Guy looked out of the open the window, following the falling snowflakes with his eyes. Everything was white all around Knighton Hall and the fields were resting under a thick blanket of snow.
The peasants were all shut into their houses, and only a few persons dared to go out in the cold, mostly merchants headed to Nottingham’s market or men who needed to cut some firewood.
The village looked very peaceful, but Guy’s heart was not.
Since the day when he found out Marian’s secret, he had very few chances to talk to the girl: Sir Edward was sick again and she claimed to be very busy taking care of her father.
Gisborne knew that it was the truth, but he suspected that she was avoiding him as well.
After all, he didn’t know if he wanted to talk to her too. Every time his leg pained him, and it was very often, he couldn’t help thinking that it was her fault, every time that he felt humiliated because of his situation, he knew in his heart that, if it wasn’t for Marian, he would still be powerful and healthy.
He should hate her, but he couldn’t. His heart kept loving her, stubbornly.
Guy couldn’t understand the girl. She kept an icy distance from him, at least when he was awake.
At night, he sometimes woke up to find her asleep at his bedside, watching over his sleep. Some other times, when nightmares or pain tormented him, he opened his eyes and saw that she was holding his hand or drying the sweat from his face, whispering soothing words until he fell in a peaceful slumber.
Marian thought that Guy didn’t remember those moments, and it was true for most of them, but sometimes he did, and those memories warmed his heart because, when she lulled him back to sleep, it felt like she actually cared for him.
“Are you insane?” Matilda’s voice startled him, and Guy turned to look at the woman. The healer hurried past him and closed the window, pulling the curtains to shut them. Then she rolled her eyes.
“Do you want to get sick, love? To keep the window open with this cold!”
“Cold never bothered me too much, and I was wearing a cloak, Matilda.”
The woman smiled at him, her gaze softened.
“I see. That blue velvet suits you. It’s just a little faded and worn, but it’s a good cloth, and it looks pretty on you.”
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing for a man to ‘look pretty’, but you’re right, it’s a good cloak, very warm too. It was Sir Edward’s, I found it in a chest of old clothes he gave to me. It’s sad, don’t you think?”
“Having to rely on charity. Once I swore that I would never be a beggar again, and here I am, unable to earn even my own food or to afford new clothes.”
Matilda gave him a curious look.
She didn’t ask him any question because she knew that when he was in that mood, remembering the past could only hurt him even more.
“You have such a sunny disposition, love! I just said that you look good dressed in blue velvet, that’s all.”
Guy gave her an apologetic smile, a little embarrassed.
The woman grinned back at him, and added a log to the fire.
“So, tell me: why did you want to freeze?”
“I was just watching the snow. It makes everything so peaceful...” Guy sighed. “And I’m bored to death.”
“I see. Now that Sir Edward is sick, you can’t play chess with him and Marian is always busy assisting him. What about your friend? Didn’t he come to visit you?”
“Lambert? He went to see his family in York last week. He was supposed to stay there just a few days, but the snow blocked the roads. Yesterday I was feeling so lonely that I was almost tempted to chat with the servants.”
“Well, maybe you should do it.”
“They hate me. If I tried to make small talk, they’d think I’m gone insane and probably they wouldn’t be too far from the truth. I’m so glad that at least I can talk to you, Matilda.”
“If you did, maybe they’d see that you’re not as bad as they think. But well, nobody will force you to talk with them, even if you’ll probably end talking to yourself, at least for a few days.”
“I need to find some rare herbs for my remedies and at this time of the year, they can be found only near the sea. I will have to travel east to search for them.”
“Are you going to travel with this snow?! What about the blocked roads?”
“I’m going to borrow a donkey.”
“I don’t like this. It can be dangerous.”
“That’s what Robin Hood said, too. And that’s why he’ll send two of his men to travel with me, as a protection.”
“Look, love, I need those herbs for Sir Edward. I’m worried for him, he’s frail and very sick.”
“Is he in danger?” Guy asked, suddenly worried for the old lord. Sir Edward had been kind to him, and Guy owed him a lot. Maybe Sir Edward wanted to make up for Marian’s faults in the beginning, but he let him stay at Knighton even after Vaisey fired him. He could have easily got rid of an unwanted guest just kicking him out of the house, but instead he invited him to stay and he was always kind to him.
Guy felt guilty for his recent illness: Sir Edward went out in the cold weather to search for Robin, because he thought that Guy cold hurt Marian. If only they both could have kept their temper in check, now the old man would be well.
Matilda noticed his concern, and she sighed.
“He’s an old man. Frail. His illness wouldn’t be serious in a young man, but Sir Edward is weak. Even a simple cold could be serious for him, now. The herbs I’m going to search will make him stronger.”
“Go, then. And please, be careful.”
“You too, love. Don’t do anything foolish while I’m away.”
“Why should I? I’m not an idiot!” Guy said, a little hurt by her words.
“Am I wrong if I say that you are still upset after you found out that Marian is the Nightwatchman?”
“I feel so confused. I don’t know what I feel.”
The woman patted his hand.
“That’s what I meant, my dear. Don’t act after your emotions and avoid any confrontation for now. There will be time to talk with her, when you’re both calmer.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem: she’s avoiding me.”
