Chapter 1: Heartbeat
Prince John’s army came, as inexorable as a storm, and it left, leaving death, fire and destruction on its path.
It was a night of flames, terror and pain, and, in the morning, only few persons wandered among the ruins of the town and the villages, pale and drained, like living ghosts.
Most of the survivors had lost everything: house, family, anything that they owned. They walked between the burnt houses and the corpses, in search of anything they could save from the fires.
A few of them were trying to help the others, searching for the wounded ones, and organizing a safe place in the forest where they could find sanctuary and relief.
Matilda, the healer who lived in the depths of Sherwood, hadn’t suffered the attack of the army. She was used to live in hiding, far from the other people, so the soldiers didn’t even know that there was her little hut in Sherwood forest.
The healer and her daughter had been safe during the destruction of the county, but at dawn they came out from their hiding to help the wounded. A few members of Robin Hood’s gang, shocked and trembling, had soon joined her, opening their camp to whoever was in need of help.
Matilda couldn’t see Robin around, and she wondered if he had been killed during the attack too.
The saracen woman, that girl who had joined the outlaws, didn’t know either, and she stumbled at Matilda’s side, checking corpse after corpse to see if any of them was still alive.
The healer glanced at her, a little worried: the saracen girl was clearly exhausted and she had a bandaged arm. Matilda was about to suggest her to stop and rest for a while, but then she noticed the deep pain in Djaq’s eyes.
She lost a loved one.
Probably helping the others was the girl’s only way to go on, to avert her mind from her own pain.
Matilda entered the hall of the castle, what remained of it, and she bent on the bodies of the people lying on the floor, bloodied and covered in burns.
Matilda froze touching the neck of another one of those men.
The healer was about to call for help, to shout that there was another survivor, but she stopped, recognizing who it was.
Guy of Gisborne, the black, dangerous dog of the sheriff, the man who came to her hut to arrest her, endangering both her and her daughter.
For a moment she was tempted to ignore that feeble heartbeat, to pretend that Gisborne was dead too and to leave him there, to rot in his own blood.
“This one is alive,” she said, calling two of the villagers who were helping her to carry the wounded to the camp.
They didn’t move.
“Why should we help Gisborne? He deserves to die. I’m not lifting a finger to save him.”
They dropped the makeshift stretcher they were carrying and they went away, shaking their heads.
Matilda couldn’t really blame them, she had been tempted to do the same.
She glanced at Djaq, and she saw that the girl was uncertain as well.
“He’s an enemy,” Djaq said, “but too many people died already...”
“You’re right. If a life can be saved, we should try to save it, it doesn’t matter if he deserves it or not. Do you think we can lift him on that stretcher? He’s a tall man.”
“Not for a long distance, I’m afraid. I’ll see if I can find a cart.”
“Go, I’ll begin treating those wounds.”
Everything was just pain and suffering.
Guy wasn’t aware of anything else.
He had been lying on his side for days and days, too weak even to stir, lost in the terrible pain that pierced his body. He slipped in and out of consciousness, welcoming the darkness as a blessing, a merciful hand that closed his eyes and took him away from his pain.
Sometimes a gentle hand lifted his head, taking a cup to his lips, and helping him to drink little sips of a bitter draught, or some broth, or watered wine.
He didn’t know how much time had passed since he had been lying on that bed of straw, wrapped in a old ragged blanket, but day after day he began to be more conscious of his state.
He wasn’t alone. He couldn’t find the strength to open his eyes, but he knew that there were many other persons around him, and most of them had to be wounded or sick, just like him.
He could hear their laboured breath, smell their stinking bodies and often their pitiful moans woke him from the blessing of his sleep.
He knew that he stank too, just like them. Sweat, blood and worse.
Mercifully not the stink of rotten flesh, not yet at least.
But he felt the damp straw under his body and he hated that sensation. He wasn’t a child, a part of his mind remembered him that he should have been able to wake up in time to relieve himself without wetting the bed and it made him feel ashamed. But even when he was awake, he was too weak to move. He always tried to wait as long as he could, but at last he was forced to piss where he was, in the wet straw, feeling disgusted of himself and deeply humiliated.
At least he was naked, so he didn’t have to feel the disgusting sensation of wet clothes sticking to his skin.
One day it wasn’t pain or discomfort to wake him up, but a fresh touch on his face. Guy opened his eyes and he saw a tired faced woman kneeling at the side of his bed. She was holding a wet towel in her hands and she was using it to gently dab at his face.
Her face was familiar, but Guy couldn’t remember where he had seen her before. His thoughts were confused, his head heavy and clouded.
Matilda stared at him, a little surprised.
“Oh. You’re awake at last.” She gave him an ironic grin. “I should have known that a rabid mutt like you wouldn’t be so easy to kill.”
When she talked, Guy recognized her: the healer, the foul mouthed woman who the sheriff had tried to kill, accusing her to be a witch.
He gave her a worried glance: that woman had all the reasons to hate him, and he surely wasn’t able to defend himself in his weak state.
But even if her words were harsh, the touch of the woman was gentle. She kept cleaning his face with the wet towel, washing away sweat and dirt.
It was a relief.
Matilda kept working in silence for a while cleaning Guy’s face and his body, and changing the bandages that wrapped his wounds. Every once in a while, she looked at his face, at his closed eyes, and she thought that now Guy of Gisborne didn’t look so menacing.
Not at all.
He opened his eyes again.
Blue, lost, and full of pain and confusion.
She took some pity on the man.
“Your fever broke tonight, that’s why you were sweating so much” she said, “I believe that you will survive, even if it will take a while for you to recover completely.”
Gisborne just stared at her, as if he hadn’t heard or understood her words, and Matilda wondered how much damaged he actually was.
She felt sad for him, for all the other ones who had suffered and the ones who lost their lives.
All this because of a single man. The Sheriff, that pile of stinking crap, was the only one who really deserved to die, but his death had unleashed sorrow and tragedy for everyone else.
For a moment she felt angry at Gisborne: that knight was the henchman of the Sheriff, he had much blood on his hands as well, probably he deserved to suffer too.
But now that she could look at them, his eyes weren’t evil.
“Now lay still where you are and don’t worry about anything. I’ll change this damp straw, so you can sleep comfortably,” she said, gently.
Guy managed to gave her a little nod, even if any movement drained him of his strength, and Matilda noticed that he had blushed when she had talked about the soiled straw.
Her gaze softened.
He’s a proud man. Probably he’d never been so ill before, unable to get up from bed even to relieve himself.
She worked quickly, putting aside the dirty straw and replacing it with armfuls of clean and dry one.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she commented, “it’s just how the body works, it’s a natural thing and it’s not your fault if you are too weak to get up.”
Guy kept his eyes closed. The words of the woman were kind, but he still hated to feel so helpless.
He hoped that the woman would finish her work soon, so he could slip back in the oblivion of sleep, in that dark place that soothed his pain and kept his mind away from thoughts and memories.
He didn’t want to know, he didn’t want to remember, because he was sure that an even harsher pain would come with memories.
At the same time he didn’t want the witch to go away, he wanted her to keep talking, to give him the care that nobody had given him since his parents had died.
He was lonely and scared.
Suddenly, an agonized cry broke the silence of that place. A voice, the howl of a madman, of someone who had lost his mind.
Guy shivered. He felt broken, but the man who was crying was behind that, he sounded as if he was in Hell already.
Matilda got up and hurried away, probably to help that man.
Gisborne shivered: something in that screaming voice unsettled him deeply, but he wasn’t sure why.
Then he understood, suddenly: it was Robin Hood’s voice.
Chapter 2: Leper
Guy woke up, sensing a presence near his bed. He knew that it wasn’t Matilda because the woman wasn’t silent at all: he could recognize her steps when she was still far away, and then she was always talking, to the other sick people or to herself.
This presence instead was extremely quiet, as if that person was holding his or her breath to be even more silent.
He didn’t perceive danger, though, but he was somehow reluctant to open his eyes, fearing to be hurt.
When he finally did it, he realized why.
The girl was sitting on the ground at the feet of his bed, her back straight and tense, and she was staring at him, an indecipherable expression on her face.
She noticed that he was awake, and Guy could read some relief in her eyes.
He, instead, could feel nothing.
He was aware that Marian’s safety was one of the big question he had avoided asking to himself or to others, one of the question that were gnawing at his soul, but that he was too scared to ask.
If she was dead, he didn’t want to know, he had the sensation that he couldn’t bear to live in a world where Marian didn’t exist.
But she was alive and in good health, he could see her with his own eyes, but he didn’t feel happy or relieved.
He just felt nothing at all.
Marian instead looked to be quite emotional, and her eyes welled with tears.
“I thought that you were going to die too,” she whispered, and Guy wondered who else was dead.
Not Hood. He could hear his screams, his anguished cries, and they never failed to chill his blood.
Hood wasn’t supposed to scream like that, he was always so confident, always ready to laugh in front of danger. What could have happened to make him scream like that?
If Hood was so broken, how could Guy, who had never been as strong and brave as him, stand to remember what happened during the siege?
Marian was looking at him, expecting some reaction, but Guy didn’t know what to say.
Robin screamed again, and Guy was startled, but this time he saw a deep, excruciating pain in Marian’s eyes and he suddenly understood her feelings.
“You love him,” he said, his voice low and hoarse, but emotionless.
The girl stared at him, horrified, tears flowing freely on her face.
“Guy...” She began, her voice trembling and broken.
“I’ve been blind. I see it now. It’s so clear...”
Marian had expected him to be angry, heartbroken in front of that revelation, but his voice, deprived of any emotion, shocked her.
She burst out in tears, hiding her face in her hands.
Guy just stared at her without saying anything until she was able to speak again. But this time the girl couldn’t look at him.
“I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt you...”
“Shouldn’t you be with him?” Guy asked, in a flat tone, and Marian began weeping again.
“Robin doesn’t want to see me,” she sobbed, aware that she shouldn’t talk about Robin to Guy, but unable to refrain herself. “He can’t even look at me, as if… as if I were a monster. Or a leper...”
Guy could almost hear the voice of the sheriff pronouncing that word with contempt. He realized that Vaisey was dead, that he would never hear his voice yelling at him or giving him orders, but, again, he didn’t feel anything.
“So Hood doesn’t want you, and you come here?”
Marian shook her head, vehemently.
“It’s not like that! I’d come anyway! I value our friendship!”
Guy stared blankly at her.
“Friendship?” He whispered. “Were we friends?”
“I’d come,” she repeated. “And I am in debt.”
She saw a flicker of surprise on Guy’s face. The first resemblance of emotion that she could read on his face since he woke up.
“In debt? With me?”
“Don’t you remember?”
Guy closed his eyes for a moment. His head ached, and he felt exhausted. Maybe he didn’t want to remember.
Marian looked at him for a long while, her face as pale as his, even if she hadn’t been wounded.
“I’m so sorry...” She whispered again, bending to place a light kiss on his cheek, then she turned and ran away.
Guy had opened his eyes at the touch of her lips, but he didn’t stir, staring at the canopy of trees for a while.
Once he used to sleep under a roof, in Locksley’s manor or at the castle, but now he had become so used to see the branches and the leaves swaying softly in the breeze, that that time looked almost to have belonged to another life.
It was another life. He thought, nothing could ever be like it was before the siege.
Once he had a soul.
Guy closed his eyes and he let sleep take him again.
Chapter 3: Anything can Make a Difference
Matilda sat under a tree with a mortar in front of her and she kept grinding herbs with rhythmic, skillful movements. While she worked, she looked around: it was the middle of the afternoon in a sunny, warm summer day, and the camp was quiet.
There weren’t as many wounded people as there had been just after the siege: some of them had died, others were healed and had gone back to their villages to try to rebuild their lives. Only a few of them were still at the camp, and most of them were still too weak to move from their beds.
Matilda was afraid that some of those persons were going to be crippled for life.
Now, most of them were sleeping, after eating the lunch that Rosa and Djaq gave to them. Matilda felt proud of her daughter: she had to take care of her baby, but still she found the patience and the time to help the wounded, to feed the ones who weren’t able to do it on their own, and to chat with those ill, shocked persons.
Matilda glanced at her patients, and she sighed when her eyes stopped on the dark, lonely figure of Guy of Gisborne. The bed of the man was apart from the others and nobody ever stopped to talk to him. The outlaws allowed him to stay there at the camp to heal from his wounds, but they almost completely ignored his presence.
Gisborne, in turn, never made any attempt to interact with the others. He just sat on his bed, staring at the ground or at the trees, uninterested in the surroundings.
Matilda couldn’t understand what he thought: he looked to be numb, devoid of any emotion, but she suspected that his behavior was very far from what he was really feeling.
