Marian reached Allan near the bed, holding a pot of hot water. She placed it on the bedside table, dipped a clean towel in it, and passed it to Allan.
The young man used it to rub Guy’s hands, still too cold.
Marian looked at the knight, serious and tense.
“What happened to him? Why doesn’t he wake up?”
Allan put a hand on Guy’s neck to check his pulse.
“I don’t know. His heart seems to be as strong as ever, but he’s too cold.”
“It’s because of what I said to him?”
Allan stared at her, lifting an eyebrow.
“Mocking his feelings for you didn’t help for sure.”
“I wasn’t mocking his feelings!”
“What?! ‘I love Robin Hood’? Are you serious? Giz always protected you from the sheriff, you have no idea how many times, and what he had to endure just for your sake. He’s a fool to love you so much when you obviously don’t care for him, but you could have avoided showing off your awesome love for Robin Hood just to hurt him. Not when he’s doing so much for your father!”
Allan stopped himself from telling her about the ghost, he wasn’t completely sure of it himself, but he nodded.
“Did you know that Giz is paying for the burial and the tombstone? He also thought to bury him in Knighton so it would be easier for you to go and visit his tomb, he was afraid that the sheriff could make it difficult for you if the tomb was in Nottingham.”
“I am sorry,” she whispered, looking at Guy. She gingerly touched his forehead, frowning to feel his skin so cold. “Allan? Do you think that he will be alright?”
The young man shrugged.
“How can I know? I’m no physician. Do you think that we should call for one?”
“Probably we should. I’ve seen people getting ill or fainting, but never like this. Do you know if he was ill?”
“Last night he got drunk. After he found out that you had run away. But other than the hangover and the strain of having to deal with all of this, he wasn’t sick. I know the effects of too much wine, believe me, and there was nothing too strange in him.”
Marian went to the fireplace to stoke the fire, in the attempt of making the room warmer.
“Call Matilda. She’s the better healer in the county, she can surely help him.”
“The same Matilda who Giz arrested and who had almost been drowned by the sheriff? Come on, Marian, do you really think that she will come to treat him?”
“Don’t say that it’s for him. When she comes I’ll talk to her. She won’t say no.”
Allan unfolded another blanket, and he put it on the bed.
“Very well, I will go, and you will take care of him in the meanwhile. Try to warm him, and be gentle.” Allan searched her gaze, and stared at her, unusually serious. “If he dies, I will never forgive you.”
The man went away, and she was left alone with Guy. It was only then that she realized how scared she was. She was used to see Gisborne always strong and tireless, and now he was laying in a bed, half dead.
“Please, please, open your eyes!” She whispered to the knight.
Marian paced around the room, wondering how she could help him, and at last she sat on the edge of the bed, taking one of his hands between hers. She took it close to her face and she breathed on it, trying to warm his icy fingers.
She had been doing it for a while, when Guy stirred a little, with a low moan. His eyelids trembled, and he opened his eyes, but his gaze was unfocused, and he didn’t seem to acknowledge her presence.
“I’m sorry,” Guy whispered, staring at an empty corner of the room, “I’m so sorry, I won’t hurt her, I swear. Please don’t take me to Hell, I beg you!”
Marian squeezed his hand a little, tenderly.
“Guy? I’m here, Guy, please look at me.”
“Marian?” His voice was weak and he still looked confused, but he seemed to recognize her. The girl was a little relieved to see that he was awake, but he was still too pale and his skin was clammy and cold.
“How are you feeling? You scared us,” she said in a gentle tone, still feeling guilty for her harsh words and afraid that they had been the cause of his illness.
“Cold. My stomach aches.” Guy closed his eyes with a pained expression, taking some deep breaths, then he turned on his side, struggling to get up. “I’m going to be sick.”
Marian moved quickly, managing to grab the basin just in time, and she helped Guy, supporting him while he threw up and then helping him to lie back on the bed when he had finished.
