Scarlet Page 41

I gripped the knife tip between my fingers and threw it.

It sank into Gisbourne’s forearm and he dropped Much, who hit the horse’s neck and sort of barrel-rolled to the ground. He scampered out quick, though, and Gisbourne yelled, “Follow me! The Hood’s in the woods!”

Yells erupted, but I heard clear Rob roar out through it all, “SCARLET!”

My heart chopped hard at my muslin-wrapped chest. The horses started to thunder at me and I grabbed the nearest branch, swinging up and dashing through the trees.

“The tree!” Gisbourne called, bringing his horse to heel around it. “They’re in the tree!”

I scrambled higher.

“Bring it down,” he ordered.

My blood ran to ice as I heard the order. That were all right. Cold makes me think better.

I got up high as I could and flipped into the next tree, almost missing the branch in the dark. I did it again, but this time I startled an owl off its perch, and the men heard the flutter.

“He’s over there!” Gisbourne roared.

I swore and froze. They couldn’t see me—it were too dark—but they knew within a tree or two which I were on. I leaned my head against the bark, trying to shake off the picture of the young boy with his throat slit and my knife still in my hand. I could hear Gisbourne scrambling, some of his men still hacking at the trees, some of them trying to climb and failing.

They drew bows and started shooting at random. Arrows rained into the trees around me, scaring the night birds. An arrow whizzed past my mug and another grazed my hand before one lodged into my shoulder. I whipped my head against the tree not to cry out. I snapped the arrow off and threw it down, the tip still stuck deep.

“He’s gone, my lord,” one of the men said, dropping the ax he’d been hacking with.

“They say the Hood is part fey, a spirit of the trees. They’ll never betray him.”

“Damn right,” I muttered.

All the same, it were almost an hour before Gisbourne called it off, and even then, I’d started to swing slow ’cross the trees to move farther away. I had been watching—there weren’t much else for me to do up there—and the boys had left Tuck’s ’long with the rest of the crowd. I hopped down from the trees some mile or more from Tuck’s and ran the rest of the way to the cave.

“Scarlet!” Much called, and before I knew it, Rob caught me off my feet in a hard hug, crushing my bones to my blood. I didn’t care none when my shoulder burned with pain. I pushed my face against the cords in his neck, squeezing him just as hard.

He put me down, clutching my sides like I would fall apart in his hands.

“Scar,” John said, and I turned sharp, almost knocking into him. He tilted his head to mine like he were going to kiss me, pulling me out of Rob’s arms, but I pushed forward, hugging him instead.

He chuckled. “Not so easy, Scar. You promised me a kiss.”

“You’re bleeding,” Rob said, taking my arm. “Much, get the kit.” John let me go.

Much went into the cave, and Rob tried to roll up my sleeve, but it wouldn’t go so far. His fingers went to the neck of my shirt, and my eyes leapt to his. The tips of his fingers felt like burning steel on my skin. Looking at me, he tugged it over, but it still wouldn’t clear the wound.

He touched the laces of my shirt that kept it together, and my heart started fluttering in my pipes. I weren’t even breathing.

“Hold it up a bit so I can open it without showing anything,” he told me gentle.

Heat pounded through my face. His fingers hovered by the laces for a second, then touched the bones by my neck the littlest bit. Something jolted through me, and I could have sworn that Much were lighting off powder again.

“I wouldn’t mind catching a glimpse of her,” John said, and Rob let go of me to whip around. He pressed his hand over John’s neck.

“Don’t ever talk to a woman like that, John Little,” Rob growled. John sneered and shoved him but Rob pushed him back.

I held my shirt tight round my neck. Seeing Much come out from the cave, I fair ran to him, then sat on a rock and undid the top of the laces. I let the shirt fall off my shoulder and clutched the rest tight. I knew I had my muslin on, but still. I were a girl, and they were boys, and I never felt more sure of that than when Rob were touching my skin like I were gold.

Much looked to Robin, standing a few paces off now, and I looked at him for a bare second. “Will you do it, Much?”

“If you want, Scar. But I’m not very good.”

“Sure you are.”

“I have to dig out the tip, Scar.”

I nodded, and a hand filled mine. Rob sat beside me, flipped around so that our faces were looking at each other and his back were sheltering me from John. A fluttering breath filled my chest.

“Do it, Much,” Rob said, squeezing my hand.

He raised his knife and I looked away, gripping Rob’s hand.

I felt the first lance of the knife and swallowed down a scream, ramming my head into Rob’s shoulder and crushing his hand. He crushed back, putting his arm on my back and keeping me on his shoulder. Rob’s cheek pressed to my cheek as the knife dug deeper.

I didn’t yell or holler. That boy died because I didn’t trust what I knew already ’bout Gisbourne, and if this were my punishment, so much the better.

When Much were done I fair collapsed against Rob, and he picked me up like a baby and brought me deep into the cave, wrapping me in furs and blankets. “You need to sleep now,” he told me.

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