The woman sighed again and stood up. She glanced at the curtain that hid Robin’s bed, then she looked back at Gisborne. Robin was out of his mind, expressing all the pain he was feeling, but Matilda suspected that the two men, those two enemies, where equally wounded and they just had different ways to face their wounds.
Now Robin was in a deep drugged sleep, the only way she had to give him some rest, some hours free from his pain.
Matilda picked up the heavy mortar and the herbs, and she walked towards Gisborne.
The knight didn’t move, even if Matilda knew that he had heard her approaching, so she cleared her voice.
“Do you mind if I sit here for a moment? This thing is heavy.”
Guy glanced at the mortar she was holding and he nodded, so the woman put the stone mortar on the ground between them, then she sat down with a tired sigh.
“The work of an healer never ends, you know? When you finish to treat the sick and the wounded, you have herbs to collect and remedies to prepare. Luckily most of the people wounded in the siege need less cares now. Most of them can move on their own, they are able to eat without help and soon they’ll be able to go back to their lives.”
“If they have a life to go back to.”
“If they don’t, they can make a new one.”
Guy didn’t answer, and Matilda inwardly sighed.
“Do you ever move from this bed, except for attending to your needs or to wash up? You are still weak, but your wounds are almost healed, some exercise would be good for you. You’d heal more quickly.”
“Oh, I see.”
“They are in a hurry to send me away from here.”
“That’s what you think?”
“Can you deny it? Do you believe that they want me to stay at their camp?”
The woman stared at him for a moment.
“What about you?”
“Do you want to stay here?”
Guy was surprised by her question, he had never really thought about what he wanted to do.
“I’ve nowhere else to go.”
Matilda thought that many of the villagers didn’t have a place or a house to go back to, but at least they had hope and the will to build a new life, to find what was left of their family and friends and to help each other. Gisborne really had no one.
It was mainly his fault, of course, but she couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.
“Well, nobody is going to send you away, not for now at least, but you could try to make yourself a little more welcome, don’t you think?”
Guy looked at her, frowning.
“What do you mean?”
“You are always here, on your own, moping in your own misery and you don’t even try to talk to the others.”
“Why should they want to talk with me? They all hate me.”
“Maybe, but they are helping you anyway. When Rosa or Djaq or any of the others come to bring your meal, you could try to thank them instead of lying on that bed like a dead man. Or you could try to make yourself useful.”
Matilda looked at him: Gisborne had a confused expression on his face, but he was actually listening to her.
“How?” He asked, in a whisper, and Matilda smiled.
“It’s true that you are still healing and you can’t work like the others, but there’s a lot you can do even from your bed.”
“They wouldn’t accept my help.”
The woman handed him the pestle.
“Well, I would. So you can help me. Here, I’ll show you how to grind and store those herbs. If you can do it, I’ll have more time to find more herbs in the forest and I’ll be able to treat more people. The fields have been destroyed, and this winter many of the villagers will have to face hunger and poverty. Diseases and contagion often come with famine, I fear that I’ll need many remedies when people will begin to get ill.”
Guy took the pestle, and he looked at it.
“And do you think that this can make a difference?”
“Anything can make a difference. Look at this wound, for example...” She touched his shirt in a place close to his heart. “If the blade went just a little deeper, you’d be dead for sure. But you are alive and you can be useful. I’d really appreciate your help. Will you try at least?”
“Very well,” Matilda said in a practical tone. “Look, you have to use the pestle like this, see? Now try.”
Chapter 4: The Same Disdain
Rosa lulled the child she was holding in her arms and her daughter laughed, happy of those cuddles.
“Rosa!” Matilda called, approaching. “Come, help me with Robin, we must tend to his wounds.”
“Did he rip the bandages again?” The girl asked, worried, then she glanced at the baby. “I was trying to make her sleep, but she’s still quite awake. Wait a moment, I’ll leave her with Djaq.”
Matilda shook her head.
“No, that girl is already too tired, she works too much, let her sleep. Leave Alice with him.”
Rosa’s eyes widened.
“Why not? He has nothing else to do and he can watch her.”
Her daughter hesitated.
“Do you think we can trust him?”
“Alice is my granddaughter, I’d never put her in danger. Now hurry, Robin needs our help.”
The two women walked towards Guy’s bed, and the knight lifted his eyes to look at them. Matilda thought that it was an improvement, a few days ago he would have kept still, staring at the trees.
She took the baby from Rosa, and she held her in her arms, showing the little girl to Guy.
“This is Alice, Rosa’s baby.”
“So you are going to keep her for a while, while Rosa helps me.” Matilda said, placing the little girl in his arms.
Rosa was startled to see her child handed to that dangerous, evil knight, and Guy had a shocked expression on his face, but he took Alice from Matilda’s arms and he held her safely.
It’s not the first time he holds a baby. Matilda thought, glancing at him, and once again she wondered who was the real Guy of Gisborne.
“Come, Rosa,” she said and both the women turned their backs to Guy, disappearing behind Robin’s curtain.
Gisborne looked at the child in his arms, and the little girl looked at him. She was very young, no older than a year, but she didn’t look scared to be left with him. She grabbed one of the laces of his shirt, and she pulled it, giggling.
Guy held her gently, careful to not hurt her, and he thought that Matilda had to be insane to trust him with her grandchild, but not really displeased that she did.
For a moment, just for that moment, he felt at peace. He was aware that it was only because he couldn’t remember at all the events of the siege and that sooner or later he’d have to pay the toll for those missing memories, but for now he tried to enjoy that quiet moment.
“Why do we have to keep him here?” Little John growled, looking at Gisborne, who was sitting on his bed at the edge of the camp, eating from a bowl. “The poor doesn’t have enough food and yet we feed him.”
Djaq took a bowl too and sat close to John, a sad look on her face.
“I know. But he needed our help too, we couldn’t let him die, not when so many lives were already lost.”
“He seems to be well enough now. He should go away.”
“Matilda says that he’s still too weak. To be honest, he didn’t cause any trouble to us. He’s very quiet.”
Little John looked at his own food: he had the impression that every bit that he ate was stolen from one of the poor. Why should he feel guilty for eating a meal, when Gisborne didn’t?
“Him, I don’t like.”
“I think that it doesn’t matter anymore who we like. We, the few who are still alive, must try to help each other or we won’t survive.”
A wild scream from Robin silenced them, and Little John shook his head without speaking.
It wasn’t right, he thought, Robin didn’t deserve to suffer like that, not when Gisborne was getting better day after day. It was all wrong.
Guy let the spoon drop back in the bowl, hearing Robin’s cry, and once again he wondered what happened to the outlaw. But even if he was curious to know, he was afraid to ask.
Knowledge could bring memories, and ignorance was bliss.
He didn’t want to remember, not ever.
At night, his sleep was full of nightmares, he never woke up really rested, but mercifully he couldn’t remember any of them when he was awake, and he didn’t want to.
But Robin’s screams were still terrifying to him, like the howls of a banshee, the promise of a sorrow to come.
The numbness in his mind made him feel empty, unable to feel deep emotions, but it was still better than the agony that was tearing Robin apart.
Guy felt the stare of Little John, so full of hatred, and he tried to ignore it. Somehow he could understand the outlaw and he couldn’t blame him for it. He couldn’t complain, his enemies had mercy on him, they saved his life and gave him sanctuary even if he had always tried to capture or kill them. If they despised him, so be it.
He looked around, searching for Matilda, the only friendly face in the camp, but he knew that when Robin was crying like that, the healer was probably at his side, trying to soothe his pain.
Guy noticed a movement, at the other side of the camp, and his eyes spotted the familiar figure of Marian, half hidden between the trees. The girl wasn’t wearing a dress, but clothes similar to the ones of the other outlaws, and a shadow was half hiding her face, like a mask.
Guy was startled. He had never realized it, but now it was so clear and he wondered why he had never recognized her.
“Maybe I didn’t want to see it...” he whispered, unable to avert his eyes from her.
He should have been angry, he should feel betrayed, but again he felt nothing.
Do I still love her?
He didn’t know.
He wondered if he would ever be able to feel emotions again. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to.
However he kept looking at her, remembering the strange words she had told him the only time she had talked to him after the siege.
She was in debt with him.
Guy wondered what that meant, but he didn’t have the chance to ask her.
Marian’s behavior was strange: she wasn’t sleeping at the camp, but she was often there, especially when Robin was crying, like a moth attracted by a flame.
That wasn’t strange, Marian loved Hood, it was normal that she wanted to be with him, the strange thing was that she never dared to get close to him. She stood at the edges of the camp, half hidden between trees and undergrowth, and she looked at the closed curtain, an expression of deep sorrow on her face. The other strange thing was how the others treated her.
Guy thought that it was normal that they treated him with contempt, it was right, they had always been enemies and they were even too kind to let him stay at the camp, but he couldn’t understand why they looked at Marian with the same disdain they usually reserved for Guy.
Nobody, except for Matilda of course, looked at the girl, nobody ever talked to her, and Guy had the impression that they all avoided her.
Like a leper.
Marian had said that Robin treated her like a leper too, and Guy couldn’t understand why.
If she was the Nightwatchman, and now Guy was sure that she was, Marian and the outlaws had to be allies, friends, why should they treat her like that?
Something terrible had happened during the siege, something that had changed everything.
Guy averted his eyes from Marian too.
He didn’t want to know.
Chapter 5: Deep Cuts
Gisborne was trying to avert his mind from Robin’s barely human screams. With time he didn’t get used to them, but, instead, the insane pain in the outlaw’s voice wrecked his nerves.
He didn’t want to hear, he didn’t want to think about the siege, he didn’t want to remember.
Guy hid his head under the pillow, hoping to stop Robin’s voice, but it didn’t work.
Then he heard the shriek of another voice, Rosa, he thought, and hurried steps rushing away. Guy was about to lift his head to see what was going on, when a trembling hand shook his shoulder, startling him.
He sat up in bed, finding himself face to face with Matilda. The healer was pale, and she was holding her arm, the sleeve of her tunic soaked in blood.
Guy looked at her, alarmed.
“Are you hurt?”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing. But I need your help.”
Guy didn’t want to see Robin, to find out why he was screaming so much, but Matilda needed his help, and she seemed completely sure that he would give it to her.
He didn’t reply, but he got up, and he followed her behind the curtain.
Robin Hood was laying on a bed, actually he was tied to it, but somehow the ropes that held his arms had been cut loose, and the outlaw was flailing his arms, trying to fight against Djaq, who was holding his wrists and trying to stop him.
The girl was bravely resisting, but she was about to succumb, so Matilda nodded at Guy.
“Grab his right arm and keep him still, Djaq, keep holding the left one.”
Both Gisborne and the girl obeyed, and together they were able to hold Robin until Matilda succeeded in tying his arms to the bed again.
When she did, they all took a moment to take their breath, tired for the struggle: Robin was wounded, weak, thinner than Guy had ever seen him, but he had tried to get free with the strength of a madman or a beast, howling all the while.
At last, Matilda managed to force him to drink a remedy, and finally Robin slipped into a drugged sleep.
Only then, Matilda allowed Djaq to check the wound on her arm, and to wrap it in clean bandages.
Guy stared at the long cut, and Matilda smiled at him.
“Don’t worry, it bleeds, but it isn’t deep. A little more than a scratch. How are you?”
“Yes, you. Do you feel any pain? I shouldn’t have asked for your help, your wounds are still healing, but Little John isn’t at the camp and you were the only one strong enough to stop him before he could hurt Djaq too.”
Guy looked at Robin, horrified.
“It was him?! Was he the one who cut you?”
“That was an accident.”
With a sigh, Matilda went near Robin, and she took his left hand.
Guy stared at it in horror: it was covered in blood, damaged by deep cuts, and Matilda began to carefully tend to it.
Djaq and Matilda traded a glance, then the saracen girl put a hand on Guy’s shoulder.
“Come, let’s go, we should let her do her work, there isn’t any danger, now.”
Gisborne stared blankly at the girl: it was the first time that one of the other inhabitants of the camp touched him in an almost friendly way.
Matilda nodded at him.
Gisborne stood up to follow Djaq, and Matilda smiled at him.
“Thank you, your help has been precious today. Djaq, please, find Rosa, she was upset.”
Guy and Djaq went back to the camp, closing back the curtain. Guy found out that his hands were trembling, but a quick glance at the girl made him understand that Djaq was very upset too, maybe even more than him. She was fighting bravely to hide it, however, and she turned to look at him.
“Come. Let me find Rosa, then we can sit near the fire and have some mulled wine. I think we all need it. Wait for me there, and sit down, you’re pale.”