She looked at him for a moment, then she took the basin out of the room and she called one of the maids of the inn, giving it to the girl.
Marian hurried to go back to Guy, and she sat on the edge of the bed. The knight averted his eyes from her, ashamed.
“I’m sorry. You shouldn’t see me like this.”
Marian smiled, moved by his embarrassment, and she took his hand.
“It’s not your fault if you are ill.” Now it was her turn to feel uneasy, and she blushed. “Actually it might be my fault. I’ve been cruel to you.”
Guy glanced at her, surprised for her words.
“You just said the truth,” he said, gruffly, “and if I got ill it wasn’t your fault. I think it was… something else.”
Guy looked at the farthest corner of the room: the ghost was there and he was staring back at him with a contrite look.
“I’m very sorry, Sir Guy,” he said, “I didn’t know that my touch could hurt you.”
Gisborne gave him an imperceptible nod, and he looked back at Marian, noticing how worried and scared she was.
“Are you alright?” He asked, and the girl burst up in tears.
“I should be the one to ask this question to you, Guy! I thought you were going to die!”
“Would you care if I did?” He asked, more surprised than bitter, but Marian gave a little slap to his hand.
“How can you talk like that?! Of course I would!”
“You love Hood.”
“And just because of this I shouldn’t care for anybody else? You love one person and the rest of the world stops existing?! It doesn’t work like this, Guy.”
“For me it does. You were all my world.”
Marian stared at him in disbelief. She nervously dried a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand.
“It can’t be, surely. Wouldn’t you care at all if your friends should die or get very ill?”
“I have no friends.”
The girl realized that there was no self pity in Guy’s words. The knight was just stating a matter of fact, as if that situation was perfectly normal for him.
“What about Allan?” She asked. “He acted like a friend, just a while ago. He was worried for you.”
Guy frowned. He thought that if something bad happened to the young man, he would care.
He was so used to be completely alone that he hadn’t realized that he actually enjoyed the company of the former outlaw, that maybe Marian was right and he had at least a friend.
“Where’s Allan?” He asked, a little worried.
“He went to call for a healer. You gave us a big scare. How are you feeling, now?”
“A little better. Still so cold...”
Marian added another blanket to the bed, and she rubbed his hands gently, trying to warm his fingers.
“Do you think you could drink some broth, or some mulled wine? They would warm you.”
“Not now. I’d be sick again.”
“Maybe it’s better to wait for the healer, then. Try to rest until she arrives, when I am unwell, sleeping always makes me feel better.”
Guy closed his eyes, tired and weak, but his fingers clenched on Marian’s hand for a moment.
“Don’t leave me alone,” he whispered.
Marian sighed to see him so vulnerable and sick, and clenched her fingers back on his.
“I won’t go anywhere until you are better,” she promised, but Guy was already asleep.
Guy was awoken from his fitful slumber by the sound of angry voices.
“If I had know that you called me for that filthy donkey turd, I’d never have followed you!” The healer, Matilda, was pointing a finger at Allan, and the young man had his hands raised in front of him, defensively.
“Hey, that was why I didn’t tell you. And it was her who suggested to keep silent,” Allan nodded at Marian, and the girl intervened, pleading the woman.
“It’s true, don’t be mad at Allan.”
“He works for the sheriff, that’s enough to despise him.”
“I work for Giz, not for the sheriff!” Allan exclaimed.
“It’s the same.” Matilda said.
“No it isn’t. Giz is a decent man when he’s not with Vaisey.”
Matilda lifted her eyebrows, skeptically.
“Please, do it for me,” Marian said, almost in tears, “You know me since I were a child, you know where I stand…”
“Yes, my child, I know you,” the healer softened and gave a sad smile at Marian, “I’m really sorry for your father. You should be mourning in peace now, not losing your time after the bloody dog of the sheriff.”
“Guy has been kind with my father.”
“How? Burning your house and arresting him?”
