Lady Thief Page 42

“This food isn’t spoilt,” I told them. “I promise. It’s safe for you and your children. We won’t let you starve, and monks have already been sent for the ones that took sick. Please. Take the food.”

“Who are you?” one man said, spitting at my feet. “Why the hell should we believe anyone from that godforsaken castle?”

“I’m not from the castle,” I said.

“That’s Lady Scarlet,” said Allan, coming beside him with a smile. “And that’s Robin Hood,” he said, pointing to Rob.

I went back to Rob’s arms as the people trusted his name enough to come forward, and soon the square were filled with folk taking their share of flour and grain and cheese and dried meat.

Hidden amongst the crowd, I pressed a dangerous kiss to Rob’s mouth. “You should go. The prince will figure this out soon.”

“Come with me,” he said. “They’ll punish you for this, Scar.”

I shook my head. “I won’t break my bargain. Go.”

His hand slipped from mine, and he faded in the crowd.

I caught Godfrey’s arm before he passed. “Godfrey, you may not have the stomach to fight Rob the way John does, but you damn well keep him away from here when the trouble starts, you understand?”

His nod were lost on me as the crowd started to move, and Much yelled, “Scarlet!”

I turned toward the castle; Gisbourne were coming out of the castle on horses, with a force of knights and lords alike. “What the hell is going on?” he roared.

The crowd were flung into chaos as everyone grabbed fast for the food and Gisbourne spurred his horse to them. I ran out, ducking as he reined in his horse hard so not to trample me. Before I could even straighten, he were off his horse and charging toward me. “Goddamn you, Marian! You’re behind this? You!” he bellowed, drawing his sword and running for me.

I ducked under his swinging sword to grab the knife in his boot, angling it at him.

“Really!” he laughed at me. “You want to fight me with naught but a knife in your hand?”

I glanced at the cart, where the food were almost all gone. “I don’t need long.”

Gisbourne swung and I ducked. He lunged and I twisted away, trying to figure out where to stab him that it would get through his thick leathers and chest plate.

I weren’t doing much to capture their attention. De Clare and several knights were going for the cart with children and adults alike still scrambling for food, his sword outstretched.

“Gisbourne, de Clare’s going to kill them!” I shouted.

Gisbourne’s eyes never left me. “He will end what you started, Marian.”

He swung his sword again, and I ducked, but he tamped his foot down on my bedraggled skirts. With a cry I fell to the ground, and in a swift breath he caught me up, forcing the knife from my hand and pinning me to his chest. He clutched my one good arm and turned me toward the cart.

I struggled hard as I could as the knights and de Clare grabbed as many people as they had hands. De Clare grabbed a little girl by the arm. I yelled and yelled, and Gisbourne ducked his head to my ear. “This is what you have done, Marian.”

“Thief!” de Clare cried at her. The little girl sobbed and tried to jerk and twist from his hold, but he paid no attention as he dragged her to a short stone wall. “Do you know what the punishment is for those who steal from the prince?”

“Leave her alone, you bastard!” I screamed. I knew what he were about as he called a knight over to him.

“Hold her hand out, sir,” he said, showing the knight how to stretch it over the stone wall so that the wrist were flat and bare.

“No!” I screamed, fighting against Gisbourne as hard as I could. “Stop it!”

The little girl understood as de Clare raised his sword to hack at her arm, and she screamed too.

So did Much. He ran down the wall to barrel into de Clare, knocking him over. Rob took the knight and Godfrey took the little girl and ran.

Gisbourne’s chest pounded and rolled with deep, hearty laughter. “Robin Hood,” he said, not loud enough for Rob to hear. “Seize him. No one else matters,” he said, and turned to drag me into the castle as the guards and knights flooded past us.

I slammed my foot into his knee as he tried to walk, and he dropped me, still holding to one arm so I fell and jerked, twisted and hurt. He gathered me up again. “Behave or I will make you still,” he said.

I did it again, and he dropped me in full, throwing me on my rump so I winced.

“Damn you!” he growled. “Won’t you stop? Don’t you see what you do, how you hurt these people? That girl would have lost her hand because of you.”

“No,” I snarled. “That girl will eat because of me. You cannot do your violence and blame it on me. If she lost her hand it would have been because you sat idly by and watched de Clare hurt an unarmed child. It would have been because de Clare is a bully. If anything the only thing I see is how goddamn powerless a noble lady is meant to be, and I am not powerless.”

He dragged me up. “You’re bruised all to hell, your hand is broken, and can you even imagine how much more pain waits for you tonight?” he asked. “Why won’t you just learn? Why must you make me keep hurting you?”

“I’m not making you do anything, Gisbourne. Hurt me if you want, but I’ve felt pain. I know what pain is. And it’s less than love, than loyalty, than hope. You can make me cry, or scream, or whatever else. All that will mean is that I feel the pain, that I’m still alive. And as long as I’m living I can promise I’m not afraid of you, Gisbourne. I’m afraid of sitting quiet while the people that are meant to protect others do their best to hurt them. I’m afraid of people like you and Prince John going by unchecked. That’s what I’m afraid of. I’m stronger than your damn pain, and I do not give up.”

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