Lion Heart Page 15

“No,” I said, my mouth going dry.

“So that’s it, then,” he said soft. “You don’t want him anymore. The greatest love story I’ve ever had the chance to tell, and you’re throwing him away.” His head tilted. “In fact, why don’t we just do that,” he said, going to the window.

“Allan!” I yelled, diving for him as he pushed the shutter open. “Allan, don’t!”

I grabbed one arm, jerking it back and slamming my knee into his bits. He wailed, falling back and curling dramatic onto the floor with a howl.

David were right behind me, crossing his arms and watching Allan writhe on the floor instead of assisting.

I took the letters, pressing them into the satchel and buckling the leather shut. I turned to Allan as he started to rise, weakly leaning on the wall. “You think this is easy? That I’m being cruel?” I snapped. “Maybe I am! But I’d rather love him for the rest of my life than love him now and lose him soon after.”

Even as the words left my mouth, they didn’t feel true. Rob’s and my love had always been made in the cracks, the jagged little edges that came from the ruin of something else. It were a place that weren’t supposed to be filled with love, but that’s how it had always been. Our love filled the broken bits and made us whole again. There weren’t no perfect time to love him, not ever, and it had always been with the threat of death and hurt hovering round us. And we’d love each other anyway. Sure, and true.

“You’re giving up, my lady,” he told me.

“You don’t understand,” I told him. I hefted the bag up, and David shook his head.

“Leave it there, my lady. I’ll pack the horses,” David told me. “You go on.”

“Good-bye, Allan,” I told him.

He shook his head. “It’s not good-bye, lady thief. I’ll never believe that.”

I sighed. “David, I’m going to say my good-byes to the others.”

David nodded, and I went out of the room. I were in a skirt now, and I kicked at it as I walked down the hallway. I felt along my back; Eleanor had even purchased two knives for me, and I slid one out of my bodice. I turned it in my good hand. My stumps ached, but the fingers I had left were still sturdy for gripping things. I held the knife in my bad hand, squeezing it tight.

I could hold it. It were awkward, and painful, but I could hold it.

“You’re a lady now,” Eleanor said, and I raised my head to see her down the hall. “You don’t need knives, you know.”

Flipping it up, I caught it with my good hand. “Even a lady needs something sharp at her disposal,” I told her.

“That’s what words are for.” She lifted a shoulder. “Or knights, perhaps.”

“You’re not traveling with many,” I said.

“No,” she said. “Most are still covering the countryside, making announcements, assisting their lords. They are returning to me as fast as they can, but for now, we have enough.” She sighed. “I always like having more men about, but I’ll make do.”

I nodded.

She waved me into her chambers, and Margaret were there, beaming at me in her strange way, and she handed Eleanor a cloth. Eleanor took it, unwrapping the cloth, showing my moonstone.

“This was when I believed him,” she whispered to me. “That you were dead.”

I swallowed.

“Here,” she said, holding up the chain, and I bowed my head. She slipped it around my neck, and the weight settled down, finding the dip between my breasts. She looked at it and nodded. “Where it belongs.”

“Thank you, Eleanor,” I told her. I jerked forward, hugging her.

“There have been many sins between us, my girl,” she said, petting my back. “But family protects one another. I will always keep you safe.”

I pulled back. It were a finite promise, but I knew she meant it. “Bring my father back,” I told her. “I very much want to meet him.”

She smiled at this. “I cannot wait for that bright day, my girl.” She pressed her hand to my cheek. “Now, David will escort you to Bristol. There should be a ship within a day or two—by the end of the week at the very least—headed for Ireland. You can both buy passage and send word to me when you are met by Theobald Butler—he is far more loyal to me than he is to John, and he will protect you.” She handed me a letter. “This will explain everything to him.” She gave me two more papers, both with ribbons and seals flapping off. “These are your pardon and your creation,” she said.

Holding them against myself, I drew a breath. “Tell me that this is the right thing to do, Eleanor,” I whispered to her.

She raised her chin. “It is the only thing to do if you want to protect those you love,” she told me.

I sighed.

“Ladies,” Winchester said, coming to the open door and bowing to us.

“Winchester,” I said, smiling. “Thank you. For everything you’ve done for me.”

He didn’t smile. “You’re welcome. Of course.”

“Walk her down to the courtyard, won’t you?” Eleanor asked Winchester. “We still have some packing to do. Margaret—stop simpering.”

Margaret flushed and turned back to her task.

“Where will you go next?” I asked her.

“Toward Cornwall,” she said. “Perhaps up toward Devizes Castle first, and then down to Cornwall. That way we can travel all along the south coast.” Her mouth tilted up. “And I’ll have an excuse to stop in Bristol and ensure that you’re off all right.”

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