James was wondering what orders he should give to the other servants, worried. The physician was called, but he didn’t come, claiming that it was too dangerous to ride with the roads covered with ice and snow.
The old servant kept the other ones busy, making them boil water or fold clean sheets, even if there was no need for those tasks. But if the maids were idle, they would start to chatter and gossip, and he was too worried for his lady and his lord to listen to useless tattle.
He had been working for Sir Edward’s family for decades now, and he had seen lady Marian shortly after she was born, so he loved his lady almost like a daughter and he couldn’t stand seeing her suffer.
At least Sir Guy had been quiet enough, keeping out of the way.
Too quiet maybe.
The presence of the man was not welcome at Knighton, and James thought that his accident had been very distressing for lady Marian.
But it was strange that he didn’t show up to ask about Marian’s conditions, James thought, remembering how much the knight had been worried earlier.
In that moment the door opened, and Sir Guy stumbled in the hall, leaning on a young man.
Gisborne looked pale and exhausted and he was soaked with snow, while his companion was equally wet, but he looked to be perfectly healthy.
James hurried to take their cloaks. Gisborne might not be a welcome guest, but he was still a guest, and a noble, so James did his duty, as Sir Edward would have wanted.
“Sir Guy! What happened to you? Where have you been? And who’s that man?”
Guy limped to the fireplace, helped by Allan, and warmed his hands for a few moments before he could speak.
“I went to search for Matilda. He’s one of Robin Hood’s men, I asked them to go and find her.” He turned to Allan. “You can go, now.”
“No, I can’t.”
“What? You’ve no reason to stay here, I don’t need your help anymore. Actually, I never needed it.”
“Are you serious? If I didn’t help you, you’d still be trying to climb on that horse! Anyway, Robin ordered me to stay here until Matilda arrives.”
“He has no rights to invite people at Knighton Hall!”
“And do you have any rights to say that I can’t stay?”
James intervened to stop the argument.
“Sir Guy, did you really call Matilda?”
“I asked Hood to find her.”
The old man smiled.
“That’s a relief. Blight won’t come.”
“How is Lady Marian?”
“She didn’t wake up, yet. And she’s still burning with fever.”
“I need to see her.”
James looked at him and his expression softened a little. He could see that the knight was really worried for lady Marian and he appreciated that. For the first time since he knew Gisborne, James could understand him a little because he was worried for her too.
“You should change your clothes first, or you’ll be the next one to be ill. If you get sick too, you’ll not be able to help her.”
Normally, Guy would have rejected the suggestion, but he noticed that the servant talked to him in a kind and respectful tone, the same he used with Sir Edward. Guy wasn’t used to it.
He nodded nervously.
“I will. Please, send somebody to the stables, my… the black stallion needs to be unsaddled and taken care of.”
“Yes, Sir Guy.”
James went away and Guy just wanted to walk to his room, get a change of clothes, and then go upstairs to see Marian and wait for Matilda’s arrival at her side.
He realized that he couldn’t. He had left his crutch in the stables that morning, and he didn’t retrieve it. After riding the stallion, his leg was hurting like hell and he knew that he could never walk to his room without help, and certainly not upstairs.
He glanced at Robin’s man, annoyed. It was evident that Robin sent him at Knighton to keep an eye on him, as if he actually thought that he could be a danger for Marian. But Guy also knew that he had not the authority to send him away.
Allan looked at him.
“If you must stay here, at least make yourself useful. Go to the stables and find my crutch.” He said, sternly.
“Not your servant, Gisborne.”
Guy glared at him, but he knew he had a point. He didn’t reply and turned to stare at the flames in the fireplace, unwilling to humiliate himself further.
He startled when a hand touched his shoulder.
Allan grinned at him.
“I’m not a servant and I won’t obey your orders, but nothing forbids me to help a man who needs a hand. Well... a leg, in your case. So, where’s your room? I’ll help you to get there.”
Guy gave a wary look at him, expecting some trick, but Allan actually helped him to walk to his room. He left him near the bed, then he went away, saying that he would go to see if he could find something good in the kitchen.
Gisborne sighed. He hated that he had to rely on the help of an enemy, but he hadn’t choice.
He shed his wet and cold clothes and found clean ones in the chest at the foot of the bed. After he changed his clothes, he heavily sat on the bed: he was tired and in pain, but above all he was worried for Marian. He wanted to be near her and do something to make her feel better, but he was trapped in that room, betrayed by his own body and too proud to beg for a help that the others were unwilling to give him.
Guy took one of the vials that Matilda gave him before leaving for her travel, and he drank it, hoping that the remedy could ease the pain he was feeling. He was afraid that riding could have damaged his leg irreparably, but he didn’t regret doing it, if his sacrifice could help Marian.
