Master of the Shadows

Page 22

“I am beyond trouble. I have fallen in love with a mortal.” Robin laughed. “So have you.”

“Reese and I are friends.”

“So you were. Not anymore.” He went to the gibbet and tore down the hangman’s noose, placing it around his own neck. “I have ever had the luck of a fool, but this time I have the feeling that it has run out. I do not believe I will see you again, Liam of Aubury.” He tightened the slipknot. “You will look after Rosethorn and our people for me?”

Will went to him and tried to pull the knot loose, but it held tightly. “You are Robin of the Hood. You are a legend. Legends do not die. Do not call me Liam, and give me this bloody rope.”

A black wool hood dropped over his head, shutting out the sight of his master trying to hang himself. He could not speak or move, but he heard Robin take in his last breath. He felt the rope biting into his neck just as it tightened around his master’s. This time, the roar of fury inside his head was for the man who had saved him, whom he could no longer save.

Bright spots of eerie light danced on the insides of his eyelids, and Will heard Robin’s heart begin to slow. Just as fear and outrage were about to swallow his mind, something hissed into his ear and the hood was torn away. He fell, landing with a brutal thud facedown in the cold dirt, his wrist snapping under the weight of his body.

The little wooden cross fell from his limp fingers into the dirt.

Rob, Will thought, gasping in precious air and trying to push himself up onto his feet. He would not see Robin of Locksley cut down the middle and torn to pieces by four horses. He would rather take Robin’s place than allow his master to spend his last moments on this earth in unimaginable agony. But the rope slowly swaying in the wind was empty, and his master was gone.

Instead, Reese stood at the gibbet, dressed in Claris of Aubury’s clothes. “Your master is coming for you.”

Will knew it was impossible for her to have entered the dreamlands. No mortal could. “Who are you?”

“Everyone. No one. I had nothing else to give.” She tried to smile, and for a moment she was Clary. “’Twill be forever now. You never came back for me.”

She might be a ghost of his imagination—a confused one at that—but she was trying to tell him something. Just as Robin had.

He took a step toward her and felt something under his bare foot. He bent down and found the little wooden cross Claris had given to him. He picked it up out of the dirt and brought it to her.

Will pressed it into her hands. “This was your faith in me.”

“I found it later.” She tugged a chain out from under her ragged overtunic, and the cross vanished from her hands and appeared on the end of the chain. “I kept it for you.”

He couldn’t tell if her face was Reese’s or Clary’s; her features kept blurring. “I was the one who made you sick,” he told her. “I came back, but not soon enough. They had already buried you in the graves with all the others.”

“No, Liam.” She smiled and tucked her cross under her collar. “They waited too long to put me in the ground. I woke when they tried to bury me.”

Will breathed in and smelled her scent, as sweet and ripe as a field of berries. “You went through the change.” Horror sank into him. “You went through the change alone.”

“Do you know what they do when a body crawls out of an open grave?” She brushed at her hair, and soil fell from it. “They try to kill it. Do you know what they do when she won’t die?”

He backed away from her, shaking his head. “You are not Claris.”

“They put her in a cage, like an animal. They toy with her. They try to feed her offal and shit. Days and weeks and months of it.” Her clothes disappeared, and her body shrank, becoming little more than skin over bones. Filth bloomed over her, mottling her fairness. “They bleed her and stab her and laugh, oh, Will, they laugh so much, for it is all so amusing, this thing that crawled from the grave, this girl who would not die.” Her hair grew long and matted, falling down the front of her body in snarls. “And then, one night, when she has not moved for a week, and they think she is done, they open the cage to drag her out, to burn what’s left of her. They do not know that she has gone mad. That in her madness, she is strong again.”

Will watched as her body blurred and grew into that of a big, strapping lad in peasant’s clothes.

“I was the first.” The young man touched the gaping wound in his throat. “But not the last. There were more. The butcher.” He body changed into a short, bulky form with heavily muscled arms and a ragged hole in his chest. “The baker.” Her body became thin and lanky, her hands white with flour, her face red with blood. “The candlestick maker.” Her belly grew, sagging over spindly legs, her neck ending in a stump.

Will had to stop this nightmarish procession of bodies. “Claris, is this you? Have you come to me?”

