Sir Edward moved a knight, with a little smile, trapping Guy’s king.
Guy smiled back to him, with a resigned sigh.
“I guess that strategy is not my best quality.”
“Maybe not, but at least you accept defeat gracefully. Marian never did.”
Guy looked at him, curious.
“Really? Does she know how to play too?”
“We used to play when she was a child, during winter days, when it was too cold to go outside. She never liked it very much: she used all her pieces to attack my king, without planning in advance, and she was too rash, so I usually defeated her in a few moves. Then she began preferring other kind of games...”
Sir Edward stopped. He was about to say that Marian learned to fight with a sword, and that she loved to imagine that she was a knight, but he remembered that he was talking to the henchman of the Sheriff. If Gisborne knew that Marian was able to fight, he could guess the true identity of the Nightwatchman.
Playing chess with him, day after day, Sir Edward learned to know a side of the knight that he would never have imagined, and sometimes he found hard to remember that Guy was the same man who terrified the people of Nottingham and who obeyed the evil orders of the Sheriff.
When they played, they didn’t talk much, but when they did, Gisborne was polite and respectful, maybe even a little shy. Sir Edward couldn’t believe that he once slapped him, and forced Marian
in a betrothal under duress.
I must remember he is an enemy and a danger to us.
“Do you want to play another game, Sir Guy?”
Guy shook his head.
“I think I’ll try to rest for a while. My leg hurts a lot today, I couldn’t sleep much tonight.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. It must be because of the weather: it’s going to rain, later. Do you want me to call Matilda?”
“No need for that. She will come in the evening to check my injuries, but she always leaves some of her remedies, so I can take it if the pain is too strong. But she said that I’ll have to get used to pain, at least for a few months.”
“I hope you’ll feel better soon.”
“I’ll call the servants now, so they can help you to go to bed.”
Sir Edward was about to exit Guy’s room, when he heard somebody pounding on the door. He hurried downstairs, and he saw that Marian was already in the hall, trying to calm down the Sheriff, who was seething with anger.
“Where is he?! Tell him to come here immediately!”
“I already told you that he can’t, my lord!”
Sir Edward hurried to reach them, noticing Marian’s expression. The girl was trying to stay calm, but her father knew that she must be as angry as the Sheriff.
“Lord Vaisey! We didn’t expect a visit from you today. Please sit down, and share a meal with us.”
“I’m not here for a visit, and I certainly am not interested in your food. I want Gisborne, and I want him now!”
“I’m afraid that Sir Guy is still unwell...”
Vaisey ignored him, and he stomped towards the stairs.
Marian and Sir Edward hurried to follow him.
The girl gasped when they reached the room: somehow, Guy had managed to stand. He was favoring his broken leg, and he was clinging to the back of the chair to keep his balance, but he was as pale as a ghost, and clearly in a lot of pain.
“I need you back to work. Immediately.”
“Lord Vaisey, Sir Guy’s health improved, but he isn’t healed, yet. He won’t be able to work for a few weeks, at least, if not months.” Sir Edward intervened, and the Sheriff stared at Guy.
“Is this true, Gisborne?”
“I’m afraid it is, my lord.”
Vaisey stood still for a moment, then he lifted a hand and slapped Guy with all his strength, making him fall to the ground with a pained cry. The sheriff bent down and grabbed the front of Guy’s nightclothes, pointing a dagger to his throat.
“Then rest in peace, Gisborne.”
Guy looked at him, frightened. He knew that the sheriff wasn’t joking.
“Please, my lord! I always obeyed you! I’ve always been loyal!”
“You’ve always been a useless idiot, Gisborne.” The sheriff said, in contempt. “Do you know how much your stupid accident cost to me?! I questioned your guards and I know perfectly well that it’s only your fault because you’re so stupid that you are not even able to cross a road! If you can’t work now, you’re useless to me.”
Guy closed his eyes. He was sure he couldn’t do what the Sheriff wanted, and he also knew that Vaisey would kill him. He knew too much of his plots, and the Sheriff would get rid of him.
Sir Edward saw that Marian was about to intervene, and he stopped her putting a hand on her arm, then he talked to the Sheriff.
“My lord, please, stop. I can’t allow bloodshed in my house, there must be another solution. Sir Guy is my daughter’s betrothed, if you kill him in front of her, she’d be very upset.”
Vaisey turned to look at the elderly lord. He was tempted to slit Guy’s throat just for spite, but he thought better. Sir Edward wasn’t a menace anymore, he was meek and cowardly, but he had been Sheriff in the past, and he probably still had supporters between the other nobles.
Gisborne wasn’t important enough to risk a rebellion that would have to be sedated in blood.
