Matilda couldn’t understand what had happened to the man. She had left him in decent conditions, as far as he could be. Something must have happened.
When she came back to visit him, and now this had become a pleasure rather than an obligation, poor fellow, she had found him deeply unconscious again, his face marked as if he had suffered a great stress. She could also see a bit of sadness, of defeat, on his face.
At the moment he was fervently assisted by Marian, who seemed to be oscillating between his same stress and much, much more guilt.
It seemed that the clock had been turned back to the first time she saw him, when he was suspended between life and death, but he was much more seriously injured then, so much that she wasn’t even sure she could be able to help him.
However, now, apart from his present state of unconsciousness, the strangest thing was that Marian wasn’t going to leave him alone, not even during her routine medical examination of the knight.
Marian did no more than turning around when it was really required.
Anyway, the worst seemed to be passed: he wasn’t bleeding, he hadn’t new wounds, and he hadn’t suffered new fractures. Just a big, sudden stress.
Perhaps he had tried to move again, to try a too demanding movement for his present physical forces. Or, maybe he had received some grave news.
Matilda looked at the girl, so suddenly alarmed and just as prostrated as Gisborne appeared to be, and she understood that maybe Marian knew something.
So, she began discreetly to ask the girl what had happened.
But Matilda's discretion and kindness to the young woman began to quickly fade, as soon as the girl told her to have had a discussion with him that rapidly transcended in words and feelings, She told her that, in the end, he was deeply agitated and he had tried to move beyond his means.
In short, Matilda found herself scolding her like a little girl, a really reckless young girl.
A silly one.
A stupid one.
Just barely she managed to restrain herself from calling her stupid. She was the daughter of a Lord, after all.
It has been hard, very hard to help Guy to heal, and she was still not sure what would be the ending result of all her cares.
She had seen in the eyes of the man the fear of not being able to do anything, the sense of humiliation of his present condition, and, above all, his loneliness.
If, in the early days of her cares, Matilda had thought that the Knight really deserved to suffer for all the evil he had perpetrated in Nottingham, after having him before her eyes for days she changed her mind: the more she looked at him him, the more she saw a man.
A man in a serious illness.
He looked proud and stubborn to everyone, including his betrothed, while he really was just trying to maintain a dignity, in a difficult and not entirely dignified condition.
She had stopped calling him Sir or any other bad epithet when she thought of Guy.
He had something different in him than other patients that she had had.
At times he seemed suspiciously like an animal beaten for a long time, which was very odd in a man who had exercised so much power. And his pride seemed to hide some secret misery that he would not have told anyone.
In addition, there was the way he seemed increasingly tying his very existence to the daughter of Lord Edward Knighton.
When Guy was looking for Marian, and asked the servants to call her, there was command in his voice. But when he had given the order, and he was waiting her to come, in that very moment, Matilda had seen in him the anxiety of a man taken by a very strong feeling, a feeling that he had never felt before, something that he seemed unable to control completely.
Anyway nothing in Guy, she thought, was now under control, not his physical condition, not his fears, and now even not his feelings. But Marian was his first thought.
She guessed that he must have made control and discipline his life, before his illness. But is this not, in short, a knight?
She had seen many worse men than him.
Lost people. Lost souls. Totally lost souls. Souls condemned to hell.
Guy had seemed to be like them, at first.
Then, she understood: to Matilda, Guy seemed, at times, like the captain of a ship in bad waters, full of serious flaws, desperately hoping that the dim light he saw far away was the light of a lighthouse, a safe harbor.
Marian was that light for him: desperately near and far at the same time.
Time for other questions, Matilda thought.
“Marian, forgive my impudence, but there is something that I’ve been wanting to ask you, for quite some time now”
“Just ask, Matilda,” Marian said, “you know, I am indebted to you, I’m in great debt.”
“Is your future marriage the result of an agreement between families, as is the tradition among the nobles?” The older woman asked.
“No, I don’t know Sir Guy's family. I know nothing of his life before he came to Nottingham. It's an agreement between my father and him, but perhaps it is safer to say that it is the result of an agreement between him and me. He wanted me, strenuously. We came together, to my father's presence to tell him that we would get married, when the King returns to England.”
Matilda thought for a moment about what the girl had said, then she laughed.
“Oh poor boy!” Matilda said “Poor fool, to agree to wait for something that may never happen just to hope to have you as his wife.”
“The King will be back in England!” The girl said, with impetus.
“Maybe,” Matilda said “or maybe not. It 's a war, Marian. Many men left for it, few came back from there. Many were lost and buried in the sand. But this is not the point. Probably the King will return, you're right. What makes me really laugh is the very idea that, in order to have you, THIS man has leapfrogged every rule. Something in both your and his behavior tells me that he must have behaved very badly towards you also. Nothing irreparable, I guess, otherwise you'd be married already, and you wouldn’t be so embarrassed when I have to undress him. But at the end of all, his marriage is linked to the most unlikely event possible at the time. How incredible. You, young girl, must really be very important for him to make a nonsense of the sort. The second most powerful man in Nottingham... Dear God, what a story! Well, Marian, I can tell you, having checked everything in him, that I'm pretty sure of this: Guy will wake up again. But when our ‘sleeping beauty’ will wake up, please, send for me. He will really need someone to listen to him complain and moping, now.”
Matilda left the room, and Marian began to think about the words that the older woman said to her, while she looked at Guy sleeping.
In that moment she realized that Matilda was right; she had been smart, and reckless at the same time to choose the return of the King as the one condition for their marriage.
But Guy had accepted it only for a lack of intelligence? What Guy really hoped? What Guy really wanted from her? There were higher-ranking women and with much greater wealth to choose.
