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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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?”
“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.”
“Put your weight on it, now. Can you stand?”
“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.
“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.”
“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.