Guy found himself obeying her, but he knew that she was right: he was feeling a little faint both for the shock of seeing Robin like that and because he wasn’t still fully healed. He was also weak after laying in bed for such a long time.
The surprising thing was that the saracen girl looked to be actually worried for his well being.
She came back after a while with a sobbing Rosa, and she made her sit in front of the fire too, then she filled three cups with strong, hot mulled wine before sitting as well.
“I’m so sorry!” Rosa bawled, sniffling. “It’s my fault!”
“You couldn’t imagine that he could steal that knife from your belt. I didn’t think he was strong enough to use it to cut the ropes so quickly.”
After a while, little Alice began to cry, and Rosa hurried to reach her cradle, leaving Guy and Djaq alone near the fire.
They sipped their wine in silence for a while, then it was Guy to talk.
“He was trying to hurt himself... He was fighting with all his strength to hurt himself…”
Djaq stared angrily at him for a moment, as if she didn’t want to answer, as if Gisborne had no right to speak about Robin, then she sighed and any trace of hostility disappeared from her eyes, leaving just pain and exhaustion.
“He lost so much... We all lost too much, but he lost more than anyone else,” she said, then she went silent, her eyes welling with tears.
Guy understood that she didn’t want to talk about the siege, that she envied him because he didn’t remember it and she wished that she could forget everything too.
But she couldn’t.
And Guy didn’t ask.
Chapter 6: A Decent Healer
Matilda pointed at a little plant, half hidden under a bush.
“That one. Take the leaves, but don’t touch the roots or it won’t grow back.”
Obediently, Guy knelt to the ground to pick the leaves and to put them in the basket he was carrying.
He looked at the last leave before putting it away, and Matilda pointed at its edges.
“This herb is good for the stomach and when you can’t sleep well. It tastes good too, so it’s a good ingredient for most remedies. You can easily recognize it from its shape, see?”
He had found out that he liked to listen to Matilda’s explanations about her herbs. When she talked like that, she reminded him of his mother, when she used to prepare simple remedies for the little ailments of their family.
He was afraid of memories, but those were sweet ones. Safe, if he just kept to them and he didn’t think of the tragic end of his childhood.
“The bark of that tree is good for fever, isn’t it?”
Matilda gave him a surprised look.
“How do you know?”
Guy grinned, pleased to see her surprise.
“My mother knew how to use herbs, I still remember some of it.”
“Really? Tell me what you remember. Come, let’s sit under that tree, we both need to rest a little.”
“Is your arm troubling you?”
Matilda inwardly smiled to see that Gisborne actually cared for her. The man had worried her after the siege, with his complete lack of emotions, and she had feared that he had been damaged forever, like Robin, but day after day he was beginning to show more interest for the world, his mind healing as well as his body.
She feared the moment when he would remember about the siege, when he would have to face his pain instead of running from it, but for that there was nothing that she could do, except supporting him now and showing him that he could build another life even if he had lost everything.
She could only hope that this new life was enough to give him the strength to face his demons when they finally reached him in the hiding places of his mind.
“My arm is just fine,” she said. “Rest and time, and it will be as good as new. But now tell me what do you know about herbs and remedies.”
Guy sat at her side, in the shadow of the tree, leaning his back on the trunk and he began to tell Matilda about his childhood, trying to remember only the happy times.
The healer listened, interested.
“You mother sounded like a wise woman.”
“I wonder why you chose to work for that horrible little man, you’d have been a good healer.”
Guy’s face darkened when she mentioned Vaisey.
“Not everything is a choice. However he’s dead now, it’s all in the past, I don’t wish to dwell on it.”
Matilda glanced at him. It was the first time that Guy mentioned the sheriff’s death.
“Do you remember what happened to him?” She asked, warily.
Gisborne shook his head.
“No, but he must be dead. There’s no other reason for all this destruction. I know that Prince John’s army destroyed Nottingham, I’m not that dumb to ignore it, but I can’t remember what happened. It’s as if all this happened to somebody else, to a man who’s dead in the siege. Maybe it’s true, maybe the man who I was is really dead in the siege.”
Matilda gave him a sad smile.
“You’re right, the sheriff is dead, but you aren’t. Maybe you’ve been dead inside when you worked for him and now you’re just awakening back to life. You’re a better man than I thought, Guy of Gisborne, and I’m glad I had the chance to find it out.”
Guy blushed at her unexpected praise.
“And I’ve been glad to find out that you’re not a real witch,” he answered, gruffly, to hide his embarrassment.
Matilda laughed heartily.
“That time I gave you a good scare, didn’t I? You should have seen your face when they pulled me out of water after such a long time and I was still alive. You really believed that I was in league with the devil, didn’t you?”
“It was Hood, right?”
“Of course it was Robin. He had found a way to make me breathe underwater, something involving a pair of bellows and canes and who knows what else. But it worked.”
“Well, then you were in league with the devil,” Guy said, with an ironic grin.
“Don’t be mean, Guy. I think that you know perfectly well that Robin’s heart was in the right place. You were enemies, but now there’s no more reason for bad blood between the two of you.”
“Oh, there is reason for it, believe me.”
“Maybe, but is it right to hold on it? You are both different men now, both facing a difficult time. Is it wise to dwell on hatred? Do you really wish to keep hating Robin, even when you both suffered so much because of the sheriff?”
Guy smirked, bitterly.
“Of course you defend him.”
Matilda shook her head, and she took Guy’s hand, tenderly.
“I care for both of you, but for now Robin is beyond my help. I can heal his body, not his mind. Maybe with time his situation will change, but now I worry for you, my boy. Hate isn’t good for anyone, it gnaws at your soul and eventually it can destroy you. Let it go. I know that it’s not easy to change the habits of a whole life, but it would do you a lot of good. Try at least.”
Guy kept silent for a while, thinking about Matilda's words. The truth was that he had already lost a big part of the hatred he used to feel for Robin. He couldn’t forget the wrongs he had to withstand for Robin’s fault when they were kids, and the humiliations that Hood had inflicted on him when he became an outlaw, but how could he keep hating a man who was already in hell?
What worse fate could he wish for him, other that the punishment that Robin’s mind was already inflicting to himself?
Guy remembered the deep cuts on Robin’s hand, the way he struggled to keep hurting himself, and he shivered. He could pity him, he thought, and pity was incompatible with hate.
“I’m living at his camp... His men helped me even if they hated me… I guess that’s because Robin taught them to have mercy, to give people a second chance. Am I wrong?”
“That’s what Robin used to do, and that’s why people loved him so much.”
“If so, I’m in debt with him. I may not like Robin, but I’m not an ungrateful man.”
Matilda nodded, inwardly smiling at the fact that Gisborne had to find a reason for his truce with Robin, something that could let him keep some pride.
Men! Sometimes they are like children...
“Very well,” she said, getting up and stretching her back, “it’s time to go back to the camp and let Djaq and Rosa rest for a while. Are you tired?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Good. Do you think you can help me tending to my patients? Let’s see if you could really be a decent healer.”
“Are you sure? Those people won’t let me get near them...”
“The ones who still need our constant cares are too ill to care about who is helping them. When you were so poorly, it didn’t matter if an alleged witch was treating your wounds, did it? The question is another: do you wish to do something good?”
“I don’t know if I can be useful, but I’ll try to do what you ask me to.”
Matilda rewarded him with a wide smile.
“That’s all I wanted to hear. Let’s go. And take some of that bark, on our way to the camp.”
Chapter 7: A Terrible Archer
Guy looked at the bows, huddled in a corner of the camp. There clearly were more weapons than men able to use them, and most of the bows were covered in dust.
Robin Hood’s bow wasn’t with the others, it was placed on the lid of an empty trunk, with its quiver, and it was kept clean, but it made him shiver because it reminded him of a relic, even if Robin Hood wasn’t dead, yet.
“What are you doing here?!”
Gisborne turned, startled, and he glanced warily at Little John.
“We don’t have much food, Matilda asked me to go and hunt something in the forest.”
“If you think that we will trust you with a bow you are out of your mind.”
Djaq reached them, worried.
“But we do, John. Guy is one of us now.”
“Gisborne will never be one of us!”
“But we need him! You work a lot and we know it, but without Robin, Much and… Will… without them, we can’t feed all the wounded people and the villagers who need our help! I try to hunt as much as I can, but I also have to help Matilda. We are too few, we can’t even rob the travelers, even if there were any, and anyways we don’t need gold, we need food! Gisborne is strong enough to use a bow, now, so he’s going to do his part, just like us.”
“Look, I know that you don’t like me,” Guy said, looking at him, “but I won’t betray you. I don’t know if I could survive on my own, and I know that I have a debt with you all because you let me stay here, so let me repay this debt somehow. I’m not a good archer, but I can try.”
Little John glared at him.
“Betray us and you’re dead. And don’t try to touch Robin’s bow.”
Guy looked at the hare, drawing the bow, then he released the arrow, realizing immediately that he would miss his target. His arrow embedded itself into a tree, but the hare fell to the ground, hit by another one.
Startled, Guy looked around, trying to see who had shot it, and he jumped when he heard a voice, just behind his back.
“You’re a terrible archer, you know?”
The girl lifted a finger, disapprovingly.
“And you didn’t hear me approaching. If I were an enemy, I could have killed you even too easily. If you want to live as an outlaw, you have to improve a lot.”
Guy looked at her, annoyed.
“I don’t want to live as an outlaw. But I don’t have much choice, don’t you think?”
Marian went to pick up the dead hare, with a little sigh.
“I know. No one of us wanted to live like this.” Marian pulled her arrow out of the hare and she held the dead animal to him, like a peace offering. “Here, take it. Little John will complain and say that you are useless if you go back empty handed.”
Guy ignored her.
“I can still catch a prey without having to rely on your pity. And I’m not afraid of Little John.”
“Suit yourself. I was just trying to help, no need to be so proud.”
“I’m trying to do my part. And then, if you give me your prey, they’ll complain about you not doing your part.”
“To do it, they should acknowledge my presence,” Marian said, bitterly, and Guy noticed tears in her eyes just before she turned away her face to hide them.
“Why do they ignore you? You’re always at the camp, but they never talk to you...”
“You don’t remember, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
Guy glanced at her, uncertain.
“Do you want me to leave you alone?”
Marian grabbed his hand.
The girl sighed.
“You are the only one who doesn’t despise me. For now. I feel so lonely.”
Guy nodded. He still didn’t know what he felt for Marian, once he had loved her deeply, but now all his emotions were tangled, damaged, maybe forever. But he could understand her loneliness because he was very lonely too.
Djaq and Matilda talked to him, but they were the only ones, all the others still feared or despised him and even the ones who didn’t openly show those feelings just avoided him.
“So… what do you want me to do?”
Marian let his hand go.
“I don’t know.”
Guy glanced at her. He had never seen Marian so uncertain and dispirited.
It was as if the siege had changed everything, for all of them: some were dead, others crippled for life, Robin Hood had lost his mind, Guy a good part of his memory, and Marian her courage.
We are all alike.
“Well, you could help me with my aim, so I won’t go back to the camp empty handed.”
Marian smiled at him, grateful, and they walked through the forest, searching for another prey. After a while, they saw a pheasant, and the girl put a finger in front of her lips to tell Guy to be silent.
The knight nocked an arrow, and he drew the bow, ready to shoot, while Marian quietly approached, touching his arms to adjust his stance. He released the arrow, and this time he hit his prey, but Marian noticed the grimace of pain that crossed his face.
“Guy! Are you hurt?”
He shook his head.
“It’s nothing. Some of my wounds still ache a little if I overdo. I just put too much strength in drawing the bow.”
Marian lifted a hand, as if she wanted to touch him, but then she let it fall.
“I’m so sorry...” She mumbled, then she hurried to pick up the pheasant.
Guy was sure that he had seen tears in her eyes.
Matilda reached Gisborne at the river, looking at him. The man had his chest naked and he was washing up, scrubbing away every trace of sweat and dust from his skin.
The healer looked at the many scars that crossed is back and his arms, trying to check if they were healing well.
Guy heard her steps, and he turned to smile at her.
“It’s a very warm day, but the water of the river is always freezing,” he commented, while the woman sat on the bank, close to him.
“The pheasant is almost cooked,” Matilda said. “It will be good to eat some meat today. Thank you for catching it.”
“I have to confess that I’ve been helped.”
Guy looked at her, surprised.
“How do you know?”
“She was waiting for me to come back at the camp and she asked me to check your wounds, she was worried.”
“I told her it was nothing, just a little pang, nothing to be worried about.”