“He will give him a decent burial, and he never liked the treatment that the sheriff had for my father.” Marian was surprised by her own words. Just a few hours before she had accused Guy using the same words of Matilda, but now she was defending him.
The healer glanced at her, doubtful, but then she relented.
“I don’t understand, but if it’s so important for you, I’ll treat that scoundrel. Just for you, child, because I don’t like seeing you cry. Now go out and let me work.”
Allan and Marian went out of the room, and Matilda crossed her arms in front of her.
She stared directly at Sir Edward, and the ghost exchanged a surprised look with Guy, but then he followed his daughter out of the door.
“Could you see him?” Guy blurted, but Matilda walked to the bed and pointed a finger at his chest.
“Shut up. I accepted to treat you, but it doesn’t mean that I like you or that I have forgotten what you and your master did to me. So keep your mouth closed unless I ask you anything, or I might be tempted to give you the most unpleasant remedies I know. I might change my opinion about leeches, just for you. Is that clear?”
Guy nodded, still too weak and sick to argue, and the woman began her examination.
She touched his forehead and his hands, and listened to his heart.
“You are cold, more than you should be. I have seen something similar when those children fell into the frozen pond last winter in Nettlestone. Have you been outside for a long time without adequate clothes? It’s strange though, the weather had been warm in the last few days.”
“I was downstairs, here at the inn, but...”
“Here at the inn? That room is always too hot, sometimes I wonder if they call it ‘The Flaming Turnip’ because of that! How can you be half frozen when anyone else down there is sweating?”
The woman put a hand on his stomach, and Guy winced.
“Does it hurt?”
“A little. Less than it did before I threw up.”
“Was there blood in it?”
She touched his stomach again, with more attention this time.
“I think that there is nothing wrong here. You were sick because of the cold, it can happen sometimes. And you got drunk last night, probably your stomach was still unsettled because of it.”
“How do you know?” Guy asked, frowning.
“Do you still think I am a witch? Be careful or I could curse you.”
Matilda chuckled seeing Guy’s worried expression.
“My, you aren’t very bright, are you? I heard it from a couple of guards at the market. They were laughing because the terrible Guy of Gisborne got so drunk for the love of a woman that his servant had to drag him to bed.”
Guy blushed, and the woman laughed even more.
“Well, if your cheeks can become so red, it means that you are getting better. But there are still two mysteries to solve. The first one is how you could have almost been frozen to death in a warm spring evening. For this I’ll have to examine you further. Can you sit and remove your shirt?”
“I need to see if you have signs of diseases or poison on your body.”
Guy tried to sit, but he was feeling still too weak and dizzy, and the woman helped him, with an annoyed sigh.
“What’s the second mystery?” Guy asked, more to hide his discomfort at being so helpless than to really know the answer.
Matilda struggled a little to keep him upright while untying the laces of his shirt.
“Why a noblewoman like Lady Marian should care so much for someone like you to risk her reputation?”
“What do you mean?”
“When I arrived, she was lying next to you, on the bed, and she held you in her arms to warm you with her own body. Probably she saved your life doing so, but if a maid had entered in the room, she’d surely gossip and her reputation could be ruined.”
Guy didn’t know how to reply, astonished and moved. He now knew that Marian loved Robin Hood, but maybe she wasn’t lying when she said that she cared for him. It had to be true, at least a little, or she wouldn’t have tried so fiercely to save his life.
Matilda helped him to remove the shirt, and she gasped, backing away from him with a muffled cry.
Guy stared at her, beginning to worry. He knew that it had been the touch of the ghost to make him so ill, but he wondered if she had seen the symptoms of some disease.
With a shudder he thought of his leper father, banished from his village…
“What’s up?” Guy asked, and Matilda pointed at his shoulders, frightened.
“You should tell me. This is no disease! Look, your skin seems to be burnt here, as if it was touched by fire. But the burns are in the shape of two hands! Something touched you! Was it a devil?! Are you possessed?!”
