Scarlet Page 4

“I suppose you want me to say what a tart she is. Or you are? But really, every time you climb in her window, you make her think that’s all she’s good for. Bess is a nice girl.”

“You must have known all sorts in London.”

I didn’t say. I don’t yap ’bout London. And besides, he didn’t answer me ’bout Bess.

“You ran out pretty quick from Tuck’s.”

“I do that when I’m being bossed ’bout,” I said, cutting a glare to him.

“So how are we getting into the castle?”

I looked up. “Good night for a climb.”

“Aw, Scar,” he moaned. “I hate climbing, and you know that. And it’s not a good night. You did that on purpose.”

I didn’t say that neither. I walked faster.

They call Nottingham Castle the Castle Rock for good reason; it’s built on a big pile of rocks. One side is sheer rocks and the other side is a series of heavy fortified baileys. Most would think that’s the way to go, but I see rocks and I can’t help but climb ’em. The rocks are the fortifications, not the walls on top. An army can’t scale rocks, can it? And castles are built to keep armies out, not thieves.

Rob used to live there, before the Crusades—and before the sheriff, with Prince John’s approval, took over the keep. They called Rob’s father a traitor after he died and said his lands were forfeit to the English Crown. It weren’t that he were a traitor in truth, but there were lands and there were no Rob here to defend them, so the Crown took what it could—and yet they call me a thief. When Rob heard his father died, he came back and found there weren’t nothing here but pain and suffering all around. While he were off defending his country, they were taking his birthright.

Rob used to be an earl, if you can believe it. It’s why he feels so particular ’bout his people, and why they feel so particular about him. Most still call him Your Grace. He’ll be an earl again when King Richard comes back for sure. Rob’s the one who taught us most of the ins and outs of the castle, but some I’ve found on my own, from listening and watching and general poking round.

“Scar?” I heard in the distance. I looked down. John weren’t far up at all. “Don’t go so fast.”

I smiled. “I’ll wait for you at the top.” ’Course, I weren’t honestly going to the top. Three quarters up there were a secret entrance. But he didn’t need to know that; I could get in and out with Freddy before he would even be up there.

Climbing up were quick and steady by the bright light of the moon, making the handholds gleam like the moon were pointing them out to me. There were a big rock overhanging the tunnel entrance, hiding it from sight, and I scrambled under. From there it would all be dark and lightless, but that were well enough—I had no need to see the crawlers hiding in the rock.

The tunnel were small and bits were caving in, but it were still intact, and I kept low and ran the length of it. It went right to the apartments in the main bailey up on the top of the rock, and from there it were an easy, shadowy walk down to the prison on the middle bailey. The castle were set up like a giant twisting staircase, and each bailey were the flat of the stair, a walled, defensible castle unto itself. The top bailey were the best protected and held the people and the storerooms; the lowest were guards, and the middle bailey held just about everything else.

Now, the prison had one entrance in the front, and that were all. Under the ground in the middle bailey, the prison didn’t have any windows. It did, however, have an air vent that were almost my size exact.

I slid down headfirst, holding inside the vent to see if anyone were in the hallway. It were clear, and I dropped onto my hands and tucked down, staying quiet and sticking to the walls. There were rats all over the place, and the squeaks and claws covered my noises.

“The Hood!” I heard someone whisper. I wheeled my head around. A prisoner stood, plastered to the bars. “Are you looking for the boy?”

I nodded, keeping my head down. He pointed me to the end of the row. I could see the guard straight ahead, turned away from me, and Freddy’s cell were off to the left. It were perfect. I slid my pick from the inside of my belt as I snuck closer. Freddy were curled on his filthy bedroll. He looked even younger there, and a big bruise showed on his face.

The locks weren’t difficult to pick, but it still took a few moments, and it weren’t even the hard part. Going painful slow, I yawned the door open, drawing out the squeak till it were quiet.

With a breath, I snuck into the cell and pulled Freddy up, shushing him as he woke and pulling him onto my shoulders. He didn’t question me, holding on tight as I walked him out and shut the door slow behind, waiting for the heavy click of the lock.

I ran him back to the air vent and pushed him up, then scrambled up the wall myself. He wriggled up without being told, but at the top of the vent he turned back. “Where do I go?”

“Stay against the wall.”

He cleared the top, and I heard Freddy give a yelp in the dark beyond. With the fear of God in me, I scrambled up to the top in time to see John lean forward and grab my arm. His grip were bruising. “I will kill you later, Scar.”

I rolled my eyes. “Follow me.”

We came up the gauntlet to the upper bailey, ducking into the alley that stood between the thick wall and the artisan shops. At the end of the shops, there were a gap to cross over to the apartments. I edged along the wall, waving them back until I got a clear lookabout.

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