“Well, let me judge that.” Matilda patted the grass in front of her. “Come, sit here and let me see.”
Guy obeyed, and the healer carefully checked each of his scars.
“Does this hurt, if I touch it?”
“It’s normal, nothing to be worried about. There was a lot of damage, but your wounds healed well. You probably will feel pain when you are tired, if you strain yourself too much or when the weather changes, but there’s no danger. You’ll have to live with some pain, but I’m sure that you can endure it well enough.”
“Why was Marian so worried, then?”
“I guess that she feels responsible.”
“If she was unhurt during the siege, it was because you shielded her with your body.”
Matilda nodded, and Guy realized why the girl had told him that she was in debt with him, why she was at his bedside when he woke up, but still he couldn’t say how this new knowledge made him feel.
“When the siege was over, she thought that you were dead, and she ran away in shock. When I found out that you were still alive and took you to the camp, she was even more shocked and she felt terribly guilty for abandoning you there after you saved her life.”
“I can’t remember anything.”
“Do you want to remember?”
“I don’t know. I think I don’t.”
The healer patted his shoulder.
“I can’t say what it would be best for you, but it doesn’t matter. Your mind will remember what happened when it’s ready for it, or maybe never at all. It’s how it is, and we can’t do nothing to change it.”
“Matilda? Often I don’t understand what I feel, if I feel anything at all. Do you think I’m broken? That I lost my mind like Robin?”
Matilda caressed his cheek, motherly.
“Who isn’t a little broken, after what we all had to endure? I’ve been lucky, I didn’t lose much in the siege, but still my heart breaks to see what happened to the county. All those lives lost, so much suffering… And you were in the middle of it, how could you not be broken? But you are doing your best to survive and you are doing well. You should be proud of yourself.”
The woman smiled, switching to a down-to-earth tone.
“But now hurry up to get dressed and come, or they will end up eating all the pheasant without us.”
Chapter 8: We Are All Lost
Marian pointed at the wild boar, and Guy shook his head.
“It’s too dangerous,” he whispered, “if we miss, it will charge at us.”
“Then don’t miss,” Marian said, drawing her bow.
Seeing that she was going to try the shot, Guy hurried to nock an arrow too and they shot at the same time.
Luckily both their arrows found the target and the boar dropped dead.
Marian grinned widely.
“This will feed a lot of people.”
“How are we taking it to the camp? It looks heavy.”
The girl frowned.
“Can’t we carry it? You are strong, and I’m not a frail, weak maiden.”
“I never thought you were,” Guy said, with a smirk, “but that boar is big and heavy, and we are quite far from the camp.”
Marian though for a moment.
“But we are close to Locksley. I’m sure I’ve seen an abandoned handcart there. It was broken and half burned, of course, but I think that we could fix it easily and use it to take our boar to the camp.”
Guy glanced at her, uncertain and a little afraid.
Since the siege, he had been living in the forest and he had got used at being surrounded by trees and bushes. They offered hiding places and protection, and they made him feel safe.
The soldiers had destroyed towns and villages, but they never ventured in the depths of the forest.
Gisborne could now understand why the outlaws had chosen to build their camp there, why they considered the forest as a home.
To go back to Locksley, to the place that once had been his... and Robin’s, it was weird and unsettling. But he would never show those cowardly feelings to Marian, so he helped her to lift the dead boar and to drag it to Locksley.
Guy wouldn’t have recognized the place, if he hadn’t known that he was in Locksley: the houses of the peasants had been burnt to the ground, the field were abandoned, blackened by the fires, and the church didn’t exist anymore. The only trace of its former existence was the bell, broken and lying on the ground in the midst of burnt rubble.
Guy glanced at Marian, remembering the day he had waited for her there, hopeful and anxious to marry her. When he still thought that she was a fair, graceful girl, so pure that she could cleanse his own blackened soul.
How wrong I was! How blind!
Marian wasn’t an ordinary maiden at all, not a frail, innocent lady who needed protection.
She was fierce, even dangerous, and he wondered how he did never notice it before. Even after she had punched him at the altar to run away, he had kept underestimating her, blinded by the feelings he still had for her.
If I can see her now, it’s because I don’t love her anymore? Do I still feel anything for her?
He wasn’t sure.
He enjoyed her company and he liked to go hunting in the forest with her, but they didn’t talk much and he never thought anymore about marrying her.
Maybe we are friends, now?
He wasn’t sure either. He didn’t have much experience about friendship, he never had. Probably the closest thing to friends that he ever had were Lambert and Allan, and it didn’t end well in both cases.
Guy realized that he had never asked how Allan was killed in the siege and he thought that he probably should have.
“Here’s the cart!” Marian said, interrupting Guy’s thoughts, and the knight looked at the half broken vehicle. The handcart had most of its boards burnt or broken, but the wheels were still working, and Guy and Marian could hoist the boar on it.
“Will it hold until we reach the camp?” Guy asked, looking at the rickety cart, and the girl nodded.
“I think so.”
Guy glanced at Locksley’s manor: the building was burnt and in ruins just like the villager’s huts, but it was partly made of stones, so part of it was still standing.
“I wonder if there is something useful inside the manor… Maybe some of the metal cookware is still usable, Matilda would appreciate more pots to prepare her remedies.”
Guy secretly hoped that he could find some of his personal belongings, even if it was unlikely.
Probably the soldiers had plundered the manor before burning it. Still, he moved to enter the manor.
“Guy, wait!” Marian cried, alarmed. “We have no time! We should go back to the camp.”
Gisborne glanced at her, a little surprised.
“We just caught a big boar! Of course we have time, usually we spend much more time trying to get enough prey to feed everyone.”
“It could be dangerous, the walls could fall on your head.”
Guy thought that it looked like she didn’t want him to get inside the manor, but he couldn’t understand why.
Maybe she worries for me.
“It’s alright, Marian. I know that probably the house will be empty. I already know that I lost everything I ever owned, I won’t be shocked, I promise,” he said with a smile, then he pushed the door and entered the manor before Marian could say anything else.
He stopped on the threshold, looking around, in surprise: the hall of the manor was still in decent condition, and it looked like someone had been living in it. There was wood in the fireplace, pots and dishes in a corner, with some food stored in them, a sort of bed in the other corner, covered with many blankets. In the rest of the room, somebody had piled some of the chests and trunks he had once used to keep his riches. Most of them were half burnt and damaged, roughly repaired and all huddled together.
Guy opened one of them, and he saw that it was full of every kind of everyday items, as if somebody had collected anything still usable that they had found in the destroyed village.
He wondered who was living there, and he placed a hand on the hilt of his sword.
He heard a noise in the adjacent room, and he unsheathed his weapon, rushing there to see who it was. Marian tried to stop him, but she couldn’t reach him before he slammed the door open.
Gisborne froze, in shock.
The little room was almost empty, except for a bed, a chamberpot and a little table near the bed with water and food on it. A man was lying on the bed, and he sat up with a jump hearing the door being opened.
Allan A Dale.
The young man reached for a knife, holding it in front of himself.
“Who’s that?” He cried, frightened, “Marian, is that you?!”
Guy didn’t answer, too upset and shocked to utter even a single word. Marian hurried in the room, and she put a hand on Guy’s arm, to make him lower the sword. She noticed that the knight was trembling.
“It’s alright!” She cried to Allan, then she looked at Guy. “Let me explain.”
Gisborne kept staring at Allan.
“I thought he was dead...” He whispered, and Allan lifted his head, surprised.
“Giz? Is that you?”
Guy was surprised by those words, and he looked better at him, realizing that Allan’s eyes weren’t looking at him, and they had a blank, unfocused stare.
“Can’t you see me?”
“Can’t see anything at all, mate.” Allan replied, almost defiantly.
Guy reached him, and he dropped himself on the bed, too upset to keep standing.
“I thought you were dead,” he repeated.
Guy knew that he should have asked about Allan’s fate, but he never did, and he wondered why.
Since he had woken up after the siege, he had been completely sure that the young man was dead, even if he couldn’t say why he was so sure of that.
Suddenly, a memory of the siege hit him: he was in the courtyard, frantically shouting orders at his men, and Allan was at his side, then a rain of stones hurled by a trebuchet fell on them, and Allan was hit by one of them, right on his head. Guy, miraculously untouched, had seen Allan lying dead on the ground, his head covered in blood, and his open eyes staring blankly at the sky.
“I’ve seen you die!” He said again, shivering, burying his face in his hands, as if he wanted to stop more memories from coming into his mind.
“Almost,” Allan said with a half grin. “If it weren’t for Marian, I’d have been buried too.”
Marian put a hand on Guy’s shoulder as to comfort him.
“He seemed dead, not even Matilda realized that he was still alive, so they left him with the other corpses until some volunteers came to bury them all in a grave they had dug near the castle. I still couldn’t believe what happened, and it looked like both you and Robin were going to die, so I kept wandering, unable to think sensibly. I went to the castle, probably hoping that it was just a nightmare, and I arrived when they were taking away the bodies. I recognized Allan, and it was a shock: he was a traitor, almost an enemy, but he was someone I knew, a familiar face, and it made everything real. Those I was seeing weren’t just bodies, they were real people, who had friends, families, just like Allan once did...”
Guy lifted his face to look at her. He could understand what she was saying, he could relate with the sensation that the siege had been unreal, because he still felt it.
“I couldn’t stand it,” Marian said, “I felt that I had to do something, I couldn’t let them bury him like that, as if his life never mattered. So I took his body, to give him a proper burial.”
“And, surprise! She found out that I was still breathing.” Allan intervened, with a grin.
“So you kept him hidden at Locksley and you told no one.” Guy said, his tone perfectly flat.
“The other wouldn't have accepted him at the camp.”
Guy stared at her.
“They gave sanctuary to me.”
“You aren’t a traitor, Giz.”
“I was their enemy! I tried to kill them!”
“But you never betrayed their trust, you didn’t disappoint them. It’s different.”
Guy stood up, shaking his head.
Marian was staring at the ground, unable to look at him.
“You said that I was the only one who listened to you, the only one who talked to you… That you were completely alone...” Guy said, in a low voice.
Now it was Allan’s turn to look hurt.
“We spent time together, hunting in the woods,” Guy continued, bitterly, “and I know most of your secrets... You are in love with Hood, you are the Nightwatchman...”
Marian jumped at his last sentence, surprised that he had discovered that secret too.
“And you offered me your friendship… Lies. More lies...”
“No! I wasn’t lying to you!”
“But you didn’t tell me about Allan!” Guy cried.
“Well, you never asked about him! How could I guess that you cared?! How could I know that you care about anything?!”
Marian burst out in tears and she ran away, slamming the door behind her back. Guy just stood there, unable to react or to think, until Allan called him.
Gisborne sat on the edge of Allan’s bed, feeling suddenly exhausted. Allan carefully moved to sit at his side, and he searched for Guy’s arm with his hand.
“Don’t be mad at her. It’s true that she takes care of me and that I would be dead without her help, but she isn’t as strong as she tries to appear. All this is difficult for her too.”
“I’m not mad. And probably she’s right, I don’t remember how to care. Or how to feel...”
“Oh, nonsense, Giz. If it’s true that you don’t have feelings, why are you weeping, then?”
“I just felt something wet falling on my hand from your face. I surely hope it’s a tear and not snot or something worse!”
Guy touched his face, surprised to find out that Allan was right and that it was wet with tears.
Am I out of my mind?
“You’re just a little lost.” Allan said, as if he had guessed his thoughts.
“Lost?” Guy repeated, flatly, and Allan grinned.
“Aren’t we all?”
Chapter 9: I Know the Way
Guy closed his eyes, burying his face in his hands, feeling empty and exhausted.
He didn’t know what to think or what to do, and he wished that he could just curl in a corner and fall asleep, forgetting everything else.
But he knew that he couldn’t. Allan, whom he had believed dead, was right there, Marian had run away, crying and upset, and surely Matilda was waiting for him at the camp and she would get worried if he didn’t come back after sunset.
“Hey, Giz? So, what have you been up to?”
Gisborne struggled to keep calm and to answer Allan’s question.
“Didn’t Marian tell you?”
“She barely talks. At first I tried to ask her about the others, but she never answered, she just wept, so I supposed they were all dead. It was a surprise to hear your voice!”
“Don’t tell me about surprises,” Guy said, with a low, joyless laugh.
Allan grinned, then he became deadly serious. Guy thought that he had never seen him looking so somber.
“So, Giz, can you tell me what Marian won’t say? Are they all dead? Do you know what happened to them?”
“I can’t remember what happened during the siege, but some of your friends are still alive.”
“Not all of them, right?”
Guy began shaking his head, then he remembered that Allan couldn’t see him.