“Very well, if you really care so much for this useless wretch, you can keep him. But I’ll have a compensation for the damages he inflicted to me with his foolishness. I will have to hire and train a new Master of Arms, so I’ll take back the ownership of Locksley and all your belongings as a repayment, Gisborne.” The Sheriff lowered his voice to talk to Guy. “You can keep your miserable life, but if you ever try to thwart me, you are dead. Remember this very well: try to damage me, and I’ll have your head on a spike.”
He violently pushed Guy to the floor, and he stood up.
“Now he’s your problem.” Vaisey said to Sir Edward, then he walked away.
Neither Sir Edward or Marian bothered to see him to the door, but they both turned to Guy, who was lying on the floor, curled on his side.
Marian knelt on the floor, next to him.
“Sir Guy, are you hurt?”
She tried to put a hand on his shoulder, but Guy shuddered, covering his face with the hands.
“Don’t touch me! Leave me alone!”
The girl looked at him, worried, then she glanced at her father.
Sir Edward helped her to her feet.
“Go and search for Matilda. We don’t know if the fall hurt him, it’s better not to move him until she checked his injuries. Go, I’ll keep an eye on him.”
Running, scared. She was running, scared.
Marian had not even realized how afraid she was feeling, but her emotion was transmitted to her horse. From her reins to the neck of the horse, from her thighs to the animal's skin. Everything within her was screaming: run, run, run, he needs help.
As she ran to Matilda’s house, her heart pounding fast, she thought that she was completely crazy to feel like that for Guy.
She had heard him screaming of a primordial, sudden pain. Heartbreaking. She had felt her skin freeze.
She had seen him on the ground, Vaisey ready to kill him. She had seen the instinctive movement of Guy’s Adam's apple, and his eyes widened with fear and horror, but then closing, as if he accepted his fate of death, and, at that moment, Marian was about to lose her head. She had grabbed the hilt of a small knife inside the pocket of her dress and she had been about to pull it out and hit Vaisey, to kill him on the spot. She was about to risk her life and her father's to save Guy.
Her father had intervened, blocking her arm. He had faced Vaisey, as he never did before. But she had lost her control, for Guy.
The sleepless nights, her fatigue, frustration and anger, his serious faults, they all had become nothing compared to that image.
Marian didn’t want to think about it, and there was so much to think about, so many things that would change now. But, for now, she just had to bring Matilda to Guy. Immediately.
She slowed down and then stopped the horse near the healer's house.
She got off the horse and she didn’t even bother to tie him up. She was surprised by the force with which she had knocked frantically at Matilda's door.
"Who the hell is wrecking the door! Double pay, only for THIS trouble!" Matilda shouted, before opening the door.
The woman saw Marian, her face red, full of sweat, her hair disheveled, something that looked like a tear sliding down her face.
It had to be about Guy, something happened to him. Poor baby...
She felt sad, and angry. She had become fond of the knight almost without realizing it. She was truly fond of the solitary and madly in love boy hidden behind the contemptible mask of the black knight.
"What's the matter, Marian?"
Marian had convulsively told her about the arrival of the sheriff and Guy's fall, then she described how he couldn’t get up from the floor where he stood trembling, and his pain. The girl was terrified that Guy's leg had broken irreparably.
"That slimy excrement! The swine! He should be bound and hanged like a sausage, and not going around ruining people's lives! What did he want to do? Ruining weeks of my work! To ruin him, more than he has already done? Poor baby. Poor son! Did you give him something for the pain, Marian? It must have been very strong, burning, stabbing him.”
Marian shook her head, explaining that Guy didn’t want to be touched by her, he didn't want her near him, and that they didn’t move him for fear of damaging him further.
"Oh kid," Matilda said, "if there is anything that Guy wants from this life is to be touched by you. No pity, no compassion. And to be forgiven, whatever he did to you.”
The girl brought her hands to her face, crying.
For stress, out of fear, feeling her guilt.
Matilda had the impression that she could hear the words ‘my fault’ amidst her broken sobs. She hugged her, caressing her back.
"Calm down, baby, everything will be fine, we will help him now and he will feel better. We will not give satisfaction to that filthy jester who is the Sheriff!"
Matilda patted her cheek, hoping that Marian could understand and resolve, soon, for her salvation and for Guy's, the complex tangle of her feelings towards the man.
His life and future was so severely compromised, she thought sadly, and prayed to God to be still able to help him once again.
She took a bundle with the sweet walnuts and honey that Guy had loved so much and gave it to Marian.
"This time you give these to him, Marian, when Guy will feel to eat something. Come on now. He needs us. both of us."
Matilda and Marian got ready to leave for Knighton.
While Matilda entered at a rapid pace into the house, Marian felt an arm grabbing her from a dark corner of the yard.
She grabbed her dagger, but a hand stopped her, and she found herself into the arms of a man with his face covered by a brown hood.
Marian pulled it down, revealing Robin’s tense face.