
“You knew, too.” His voice wasn’t angry anymore, just very sad. “You treated my wounds, you knew how painful they were, yet you always knew who caused them and you never told me...”
Matilda stopped the brush for a moment, and bent to kiss the top of his head.
“It wasn’t my secret to say, and then, what good could have been for you to know? You’d just be hurt and heartbroken, like you are now, but then it could have made a difference between life and death. I never wished for you to suffer, love, I swear.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“You will. In time. Your heart will tell you.”
“I can’t trust my heart.”
“Oh, I’m sure you can, sweetie. You just have to get used to having one. Till then, I think that I can give you a few suggestions.”
“What kind of suggestions?”
“I will give you three simple rules. First: never act on the rush of your emotions, and especially of your rage. Wait, think, try to understand the others. Second: learn to forgive, especially if you hope to be forgiven in your turn. No, don’t deny that: you have much to be forgiven for. If Marian knows your secret, and I think she does, she has your life in her hands.”
Guy looked at her, fearful and angered at the same time.
“She told you! How could she?! I warned her that she shouldn’t talk about it or we’d both risk our lives!”
Matilda rolled her eyes.
“No, idiot, you told me. When you are feverish, you talk in your sleep. That’s one of the reasons that made her to watch on your sleep personally: we couldn’t trust the servants to hear your ramblings, even if they were willing to take care of you, and they weren’t.”
Guy blushed, dumbfounded.
“Yes. Oh. You’re lucky that nobody else knows about it. It would be the end of you. But you can relax: I won’t tell anyone, and I don’t think that Marian will, either.”
Gisborne let out a sigh, crestfallen and embarrassed.
“So, what’s the third rule?”
Matilda smiled at him, and placed a hand on his chest.
“Third: trust this, listen to your heart. You might think that yours is black, or that you don’t have one, but it isn’t true. You are a decent person when you don’t listen to that filthy donkey ass of the Sheriff. You can be a good man, you just have to believe in yourself and choose to be free.”
Matilda stood up abruptly, and Guy stared at her, worried. He was afraid that she could go away.
It would have been perfectly normal if she did, she had many patients to visit, but Gisborne didn’t want to be left alone with his thoughts.
His leg was paining him, but the worst thing about that pain, the one that Matilda’s remedy couldn’t ease, was the knowledge that Marian caused it.
If he was going to be a cripple, it was her fault. The woman who he loved so desperately was also the same person who ruined his life.
“Were are you going?!” He burst out, and Matilda gave him a questioning look. Guy averted his eyes, suddenly shy.
“Please stay,” he pleaded, in a subdued tone, and the woman was moved by his dejected demeanor.
“I’m not going anywhere, love. You’re such a fool that if I leave you alone tonight, tomorrow I’d surely find you sick or injured or who knows what. No, darling, I’m going to keep an eye on you until I’ll be sure that you can be trusted to be left alone. I was just going to relieve myself… so, can I leave you for a little while or do you prefer me to borrow your chamberpot?”
Gisborne blushed.
“Oh. Sorry. Go, of course you can go.”
Matilda went out of the room, and Guy buried the face in his hands, upset and exhausted.
He still couldn’t believe that his enemy, the person who almost killed him, was actually Marian.
How could he forgive her?
And how could he not?
He touched his leg and he felt a jolt of pain, immediately.
I should hate her for this...
He remembered the taste of her lips, the warmth of her body in his arms.
But I can’t stop being madly in love with her.
Guy closed his eyes, wishing that he could just lie down and sleep until he could wake up finding some peace in his heart and in his mind. But he knew that sleep wouldn’t come, that he’d just lie awake thinking of Marian.
Matilda came back with a tray of food, and she placed it on the table.
“Come on, get up and come here. I’m hungry and you need to eat too.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“You can, and you must. I didn’t work so hard to save your life just to see you wasting away. Keep healthy and then we can try to fix everything else. If you just want to mope, tell me and I’ll go home, so that I don’t see you throwing your life away.”
Guy sighed and he made an effort to hobble to the table and sit down in front of Matilda.
The woman smiled.
“Good boy.”
“Stop calling me that! It sounds like you’re talking to a dog.”
“There’s nothing wrong in dogs. Sometimes they’re more sensible than human beings.”
Guy gave her a half-hearted glare, and he took a slice of bread. He found out that he could eat, after all, and that it made him feel a little better.
At least, if he focused on his meal, he could set his other thoughts aside for a while.
He was grateful to Matilda, her presence was comforting and stopped him from surrendering to despair.
Guy realized all of a sudden that it was a very long time since he trusted someone as much as he did with Matilda. Since he was a boy and he confided his little worries and fears to his mother.
“What’s up, love?”
Guy looked at Matilda, a little startled by her question.
“You were lost in your thoughts. You looked sad.”
“I was remembering my mother. I wish I could talk to her.”
Matilda was surprised to hear his words, it was as if the shock of finding out the truth about the Nightwatchman had crushed all the walls he had built around his heart, and now it was lying there, completely exposed and defenseless. Frail.
“You can, love. In your heart. She’s there and she’ll always be.”
Gisborne gave her a sad smile.
“I know. But now I’d really need a sensible advice, and I feel too confused to find it in my heart.”
“She was a wise woman.”
“Did you know her?”
“Not really, but I remember her. I was young when your family came to live here and I never came to your house because your mother was taking good care of her children, so a healer wasn’t needed. I remember that people didn’t trust her because she came from France, but I thought that she was sensible and brave. I was sorry to hear that she died in that fire.”
Matilda noticed that Guy didn’t reply and that he looked guilty and ashamed for some reason.
“Come on, love, she wouldn’t want to see you so sad. I’m not her, of course, but I think I’ve enough experience to try and give you the sensible advice you need, if you trust me with your problems.”
“You know I do, Matilda,” he said, earnestly.
“Well, then. Eat some more meat and drink that bowl of milk, and then you can tell everything to me.”
She expected him to complain, and she was surprised to see that he meekly obeyed her.
Poor, lost child...
Matilda waited for him to finish his meal, then she took the tray with the empty dishes, and she put it out of the door so that a servant could take it back to the kitchen.
“Let’s sit in front of the fireplace,” she suggested “we’ll be more comfortable.”
Once again, Guy did how she said, and carefully walked to the chair. She handed him an apple, and she took one for herself, then she sat in front of him.
“Tell me, sweetie, what’s troubling you?”
“I feel so confused, Matilda. It’s about Marian... Something happened, and I don’t know what it means. How can you say a thing, and then do the opposite?”
“She didn’t want to hurt you so much, I’m sure of this. She became the Nightwatchman because it was the only way she had to help the poor, the only way to do something for them. She was afraid that you could hurt her and her father if you found out her secret, and she tried to stop you, but I know that she had meant no harm...”
The woman looked at him.
“I’m not talking of the Nightwatchman. I can understand her reasons. I don’t know if I can forgive her for what she did to me, but I can see why she did it.”
“What are you talking about, then?”
“We kissed.”
“It happened before Hood ran into the room… We had been yelling at each other for a good while, she said many things to shame me and I did the same, menacing to report her and her father to the Sheriff. I think that we said anything we could to hurt each other… She was in tears and I confess that I wanted to cry too. I was so mad at her, and she surely despised me as well, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in a embrace. A moment later we were kissing and I don’t know why. I don’t even know if I was kissing her or if she was kissing me...”
Matilda burst out in a hearty laugh.
“This is not a joke, Matilda!” Guy growled, and the woman stood up to plant a kiss on his forehead.
“I know, love, don’t be mad at me for laughing. It’s just that you shouldn’t be so worried for such a thing. It was just a kiss.”
“I kissed Marian! It can’t be ‘just a kiss’!”
Matilda silenced him, putting a finger on his lips.
“Rule one, sweetie. You were both overwhelmed by your emotions, you needed a way to let them out. Don’t give too much importance to it. You must be glad that it was a kiss and not something worse.”
“What do you mean?”
Matilda became serious.
“You were both upset, angry, hurt, not in your rightful minds. What if you took a sword and killed her, or if she stabbed you with a dagger?”
“I would never hurt Marian! I love her!”
“Are you really sure of this? Well, don’t be. I’ve seen this happen in the past and it will happen again. Lovers who swore that their love was carved in their hearts till the end of the world, and then they killed each other in the heat of rage… It takes a single moment of insanity to destroy a life. Two lives, actually, because the one who kills the loved person can never forgive himself. Remember this very well, Guy. Both you and Marian are passionate creatures, you are more similar than you think. Passion can be dangerous, my child, if you let your rage to go out of control. Be glad that it was just a kiss.”
Gisborne averted his eyes in shame. He knew that, he had already learned that lesson in the worst way.
He forced himself to shut those memories in his heart. He was feeling too vulnerable to let his mind dwell on the fire, on his terrible fault.
Matilda’s words scared him because they sounded impossible and true at the same time. He would never hurt Marian willingly, he’d die for her, but he knew that it could happen if he was blinded by rage or despair.
“Oh, now, now, love, I didn’t mean to upset you.” Matilda patted the back of his hand, smiling at him. “Remember my words when you feel angry, and it will never happen. I think that I’d better warn her too. I certainly don’t want to see you stabbed or something like that, and she already feels guilty enough for your accident.”
Guy took a bite from his apple, and he kept quiet, chewing at it. After he finished it, he was feeling calmer. He threw the apple core into the fire, and looked at it burning.
“I think that you are right, it was ‘just a kiss’, but for me it was important, precious. I won’t deceive myself thinking that it meant something for her too, but at least she wasn’t disgusted by me.”
“She should be blind to be disgusted by you!” Matilda laughed. “But stop thinking, now. You’re not healed yet, even if you are much better, and I think that your leg is paining you. Am I wrong?”
“I found out that you are rarely wrong.”
“So, drink my remedy, then rest your leg on that footstool, and I’ll put some ointment on it to reduce the swelling. After that you can try to sleep for a while or you can show me how to play that chess game, but I forbid you to keep brooding. Deal?”
Guy gave her a tired smile.
“Good boy!”
“I’m not a dog.”

Now that her old father had fallen asleep, Marian leaned for a moment against the frame of the window. Her father was right, of course, but at the same time, she felt that something much more important had happened between her and Guy. More important than the fight, or her secret exposed.
And it was not among the things she had told her father. She touched her lips, reconsidering the warmth of his, the desperate search for tenderness and understanding she had felt in that kiss, salty with tears, no less sweet and needy.
No kiss between her and Robin when they were engaged had been so desperate, so powerful and at the same time so tender like the one she shared with Guy. She and Robin had grown up together and had fallen in love with the same ease. She was younger, they were carefree. She had been carefree, mostly. Unexperienced. Then Robin had left, leaving Marian to become a woman, alone, in a changed world.
There was no carelessness between her and Guy. There were accusations, rage, and sorrow. But also there were the little beautiful moments she had lived with him in her home in the last months. Of readings and smiles, affectionate reproaches and unexpected compliments.
They had become part of her, like him. His presence in her life.
At the bottom of it all, there was a warmth that Marian could not define but feel within herself when she thought of Guy: anger, pain, fear, or tenderness, or something new. Nothing about him left her indifferent now. What kind of feeling was there now between them? A better understanding, perhaps? Marian looked at the sky through the window. She remembered Guy's outbreak : ‘I’d never do anything to damage the woman I love.’
The woman I love.
The memory of his loving, strong words mingled with her thoughts.
She kept herself away from Guy for the rest of the day, leaving him to Matilda's care, trying to cool her own, tumultuous thoughts.
In the evening, before she reached the bed, she looked at herself, in her chemise, through the mirror.
For a moment she felt his breath behind her, reaching her. His hand moving her hair away, tenderly. She recognized him. His lips slowly rubbed her neck.
"You are everything to me," he whispered to her ear.
Indeed she was. Now she knew.
She closed her eyes.
She turned around. But there was no one, and not a breath of wind, the window firmly shut to the cold of the night.
“This is madness,” she thought, and she blew out the candle.

Chapter Text

Guy looked out of the open the window, following the falling snowflakes with his eyes. Everything was white all around Knighton Hall and the fields were resting under a thick blanket of snow.
The peasants were all shut into their houses, and only a few persons dared to go out in the cold, mostly merchants headed to Nottingham’s market or men who needed to cut some firewood.
The village looked very peaceful, but Guy’s heart was not.
Since the day when he found out Marian’s secret, he had very few chances to talk to the girl: Sir Edward was sick again and she claimed to be very busy taking care of her father.
Gisborne knew that it was the truth, but he suspected that she was avoiding him as well.
After all, he didn’t know if he wanted to talk to her too. Every time his leg pained him, and it was very often, he couldn’t help thinking that it was her fault, every time that he felt humiliated because of his situation, he knew in his heart that, if it wasn’t for Marian, he would still be powerful and healthy.
He should hate her, but he couldn’t. His heart kept loving her, stubbornly.
Guy couldn’t understand the girl. She kept an icy distance from him, at least when he was awake.
At night, he sometimes woke up to find her asleep at his bedside, watching over his sleep. Some other times, when nightmares or pain tormented him, he opened his eyes and saw that she was holding his hand or drying the sweat from his face, whispering soothing words until he fell in a peaceful slumber.
Marian thought that Guy didn’t remember those moments, and it was true for most of them, but sometimes he did, and those memories warmed his heart because, when she lulled him back to sleep, it felt like she actually cared for him.
“Are you insane?” Matilda’s voice startled him, and Guy turned to look at the woman. The healer hurried past him and closed the window, pulling the curtains to shut them. Then she rolled her eyes.
“Do you want to get sick, love? To keep the window open with this cold!”
“Cold never bothered me too much, and I was wearing a cloak, Matilda.”
The woman smiled at him, her gaze softened.
“I see. That blue velvet suits you. It’s just a little faded and worn, but it’s a good cloth, and it looks pretty on you.”
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing for a man to ‘look pretty’, but you’re right, it’s a good cloak, very warm too. It was Sir Edward’s, I found it in a chest of old clothes he gave to me. It’s sad, don’t you think?”
“Having to rely on charity. Once I swore that I would never be a beggar again, and here I am, unable to earn even my own food or to afford new clothes.”
Matilda gave him a curious look.
A beggar...again?
She didn’t ask him any question because she knew that when he was in that mood, remembering the past could only hurt him even more.
“You have such a sunny disposition, love! I just said that you look good dressed in blue velvet, that’s all.”
Guy gave her an apologetic smile, a little embarrassed.
The woman grinned back at him, and added a log to the fire.
“So, tell me: why did you want to freeze?”
“I was just watching the snow. It makes everything so peaceful...” Guy sighed. “And I’m bored to death.”
“I see. Now that Sir Edward is sick, you can’t play chess with him and Marian is always busy assisting him. What about your friend? Didn’t he come to visit you?”
“Lambert? He went to see his family in York last week. He was supposed to stay there just a few days, but the snow blocked the roads. Yesterday I was feeling so lonely that I was almost tempted to chat with the servants.”
Matilda nodded.
“Well, maybe you should do it.”
Guy snorted.
“They hate me. If I tried to make small talk, they’d think I’m gone insane and probably they wouldn’t be too far from the truth. I’m so glad that at least I can talk to you, Matilda.”
“If you did, maybe they’d see that you’re not as bad as they think. But well, nobody will force you to talk with them, even if you’ll probably end talking to yourself, at least for a few days.”
“I need to find some rare herbs for my remedies and at this time of the year, they can be found only near the sea. I will have to travel east to search for them.”
“Are you going to travel with this snow?! What about the blocked roads?”
“I’m going to borrow a donkey.”
“I don’t like this. It can be dangerous.”
“That’s what Robin Hood said, too. And that’s why he’ll send two of his men to travel with me, as a protection.”
“Look, love, I need those herbs for Sir Edward. I’m worried for him, he’s frail and very sick.”
“Is he in danger?” Guy asked, suddenly worried for the old lord. Sir Edward had been kind to him, and Guy owed him a lot. Maybe Sir Edward wanted to make up for Marian’s faults in the beginning, but he let him stay at Knighton even after Vaisey fired him. He could have easily got rid of an unwanted guest just kicking him out of the house, but instead he invited him to stay and he was always kind to him.
Guy felt guilty for his recent illness: Sir Edward went out in the cold weather to search for Robin, because he thought that Guy cold hurt Marian. If only they both could have kept their temper in check, now the old man would be well.
Matilda noticed his concern, and she sighed.
“He’s an old man. Frail. His illness wouldn’t be serious in a young man, but Sir Edward is weak. Even a simple cold could be serious for him, now. The herbs I’m going to search will make him stronger.”
Guy nodded.
“Go, then. And please, be careful.”
“You too, love. Don’t do anything foolish while I’m away.”
“Why should I? I’m not an idiot!” Guy said, a little hurt by her words.
“Am I wrong if I say that you are still upset after you found out that Marian is the Nightwatchman?”
Guy nodded.
“I feel so confused. I don’t know what I feel.”
The woman patted his hand.
“That’s what I meant, my dear. Don’t act after your emotions and avoid any confrontation for now. There will be time to talk with her, when you’re both calmer.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem: she’s avoiding me.”
“Maybe it’s for the best in this moment. But I have to go, I want to reach the next town before sunset. Try to exercise your good leg in these days. I know that it would be easier in a better weather, but the main hall is big enough for you to walk a little, and if you wear warm clothes, you can go outside for a while too. Just be careful to avoid ice on the ground, it wouldn’t do if you should fall and hurt yourself again. Take care.”
“You too, Matilda.”
The healer went away and Guy sighed: the next few days would be even lonelier than usual for him.

Wrapped in the old blue velvet cloak Guy loomed like a dark shadow in the blinding white that surrounded him, around her house. It was a sunny day. But no ray of a cold winter sun could warm him enough, Marian thought.
Warming his bones, his thoughts, his heart.
She thought she should have run out to dissuade him from walking outdoors using his crutch in the snow. But if he looked frail to her worried eyes, their forced truce seemed even more fragile to her.
A barrier between them had fallen down, and Marian didn’t know how to erect it again, if not avoiding him, once again. Avoiding him, as long as she could, avoiding to have to talk with him more than she had to. Avoiding his loving, sad stare, without feeling the less guilty.
She felt more fragile than he. She felt the continuous sense of exhaustion that haunted her for days.
She was by day next to her sick father, and often, at night, when he needed her more, next to Guy. Marian rested where she could, when she could.
But there was more.
Marian felt like a sentry guarding the remains of an old fort, emptied by a terrible, bloodied war.
She didn’t know why she continued to protect those old walls, but she didn’t seem to want to do anything different.
She didn’t have the courage to look beyond them to find that there was nothing left to destroy, and everything to rebuild, instead.
But there was more. He made her feel confused.
The love that she continued to read in his eyes nonetheless, made her confused. She didn’t even imagine that such a feeling of love coming from a man to a woman could exist.
Marian thought that love was, or should have been, joy, pure happiness, pure bliss. Love was... a same way of thinking, of feeling. Love was... the same idea, shared, of the world. Something to make life lighter. A warm smile, a hug, a tender kiss. A promise of a better life. A worthy life. No faults, no doubts. No insecurities.
Their kiss had been completely different, and as far as Marian tried to consider it just as an accidental event, something to forget, she had thought of it, thought again and again.
She wondered if Guy thought about it too.
Marian absentmindedly brushed her lips with a finger.
Wrapped in a blue coat, Guy was leaning now to the trunk of a big tree with a long opened hand, to support himself the best he could. His crutch left aside, for a moment.
Standing in front of the horizon, watching away from her home, Guy seemed to her more and more the knight who appeared in her dreams.
He seemed more and more frequently to have taken permanent home in her dreams.
Just a few hours earlier she had looked and looked for him through the house without finding him, and, once found, Guy appeared to be again in the peak of a high fever.
She had repeated to herself that it could not be the reality, again. She had to be dreaming, sleeping.
But still, she continued to bathe his forehead with wet cloths less and less cold, and he didn’t seem to recover. In fact, he was getting more and more worse by the moment, until she had started screaming and begged him not to die. To not leave her alone.
And she had kissed him.
With strength, with despair.
Then she had closed her eyes too, defeated.
When she opened them she had seen him smile, too close to her, a mischievous look in his eyes, the voice deep and soft at the same time. Taunting and calming at the same time.
"What excuse you will choose next time?", he said.
Then she woke, breathless. Sitting on her bed, in the act of embracing someone who wasn’t there. Her arms empty.
Marian decided that she had to stop watching Guy from the window, to return to take care of her father.
Difficult days.
She avoided Guy, she avoided Robin, who seemed to understand her even less than before.
She avoided thinking. She tried and tried to have always something better to do.
But that day Marian felt strongly flushed.
At first she thought it was the effect of the fire that she had stoked to heat the room for her father as well as possible.
Over the hours she felt worse.
But she was afraid and she didn’t want to stir the servants, already so busy with two different sick men.
Matilda was far away. Too far away, at the moment. And Marian did not trust other healers.
She forced herself to eat a soup, the same that had been taken to Sir Guy before.
It was good, it was nourishing, perfect, but she could not seem to swallow it. Eventually she gave up and sat next to the fireplace in the hall.
She slipped into a long deep sleep.

When Guy, returning home from a walk, saw her asleep, he walked slowly, silently, near her, trying not to wake her. He didn’t want to bother her with his presence even in her needed sleep. But, still, he wanted so badly to caress her beautiful face, to take her in his arms. To climb the stairs, carry her in their bed, and to sleep beside her. Or to wake her up, kiss by kiss, caress by caress, until the passion and the desire would crawl, hot and burning, under the skin of both. Feeling his and her passion under his skin, into his blood.
But Guy was there, watching her sleep, imagining, daydreaming a life so very distant and so very close at the same time.
He probably could never pick her up in his arms. Neither Marian wouldn’t want him to do it. She wouldn’t ever want him, she wouldn’t ever love him.
He was about to leave the room, leaving her alone, leaving her in her, desired, peace when he noticed that the blanket was slipping from her legs.
He went closer to put it on again and he heard her murmur: “Help me. Guy , help me.”
Astonished, he touched her forehead.
It burned.
It was pretty damn burning.
And she was too pale, now that he looked her better, closer.
He went as fast as he could, to call the servants, searching for help. Any possible help.
Marian, his Marian, needed it.
Matilda, his real, loving, crutch during his illness, was too far away.
He at once put aside his shame, his weakness and his embarrassment, to save her. Returning to be again, a strong man, determined, for what he could be.
For her.

Chapter Text

The servants rushed in the room, and one of them, Susanne, gave a stern look at Guy when she saw that Marian was pale and in a faint.
“What did you do to her?”
“I just noticed that she has a fever, and I’m astonished to see that I’m the only one who did,” Guy answered, in a equally harsh tone.
The maid crossed her arms in front of her and looked at Guy with such fierceness that, if he hadn’t been so worried for Marian, he would have run away in fear.
“Maybe we would have noticed,” she said, pointing a finger at Guy, “if your presence here didn’t give us so much more work.”
“Susanne!” James, the oldest of Knighton Hall’s servants, called the girl in a stern voice. “Stop complaining and take care of our lady! And you, Sir Guy, please don’t stand in the way, we must help Lady Marian and you’re hindering us.”
Guy was tempted to throw them all out of the room, but he forced himself to keep calm. Marian was ill and those people could help her, sending them away would only damage her.
“Take some snow,” he suggested, remembering a remedy that his mother used when he and his sister were sick, “it will lower her temperature.”
“Leeches. That’s what she needs,” Mary, the kitchen girl, said, ignoring completely Guy’s words.
Sebastian nodded and bent to lift Marian in his arms and take her to her room. Guy looked at him, feeling jealous.
He wanted to be the one who took her in his arms, he wanted to be the one who could help her, but, even if the servants would let him near the girl, he couldn’t succeed to lift her. He could barely stand and walk on his own, and he was too weak to take her upstairs. He bitterly wondered if he would ever be strong enough again.
But it didn’t matter, now. Marian was ill and he had to do something to make her feel better, but the servants took her upstairs and he didn’t know what was happening in her room.
He tried to wait patiently for a while, asking questions to the servants who hurried up and down the stairs, but they just ignored him, claiming that they had no time to talk to him while their lady was sick.
But their faces were grim and worried and Guy was afraid that Marian’s illness could be serious.
Guy hobbled to the stairs and wondered if he could climb upstairs on his own. He tried and he stumbled on the first step.
He would have fallen to the ground if James didn’t grab his arm and steadied him.
“Take care, Sir Guy,” the old servant said, in a polite but cold tone, “if you get hurt, nobody will have the time to help you.”
“I need to see Marian! How is she? Did she wake up?”
The man looked at him for a few moments, then he sighed. He clearly disliked Guy of Gisborne and he didn’t trust him, but he could see that the younger man was sincerely worried for lady Marian.
“Sir Guy, Mary and Susanne are taking care of her, but I’m afraid that we’ll have to call for a healer. Her fever is very high and we can’t wake her up.”
“What are you waiting for?! Send somebody to call him, then!”
“I will. I’m sending Jude to the physician’s house.”
“Who are you going to call?”
Guy paled. Pitts was the other person who knew his secret, the physician who faked his quarantine when the sheriff sent him in the Holy Land to kill the king. He was a strong ally of the sheriff, but a terrible healer. He kept his position because of his alliance with Vaisey, but many of his patients just died.
And he couldn’t be trusted: Vaisey had many reasons to hate Marian and her father and, even if he couldn’t openly dispose of them, he could always order Pitts to kill both of them and make it seem that they died a natural death.
“No! Not him! I forbid it!”
“Sir Guy, you’re not in the position to forbid anything,” James voice was stern and Guy was tempted to yell back at him, but starting a fight with an old man wouldn’t help Marian.
“Don’t call him, please,” he asked, forcing himself to use a subdued tone, “I know him, he’s not a good doctor, he’ll damage her.”
James glanced at Gisborne: it almost looked like as if the proud knight was pleading. The old servant was forced to concede that the man seemed to really care for Lady Marian.
“Well then, I’ll tell Jude to call for Blight.”
Guy nodded, and the servant went away.
Blight was useless and he had a disgusting fondness for leeches, but at least he wasn’t as dangerous as Pitts.
Guy shuddered, seriously scared for Marian. He didn’t think that Blight could help her, and he had agreed for him to be called just because he couldn’t object again to James suggestion.
He had no power and the servant didn’t respect him, so it was already good that they agreed to avoid calling Pitts.
But Marian was ill and Guy knew that the physician couldn’t help her. He only trusted Matilda, but the woman was very far away and Guy didn’t even know where she was.
He dropped down on a chair near the fireplace, rubbing the bridge of his nose between his fingers and trying to calm down enough to think.
He realized that maybe he didn’t know Matilda's route to reach the sea, but someone else did. Robin Hood sent two of his men with her, so he must know where they were.
But how could he contact Robin? He could barely walk and he was sure that the servants of Knighton Hall wouldn’t listen to him and anyways they were too busy taking care of Marian and Sir Edward to go in search of Robin.
Guy looked out of the window, distressed. Marian could die, and he could never forgive himself if he didn’t try everything he could to help her.
He took a decision. It could cost everything to him, but he didn’t care, the only important thing was Marian’s health.
Guy took the blue velvet cloak and wore it, then he grabbed the crutch and walked out of the house, to the stables.
His stallion was in his stall and he neighed when Guy got close to him. Gisborne shuddered, remembering his fall, the sharp pain in his wrist, and then the other horses trampling him.
He forced himself to forget about that moments, and he took a saddle and the reins.
Putting them on the stallion wasn’t easy for him, in his weakened state, but at last he succeeded, and Guy took the horse out of his stall.
He couldn’t use the crutch and hold the reins at the same time, so he let it fall to the ground and leaned on the horse to walk.
His leg was paining him, and he wasn’t sure if he could ride without damaging it further.
I have to do it. For her. Even if it means becoming a cripple for life.
But first he had to mount, and it wasn’t as easy as it could look: his wounded leg couldn’t hold his weight, and even the good one was too weak. At last he took the stallion near some bales of hay, and he used them as a sort of stair to get on the horse.
Finally Guy succeeded sitting on the saddle and he stood still for a few moments, to take his breath.
His leg was hurting badly and he remembered Matilda’s words about not doing anything foolish.
Guy bitterly smiled: maybe he was acting like a madman, but he had to help Marian, she was the only important thing.
Slowly, he made the horse walk out of the stable, and he headed to the forest.
At first, he was too worried for Marian and in pain to notice, but after a while, he began looking around.
He had been trapped inside Knighton Hall for months, and despite the anguish and the pain, he felt free. It was good to be able to move without having to ask for help.
The trees of the forest were covered in snow, and Guy could barely find the path. He didn’t know where Robin Hood’s camp was, but it didn’t matter: the outlaw would find him, sooner or later.
An arrow flew past his head and embedded itself in a tree.
Sooner, then.
Guy halted the horse, and a moment later Robin and three of his men stepped out of the trees, their bows pointed at him.
“Drop your weapons!” One of them shouted, and Guy lifted his hands in front of him.
“I have none.”
Robin looked at him, with an ironic grin on his face.
“Well, what do we have here? Last thing I knew was that you were half dead, unable to leave the house. You look healthy enough to me. Get down the horse.”
“Hood, I’m not here to lose time with your idiotic attitude...”
Robin shot another arrow, brushing Guy’s cheek.
“I said to get down the horse!” He ordered, suddenly furious. He hated to know that Gisborne was staying at Knighton Hall, but Marian always said that he was too sick to go back to Locksley, and now he was there, daring to ride in their forest.
“I can’t!” Guy tried to say, but Robin grabbed his arm, and dragged him down, forcing him to dismount.
Gisborne tried to land on his good leg, but he lose his balance and fell in the snow, in pain. Robin pointed a dagger at his throat, but Guy barely noticed it. His leg was hurting like hell, and he could barely catch his breath.
“Hey, Robin, he doesn’t look so healthy after all.”
“Shut up, Allan! He was well enough to ride. He must be plotting something.”
“I was searching for you!” Guy said in a growl and Robin pressed the dagger a little more against his neck.
“You know where is Matilda, and I need to find her! Marian is very ill, she needs a good healer!”
Robin stared at Guy, trying to understand if he was lying.
He wasn’t.
Robin could say a lot of bad things about Gisborne, but he knew that he was a terrible liar.
Now, he wasn’t lying at all.
He let him go, and put away the dagger, but Gisborne didn’t try to get up. Now that Robin looked better at him, he had to admit that he was pale and that he looked to be unwell.
He wasn’t wearing his leathers, but old clothes that once had belonged to Sir Edward. Robin remembered that cloak and that tunic on the old man from the years of his childhood, when he went to visit Marian and play with her at the castle. Sir Edward watched at them with a benevolent smile and maybe he hoped they would get married at the right age.
It didn’t happen, and now those elegant clothes were old and faded, discarded, just like their childhood dreams. Nonetheless Robin found strange and a little disturbing to see Guy wearing them.
“Talk, Gisborne. What happened to Marian?”
Guy was about to rebuke him and tell him to show more respect for her, but he changed his mind.
“She has a fever, very high, and they couldn’t wake her up. The servants were worried, they called for Blight. Sir Edward is very sick too.”
Robin scoffed.
“Yep, Blight. That’s why I came. She needs Matilda, not his leeches!”
Robin reflected for a moment.
“Very well, Gisborne, for once you did the right thing. Djaq and Little John are with Matilda, so I actually know where we can find her. Much, Will, get ready, we’ll leave immediately.”
Allan looked at Guy, still sitting in the snow.
“What about him?”
“If what he said is true...”
“It is!” Guy snarled.
“If what he said is true, we must hurry. We can’t lose time to help him,” Robin said.
Guy glared at him.
“Nobody asked for your help. Go ahead, find Matilda, I can manage on my own.”
Robin nodded at Allan and the young man approached Robin to listen to his whispered orders.
“Go to Knighton Hall with him and stay there until we come back with Matilda. If Sir Edward is sick too, I don’t trust Gisborne to be left alone with Marian. Keep an eye on him.”
Then Robin, Will and Much went away, and Allan was left alone with Guy.
He looked at the knight, ill at ease. Gisborne was an enemy, and he had been a danger for all of them.
Except that he didn’t look very menacing now: he was trembling, and he looked to be in pain.
“Well...” Allan said “ seems that we are on our own. Do you think you can climb back on that horse?”

Chapter Text

James was wondering what orders he should give to the other servants, worried. The physician was called, but he didn’t come, claiming that it was too dangerous to ride with the roads covered with ice and snow.
The old servant kept the other ones busy, making them boil water or fold clean sheets, even if there was no need for those tasks. But if the maids were idle, they would start to chatter and gossip, and he was too worried for his lady and his lord to listen to useless tattle.
He had been working for Sir Edward’s family for decades now, and he had seen lady Marian shortly after she was born, so he loved his lady almost like a daughter and he couldn’t stand seeing her suffer.
At least Sir Guy had been quiet enough, keeping out of the way.
Too quiet maybe.
The presence of the man was not welcome at Knighton, and James thought that his accident had been very distressing for lady Marian.
But it was strange that he didn’t show up to ask about Marian’s conditions, James thought, remembering how much the knight had been worried earlier.
In that moment the door opened, and Sir Guy stumbled in the hall, leaning on a young man.
Gisborne looked pale and exhausted and he was soaked with snow, while his companion was equally wet, but he looked to be perfectly healthy.
James hurried to take their cloaks. Gisborne might not be a welcome guest, but he was still a guest, and a noble, so James did his duty, as Sir Edward would have wanted.
“Sir Guy! What happened to you? Where have you been? And who’s that man?”
Guy limped to the fireplace, helped by Allan, and warmed his hands for a few moments before he could speak.
“I went to search for Matilda. He’s one of Robin Hood’s men, I asked them to go and find her.” He turned to Allan. “You can go, now.”
“No, I can’t.”
“What? You’ve no reason to stay here, I don’t need your help anymore. Actually, I never needed it.”
“Are you serious? If I didn’t help you, you’d still be trying to climb on that horse! Anyway, Robin ordered me to stay here until Matilda arrives.”
“He has no rights to invite people at Knighton Hall!”
“And do you have any rights to say that I can’t stay?”
James intervened to stop the argument.
“Sir Guy, did you really call Matilda?”
“I asked Hood to find her.”
The old man smiled.
“That’s a relief. Blight won’t come.”
“How is Lady Marian?”
“She didn’t wake up, yet. And she’s still burning with fever.”
“I need to see her.”
James looked at him and his expression softened a little. He could see that the knight was really worried for lady Marian and he appreciated that. For the first time since he knew Gisborne, James could understand him a little because he was worried for her too.
“You should change your clothes first, or you’ll be the next one to be ill. If you get sick too, you’ll not be able to help her.”
Normally, Guy would have rejected the suggestion, but he noticed that the servant talked to him in a kind and respectful tone, the same he used with Sir Edward. Guy wasn’t used to it.
He nodded nervously.
“I will. Please, send somebody to the stables, my… the black stallion needs to be unsaddled and taken care of.”
“Yes, Sir Guy.”
James went away and Guy just wanted to walk to his room, get a change of clothes, and then go upstairs to see Marian and wait for Matilda’s arrival at her side.
He realized that he couldn’t. He had left his crutch in the stables that morning, and he didn’t retrieve it. After riding the stallion, his leg was hurting like hell and he knew that he could never walk to his room without help, and certainly not upstairs.
He glanced at Robin’s man, annoyed. It was evident that Robin sent him at Knighton to keep an eye on him, as if he actually thought that he could be a danger for Marian. But Guy also knew that he had not the authority to send him away.
Allan looked at him.
“If you must stay here, at least make yourself useful. Go to the stables and find my crutch.” He said, sternly.
“Not your servant, Gisborne.”
Guy glared at him, but he knew he had a point. He didn’t reply and turned to stare at the flames in the fireplace, unwilling to humiliate himself further.
He startled when a hand touched his shoulder.
Allan grinned at him.
“I’m not a servant and I won’t obey your orders, but nothing forbids me to help a man who needs a hand. Well... a leg, in your case. So, where’s your room? I’ll help you to get there.”
Guy gave a wary look at him, expecting some trick, but Allan actually helped him to walk to his room. He left him near the bed, then he went away, saying that he would go to see if he could find something good in the kitchen.
Gisborne sighed. He hated that he had to rely on the help of an enemy, but he hadn’t choice.
He shed his wet and cold clothes and found clean ones in the chest at the foot of the bed. After he changed his clothes, he heavily sat on the bed: he was tired and in pain, but above all he was worried for Marian. He wanted to be near her and do something to make her feel better, but he was trapped in that room, betrayed by his own body and too proud to beg for a help that the others were unwilling to give him.
Guy took one of the vials that Matilda gave him before leaving for her travel, and he drank it, hoping that the remedy could ease the pain he was feeling. He was afraid that riding could have damaged his leg irreparably, but he didn’t regret doing it, if his sacrifice could help Marian.
Gisborne carefully stretched on his back and closed his eyes. He didn’t think that he could be able to sleep while Marian was so sick and with his leg hurting so much, but he was so tired and weak that he drifted in a deep slumber almost immediately.

Allan bit into a piece of bread, and thought that maybe Robin’s order to stay at Knighton could be a good thing for him. The food was good and the house was comfortable and warm, so staying there was certainly better than freezing himself at the camp.
Of course he had to deal with Gisborne, but the man wasn’t a danger anymore. He was weak. He had no power.
Talking with the servants of the house, Allan had the impression that they respected more him, a simple thief, but allied with Robin Hood, than Gisborne, even if the latter was a noble.
Allan grabbed a cloak and walked to the stables. He told Gisborne that he wasn’t his servant and he had meant that, but he also took some pity on the man.
Their ride back to Knighton Hall had been extremely difficult for the knight, and Allan had wondered how he could find the strength to mount when he was so badly hurt. Coming to the forest was a reckless thing to do, and Allan thought that Gisborne really cared a lot for Marian to risk his health and his life to help her.
He spotted a crutch laying on the ground near one of the stalls, and he picked it up, then he went back to the manor.
“Hey, Gisborne, I found this for you. Not because you ordered me to do it, but because so you can walk on your own,” he said, entering Guy’s room, but the knight didn’t answer and Allan realized that he was asleep. He shrugged and placed the crutch near the bed, where Guy could easily take it, then he went back to the hall to sit in front of the fireplace.

Guy woke up with a muffled cry. He had been dreaming, but he couldn’t remember what. Confused dreams, full of anguish and disturbed by pain.
Both sensations didn’t disappear when he opened his eyes, and Guy sighed.
His leg was still hurting, but he needed to see Marian.
He sat on the bed, wondering if the servants would come to help him to walk if he called for them, when he noticed the crutch near the bed.
Gisborne took it, and stood up. He walked to the hall, hoping to meet James and to ask him news of Marian, but the room was deserted except for Allan who was dozing in front of the fireplace.
The outlaw opened his eyes with a yawn when he heard Guy’s steps, and he looked at him.
“Oh, you woke up at last. I was beginning to think that you were dead.”
Guy gave him a confused look.
“Did I sleep for a long time?”
Allan nodded.
“Yep, mate. It’s the middle of the night if you haven’t noticed.”
“Really?” Guy frowned. “What about Marian?”
“Still sick. She didn’t wake up.”
Guy moved to reach the stairs, and Allan glanced at him.
“Are you sure?”
“I have to see her.”
“I don’t think that leg of yours can take you upstairs.”
“I will crawl if I need too, but I’ll go to see Marian and you won’t stop me.”
Allan shrugged.
“Alright, I won’t stop you.”
Guy looked at the stairs and tried to climb the first step.
He couldn’t.
“You could help me.” He snarled, annoyed.
“Yes, I could.”
Gisborne stared at him.
“You have no intentions to do it, right?”
“It depends.”
“It depends on what?”
Allan grinned.
“Well, you could ask nicely, for a start. And then you could use my name instead of calling me ‘you’ in that demanding tone.”
Guy rolled his eyes.
“And your name would be?”
“Allan. Allan A Dale.”
“Well, Allan A Dale, would you please help me to go upstairs?”
The outlaw gave him a mischievous grin.
“No problem, mate.”
“Don’t call me ‘mate’”
“As you wish, Giz.”
“Short for Gisborne.”
Allan lifted a finger to warn him.
“Do you want to go and see Marian or do you prefer to lose time complaining?”
Guy glared at him, but he didn’t reply, so Allan gave him an innocent smile, then he helped him to climb the stairs.
Marian was alone.
The maid who had to take care of her was asleep in the adjacent room and didn’t wake up when Allan and Guy entered Marian’s room.
Guy walked to the bed to look at the girl, thinking that only a few weeks before he had been the one lying there and Marian the one who watched on his sleep.
He touched her cheek, tenderly, and sighed. Her skin was too hot and Marian shivered in her sleep, but she didn’t open her eyes.
A bowl full of water was on the bedside table and Guy dipped a towel in the water, wrung it and placed it on the girl’s forehead.
Allan put a finger in the water.
“If she has a fever, this should be colder.”
“Go downstairs and fill a bucket with snow,” Guy ordered, but Allan didn’t move and looked at him in silence, his arms crossed.
Guy rolled his eyes.
“Allan, please, do it. For her.”
The outlaw smiled.
“Of course, Giz.”
Guy waited for him to go away, and he sat on a chair near the bed, taking Marian’s hand between his fingers.
“We called Matilda,” he said in a low voice “I’m sure that she’ll come soon, don’t worry. She’ll cure you and you will feel better soon. But until she comes, I’ll watch over you, as you did with me. Don’t be afraid, I’m here and I’ll always be.”
Marian didn’t move and Guy felt suddenly scared. She was so pale, so weak, that he was really afraid that she could die.
She was young and strong, but in his life he had seen younger and healthier people succumb to some illness. He lowered his head to kiss her hand, and he found himself praying for her, as he had not done for a very long time, maybe since he was a boy and used to go to church with his mother and his sister.
Allan came back with the bucket and he gave it to Guy, who took a handful of snow and put it in the water, then he wet another towel and put it on Marian’s forehead.
There wasn’t much else to do, so Guy went back to sit near the bed, while Allan stood near the fireplace, warming his hands near the flames.
“This surely is better that trying to get warm with the small fire we have at the camp. We can’t make it too big or the guards would see the smoke and find our hideout.”
Guy looked at him, remembering that they were enemies. Or at least they had been enemies because now Guy had no interest in capturing the outlaws. Actually, he realized, Gisborne hoped that Robin Hood and his gang made the Sheriff’s life as hard as possible.
Allan spotted a tray of uneaten food on the table and he looked at it. The soup was cold and it didn’t look very good, but the bread was still fresh. He took it, broke it in two halves and handed one to Guy.
Gisborne was about to refuse the offer, but he realized that he was hungry.
“Thank you,” he said, gruffly.
“You’re welcome, mate. After all, if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have the chance to spend a night or two in a nice house.”
“I don’t need a guard dog. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her.”
Allan shrugged.
“Just following Robin’s orders, nothing personal. Even if it hadn’t been fun at all when you hunted us with dogs.”
“You are outlaws. It was my duty to catch criminals and keep Nottingham safe.”
“If you really wanted that, maybe you should have arrested the Sheriff.”
Guy took a bite of bread, shaking his head, but the idea of seeing the Sheriff imprisoned in the dungeons was interesting. Vaisey betrayed years and years of loyalty and Guy was still feeling hurt.
He couldn’t agree with an outlaw, but he hoped to take a revenge on the Sheriff someday.
He ate his bread for a while, in silence, watching Marian. When he finished, he stood up and replaced the wet towel on Marian’s forehead, adding more snow to the bowl of water, then he limped back to his seat.
Allan looked at him for a while, and he nodded at Guy’s leg.
“How is that? Still hurting?”
Gisborne warily looked at him, wondering if there was a trap in his words, but Allan looked sincerely concerned.
He answered with a little nod.
“Yes, it hurts. It’s a little better, though.”
“Riding with such a wound was an insane thing to do.”
“Probably. But I had no choice. She needed Matilda and nobody else would go searching for her.”
Allan looked at him for a moment and shook his head.
“I really hope I’ll never fall in love if that means becoming a fool,” he declared, then he took a chair and sat, closing his eyes to doze by the fire.
Guy glanced at the outlaw. That young man had no respect for him and he was clearly a knave, but he found his presence oddly comforting.
Allan A Dale was a distraction from the fear he felt seeing Marian so ill. In front of him, Gisborne felt compelled to look braver and stronger than he actually was and, even if his strength was fake, a pretense for Allan’s eyes, it was still strength and in the end it made him feel better.

She felt hot, and then suddenly cold, in the strange place she was in, now. She had been there for a while. Everything went and came. Everything was confused, distant and at the same time very close to her.
It looked like a fog to her eyes, the same she once saw from Nottingham Castle while she was looking toward Knighton when she was a little girl.
A dark and cold fog.
Then the heat returned, but without light.
In the dark, Marian heard a voice say something, maybe poetry, a knight tale… a love tale?
Marian tried to listen to it better, trying to find her way through the fog.
The voice continued to recite, incessantly. But it wasn’t a poem.
It was like… a prayer.
"Save her... spare her... give her back to me... I need her... please."
Did the voice talk about her? Was someone praying for her now? Why?
Marian was afraid, and suddenly she felt much more colder.
Was she going to die? She didn’t want to die.
“I don’t want to die, dear God,” Marian thought, lost in the fog. “I don’t want to die. Father needs me, dear God.”
The voice kept saying his prayers, more and more heartfelt, turning to God, and to the Holy Virgin.
And Marian did the same, she prayed, clinging to the sound of the voice with all her strength. Suddenly she recognized the voice. It was Guy's voice, and he was desperately praying for her safety, for her to wake up, to came back. To him.
"Are you praying for me, Guy? Am I really so sick? Dear God, send me back, send me back to my father, and… to him." Marian wished to wake up, but she felt she couldn’t. “Don’t leave me… Guy. Don't leave me now. Stay with me....”
She continued to listen to his voice, lulled by it.
She saw a faint light at the bottom of the fog.
Then she saw nothing at all.

Chapter Text

Susanne, lady Marian’s maid, woke up from her sleep, and she looked at the sun entering from the window. She felt guilty: James had ordered her to watch on her lady’s sleep, but she went to bed, deeming that she could do nothing to heal her.
Susanne had planned to sleep just for a short time, but it was already morning and she was afraid that her lady could have gotten worse during the night.
She hurried to Marian’s room, and screamed seeing a stranger sitting in front of the fireplace, fast asleep. Gisborne, instead was sleeping on a chair near Marian’s bed, and he was holding her hand.
Both Guy and Allan woke up with a start.
“Who’s that man?! What are you doing in lady Marian’s room?!” The girl screamed, and Allan stared at her, blinking, still half asleep.
Guy, instead, stood up and turned to face her.
“No, woman, the question is another: why weren’t you in lady Marian’s room? You had to take care of her, but she was alone! She’s so sick and nobody was taking care of her!”
“Get out! You have no reason to sleep in a noble woman’s room! That’s not proper at all! You shouldn’t see her like that!”
“It’s true,” Guy snarled “but if nobody gives her the help she needs, I will! I don’t care for her reputation when her life is at risk!”
Susanne looked at him, disgusted.
“Go away, now. You’re the lowest of the creatures and I’m not afraid of you, not anymore. You’re nothing and you’d deserve to be thrown out in the street, but Sir Edward is too generous with you and now you’re taking advantage of his goodness.”
James stepped into the room, worried.
“What’s happening here? Why are you yelling, Susanne?”
“Gisborne and that man slept in lady Marian’s room!” Susanne said, in an accusing voice.
“She left her alone! We’ve been here all night trying to lower her fever and that girl just wasn’t here! She never came to see how lady Marian was!” Guy retorted, in a rage.
James glanced at the maid and he knew that Sir Guy wasn’t lying, but he had to calm both of them down.
“Susanne, get back to your work immediately, lady Marian needs your cares,” he said, in a stern voice. “If I hear again that you went to sleep instead of doing what you are told, I’ll send you away. And you, Sir Guy, you should have called me or woken Susanne up, instead of spending the night here. But it doesn’t matter now, please come downstairs and let Susanne do her work.”
Guy looked at Marian, and nodded. He wanted to make her feel better and be at her side, but he knew that she needed the help of a woman.
“Keep using cold water to cool her forehead,” Guy said threateningly, looking at Susanne, “it will lower her fever.”
The girl was about to reply, but James gave her a warning look.
“Do it. My mother used to do it too when I had a fever and it worked.”
Susanne reluctantly obeyed, and the three men went out of Marian’s room.

Allan glanced at Gisborne: the knight was sitting at the table in the hall, but he wasn’t even looking at the food that James had placed in front of him. Gisborne seemed to be lost in his thoughts, and Allan kept looking at him while chewing a piece of cheese.
At last, Guy noticed that he was being observed.
“If you don’t eat that, can I have it?”
“Can you only think about food?”
“I spend most of my life on the run and I never know when I’ll have the chance to eat again. You can’t blame me if I take advantage of it when I can. But you should eat too, you only had a piece of bread since yesterday.”
“Why do you care?”
Allan shrugged.
“I don’t.”
Guy smirked and began eating too.
After a while, he looked at Allan.
“Do you know where Matilda went? How much time will it take for her to come back?”
“No idea, sorry Giz. But Robin will find her as soon as he can, I’m sure of that. And I think that your lady is getting a little better, this morning her complexion looked much less pale than yesterday.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m not a healer, but I think she looked better.”
Gisborne didn’t answer, but Allan could see how upset he was.
“You’re different than I thought,” Allan commented, and Guy looked at him.
“Different? How?”
“Much less scary. More human.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“Don’t know. Maybe.”

Marian slowly opened her eyes, there was light in the room, and a smiling person in front of her.
For a moment, Marian thought that she was her young mother. Then she looked at her better, and realized that she was just the kitchen girl, who was looking at her.
But she lovingly smiled at her, and Marian knew she had woken up. To the real world.
“What happened?” Marian asked, and she tried to sit on the bed without success. No strength at all.
Mary helped her to sit.
“You were really sick, you had a high fever, my lady, very high, you wouldn’t wake up, and you have scared us a lot, all of us.”
“Ah ... I didn’t want to worry you… How about my dad, how is he?”
“Not well, but we're taking good care of him too, my lady, you don’t have to worry about him now. Just think about rest and healing. We need you."
The woman gave her a bowl of steaming broth. Marian thought it smelled of relief, of warmth, it was a smell of blessing.
Mary helped her to drink it all. Then she helped her to get up for a moment, to attend to her needs.
But she couldn’t stand long, she felt she didn’t have the strength, and she felt that the fever was coming back.
Marian asked to go back to bed, and Mary tucked her into her blankets...
Marian looked at the window: the last remains of the morning fog slowly surrendered to the sun.
She remembered then, and said: “Have you always been at my side during my fever?”
Mary looked at her, astonished.
“No, my lady, in fact, most of the time, night and day, there was... Sir Guy. We couldn’t stop him, he doesn’t know measure, he doesn’t know restraint, he’s an improper and unbearable, insufferable man. But… this time he had the right idea, at least.”
Marian felt she was sliding back into sleep again, and murmured: “What idea?”
“He used continually fresh, cold snow on you to lower the fever. It worked.”
“Ah ... you didn’t leave me," Marian murmured, with a slight smile, before closing her eyes.

“So this should be a king?”
Allan looked at the chess piece, critically.
“Yes. And this is the queen.” Guy pointed to another piece, then to the other ones. “While this is a knight, this a bishop, a rook, a pawn.”
“You have a lot of people on this board, don’t you? So what’s the point of it?”
“It’s like a battle: you have to capture and kill the enemy king.”
“Why there are so many pawns?”
“They are the weakest pieces.”
“So they’re the first to be sacrificed. Nothing new here.”
“You’re not really interested in learning to play, are you?”
“There’s too much war and death already, why should I play with them too? Didn’t you have enough of that, either?”
Guy shrugged.
“It’s just a way to spend some time. Better than staring at the wall, I’d say.”
“Don’t take it wrong, Giz, but I think that I’ll still prefer going to the tavern to have fun.”
Guy grinned.
“I don’t doubt that. But going to the tavern when you’re half dead and lying in a bed or forced to sit in a chair would be a little difficult.”
“Did you play with Marian?”
“No, with her father. His health isn’t good either, and he rarely leaves the manor in winter.”
“Oh. Such fun. But maybe you’re playing with her father to get his approval. Good idea.”
“That’s not why I was doing it!”
“Sure, Giz, if you say so.”

Mary, the kitchen girl, came downstairs, and Guy nodded at Allan. The outlaw grinned, and approached the girl with a smile, beginning to playfully flirt with her. The woman, often grumpy and harsh when she had to interact with Gisborne, was flattered by Allan’s compliments.
“So, how is Lady Marian?” Allan asked after chatting for a while. “Did her fever broke?”
“Not yet, but I think it’s not as high as it was yesterday night. Earlier she woke up and I managed to give her some broth, but now she’s asleep again.”
“Well, at least she isn’t getting worse, is she? What about her father? Is he still sick too?”
The girl sighed.
“Poor Sir Edward! He’s very weak and feverish. James said that we shouldn’t tell him that Lady Marian is ill, but he’s wondering why she didn’t come to see him.”
With another sigh, Mary went back to the kitchen. She’d have preferred to keep talking with that interesting outlaw, but she knew that James would scold her if he found her flirting instead of working.
Allan went back to sit in front of Guy.
“Are you satisfied?”
Gisborne nodded.
“Thank you. She wouldn’t say anything to me.”
“You’re so loved, mate, aren’t you?” Allan said, ironically, and Guy shrugged.
“I can’t change what they think of me.”
“Are you even trying?”
“What’s the point of it? I can’t change who I am or what I did. They’ll always hate me. Now I have no power, so they won’t even respect me.”
Allan stared at him.
“Do you really believe that people will respect you only if you scare them into it? Well, no wonder that they despise you.”
“I’m used to it.”
“Well, you shouldn’t.”
Guy looked at him, a little surprised. He still couldn’t understand why the outlaw had decided to talk to him instead of just following Robin Hood’s orders to watch him. Allan A Dale was friendly with everyone, Guy included, and Gisborne found out that he didn’t dislike his small talk, after all.
“Why not? I can’t force people to like me, so I can only accept that they hate me.”
“Of course they hate you! You starved them, cut their hands or hanged their families when the Sheriff ordered you to do it! But I don’t think that you’re the heartless bastard that everybody believes you are.”
Allan stopped talking for a moment, and he looked at Guy, studying his expression, then he grinned at him.
“Well, mate, let me give you a few suggestions that could help you to improve your relationship with common people.”
“Should I get advice from you? An outlaw?” Guy asked, ironically, and Allan answered with a cheeky grin.
“Why not, Giz? I may be an outlaw, but I’ve a lot of friends. Haven’t you seen me talking with the maids of Knighton Hall? They like me. Most people like me. I will give you a few suggestions, so that people might start liking you a little better. You can call them lessons, if you want. Allan’s Lessons of Life.”
Guy kept a straight face, but he was amused. It was true: people liked Allan even if he was a scoundrel and a knave. Guy had to admit that he liked him as well, but he would never say it aloud.
“So, what’s Lesson Number One?” Guy asked, with a smirk.
“Well Giz, you’re not working for the Sheriff anymore, so stop acting like his henchman. Have you ever tried greeting or thanking the servants whenever they do something for you? Like when they bring your food or clean your room?”
“They just do it because Sir Edward ordered them to.”
“It doesn’t matter, try being kind and maybe they’ll see that you’re not the monster they think you are.”
“So Lesson One is: ‘try to be kind’?”
“You got it, mate.”
Allan stood up, and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” Guy asked.
“Out for a walk. This manor is comfortable and all, but everyone is gloomy and worried here, and you can feel the presence of illness. I’m not a healer, being always around sick people is too much for me, I need some fresh air. Want to come, mate? I guess you need it too.”
“I’m part of the ‘sick people’ too, if you haven’t noticed,” Guy said, glancing at his leg, “isn’t my company too much for you as well?”
Allan grinned.
“You’re not sick. Maybe your leg is injured and you are still weak, but you’re not that ill. Well? Are you coming or not?”
Guy realized that Allan didn’t dislike his company as most people did. He was used to be hated and despised for the most part of his life, but since the day of his accident, Guy had found the friendship of Matilda and Lambert, and now one of Robin Hood’s men didn’t hate him like he should have done, but enjoyed talking with him. It was a strange feeling, but it made him feel warm.
He nodded, and hurried to grab the crutch and the cloak and to follow Allan outside.
They slowly walked on the path that the servants shoveled around the house and Guy struggled a little to keep up with Allan, but he managed.
His leg was still hurting after riding a horse the previous day, but not too much and it was getting better, so Guy allowed himself to hope that maybe it hadn’t been damaged further.
He was still deadly worried for Marian, but Allan had been right: getting out of the house for a while was a relief. It made him feel better and a little more optimistic.
The snow was so white that it seemed to purify the world, to clean it from every evil.
They walked to the main road to see if anyone was coming, but they couldn’t see any rider.
“I guess that it’s too soon for Matilda to come.” Guy said, worried. “Do you think that Hood can really find her?”
“Oh, he will, don’t worry. And haven’t you heard that maid? Your lady is already a little better. If she isn’t dead by now, I guess she’ll be fine.”
“I hope so,” Guy said, then a sudden thud coming from the nearest house made them turn: one of the villagers, a old man, was on the door of his house and was staring at Gisborne with a terrified look. The man had dropped his hatchet to the ground and he didn’t try to pick it up, afraid to move.
Allan prodded Guy with his elbow.
“Why don’t you practice being nice? You could just begin saying hi to this man,” he whispered, and Guy gave him a doubtful glance, but he decided to give it a try.
He awkwardly nodded at the old man, trying to remember how his mother treated the peasants when he was a boy. He only had Vaisey’s example for years, but he knew that it wouldn’t do.
“Good morning,” he said, and the man looked at him, even more terrified. Guy searched for something reassuring to say, but it couldn’t think of anything sensible, so he settled for a comment about the weather. “It’s very cold in these days, isn’t it?”
The old man warily nodded, afraid that Gisborne's words were a trap.
“Where you going to cut some fire wood?” Guy asked, noticing the hatchet and the peasant nodded again, trembling, as if he was afraid that Guy of Gisborne could decide to use that tool to cut one of his hands.
“Well, maybe Allan can do it for you,” Guy suggested and the outlaw frowned, but he took the hatchet and began chopping a few logs for the man.
After he finished, he and Guy went back to Knighton Hall, leaving the old man very puzzled.
“Have I been kind enough?” Guy asked, a little sarcastic. “Do you really think that this can help?”
“You were terrible, but I must give you points for trying. But next time don’t make me chop the wood for people!”
“I sure can’t do that myself, can I?” Guy replied, leaning on the crutch to take another step. “This was your idea, so if you want me to be nice to people, don’t complain and help.”
Allan snorted, but he found himself grinning as he bent to collect a handful of snow, gave it the form of a ball and threw it at Guy, hitting him straight in the face.
Gisborne stared at him, taken by surprise, and Allan laughed.
“Lesson number two: don’t give up to your temper.”
Guy lifted his crutch and for a moment Allan thought that he had gone too far and that Guy was about to hit him, but Gisborne used it to shake the branch of a tree that was directly over Allan’s head, completely covering him with snow.
Guy smirked.
“Lesson three: never underestimate a knight, even if he’s crippled.”

Chapter Text

Robin and his men had just returned to the Sherwood forest after the boy had reluctantly left Matilda near Marian’s neighborhood.
On a desperate request from Gisborne, he had reached the woman and brought her back to Knighton.
The brooding, dark knight’s behavior seemed increasingly unpredictable, incomprehensible to him. And his feelings too, of course. But his fear and despair had appeared very clear to Robin. And he was afraid too.
His lovely, beautiful girl.
Knowing that Marian was gravely sick worried him, a lot. But Matilda was very effectively reassuring about the girl's health and her skills to help her regaining her health “possibly in a peaceful and homely situation", to quote her. And above all, Matilda was very kind but firm in her request to him to go back, to give her time to work.
Eventually, the woman gave a tender caress to him, just like a loving mother, and told him: “You are a good man, Robin. You really are sorry for her, aren’t you? My poor boy..." she had sighed and added then, "If you would never had to go to war…” and she left him on the road, adding nothing else, while Robin wondered about what she really wanted to say.
On the way back through the village to the forest, he had heard from his informants that the Sheriff was organizing some important announcement for the County.
It was time to be on guard. No rest for the wicked. No rest for the good ones too. No respite for the County, no respite for him and his men.
But, honestly, it was also time to raise cash. He needed money to distribute to the people, more and more hungry and oppressed by taxes. A lot of money was needed. So while he was advancing into the forest, Robin heard the sound of horses and thought that, guards or travelers were they, the money he needed was there, a few feet away from him and his men.