“No, not all of them.”
“Who survived and who died?”
“Djaq and Little John are alive, while the servant and the other boy aren’t.”
“Much and Will are dead?”
Guy nodded, cursed himself for his stupidity and forced himself to answer aloud.
“Yes,” he said, then he noticed that Allan was pained in hearing those news, and he awkwardly tried to comfort him. “I am sorry.”
Allan wiped his eyes with a sleeve, and shook his head.
“No, you’re not, you don’t even know their names, but thanks for trying to be kind to me.”
“The sheriff is dead too.” He added, not sure if it could make Allan feel better or not.
The other frowned.
“Well, that was the point of it all, wasn’t it? If the sheriff were still alive, Prince John’s army wouldn’t have attacked us.”
“But I don’t know how he died. Not for natural causes, I suppose. You knew, I think, but there was no time to talk about it during the siege.”
“I can’t remember.”
“What about Robin? You told me about the gang, but you didn’t mention him. Is he alive?”
“What do you mean?”
Guy told him that Robin was alive, but out of his mind, and that Matilda had to keep him drugged or tied all the time to avoid he could hurt himself.
Allan couldn't believe it, but he knew that Gisborne wasn’t a liar, so it had to be true.
“How do you know for sure? You make it sound as if you have seen him...”
“I have. I’ve been living at the outlaw’s camp since Matilda took me there to treat my wounds.”
“Unbelievable… And Marian said nothing of all this...”
They both kept silent for a while, then Allan sighed.
“Giz? Will you come back to talk to me sometimes? I’m grateful to Marian for saving me, but she’s not much company. I’m always here, trapped in this room, day after day… You don’t have to come often, just once in a while, to talk for a few moments, so I’ll have something new to think about when I’m alone...”
Guy stared at him, in shock.
“I’m not leaving you here! Who knows when Marian will come back!”
“I have food and water and I can add wood to the fire if I’m cold, I’ll be alright. After all she’s rarely here. When she leaves I’m afraid that someday she won’t come back, but till now she always did...”
“Apart from your sight, are you wounded? Can you walk?”
“Since I’ve been wounded, I only walked inside this room, but I’m well enough, I think.”
“Then come with me.”
“At the camp?” Allan hesitated. “They’ll send me away.”
“I don’t think so. Matilda wouldn’t allow that, and maybe she could help you. Maybe there’s a cure for your eyes...”
“I think you are wrong, but thanks anyway.”
“Will you come?”
Guy hated his own pleading tone, but it seemed very important to him that Allan came at the camp, even if he couldn’t explain why he wanted it so much when all his other feelings were so numb.
“If this doesn’t work, will you take me back here?”
“It will work.”
“What are you waiting for, then? Help me packing!”
“You never talked about pushing a cart all the way there...” Allan panted, out of breath. “And then what’s on this cart? Did you pack the whole Locksley?”
Guy stopped for a moment, exhausted too. He had been pulling the handcart, while Allan pushed it.
“Our dinner: a very big boar. And I filled a trunk with a few pots and my clothes. Could you believe that some of them didn’t burn in the fire? It will be nice to wear something clean without having to wait for my clothes to dry...”
“Marian has been hoarding everything she could find in the village or in the manor. I’m not sure why, but her ‘finds’ where the only things she gladly talked about. Talking about a half burnt pair of breeches wasn’t so exciting, but hey, better than nothing, don’t you think?”
Allan touched the load of the cart to feel how big the boar actually was, and he grinned touching a metallic surface.
“Giz, what’s this? It seems a sort of shield.”
Guy blushed glancing at the yellow and black shield he had loaded on the cart: it was useless in the forest and it was just more weight on the handcart, but he couldn’t help taking it with them. It had the coat of arms of his family on it and he didn’t want to leave it behind.
“We’re almost there,” Guy said, to change subject, then he looked around, not so sure anymore, “I think...”
“You think? Giz, are you sure you know the way to the camp?”
“It’s the first time I got so far from the camp, and it was Marian who led me to Locksley. But I’m sure we’re almost there.”
“Oh, well. We’re lost.”
“We are not lost.”
“Do you know the way to the camp?”
“I’m sure I can find it.”
“Look Giz, I’m blind, you don’t know the way… Admit it: we’re lost.”
Guy rolled his eyes, annoyed.
“Fine! But we’ll get there, eventually. For now we have food, we have water and we have blankets, even if we should spend a night here it won’t be so terrible.”
“And if it rains, we can always use your shield to cover our heads.”
Guy snorted in frustration.
“Very funny, Allan,” he growled, and the other man grinned.
“I wasn’t complaining, Giz. Being lost in the forest with a friend is still much better than being all alone in the same room day after day.”
“I knew we couldn’t trust him.”
Little John hit the ground with his staff, as to stress his words, but Matilda crossed her arms in front of her, resolute.
“I’m sure he didn’t betray us! If he isn’t here something must be happened. We should be searching for him, instead of listening to this nonsense!”
“He could reveal the position of the camp!”
“Why should he? And then who could be interested in it? The county is still half destroyed, the new sheriff surely has better things to do than arresting a few outlaws who didn’t even rob anyone in the last few months!”
Rosa glanced at Matilda, lulling her child. She couldn’t help being worried, Gisborne still scared her a little, but she also trusted her mother, and Matilda was sure that the knight wouldn’t betray them. So she just didn’t intervene while her mother and Little John were glaring at each other.
It was Djaq who spoke next.
“He was with Marian,” she said, quietly.
“With her?!” Little John growled, while Matilda frowned.
“What were they doing?”
“Hunting. It’s a few days that they go hunting together in the forest.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?!” John asked, his face dark.
“Matilda knew, and they weren’t doing anything wrong.”
“We can’t trust neither of them!”
Matilda looked at Djaq, worried.
“When did you see them last?”
“This morning, when Gisborne went to hunt. I saw him meeting her in the forest, and then they went away.”
“Guy should be back by now,” Matilda said, worried. “I’m going to search for him.”
“What about Robin?!” John asked, angrily. “You can’t abandon him to search for Gisborne!”
“Robin is sleeping, I gave him a remedy just a moment ago, and you can watch him. I understand that you aren’t going to help me to find Guy, so you can stay at the camp.”
The healer took a dagger, put it on her belt, then she grabbed a torch and she went out of the camp.
Djaq moved to follow her, but she stopped for a moment, noticing Little John’s dark face.
She gave him a little shrug.
“I can’t let her go alone in the forest at night. And Gisborne and Marian could actually be in trouble. I know what you think of them, but we can’t abandon them if they are in danger.”
The girl went after Matilda and Little John shook his head, disapprovingly, then he went behind the curtain to sit next to Robin Hood’s bed.
Rosa held Alice close to her heart, and she sighed, worried. She hated when the people around her were angry or when they fought.
She thought of her husband, away to fight a war, for a king they didn’t even know, and she wondered if he was still alive and if he’d ever come back to her.
“My little one,” she said, cuddling the baby, “I wish we could all live in peace, we suffered too much already. Too much.”
Chapter 10: My Lost, Broken Children
Allan was dreaming.
He was riding a horse, following Gisborne in the forest, and his heart was divided: Giz wanted him to show the way to the outlaw’s camp and Allan didn’t want to disappoint him, but he also didn’t want to betray his friends.
The forest was beautiful, the leaves of the trees were dark green and the branches formed a sort of roof, a promise of shelter, almost a home. Allan wanted to go back to that simple life between his friends, but at the same time he didn’t want to lose the power and the safety that Gisborne could give to him. He didn’t want to be cold or hungry, he didn’t want to risk being hanged: he had been on the scaffold once, and it was enough.
I must advance.
I should go back.
Then Gisborne turned to look at him, giving him an unusual pleading look.
“Allan, don’t betray me. Please, Allan.”
The young man woke up with a jump, and at first he thought that night had fallen while they were riding because he couldn't see anything, then, after a moment he remembered that he was blind.
He sighed, dispirited.
When he dreamed, he could still see, and some mornings it was harder to realize that his sight had been damaged during the siege. Gisborne had told him that maybe Matilda had a cure for him, but Allan didn’t believe it. Or at least he didn’t want to.
He had resigned himself to his fate and it had been very hard, he couldn’t bear to have his hopes crushed again.
But not everything of his dream had faded away: he wasn’t alone. He could hear Gisborne breathing slowly not far from him, still asleep.
Allan remembered how the knight had asked him to go to the camp with him, almost pleading him, and he smiled, even if he was still feeling uncertain about it.
What if the others decided to send him away? What if they still hated him for his betrayal?
Robin once had menaced to kill him if he dared to show his face at the camp again, and Allan shivered, remembering the cold blade of his dagger pressed against his throat.
But Robin was ill, unable to menace him again, and half of the gang had died in the siege.
Much and Will…
Will had been his friend, almost a younger brother, and Allan had missed his friendship. He had hoped that they could be friends again someday, but now this wasn’t going to happen. And Much…
He was always discussing with him, always bickering about stupid things, and they used to spend more time fighting than actually being friends, but still it was absurd to think him dead.
Unbelievable, as Much himself would have exclaimed, outraged.
Allan found himself crying, and after a moment, Gisborne turned, pushing away his blanket, probably awakened by Allan’s sobs.
“Allan?” He mumbled sleepily, “Are you alright?”
The young man stood up abruptly, turning his back to Gisborne’s voice to hide his tears.
“I need to piss,” he muttered, taking a step forward, and he heard Guy getting up too.
“Do you… do you need help?” He asked, awkwardly.
“I’m blind, not a helpless idiot!” Allan blurted, suddenly angry, walking away, his hands in front of him to feel if there were bushes or trees in his way.
Gisborne didn’t follow him.
Allan kept walking for a while, until he was sure he was far enough, then he found a tree and he began unlacing his breeches to relieve himself against its trunk.
He felt a little guilty for lashing out at Gisborne like that. After all the knight was only trying to offer his help, but Allan already hated his condition, he couldn’t accept the humiliation of having to be helped even to pee.
Still, it wasn’t Guy’s fault if he had been wounded. Actually, the knight had acted bravely during the siege, trying to save the town and the people in it.
Allan sighed, turning to go back and reach Gisborne to apologize. He walked for a few steps, before realizing that maybe he had walked too far away, and that he wasn’t sure to be able to find the way back.
“Very well. We were already lost, and now I’m even more lost...”
Guy didn’t move when Allan walked away. He felt his cheeks growing hot, and he knew that he was blushing after Allan’s harsh words.
He knew even too well how humiliating was being ill and not being able even to attend to one’s own needs without help. The memory of Matilda changing the wet straw of his bed made him blush even more.
He thought that his stupid, awkward words had hurt Allan’s feelings and that maybe he wouldn’t want to come to the camp with him anymore, now.
Guy waited for a while to be sure that Allan had finished, then he began to follow him, determined to apologize.
He didn’t see Allan nearby, and he was beginning to worry, afraid that he could have wandered too far in the forest and got lost, when he heard a blood-curdling cry.
It wasn’t Allan, it was the voice of a woman, but just a moment after, Guy heard Allan’s frightened voice, asking what had happened. He ran in that direction, and he saw his friend after a while: Allan was standing near a tree, and he was turning his head around, trying to understand who had cried.
He heard Guy’s steps, and turned towards him.
“It’s me Allan. Who cried?”
“Giz! You came! I don’t know who it was, it came from there, I think.”
Allan pointed in a direction, and Guy saw only bushes at first, then he spotted a small figure lying on the ground, half hidden by the undergrowth. He hurried there, and he lifted the unconscious woman in his arms.
“Djaq? Really? What happened to her? Why was she crying like that?”
Guy looked at the girl, she didn’t seem wounded or ill, just in a swoon.
“I think that she has seen you. She must have thought that you were a ghost or something like that.”
They both turned, hearing a rustling in the bushes. Guy’s instinct told him to unsheathe his sword, but he couldn’t because he was holding Djaq.
Instead, he got closer to Allan, putting himself in front of him, ready to protect both the young man and the girl, somehow.
Luckily, he didn’t need any weapon, because it was Matilda who burst out from the bushes.
“Djaq!” She cried, then she looked at Gisborne. “Oh! Guy! Here you are, my boy! I was so worried! We’ve been searching for you all night! But what happened to her? Put her on the ground, let me see.”
Guy looked at the healer, surprised by her words, and he obeyed, making Djaq lie on the grass.
When he bent to put the girl down, Matilda saw Allan behind him, and she stared at him, petrified.
“He was dead!” She exclaimed, in shock. “I’m sure he was dead! I’ve seen his body!”
“Surprise!” Allan said, with a half grin.
