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From Ashes, Through the Fire

Chapter Text

Allan pulled the reins as he and Meg got near Matilda's hut, and he closed his eyes, taking a deep breath.
He was afraid.
He was terrified at the thought of joining the others and receiveing the news of Gisborne's death.
Allan dismounted and he looked at the girl, seeking comfort. Meg also seemed to be on the verge of tears, but she managed to offer him a trembling smile of encouragement.
Allan took her hand, grateful for her presence.
He didn't know what to think of the kiss they had exchanged in the barn, but at that moment he was too upset to think about it. Meg was next to him and her company helped him not to break down, for the moment it was enough.
They joined the others, who were sitting around a fire with a grim air.
Archer stared at the flames, and Marian sat on a log beside Robin, trembling, while the outlaw tried to comfort her, but he himself looked dejected.
Allan approached, but he couldn’t speak.
He knew he should ask about Guy, but he couldn't.
It was Meg who did it for him, addressing Robin.
“Are there any... news?”
It was Archer who answered.
“Matilda said he wouldn’t pass the night, but the sun has risen a good while ago and still she hasn't told us anything.
Allan and Meg also sat around the fire.
They could only wait.
After a seemingly endless time, they heard the healer's footsteps along the path and each of them had the impression that the temperature had dropped suddenly.
Matilda appeared among the trees and she approached them, near enough to talk, but not enough to risk bringing any infection.
Five pairs of eyes focused on her, but no one dared to ask the question they all feared. Marian, sitting next to Robin, seemed about to faint and Matilda turned to her.
“I believe I have never seen a patient more courageous and obstinate than your man, Lady Marian. He clung to life with all his strength, even when he no longer had any...”
Marian burst into tears and interrupted her.
“That's enough! I don't want to hear any more! Just tell me if he died quietly! If at least he was in peace!”
“Oh, now for sure he is.” The healer's face opened in a smile. “Only, he's not dead at all.”
Matilda waited for a few seconds while the other five absorbed the news and she saw a glimmer of hope lighting up in their eyes, but nobody had the courage to express it, for fear of being wrong.
“Is Guy alive?” Marian finally whispered. “Really?”
“He no longer has a fever and now he is sleeping. He’s very weak and he will need a lot of time to recover completely, but if he doesn’t suffer a relapse, he will survive.”
“Robin?” Marian looked at the outlaw. “Tell me that I heard right, that I'm not fooling myself.”
Robin Hood smiled at her.
“She said he'll get better.”
Marian jumped up.
“I have to see him!”
Matilda shook her head decisively.
“It isn’t possible. For a couple of weeks, at least. He is better and he hopefully will recover, but he could still spread contagion. I can't let him see anyone until I'm sure there's no danger.”
Robin put a hand on Marian's shoulder to curb any possible protest.
“It makes sense to me. For the moment let us be content with knowing that he will be fine.”
Matilda approved his words with a nod.
“It’s getting cold and you spent the night outdoors, now go home before you get sick too. Don't worry about your friend, I'll take care of him, but if he didn't die tonight, I really think he won't have too many problems to heal completely.”
Marian nodded.
“Please tell him that I love him and that I will wait for him for as long as necessary,” she said, deeply moved.
Matilda cast a curious glance at Robin, surprised to see that he wasn’t disturbed at all by the girl's words. Once those two had been in love, but apparently the situation had really changed.
Gisborne had told her that he and Marian would get married and that Robin felt no grudge for that, but only now that she saw the outlaw with her eyes, she could completely believe in Guy's words.
Archer stood up, stretching his back carelessly.
“Well, for me it's time to go back to the castle.” He turned to Matilda with an amused smile. “Give Guy a message from me: tell him he's an idiot. And that when he gets better, I will repeat it to him a few dozen times in person.”
Matilda burst out laughing.
“It will be a pleasure.” She said and she stood watching Archer, Robin and Marian mounting on their horses to leave. She waited until they were gone, then she looked at the other two who had remained quietly apart: the girl wept openly with tears of joy and she held Allan's hand in hers, while the young man was staring at the trunk of a tree, his eyes bright with tears.
The healer sensed that Allan didn’t want to show his emotion in front of the others and, in order not to embarrass him further, she turned to him and Meg in a rough tone.
“Do you have any message for Gisborne? Come on, hurry up, it's cold and I have no time to waste.”
“Tell him we're all happy that he's alive,” Meg said, smiling between tears. Matilda guessed from her gaze that she wanted to say more, but she knew she couldn't do it.
“What about you?”
Allan looked at her and he cleared his throat.
“What Meg said. And tell him that he shouldn’t worry about Knighton because I'll take care of it until he gets well.”
The healer nodded and she turned away from them, leaving them alone.
It was only when she returned to the hut that Allan dropped to his knees, bursting into tears of relief.
Meg hugged him without saying anything.