Matilda had waved Robin away, as soon as they arrived in sight of Knighton Hall. She thought that it would be better to keep he and Gisborne as far as possible from each other.
She was worried for Guy too, Robin had said that he had came to the forest on his own to ask for his help, riding a horse, and she was afraid that he could have damaged his leg doing so.
If Gisborne was in pain, and obviously distressed about Marian’s health, making him interact with an equally upset Robin would have been a terrible idea.
“Go back to the forest. If the sheriff’s guards should see you here, Marian and her father would be in big troubles. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her and she’ll be better soon. You said that you ordered Allan to stay at Knighton, didn’t you? If I should need you, I’ll send him to call you. If you don’t hear from me, come to my hut tonight and I’ll tell you how she is.”
Robin had tried to complain, and they had talked a little more, but at last he gave up, and he went back to the forest.
Matilda sighed to herself. That boy was clearly in love with Marian, and sooner or later the girl would have to choose between him and Gisborne. Matilda cared for all three of them, and she was sad to know that they could suffer for love in the near future.
But now she had to think to the sick ones, and restore their health, at least.
She walked to the house, more worried for Gisborne’s leg than for Marian's fever. She knew that the girl had been very tired and nervous, and she guessed that her sickness was caused mainly by exhaustion, but to think that Guy rode a horse with his injured leg made her shudder with worry.
As she turned the corner of the house, a snowball hit her in the face.
She stared at Allan, disconcerted, then she yelled at him.
“What do you think you are doing?!”
“Matilda! You’ve come!” Guy exclaimed, stepping out from behind a tree, and the woman turned to look at him, even more surprised.
He didn’t look too ill or suffering, just a little flushed in his face. He was walking with the help of his crutch, but he looked stronger and his step was more steady than a few days ago.
“How is Marian?” Matilda asked, surprised to find him out of the manor, instead than hovering around her room.
Guy smiled.
“Her fever broke tonight, before sunrise. She’ll be fine, won’t she? Her maids are with her and one of them told Allan that she ate a little this morning.” His expression darkened and he sighed. “But they won’t let me see her.”
“Patience, boy. I’ll visit her and then I’ll see if she’s well enough to see people and if she wants to do it. If she does, I’ll allow a short visit. But now tell me about your leg. Are you in pain? Riding was a foolish thing to do!”
“I know, but I had to. If she should have gotten worse, I couldn’t have forgiven myself if I didn’t come to search for you.”
“You didn’t answer, love. Are you in pain?”
Guy shrugged.
“The same as usual.”
“Well, let me see.”
Gisborne stared at her.
Matilda rolled her eyes.
“No, silly, get inside the house.”
Allan chuckled, and Guy scooped up a handful of snow and threw it at him.
The outlaw dodged it with a wide grin on his face.
“Hadn’t you had enough?” He said, then he answered with another snowball that hit both Guy and Matilda.
The woman glanced at Gisborne, thinking that she’d have to stop the knight from getting a bloody revenge, but she was shocked to see an amused light in his eyes.
They were playing, she realized. Those two supposed enemies were instead having fun in the snow like two overgrown children. And from the dampness of their clothes they must have been doing that for a while.
She hid a smile, and shook her head in fake disapproval.
“Go back inside before you both catch your death. And next time improve your aim, Allan, I don’t enjoy being covered in snow.”
The two men obeyed her, with an identical guilty grin, and Matilda followed them inside, surprised and amused.
It was the first time that she had seen a playful, lighter side in Guy of Gisborne, and she was glad for that. She hoped that his usual dark, hopeless mood could improve in time.
When they were inside, Allan gave a longing look at the kitchen door, then he glanced at Matilda.
“I suppose that I should go. Robin told me to stay here till you arrived.”
“Not so fast, young man.” Matilda said. “I think that Robin can spare you for a few days and it would be better if you stay here.”
Both the outlaw and Guy gave her a curious look, and Matilda continued.
“I still have to check her conditions, but even if her fever broke, Lady Marian will need rest and time to heal, and Sir Edward is frail too, so the servants of the house will have a lot of work to do. Your presence here could be useful, and I’m sure that Robin will allow you to stay here to give a hand, when he’ll know that I suggested it. In exchange you’ll get free food and a warm bed.”
Allan looked relieved: he clearly didn’t like the idea to go back to the outlaw’s camp while the weather was so cold. What Matilda didn’t expect was the relief that she noticed on Guy’s face too, and the knight was quick to hide that, as soon as he realized that she was looking at him.
“If he has to stay here, he should bathe,” Guy remarked with a grin, “and get rid of the rags he’s wearing, or everyone will understand that he’s an outlaw.”
“And who’s going to give me new clothes? You? Do you think that I enjoy wearing this stuff?”
Matilda looked at them, then she headed for the stairs.
“Well, my boys, I’ll go to see Marian, now. Please, don’t kill each other while I’m upstairs. When I come back I’ll see your leg, love.”
The healer went upstairs and Allan lifted his eyebrows, amused.
Love? If people could hear that, they wouldn’t be so terrified of you.”
Guy glared at him.
“Shut up or you’ll be the one to be terrified.”
“Yes, Giz, if you say so,” Allan said, utterly unimpressed.
Gisborne crossed his arms and looked at him, as if he was waiting for something.
“What?” Allan asked.
“I wasn’t joking about you bathing. If you are to be my servant, I don’t want to associate with a stinking outlaw.”
“Nobody said that I’ll be your servant! And I can wash up, but I wasn’t joking about clothes either. I don’t have any other.”
“It’s obvious that you’ll be here to help me. That’s what the other servants don’t want to do. After all, isn’t that what you have already done in these days? And for the clothes I might have something for you. Come.”
“I helped you because I chose to do it, not because I had to,” Allan said, following Guy to his room.
“Well, choose to keep doing it, then,” Guy said, with a smirk, as he opened the chest containing the old clothes that Sir Edward gave to him. He chose a black tunic and a shirt that were too tight for him, but that would fit Allan perfectly, and he threw them to the younger man.
The outlaw looked at the fine cloth: it could be old and a little faded, but he had never owned such finery.
He looked at Gisborne, and he realized that behind those arrogant words, the knight actually wanted him to stay, but he would never admit it.
“Well, let’s make a few things clear, Giz: I’ll stay and I might help you, but I’m nobody’s servant. And if you act like a jerk, I won’t spare you a good lesson just because of your injured leg.”
“Good to know, I don’t want your pity.”
Allan grinned.
“We have a deal, then?”
Guy nodded, sitting on the bed to change his damp boots.
“Deal. Now go wash yourself.”
“Sure, love.” Allan said, chuckling, then he hurried to run out of the room to avoid the boot that Guy had thrown at him.

The forest grew more and more dense, and the strong lordly man felt the nervousness of his subordinates growing while gradually advancing along the path. However, he appreciated that moment of apparent calm, the snow, the cold.
He liked the sound of the footsteps of the horses in the snow, muffled.
The mystery of that peculiar forest, considered impenetrable by many. Full of dangers, according to others.
Of course, an ambush could occur at any time, in such a place. A calculated risk, for the shortest way to Nottingham.
And he liked it, after years of desert and extreme heat, and months at sea and after the confusion, the intricacies, the vibrancy of London.
Outlaws? Miserable novices when compared to a skilled, experienced warrior like he was. They called him ‘The Redhead’, and not only for the bold and unmistakable color of his hair. They called him ‘The Redhead’ and meant that he was strong, unpredictable, fiery, relentless, ruthless.
A crazy head, in short.
But also one of the best on the battlefield. He had distinguished himself in the Holy Land. But he was much better than the others imagined.
He left no tracks, in what he did. Methodical, smart, shrewd. Still loved by everyone, by his comrades in arms, and by two Kings. The King who ruled the Holy Land and the King who commanded England, instead.
He smiled to himself. Perhaps the women he had met along the way in those years wouldn’t share the same good opinion of him. But none of them could testify against him.
It’s the war, people die in war.
A sound, different from the others, roused him from his thoughts and his plans.
He brought his hand with discretion and decision to the hilt of the sword.
Other short sounds.
It was a matter of only a few moments and they would be attacked, he thought.
A subtle sound, a hiss.
Alexander threw himself off his horse and, taking advantage of the shield given by the side of the beast, prepared himself to fight, drawing his sword, a wry smile on his face.
Time for a match.
His men, caught off guard, tried to calm their frightened horses, panic on their faces.
“This, gentlemen, is an ambush,” a young voice shouted. Strong, in a tone halfway between the peremptory and ironic. An arrow stuck in the trunk of a tree.
The outlaw shouted to deliver ‘some’ of the money they had with them and they would be allowed to pass unharmed. Alternatively, they should give ‘all’ their money.
The proposal was welcomed by Alexander with a sound and deep laugh:
“Come and take quite a few blows. All of them, No reductions!”
Four outlaws dashed against them, swords drawn: a big and aggressive man, a young skinny boy, a young man with the color of the skin of a Saracen and a man with reddish hair covered by a cloth.
The latter seemed more skillful than the others, at least.
A face he had seen before.
Alexander raised his eyes to heaven, bored: was that all, what the Sherwood Forest had to offer to its travelers? Four boys on the run? Alexander parried the first blows of the big man, totally predictable, and tripped him to the ground.
A foot on his back.
A voice from the woods shouted: “Hold! Hold on!” He came out of the shadows, advancing in the snow, bow in hand, and Alexander recognized Robin of Locksley, the wounded archer in the Holy Land who had returned to his homeland, rebelled to the authorities, gone rogue, gone into hiding, lost everything in the process.
‘Poor young fool,’ Alexander thought. Yet, Robin had been more useful to him, than the boy could have imagined to be.
He had needed an idea, a good one, to go home, back to England and he had ‘found the inspiration’ in what had happened to Robin.
“Robin! Robin of Locksley! Old scoundrel!” Alexander replied, “What do you do here in the forest? Shouldn’t you be now in the warmth of your Locksley Manor? Are they your friends?” He openly smiled, lowering his sword at the same time, and motioning to other men to do the same.
“Alexander from Shrewsbury!! What the hell are you doing here, my friend?” Robin said aloud, and approached him and smiled.
Robin had long admired the gestures and the extraordinary capabilities of the swordsman, known as The Redhead, and his absolute loyalty to the King. He had been a sort of example to follow, when Robin, very young, had entered the Army of King Richard: seen from Robin’s eyes, Alexander was capable, smart, courageous, fearless.
Robin embraced the man and proudly said: “Welcome back to England, my friend, My gang and I now fight a different kind of war on King Richard’s behalf, here in England. Only… he doesn’t know about it. But… how's the King? Are you among the vanguard soldiers on his return? When will the King be here?"
Enthusiasm and hope were clear in Robin’s eyes.
“Sorry, old friend. I don’t’ know when the King will be back on English soil. I’m back on my own. I was wounded in a battle, like you were. He sent me back.”
Robin's smile became sad, for disappointment, and sorrow for the injured friend.
“Oh, I'm sorry, really, for your wound. Is it bad? I regret not being able to have you as a revered guest in my home, but it was taken away from me by the Sheriff of Nottingham. We... we do not feel the same way on how to manage Nottingham, Vaisey and I,” Robin said.
“Really? Then what is said about him is true! Poor Nottinghamshire. It 's about time to put good bridles to the omnipotence of that man,” Alexander replied.
Robin's eyes lit up.
Alexander, his intelligence, strength, courage and skills could have been crucial to the salvation of Nottingham.
Surely he was now in front of someone he knew well and who he could trust.
The perfect ally. The same faithfulness to the King, same hopes for England’s tomorrow.
“Join us, my friend! People of Nottingham deserves to be saved, protected,” Robin said.
“And they will. I will apply the law with firmness and justice, I assure you, my friend. I am the new master at arms of Nottingham Castle," Alexander The Redhead, proudly, said.
For a moment, Robin's expression became astonished, but he immediately resumed his composure: yes, it would be good to have a good ally inside Nottingham.
The Redhead would do his duty for the best.
For the sake of the people.
Robin offered him his discreet collaboration, Robin and his men escorted The Redhead and his soldiers until the castle came into their view, exchanging news about the King and the outcomes of the war.
As he reached the edge of the forest, Robin stopped and looked at Alexander and his men reaching the first of the Nottingham castle gates.
The Redhead turned around, raising his hand in a greeting.
A new hope blossomed in Robin’s heart.

Chapter Text

The tour of the castle seemed to never have an end, and, from Alexander’s point of view, all that effort from the little bold, painfully smelly man wasn't even particularly useful. He had already studied, before leaving London, a complete map of the castle, or rather, of the usually known parts of the castle. What interested him, the hidden parts, the tunnels, the secret internal and external passageways of the castle, the spoils rooms, the treasure room (the real one), he wouldn't learn from Vaisey.
The night would help him, it would give him the opportunity and the necessary protection in order to investigate on his own.
Strange kind of man, the old one, so strange and peculiar that for a moment, The Redhead had wondered how he managed to obtain and maintain the position of Sheriff of Nottingham. But under the guise of his smug and heavy irony and his taste for violence, not too subtle, he could see in him an undeclared tendency to sycophancy and repulsive bed practices and preferences that, in all probability, had paved his way to Prince John.
Not seen, the Redhead's mouth twisted with an expression of disgust. A moment later, Vaisey turned to him.
“The idiot that had your position before you proved to be a perfect incompetent, it won’t take much to get all his tasks in your hands,” Vaisey said.
The idiot.
The old man kept repeating that word, more and more rabid, referring to the previous Master at Arms, Guy of Gisborne.
He shouldn’t wonder about it, given the impression of the Half-French that he had had in the Holy Land. He perfectly remembered the failed mission of the latter, and all the attempts to investigate how a group of not-enough-skilled assassins could have infiltrated among the soldiers of King Richard, and reached him so easily.
For the rest, the courage and recklessness of the young Robin of Locksley was enough to stop them. He had foiled the assassination and he was highlighted once again, one too many for his liking, before the Lionheart.
But fortunately, he had also been hurt enough to prompt the King, at the suggestion of the Redhead himself, to send him back home to heal properly.
Among those in charge of investigating the assassination attempt, aiding and abetting,was, in fact, Alexander.
Months of cover-ups and silting followed. A couple of them... literal.
Never leave any traces behind. Better to bury them in the desert sand.
So the case was closed with no other responsible inside King Richard’s troops.
It must have been a plan of the Saracens, the King was convinced of this.
A Good Work.
And it was about time to go back in England, taking advantage of Prince John’s gratitude because he wasn't even suspected of being the instigator of the attempted Royal murder, and just before the war in the Holy Land was over.
Whatever the outcome of the latter would be.
“For your salary, you can take advantage of Locksley’s incomes, you will administrate it by yourself, waiting for Prince John to allocate that land... definitely. Manage it with a firm hand. No gloves, neither velvet nor… leather. The previous manager was Gisborne. And he was unsuccessful, of course. Foolish man. Idiot. He lost more time behind the skirts of that leper-woman instead of learning what was important to rule those lands. Prince John, not me, of course, desires to get more taxes from those lands now. And from a couple of other smaller places such as Clun and Knighton. Especially from the Leper’s Lands"
Vaisey laughed, bitterly, coarsely, of his own joke.
Interesting. Simply put, he had provided much useful informations with a few words.
Locksley was actually taken from Robin while he was in the Holy Land, given to the Half-French and later taken from the latter.
The promise of that particular land was therefore a decoy for Vaisey, who wielded obvious and most interesting lands for himself to keep a good part of their proceeds.
And Gisborne had had some relationship, of course, just as unsuccessful as his management of Locksley, with a noble woman of the lands around Nottingham, particularly disliked by Vaisey (the leper). The latter was the reason, the true one, of the anger Vaisey had towards the Half-French.
For someone like Vaisey, an incompetent as Gisborne shouldn’t have been a big problem.
He could have, and should have, fixed it before.
Much earlier.
But Vaisey seemed to have had, towards Gisborne, some expectation that went beyond the simple relationship between Master at Arms and Sheriff.
An expectation that had been disappointed.
Very disappointed.
The Redhead wondered what it might be.
Not out of curiosity, of course, and certainly not for fear of a return on the scene of the Half-French.
Gisborne seemed dead and buried, although he was probably still alive, somewhere.
And maybe ‘the idiot’ would continue to remain alive, as long as he kept staying away from the Sheriff.
Alexander wanted to understand their relationship to avoid it, however, to avoid the same mistake he did.
He wouldn’t allow it, whatever it was. He would be the Master at Arms of Nottingham Castle.
This was the task that was given to him by Prince John. Well, most of it... The rest of his new tasks wouldn’t be known by the old Sheriff.
Prince John had not appreciated the news of the failed assassination in the Holy Land, and Gisborne, nothing more than a pawn, convinced by Vaisey to be a knight, was not the only one to be considered responsible for the failure.
Vaisey’s expectations were not the only one disappointed.
But Vaisey not seem to show concern about it. Instead, he should worry.
In his strange way, the old Sheriff seemed to be rather pleased with his arrival, and eager to show his power and efficiency to him.
To impress him, to seduce him, somehow.
But Alexander was not one to be seduced.
He was single-minded too.

Matilda helped Marian, still weak, to dress. The fever had dropped dramatically, but the girl was still very weak. She seemed now even younger than she was, Matilda thought, seeing that she needed her help so much. The older woman thought that the girl really needed a mother, more than a healer, now. Someone who could give her comfort, care, and consolation.
The lungs and the throat of the girl were still delicate. With patience and care, she would be fine.
It was the general weakness that the girl showed, that made Matilda worry.
But she had seen the maids working hard around the girl, and she had seen, mostly, the loving concern and affection in Sir Guy's eyes.
Somehow, Matilda thought, Marian had been really well cared for and helped.
The girl's voice startled her from her thoughts.
“I wish I could get up, go see my father,” Marian said.
“Stay calm, Marian, I'll check your father’s conditions right after I’ve finished with you. Everything is all right, please don’t worry for him now, he doesn’t know that you're sick, He wasn’t told, not to scare him.”
Marian sighed with relief. The healer caressed her face. The girl looked at her eyes with a sweet, tender look.
Then, embarrassed, she looked away from Matilda and to the window.
That strange, sudden, embarrassment, that modesty made them so similar, Guy and Marian, Matilda thought, both of them were without a mother who would took care of them for so long. They hid embarrassment and their desire for tenderness with pride, self-sufficiency. Most of the times.
Marian's voice became uncertain.
“And... how is he?”
Matilda looked at the girl, surprised. She wasn’t sure they were thinking of the same person.
“To whom are you referring to, madam?”
“Sir Guy... how is he, his leg? I haven’t seen him for a while.”
Matilda smiled.
They were really thinking about the same person.
“Better, he was imprudent and reckless, of course, and he didn’t took enough care of himself, but he has a great strength inside, hidden under layers and layers of stratified pessimism.”
“Imprudent ?” The girl asked. “What did he do?”
“Don’t you know yet, young Marian? I thought that young noisy waitress had already told you. Well, Sir Guy found you very sick, worried for your conditions, and he wanted to help you, no matter the costs. He rode, in his precarious condition, to look for Robin, for the latter to find me and bring me back to you, because you needed me, my help.”
The girl's face was amazed, now.
“Did it really happen?”
Matilda laughed.
“Yes, and they are both alive to tell it, thank God.” Then she added, in a more serious tone, “Different as they are, night and day, sun and moon, they have strong affection for you, both of them.”
Marian looked at the woman, lost in her thoughts.
“Then I'll have to thank them both,” the girl said. “And light a thanksgiving candle to the Holy Virgin… because they are still alive to tell," she added, lightly laughing.
“Do you want me to call Sir Guy to see and stay with you while I check your father?” Matilda said.
The girl seemed to darken for a moment, thinking. Then she relaxed and smiled.
“Yes, please, do call him.”

Vaisey entered the birds’ room. Now alone, he put a hand into the cage of the smaller birds, pulling out one of them. He stroked it slowly.
Shrewsbury had made a good impression on him, and he had read an extraordinary letter of introduction from Prince John, but Vaisey decided that he himself would begin to investigate and tempt him during the evening, at dinner, trying to figure out what a man like that could aspire to, and to propose to him something more... achievable, provided he was a good ally to him.
Something far from Vaisey’s personal goals.
After all, there was no reason Sussex, Essex and Surrey should have been interesting for a man with excellent fighting skills but no government experience.
Still he needed him to be a trusted ally.
He was not as young as Gisborne had been when he came to his service. Fragile and hurt as he was, behind his desire for revenge, cockiness, effrontery mask and youthful vigor, Guy had been like clay in his hands. Pliable to any desire. Or to most of his desires.
Having realized that Guy had been disappointed by his father in his youth and had in turn been a disappointment for him, Vaisey had played the role of the powerful, despotic, indisputable, but eventually grateful, father to him.
Guy thought he had found a father in him while Vaisey had had fun playing with him like a cat with a mouse all the time.
Then she came, the thorn in his side, the daughter of the former, exiled, sheriff, who had crept into Guy’s balls before, in his mind later, and in his heart, at the end.
Right then Guy was no longer what he was before.
Not completely.
He saw it.
Guy had been still silent to follow his orders and aspire to what he had taught him to aspire, but now, in all his aspirations he was engaging her, including her, more and more.
He thought of her, and Vaisey felt it. He knew it, he read it in his eyes, holding his breath at her passage.
It was a disease, that young, stupid, reckless woman, for him. It was leprosy, and Guy had become a leper, just like his father, just to have touched her with his thought.
With his desire for her.
Jealous, disgusted, Vaisey looked for a moment at the bird chirping and unaware in his hand, then he squeezed him to death, feeling nothing, no pleasure, and threw it away on the floor.
He said, looking out the window: “I no longer need you, Guy.”
But the idea that the leper had somehow taken away his -idiot- pupil continued to bother him.
That was very annoying.
He wanted to see her in trouble, in a great difficulty.
So that her young, tender heart, or the old burden's one broke for the pain. Or both their hearts...
So Vaisey decided to send a message to Knighton with the request to pay, as taxes for the incoming month, twice the sum twice the figure that the old one and his daughter leper usually had to, with the usual old excuse of King Richard's increased need in the Holy Land.
And young Alexander would have the honor and the burden of collecting the money.
Money that Knighton could not have.
A good reason to imprison father and daughter, then. And to give the coup de grace to Guy.
Enthusiastic for his excellent intuition, he called Alexander to give him his orders, but above all, in order to receive from him the compliments he deserved, for a plan so brilliant, ingenious and perverse. The best actor deserves public applause.
The leper had to pay double.
He also asked Shrewsbury to take Locksley's possession the next day, and to collect the taxes by whatever means, from everywhere.
Vaisey felt strong, powerful, unassailable.
In short, happy.

Introduced into the room by Matilda, Guy came in. Marian was sitting in bed and was looking at him, her look indecipherable to him.
“Sit down, Sir Guy. Here, next to me,” she said.
“How do you feel now, Marian?” He said, with genuine concern in his voice.
“Better,” Marian replied, propping herself on the pillows to settle better.
Guy hurried to help her and Marian let him help her, an equal mixture of embarrassment and gratitude in her eyes.
“Do you want me to call Susanne? Is there something, anything you need?" Guy said, uneasy.
Marian shook her head slightly, as if to say that she didn’t need anything, then, looking into his eyes, she motioned him to sit beside her. Guy sat down, incredulous.
Marian seemed to want his presence beside her. Mostly, he thought that she was alive and beautiful. Strained by the long fever, but more alive and beautiful than ever. And for this, Guy felt deeply happy inside, and grateful.
Guy sat on a chair. The two remained silent for a few minutes, in their mutual embarrassment, unsure of what to say. Then, unexpectedly, Marian took Guy's right hand between hers and staring at her hands rather than the knight's face, she said: “I wanted to thank you.”
Guy looked at the girl, her hands on his still had that excessive heat, a sign that the fever had not yet completely abandoned her, but he wanted that contact between them to continue forever.
“You don’t need to thank me, we're all relieved, now that you're feeling better,” he said, to remove himself and the girl from that embarrassed silence.
Marian looked up and their eyes met.
“Guy, I know that you were next to me, that you helped me. You have risked your health and your safety, riding to call Robin in the forest, just to help me. Thanks, for your help and your prayers,” she said, leaving his hand on the blanket.
“It was nothing, you did the same for me. You helped me," Guy smiled, feeling sad to have lost physical contact with her. “Nothing that shouldn’t be done. The important thing now is that you feel better."
He got up from the chair.
Marian was surprised by Guy's reaction, maybe she had done or said something she shouldn't.
“Using the snow to cool my fever was your idea too. And it saved me. I'm grateful,” she said.
Guy wanted to tell her that he had been terrified to lose her, that he would do anything for her, much more than she could imagine, and that only Allan's presence around him had prevented him from openly despair, but he just replied: “It was maman's thing when I was a kid and I had a high fever.”
“Your mother must have been a wise, caring woman. Forgive me, Guy, you already told me about her, in the past, but maybe I was listening little and badly. I'd like to know something more about her now, I would like to hear it.”
Guy was astonished at Marian's request and he had the distinct feeling that for the first time she was really interested in something about him, his life. A genuine interest for him.
So Guy set aside what he really wanted to say to her, how beautiful she was and precious to him at that moment, how much he loved her, and he began to tell her scattered stories, jumping from memory to memory, without a precise design, telling her of his mother, his father and his childhood’s life when they were still living in France. When the world was still beautiful to his eyes.
Marian, who had never seen anything outside of Nottingham County, was fascinated by his tales, from that distant land, from that different language, different customs, different tastes and colors Guy told her about.
And Guy lulled himself too in that memory of a land that smelled of bread and sweet, of sunshine and perfume of flowers, of wind and sea noise, of salt on the skin. A land that had been a mother to to him, warm and welcoming, before becoming a rejecting and cold stepmother when he came back with Isabella years later.
But now, with Marian, with Marian alone he would be happy to return to France.
He would show her everything that was beautiful and different. He would show her the sea. And he would love her madly. As his father had loved his mother.
Marian said that she needed to lie down again, to rest.
Guy gently stroked her forehead. It was still warm, but not hot.
He went to ask for more cold water, and when he came back he found her about to fall asleep.
“Are you still so angry at me, Guy?” She asked as he put a wet cloth on her forehead.
“No, it's in the past now. Don't think about it anymore.”
He had said that with sincerity, he really meant it.
Now he only wanted her to be well, and to find, for his own sake, a decent way to live in his condition, however difficult it was.

Chapter Text

James looked at the accounting book of Knighton Hall, and sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
He unhappily glanced up from them, when he heard somebody entering the hall.
Gisborne limped through the door, followed by Robin Hood’s man, Allan.
The old servant wondered how those two could get along together. They were completely different from each other: a noble and a thief, one hated by almost everyone, the other who could make friends with the devil in person. In fact, many believed Gisborne to be a devil.
By now, James knew that it wasn’t true, a real devil would never be injured so badly as Gisborne had been, but he still didn’t like the man.
Who could like a person who obeyed the Sheriff’s orders, even when it meant frightening or maiming innocent people?
But now he wasn’t able to harm anybody else, and James couldn’t help thinking that he deserved what happened to him and that Sir Edward was very generous to let him live in the manor.
James looked back at the book, and sighed: it didn’t matter if Gisborne and Allan were friends or enemies, or if the black knight kept living at Knighton Hall. Soon no one of the inhabitants of the manor, nobles or servants, would have a home anymore.
“I suppose that I’ll have to talk to Sir Edward,” James said to himself, but loud enough that Guy could hear him.
“About what?” the knight asked, and the servant looked at him, noticing that he had approached the table.
“Next month’s taxes,” he answered, reluctantly.
“Matilda said that he’s very sick and that he needs to rest a lot. You shouldn’t worry him with this things.”
James sighed.
“I know, Sir Guy, but I think I have no choice. Normally, I’d talk to Lady Marian, but the healer said that she needs rest and quiet, even more than her father.”
Guy dropped himself on a chair, and sighed too.
“I know,” he said, dejectedly, and James guessed that he was really worried for the girl. This softened him a little towards the knight. Gisborne might be a ruthless man, but he cared deeply for Lady Marian.
“What’s the problem with that?” Guy asked, pointing at the accounting book, and James stared at him, wondering if he should tell him or not.
Allan glanced at the book too.
“What? You don’t have the money to pay the taxes?” He guessed, and James stared at him.
“How do you know?”
Allan shrugged.
“Everyone in the county has the same problem. Hey, don’t worry too much, I think that Robin can give the money to you, so you can pay taxes.”
Guy shook his head, a disgusted expression on his face.
“Stolen money...”
“What about the unjust taxes demanded by the Sheriff? He’s the true thief.” Allan replied, unimpressed by Guy’s words.
“Maybe,” Guy conceded, “but if they always rely on Hood’s alms, next month the problem will be the same, or it will grow even bigger. And what if one day Hood stops helping them?”
“Robin wouldn’t abandon who needs him!”
“But he could be captured or killed.”
“That’s impossible! You never succeeded in doing that.”
Guy sadly shook his head.
“The fact that I couldn’t capture him, doesn’t mean that anybody else won’t.”
James thought that Sir Guy had a point.
“What do you suggest?” He asked, looking at Gisborne.
Guy blinked.
“You want my opinion?”
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have asked, Sir Guy.”
Guy nodded, surprised.
“You should find a way to improve Knighton’s incomes, I guess.”
The servant gave a pointed look at him.
“What do you think I’ve been doing till now? I checked all the accountings, but I can’t find any errors. But of course I’m just a servant, I’d need Sir Edward’s advice.”
“You can’t. Matilda says that worrying too much could kill him.”
“You kept Locksley for years, Sir Guy. What would you do?”
Guy took the book and looked at it, more to take time, than to really examine it. It was true that he kept Locksley, but it was also true that he didn’t care too much for its inhabitants: if they couldn’t pay the taxes, the Sheriff had taught him to take all their belongings and evict them from their houses. He knew that Marian and Sir Edward wouldn’t approve that kind of management for Knighton.
He glanced at Allan, as if he was looking for help, but the outlaw shrugged.
“James, what can you tell me about the lands of Knighton?”
“They aren’t very extensive, but the soil is good, we usually have good crops.”
“Why can’t you afford the taxes then?”
“We produced mainly flour, but even the other feuds did, and the prices dropped.”
“It could be a good idea to differentiate the crops next year.”
James nodded.
“Yes, Sir Guy, but we have to pay the taxes this month.”
“Then we’ll have to find another way to find the money. Do you really want me to help with this?”
The servant nodded.
“There’s nobody else who could do it.”
“Then have the wagon ready. I don’t know Knighton well, nor its inhabitants, and if I have to improve the incomes of the lands, I think I should.”

James waited by the wagon, wondering if accepting Sir Guy’s offer to help with the management of Knighton had been a good idea. But he had no choices, actually. With Sir Edward and Lady Marian both equally ill, the responsibility of taking care of Knighton fell on his shoulders.
He could do nothing, but then it was certain that the Sheriff would take the lands back, but he was afraid to do something wrong, and he wished that he could ask Sir Edward for an advice.
At least, if Gisborne gave suggestions to manage Knighton, the fault of a failure would be divided between both of them. James just hoped that Sir Guy wasn’t going to use the force against the peasants who couldn’t pay.
After a while, Guy and Allan came out from the manor. Gisborne had changed his clothes and managed to wear his old leather uniform, but instead of his leather coat, he kept using the blue velvet cloak that Sir Edward gave to him.
James noticed that Gisborne’s clothes fit too loose and he felt a twinge of pity for him, realizing how unwell he still was, even months after the accident. He might not like the man, but he could still feel compassion for a young person who was probably going to be a cripple for the rest of his life.
Allan, instead, looked as well as he could be, clean, healthy and donning the finer clothes that Sir Guy gave him.
The outlaw waited for Gisborne to reach the wagon, and he helped him to climb on it, then he gave a hand to James too, and in the end he also got on and took the reins.
“So, where are we going, first?” The outlaw asked.
“Take a route around the fields, then we’ll visit the village,” Guy answered “I want to see the lands, and then the people.”
“I sent word to the inhabitants of Knighton to gather in the main square, so we can talk to them,” James said, and Guy nodded, wondering if it was a good idea. They surely hated him, but he had no choice than talking to them, if he wanted to help Marian and her father. Allan had said that if he tried to be kind to them, people would begin to respect him, but Guy doubted that it was possible.
Anyways, he was going to try, even if it meant putting his pride aside, and making a fool of himself.
He felt unsure, and he just wanted to be with Marian, to nurse her back to health and to see her getting better. He was used to see her always strong and full of energy, seeing her so weak and ill had been a shock for Guy.
But he couldn’t stay with her, the servants wouldn’t let him in her room, and also Matilda allowed only short visits for now, so saving Knighton was the only thing he could try to do.
Guy looked at the fields and listened to James explanations when the old servant pointed to a farm or to the shop of an artisan.
When they went back to the main square of the village, where the villagers were waiting for them, Guy already had a few ideas, but he didn’t know if they would work and if people would listen to him.
He was feeling quite emotional, and he wasn’t sure if he was excited for being out of the manor after being forced to lie at home for such a long time, or if he was afraid to be rejected and humiliated by the inhabitants of Knighton now that he had no power at all.
Probably both.
He glanced at Allan and James: the outlaw had his usual carefree expression, and whistled while driving the wagon, while the old servant was grim and worried, probably sure that Guy couldn’t help them and that they’d lose Knighton.
Allan stopped the wagon, and Guy was conscious of the stares of the peasants. They were all looking at him, wondering what he was doing there, half afraid, half suspicious, all of them hateful.
James stood up, and spoke to them.
“My friends, I know most of you since you were born, or very young, and you know that I’d never want to give you bad news, but today I’m afraid I must do it. This month, we couldn’t collect the money to pay taxes, and if we don’t, the Crown will take back these lands.”
“They can’t! They belong to Sir Edward!” Someone in the crowd yelled, and Guy scoffed.
“Of course they can. They can do everything they want, and the Sheriff will take Knighton as soon as he can,” he said, and the people looked at him, angry.
“And you are here to take it for your master, aren’t you?” A woman said, disgusted.
Guy struggled to stand up without losing his balance, but somehow he managed, and he looked at the peasants.
“Actually, I’m not. It’s quite the contrary. I don’t work for the Sheriff anymore and I won’t help him getting more power. If I can stop him from taking Knighton from its legitimate owners, be sure that I will. That’s why I’m here today.”
People exchanged puzzled looks. They had heard many rumors about Gisborne. Some had heard that he was dead, others than he had been seriously ill and that he had become insane, some that he had been fired by the Sheriff, who one day left Knighton Hall in a rage, others that Gisborne had lost Locksley and that now he was trying to take Sir Edward’s lands.
“Why should we believe you?” One of the peasants asked. That man knew that Guy hadn’t the favor of the Sheriff anymore, so he wasn’t afraid of him.
Guy looked at the man.
“You have no reason to trust me, except that I have every interest in saving Knighton too. You heard that the Sheriff fired me and that I lost Locksley. It’s all true. Without Sir Edward’s help, I’d be a beggar or dead. You may think the worst of me, but I am grateful to Lord Knighton and I’ll do all I can to repay my debt.”
“And you do this for the goodness of your heart?” A woman asked, ironically.
“Think whatever you want, but keep in mind that if Sir Edward should lose his lands, I’d have nowhere to live as well. Nobody would give me a home, and I’m still too unwell to find a new job. My life depends on Knighton, so you can be sure, that I will do everything I can to help Sir Edward. I know the Sheriff and what he wants from the nobles of the County, so I can use my experience to give you a few suggestions and I hope you will listen to me.”
“Well said, Giz!” Allan said, giving him an energetic pat on his shoulder, then he turned to the people with a grin. “Listen to him, he can actually help.”
“Aren’t you one of Robin Hood’s men?” A man asked, puzzled. “What are you doing with Gisborne?”
“Without the Sheriff he’s not that bad. And you can believe him, trust me.”
The villagers looked at the three men on the wagon, confused. They knew James, he was one of them, and they often had seen Allan A Dale with Robin Hood when the outlaws came to bring supplies and money to the poor, but they also knew Gisborne and all his evil deeds.
It was also true that he was now in disgrace with the Sheriff, so maybe he really wanted to stay at Knighton and help Sir Edward.
They began to discuss and to wonder what they should do and if they had to listen to Gisborne.
They were still talking and Guy was patiently waiting for them to take a decision, when Matilda came down the road, headed to Knighton Hall.
The healer walked to the wagon, looking at Gisborne.
“What are you doing, love?” She asked, and Guy glared at her, blushing.
“Don’t call me like that!” He blurted, and Matilda smiled at him.
“As you wish, sweetie. Now speak: what are you doing up there? Apart than catching a cold, I mean.”
“I’m trying to help Sir Edward with the taxes, but if you keep talking to me like that, I’ll never get the respect of the people.”
“Don’t be silly, dear. If they don’t respect you it’s for what you did for the Sheriff in the past, not for what I say.” She turned to Allan. “What are you waiting, boy? Help me to get up there too, my neck aches if I have to look up like that to talk to you.”
The outlaw helped her to climb on the wagon, and the healer looked at the people.
“So, are his ideas good?”
The villagers exchanged uneasy glances.
Matilda crossed her arms.
“We don’t know,” one of them answered.
“Why not?”
“How could they know if they don’t want to listen?” Allan said, with a shrug.
Matilda looked at the villagers, and they didn’t dare to say anything. Some of them believed her a witch, some others owed her their lives, and they all respected her.
To see that the woman, often cross, and always ready to speak her mind, was so affectionate in talking to Gisborne, confused them even more than they already were.
“We never said that we wouldn’t listen,” one of them said, at last, uneasily.
“Well, then. What are you waiting for? Speak.” Matilda turned to look at Guy, and the knight nodded, embarrassed.
He felt like he was still a shy child and Matilda's motherly words made him blush, but he wasn’t angry at her. Maybe the peasants would think that he was a spineless idiot, but her presence encouraged him.
They already think the worst of me, even if they think I’m a fool I don’t care.
“James told me that you had good crops, but that the price of flour is too low, so you can’t earn enough. Is that right?”
“If we hadn’t to pay the taxes, we’d have enough food for the winter. But if we have to gather all the sum, we’ll have to sell all our flour, underpriced, and we will starve.” One of the villagers said.
“So we have to find a way to get more money for it.” Guy answered.
“Or we might just wait for Robin Hood’s help.” Another man suggested, and Guy shook his head with contempt.
“Do you have no pride? You prefer depending on charity than working to save your village?”
“What’s the point, when the Sheriff will take everything we own?”
“Robin won’t let the Sheriff to take Sir Edward’s lands, why should we wear ourselves out?”
Guy turned to look at Allan.
“Do you really bother to help such ungrateful people?”
Allan shrugged.
“I guess that their families would starve if we don’t. But you’re right, some of the people we help don’t deserve it. But we do it anyways.”
Guy sighed: he really wanted to do something for Knighton, but it was clear that nobody would listen to him and that they preferred to get Robin Hood’s stolen money.
The people turned their backs at them, and they began returning to their houses, ignoring Guy and what he had to say.
Matilda put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a comforting squeeze.
“You tried, love. It was a good thing to do.”
“She’s right, Giz. You weren’t that bad,” Allan said. “Hey, mate? Do you actually have an idea to make more money from that flour?”
Guy shook his head, discouraged.
“Not yet. But I know that there is something we can do.”
“Do you really believe there’s some hope, Sir Guy?” James asked, and Guy nodded.
“Matilda proved to me that there can be hope even in the worst situation. Everyone thought that I was going to die, the other healer said that he couldn’t save me, but I’m here, alive and I plan to keep living for a very long time. If there was hope for me, there must be hope for Marian and Sir Edward as well. I am not going to give up until Knighton is safe.”
Allan laughed and gave him a pat on his back, so enthusiastically that he almost pushed him down from the wagon and had to grab his arm to steady him.
“Well said Giz!”
Matilda shook her head, smiling. Gisborne had been so sad and hopeless when he was ailing, but now it was like he had found some inner strength hidden inside him and had decided to use it for the sake of Marian and her father.
“I agree with him, my dear. This is the right attitude. It doesn’t matter if they didn’t listen to you today, come up with a good plan and they will. But now, let’s go back to the manor, it’s freezing out here and you’re not completely healed yet. I like that you want to fight and do the right thing, but you need to rest or your leg won’t get better.”

Chapter Text

Guy was stretched on his bed, arms behind his head, and he was staring at the ceiling. Allan entered the room without knocking, and he helped himself from the tray of food that was on the table, before dropping himself in the chair in front of the fireplace and kicking off his boots to warm his feet at the fire.
Gisborne didn’t even look at him, and Allan gave him a surprised glance.
“Hey, Giz, you alive?”
“Yep. Why are you asking?”
Allan shrugged.
“You didn’t yell at me, and I know that I did at least three things that annoy you.”
“Would yelling stop you from doing that?”
Allan looked at him.
“Guess not.”
“So, what’s the point?”
“I don’t know. It’s fun?”
Guy rolled his eyes.
“You have a strange idea of fun, Allan.”
“At least I have one, mate. What were you doing? Counting the wood grains of the ceiling?”
“I already know them by heart.” Guy said, flatly. “Not much to do when your leg hurts so much that you can’t get up from bed or get some sleep.”
Allan gave him a worried look.
“Are you in pain?”
Guy shook his head.
“Not now. No more than usual. I was thinking.”
“About what?”
“I was trying to find a way to find the money for the taxes.”
“Robin will surely help Sir Edward, if needed. You don’t have to lose your sleep about it.”
Guy sat up in the bed, with a sigh.
“I know, but I want to do something for them. They helped me, they didn’t let me down when the Sheriff fired me, and I’m living at Knighton when I could be starving in the streets...”
“Come on, Giz, that’s not true. Matilda would take you in her hut.”
“That’s not the point!”
“All right, all right, you want to help, but you have no idea how. So?”
“So I need an idea. We have a lot of flour, but no one wants to buy it.”
“Too bad it isn’t milk,” Allan commented.
“You’d sell it in a moment at Nettlestone. Their cows got a disease and there’s a shortage of milk there.”
Guy looked at the outlaw.
“How do you know?”
“I heard that last week, when we were taking some supplies there. The peasants told Robin about that problem and he gave them some money to buy new cows, but they will have to wait next month, when there will be a fair in Nottingham and there will be more cattle merchants. If you had milk to sell, they’d buy it in a moment.”
Guy stared at him.
“You outlaws have a lot of informations like this one, don’t you?”
“What do you mean? People talk to Robin, they ask him for help and they say what they need. So yeah, I suppose that we know a lot of these things.”
“Do you suppose that you could find out if there is some village that needs flour?”
“Yeah, I think that Robin could know.”
“Go and ask him then! Now!”
“Because once we know who needs the flour, we’ll take it there.”
Allan looked at him.
“Are you serious, Giz?”
Guy nodded.
“I am. If nobody here wants our flour, we’ll take it where they are willing to buy it for a higher price.”
“I’ll need your help. We can use Sir Edward’s wagon, and borrow some others from the people of Knighton. If you and James talk to them, I think that they will agree.”
“What if the outlaws try to steal it? We’re not the only ones in the forest, you know. And the others doesn’t steal from the rich to help the poor, they steal for themselves, and they can kill people too. They don’t come here because they’re afraid of Robin, but if you go to a distant village, they could attack your wagons.”
Guy reflected for a while.
“I need you to contact some of the guards who used to work for me.”
“Are you insane, Giz? Do you want me to talk to the castle guards?! I don’t want to end up in the dungeons or worse!”
“Not the castle guards. Lambert told me that most of my men went to work at the castle, but some of them refused to work for Vaisey and they went back to their villages. I’ll give you their names, tell them to come here. I’ll talk to them, and, if they accept my offer, they can escort the convoy.”
“How will you pay them? Suppose that we sell the flour… We’ll have to pay taxes, the wagons and their drivers, and the guards. Do you think that it will be enough?”
“It must be. If it isn’t, I’ll sell my sword. It’s good steel, it will cover the expenses. Will you help me?”
Allan glanced at him, impressed. That sword was one of the few things that Gisborne still owned, and it was very important for the knight.
“I will. And I have and idea too. When we go to sell the flour, we could buy any excess milk they have, and bring it to Nettlestone, instead of coming back with the empty wagons. We could double the incomes doing so.”
Guy looked at him and smiled.
“You are a genius, Allan! It could work! It could really work! Go, now! Go to talk with Hood! I’ll explain our plan to James and I’ll begin organizing the convoy. We need to be fast!”
Guy grabbed his crutch and hobbled out of the door, in search of the old servant.
The outlaw stared at him, in awe: he had never seen Gisborne so excited for something and certainly Allan wasn’t used at getting praises from him.
He thought that the knight was very different from what he looked when he worked for the Sheriff.
He liked that new Gisborne.

Allan felt uneasy under Robin Hood’s scrutinizing stare. Robin seemed to be somehow diffident and Allan had the sensation that he didn’t like seeing him so clean and dressed in the finer clothes that Gisborne had given to him.
“Isn’t that a little impractical to live in the forest?” Robin asked, ironically. “Because I suppose you are here to come back to the gang.”
Allan inwardly sighed.
“Not yet. Matilda says that I’m needed at Knighton.”
“I know, but I’ve been told that you are too friendly with Gisborne.”
Allan thought that it must have been one of the servants of the house, probably one of the boys: they disliked Gisborne and they were jealous of Allan because he flirted with the maids and the kitchen girls.
“Listen, Robin. I have to live in that house and Matilda wants me to help Gisborne, it wouldn't be nice if I fought with him every moment. Being civil with him is easier.”
And he’s not that bad when you know him better.
Robin looked at him for a long moment, wondering if he should believe him, then he decided to drop the matter.
“How is Marian?”
“Better. Matilda says that she isn’t in danger anymore, but that she has to recover.”
“Why did you come here, then? You should be at Knighton, helping.”
“I’m doing it. In fact I need to know if there are villages that need flour, so that we can sell Knighton’s stocks.”
“If they need money for the taxes, we’ll help them.”
“I know, and they know too, but first they would like to try earning it.”
Allan didn’t say that it was Guy’s idea because if he did, he knew that Robin would dismiss it.
Instead he kept quiet and Robin gave him a list of the villages where flour was needed and that could afford buying it.
Allan thanked him, satisfied, and he was about to go back to Knighton, when they heard the sound of horse hooves galloping through the forest.
“Guards!” Robin said, searching for a escape route, but after a moment he took the bow, realizing that the soldiers were too close.
Allan looked around, scared, while a group of Sheriff’s guards reached them.
Robin was shielded by the trees, and he could easily run away, but Allan was near the road and one of the soldiers pointed a spear at him.
He froze: they were too many. Robin could hit a few of them, but meanwhile the others would surely kill Allan.
“Well, what do we have here? Outlaws?”
The leader of the soldiers grabbed Allan by an arm, and the outlaw just stood still, speechless and terrified. He knew that he was close to death and that he couldn't find a way to escape. He could only hope that the soldiers would take him at the castle to be hanged instead of killing him on the spot, but the guard who caught him was already unsheathing his sword.
Robin was studying the situation, trying to find a plan to save both of them, but Allan knew that they had very few chances to come out of that situation unscathed, especially him.
Before the soldiers could do anything else, they all heard a wagon approaching along the road and they were all surprised to see Gisborne holding the reins.
Guy looked at the guards, at Robin half hidden in the trees and at Allan, pale and trembling.
“What’s going on?” He asked, and everyone turned to look at him.
The guards were surprised.
They had heard every kind of story about Guy of Gisborne: that he had been damaged beyond repair both in body and in mind after the accident, that he had been distraught when the sheriff fired him, that he lost everything and that he was insane and a cripple…
But now they could see him right there, in front of them, and he didn’t look a beggar or a madman at all.
He was thinner and paler than he once had been, and he was sitting on a wagon instead than on a horse, but Gisborne was wearing fine clothes, finer than the leathers he once used to wear, and he was looking at them fiercely.
“We caught Robin Hood and one of his outlaws,” one of the soldiers said, uncertain, pointing at Allan.
“It doesn’t seem to me that you captured Hood. He’s over there, almost in the forest and he’s pointing a bow at you. Believe me, it’s not so easy to catch him.” Guy said, giving a sarcastic look at the outlaw.
The soldier used the spear to touch Allan’s neck, scratching him and making him bleed a little.
“We have this one.”
Allan closed his eyes, certain that he was going to die.
“No, you don’t,” Guy said, looking at the soldiers with a slight contempt. “Can’t you see that that man is not an outlaw?”
“He was with Hood,” the guard objected.
“You mean that he was being robbed by Hood, like the idiot he is,” Guy replied, rolling his eyes with impatience. “Can’t you see that he’s too finely dressed and too clean to be an outlaw? He’s one of the servants of Knighton Hall. My personal servant, even if he’s always finding excuses to lose time and avoid his chores,” Guy added, staring at the guard, and the man lowered his eyes, uneasy.
One of the other soldiers came near Allan, and examined him closely, stopping to sniff at him.
“It’s true!” He exclaimed. “He doesn’t stink! Actually, I think that he smells of lavender!”
The leader of the soldiers looked at Allan, wondering what he should do. The Sheriff would be mad if they didn’t capture any outlaws, but he wasn’t sure that Guy of Gisborne was really harmless after the accident, and he didn’t want to make him angry.
Guy glanced at Robin: the outlaw had been waiting, with his bow pointed at the guards, ready to attack, but also ready to run away.
“Shouldn’t you capture Hood instead of damaging my servants? If tomorrow he won’t be able to work, I’ll consider you responsible for this!” Guy said in his most menacing tone, then he turned to Allan. “And you, get immediately on the wagon! I don’t pay you for losing your time! I bet that you were going to the tavern again instead of doing your work!”
Allan looked at him, startled and confused, and he didn’t move.
Guy took the horsewhip, and he made it snap close to Allan’s face, almost touching him.
“I said to get on the wagon, NOW,” he growled, and this time Allan hurried to obey, clumsily climbing on the wagon. The guards sneered at him, then they turned their attention to Robin Hood, just in time to see him running away.
They all went after the outlaw, in pursuit, deciding to ignore Gisborne and his lazy servant.
Guy turned the wagon around, heading to Knighton. At his side, Allan was still too upset and surprised to talk. He couldn’t believe that Gisborne had risked so much to save his life. Guy had no power anymore, and if the guards hadn’t believed him, he could have been arrested and maybe executed for associating with an outlaw.
Allan realized that Guy had just risked to lose everything again, just to help him.
He glanced at the knight.
“Hey, Giz...” He began, almost shyly, and Guy turned to look at him, with a smirk.
“I bet that now you are not so sorry because I forced you to wash.”

When the wagon stopped in front of Knighton Hall, Allan had already recovered from the scare.
“So, Giz, what were you doing in the forest? Not that I complain, you arrived just in time to save me, but it was unusual for you to take the wagon on your own.”
Guy blushed a little. He didn’t want to admit how much he had missed going around on his own.
Now that he could use a wagon, he had some of his freedom back and he was beginning to appreciate even a single trip in the village or through the forest like he had never done before the accident. It wasn’t like riding a horse, but it was better than being trapped inside a house for weeks and weeks.
But Guy didn’t want to show what he considered a childish weakness to Allan, so he found another explanation, also true.
“I couldn’t wait to know if Hood gave you the informations we need.”
“So you came into the forest? Hey, man, you really care a lot for this project, don’t you?”
“I do. Well? Did he tell you something?”
“Sure he did! I have a list of the places where we can sell our flour. I think that if we organize the convoy well, we could be ready to depart tomorrow at dawn.”
“Good. Let’s do it.”
Allan helped Guy to get off the wagon, and he gave him the crutch before Gisborne could ask for it.
Guy gave him a look of amused surprise, and Allan shrugged, a little embarrassed.
“Hey, Giz… You risked a lot with those guards… If they didn’t believe you, you’d have been in big troubles.”
“Why shouldn’t they believe me? I wasn’t lying: you are my servant.”
“I’m not!”
Guy gave him a serious stare.
“You are now. You might not like this, but those guards now know you, they’ll remember your face and if they find you consorting with Hood again, the Sheriff will be more than happy than hanging you. And me with you as well. You can’t go back to the forest, you have to stay here and work here, or they’ll find out that I lied to them. We’d endanger even Sir Edward and Marian, so you have no choice.”
“I guess I can manage. Better than being dead, right?”
Guy scoffed.
“You’ve such a good opinion of me, I see,” he said, sarcastic, and Allan laughed.
Better than you think, Giz. Way better.

Vaisey sat on the high bench, shaking his feet without touching the floor, while listening to the words of the soldier at the head of the patrol back from that bloody Sherwood Forest.
Only God knew why he hadn’t yet decided to set fire once and for all, to that bloody forest.
The only thing that had prevented the Sheriff to become the Nero of England was having to listen to Prince John who then would say, laughing: "A whole burning forest to take a single boy, a boy!"
Not only his soldiers were unable to capture Hood despite having intercepted him, but they had been also mocked and threatened by Guy of Gisborne...
Guy of Gisborne, for God's sake!
A cripple, poor, useless man against his armed guards.
Vaisey wanted to surround the Nottingham Castle with a beautiful moat full of water and Nile crocodiles just to throw his guards in the water and make them disappear.
Possibly along with Robin.
And Guy.
Awakening from his day-dreaming, he came down from the bench, passed over the imposing figure of Alexander and, without losing time in the middle, slapped the soldier, so strong that he made him waver and then fall to the ground.
“Useless men. I am surrounded by useless men. Your task,” Vaisey said, turning to Alexander, with black poison in the voice, “is turning these useless people, to people capable to capture and kill outlaws like Hood, on the spot, and not people who feel threatened by a poor cripple and his servant! Gisborne's servant!” Vaisey shouted.
“Servant? If Gisborne is now poor and cripple as you say, how can he have a well dressed servant in his service? And above all, why was Hood there with them?” Alexander said, not at all intimidated by Vaisey .
“Gisborne said that Hood was robbing his servant,” the wounded soldier said.
But another one, a younger one added, in a low voice: “It seems to me to have already seen him, among Hood's men.”
“Repeat it, boy, loudly!” Alexander sternly ordered.
“I, I think I've seen him before. He was among Hood's men.”
“Oh great, now Gisborne has a former outlaw for a servant,” Vaisey said, bitterly. But then he looked at Alexander, thoughtful and suspicious, and he began to think and suspect too.
If the boy was right, Gisborne had lied, or worse, had been in league with Hood.
He went from being the idiot of the castle to a possible enemy.
And perhaps he wasn’t entirely harmless, then.
What was happening in the forest?
Oh no, Guy was NOT becoming a danger to Nottingham. He would never allow him to be a danger to him, to his goals.
“Watch him,” Vaisey ordered to Alexander. “Find out what he does, with whom, who is involved with, and why. And report anything to me directly. Is everything clear? And I WANT my money from Knighton! Now go! All of you: go away!”
Alexander wanted to split his face, in two.
That old useless man, going so fiercely against Gisborne like a pervert lover who had been betrayed.
But no less, Gisborne had to be controlled.
The half-french couldn’t know that he had been the abettor of the failed assassination of King Richard inside the camp, but he never had to find out.
So he had to be controlled, strictly controlled. Studied, followed, because every man has a weakness.
The leper-woman maybe? Or something else?
Alexander had to find out what Guy wanted. Desired. Feared. To have leverage to use with him, in case.
Or to kill him, directly, if he should become really dangerous.
But not for Vaisey.
For himself.

Chapter Text

Guy’s heart was beating faster while he went up the stairs, helped by Allan, but it wasn’t because of the effort. He was worried for what he was going to do.
Arrived upstairs, he waved Allan away, and the outlaw nodded and went back to his work: they had to organize the trip and finish loading the wagons with the sacks of flour.
Guy waited for him to go away, then he hobbled to Marian’s door, and he took a deep breath before knocking.
He was worried.
He knew that he had to inform her of their project, in fact they were going to sell the flour produced in Knighton, and that belonged to Sir Edward. He should have asked the permission of the elderly lord, but Marian’s father was too sick and Guy knew that he hadn’t to be burdened by new worries.
But he had to tell Marian.
She was better, and she wouldn’t be too stressed in knowing what Guy was going to do, but he couldn’t help being afraid that she could find the whole thing silly, a waste of time and resources.
Vaisey, he knew, would have ridiculed his idea, just because it came from Guy, undermining him as usual.
Marian was not the Sheriff.
But he couldn’t help thinking that she would laugh at him, or that maybe she would be mad at him.

Marian was sitting in her bed, still cold, and vaguely bored. She would have liked to be able to stand up and leave the bed, but Matilda had advised her to prudence and attention. And if there was one thing that gave Marian a great deal of discomfort, it was inactivity.
She raised her eyes to the ceiling, sighing, when Guy came in from the door, his face a little flushed He seemed slightly tired and a little embarrassed, at first. Insecure.
What a strange contrast to the Guy she knew. But in a few seconds she saw him picking up his thoughts. And he took a more upright posture, his own. Elegant, in his own way.
He wants to tell me something, she thought.
“Guy, come in, you can come closer. Matilda says that my illness is not dangerous to others, come closer to me,” the girl said.
Guy walked to the bed, and looked around, uncertain if he should stand, or sit on the chair at its side.
He glanced at the girl, and he felt both nervous for what he had to say, and relieved to see that she was better than the last time he had seen her.
At last he decided to sit. Standing with the crutch and all, was both painful and awkward.
He sat and put the crutch on the floor, then he lifted his eyes to look at Marian. The girl was waiting, a little frown on her face betraying her impatience.
“Good evening, Marian. I hope that you feel better...” He hesitated. “I...”
“Please, Guy, please continue. Is there anything that you want to tell me? You look worried. Is it about my father?” Marian felt guilty because she couldn’t take care of him in these days of her illness, and Guy seemed to want to say something difficult, something tough.
Marian encouraged him with her eyes.
Guy looked at her, surprised.
“Your father? Oh, no, it’s not about him. Well, actually it is too, but not about his health, sorry if I worried you. His situation is unchanged. Matilda said that he needs to rest and to be quiet, that’s why I need to talk to you. Maybe you will think that I haven’t acted properly, and probably it’s true, but I didn’t want to speak about it before I was sure about what to do… I wish I could have spared every trouble to you, but I have to tell you because I can’t talk to Sir Edward, he could be upset and I don’t want to damage his health. But still, I can’t act on my own without asking for your permission, but I hope you will agree. I know that now it’s a little late to ask you, but we needed to act fast because the situation is serious.”
“What situation, Guy? Tell me. Let me help you.” The girl tried to get out of bed, but Guy reached out to her, as if to stop her, and looked at her with a serious, but gentle, almost melancholic, look.
As if he was about to leave.
To leave her.
Marian didn’t understand why this hypothesis made her feel suddenly so agitated.
“I have to go away, Marian,” he said, looking at her, “but I’ll be back in a few days. Please promise me that you will take care of yourself while I’m not here. I wish I could stay to help you, but I must go. For Knighton.”
She gasped. For a moment everything around her was black, completely black.
She didn’t understand.
“Guy! Why are you going away now? You're not fully healed! You still need help! And what does Knighton have to do with this? The Sheriff... it must be something about the Sheriff! Did he come here? Nobody told me that! Has he threatened you, somehow? Has he threatened my father? I will not allow it. If it's the last thing I do, come what may, I will not let him!”
Marian grabbed his hand, as if to hold him.
Guy stared at her hand, startled. He had been nervous about her reaction, but he didn’t expect her words. It was almost as if she didn’t want him to leave, as if she wanted him to stay at Knighton.
“Yes, it’s the Sheriff’s fault, but he didn’t menace me or your father. Not directly, at least. It’s about the taxes: James said that this month Knighton couldn’t reach the requested sum.”
Marian was astonished.
“But it’s not possible,” she said. “We've always paid taxes. My people are good people. They are good workers. We have always tried to help them. How can you help us? The Sheriff took Locksley from you! I don’t want you to give up your money for us, you could need it in the future.”
The girl approached him, more closely, looking into his eyes, looking in his blue, deep gaze for an anchor of salvation to the fear she was feeling.
“What are you going to do, Guy? I don’t want sacrifices on your part... and... and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
“James said that this month the taxes were doubled. I don’t know why, maybe the Sheriff wanted to punish you and your father for helping me. That’s why I have to do something.” Guy sighed. “Marian, I wish that I had money and I’d be glad to use it to pay the taxes of Knighton, but I don’t. The Sheriff took everything I had, except for a few personal items that your father managed to take from Locksley for me. That’s why I need your permission.”
Marian felt moved for the sincerity with which Guy was talking to her, about her situation, their situation, now. He was genuinely worried, He really wanted to help her. She felt sure of his intentions. And Vaisey... that wicked, ruthless man. Her contempt for the man, already very strong and rooted, climbed another step toward fury, something that now bordered the desire for vengeance in her.
She had suffered too many wrongs from him, and too many people around her had suffered his bullying. Including Guy.
“My permission to do what, Guy?" She said.
“To sell the flour produced here in Knighton to the villages near York. I got the information that they need it and that they are willing to buy it for a higher price. And on our way back we’ll buy some milk and we’ll sell it to Nettlestone. I know that I should have asked earlier, before organizing everything, but we weren’t sure that it could actually work and I didn’t want to worry you when you were so ill...”
It was an idea.
A good idea.
A honest idea.
Completely unexpected coming from Guy. Marian had never thought that there might be such a capable person behind the hard mask and leather of Vaisey's guard.
So smart.
She was amazed.
She realized that she had underestimated him, she had considered only his appearance, his manners, his way of doing, talking, when he was working for the hated sheriff.
Yes, that was a good idea. She had to support him, for the salvation of all of them. Also his.
She had to be his guide, his strength, his inspiration.
But maybe Guy was, silently, about to become her own strength, her own guide. Knighton's salvation. Her salvation.
Life is so strange, Marian thought, smiling.
"Yes, Guy, you have my permission, and my blessing, for that matter. But why do you speak with plural? Who will come with you?" She asked, a sweet smile on her lips.
Guy smiled at her, relieved that she approved his idea.
“Allan A Dale, a few of my former guards and enough people from Knighton to drive the wagons. We will try to get there and back as soon as we can. We need to be fast, the taxes are due soon”.
“Is Allan the boy from Robin's gang?” Marian was surprised and pleasantly surprised that Guy could think of collaborating with a man who had been his opponent until recently. “You surely have some hidden talent, Guy.”
She smiled openly.
“Yes, he was an outlaw. Now he works for me, and, don’t tell him, but he proved himself really useful. It was him who got the information about the places where we could sell our flour. He asked Robin Hood. Of course he didn’t tell him that this was my project.”
“And you'll need every possible help in this risky journey, so it's a good thing, in the end, to have his support,” she added.
Who knows if one day Guy could find an agreement with Robin for a bigger, better purpose, she thought.
“I understand,” she said. “Be careful, be cautious, and I hope everything will be fine. Knighton counts on you. I count on you. Godspeed!” Marian replied.
Guy got up, and bowed to Marian.
A small bow who was right in their world, but now, that bow seemed too formal for the liking of the young girl, no longer needed, between them.
Guy resumed his crutch, heading toward the door.
Marian got up from the bed with sudden, fragile strength but strong impetus, and Guy just caught her in time in his arms, almost losing his balance in the process.
Marian was embracing him, hugging him. In silence, without saying anything. She slid her small hands over his back. She leaned her head on his heart, surprised to hear that it was now beating fast and madly.
Marian closed her eyes, listening to that unknown rhythm, different from hers.
In silence.