Watching the ‘sleeping beauty’, as Matilda called him, for a moment she smiled, thinking that, at least in this, Matilda was actually right.
Guy turned to give a glance over his shoulder, and he spurred his horse: armed soldiers were following him and he had to run. They were wearing King’s Richard’s uniforms, and Guy knew that if they reached him, he would be hanged or quartered as a traitor.
Then an arrow hit his horse and the animal fell in the sand of the desert. The soldiers captured Guy and dragged him to the king, forcing him to kneel in front of him.
“I didn’t choose to kill you, I just followed the orders of the Sheriff!” Guy pleaded, but King Richard just looked at him, without speaking. Robin of Locksley was at his side, the arms crossed in front of him and his face stern. “Please! I don’t want to die!”
“You tried to kill the king!” Robin said. “The punishment for this is death.”
Guy kept his eyes down, not daring to look at King Richard. He was kneeling on the stone floor of a castle, now, and his leg was hurting, sending jolts of pain through his body.
“Please, Majesty, have mercy on me. I’ve been misguided, I’ll never be a menace again.”
The King looked at him.
“I won’t accept your pleads, but I might be lenient if somebody else is willing to talk in your favor. Someone who can guarantee for you and who will accept to take responsibility for your future actions.”
Guy looked around, but all the other nobles turned their backs at him, and common people glared or spit in his direction. Robin gave him a disgusted look, and he went away too.
Guy saw the slender figure of Marian, and he reached out for her.
“Marian, please, only you can save me...”
The girl looked at him with contempt.
“I despise you,” she said, and she abandoned him too.
King Richard looked at Guy.
“Well? Who will defend you?”
“I have nobody...”
“Then you will die.”
Guy woke to the sound of his own moan of terror. He opened his eyes, looking around in fear, afraid to see the guards coming for him, but he found out that he was in Knighton and that nobody was trying to kill him.
For a moment, he stared at Marian, who was standing near the bed, and the girl looked at him, then she turned her back at him, like in the dream, and she ran out of the door.
Guy stood still, looking at the empty door: his whole body was aching, and he felt empty too.
Marian had been looking at him with a expression he had never seen on her face before, and he assumed it was disgust for him.
Maybe King Richard wasn’t going to execute him for now, but the dream was true: he had nobody.
Before he could stop it, a tear rolled on his cheek, followed by another, and before Guy could move his good hand to wipe them, Matilda entered the room, and rushed to the side of the bed.
“You woke up at last, love,” she said in an affectionate voice, dipping a towel in the basin and beginning to clean away tears and sweat. “What’s up, now? Why are you crying?”
Guy gave her a half-hearted glare.
“I’m not crying!” He snarled. “I’m just in pain.”
“Of course, silly me for thinking otherwise.” She finished cleaning his face, and she touched his forehead. “I don’t think you have a fever, but you look pale. Apart from the pain, how do you feel?”
Something in his tone made Matilda understand that it wasn’t just physical tiredness, but that he was dispirited as well. She wondered what Lady Marian could say to him to make him so miserable, then she decided that it didn’t matter and that the only thing she could do was to try to cheer him up.
“That’s because you are not eating enough, love.”
Matilda helped him to sit in the bed, propping up his back with pillows, then she smiled at him.
“Here. Now close your eyes.”
“Didn’t I save your life? You should trust me by now. Stop arguing and close your eyes.”
Guy gave a glance at her, and he saw she was smiling kindly. He obeyed, with a little sigh.
Matilda looked at him for a moment, and she thought that he was desperately trying to look strong and proud, but she had seen fear in his eyes, fear and loneliness.
She reached for the little basket she had taken with her from the kitchen and took a little bowl full of honeyed walnuts. She took one, and held it to Guy lips.
“Here, try this.”
She expected him to fuss or to ask what she was trying to give him, but he meekly obeyed, parting his lips to accept the bite.
His complete trust moved Matilda, and she smiled as she watched him chew the walnut.
Guy opened is eyes in surprise, and looked at her.
“There’s honey in it!”
“Yes, love, do you like it?”
“It was a long time I didn’t have any. The Sheriff doesn’t have a taste for it. He doesn’t like any kind of sweetness.”
“You’re not the Sheriff, thanks to God,” she said, placing the little bowl in his lap, “so you can eat the rest of it. It will be good for your health, and it has a pleasant taste too. My daughter loved this kind of candy, she was overjoyed when we had the chance to get some honey. Now eat, and after that I’ll help you wash and get changed in a clean nightgown, and then I’ll comb your hair.”
“There’s no need for it.”
“Of course there is! Don’t you want to look good?”
“What for? People despise me. Why should they care about my appearance?”
“Eat. If you are busy chewing, it will keep you from talking nonsense.”
“It’s no nonsense. Name someone who cares for me.”
“Me, for a start. And Lady Marian, I guess.”
Guy lowered his eyes with a deep sigh.
“She feels only contempt for me, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, really? Why was she so worried for your health, then? When you passed out, she got a good fright.”
“I guess she’s afraid of a retaliation.”
Matilda burst in a hearty laughter, and she bent to give him a motherly kiss on his cheek.
“I would have never thought that the dark and cruel henchman of the Sheriff could be such an innocent soul!”
Guy growled her to stop, but Matilda could see that he wasn’t as annoyed as he tried to look, and she guessed that he probably craved all the little attentions she gave to him, even if he would never admit that.
“Eat, and stop brooding. Thinking too much is bad for your health. I care for you, if that matters, and I’m sure other people will too, if they get to know you better. But now put your energies in getting better, sweetie.”
“Don’t call me like that.” Guy said, gruffly, and Matilda laughed again.
“Come on, I know that you love it, love.”