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.
“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.
“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.