Lady Thief Page 71

I crossed my arms around myself, trying to work out how to say good-bye to her, when a scream rang out.

My head jerked, then whipped back to John and Much. They were still in the courtyard, unharmed, looking toward the gauntlet to the lower bailey.

Everyone were. “Protect the queen!” I yelled at her guards. They flung open the carriage door to take her inside and I took off running, skating over the wet, heavy snow with a pounding heart to see what had happened. People were blocking the door to the gauntlet, but I wedged between them even before John started heaving people aside.

I broke through and slipped, slamming into the ground on the walkway of the gauntlet, soaking my dress in snow. My vision swam, and I rolled to look up as I tried to suck in a breath.

His feet were first. The boots that I knew too well, too still and limp, a cloak licking around them like the tongue of a hell hound. The snap of the fabric were the only sound I could hear. His arms were heavy and straight, his body fully kitted up in black. A rope, wrapped tight to the wall of the guard’s walkway above the gauntlet, were wrapped tight around his neck, causing the skin around it to be purple and thick.

Gisbourne’s whole face looked swollen and dark, his eyes overwide, glaring at me, accusing me.

I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t move, still in the snow, numb and unaware. I didn’t hear a sound. I didn’t see a soul. Just him, hanging there, looking at me.

You were mine, Marian, long before you even knew he existed. Your unassailable loyalty and unshakeable belief should have been for me.

The wind twisted the body a bit, and I saw his hands bound behind him. He twisted back, and his eyes were on me still.

Sudden and desperate I moved, rolling onto my hands and knees to retch. Nothing came, but I kept heaving, my body in deep revolt, trying to purge it all from me.

Arms caught me up, pulling me off the ground, and it were Rob, and the world suddenly lurched back into reality. John and Much seemed to be guarding me, keeping people away, and Rob hugged me tight to him, shouting orders to get Gisbourne down, call for the guards who had been on watch, call for the girl who had seen him first.

“Scarlet,” he said to me. “Scarlet, speak to me.”

I sucked in a breath, and my insides didn’t try to heave it back out. I nodded. “Rob,” I said. “Who did this?”

“I don’t—” he started, and then a roar could be heard over the crowd.

“Everyone back,” Rob ordered, pulling me up through the door to the upper bailey. “I don’t want anyone going in there,” he said.

“It was her!” yelled a voice. The crowd parted, and Rob shifted me behind him as the prince strode forward, throwing a finger at me. John and Much flanked Rob, defending me.

“My lord prince,” Rob said, bowing to him. “With deference to your Highness, there is no possible way it was Lady Leaford. He was thrown over the wall, and Lady Leaford likely couldn’t have lifted his weight in any situation, but her hand has been severely injured. One-handed, it’s impossible that she could have overpowered him in any way. It wasn’t her.”

Winchester, de Clare, and the other nobles were filling the courtyard. “What’s happened?” Winchester asked.

“Lord Leaford has been killed,” Rob said.

Winchester’s face folded, angry and confused. “And you accuse Lady Leaford?” Winchester asked the prince.

The prince strode forward. “Yes.”

“Your Highness, there’s no proof—” Rob continued, stepping forward like he meant to keep the prince from me.

“I saw her.”

Rob’s throat worked, and my heart dropped. He was a sworn servant of the Crown now; he couldn’t refute Prince John’s word without revoking his new-promised oath. Without giving up the office of sheriff.

“You have the word of a prince of England,” Prince John continued. “I command you to hang her as guilty of murder. The murder of her husband, no less, a most heinous crime.”

Rob rocked back, and my heart broke. I knew Eleanor would never let John kill me, but Rob wouldn’t trust that. Kill me, or give up being sheriff. Hand the position over to someone the prince would appoint, undo all we’d done. Or kill me.

“Your Highness—” Rob started, his voice rough.

“Do it!” the prince screamed.

I cast about the crowd for Eleanor. She were the only one who could intercede now, and I couldn’t find her. Damn—the guards probably still had her inside. She would never let him do this. I just needed time before Rob were forced to decide.

“Do it, or I will strip you forthwith of your office,” Prince John growled. “And you will be punished as a traitor to the Crown.”


Gisbourne’s voice floated over the aether to me from the bailey. He will make you pay for this, Marian.

This were Prince John’s plan—not to kill me, but to take the position back from Rob. He never planned to let us escape from this, never planned to let Rob stay sheriff. And he killed Gisbourne to make it happen.

But I wouldn’t let him haunt Rob again. I wouldn’t make Rob choose between his life and mine.

I knew he wouldn’t hesitate. Given the chance, he would kill Rob. There were only one person here he wouldn’t kill. No matter how much he wanted to, no matter what people saw or thought, Eleanor would never forgive him my death, and losing her love were something he wouldn’t risk. I were sure of it.

I slid the knife from my back, stepped to the side of Rob, and lunged.

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