Lady Thief Page 14

“Come on, we need to get you out of the cold,” he said, tugging my arm.

I straightened, standing on wobbly knees. My head beat a cruel tattoo, and it were choking me. “J-John—” I never got a chance to finish the thought, as the dark trees and bright day pushed together and changed to total dark.

My eyes were bare open before my belly twisted and I retched. I were in a bed, and the best place seemed to be off the side of it. Lucky there were a pot there, and someone set my face toward it.

When I were done, I looked, and it were Ellie, one of Tuck’s girls. She petted the duck feathers left of my hair where I’d cut it off months before. “You all right?” she asked.

I shut my eyes and hugged the pillow, but the lumps Rob had put on me yelled in protest and I rolled onto my back. “Christ,” I moaned.

“Sit up a bit,” she told me. “Tuck sent some broth up.”

I obeyed, though I didn’t much feel like it. She pushed a bowl at me and I reached to grab it when I saw one hand was covered with bandages hard and stiff. “What …” I asked her.

She shrugged. “Brother from the monastery said you broke your hand.”

My chest felt like it cracked open. My hand were broken? I couldn’t throw knives. I couldn’t … Christ, I could barely defend myself. My hands shook as I took the bowl from her.

Ellie leaned back on her hands. “So strange,” she said, staring at me. “Never would have even thought you’re a girl, but now that I know I feel stupid for not seeing it before.”

I frowned. She were more stupid for hussing her bits at me so often.

“Robin’s downstairs, you know,” she told me. “Stalking outside like a lion. John won’t let him in.”

Coughing a bit, I shrugged. “He won’t never, not with Bess in here.”

Ellie sat up straighter. “You think? Do you reckon he’s serious about her, then? I told her John is just a boy, and a stupid, disloyal one at that.”

I didn’t throw the soup at her. I felt right proud for that. “You don’t know nothing, Ellie,” I snapped at her. “John is the most loyal. The most protective. He chooses Bess and he’ll love her till he rots. He deserves a family.”

Now her eyes narrowed. “Have you and John fooled around, then? Living in the woods with all them boys, must be just like everyone says, isn’t it?”

“Don’t be a fool. I ain’t never done nothing with John. You have.”

She shrugged. “So?”

I put the soup down and tossed the blanket off. “I’m going to see Rob,” I told her.

She didn’t stop me. I went down the stairs and near the door, but I stopped. I went to the window, looking outside.

He were there. He were pacing, just as she said. Looking fair miserable.

I didn’t want him to know what he’d done. Sure, he knew, but seeing me were a different thing. The hand were bad, and he’d know just how bad. He’d know what it meant for me. And he couldn’t know.

Most because, as I watched him, sad and hurting and the kind of alone that I couldn’t be a part of, I knew what I had to do. I knew what I wanted to do. And Rob wouldn’t never rest if he knew I were going to Gisbourne and couldn’t bare throw a knife.

Rob wouldn’t never forgive himself, neither, if I died.

I went back from the window and asked Tuck where John were. John came up from around the bar, glaring at the door, where Rob were just beyond. “What?” John asked.

“Find out what Gisbourne wants,” I said. “And find out when the prince comes.”

Chapter Six

Three days later, I hadn’t much moved from the bed Tuck had given me. I’d looked once in a glass, and my face were purple by half. My belly were yellow and black, and my hand had set to aching fierce. From what the girls were saying, Rob were outside most of the time, which were like to mean he ain’t slept. Weren’t nothing good coming from that.

It were dusk when Much came to me. I were downstairs, hanging back from the windows to watch Rob without him seeing me. He were just sitting now, waiting. Watching.

Much looked bigger to me, like his bones were growing, and it made me remember how young he were still. He were only half formed, half grown. A few years never seemed like much between us, but he still had changing to do. “John told me,” he said. “What you’re thinking of doing. And I tried to find out what Gisbourne wants—we both did—but we couldn’t. And Rob’s suspicious.”

“You can’t tell him,” I said. “Even after I go, keep it as long as you can.”

He nodded. “So you’re going.”

“Maybe. How long till the prince comes?”

“He’ll be here tomorrow. They’re releasing the men at the same time so a good crowd will greet the prince.”

My eyes shut. Weren’t there no luck for me in this world? “I can’t go to him with no way to defend myself, Much. What am I supposed to do with a broke hand?”

Much frowned. He had such a serious face, so oft full of thoughts, but this were strange on him, like there were something he didn’t understand—which happened rare enough. He’d spent most of the winter tearing through the library of monks’ books that I could bare pick up, never mind understand. “What does your hand have to do with defending yourself?”

“Now you’re just making fun,” I told him, standing and drawing closer to the windows as Rob began to pace.

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