Guy couldn't believe that Marian was so close to him. Her body, still a little feverish, was warm and soft in his arms, and her head was resting on his chest.
She could surely hear how furiously his heart was beating and he felt a little embarrassed for this, but it didn’t really matter.
Marian was hugging him!
She trusted him!
And if he succeeded, she would be proud of him!
He wanted to kiss her, not with rage this time, but with all his love, he wanted to hold her close forever and never let her go.
Guy lifted his hand to touch her hair, to caress the dark curls, shortened by the Sheriff’s punishment and not yet grown back to their full length. They were soft under his fingers and that simple touch filled his heart with a tenderness he had rarely felt in his whole life.
She was there, strong and fragile at the same time. Just like him, with his broken leg and wounded pride, he realized.
In that moment they were equals, both vulnerable, but with the strength to protect each other, somehow.
Guy didn’t kiss her. He just closed his eyes and kept her in his arms, relishing that moment.

Gisborne crossed the arms in front of him, watching the wagons being loaded. James was the only inhabitant of Knighton Hall awake at that time in the morning and the manor was silent.
Guy wished that Marian would come to watch them leave and bid them good luck, but he knew that the girl was still weak and that she needed as much rest as she could get.
He could still feel the warmth of her body in his arms, and for a moment he didn’t want to leave, he just wished he could run back to her side and hold her like that forever.
He ignored those thoughts, now it was important to focus on their mission and earn the money to pay the taxes and save Knighton. They didn’t have much time, and the trip could be dangerous.
Gisborne had talked with many of the guards who had worked for him, but only a few of them accepted a job that offered so few guarantees.
Those men weren’t skillful warriors, they were little more than simple peasants who became guards to earn money to feed their families. They weren’t brave or talented fighters as guards, and now most of them were afraid to travel far from their villages, risking to be attacked by the outlaws.
Just five of them had decided to join the convoy and Guy hoped that they were enough to protect the wagons.
He touched the hilt of his sword. It was a long time since he used it, and he wasn’t sure that he could fight at all with a injured leg, but its weight was reassuring.
He watched Allan, who was organizing the wagons, and getting them ready to begin their travel, and nodded, satisfied: when he wanted to, the former outlaw was smart and capable, full of ideas.
Allan reached him, smiling.
“Well, Giz, it seems that we are ready to go.”
“Good. Get on the last wagon, I’ll be on the first, so we can keep an eye on all the convoy,” Guy said, and James intervened, concerned.
“Are you afraid that the outlaws could attack the wagons?”
“Not in this part of the forest. Hood will let us pass untouched if he knows that we are doing this for Sir Edward, but when we’ll be out of his territory, we can’t know who we could meet.”
“This is dangerous, isn’t it, Sir Guy? The men who drive the wagons are not warriors or knights, they are just peasants, they have families.”
Guy looked at the old servant.
“And their families won’t have a roof over their heads if we can’t pay the taxes. They’ll have to take the risk. We all have to. Listen, I know that no one of you really trusts me, but I want this to work, I really do, and I’ll do whatever I can to protect all of them.”
“I believe you, Sir Guy,” James said, but he looked down at the leg of the knight, at the crutch that Guy still needed to walk, “but will you be able to do it? A couple of months ago you were almost dead, and you aren’t completely healed yet. If there should be an attack, will you be able to fight?”
Gisborne sighed.
“If needed, I will. I know that I’m not strong as I was once, but I won’t surrender.”
Allan glanced at him.
“Wait a moment, Giz.”
Allan ran inside the manor, and came back after a while, holding a bow, similar to the one used by Robin. He handed it to Guy, with a quiver of arrows.
Gisborne frowned.
“I’m not an archer. And where did you get this?”
“It was one of Robin’s spares. We have an artisan in Locksley making them for us...” He stopped abruptly, and glanced at Guy, afraid that he had said too much. Nobody should know that people of Locksley were helping the gang, but after all Gisborne saved his life, he deserved his trust. He looked at the bow, and continued. “I know that you’re not an archer, Giz, but with a bow you could attack enemies even without moving from your seat on the wagon. Even if you aren’t a good shot, nobody likes to see an arrow pointed at them.”
Guy took the weapon to examine it: it was smaller than the usual bows, but it was curved so that it could shoot with the same strength of a bigger bow. It was made of a fine wood and Guy thought that it was a good weapon.
If the sheriff knew that an artisan from Locksley was creating such bows for Robin Hood, that man would end in the dungeons or even to the gallows. Well, that man was lucky because now Guy wouldn’t even think to tell Vaisey about it.
Actually he was beginning to sympathize with anyone who could oppose the sheriff and create troubles to him. Except for Hood.
“Hood let you take one of his bows?” Guy asked to Allan, and the other man shrugged.
“Well, I didn’t ask. He ordered me to stay at Knighton with you and I didn’t know if I could trust you, so later, while you were sleeping, I went back to the camp and I grabbed a few weapons. Just in case.”
Guy stared at him, surprised, then he grinned.
“Well, good for me, I got a good bow for free,” he said, nocking an arrow and aiming at the trunk of a tree in the distance. He let it go, but the arrow flew to the left of the tree, missing it completely.
“Well, Giz, maybe you got a bow for free, but you have to work on your aim, I think.”
“Stop laughing or I’ll practice using you as a target. Now help me to get on the wagon and let’s go.”
“Oh, wait a moment, I have this for you too.”
Allan gave him a little silver chain with a cross.
Guy looked at it, uncertain.
“Did you steal this from Hood too? Why are you giving it to me?”
“As if I’d give you jewelry! No, when I went inside to take the bow, one of the maids, the pretty one with blond hair, was waiting for me at the end of the stairs. She called me and she gave me this. I thought that she wanted to give it to me for protection, because she was worried for me, so I tried to hug her to get a kiss. Could you believe that she slapped me?!”
Guy smiled, amused.
“Yes, I can believe it very well.”
“However she was laughing, so I guess that she wasn’t too sorry that I tried. I asked why she was giving me a gift if she didn’t want me to kiss her, and she laughed again. She said that this was for you.”
“For me? That girl hates me!”
“Of course she does, you should have seen her expression when she said that. It looked like she had just drank a cup of vinegar instead of a cup of wine. However she said that it was not from her, but that it was from Lady Marian. So I took the necklace and promised that I’d give it to you, but I told her that I deserved a gift too because I was also risking my life for her too. I asked for a kiss, but she blushed and giggled. She said ‘we’ll see if you come back successfully’. Do you think I have a chance with her, Giz?”
Guy had stopped listening to him when he said Marian’s name, so he didn’t answer to his last question. He took the little chain, and put it around his neck, trying to hide his emotion.
Marian gave a gift to him, a cross to protect him. Did it mean that she cared for him?
He turned his back to Allan, and hobbled to the first wagon, so that the outlaw couldn’t see how moved he was. However he couldn’t climb on it on his own, so he waited near the vehicle for Allan to reach him, using those few second to collect himself.
He touched the little cross with a finger, then he turned to look back at the manor, thinking of Marian.
She was there, at her window, staring at him in silence, her expression halfway between pride and expectation. She still seemed fragile to his worried eyes, the white and warm shawl that wrapped her shoulders, protecting her from the cold.
She didn’t smile.
Was she worried about him?
The small silver cross on his chest was light and warm, now. Her warmth, his warmth.
He wouldn’t disappoint her, he’d do whatever he could to save Knighton and return to her.
Honestly, with honor.

Into Guy's eyes there was now awareness and pride, he was now exactly like the knight who had accompanied her childhood dreams. Even though he was climbing on the wagon with some difficulty, helped by other people.
Maybe that was the real courage, Marian thought. She felt really proud of him.
"Come back, Guy. Back at home, this home, my home, your home now. Come back,safe and sound," she whispered.

Chapter Text

Matilda walked slowly at the edge of the road, looking at the ground. That was a habit that she had developed over the years: wherever she went, she kept searching for useful herbs, picking the ones that she could use in her remedies.
That morning she had no hurry to reach her destination: she had no emergencies, it was very early in the morning and surely the inhabitants of Knighton were still asleep. She had time to enjoy her walk through the forest.
She thought to the outlaws: they too would be asleep at that time of the day, tired after staying up a good part of the night to help the poor and rob the rich. Matilda sighed, thinking to the last time she had seen Robin, when he went to search for her because Marian was sick.
She hadn’t the chance to talk to the outlaw after that, but she had spotted him from afar in the villages, helping people with a troubled expression on his face.
She knew that the young man had to be worried for Marian, but he had obeyed Matilda’s orders to let her rest and recover in the quiet of her house. The outlaw wandered near Knighton, and sometimes he talked to the servants, but he kept away from the manor.
Matilda knew that it had to be difficult for him, and once again she felt sad, knowing that one of them, Robin or Guy, or both, was going to suffer for Marian.
She was deep in those thoughts when she noticed the sounds of horses and wagons.
She hurried to hide, afraid that it could be the Sheriff’s men, when she recognized Guy, sitting on the wagon that leaded the convoy.
She stepped out of the bushes and waved at the knight.
Guy gave the order to stop, and pulled the reins of his wagon.
“Good morning, Matilda.”
The woman looked at him: it was strange to see him out of Knighton Hall, and the light that shone in his eyes was even stranger. She was used to see him hurting and afraid, often sad and discouraged, but now he looked decided and strong. Proud.
“Where are you going, love?”
“To the villages near York, to sell our flour.”
Matilda looked at him, in surprise.
“It’s far from Knighton.”
Guy nodded.
“We’ll be back in a few days.”
The healer examined him with a worried glance.
“I didn’t give you the permission to exert yourself with such a long travel. Your leg could get worse. What will you do if you feel pain and I’m not there to treat you?”
“My leg would get worse without a roof over my head. We have to do this, or the Sheriff will get Knighton, if we can’t pay the taxes.”
“That slimy, rotten slug!” She exclaimed, with rage, then she looked affectionately at Guy. “But it’s nice that you want to help Sir Edward. I’m worried for you, of course, but your heart is doing the right thing. I’m proud of you, love.”
Guy smiled at her, blushing a little because he wasn’t used to be praised.
“I wanted to do something for Marian and Sir Edward,” he said, softly, “and now I finally can.”
“Be careful, sweetie, the roads can be dangerous.”
“I have some guards. And Allan.”
Matilda thought that the men she could see escorting the convoy wouldn’t have scared a sickly kitten, and she hoped that Allan was trustworthy, but she didn’t express her worries because it was clear that Guy would have gone to sell that flour even if he had been completely alone. She could only pray that everything went well.
“Godspeed then, love.”
Guy smiled at her.
“Take care of them while I’m away.”
“You know that I will.”
Guy gave the order to depart again, and soon the convoy moved, leaving her behind.
The knight turned to wave at her, just before a bend in the road, and Matilda waved back, then the wagons disappeared behind the trees and she was alone again.
She sighed, and resumed her walk to Knighton.

Allan yawned and he wondered if Gisborne was as tired as he was. The wagons had traveled all day, with just a few short stops to eat lunch and to allow the men to relieve themselves. Allan knew that they had to be fast and come back before the taxes were due, but he was tired, hungry, and a little worried too.
Living at Knighton and working for Gisborne, he was well aware of the conditions of the man. He had seen him in pain, still unable to walk without of a crutch or to climb the stairs on his own. He wondered if such a long travel was too much for Gisborne.
Allan himself felt exhausted and sore after sitting for such a lung time on a wagon on a bumpy road, he couldn’t help thinking that Gisborne must have been in serious pain by now.
Finally the wagons went to a stop, and Allan was glad to see the sign of an inn further down the road: that meant food and rest at last!
He gave the reins of the wagon to the peasant who was sitting near him, then he jumped down and walked to the head of the convoy.
Guy had already got down from his wagon, and he was standing, giving orders to his guards to have the wagons parked and secured in the courtyard of the inn. The men from Knighton and the guards would take turns watching the cargo and resting, so that the wagons were never unguarded.
Allan stretched his back, walking to reach Guy.
“Hey, Giz. Long day, uh?”
Guy nodded. He looked pale and tired, but he smiled at the former outlaw.
“Indeed, but everything went smoothly. Tomorrow we’ll leave the County and we’ll travel in lands under the jurisdiction of York, and I don’t know what we can expect. I’ve been there just a few times in the past and I don’t know where we could be attacked by outlaws or which roads are safer...”
Allan could see that Guy was worried and tense. He was, too, but he knew that for Gisborne there was so much more at stake than for him. If things went bad, Allan had always the option to go back to the forest with Robin and his life wouldn’t change too much, but Guy would find himself stranded, with no place to go and his failure would ruin Marian and her ailing father too.
“We have the guards, Giz, and in case of an attack from outlaws, the peasants can fight too. I know that Robin uses to protect them from every danger, but those men are young and strong. If they can use a spade in the fields, they can use the same strength to hit the head of an enemy as well.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Well, if I am not, there’s no use in worrying about it, don’t you think? There’s nothing we can do now. And of course we can hope that nobody will attack us. Let’s go inside, eat something and take a room, Giz. I’m hungry and tired and I’m sure you are too.”

Later, Guy filled the basin with warm water, and he used it to wash away the dust of the road from his face. He removed his jacket and the shirt and kept washing even if he was so tired and sore that he could suddenly fall asleep, even if he was standing. He glanced at Allan, who was already snoring. The young man didn’t care about dust or grime: once he had filled his belly as much as he could, he dropped on his bed and fell asleep immediately.
Guy dried himself with a towel, and decided that he was clean enough, so he hobbled to his bed, and finally allowed himself to lie down, wrapping himself in a thick blanket.
Guy was exhausted, but he couldn’t sleep. His leg was really sore, but it wasn’t it that kept him awake.
He was afraid.
Merchants were always at risk of being robbed, and the roads weren’t safe. Moreover they were headed to villages that were far from Nottingham, and for sure the outlaws there wouldn’t adopt the no killing policies of Robin Hood.
Traveling was dangerous and Guy was terrified that he was leading his men to a gruesome death. In his past, he had never the chance to be a real leader, he only did what Vaisey ordered him to do and the Sheriff always pointed up that he was an idiot, that he couldn’t do anything right without his guidance.
He was just undermining me, as usual.
But the whole plan to sell the flour far from Knighton was his idea, and Guy was afraid that it would turn into a failure. If that happened, he would destroy the lives of many persons other than his own: Marian and her father, Allan, the guards, the men from Knighton and their families…
They had all decided to trust him, and Guy didn’t want to disappoint them.
He touched the little silver cross resting on his chest, and smiled, feeling a little reassured.
Marian believes in me.
Allan turned in the bed, hugged the pillow and continued to snore.
Guy glanced at him with an amused grin. His snores didn’t bother him too much, some of his guards used to snore even more than the outlaw, and he was glad for his presence.
Still holding the silver cross in his hand, Guy closed his eyes, trying to sleep. He forced himself to take his mind off all the things that could go wrong, and he remembered Marian’s hug, the sweet warmth of her body pressed against him, the scent of her skin. Her trust.
I will succeed. For you. He thought, finally slipping in an exhausted sleep.

It had been strange for Marian to suddenly find herself in the house without the presence of the black knight around her, or better, near her, as if, despite the fact that there were still so many people living and working in her family home, her house was quieter, emptier.
With the prudence that Matilda had widely reminded her to use to avoid a risky setback of her fever, Marian sat on an old rocking chair near the window. She didn’t want to sew anymore, or to read, and she had been recommended not to go visit her father in his room, at least for another day, for his sake.
Being locked in the house, in her room, in a tight border between the bed and the window, she felt that she was becoming almost crazy.
She had been there just for a few days, and they had seemed a lifetime to her. How did Guy endure all this, trapped in her room for months, with much more pain, much more fear, knowing that he was neither loved nor well-liked?
Marian felt guilty, for all the times she had avoided his gaze and his company during the months of his illness, for having taken care of him, but perhaps with little heart, to have been distrustful of him, of his feelings for so long. She felt sorry. It seemed to her she was beginning to understand him better. To understand Guy. And now she was sorry, and sad.
So her mind began to wander. She missed going out. She felt the lack of open air in the morning, though the heat of summer was still far away. She felt the lack of the exercise that she was used to do to be ready to get into action as the Nightwatchman, when she was needed, in the quietest nights, in the darkest nights.
She missed the precious time she dedicated to refining her movements, listening to every noise around her, breathing in perfect synchrony with the action of her hands, arms, and body.
Finding the perfect coordination between her eyes and arm, throwing knives, with ever greater precision. Throwing arrows with her bow.
She missed her exercises with the sword. Hit, parry, dodge, playing on her speed and her young, feminine agility against the power and strength of men, of Vaisey's guards.
Guy came to her mind, when he didn’t know anything about her, when he didn't know her secret ‘life with a mask’, when he was fighting hard against her, believing her to be a boy.
She remembered his blows against her. He was strong, powerful, agile, lethal. A single moment of distraction and she would have been finished.
Often, she had saved her own life with small tricks, mostly visual deception, or speed against his powerful body.
A little smart fox against a big, strong, dark wolf.
But now, with every deception among them revealed, Marian realized how big was the risk she had actually taken in battling against him for so long.
If someday, in a battle, he had hurt her, wounded her, if he had taken the mask away from her, Marian imagined now his face, looking at her, unmasked. Amazement, confusion, fear, horror, pure pain.
She imagined Guy, saying: “No, not you,” chocking on his own words, losing his voice in his fear. She imagined deep pain in his eyes.
For the first time, Marian imagined what could have happened between them in the light of the feelings he felt for her. His feelings of love for her, that now she knew.
“My God, what would have been of us,” Marian thought, “of me, of him.”
Now that he was away from her, now that he was traveling, risking his life and his health to ensure the survival of Knighton and her family, Marian realized that she had not told everything she wanted to tell Guy, that there were things that she had understood just now.
She missed him. A sad tear came down on her cheek.
She closed her eyes, trying to think of something else, and imagined instead herself in a sunny morning, in the garden, training hard and smooth with her sword, and him watching her training.
Would he ever accept her, besides being loved, wanted, from him, for what she was, for what she felt to be?
Something at the real bottom of her heart told her that it was already so, that she just had to wait for his return. The hours now seemed longer to go, waiting to see him again.
One day, perhaps, they would have their training, together, in the morning.
And, if he had been a good comrade in arms to her, who knows, maybe one day she would teach him one of her tricks.
Marian smiled, while another tear ran down her face.

Guy looked at the men who were unloading the last sack of flour from the wagon, and he smiled.
They had reached the villages with no effort and everything went well. Only a couple of outlaws tried to rob them on their way there, but they were so scrawny and battered that the guards managed to keep them at bay with no effort.
Actually, they were so young and looked so miserable that, when the guards arrested them, Guy ended up giving them a piece of bread before letting them go. He knew that he should have them killed or at least flogged, and the Sheriff would have punished him for showing humanity, but he remembered too well when he was their age and in the same situation, so hungry and scared that he would have done anything just to find some food for his sister and himself.
After that, nobody else tried to attack the convoy and they quickly sold all the flour.
Allan reached Guy and looked at the money he got from this last sale.
“Are they paying that much?” He asked, amazed. It was more than they could hope and, with the money they earned, they could easily pay the taxes. And that money was going to increase when they would sell milk and cheese to the people of Nettlestone.
They would buy them on their way back, and Guy and Allan already had an agreement with some farmers near the border to purchase their products.
Guy gave him a smug grin, and Allan patted him on a shoulder.
“Nice work, Giz! You had a good idea! People will worship us, when we’ll go back and save their houses!”
“Let’s go back before celebrating,” Guy said, pleased, but more sober than Allan, “we still have to face a long and dangerous trip to get home.”
“Always optimistic, uh, Giz?”
Allan helped him to get on the first wagon, and then he climbed on it too. Now that the wagons were empty, it was better to protect the one that carried the money.
The first part of the trip was uneventful and they decided to spend the night near the border, at the farm of one of the men who were going to sell milk and cheese to them. Doing so, the next morning they could load fresher milk and take it directly to Nettlestone. If everything went well, they could be back at Knighton before sunset and Guy couldn’t wait to be home again.
He suddenly realized that he had began to think of Knighton as his home.
It was a wrong definition, of course: he was a guest, and he would never have been there if he hadn’t been injured.
But the manor had the same warmth of a home for him, and that was a sensation he had almost forgotten.
Guy looked around to check his men: the farmer let them spend the night in the main hall of his house, and the men arranged some beds, stuffing old sacks with hay. They huddled together near the fireplace to keep warm in the cold winter night.
Allan wasn’t there, but he came back after a while, dragging a real bed, with mattress and pillows, with the help of one of the farmers.
They placed it near the fireplace, and Allan gave a coin to the boy.
“What are you doing? What’s that?” Guy asked, frowning.
“A bed?” Allan answered, innocently.
“I can see that’s a bed. Why did you pay that boy to take it here? The others are sleeping on the floor, do you think you are privileged?”
“It’s for you, Giz.”
Guy stared at him, dumbfounded.
“For me?! I never asked for it. I don’t need it.”
“And I don’t need to endure Matilda’s wrath. When we met her in the forest, she managed to tell me that she’d flay me alive if I didn’t take care of you. Come on, Giz, I know that traveling all day is painful for your leg, you can’t sleep on the floor, on a sack full of hay. Matilda would yell at both of us if she knew that you slept there and that I let you do it.”
Before Guy could reply, one of his guards nodded, agreeing with Allan.
“He’s right, Sir Guy. We heard the witch menacing him...”
“Matilda is not a witch.” Guy interrupted him.
“Yes, Sir Guy. Sorry. But she really said that Allan had to care for your health. And we all agree with her.”
Guy looked at him, even more surprised.
“You… what?”
“You have to take care of yourself, Sir Guy. When the Sheriff fired you, we refused to work for him, even if that meant that we had to struggle to feed our families, but then you offered this job to us. Thanks to you, our children won’t starve and our wives won’t take ill this winter. You’re very brave, Sir Guy, nobody would blame you for sleeping in a real bed.”
“I’m not brave.”
The guard shook his head.
“I was there when the accident happened, I was one of the men who took you to Knighton Hall afterwards. If I may be honest, Sir Guy, I thought that you were done for, that a man couldn’t survive such wounds and so much pain. But you’re alive, and even if you’re still ailing, you’re working hard to save Knighton. This is bravery, Sir Guy.”
Gisborne couldn’t find an answer, too surprised and moved to speak at all.
“Well,” Allan said, with a little shrug, “the bed is here now and I’m not going to pay another coin to have it carried away, so just stop complaining and sleep on it, Giz. Or if you don’t, I will, but then you are going to explain to Matilda that your leg is paining you because you were too stubborn. I’m not going to take the blame for it.”
Guy understood that he couldn’t win, so he sat on the bed with a sigh, trying to ignore Allan’s grin.

Chapter Text

The insistence with which Vaisey pushed him to go to Knighton to recover the large sum of taxes due to the kingdom seemed absolutely ridiculous to Alexander.
Whether it was tomorrow or in a week, what would have changed?
It was unthinkable that Knighton had all that money. It was just a matter of time, and Vaisey would have his revenge.
The Redhead was not in a hurry to have Locksley's former fiancée as an enemy.
To have Locksley for enemy, mostly, he didn't care for the woman.
For every woman, of course.
So when the guards he had sent to Knighton, scouting, came back to him, and, very concerned, they told him that they had seen strange, unusual movements of wagons on the road to Nettlestone, he had looked at them with sufficiency and contempt. But he had changed expression, in his face, from indifference to suspect and curiosity, mostly, when the young guards described who was driving those wagons.
The half-french, back on his feet, back on head of something. There was actually something weird about a man who had been reduced to complete misery by Vaisey being now an armed leader of a shipment.
What kind of shipment was it? What did Gisborne carry in his wagons, and on whose behalf?
Surely going to take a closer look at the situation would be less tedious than assisting Vaisey in the torture of one of his many, useless, dirty, miserable, agonizing prisoners.
He was not a torturer of prisoners, and killing was a matter of necessity and efficiency. Fast and true. It was not fun, nor regret. Nothing personal.
He decided to leave for Nettlestone, with the small patrol, to see with his own eyes.
The only truly reliable ones.

Allan took a bite from a piece of cheese, and he slouched on his seat, holding the reins with one hand, relaxed.
“We have to sell that cheese, don’t eat the cargo,” Guy said, and Allan shrugged.
“Take it easy, Giz. We have plenty. I’m hungry and I think we had deserved it. Do you want some? It’s good.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full, it’s disgusting,” Guy said, but he took some cheese.
Now they were crossing the forest to reach Nettlestone, and Guy was glad that they were getting near home. He allowed himself to think that the trip was almost finished and that soon they would be back to Knighton, successful.
He felt proud of himself: his plan had worked even better than he thought, and they would be back with more money than the sum needed for the taxes. Even more than that, once they sold the milk and cheese to the people of Nettlestone.
He couldn’t be as relaxed as Allan was, though. He was used to bad luck, and he was afraid that something could still happen to make him fail again.
Hadn’t he been so anxious, maybe he wouldn’t have noticed the movement into the undergrowth that alerted him.
“Allan, I think that we’re being followed,” he whispered to the outlaw, then he signed to the guards to alert them too.
Just a moment after, a group of outlaws attacked the convoy: some of them were riding horses, while many other were running towards the wagons, brandishing every kind of weapons.
“To arms!” Guy shouted, taking the bow and nocking an arrow. He released it, aiming at one of the bandits and missing him.
He cursed, and took another arrow. The guards attacked, trying to defend the wagons.
This time Guy’s arrow hit one of the outlaws and the man fell from his horse and crashed to the ground.
Gisborne glanced at Allan, who was using a bow too.
“Are these Hood’s men?!”
“No! Of course not!” Allan answered, almost outraged. “Robin could attack you or your guards if he had a good reason, but he wouldn’t harm people from Knighton! We don’t kill innocent people!”

The Redhead watched, far from the gaze of Gisborne and his men, the fight between the expedition and a group of dirty, raged, outlaws. The bush perfectly concealed them, he and his patrol.
So it was true, Gisborne was traveling through the forest on behalf of Knighton's interests.
What the wagons transported was still unclear, from his point of observation, even if it was possible to speculate on a commercial transport.
So Gisborne was not lying in the street to beg for money, as Vaisey wanted, but he had begun to trade.
But by the turn that the battle was taking, he would not be in the trade much longer.
He would not be alive for much longer, probably.
The guards around him were nervous, looking at him, waiting for their orders.
To bring them help, or to bring the ultimate defeat to all those people?
What could be Vaisey's best interest in that story?
And what is his best interest?
Alexander, with the utmost contempt in his face, looked at Guy fighting for his life.
Then he smiled: as Gisborne had not been able to kill the King, despite the conditions he had prepared to facilitate him, he would not be saved even this time. Neither he, nor the people he was fighting with.
He was a failure, Gisborne, so much so that he deserved to die from failing.
Above all, it was about time to go to Knighton, and collect taxes. To collect everything and immediately. With every means.
He gave the men the order to mount their horses and they set off at a gallop.

One of the outlaws galloped near their wagon, trying to grab the reins and stop the horses. He was too close to use the bow, so Guy unsheathed his sword and slashed at him, throwing him off his horse.
He turned to look at the other wagons: the guards were trying to protect them, and the peasants were fighting too, but the outlaws were many and ruthless, and Guy knew that they didn’t have many chances.
He gave the reins to Allan.
“Take the wagon to Nettlestone and don’t stop until you are there.”
“We can’t afford to lose the money or we’ll lose Knighton too.”
“Giz? What are you going to do?”
Guy looked at the horse of the outlaw he had killed: the animal was still running at the side of the wagon, and Guy managed to grab the reins.
Allan looked at him, astonished.
“Are you insane, Giz? You can’t...”
“I organized this, it’s my duty to protect my men.”
“But… your leg!”
Guy wielded his sword.
“I need my arms to use this, and those are strong enough. Help me to get on that horse.”
“You’ll get yourself killed!”
“Well, I’m not going to wait here until they slay everyone and then kill us too. If I must die, I’ll go down fighting. Now help me!”
Allan surrendered. It was clear that Guy wasn’t going to change his mind, so he helped him to get on the horse.
“All right Giz, do as you wish, but you aren’t going alone.” Allan called one of the men who were driving the second wagon, and ordered him to jump on the first wagon and to take the reins, repeating Gisborne’s instruction to run away and find sanctuary at Nettlestone.
The man obeyed, glad that he could get away from the danger, and Allan took another horse, after killing the outlaw who was riding it.
Allan looked back, searching for Guy: the knight was already charging at the outlaws, using his sword to attack them.
“Well, he’s good,” Allan said to himself, then he spurred his horse and ran to defend the other side of the convoy.

Guy arrived on his enemies like the angel of death, swinging his sword in deathly arcs. His horse galloped along the convoy and the knight killed many of the outlaws who were attacking it, before they could react. Allan was doing the same on the other side of the wagons.
After the first surprise attack, the bandits regrouped to fight back: they were vicious and desperate enough to be dangerous. One of them succeeded in hitting the horse of one of Guy’s guards and the man fell to the ground and was trapped by the weight of the animal. He was struggling to get himself free, when three of the bandits reached him, ready to kill.
Guy noticed that the man was in danger, and he rushed to attack the three outlaws. He wounded one of them, but another one grabbed the reins of his horse, stopping him. The third lunged to hit Guy with a dagger, but missed him and hit the horse, instead. The animal reared, throwing Guy to the ground.
He landed on his left side, so the injured leg wasn’t hurt in the fall, but still the impact on the ground was enough to take his breath away for a moment.
The outlaws attacked, and Guy just had the time to think that he was going to die, when Allan stepped between them, blocking the blades with his own sword.
He began fighting with both the outlaws at the same time, and saw that the one that Guy had wounded was lifting himself from the ground and was ready to attack them too.
Even Guy stood up, but his sword had fallen too far away for him to reach it in time, so he wielded his short, curved dagger, resolute to fight for his life and to protect the convoy.
“Giz, I think we are in trouble,” Allan whispered, noticing that some of the other bandits were approaching, ready to attack. The guards and the villagers were too busy fighting to help Guy and Allan.
“They know that if they kill us, the others will be easy to deal with. We have to win this battle or the others will be destroyed.”
“I’m afraid we are the doomed ones,” Allan said, but he moved so that he was back to back with Gisborne, and they both got ready to fight till the end.
They had no more time to talk or even to think, the fight taking all their concentration. Guy killed one of the outlaws and took his sword, but another one was ready to take his place, and kept attacking.
At his back, Allan was fighting with all his energies and Guy couldn’t help wondering why. The young man was risking his life to protect him while it would have been safer for him to fight on his own or to run away. This wasn’t Allan’s battle and he already had a place in the gang of Robin Hood, there was no real reason for him to risk his life to save Knighton.
Guy slashed the throat of his opponent with a blow of his sword, then he noticed that another outlaw was charging at Allan with a dagger in his hand, ready to stab him. With a shove, Guy pushed Allan out of the harm’s way, and the blade of the knife touched his own face, leaving a cut on Guy’s cheek.
Moving, he had put his weight on the injured leg, and it gave way, making him stumble and fall down. Allan turned to help him back to his feet, but the bandits attacked again, taking advantage of their vulnerability.
Guy knew that they had no chance to react in time, and that they were both going to die, but, before the bandits could touch them, a rain of arrows hit the outlaws, killing them on the spot.
Gisborne stared at them, amazed: just a moment ago they were going to slay both Allan and him, and now they were on the ground, lifeless.
“Hood...” Guy whispered, recognizing the fletching of the arrows, while Allan gave an enthusiastic cry.
“They came! They came to help us!”

“Gisborne! Knighton Men! Drop your weapons, we are here to help you !” Robin shouted out, accompanied by Djaq, Much, Little John and Will, still with the bow ready in their hands.
Allan smiled, and sighed with relief, he was exhausted.
Robin put his attention to Gisborne, he seemed even more exhausted. He was limping hard, he was injured But he had fought too. More than the others.
He had also a bad cut on his cheek. He got it it when he tried to defend Allan. Robin had seen it happening, and could not believe his eyes.
And here he was, the silent hero of the day....dark as usual.
Gisborne was not smiling, he was looking around, as if to evaluate in a few seconds how many injured people there were between his men and the villagers from Knighton, and how many damages the five wagons had.
In the end, the wounded seemed to be few, and all their injuries limited. The most of the impact of the battle had been absorbed by Guy and Allan.
Robin saw Guy put his sword back in the sheath. Then the knight approached the wounded, all of them, to check their conditions, making no difference between his soldiers and the simple peasants from Knighton.
He was worried for everyone.
Little John, Djaq, Much and Will did the same, helping everyone.
Guy went to see the guard who had nearly been trampled under the horse.
The young man was crying softly for the pain, and for the danger escaped, touching his wounded, probably broken leg with his trembling hand.
But he was alive.
Guy silently put a hand on his shoulder. Their eyes crossed. Relief, and gratitude, between them.
Understanding the same pain. Without words.
Then Little John came, never looking at Guy's face, who helped the man get up on his unhurt leg, and Djaq, and she took care of him.
Guy walked away, drying a tear from his eye, secretly.
Robin watched the scene, his eyes still ready, checking that there were no other criminals ready for a further ambush.

He would have expected public gratitude from his rival, in the end he had saved him from certain death, of course. But he had also seen him fighting with great courage and till last breath, on this occasion, and he was astonished to see him also worrying about the lives of others and not only about his own.
Fighting to save other lives.
The scene was a strange contrast to the times he had crossed him before, when he was still the sheriff's faithful servant. Servant of the devil.
Guy had been, on this occasion, instead, a real, true commander, a true leader, ready to the sacrifice and at the same time voted to sell his life dearly.
Almost... admirable, in his eyes.
But he wouldn’t have tell him, no matter what.
After all, without his intervention everyone would be dead, all the same.
He was still an enemy.
“Come on Gisborne, you know how to recognize a good surprise attack when you see one, right?” Robin said.
He noticed the cut on the cheek of the dark Knight.
But Guy did not answer, his face grim, dark.
Allan came up from the road and grabbed Robin's hand with joy, embracing him.
“Thanks Robin! Without you and the lads we probably wouldn’t have survived! We were nearly going to die!”
"You can take the probably out of your speech,” Robin said. “What’s up with Gisborne? Too proud to come here to say thank you?” He added, smirking.
“Leave him alone, Robin, he fought hard for all of us, and, believe me, he was not in any physical condition to fight. I saw him suffer, more than once. I know how he suffered, his pain, and his fear, but he has never abandoned the field.”
“Be careful, Allan, being so close to the enemy could hurt you in the end. Don't trust him. It will be better to rethink your presence around him in the near future. It's for the best.”
Allan felt annoyed, Robin didn’t seem to want to keep his opinion in mind, as if it wasn’t important, and above all he didn’t seem to want to take into account his ideas about Giz.
He didn’t know which of the two things bothered him more, but he didn’t tell Robin.
It was neither the time nor the place.
He was only happy to have escaped death and relieved that it was the same for Guy.

Chapter Text

Allan bent to pick up Gisborne’s cloak. The velvet garment was lying on the road, near one of the wagons. Probably Guy lost it during the fight or when he fell from the horse.
The young man glanced at him: Gisborne was sitting on a rock, alone, and he looked a little upset.
Probably he was in pain too, Allan thought, a little worried. The knight had blood on his face, a few bruises, and a long cut on his cheek.
Allan hoped that those were the only damages he got during the fight, and he wished that Matilda was there to check his conditions.
His expression lit when he saw Djaq walking towards him, a worried look on her face.
“Allan! Are you hurt?” She asked.
Allan frowned.
“No, I’m fine.”
“You’re covered in blood!”
“Not mine.” He pointed at the bodies of the bandits, lying at the side of the road. “I killed a few of them. And then I suppose it’s blood from Giz, too. He suffered a few injuries during the fight.”
“Giz… Gisborne. He’s over there, I left him sitting on that rock while I went to check on the other men.”
“You call him ‘Giz’? And you’re still alive to tell it?”
Allan grinned.
“When you get to know him, he’s not that bad. Maybe you should fix his wounds, I think he’s in pain.”
Djaq looked at him, surprised.
“Are you actually worried for Gisborne?! He’s our enemy!”
Allan shrugged.
“He has another side. When the sheriff is not around, he’s another person. A decent person.”
Djaq was surprised to see that Allan seemed to really care for Gisborne. Just a few months before, she had sat with him in an alley trying to soothe the sorrow for the death of his brother. Maybe Gisborne wasn’t the person who hanged Tom, but at that time he was an ally of the Sheriff, someone that Allan should hate.
The girl smiled to herself: Allan could seem careless and selfish sometimes, but she knew that his heart was in the right place. Now that he was working at Knighton, she missed his funny presence at the camp and she was happy that he came out unscathed from the fight with the bandits.
“I will,” she conceded, “if you really want this, I’ll treat that scoundrel too.”
Allan rewarded her with a warm smile, then one of the men from Knighton called him, and he sighed.
“I have to see what they want. I wish we had more time to talk, you have to tell me what’s going on at the camp while I’m away.”
“And you’ll tell me what you do all day in the house of a noble,” Djaq said, with a laugh.
Allan smiled and handed her Guy’s cloak.
“Could you give this to Giz?” He said, with another glance at the knight, “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
The man went to reach the villager who had called him, and Djaq looked at the cloak she was holding.
Well, she thought, if she had to treat Gisborne’s injuries, she’d better do it immediately. She still thought that he was a dangerous foe, but Allan was right, he was also a human being, and, as a healer, it was her duty to ease pain, even if the patient was an enemy.

Guy was sitting on a rock, allowing himself to catch his breath. The other men were tending to their injuries or fixing damaged wagons before continuing their trip to Nettlestone.
Robin Hood’s men were helping them, and Guy didn’t know what to think of it. The outlaw had always been his enemy, but he had saved his life, and Guy didn’t know if he felt more humiliated or grateful for that.
He closed his eyes for a moment. He was tired and in pain, but he couldn’t complain: his leg was sore, but it wasn’t worse than usual, even if he rode a horse. His cheek was throbbing where the blade of the bandit had cut it, but he knew that it wasn’t a deep or serious wound.
When he opened his eyes again, a dark skinned woman was standing in front of him.
It was the saracen woman of Robin Hood’s gang. Allan sometimes talked about his friends, and her name, something like Jack, was often on his lips. According to him, the saracen woman was intelligent, compassionate, skillful with a sword, and a good healer too.
Guy glanced at her, wondering what she wanted from him.
Djaq was holding his blue cloak, and she handed it to Guy.
“Allan said that this is yours. You must be freezing.” Her voice had a foreign accent, but her English was correct.
Gisborne took the cloak and hurried to wear it. She was right, now that the heat of the fight had ended, he was shivering.
He thanked her with a nod, but he was wary: what did she want from him, why was she staring at him like that?
“That’s quite a cut,” the girl said, looking at his face, and Guy touched his cheek, than he looked at the blood on his fingers.
“It’s nothing, just a scratch.”
“Enough to make Allan worried for you, though. Let me see.”
She made a step forward, lifting a hand to touch his face, and Guy flinched. Djaq gave an ironic look at him.
“What? Are you afraid that I could rub salt in it?”
“Will you? I don’t know what I can expect from one of Robin Hood’s gang.”
Djaq rolled her eyes.
“If we wanted to hurt you, we could just have stayed at the camp instead of coming here to fight those bandits. We may be enemies, but I’m a healer, I don’t use my skills to damage people. If I wanted to hit you, I’d punch you or I’d use a weapon.”
“This should be reassuring?” Guy asked, with a little smirk.
“For now, yes. Be still, let me see.”
This time, Guy let her check his wound, and the girl put a salve on it, taking the ointment from a little wooden box she had in her bag.
“There’s no need for stitches, but keep it clean. It bled a lot, but it’s not deep.”
“Told you.”
Djaq looked at him for a few seconds.
“What?” He asked, ill at ease. “Why are you staring at me?”
“You are not an easy one to kill, are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I heard that you had been trampled by your guards’ horses and that you almost died.”
“It’s true. Matilda saved my life.”
“I heard about that woman, people say she’s a good healer. Someday I’d like to meet her.” Djaq paused for a moment, then she looked at Guy. “In my land, I’ve seen men trampled by horses. Most of them died, others were damaged for life.”
Guy looked at his leg.
“I think I am damaged for life,” he said, softly, more to himself than to Djaq.
The girl shook her head.
“I’ve seen you fighting. You could ride, you were able to defend your people, you can walk on your own if you use that,” she pointed to the crutch, “you can consider yourself lucky. If a limp and some pain is all you will get from that accident, you can be grateful both to your God and to Matilda. Some of the men I was talking about were bedridden for the rest of their lives. Some of them couldn’t even move their legs or their arms, another one could walk, but he had been hit in the head and he had become like an infant: he couldn’t speak or reason properly, and his wife had to clean him many times a day because he wasn’t able to control his physical needs.”
Guy nodded.
“I see. I shouldn’t complain.”
Djaq gave a surprised look at him, she didn’t expect him to agree or to really consider her words so meekly. Maybe Allan was right, she thought, and there was more of Gisborne than they all thought, a different side of him.
“No, you shouldn’t. But you should go now, it looks like that your convoy is ready to depart again, I think they are waiting for you.”

And so they were, in good order, wagons and guards and peasants all in their established positions, the expedition members were ready to leave, waiting for their leader. Guy took his place on the wagon head of the group.
Robin approached the knight.
“I think all here we care about the outcome of this expedition, am I right?” He said, turning to Guy.
Guy raised his eyebrow.
“Of course, Locksley. Now, on behalf of everyone here, thank you, Knighton will be very grateful to you, but now we have to leave, we've lost too much time here, every moment is precious for us. We must go to Nettlestone and get back to Knighton as quickly as we can.”
Guy would never admit to Robin to be overly concerned now for leaving Marian and Sir Edward alone. What happened to them here could happen to Knighton at any moment.
He realized that the County hid many more dangers now than when he had been the Sheriff's Master at Arms . Or maybe at that time he had been too busy following the Sheriff's madness and orders to realize it. From a certain moment on, all his attention had focused on catching Robin and everything else had disappeared from his attention. One of his many faults, Guy thought.
If Knighton was attacked by outlaws Marian could defend it herself, now Guy knew it. She was the Nightwatchman. And she was good at fighting.
But the recent illness had weakened her, and he wanted to go back to protect her, right now. But Knighton needed money too.
“Do you want to advise us on the best route to get to Nettlestone from here, Locksley ? For once I might be tempted to follow your advice.” Guy smirked.
“Yes, I might, but I have a better plan in mind, we will accompany you there.”
“What?” Guy said, “Aren't you not worried about your reputation if you are seen at Nettlestone with the previous bad Master at Arms, Locksley?” Although he was actually very tempted to accept the proposal. Robin's arrows were a good help, he knew.
“My reputation will survive,” Robin replied. “Yours might even improve with our presence near you. In any case, I do it for Knighton's people here, for the people in Knighton waiting for you, and for Marian's family, obviously.”
The reference to Marian made Guy's blood boil.
Containing his jealousy had never been his specialty. But his jealousy for Marian had no precedent for strength and intensity. The truth was that he had never loved so intensely. Except for his mother.
He refrained from answering that Marian was his business alone, sending Robin to hell, just because she wasn't his, sadly.
And mostly because Allan at his side looked at him with an afflicted look that suggested him to let go of any controversy and accept the proposal, for God's sake.
“Good, Hood, let's go now,” Guy said.
Robin couldn’t help adding, subtly, for only Guy to hear him: “Better to stay by your side, Gisborne, just case you were to sell your goods at a not too fair price to Nettlestone's peasants.”
“Don't tell me, Hood, among your many talents there is also being an expert in cheese prices?” Guy said, annoyed.
“I have many more talents than you can imagine, Gisborne. You could be astonished," Hood smiled.”

With the Half-French engaged in combat, and the road virtually free from any obstacles, the Redhead was ahead of time when he arrived at Knighton.
An easy mission: he’d go there, claim the due fees, knowing in advance that the sum was to high for them to be able to pay for it, then he’d play his role, and finally he’d lead the old Lord and the young Lady in Nottingham under arrest, to appease Vaisey's jealousy and rage.
Not before seizing everything possible from the manor, of course.
There was always something good in a seizure, even better in a sack, with the approval of the state.
There were always jewels that could be hidden in his pockets, money that could disappear in his saddlebags. Nothing that was necessary to tell the old sheriff, who was only interested in revenge on the girl.
A trap.
To stir so much clamor in the county, the girl had to be beautiful. It was a shame that age had already put her in the spinsters' group. Only the convent would remain, as a destiny, shortly, for her.
Or the Half-French failure and crippled man as a husband.
So much wasted beauty, in both cases.
It was therefore with curiosity and personal greed that Alexander galloped toward Knighton.
He hadn’t met Robin Hood along the road to the manor. This promised even better.
The five men of Vaisey's patrol accompanied him.
They arrived in the courtyard, raising a big cloud of dust. The peasants, on their arrival, sought desperate shelter in their homes, and in the stables, wherever they could hide.
Within a few minutes, Knighton looked like a country decimated by some calamity. Or rather, it looked like the desert.
The Redhead smiled.
They would not escape.
He got off the horse, and his soldiers did the same, to go immediately to Lord Knighton's residence.
He knocked hard at the door.
From within he heard screams, and he imagined waitresses and servants , their fear, the same escape and hide scenes. All useless.
Vaisey would have found it fun, but Alexander was a practical man, he took care only about his business and interest. He found these strategies childish.
Susan ran to warn James, who, frightened by that sudden and unexpected arrival, and by Sir Guy's absence, came quickly to the door, trying to intercept the soldiers.
“So soon? Today is not the predetermined day,” he thought.
Lord Knighton, still sick, didn’t know about the tax day and the request for increased tax. They all had been hiding it in order to keep him from worrying. It could have been fatal for his fragile health and life.
James came, breathless, behind the soldiers, with Alexander knocking at the door again and screaming: “Open, in the name of the King!”
“My Lord,” he said, almost suffocating, “please, Lord Knighton is very sick and frail. I am the manager of the manor, I am here to serve you.”
Alexander turned to see the frail old man behind him.
“Lord Knighton is a servant of the King like everyone else, and he will answer for his faults, if this is the case. Now let us in, or we'll break the door, right now.”
Shaking, James knocked on the window to show himself, so the other servants would open.
James entered the house, followed by the Redhead and the soldiers.
At the top of the staircase, Marian followed the scene, uncertain whether to go down or run to her room to take her sword.
But Alexander's eyes flashed on her, pinning her there.
“People of Knighton Manor, we are here to collect the due taxes, now,” Alexander said, with strong and severe voice, “You had been warned, in due time, so you shouldn’t have troubles, I imagine, with so prosperous fields around you.”
“My lord, we are certainly collecting the required money, but we weren’t expecting you here for a few days. The scheduled date for the request you had indicated is...”
Alexander interrupted him, taking him by the collar. He felt the old bones of the man trembling under his grip.
Pathetic, Alexander thought.
“We don’t have time to waste,” he said, then he let him go. “Your loyalty to the King and his Sacred cause will be questioned if you won’t pay immediately your debt.”
“The cause of the King of England is sacred to us more than anything else,” James said. “The honor of this family is the honor of the King. I assure you. We had a difficult year, good harvest but little demand, we only need a few more days...”
In response, Alexander slapped the old man, who fell to the ground.
Marian ran down the stairs, still breathless because of the recent illness.
“Leave him, leave him now! I am Lord Edward's daughter, it is with me that you must speak, Sir.”
Alexander smiled mockingly.
This was the girl at the center of the contest. Beautiful, of course, a typical English beauty, but nothing extraordinary, nothing memorable.
Nothing to die for.
Probably the Half-French was dying, literally, for her, under the attack of outlaws, right now. She was pretty, but nothing to lose positions and power, and nothing to fight for.
Certainly she had the proud look of the woman used to be served and revered. The arrogance of a young noble, completely useless if not to make children and to wear beautiful clothes.
Alexander was beginning to find the situation amusing.
He could humiliate her before she took her away. He could afford to lose a little time, in the end.
“Lord Knighton's daughter? One of her waiters, one would say, judging by your clothes,” the Redhead snorted.
Piqued, but determined not to show her fear, Marian replied: “Yes, Sir, I'm recovering from a bad illness. I would expect respect from an important man like you. We will pay everything that is due.”
“Forgive me, Miss. I wasn’t gallant. But gallantry has nothing to do with taxes and breaking the law. The previous master at arms had used too much… humanity, with you. Humanity does not support a royal army. Humanity is... weakness, you know. Music has changed. It's time for you to face the truth.”
The commander didn’t seem to be the type to be deceived, and the reference to Guy and his past behavior toward her had shaken her inside.
Guy had looked fierce at the time, cruel, not gentle, then he began to court her, and she had exchanged his embarrassment for hardness, for lack of feeling, when it was the exact opposite.
Until the story of the “missing” necklace, Guy had been just unwanted and intrusive, in her life, sneaky, but basically he didn’t want to hurt her.
He had felt betrayed that day. And he had been, in fact, deceived. Even though he didn’t know it. She had lied to him all the way.
In his tortuous way he... loved her, now Marian knew.
She realized that Vaisey was not just trying to ruin Knighton economically. There was something more perverse in his mind.
And the worst thing was that even the man she faced now, a perfect stranger, seemed willing to hurt her, instead.
She thought of Guy, and hoped, prayed, that he would come back soon, thinking about how to take time, what else to offer to the man. Maybe he could be corrupted by something.
“My lord, please,” Marian tried her best humble smile, “we haven’t started our conversation in the best way. I'm sure we could find an agreement. Please sit down, Sir, meanwhile I'll bring you some good wine.”
“I don’t care about your ‘good’ wine. Give it to the pigs. You don’t have the money? Well. We will proceed to the seizure of your harvest, then. Men!”
“No, no, no, Sir , we no longer have the most of the harvest, only the flour necessary for the survival of the people of Knighton, for this winter. Our... our emissary has brought it to the neighboring countries to sell it, and we are just waiting for his return. Then we will be able to pay for everything. Please, sir, don't...”
“Your ‘emissary’, Lady? I do not think you'll see him here anymore. Men, go ahead!”
Alexander stepped out of the door, chased by Marian, who didn’t understand what was happening.
Was he talking about Guy? What did he know about Guy? Had he fled with the cargo? It wasn’t possible. He couldn’t have stolen everything from her, as much as he was reduced to poverty.
Not him.
Not Guy, not Guy.
A voice in her head shouted at her to demand the whole truth from the commander. She clung to his arm.
"What do you know about him?” She screamed, no more countenance in her voice, in her manner.
Alexander threw her on the floor, and Marian couldn’t avoid the fall. The commander looked at her with contempt and fierce piety. He said in a very loud voice: “People of Knighton, these are King's orders! Come out of your houses immediately, if you don’t want us to set fire to everything. Now!”
The soldiers behind him were waiting for orders.
Marian turned back.
Pale as a dead man, her father, on the door, tried to pull his sword out of the sheath.
Marian shook her head with despair, to dissuade him from intervening.
The people came out, horrified, a lost look in their eyes. The children sought shelter behind the mothers' skirts, women's eyes were looking in the eyes of their husbands, and fathers, and brothers, who seemed to be already defeated.
“Soldiers, take everything valuable from the houses, from the stables, and from this woman's house, do not spare anything, or anyone. It's all confiscated in the name of the King. Now!”
Marian stood up.
“Stop, stop, Sir Guy will be here soon, we trust in him, we'll pay for everything!” The girl screamed.
Alexander smiled mockingly, anticipating the girl's reaction.
“Lady Knighton, you will never see Gisborne and your men again. They're all dead, by now!”

The inhabitants of Nettlestone were unloading the wagons, storing the cheese and distributing the milk to the families who needed it. Some of them were wondering if they really had to pay for it: Robin Hood was there, supervising the trade, and he usually gave them for free what they needed.
But Guy of Gisborne was there too, and they couldn’t understand why. The black knight usually came to take from them, to collect money for the taxes, or to punish someone, but not that day.
Everyone in the village had heard every sort of story about him: some said that he was dead, others that he had been injured so much that he was as good as dead, many knew that he had been fired by the Sheriff, and according to others he had become a beggar, an insane lunatic forced to rely on charity to survive.
The knight who was standing near the wagons proved all those voices wrong: it was clear that he had suffered a serious accident, he walked using a crutch and he looked weaker and thinner than he once had been, but he was standing with a proud stance, and he was watching carefully the trade, bargaining over the price of the cheese.
It was clear that he wasn’t going to give his supplies for free and that he expected to be paid for them. The villagers kept glancing at Robin Hood, hoping that he would intervene and force Gisborne to give them the cheese, but the outlaw didn’t do anything, he just stood there and supervised the trade.
That was confusing for the people of Nettlestone: Gisborne was an enemy, wasn’t he? Why Robin was allowing him to stay in the village? And why Gisborne came there carrying just the supplies they needed? Maybe he was an enemy, but he was selling perfectly good cheese for a price they were willing to pay, and he wasn’t hurting or menacing anyone, for once. Also, people from Knighton were with him, normal people, men they knew and who were friends or relatives, people they trusted.
It was a mystery that they couldn’t solve, but as long as nobody was getting hurt or killed, they could just accept it and try to get the best part of the bargain.

Allan looked at the wagons that were quickly being unloaded and he smiled. Apart from the attack from the bandits, their mission had been a success and Knighton was going to be safe.
He glanced at Guy, standing near the wagons. The knight looked exhausted, but very pleased, and proud of himself, completely different from the defeated and distraught Guy of Gisborne he had seen just a few days ago, when Marian was ill.
Now he was probably tired and in pain, his body not yet fully healed, but he was showing a inner strength, something that probably Guy himself didn’t know he had, until now.
“He’s not a common person, is he?”
Allan turned in hearing Djaq’s voice, and saw that the girl was at his side.
“Giz? No, he’s not. You can say many things about him, but when you get to know him a little better he can be full of surprises. This,” Allan gestured towards the wagons “has been his idea. With a little help on my side of course, but he actually found a way to save Knighton.”
Djaq laughed.
“You really like him. There’s admiration in your words!”
Allan shrugged.
“Well… Yes. What’s wrong with that?”
“He’s Gisborne!”
“He’s different than I thought. He’s changed. Hey, the man saved my life, more than once now.”
“I understand… But… Do you consider him a friend?”
Allan thought for a moment before answering.
“I guess so. Is that a crime?”
Djaq shook her head.
“Not for me. After all, I should be an enemy too. I’m a saracen, the king of England fights my people. We should hate each other, but the gang is a second family for me now. But I’m afraid that Robin wouldn’t understand if you fraternize with Gisborne. The friend of his enemy is an enemy.”
Allan remembered Robin’s words and he felt annoyed again. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, but Robin treated him like a stupid child, unable to have an opinion of his own or to estimate the risks of being acquainted with Gisborne.
“I know what I am doing, I’m not an idiot.” he said, curtly, and Djaq nodded.
She smiled at him and her eyes were warm, caring.
“I’m sure of that. Just be careful.”
Allan relented, answering to her smile.
“I will. Djaq?”
“Come to Knighton sometimes, just to have a little chat. I can’t come to the forest, not after Giz lied to the Sheriff’s guards to save my life. Go figure, he told them that I wasn’t an outlaw and that I worked for him. If they found out the truth, we’d be all done for. But if you come, nobody will notice you.”
“Maybe I will. When there is that healer too, Matilda. I want to talk with her, learn new things. Do you think that Gisborne will let me examine his wounds? I’m really curious to see what Matilda had done with his leg, and to ask her how he was just after the accident.”
“I don’t know. You can ask, but I can’t say what he will answer. I think he’s kinda shy.”
“Shy? Gisborne?! The one who went around cutting tongues and ill-treating peasants?” Djaq laughed, and Allan smiled too.
“Allan!” Guy called him in a demanding tone, and Allan saw that Guy was already sitting on his wagon, now empty except than for the money, and that he was waiting for him.
“I guess it’s time to go, he’s eager to return to Knighton as soon as possible.”
“Shy, uh? That yell didn’t sound shy at all.”
Allan shrugged.
“He just wants to go home. See you soon, come to see me at Knighton!”

Chapter Text

The words of that horrible man, the new Master at Arms, had struck her suddenly as if she had taken a full lash on her body.
A sudden, acute, fierce pain, then she had felt like her skin had been opened in two.
He couldn’t have died.
It wasn't possible.
It couldn't be possible.
He had left her house to help them, to help Knighton, to help her, he had faced a trip even if he wasn't completely healed. He had been so confident, so hopeful, the last time they had seen him.
He was tender, affectionate, warm.
It couldn’t be true.
That couldn’t have been their last, definitive meeting. The last moment that she would see his eyes looking at her, hear his voice asking for her, feel his presence beside her.
She would never see him again.
Her sorrow grew stronger from moment to moment. She was shaking, and the ideas in her mind overlapped and alternated with each other, in complete chaos.
Marian didn’t want it to be true.
Until a few months ago she would have rejoiced, she would celebrate if Guy had left Nottingham forever, but now, now that she knew him a little more, and she had known much more of his character, his heart, his dignity, she couldn't now have lost him forever.
She couldn’t accept losing him. Not now. She just couldn’t.
She felt she lacked the strength, she could not stand.
All this couldn’t be true.
It was then that she realized that there were arms holding her. They were holding her up. The arms of a man who loved her, and who she loved so much.
Her father had reached her, and, though with difficulty, he was there to support her and help her face something that she would never have imagined to experience: the dark, throbbing pain, for having lost a loved one too soon.
Stretched in her father's arms, Marian felt a little stronger, and she began to shout at the commander.
“How? Where? What do you know?” Marian cried, without control. Edward desperately tried to calm her, without succeeding.
“Hush! For God's sake, Marian, be silent! He will accuse you in turn, if you will accuse him, he will put us under arrest. Calm down, calm down my daughter,” Edward said, shaken and worried.
“What did you expect from a loser like him, ma'am?” Alexander said, looking at her with contempt. “He was a perfect failure. A man unable to complete a task even when all conditions are favorable. An incapable. A complete incapable. Gisborne will not come back again, beautiful lady. Put your heart in peace. Rest your silly head. Outlaws ambushed the group of wagons, and your knight, crippled and unable as he was, could not resist. They're all dead now.”
Marian realized that it was a possible truth, now.
Guy was sick, still so much in trouble with his leg. How could he fight in those conditions, and after so much time without being able to train?
And she had let him go, indeed she had encouraged him to go.
Once more she had done wrong to him. For the last time. She had sent him to die.
Pain and guilt. Remorse and regret. She was full of all of this and at the same time she felt empty, exposed, naked.
Tears, uncontrolled, were beginning to fall on her face. But Marian could not let herself go, losing her mind in that void that was trying to swallow her whole.
“How do YOU know that? How do YOU know Guy was crippled and fought till his death? Did you see him? Were you there? And if you were there, why you and your guards didn’t do anything? All the truth, I want the whole truth,” Marian yelled.
Feeling suddenly accused, the Redhead decided to humiliate her again.
“Yes, we saw them. But it was too late. Everything was done for. Nobody could be saved. So many words from such a tiny mouth. So many words, too big words, for one mouth so tiny. Look at them! Look at them. People here are crying silently with dignity, unlike you. Look at them, look at your women, mourning their husbands, their brothers... their children! They cry, they suffer, they do not make a show of their pain. They suffer more than you. They have lost more than you. In the end, what was Gisborne for you? Unseemly things someone might think of you, now. Despicable things for a lady of rank like you are. Look at them, they just suffer, without making absurd accusations. Take the right example from your simple, wise peasants, Lady Knighton. Do not say things now that you could shortly repent.”
Marian looked around. Other women were weeping, other ones were embracing their children. Guy hadn’t died alone. Her voice had been the only one that had risen to heaven, but the pain was the same for everyone. It made her equal to the other women of Knighton. Other men had died with him, for the sake of Knighton, of their own homes, of their own families. She was ashamed of how she had been exposed, but she felt inside her that her anger toward that big man, without piety, was just and sacrosanct.
Feeling to have back his advantage on the woman, Alexander finally added: “The time is sad, so sad, Knighton's people, but taxes are taxes. The Sheriff joins, in spirit, your sorrow, but I go back to ask you, for the last time: where is our money?”
He didn’t receive an answer as expected.
“Then YOU are forcing me, so be it! Take everything from them, I want to see all their property here, right here in front of me in five minutes.”
The soldiers entered the houses, like hungry rats in search of fresh food.
“Take my few jewels, take them all. I can give you my dowry to pay taxes,” Marian said, clinging to the redhead's uniform.
“Do you have any idea how much money Knighton owes to the Sheriff between current and previous taxes... and future ones? No? As I expected, I don’t think you have any idea, if everything we seize now will not be enough, we will be forced to arrest you and your father, and take you both to the Sheriff. I told you, young lady. He was overly human with you, poor Gisborne, he was weak, but from the fire you've shown today, who knows, maybe he might have had some advantage to show you clemency.”
Humiliated, Marian shrugged back to her father resigned arms. She knew well that her few jewels, inherited from her mother, wouldn’t be enough, and she trembled at the idea that her father could end up in a cell, not when he was so fragile.
My fault. In the end everything is my fault. Please forgive me, Guy, Marian thought.
She closed her eyes, defeated, as the people’s belongings began to be brought to the yard.
In short, everything possible was brought out. Nothing of real value. Their fate was sealed.

