I cocked my head at him and replied pleasantly, “And so shall I.”
“They’re going to get in trouble,” Lea confided to Elm in a hopeful voice.
I gave the girls the most scathing look I could muster and then went with Perseverance to peer around the corner of the door. No one was in sight, but the sounds of men shouting was louder. There was a kitcheny sound, as of metal clashing on metal. Perseverance looked at me and mouthed, Swords? His expression was incredulous.
I thought him silly but could think of nothing else it might be. “Perhaps something about Winterfest?” I suggested.
His eyes lit with anticipation. “Maybe.” Then a man yelled angrily. “Maybe not,” he said, his smile fading.
“Stay here and be quiet,” I said to the others who had gathered in the doorway behind me. We stepped out into the corridor. I felt to be sure my mother’s knife was still in my belt. My heart was thundering as I followed Perseverance soft-footed down the corridor. When we reached the bend in the corridor where it joined to the halls of the main house, I felt a great rush of relief to see Revel hurrying toward us. He was carrying something clutched to his middle, something very heavy from the way it made him stagger along. As we both scurried up to him, I called out to the house steward, “Is something going on? We heard shouting and Scribe FitzVigilant left us to go see …”
Revel swayed to one side, his shoulder striking the wall. His knees bent and he sank down. He had lifted a hand when he hit the wall, and it left a long bloody streak as he collapsed. The object he had been carrying turned into a shaft sticking out of him. He’d been clutching at it as he lurched along. He looked at us both. His mouth moved, forming words with no breath behind them. Run. Hide. Go!
Then he died. Just like that, in a moment: gone. I stared at him, fully aware that he was dead and wondering why Perseverance stooped and put a hand on his shoulder and peered into his face, saying, “Steward? Steward, what happened?” He set a shaky hand on Revel’s hand that still clutched the shaft in his chest. He drew it back red.
“He’s dead,” I said, and I clutched at Perseverance’s shoulder. “We’ve got to do as he said. We have to warn the others. We have to run and hide.”
“From what?” Perseverance demanded angrily.
I was equally furious. “Revel came here, dying, to give us that message. We don’t make it useless by acting stupid. We obey. Come on!”
I had hold of his shirt and I dragged on it, pulling him with me. We started at a walk and then burst into a run. I could barely keep up with him. We reached the schoolroom and dashed inside. “Run. Hide!” I told them all and they stared at me as if I were mad.
“It’s something bad. The steward’s dead in the hall, an arrow or something through his chest. Don’t go back to the main house. We need to get out of here and away.”
Lea looked at me with flat eyes. “She’s just trying to get us all in trouble,” she said.
“No, she’s not,” Perseverance half-shouted. “There’s no time. Just before he died, he told us to run and hide.” He thrust out his hand, scarlet with Revel’s blood. Elm screamed and Larkspur sprang backward and fell over.
My mind was racing. “We go back through the south wing to the conservatory. Then out into the kitchen garden and across into the kitchens. I know a place we can hide there.”
“We should get away from the house,” Perseverance said.
“No. It’s a good place, no one will find us there,” I promised him, and Elm finished it for us by saying, “I want my mother!”
And that was that. We fled the schoolroom.
The sounds from the main house were terrifying, muffled cries and crashes and men shouting. Some of the younger children were squeaking or sobbing as we left the schoolroom. We seized hands and fled. When we reached the conservatory, I thought that perhaps we could all hide there, but decided that few if any of the others could keep still and concealed if armed men entered. No. There was only one hiding place where their sobs would go unheard, and loath as I was to share it with them, I had no other choice. I reminded myself. I was my father’s daughter, and in his absence I was the lady of Withywoods. When I had helped the beggar in town, I thought I had been brave. But that had been for show, for my father to see. Now I had to truly be brave.
“Outside and across to the kitchens,” I told them.
“But it’s snowing!” Elm wailed.
“We should get to the stables and hide there!” Perseverance insisted.