Guy finished eating and he laid the empty bowl on the ground with a satisfied sigh, then he leaned against the cushions that made the wooden chair positioned in front of the fireplace more comfortable and he adjusted the blanket better.
He didn’t have a fever for almost a week now, but it were just a couple of days that he had recovered enough strength to remain seated instead of laying in bed. During the first few days he had done nothing but sleep and he only had rather confused memories of that period. Matilda had told him that it was normal after being so sick and that he was lucky to be alive.
The healer returned to the hut and she dropped into his lap an arrow with a scroll rolled along the shaft, staring at him sternly.
“Sooner or later Robin will end up hurting someone if he keeps shooting his arrows at people's houses.” Matilda grumbled, bending down to pick up the empty bowl. “He could leave his messages under the stone along the path, like the others do. By the way, here: there’s also a letter from Lady Marian and another from a certain Tuck. Allan reports having paid the monthly taxes to the sheriff and that everything is going well, while Archer told me to tell you that your sister's situation is unchanged. And to remind you that you are an idiot.”
She handed him the two rolled parchments and Guy touched Marian's with a finger. He would read it later, as soon as Matilda would leave him alone to go and collect her herbs or to take water from the well.
He grinned as he unrolled Robin's message from the arrow and he turned to Matilda.
“If he did things normally, he wouldn't be Hood. And indeed you are lucky that he only shoots them at the house and not through the open window.”
The woman shook her head.
“Sometimes you men are worse than children.”
Matilda let out a series of curses in hearing another thud on the outside wall of the hut. She left in a hurry, scolded Robin aloud, then she detached the arrow from the wood and she returned to the house, throwing it at Gisborne.
Guy laughed as he saw the apple stuck on the arrow shaft. He took it off and bit it as he read Robin's message.
“At least your appetite has returned.” Matilda said, observing Guy with a satisfied air. The black knight was still weak, but he improved day by day and by now she was certain that he would recover completely.
He just needed the patience to stay warm and at rest and to eat healthy, nutritious foods to regain his strength.
Robin's parchment was a rather colorful account of the outlaw's last mission and Guy set it aside with a grin. Later he would read it to Matilda and then burn it in the fireplace so as not to leave compromising evidence lying around.
Instead, Tuck's letter was more serious. In the first part the friar inquired about his physical health and, perhaps remembering his mental state after being wounded by Barret, he encouraged him to face convalescence with patience and serenity.
Guy thought that now his situation was very different: he didn’t like to feel so weak and vulnerable and he would probably end up bored to death in being shut in Matilda's hut, but he felt at peace.
He was alive against all expectations and he knew that his friends, his family, had been worried about him and now they were waiting to be able to hug him again.
Every day Matilda brought him messages or little gifts from them and Guy felt loved.
It had been a long time since he had last felt that sensation, he had been a child then, and it still seemed unbelievable that so many people could worry about him.
He continued to read Tuck's letter carefully: the second part spoke of Isabella's situation. Before falling ill, Guy had asked him to inquire about the possibility of getting an annulment of his sister's marriage with Thornton and now it seemed that the friar had found a possibility, even if uncertain: the sterility of one spouse could be a reason to make cancel the marriage.
If they could prove that Thornton was unable to have children, Guy could sustain Isabella's right to demand cancellation.
In the end everything would be resolved in a legal battle between Guy and Thornton and the winner would be the one who could pay more or who had more power, on this Guy didn't have many doubts, but it was still a way to try.
“Matilda? Is Robin still around?”
The woman came to the door.
“Yes, I think so.”
“Tell him he has to go back to Shrewsbury as soon as he can and find out if Thornton has or ever had bastard children. He must look for women who have been in bed with him and have them tell him if they have ever had children. He must make sure they are willing to testify to him. If we can prove that he is sterile, perhaps we will have a hope of saving Isabella. And tell him that this time he shouldn't get into trouble because I won't be able help him.”
The healer gave him a puzzled look, but she went out to report the message.
When she returned, a few minutes later, she sat near the fireplace too and she turned to Guy.
“Tell me, am I wrong, or are you and Robin closer friends than you told Lady Marian?”
“What makes you think so?”
“In front of her Robin behaves coldly and detached towards you, but when she isn’t present he asks me a thousand questions about your health, as anxious as a mother hen.”
Guy chuckled at Matilda's last sentence.
“Yes, Robin and I are friends, but we didn't tell Marian.”
“Why not?”
“If we did, there would be too many things to explain.”
“Things like the identity of the Nightwatchman?”
Guy gasped and Matilda laughed in his face.
“Yes, I know it's you.”
“Who...”
“Who told me? Just you. While you were delirious you said several interesting things.”
“Oh, not again...” Guy said in a distressed tone, thinking of the humiliation he had suffered in front of the sheriff because of Marian's pancakes. “I hope nothing too compromising.”
“Who knows?” Matilda said, amused. “We'll talk about it in a few days when you start to ask to get out of here and walk around before it's safe to do it. Something tells me that as soon as you regain some energy you will not be an easy patient.”
“So are you going to blackmail me?”
“Oh yes.”
Guy gave up with a grin.
“All right, I know when I can't win.”
“You have already won against death, be satisfied. And now stop fussing and go back to bed, you still need to rest.”
“But...”
Matilda immediately silenced him by raising a finger.
“The story of the sheriff's bath was very interesting, you know?”
Guy looked at her incredulously.
“Did I tell you that too?”
“And it's not even the worst one you told me. To bed, now.”
Guy glared at her, but he obeyed.
Matilda helped him to get up, supported him for the few steps he had walk to the bed and she helped him lie down, then she handed him the scrolls with the messages of Robin, Tuck and Marian.
“Since you've been reasonable, I'm going to get some firewood, so you can read your girlfriend's letter in peace, but after that try to sleep.”
“If I really have to...” Guy said, reluctant and sullen, but as soon as Matilda was gone, he found himself smiling. He would not admit it in front of Matilda, but he was feeling sleepy.
The healer had threatened to blackmail him, but Guy knew he would obey her anyway. At that moment he was comfortable, sated and warm thanks to Matilda and he knew that without her help he would surely have died.
He knew he owed her.
He turned on his side and unrolled Marian's letter, excited even to see the girl's writing. The warmth he felt at that moment was not only due to the blanket or the fire burning in the fireplace, but it came directly from the heart.
Guy sniffed the letter, convinced he caught a hint of the girl's scent, then he smiled again and started reading.