A little wagon approached Knighton Hall. Matilda was going to check Marian and Sir Edward 's conditions, like she had promised to Guy.
Matilda frowned, approaching the village: something wasn’t right. Everyone was out of their houses, all their belongings spread on the ground in front of them, and many women were crying.
Some guards, menacing and brutal, were collecting the people’s poor things, stuffing them in sacs and throwing them on a wagon. Lady Marian and Sir Edward were outside, too, even in their weakened state, and they were close in a hug. Marian was crying, sobbing in her father’s arms.
Matilda had rarely seen her so distraught, almost broken by a great sorrow.
A dark and cold fear grew up inside her while she hurried to get down her wagon to reach them.
“What happened?! You shouldn’t be here, it’s too cold for you. And who are these men?”
Marian ran to her with a sob, and Matilda held her tight.
“Oh, Matilda, it’s all lost! He said that Guy is dead! They are all dead, attacked by the outlaws! And now they are taking Knighton from us! What will we do, Matilda? My father is too ill to be taken to the castle!”
Matilda’s heart sank.
Guy dead? Everyone killed by the outlaws?
It seemed too absurd to be possible, but she knew that it could be true. Robin and his gang were good people, outlawed because they wanted to protect the weak and the poor from injustice, but all the other bandits that lived in the forest were dangerous and cruel. If they attacked a prey, they didn’t hesitate to kill.
And Guy, poor child, was still weak, limited by his broken leg and certainly not ready to fight.
It’s my fault. I should have stopped him when I met him in the forest. But he looked so proud, so happy to be able to help the woman he loved…
Marian would have expected some comfort from Matilda, or that the woman would yell insults at the soldiers and at the new Master of Arms, but the healer seemed to be frozen. When she looked at her face, Marian noticed that her eyes were full of tears.
The girl broke up in another fit of sobs: if Matilda was crying too, it meant that there was no hope at all.

Guy looked at the bag of money that he had on his lap: it was enough to pay all the taxes of Knighton, and the best thing was that there were two other similar bags on the wagon, one to be shared between the families of the village, and the other to be stored in Sir Edward’s coffers.
Apart from the attack of the outlaws, the mission had been a complete success and Guy was very proud of himself. He couldn’t wait to be home to see some of that pride in Marian’s eyes too.
“Giz, you’ll wear out the horses if you keep this pace,” Allan commented with a grin.
“We’re almost there. They can rest when we’re home.”
Allan laughed, and Guy smirked too, but their smiles faded in seeing a woman who was running towards them. They recognized Susanne, one of Marian’s maids from Knighton Hall.
She was upset and scared, and Guy was scared to see her so distraught.
He stopped the wagon near the girl.
“What happened?! Is Lady Marian ill?!”
Susanne looked at him, frightened and relieved at the same time. She hated Guy of Gisborne, but for the first time she was happy to see him.
“No, Sir Guy, my lady is as well as she is expected to be, but they came before the time!”
“Who? Who came?!”
“The Sheriff’s soldiers! They want the taxes. Today. When James saw them coming, he told me to run to call Robin Hood because he didn’t know if you’d be back in time. I was so afraid! They were so big and had cruel expression on their faces!”
“Well, we’re here now,” Guy said, then he turned to one of his guards and nodded at him. “Bring me one of the spare horses and be ready to follow me.”
“What do you want to do, Giz?” Allan asked, worried.
“I’m going to ride ahead of the convoy. We need to bring the money to Knighton immediately, before they can menace people. Girl, get on the wagon, there’s no need to call Hood now.”
Susanne obeyed, and Allan gave her the reins. He helped Guy to mount on the horse, then he told one of the guards to bring a horse for him too.
“I’m coming with you, Giz.”
Guy nodded, then he turned to the men on the wagons.
“Follow us as quickly as you can, we’ll wait for you at Knighton. And keep the rest of the money well hidden.”

Alexander gloated in seeing Marian so upset and humbled. The older woman who was hugging her, a weird looking hag, was close to tears too.
He couldn’t really understand how could they cry for a useless idiot like the half-French, but maybe their tears were shed because they were going to lose everything.
He looked at Marian: she was too aged for his tastes, but she was still pretty and maybe, once she was a prisoner in the dungeons, he could have some fun with her.
He wasn’t really interested in her, but he liked the idea to humiliate her further, to take everything from her and put her back into the low place where women ought to stay.
Alexander was relishing in these thoughts, when the sound of galloping horses approaching alerted him.
Even the women and the elderly lord lifted their eyes, and Alexander saw a look of bewilderment on their faces, that soon transformed in hope, incredulity, and then joy.
Marian let out a strangled cry.
Alexander turned abruptly and he was dismayed to see that she was right: the half-French was galloping towards Knighton Hall, his face bloodied and pale, but definitely alive, followed by four guards and a younger man.
Gisborne halted the horse in front of him, putting himself between Alexander and Marian, Matilda and Sir Edward. He sat straight on the saddle, ignoring the pain from his leg after such a fast ride, and looked at Alexander, studying his face.
So this was the man who Vaisey had chosen to replace him? He looked dangerous and cruel, his eyes empty, devoid of any visible emotion.
Guy steeled himself, trying to look strong and proud. He knew the Sheriff and his likes, they were like hungry wild beasts, ready to attack at the first sign of weakness.
“Who are you? What do you want?” Guy asked, contempt in his voice.
“I’m Sir Alexander of Shrewsbury, Nottingham’s Castle Master at Arms, and I’m here on behalf of Lord Vaisey to collect the due taxes or to take the lands back if they cannot pay, as it seems more likely.”
Guy lifted a bag that he was keeping hidden under his cloak, and he threw it at Alexander, with disdain.
“You are too early, but it doesn’t matter. Is that enough?”
Alexander looked at the money. He knew that it was enough, maybe even more than the Sheriff had demanded, but he wasn’t happy. Raiding the village would have been more satisfying, but there wasn’t much that he could do.
“It will do, for now.”
“Good,” Guy said, sternly, while the other man gathered his guards to go away, then he gave him his most ironic grin. “Give my regards to lord Vaisey.”

Alexander walked away and mounted on his horse, giving Guy a last glance.
“We'll meet again, Gisborne. You can be sure of this,” he said, with a threatening look.
“You will find me here, anytime,” Guy said, continuing to show his strength and composure despite his growing pain and extreme fatigue. He had to show himself strong to the end.
In a short time, Alexander and the soldiers moved away.
The moment they were out of sight, the rest of the wagons entered the yard.
The peasants who were driving them got off from the wagons and ran to embrace their women, their children. The man injured by the horse was helped by two of Guy's guards to re-embrace his mother. She was in tears, and happy, at the same time.
With an unusual discretion that no one would have expected him to have, Allan came closer to Guy's horse to help him to dismount. Guy let him, a nod to thank him.
The two didn't talk, both exhausted and pained, but Allan reached out his hand to Guy, simply saying: “Well done, Giz!”
After a moment of astonishment, Guy tightened the hand of the young outlaw, replying: “You too, Al!”
Allan smiled, then grimaced.
“Al?” he asked.
“Short for Allan, of course,” Guy said, with a big grin on his face.
What goes around comes around he thought.
But at the same time he was unexpectedly pleased to be object of esteem for the young man, who, in turn, had behaved and fought very well in the battle.
Old James approached Guy and Allan, and reached out to Guy.
“Sir Guy,” he said, “Welcome back to Knighton, we are so happy for the good result of the mission, thank you, from the depths of the heart of everyone here. Thank you, Sir Guy. Welcome back home,” the old man said, with a tear falling from his tired eye.
Guy shook the old man's hand with kindness, lowering for a moment his head, in recognition of the old man's courtesy toward him.
Home, Am I really at home now? Guy thought.
The most beautiful voice he knew, the sweetest, the dearest, the one that made his wounded heart speed up, and flow his blood warmer, stronger in his veins, was calling him.
Guy turned. He saw Marian, a few feet away from him. Dressed in white, her hair loosened from a still cold breeze, she had just entrusted her fatigued father to Matilda's care, who smiled at him, like a mother relived, happy to see her son again.
Marian stepped slowly toward him, looking at his face, searching for his eyes.
Guy felt his body tremble with a boundless emotion, never experienced before.
She was fragile, and beautiful, and nothing else mattered, nothing else mattered more than her, and forever.
Guy was sure of that, absolutely sure, now.
Suddenly, Marian accelerated and ran toward him. She threw herself, her body, her heart, her inner soul, in his arms. Guy caught her and held her in his arms, with all his strength.
Home, I am home now. Guy thought.
Marian raised her eyes, looking at his face. Her hand caressing a cheek, sweetly, with reverence.
He had never appeared so dear to her, and so beautiful, so badly dear, so badly beautiful to her heart.
Marian knew she was crying.
She said: “You're back,” and she smiled at him, happiness and pride painted on her face, transfigured with beauty, warmth, and love.
Everything he had wanted from her, in front of his eyes, now. Too much, and never enough.
“Yes,” he said, simply, and tightened their embrace, hiding his face in the crook between Marian's neck and shoulder. They both closed their eyes.
Nothing and no one will separate me from her, he thought, ever.
Guy couldn’t find words for her, in his head and heart, that weren’t a simple but infinite “I love you.”
But he remained silent, listening to sound of her heart beating, confused with his own.
He wanted her to stay in his arms forever.
But fatigue took the reins of his body with sudden force. Pain came back in his muscles and bones in full strength. He had resisted for too long, with too much effort.
He lost his balance for a moment, and Marian held him tighter, lifted her face to look at him, scared.
“Guy!” She said, then she screamed, “God, you need help now! Matilda! Someone! Someone help me!”
Matilda and Allan ran and took him from Marian's arms just in time, and helped him back home.
He was put on his bed while Matilda was preparing to check his wounds and his condition.
“Try to resist a bit more, my dear boy,” Matilda said, “Just give me the time to check that you don't have more serious injuries, then you can sleep peacefully,” she continued. “You're home now, the worst is over.”
Matilda smiled, moved.
Guy felt happy, listening to her kind words. The words of a mother. Words he had missed all his doomed life.
She cares for me, truly, he thought.
And he cared for her too, he cared for her so much. Guy was sure of that.
“We did it, Matilda, we did it,” he said, searching for her approval.
“Yes, love, YOU did it, you scared me to death, but you did it. I'm proud of you, we're all proud of you," Matilda replied.
Guy smiled so openly and happily that his whole face lit up.
Matilda smiled too and sat next to him, taking his hand between hers, with tenderness.
I have another son, now, Matilda thought.
“Let me take care of you, love,” she said.

Chapter Text

Marian walked to the door of Guy’s room to look inside. He was sleeping peacefully, the shadow of a smile curving his lips.
The girl watched him for a while, thanking God that he was alive, then she went back to the hall in silence, just in time to see Matilda coming inside.
“You should be careful, my child,” the healer said, “it’s still cold outside and you should stay in your room, where it’s warmer. Your health is still frail even if you feel better.”
“Are you here to check Guy’s conditions?”
“Not just him, you and your father as well, and Allan A Dale too. He’s a strong boy, but he also got his good share of bruises and cuts.”
Marian nodded.
“But Guy… Will he be fine? He scared me yesterday.”
Matilda smiled at her.
“There’s nothing wrong with him. He just overexerted himself. Let him rest as long as he needs, and he will fully recover. He was a fool to ride, and at a gallop too, but his leg didn’t get further damage from that. It pains him, and I’m afraid it will keep paining him for a long time, but it didn’t get worse. But only time will say if it will get better. But now go, child, you need to rest too.”
Marian obeyed, reassured that the healer would take good care of Gisborne, and she went back upstairs.
Matilda waited for her to go, then she went to the kitchen and asked Mary to prepare a tray of food for Sir Guy. This time, the girl was quick to obey and she carefully chose the better bits of bread and cheese, the same fine meat that the cook had prepared for Sir Edward, and the freshest cream.
Then she told Matilda to wait for a moment, and added a basket of red apples to the tray.
Matilda looked at her and at the cook, remembering the horrible food they gave to Guy not so long ago.
“This is what you’d give to a stray dog, then?” She asked, with an ironic grin, and the girl blushed.
“My brother was driving one of the wagons. He told me that he would have been killed for sure if it wasn’t for Sir Guy. I may not like him for all the evil things he did, but my family has a debt with him, now.”
The healer nodded, taking the tray.
She entered in Guy’s room quietly, and put the tray on the table, then she went near the bed to look at the sleeping knight.
Guy turned in the bed, and he opened his eyes after a while, smiling at the woman.
“Matilda,” he said, affectionately, and the healer bent to kiss him on the forehead.
“Hello, love. How are you feeling?”
Guy sat in the bed, with a yawn.
“Sore, sleepy… and hungry. Am I smelling food or I’m still dreaming?”
Matilda laughed.
“That’s why you woke up, then! Silly me for thinking that you sensed my presence and wanted to say hi to me.”
“But I do, Matilda. I do.”
The woman caressed his hair.
“I know, sweetie. Do you want to stay in bed to eat, or do you prefer to get up and sit at the table?”
“I’ll get up. I need to wash up too. I was too tired to do it when I came home, but I really need it after traveling for days and fighting against those outlaws. Actually I’d need a real bath.”
“Well, clean yourself up with the water of the basin and eat something, meanwhile I’ll go and ask the servants to get a warm bath ready for you.”
“They won’t be happy.”
“Oh, I don’t think they’ll complain. You saved them, their families, their houses. Look at that tray of food: the kitchen girl, Mary, choose the best things for you and not because I ordered her to do so.”
Gisborne looked at the food, surprised. Mary was one of the servants who would have been glad to kick him out of the manor if she only had the chance to do it.
“Sure. You saved her brother.”
Guy was pleased to hear her words, even if he felt a little embarrassed. He wasn’t used to be the hero of the day, and it was strange to be praised. He wondered if Robin Hood felt like that every time that he helped somebody, and if this was the reason why he kept risking his life for the others.
Matilda left the room, closing the door to give him some privacy, and Guy hurried to wash up a little and change his clothes, then he sat at the table to eat.
It was good, and it tasted even better because for once he knew that he had earned and deserved that good meal, it wasn’t given to him just for charity.
When he finished eating, Guy stood up and he took his crutch to walk to the window and look outside: the sun was already setting, and Guy realized that he had slept for more than a whole day, waking up only for a few moments to attend his needs or to drink some water.
No wonder that he had been so hungry and that he was feeling so sore and stiff.
He made a few steps in the room, stretching his back, then he sat in the chair near the fireplace, remembering the events of the previous day.
The only spot in a completely satisfying day was knowing that they probably would have been killed if Robin Hood didn’t come to save them. Guy hated to think that he had to be saved by his enemy, but he knew that now he had a debt with him.
He took an apple from the basket and looked at it. Matilda said that Mary from the kitchen was grateful to Guy for saving her brother. Gisborne realized that he could understand perfectly her conflicting feelings because that was exactly how he felt for Hood: he still considered him an enemy, but he owed him his life.
A knock at the door distracted him from those thoughts and Guy looked at Sebastian, standing on the threshold.
“Sir Guy? Your bath is ready.” The man said, respectfully.
Guy stared at him for a moment, still surprised because of the change in the servant’s behavior, then he nodded.
“Thank you,” he said gently, remembering Allan’s lessons about being kind to the servants, and this time it was Sebastian who was surprised.

Guy closed his eyes, lulled by the warmth of the water. The first real moment of relaxation and serenity.
His mission had been a success. His idea, his effort. And he had succeeded.
Sure, he wasn’t alone, the glory wasn’t all his: Allan, Robin, his guards and Knighton men shared it too. Everyone had given their contribution. He wouldn’t forget it.
Nevertheless, he felt this like his own personal success, after years of wrongs and insults suffered by Vaisey. Allegations of ineffectiveness, inefficiency, inability. Continue and humiliating. Every day for years.
He wondered now if Vaisey had really been his only chance to emerge, to shine, to regain his role in the world. If there hadn’t been another way to follow to improve his life.
Guy had discovered to have a lot more strength and courage in himself than he thought he had.
He forgot for a moment his constant companion in those long months, the pain coming from his body, and recalled in his mind the moment of the embrace with Marian.
His Marian.
Hope was growing in him as well as his passion for her, no longer bridled by his own faults.

She thought he was still asleep.
She would do it, and he wouldn’t notice anything.
Moving her body in perfect silence had always been her specialty, and he had never heard her, when she was the Nightwatchman.
Marian smiled at herself.
She would retrieve the little mantle she had left in the room now occupied by Guy.
Marian opened the door, smiling, and her amused smile turned into open astonishment.
Guy had his eyes closed, his lips stretched out in a mild, happy smile, his hair wet, his face wet, his body immersed, in large part, in the hot water.
And she had never really seen him like that, without blood, bandages or wounds, in the terrible days when he was still ailing so much.
But he was there, now, and Marian could only think of how beautiful he was. And precious to her eyes.
She felt her cheeks glimmer for embarrassment, and moved to leave the room in silence.
His deep voice, who called her. His eyes now, open, watching her, his cheeks, equally red.
The same embarrassment and the same subtle, undeclared, desire.
“Guy. I'm... I'm sorry Guy, I did not think you were… I have to go.”
As she had appeared, Marian disappeared.
The dearest person in his heart. The strongest desire of his life. And the only one worth living for. Even this life. With all its difficulties.
He closed his eyes again. For a moment, it seemed to him that Marian's eyes, fixed on him, on his body, had more light. A different light. Darker. Wanting. And he found himself holding his breath, feeling like a boy at his first experience, for the first time naked in front a woman.
The nagging fear that she didn’t like him enough.
But Marian was different, her eyes were different. They had a light, for him.
He clung with all the strength to that thought.
He wanted to deserve her affection, her desire, her love.

Marian came back to her room, breathless. What was she thinking? To go to him like that, staring at him a minute too much. She didn’t know if she felt more embarrassment for seeing him naked, or for staying there, watching him breathlessly.
What was happening to her? Marian looked in the mirror. She struggled to recognize herself.
Her feelings about Guy were changing. In fact, they had already changed without her wanting to realize it.
She closed her eyes and imagined, as she had already imagined, him embracing her, him kissing her.
Opening her eyes, she realized that she was no longer afraid of her own thoughts, of her own fantasies.
They were real, like the emotion she felt while looking at Guy.
Is this love? Marian thought.
Maybe it was.

“What do I do with THIS money?” Vaisey yelled, jumping down from the bench, obviously too high for him.
He kicked a bag full of coins that came straight from Knighton. The flying bag struck violently the lower parts of one of his guards, close to where Alexander was. The guard bent over in pain, and Vaisey looked at him with absolute contempt.
Alexander looked at the scene, with a sort of detachment, learned in many years of service, in front of more powerful people than he or they believed to be.
Furious inside, but perfectly controlled to the eyes of an outside person, he looked at the old Sheriff who was fussing unnecessarily. He had seen other characters being furious for rage, for much less.
Including the King of England, and his brother.
Vaisey was particularly subtle, confronted with them, but no less stupid. The desire for power made him more stupid and more maneuverable than Vaisey himself thought to be.
“THEM! I wanted THEM! The ‘leper’ and the ‘dying’ father! Here, in my prisons. The RIGHT place for them. I should have thought about it before, when I came here, and not only exiled them from Nottingham, and let them feel safe at their home. They found the way to make money, staying perfectly comfortable at home, those parasites. And Gisborne? What did Gisborne say? Someone say it again! I want to hear it again. Now!”
Alexander remained silent. The question was insidious and less he was exposed in this situation, the better it was for him.
Thoughtlessly, another guard spoke: “He said he sends his greetings, My Lord.”
Vaisey ran against him as an angry bull, and slapped the guard.
“Gisborne! A snake within, I raised! I, I, I picked him up from the road, that beggar, that miserable, I gave him all his chances! And how does he repay me now? Allying with his beloved leper and that old failed father. He hinders me! He dares to bite the hand that gave him food when no one else, no one else, would have done it. Damn you, Gisborne, idiot ! I want more money from them! I want to reduce them to ruin! I want to see the leper begging in the streets with him, as that idiot did with his little sister when he was a boy. Miserable bastard!”
"Sister? Gisborne has a sister?” Alexander asked.
“Yes, he had a sister, whom he sold to a noble, the little girl, and with the dowry he received from him, he paid their debts, he clothed and armed himself. But schooled him, I turned him into a knight, ungrateful boy. And what does he do now? He repays me with this coin!” Vaisey said, like a uncontrollable river that could not stay in its banks.
"Out! Everybody out!" Vaisey shouted.
The guards went out in silence.
Alexander remained, and closed the door behind him.
Now he and Vaisey were alone.
A shiver passed through the body of the old sheriff.
But he wore his best mask as a player, and no emotion crossed his face.
"And what was the nobleman's name?" Alexander asked.
“Thornton, or something like that, but what does it matter? I want Gisborne to crawl back, to my feet, I don't care about his brother in law!” Vaisey said.
Alexander's face lit up, he smiled mockingly, and sneered.
"Then maybe I know how to fulfill your wish, let me do my inquiries. You will see him crawling, My Lord, you will see Gisborne crawling back to your feet,” he replied. “Of course, this could have a different cost than the simple duty of tax collector and Master at Arms. But about this, we will talk later, in front of a good wine, a good meal. At my expense, of course. And it should not be known to others before the time. Trust is a serious thing. And first of all it should be a thing between Englishmen… not half-French... Same ground, same thoughts. Trust me.”
Vaisey didn’t trust the Redhead, and he would negotiate the price later, because he suspected that it wasn’t just money involved, but something more prestigious from the light he had seen in his Master at Arms’ eyes.
Initiative. To go in the offensive, instead of defending. And he had that subtle cruelty that Vaisey had struggled to instill in Guy's eyes.
Gisborne had been too wounded, too angry, too obsequious. Brooding about his past. Never an ounce of boldly thinking in him. A knight like the others, dutiful, dressed in black, but with a soul not completely blackened.
Too white, too pure inside, after all.
That was the reason why he didn’t punish Alexander, as he had thought at first to do, but he dismissed him quickly, saying that he would listen to his proposal when he was ready.
In front of a good Burgundy, of course.

Matilda entered Guy’s room, holding a little leather bag and a wooden bowl in her hands. She glanced at the knight, who was still sitting in the tub, and frowned, a little worried in seeing that his face was red and flushed. Was he getting a fever, or was it just because of the hot water?
She approached him, and she saw him lowering his eyes and blushing even more.
Then she realized that he was embarrassed.
“What’s up, love?” She asked, with a laugh. “Afraid to shock me? Don’t forget that I’m a healer, I’ve already seen you naked before, and if you keep being reckless and getting injured I’m afraid that it will happen again in the future.”
Guy shook his head.
“No, it’s nothing. Don’t worry.”
It wasn’t nothing, it was Marian, but he wasn’t going to tell Matilda about what happened. He shouldn’t think about it, push those thoughts out of his mind, at least for now.
The woman smiled and poured the contents of the leather bag, dried herbs ground into a fine powder, in the water of the bath.
“What’s this?” Guy asked, glad to change the topic of their conversation.
“A mix of herbs, it will soothe sore muscles and it’s good for little wounds too. And in the bowl I have an ointment for the cut on your cheek. Let me see how it’s doing.”
Matilda took a stool and sat near the tub to examine the wound on Guy’s face. She made sure that it was clean, and she smeared a good layer of ointment on it.
“Don’t touch it, and it will heal fast, but I’m afraid that it will leave a scar. Don’t worry, you’ll still be handsome, sweetie. And according to your friend Allan, women love scars. Good for him because he’ll have quite a few of them after that fight.”
Guy didn’t say that Allan wasn’t his friend. He wasn’t sure about it, either.
“How is he?”
“Better than you, and you’re not bad at all, he just got a few cuts and bruises, but he’s making the best of them.”
“What do you mean?”
“He is taking advantage of those scratches to get the best bites of food and the cares of the maids and the kitchen girls. If you look at him when the female servants are around, you’d say he’s about to die.”
Matilda chuckled, and Guy laughed too.
“I don’t envy the woman who’ll fall in love with him, if that will ever happen,” Guy said, amused.
“She’ll have to be a confident woman, I guess. Oh, I was almost forgetting! Sir Edward asked to see you.”
“Is he better?”
“A little, but he’s still weak and frail. Whatever he is going to say to you, be sure you don’t upset him.”
“I’ll be careful,” Guy promised.
Matilda patted his head.
“Good boy.”
“Not a dog.”
The woman smiled.
“As you wish, my dear. But now let the warm water to ease your soreness and later you’ll feel much better. Here, close your eyes and relax while I wash your hair.”
“I can do it myself, Matilda.”
“Let me. Call me a silly old woman, but let me indulge you a little. You deserve it fully for what you did, and I need it for the scare that you gave me.”
Guy looked at her.
“Where you so worried?”
“Hey, Blue Eyes, that man told us that you were all dead, killed by the outlaws! You can bet that I was upset! We were all distraught!”
“Did he? Why?”
“I guess that he just wanted to be cruel. That poor girl went white as a ghost when she was told you were dead.”
Guy realized that this had to be the reason for the very warm hug Marian gave to him. He didn’t know what to think. Was it just the relief for seeing him alive? But if she was so relieved, then she cared for him…
Matilda put a hand on is good cheek, in a gentle caress.
“I cried for you, love.”
“Yes, really. I care a lot for you, my dear.”
Guy smiled at her, using irony to hide his emotions.
“As you’d do for a good dog, right?”
“As I’d do for a son.”
Guy stared at her, speechless and moved beyond measure, and Matilda pretended to search for a bar of soap, but actually she took a few seconds to collect herself.
“Now shut up, and let me work,” she said, gruffly, beginning to lather his dark curls.
“Don’t pull my hair, and don’t get soap in my eyes” he said, equally rough, and the woman grinned.
“Of course, I don’t want to hear you complaining,” she said with a smirk.
She worked in silence for a while, and Guy let her, allowing himself to relax under her touch. She rinsed the soap, then she took a comb, beginning to untangle his hair.
Guy opened his eyes and tilted his head to look at her.
“I care for you too, Matilda,” he said quietly, almost in a whisper. “A lot.”
The woman nodded, and continued her work, without replying.
But it didn’t matter, that silence was comfortable and warm, and they both knew that there wasn’t need for any other words.

Chapter Text

Sir Edward was sitting in his chair near the fireplace when Guy knocked at his door.
“Come in, Sir Guy. I was waiting for you.”
The younger man entered the room, and Edward looked at him: Gisborne still had to walk with the help of a crutch, but he didn’t look ill anymore, in fact, he looked strong, maybe not as strong as he had been before the accident, but he had a new light in his eyes, a light that it had never been there before.
“What’s happened to you?” Sir Edward asked, pointing at the cut that Guy had on his cheek.
“It’s just… an incident in the woods. It was nothing.”
“It looks more ‘outlaws trying to cut your throat in the woods’ to me. I know what happened, I forced James to tell me. I am very disappointed, Sir Guy.”
Gisborne gave him a confused look.
“With me, my lord?”
“With myself, mostly, and with anyone who thought that I was too old and frail to know the truth about my own lands.”
“Matilda said...”
“I know very well what Matilda said. That I’m weak, that I could die, and that I couldn’t bear distressing news. They forget that I’m not an elderly fool! I was a knight! The Sheriff of Nottingham!” He paused for a moment and looked at Guy, who seemed to be very uncomfortable. Sir Edward smiled at him. “I’m not blaming you, Sir Guy. Please, have a seat. Actually, I’m grateful for what you did for Knighton.”
“I wasn’t alone. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of the villagers, of the guards… and Hood.” Guy stifled a sigh, it was hard for him to say the last two words, but he couldn’t deny that he and the others would have been killed if Robin Hood didn’t attack the bandits.
“This is true, but James told me that it was your idea. You did well, Sir Guy, it was a good idea and it worked. You saved our lands.”
Guy answered with a little nod. He wasn’t used to be praised. Once, when he worked for the Sheriff, if there were problems it was his fault, but if everything went smoothly, it was Vaisey who took the credit for it.
“It was the least I could do,” he said, “you saved my life. You let me stay at your home when it would have been easier and safer for you to send me away. I am in debt, and what I did was just a small thing.”
Sir Edward realized that the loyalty that Gisborne once had for the Sheriff, now was addressed to his family. He had risked his life to save Knighton, and Edward had little doubts that Guy would do it again to protect him or Marian.
Knowing that the knight was ready to die for him and his family, was a burden and a gift at the same time, a big responsibility for Sir Edward.
“Sir Guy, this is true, but it’s also true that, without your help, all this, my house, my lands, my own life perhaps, all this would have been lost. It’s not easy for me to say this, but I’m old, and my health is poor. I don’t know if I can protect Knighton next time. I don’t know if I can protect Marian.”
Guy smiled.
“She wouldn’t agree with your words, my lord. She’d say that she can protect herself.”
Sir Edward sighed.
“I know. She’s often braver than me, I’m afraid. I should have watched on her in a better way. I should have stopped some things before they became a danger...”
The elderly lord didn’t name the Nightwatchman, but both Guy and him knew that he was referring to that.
“She’s brave and she’s strong, I’ve tried to capture her for years and I never succeeded. Actually, she almost destroyed me,” Guy said, and Edward was surprised to hear a certain admiration in his tone instead of the rage he would have expected.
“I’d rather say willful and reckless, but it doesn’t matter now. However strong she can be, she’s still a woman. I know that she’d be perfectly able to take care of Knighton on her own… if she was my son. Being a woman, people wouldn’t respect her, they wouldn’t listen to her orders.”
Guy remembered his mother’s proud words when, thinking to be a widow, she said that she would be the lady of the manor. People never truly accepted her, even knowing that it was only a temporary situation until Guy came of age.
Marian didn’t have an heir for Knighton. If her father should die, the Sheriff would have the chance to marry her off to whoever he wanted or to force her to become a nun and take her lands.
“You have to take care of your health, Sir Edward.”
“I know. I don’t want to die until I know that she will be safe. For this I need your help, Sir Guy.”
“What can I do for you, my lord?”
“For now you’ll go to the Nobles’ Council in my name. I’m not well enough to go to Nottingham, but you can. Marian will surely want to be the one to go, and her advice could be useful, if she comes with you, but remember, Sir Guy, you will be the one in charge, you will represent me. I also want you to learn how to manage Knighton. If I will be satisfied with your work, I could offer that position to you, it would be an advantage to both of us: I’d be able to rest and spare my energies, and you’d have the chance to earn enough money to have a good life, maybe even some lands, in time.”
Guy looked at him, surprised.
“Would you trust me?” He averted his eyes, ashamed. “I managed Locksley for years, but it didn’t go too well.”
“Because you only did what the Sheriff wanted you to do: to take as much money as possible from the people of Locksley without really caring about them. But you just proved that you are clever enough to be a good manager, and I can teach you what you need to know. Will you try, at least?”
“I will.”
“Very good. Now I need to rest. Or at least that’s what Matilda says.”
“I had the chance to find out that she’s often right,” Guy said, standing up.
“Go, then. But come back this afternoon, we will finish our game,” he said, nodding at the chessboard, “and we can talk about Knighton.”

Allan sat on a fence behind the stables and looked at Guy, who was practicing with the bow.
“Don’t get mad at me for saying that, but you’re a terrible shot, Giz.”
“That’s why I’m practicing. If I should end into a fight again, I want to be able to defend myself without having to rely on Hood’s help.”
Allan watched while Guy nocked an arrow and released it, missing the tree he was using as a target.
“Can I try?”
Guy handed the bow to him, and Allan shot an arrow. He missed the target that he had drawn on the tree with a piece of chalk, but at least he hit the trunk.
“I’m not very good, either.”
“But you hit the tree,” Guy said, a little dispirited.
“You just have to relax, Giz. Nobody will laugh at you, even if you fail. There are just the two of us, here and I’m not a good shot enough to tease you for this. You know what? I’m going to practice too. Maybe, between you and me, one of us will hit the target. Tomorrow I’ll bring my own bow and we’ll keep exercising until we improve.”
Guy nodded, and he took back the bow to try again. This time he tried to stop thinking that he was going to fail again, and he just aimed and released the arrow. It still missed the target, but it embedded itself in the tree, not to far from Allan’s one.
They took some other shots, in turns. At first Guy was too focused on the archery training to listen to Allan’s small talk, but after a while, he surrendered to his endless chat and began answering to him. Surprisingly, as soon as he began doing so, his aim seemed to improve.
“Not bad, Giz! So, what did Marian’s father wanted from you?”
“He asked me to attend the Nobles’ Council in his stead. And he wants to teach me how to manage Knighton.”
“Really?! That’s good, Giz, isn’t it?”
“It is. It’s an honor that Sir Edward trusts me so much.”
“But you don’t look so happy...”
“Attending the council means going to Nottingham and speaking in front of the other nobles. And...”
“And facing the Sheriff?”
Guy nodded.
“And facing the Sheriff. He’ll do whatever he can to hit me, I’m sure of that.”
Allan reflected for a moment.
“Well, I can’t say that I envy you, but try to think that when you’ll be in front of the Sheriff you’ll always have survived a much bigger threat.”
“A bigger threat?”
“Marian. How do you think she’ll react when you’ll have to tell her that her father chose you instead of her as his emissary?”
Guy stared at him for a moments, then they both burst up into a laughter.
Still grinning, Gisborne shot another arrow. This time it touched the outer ring of the target.

“Father, you can’t say it seriously! It's absurd, it's unusual, it's inappropriate, it's ...” Marian said, astonished.
“Difficult? That's the word for my decision, my daughter. I think the right word is difficult. But it's not appropriate, in the end. I can’t go there, now. And you can't go alone. That would really be inappropriate. You have no right to talk in that council, and you need a male figure with you, chosen by me, to talk. To represent us and to care for Knighton’s interests in front of the Sheriff. And that's why I need your help and your collaboration now, Marian.” Edward replied, a little tired. He knew that her daughter would not accept his decision easily.
“Is that because I am a woman, then? I can represent Knighton better than any other person, and you know it, father!” Marian replied, piqued.
“He knows the situation here and he just saved us. He is a man and he is noble, so he has the right to speak in the Council of Nobles. He has all the interest to help us, you forget too easily he is still your betrothed. He will defend you, support you. And above all, he knows how to reply to the Sheriff and how to remain silent to his provocations. In this field you have already shown in the recent past that you don't know what to say and when to say it,” Edward said, with a serious tone.
"Yes, he cares for Knighton. But he will be under the thumb of the Sheriff. I might as well go there alone," Marian said.
“I forbid you to go alone. This is not a game, Marian. What happened is a warning, and I don’t know what else Vaisey can do. What the law allows him to do. He is the law now. We need to be careful, cautious. We need him. We need Gisborne on our side,” Edward replied.
“If I was a man, all this wouldn’t have been necessary! I am your heir!” Marian said, storming out of the room, really disappointed.
Guy will say what I want him to say, or nothing at all, she thought.
You would have been a great heir if you were a man, Edward thought, but, then, you wouldn’t have been my beloved, adored girl, my dearest daughter, your mother's eyes, all I have left of her, he thought and sighed. I'm sorry. Trust him. He loves you. As much as I love you.
Allan got off the small carriage he had hired on behalf of Guy, and then he led it to Marian's yard. Guy waited inside, at the bottom of the stairs, nervous.
The assignment was important, he realized, despite its apparent simplicity.
He would have to attend the Council, with Marian by his side, and in front of the Sheriff, as well as in front of all the other nobles in the County.
Mostly, these meetings were formalities, Guy knew it very well, since the decisions were taken in advance by the Sheriff and simply communicated to the nobles present, with a little bit of a show, of course, in the last four years. The last one who, in his memory, had dared to contradict the orders (or rather, Vaisey's desires) had been Locksley, and in a few days he had lost everything.
Guy thought that his real duty was resisting the provocations, the typical verbal violence of the Sheriff.
But there was one ‘but’ to this project.
Dressed in a long, soft, creamy dress, and covered in a fur coat, his greatest concern, his dearest, his ‘but’ came down the stairs lightly, with a glance in her beautiful eyes, that promised him nothing, nothing good.
Behind the apparent haughtiness, and pride, he could see underneath Marian's eyes something what seemed to be anger.
Yes, his Marian was really beautiful today, more than ever, but also really on the warpath.
Guy was seriously worried now, and not completely sure of being able to handle the situation.
Allan came to his side as Marian came down slowly.
"Are you sure SHE is the woman you want to marry, Giz?" He whispered.
"Not your business, Al. Not helping me now," replied Guy, whispering too.
Marian reached them, raised her eyebrows, evidently bored with the situation.
"Let's go, and get this over, once and for all."
God help me, Guy thought.
“What a wonderful impression you will do together,” Inadvertently, Allan spoke.
Both turned to the boy, reproaching him in unison.
"Alright, alright, I will be silent and driving."
"It will be better!" Guy said, while he was struggling with the difficulty of helping Marian to climb the carriage, while she just didn't want to be helped, for a start.
In turn, Allan then helped Guy to climb, adding, still whispering: " I wish you the best of luck with her, Giz. I mean it."

Marian looked nervously out of the carriage. Guy did not know what to say.
He felt that whatever he could say, she wouldn’t appreciate it, so he remained in silence, waiting for a reaction from her. Any reaction.
Marian caressed the curtain with her hand, nervously. Then she turned to look at him.
"Was it really necessary to rent this carriage, Guy? We could go on horseback."
Guy let go of the breath he had held. At least Marian wanted to talk to him.
A good start.
He was afraid she would remain in religious and hostile silence until they reached Nottingham.
“Knighton doesn’t have a carriage,” he said, “and if you should be seen on a simple wagon in Nottingham, it would put Knighton and your family in a state of inferiority in front of Vaisey. Never show inferiority in front of him,” Guy explained.
Marian raised her eyebrows.
“And never, never show you feel superior to him, too. It makes things difficult,” Guy added.
“Do you also think that I couldn't face the council alone, as my father thinks?” Marian asked.
“It is not what I think that is important. It's a request from your father, which I want to honor,” Guy said, seriously.
Marian looked at him, frowning.
"But above all, it's too risky that you face Vaisey alone. He's a dangerous man, Marian."
"Do you think I don’t know that, Guy? For years, I've been..."
"No, Marian,” Guy said, “He is more dangerous than you think he is. What you've seen over the years, even when you were the Nightwatchman, tis' nothing. He is a lot more dangerous. Sending you alone there was out of the question. I agree with your father," Guy replied, “Plus, having a man at your side will maybe give you the possibility to talk there.”
“He is not scared of you, Guy. Vaisey. Don't you remember how he treated you?” The girl replied.
“I was in precarious conditions then, Marian, very precarious. I couldn’t defend myself and you helped me. I didn’t forget it and I will not forget it, believe me. But there are things about Vaisey that I know, that I've seen, and that he knows I know, things that I could always use against him, if necessary. And I would do it. For you, and for your father. Any time.”
“Things you were involved in, too?" Marian asked, slightly trembling.
"I was at his service, so, yes," the knight replied.
"What do I not know about you, yet, Guy?" The girl asked.
"Many things, Marian, nothing to make me feel proud at your eyes, but I would do many things to help you, now. Better things. Listen to me, I'm only asking you to listen to me. And then… think with your mind, think about what I say, and decide."
Marian looked at him. In the last period she almost forgot that the man in front of her had done terrible things. And still, she cared for him. Really cared. For the man she had discovered little by little during his illness.
And Guy was right, probably he had done even worse things in his past. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear them.
Not now.
She looked at him, with sadness.
“I'm here, I'm listening. So tell me, what is the way to sit in the Council of Nobles, in front of that vicious man?” Marian asked.
“Detachment,” Guy said.
“Meaning?” the girl replied.
“Always give him the impression that what he says doesn’t hurt you, doesn’t touch you. Think of something else, with a part of your head, with the one that is most connected to your heart and your feelings, and just take notice in the background of what he is saying. It's important. There will always be a time to find a solution or the real meaning of his words after he has left. Never react in front of him. Never, Marian. It's the impulse he needs to attack. The blame is mine, Marian. The fault is all mine," the knight said, sadly.
"What's your fault, now, Guy?" the girl asked.
"I had let him know my interest for you, that you are much more important to me than a nice trophy to show off, and I haven’t been able to completely hide what I really felt about you, but Vaisey knew me well. He understood it and used it to his advantage, and he now knows how much I really care for you, and that exposes you, and your father, even more, to his rage."
"Vaisey doesn’t care about you, he has reduced you almost in poverty, easily," the girl said, biting her lips, perhaps saying too much, to the wrong person.
"He doesn’t care for me, of course, but he considered me like one of his ‘properties’. A property that has been taken away from him, somehow, and this is annoying him,” Guy said, and he looked outside the little window of the carriage.
He found it difficult now to hide his emotions too.
His rage. His sadness.
There was a time when he had believed in Vaisey. And cared for him, too.
He felt stupid, and sad.
Marian didn't know what to say.
Silence was their only companion for a few minutes.
Then Guy lightly smiled and he looked back at her.
“The truth is, I think I've fallen in love with you at a Council of Nobles. A long time ago.”
Marian looked away, embarrassed, but at the same time she was struck by the sincerity and frankness of those unexpected words.
"Was I dressed particularly well, that day, the color of my dress, my long hair or it was something else?" She asked, thinking that her appearance had attracted the knight to her, that day.
Guy shook his head.
“I, I don't remember it, forgive me, I don't remember it, I only remember you, standing, speaking in front of everyone, holding your head high in front of Vaisey, talking to him fearlessly. You weren’t like any other woman, and you'll never be, Marian."
"Did you think I was crazy, reckless? A woman who dared to talk in a Council of men, a freak of nature?" Marian asked.
"No, I just thought you were brave. Really brave. I never forgot it," Guy said.
"You're brave too, Guy... more than you think, I've seen it, and I won’t forget it, too," the girl said.
They both felt moved.
The walls of the castle were getting closer and closer to the little carriage. Both, in silence, mentally prepared for the battle to come.

Allan helped Guy and Marian to get down from the carriage, then he climbed on it again, and took the reins to take the vehicle away from the courtyard of the castle.
Guy glanced at him going away, and found out that he envied him.
He took a deep breath, and looked at the castle: once so familiar, now everything in it was hostile.
Beginning with the stairs.
Just a few months ago he had been able to run to the entrance of the castle, climbing two steps at the same time, but now he was wondering if he could make it to the top of the stair without falling or making a fool of himself.
But he had no choice. The guards and the nobles who were in the courtyard were already looking at him, surprised to see him back after a long absence, and Guy told to himself that he had to find the strength to climb that stair.
Suddenly, he felt Marian’s arm around his waist, the girl was leaning on him as if she was cold and wanted to find some warmth under his cloak. Some of the people in the yard gave surprised and scandalized glances to them, astonished to see so much intimacy between two persons who weren’t yet married.
Guy was surprised too, then he realized that Marian wasn’t cold at all, but that she was supporting him, to help him climbing the stairs without the others noticing his troubles.
“I’m too heavy for you,” he whispered, worried to put so much strain on her.
“Why? Because I am a woman?”
“Because you’ve been ill.”
“I’m stronger than you think. And I’m well now. Matilda wouldn’t have allowed me to come, otherwise.”
“Shut up and walk, will you?”
Guy couldn’t help but obey, trying to put as few weight as he could on Marian’s shoulders. It took a few steps, but he realized that, with her help, he could climb the stairs with just a little effort. His wounded leg couldn’t sustain all his weight yet, but it could now bear some of it, more than just a few weeks ago.
“Thank you,” he whispered, softly, when they reached the entrance of the castle.
Marian gave him a little smile, stepping away from him now that they were at the top of the stair.
“I wish I could be here in name of my father, but, unfair as it is, I have to accept that you must be the one speaking for him. So, you have to look strong, as you said earlier, and I have to help you.”
He nodded, and they walked along the corridors, Guy using the crutch to walk, and Marian with her hand on his free arm.
They stopped for a moment at the door of the Great Hall, while the herald announced their names.
“In representation of Lord Edward of Knighton, Sir Guy of Gisborne, accompanied by Lady Marian of Knighton.”
Guy could feel the exact moment when the eyes of the Sheriff fixed themselves on him, and, for just a second, he was tempted to run away and never dare to come back, but then Marian’s arm reached his waist again to help him down another flight of stairs, and his fear disappeared.
Instead, he felt proud and brave: he was there to make Lord Knighton’s interests, and he wouldn’t let the Sheriff, the man who betrayed his trust, to frighten him.
Never again.

So, this is war, Guy. Vaisey thought, in the exact moment when he saw Gisborne and the leper entering the great hall. Winning a war, Guy, is not a matter of strength, not even of courage. It's a matter of resources. And yours, idiot, are very limited. Look at him as he lets her touch him, how he gets infected by that woman. You'll regret it, Guy. No one can oppose me.
Vaisey turned, and at that moment Alexander took his place behind him.
“My lords, take your place.”
An instantaneous exchange of glances between Guy and Marian. The indecision of a moment, between the two. But Marian was ready and stepped back one step, turning to stand to Guy's left, while the knight sat.
Guy turned his gaze, now strong, confident of himself, to the Sheriff.
“My lords. These are difficult times,” Vaisey said, emphasizing theatrically his words. “These are war times, here and there. Time for sacrifices. Of doubled efforts to help our King in the Holy Land, doubled efforts to put an end to the impudence with which all that malicious people infest our peaceful people, our homes, our countries. Outlaws. Declared ones and hidden ones, hidden behind the trees, hidden in the farms, in the houses, even behind the skirts of some complacent woman. These are times that need an iron fist. And I, Vaisey, I'm not afraid to face them for what they are. And finally I have the right person at my side to do it. There will be no more hesitation, no mercy for the offenders. Every one of them. I introduce Alexander of Shrewsbury to you: the new Master of Arms, to my trusted service in Nottingham. A real war hero who served with honor, courage, and loyalty under our beloved King Richard, in the Holy Land.”
Alexander stepped forward, made a dry, firm and brief bow to the circle of the seated nobles, then he turned to Vaisey and made a similar, firm, nod of his head, before retiring to the right of the old Sheriff's throne. From that position, he looked silently at the group of nobles, looking at them up and down, one at a time. Mostly a bunch of old country squires. None of them had ever really seen a battlefield, or the blood of the Holy Land.
Alexander, with one look, was scaring them one by one. His massive, strong, powerful figure stood on the dark background of the hall.
And in sudden silence, Vaisey enjoyed the fearful reaction of the presents. He could leave the stage to his dark servant for some more time.
Alexander's gaze was then placed on Marian, the only female presence in the room.
He smiled.
Guy felt a blade of flames in his heart, his jealousy suddenly awakened. He didn’t want the man to look at her that way, no one should ever look at her that way.
No one.
Then he recovered. Alexander now was changing his gaze to the girl, never looking at him, and the contempt he showed to Marian was clear. Really clear.
He was dangerous. But Marian, understanding the man's intent, didn’t look down. Instead, she looked at him, straight into his eyes, with strong dignity.
The provocation was immediately picked up by the Redhead, and Guy, looking at them, had a shiver of fear inside.
Stubbornness would be the ruin of the girl if he wouldn’t protect her. Guy put his left hand on the girl's right hand, interrupting the dangerous interaction between the two. Marian looked at Guy's eyes, grasping the silent invitation, and looked down slightly, glancing back at Vaisey, who was ready to resume his right to speak.
“I see you have understood the value of our new Master at Arms. I am convinced that from now on, there will be no refuse or tax payment delays, and that we will all work together in our common effort for the salvation of England. Now we have the right person. Finally. He has my best faith.”
Vaisey looked at Guy with pride, trying to imagine the humiliation of his ex Master of Arms who was sitting in front of him.
“And as Knighton has just shown us recently, it is absolutely possible to bring much more money into the state crates. Eh, Gisborne, your presence was needed to finally take the real money from the ignorant peasants of those lands. How many houses did you threaten to fire to get that result? Poor old Lord Knighton. Humanity is weakness. In the end, years of effort on my part to make you a man have served to something, I see. You won’t have trouble giving to the King the same sum next month. But I expect that you rule that country land, with such a firm hand, unlike that massive failure that was your management of Locksley before. Shrewsbury will manage Locksley now, of course. But mostly, what I expect from you now, Gisborne, is that you let this woman to go back where she should be. To take care of the old sick father, of course. This is a circle of men, Gisborne, it’s not a place for a fragile and useless person as Lady Knighton is,” Vaisey said, viciously.
Guy glanced at the girl: he could see the rage and the humiliation in her eyes, and he knew that she wanted to speak, to answer to the insulting words of the Sheriff. He still had his hand on hers, and he tightened his hold a little.
“Lady Marian is exactly where she should be, my lord: at the side of her future husband. And I can assure you that my lady is nor useless nor frail.”
Guy didn’t look at Marian, not knowing how she would take his words, and if he had spoken too boldly.
After all, they never really talked about their engagement after the accident, and Guy knew that sooner of later they would have to. His situation was changed and Marian and Sir Edward would have every reason to step back from their agreement.
Guy didn’t have many hopes, but for now it was more important to show Vaisey that Marian had every right to be at the Council, as his betrothed, if not as Sir Edward’s daughter.
The Sheriff stared at him, surprised that Gisborne had the courage to contradict him.
Vaisey didn’t show it, but he was furious.
How dared Gisborne to look so confident when he should have been a wretched mess, a beggar on the streets, imploring him to take him back as the lowest of his servants?!
He wanted to kick him, to broke the rest of his bones or to flay him alive.
Instead, he smiled.
“Maybe you’re right, Gizzy. Lady Marian must be a very brave woman, I have to admit that. There’s no other explanation. Weren’t she really, really brave, or very desperate, how could she stand the idea to marry a penniless cripple with no future perspectives? Or maybe you’re too old to find somebody better, milady? Are you so afraid to be a spinster that you’re willing to throw your maidenhead at the first one willing to take it? Hoping that his leg is the only thing that is off with him.”
Despite what he had earlier said to Marian about detachment, for a moment Guy was tempted to unsheathe his sword and run the Sheriff through, sending him back to the hell where he belonged.
But he knew that doing so, no matter how right and satisfying it could be, would only lead Guy to be executed and he would bring the ruin on Marian and Sir Edward as well.
He didn’t move and kept his face straight, as if he hadn’t heard Vaisey’s words. Even if, as usual, they hit him deeply, because Vaisey knew perfectly well how to hurt him.
The other nobles were looking away, uneasy, unwilling to take a side. Every single one of them hated the Sheriff, but they were too coward to oppose him.
They secretly enjoyed when Gisborne contradicted him, but they would never show their feelings, and, after all, they never liked Gisborne either.
They kept quiet, their eyes downcast, not daring to break the awkward silence that had fallen into the hall.

Marian thought she had made a mistake attending the Council, this time.
Vaisey's attitude made her feel furious. She wanted to slap his face, hard.
Better, she wanted to wear the Nightwatchman's mask, right now, in front of him and everyone and tell him that for four years she, a woman, a maid, a spinster, had teased him, cheated him, deceived him.
But she couldn’t risk her life like that, just to get some satisfaction, just to show Vaisey's inability to everyone.
And there was Guy, who was absorbing, for her and for both of them, all the Sheriff's shots.
Marian realized at that moment: that was the most annoying thing for Vaisey.
Seeing them together, like a couple. Close. A future married couple, but, more than that, two people joined by affection, esteem, love.
Marian touched Guy's hand gently, then she turned to Vaisey, looking at him with her best smile and she began to speak.
“Lord Vaisey, the duty of every young woman of the English nobility is to have by her side a right nobleman, by lineage, dignity and courage, ready to protect and defend his family and proudly continue his legacy. Sir Guy of Gisborne has experienced a tough time in recent days, but he has shown courage, honor, loyalty, and excellent management abilities to my family and my people in Knighton. I'm proud to be his betrothed. I pray God every day with all my strength that one day you may find too the perfect companion to be by your side as your rightful wife... at least before it would be no longer possible for you to secure the necessary male heir for the future of your noble household.”
Vaisey's face became red with anger. That brazen woman dared answer that way, in front of everyone.
Slamming on his face her bond with Guy, the loser, the idiot, his slave. Using Guy like a weapon against him. Like a knife stuck in his skin.
Cursed leper, Vaisey thought, I'll find the way to make you cry. Both of you".
Guy was now looking at Marian with a barely restrained emotion, his eyes slightly glossy. Did Marian really think that about him, and did she was really willing to marry him despite everything, was she really so proud of him?
“Marian,” Guy whispered with tenderness, searching for her eyes.
Marian looked at him for a moment, struck by the new tone of his voice, but then she looked at him seriously and said: "Later, Guy,"
Then she turned her gaze back to the Sheriff, leaving Guy confused.
Vaisey got up from his seat, struck by the girl's words .
"I have the most important and heavy duty to the King and to England and I don’t like to lose time playing the country squire. Go back to Knighton, Go back to your lands, all of you. The kingdom expects now loyalty and money from all of you. I will accept no fail, by no one. Shrewsbury, let's go.”
Vaisey stormed out of the room, furious, meditating revenge.
Alexander turned around, looked at everyone in a grim and threatening smile. He gave a last look to Guy, who was struggling to get up from the chair, and then he walked away, recovering his place behind Vaisey.
Marian led Guy out of the castle, before the other noblemen could stop them and ask questions or congratulate for their engagement.
Marian felt the warmth of the man's body, and felt his gaze on her.
She knew that Guy wanted to talk to her. He wanted a clarification, a confirmation.
But she didn’t want to talk about it now. She was overwhelmed with her own emotion, with his, by the events. She felt she was definitively compromised with him and she didn’t want to be dragged by her emotions to a feeling that made her feel a little scared.
Not now, she thought.
Allan approached the two of them, who were silently climbing into the carriage.
"Then how did it go?" The boy asked.
Marian glared at him, and she entered the carriage without answering. Guy shook his head, and looked up to the heavens.
"Later, Allan," he said, and he entered too into the carriage.
Allan closed the door and mounted to the driver place.
And then they say that love is a wonderful thing, the boy thought.
Marian wrapped herself in her fur. Guy, seeing her so cold, looked out of the window.
I was wrong, he thought. She wont't have me. She will never have me, he sighed. I should leave her free.
"Marian," he said, getting ready and collecting himself to find the courage to say the words that would release her to her freedom and at the same time would kill every hope and dream of love and happiness he could have.
Marian raised one hand to stop him, without looking at him.
"I'm tired, Guy, my father was right. I'm still not well, please let me rest until we're back home."
Marian closed her eyes without waiting for a reply.
Guy remained silent, disoriented.
He silently watched her sleep, and he let himself to be carried, lulled, by the slow movements of the carriage.
Later, when they were closer to Knighton, Guy saw a big bonfire in the center of the village, and so many people around it.
He leaned out to see better, instinctively carrying his hand over the hilt of his sword.
What had happened in Knighton in their absence?

Chapter Text

“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.
“Hey, Giz!”
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.”
Allan shrugged.
“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.”
Guy frowned.
“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.
“Really, Giz?”
“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.
Her world.
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.”
Marian sighed.
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.

Chapter Text

Guy cautiously stepped out of his room to reach the main hall. The room had been cleaned and decorated with green branches, more tables and chairs had been brought in and prepared.
Sir Edward, looking healthier than he had been in many weeks, was sitting at the head of the main table, and smiled at Guy when he saw him on the door.
“Sir Guy, come. Please sit there, at my side. You are the guest of honor tonight.”
Gisborne blushed a little, and he obeyed, taking the empty place at the right of the elderly lord.
“I’m happy to see that you feel better, my lord.”
“Yes, I do. Matilda’s new remedy helped a lot. She brought back some good herbs from her travel to the seaside.”
Guy politely nodded, trying to forget how terrified he had been when Matilda was away and Marian got ill.
He looked around: the hall was full of people and the servants were carrying trays and trays of food.
Outside there was a big bonfire where they had roasted the pork, and the villagers were dancing around it. When they were tired, or when they felt cold, they came inside to eat some more food or to just sit and rest in the warm room.
Guy was surprised to see only happy faces. Even the Sheriff held banquets once in a while, but usually the people who attended them were grim, uneasy or malignant like Vaisey.
Mixed between the villagers, Guy recognized Robin Hood’s men. The servant, Much, if he remembered well, was constantly eating, enjoying every morsel of food, while Allan was talking and laughing with the saracen woman. With a grin, Guy realized that the girl was the main reason why Allan wanted to invite the outlaws so badly.
You may say that I’m a fool for loving Marian so much, but it seems to me that you are a fool as well.
Looking out of the window, he had the impression of seeing Hood too. According to Allan he wouldn’t come, but Guy recognized him mingled with the villagers. He didn’t enter the manor, but Guy saw him dancing with a peasant girl and talking with the villagers.
Once he would have tried to capture him, but now he just ignored his presence and pretended he hadn’t seen him at all. Instead, he looked at the empty place at Sir Edward’s left: Marian didn’t come down yet.
Guy felt suddenly nervous, hoping that he could please her, that he wasn’t out of place. Guy wasn’t used to celebrations, and certainly not as a guest of honor.
James had chosen his best clothes for him, a dark blue velvet tunic embroidered in silver that once belonged to Sir Edward, and the servant had also cleaned and brushed his cloak and polished his boots. The servants had not the time to prepare a hot bath for him, but Guy had washed thoroughly using the basin and ewer. He had also shaved his face and neatly brushed his hair, but he couldn’t help being afraid of seeing disappointment in Marian’s eyes.
After her words at the Council he didn’t know what to think. He didn’t want to grow false hopes, but he kept hearing again in his mind the fierce words she used to praise him in front of the Sheriff.
He wanted to deserve those words, he wished that they could be true, but deep inside he felt unworthy of them.
They would have to talk, that was sure, and to find out what Marian really felt for him and what she expected from Guy.

Matilda sat in a chair by the fire with a happy sigh.
It was nice to see people having fun for once, putting aside the struggles of everyday life.
She looked at Guy of Gisborne, sitting near Sir Edward, and her smile grew larger.
She could remember even too well how injured he had been just a few months ago, how she had thought that he was going to die, when she had seen him so bruised and covered in blood.
She had disliked him then, for who he was and what he did for the Sheriff, but, taking care of his wounds, she had softened towards him.
So hurt and desperate, but still proud. A dear boy, despite all.
She was glad to see him feeling so much better, taking back his life day after day. He had surprised her when he found the way to save Knighton, and she was happy that now he was getting the praise he deserved.
Matilda remembered the terrible moment when the Sheriff’s new emissary had told them that Guy was dead, killed by the bandits, how she had felt empty inside, feeling the same sorrow she would feel if she’d lost her own child.
The woman got up from her chair, and walked to him, needing to touch him, to feel that he was really alive.
Guy saw her and stood up too, smiling to her.
“Matilda! You came!”
The healer hugged him tight, then she made him stoop a little to kiss him on a cheek.
“Of course I came, love, I wouldn’t miss it for the world! I’m so proud of you, sweetie.”
She laughed noticing that he was blushing, and she gave him another hug.
“Have fun tonight, my child, you deserved some happiness.”
“I’m not really sure I did. It seems too much… for me. I have been helped. Alone I wouldn’t...”
Matilda stopped him with a pat on his cheek.
“Is it so hard for you to be happy? They want to celebrate you, what’s wrong with this?”
“I’m not used to it. Usually people hate me.”
“Well, you should be glad of a change, then! Don’t think too much, silly boy, just enjoy the good things when they come!”
Matilda filled a cup with wine, and handed it to Guy.
“Here, darling: drink this, relax and just have some fun.”
“It’s the healer who talks?” Guy asked, amused.
“Of course! I order you to celebrate. Just don’t drink too much, love, I don’t want you to be sick. But now enjoy the evening. I will certainly do it! To begin, I want to dance around the bonfire.”
The woman planted a last kiss on Gisborne’s cheek, then she went to join the other villagers.
Guy looked at her go, smiling, and a little moved by her open affection. He went back to his seat and sat near Sir Edward, drinking his wine while he waited for Marian to join them.

Marian looked for the last time in the mirror before leaving her room and reaching the hall. The blue dress was slightly larger than the last time she had worn it, as a result of the difficulties of this last winter, and Susanne had to use needle and thread to fix it at the last minute, but in a short time it had been settled for the best and Marian was now ready.
She opened the drawer to look for a necklace. Her eyes fell on the simple silver chain which was in her time the blackmailing element that had forced her to engage with Guy.
Lies, falsity, formality, subterfuge, blackmailing, violence. That necklace was all these things.
Yet, looking at it right now, it just seemed a simple, pretty necklace, suitable for a young girl. A fine taste.
Marian took it in her hands.
She remembered everything, but mostly a detail she had never thought of since that day, when she had only been scared and desperate, for the violence of those moments, to be arrested with her father and sentenced for betrayal.
When Guy had asked her to marry her, with that horrible threatening tone, he had pointed out that he knew of her earlier engagement, that she had loved another man but he hoped she was over it, and asked IF she could marry him instead.
“What about me? Will you marry me?”
Peremptory, and overwhelming, but sincere and almost... fearful of her rejection.
Guy had held his breath, in front of her, eyes to eyes, waiting for her answer, not at all sure of the answer, as if in spite of everything, his power, his threat, her mistakes, all in the end depended on her will, on her decision.
He wanted her to overcome the past, her past and maybe his own. The darkness of his past. This was what he was actually asking her, in proposing to her directly, on that fearful day.
He really wanted her, and mostly he wanted her to love him, to be loved, overcoming his past.
Their past.
She had never really thought of the uncertainty of that moment, from his point of view.
His breathing in that moment. His visible, audible sigh of relief at her trembling: “Yes, I will marry you.”
Likewise, Marian had never thought that that necklace had been a simple present at the beginning, and that Guy had been insecure in giving it to her, fearing openly it was too simple, too poor, not beautiful enough for her. He feared she did not like it.
The reality was that until she hadn’t known the origin of that present, she liked that simple, elegant necklace, and she liked it on her neck.
Marian thought of wearing it again, tonight, thinking that Guy would now like to see it on her neck.
But she felt false to wear it. The truth was that she had lied to Guy several times, wearing it.
She closed it in the drawer, thinking: Never again, Guy, I'll never lie to you any more, I swear. But I don’t want to see you using threats or power to get what you want, never again, Guy. This applies to both of us.

