Lady Thief Page 73

Rob came down the gauntlet, and he stood beside me but didn’t touch me. His eyes met mine, heavy and dark and blank. His hand reached up, open, to guide me down the gauntlet, and my body jerked. His hands were covered in John’s blood.

By the time we reached the second bailey, the world had changed. We made it through the door, and Winchester shut it, and I stared at Rob. “I’m sorry,” I said fast. The tears rushed again. “I didn’t mean for him to be hurt, Rob, I didn’t—how could he—it’s my—it’s my—”

I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t stop crying. John were dead. Happy John, finally contented John. And Bess knew nothing of it. Bess were alone, and with child, and the sword that run her husband through may as well have been in my hand.

My knees hit the snow-slick stone and Rob were before me. His hands were wet and freezing with snow, but they were clean of blood. They clasped my face. “This is not your fault, Scar.” Tears shot out from his eyes. “This is not my fault.” His head pressed mine and I knew he felt it like I did, our awful gift to take on pain like greedy children.

“John—Bess—” I cried.

“I will take care of her. Of them both.”

“Don’t come after me, Rob.”

He pulled back, looking at me. “Scar, I will have you out within a week.”

“No. Not at the expense of Nottinghamshire, of being sheriff. Eleanor will protect me as best she can. You know she will. He won’t kill me.”

“Scarlet,” he said, and his voice rough running over my skin. “I can’t leave you there.”

“Yes, you can. Until I find a way.”

“Until we both find a way,” he told me, staring into my eyes. “And if he harms you, I will deal with the devil himself to get you out of there.” He looked up, at Winchester. “Swear to me, Quincy. Swear that you’ll watch over her. Keep me informed. Swear.”

“I swear.”

Robin pulled me forward and kissed me. He tugged me up, holding me still, kissing me again and again, quick desperate things. He held me close and we began walking. We crossed the second bailey and went down to the lowest one. The carriage were already brought forward, which didn’t much surprise—word traveled faster amongst the servants than by any other way. There were guards there too, and knights, and I didn’t want to find out who were on my side, and who not. I didn’t dare cause another soul to be hurt.

Winchester threaded the chains through the bolt in the floor. He helped me into the seat, and he locked the chains to the bolt with a sorry look to me.

Rob stepped inside the carriage and kissed me, hard and fierce till the tears on our faces touched. Our lips broke but he stayed there still, breathing into me.

I nudged my nose to his cheek. “Last night, Rob—I know we’re not meant for much happiness in this awful world, but I will tell myself that last night were the night I married you, and I’ll be happy every time I think of it.”

“Don’t you dare,” Rob said. “I will marry you. And I will count the sunsets until I do.”

I shut my eyes and cried. I nodded, but I couldn’t say another word.

When Rob left, Winchester shut the door and I couldn’t mark the time. We started to move sometime after, and the tiny slit of a window showed me snow, and forest, and dark.

I hated it. And I cried. My marriage were over, and the rich shine of being free of Gisbourne were tarnished by everything else I had lost along with it. My home. My love. My friend.

My hope.

But that weren’t really the way of it, and that were the worst part. I still had hope. Cruel, bitter, steadfast hope crushed my chest that still hurt for breath; I didn’t want it. I wanted to give up, to leave my mind and heart in a bailey in Nottingham Castle as my body went south. I wanted to feel nothing but the blanket of pain and hate swallow me up. I wanted to run backward and lay on the snow with John and stay there, still and frozen and never moving forward again. That would be easy, and lovely, and dark, like the cold woods of Sherwood at night.

The awful thing were faith. Because with everything gone, after a day of horror and hurt, after years of horrors and hurts, the thing I couldn’t shake were faith.

I remembered a story that I had heard about the Angevins when I was a girl, and I shut my eyes, trying to remember the pieces of it. It weren’t just some legend of the king now, it were a story about my father. About my family.

Richard loved to boast of his devil’s blood, begat when one of his ancestors had unknowingly wed a serpent. She bore him eight ugly children, and his curiosity got the better of him. He followed his wife into her weekly bath where he had promised never to disturb her, and found her secret form revealed.

When he confronted her, her heart broke, and she transformed into a dragon and flew above the castle she had built for her husband with her magic. She clung to the spires with her talons and shrieked until the skies grew dark and rained down the tears that she couldn’t cry.

For all time she stayed atop the tower, screaming and trembling the earth when the Angevins were born or died, never resting, never failing. Protecting her blood.

That were my blood. The blood of a dragon, a beast, a devil. A woman with supernatural abilities to continue on in the face of pain and betrayal.

The blood that led my father, the Lionheart, to the Holy Land to wage a war for his faith—his vengeance. Vengeance were the darkest side of faith, the thing that claimed violence and fury as holy arrows.

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