Lady Thief Page 7

I let the bars go. Wrong barracks.

Going over to the next one, I did it again and looked inside. No fire and nothing much shining.

My arms burned but I held tight, scuffling my feet up the wall till I were all tucked in the window.

“Scar?” I heard.

I twisted a little so I weren’t between the moon and the men, and the light came through the window. “Godfrey?” I asked.

He nodded, standing on his cot to come closer to me.

“How you lot faring?” I asked soft.

“Not well,” he said. “Tired and hungry. A few men are sick.”

“What sort of sick?” I asked. I pulled out the little packages, the dried meat and oats. They couldn’t do much with the flour and meal; I’d save that for the town. I slipped it through the bars.

“Coughing mostly. Martin Dyer’s been casting up his accounts for days.”

Men were drifting toward the window, taking the food as others opened it and parceled it out. “What news?” called one man. “What of our families?”

“Everyone’s well,” I assured them. “We’ve been taking care of them. Food’s a mite scarce but ain’t no one starving, no one’s hurt. How close are you to finishing the work?”

Godfrey sighed. “Close. They’ve been working us damn hard lately. I think they want it done soon. You know I don’t think I’d have been so happy to see half the wall fall if I knew we’d have to rebuild the lot of it through the winter.”

I looked up at the full, laughing moon, mocking me from its far safe perch. “I wouldn’t never have asked it, if I knew,” I agreed. “And these damn knights are eating the shire out of house and home and never pay a farthing for it.”

“Just keep our girls safe, young Scarlet,” Hugh Morgan called to me. “It isn’t hardly wise to have knights roaming around who think they own everything without men at home.”

“I promise,” I said. I did as best I could. I didn’t want to tell him that some of his daughters were the sort that fancied marrying a knight and didn’t take my advice as much as I’d choose.

With most of the men taking their bit of food, they drifted away from the windows, and Godfrey leaned up closer. “How’s Rob?” he asked.

Godfrey Mason had been with us in the caves when the nightmares had started. They weren’t as bad then; the forest and fresh air had calmed him, I thought. But it weren’t so in the closeness of the monastery.

“He’s fine,” I said, but the words caught in my mouth like it were mud.

“Any word from Gisbourne?”

We hadn’t heard from Gisbourne in months. He’d left an animal for me in the forest, a fox staked out on a tree with a knife through its heart. Then he went to London, far as I knew. “No,” I said.

“There’s been talk around here,” he said. “The maids said Gisbourne’s things have been sent up to the castle.”

I looked at him. “What?”

“And the prince is coming. Everyone’s talking of it.”

“I heard. Didn’t know that Gisbourne were coming back.” I couldn’t stop a shiver from running over me like a wave.

His hands slipped from the bars like a creature going back to sea. “I’m glad I could do something, at least.”

“Thank you,” I told him.

I twisted on the window ledge and jumped down, holding the flour tight to my belly before setting off to the upper bailey. The middle bailey had been so long broken that no one much had been up here, and it were quiet and safe, the way I ain’t never known this place to be. The Great Hall were full fixed, the caved-in roof patched over. The residences stood dark and empty, and I went in them slow like phantoms might guard the place.

The sheriff’s room, the grandest in the place, were empty, but it were clear the maids had been through here, scrubbing floors and laying fresh rushes, putting up the heavy winter bedclothes and tapestries. Logs were piled beside cold fireplaces, and the whole place were clean and fresh.

Gisbourne’s room looked just as it had, like time had frozen with the winter, only there were two large trunks now at the foot of the bed with a fresh stuffed mattress and newly tight bed ropes.

The thief in me wanted to go through his things, look at his treasures like he weren’t someone I were so afraid of, but I couldn’t. I sat cross-legged on the top of the trunk, as if sitting there and keeping his coffers closed could keep him from coming back.

We were supposed to have time. We’d paid dear, in blood and promises that took my soul with them. We’d tumbled the wall, we’d watched the sheriff die—it was all supposed to have meant something.

But it weren’t better. It well may have been worse.

I twisted the gold band on my finger, hating it anew. My time had run out, and my husband were returning to Nottinghamshire.

Chapter Four

I went to Tuck’s, slipping in the back door, hoping for the noise and heat and familiar smell of the lot of the men. But it weren’t so; Tuck were alone, wiping down the bar.

“It’s late, Scar,” he said, offering me up a smile.

As if I needed such reminding. I yawned. “Went to Nottingham,” I said.

“Want some soup?”

Ever since months past when one of his pies had made me retch up, all Tuck ever gave me were soup and broth and the occasional stew. I didn’t mind; my belly seemed to take it better than slabs of meat or sweets and such. I nodded, and he ducked into the back for a bit.

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