Marian went down the stairs quickly. Arrived in the hall, her people welcomed her with respect and visible affection. Marian saw her father sitting at the table, with a tender and proud smile facing her and Guy, who, with some difficulty, got up from the table to reach her.
The moment he had seen her, his eyes had lit up and his lips had opened in a smile completely different from those she had seen on his face in the past. And Marian loved that strange, open, happy smile.
She smiled too, noting that they had dressed, without knowing each other's intentions, in the same color. Blue as the dark night, like a secret, like something hidden, concealed.
Like them.
One way on the surface, another inside.
Guy approached her and she handed her hand to him, expecting for him to take her to the table to sit near her father, but he took it gently, with reverence, bowing his head and touching her hand lightly, tenderly with his lips, before letting it free.
Then he looked into her eyes, and, in Guy's stare, Marian saw admiration, affection, love, uncertainty, and a strange bit of sadness, loneliness, sorrow, fear of being refused.
Marian thought it was the first time in a long time that she saw Guy for what he was, what he really was. And the first time that she probably understood what he was feeling.
She liked that feeling.
She liked the feeling of knowing him, of knowing what he was thinking, his sincerity in his feelings. The pleasant ones as well as the saddest ones.
For the first time she realized that she wanted that Guy.
She wanted Guy.
And she wanted him to stay forever the way he was now.
She would never forgive him if he should return to be the man who he had been before the accident, when he was the faithful servant of the Sheriff. The ambitious, stern, black knight.
Marian took Guy's right arm and walked with him to the table, approaching her father.
Guy brought his lips for a moment near her ear, softly whispering: "You're beautiful."
Marian smiled, letting Guy to lead her, thinking, I could say the same about you.
Marian sat down on her father's left, with Guy by her side. At that moment, Edward got up from the chair and cleared his voice.
"A moment of your attention," Edward said, "before we start our dinner."
Everyone stopped and turned their eyes to the old master.
"We are all here tonight to thank the men who, with intelligence, courage, and bravery, made it possible for Knighton to overcome a time of great financial difficulty, and now Knighton is safe.”
There were several sighs of relief in the room, and someone raised the glass up to the ceiling.
Edward went on: “Knighton is safe now, but these are difficult times for everyone. We must pay more attention in the next years to rightly asset management and annuity, as well as to manage crops in a more profitable way through a program of sowing rotation through the years.
“I was a knight before, and a sheriff then. I spent all my life to protect people and enforce the law in the name of the King and of England. Loyalty and honor have been and will be my guide, my light until my death. And with loyalty and honor I have guided and I will continue to lead Knighton.
“However, on this occasion of extreme difficulty I realized that I have no experience in this agricultural sector, and so far I have completely relied on your old experience and wisdom, dear tenants, but it is time, now to look ahead and entrust ourselves with the entrepreneurial capacity of the new generations, their ability to experiment, to find new and more effective solutions. Most importantly, this trip has laid the foundation for a profitable exchange with other counties. A famine may still be our ruin. We must avoid being in such a situation, we must do our part. In these years we have never had a moment and a real reason to celebrate. If today we are here it is for gratitude, deep gratitude toward those who risked their lives for the salvation of all of us.
"All this happened at a personal and family time difficult for me and for my young daughter Marian, which made it impossible for me to take care of the situation personally. And now, I'm not even sure I would have been able to do it on my own, even if I had the strength.
“However, thanks to the right insights and initiative at an extremely dangerous time, putting himself fully at our service and defending with his sword the men of Knighton who were with him, we now can share extreme and deep gratitude to a man whom he has demonstrated, with his example, once again the importance of loyalty, courage and honor. Even in a very difficult period of his personal life. A man we all thought we knew, but we're learning to really know and appreciate just now. This man, to whom we all owe esteem and gratitude is Sir Guy of Gisborne.
“I ask all of you to raise the cup and toast to Sir Guy, to his courage and selflessness. To Sir Guy of Gisborne!” the old man concluded rising his cup, looking at Guy with unshed tears in his eyes.

Guy was astonished by the words of Marian's father, no one had ever toasted to him, no one had ever expressed gratitude to him.
He had always been considered inadequate, incapable at Vaisey's eyes.
Not that he had really deserved anything, before.
He did his duty, mostly. His horrible sad duty, Guy realized, but now, he had done the right thing, not a selfish thing, and his loyalty was finally recognized as a value, and not taken for granted, or worse, manipulated.
This was overwhelming for him.
Something that in time, he had lost hope of being able to have, to hear.
He did not know what to say, Guy, but he felt he was supposed to say something now, that something was expected of him. But he felt his throat dry, lacking of words to say.
He felt Marian's hand slipping with gentleness and discretion in his, entwining her agile fingers with his.
Maybe Marian had understood his difficulty and wanted to support him in such a remarkably new and difficult time for him, or perhaps this was her way to express gratitude.
But Guy took courage from that warm, desired contact and said: “Lord Edward, the circumstances that brought me to these lands a few years ago, were different, but time and circumstances changed me. The constant material and spiritual help that your family and your people gave me when... when I was in serious trouble, left a mark on me. A deep one. I owe you my my gratitude. My help is a sign of gratitude to you. I owe you my loyalty, completely. I did nothing more than try to return what I received from you. And mostly... I was not alone in doing so. The young Allan here, where are you Al? Ah, here you are, lad. He has shown cunning and courage, and loyalty. To me. To you all. And the people and the guards who were with me did all they could for the success of this mission. Gave what they could. I think in particular of the young man who was injured. He gave everything for this mission too. Knighton is saved not by my own merit, but by the interest and strength that all have shown for his salvation. So, I ask you to fill and rise again your cup: to Knighton, and to Lord Edward!” Guy concluded, his eyes shining, his hand holding tightly the girl's hand, the other one rising the cup to Lord Knighton.
Everyone shouted: “To Sir Guy! To Lord Edward! To Knighton!”

Allan, in a corner of the room, his cup full of good wine up in the air, was astonished by the unexpected and public recognition that he had received from Giz.
He felt for the first time proud of himself, having done something really good, having done something really right.
He had bet on the right person, on Guy, when no one had ever done so.
He had believed in him. He felt grateful to Guy for his words, and for the chance he was giving him, now.
He felt within himself that this was his place, his purpose, the people he wanted to be with.
Giz, especially.
Though shady and difficult to understand was the behavior of the black knight, he understood him.
Most importantly, as far as he was different from Guy, he felt he had never found himself so comfortable with anybody else.
He was no longer a thief, or an outlaw, but he was really like the young squire in the service of a knight more expert, and wise. And even something more, something better.
In silence, in his mind, with words invented, but no less sincere, Allan swore his loyalty to Guy.

Matilda looked at Guy, motherly proud of him, with shining eyes.
She thanked God for having put her on the same road, hard and painful, of that man, so wounded by life and events, and at the same time so capable of change, understanding, redemption, courage, and love, and prayed to God to help him finding the courage that he would still need to move on, to live.

Marian looked at Guy in the eye at the exact time he turned to look at her. She felt proud of him. Openly proud of him, but the emotion made her blush.
She didn’t know what to say, she was afraid to say something too big, or wrong.
She gently asked Guy to fill her empty glass, and Guy blushed too. He left the girl's hand, and filled her cup of wine.
In short, more and more toasts were made, inside and outside the hall. Of wine, or mead.
Marian drank two abundant glasses of wine, Guy... something more. It was hot, or at least, Marian felt hot now.
She told Guy that she wanted, she needed, to get some fresh air and she went out, leaving him suddenly there, and Guy, apologizing to Edward, followed her after grabbing his cloak.
Going out, Guy saw the great bonfire, the people eating and drinking, some improvised players, people still toasting to him.
Then he saw her, her beautiful, lovely Marian, her face and body brightened, softened by the light of the flames.
He felt so confused, happy and desperately sad at the same time.
That woman, that situation was everything to him, and at the same time it could become his greatest delusion. Gratitude, kindness, friendship, weren’t love.
He felt that he couldn’t bear another disappointment from her.
Yet she was there, beautiful, full of life, and warmth.
He wished he had not done everything wrong with her in the past. Because he had been wrong, so very wrong, no matter the circumstances.
And now, at the end of it, everything he had to offer her now was only his loyalty, and that little strength and courage that remained in him. All his love and passion for her would be of little use, now. Counted for nothing.
Guy wished he had acted in a different way with her, from the beginning, not showing her each and everyone of his worse sides, he wished he hadn't hurt her, that he hadn't manipulated her, blackmailed her. Forcing him into her life. Showing her only flattery, power, seduction.
Nothing that really resembled the love his parents had.
It was also for this reason that he had to leave her free now that he still had a bit of strength and dignity.
This, too, Guy thought, was loyalty. Loyalty to the woman he loved with all his heart, and forever.
Marian was standing under a tree, apart from the crowd. She was leaning on the trunk with a hand and she was looking at the fire.
Guy looked at her for a moment, took in all her beauty. That was an image that he would keep in his heart forever like a treasure.
He knew that he was going to love her forever, even if he was going to let her go, to release her from their engagement.
He approached her before he could lose the courage, and he gently put his cloak on her shoulders.
She turned to look at him, startled. Her face was a little flushed, her expression vulnerable.
“You must take care. It’s cold outside and you’ve been ill.”
The girl smiled.
“I feel flushed, actually. Maybe I had too much wine.”
Guy looked at the villagers, who were still toasting to him and to Knighton.
“I think that you are in good company tonight,” he said with a little smirk. He had drank more than he was used to, and he was feeling emotional, inebriated with the praise of Sir Edward and the approval of the villagers as well as with the wine.
The girl looked at him, fondly.
“Yes, I think I’m in good company.”
Her eyes were on his face, and Guy had the impression that there was a second meaning in her words, that she was trying to say that she was happy to be in his company.
This, and the words that she had spoken in front of Vaisey, made even more difficult what he had to say.
“Marian...” He began, and the girl kept looking at him, waiting.
Marian felt suddenly worried: Guy expression changed, his smile faded. She could feel a deep sadness in him, and she realized that she didn’t want to see him so heartbroken. Not again.
“I’m grateful for what you said in front of the Sheriff today. Your words were everything I could ever dream to hear from your lips and I think that I will always remember them. Even if they are not true.”
Guy paused for a moment, and Marian didn’t know what to do or to say. She had spoken proudly to annoy the Sheriff and to stop him from humiliating Guy and her family, but now she realized that she hadn’t thought of the impression they could have on Gisborne.
Had she lied to him, even after vowing to herself that she would never do it again? Or hadn’t she?
She had not time to reflect on this because Guy continued talking.
“I’m not a fool, Marian, I know why you spoke like that and I’m grateful for that. Have you seen the look on his face?” He asked with a little laugh. “He was hating us more than ever. Once I would have cared, but not anymore. Actually, I was glad of it.” Guy smiled again, but Marian could see the sadness in his eyes. In fact, he became serious when he spoke again. “But I have to be realistic. For once, it seems that I made the right choice, and it’s good to see people toasting to me instead of cursing my name, but the truth is that I did nothing so special. I am nothing.”
“Don’t talk like that, Guy...” Marian interrupted him, frowning.
“No, let me finish, please, or I won’t have the courage to say it. See? I’m not brave. There’s a long list of what I am not. I am not rich anymore, I have nothing, and I have not the means to provide for myself. I worked for the Sheriff because I have nobody, but also because I wanted to have power, to have enough substance to provide for a family, for a wife… for you. And now I lost everything I ever owned, except for my sword. A sword that has very little use, now. I’m not strong, not anymore. I was a fool, Marian, I had health and strength and I wasted them at Vaisey’s service. I buried my conscience for so many years that I thought it dead and lost forever, but now that you made me find it again, I’m useless. I’m a broken, penniless cripple and I can’t have many expectations in my future.”
Guy stopped for a moment to take a deep breath, trying to fight the tears that were welling in his eyes, then he continued.
“And that’s why I must let you go, Marian. I forced you in a betrothal that you probably never really wanted and I’m not even able to provide for you anymore, to give you the life you would deserve. You are born to be free, Marian, that’s what I always liked in you since I first met you: you were not afraid to fight for your ideals, you never let anyone bridle your mind. I love you, I love you every day more, and for this I won’t be a burden on your shoulders.”
Guy leaned his back on the trunk of the tree, as if those words drained all his strength from him.
“You’re free,” he said in a whisper, then he closed his eyes, unable to look at her.
He was so pale and still that for a moment Marian had the impression that he was dead, that his broken heart had killed him. He wasn’t, of course, and she knew it, but she was scared all the same.
She was suddenly afraid that he could die, that he could decide to go away and never come back, that she could lose him somehow.
And she didn’t want to.
She didn’t want to see him so dispirited, she didn’t want him to diminish himself because of the injuries that she, as the Nightwatchman, had inflicted to him.
Impulsively she stepped forward and put a hand on his broken leg, as if she wanted to shield it from any further injury, as if she wanted to protect him.
“Guy, look at me,” Marian said, caressing softly Guy's leg.
“Look at me, Guy,” she repeated, looking for his gaze. Guy opened his eyes, and they were sad.
Marian felt the same sadness pervading her, as a contagion.
“Guy, this wound doesn’t make you a useless man. This wound, your pain, didn’t stop you from being brave, to be a true man, a true knight, to save us all.”
Guy opened his mouth to talk, but now Marian put her hand on his lips, with the same sweetness, asking silently to let her continue.
"I hurt you, this wound, and your suffering was my work, I didn’t want it, but it happened, you live with your own faults, I am living with my own faults. In spite of everything, you didn’t leave me then, you helped me, cured me, prayed for me. Guy, you saved me, as no one else did before. You really believe that all this for me has no value, that it’s not enough, that you are nothing? This leg, so wounded, made you the man you are now. And now you are an infinitely better man. The man you were not when you were stronger, richer. This wounded leg is your strength. It's what reminds you that you're a man, not God. Guy. I ask you, please don't leave now, don't leave me, stay, stay with me. Let me know you better, let yourself know me better. My father will help you, I will help you, Matilda, Allan, all the people here, we will help you. I care about you, Guy, I really care about you.
“You want me to be free? Nobody has ever thought to give me freedom. I forced my father to let me be the Nightwatchman. I have blackmailed him to this purpose, in my own way. Guy, you are right, I want to be free now, but I want to be free to stand by your side, to be close to you, now, to care for you. Give me time to know you, take your time to find a new balance in your life. After all,” she said smiling, caressing his cheek now, “we should have married when the King returns to England, don't you remember? What did you really know about me when you asked me to be your wife? Little or nothing, now you know. What did I know about you those days? Nothing compared to what I am now discovering about you. These months with you were difficult, and precious at the same time. I don't want them to end, now.
“There is no reason to break our engagement. We have the opportunity to make it more true, more sincere, mutual. We have time, yet, to know ourselves, to learn to understand each other. We have time to stay together. Don’t go away, Guy. Stay with me, with us, I ask this of you.”

It took more than a moment for Guy to understand what Marian was saying, the real meaning of her words, and, even when he was sure that he had really heard them right, he still couldn’t believe them.
He found himself thinking to the Sheriff’s birds, trapped in their cages. More than once he had felt a deep sympathy for those little creatures, and he had fantasized of opening the doors of their cages to let them fly away.
He never did, of course, but when he said to Marian that she was free, he imagined that she was like one of those birds, and that he was opening the door of her cage.
But, instead of flying away, she came back to him because she wanted to stay with him.
Because she cared for him.
The night was cold, and Marian had his cloak, but Guy could only feel the warmth in his heart.
He lifted a hand to touch Marian’s face, softly brushing her cheek with his fingers, and looking at her.
In that moment, it was as if the world around them had stopped to exists, there were only Marian and him, nothing else.
Slowly, Guy drew closer to her, looking into her eyes. Marian looked back at him, equally entranced, and did nothing to stop him. She waited, her lips slightly parted.
They were soft, Guy thought, touching them with his own, but also alive, demanding. He kissed her, but she was kissing him back as well.
He hugged her tight, and he could feel her arms fastening on his back, her hands grabbing his clothes, as if she wanted to drag him closer to her.
In the past, when he dreamed of kissing Marian, he imagined a sweet, delicate, reverent kiss, but now it was completely different, and a thousand times better. There was passion in it, and not only on his side. It was like being into a storm, with no other choice than following the wind, but at the same time he felt safe.
And happy.

Chapter Text

Djaq sat by the bonfire, looking at the flames. She smiled. It was nice to see people just being happy, dancing and eating without fear, or worries.
She could remember a time of her childhood, before her family was destroyed by war, when her father took her and her brother to the desert for a short trip. That night they had slept in a tent, under the stars, and, before going to bed, their father told them the ancient tales of their people, sitting around a bonfire.
She missed her family, but she knew that she had been lucky. Instead of ending her life as a slave in the mines, she was saved by Robin and his friends.
They were her new family now.
Allan came to sit near her, and she averted her eyes from the flames to look at him. He was different, now: cleaner, wearing finer clothes, but above all he looked more relaxed and confident.
“You came, then,” he said, smiling. “And Robin too! I didn’t think he would.”
“Much really wanted to come, for the food, and John and Will didn’t like the idea of a celebration for Gisborne, but it’s still a celebration, a time to be happy and forget all the bad things. We all needed it, even Robin.”
“He isn’t going to cause trouble, is he?” Allan asked, a little worried. “I know that you all don’t like Giz, but...”
“But you do.”
“Is it such a terrible sin?”
The girl looked at him.
“You ask me that? He was the henchman of the man who killed your brother! Did you already forget it? If I could find the person who killed my twin...”
Allan sighed.
“I could never forget that day... But it wasn’t Giz who killed Tom.”
“Why do you defend him?”
“Because he’s a victim of the Sheriff too. He has many faults, and he wronged many people, I know this, I’m not a blind idiot, but he’s a decent man.”
Djaq stared at him.
“But there’s something else, isn’t it?”
“He sees me.”
The girl frowned.
“What do you mean?”
“When I was with you all in the forest, that’s all I was, just a member of the gang. Robin gives the orders, he makes his plans, and we obey. But in Robin’s eyes we are all the same, there’s no difference between me, you, Will, John or even Much.”
“This is a good thing, isn’t it? We are all equals.”
“Yes, we are all equals… under Robin.”
“He’s our leader. A gang needs a leader.”
Allan sighed.
“I know, but maybe I’m not made to be a follower.”
Djaq looked at him.
“You follow Gisborne, what’s the difference? It’s so much better being Gisborne’s servant than a member of Robin’s gang?”
“Look, I know that this might sound funny, but Giz listens to me. And if I do well, he acknowledges it. You didn’t hear what he said earlier, in front of everybody. He praised me, he spoke as if I was a hero, he gave me part of the credit of the success of our mission. I’ve never felt like that, never in my life!”
“Like that, how?”
“As if I mattered. As if somebody cared about me.”
“Robin cares for you! We all care for you.”
“But you don’t need me. Giz does. I’m important for him. Can you say the same for Robin and the gang?”
“So… I guess that you won’t come back?”
Allan looked at the girl. Her tone, usually witty, was softer, almost sad.
“I miss you all, I swear I do. But I think that maybe I found my place in the world.” He grinned cheerfully. “But that doesn’t change anything! I won’t be part of the gang, but we are still friends! Well, if you want to, obviously...”
“Of course I want!” She said, maybe a little too quickly.
Allan searched for her eyes, serious for once in his life.
“I will never forget what you did for me in that alley, when Tom died. Maybe I never thanked you for staying with me, but I’m grateful.”
Djaq didn’t answer, and they stared at each other in an uneasy silence. Djaq felt her cheeks becoming hot despite the cold of the night.
“Just that you know, I always saw you,” she said after a while, a little grumpily, and Allan smirked at her.
“Do you think it’s so strange?”
“And tell me… will you miss me?”
The girl didn’t avert her eyes, even if she blushed a little more, and stared at him.
“I already do,” she said, not ashamed to be sincere.
Allan smiled again, and Djaq smiled too, then they joined their smiles. And their lips.

The cheerfulness of Knighton's peasants had involved him, contagiously, and finally won over him.
It had been such a long since the last time he had seen or attended a party.
The smell of roasted pork, meat pies, freshly baked honey sweets, mead, all invited him to leave everything behind his shoulders, to be happy for one night.
Next to the big fire he no longer felt the cold of the winter. Robin couldn’t tell if it was the abundant drink of mead he had, or seeing the joyful smile on the faces of the people, their cheerfulness, their relief, to make him feel finally serene, but, whatever the cause, all he wanted was to share this moment with the others.
Especially with the dearest person to his eyes and to his heart.
Robin felt different, he felt light, as if he was younger, freer, stronger. As if he had regained the lightness of his lost youth.
People danced to the funny music from improvised players. A brunette girl tried to involve him in a dance. She took his hands, smiled at him.
Robin only opposed a slight resistance, letting himself be dragged among the others, dancing, smiling.
For one night he didn’t want to think about his troubles, being now an outlaw, a renegade, after being a young war hero, and a good young master before going to war.
It wouldn’t last forever, Robin repeated to himself.
The king would come back, he would return his lands, his home, to him.
If nothing else, with Alexander managing it now, no one would have to suffer, there. He would be fair, right, to his people. Until his return.
But it was just a little consolation.
If Robin knew first what would happen after he left for the Holy Land, he would never had left, in the first place. Never left Locksley. And Marian.
He instinctively left the hands of the brunette girl who had dragged him into the dance and who kept looking for further contact with him.
Leaving the improvised dance floor, Robin saw Edward sitting in the corner, James near him.
He saw his comrades, some of them busy drinking and eating, others having fun among the people.
Much, red face for embarrassment, drunkenness, cheerfulness, tried to find the right words to talk to a young blonde, who was smiling to another boy.
Little John had filled his stomach with an excellent roasted pork, after months of squirrels and other animals of varying and dubious origin, and he was entertaining the kids of the village by lifting them in the air two at a time.
Will played a wooden flute he had carved with his skilled hands, and looked down to a tree where Allan was talking to Djaq.
The two of them seemed a little too close. And Djaq was smiling.
Robin had never seen her smile. She was cute.
It could become a problem, a big problem.
Robin feared that the Saracen girl could become the target of a competition between his men, bringing confusion and discord between their ranks.
But moreover, where else a Saracen girl could go in England?
She was safe with them. And she had proved to be brave as a man, and much more experienced in the art of healing than all of them put together.
In fact she was a great buy for the group, Robin thought.
Djaq was now hiding behind a house, strictly followed by Allan.
Robin thought it was good that Gisborne was now responsible for Allan, who was left with him instead of returning to the group, especially if a romance was blossoming between those two.
Robin didn’t notice that Will had watched the scene, had grasped a mug and drank all the hot liquid in a single gulp, trying not to think what maybe was happening.
The young man's soul was full of sadness.
Robin took a mug of mead, drank it slowly, and began searching for Marian with his eyes. He had seen her at the beginning of the party, dressed in blue, beautiful as ever, though still a bit pale.
The boy now felt his head turning a little now. Maybe he had exaggerated with the wine.
He started wandering from one place to another in the crowded yard, but he couldn’t find her, he just couldn’t.
Perhaps she was still weak for the long and recent illness to stay awake too long among the people, her people. Perhaps Marian had already retired to her room.
Robin walked along the walls of her house until he was under the window of her room. He wanted to climb fast to reach her, but he felt he needed to regain strength and lucidity before doing so to avoid losing his balance in the climbing.
So Robin sat down on the ground, his shoulders against the wall, and looked up to the moon with sweet eyes.
Now that he had gone away from the great bonfire, the cold of the late evening made him breathe again, and his mind seemed to find again clarity, lucidity of thought, and passion.
He had made a big mistake with Marian long ago, a mistake he had long repented of, but she had resisted all her suitors.
Even Gisborne, in the end.
And as far as the guilt and pity, and now a sort of gratitude, could now tie her to the black knight, Robin hoped that Marian, listening to his words, would realize that there could be no other happiness than theirs.
What should have been from the beginning if the war and the loyalty to the King had not intruded among them, and their dream of love and happiness.
Marian had been smart, she had saved herself and taken time. She wouldn’t marry before the King's return.
Now, Robin would ask her to just keep this promise, but to marry him, not Gisborne, once the King came back and put everything and everyone in their right place.
In fact, after the latest events, Robin felt in his own way grateful to Gisborne for having taken the reins of Knighton at an emergency time.
But Robin and his gang had saved the expedition from the assault of the bandits, so that victory was also his credit.
And Robin doubted that, over the long distance, Guy could be a good administrator of Knighton, given his previous bad management of Locksley, in his absence and without his knowledge.
In one way or another, his destiny and that of Marian and their ancestral lands were still linked to their future union. And Robin no longer wanted to give up on Marian. No more.
But he never really used love words with the girl.
He had never written poetry for her, he hadn’t brought flowers or presents.
Everything was simple, spontaneous, natural.
Like their first kiss, born out of a simple joke between them.
A bet.
A price paid for a simple bet.
Like their meetings, and they were never really alone, made of glances, smiles, jokes, cheerfulness.
A promise of future happiness.
He had fallen in love with her, of course, and she had fallen easily in love with him.
She was destined for him.
Everybody told it to him, to her.
He would be her man, her future husband.
Then he left. He realized that he had played with the affection of the girl, that he had taken it for granted, forever.
His Marian.
But he would tell her everything, this time, everything that he had in his heart, that had grown up inside him during the years of war and distance.
The truth was that he had really fallen in love with her while he was on the battlefields, in the desert sand. In discomfort and pain. And fear.
From longing.
Then he really had started to love her.
Wait, he would ask her to wait, putting now his whole heart, soul and his destiny, this time for real, at her feet.
The light of a candle lighted, softly now, the girl's room.
Maybe Marian couldn’t sleep.
She was awake.
She was alone.
Robin took his courage and climbed easily up to the window.
He peered inside the room. She was still dressed in the blue gown for the party, with her back leaning against the door, a candle in her lovely hands, and she was smiling, a sweet little smile, her right hand resting on her beautiful lips.
Robin felt a shiver inside, and he was not sure if it was for the late winter cold.
He knocked gently on the glass, attracting the attention of the girl, who looked like she was awakening from a beautiful dream, then she looked at him, surprised.

Allan grinned to himself, feeling a little foolish. After their kiss, Djaq went back to join the others, leaving him alone.
The young man couldn’t still believe that the girl had kissed him, and he couldn’t help wondering what it meant. Since she joined the gang, he had immediately liked her, after finding out that she was a woman of course, and now it seemed that she liked him as well.
Allan wondered what was going to happen between them in the future, and he wasn’t sure if the idea of a romance between them made him more happy or terrified.
He liked to flirt, and he had never turned up his nose on a good tumble in the hay with a nice girl, but he knew that Djaq wasn’t the kind of girl who was up for just a tumble in the hay.
He looked at the villagers, still dancing around the bonfire, happily eating and drinking, and he decided to find a quieter place to think about that kiss.
There was a tree, apart from the crowd and almost in the dark, and Allan knew that, under it, there was a gentle slope, perfect to lie on the back and to look at the stars while resting on the soft grass.
He walked to the tree, holding out a hand to steady himself on the trunk, and he jumped in fear when he touched someone’s body. Even the other man was startled and let out a short cry.
“Oh, Giz, it’s you!” Allan said, with a little laugh. “What are you doing here, all alone?”
The knight relaxed in recognizing Allan’s voice.
“Nothing. What were you doing?”
Allan shrugged.
“Just wanted to think.”
“To think? You?”
“Very funny, Giz,” Allan replied, offended.
Guy put a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry, I was joking. I’ll leave, if you need some quiet.”
Joking? You?” Allan said, mimicking Guy’s tone, then he smiled. “No, stay, please. I could use some advice.”
Guy nodded, a little surprised that Allan could want some advice from him.
“Let’s sit down, then. I’ve been standing for too long, my leg is starting to hurt.”
“Do you need help?”
The knight shook his head, lowering himself on the grass. The ground was cold, but his cloak was thick and it was comfortable to sit like that.
“I can manage, thanks.”
“You improved a lot, didn’t you? Your leg, I mean.”
“Do you think so?” Guy asked.
“Of course you did! Look at you, Giz: when I came at Knighton first, you could barely walk for more than a few steps without being exhausted, while now you are much stronger. You don’t really need my help now.”
“Oh, I do, believe me, I do.” Guy said, earnestly. “Without your help, those people wouldn’t be celebrating, tonight.”
“Are you drunk, Giz?” Allan asked, surprised by his words.
Gisborne chuckled.
“A little, maybe.”
The younger man smiled. He wasn’t used to see Gisborne so relaxed. He looked almost happy.
“You should drink more often, then, mate.”
“What do you wanted to ask me? You said you wanted advice.”
Allan nodded, blushing a little.
“Well… Yes. If a woman kisses you, how do you know if that was just because you’ve been brave or if there’s something more?”
Guy grabbed his jacket, suddenly angry.
“Where you spying on me?!”
Allan looked at him, in fear. Gisborne had reacted like a wild wolf, reminding him that once he had been a dangerous enemy.
“Hey, Giz, what’s up with you? Why do you think I have been spying on you? I kissed Djaq, that’s it, what has this to do with you?”
Guy let him go abruptly, and, even if it was dark, and he couldn’t see him well, Allan realized that Gisborne was embarrassed.
“Wait a moment...” Allan said, with a grin, “You thought I was spying because you did kiss somebody too! I am right, I know! Was it Marian?”
Guy stared at him for a moment, uncertain if he had to blush or get angry again. At last he decided to lie down on the grass, crossing his arms under his head, and he smiled, looking at the stars.
“Yes,” he confessed, somewhat dreamily, “yes, I kissed her. And I think she didn’t dislike it.”
Allan stared at him, dumbfounded, then he lied on the grass too, laughing softly.
They were quiet for a while, then Guy turned his head to look at him, with a little frown.
“You said that you kissed Djaq… Is she the saracen girl from Hood’s gang?”
“Do you love her?”
Allan didn’t answer immediately.
“I don’t know. That’s why I wanted your advice.”
“Earlier you asked me what I was doing here, under this tree...” Guy began, a little awkwardly, glad that the darkness concealed his expression, “Well, if you want to know, I was wondering if I should ask for your advice.”
Allan burst out in a laugh.
“I don’t want to be funny, Giz, but I think that we are both in trouble!”

Marian didn’t expect to see Robin suddenly reaching her room. When she came out to see the bonfire, she saw him for a second. Then his image was lost in the celebrating crowd, and she was soon reached by Guy.
She still felt the loving warmth that his lips had left on hers.
And now Marian was afraid that they had been seen by Robin.
She looked at him as she opened the window to let him in. He didn’t seem to be angry at her.
Maybe he didn’t see her kissing Guy.
In any case she should be cautious: she didn’t want the two to collide in any way for her fault.
“Robin, was it really necessary to reach me here, at this hour? Anyone could see you climbing, they're all still at the party. You could have talked to me there, but I didn’t see you in the crowd, what's the matter?”
"No one sees me, if I do not want to be seen. I just needed to take a moment before I reached you," said the boy, smiling.
"Well, Robin, what's the matter? The Sheriff maybe, is he up to something? Is he thinking of doing something against my people? If that's the case, we have to go and warn Guy and my dad! "The girl said, suddenly agitated.
"Warn Gisborne? Marian, I don’t like the importance you are giving to this man...”
Marian interrupted Robin's speech: "He's helping us, he's helping me, it’s thanks to him that tonight we can celebrate instead of falling under the Sheriff's attack. You have no idea of the bad time we were living here when, thank God, he and the expedition came back, saving us."
"But if it wasn’t for me, Marian, the expedition would never come back. We saved them from the outlaws attack. Maybe you should thank me, too," the boy said, slowly approaching her.
Marian took a step back, recovering a little distance from him.
"Well, Robin, I wish to thank you on behalf of Knighton and of the women of the expedition members who have been able to re-embrace their loved ones."
"Marian... how strange you are tonight, your words, your eyes, you look almost formal, it's not like you, have you forgotten what's between us?" Robin said, frowning.
"You, Robin, have forgotten that there is nothing between us," said the girl.
"Oh no, no Marian. Don't you see, don't you feel, inside, that there is still something important between us, and there will always be?"
"Robin, I am no longer a naive little girl, and you left me a long time ago."
"I know, Marian, you're still angry at me, and you're right, you're right, but please, listen to me for a while, we've never talked about what happened to us when I left England”, Robin said in an unusually pleading tone.
"There's no need. What's done is done. We are no longer engaged. And I'm different now from the girl I was then. Even you are different, now."
“Oh no, my beautiful one,” Robin said, a loving, sad stare in his eyes, “there is something in me that has never changed. Only circumstances around me, around us, have changed. Please try to understand, I was younger when I left for war, and I didn’t know at length what I would do by following my King, and I didn’t know if I would come back alive from the Holy Land. How could I keep you tied to a promise that I didn’t know if I could keep? It was a choice of honesty, not selfishness, on my part. Please believe me, Marian.”
"You should have married me before you left, if you did, instead of exposing me to the public humiliation of having been left, instead of disappointing my feeling for you. But it doesn’t matter, it happened so long ago..."
"No, no, it’s important instead, it’s important that we talk about it. Now. I know I've let you down, I hurt you. God knows I didn't want to. But I never stopped thinking about you, in these years, when I was away. You have no idea how many times I wanted to see you, just to see you.”
Robin approached the girl, a tender, loving look in his eyes. He stretched out his hand to touch, caress her cheek. The girl didn’t get out of touch, she let him do it. His hand was warm, but not trembling.
"Marian, we were young, so young, don't you remember our first kisses, the first times we embraced, hidden from everyone... like tonight?"
Marian pulled back, annoyed by his continued reference to the past. She didn’t like that vaguely seductive, self-confident tone that Robin continued to use with her.
“It's in the past. And I'm pretty sure I haven’t been the only girl in your life. Don't believe that a caress is enough to make up for years away, Robin.”
“No, Marian, no one has ever been as important as you, no one will ever be. You were my betrothed. I was betrothed to you. I would have sworn loyalty to you and love forever and ever. I didn’t leave you because I didn’t love you, but because I didn’t know if I would come back from the war. You don't know what war is, what I saw, what I did there. But I swear to you, Marian. I never, never, never stopped thinking about you, to worry about you. Marian, I...”
“What, Robin?” Marian said, incredulous, what was Robin saying to her after all that time?
"...Marian, my beautiful Marian... you don't understand, you are perfect for me, so perfect for me, we are born to be together, to love each other."
"I'm not perfect, Robin, and the world around us has changed, don’t you see it?"
“I know, I know, I'm an outlaw now, I have nothing, I was a hero and now for someone I'm a... zero. But not for you. Not for you, you care for me, I feel it. I should have listened to you when I came back, but I couldn’t let those boys die. And the truth is, everything has happened in a hurry. I came back and everything was changed. But you, no, you have not changed. And I know now that I have not really changed either. Our feelings are not changed. Marian, I love you. You do not know how much I love you.” Robin paused, his eyes sweet and bright, “I never told you how much I love you. I thought I would have a lifetime to tell you, to show you and instead... but it's not too late, my love. The King will come back, and he will put everything and everyone in their place, I will get back my home, my lands, my position, and I will ask you as a wife. Oh yes, I will.”
Marian now was shaking, those words would have made her so happy just a few years before, and now they made her so confused.
What did she feel about Robin after all that time?
He was still the nice guy who had grown up next to her. He was dear to her heart, to her eyes. He had been everything to her.
He was her first, timid little kisses, all their jokes and smiles. He was all her hopes for the future.
His hand now was warm on her cheek, a familiar, tender warmth, but she was tied to another, and not just formally, she was feeling something strong for Guy, something different, uncertain, but strong, really warm. She was confused, confused... so confused.
"Robin, I'm still betrothed, but to Guy, you should know it," said the girl, in a hurry.
"Still betrothed to Gisborne, why? Did he try to threaten you again?" Robin said, angrily.
"No, he would never do it again. There is no reason to break the promise now. The King has not returned yet,"Marian said , with a serious tone.
"But the King will come back, and you will be free, Gisborne was Vaisey' s henchman, and he has done horrible things under his command, for sure, and he could be under trial. In any case I will have my position back and I will be able to give you all that is necessary, and I will marry you."
Marian reconsidered Guy's terrible confession.
If the King knew that Guy had tried to kill him, Guy would definitely go to trial and be condemned to death for sure.
Now that thought didn’t make her to feel pity, but pure terror. Her legs suddenly wavered.
Robin didn’t have to know this secret in any way.
She leaned with an arm to the fireplace, to support her legs.
Robin ran to help her.
"Do you feel unwell? It's my fault, I've made you stand up for too long. Come on, I'll help you lie down."
He supported her weight with sweetness, smiling.
Marian sat on the bed, embarrassed.
"Robin, I..."
"Don’t say anything,” said the boy, “you're tired now, you've been very sick. You have to rest now, just rest."
Marian lay down, and Robin leaned over her, brushing her forehead with a simple kiss.
"I love you, Marian, and I will have your love back. One day you will also feel that you and I are perfect together, and you will love me. Now sleep, my dear, just sleep.”
Robin went to the window, jumped over the sill, and he blow her a kiss with a hand before disappearing into the night.
Marian, exhausted, and at the same time confused and sad, felt herself divided between two fires of different heat, between Robin's confident smile and Guy's uncertain smile.
They both loved her. And both were so dear to her heart.
She thought she wouldn’t be able to sleep. But fatigue took over and Marian finally fell asleep, her window still open in the cold night.
Some time later, someone entered in her room while she was asleep, just to watch her sleeping for a moment, and hurried to close the window.
Then he checked her forehead, and, reassured, he tucked her bed covers around her, and left her room, limping.

Chapter Text

Matilda looked at Guy without him noticing her.
The knight was in the stables, standing at the side of the black stallion, and he was brushing his mane, with care.
The healer noticed that Guy was standing without the help of the crutch, and that he wasn’t leaning on anything for support.
“Hello, love. I see that you survived yesterday’s celebration without any damage,” she said, cheerfully.
Gisborne winced in hearing her voice, and lifted a hand to massage his forehead.
“Actually, my head his aching.”
Matilda reached Guy, and gave him a sympathetic pat on a shoulder.
“That happens when you drink too much, love. But you’re awake, you are able to stand, and you aren’t emptying your stomach in a bucket, so I can say that you are much better than most of Knighton’s villagers.”
Guy laughed.
“I guess so. Busy day for you?”
“I’ve been handing remedies to them for the whole morning. Every single one of them moaned that they’ll never drink so much again… until next celebration, I guess.” She handed a little flask to him, with a grin. “Here, sweetie, I kept some remedy for you. It will ease your headache and settle your stomach if there’s need for it too.”
Gisborne took the flask and drank its contents in cautious little sips.
“The taste is a punishment for drinking too much, isn’t it? If I wasn’t feeling sick before, I could be now.”
Matilda laughed.
“Try to keep it down, and you’ll feel better soon.”
Guy sighed, and he sat on a bale of hay. Matilda sat at his side.
“Don’t think about it, love. Tell me, how did the party go? Did you have fun?”
A wide smile lit Guy’s face.
“I think it couldn’t have gone better!” He said, enthusiastically, but he didn’t add any further details.
Matilda looked at him, a little surprised, but also glad to see him so happy, and a little worried too, in case such happiness could be disappointed in the future. She knew that his smile had something to do with Marian, so she resolved to check if the girl was equally happy, before asking to either of them what had happened.
She smiled, fondly.
“I’m happy for you, darling. Apart from the wine, how are you feeling? I last checked your health when you came back from your expedition, and it was a few days ago. And it was even more since I did a proper examination on your leg.”
“I think I’m quite well, Matilda.”
The woman rose to her feet, and put a hand under his chin to make him lift his face.
“Let me see this cut. It’s healing well, but if you keep scratching the scab, it will take longer, and the scar will be more visible.”
“It itches.”
Matilda rolled her eyes.
“You men can bear bravely the pain of serious wounds, and then you become like whiny little kids for a simple scratch!”
She took a small wooden box from her bag, and she smeared a salve on the cut, with a little smile.
“Here, my child,” Matilda said, teasing him a little, “this will ease the itch. Try not to touch it for a while, now, hm?”
Guy smirked.
“I’ll try.”
“Now take off your breeches and your boots, and let me see your leg.”
“Here? In the stables?”
Matilda lifted an eyebrow.
“Why, are you afraid that the horses will look at you? There’s nobody here and, judging from their conditions, I doubt that the stable boys will show up to work anytime soon. I still have a lot of people to treat, it will save some time if I examine your leg here, and we won’t be disturbed by any drunken servants who are tired to look at the bottom of a bucket and want some remedy.”
Guy nodded. He could walk better with the crutch now, but he still wasn’t very fast, and it was true that once inside the manor, everyone would ask for Matilda’s cares.
He removed his right boot, unbuckled his belt, and stood, while Matilda, kneeling on the ground, looked carefully at his leg, touching and squeezing it to feel if the bones had healed right.
“Tell me if you feel pain, love. Does it hurt if I touch you like this?”
Guy shook his head.
“And like this?”
Guy sucked in his breath.
“Yes, it does.”
“Very much?”
“It’s bearable.”
Matilda nodded.
“Put your weight on it, now. Can you stand?”
Guy tried.
“It hurts, but I can.”
Matilda stood up.
“Well, I’ve finished.”
“Can I get dressed?” Guy asked.
“I think that a good part of the women of Knighton wouldn’t mind if you didn’t, but yes, you can.”
Guy laughed, blushing a little.
“Is it so funny to tease me?”
Matilda looked at him.
“Yes, it is, love.”
“So, what do you say? How is my leg?”
“It seems that the bones had knit, but there is still a long way to go, and I still can’t say if your leg will heal completely or not. Only time will reveal it. But when I first saw you, the damage was so bad that I was afraid that I might have to amputate it, so we shouldn’t complain.”
“Can I ride?” Guy asked, giving a longing look at the black horse.
Matilda sighed.
“If you must. You already did it twice, and you didn’t suffer any damages, so I guess that if it doesn’t pain you too much, you can try. But be careful, a fall wouldn’t do. And I think that now you should try to walk without that crutch. You can use a staff or a cane to keep your balance and to rest when your leg pains you too much, but you have to begin walking on it, and exercise it. A little at first, and then more every day to regain some strength.”
The woman caressed his cheek, gently.
“It will be painful, love, but it’s for the best.”
Guy nodded.
“I know. I’ll ask Allan to find a staff for me.”
“Good boy! And, yes, I know that you aren’t a dog,” Matilda laughed, “but you’re still my good boy.” The healer planted a kiss on his cheek. “I have to go and see Marian and Sir Edward now, but first I’ll help you to get on the saddle of that black demon. I bet that you want to ride him immediately, now that I gave you the permission to do it.”
Guy smiled at her.
“You guessed right.”
The woman shook her head, but helped him to mount, with a resigned smile.
“Have fun, love, but be careful.”
“I will, Matilda, I promise,” Guy said, happily, then he lead the horse out of the stable and he was gone.
The healer gave a happy sigh: she couldn’t help worrying for him, but she was really glad to see him so cheerful after such a difficult period.

Matilda entered Marian's room. Unlike Guy, the girl seemed rather nervous, rather than combing her hair, it seemed to be torturing it, lock by lock.
“My dear girl, good morning, how are you feeling this morning, do you also need a good remedy for the general hangover from last night?” The healer said.
“Oh Matilda, good morning," the girl answered, finding a smile for her, " No, I think I can do without it, I have drunk, but less than others, and I didn’t stay at the celebration for a long time, to say the truth."
"You've done well not to stay too long in the cold, but for once Knighton sees a moment of joy..."
"In truth, dear Matilda, I haven’t been so cautious, I spent some time outdoors, last night, there was a great, beautiful bonfire..." the girl suspended the words as if she meant to say more. Matilda suspected that this ‘more’ was about Guy.
"Well, let's see if the cold has caused some discomfort to your breathing."
Matilda closed well the door from the inside, and she started to check the girl. The lungs seemed to be improved: care and attention were working, and the young age and the girl's spirit were doing the rest.
Matilda helped the girl to dress her up after her visit and said: "I'd say the difficult situation is over, so, be a little more patient and cautious, young woman, but you can go back to normality now. Nothing... more, though."
She winked at her, implying implicitly that night-time rides as the Nightwatchman were still out of the question.
"I'll be cautious, Matilda. Tell me, please, is it too early for me to ride again? It has been a long time since the last time..." The girl said, with a light, gentle tone of prayer in her voice.
"What? Is it the horse lovers day today?" Matilda laughed.
"I don’t understand, what do you mean? And anyway you didn’t answer my question, can I ride?" Marian replied.
"Yes, with great prudence and no racing or galloping, but you can ride your horse, today, and when there is sunshine. You know, if you hurry now, you might also meet the other horse enthusiast."
"Who are you talking about?" The girl asked.
"Guy, he asked me a similar question just a while ago. At this time he will be in the fields with the infernal stallion he calls horse."
"Oh," said the girl, letting a little sigh out of her lips, "I'm glad you allowed it, he will be happy."
"It seemed to me that he was happy even before I allowed him to ride, and since the two words, Guy and happy in the same phrase look like an absolute novelty to me, at least, and maybe for everyone in Nottingham's County, I wonder, who knows why that poor boy this morning was so unusually... happy? Particularly good wine, last night?" Matilda said, looking at Marian and trying to grasp the girl's reactions.
The girl didn't answer at first. She looked out of the window, trying to search for words and to contain her own emotions.
Seeing that the girl didn’t answer, Matilda put her little bottles in her bag. As she did that, Marian began to speak.
"I think it's me the reason, not the wine. Matilda, but I am not sure whether it's a good thing or not."
“Nothing could surprise me less... I mean, of course Guy can be happy because of you. He cares so much for you, he cares for you deeply. But that you already knew, my dear. What has changed now, and why do you fear it isn’t a good thing, Marian?”
“I... I'm afraid I'm making a mistake. When I'm with him, I'm fine. Really fine. I like to stay with him, now. I'm learning... to know him, I don’t want him to leave. I don't want him to leave this house, my people… me. The truth is that I want to stay with him, but I'm afraid that he's going to suffer because of me, for my recklessness. I don't want anyone to suffer anymore,” Marian sighed loudly.
“Not surprising at all, Marian. I have seen you two being very close to each other in the last few months, too. You were very close... even when you two had that big fight over the Nightwatchman's affair... You created a big, big confusion, that day, involving a lot of people... but I'm pretty sure you were not just... fighting, that day...” said Matilda, smiling confidently.
"No, this time it was different, it was... passionate. Well, maybe the other time it was... passionate too... but maybe another kind of passion... I don’t know... it's because he... he, he kisses me as if the world is about to end... " Marian took a hand to her mouth, unbelieving her own words.
She had really said too much.
But Matilda was an adult woman and perhaps she could understand her uncertainties, and listen to them. For sure, she couldn’t tell her father what had happened the night before, with Guy first, and with Robin afterwards.
“Happy, passionate, overwhelming. So much for the dark black knight. Vaisey has lost a ruthless servant, and the world has earned an extraordinary kisser. Good. So you two... kissed... again... good. And why would that be wrong if you two are still betrothed? Because you are still betrothed, Marian, am I wrong?” Matilda said.
“He wanted to put an end to the engagement,” Marian replied, “I told him not to do it, to stay with me, to know each other better, until the King's return. It was the day that we would marry. It is, still.”
"Did he want to leave you? Really?" The woman asked, suspecting that Guy's insecurity and fears played a big role in the question.
"He wanted to... let me free." Marian smiled fondly.
"That's a real miracle, for a man, I mean, but I don’t think it's a side effect of my medicine, you know. I think I have no credit for that, but that he just loves you so much.”
"This is the problem, it's not just him to say he loves me. Robin confessed his… love for me last night, he asked me to marry him... when the King returns."
"Oh! Guy doesn’t know about this, right? And what did you say to Robin?"
“I... I said to him that my engagement with Guy is still on. And he said to me that he wants to regain my love. Oh Matilda, I am so confused now. So confused. If Guy had been different from the beginning... If Robin had said the same things before... oh God, I don't know what to do!” said the girl, covering her face with her hands.
Matilda approached the girl and hugged her tenderly.
"This is one thing that the Nightwatchman with all his courage can’t cope with, but your womanly heart can. Try to understand what you feel for them, the truth is that you care for them both, they are part of your life. One of the two... For one of the two, you will feel something different, something that you will only feel for him and for no other man. That is love, Marian, and I hope you understand soon what you feel. Who is your love, your mate. Life is too short, and full of suffering, Marian, and the time we can spend with the person we really, deeply love is often limited. So limited, sweet child." Matilda wiped her glossy eyes, thinking to her beloved husband, lost many years before, “I helped him, one of the two, to come to the world, to be born, I helped the other one to return to the world, to be born again. I care for both of them. I love them both as a mother could. And I can promise you that I will help the one you will not choose. Now, wipe your tears from your beautiful face, I'll wipe mine. Take your daily walk now, my dear, better, your careful ride, and smile.”
Marian left her embrace, wiped her tears, smiled, and preceded Matilda on the stairs, before running to the stables. In a few minutes Matilda saw her on her horse, riding not exactly at a slow pace.
Girl, girl, always so reckless, but that's why you are so loved, Matilda thought, coming back into the house to visit old Edward, I think you will be in a good company in a few minutes, Guy. Have a nice day, my good boy.

Chapter Text

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.”
Guy grinned.
“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.
Allan laughed.
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?”
Guy smirked.
“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.”
Guy chuckled.
“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.”
“Your fault.”
“Yours too.”
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.
Allan shrugged.
“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.

Chapter Text

“Really, Guy, I don’t need gifts.”
Marian looked at Guy, a little worried. Once, the knight used to offer her every kind of presents, as if he thought that he could buy her affection.
When Guy told her that he wanted to buy something for her, she shuddered, afraid that she was seeing a glimpse of the old Guy coming back.
But Guy’s smile was open and sincere, without any shadows.
“Please, it would make me happy.”
“I want you to have something that makes you think of me when I’m away. I know that I already gave you presents in the past, but most of them came from the money that the Sheriff gave me for doing his evil deeds. I don’t have much now, but I earned what I have, and I want to give you something that is not marred by my past actions, something that can make you feel proud of me.”
Marian looked at him, surprised by his words. It was as if he had read her mind, guessing her worries.
She stopped, and kissed him on the cheek.
“I am proud of you, now,” she said, smiling to see how happy that little kiss made him.
“So, will you accept?”
Marian laughed.
“I will,” she surrendered, “but it must be a little thing, I don’t want precious gifts.”
Guy lead her to the pottery stall.
“I was thinking of one of those vases. Do you like them?”
“They are pretty. I could put it near my bed and keep flowers in it.”
“Go ahead, then. Choose the one you like best.”
Marian picked up one decorated in blue. Without knowing, she had chosen the same one that Guy had been looking earlier in the morning.
“I think I’ll take this one,” she said, thinking that the decorations were of the same color of Guy’s eyes. “But were is the seller?”
“Maybe they ran away when they saw me. This morning they were looking at me in horror.”
“Don’t be silly, now. No merchant would leave his stall unattended like this. If they were so scared they would have ran away this morning too. Did they?”
“No, they didn’t. They just glared at me.”
Marian lifted a hand to signal him to keep quiet, and they listened, until they heard a muffled cry coming from a nearby alley.
“Wait here,” Guy said, “I’ll check if everything is alright.”
He walked towards the alley without waiting for her answer, and he wished that he could run.
He felt that there was something wrong, and he just wished that Marian kept away from any danger that there could be in the alley.
Then he saw the group of young men and the two pottery merchants: the boy was surrounded by three knaves who where holding him, other two where watching, while the last one was pushing the girl against a wall, trying to abuse her.
“What are you doing?! Let her go!” Guy ordered, unsheathing his sword.
Matthew let out a short cry of pain, and Kate saw that he had received another cut.
“My brother! They want to kill my brother!” The girl cried, panicking.
Guy glanced at the group of men, and saw the dagger, then, before they could hurt Matthew, he dropped the sword to the ground, took his own curved dagger from the sleeve of his jacket, and threw it, hitting the hand of the man who was holding the knife. The weapon fell to the ground, clattering on the stones of the road, while the injured man howled in pain.
The others let the boy go, and they ran towards Guy, unsheathing their daggers.
The leader looked at Gisborne and grinned.
He knew who he was, of course, everyone in Nottingham did, and he had also heard from his father that the Sheriff had fired him because he had become weak and useless, a poor cripple.
“Destroy him.” He ordered, grinning. “The one who kills him can have the girl when I am finished with her.”
Guy tightened the hold on his staff, looking at the men who were attacking him: he had wounded one of them, but there were other four, all ready to kill him. Guy knew that he had not the time to pick up his sword, not when they were so many and so close: he swung the staff at them, to keep them at a distance, and managed to hit one on the face. The man fell to the ground with a groan, but Guy didn’t let his guard down and kept fighting them with the staff.
The leader was still holding the girl as a hostage, and Guy suddenly noticed that her brother had picked his sword from the ground and was walking towards the man.
He realized immediately that the poor fool had no chances: he was clearly scared to death, and he was holding the sword in a completely wrong way.
For sure he had never killed in his life, while his opponent had no scruples.
Guy pushed away his enemies with another swing of the staff, then he tried to run to reach the boy, hoping that his leg could support him.
It did, for a step, and it was enough: Guy jumped to push the boy away, saving him from a blow of the sword of the leader, but he couldn’t keep his balance, and crashed to the ground, at the feet of his enemy.
“Run!” He cried, and Kate was startled out of her panic: she grabbed the wrist of her brother, and they ran away, disappearing in the alley.
Guy knew that he couldn’t get up before his enemies closed on him, and he had lost all his weapons, but he was determined to fight until the end.
One of the men attacked him, and Guy grabbed his wrist, stopping his knife. He punched him with the other hand, but another man tried to stab him in the back.
The blade never reached his target, and the man fell to the ground, unconscious.
Guy punched his adversary again, and he succeeded in taking his knife, then he turned, ready to defend himself. Marian was there, holding his sword, and protecting his back.
Guy hurried to get back to his feet: now they were two against three men.
Gisborne gave a worried glance to the girl, but she didn’t look afraid at all, in fact, she kicked one of the enemies right in the face, knocking him out, and she turned to confront another one.
Guy looked at the leader of that gang: he was young and strong, but he wasn’t a trained warrior, and he was quite drunk. It didn’t take much for Guy to block him against the wall and to point the knife at his throat.
“Who’s the one about to be destroyed, now?” He growled, and the other one whimpered in fear.
“Don’t kill me, please! I don’t want to die!”
Guy looked at him, thinking that he didn’t deserve any mercy, but he could feel Marian’s eyes on him, so he just punched him unconscious instead of slitting his throat.
Marian ran to Guy, worried.
“Are you hurt?!” She asked, looking at a little cut on his face, just below the eye.
“It’s nothing. I told you to wait for me.”
“Did you really think that I would do it?” The girl asked, with a smug grin. “On the other hand, you’d be dead if I obeyed you.”
“I owe you my life. Once again.”
Marian pressed an handkerchief on the cut on his cheek, and shook her head.
“Six against one was too unbalanced, I had to level the fight.”
Guy smiled at her: he should feel humiliated for being saved by a woman, but he found out that he wasn’t. He felt proud of her, instead.
“Confess, Marian. Now that the Nightwatchman can’t fight me, you missed some action.”
The girl blushed with a little laugh.
“You’ll think that I’m not womanly enough,” she said, handing him back his sword.
Guy sheathed it, then he took Marian in his arms.
“It’s just another side of you,” Guy said, softly, “and I love all of them.”

Kate tended her brother’s wounds. They were just little scratches, but the boy was still weeping, shocked.
“Forgive me, Kate! I should take care of you all, but I’m useless… I’m just a coward!”
“You are not.”
Both Kate and Matthew were startled in hearing Guy’s voice: the knight was standing in front of their stall, with Lady Marian at his side. They were both a little disheveled after the fight, and Gisborne was still bleeding from a cut on his face, but they were both alive and almost unscathed.
“Sir Guy...” Kate whispered, then she stopped, not knowing what to say.
But Gisborne looked at her brother.
“You weren’t a coward, boy. You had no chances to defeat those men, but you still took my sword to try to protect your sister.”
“But I couldn’t! If it weren’t for you, I’d be dead by now.”
“You saved my brother, Sir Guy!” Kate intervened. “And me too.”
Guy smiled at Marian.
“Well, I had some help,” he said, but Kate didn’t listen to him.
“We are in debt, how could we repay you for what you did?”
“You could sell that vase to me,” Guy answered, with a smirk.
“You can have it, Sir Guy! Take anything you want!”
Gisborne picked up the vase that Marian had chosen, and gave it to her, then he pressed a coin in Matthew’s hand.
“You’d better go back home, now. Those men got a good lesson, but it would be better for you to be far from here when they’ll wake up.”
“Do as he said,” Marian suggested, smiling, “You are Rebecca’s children, aren’t you? I knew your mother when I was a child, tell her that I’ll visit her in Locksley soon.”
With these words, Guy and Marian walked away, and Kate and Matthew hurried to pack their goods.
Later, when they were on their wagon, headed for Locksley, Kate turned to her brother.
“You shouldn’t have accepted his money, he saved us!”
“I couldn’t give it back to him, could I?”
Kate sighed.
“Well, what did he give to you?”
Matthew gave the coin to her, and Kate stared at it.
“It’s too much! He could have bought ten vases with that!”
“What I could do? When I noticed they had already gone away.”
Kate took the coin and put it with the other earnings of the day.
“It seems that Sir Guy saved our sister too. Now we can afford food and remedies for her.”

Guy glanced at the tavern, and Marian noticed his hesitation.
“What’s up, Guy?” She asked, curious.
“You’re lying, now.”
Guy looked at her with a little smile.
“Is it so easy to know what I am thinking?”
“Yes, it is.” Marian searched his eyes. “So, tell me, something is worrying you, what is it?”
Guy surrendered.
“Allan and Lambert went to the tavern and I told them that I’d reach them...”
“What’s the problem in this?” Marian asked.
“I want to stay with you.”
Marian looked at him, a little moved. There was something so innocent, almost childish, in his words, that she was tempted to hug him and hold him close.
Instead, she looked at him, serious.
“Oh, I don’t think so.”
Guy frowned, looking at her.
“I still have some commissions to do and no man in his right mind could wish to spend his time waiting in front of a stall or a store for a woman to complete her purchases.” The girl smiled, amused. “Go to meet your friends, Guy, and later, if Allan will agree to drive my wagon and give me his horse, we can ride home together.”
“Oh, he will agree.” Guy said with a grin, making her laugh.
“I’ll see you later then,” she said, planting a little kiss on his cheek, near the cut he received during the fight, then she left, still giggling.
Guy touched his cheek where she had kissed him, and followed her with his eyes.
He sighed, happily, then he turned towards the tavern to go there before people could notice that he was a lovesick fool.
He was about to enter, when Allan rushed out, immediately followed by Lambert: they were both ruffled and in disarray and they seemed to be in a hurry to get away from the tavern.
Allan looked at him for a moment.
“Giz, run! We...” He stopped mid sentence, looking at Guy. “Oh, right, you can’t. Lambert, help him!”
The two men went at Guy’s sides, put their arms around his back, and dragged him with them, stopping only when they were far enough from the tavern.
They let Guy go, and they both sat on the ground, half panting, half laughing.
Guy looked at them.
“What happened to you?”
Allan shrugged.
“I was just trying a new game. A man kept losing and he got angry.”
“Let me guess,” Guy said, with a smirk, “he was always losing and you were always winning. I wonder why he was angry...”
“No, Giz! Lambert was winning, that’s the genius in it! It would have been too evident if I were the winner!”
Guy looked at the other two men, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I told you to get acquainted, not to turn in tricksters and start a brawl!”
Allan and Lambert exchanged an amused look.
“Well, we got acquainted,” Allan said, with a shrug, the he looked better at Guy. “But, what’s happened to you?! You look the one who got in a fight.”
“Are you hurt, Guy?” Lambert asked, noticing the dried blood on his face.
“That’s because I’ve been in a fight,” Guy said, grinning. “with Marian.”
“Did she hit you?!” Allan asked, his eyes widened.
“Of course she didn’t! She helped me.”
“It wasn’t so obvious. I bet that that girl could knock you down if she wanted to.”
Guy glanced at Allan, wondering if he knew that Marian was the Nightwatchman, but Lambert surely didn’t, so Guy decided to change the subject to protect her secret. He lowered himself to the ground, to sit between Allan and Lambert.
“Well, she didn’t. But tell me about what happened at the tavern.”
“We will, and I’ll teach you the trick I was using, if you wish, but then you’ll have to tell us about your fight.”
Guy nodded, with a smirk. After all, he was dying to tell them about it, and to show off a little.
Lambert took a flask from under his cloak.
“Want some wine? I grabbed it from the tavern, on our way out.”