Matilda approached to look at him, and she touched his face, still incredulous.
“No, you’re not a ghost, but now I can see why she fainted.” Matilda touched Djaq’s forehead, then she glanced at the two men. “You’ll explain me everything, but first we should get her warm. She was already exhausted, the shock must have been too much for her.”
“We have a fire going, and blankets, not far from here.” Guy said, trying to be helpful.
“Very well, carry her there. I’ll take care of her, and then we can talk.”
Matilda wrapped a warm blanket around Djaq’s body, and she gently patted her face, until the girl began to wake up.
“Matilda...” She said weakly. “I’ve seen...”
“I know what you have seen, and it wasn’t a ghost, my child. It really was Allan, but now be quiet, you need to recover a little.”
“Alive. I know, I know, my dear, it seems impossible, but it’s true.”
The girl began crying. She tried to wipe away her tears, and the healer caressed her forehead, gently.
“It’s alright, child, don’t be ashamed of your tears, it’s normal to weep for the ones you love. Drink this now, it will make you sleep for a while. After some rest you’ll feel much better, I promise.”
She put a flask to her lips, and Djaq obeyed, swallowing the bitter remedy, then she slipped into a deep sleep and Matilda went to reach Guy and Allan near the fire.
The both looked worried and a little upset.
“Will she be alright?” Allan asked. “I never meant to give her a scare!”
“She’ll recover, don’t worry. But I can’t say if she’ll be alright. She’s a brave girl, but she is suffering a lot. She hid her pain and worked hard, even too hard, to help the others, but I know that the wounds of her soul are still raw. Who knows? Maybe she needed this shock to vent her pain. Today is the first time I’ve seen her weeping openly since the siege.” The healer turned to look at Guy. “That’s why you didn’t come back to the camp? We were all worried.”
“Not everyone, I bet.” Guy said, with an ironic grin to hide that he was moved to hear that some of them could actually worry for him.
Matilda grinned back.
“Well, Little John was worried that you had betrayed us, so for a reason or another we were all worried. I’m glad to see that you are fine, and that your hunt had been a success,” she added, glancing at the boar on the cart. “What else did you find?”
“My clothes and some pots for the camp. I thought you could use some of them to prepare your remedies.”
“And a pretty shield, I see.” Matilda laughed to see that Guy had blushed. “Not really useful, but I understand why you wanted it, it’s a piece of home, isn’t it?” She turned to Allan. “What about you? You can’t see, this is clear, but do you have any other ailments?”
Allan shook his head.
“I feel well enough. Sometimes my head aches, but it doesn’t happen often now.”
The healer touched his head gently, checking him carefully.
“Can you see shadows and lights?”
“No. Nothing at all.”
“Matilda, can you cure him?” Guy asked.
“There is nothing I can do. He could get his eyesight back someday, I’ve heard that it could happen, but I know no remedy that could help. It’s already a miracle that he’s alive.”
The woman looked at the two men, and she was surprised to see that Guy looked more upset than Allan because of her words.
He claims that he forgot how to feel, but that’s clearly not true.
Matilda looked at Guy, so disappointed in his hopes, at Allan, lost in the darkness and trying to be brave and at Djaq, sleeping like a child, with her cheeks still wet with tears. She felt a sudden fondness for them all, a desire to soothe their pain and protect them from further harm, a feeling similar to the tenderness she felt for Rosa.
My children. My lost, broken children.
“I wonder if Marian is alright. She was upset yesterday...”
Matilda looked at Allan, a little surprised that this concern came from the young man instead of Guy.
Gisborne said nothing, staring at the flames, and the healer wondered what changed in a single night.
“Marian is a strong girl, she never gave up even in the most difficult moments. Now let’s have some breakfast, then we’ll have to take Djaq back to the camp and see that she can rest and recover. After we do this, we’ll search for Marian if she doesn’t show up on her own.”
Chapter 11: Burdens
“I can walk, really.” Djaq looked at Guy, who was kneeling to the ground in front of her. “I was just shocked to see Allan...” Her voice broke, and her eyes filled with tears.
“Do you really want to contradict Matilda? And I think she’s right: you kept working day and night to help everyone, and you overexerted yourself. You need to rest or you could get ill. Come on, climb on my back.”
“What about you? Your wounds just healed, won’t I be too heavy?”
“Heavy? You?! Are you trying to unman me? I’m perfectly well and strong enough to lift two of you!”
The girl smiled, and at last she accepted to let him carry her. She put her arms around his neck, and she leaned her face on his back while Guy easily lifted her.
“Are you ready?” Matilda called, and Guy nodded. The woman and Allan were pushing the handcart and they all moved to go back to the camp.
Guy had exaggerated when he had said that he could have carried two girls like Djaq. Actually, one was almost more than enough and he was struggling to keep walking without showing his effort.
The healed wounds on his back were aching, and his shirt was soaked with sweat, but he would never admit that he was tired.
On his back, Djaq was so quiet that he wondered if she was asleep.
He remembered a day of many years ago, when he was traveling with his younger sister, trying to reach their relatives in France. Isabella had twisted an ankle on a rock, and Guy had carried her on his back for an awful, exhausting day.
But now that memory made him feel melancholic, and he wondered if his sister was still alive, if she was living a happier life. Maybe in the future he could decide to go and search for her. Maybe.
He wasn’t sure if he wanted to do that, yet, but it was a chance, a possible decision that he could make.
“Are you tired?” Djaq asked softly.
“Not at all!” He boasted. “You should worry for Allan and Matilda who have to push the handcart with my prey!”
“That’s a big boar.”
“And a trunk full of clothes so that he could feel pretty and clean, and an incredibly useless heavy shield!” Allan added, grinning.
“You could do with some washing, I can smell you from here.” Guy replied, and Allan grinned back at him.
“Are you sure it’s not the boar?”
Djaq chuckled, and both Allan and Guy felt contented for cheering her up.
When they finally arrived at the camp, Gisborne helped Djaq to lie down on her cot.
Luckily Little John wasn’t at the camp, so Guy didn’t have to lose time in justifying himself or giving explanations: he grabbed one of the soft blankets he had brought from Locksley, and he went straight to his own bed, falling asleep immediately.
She went to check on Robin, he was still asleep and Rosa was watching him, then she went back to Allan to lead him to another bed and to give him a quick tour of the camp.
“It seems different now that I can’t see it. Bigger.”
“Once you get used to it, it will be easier to move around.”
“If they’ll let me stay.”
“It seems to me that Djaq already accepted you. Little John might be a little more difficult, but I think we can deal with him. The question is another: do you wish to stay?”
“Giz wants me to stay, and I missed my friends...”
“But I don’t want to be a burden on their shoulders. Look at Djaq, once she would never have fainted like that! She’s exhausted and unwell. Giz told me that you still have to care for a lot of ill people and that you are all working hard to take care of them and to feed everyone. I don’t want to be just another mouth to be fed.”
Matilda patted his shoulder.
“If this is the only thing that worries you, I don’t see where is the problem. If you don’t want to be a burden, be useful.”
“How? Have you noticed that I’m blind?”
“So? You are young and strong and you still have two arms and two legs. I’m sure that there are a lot of things that you can do to help us, we just have to figure them out. Don’t worry lad, we’ll manage.”
Allan hoped she was right.
Marian didn’t want to go back to Locksley, thinking that Guy could be still there. She was afraid to face him, she didn’t want to see that now he despised her too.
But she felt that she had to go back for Allan. It was true that Guy probably wouldn’t abandon him, but since she had nursed him back to health, she had been the only responsible for his survival.
Without her, he couldn’t find food or water on his own, or wood for the fire. If she didn’t come back to Locksley at least once every two or three days, he would starve.
She felt guilty thinking of all the time she had spent loitering at the edges of the camp while Allan was all alone at Locksley, waiting for her return.
She had been cruel to him, denying him her company, but how could she talk with him when any subject could lead to the siege?
The girl sighed, thinking about Guy’s words.
Lies. More lies.
She knew that the knight felt deceived, and she felt sad for that.
I should talk to him, try to explain.
But what if he refused to listen?
She walked back to Locksley, feeling miserable.
Allan wasn’t there anymore, his room was empty and there was no fire in the fireplace. Marian noticed that some of the trunks had been opened, and a few items were missing.
They went away. And now I am alone.
She nestled in her bed, wrapping herself in a blanket and she cried herself to sleep.
Robin was lost in a darkness with no end.
He had been wandering for a very long time, but he found no way to free himself from that crawling, icy night that surrounded him in every direction.
He wanted to run away, to leave everything behind and be free, but he had a chain around his neck, with a big millstone attached to it.
He had to carry it everywhere he went, and its weight menaced to make him sink through the ground.
If I stop, it will take me to hell.
When he looked at the millstone, he could read words carved on it.
Every time he looked at it, he found a new accusation.
He knew they were all true.
When he touched the stone, he left a bloody handprint, the visible mark of his fault.
My hands are covered in blood.
Sometimes he tried to punish his guilty hands, to hit them to be relieved from his burden, even if only for a while. But it never worked: he could hurt himself, but the pain never went away.
Chapter 12: The Healer's Apprentice
Matilda looked at the villagers, gathered around Little John to get food and supplies. After getting their share, many of them came to her to show her a wound or to tell her about some ailment and receive a remedy. The healer quickly checked them, and she divided them in two groups: the ones who really needed her cares and those who only needed a dressing for a small wound or a simple remedy.
“It’s just a little burn. Go to my assistant, he’ll see to it,” she said to an elderly woman who had touched a hot pot while cooking. The woman gasped and shook her head in fear, then she rushed away, forgetting her burn.
“It’s no use, Matilda, I told you. Nobody will accept to get treated by me,” Guy said, with a sigh.
“Then they don’t really need our help. Don’t be too disappointed, they have their reasons to fear you, but sooner or later they will understand that you are trying to help them.”
“I think that many of them don’t need that food either,” Guy said, looking at he people gathered around Little John. “They are strong and young, they should be able to work and feed their families.”
“I told Little John the same thing. We are few and we are trying our best to help the survivors to rebuild their lives, but some of them just get what we give them without even trying to work hard to survive on their own.”
“The sheriff said they were just parasites.”
Matilda slapped his hand.
“The sheriff said a lot of horrible things, and you should forget them all, you should be ashamed of repeating his words! Fool!” She scolded him, then she softened her tone, “But it’s true that some of those people could try harder.”
Guy lowered his gaze, in shame.
“Maybe I should go back to the forest and try to get some prey.”
“You are going to stay exactly where you are. Today you are my helper and people will have to get used to it.”
“But I’ll keep scaring your patients...”
“This means that we’ll save herb and bandages for people who really need them.”
Matilda went inside one of the newly rebuilt huts of the village to check a sick woman, while Guy waited outside. The villagers kept glancing at him, but they kept their distance, wary.
Little John distributed the last supplies, and he sadly shook his head when they asked for more. Guy knew that the big man had given everything he had to them, even his own meal.
The outlaw didn’t like Guy and Gisborne returned the feeling, but he had to admit that Little John really tried his best to help people, even to his own detriment.
Now he looked really sad because the villagers were asking for more food, and he couldn’t give it to them. The people, instead became louder and disgruntled, complaining because they didn’t get enough supplies.
Guy walked to reach them and he crossed his arms, staring at them.
“Is there any problem here?” He asked, and the crowd got silent. “John gave you everything he had, what else do you want?”
A woman glared at him.
“Our children are hungry!”
“Have you even tried to feed them on your own, instead of just relying on charity?” Guy pointed at a group of trees at the edge of the village. “Look there! Nobody climbed those trees to get the apples, and those fields are abandoned. Why aren’t you cultivating them? And the forest is right there, I don’t see people going there to search for food. You can set trap and snares, pick berries and mushrooms, and there are a lot of plants that are edible. If you can’t recognize them, we can teach you, but there’s a lot of food there that you could find with just a little effort.”
“But Robin used to give us all we needed!” Another man said.
“Well, Robin isn’t here now. John, Matilda and the others are all doing their best to help who needs it, but it’s time you do something as well.”
“Why should we listen to Gisborne?” A woman cried, and the others approved, nodding and commenting.
Guy looked at them and he felt defeated. Probably Matilda was wrong: he could try to help, but nobody would ever accept his efforts or listen to him.
He gave up, and he turned to go back in front of the hut to wait for Matilda, when Little John spoke.
“Gisborne I do not like,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “but this time you should listen to him because for once he’s right!”
The people stared at him, disconcerted, but Guy was the most surprised of them all.