Gisborne carefully stretched on his back and closed his eyes. He didn’t think that he could be able to sleep while Marian was so sick and with his leg hurting so much, but he was so tired and weak that he drifted in a deep slumber almost immediately.
Allan bit into a piece of bread, and thought that maybe Robin’s order to stay at Knighton could be a good thing for him. The food was good and the house was comfortable and warm, so staying there was certainly better than freezing himself at the camp.
Of course he had to deal with Gisborne, but the man wasn’t a danger anymore. He was weak. He had no power.
Talking with the servants of the house, Allan had the impression that they respected more him, a simple thief, but allied with Robin Hood, than Gisborne, even if the latter was a noble.
Allan grabbed a cloak and walked to the stables. He told Gisborne that he wasn’t his servant and he had meant that, but he also took some pity on the man.
Their ride back to Knighton Hall had been extremely difficult for the knight, and Allan had wondered how he could find the strength to mount when he was so badly hurt. Coming to the forest was a reckless thing to do, and Allan thought that Gisborne really cared a lot for Marian to risk his health and his life to help her.
He spotted a crutch laying on the ground near one of the stalls, and he picked it up, then he went back to the manor.
“Hey, Gisborne, I found this for you. Not because you ordered me to do it, but because so you can walk on your own,” he said, entering Guy’s room, but the knight didn’t answer and Allan realized that he was asleep. He shrugged and placed the crutch near the bed, where Guy could easily take it, then he went back to the hall to sit in front of the fireplace.
Guy woke up with a muffled cry. He had been dreaming, but he couldn’t remember what. Confused dreams, full of anguish and disturbed by pain.
Both sensations didn’t disappear when he opened his eyes, and Guy sighed.
His leg was still hurting, but he needed to see Marian.
He sat on the bed, wondering if the servants would come to help him to walk if he called for them, when he noticed the crutch near the bed.
Gisborne took it, and stood up. He walked to the hall, hoping to meet James and to ask him news of Marian, but the room was deserted except for Allan who was dozing in front of the fireplace.
The outlaw opened his eyes with a yawn when he heard Guy’s steps, and he looked at him.
“Oh, you woke up at last. I was beginning to think that you were dead.”
Guy gave him a confused look.
“Did I sleep for a long time?”
“Yep, mate. It’s the middle of the night if you haven’t noticed.”
“Really?” Guy frowned. “What about Marian?”
“Still sick. She didn’t wake up.”
Guy moved to reach the stairs, and Allan glanced at him.
“Are you sure?”
“I have to see her.”
“I don’t think that leg of yours can take you upstairs.”
“I will crawl if I need too, but I’ll go to see Marian and you won’t stop me.”
“Alright, I won’t stop you.”
Guy looked at the stairs and tried to climb the first step.
“You could help me.” He snarled, annoyed.
“Yes, I could.”
Gisborne stared at him.
“You have no intentions to do it, right?”
“It depends on what?”
“Well, you could ask nicely, for a start. And then you could use my name instead of calling me ‘you’ in that demanding tone.”
Guy rolled his eyes.
“And your name would be?”
“Allan. Allan A Dale.”
“Well, Allan A Dale, would you please help me to go upstairs?”
The outlaw gave him a mischievous grin.
“No problem, mate.”
“Don’t call me ‘mate’”
“As you wish, Giz.”
“Short for Gisborne.”
Allan lifted a finger to warn him.
“Do you want to go and see Marian or do you prefer to lose time complaining?”
Guy glared at him, but he didn’t reply, so Allan gave him an innocent smile, then he helped him to climb the stairs.
Marian was alone.
The maid who had to take care of her was asleep in the adjacent room and didn’t wake up when Allan and Guy entered Marian’s room.
Guy walked to the bed to look at the girl, thinking that only a few weeks before he had been the one lying there and Marian the one who watched on his sleep.
He touched her cheek, tenderly, and sighed. Her skin was too hot and Marian shivered in her sleep, but she didn’t open her eyes.
A bowl full of water was on the bedside table and Guy dipped a towel in the water, wrung it and placed it on the girl’s forehead.
Allan put a finger in the water.
“If she has a fever, this should be colder.”
“Go downstairs and fill a bucket with snow,” Guy ordered, but Allan didn’t move and looked at him in silence, his arms crossed.
Guy rolled his eyes.
“Allan, please, do it. For her.”
The outlaw smiled.
“Of course, Giz.”
Guy waited for him to go away, and he sat on a chair near the bed, taking Marian’s hand between his fingers.
“We called Matilda,” he said in a low voice “I’m sure that she’ll come soon, don’t worry. She’ll cure you and you will feel better soon. But until she comes, I’ll watch over you, as you did with me. Don’t be afraid, I’m here and I’ll always be.”
