“Leave the door open. They may think we came in and went out again,” Perseverance suggested.
I pulled it open as he suggested. “You’d better go now,” I told him. I tried to keep my voice from shaking.
“First, you hide. I’ll push the boxes against the wall to cover where you went.”
“Thank you,” I whispered. I fled to the pantry, dropped to my knees, and crawled behind the crates.
The entrance was closed. I tapped on the door, and then knocked. I put my ear to it. Not a sound. They had obeyed me and gone up the corridors. And somehow the door had latched when someone had closed it behind her.
I couldn’t get in. Perseverance stuck his head around the corner. “Hurry up! Go in!”
“I can’t. They shut it behind them and it latched. I can’t open it from this side.”
For a long moment, we stared at each other. Then he spoke softly. “We’ll move the boxes to cover where they went. Then you come to the stables with me.”
I nodded, trying not to let either tears or sobs break from me. More than anything, I longed to be safely hidden in the walls. It was my place, my special hiding place, and now that I needed it most it had been taken from me. Somehow my hurt at that unfairness was almost as great as my fear. Perseverance was the one who pushed the crates snug against the wall. I stood staring at them, fear strengthening in me. When I’d had a plan, a bolt-hole to flee to, I had been focused and calm. Now all I could think of was that Revel was dead and some sort of battle was going on in the house. In Withywoods. Pleasant, calm Withywoods. Where my father was not. Had blood ever been shed here before?
Then, as if I were his little sister, Perseverance took my hand in his. “Come along. My da will know what to do.”
I didn’t point out that it was a long run through the open to reach the stables, nor that I wore only low shoes fit for the corridors of Withywoods. I followed him as we left the kitchen door open behind us and went out into the snow. We ran across the open garden, following our tracks back to the conservatory but not reentering it. Instead I followed Perseverance silently as he hugged the wall of the manor. We moved behind the bushes, trying not to disturb the weight of snow that mounded upon their branches.
We could hear things out here. A man was shouting in an accent I didn’t recognize, commanding someone to “Sit down, sit down, don’t move!” I know Perseverance heard it and knew that he realized he was leading me closer to that voice. It seemed the worst thing we could do, but still I followed him.
We rounded the end of the wing and halted. Holly bushes grew thick there, their prickly green leaves and bright-red berries a sharp contrast with the snow. The layer of prickly dead leaves where we crouched bit right through my thin house shoes. We huddled like rabbits and stared at the sight before us.
There were the folk of Withywoods, gathered like a flock of befuddled sheep in the open drive before the main door of the house. They stood in the snowy carriageway in their indoor clothes, hugging themselves and one another, bleating like frightened sheep. Most were people I had known all my life. Cook Nutmeg held Tavia at her side and stared defiantly at her captors. I knew the minstrels by their gaudy garb. They crouched together, staring about in astonishment. Careful hugged herself, rocking back and forth in misery. Shun’s maid was there beside her, clutching the torn front of her dress closed. She was barefoot. Three burly men on horseback were looking down at the people they had herded together. I thought I had seen one of them before but I wasn’t sure where. Two were not speaking at all, but all three had drawn and bloody swords in their hands. One was still shouting at everyone to sit down, sit down. Only a few were obeying him. Off to one side, two bodies lay facedown, unmoving, red melting the snow around them.
One was FitzVigilant. I knew that fine jacket, I knew those tailored trousers. I had seen them just that morning and I knew it was him, but my mind would not accept it.
“I don’t see my da.” Perseverance barely breathed the words. I nodded. Now I noticed a few folk from the stables, but his father was not among them. Dead or hiding, I wondered.
A woman emerged from Withywoods and walked toward the captives. She looked so ordinary, just a plump woman of middle years, dressed warmly for the snow. She had fur boots, a thick wool cape, and a fur hat pulled down over her ears. Her round face and bouncing brown curls made her look almost cheery. She walked up to the man who was shouting at people to sit down and looked up at him. Her voice carried clearly when she asked him something, but it was in a language I did not know. His denial was plain in any language.