Her body blurred again, becoming the image of Reese as she had looked when she had come to the bar. “Claris of Aubury died in that cage,” she told him. “This is all that’s left.”

“I cannot understand you,” Will said. “What does this mean? What are you telling me?”

“I thought it was Father who saved me.” She touched the lump the cross had made under her blouse. “It was always you. I lived for you. I waited for you.” Her eyes grew empty. “But you never came for me.”

He grabbed her arms and shook her. “Reese, where is Claris? How is she doing this? Tell her I must see her.”

“I will tell her whatever you like,” Lucan said, “but do stop shouting and shaking me.”

Will looked around him. He was standing in the center of camp, with his hands clamped around the arms of the deadliest assassin among the Kyn. He dropped his arms and stepped back. “Forgive me, my lord. I was in the dreamlands, and I…” Ashamed of his loss of control, he went down on his knees.

“Obviously.” Lucan brushed at his sleeves. “Someone summoned you from afar. From the hold you were under, I would wager it was blood Kyn. Perhaps this Claris whose name you were yelling in my face.” He glanced down. “Oh, get up, man. I am not going to kill you for wrinkling my jacket. I do not even like it that much. Now, my leather long coat, that I would find harder to forgive. My sygkenis gave that one to me, and I am extremely fond of it.”

Will slowly rose. “You are very kind, my lord.”

“I am nothing of the sort, but we will argue that point another time.” He nodded toward the east road. “A female mortal has just driven one of those cottages on wheels into camp, and she is asking for you.”


Reese waited by the camper as the camp guards sent for Will. When he came, he stared at her in open disbelief.

“Sweetheart.” He hurried over to her. “I thought you were inside the stronghold. Captured with the others.” He looked her over. “Did they harm you? Are you hurt? How did you get away?”

“No one hurt me. Rebecca looked after me. She’s inside the camper.” When he went to the door, she put herself between him and the vehicle. “You can’t go in there.”

“Rebecca is one of my oldest friends,” he said. “Of course I’m going in there.”

“You don’t understand, Will. She’s sick.”

“What? We do not get sick.”

“It started as soon as we escaped Rosethorn.” She led him away from the camper. “She told me it’s because of the bond she has with Sylas. It’s stronger with them than with other Kyn. Being apart from him hurts her. It makes her talent harder to control.”

“Sylas has always refused to be separated from her for more than a day. Now I see why.” Will glanced back at the big vehicle. “How far gone is she?”

“I don’t know,” Reese admitted. “She pulled the partition shut just before we arrived here. She said I shouldn’t let anyone in there but her husband.”

“I cannot say whether Sylas is dead or alive.” Will thrust a hand through his hair. “We are preparing to move on the Italians tonight.”

The door to the camper abruptly opened, startling both of them. Rebecca had changed out of her gown into men’s clothing, and she carried a golf club. She didn’t look at Will or Reese, but stared directly at Rosethorn.

“They have hurt him,” she said, her expression contorted, “but my husband lives.”

She looked down at the hand Will put over the fist she had wrapped around the club, and then turned her gaze on him. “The last man who put his hand on me I left lying in a ditch and bleeding from the ears.”

“I will not stop you,” he said, carefully removing his hand. “You may go in there and get yourself and Sylas killed. If that is your wish.”

Rebecca drew in a deep breath and looked at him again, this time making a visible effort to focus on his features. “I beg your pardon, Will. I am not…myself.”

“There is naught to forgive.” He put his arm around her. “Becca, I know what this is doing to you, and if there were any way I could put an end to it, I would. But Sylas and all our friends are in there, and they are in desperate need of your help.”

“My help.” Her laugh sounded bitter. “If I use my talent, no one will be safe.”

“I know that your bond allows you to see through Sylas’s eyes,” Will said. “I must know what is happening inside the stronghold.”

She dragged herself away from him, her attention once more on Rosethorn.

“Rebecca.” Reese started after her.

“Leave her,” Will said, tugging her back. “Let her try.”

Rebecca’s back tensed and her limbs locked as the scent of burning honey grew thick. “He is in the shadows,” she said, her words a thin thread of sound. “Near the arsenal below the north terrace. He has hidden a mortal on the fighting platform above. The Moor they brought with them. There are others. He freed the garrison.”

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