Marian didn’t move and Guy felt suddenly scared. She was so pale, so weak, that he was really afraid that she could die.
She was young and strong, but in his life he had seen younger and healthier people succumb to some illness. He lowered his head to kiss her hand, and he found himself praying for her, as he had not done for a very long time, maybe since he was a boy and used to go to church with his mother and his sister.
Allan came back with the bucket and he gave it to Guy, who took a handful of snow and put it in the water, then he wet another towel and put it on Marian’s forehead.
There wasn’t much else to do, so Guy went back to sit near the bed, while Allan stood near the fireplace, warming his hands near the flames.
“This surely is better that trying to get warm with the small fire we have at the camp. We can’t make it too big or the guards would see the smoke and find our hideout.”
Guy looked at him, remembering that they were enemies. Or at least they had been enemies because now Guy had no interest in capturing the outlaws. Actually, he realized, Gisborne hoped that Robin Hood and his gang made the Sheriff’s life as hard as possible.
Allan spotted a tray of uneaten food on the table and he looked at it. The soup was cold and it didn’t look very good, but the bread was still fresh. He took it, broke it in two halves and handed one to Guy.
Gisborne was about to refuse the offer, but he realized that he was hungry.
“Thank you,” he said, gruffly.
“You’re welcome, mate. After all, if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have the chance to spend a night or two in a nice house.”
“I don’t need a guard dog. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her.”
“Just following Robin’s orders, nothing personal. Even if it hadn’t been fun at all when you hunted us with dogs.”
“You are outlaws. It was my duty to catch criminals and keep Nottingham safe.”
“If you really wanted that, maybe you should have arrested the Sheriff.”
Guy took a bite of bread, shaking his head, but the idea of seeing the Sheriff imprisoned in the dungeons was interesting. Vaisey betrayed years and years of loyalty and Guy was still feeling hurt.
He couldn’t agree with an outlaw, but he hoped to take a revenge on the Sheriff someday.
He ate his bread for a while, in silence, watching Marian. When he finished, he stood up and replaced the wet towel on Marian’s forehead, adding more snow to the bowl of water, then he limped back to his seat.
Allan looked at him for a while, and he nodded at Guy’s leg.
“How is that? Still hurting?”
Gisborne warily looked at him, wondering if there was a trap in his words, but Allan looked sincerely concerned.
He answered with a little nod.
“Yes, it hurts. It’s a little better, though.”
“Riding with such a wound was an insane thing to do.”
“Probably. But I had no choice. She needed Matilda and nobody else would go searching for her.”
Allan looked at him for a moment and shook his head.
“I really hope I’ll never fall in love if that means becoming a fool,” he declared, then he took a chair and sat, closing his eyes to doze by the fire.
Guy glanced at the outlaw. That young man had no respect for him and he was clearly a knave, but he found his presence oddly comforting.
Allan A Dale was a distraction from the fear he felt seeing Marian so ill. In front of him, Gisborne felt compelled to look braver and stronger than he actually was and, even if his strength was fake, a pretense for Allan’s eyes, it was still strength and in the end it made him feel better.
She felt hot, and then suddenly cold, in the strange place she was in, now. She had been there for a while. Everything went and came. Everything was confused, distant and at the same time very close to her.
It looked like a fog to her eyes, the same she once saw from Nottingham Castle while she was looking toward Knighton when she was a little girl.
A dark and cold fog.
Then the heat returned, but without light.
In the dark, Marian heard a voice say something, maybe poetry, a knight tale… a love tale?
Marian tried to listen to it better, trying to find her way through the fog.
The voice continued to recite, incessantly. But it wasn’t a poem.
It was like… a prayer.
"Save her... spare her... give her back to me... I need her... please."
Did the voice talk about her? Was someone praying for her now? Why?
Marian was afraid, and suddenly she felt much more colder.
Was she going to die? She didn’t want to die.
“I don’t want to die, dear God,” Marian thought, lost in the fog. “I don’t want to die. Father needs me, dear God.”
The voice kept saying his prayers, more and more heartfelt, turning to God, and to the Holy Virgin.
And Marian did the same, she prayed, clinging to the sound of the voice with all her strength. Suddenly she recognized the voice. It was Guy's voice, and he was desperately praying for her safety, for her to wake up, to came back. To him.
"Are you praying for me, Guy? Am I really so sick? Dear God, send me back, send me back to my father, and… to him." Marian wished to wake up, but she felt she couldn’t. “Don’t leave me… Guy. Don't leave me now. Stay with me....”
She continued to listen to his voice, lulled by it.
She saw a faint light at the bottom of the fog.
Then she saw nothing at all.