Chapter Text

Guy aimed at the target, and released an arrow, hitting the outer circle.
“It’s no use.” He sighed. “I’m not even near the center.”
“At least you hit it, mate. It’s not that bad,” Allan said, nonchalantly.
“It is bad, if I’m in front of an enemy.”
“You are not, now. And you are improving. A week ago you missed the target and you hit one of the chickens!”
Guy glared at him.
“Don’t remember that to me. The cook was really annoyed!”
“Oh, she’s already over that. I’d say that she has a soft spot for you.”
Gisborne remembered that the cook was one of the servants who hated him more fiercely in the beginning, and he smiled. After the expedition near York, the woman had changed her behavior and now she was always kind to him.
“I think that one of the man on the wagons was one of her family. She is grateful that we saved him.”
“And so you get the better bites, now. And forgiveness when you accidentally kill chickens. It was good, by the way, perfectly cooked.”
Guy scoffed, and took another arrow, but before he could shoot, Allan pointed at the road.
“Hey, Giz, somebody is coming.”
“It’s Lambert,” Guy said, glad to see his friend, and gave a warning glance at Allan. “Don’t teach him other tricks.”
“We had a fun time in the tavern, didn’t we?”
“Maybe, until they kicked you out. I’m happy that you got along well, but Lambert is a decent man, he isn’t used to tavern brawls.”
“Are you saying that I am not a decent man?!”
Guy smirked.
“Are you?”
Allan laughed.
“Alright, Giz, but you like me even for this, admit it.”
Lambert reached them, and dismounted.
“Hello Guy, were you training? Hi, Allan.”
Gisborne put down the bow.
“I was trying.”
“Let me see that bow.”
Guy handed it to him, and Lambert examined it.
“Interesting shape, it’s small, but powerful.”
“It was one of Robin Hood’s spares,” Allan said, “it’s a copy of a saracen bow.”
“But it’s made with the wrong kind of wood. And the rope could be improved too. If you want, I have some pieces of a special wood left from the project that the Sheriff of York commissioned to me, I could make a better one for you, I just need to take some measurements. I’m an alchemist, but I know the features of the different kinds of wood, and I know how to use them.”
“Thank you, even if I’m afraid that you can improve the bow, but not the archer.”
Lambert smiled.
“That’s up to you, Guy, keep practicing.”
“I’ll try, but I’ve had enough of it for today. Come inside, we could eat something.”
“Gladly, thank you.”
The three men went back to the manor, and James ordered one of the servants to get food and wine for Sir Guy’s guest.
Guy sat at the table, glad to rest his leg after standing for such a long time, and looked at Lambert.
“So, what are you doing now? Did you get another job in Nottingham?”
“Not yet. It’s not so easy if I have to avoid working for the Sheriff, but probably I’ll get more chances in a fortnight.”
Guy looked at him.
“Why? What’s happening in a fortnight?”
“I thought you already knew. I heard that they were going to send a notice to all the nobles of the county.”
“I haven’t seen any messenger. Allan?”
“I don’t know anything, either.”
“Maybe they still have to come here, but I’m sure they will. I’ve heard that the king is coming in Nottingham, and all the nobles will have to attend when the Sheriff welcomes him at the castle.”
Guy stared at him, in shock.
“The king… No it’s impossible, the king is in the Holy Land...”
“It seems he’s back. The man who told me works at the castle, and he heard it from the Sheriff himself.”
Guy was glad that he was already sitting, because he felt like he was going to faint.
The king was coming back, he thought, terrified. If King Richard found out about his attempt to kill him, he would put him to death for sure. His crime, that seemed so far in the past, almost a vague memory from another life, now was a real menace, impending on him.
Lambert put a hand on his shoulder.
“Congratulations, Guy!”
Gisborne looked at him, trying to understand what he meant.
“What for?”
“What for?! You’re getting married, now! You told me that! You said that Lady Marian had agreed to marry you when the king came back in England!”
“Really, Giz? No wonder that you look so nervous, then. You’re about to loose your freedom.”
Lambert emptied his cup of wine, and stood up.
“Well, I guess that you’ll be busy, now. You’ll have to tell her, and then organize the wedding. I’d better go, but I hope you’ll invite me.”
Guy thought that probably Lambert would have to come to his funeral, but he nodded.
“Goodbye, then. Allan, ride with me for a while, I bet that he doesn’t want us around while he tells the good news to lady Marian.”
Allan gave a doubtful look at Guy: he didn’t look so happy, actually he had became very pale, but he guessed that he was nervous at the idea of getting married. He, for sure, would.
The two men went away, and James walked back in the hall.
“Do you want me to serve your meal, Sir Guy?”
“No, I’m not hungry, thank you James.”
“Are you feeling well, Sir Guy?”
He wasn’t. For a moment he was afraid that he was going to disgrace himself being sick in front of the old servant, and he stood still, trying to breathe slowly until that wave of nausea passed.
“Do you want me to send for Matilda, Sir Guy?”
“No, it’s nothing. I just need to lie down for a while. I’ll go to my room, please don’t disturb me.”
As soon as he was alone, Guy sat on his bed and covered his face with his hands, in despair. He was afraid that it was the moment to pay for his crimes, and he was scared to death.
Marian found him in the same position, when she entered his room, a while later.
“Guy? Can I come in?”
“Marian?” He whispered, and the girl rushed to his bed, worried.
“Are you ill, Guy? James said that you weren’t feeling well. Is it your leg? Does it hurt so much?”
She sat next to him and she took his hands, moving them away to look at his face. “Oh, you’re so pale! Do you have a fever?”
She touched his forehead, but his skin was cold.
“I wish I did,” Guy, said, and Marian looked at him, worried.
“What’s up, Guy? Tell me!”
“I wish I could just be ill. The truth is that I’m doomed. The king is coming back to England.”
Marian was astonished, this was not what she expected to happen.
“Oh my!” She said, “This is wonderful!” But then, a moment later, she realized, “’Tis soon… so soon… I'm not ready.”
She watched Guy's pained, pale face.
She thought that maybe he was afraid she would leave him, now. Their engagement… this was really too soon. She didn't want to make a choice so important right now.
“Guy… I know what I promised to you, but please just wait, give me time, we are improving so well. I just need more time,” she said.
“Oh Marian,” Guy replied, touching her cheek tenderly with his hand, his eyes sad, “You will have all the time in the world, without me.”
“What do you mean? Guy?”
“The King is coming, he will see me dead. He will judge my doings and execute me, oh Marian...”
Marian understood Guy's reference to his past attempt to kill the King.
“Hush!” She said “Listen to me, Guy, listen to me. That night in the desert, did the King saw you? Could he recognize you?"
Guy lowered his voice. “No, I don't think so. I was masked, my features covered by a veil.”
“Good!” She said, “Now, Guy what you tried to do was terrible. Did you really repent your wrongdoings?” She asked, with a serious tone.
Guy breathed slowly, a little more of color on his cheeks. “Yes, I swear to you, I wish I never did what I did, that night, and a lot a other things under Vaisey's orders. I did horrible things, you're right. I see them in my dreams every night. And I will go to hell when I die. I am sure of it, so sure of it. I richly deserve to rot in hell but... I'm afraid to die, so afraid. Yes I repented.”
“I don't want you to think of hell: you're here, you're alive, you're with me. I don't want you to talk about hell. Am I clear?” Marian said, a little angry. Then she came closer to his ear and breathed inside of it. “I know you're changed, I'm sure of it, that's what I wanted to hear.”
She took a step back, looking into his blue stare, her face really serious now.
“Nobody knows about it, Guy. It's our secret. Our secret. I swear to you, I'll never tell anybody. You're fearing the King's return. I don't want to hear another word from you on this subject, or… I will be angry at you. Will you protect my secret Guy?” She asked.
“Yes, of course I will,” Guy replied, his voice more sure, regaining a sitting position.
“Then I will protect your secret. This is not changed,” Marian replied.
Guy got up, and looked into the girl's eyes. His lovely Marian. She seemed so sure of having everything under control, and for a moment Guy thought, prayed it was true. He wanted to believe that he wasn’t about to die.
“But the sheriff could expose me,” he said.
Marian's expression became stern.
“He ordered it, he sent you there. Your fall is his fall. I'd make sure the King knows it, in case. But he will not say anything to the King. He will exile Vaisey in some Godforsaken place, just for the way he administered Nottingham. We will be free, free. Don't you see, Guy? The King's return is a blessing, and thank God now you are not at Vaisey’s service. We will protect you, stand for you. And I will help you to escape, if the situation should prove to be dangerous for you.”
“My lovely, my brave Marian,” he said, “I hope you're not deluding yourself, for my sake. Thank you. Now it's better if we leave this room. I don't want your people to think I'm not acting properly to you, alone, together in my room for so long.”
He looked for a moment more to Marian's so loved eyes. He felt relived, but his eyes were still sad, not completely believing that he would be spared from the King's vengeance. Marian looked into his eyes, and suddenly she grabbed his shirt, and dragged him to her, crushing her lips on his, passionately.
He was surprised, and overwhelmed, but he grabbed the girl's waist, pressing her body against his, and replied to Marian's kiss with the same passion. His eyes closed, their breathing mingled together as their lips, he felt her hand caressing his cheek, and then caressing his hair, grabbing his hair, his head tenderly.
Please don't stop, Marian, please don't stop. I want you so much, he thought. Then his lips left hers to discover Marian sweet skin on her neck, and felt her tremble, but she still let him kiss her. She didn’t leave his embrace.
He didn't want to scare her, and kissed her neck tenderly, reverently, savoring her scent, her taste, the feeling of her skin, every sensation. Then he left her neck and looked into her eyes, with a tender expression on his face.
“This is perfect, this is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me.”
Her face was still flushed, and she looked a little worried.
“I should go, Guy. I really should go now,” she said, and passed him going through the open door.
Guy found her hand, and gently turned her to him.
“I love you , Marian. Whatever my destiny will be. I will always love you.”
Marian found her eyes suddenly wet.
“Thank you, Guy.”
He left her hand, and she left his room.

Vaisey touched the map with his hand, sliding his fingers down the rivers, then along the ridges of the hills. A perfect reproduction of England was under his fingers. He almost seemed to be able to own it all by simply touching it, caressing it. But soon part of the Nottingham County would be his.
And not just to administer it. He had convinced Prince John to let him proceed with his new plan. With a dual purpose: to eliminate the possible obstacles, the Council members still loyal to the King, and to acquire their territories in his, personal, hands.
Both of them would earn from it: the future King would have had less obstacles to the throne and a steady and secure tax flow. He, Vaisey, would begin to accumulate the lands he needed to sit at the table of power and to be able to aspire to larger, more important counties.
Actually in those months, in those years, he had long worked in complete secret to bribe, threaten, convert a good deal of Nottingham County nobles.
Vaisey had acted quietly, all by himself, alone.
No one knew, not even his old master of arms.
Many noblemen, over time, were convinced of the need to join a sort of alliance with Vaisey, if they didn’t want to risk losing their privileges or... life itself.
They were ready to join the stronger party, and swear allegiance to the new King, in case, but they wouldn’t say it in public until King Richard continued to be King.
Others had rejected his proposals, more or less disdainfully, or shaking as leaves. In any case, his plan provided for the elimination of all his opponents, those declared and those hidden, in a single stroke.
Alexander entered in the room in that moment.
“Oh, Shrewsbury, here you are,” Vaisey said. “I don’t pay you to let you to spend your time hanging out in the English countryside. What news?”
“You wanted blackmail items to use against Gisborne, my Lord,” Alexander replied.
“Did I want them? Oh yes, I did. But right now I have bigger plans than destroying that poor cripple and the leper. Well, what are these important elements to make you stay away from Nottingham when I need your presence here?” Vaisey asked in a poisonous tone.
“A sister. his sister. I found her.” Alexander said.
“His sister. Is she alive ? Is she not dead? What do I do with Gisborne's sister now? He sold her when she was a little girl, why should be interested in her, now, after so many years?”
“Gisborne has a ridiculous tender heart, you've said it several times,” Alexander suggested, “The leper is the most obvious demonstration of this. We need the sister to blackmail him, to subjugate, control him, if that's what you want from him now.”
“Not in the immediate. I have better plans. Have you captured her? Where is she?” Vaisey asked.
"Her husband is my friend, Lord Thornton, we come from the same country, for this I was reminded of them, I invited him to come here with his family, with a promise of a assignment for him on my behalf. I made my inquiries. They have some... financial problems, a lifestyle beyond their means. But when they will be here, we will be able to use... freely... of them," Alexander said smirking.
"Oh, you don’t have a heart as weak as Gisborne's, you are ready to dispose of a brotherly friend, even to eliminate him yourself. Very well, that's the right spirit, my boy. But now we have a bigger and more important task to bring on. The King is coming back to England." Vaisey said, smiling.
Cold sweat on the skin. Alexander was blocked for a moment by the news. Then he calmed down.
There was no evidence of his betrayal, and if it should be necessary, he would eliminate old Vaisey in an instant, without him having any time to react. The question was: why Vaisey seemed so pleased to announce such a news? Had he missed something in Vaisey's alliances, maybe?
“Are you short of words now, my dear boy? Instead, you will have to use them in the next few days. Lots of them. You will have to make sure that everyone knows about the return of the King, and that all the nobles in the council have to come to Nottingham where the King will receive them. And talk to him. Amazed? Not as much as they will be, when they see the executioner sharpen his blades for their precious, useless heads.”
“What do you mean, my lord?” Alexander asked, suspicious.
“I mean in addition to the official invitations and proclamations on the upcoming return of the King, you will have to spread the voice in every single district, and noble house of the county that I, Vaisey, the evil sheriff will be put under charge and under judgment by the King himself, if there will be someone ready to testify my wrongdoings before the King. Oh, and I will be dethroned and condemned. What do you think of it?" Vaisey said, now pompously sitting on his bench.
“I do not understand, don’t you fear the King's revenge?” Alexander replied, realizing that something was hidden in Vaisey's talk because he felt so safe in talking about the King.
"Of this King we could hardly fear the revenge, for it is not King Richard. We could call him King Philip, but it wouldn’t have the same effect on the crowd, though it is his name. For now, of course, he will find his death soon after.” Vaisey laughed bitterly.
"An impostor? So the real King is not in England, yet," Alexander asked.
“And God willing he will never return,” Vaisey replied, in a fake prayer attitude.
“But how he can fool an entire County?” Alexander replied.
“Oh my dear boy, you know him well, I've met him too, but the vast majority of the County has never seen the King of England in the face. The only name will incite fear, and unexpected courage in serpents and traitors. They will fall into the trap, like bees attracted to sweet honey. I will trap them here, kill them, taking their poor lands and bringing them to prosperity. My prosperity,” Vaisey concluded.
“Clever, almost perfect,” Alexander said.
“What is almost perfect, Shrewsbury? How can you doubt the success of my plan?” An angry Vaisey replied, “Speak now!”
“You didn’t take Hood into consideration. Hood knows him well. He is an outlaw now, but he will be the first wanting to meet the King personally, and alone, for obvious reasons. And if he saw… King Philip... before the others, he would immediately understand the deception and wreck your plan. So...”
“So what? So what, Shrewsbury?” Vaisey pressed him.
“So I'll make sure to attract Hood to a place outside Nottingham, maybe in a lovely little war camp, the way the King likes to do, and he will believe the King wants to meet him before he gets here. You don't know how much he loves the King. How special is their relationship. I know. I saw it with my eyes. Hood will go to the fake camp alone, of course, for the sake of his King. I'll make sure of that too. I didn’t forget that in my assignments there is also to get rid of Hood. This is the right occasion. I've got something that will help us. Both of us. I certainly will need to be well rewarded for this substantial improvement of the plan,” Alexander said, pointing out the words, touching the map on the table with his big hands.
Vaisey came down from the bench, walked over to the map and with a quiet gesture, moved Alexander 's hand from the map:
“What would convince Hood to leave his men behind and end up in a trap? And what would convince me to let you participate in my banquet? What do you have for me, Alexander?” Vaisey hissed.
Alexander put his hand in his jacket, at the chest height. "This would be enough." And he pulled out the personal seal of the King of England.
"Is it true? Did you stole it in the Holy Land. From the King?" Vaisey said, Taking the seal in his hands, scrutinizing it.
“No. It's a perfect copy. The King has the original, of course. He doesn’t suspect that there is a perfect copy. Not even Hood. Hood is not the only one to have had the sympathy and the proximity of the King. This… seal... It's a good precaution, to have something that can save your life, if necessary, isn’t it?"
"Clever, and almost perfect, because now I know your secret,” Vaisey said with a light but at the same time threatening tone.
“I also know yours, my lord,” Alexander returned the tone and intention. But then he added: “My Lord, we will share great results, together. Those you didn’t get with the help of the Half-French.”
Alexander held out his hand to Vaisey, retrieving the seal from Vaisey's hands and putting it in his jacket. He made a slight bow and walked away, without waiting for the sheriff's answer, who, somewhere between piqued and flattered, let him go, laughing up his sleeve.

Chapter Text

The girl panted, her simple discomfort now approaching dangerously to pain, and this ultimate feeling led him to reach his peak of pleasure. But his real pleasure, after the inevitable orgasm, would be much wider. And that was the orgasm he wanted, needed. Something that wouldn’t last a few seconds.
As he continued to move furiously inside her, Alexander kept his eyes fixed on the letter he had left on the table, in a beautiful view, so that the girl, having effectively served her new master, would find it "casually" and bring it somehow to its final destination. Between a whisper and the other, from one hand to another.
Alexander had no doubt that Robin had his network of informants in the village and certainly inside the Locksley estate.
He observed them. People talk, people do things secretly when they think they are not seen. Certain forms of silent rebellion, of resistance. Useless, of course, but they harbored the illusion that they still had a value, to do or say something, in the face of much greater power.
Insects, little more than insects.
Alexander had learned that if love could make a man vulnerable, and be the source of his disgrace (and both Locksley, with his love for people, and Gisborne's passion for a woman provided luminous examples of this concept), equally curiosity could easily break into a woman's mind and make her manipulable.
The girl screamed now, tears streaming on her face, and Alexander found his satisfaction.
"Clean it all up here, everything, right now!" He said, apparently without looking at her face.
The girl, trembling, tried to get dressed the best she could.
In those everlasting minutes she just had wanted him to finish, to find his release, and soon, and just let her go.
Nobody had ever ordered her to do this before.
Not even the master always dressed in black. That man was always brooding, scowling, unkind. But the worst thing he had ever asked her, sometimes, was a basin with hot water and salt for his sore feet. To take off his boots. And for the rest he was always on his own, always alone, always staying at Locksley just for a short time.
Clean clothes everyday. Hot baths ready. Long evenings in front of the fireplace, lost in his gloomy thoughts.
Nothing more.
The new, horrible master instead systematically humiliated, used her, and she felt as if she counted less of nothing.
She thought of the young master Robin, the beautiful young boy, the noble one, who had now become an outlaw, helping the people. But he couldn’t help her, prisoner and slave in his family home.
How nice he was, the young master, with his bright smile and his great courage.
The new master was satisfied now, and got fully dressed.
No smile on his horrible face. As if nothing had happened.
Because she was nothing.
But she knew that he was satisfied just knowing, feeling her suffering, and that made her feel even more angry and empty, inside.
The girl's gaze, now trying to tidy up the room and to clean it, fell on some letters, scattered on the table.
"My Lord, do you want me to rearrange those too?"
"No, throw them away. Those are not for me. I don’t need them. They're rubbish." And the man left the room without saying anything else.
The girl turned to make sure she wasn’t seen, and then she looked at the envelopes.
One of them was different. Very different.
There was something written on it, in a beautiful way, but she wouldn’t be able to read it, and a big red seal printed on it.
It seemed important. Very important, and maybe she should have told to her master.
But she didn’t. She put it in her pocket, and ran to show it to the old and wise Thornton. He knew everything, and above all, he could read.
Thornton seemed frightened, looking at the letter , but at the same time very interested.
He told her that it was for Master Robin.
The old man had now a sad expression on his wrinkled face, thinking of his young master hiding somewhere in the forest.
But she was thinking instead of her cousin, who knew very well Will Scarlett, who had joined Robin's gang. And she thought that she would go to her and find the way to get the letter to Will.
After all, the man was often in the country, covered with a hood, to ask what they needed, and neither the guards nor the master knew of that. Under their dark and unsuspecting eyes.
Anything, she would do anything now, to hamper the path of the new hateful, slimy, beastly master.
In her heart, the girl hoped, and prayed, that that letter contained something that would give Robin the courage to return, and save them all.
A spell, a magic, a chore, anything.

Much's enthusiasm, who literally ripped the letter from Will's hand to pass it with reverence, as if he was touching a relic, in the hands of a serious but moved Robin, astonished everyone at the camp.
They had never seen the two of them behaving like that.
Robin took the letter in silence and walked away from the group, giving his back to them. Much had tears in his eyes.
"Well," Little John said, "what's so special about that sheet of parchment? We've shared everything so far. Why so much secrecy about it?"
"Hush, John, let him read it. It's very important. Very. That seal, that seal is known only by few people. It comes from Him, from Him in person. To my Master. Our sufferings, our constraints are going to end, my friends. We will be free, we will go home, we'll have a home. Oh God, soon, finally,” Much said, excited.
Robin put the letter in his pocket, looking at it for a last time.
That letter, that seal, those words represented now all his hopes and expectations for the future.
A future of peace, serenity and love that he would no longer let escape from his hands, and heart.
It was, also, the warm feeling, and certainty of the King's esteem for him.
The King of England was a just, wise, and grateful man, Robin had a wide experience of that, and he still needed him now more than ever. And Robin felt the blood flow faster in his veins now. He felt stronger.
The King was in England, now, he was back, the war was won.
Thank God.
The King would reach Nottingham before coming to London, to end Vaisey's disagreement and despotism here. But he needed him, young Robin, he needed his courage, his worth, his confidence, his help.
All in secret.
Certainly the King couldn’t know of his fall into disgrace, becoming an outlaw, his struggle for active resistance against Vaisey.
But he would know now, and he would compensate his young warrior for it, and he would appreciate even more his value, his courage.
He had to keep the secret, yes. But to one person, he had to tell it. To the lovely girl who would share his enthusiasm and happiness.
To the girl he loved.
Their dream was becoming true.
He had hidden too much of himself, of his life to that girl and for too long. He had excluded her from his life for so long. But the time for a change was finally coming.
He would never let her down. Never again. They both fought against Vaisey. Now they could finally be together.
He would be free to hold her in front of everyone, no more Gisbornes around her.
He would be free, and really happy now, to marry her. And she would love him. With all her passion.
Without losing time, Robin motioned Much to approach him. He said a few words to him, and walked away alone. Leaving the whole group behind him. No words for them.
He didn’t reply to the murmurs of disapproval of the lads, which became real protests in a louder voice, as he walked away.
Much kept repeating, tireless, but serious: "King's orders, he must not give any explanation to anyone, not even to us," but the more he insisted on repeating that, the more the others became disconcerted, and worried. And for some of them, there was even a subtle sense of humiliation.
But soon their voices were no longer heard from the forest. Robin had gone too far to hear them.
"To Knighton," Robin thought. "I have to go to Knighton now."

The house was now wrapped in silence.
On the small table in the hall, the chessboard remained there, with the few remaining pieces on it after father's usual victory over Guy. She had watched them play, and on this occasion she had suspected, or slightly hoped, that Guy had let her father win.
Between the two men there was much appreciation now, and collaboration, and gratitude, and this, for Marian, was actually a pleasure to see.
But there was something more. She felt that there was a sincere affection between them. And this was also a reason for relief and serenity for Marian.
Knighton had benefited from Guy's commitment, and her father probably didn’t feel so alone in a house too full of female attendance.
Guy had been kind to her, attentive, had observed her with affection and devotion all the evening, between one move and the other in the game.
Then she asked for the spicy infusion, the Piment, to be served.
A habit that Guy had taught them, borrowing it from his childhood's memories, in the rare moments when he had seen his parents spending the evening together.
The young servant brought a pitcher with the perfumed liquid.
Marian liked that smell.
If one day Guy should leave that house, Marian would always remember the smell of Piment, of the leather of his old black clothes, of the horses he loved riding, and more secretly the smell of his skin.
Taken from that strange thought, Marian had asked the girl to go, and she had served the spiced drink to her father first, who had greeted the cup with a tender smile, and then to Guy.
Handing him the cup, Guy had looked at her in a way that Marian couldn’t define, suspended between admiration, appreciation, affection, tenderness, desire, and that perhaps was simply his love for her, and he touched her fingers, holding them for a moment only, his fingers on hers.
A hidden and intense contact.
Guy's touch had a power she didn’t know and it left traces in her imagination when she was alone.
How would it have been if...
But then she got herself out of her fantasies.
Every time. There was always something that brought her back to reality. Something to do, something else to think about. And someone to talk to.
So, sighing, she took a burning candle and approached the window, where "someone" had been throwing some pebbles to attract her attention for a few minutes.
Marian sighed, hoping that everyone was really sleeping, especially Guy, and that no one would hear or see them talking. She looked at him, pointing out that she would open the door instead.
Marian opened the door, and Robin came in.
He looked different than usual. Less confident, more excited, solemn, somehow.
"Marian, you'll be free soon," he said, and smiled, with a smile so open, so bright, that it made him look younger, suddenly.
Like the smile he once had, the smile of the boy who had grown up next to her. Same life, same fields, same paths.
Marian thought she had forgotten it, but that open and sincere smile, capable of such beauty, she liked it. That was what she liked most about him, when she was a little girl.
Marian resumed a more serious attitude.
The past is over, I'm not the one I was before, not anymore... the girl thought.
“What does it mean that I will be free soon?” Marian asked.
"It means that the King is here. He is here, Marian, my beloved. It means that He had sent me a message, and I will meet Him tomorrow at noon in his camp. I will meet Him again. My God, the time has finally come. My prayers were heard. I will tell Him everything: Vaisey's abuses, his crimes, the injustices suffered by the villagers, those suffered by your family, those suffered by the people of Locksley. Even those I have suffered.
“The King will understand, and He will do for the best of everyone, He is wise, and just, and I will help Him bring justice back here, He will judge Vaisey and exile him, or send him to prison, or perhaps even condemn him to death, for all his crimes, and Gisborne, he will follow his destiny, for all the years in which he performed with no hesitation all his despicable orders, including his blackmailing you and your family. You will be free, free from him, from all obligations, from all pity or compassion you felt for him. They will pay for what they have done. Justice, Marian, we will all have justice and freedom,” Robin said, looking at her with bright eyes.
Marian was astonished, and a subtle fear, stronger from second to second, crept under her skin.
Not Guy, she thought.
"No, Robin, it isn’t possible. Are you really sure the message comes from the King?"
"Certainly, I know his seal very well, and the way He writes too, It's Him. He's here, He's back, a few hours and all this will be over, He'll know everything, from me."
"No, what do you mean, Robin?, please do not talk to him about..."
“About what, Marian, about who? Is it about Gisborne, Marian? Is it about him? Gisborne is as guilty as Vaisey, he took away everything I had, my home, my land, my people, including you... Your compassion for his wounds can’t get to this point!" Robin said, now angered.
“No Robin, you aren’t listening to me, Guy is different now, he is changed, for the best!” Marian nearly shouted. Then she lowered her voice. “He is changed. He is a better man, now.”
“No, Marian, he isn’t changed. He changed you. You are different now, when he is around you, and even now. I fail to see how he could interest you. He was everything you hated, despised. And now you are so eager to defend him, to protect him. Why? Who is Gisborne to you, Marian?” He hissed, halfway between despair and anger.
“I haven’t changed, Robin, I have not changed. I'm the same girl you left five years ago and I don’t want you to talk to me as if I were stupid or unable to think with my head. Guy didn’t change me, but he understands me better than you, at least. You don't see that this world, our world is not all white or black. Not anymore. All of us, too, to survive these years, have seen and done things that we could not even imagine to see or do before the King went to fight in the Holy Land. I beg you, Robin, think about what you do, now. You've always been right, just, with everyone, and wiser than your years. I trust you, don’t betray my trust right now. Talk to the King, Robin, yes, Robin, talk to the King, but do it with justice, not with hate, or jealousy. You are not like that. You are not like that,” she said looking at him with compassion and hope.
Robin approached her. His hand stroked gently her cheek.
"Forgive me, Marian, forgive me, and marry me. That thing, this strange infatuation you have for that man will pass. You have been too close to him, for a long time. It was insane, unhealthy. I had committed my sins too, I understand. It's just this. We are something more, something better, something important. It will pass, the moment you'll be with me. You will remember. And I will love you.”
A noise behind them, from the top floor.
Marian didn’t reply to Robin's heartfelt words, she silently mouthed for him to leave, she was scared.
Robin took her hand, kissed it tenderly, as he did in the very earliest times of their acquaintance, many years before, and quickly disappeared into the night.
Marian closed the door, her heart beating fast. But she didn’t know why.
There was silence in the house, again, now, and Marian walked to her room, her shadow slowly swallowed by the night.

Chapter Text

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.
Marian turned.
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!”
Guy smiled.
“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!”
Guy nodded.
“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?”
“At midday.”
“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.”
Guy sighed.
“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.”
Marian shivered.
“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.

Chapter Text

Guy was alert, entering into the deep of the forest.
He knew that the outlaws had no love for him, and once again he wondered why he was going to risk his life to save Hood, who hated him more than the others.
For Marian. He thought. And because this is the right thing to do.
Guy didn’t know where Hood’s camp was, but he knew where the fake King’s one was, so he waited for Robin on the path that lead there.
He had been waiting for a while, and he was beginning to wonder if he had been wrong and there actually was another road to reach the camp, when he heard a horse approaching.
Guy was hidden between the trees, but Robin seemed to know that he wasn’t alone.
He stopped his horse, nocking an arrow.
“Who’s there?” He asked in a loud voice.
Guy moved his horse to come out of the trees, and he stopped in front of Robin. He dismounted, lifting his hands in front of him to show that he wasn’t holding a weapon.
“It’s me, Hood. We have to talk.”
“I don’t think I have anything to say to you, Gisborne, and I have no time, so go away.”
“Why are you in such a hurry? Do you have to rob some poor merchant traveling in the forest? Or your poor villagers need your help?” Guy said in a mocking tone, then he stared at Robin with a smirk. “Or maybe you are going to meet the King?”
Robin froze.
“What did you say?!”
“I know your little secret, Hood: you got a message from the King, and now you’re running to him wagging your tail, as if you were his pet dog.”
“Better to be a pet for King Richard, than the hound of a devil like the Sheriff,” Robin retorted, glaring at Guy. “How do you know about the message? Who told you about it?!”
Guy didn’t answer, and Robin thought of the only persons who could know about the message: the King himself, but he doubted that Gisborne could get his informations from him, the members of his gang, and Marian.
“It was Allan, isn’t it? He must have known from the others, and he ran to tell you. Traitor! To sell his soul just for some food and a shelter in winter!”
Guy was annoyed in hearing those words.
“Oh, you trust your gang so much! Allan works for me, it’s true, but he never betrayed any of your secrets to me. He’s a loyal friend, more than you think.”
“And of course telling you about the message from the King is not betrayal!”
“It isn’t! It wasn’t Allan to tell me.”
“Who, then? Little John?” Robin asked, in a mocking tone.
“Marian.” Guy said, and Robin stared at him, in disbelief. “I’m here because if I didn’t come to warn you, she would, and she’d put herself in danger.”
Robin’s eyes narrowed.
“Why should I believe you? And you should warn me about what?”
“You shouldn’t go to the King’s camp, it’s a trap. It must be the Sheriff: he wants to lure you, to capture you.”
“You think you are so clever, aren’t you? You don’t want me to see the King because you are afraid that I’m going to tell him what you did at Vaisey’s orders!”
“This could be true if this were the true King!” Guy said.
“What are you blathering about, Gisborne? Is it true, then? The accident you had left you weak in your head?”
“King Richard is not in England, the one who’s in the forest is an impostor.”
Robin shook his head with a laugh.
“Good work, Gisborne, you actually sound sincere. I didn’t think you were such a good liar.”
“I’m not lying, Hood!” Guy said, beginning to be really annoyed.
“As I said, you’d be convincing if I didn’t have this.” Robin took out the message of the King, to show it to Gisborne.
Guy limped to Robin’s horse to look at the seal: it looked real. He frowned, usually the plans of the Sheriff weren’t so accurate, Vaisey preferred to look at the bigger plan rather than at the details.
“This is weird. There must be a traitor at the King’s camp, then. Someone who took his seal.”
“Gisborne, go away. Stop with these ramblings now and I won’t hurt you.”
“If it were for me, I’d let you go and face your fate, but Marian would suffer, so you must listen to me.”
Robin got off his horse too. Gisborne didn’t seem to have the intention to let him pass, and he was becoming impatient: it was almost midday, and he had to see King Richard.
“Well, Gisborne, let’s suppose for a moment that I believe you. What makes you so sure that the King is an impostor?”
“I’ve seen him. If you follow that other path, you’ll get at the top of a cliff and you can see the camp from there. If you don’t believe me, go and see for yourself.”
Robin laughed.
“See, Gisborne? You just revealed your lie. You are the one who wants to lure me into a trap! How could you recognize the King? You’ve never seen him.”
Guy froze. It was evident that Robin didn’t believe him. He would ignore his warning, and Vaisey would kill him. He had only one chance to show Robin that he was saying the truth, but it was a bet against the death itself.
He could risk everything that he had, and Guy didn’t want to lose Marian, the peace he had found at Knighton. He was afraid.
But how could he look at Marian again if he didn’t try everything possible to save Hood?
Robin turned to mount again, and Guy took a deep breath.
Robin looked at him: Gisborne’s expression was deadly serious now.
“What do you want?”
“I’ll prove you that I’m not a liar. You must believe me because I’m putting my life in your hands now.”
Gisborne began to unclasp his jacket, and Robin noticed that his hands were trembling. He waited, wondering what he was going to do.
Guy removed his jacket, he neatly folded it, and placed it on the ground, then he untied the laces on the sleeve of his shirt, and rolled it to show his forearm.
Robin’s eyes widened, seeing the tattoo of a wolf, crossed by a scar.
“I can recognize the King,” Guy said, “because Vaisey sent me to the Holy Land to kill him.”
Robin touched the scar on his side, the wound that forced him to come back to England, and that still hurt sometimes, in the colder days.
“You! It was you!” Robin unsheathed his scimitar. “Traitor! You only deserve death!”
Guy parried the blow with his staff.
“Wait Hood! That’s not the point, now!”
“And what is the point? You tried to kill the King! It’s the biggest crime that a man could do!”
Robin attacked again, and Guy stepped back.
“I did it at Vaisey’s orders and I wish I never obeyed him! But if I told you now, it was to save your life, not because I suddenly have a death wish!”
Robin glared at him. He wanted to kill Gisborne, to execute the traitor and have his revenge, but deep inside he knew that he shouldn’t do it. What the knight said had to have some sense, he would have been a fool to confess his crime if what he was saying wasn’t true. And even if it wasn’t, it was the King who had to order his execution.
Robin threw the sword to the ground, and grabbed Guy’s shirt with a hand, punching him with the other.
“Wait till Marian knows about this. She keeps saying that you’re a decent man, let’s see if she still believes this when she knows what kind of traitor you are.”
Guy pushed him away, punching him back.
He wiped some blood from his lip.
“She knows. She had known about it for months.”
Robin stared at him: he couldn’t believe to his words, but somehow he knew that Gisborne wasn’t lying. He let out a growl of frustration, and he pounced on him, dragging Guy to the ground and hitting him again.

Matilda hit the flanks of the donkey with her heels, wishing that the animal would go faster. She never liked riding a horse, and she couldn’t take a wagon in the deepest part of the forest, so she had to take the donkey, but she was afraid of arriving too late.
When she had arrived to Locksley to visit Sir Edward, she had found Marian in a state of distress.
The girl told her about Robin and the danger that impended on his head, and how Guy went to try and save him.
Matilda was worried too, when Marian finished talking: she remembered even too well how Robin had menaced Guy, holding a dagger to his throat the last time they had a fight.
She took one of the donkeys of one of the farmers of the village, and she headed to the forest to find the two men.
She heard them before seeing them, the sound of a furious fight, and she hurried to reach them.
They were rolling on the ground, trying to prevail on each other, and they were both pretty battered, dirty, and bloodied.
Matilda got off the donkey, and she rushed to reach them.
“Stop immediately!” She yelled, stepping between the two men to separate them.
Guy and Robin sat on the ground, looking at her with surprise, but they were both panting too much to speak to her.
“I can’t believe that every time that you two are together you fight like rabid dogs, and I have to divide you!”
Robin was the first to find the breath to talk.
“He’s a traitor! He tried to kill the King!”
Matilda turned to stare at Guy, dumbfounded, but the words she uttered next weren’t the ones that Robin expected.
“You told him? Are you an idiot, love?”
“He would never believe me if I didn’t. I couldn’t let him go straight into a trap.” Guy said, then he lied with his back on the grass, too exhausted to even sit.
Robin was staring at them, his eyes wide.
“Matilda! You knew about it?!”
The woman sighed, and went near Robin to give him a caress on his cheek.
“Yes, my dear, I found out a few months ago.”
“And you never thought to tell me?!”
“No, Robin.”
“Why? He’s a traitor, he must pay for his crimes.”
Matilda let out another sigh. It wasn’t going to be easy.
“It wasn’t my secret to tell, and then Guy just followed the orders of that stinking pile of crap of the Sheriff. What he did was very wrong, but it wasn’t his idea, and he didn’t have many choices than to obey.”
Robin glared at Gisborne.
“Everything is a choice!”
“Well, he just chose to risk his life to save yours. This should make some difference.”
“Hood,” Guy said in a tired voice, “when we attacked the camp of the King, we didn’t act on our own. There was a traitor in the King’s guard, someone who told us the right moment to reach the camp, so that we could arrive when the King was asleep. Do you think that it was a coincidence?”
Robin didn’t answer immediately. It had sense. Being wounded, he hadn’t the time to think about it, but it was strange indeed that the Saracens attacked just when the camp was more vulnerable.
“Who is the traitor?”
“I don’t know. I swear to you, Hood, I never saw him or talked with him. The Sheriff wouldn’t tell me all his secrets. He told me to watch for a signal, a fire lightened in a certain place, just out of the camp. But if somebody sent you a message with the seal of the King, maybe it was the same person.”
Matilda took some clean towels from the saddlebags of the donkey, and for a while she busied herself cleaning the blood from the faces of both Robin and Guy, tenderly.
“Look at you, silly men. Did you really have to hurt yourselves so much? Later I will have to examine thoroughly both of you, to be certain that you don’t have serious injuries. But now I want you to go back to Knighton and to the camp, and straight to bed. Both of you! And Robin, I want you to promise that you’ll keep Guy’s secret. He’s a different man now, he doesn’t deserve to be put to death, and many persons would suffer if he were executed.”
“You can’t ask me to forgive a traitor! He’s a danger to the King!”
“No, he’s not. Not anymore. He can swear that he’ll never try to kill the King again, if you don’t believe me.”
“And I should believe to the word of a traitor?” Robin said, and Guy managed to sit again and look at him, meeting his gaze.
“I swear on the memory of my mother, Hood. You knew her, you know how much I loved her.”
Robin knew that Gisborne was saying the truth, but he didn’t want to forgive him.
But Matilda was looking at him, and he knew that he couldn't win if both her and Marian were allied in this.
“I will go to the top of that cliff and I’ll look at the camp. If you are saying the truth, I won’t tell the King about your crimes. But if you try to betray King Richard again, I’ll kill you with my own hands.”
Guy nodded.
“I don’t care about the King, I’m not searching for power anymore. I just want to live my life in peace.”
“I hope for you that you’re saying the truth,” Robin said, curtly. He stood up and he picked his scimitar and his bow from the ground, then he mounted on his horse and went away.
Matilda helped Guy to his feet: he was a little unsteady, but he didn’t seem to have serious injuries.
“Come, love. We should better go back to Knighton, now. But first we’ll stop at the river so you can wash up a little. Marian would be frightened to see all that blood on your face.”
“Will Hood keep his word?”
Matilda rolled her eyes, and gave him a little slap on his nape.
“Of course he will! You shouldn’t even doubt it! And you’ll keep yours. Now come.”
The healer mounted on her donkey, and Guy on his horse. It was time to go home.

Chapter Text

As he forced the horse to slow down, in order to reach the top of the hill indicated by Guy without being heard or seen, Robin thought of that fateful night that had changed his path of life once again.
And like it had already been in the past, the responsible of that change was Guy.
The wound on his side, now completely healed, seemed to hurt him again as new, as it was still open, still bleeding.
He took his hand to his side. He would never confess to anyone his sorrow, his fright in passing from sleep to his desperate action to defend the King, his King, from certain death. The strain of his tired muscles, his eyes searching, finding an adjustment in the deep dark. His speed, his strength, his desperation.
Everything to save the King from those glacial eyes that watched his victim sleeping, ready to kill, with no mercy. Those eyes, the only thing visible behind the black, thick veil.
The eyes that had tormented his sleep for months after that night.
Perhaps the devil had blue eyes, Robin thought, overwhelmed, when he woke up from his nightmares, even so many nights after the attack.
He had been brave, quick, skillful, and sure of himself in front of everyone, and had endured the pain of his wound showing no weakness.
But he was hurt, in his flesh and in his heart, just for the idea that the King, his King might die. Nobody really understood what the King meant for him.
For most of the people, a King is a God on earth, and they feared his fierce vengeance, or they pleaded him, kneeling, for pity, for mercy.
For people like Gisborne, or Vaisey, the King was just an enemy, the biggest obstacle in an exaggerated race to power, illusory and vain.
For the nobles of the Kingdom, the King was often someone to flatter, seduce, deceive, to gain consensus, more wealth, more land, more fortunes, a better social position, small revenges.
But for his soldiers, King Richard was much more. So much more.
Someone to die for.
He was a man, a real man. He was a true leader, a brave, smart, wise man.
A real warrior. A warrior that would never draw back from battle.
No pain could really stop him, and his actions were aimed to do good in a way that just few would be able to understand, but also he knew to question his beliefs for a better purpose.
People like Gisborne would never understand all this.
Robin had seen so many expressions of courage, dignity and wisdom in his King.
A true sovereign, and not just because of his royal blood and family ties.
Robin had seen much more in him.
He had lost his father soon, too soon, because of Gisborne's fault. He, so young and unexperienced had to take the great responsibility of his people, helped by a priest and the older of his servants.
And they were good with him, kind, maybe even stern when it was right to be, but never too much, because he was the young lord of Locksley.
But, for him, nobody was what young Robin really needed.
A guide, of course, an example to follow, in battle and in life.
But the King had proved to be so much more. Robin had come to his sympathy without having done anything else than his duty, but the King paid him back to him with much attention, which many other soldiers, older, more experienced than him, had never received.
The King respected him, praised him when he deserved it, but he also talked with him, listened to him, asked him for advice, worried about him.
And this, in Robin’s eyes seemed almost caring, sincere affection.
He had become a man, really, only going to war alone, standing beside King Richard. And the King had recognized his value as a young man.
Robin had wanted his father to be like that. He had wished that he could look at him like his King did, but he was certain that his father would have been equally proud of him as the King was.
When Robin was a little boy, nobody could really oppose him, nobody could tell him no.
So for the most part they flattered him to lure him to do things, to take decisions.
But he wanted to be something else. His bow, a shining toy before, had become the only element of respite and escape from such a serene, but so overwhelming reality.
The only way to escape his destiny, so well written, but impossible to accept, for him.
The bow was his freedom, his dream, his hope. He was training every day, whenever he could, to become the best archer. Not only for his vanity, but mostly to escape the reality. To run away from the life that the priest thought for him when he taught him literature and calculus, and build a different one. Free.
And he felt free, Robin, when he fought for the King and for England, even free to die in the case, but free. Being himself.
Gisborne, in his attempted murder, had changed his life again.
Robin had come back to England, because the King, in his affection, has protected him, sending him home to heal, but he had become, instead, a renegade, defending his own freedom of thought and action.
Everyone would have thought him to be desperate, to have lost everything, just saving the lives of those poor boys.
Robin was nostalgic about his home, his things, about his people, his Marian. And he hoped that the King would return, to put everything back in his place. But it was still free, in a sense, to sleep under the stars, in the cold weather as in the warm weather,with no obligations, and mostly he was still a fighter for the King and for England.
That, more than anything else, was Robin of Locksley.
He tied the horse, hiding the beast behind providential trees. And Robin crawled slowly, hiding in his turn behind a big rock.
The King's camp was now below him.
Gisborne, the traitor, couldn’t have been right: that was exactly how the Royal camp was. Same colours, same disposition.
But, something was wrong.
The people.
Those faces, he should have recognized those faces. They were his companions in battle. They shared victories and retreats, blood and sweat. The same food, the same pain. The same exaltation in victory. The same sorrow burying their fallen comrades. So why did they look so different, unrecognizable?
Because they were not the same people.
And Robin was covered in cold sweat.
At that moment a man with a long mantle and a big crown on his head came out of the royal tent, and, for the love of God, that insignificant and repulsive man just couldn’t be the King.
Impostor, traitor. Like Vaisey was. One day he would pay for all his misdeeds, he would.
Even for the most wretched one: making him hope for a moment that the King was finally back.
A trap set by Vaisey.
Too smart, and perhaps aimed not to hit him alone.
Who else was to fall into the trap? And why?
And most of all, now Robin had an atrocious doubt, actually two, instilled as a poison, in his thoughts, by Gisborne.
Could it be true the presence of a traitor in the Royal camp? A traitor who had in his hands the Royal seal which almost made Robin fall into the trap…
Who was the traitor, the man behind a so much thicker mask, compared to Gisborne's black veil. So close to the King and so much ready to destroy the King and the destiny of England, like Judas.
What else did Gisborne know?
And then, his second doubt: why Marian had voluntarily concealed such a horrible secret as Gisborne's? Whose side was she on? What were her loyalties? Who and what was really important to her?
Answers. He needed answers from both of them. And immediately, too.
Robin's thoughts oscillated between disappointment, dismay, anger, and suspicion as he ride toward Knighton.

Robin looked inside the window at the ground floor of Knighton Hall. Usually he was more interested to the one upstairs, Marian’s window, but now he was hoping that the girl wasn’t around.
Gisborne was there, in the bed, asleep, and Robin found himself envying him.
He was tired and sore after their fight, but, above all, he felt broken inside.
He had hoped that Gisborne was lying, that he was the only one to blame, but what he had seen from the cliff proved that there was a traitor near the king, and this time it wasn’t Gisborne.
Robin entered the room, and he approached the bed, silent as a mouse. His rival didn’t stir, and Robin sat on the chair at the side of the bed to look at him.
With a pang of jealousy, he wondered how many times Marian had sat like that in the last few months, when Gisborne was injured and forced to lie in bed.
Robin noticed that Guy had a few bruises and cuts on his face, and some dried blood on his lip, but someone had carefully cleaned those little wounds, and treated them with some ointment. He wondered if it had been Matilda or Marian to take care of him, and once again he felt jealous.
It wasn’t right that Gisborne could rest peacefully in a warm bed, while he was so tired and battered and he could only take refuge in a camp in the forest.
If it wasn’t for Guy, he could have been at Locksley, sitting in front of the fireplace.
Guy turned in his sleep, and now Robin could see the tattoo on his forearm.
Bitterly, he realized that if it wasn’t for Gisborne, he’d still be in the Holy Land, at the King’s side, fighting in his unholy war.
But Gisborne’s sleep wasn’t as peaceful as Robin first believed: the man turned in his bed because of some nightmare.
Suddenly he woke up with a scream.
“Hood, no!” Guy cried, then he noticed him and was startled in seeing Robin sitting there, near the bed.
Robin realized that Gisborne was scared, afraid of him, and, strangely, that thought saddened him.
Guy looked down, in resignation.
“You changed your mind,” he said in a flat tone, “you are here to kill me.”
Robin stared at him.
“I gave you my word that I would spare your life, if you were saying the truth. You were. That man wasn’t the King.”
Guy let out a sigh, then he looked at Robin.
“You are not here just to say that I was right, are you?”
“The message I received had the seal of the King. This means that there is someone very close to the King who is a traitor, someone who plots with the Sheriff. You must know who it is.”
“I don’t. The Sheriff didn’t trust me with this secret. I only knew that there was somebody at the camp that would give us the signal to attack.”
Robin laughed bitterly.
“And I should believe that you went blindly to a distant land to kill a King just because the Sheriff told you to do so?”
“Believe what you want, Hood.”
Guy averted his eyes, and Robin realized that he was embarrassed.
“Really, Gisborne?” He asked, lifting an eyebrow, sarcastically, and Guy blushed with rage.
“I trusted him, alright?! I know, I was wrong and I’ve been an idiot, but I did. If you don’t believe me, kill me, I know that’s what you really want to do, but I can’t tell you anything else because I don’t know anything else!”
Robin looked at him, impressed by his outburst, and this time it was his turn to sigh.
“I believe you. But if there is a traitor near the King, I must find out who he is.”
“What do you want from me, Hood? I already risked my life to warn you.”
Robin nodded. He hated to feel in debt with Gisborne, but he knew that, without him, he would have been arrested.
“You know the Sheriff, his allies. You could know something useful to protect the King.”
Guy looked at him.
“Vaisey would kill me if I should hinder his plans, and even Sir Edward and Marian would be in danger. I don’t care about the King, I won’t risk our lives for him!”
Robin was tempted to hit him again, and maybe he would have done it if he hadn’t been interrupted by the door being opened.
The outlaw got up, ready to run, but he stopped when Marian entered in the room.
The girl looked at both of them, surprised, but she didn’t say anything. She closed the door behind her, and locked it from the inside, then she turned back to Robin and Guy.
“What’s going on?” She asked, sternly.

Chapter Text

Marian stood between the two, and she crossed her arms, waiting for explanations. Her gaze fell on the cuts on Guy's face, and her sigh, though it was a mild, controlled one, didn’t escape to Robin's attention.
The feeling of jealousy grew in him even more, seeing the girl's sorrow towards his opponent.
“It's not something you should know, because...” Robin started, immediately interrupted by Marian.
"Because I am a woman?" She said, angrily.
Robin looked up to the sky, then right into her beautiful eyes, "No, because it's dangerous for you and your father... Your alliance with this man is dangerous, Marian."
Marian instinctively left the defensive position she had adopted with her body and assumed a more belligerent pose. She put her hands on her hips.
"There is no alliance between me and Guy."
"Oh, no?" Robin said, "Then I should call it complicity in betrayal. You knew."
Marian turned to look at Guy, suddenly, in a reproachful look.
"You told him, why?"
"Because he did not believe me when I told him about the false King, I had to prove to him that I knew what the King looks like, that was the only way. You wanted me to stop him, Marian, I did it.”
"I know you did, Guy, thank you, I'm grateful. It would have been better if you had not risked your life for this..."
She wanted to say so much more, now. She wanted to say all the things Guy wanted to hear from her. But she felt she wasn’t free to do so, now that Robin was there, among them, angry and hurt.
She knew he was hurt, because of her, somehow. And she was sorry, for it. She really cared, for Robin.
She turned to Robin, with a similar attitude of reproach in her eyes. Someone had to act as an adult in that room, and apparently it was up to her.
For love, for her real, blossoming feelings, there would be another moment. Another time.
"Those wounds, I guess they're your doings, Robin," said the girl, pointing to Guy's face with a gesture.
"Are you really worrying about those insignificant cuts? I still have the big scar of the wound that he, he has inflicted on me in the Holy Land, to kill the King! Of that, you should worry!" Robin said, very angry.
On Guy's face there was now one of his ironic smirks, but he had no occasion to talk, because Marian cooled him in a frosty: "Shut up, Guy!"
Then she turned her gaze to Robin, and, in a conciliatory tone, she said: “I know how much you have suffered, I know how brave you were, you are, Robin, and I'm genuinely sorry for your wounds, but I'm also very proud of how you defended the King on that occasion. England still needs your courage and your heart, Robin. Guy was reckless and stupid, he knows that. He blindly followed the orders of the devil. Blindly. Nothing justifies the act of that moment, if not his loyalty given to the wrong man. Please don’t believe I'm not aware and disappointed about what he did that night. I knew it, and the only idea of it has tormented me for months. But I know his conscience now, and I know that he has understood his mistake. He repented. I will testify for him if necessary. You are a loyal man. He is the same.”
"Loyal? Evil is loyalty, nowadays? To whom he is loyal, now?” Robin asked, not less angry.
“To me. To my family. To my people. You know that. You saw that, with your own eyes. Everything is a choice, you always said. He choose differently. A different life. A different loyalty. And I'm grateful for that.”
“And you? What is your choice, Marian?” Robin said, his eyes sad, waiting for something he really didn’t want to hear from her lips. Not now, at least, in front of Guy.
“I didn’t choose anything, there wasn’t anything to choose. It isn’t time to choose, or to talk about this. Why are you here, Robin? It was a trap of the Sheriff, right? We were right. What do you think is his plan now?”
"That's what I would like to know, but your friend doesn’t want to tell me anything about it."
"Guy has been abandoned to his fate by the Sheriff months ago, and when he got back on his feet, the sheriff has done everything possible to crush him and crush me, my people and my family in the process.”
"What did he do?"
"He sent his new Master at Arms here, apparently asking for taxes. But he was ready to destroy us. He wanted to destroy us. And to have fun at it. He's a ruthless, horrible man, his worthy servant. Forgive me, Guy," said Marian, feeling the breath of Guy changing for the subtle accusation in the tone of her voice.
“It's not possible, you're wrong,” Robin replied. “I've known Alexander for years. He is valiant, loyal, brave. He saved our lives in the Holy war on more than one occasion. Everyone appreciated him and loved him for his courage on the battlefield. The King esteemed him, above all. It's impossible.”
“Then the evil of that devil is contagious,” Marian said, in turn. “Or your mate is not what you thought he was. He was ready to hurt us. So much ready. Only Guy's return, and the immediate payment of taxes stopped him. And believe me, Robin, he wasn’t happy to give up his dose of violence that he wanted to inflict on us."
"It can’t be..." Robin said, bewildered.
"Why not him, Robin?" Guy said, "Believe me when I tell you that my band of mercenaries didn’t find the King's camp so easily that night, and we didn’t come through the tents without finding any resistance by chance. It was all organized, and so many people worked for this purpose. Saracens, of course, but also someone English. Someone from the inside made our way. It was our mole, and he must have buried his tracks well, because I didn’t know who he was. Brilliant, somehow in his way. So, why not him, Robin? How many people, apart from the King himself, of course, could have access and take that seal in the Royal Camp?"
“I... I don’t know. A few of them, I think. The king didn’t trust everyone. He only really trusted very few people,” Robin replied.
“Then you should do your own investigations, here in Nottingham. The seal is here.” Guy said, with a serious tone.
“And you could help him,” Marian said, turning to Guy. “Nobody better than you knows how Vaisey thinks and acts. And you know the Castle, you know where to look. Talk to him, help him. Show Robin that your loyalty is now addressed to the best ends. Help him, now, and perhaps Robin, with his wisdom and intelligence, will decide that for the good of all, what is in the past remains in the past. For the good of England, mine, and yours.”
"Marian," said Guy, trying to escape from an unwanted commitment.
"Guy, you've demonstrated your true value to me, now show it to Robin. To England. To the King. You might also have the satisfaction of giving Vaisey what he deserves, for how he treated you. Find out what Vaisey is thinking of, and who the traitor is. But please, don’t fight each other anymore, I'm tired of seeing your wounds. Of both of you," Marian said with a little smile of hope and encouragement.
"We'll see, Gisborne, we'll see. If you really want to help me, you have to follow my directions," said Robin.
"I do not think so, I'm not one of your comrades."
"Guy," Marian said, trying to convince him, pleading him with her eyes, to be less arrogant.
"Marian," Guy said, "my primary concern is to help you, and I'm trying to do it. But I can’t really hide in the castle to figure out what goes on inside Vaisey's head, don’t you think?"
"No, of course, Guy, I'm not asking you this, but I'm asking you to cooperate with Robin. If you can think of anything that can help him to find out the truth, don’t hesitate to share it with him, or with me."
"I'll think about it, Marian, I promise," he said.
Robin thought Guy would never really be useful to his inquiry.
"Marian, take care of you. It's better that I leave now."
Robin left the room, leaving Marian alone with Guy. The girl approached the knight, touching the new wounds on his face with her right hand.
She sighed: "I'm sorry, Guy," she said.
"Because he couldn't hit me more? He had his blows too, you know?" Guy said, between ironic and proud, trying, unwisely, to minimize the incident, in a male way.
In response, Marian gave him a small punch on his forearm. Guy tightened his limb for pain.
"Stop acting like a kid. You're older than him, you should be wiser," she said.
"He started it, he can, doesn’t he? He is the intelligent and wise man," he said, imitating the elusive way the girl had used before with Hood. He felt offended and jealous even though he knew he didn’t have the right to be. Yet he was.
Marian approached him and began to stroke his face softly, just touching the wounded parts, lingering where there were no wounds.
"It takes a woman to understand a man, sometimes even to bring him on her side," said the girl.
Guy blocked her hand with his, holding it, softly.
"And this is the way you know to bring me on your side, Marian?" he said, looking into her eyes.
Marian took her free hand to Guy's face, caressing his features again, approaching her lips to his. The girl whispered, "I don’t need to bring you on my side, you already are. And I am on your side."
Guy whispered her name, completely won by her closeness, her warmth, her promise of passion.
And Marian closed the distance between them, gently kissing him. The cuts on his face were hurting now, but Guy wouldn’t give up kissing her for anything in the world. Marian was the first to part from him, feeling his pain.
"Forgive me, Guy, you're suffering."
"Believe me, your kisses couldn't kill me," he said, laughing happily, Then he tried to engage the girl again in another heated kiss.
Marian smiled, but parted from him: "Guy, I'm really grateful for what you did today. I was honest when I told you, before. I'm proud of you."
"I think about twenty kisses could be an effective demonstration of gratitude on your part, don't you agree?" Guy said, pretending to be offended by the interruption.
Guy suddenly seemed much younger and different to her eyes, than she had always seen him. He was now seductive, but playfully, in a younger, sweet way. Marian loved that in him, and decided to play with him at the same game.
"But should I give you twenty kisses less, for revealing our secret to Robin. So we're even at the time. You took a great risk," she said.
"Accounting is not your strength, Marian. Twenty minus twenty is zero, and you've already taken a kiss from me. It's just right that I'll get it back from your lips now," he said.
"And why right now?" Said the girl, smiling mischievously.
"Because I didn’t reveal to Robin the most important secret that we share," he said.
"Ah," she said. Maybe that was the right time to tell Guy she loved him.
She felt her knees tremble and her courage vanished. Yet Guy looked at her with tender eyes, loving, smiling eyes.
And she loved him. She loved him so much.
"So you want to take it back now?" Said the girl, with an inviting look.
"No," he said, surprisingly. A sly look in his eyes. "Consider it a debt you have contracted with me. I will take it back it soon, don’t doubt about it."
"Marian," Guy continued, taking a more serious tone, "I promise that I will think about what you have said and proposed, but I would also like to ask advice to your father, first of all. I need to talk to him, to ask him how I should behave, especially with Robin."
"I understand," said the girl, "you're right."
"Where can I find Lord Edward, now?" He asked.
"Oh," Marian replied, remembering that her father had been ill for months, but today he had decided to leave the estate. “He left Knighton today and he hadn’t come back yet. He left this morning. It was so long since he last came out of the estate. It's a good sign, don't you think, Guy? It's so important for him to be able to get back to work. I think he was going to a meeting with other nobles."
"Ah," said Guy, slightly disappointed, "I thought he wanted to take me with him."
"I don’t know, but we can ask James if he knows more about it." Marian replied, a little surprised, but understanding.
The two of them walked out of the room. Guy was tempted to take Marian by the hand as they went to look for James, but he didn’t. It was really their true and deeper, intimate, secret.
When asked about Lord Edward, James replied that the old lord had received a message from Nottingham, and, after that, he had decided to meet with other noble peers. He had been in a hurry to go.
Guy and Marian looked at James, surprised.
Then James remembered something even more important and added: "To tell the truth, that terrible man brought the message from Nottingham."
"Which man?" Guy asked, with a sudden, hard look in his eyes.
"Nottingham's new Master at Arms," James replied.
Marian was astonished, and trembled, remembering their terrible encounter with him.
"That man was bringing a message to all the nobles of the County. He insisted with Lord Edward that the King is coming to Nottingham, and he has repeatedly suggested that it was the right opportunity for any complaint or lawsuit against the Sheriff. My Lord Edward didn’t answer to him, but he left Knighton shortly afterwards," James added.
Marian looked at Guy, frightened, and she saw the same discomfort in his eyes.
"This is the play. That's the real trap," Guy said.
"I must warn my father!"
"I must warn your father!" They both said in unison.
Guy looked at Marian in the eyes.
"We must warn your father, the trap is for him, and who knows for how many other nobles," he said.

Chapter Text

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.
“Where, Marian?”
“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...”
“Allan, please...”
“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.
I hope.
Allan nodded.
“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.