“Maybe it’s for the best in this moment. But I have to go, I want to reach the next town before sunset. Try to exercise your good leg in these days. I know that it would be easier in a better weather, but the main hall is big enough for you to walk a little, and if you wear warm clothes, you can go outside for a while too. Just be careful to avoid ice on the ground, it wouldn’t do if you should fall and hurt yourself again. Take care.”
“You too, Matilda.”
The healer went away and Guy sighed: the next few days would be even lonelier than usual for him.
Wrapped in the old blue velvet cloak Guy loomed like a dark shadow in the blinding white that surrounded him, around her house. It was a sunny day. But no ray of a cold winter sun could warm him enough, Marian thought.
Warming his bones, his thoughts, his heart.
She thought she should have run out to dissuade him from walking outdoors using his crutch in the snow. But if he looked frail to her worried eyes, their forced truce seemed even more fragile to her.
A barrier between them had fallen down, and Marian didn’t know how to erect it again, if not avoiding him, once again. Avoiding him, as long as she could, avoiding to have to talk with him more than she had to. Avoiding his loving, sad stare, without feeling the less guilty.
She felt more fragile than he. She felt the continuous sense of exhaustion that haunted her for days.
She was by day next to her sick father, and often, at night, when he needed her more, next to Guy. Marian rested where she could, when she could.
But there was more.
Marian felt like a sentry guarding the remains of an old fort, emptied by a terrible, bloodied war.
She didn’t know why she continued to protect those old walls, but she didn’t seem to want to do anything different.
She didn’t have the courage to look beyond them to find that there was nothing left to destroy, and everything to rebuild, instead.
But there was more. He made her feel confused.
The love that she continued to read in his eyes nonetheless, made her confused. She didn’t even imagine that such a feeling of love coming from a man to a woman could exist.
Marian thought that love was, or should have been, joy, pure happiness, pure bliss. Love was... a same way of thinking, of feeling. Love was... the same idea, shared, of the world. Something to make life lighter. A warm smile, a hug, a tender kiss. A promise of a better life. A worthy life. No faults, no doubts. No insecurities.
Their kiss had been completely different, and as far as Marian tried to consider it just as an accidental event, something to forget, she had thought of it, thought again and again.
She wondered if Guy thought about it too.
Marian absentmindedly brushed her lips with a finger.
Wrapped in a blue coat, Guy was leaning now to the trunk of a big tree with a long opened hand, to support himself the best he could. His crutch left aside, for a moment.
Standing in front of the horizon, watching away from her home, Guy seemed to her more and more the knight who appeared in her dreams.
He seemed more and more frequently to have taken permanent home in her dreams.
Just a few hours earlier she had looked and looked for him through the house without finding him, and, once found, Guy appeared to be again in the peak of a high fever.
She had repeated to herself that it could not be the reality, again. She had to be dreaming, sleeping.
But still, she continued to bathe his forehead with wet cloths less and less cold, and he didn’t seem to recover. In fact, he was getting more and more worse by the moment, until she had started screaming and begged him not to die. To not leave her alone.
And she had kissed him.
With strength, with despair.
Then she had closed her eyes too, defeated.
When she opened them she had seen him smile, too close to her, a mischievous look in his eyes, the voice deep and soft at the same time. Taunting and calming at the same time.
"What excuse you will choose next time?", he said.
Then she woke, breathless. Sitting on her bed, in the act of embracing someone who wasn’t there. Her arms empty.
Marian decided that she had to stop watching Guy from the window, to return to take care of her father.
She avoided Guy, she avoided Robin, who seemed to understand her even less than before.
She avoided thinking. She tried and tried to have always something better to do.
But that day Marian felt strongly flushed.
At first she thought it was the effect of the fire that she had stoked to heat the room for her father as well as possible.
Over the hours she felt worse.
But she was afraid and she didn’t want to stir the servants, already so busy with two different sick men.
Matilda was far away. Too far away, at the moment. And Marian did not trust other healers.
She forced herself to eat a soup, the same that had been taken to Sir Guy before.
It was good, it was nourishing, perfect, but she could not seem to swallow it. Eventually she gave up and sat next to the fireplace in the hall.
She slipped into a long deep sleep.
When Guy, returning home from a walk, saw her asleep, he walked slowly, silently, near her, trying not to wake her. He didn’t want to bother her with his presence even in her needed sleep. But, still, he wanted so badly to caress her beautiful face, to take her in his arms. To climb the stairs, carry her in their bed, and to sleep beside her. Or to wake her up, kiss by kiss, caress by caress, until the passion and the desire would crawl, hot and burning, under the skin of both. Feeling his and her passion under his skin, into his blood.
But Guy was there, watching her sleep, imagining, daydreaming a life so very distant and so very close at the same time.
He probably could never pick her up in his arms. Neither Marian wouldn’t want him to do it. She wouldn’t ever want him, she wouldn’t ever love him.
He was about to leave the room, leaving her alone, leaving her in her, desired, peace when he noticed that the blanket was slipping from her legs.
He went closer to put it on again and he heard her murmur: “Help me. Guy , help me.”
Astonished, he touched her forehead.
It was pretty damn burning.
And she was too pale, now that he looked her better, closer.
He went as fast as he could, to call the servants, searching for help. Any possible help.
Marian, his Marian, needed it.
Matilda, his real, loving, crutch during his illness, was too far away.
He at once put aside his shame, his weakness and his embarrassment, to save her. Returning to be again, a strong man, determined, for what he could be.