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.
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?”
“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.