“I agree,” Matilda said, approaching them and putting a hand on the shoulder of both men, affectionately. “Everyone who is able to work must do their part. So, who’s going to pick up those apples? It might be a job for the children, they’re always climbing trees for fun anyways, the young men could work in the fields and go hunting, while the women could pick vegetables and berries and set a few snares. The elderly people and the ones who are too weak to work can dry, store and preserve the food you gather, so there will be supplies for the winter. John, show them how to build a simple snare, Guy come with me, I need your help with my next patient.”
The villagers were too surprised to complain, and Little John began to teach them how to catch little prey with simple traps, while Gisborne followed Matilda.
The healer smiled at him.
“Maybe you’re not a complete fool after all.”
“Even if I still think that most of them are parasites? John gave them everything he had, and they were demanding more! Am I like the sheriff for thinking that they don’t deserve our help?”
Matilda shook her head.
“What did the sheriff do with parasites?”
Guy lowered his gaze.
“He got rid of them.”
“I didn’t see you trying to kill any of them. Instead, you tried to show them how to stop being parasites and become useful. That was the right thing to do. You’re not like the sheriff, my boy, not at all. Now come, it’s time that they let you do your work.”
She entered in another hut, and Guy followed her. A woman was lying on a cot and she was startled when she saw Gisborne entering after Matilda.
“What is he doing here?!”
The healer ignored her words, and she looked at the arm of the woman, roughly bandaged and swollen.
“What happened?” She asked, beginning to carefully unwrap the bandages.
“I tripped and fell,” she answered quickly, but she kept staring at Guy, frightened. “Please, don’t let him touch my children!”
Matilda glanced at the kids, huddled in a corner of the room: there were a little girl who could be no more than four or five years old, a younger boy and a baby in a cradle. They looked dirty and scared, and they were all weeping.
“That’s exactly what he’s going to do, instead.”
Both Guy and the woman looked at her, in shock.
“Please, take the two older children outside and take care of them. They could do with some washing and surely they are hungry, find some food for them. And ask Little John to come here.”
“No! Don’t let him take them!”
Matilda stared at the woman.
“Your arm is broken, I’ll need to fix it or it won’t heal right. It will be very painful, but necessary. Do you really want them to see and get even more scared?”
The woman began to sob.
“No, of course not, but Gisborne...”
“Gisborne will keep them safe.” She nodded at Guy. “Go. And take them far enough that they can’t hear their mother scream,” she added, lowering her voice.
Marian hid behind a tree, looking at the people of the village. Matilda, Guy and Little John were there, to drop food and to help them.
She had brought some supplies too, and later she would wear the mask of the Nightwatchman to distribute them, but first she took some time to watch, unseen.
She saw Guy entering a hut with Matilda, and then he came out after a while carrying two wailing children in his arms. The people looked at him disapprovingly, but nobody tried to stop him while he went away from the village, entering the forest and moving towards the river.
Quietly, Marian began following him to see what he was going to do.
Gisborne found a place where the water was slow and shallow, and he stopped, putting down the children. The two kids looked scared, but they didn’t try to run away, probably more afraid to get lost in the woods than to stay with the tall, dark man.
“Come on, take off your clothes and step into the water,” Guy said gently, looking at the children, then he turned to glance at the tree where she was hiding, raising his voice a little, “and you could come here and help instead of spying on me!”
Marian was startled, and she made a step forward, revealing herself.
“How did you know I was there?”
“Once you told me that I should be more careful of enemies approaching from behind. I think I improved a little, don’t you think?”
Marian glanced at him, almost shyly.
“And am I an enemy?”
Guy shook his head, kneeling to the ground to help the little boy to remove his tunic.
“Of course not.” He wrinkled his nose. “And this one clearly needs to learn how to use a chamberpot.”
Marian came closer, still ashamed to look at him.
“I’m sorry Guy. I should have told you and the others about Allan...”
Guy looked at her.
“Yes, you should have told us, and that’s why you get to wash these,” he handed her the boy’s soiled clothes and a piece of soap with a grin, then he apologized too. “But I shouldn’t have lashed out at you like that.”
Marian hurried to soak the dirty clothes in the water.
“So, are we still friends?”
“Wash those clothes and the little girl and we’ll see,” Guy answered with a grin, but he was interrupted by the little girl, who splashed at him, indignantly.
“I’m not little! I can wash on my own! And my name is Beth!”
Marian burst out laughing seeing Guy’s surprised look, and the knight grinned at the child, giving her another piece of soap.
“Very well, Beth, go on, then.” He glanced at Marian, who was still laughing, and he gave her a little push, making her lose her balance. The girl fell in the water with a cry of surprise, and she turned to glare at Guy. The knight was sitting on the river bank, with an amused expression on his face, and he was scrubbing accurately the little boy, who was giggling at seeing Marian so soaked.
Little Beth was laughing too, no more frightened by the tall knight, now.
“You should watch your back too,” Guy said, ducking to avoid the little boy’s wet breeches that Marian had thrown at him.
Some time later, the two children were sitting on the grass, wrapped in a towel and eating a piece of bread while their clothes dried up, hanging on a bush. Guy’s shirt and Marian’s dress were drying there too, and their owners were near the children, sprawling in the sun to get warm after their “battle” in the cold water of the river.
Marian was wearing a chemise, and she had a towel wrapped around her body as well, while Guy was shirtless, stretched on the grass with his eyes closed.
The girl looked at him, thinking that she had never seen Guy looking so relaxed.
She felt the sudden impulse to touch his skin, and she almost moved her hand to do it, but she stopped and she harshly reproached herself for those thoughts.
What am I doing?!
But still, the temptation of feeling the warmth of his body under her fingers seemed almost overwhelming to her.
What about Robin?! I shouldn’t…
Half asleep, Guy turned on his side, and Marian saw the scars on his back. The sight of them was enough to force her back to reality.
Guy had received those wounds to protect her, to save her life, even after she had deceived him and lied to him so many times.
I owe him my life, and I only hurt him…
She dropped her hands in her lap, blushing.
What she had been about to do wasn’t right.
They were both still too hurt and broken to understand what they really wanted or felt, she couldn’t risk hurting Guy, or herself, to follow the whim of a moment, yielding to her loneliness.
The girl turned to look at Guy, with a little jump. The knight was looking at her, ruffled and half asleep, and Marian averted her eyes.
“You should take the children back to the village, they’ll be worried by now.”
Guy sat up, stretching his back, and he smirked at her.
“They were already worried when they saw they were with me. But you’re right, it’s late. Alright, kids, it’s time to go back to your mother. Get dressed.”
Guy retrieved his shirt and the clothes of the children, and Marian took her own dress. After a while, the two children grabbed Guy’s hands, with no fear at all now.
“Will you come to play with us again?” Beth asked, looking at both Guy and Marian. “It was fun to play in the water.”
“Maybe.” Marian answered with a smile, leaning to caress their heads.
“Come at the camp,” Guy said softly, meeting her gaze. “I missed hunting with you, and I think that Allan would be happy to chat...”
“Maybe,” she repeated, feeling suddenly shy. She handed him the bag with the food. “Here, take this to the village, from the Nightwatchman.”
Guy didn’t insist, and he just nodded, taking the bag, then the children, now eager to go back to their mother, claimed his attention again and he followed them to the village.
Marian stood there for a while, watching his back while he walked away, then she turned with a sigh and she took the opposite direction.
Chapter 13: Checkmate
“Will he ever get better?” Guy asked, looking at Robin’s face. He was asleep after Matilda had given him a sleeping draught.
The healer sighed, rubbing the outlaw’s chest with a wet towel.
“I hope so. Sadly, we can’t do much for him, other than avoiding that he can hurt himself. Now, help me turn him, please.”
Guy obeyed and he made Robin roll on his side, so Matilda could wash his back. It was strange to touch his lifelong enemy to help him instead than to fight him.
Looking at him, so helpless, made Guy wish that they could fight like they used to do once. It wasn’t natural to see Robin so weak and broken.
“I thought that nothing could really defeat him. He never gave up, even against the worst plans of the sheriff. I’ve seen him in hopeless situations, and he laughed in front of danger...”
“During the siege he met his worst opponent.” Matilda began to brush gently Robin’s ruffled hair.
“Who?” Guy asked.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s much easier to accept and forgive other people’s fault. The hard thing is being able to forgive yourself.”
Guy gave her a surprised look.
“Are you saying that Robin can’t forgive himself? Why? What did he do?”
“Don’t you know? I thought you had heard it by now.”
Guy shook his head.
“The others never talk about Robin, and the people of Nottingham are still too scared to talk to me.”
“Well, at least some of them now dare to let you treat them. It’s an improvement, don’t you think?”
“Guess so. So, what is Robin’s fault? What did he do?”
“He killed the sheriff.”
Guy stared at her, in shock.
“What?! But why? He knew about his agreement with Prince John! He knew that killing him would destroy the county! He brought doom on us, and we are taking care of him!”
Matilda looked at Robin’s face, sadly.
“Do you think he doesn’t blame himself? That he can forgive himself? Look at his hands, at the cuts he inflicted on them. He’s already punishing himself, in the worst possible ways.”
“I can’t understand why he did it. In the past he had other chances to kill the sheriff, even before the pact with Prince John, but he never did, he had that crazy no-kill policy… What changed now?”
“I don’t know what really happened. People say that he killed the sheriff to save Marian, but that’s all I know.”
“Marian? She never told me about this...”
“Have you noticed how the others treat her? They blame her for the siege, they think it’s her fault. That’s why they barely tolerate her presence.”
Guy looked at Robin, pensively.
“I wonder if anyone knows what really happened that day.”
“Maybe you do, my boy, you were right there. But you don’t remember it.”
Robin moaned in his sleep, his face twisted in distress, and Matilda hurried to finish washing his body before tying him back to the bed so he couldn’t hurt himself.
Gisborne looked at the man who had destroyed the lives of so many people, and he thought that he should hate him for that, but he couldn’t feel anything but pity for him, and a deep sadness for them all.
I’d rather not know. I hope I’ll never remember.
Allan picked up the heavy bag, full of food and remedies, and he carried it on his shoulder, while Djaq took his arm to gently lead him.
At first it wasn’t easy to walk in the forest like that, having to rely completely on another person to avoid tripping on the uneven path or slamming his head on low branches, but Djaq was very careful, always warning him in time if there was a danger or an obstacle on his path.
Now he trusted her completely, and walking to the villages was much easier, even pleasant.
He carried her bag, and in return she took him with her, chatting and making him feel normal again.
She never treated him like a cripple, but she just acknowledged that he couldn’t see and she gave him the help he needed to lead an almost normal life. If something funny or interesting happened around them, she described the scene to Allan so that he could imagine it in his mind.
People in the villages welcomed them gladly, knowing that they were there to bring help. Most of them remembered that Allan had worked for Gisborne, but they thought that he had been punished enough with his blindness. This, along with Allan’s friendly attitude, made them forget their spite for him soon enough.
“Were are we going today?” Allan asked.
“Did they already rebuild the houses?”
“Yes, most of them. Of course not all of them. Many families have been destroyed and a few of the survivors went to live with the relatives in other counties. But all the ones who still live there now have a roof on their heads. I think that they are rebuilding the tavern too.”
“Good news, then! I wonder if the pretty maid who used to work there is still alive...”
“That pretty blonde girl? Jen? I think I’ve seen her at the market last week.”
“Even better news! Too bad I won’t be able to look at her, but hey, who knows, maybe she’ll let me touch...”
Allan didn’t stop grinning even when Djaq gave him a light slap on his hand.
“Men!” She exclaimed, rolling her eyes. “They never change!”
“Some do. Look at Giz. Who could ever think that he’d end up helping Matilda? And she says that he’s good at it too. When people don’t run away in fear, of course.”
“He’ll earn their trust someday. After all, if Little John accepted him, anyone can.”
“I’m glad that you accepted me too.” Allan said, a little awkwardly. “I know that I wronged you all, but...”
“It’s in the past.” Djaq interrupted him. “In the past.”
And she didn’t want to think of the past, of the times when they were all together, without the ghost of betrayal between them, all alive and healthy, working together to trick and rob the sheriff.
She missed Will and Much sorely, and Robin too, even if he wasn’t dead. They had been part of her family, and she was heartbroken over the loss of more members of it.
“Maybe Giz should dress like Matilda, so people would be less scared...” Allan commented, and Djaq couldn’t help laughing at the idea of the knight wearing Matilda’s rags.
“I don’t know, I think he would be even scarier,” she answered in a light tone, but in her heart she was grateful to Allan for his silly comment because she knew that he wanted to make her feel better and distract her from sad thoughts. She grinned, amused. “And then he looks good in black, it would be a pity changing that. He’s a handsome man.”
