Lady Thief Page 72

Chapter Twenty-Five

I knew I weren’t nearly close enough to actually hurt him, but it weren’t the true point anyway. As I lunged at the prince, he stepped back and his guards dove forward, grabbing me and tearing the knife from my hand.

Then the melee started in truth as the tethers of the crowd snapped. I saw Prince John draw his sword and lunge at Rob, who jumped back, unarmed. Another strike, another jump, and I lost him behind people. Much drew his kattari—he must have concealed it better than I knew he could—and started swiping, trying to make it to Robin.

John hammered a guard with his fist and easily stole his sword. The wave of people cleared again and I saw Winchester and John both battling to get to Rob, Prince John ahead of them both.

Winchester turned and met the sword of de Clare, and a vengeful part of me hoped Winchester at least left him something to remember, if not killed him whole.

John got close enough to Robin, catching Rob’s eye while tossing his sword to him. I watched the flash of the steel in the sky, and Rob reached out and caught it.

My heart leapt, and then I saw Rob’s horror-filled, fallen face. I looked back.

I turned my head just as Prince John pulled his sword from John’s stretched-wide middle. Blood flung out with the sword, and for a moment, John were still. His arms were still up, like he were still throwing the sword to Rob. Then they dropped, and his knees buckled. Like someone took a stick to his legs they fell from under him, and he crashed into the snow.

His face rolled to me. His arm were out, toward me, and he coughed, meeting my eyes. I knew I were screaming; I knew only because my chest hurt like I were screaming, like I were screaming so hard I couldn’t bear to breathe. His cough made blood spatter his mouth, and the snow, and his cheek. His lips moved. Bess.

I shattered. My legs couldn’t hold me, my chest ached for screaming, my eyes poured so much water I were sure at some point it had to turn to blood. The guards held me up by my waist, and that were it, that were all that were real.

The fighting stopped at some point, and I waited for the guards to let me go, let me go to John, but they didn’t. Rob and Much knelt by his side, but John were still, the second set of dead eyes to fix me in their gaze that morning.

Much stared at me, wide eyed and wild, saying something, but I couldn’t hear it. They put irons on me and made me kneel in the snow, and I fought, desperate, trying to get to John, to Much, to Rob, to my family that had just been broken.

A knight pressed his sword to my throat, and it scraped along my chin before I felt it, before I stopped moving.

Prince John stood before me, but I were senseless. He waved the sword away, but if he were speaking, I couldn’t hear it.

His hand cracked across my face. “Mark me!” he growled.

My neck felt boneless, but I looked up at him, trying to hear what he were saying.

“As a traitor, I will bring you to London,” he ordered. “You will confess to your motives for trying to assassinate a prince of England, and when I’m satisfied with your confession, you will meet your death.”

He were lying. He didn’t dare kill me. Rob he would have killed here in the snow, just like he’d done John, but me Eleanor would never forgive. Me he couldn’t afford to kill.

Yet at the moment, watching John die on the ground because of me, I wished for death.

“Let me see him,” I said, my voice raw and strange, and water started in my eyes fresh. “Let me go to him!”

“Your Highness,” Winchester said, coming beside Prince John. “What’s the harm in it? She’s in chains.”

Prince John’s eyes never left me. “You can never trust a thief, Winchester. Or a traitor.”

“Sheriff,” said a soft voice.

Everyone turned to look, and I saw Eleanor standing there, her pale face mottled with pink, her eyes wide. “Yes, your Highness,” Rob said.

“There should be a carriage in the lowest bailey that is suitable for securing a prisoner,” she said, gravel in her voice. “Perhaps you can see her down to it.”

“Not yet,” the prince said, and he grabbed my arm, dragging me back to the door to the gauntlet. I let him—I didn’t have a bone in my body to stop him, my eyes fixed on John’s body in the snow, watching as my soaked skirts skidded over the snow, edging close to his blood. A corner of it caught his blood and spread an ever-lightening red streak in the white snow. Fresh sobs burst through my chest.

He pushed me through the door, grabbing my head and forcing me to look at Gisbourne’s body. “Admit it,” he growled. “Admit you killed him!”

I kept my mouth shut.

“Admit it!” he bellowed.

“You know I didn’t,” I said, sniffing back more tears. “You alone know how he died.”

He let me drop so he could raise his hand to me again, but it never came down.

“Stop this immediately,” Winchester hissed, the only other soul who dared cross the threshold. “There are many things I will watch you do, but strike a woman in chains is not one of them. The sheriff and I will see her to the carriage, but this is finished. Your Highness.”

Winchester did not even wait for Prince John’s response. He knelt to me and took my hand and waist, helping me up gentle.

“Step aside, Winchester!” the prince snapped.

Winchester did not turn, did not move. “You would do well to remember, my prince, that you are not the king, your nephew is the heir to your brother’s throne, and that you are not so much higher than an earl. You are by no means untouchable to me.”

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