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?”
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.
“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?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.
“Lesson three: never underestimate a knight, even if he’s crippled.”