The woman held a trinket in front of her, an amulet of some kind, and Guy stared at her, then he glanced at the marks on his skin: where Edward had touched him, his fingers had scorched his skin.
“I saw Sir Edward’s ghost,” he said, it was pointless to hide the truth, now, “and he touched me.”
Matilda stared at him, trying to understand if he was lying, but Gisborne’s gaze seemed to be sincere.
“Surely he wanted revenge.”
“No, he wanted me to protect Marian. He didn’t mean to hurt me, he apologized for this. He didn’t know that his touch would have this effect on me.”
Matilda dared to get closer to him, and she lifted a finger to touch the burns.
Guy winced in pain.
“Careful! It hurts!”
The healer prepared an ointment, and she smeared it on the marks, then she looked at Guy.
“Now we know what happened to you, you were touched by the chill of death itself. But you are recovering, I can see that. But why Sir Edward should appear to you?”
Gisborne shook his head.
“He said that only I could see him. But you saw him too!”
“He was staying in that corner, and you told him to exit. I tried to ask you about it, but you started to berate me.”
Matilda took a chair, and she sat down, heavily.
“I didn’t recognize him… Does Marian know about it?”
“I told Allan, but not her. How could I tell her that I spent the last day chatting with her dead father? She’d think that I’m mocking her sorrow or that I am crazy...”
The healer grinned.
“Well, maybe you aren’t as brainless as you look. What does the ghost want you to do?”
“To protect her. To keep her out of danger. To take care of her.”
“Will you obey him?” Matilda asked, and Guy nodded.
“I’d have done it anyways.”
The woman sighed.
“Well, it seems that I’ll have to take care of your health and get you back on your feet, even if you wouldn’t deserve it. But if both Marian and her father have so much trust in you, maybe you aren’t the black hearted demon that everyone thinks you are.”
She bandaged his burns and helped him to wear his shirt again.
“You will be alright in a few days if you follow my advice,” she continued. “Stay in bed, keep warm and rest as much as you can. Try to get up only to attend to your needs, and get back to bed immediately as soon as you are done. You look exhausted, and you probably were overtired even before being touched by the ghost...”
“How do you know that I was tired?” Guy interrupted her.
“Anyone who works for that little stinky bald man can’t be relaxed. If it’s true what your friends say, that you can be a decent person, you might consider to stop working for the sheriff. Nothing good can come from that bundle of filth.”
Guy couldn’t help grinning at her words, and the healer stared at him, a little surprised.
“Incredible, you can smile. And you look much better when you do. But well, let’s go back to business: stay in bed, rest, and eat. Begin with some broth and bread and see if you can keep it down. If you can, you can try to eat simple but nourishing meals. No wine for now. In a couple of days you should be as good as new. Oh, you’ll need to put some ointment on those burns every day, you can ask Allan to help you. It’s all clear?”
“The sheriff will expect me to go to work tomorrow, as usual,” Gisborne said, worried.
“Tell him you’re ill.”
“He won’t care.”
Matilda shook her head.
“Really. Are you insane to work for him?” She thought for a moment. “Well, send your boy to tell the sheriff that the healer said that your illness is contagious and that if he wants you to go back to your work before you are healed, he should expect to catch it too and spend a few days looking at the bottom of a bucket or running to the privy, or both at the same time. Let’s see if he will want you back so soon.”
Guy laughed, and Matilda helped him to lie down in bed, tucking the blankets with care so that he could be warm and comfortable.
“Sleep now, and when you wake up, try to eat something. I’ll give instructions to your friends, and then I want to see if I can have a little chat with that ghost. You didn’t lie to me, did you?”
“I didn’t.” Guy said, drowsily.
“It will be better for you. I’ll come back tomorrow to see if you are better.”
Matilda waited for a moment to see him falling asleep, and she looked at his face for a while. The knight looked younger in his sleep, almost innocent, and the woman wondered how could he be the same man who ruthlessly carried out every wicked order of the sheriff.