Lady of Sherwood
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Other girls—some of the youngest ones from the kitchen—came from the brush. Smoke clung to them like a shroud, and tears had run in rivers down soot-stained cheeks. Ginny, the youngest at six, ran to Jemma and attached herself like a limpet to the older girl’s legs.
“Where is everyone else?” Robin asked, glancing between them and then back at the flaming manor. “Where is—where’s—” Her face heated even as the rest of her body grew chilled, and she stuffed her first in her mouth to muffle her scream.
“We are the only ones.”
Robin looked up at Kitty, surprised to find herself on her knees in the damp grass. She curled her shaking fingers into fists, and then rested them on her thighs. “How—what happened?”
“That man,” the girl went on, absently twisting her skirt in her hands. “The one who’d been courting you… he came for you in the night. When he couldn’t find you, he gathered everyone in the great hall.”
“Except you lot?” Jemma inquired.
“He was hurting her.” Kitty’s eyes took on a glossy quality. “He had Maggie by the hair, and he was hurting her. She had Ginny behind her, protecting her. I—I hit him over the head with a candle stand.”
“We went through the old tunnel,” another voice piped up. Maggie slipped her hand into Kitty’s. “Me and Kitty and Ginny.”
“And my—my mother?” Robin took a deep, shuddering breath.
“She kept her secret. We heard ‘im, shouting. He wanted to know where you was.” Ginny, this time. She wandered away from Jemma, and Robin opened her arms for her to nestle into. She’d helped Jemma look after the younger servants on the sly for years. Whether they’d been orphaned at birth or left to the streets, Jemma had brought them each back to the manor, and she’d given them a home and a hope the rest of the world didn’t offer. “She didn’t tell, Robin. She didn’t tell him where you was.”
“I heard Charlotte say you were gone,” Maggie said quietly. “She’d gone to your mother’s chambers to tell her. Miss Jemma was gone, too, and so was your bow.” She shrugged, a delicate lift of her shoulders. “We all thought you had gone to the field.”
“And she said nothing?” Robin’s heart beat hard against her ribcage.
“Lady was very brave,” Ginny murmured.
“She was,” Robin agreed. “Like you are. You all.” She looked at each of the other girls, who stared back, clearly waiting.
It hit her then—they were waiting for her. With the only survivors of the manor in front of her, and her mother dead—God rest her soul, God hold them all in His hand—it occurred to her in that moment. She was the Lady of Lockesly.
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