Chapter Text

When Sir Edward went out of the hall, answering the false King’s call, Guy could do nothing to stop him. He could only look at the door where he disappeared and wait.
The other nobles where all huddled in the hall, waiting anxiously to be called as well.
Waiting to fall under the butcher’s ax.
Guy began to tremble.
He was overtired and sore, and he was afraid that he had failed once again.
You always fail, Gisborne. He could almost hear the Sheriff’s voice, laughing at him.
For sure he couldn’t stay there, in that overheated room and just wait to learn about Marian’s father’s fate.
He limped out of the hall taking the other door, and found himself into an empty corridor.
Guy leaned his back on the wall, in a dark corner, and crossed his arms in front of him.
Hom many times in the past he had waited there, in the same position, just to talk with Marian for a moment? He wished that she was there now, and immediately regretted it.
What if Sir Edward didn’t listen to me? Maybe he is dying right now. Maybe I couldn’t save him.
It was a dreadful thought. If Sir Edward should die, Guy could never forgive himself.
I should have told him the truth, even if it would cost my life.
He remembered Marian’s hug when he told her that he would warn her father, and he felt guilty because he had the impression that he didn’t deserve her gratitude.
I should be at his side at least. To defend him or to fall with him.
Guy took a decision: it didn’t matter if everyone else would find out that he had tried to kill the King or if the Sheriff would learn that he was the one who spoiled his plans, he had to save Sir Edward at all costs!
If the old man should die, Guy knew that he would lose everything as well.
If he failed, he wouldn’t dare to go back to Knighton, to face Marian’s sorrow, and his guilt wouldn’t allow him to start over once again, alone. He would end as a beggar in the streets, just like Vaisey wished.
Guy had no weapons, but he walked back to the door of the Great Hall, decided to reach Sir Edward, even if he had to fight with his bare hands.
When he tried to get inside, he found out that he couldn’t: the room was in a complete turmoil, with all the nobles shouting and talking at once, running around in a state that was between panic, rage, and fear. Looking at the room from the door, Guy had the impression that a hungry fox had entered into a hen-house.
He paled, afraid that the Sheriff, for some reason, had decided to kill all the nobles gathered there, then he recognized Robin’s voice, and he understood that it was him who caused all that trouble.
A little relieved, Guy still tried to scan the hall with his gaze, hoping to see Sir Edward, but he couldn’t find him.
A cold dread made him shiver, and Guy doubled his efforts to get into the hall. A group of the Sheriff’s guards, arrived running from the corridor as reinforcements to catch Robin Hood, and they rudely pushed Guy aside, making him stumble and hit the wall with his side.
Gisborne regained his balance, and tried to follow them inside the hall, when a voice called him from a secondary passage.
“Hey, Giz!”
Guy turned to see Allan, and, with immense relief, he also saw that Sir Edward was with him.
“Hurry, Giz, come! We should better leave the castle before anyone could notice us and suspect that we have anything to do with Robin.”
Guy nodded, and limped to them. Allan noticed that he hadn’t his staff, and he put a arm around his back to help him to walk faster.
Allan escorted them in the courtyard, then he turned to Guy.
“Wait here, I’ll go and get the wagon and your stallion.”
“Take my weapons and my staff, too, if you can. The guards at the door made me leave them there before I could enter into the castle.”
“Sure Giz, don’t worry. I’ll be back in a moment.”
The young man went away, and Guy turned to look at Sir Edward: the elderly man was clearly upset, but he looked unhurt and in good health.
Looking better than Guy himself was feeling in that moment, at least.
“Thank God you are fine, my lord.”
The old Lord looked at Guy with a look serious and tired at the same time. Guy thought that he had done something wrong, maybe Marian's father would accuse him of something, as absurd as that thought was. Instead Sir Edward held his right hand towards Guy.
Unsure about the motivation of his gesture, Guy, with a bit of hesitation, grabbed the old man's hand and tightened it, with caution and respect.
"Come now, Lord Edward, your daughter will be happy to see you healthy and safe," said Guy, trying to loosen the tension. The old man didn’t speak, but the expression on his face had become sad and tender at the same time. Edward didn’t let go Guy's hand, holding it tight.
"My hero days are really over. A new generation of men will save England."
Guy, between embarrassment and self-pity, replied : "If you say so... I'm not the right person to say it, but Hood is definitely doing his part."
"Yes, Robin, but I'm not just talking about him. You were a hero, too, today, Sir Guy."
Guy was astonished, but he answered, with a lopsided smile: "I wouldn’t say that, I just tried to do your daughter's interests, and I'm not even sure I succeeded. You didn’t believe me, did you?"
"No, I didn’t believe you, despite your concern, and the effort, and all that you have risked, coming here to tell me what was happening, and I was wrong with you, Sir Guy, I was so wrong. I should have more confidence in you."
Edward released Guy's hand.
Guy lowered his head.
Perhaps this would be his destiny: to not be believed despite his efforts. The stains of his past would follow him, perhaps even more than Vaisey's revenge.
"I haven’t always behaved rightly with you, Sir Edward. I've made big mistakes, too, toward you, toward your daughter, toward many people," said Guy, a sad smile, now, on his tired face.
"There is no man who has not committed mistakes, sometimes in the name of the King, or in the name of the Church, or in the name of profiteers like Vaisey. By aging, you realize that the world is no longer black or white, and you are likely to learn to live with the ambiguities, and with the horror in the world, with evil, and in the meantime the same world puts you aside, because you are not as strong as before, you are no longer as powerful as before. Sometimes, however, there are days like this, when you delude yourself, that in spite of years, gray hair, and fragile bones, you can still make a difference. That you still have strenght, and courage. I was wrong, Sir Guy, but it was nice for a moment to feel the illusion into my veins, to believe, to dream, and to act. That's why I didn’t believe you. I was wrong, you were right. You are a better man now, you really are. I will no longer doubt your intentions. Thank you, Sir Guy. What you did today, for me, is important. And I'll be happy if Marian and you will get married one day. Because I know that you love her and you will protect her, with much more force, and courage, and compassion and understanding than I have done in the past for her. Don’t be misled by the fear of not being strong enough, capable enough, powerful enough. A man is not just muscular strength, arm power. A man is strength of the heart, power of understanding, force of compassion, will of change. This is you, this I like, of you. This I would like to be next to my only, beloved, daughter.”
Edward's eyes were damp now for tears unshed, and, to Guy's surprise, who had heard those words in complete disbelief, as a miracle balm that made his scars disappear, the old man opened his arms to him.
Guy leaned over to him, uncertain, and briefly embraced the old man. Edward's hand beat on his shoulder.
"Thank you," he said, and then added, "I have a son, now."
Allan returned to the courtyard, and for a moment he was astonished and amazed at what he was seeing. It was no time, no place to talk or make jokes.
The young man knew that this was an important moment for Guy.
The two men separated, and Allan would bet that what he saw for a moment in Guy's eyes were tears of joy.
At that moment, in Allan's eyes, Guy looked incredibly so much younger than he actually was. He seemed like a young boy, now, like Allan was, with the same fragility and hope in the future, visible in his features.
The three men went away from the castle together to return to Knighton.
Guy felt tired and heavily fatigued, but he felt also incredibly light in his mind.
He thought of his father, of the emptiness he had left inside his young heart when he died. Too much, too deeply he had missed him when he was a boy.
Sitting next to Edward, Guy secretly looked at the proud, tired look of Marian's father. Now he was also, somehow, a father to him too.
He wouldn’t disappoint him, he swore to himself.
Guy closed his eyes, savoring for a moment the serenity and the security that he had missed so much when he was a boy, too young to be a man in a cruel world, surviving instead of growing, acting instead of learning, fighting instead of living.
And he savored, in his mind, the feeling of having finally done well, of being finally appreciated by a father. That he was finally a son, and a man.
I'm coming home, Marian, your father is safe with me. Smile, my love. We're coming home to you.

Marian couldn’t stay still, and she kept moving from the fireplace of her room to the window. She tried to force herself to calm down and think of trivial, everyday things like an embroidery that she needed to finish, or the food they would need to buy at the market next week, but she just couldn’t focus on anything else than her father and Guy.
They might be dead. What if Guy couldn’t make it in time?
She almost ran to the window, staring at the sky and praying that they could come back home safely.
Then, after an infinite time, she saw a tiny dot far away on the road, a wagon approaching Knighton.
She wanted to run outside, to meet that wagon halfway, but she couldn’t. She had to feign an illness, so she couldn’t go running down the road, but she couldn’t stay in her room as well. She went to the hall, to stand near the door.
Eventually she saw her father entering the manor, followed shortly after by Guy and Allan.
With a cry, Marian ran to hug her father, holding him tight. She looked at Guy over Sir Edward’s shoulder, and she smiled at him through tears.
“Thank you,” she mouthed, and Guy smiled back at her, then he let Allan to help him to reach his room.
Marian led her father upstairs, fussing about his health, afraid that he could have been hurt or shocked by the Sheriff’s trap. The elderly lord reassured her that he was perfectly fine, just a bit tired, and she went back downstairs only when Sir Edward decided to go to bed to rest.
The girl came back into the hall, hoping to talk to Guy, to properly thank him for what he had done, but she found only Allan, sitting in front of the fireplace and helping himself from a tray of food.
“Where’s Guy?”
“He went straight to bed, he was exhausted. Hey, where are you going?” He added, seeing that Marian was heading to Guy’s room.
“I just want to see him for a moment, if he’s asleep I won’t wake him up.”
The girl pushed the door and entered Guy’s room. The knight was lying on the bed, fast asleep and still dressed: he had only removed his boots before falling asleep.
Marian smiled as she went closer to the bed. She touched his face in a light caress, and she froze, worried: he was too hot, burning with fever!
She shook him gently, to wake him up and give him some of the remedies that Matilda used to lower fevers, but Guy didn’t stir at all.
Frightened, Marian ran out of the room.
“Allan! Allan! Run! Go and call Matilda!”

Marian walked back and forth, in front of the door of Guy’s room, more nervous and afraid with every step. When the door finally opened, she almost jumped.
Matilda came out of the room, and Marian ran to her.
“How is he?! Is it a serious illness?!”
The healer looked at the girl.
“He’s not ill. You forced Allan to come to my hut in the middle of the night for no reason. You scared me, my child, but luckily it was for nothing.”
Marian shook her head, still afraid and close to tears.
“How can it be? He’s too hot, and I couldn’t wake him up!”
The healer smiled to her.
“He has a fever, it’s true, but he just need to rest and sleep as long as he needs to. In a couple of days he’ll be as good as new.”
“Are you sure?”
Matilda patted her cheek.
“Am I ever wrong? He’s been a fool to overexert himself so much, but from what I could see today, he wasn’t the only one.”
Marian didn’t understand.
“What do you mean? Who else is a fool?”
“Robin. I’ve been to the camp earlier, and he’s in no better shape than Guy. They fought with each other and God knows how much energy they wasted doing that, then add all the excitement in Nottingham, and the effort of running, fighting and riding. No wonder that they are both half dead, now. But they will survive, don’t worry. Silly, donkey headed young men like them are strong and they’ll recover very soon.”
Marian smiled at her description, and the healer smiled back.
“Go to bed, my child, you had enough excitement for today too, and then you are the one who must feign an illness. Don’t worry, I’ll stay with him until he feels better. And don’t worry for Robin either, the saracen girl will take good care of him.”
The girl nodded, and she stifled a yawn. Matilda was right, she was tired, but now she also felt reassured after talking to the healer.
“Can I see him for a moment?”
Matilda nodded, and Marian entered in Guy’s room.
For a moment she had the impression of being back in time, when Guy was injured and ailing, and she didn’t know if he would survive.
She walked to the bed, looking at his pale face and fearing that he could be so sick again, despite Matilda’s words.
Guy was deeply asleep, but his dreams had to be troubled because he was frowning in his sleep.
Marian knelt near the bed, so that her face was close to Guy’s, and she combed his hair with her fingers in a tender gesture.
She had been wrong to think that he could be as ill as he had been after the accident. Maybe he was unwell now, but he was strong, he was the brave knight who took her beloved father safely home.
He was the man she loved.
“I love you,” she whispered, regretting that she hadn’t the courage to say it aloud when he could hear her, then she pressed her lips to his forehead. “I love you so much.” She repeated, blushing, then she stood up, and she rushed out of the room.

Chapter Text

Guy slowly rode his stallion along the road that lead out of the village and to the forest. It was early in the morning, just after dawn, and only the peasants were already awake, headed to work in the fields.
“Good morning, Sir Guy,” a man said, with a sincere smile, and Guy looked at him, surprised.
He still wasn’t used at the people being friendly with him, but after the expedition to York, some of them were. And many of the others were getting used to his presence and never complained when he managed Knighton at the orders of Sir Edward.
“Good morning.”
“You’re up early, Sir. Are you going to hunt in the forest?” The peasant asked, looking at the bow that Guy was carrying on his back.
Guy glanced at the man: there was no suspect in his words, he just wanted to chat with him while they were traveling on the same road.
“I am. I need to improve my aim.”
The peasant nodded, then he pointed to the path he was going to take.
“Well, the field that I need to plow is that way. Have a good day, Sir Guy.”
Guy nodded back, and set his horse to a faster pace.
A few weeks had passed since the trap of the Sheriff, and Guy’s life was being unusually peaceful, he almost dared to say happy.
After Sir Edward’s rescue, Guy had been unwell for a couple of days, feeling strongly the strain and the stress of that day, but Matilda’s sweet cares, and her bitter remedies, quickly returned him to perfect health.
And then Sir Edward had expressed his gratitude, showing him a renewed respect and treating him almost like a son. Guy had the impression that the elderly lord was feeling guilty for some reason, but he couldn’t say why, and it wasn’t important.
He wasn’t used to be valued and cherished, but he was starting to like the feeling, to accept it without having doubts or suspects.
He smiled, thinking of Marian.
The girl had been grateful, proud of him, and he was deeply in love with her, his feelings growing everyday. He could only hope that she could return them and be happy to marry him, in time.
The Sheriff had called him a beggar and a cripple, destined to die in misery, but Guy’s life had never been better than it was now, not since his parents died, at least.
His work for Lord Knighton was allowing him to earn some money. Not much, but enough to provide for his needs, and Guy was investing some of it in the new commercial expeditions that Knighton was having with other villages after the first, successful one in York.
Someday, Guy hoped, he could save enough money to buy a piece of land and build his own house, a house for his family.
A smile fluttered on his lips while he rode through the forest. It was only a dream for now, but it didn’t look so impossible.
For the first time in his life, he felt that he was on the right path.
He arrived into a glade near the river, and he unmounted, leaving the stallion free to drink and graze the tender grass while he tried to hunt some prey with his bow.
Robin Hood had kept his word, and now, when Guy entered the forest, he knew that the outlaw was aware of his presence, but not him nor his gang tried to stop him. They tolerated his presence, as long as he didn’t mean any harm to them.

The young girl ran until she was completely out of breath. Only then she allowed herself to slow down, but she didn’t stop walking.
She had to get as far as she could before they noticed that she was missing.
I’m not going to go back. I’d rather die than be captured.
She had ran away during the night, taking advantage of the darkness. She knew that it was the only chance she had, because the next night her family would stay at the castle and it would be impossible to run away from there. So, when the wagons stopped for the night, in a field near the road, she went to the tent that she shared with her younger sisters and pretended to go to sleep.
As soon as the little girls fell asleep, she got up, changed in the boy clothes she had stolen from one of the servants, and she slipped out, in the night, heading for the forest.
She was tired now, and scared. It was the first time she was completely alone, and she was walking through a dark, unknown forest.
For a moment she longed for her mother’s hug, and wondered if she shouldn’t go back before they noticed what she had done, but she rejected that idea with a shudder: she loved her mother and her siblings, but her father scared her to death.
One day he would kill her mother, she feared, and now, at thirteen, she was old enough to fear for her own life.
When she was little, her father punished her hitting her on the hands or on the legs with a switch, but the last time she had tried to defend her mother, he slapped her too, hard, just like he did with her mom.
Mother can’t run, she has to take care of the little ones… But I couldn’t stay. She told me to be strong and meek and endure it, but I can’t tolerate it. One day I would rebel to him, and he’d beat me to death.
She stopped to look around, fearfully. She wanted to keep walking, but she needed to relieve herself, so she began fumbling with the laces of the breeches she had stolen.
Those boy clothes were comfortable to run and jump, but she wasn’t used to them. At last she managed to loosen them, and she hid behind a bush to relieve herself.
It’s silly. I’m alone, who could see me here?
A little later she went out of the bush, sighing when she had to fasten the laces again.
I’d better get used to this. When I’ll find Robin Hood I’ll have to show him that I can be part of his gang. He wouldn’t need a pampered girl unable to tie a knot.
She had heard about Robin Hood in the last village where they stopped to buy food, and she had been intrigued by the idea of a nobleman who rebelled and became an outlaw to help the poor.
It was then that she had found the courage to run away.
I’ll ask for Robin Hood’s help. He’ll punish father for his cruelty, and he’ll set free my mother and my siblings as well.
The girl hoped to find him soon. She was tired, cold and scared.
But she had to keep going.
It had rained in the last days and the ground was still wet and muddy, and she was covered in dirt. She had slipped and fallen to the ground a few times during her run, and now she felt cold and miserable.
She yawned and she rubbed her eyes, then she stopped, frozen on her tracks when she heard a low growl.
A wolf was standing in front of her, growling at her with bared fangs and the girl screamed. She backed away for a few steps, but she stopped, terrified. She was too afraid to run away, she was too afraid to do anything, actually. She was only able to stare at the wild wolf, sobbing.

Guy was aiming at a hare, when he heard the scream.
He frowned: it sounded like the voice of a girl, but why should a woman be so deep in the forest?
The saracen girl from Hood’s gang would never shriek like that.
Guy walked in the direction of the scream, and he saw the girl: she was a little peasant, probably wearing the clothes of an older brother, she was covered in mud from head to toe, and she was desperately crying, menaced by a wolf.
It was a female wolf, and Guy thought that probably she was protecting a nearby den hiding her cubs.
Guy shouted to scare the wolf, but the animal kept growling, and looked ready to attack, so he nocked an arrow, praying that his aim had actually improved after so much training.
He took a deep breath, held it, and released the arrow.
I missed. It’s too high.
He knew as soon as he released the rope, and he frantically grabbed another arrow, but he had no time to shoot it: the first arrow got lost in the leafs of a tree, and accidentally hit a hive that fell to the ground, near the wolf.
The bees began to sting the animal, and the wolf ran away, yelping.
The girl screamed in pain too, and Guy ran to reach her, and grabbed her wrist to drag her away.
They reached the glade where Guy had left his horse, and jumped into the river to get rid of the last bees that were following them.
When he was sure that the insects wouldn’t sting them anymore, he looked at the girl, expecting to find her in tears, but instead she was looking at him in wonder.
He frowned, surprised to see her ecstatic smile fixed on him.
Guy stood up, soaked with water, and he held a hand to her.
“Are you alright?” He asked, and the girl jumped to her feet, grabbing his hand and looking at him with reverence.
“Oh! That shot had been incredible! How did you know that there was a beehive in the tree?! I’ve never seen anything so awesome in my whole life! I was so afraid, but now that I saw how you saved me, I just know that the legends about you are true! Please, please don’t send me away, let me join your gang, and help my mother and my younger siblings! I beg you, Robin Hood!”
Guy stared at her, dumbfounded.
“You think I’m Robin Hood?” He asked, aghast.
“Who else could you be? I heard that Robin Hood never misses a shot, and I’d never seen a more perfect shot!”
Guy blushed, thinking that his shot had been a terrible one, he had aimed at the wolf.
“Well, I’m not.”
The girl seemed to deflate.
“You’re not Robin Hood? What can I do now?” She asked, dispirited.
Guy looked at her, his pride a little hurt.
“That doesn’t mean that I can’t help you. Hood is not the only hero in Nottingham, I’m a knight, tell me what happened, maybe I can do something.”
He walked out of the river, wringing his clothes, and the girl looked at him.
“You limp,” she pointed up.
“I’ve been injured a few months ago, but it doesn’t mean anything. Didn’t I save you from that wolf? What’s up?You find out that I’m not Robin Hood and then my shot isn’t ‘the most wonderful in the world’ anymore?”
The girl blushed, and she shook her head.
“No, Sir, forgive me. It was an incredible shot, really, even if the bees stung us as well. And I’m sure that you’ve been injured during a battle, doing something brave and heroic! Would you really help me?”
The girl was looking at him in admiration again, and Guy blushed, remembering that he had been trampled by his guards’ horses because of his carelessness. Not a very heroic way to be injured...
“For now I’ll take you to Knighton. We’re both drenched and it’s still too cold outside. Here, take this.” He gave her the blanket he had in the saddlebag, and the girl gladly accepted it. Guy smiled at her. “Better?”
The girl nodded, and thanked him, politely.
Guy helped her to climb on his horse, and she sat behind him, wrapping her arms to his waist.
He wondered who she was. That girl was wearing the clothes of a peasant boy, but she didn’t talk like one of the populace: she had the manners of a noble girl, even if she acted so boldly and cheeky.
In some way she reminded him of Hood when he was a child, but she didn’t look as arrogant and smug as his rival was.
The only certain thing was that she was in some trouble, and he knew that probably he was going to end up in troubles too, but he couldn’t deny that he had enjoyed seeing the admiration in her eyes.
Was this the reason that had driven Hood to become an outlaw? He was a hero for the people of Nottingham and people almost worshiped him.
It was the first time that Guy could have a taste of it, and he had to admit that it was a good feeling, almost intoxicating.
Is this why I’m helping her? To be a hero like Hood?
The girl let out a tired sigh, and Guy thought that she had to be scared and cold, and that if she was alone in the forest so early in the morning, something really bad must have happened to her.
“When we’re home, Marian will take care of you. I’ll tell Sebastian to warm a bath for you, we can eat something if you are hungry, I bet that you are, and then you can tell us what happened and we’ll try to find a solution.”
The girl tightened the hold around his waist, hiding her face against his back.
“Thank you, Sir,” she said in a low voice, and Guy understood that she was quietly weeping.
Poor girl. I wondered what happened to her, she’s just a child.
Suddenly, he realized that he didn’t care to look heroic like Hood, or to be praised. He just wanted to help that lost child because he wanted her to feel better, because it was the right thing to do.
He didn’t know that in that moment he was acting exactly as Robin Hood would if he was in his place.

Marian walked to the door, and glanced outside, as if she just wanted to look at the weather.
When she turned back, she met Allan’s grin.
The young man was sitting at the table in the main hall, and he was eating an apple.
“What?” Marian asked, annoyed by his mocking expression.
“Looking outside won’t make him come back faster, you know that, right? Really, Marian, you shouldn’t be worried for Giz.”
“I’m not worried,” she replied, miffed. “But why didn’t you go with him?!”
“Because he went hunting before the sun was up. Maybe you two undervalue sleep, but I don’t.”
“He could be in danger.”
“Robin promised that he won’t touch him, and Giz is wise enough to go alone only into the parts of the forest that are under the control of our gang. Other outlaws keep away from there, so the only risk for Giz is to shot himself with his own bow. But hey, if he has to practice, it’s better for everyone if he does that where he can’t hit anybody.”
Marian huffed.
“Stop that, Allan, he’s not that bad.”
Allan lifted an eyebrow.
“Seriously, Marian, he would never accept help from Robin, but you could give him a few lessons with the bow. He’d put aside his pride if he had the chance to spend more time alone with you.”
Marian blushed, outraged.
The young man looked out of the window with a grin.
“Oh, look, he’s back already. Probably he lost all his arrows.”
Marian rushed to the door and stepped outside, smiling. Allan followed her.
Marian’s smile faded when she saw that Guy’s clothes were wet, he had a few bee bites on his face, and above all he wasn’t alone.
Behind him, on the stallion, rode a young girl equally soaked and very upset. Her face and her hair were caked in mud, and the tears had traced cleaner stripes on her cheeks.
Marian was about to ask something, but Allan talked first.
“Hey Giz, weren't you hunting? Funny prey,” he said, sneering, then he looked better at the girl, suddenly worried. “You didn't shot her, did you?”
“Of course I didn’t!” Guy growled, unmounting, then he helped the girl to get down the horse too. “I found her in the forest, she wanted Hood’s help,” he explained.
“I can go and call Robin...” Allan began, but Guy interrupted him, angrily.
“Hood isn’t the only one who can help people, you know?”
Marian put a hand on Guy’s shoulder to calm him down, and she looked at Allan.
“Guy is right. There’s no need to call Robin, for now. First, we have to take care of her, make her warm, and feed her, then she can tell us what happened to her, and we can decide how to help.”
“Tell Sebastian to prepare a bath for her, and to prepare the guest’s room, then go to call Matilda, I want to be sure that she’s going to be fine,” Guy ordered.
“Tell Sebastian to prepare a bath for Guy too, in his room,” Marian said, then she turned to Guy, and caressed his cheek. “You must be freezing. Go inside and get warm, I’ll take care of her, don’t worry.”
Guy was more than happy to obey, and went into the manor, eager to take off his drenched clothes.
Marian put an arm around the girl’s waist, and she led her inside, talking to her in a sweet tone, to reassure and comfort her.

Matilda knocked lightly, before entering Guy’s room. The man had just finished taking his bath, and he was bare chested, with only his trousers on.
The healer glanced at him.
“I’m glad to see that jumping in a freezing cold river at winter didn’t damage you too much. Sit near the fire, sweetie, and I’ll tend to those bites. Next time, remember that using a beehive to scare a wolf isn’t a really good idea, you could have shot the wolf itself, instead of showing off with your bow.”
Guy sighed.
“I wasn’t showing off. I actually tried to hit the wolf, but I missed. The hive was an accident,” he admitted, and Matilda laughed heartily.
“That’s not what that child said! She keeps repeating that you must be a better shot than Robin Hood. You didn’t tell her that your shot was completely wrong, did you?”
Guy blushed a little.
“I may have omitted that. By the way, how is she?”
“She wasn’t damaged by your little adventure in the river, either. She’s a tiny girl, but she seems to be strong. She has a lot of spirit, that’s for sure! It’s clear that she’s scared, and upset for some reason, but she’s not dispirited at all. She keeps saying that she’s sure that you will help her and solve all her problems because you are ‘a heroic knight who protects people in need’ and that you saved her life.”
Guy gave her a shy smile.
“I just scared away that wolf. And not in a very dignified way, I must admit.”
“Oh, don’t underestimate yourself, love. You are a knight, and you proved that you can be heroic. I don’t know if you will be able to solve her problems, but if it’s something that Robin Hood could do, I’m sure that you will be able to manage it as well.” Matilda paused, with an amused grin. “But not using a bow, I’m afraid.”
“Very funny.”
Matilda finished treating a sting on his cheek, and she placed a little motherly kiss near it.
“Here, love. Forgive me if I had a little fun about your archery skills, dear. You did well, and that child is right to be so grateful.”
Guy got up, and took a clean shirt. He put it on, and he turned to smile at Matilda.
“I could never be mad at you. Not even when you call me ‘good boy’, like a dog.”
“Good boy,” she said, with a grin. “You’ll be surprised to see that child.”
“Under all that mud and those rags there was a very pretty girl. Marian gave her one of the dresses she used to wear when she was her age, and she looks very fine. I think she must be a noble, or at least from a rich family.”
Guy nodded.
“I thought that too.”
“Well, come to the hall when you’re dressed, the cook said that she is ready to serve a meal.”
Matilda went out of the room, and Guy chose a thick tunic. The bath warmed him, but it was still very cold outside, and jumping in the river hadn’t been pleasant at all.
When he was ready, he went out of the hall, taking his staff with him. In the past few weeks, his leg had kept improving, and he had regained most of his strength, but he still limped, and sometimes he felt pain. He didn’t actually need the staff to walk, but it was a help, and a relief when his leg hurt, and, after all, he could still use it as a very effective weapon, if needed.
Allan was sitting at the table in the hall, waiting to eat, and Sir Edward was there too, serious and a little worried after hearing about the girl, while Matilda was not there, but Guy could hear her voice coming from the kitchen.
Guy took a cup of wine from the table, and stood near the fireplace while he drank it, looking at the flames. After a while, he heard steps coming down the stairs, and Marian voice made him turn.
“Father, Guy, Allan, let me introduce you to our guest. Her name is...”
She was interrupted by the sound of something crashing to the floor, and she gave a questioning look at Guy, who had dropped his cup and was staring at the girl, pale as a ghost.
“No, it can’t be… Isabella!” He said, staring at the girl with a haunted look, and making a step back, only to find the wall. “No… No… pardonnez-moi, ma petite sœur...” He whispered, almost to himself.
The child widened her eyes in hearing that name, and, before Marian could stop her, she ran to the table, grabbed the meat knife and pointed it at Guy, trembling.
“Who are you?!” She cried. “How do you know that name?! Did he send you to get me?! But I won’t go back! I’d rather die before you can get me back to him!”
Marian, Sir Edward and Allan looked at her, astonished by her reaction, but above all by Guy’s behavior. The knight looked like he could faint, and he did nothing to defend himself. He just kept staring at her in horror, as if she was a demon who had came to take him to hell.
“Guy? Do you know her?” Marian asked, worried, but it was the girl who answered.
“I’ve never seen him! How can he know my mother’s name?”
“You’re Isabella’s child...” Guy said, in disbelief. “You look like her… I thought you were her ghost, coming to haunt me...”
The girl tightened her hold on the knife.
“How can you know maman, who are you?!”
When Guy didn’t answer, the girl looked at the others.
“Tell me his name, now. Tell me, or I will stab him.”
Marian didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t expect her reaction, and the girl was so upset that she could easily hurt Guy. The knight would have no problems in disarming her, but he looked to be unable to move, almost in shock.
It was Allan who talked first.
“Hey, kid, stop it now. I don’t know what Giz did to you, but killing him is not a good idea.”
“Tell me his name.” The girl repeated, incensed.
“Guy of Gisborne, his name is Guy of Gisborne, alright? Now stop with this madness and put away that knife!” Allan said, but his words seemed to enrage the girl even more.
“Guy of Gisborne? I thought he was dead! He’s evil! He’s the one who ruined my mother’s life. He ruined all of our lives as well! He would deserve to die! He should be dead!” She sobbed, the knife shaking in her hands.
Matilda grabbed her wrist, surprising her from behind and making her drop the blade.
“Enough with this nonsense!” She scolded. “I don’t know what’s going on, but menacing people with knives is never a good solution! Now calm down, sit here, and then explain us what’s going on.” Matilda dragged the weeping girl to a chair and pushed her into it, then she turned to Guy.
“Both of you.”
Guy shook his head, lost.
“I… I can’t...” He mumbled, then he fled, stumbling to reach the door.
Sir Edward had been too astonished to say anything, and even Marian and Allan were at a loss for words.
Matilda sighed, and looked at Marian, rolling her eyes, annoyed.
“What are you waiting for? Go, follow him, calm him down, and then force him to say the truth. And for Heaven’s sake, before going outside take a cloak for you and bring one to him, I’m not going to treat you if you catch a cold for sheer stupidity.”

Chapter Text

Marian struggled hard to find Guy outside. Her cloak, barely worn, moved to the wind, and followed the girl's movements. She was worried, and anxious to find him.
When she finally saw him, barely hidden from the trunk of a tree, he really looked like a wolf, like those depicted on the clasps of his old black jacket.
A wolf now looking for a den where to hide, a place to lick his wounds, to hide from hunters.
Leaning against the trunk, his head bowed, Guy seemed completely lost in his thoughts.
Marian thought of how different her feelings for him were now, inside her heart, and how now she didn’t see any sign of threat in him.
He was just scared. The terror of his own past.
Marian was uncertain for a moment.
Can I really help him to deal with his past every time it will come to knock at our door? I hope I’ll have the strength.
Then she thought of the warmth of Guy’s love for her, the strength of his arms when he embraced her, the sweetness of his kisses on her lips, and she walked to him.
Guy heard her coming, and he turned, frightened.
When he recognized her, he glanced at her with an expression of shame and embarrassment, and he lowered his face. But he remained there, and did nothing to avoid her.
Perhaps he was expecting her, and fearing that moment, her judgment.
Marian gave the cloak to Guy, smiling shyly.
"You really should cover yourself, Guy. Matilda was threatening us both, you and me, to lock us in our rooms forever if we don’t wear cloaks when we go out in the cold air. I'm afraid she is serious. Very."
Guy took the cloak out of Marian's hands, slowly.
His gaze was sad, but, now that she was much closer to him, she had a stronger impression that he was expecting a negative judgment from her. And she didn’t like it. Only to God would be the final judge on Guy's life, not her.
Guy wore the cloak in silence.
"Guy," Marian said, tenderly closing herself the cloak under his neck, "talk to me, Guy, who is the girl's mother? I know you've had other women... in your past... before me… I'm... I'm... I'm not jealous... and I... I know that your intentions are different now... but please, talk to me now. Help me understand."
Guy looked at Marian, surprised by her tender tone. But when she’d learn about that part of his past, he was sure that she would despise him.
It took a moment or two for him to realize the meaning of her words: Marian was asking if the girl’s mother was one of the woman he had in his past, she thought that the girl was his own daughter!
Guy blushed deeply when he thought that Marian could have every reason to suspect it. Maybe she had learned somehow of what happened with Annie and Seth, and she believed that it was his habit to get women pregnant and then run away from his responsibilities!
“It’s not what you think!” He blurted, looking at her, then he averted his eyes again. “I… I know what you could imagine… I did wrong in the past, but not…” He stopped to take a breath. “What happened with Isabella has nothing to do with that… I loved her, I swear that I loved her so much. I thought that I was doing the better thing for her, but now she says that I ruined her life...”
The second that Guy had pronounced a name, Isabella and the idea of another woman in Guy's heart had come to her mind, Marian realized she had told Guy that she wasn’t jealous of his past, but it wasn’t completely true.
He had had other women, of course, in his bed. But she had thought of meaningless relationships.
Sex, not love. Not Passion. Over the last few years, Guy had said constantly to be in love with her, and he wanted her. Above all.
What changed if Guy had just loved another before her?. But Marian now felt a subtle discomfort.
And she thought: What if one day he falls in love with another one? And what if this Isabella now came back to his life? A little girl could be more than enough of a motivation to bring together a man and woman who had once loved each other. 
Marian had long fought against her own feelings for Guy. Perhaps she was wrong to consider him as a man who would always be faithful to her.
Tentatively she said: "Isabella will understand, if you explain her, maybe he will forgive you, one day, you didn’t know about her, did you? The girl is very pretty. She looks like you, a little." She was observing him, waiting for a reaction from Guy. Whatever it was. For sure, and sadly, now Marian knew that she wasn’t the only woman Guy had been in love with.
Guy looked at her. Was it possible that Marian really understood him? That she believed that he did it for Isabella’s own good? And could Isabella forgive him if he talked to her?
For years he had tried to forget that he had a sister, to believe that she could be mad at him for selling her, but that she was well, in a rich house, living the life of a lady. He could live with the idea of her hating him, if he could think that he had saved her from the life of a beggar.
He glanced at Marian, hopeful.
“Will you help me? Maybe she’ll refuse to speak to me, but if you could help me explaining why I had to leave her, maybe she’ll listen...”
He paused for a moment, thinking of the young girl who he had saved in the forest.
My niece...
Guy hadn’t noticed the resemblance with Isabella, at first. The girl had been so upset, dirty and covered in mud, that he just hadn’t seen it. But later, after a bath, with a feminine dress, and her hair combed, the resemblance with his sister was striking, so much that he had believed that Isabella had died and that it was her ghost who had come to haunt him.
It had been a real shock for Guy, but now that he thought about it, maybe Marian was right, maybe the girl had some traits in common with him too.
He found himself smiling with pride: that child was spirited and brave, and he knew that he could easily grow very fond of her, that he could love her as he had loved her mother.
“Do you really think that she looks like me?” He asked, proud.
"Yes..." She said, slightly trembling now, feeling her jealousy growing. "Her hair, something in her face, the way she moves and stands. I think she looks like you. Don't be afraid,Guy, I will help you," she said, with a sigh, "only… this thing… what about us, Guy? I...thought that you loved me!" She nearly shouted. "Men, in the end they are all the same, they swear love and they leave… whatever the reason. I feel so stupid. Now that I am in… Oh,never mind Guy, if Isabella is who you really want, I'll help you. I owe you."
She felt tears coming to her eyes, and she only wanted to flee, now. She didn’t want Guy to see her tears.
Once again she had given her heart to the wrong person.
She turned her back to him and started to walk away.
I wish I've never fallen in love with you, Guy, she thought.
Guy looked at her for a moment, aghast.
He had expected her disapproval when she would find out that he had promised the hand of his sister to a stranger for money, but he hadn’t told her yet.
Marian was upset, hurt, mad at him, and he could swear he had seen tears in her eyes before she turned her back to him to walk away.
Why did she talk about his love for her, as if she doubted it?
She might despise him for what he did to his sister, but he would love her forever, until his heart would keep beating in his chest. How she could doubt his love?
She looked almost… jealous.
That’s when he realized that he didn’t remember if he had ever told her who Isabella was.
Guy limped after Marian, ignoring the pain in his leg for walking so fast without the staff, but at last he reached her, and he grabbed her arm, gently forcing her to turn.
It was as he suspected: her eyes were full of tears and of rage, and she tried to get free, to hide from him so he couldn’t see her crying.
The girl reacted instinctively, moving her other hand in an arc, and punching him on his face, right under his eye.
Guy fell to the ground, and Marian turned to run again, but, after the first shock, Guy was fast to react too.
“Marian, wait!” He cried. “Isabella is my sister!”
A sister.
Marian was in shock. She had punched him without thinking, but still, there was something wrong. Why the little girl was so angry at her uncle? She could have hurt him. Why?
"Your sister? You have a sister, Guy? What did you do to her, so wrong that your little niece wanted to kill you?"
Guy didn’t get up, he stood there, kneeling on the ground with his head bowed, like a condemned man waiting for the ax of the executioner.
He knew that he had to say the truth and that Marian wouldn’t like it at all.
“When she was thirteen I sold her to a man who wanted to marry her,” he said in a low tone, confessing to her something that he had tried to forget for so many years.
Marian sucked her breath. She was shocked and angry.
Did she really fall in love with a monster?
"You sold your sister? A little innocent girl like your niece? How could you do a thing like that? Did money was so important to you to sell your sister? How much? How much did you want to sell a poor, innocent soul?" She said, with a tone he never heard from her lips before.
“Does the price matter?” Guy asked without looking at her, still staring at the ground. “What would it change? For the choices that I had, I could have given her to him for free. But if it’s so important, it was a good price.”
"The life of your own sister did not matter to you at all, Guy? What kind of monster does that to his own sister? If the price wasn’t important, why the hell did you sell her?!" Marian now was openly crying, waiting for the last part of his horrible confession.
She wanted to punch his face again, but he was on his knees, seemingly ready to take even more blows from her. There was a reason, she thought, there should have been a reason. And she wanted to know everything, now.
“The other choice was to let her starve during the winter, to make her spend her life on the streets, begging for a piece of moldy bread, just to survive another day. This, if we were lucky. She was growing up, she was almost a woman, and it was everyday more difficult to protect her. When we asked for shelter in a barn, to spend the night in a warmer place, the peasants looked at her, they wanted her. I didn’t dare to sleep during those nights, because I was afraid that they would come to force themselves on her. I stood up all night, just to be sure that I wouldn’t fall asleep, and I looked at her, so innocent, forced to live like that. I knew that her innocence couldn’t last for long, not there, not in the streets of France. I was afraid that someday, a rogue stronger than the others would beat or kill me, and than he would take Isabella, and there was nothing that I could do about it.”
Guy shivered.
“When we met Thornton, he was a young English noble, heir of a rich enough family that he could guarantee her a good life. When he said that he wanted to marry Isabella, I asked him to wait, at least for a while, but he said that he could only take her to his home as his wife. He warned me: if his father knew that she was a penniless, half-french girl, he would forbid the wedding.”
Guy closed his eyes.
“She was going to lose her innocence, no matter what. I tried to give her a chance, at least.”
Marian couldn't believe what she was hearing.
It was horrible,and sad, but it was something that she had known to happen in other families, where poverty was too strong.
Guy had a reason. But something had gone wrong, if his sister still hated him so much after so many years.
She fell on her knees too, reaching to him. She put her hand under his chin, forcing him to look at her.
"You have done a terrible thing, Guy. Yes, it’s true. She was too young, too weak to be a wife, to stand for the things she needed. But I can, somehow, understand. You loved her, you didn’t know what to do with her. You were scared. But why didn't you check out for her in all those years? You really didn’t want to see her again? You really didn’t want to know what happened to her in her marriage...? You have to ask for her forgiveness, now. You really have to. I will help you, Guy. Something had gone terribly wrong in her marriage, I think. The girl could tell us what kind of marriage is theirs. But… Guy… why were you alone with her in the streets of France, begging in the streets? There is so much of you that I don't know…"
“I guess that Hood never told you about it, when you were betrothed.” Guy said, bitterly. “It would have spoiled his perfection.”
Marian looked at him without understanding, and Guy sighed. It was useless to talk about the bad blood between them, now.
“When I was fourteen, and Isabella ten years old, our parents died and we were banished from our father’s lands. Nobody helped us, nobody stood for us, and we had no choice than going back to France, to search for our mother’s relatives. I was just a boy, a boy from a noble family, but I accepted every kind of work to feed Isabella and to pay for our travel to France. It took a lot to get there, but we had the hope to find a home again...”
“What happened?” Marian had still her hand under his chin, and she moved it to Guy’s cheek, to dry a tear with her thumb. He inhaled sharply, trying to hold more tears from falling.
“They didn’t want us. They never approved our mother’s wedding with an English man.Maman never told us, but I learned about it that day: when she married father, her parents disowned her. When we knocked at their door, they called us ‘Anglais bâtards’, English bastards, and they set the dogs on us to drive us away.”
"My God," she said, "I didn’t know, Guy, nobody told me. I am so very sorry. How could they leave two children, you both were so young, on the streets, alone, to fight for surviving? They were so unfair, in England and in France, to you. Someone had to stand for you, to help you! So this is why you joined that devil's service, Guy? You wanted the money and the position you had lost?"
Her hand left his face and touched his chest, right where the heart of the black knight was.
She caressed the spot tenderly.
"How much rage did you have in your heart, Guy? How much rage do you still have, here? Let me… kiss, some of it away." She whispered the last words.
And she put her lips on his lips, engaging him in a long, tender kiss.
Guy kissed her with all his passion and longing.
He finally winced from the pain under his eye. She looked at it. A large purple circle was blossoming there.
"You really hurt me, do you know?" said Guy.
"You deserved it. Still, I'm sorry for it, I lost my temper," Marian said.
"I deserve many more of your punches for what I have done. Still, they hurts. You are one hell of a fighter, woman." he replied.
"Come, now, let's go home. I'll talk to the girl before you, she is scared of you now, I will help both of you."
She helped Guy rise to his feet.
"But remember, Guy, never..."
"Never what, Marian?" he asked, caressing her hair.
"Never play with my… jealousy, Guy. I don't like to be jealous. You said that I considered Robin perfect… Well, he wasn't. There was always some other girl running around him, chasing him. And he smiled at this, he liked those attentions. Older, smarter, bolder, the girls were around him. I suffered for it when I was engaged to him, he didn’t know how much. I don't want this from you, Guy, because..." she put her hand on his, stilling his on her hair.
Marian hesitated, and Guy looked at her, still unable to believe that she wasn’t as mad at him as he had feared. She didn’t approve what he did to Isabella, of course, but she didn’t condemn him.
Instead, she offered help and comfort to him, warming his cold soul with her tender heart.
And now she was talking of jealousy, she was saying that Robin had made her suffer, and that she expected him to be better than him. She took his hand from her hair and drove it on her own heart, and he could feel the tenderness of her breast under his fingers, sensing her quick heartbeat, but in that moment it wasn’t physical desire that drove him, but the love he had for her.
He looked in her eyes, and Marian thought that for once she couldn’t see any shadow in his gaze, just love, a warm, immense, sincere love.
“Marian, you have no reason to be jealous of me because I’m yours, heart, body and mind. I am not interested in other girls, you are the only one I love and cherish, the only one. How could I want the light of a candle after I’ve seen the brightness of a star? It doesn’t matter what do you feel for me, if you love me or not, because you are the guiding light who brightens my path and I will always follow you, and only you, till the day of my death.”
Marian felt big salty tears falling from her eyes, but Guy's loving stare prevented her from escaping, from hiding her tears. She had no more excuses, and no more doubts. Her life was his, too, their path of life, joined. Their passion was growing, fast and burning. She wanted him, in her life, forever. She was like his sister, she had to marry a man she didn't love or like, a stranger to her. But then, things happened between them and they changed him, revealing a different man behind the mask, inside his heart. A man capable of compassion and love. And now he was the man she loved.
"Then I'm lucky. Because I am loved by the man I love. I love you, Guy. With all my heart. Stay with me, Guy, I will be at your side till my death."

Allan looked at the door of the manor, worried.
Matilda and Sir Edward had barely succeeded in calming the girl a little, so she wasn’t menacing to kill Guy anymore, but she was still weeping and sniveling, really upset.
Marian, instead, went to search for Gisborne and didn’t come back yet.
He was beginning to worry: he knew the man well enough to know that, when he was so emotional, he could be totally unpredictable. Allan hoped that he didn’t do anything foolish, and that Marian could find and calm him.
“Hey, do you think I should go and check on those two?” He asked, and Sir Edward nodded, with a sigh. Matilda was quietly talking to the girl, but the old man looked uncomfortable and was worried for his daughter.
“Yes, Allan, please tell them to come back inside and we’ll eat a meal together.”
The young man walked out of the door, hoping that they didn’t go too far and that the situation wouldn’t be too grim.
He stopped just out of the door.
Guy and Marian weren’t far, but at the same time they were lost in their own world, miles and miles away from everything else. Allan looked at them kissing, and he wondered about how much time they could go on without breathing.
He went back inside with a grin on his face.
“I think that we could start eating even without them. I dare to say that they won’t mind.”

Chapter Text

Guy and Marian came back into the house when the others had almost finished their meal. Matilda gave an inquiring look at them, and smiled to herself: they both looked flushed and emotional, but their eyes were shining with a secret joy.
It seems that she made a choice at last. Poor Robin, but I’m happy for Guy.
The knight shyly glanced at the little girl who he had found in the forest, and Matilda thought that he looked ashamed and worried, while Marian took his hand and gently squeezed it, as if she wanted to encourage him.
The child was startled when they came back, and jumped to her feet to run away, but Matilda put a hand on her shoulder to stop her.
“I understood that he wronged you and your family, it’s the sort of things that his donkey’s crap headed self used to do in the past, but he’s changed, I can swear it to you. At least listen to him, and then you’ll decide what you want to do.”
Guy looked gratefully at her.
“Thank you, Matilda.”
“Don’t thank me, but tell us what you did to this poor child. She said that you condemned her mother to live in hell.”
Guy paled.
“Is it so bad?” He asked to the child, and the girl walked to him, scared, but decided.
“How can you ask that? You must have known who he was! You sold your own sister to that devil, and she wasn’t older than me!”
Guy shook his head, sadly.
“I didn’t know him at all. He said that he would take care of her, and he offered me the money I needed to become a knight. I didn’t know him, but he was young, rich and good looking enough. I actually believed that it was the best chance Isabella could have in her life…”
The girl pointed a finger to his chest.
“The best chance?! Being beaten and menaced every day of her life looks like a ‘best chance’ to you?! My father is cruel, he’s a monster! I heard her crying at night, when she thought that we couldn’t hear her, and when she talks about you, not often I’d say, she always says that you should have put a dagger through her heart, instead.”
Guy staggered, in shock, as if the girl had hit him, and Marian glanced at him, worried.
Then the knight let Marian’s hand go, and knelt in front of the girl, taking her hand and looking at her.
“I see, now. I have no excuses for what I did, and only now I realize how much I wronged Isabella. I was young, stupid and scared, full of resentment and rage, and I wanted to believe to Thornton’s words. I wanted that responsibility lifted from my shoulders, I wanted to be free to conquer again the lands that were mine, and not to worry every moment of my life, wondering if I were able to keep my little sister alive and safe...”
The girl looked at him, surprised to see tears in his eyes. Her mother used to say that her brother Guy was a heartless monster, but now that man, a knight, was kneeling in front of her, weeping, and humbly asking for her forgiveness. She hesitated, but she answered in a cold voice.
“Maybe she was alive, but she’d never been safe. Not if my father was around.”
“You were searching for Robin Hood so he could help Isabella, weren’t you? I’m not him, but I swear that I’ll do anything I can to make up for what I did to her. You will have my help, whatever the cost.” Guy unsheathed his sword, and laid it at her feet. “My life is at your service until Isabella will be safe or I’ll be dead. This is my pledge to you, and to my sister.”
The girl looked at him, impressed, not sure of what to do. She didn’t know her uncle at all, but she had the impression that he wasn’t lying, and she found herself desperately wanting to believe him.
She bent to pick up his sword, holding it with both hands: it was a big weapon, not as heavy as she had imagined, but lethal and dangerous looking.
Maybe he can really save maman.
She handed the sword back to Guy.
“I accept your pledge,” she said, “but you will have to earn my trust. Now please rise, uncle Guy.”
Guy nodded, and he stood up, sheathing his sword.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice choked, then he stifled a sob. “You are my niece, and I don’t even know your name!”
The girl looked at him, a little softened in seeing a grown man so moved and repented. She looked better at his face, and she found a resemblance with her mother, especially when he was so upset.
They have the same way of crying.
Unexpectedly, probably because he resembled her mother so much, she felt the instinct of soothing his sorrow. When she answered, her tone was gentler.
“My name is Guinevere, but people call me Gwen.”
“Guinevere...” Guy smiled, sweetly. “I should have guessed… Isabella loved those stories.
Maman used to tell them to us when we were little, and she always said that one day she would marry a brave knight, or a king...” His voice broke, remembering that instead she had married a cruel man, and that it was his fault.
Matilda came to his rescue.
“I can guarantee that he will keep his word or I’ll make sure to knock that silly head of his. But he won’t disappoint you, he’s a good boy now that he had learned to swallow some of his pride and to admit his errors.”
Guy blushed.
“Matilda, please!”
The woman chuckled and she patted his cheek, motherly.
“Those were good apologies, my boy. Now sit and eat something, we already had a meal, but you and Marian must be starving.”
Guy obeyed, and Matilda turned to Gwen.
“Please, child, sit with them too. It’s time that you and your uncle get to know each other.”

“That stupid little girl! She resembles you in everything, especially in your common stupidity!” Thornton shouted, pushing away Isabella, who clung to him in an attempt to convince him not to resume the journey.
Nottingham was near now. Very near, less than a day of travel, nothing more, and he would have all the money, the position and the prestige that his old companion, Alexander of Shewsbury had promised him.
He smoothed his fine, refined clothes, as if to cleanse them from the unwelcome contact with his wife, who kept insisting, lost between anger, fear and pain and sorrow, that they could not leave the place without little Gwen.
“Please, she must have just gone away for a moment, maybe she lost her way, we have to search for her, we can’t leave her here,” Isabella said, in tears, her hands clasped in a silent, desperate prayer.
"We can’t, wife? I think, I decide. That empty head of yours doesn't have to think. You, Isabella don’t have to decide anything at all, you just have to please me, your lawful husband. Now, bring me a cup of cool water. Right now, Isabella!" Thornton shouted.
Everyone looked at her, someone openly, someone less openly. Pity and amusement in their eyes.
Another humiliation, in public, for her. One of the many, too many. The more years they spent together, in their unhappy and indissoluble bond, the more he was humiliating her in public.
At first, humiliations were private. Something between them. Something she could hide and he didn’t want to show.
At the beginning of their wretched marriage he had been haughty, and demanding, but not completely bad. But he didn’t care for her, and never showed her affection.
She had nice clothes, but every time he gave her new, shiny clothes, he said it was because he didn’t want her to disfigure him when they came out in public. He liked to show her around to his friends.
His beautiful and young wife, so different from the young British ladies from the countryside, more refined, more intelligent, more lively.
Isabella wasn’t happy, but she had hoped that when she’d have children, things would settle between them, and she would finally be really appreciated from him.
She would have someone to love, someone who would love her, their children. She wanted them so much. And Thornton kept asking her for a boy.
Before the birth of the male heir, three daughters were born.
One after the other, females. Beautiful, tender, lively little girls. Her blood, her hope for the future.
Isabella loved them.
She was happy, every time she was pregnant, waiting for a new life to come, to love and care for. Her family grew larger.
Her house was filled with colors and sounds. But Isabella was also worried about not being able to conceive a son.
What Thornton wanted, and that never came, year after year. Instead of cementing an already difficult union between husband and wife, the three little girls, their presence, their games and their crying, had made life at home more difficult.
From her husband, every time she gave birth, words full of disappointment and anger. Thornton constantly told her that she was not able to give him a son, a real son, a son. She was "half french", "half woman", "half wife".
Half of anything, in his opinion, loudly spoken, shouted.
He barely talked to her every time he saw a newborn daughter, until his anger decreased.
When their third daughter, Viviane, was born, Thornton did not speak for weeks.
They had given up hope when Isabella had been pregnant for the fourth time.
When his son was shown to Thornton, for a moment, every pain, every disappointment, seemed gone.
But that moment had lasted little, and too much time had passed in mutual misunderstanding. Too many years.
So, with Roland still a little baby Thornton had begun to deal with his wife with significant and growing discomfort.
But then, after the birth of the first male son, the much-hoped heir, he had begun to deal with her with significant and growing discomfort. In a few months he began to be aggressive.
At first with words, then with threats, and finally with gestures.
And from the first time he'd given her a slap, he never stopped. He had crossed a border from which he had never returned.
He liked to see her begging for mercy, letting him do anything he wanted, just to obtain his forgiveness. This excited him, more than her beauty, which had become now just habit and boredom.
Then he began to become aggressive with their children, to punish them, hardly, for anything, and she had begun to suffer more abuses from him to save them from him.
But Isabella knew, felt in her bones, that her husband no longer needed her. The children were born, one after the other, beautiful and gentle little boys and girls and she knew that in her heart her husband hoped that she would die of childbirth or some deadly illness.
Despite this, in bed he still looked for her, because she gave him something that no other woman would give him, and that he wanted. Their relationship in their room had passed from restless passion to oppression. To struggle, to dominance.
She quickly brought the water to him, handing it to him with extreme kindness, invoking his help with his eyes. He took the pewter goblet with a studied gesture, drank, then he threw it away. The chalice struck the ground with a dull sound.
"Not quite cool. I said cool. Have you become deaf, Isabella?" The woman lowered her eyes to the ground. “Look for her! Find her yourself! Your task. The daughter is yours. For me, that stupid girl, it 's just one more mouth to feed, clothes to buy, a rich husband to find. But if she is not here within an hour, we leave anyway. Our friends in Nottingham can’t wait for us. They are waiting for me. I can leave you and your children here without protection and without food, and I will, if you don't leave this place with me. I can and I will. You're much older now, my dearest wife, but you should remember well how to survive in the world without food and without protection. You could teach it to your children,” Thornton said, venomously. He put his hand under her chin, threateningly.
"My husband, but they are also your children..." Isabella tried to intercede, to take time, hoping her daughter would suddenly reappear.
"Oh no, they are your children now, they are rebellious and insolent like you are. Useless as you are. My true children obey me, my true children fear me, they are the way they should be, and if they are not, now, because you spoiled them, they will be. Now go, Isabella. Seek her, find her. In an hour we leave." Thornton concluded, and gave his back to his wife.
While Isabella was running around, increasingly troubled, looking everywhere for her daughter, calling her with a crescently distressed tone, she felt him laugh and say: “A good beating, and you will see that she won’t try it again!”
But Isabella searched everywhere, and couldn’t find her. After an hour, the husband approached the best carriage, looking at Isabella, and she appeared shocked and terrified.
"Get the boys and the girls in the other carriage, now, and stay with them, and, for God's sake find a way to make yourself presentable again, I don’t want to give a bad impression in Nottingham because of your neglect. Guinevere will reach us in Nottingham, she knows where we are going. A day or two on the road will make her finally docile and obedient, and... as soon as I put my hands on her..."
Thornton got into the carriage and locked himself in, leaving Isabella and the children to make do with the second carriage. In silence, still looking around, hoping for a miracle, in a change of heart of her daughter, she brought the children into the carriage.

“Just arrived here at the castle, the Thorntons, and there are already problems and mishaps, Alexander, huh? Don't think that I waste the wages of my men to find a girl of thirteen across the county!” Vaisey said, clearly bored with the situation.
Within a few hours the castle had been literally invaded by Thornton, with all his pride and contempt, his agitated, worried, wife Isabella, the presumed sister of Gisborne, and a nest of annoying, noisy, wailing children. And when they were not crying, the older ones tried to slip everywhere, curious about a much bigger place compared to their home.
Not that Thornton lacked to discipline them. Looking at the numerous and remarkable marks on their arms, and sometimes on their faces, Vaisey had the impression that the man knew how to regulate his accounts with his children, and especially with his wife.
But ultimately, men so menacing and violent with a woman and children were almost always incapable of real fighting against other men. Thornton was therefore a useless man in Vaisey's eyes, and he was easily attracted to Nottingham.
Apparently, Thornton was used to spend far more than their income. The beauty and wealth of Thornton and Isabella's clothes didn’t equally represent economic stability from their lands. It was too much.
Not that Vaisey cared about them. It was just an excuse to get the woman there, and to use her against Gisborne to his liking.
A desperate Isabella had begun to ask for their help the moment they arrived in Nottingham. A little girl, they had lost a little girl. Within an hour Vaisey had come to see the pathetic scene of a woman on her knees asking, begging for help, crying, desperate to get help, men, horses, to find her daughter, while her husband was only talking about exemplary punishment on her return, while he did absolutely nothing to find her.
In any case, it was a huge boring hassle for Vaisey.
"It's up to you, Shrewsbury, with your men, to find the tiny, tender, lost sheep, my men remain here at the castle, they are needed a lot more here, by me," the sheriff said ironically, and he left the room, leaving Alexander to solve the problem.

An entire day now had passed without news of her child. And she had never spent a whole day without her. Ever since she was born. Without seeing her smile, so similar to her, without seeing that attitude of being a little woman. So like her in appearance, in ways, more than her other children.
Isabella looked out of the castle. She had come so high, climbing stairs, after stairs.
And now that with her gaze she could see the vastness of the County and the forests, her idea of seeing her, searching her, from up there was evident for what it was: an illusion.
Her little, naive, brave Gwen. All alone, in an unknown world, by day and by night, without a bed, without the things she loved mosts, without her brothers and sisters. Without her, her mother.
She felt desperate.
Perhaps it was a curse, that was repeated from mother to daughter. She had also been a single, lost child, without a bed, without bread, cold, with just a cloak to protect her from the cold. Lost in the world, with no one helping her.
Tears fell on her face. As she remembered her childhood, many years ago, in the streets of the world, from country to country, on the land and on the sea, in England and in France, sleeping in the most improvised places, eating whatever was found, asking for money on the streets, trembling from the cold, Isabella trembled too, thinking of her lost child.
She had buried that past behind her, focusing on her so long-waited and beloved children, her unhappy wife's life. But now, her daughter's sudden escape had put her back in the years.
Her most secret memories.
She didn’t want to return to Nottingham County, those lands had brought her only pain, and shame, and fear. She had tried to oppose her husband, in his absurd decision, but she only had the usual slaps, and the usual insults, the usual threats from him. She had given up, as always, for the sake of her children.
And now her little girl had fled, alone.
Maybe she'll have more luck than me. Maybe she'll find someone who will help. Maybe she will be free, as I am not. How could I leave my children alone to be finally free from my husband?
Alone. Free. Isabella realized that she was never really alone or free in her life. She had been into the tender arms of her mother, then into her brother's protective arms,and then in a few painful, scary days, she had been left from him into her husband's rough and hasty arms.
Her brother. Her brother sold her to Thornton, to become a knight, right when she was becoming a woman.
Maybe he was waiting for that, to obtain a better price for her purity.
Isabella had told many legends to Guinevere, her little, sweet Gwen, but in no one of them a boy sold his sister to buy horse, armor, and become a knight. The knights she had described to her daughter were beautiful, strong and courageous, always ready to save a young lady. Not to sell her.
Isabella closed her hands to fists, instinctively.
She had spent years without thinking of him, that brother, older than her, apparently so mature, and strong, and gentle, and tender, so taciturn and so present in her life, in those years of wandering.
She had slept so often embracing him, snuggled close to his warmth, and in the morning she often saw him more tired, dividing with her any little breakfast he had earned, working between a barn and another, between a field and another, from stable to stable.
He had told her stories: in France they surely would help them, they would return home, to a warm place, with beds and pillows, and tables to have their breakfast. And lovely clothes. And people who would love them, and help them.
Nothing of what he had told her had come true.
They were and remained alone. But he was there, for her, and she never felt lost.
Then, one day, her brother had begun to barely speak to her, to look at her uneasily, to sleep far away from her, to no longer answer her questions.
Very often he let himself to be involved in fights, sometimes he took her and ran away suddenly, without explanation and without even the little money he had earned.
And he was angry with her, but she wondered why. Getting just a hostile silence.
No more jokes, no more tenderness between them. No more attentions to her from him.
She didn’t know what she had done, what she had done wrong, so much he had changed his way to her. She must have done something very wrong, but she didn’t know what it was. She couldn't remember what it was.
But he had changed. He never left her alone then, not even to work, and at the same time he was elusive, as if he no longer wanted to be with her. He scolded her continually after having pampered her for years.
He no longer said ‘we will live together’ but ‘you will be fine’, ‘you will survive’. But he didn’t almost speak to her anymore.
She tried to be kind and cute to make him smile, her brother had a pretty smile she had almost forgotten, but nothing seemed to interest him. Neither her tears nor her smiles. He had other plans, and they didn’t take her into account.
Until the day he took her to the man's house, Thornton, who became her husband and her jailer.
So cowardly, without giving her an explanation, and leaving her there, with few words and without any defense. He hadn’t even seen her wearing the wedding dress, the coward, the day of her marriage.
Isabella hoped that Guy Crispin. his brother, was dead, pierced by the spear of some other knight hungry for money and power as he was.
She left, and found the way for her chamber, to change the dress for the dinner in the hall.

