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.”
“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...”
“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.