Allan grinned back.
“True, but not as handsome as I am! And I look good in any color! Come on, admit that!”
Djaq just laughed again.
Guy stretched on his bed, but he didn’t close his eyes. He stared at the trees, at the leafy branches moving in the breeze, and he thought of Robin.
He knew very well what it meant to carry the burden of guilt every day of his life. He would never forget the fire that destroyed his manor and killed his parents and Robin’s father, he’d never forget that it started for his fault. Rationally he could persuade himself that it had been an accident, that he had never meant to do it, but deep inside the guilt gnawed at him, telling that it was his fault.
Maybe that was the reason why he had started working for Vaisey, he suddenly realized. His conscience kept telling him that he was already damned for that horrible sin, so it didn’t really matter if he sinned again, he was going to hell anyways, so he should better try to take everything he could in his mortal life because it was the only chance he had.
And Robin, who had always been the hero of the people, who enjoyed so much being loved by everyone, how could he bear the responsibility for the death of so many people? His actions had condemned the very people he was trying to protect, weak, helpless persons who trusted him.
No wonder that he had lost his mind.
Guy didn’t want to sleep, not when his thoughts were so dark, but he was tired after a long day of helping Matilda and hunting in the forest, and the quiet rustling of the trees lulled him into a deep slumber.
Guy found himself in the castle, in an empty room. No furniture, no tapestry on the walls, no candles or fire in the fireplace. But it wasn’t dark: even if he didn’t see any window, he could see clearly the stones of the walls, dark with dampness.
His heart was beating too fast, and he was scared, even if he didn’t remember why. It was something out of that room, something so terrifying that he didn’t dare to go near the door to listen what was going on in the corridor. He could hear muffled sounds coming from there, but he couldn't discern them.
Something, something terrible, was coming for him and there was nothing he could do to save himself.
Guy realized that the dampness on the walls was too dark to be water.
It was blood.
Blood seeping through the stones.
He unsheathed his sword, but the blade was broken, useless.
He couldn’t fight. He couldn’t run.
It was like being a pawn on a chessboard, with no winning moves left. As he thought that, he actually found himself on a chessboard, and he was riding the chess piece shaped like an horse.
He was the knight. And there was just a move he could do: sacrifice himself to save the queen.
Guy looked at the other pieces closing on him, enormous and invincible, and he closed his eyes, expecting to die, but they never touched him.
Instead, he heard the sound of a lute, playing a lively, if slightly out of tune, music.
Guy woke up, his hands clenched on the blanket of his bed, and he recognized with relief the trees of the forest above him, a reassuring, familiar roof.
The nightmare was already fading from his mind, but something troubled him. He realized that he was still hearing the music of the lute.
Then Allan voice joined the instrument.
“We live in the heart of Sherwood,
under a green dome,
a gang of merry men
in a camp we call home
A knight as dark as night,
a man so big and tall
but the one without his sight
is the best of them all
Our ladies are brave and strong
they heal, they help, they fight,
They are, believe my song,
like stars, a guiding light
Listen to my voice,
smoother than the king's wine,
listen and rejoice
because I might be blind
but for a coin or a cup of ale
you’ll get a song from Allan A Dale!”
Guy got up from his bed, and he reached the others. They were all gathered around the fire, and they were all looking at Allan, who was holding an old, battered lute.
“What’s this?” Guy asked, puzzled. “What are you doing?”
“Can’t you hear? I’m singing.”
“Of course I heard, you woke me up.” Guy didn’t add that he had been actually glad to be awoken from his nightmares. “The question is: why are you singing?”
Allan held up the lute to show it to Guy.
“Do you like it? Djaq bought it for me from a merchant.”
Guy sat with the others, helping himself to a piece of bread and some cheese, and he looked at Allan, amused.
“So are you going to become a minstrel?”
“Why not? I don’t need my eyes to sing.”
“But we still need our ears!” Guy said with a grin.
“Hey! It wasn’t half bad!”
“The one without his sight is the best of them all? Really?”
“You’re just jealous because I called you dark knight. But if you behave I could write a song about you.”
“I doubt it would be very successful.” Guy said, with a resigned sigh.
Allan shrugged, moving his fingers on the lute to play a simple tune.
“Who knows, Giz? Who knows?”
Chapter 14: So Easy to Hate
Guy couldn’t sleep.
That afternoon, when he went to Nettlestone with Matilda, he had to face once again the hatred of the people.
In some of the villages people were beginning to at least ignore him, a few even accepted that he could treat some of their minor wounds or ailments, but the people of Nettlestone completely rejected him.
A handful of peasants even dared to throw rocks and mud at him, and if Matilda hadn’t intervened, the situation would have ended badly.
But she had stopped him from unsheathing his sword, and she had harshly reproached them for their action, then she collected her remedies and she went away, dragging Guy with her, claiming that she only treated humans and not beasts.
When they were far enough from the village, she had turned to Guy, scolding him with even harsher words for thinking of using his sword on those people.
“See? That’s exactly why they despise you!”
One of the stones had grazed his forehead, leaving a bruise, but what hurt most was the realization that Matilda was right about him.
He wasn’t good with people, he had never really had the chance to learn how to interact with others, and he only had the example of the sheriff, who despised almost everyone.
Guy got up from his bed, giving up any attempt of sleeping. He wanted to go and sit near the fire and drink a cup of the mulled wine that Matilda had prepared the day before, but he changed his mind and approached the curtain that concealed Robin’s bed.
The outlaw was alone, but Matilda had made sure that he couldn’t hurt himself. Robin’s arms and legs were chained, with chains long enough that he could move a little and sleep in a comfortable position, but not enough to allow him to hurt himself. The cuffs closed around his wrists and ankles were padded with soft cloth to protect his skin, and a soft blanket covered his body, but Guy still felt pity for him.
He sat on the stool near the bed, trying to understand if Robin was awake or not.
Matilda drugged him only when he was too upset now, and it still happened often during the day, but, when he was quiet, she preferred to keep him awake so that it could be easier to feed him, or to attend to all his other needs. During the day, she forced him to get up and walk a little, but only when both Guy and Little John were at the camp, because she knew that they were the only ones strong enough to stop him, if Robin tried to hurt himself or the people around him, lost in some of his waking nightmares.
When she unchained him, she was always careful to give him some remedy so that he was a little sedated, calmer, even if awake.
Apart from the moments when he cried and fought against the demons of his mind, Robin just lay where he was, completely unresponsive.
“Hood?” Guy called in a whisper. “Do you need anything?”
No answer, of course.
“Do you listen when we talk to you? Do you hear, at least? Matilda thinks that you do, that maybe our words will eventually reach you...” He paused for a moment, looking at Robin, as if he was waiting for a reply. “What do I think, Hood? The truth is that I’ve no idea. I can’t understand people, often I can’t understand myself, how could I understand you? You’ve always been so different from me and I could never realize why everyone loved you so much even when you misbehaved. Once I always tried to be good, to follow the rules, but people never forgave me even the smallest error, they always found so easy to hate me, even when I did nothing wrong. It’s still like that, even if I have to admit that now they have more reasons to despise me...”
Guy sighed. He didn’t know why he was talking to Robin that way, why he was revealing him his most personal thoughts. Probably it was because he inwardly thought that Robin couldn’t hear him, that it was a safe way to vent.
Or maybe he secretly wished that Robin could hear, that he would actually listen to him, that he could share his vulnerability with another human soul.
“Why, Hood? You killed the sheriff and destroyed their lives, and people keep loving you. In the villages they always ask when you are going to come back, they mourn your absence. I tried to save them during the siege, or at least that’s what Matilda and Djaq told me, I can’t remember, and now I’m working to make my part, to help people even if I’m not really good at it, but they still hate me, they seem to think I’m a devil or some monster… They blame even Marian for the siege, not you. Never you.”
Guy paused again.
“What about me, Hood? Do you think I blame you?” Guy grinned, ironically. “ No, Hood, not at all, actually. Weird, uh? I spent my whole life blaming you for everything, but now that I could have a reason, I don’t. The truth is that I understand you. You did it for Marian, didn’t you? I can’t remember what really happened, but for what I know, they all agree: you killed the sheriff to save Marian. I almost gave my life for her, it’s a miracle if I’m alive, so we both sacrificed everything to save her. But now you can’t bear the burden of your guilt, you keep thinking that thousands died to save just one, and that’s why you rejected her too. But still I can’t blame you, because I think that in your place I would have done the same. The only difference probably is that I wouldn’t believe that killing the sheriff and destroying Nottingham would condemn me to hell: my soul was damned already.”
Guy stopped talking, feeling silly.
What was the use of talking to someone who would never answer, who maybe couldn’t even understand his words? He could as well talk to a tree or to a horse!
But maybe he just needed to say those words aloud.
Gisborne stood up with a tired sigh, and he decided that he could go and have that cup of wine after all. He gave another glance at Robin, then he went away, wondering if it would be better to take a pot to warm the wine on the fire or just drink it as it was.
He didn’t hear the silent whisper coming from Robin’s lips after he had left.
“Kill me... I’m already in Hell... Make this end.”
Matilda checked her patients, and made sure that they were all sleeping peacefully. If they kept improving, she thought that at the end of the week she could send them back to their homes. Their families, in the meantime had rebuilt their houses and got settled, so they could take care of them properly. Once they could go home, they wouldn’t have to tend to sick people at the camp, except for Robin. It would be a relief for them all, and they would have more time to get ready for winter.
It was going to be a difficult winter: a lot of crops were burned, supplies had been destroyed and many families had lost many members. People would risk starving, and if they were weak, they would risk getting ill and dying.
The healer thought that she would have to pick more herbs, to prepare her remedies and store them so they were ready when she would need them. Maybe Gisborne could help her with that, she thought with a sigh.
She felt bad for reproaching him so harshly that afternoon, but if he wanted to do his part he had to learn how to keep his temper in check, and unsheathing a sword against the people wasn’t certainly the right way to get along with them.
She was thinking that she’d have to talk with him the next morning, when she heard his voice, barely more than a whisper, coming from behind Robin’s curtain. She couldn’t make out the words, but she could recognize the bitterness in his tone and she felt sad for him.
After a while, she saw him coming out from behind the curtain, and going to the pantry to take the jug containing her mulled wine.
Matilda cleared her voice not to startle him, and Guy turned to look at her, frowning.
“Can’t you sleep?” She asked. “Is there something that’s troubling you?”
Guy looked away, a little embarrassed, clearly worried the she could have heard his words to Robin.
Matilda took the wine from his hands, with a little smile, and poured it in one of the pots Guy had brought from Locksley.
“Let’s put this on the fire. The nights are still warm, but mulled wine tastes better when it’s hot. Here, now we’ll just have to wait for a while.”
The healer put the pot on the fire, then she lifted a hand to push away a lock of hair from Guy’s forehead.
“Let me see this bruise, does it hurt?”
Guy shook his head.
“It’s nothing.” He repeated.
“I know. And I also know that it hurts all the same.”
They both knew that she wasn’t talking about physical pain.
Matilda smiled at him.
“Now, now, my boy, are you mad at this old, crazy witch for yelling at you?”
“I must admit that threatening those people with my sword wasn’t the best idea I ever had, and then you yelled at them too.”
The healer grinned.
“You all deserved it. But you must be careful with your temper, Guy. It’s dangerous to give in to your anger, it’s too easy to do things that you will regret later. Things that you can’t undo.”
Guy nodded, blushing.
“Like burning Knighton Hall. I wish I could take it back.”
“But you can’t. And you can’t give life back, if you kill somebody in the heat of your rage.”
“Maybe I should just stay here. Away from people.”
Matilda took the pot away from the fire, and poured the wine in two cups, handing one to Guy.
“It would be wrong, my dear. You have your faults, but you are a good man, I can see that, and people will see it too, when they learn to know you. If you don’t kill any of them, of course.”
Guy returned her half a smile.
“You’ll better try hard or I’ll whack some sense in that donkey head of yours!”
“And I bet that it would hurt much more than a simple stone thrown by a feeble peasant,” Guy said affectionately, his smile wider and less sad now.
“You can bet!” Matilda looked at him. “Maybe you should drink your wine and go to bed, you must be tired.”
“I couldn’t sleep yet.”
“Very well, then. Tell me what spices I used in the mulled wine.”
Guy gave her a surprised glance.
“A healer should be able to taste herbs and spices and he must remember their use and the unwanted effects they can have. You can’t sleep and I understand that, but this doesn’t mean that you should waste your time moping or staring at the flames. We can use this time to train you, so sip that wine and tell me what ingredients you can recognize. Then, you’ll tell me all you remember about each of them.”