Thornton saw her coming to the great , dark hall for dinner. Perfectly dressed, her hair combed, but with a tired and afflicted air on her face. He looked at her, silenly threatening her, and Isabella changed instantly her attitude, her face seemed to lighten, she sat with natural grace, not studied, and she smiled, as if nothing had happened. The conversation flowed naturally at the table.
Watching her behavior now, Thornton wouldn’t have said that he had collected her, literally bought her, for a sum of money, on the street.
So much money, but he liked her, and he wanted her for himself, and immediately. She was miserable, poor, but beautiful, pure, naive, dignitous, proud, and so stupidly attached to that brother, equally miserable and proud.
She was manipulable. Both of them were, brother and sister.
Who knew what had become of him, that brother, that boy so desperate and stupid.
Who knew what kind of man he had become.
He wanted to become a knight. Thornton was convinced that with all his desire for reward and pride, he wouldn’t make so far away. He turned from his wife to face, with a friendly smile, the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Chapter Text

Gwen yawned. She had been up all night, to run away from her father’s camp, and then she had met her uncle, of all the men in the County. All those emotions, and the effort of running, made her exhausted.
“You should get some sleep, child,” Matilda said, with a kind smile.
“The guest room is ready,” Marian added.
The girl glanced at them, and at Guy.
“Can I really trust you? Won’t you send me back to my father? I’d rather die than go back to him.”
“He won’t hurt you anymore,” Guy said, “I won’t allow that.”
“What will you do if he comes and wants to take me to the castle? The Sheriff’s soldiers are with him...”
Everyone looked at her, wondering what Vaisey was plotting now, but it was Sir Edward who answered.
“For now, he can’t know that you are here, yet, so you can sleep peacefully. Later we’ll have to decide what to do, but if Sir Guy said that he will protect you, you can trust his word.”
Guy smiled at the old man, grateful for his trust.
Guinevere relented. She was really tired, and, above all, she wished with all her heart that their words were true, she longed so much to feel safe, at least for once in her life.
She nodded, and she stood up to follow Susanne to her room, but first she stopped in front of Guy.
“Uncle, you have a lot to make up for what you did to my mother. You can begin teaching me how to fight. I want to learn to use a sword, and you have to show me how can you shot so perfectly with a bow.”
Allan snicker was immediately stopped by Guy’s glare, then Gisborne looked at the girl, a little concerned.
“I will protect you, you don’t need to use weapons...”
“Why? Because I’m a girl?!” She answered, fiercely, despite her exhaustion. “No uncle, if I learned something in my life is that it’s always good to be able to defend myself, even if I have nobody to support me. If maman knew how to fight, maybe my father wouldn’t have hurt her so much during all these years. You will teach me.”
Gwen followed the servant out of the hall, and Allan looked at Marian with a smirk.
“Are you sure that she’s Giz’s relative and not yours? She talks like you. And it seems that she can wrap Giz around her finger as well.”
Both Marian and Guy gave a warning glare at Allan, but it was Sir Edward who spoke next, grave.
“What will you do, Sir Guy? Her parents will want her back.”
“I promised that she wouldn’t go back to a father who beats her. I will keep that promise. I know that I’m putting you in a difficult situation, but if things go wrong, I’ll take her away, so that the wrath of the Sheriff won’t fall on Knighton.”
Marian looked at him, alarmed.
“No, Guy! I don’t want you to go away!” She blurted, blushing when she realized that she just gave away her feelings for the knight.
Guy looked pained.
“I don’t want to leave, but I have to make up for my wrongdoings. You always said that I have to make the right thing… But if I have to go, I swear that I will come back to you.”
Sir Edward cleared his voice.
“Don’t be hasty in your decisions, Sir Guy. Maybe we can find a peaceful solution. After all you’re the uncle of the girl, maybe her parents will agree to let her stay with you for a visit. And if not, we’ll have gained some more time to take a decision.”
“Do you think I should go to Nottingham and speak with them?” Guy asked, worried at the idea of seeing Isabella after so many years.
“I do. So they can’t accuse you of kidnapping her.”
“Go there with Allan,” Matilda added. “If they won’t hear any reasons, Allan can come back and warn us and I’ll take her to my hut in the forest. She’ll be safe, nobody will think to search for that child there.”
“Would you do this for us? What if they find out?!”
Matilda patted him on the cheek.
“There’s no reason to worry, now. We can’t know what’s going to happen, maybe everything will go well and they’ll let her stay here with no fuss at all. When problems will show up, we’ll sort them out. Together.”
“Thank you,” Guy said, deeply moved.
“That’s what family is for, love. And despite blood ties, you’re family to me. But now forget about all this mawkish stuff and go out to ride for a while, or to take a walk. You need to calm down, and to take your time to think about this situation. And this is an order from your healer. Go.”
Guy stood up, and he gave her a little kiss on her cheek, grateful.
“I must obey, then,” he said, amused, and he walked out of the hall.
Marian stared at the door, longing to go with him, but she didn’t move, thinking that Guy needed to be alone. When she turned back to look at the others, she met Matilda’s ironic stare.
“What are you waiting for? Go. Reach him.”
“I told him to relax and calm down, not that he needed to be alone. From what I saw, I think that you know perfectly well how to take his mind out of his problems.”
Allan burst up into a laugh and Marian blushed, but she hurried to run after Guy.
She reached him in the stables. The knight was there, saddling his horse with a grave look in his eyes. He turned in hearing her steps.
The girl walked to him, and she stared at his face.
“I know that Matilda said not to think about it, but I have to say this. If you have to go away...”
“I will come back. It’s a promise. Whatever it takes, I’ll come back.”
“I won’t wait.”
Guy looked at her, hurt.
“Do you doubt my words?”
“I waited for five years for Robin to come back from the Holy Land and I won’t do it again. It’s a horrible sensation, as if you’re stuck and you can’t go on with your life. I waited, not knowing if the man I loved was dead or alive, if his feelings for me were still strong or if he was seeing other women...”
“I would never betray you!” Guy burst out, and Marian put a finger on his lips.
“I know. Still, I couldn’t bear it. I won’t wait for you if you have to go away...”
Guy hung his head, sadly.
“I see...”
Marian put a hand on his cheek and forced him to look at her.
“That’s why, if you have to go, I’ll come with you.”
Guy’s eyes widened in surprise.
“I’m the Nightwatchman, Guy, I won’t be a burden to you. If you need to take your niece away from Nottingham, we’ll leave together. We can get married before we go, or during our travel, if you want, or not at all, but you are not leaving me behind, just like I won’t leave you alone.”
“Really? Are you sure of this? Your father...”
“He won’t be alone. Our servants are faithful and Robin won’t let anything bad happen to him. I love you, Guy. My place is at your side and there’s nothing you can do about this.”
Guy kissed her, passionately.
“Oh, I know, nothing could make you change your mind. And besides there’s nothing I’d want to do against your plan,” he whispered after a while, his lips close to hers, smiling. “Maybe we are fools, but I want you at my side.”
Marian hugged him tight, and she gave him another playful kiss, laughing.
“Then we have an agreement! Shall we obey Matilda’s orders and go for our ride, now?”
“There’s just another thing,” Guy said, blushing a little.
“Guinevere expects me to teach her some archery… I’m a terrible shot, yet she thinks that I’m better than Hood.”
Marian smiled.
“And you don’t want to disappoint her.”
Guy nodded, and the girl thought that it was sweet to see him so worried to conquer the approval of his niece.
“I don’t think that I can teach you to shoot better than Robin, but I could give you a few lessons.”
“Would you do this for me?”
“Of course I would. Now let’s go, you’re so terrible that we must start immediately.”
Guy laughed.
“Woman, you have no respect for my pride!”
“Can your pride make you shoot better?” She asked, getting on her horse.
Guy did the same, and he let out a resigned sigh.
“Guess not.”
“Let it aside, then, and follow me: we’ll start training as soon as we reach an isolated field where you can’t kill anybody.”

Looking at her, so perfectly concentrate on her task, so beautiful, and armonious in her movements and in her sweet features, it was very, very, difficult for him to find his own concentration.
After all, she had just proposed him to flee together, in case of danger.
She really loves me, then, he thought, I've never thought I would be so happy, I dreamt of it, hoped for it, but never really thought it to be possible.And now she is here, smiling at me, caring for me, loving me. I...
“Guy! Your turn! Come on now!” She said, putting an end to his reflection, more a daydreaming, truly.
Guy tried to stand in a good position for the next shot. He looked at the target, and slightly trembled on his feet, and arms. Something that never happened him with a sword in hand. He looked and looked again, uncertain. At the very last moment, he released the arrow, but completely missed the target.
“You see? I'm the world's worst archer. Ever.” Guy said, resigned.
“No, my love. Only the must uncomfortable of the archers. First of all...” Marian said, but Guy was looking at her with an astonished and tender gaze now.
“How did you call me?” He asked, overwhelmed by his emotion.
“Is that so important, Guy?” She said, a mischievous smile on her lips.
“It is for me,” he said, and he was so concentrated on hearing her answer that she felt overwhelmed too, now.
Marian tried to put it lightly. “Mathilda always calls you love. On a daily basis. I think I'm in my right if I call you in the same way. Am I not?”
“It's different,” he said, and he was very serious, now.
“You don't want me to do it?” She said, smiling tenderly.
He reached her.
“Oh yes, I really want you to call me love. Every day, every night, love.”
“You know, Guy, sometimes we will disagree, and argue, maybe fight,” Marian said,looking deeply into his beautiful, tender stare.
“Uhm...yes, it could be...” he said, reproaching her gaze, looking deep inside her beautiful, bright eyes.
“In those moments, Guy, I will not call you love...”
“Yes. I know,” he said.
“I probably will call you with a lot of different names, some of them not exactly pleasant. Maybe, a lot of them...”
“I remember,” he said, his brows frowning at the memory of their big fight.
“And you think you'll be alright with it?” She asked.
He put his hands on her waist, gently pulling her to him.
“Then I'll find the way to make you call me love again.”
He engaged her in a sweet kiss.
She added, then: “Guy, I will be not so easily placated, you know.”
He sensually whispered in her right ear.
“I know, I know you. Then I will try harder,” and he kissed her again, more passionately. She eagerly responded.
“You think that everything can be settled again with a kiss, with passion?” She asked, looking at him with curiosity.
“I cannot dream of a better way than this, my love,” his eyes on her were dreamily, now.
“Just apologize, in case,” she said, breaking his reverie.
He laughed, rich and true, and he was really fascinating. He was so beautiful to her eyes now, so lovingly. She could not believe now how long and difficult had been their road to this new step of their relationship.
“I will apologize, my love. I will, and I promise to... possibly between kisses. That's the only thing I ask of you: give me a possibility, when you think I'm wrong,” he said, and he meant it.
“It seems that passion is so important for you, Guy.”
“Is it not important for you, Marian? You are a passionate woman, always, in everything. So am I.”
“Yes, I am, I think. I've never thought about it, truly. But, passion, Guy, is that the most important thing in a marriage, for you?” She asked.
“That was not the thing I wanted from you when I asked permission to your father to court you.”
“Really? Than what was it, Guy?” She expected him to talk of wealth and heritage, again.
“Understanding,” he said, very serious and visibly true.
“What?” Marian said, astonished.
Understanding, in a marriage, is the most important thing. I wanted you to understand me. I wanted to be understood, and... secure of you. I wanted you to feel understood, and secure. Safe. Feeling me at your side, feeling you being at my side.”
Marian was now completely astonished.
“And do you understand me, Guy?”
“Yes, sometimes it had been difficult, of course. I suffered for it, but, I never gave up. I'll never give up, Marian. I'll never give up on you. Sometimes it will be still difficult, I know. People change, we will be different, but believe me when I said that I will always find the way, inside my heart, to understand you. To understand what you're feeling and the meaning of your actions. Because I love you,” he said, so concentrated and reverent, and it seemed to see him making his wows at the altar.
Then he added, with a lighter tone: “And... yes, my passion for you is very strong and important too.”
She silently caressed his right cheek, his words gave her a completely new and unexpected wiew of their feelings, and of their destiny, in the years to come.
“I could be very angry at you, now, you know?” Marian said, serious.
“Why? What did I do wrong?” He asked, worried.
“You could have been this way from the beginning, you know. Everything could have been so different between me and you,” she said.
“Still, I was on the wrong part, I was on the wrong path. I had committed crimes, heinous crimes, at Vaisey's service, for years. I knew it, I felt it inside my bones. My conscience ached for it, every night, every day. And I needed you. I knew that you, your purity of mind and heart could be my salvation. You are my salvation,” he said.
“Guy, I'm not ‘pure’ in the way I think, and in how I act. I was the Nightwatchman. You didn't know that of me, then,” she replied.
“Still you are ‘pure’ to me. Your conscience is clear, your intentions noble, even when you were fighting me as the Nightwatchman. You still were, and are, a much better person than I am. I had admired you, your strength and courage, your resistance, before I fell in love with you. You are my inspiration. You'll always be.”
She now was at loss for words. She hugged him with all her strenght, completely losing herself into his arms. She had never thought she could find this kind of love in a man. But now she would tresaure it, somehow, inside her heart.
“I was wrong with you, Marian. I was so very wrong to you in the past. I apologize, and I'm sorry for it. So very sorry. For all of it. I swear,” he said.
She looked into his eyes and found complete sincerity there.
“I forgive you, Guy.”
“I will be loyal, and faithful, to you, and only to you, and your family,” he added.
“And will you listen to me, Guy?” She asked.
“Yes, I will,” Guy replied.
“Good, listen to me now, my love, my beloved,” she said, “we really have to concentrate on our task now. Your niece, remember?”
“I will never...” he was so insecure again.
She put an hand on his lips, silencing him.
“You think too much, you wait too much. That's the problem with you. Archery is different from swordplay. You fear too much. You are tall. Archery is more difficult for tall people, less natural. Find an equilibrium on your feet. The moment you have it, just look, draw, release. The more arrows you shoot, and quickly, the more the people will be scared of you. Archery is speed, not only strength, it’s just letting yourself free, using the bow as your arm, as your hand.”
“Oh...” He said.
“Hush, Guy. Don't talk, just concentrate. Try to feel your own body, your feet on the ground. Close your eyes, now,” Marian suggested.
He was on his feet now. A tall, imposing, elegant figure. Marian looked at him with admiration, but refrained herself from telling him that, now.
“Now open your eyes, Guy. Take your bow. Adjust your hands, your arms, your legs to it. It will be a part of you, in time.”
He nocked the arrow, and drew the bow.
“Look at the target, and let it go, now.”
The arrow hit very near the centre of the target. Very.
“Good. Now we exercise,” she said, smiling widely.
She felt happy like she had never been before.

Chapter Text

Guy unsheathed his sword, and he gave it to Gwen, who held it with both her hands.
“Get used to its weight. This sword is too long for you, and if you really want to learn how to use it we’ll have to find a shorter one, but you must be able to wield it without effort.”
The girl nodded. The weapon was heavy for her arms, but she was determined to learn, and she didn’t complain.
A lock of hair fell in front of her eyes, and she snorted, annoyed. She was wearing boy’s clothes that Marian had borrowed from one of the stable boys, but her hair kept falling in her face.
“I wish I could cut it,” she said, and Guy shook his head.
“It would be a pity. You have nice hair, like your mother.”
“Nice for a lady, maybe, not for a swordsman.”
Guy chuckled.
“Put the sword down and come here.”
Gwen gave him a questioning look, but she obeyed.
“Turn around,” Guy said, and he began braiding the girl’s hair, tying it with a leather string. “Here, now it won’t get in the way.”
Gwen looked at the braid, then at her uncle, in astonishment.
“You are a man, how is it possible that you can braid hair?!”
Guy gave her a bittersweet smile.
“I had to learn to fix your mother’s hair. We couldn’t afford a maid for her, so I had to do it. We could barely afford food, actually.” Guy stopped, unwilling to remember those sad times. “But take the sword again, now, if you really want to learn.”
“When will you teach me archery too?”
“In due time. First you must learn how to handle a sword, it would be confusing to learn two different weapons at the same time.”
Guy hoped that he wasn’t blushing too much while he said this lie. Before he could teach archery to her, he himself still had to learn a lot.
Luckily, he was improving, thanks to Marian’s help, but he still had a long way to go.
When the lesson ended, Gwen followed Marian, cheerfully, and Guy gave a grateful glance at the girl, before going to search for Allan.
He had to go to Nottingham and talk with Gwen’s parents to inform them that the girl was at Knighton and to ask for their permission to let her stay there for a while. Marian had agreed to keep Gwen busy while he was away, believing that it would be useless to worry her before they had an answer from her parents.
But now Guy was the worried one: he hadn’t seen Isabella since she was thirteen, and she hated him for giving her to a violent husband.
He felt a deep rage burning inside his soul, and he wished that he could fight against Thornton and make him pay for everything, but he knew that he couldn’t.
If Thornton had an alliance with the Sheriff, he couldn’t go against him openly, or he’d put Marian and Sir Edward in danger.
I have to persuade him to let Gwen stay at Knighton… God help me if I know how!
Allan reached him with the horses, and Guy mounted.
“Do you know what to do?”
“Of course, Giz. If things go wrong, I take my horse and run back to Knighton, so the kid can go with Matilda.”
Guy nodded.
“Good. Let’s go, now.”

Slightly limping, Guy walked through the corridors of Nottingham Castle, his old, sad ‘home’ until he reached the big, dark hall. He was worried, really worried, because of Vaisey, but he was also scared and moved at the same time to see his sister.
She had been all his world, everything he cared for, his only affection, for years. Their years of misery.
And then he had betrayed her, he had left her, to chase wealth and position on his own. Instead he followed a path of blood and pain.
A path to damnation.
He had hoped to give her a better opportunity, but Gwen talked about violence in their home, so he felt guilty and sorry. He had put her sister too on her personal path of pain and blood.
He hoped to be strong enough, to be able enough to help her now.
He silently prayed to find a glimpse, a tiny little glimpse of the lovely gentle, caring little girl she had been, behind all the rage and the hate. He deserved all that rage and hate, anyway.
Guy entered the hall. Vaisey was sitting on his bench, eating something black and greasy, licking clear his own fingers. He stopped his actions to look at him with open contempt.
"Oh Gisborne! Lost your way to the Leper's little house in the country? This is not your place anymore, you know."
"My lord," Guy said, slightly bowing his head.
"Well, we have no need of you here, your position had been effectively reassigned to Shrewsbury. Good worker, good soldier, bright intelligence, no weaknesses. Perfect. Very satisfing. I wish… I had fired you before."
Guy knew better than to answer his provocative words, but still he felt offended. All those years under his thumb. All his loyalty wasted. He struggled inside, not showing his rage, keeping it in check. From outside nobody, including Vaisey himself could know how Guy was really feeling now…
"Gisborne,without a Gisborne. Where are your lands now you have lost the opportunity I gave you to regain them?" Vaisey said, and added, "Look at you now, a little more than a servant to the leper and the old crusty one. What an improvement in your career, boy! What do you want from me, now?"
"To speak to Lady Thornton," Guy said, sternly.
"Oh my God, does the leper knows you're grown bored of her so soon. Chasing another, Guy? Oh no, of course no… the real love still lives… Lady Thornton is a Gisborne too. Better, she was a Gisborne, but thought better to leave that useless name behind her back. Oh… but you sold her to Thornton. What a pity. Yes, she is here, but I don't think she will want to see you. Anyway, why losing the opportunity to watch a good show? Oh the emotions, oh the drama! A brother and a sister looking to each other’s eyes after years and years… You! Call Lady Thornton, now. She is much waited here," he shouted to a guard…
"The best part of the show will be to see her ripping off your eyes from your face with her little sweet fingers," Vaisey said then, viciously, "Oh, there she comes. It's showtime!"
Isabella entered the room, she lifted her eyes. A few steps from her, there was her lost brother. He was even taller, and thinner, and older than the last time she had seen him, but still she recognized him immediately. He had a sad and worried gaze in his eyes, the very one he used to have when he knew he had done something wrong and was just silently waiting for their mother's remarks. She was astonished. Still she could recognize his feelings so well after all those years.
"Mon frere doux," she said, half whispering.
Still,Guy heard it…
She just wanted to leave the room, and never come back. She couldn’t bear to be in the same room with him. She turned her back and started to walk away.
"Isabella!" He shouted, half an order, half a prayer.
She answered without a glance: "Isabella is dead to you. You are dead to me!"
She resumed her walk.
"Gwen," Guy said.
Isabella turned her body back to face him at once. Astonished, worried, enraged.
“What have you done with my little girl, you monster?!"
Guy looked at his sister. Her words had hurt him, but he tried to hide how much they did.
He lifted a corner of his mouth in a little smirk.
"I saved her from a hungry wolf, that's what I did."
Isabella was petrified, her little, brave girl in terrible danger, so similar to the ones her and her brother had to face when they were lost and alone. Guy was the one who had saved her in those terrible moments. History repeated itself.
"My God!" she said, "How is she now? My little girl! Where is she? Why are you hiding her from me? Bring her back to me, now, and don't call her Gwen, thats for family, and you're not family!"
Isabella 's voice was a pained cry now.
"Family..." Guy said, in a flat tone. "Was her ‘family’ really a good thing for her? I'm not hiding her, she's in visit at our home, and she wants to stay for a while. And she IS family, I am her uncle, like it or not."
Isabella felt wounded by Guy's subtle reference to her difficult family. Maybe Gwen had talked to Guy, maybe he now knew what life she, and her children, were living because of Thornton's greed and violence.
Something inside her screamed.
Don't trust him, he lied to you, he sold you, he betrayed you.He left you behind, and you were still so young, so needy.
But Isabella knew that Thornton would beat Gwen the moment she was back. She didn’t know what to do.
"How can I trust you to be in custody of a girl? She is… a fragile naive little girl… do you know what a girl of that age needs, Guy? Have you forgot what you have done with a girl… just like her, in the past?"
Isabella felt tears coming to her eyes, but she put an effort not to show her real pain and emotion.
Expecially in front of Vaisey, who was meanwhile asking for more of that orrible food, to enjoy the scene better.
Expecially in front of her brother. How terribly she had missed him, how terribly she wanted explanations for his past behaviour. What did she had done wrong, so wrong to be left behind?
"Answer me, Guy, how could I trust you now with my child?" She said.
Guy could see how upset Isabella was, and he knew that she was fighting against tears. It was amazing to find out how easy was for him to understand her feelings, even now that she was a grown woman.
He wanted to kneel in front of her and ask for her forgiveness, as he had done with Gwen, he longed to take her in his arms and soothe her sorrow, but he couldn't, not in front of Vaisey.
He felt tears in his eyes too, but he blinked to send them back.
He collected himself, then he looked at her.
"No, you don't have to trust me, you have every right not to do it, but you can trust Sir Edward of Knighton, and his daughter, lady Marian. Sir Edward is the former Sheriff, and everyone in Nottingham can reassure you about his moral integrity. Both Guinevere and I are guests in their manor. Your child is in good hands, you don't need to worry."
Guy seemed sincere to her eyes, and Gwen wouldn't be alone. Being in a house of the previous sheriff could have accounted for something, she thought.
But why Guy was a guest too in that house? He seemed to not have a home for himself, after so many years.
Too many questions and too short time, before her husband would come in the hall too. And she was scared of his reaction, she needed time to try to convince him. To try at least.
But for some hours, or some days, her daughter would be away from the road, from the trouble, and from her father's menace. She would still be free.
"I have to consult my husband. For the moment Guinevere can stay in Knighton, but the moment her father will decide differently, you will bring her here immediately."
Guy bowed his head and then he looked again into his sister's eyes. Guy's eyes were now so full of longing, that she wanted to hug him, and maybe hit him, anyway.
Anything, just to find her lost brother, the good one, the gentle one, the protecting one, maybe still inside of that grown man.
Guy looked at the Sheriff.
"Still here, Gisborne? You make me bored, again. Go, go back to your little village. Lord Edward’s of course." Vaisey was cruelly laughing, while Guy turned on his heels and left the room silently.
Isabella looked at the old man with hidden contempt, bowed gently as a lady would do and left the room too.

She reached Guy in the courtyard. He wasn’t alone now, there was a young man, helping him to climb the horse. Isabella watched him struggle a little.
What happened to you Guy? She thought.
She walked where the two men were.
"Guy! Guy, wait!"
He turned to see his sister, his beautiful sister, calling him.
"Isabella!" Guy said.
"Take me with you! I want to see my child, now! I miss her so much, take me with you!"
Guy looked at her and suddenly remembered when, so many years ago, he was on a horse, like today, and he was about to leave her to Thornton. His money on his pouch, and his sister calling him, desperately.
"Take me with you! Don't leave me here, mon frère doux, ne me laisser pas ici!"
Guy looked at his sister and got off his horse.
He remembered too well how she pleaded to take her with him when he had left her with Thornton.
He couldn't leave her behind again.
He held a hand to her, and Isabella grabbed it, desperate to go with him to see her child.
Guy was startled to touch her after so many years.
Her hand was still the same, so little between his long fingers.
Guy suddenly pulled her in a hug, feeling the need to hold her close to his heart, to protect her.
He saw a trace of a bruise on her neck, hidden by her dress, and he decided that Thornton would pay for her sufferings, if only he could find a way to do it without putting in danger Marian and Sir Edward.
"Of course you can come to Knighton, Gwen would be overjoyed to see you, I'm sure," Guy whispered, "and we have to talk, you and I, ma cherie, but... can you? Won't you get in trouble if you come with me now? Gwen told me about your husband, how cruel he is..." Guy sighed, upset. "I'm so sorry, Isabella, I know that it's useless to apologize now, but I really didn't know how he was..."
Guy caressed her cheek, tenderly, like he did when she was just a child.
"What will he do if you come to Knighton now? I wish I could protect you, but Gwen told me that your husband has many men, and I don't have but four or five... I swear that I will save you and your children from him, but we need a plan or other people will get hurt."
He was right, of course, and still, it was difficult to admit that he was right.
She had to stay in the castle, for the moment, for the sake of her other children. Leaving the castle without them would be impossible for her, and her husband would punish them on her behalf, or he would simply let them starve, without her around. She had to be reasonable, for the present being.
"You're right, mon frere, I will stay here, but please, take good care of my child. She thinks she is a young and strong one, but still she is a child, in a difficult moment, she needs care and attention, she wanted to protect me, she thinks she can. She is so fascinated from tales about Robin Hood, she wants to be like him. Dissuade her to act against her father, please, Guy. Help me to dissuade her. Her father values her as nothing, a nuisance, and I fear for her."
"She will be safe at Knighton, and soon you and your other children will be safe as well. I will make up for what I did to you so many years ago, it's a promise."
He mounted again, with some difficulty, and Isabella looked at him: Guy still was the brother she remembered, the brother who reassured and protected her, but now she could see a frailty in him, a weakness that made him more human. He wanted to help her, she was sure of it, but he had not the means to do it openly, defying the Sheriff and her husband.
Now she could understand him, he couldn't act without hurting innocent people, her safety could be the ruin of Guy himself and of Lord Knighton's family.
She wondered if that weakness had always been in Guy, and she suddenly realized that it must have been there all the time. Guy was only a boy, then, forced to fight for their survival, and he never showed her fear, he always said that things would improve. But now she could see that he must have been scared, desperately trying to be strong just for her sake.
His voice took her from her thoughts, and she looked at him. She could see that he was deeply moved.
"I'm really glad to see you, even if it would have been better to have met again in different circumstances, and I hope that someday you can find the strength to forgive me." His tone was shy, embarrassed and his words a little confused, as he always did when he tried to express his feelings. "I tried to forget what I did during all these years, I even tried to forget I ever had a family, but this guilt has always been a burden on my soul, and sometimes I think that it will be forever. I never asked for your forgiveness for what happened to our parents, not because I didn't care or I didn't want to admit that it was my fault, but because I knew that you couldn't possibly forgive me, I can't forgive myself, and I was to afraid to hear that you hated me. I wanted to give you a decent life, but I failed once again... I'm sorry, Isabella, I'm really sorry."
He didn't wait for her to answer, but he spurred his horse and galloped away.
The young man who was with him, looked at him in surprise, gave a friendly wave at her, then he hurried to follow him.

Chapter Text

Gwen sighed, sitting in front of the fireplace. Knighton Hall was a warm house, but most of the warmth came from the people who lived there. Lady Marian’s father deeply loved his daughter and Gwen felt a little jealous: in her family there was no love, not from her father at least. Her mother loved her children, but that love was always tainted by her father’s violence, by the constant fear he inflicted on everyone else.
Lady Marian and uncle Guy were in love, that was clear. Guinevere wondered if they would marry soon, and why they didn’t do it yet. Her mother had been so young when she had been forced to marry, but Lady Marian was beginning to get too old to be a bride.
Maybe it was because uncle Guy had lost his lands. Gwen wondered what happened and who really was that mysterious uncle.
The girl touched her braid, wondering about the time when her mother still didn’t hate him, when they were both children and he had learned to fix hair just to help his sister.
She wished with all her heart that she could trust him, that he was really going to protect her and save her mother and her siblings.
Gwen went to the kitchen, suddenly hungry, and the cook was happy to give her some bread and cheese. The girl ate with appetite, she was growing up, and in the last few months she always felt hungry. At home, she could ate only what the cook served during the meals, and she was careful to never ask for more because she knew that her father already considered her as a useless mouth to feed.
Probably he will be happy that he got rid of me. But he couldn’t stand to know that I’m free.
At Knighton, instead, everyone seemed to be happy to see her in good health and they encouraged her to have some fresh cream, or a sweet apple from the tree outside, or to taste a piece of the cake that the cook had just baked.
Gwen finished eating, and she went back to the hall, but, before entering, she heard that Lady Marian and her father were there, and that they were talking about her. She stopped just out of the door.
She shouldn’t eavesdrop, she thought, but back at Shrewsbury, listening to her father’s words had been very useful to understand if he was in a dangerous mood or not, and it had become a habit to her.
“Maybe I should have gone to Nottingham with Guy.” Marian said, nervously. “He might need my support.”
“No, Marian, it’s better that he went alone. She’s his sister, we can’t interfere. He must tell her that her daughter is here, and make his amends to her.”
Gwen winced. Why uncle Guy went to Nottingham without telling her what he was going to do?
He can’t say to maman that I’m here! If she knows, even father will found out where I’m hiding! He betrayed me, just like he did with maman!
She stepped back, silently, and she went out of the kitchen door. As soon as she was outside, she stopped one of the servants who were going to the pond to wash clothes.
“Is it true that Robin Hood lives in this forest?”
“Of course it’s true! He always helps the poor. The people of Nottingham would live much sadder lives without him and his gang.”
“And do you know where I could find him?”
“Nobody knows where their camp is, but you can find them easily. They have drop points in the forest where they leave money and supplies for the poor. If you go there at the right time, you’ll find him or one of the gang.”
Gwen nodded.
“Where should I go, if I wanted to meet him now?”
The servant looked at her.
“Why do you want to see Robin?”
“Lady Marian suggested that I could get archery lessons from him.”
The woman had heard that the girl had asked Gisborne to teach her how to fight, and in the previous days she had seen the knight training with a bow, desperately trying to improve his terrible aim, so she had to stifle a chuckle at the thought of him teaching her how to shoot.
“I can see why she said that,” the woman said, and Gwen didn’t understand what was so funny. “If you want to see Robin, you must enter the forest, then take the path that follows the creek until you reach a glade with a dead tree. You’ll recognize it because it’s burnt, a lightning hit it during a storm last year. Wait there, it shouldn’t take long for one of the gang to reach you.”
The girl smiled at her, then she walked to the forest, a little reassured.
Maybe uncle didn’t want to betray me, and it’s right that maman knows that I’m well, but I can’t be sure that father won’t come here. It’s better for everyone if I go to see Robin Hood. And then I always dreamt to meet him! He’s a hero, the best archer in the world. Or the second, maybe, after uncle Guy...

The dead tree was cold, but little lovely flowers were growing around it. Gwen felt the tiredness filling her bones. She was tired of waiting, but at the same time, she couldn’t stop thinking frantically that she would soon meet Robin Hood.
The greatest archer of all time, the hero of England. The character who filled all her dreams.
Gwen was excited, and despite fatigue, she wouldn’t leave that place for the whole money of the world.
How was Robin Hood? They told her he was beautiful, with the most beautiful smile ever seen, and very tall, with long, strong arms and legs. He was as agile as a fox and as cunning as a fain. He knew so many things and he was born to defend his people from all evil.
He was brave and fearless, and he was not afraid of anything or anyone.
In fact, the stories she had heard told her that he was always smiling, in the face of dangers.
Every kind of danger.
And he helped everybody, the young ones and the old ones, men and women.
She wanted to be courageous, and fearless like him.
He would defend her from her father, he would hide her forever, if necessary, in the forest and he’d teach her to become a perfect archer.
The stories about him said that there was also a woman among his men, but she wasn’t sure they were true. Anyway, Robin Hood would have nothing to complain if she joined, in time, their gang.
Oh, what adventurous life she would have in their company! And, with them at her side, she could save her mom and her siblings.

Gwen opened her eyes. A curious, big but not very tall man was watching her, awakening her from her fantasies.
"You lost your way home, child, or do you need anything for your mom?" The man said to her.
He seemed a nice person, but Gwen was there to meet Robin Hood, not to return to the castle.
And then the man looked big and strong but not very beautiful. So, he couldn't be Robin Hood, in person.
"You're not Robin Hood, I want to meet Robin Hood. I'm here for him. I've been waiting for him for so long, why isn’t he here?"
The big man burst into laughter.
"Little girl, it's not so easy to meet Robin Hood, he's busy. Take these coins, that's enough for your mom, for now. What's her name on the list? I think I recognize you from Clun: you're Ann's daughter, from the mill.”
“My mother doesn’t work at the mill. My mother is noble, like my father,” Gwen said.
“Oh, really, then she doesn’t need help from Robin Hood, you can go back to your games,” replied the man.
“I'm not a baby, stop treating me as if I were one. I'm a girl. It's not true, my mom always says that Robin Hood helps everyone. I want to meet him, please,” said Gwen, the first words with pride, the latest openly pleading.
She had no intention of going back to her mother or to her uncle without meeting her hero. It was too important, her life and her destiny depending on it.
“True, Robin Hood helps everyone. What do we have here, John?” A young man dressed in the colors of the earth asked.
He had a beard, and his eyes were clear. He was carrying a big, strange bow on his shoulder, he wasn’t very tall, and he didn’t look very strong. But his smile was open and bright.
Maybe he was her hero. Maybe she was in front of Robin Hood, in person.
Gwen stepped over the big man and approached the younger man. She made a small curtsy.
“I'm Guinevere from the Thornton's gentry. But you,” and she looked at Little John, as to say that he instead wouldn’t be authorized to do so, “can call me Gwen”.
“Alright Gwen. I'm Robin, and he's Little John,” the young man said.
Gwen was astonished. She had heard of Little John, but she had imagined him to be a lot bigger, much taller, so strong to pull up and raise a tree with his arms.
"Robin Hood, sir, I need your help. You have to hide me from my family."
"Why, child?" Robin asked, a more serious gaze on his face.
Gwen resented immediately, why everyone had to call her like that! She was no longer a child, her mother always told her. She was a young woman now.”
"I'm not..."
"A baby girl, Robin, she is about to tell you this," said John.
"Oh, well then: why, Gwen?"
"Because my father will beat me, and he will punish my mother, but you will teach me to shoot with your bow, and thanks to your lessons and my uncle's, I will return to the Castle as a strong archer and I’ll free my mother and my siblings."
"Castle? What castle are we talking about, Gwen? Are you sure that your father will punish you? Have you run away from home? And who is your uncle?" Robin said.
So many questions, and Gwen was no longer so sure of wanting to give Robin Hood an answer to all of them.
After all it was true that she had run away. But she was in front of her hero. And a true hero always intervenes in the face of injustice.
“I don’t remember the name of the castle, now... I never got there, I left before arriving to the castle. But maman is there, and father is definitely very angry with me. He's evil. He is very evil. He beats maman. He beats my little brothers and sisters. He leaves us without eating in the evening, and maman must secretly take dinner to us, otherwise Father will beat her too.”
Maman?” Little John asked.
“Mother, it’s french” Robin replied.
“Nottingham. My uncle was going to see my mother in Nottingham. He decided to go to Nottingham to talk with my mother. They will find me!”
“Nottingham? This story becomes more and more interesting. Are you, for instance, a relative of Sheriff Vaisey too?” Robin asked. Perhaps the little girl was just inventing everything, like so many little boys and girls of her age.
"I don’t know, no, I don’t believe it, but my uncle is a very good archer, like you, but he didn’t behave well with my mom, and maman is very angry with him. He found me, when I was running alone in the forest, he saved me from an angry beast, he was so brave and strong! I was scared of him, and angry, but he was kind to me, even his fiancée was kind to me. She is very kind, and very pretty. He loves her, very much. And she loves him too. She is always gentle and caring with him. I think they will marry soon, so maybe he is not as bad as my mother thinks.”
“It seems like a fairy tale, Gwen, but who is your uncle?”
“It's Sir Guy of Gisborne. He is my uncle,” Gwen said, with pride, and still, a little fear.
“You're mistaken: Guy of Gisborne is evil, and he hasn't a fiancée,” Robin said, piqued.
“He was gentle with me. And yes, he has a lovely fiancée, Lady Marian is her name,” Gwen replied, she couldn't understand why now Robin Hood's words were so hard.
“Lady Marian helps him for pity, nothing more.”
“Maman always said that when a man and a woman share a lot of kisses, it is love. And they share a lot of kisses, especially when they think they're not seen.”
"It's not true. What is your mother's name, girl?"
Robin was pale, now everything was clear. Isabella, Guy's younger sister, had returned to Nottingham, with her children and her husband, probably a violent man, even though he was not entirely convinced of the girl's words. But his heart screamed the real problem was Marian. Could Marian have betrayed him to this point? He had asked her to wait until the King returned, and then HE would marry her. Him, her true love, not Gisborne.
Robin wanted to see clearly in this situation, but something in him shouted that it might be true. In any case, Robin needed answers, and immediately, from Marian, and from Guy, about the story told by the little girl.
"Bring her to the camp, Little John."
"But Robin, the secrecy..."
"It won’t be a girl to put us in trouble, but if you want, cover her eyes, take her there now, before the night comes. Give her food, entrusts her to NASDAQ's care. I must go, now."
"Where, Robin, where do you want to go?"
"To Knighton!"

Guy’s heart felt lighter when he saw Knighton in the distance. He made the horse to go faster, and Allan struggled to keep his pace.
When they arrived in front of Knighton Hall, Marian was waiting for them on the door, alerted by the sound of their gallop. Gisborne got off the horse, and limped to her, taking her in his arms and holding her tight.
Marian put her head on his chest, and she could hear his heart beating wildly. Guy was hugging her desperately, as if she was his only refuge in a storm.
Allan glanced at them, then he discreetly disappeared inside the house.
Marian lifted a hand to caress Guy’s hair.
“Did you see her?” She whispered, and Guy nodded.
“She’s a woman… The last time I’ve seen her she was just a girl, my little sister… I know that I shouldn’t be so surprised, I haven’t seen her in more than fifteen years, of course she’s a woman, now, but in all these years I always thought of her as a child...”
Marian stepped back and took his hand, caressing his face with the other one.
“Come inside, Guy, you’re upset. And you’re cold. Let’s sit in front of the fireplace and have some food and wine, then you can tell me everything.”
Guy gave her a little smile.
“You are right, I must calm down. Thank you, Marian.”
He followed her inside, sat with her and Sir Edward, and, after a while, he told them about his meeting with Isabella.
“So you are not sure if they will let Gwen stay?”
“Thornton wasn’t there. Actually, I’m glad he wasn’t.” Guy’s face hardened. “My sister had a bruise on her neck, and I’m sure he was the one who hurt her, I don’t know if I could have been able to keep calm if I met him.”
“But you must,” Sir Edward intervened. “If you want to help your family, you have to act wisely. It’s like a chess game, Sir Guy, you can’t win if you don’t study your moves.”
Guy sighed.
“I know.”
Marian patted his hand.
“You are not alone, we will win this game.”
“However, I’ll never let him to take Gwen back to the castle,” Guy said. “I must reassure her about this and tell her that her mother sends all her love. Where is she?”
Marian looked around, searching her with her eyes, suddenly a little alarmed.
“She was around, just a while ago. I think she went to the kitchen. That child looks so hungry, poor girl, I wonder if they properly fed her at home.”
“You ate a lot too when you were her age,” Sir Edward commented, with a smile. “You looked like a young, ravenous wolf.”
Marian blushed.
“Father! Not in front of Guy!”
Gisborne chuckled.
“Don’t worry, there’s nothing that your father could say that could make me love you less. And I hope that it will the same for you if you should ever meet my sister.”
Marian smiled.
“Now I have another reason to hope that you make your peace. I have to ask her about your darkest secrets.”
Guy thought that Marian already knew his darkest secret, but still he cringed if he imagined the two women gossiping about his childhood.
Guy nodded at James, who came in the hall bringing some wine for them.
“Please, go to the kitchen and call Gwen, we have to talk to her.”
“She’s not in the kitchen, Sir Guy. I just came from there.”
“Where is she, then?”
“I’ll ask the cook.”
The old servant went away, and came back after a while.
“The cook said that she went outside some time ago.”
Guy frowned.
“I didn’t see her outside when I arrived.”
Marian stood up, a little worried.
“Let’s go and search for her. James, ask the other servants if they have seen her.”
Guy and Marian hurried outside, but they couldn’t find the girl anywhere. They alerted all the servants, and after a while Allan came back with one of the maids. The girl had her sleeves rolled up, and her hands were red because of the cold water.
“She was washing the clothes at the pond, that's why she didn’t know that we were searching for Gwen.”
“Do you know where she is?!” Asked Guy, abruptly, and the girl looked at him, afraid that he could hurt her.
“Guy, you’re scaring her.” Marian chided him, then she turned to the maid. “Don’t be afraid, he’s only worried for his niece. Have you seen her?”
“Yes, a while ago. She wanted to know about Robin Hood, she asked me how to find him.”
“And did you tell her?”
The woman glanced at Guy, wondering if she should talk. He had been an enemy of Robin Hood, after all.
Marian looked at her.
“Please, talk. You can say to Sir Guy anything that you would tell to me. He is my betrothed and we have no secrets.”
“I told her where she could find one of Robin’s drop points, she really wanted to meet Robin, she said that you suggested her to ask him to give her some archery lessons.”
“I never said that,” Marian whispered to Guy. “But if she’s with Robin she’s safe, you don’t have to worry.”
“Tell me how to find Hood. I must go and find Gwen.”
Marian wasn’t sure that it was a good idea. Guy was upset, and Robin still didn’t know that she had chosen the man that she would marry and that it wasn’t him. She’d have to talk to him, sooner of later, to explain him that she couldn’t return his feelings, but until then it wouldn’t have been wise to let the two men meet.
“Guy, wait. The outlaws still don’t trust you, and this isn’t the right moment to create more tension. Send Allan, you can trust him and he was one of them. He will check if Gwen is well, and he will explain the situation to Robin.”
Gisborne nodded, and he looked at Allan.
“Did you hear? Go.”

Allan obeyed, and Marian dismissed the maid, then she and Guy walked back to the manor, slowly.
Guy had his staff, and he leaned on it, tired and in pain. Marian took his arm, looking at him with love.
“Don’t worry, my love. I know that you are worried, but I am sure that she is safe with the outlaws.”
“I promised to Isabella that I would protect her.”
“And you will. You protected us, and I know that you will keep her safe.”
Guy stopped to take her in his arms and kiss her.
“I hope you are right,” he whispered, and Marian put her finger on the tip of his nose, smiling.
“If you want to marry me, you must get used to the fact that a wife is always right.”
Guy laughed, and hugged her close.
“I was right too, you save my soul, woman.”
“Shall we go home to wait for Allan?” Marian suggested.
Guy shook his head.
“Allan will need some time to go, talk with Hood and come back, I’d become crazy to wait for him at home. Do you want to go for a walk?”
Marian glanced at him, uncertain.
“You must be tired. Your leg...”
“It hurts a little, but I’m used to it, and it won’t get worse for this. Matilda says that I should exercise as much as I can to regain my strength. Please, Marian.”
The girl smiled.
“Promise that you will lean on me if you feel tired.”
“You are my strength, when I needed support you were there for me.”
Marian thought that this hadn’t always been true, at least in the past, but she knew that it would be in the future, and she also knew that she could count on Guy too.
They walked together, reaching the first trees of the forest, and Marian stopped, pointing at a little flower, growing under a tree.
“Look, Guy! The first flower! Winter will end soon.”
Guy was about to offer it to her, but the girl stopped him.
“No, don’t pick it. It’s so nice, I don’t want it to wither before its time. Let’s just look at it.”
“There’s another there,” Guy said, pointing at another flower, then Marian found another one.
Guy looked at her, running to a little flower to another, like a happy child, and he smiled. He was worried for Gwen and for Isabella, but being with Marian made him feel light-hearted like he had never been in his life. He loved her more then ever, and he touched the ring that dangled on his chest, tied to a leather string.
He had bought that ring before the accident, and he had meant to give it to Marian during the party for King’s Richard's birthday that he was planning to organize. It was ironic to think that if it wasn’t for that ring, he wouldn't have been trampled by the horses. He was coming back to Knighton because he had forgotten to invite Marian to that party when he had seen the Nightwatchman.
Maybe he was a fool, but he couldn’t be sorry for that accident, even if it made him lose his position and his leg was probably damaged permanently. When he looked at Marian, he knew that he had earned much more than he had lost.
“Marian,” he called, and the girl turned to look at him.
Guy dropped on a knee, and Marian rushed to reach him.
“Guy! Are you well?!”
The knight took her hands.
“I couldn’t feel better, Marian, I am always well when I am with you. You are the love of my life, and I’m yours: my heart, my soul, my body, I belong to you, till death.”
Marian blushed, touched by the passion of his words.
Guy kissed her hands, then he let them go, and Marian was tempted to grab them back, but Guy was taking something from around his neck, and she saw that it was a ring, tied to a string.
The knight looked at it, a little silver ring, with gems that formed the shapes of small flowers, then he locked his gaze to Marian’s eyes.
“Last time I did this in the wrong way, I gave you no choice at all, but now I want to do this properly... I have nothing now, and I know that I still can’t give you the life that you deserve, but I mean to work hard for your father and to earn enough to buy some lands, to build a house for you. And this time I will do it without hurting anyone, it’s my promise to you. Maybe it’s wrong to ask you to wait and probably I’m being presumptuous to hope that you could agree, but, Marian, will you marry me?”
The girl wiped a tear from her cheek, and smiled at him.
“What are you waiting for? Put that ring on my finger! Of course I want to marry you!”
Marian nodded, laughing and crying at the same time.
Guy fumbled to untie the leather string, then he just took his dagger and cut it, then he slipped the ring on Marian’s finger.
The girl hugged him, with so much enthusiasm that they both fell to the ground, and they just lied there, laughing, crying and kissing each other.

Chapter Text

Robin had run for a century, or maybe it was only half an hour, but he couldn't stop.
His feet taking him away from the camp, his mind going wild, and angry. Any semblance of his known confidence was lost.
His legs were tired, his muscles sore.
He saw a tree, a little isolated from the others, a small river was near to it, and he could hear the faint sound of water. All around him, the new season seemed to slowly awaken.
New life, new spirit everywhere, but now Robin's heart was really trapped in the chill of winter.
He dropped to the ground, his back leaning on the bark of the big tree.
He tried to stop his heart from beating so fast, with his eyes closed and little, quick tears flowing on his young face.
Is she lost to me? Is she really lost to me?
The young girl could have lied, or her young, inexperienced eyes could have mistaken the kind of affection that Marian seemed to have for Gisborne...
Or maybe what he had feared for months, since that black crow had been hosted in Lord Edward's ancestral home to heal, had really happened: Marian had fallen in love with Guy, and that was the real ending of their childhood dreams.
More than a war, more than the distance, more than his recent falling into disgrace, and his being now, temporarily, a renegade, Marian's falling in love with another man was the sure and real ending to their love story.
The truth was that Marian had fallen in love with Robin long before Robin realized that he was in love with her, and deeply in love with her.
He was a boy then, and Marian the prettiest girl he had ever seen. A sensible young woman, full of spirit, and passion, behind her mask of a disciplined, educated, well mannered young noble girl.
How Guy of Gisborne, with all his black soul, could understand and really appreciate a free spirit like she was?
But, really, Robin had seen a different Guy in these last months. Somewhat very similar to the Gisborne he had known when Robin was nothing more then a brilliant, impulsive, reckless child, and Guy a serious, well educated, good natured, responsible boy.
Marian was a bright star, everyone could see how beautiful she was, but he suspected that Guy's growing attraction for her was something more than falling in love with a beautiful, noble girl.
Gisborne had forgiven her very heavy mistakes, and her identity as the Nightwatchman.
The way Guy had looked at her, talked about her, had acted in her favor, and her father, standing like a real warrior in the fight, was a sincere and risky one.
He really loved her.
And Robin knew, deep inside of him, that Guy was capable of love.
He had seen it, and envied him for it, when he saw him, in their youth, being an attentive and kind and protective brother for her younger sister and a proud, caring son for his mother. Guy seemed to be very close to his mother, and he had envied him for it, because he had lost his mother too soon for him to remember her.
And his mother was really beautiful and sweet.
Guy had lost everything, everyone, then. And Marian seemed to be his everything right now.
Robin now knew that Guy would fight to his death to protect her. But Marian, his lovely Marian, what could she have found in Guy, with all his black past, his crimes, his faults?
That was something that he would ask directly to her.
Much calmer, focused, his tears dried, he resumed his path to Knighton.

Robin saw Marian and Guy, walking side by side. Bows hanging from their shoulders.
Were they practicing with bows? Together?
She was smiling at Guy, talking to him, but Robin couldn't hear their words.
Then Gisborne entered from the front door, and Marian remained alone, for an instant.
Marian leaned her back to the outside wall, apparently looking at the first, timid, early spring sky.
A smile, a tender smile on her face.
Is she thinking about me? Robin thought, hoped.
But then jealousy transfigured his features.
Is she thinking about him? He now thought, and, mostly, he feared.
Slightly limping, Gisborne came again through the open door.
He saw her staring at the sun, he smiled at her, and he caressed her cheek tenderly, whispering something to her.
She seemed to blush at his words. Then she smiled, and he came back inside her home. She closed her eyes again and enjoyed the sun on her lovely face.
What more proof do you need, that she should act in such a shameless way? A voice inside him said.
But he had to know, for real, from her lips, before becoming mad with suspicion.
"Marian!" He said, and she turned her face to him. "How could you do that to me?"
Marian had opened her eyes with a start when she heard Robin calling her.
Usually she was happy to see him, his face was a friendly, familiar sight, the face of a person she had known all her life and who for a long time she had loved.
But now she was afraid.
Since she understood that she loved Guy, she had known that sooner or later she had to tell the truth to Robin, but she didn’t feel ready.
But, if she had to be honest, she doubted that she would ever feel ready to break his heart.
He knows. She thought, looking at his angry face. Maybe he had seen us in the woods?
Marian blushed. The passion she felt for Guy, their kisses, they were a private thing, a sweet secret she wasn’t still ready to reveal. And she was really sorry because she had to hurt Robin’s feelings.
Then, she realized the meaning of Robin’s words, and she suddenly felt angry.
‘How could you do that to me?’
As if her love for Guy wasn’t important, as if it was only a spite against Robin for some undefined reason. As if she was just a useless girl who had to meekly wait for the man who had abandoned her for more than five years.
“What, Robin? What did I do to you?!”
"You are hurting me! Deceiving me, that's what you're doing! What’s going on between you and that… man, Marian? He was everything you hated in a man. Or it's a question of lust? I've promised I would marry you when King Richard returns, and I will. But you… and that man… how can you allow him to touch you the way I've touched you?" Robin said, his voice hurt, half broken.
Marian’s face got flushed with rage.
“Lust?! Who do you think I am? Do you consider me so low that I could choose lust over love?! You promised that you would marry me when King Richard returns, but don’t you think that you should have asked if I agree with that plan? Marrying me is not a favor you make to me, just to keep me happy, marriage is something that both the people involved should choose. Have you ever thought to ask me what I want? That man, as you call him, cares for what I want, he listens to me, he tries to understand me, even when it isn’t easy for him. You say that he was everything I hated in a man, and it was true when he was just a mirror of Vaisey’s actions, when he was just a puppet in the hands of a devil, but he isn’t, not anymore. He has changed, really changed… Or maybe he just remembered who he is, he found his way back to be his real self…” Marian said that last phrase almost to herself, as if that idea was new for her too, but she put these musings aside, and focused back on Robin.
She knew that she was going to hurt him, but she also knew that only the bare truth could make him understand that she had chosen Guy. She couldn’t leave him any hope, or Robin would grasp it and would keep deluding himself that he could change things.
She took a breath, and she looked at him, straight in his eyes.
“I made to Guy the same promise that you made to me: to marry him when the King returns. I’ll do it, Robin, I’ll marry Guy. Because I love him.” She had a little nervous laugh, as if she couldn’t believe that she had said it openly. Despite the hurt she could see on Robin’s face, saying it felt incredibly good, making everything real. She had to say it again, to savor those words once again.
“I love Guy of Gisborne.”
"YOU. LOVE. HIM? That's not true, it can't be... I cannot lose someone I love, again, for HIS fault. Not again, not again. You're wrong: he had committed horrible crimes since he was a boy, and Vaisey was nowhere to be seen at the time. I've lost my father, and it was his fault! Promises can be broken, my love, my only love. You know nothing of Guy of Gisborne. You were born to love me, I was born to love you. Don't you remember how happy we were? " Robin nearly shouted.
He was confused, astonished.
Marian sighed.
“Happy, Robin? Well, maybe you are right, at the beginning I was happy. I was just a girl, so young and naive, and you chose me, even if you could have all the girls in the County. You were so brave, so good with your bow, loved by everyone, and lord of your land at such a young age… And you fell in love with me, even if I wasn’t as pretty and as graceful as the other girls were… I felt happy, and proud. But then you left for the war. I wasn’t enough to make you stay. My love wasn’t worthy at all. Do you think I was happy, then? Do you think that I liked to see all the girls of my age getting married, having children, building their lives while I was there, waiting for you, in a County oppressed every day more. And when you came back… Maybe you say you love me, but there was always something more important, someone else to help. I just wanted you to listen to me, to see who I really was, to understand that being the Nightwatchman was important for me, but you never did. I grew up while you were away, I’m not the young girl who just wanted to get married to a brave hero, not anymore!”
"Marian... I'm still the boy you knew. And you're everything to me! We will build a life together, we will… I will give you everything you need. When the King will be here, when everything will be over. It's only a matter of time. I'm fighting this oppression, my mission will be over soon. Please, please my love, we will be together, forever, you and me..." Robin closed the distance between them, his eyes showing shocked disbelief.
He tried to embrace her. The more she fought in his sudden embrace, the more he tried to keep her still in her arms.

Guy couldn’t help smiling. Rarely, in his whole life, he had felt happier. Marian loved him and he still couldn’t fully believe it. But if he closed his eyes, he could almost feel the sweet taste of her lips, the softness of her mouth on his.
He vaguely thought that, if Allan could see him in that moment, he would say that he was a lovesick fool, but he didn’t care.
He walked to the door, leaning on his staff. He was tired, and his leg was hurting after riding to Nottingham and then walking with Marian, but he didn’t even notice those little discomforts. Sir Edward wanted to know something about the kitchen supplies that Marian had purchased at the market the last time she went there, and Guy volunteered to go and call her. He never thought that he could call a servant to do it, and he was just glad to have a reason to talk to her, to spend another moment with her.
He opened the door, still smiling, and he froze: Hood was there, holding Marian in his arms!
He heard the passionate words he was saying to her, and he felt cold inside, as if ice was devouring his soul.
Please, please my love, we will be together, forever, you and me…
My love. Why was he calling her like that?
Why was he touching her, embracing her?
“Marian...” Guy called softly, almost pleading her, afraid that she would turn and that he would see love for Robin Hood in her eyes.
I should have known. I was deluding myself. How could she love me?
But when the girl turned, hearing his voice, Guy saw relief and joy on her face, mixed with discomfort, maybe fear, the same expression she had when he had arrived just in time to save Knighton from the Sheriff’s new henchman.
Hood’s face, instead, was dark and angry, and Guy could see desperation and rage in his eyes.
Was he hurting her?
In a moment, without even thinking, he was on Hood, tearing him away from Marian, ready to fight to protect her.
“Don’t you dare to touch her, you filthy outlaw!” He growled, grabbing his tunic and lifting a hand to punch him.

Robin felt lifted for how much force Gisborne had put in his arm, but he dodged his fist, kicking him on the knee of his injured leg, not that Gisborne deserved that attention on his part, it was simply the first part of Guy’s body that he found with his foot. Guy instinctively dropped the grip on him, lifting his hand to the knee, in pain for a few moments.
Marian looked at him angrily, and Robin stepped back a few steps as Guy came back to his position, approaching her further, as if he was shielding the girl.
For Robin, that moment was like waking up from a dream, a bad dream.

Robin watched Marian, her visible relief when she saw Guy standing near her, and understood he had lost control, and much more.
He had lost her forever.
In that moment he saw it: a ring, a small brilliant ring on her finger.
She was promised.
He had never given her a ring, but more than that, he had not given her what she really needed.
In years.
He had lost her when he went to the war, in the end. Still, his pride was hurt and his blood was still running fast.
He looked at his enemy, and wanted to end their situation, for the last time.
"I am sorry, Marian. Really sorry. Forgive me, please. Gisborne, this is a question between you and me, let's go there, now!"
Guy looked at Robin, and followed him.
So, Hood wanted to fight.
Very well. He had many reasons to dislike Robin, and him being an outlaw was the less important.
Guy had the impression that everything that went wrong in his life was Robin’s fault: he was the one who called the people of Gisborne to tell everyone that his leper father went back to the village.
Hadn’t been for him, maybe his parents would have been back together. They could all have gone to France, where no one knew of Sir Rodger illness and they would have lived together until his father’s death. His natural death, peaceful and surrounded by his loved ones.
If it wasn’t for him, I’d still have a mother, and my sister wouldn’t hate me.
And many years after the fire, Robin was always in his way, undermining his position at the castle, failure to catch him after failure.
Now he wanted Marian, he wanted to take back the girl who he had deserted so many years ago, but Guy wouldn’t allow it.
He could forget all the other things, maybe, but he would fight for Marian.
Guy didn’t even think that his leg was still weak and not fully healed, nor that it was a very long time that he hadn’t trained properly, nor that Robin had always been faster and more agile than him.
He jumped on him and grabbed his arms, trying to drag him to the ground with him.

Gisborne had grabbed him and now he tried to keep him on the ground, to punch him on his face.
His weight was oppressing, but Robin was even more agile than he was, and Guy was somehow lighter then he could imagine him to be. He dealt a blow directly on Guy's lower parts, and Guy moved, in reaction, enough to allow him to take the command in their fight.
Robin punched him twice in his face. Gisborne was furious, like him, of the same anger that was consuming him, and maybe even more.
The two rolled on the grass, between a blow and the other. Their rage grew at the same rate as their physical pain. They didn’t even notice that Marian had followed them there.

They were both bloodied and sore, covered in dirt, their clothes stained with grass and sweat, but nor Robin nor Guy thought of stopping that crazy fight.
Marian looked at them, worried and scared, not sure of what to do. She had expected that Robin wouldn’t take well the news of her engagement with Guy, but she hadn’t thought that the two men would met, and that they would start trying to kill each other.
She was afraid that they could get seriously hurt, and she was frightened at the thought that one of them could die. She had made her choice, falling in love with Guy, but she still cared for Robin, the outlaw was a friend, almost family to her, and she didn’t want neither of them to be injured.
“Stop! Please stop!” She cried, but the two men didn’t listen.
Fighting, they had moved in the yard, turning the corner on the house. They had climbed the few steps that lead to the back entrance of the manor and they were there, on the threshold, trying to hit each other.
Marian hoped that the noise would attract the attention of the servants, and that they could stop the fight, but no one of them dared to intervene.
At last, Marian decided that if nobody was going to do something to stop that insanity, she would.
“Listen to me! Both of you!” She yelled, stepping up the short flight of stairs, trying to touch Guy’s and Robin’s shoulders in an attempt of calming them down.
For a moment, she forgot that they were both soldiers, trained to react to a menace even before thinking: they both were startled by her touch and, instead of punching each other, they moved their already raised arms to push her away, hitting her with their elbows, in perfect unison.
To her, time seemed to slow down: she was falling, their combined strength enough to make her fly down the stairs. Robin and Guy turned, horror on their faces as soon as they realized what they had done.
But Marian was the Nightwatchman, used to fight against the guards of the Sheriff, to run, climb on the roofs and jump down walls. Her body reacted fast too, turning her fall in a sort of somersault.
She landed on her feet near a stone trough, even if not too gracefully.
For a moment neither of them said anything, all of them too shocked to talk. Guy and Robin looked terrified, their faces white and their eyes wide.
Marian looked at them, upset and scared, then she felt fresh tears in her eyes, and she couldn’t stop them from falling on her cheeks. Crying made her feel enraged: she crouched to the ground, still damp and soft after the rain of the last night, and she grabbed a handful of mud in each hand, throwing it at the two men.
“You are two idiots! Fools! Trying to kill each other like beasts, and you almost killed me! Look at that trough! I could have hit my head on that and died! And then what would have you obtained?!”
She walked to them, and she punched them both on their arms, still crying, while they looked at her and at the stone trough, horrified.
Guy lowered his eyes, deeply ashamed. Just a moment ago, hitting Robin Hood was the only thing that mattered, and he was almost ready to be killed to do it, but now the whole fight looked like a nonsense, a useless and foolish thing.
Marian was crying, and each of her sobs tore his heart to pieces.
It’s Hood’s fault. He thought, but then his conscience forced him to be honest. It’s my fault too.
“I’m sorry, Marian, I’m really sorry,” he said, in a subdued tone, without looking at her. “Please don’t cry, you are right, I’ve been an idiot.”
He opened an arm, wishing to hug her, to take her close to his heart and dry her tears, unaware that Robin had done the same. All three of them found themselves very close to each other. Guy and Robin exchanged a glare, but Marian was between them, still crying, and hugging them both, and they didn’t move.
To soothe her sorrow, now, was the only important thing for both of them, even if it meant to almost hug each other, so they stood still, their fight forgotten for the moment, trying to comfort the weeping girl they both loved.

Robin, slowly, separated from the two.
He looked at them sadly and said: "Alright, Gisborne. We set aside our hostilities from now on, for Marian's sake. We both love her, in the end, and she doesn’t want this. She cares for us. And, truly, we have another common problem, in fact, that was also why I decided to be here and meet you: Gisborne, I found your sister's daughter, Gwen. She is in my camp now. It is more correct to say that she has found me, I think. Clever girl, she strangely considers you as a good archer. But still, she is a clever girl. The girl says that you went to Nottingham, and that you decided to bring her back there where her father is. And she argues that her father is cruel with her, her brothers and her mother. Very cruel. Tell me, what is real in the things she said, and what are going to do with her and her father?"
Guy was still holding Marian close to his heart, but when Robin began to talk about Gwen, the girl straightened her back and dried her tears, and they stood side to side, tense, listening to him carefully.
When Robin stopped talking, Guy didn’t answer his questions, but he made a step forward and grabbed his arm, instinctively.
“Is she well? Was she scared or hurt?! What did you do with her?” He asked, sincerely worried for his niece.
Robin watched the two. Now,more than ever, they really looked like a real couple. Still, he couldn't completely give up his attitude toward Gisborne, especially seeing this strange ‘protective side’ of him.
"Sod off Gisborne, of course I didn’t touch her, she is safe at my camp. I am the good one, remember?"
Guy looked at Robin, equally miffed.
"Of course I wasn't saying that you touched her, Hood, don't be an idiot. I meant that the forest can be dangerous and she's only a child. Do you have enough to eat at your camp? And a comfortable place where she can sleep peacefully? What she said is true, except for a couple of things: I'm not going to give her back to her father."
Guy didn't mention the second thing, that he wasn't a good archer.
"Oh Gisborne, of course she is treated well in my camp. We will care for her. I like children. She will have her bed and… food, Much is a good cook of… everything that can be cooked. I have a