I often get asked about a sequel to HOOD, and while there is no official sequel in the works currently (a girl can dream!), I do have a fun deleted scene to share with all my readers who have welcomed Isabelle and her crew into their hearts. The scene below existed through many drafts of HOOD and was ultimately cut to improve pacing and tighten the story overall. But it’s a fun, Robin Hood-esque adventure that really showcases Isabelle’s leadership skills and ingenuity. This scene takes place shortly after Isabelle has won her way into wearing the Lincoln greens and joined the others on their quest to locate Robin. Enjoy, and thank you for reading!
The warmth of the woolen hose weighed on Isabelle, the rough weave of the fabric chafing her skin. Her days in the forest had taken their toll on her feet, and even in her new soft boots her toes began to ache. She hoped they were near to this friendly town, for her stomach ached almost as much as her feet. But she would not ask how close they were and give Adam any cause to doubt her.
The growling in her stomach had become quite pronounced when a scream sounded from the direction of the road. Adam and Little had their swords out in a flash, and Patrick and Helena had both unslung their bows and nocked arrows to the strings. Another cry sounded from the road, followed by shouting and the sound of something solid hitting the earth.
“What is that?” Isabelle asked, her own bow in her hand, but Adam waved her into silence. He motioned them toward the road, taking the lead. The cries grew louder, and soon she distinguished multiple voices crying and shouting.
Glimpses of a town flashed between the trees, columns of smoke rising from chimneys and blacksmith fires over the thatched roofs. Though she realized as they crept through the remaining cover that there was far too much smoke for just a few cooking fires. Fat gray columns wafted up into the air, snatched by the wind and scattered among the clouds as more smoke rose in its place. The smell of burning pitch filled her senses, just as it had on that field only a week ago.
Women and children lined the road into the town, huddled together with meager wheelbarrows of home goods. Streaks of tears carved their way through the soot-covered faces of the townspeople as their eyes followed the smoke overhead. One mother struggled to hold her son as he cried, reaching his chubby arms out toward the burning houses in the town.
“Papa!” the little boy cried. “Papa, I want Papa! Where is Papa?”
“We have to help them!” Isabelle cried, already pushing through the underbrush toward the road.
Adam caught her about the waist and dragged her back down. “Remember what I said about having to watch after you? Don’t make me regret it this early in the trip. Pay attention, sister.”
Isabelle peered again through the bushes, her arms still reaching out for the crying little boy. But the shouting she had heard through the trees had not come from any of the families standing along the road. The women bore their suffering with closed mouths and downcast eyes. Even the few men Isabelle saw stood their ground with what instruments they had. The shouting was coming from closer into the town, through the wafting pillars of smoke where several burly men wielding cleavers and pitch forks stood menacing at the town’s entrance. Among them shouted a small, puffy-looking man.
“Matthew of Doncaster,” Adam ground out.
“Who is he?” Isabelle asked.
“Tax collector,” Helena spat. “The worst kind of one, too.”
The little man stalked back and forth in front of his men, waving his arms. “Seize anything of value from these criminals,” he shouted. “They have failed to show tribute to their king for the last time, and his majesty will not tolerate such insubordination in his subjects. Your properties are forfeit to the crown. Stand aside or be cut down!”
“Sniveling little worm,” Adam said.
“Much as it pains me to admit the sister is right, we have to help them,” said Helena.
“We seem to be sorely outnumbered,” Isabelle said, looking again toward the men lined up behind the tax collector. She counted at least seven, though it was difficult to tell in the settling ash of the fire, and all of them looked battle-scarred and ready.
Little gave a shrug. “We could just shoot them.”
Adam tilted his head only enough to give the other young man a disparaging look. “Why is that always your suggestion?”
“Well, it’s a pretty effective suggestion.”
“We could pose as tinkers,” Patrick suggested.
Adam shook his head. “We don’t have a tinker cart.”
“Beggars?” Little said, scratching at his chin. “Wait, no, we don’t have any beggar’s rags. I could have passed for one, if Mum hadn’t sewn up the tears in these hose. What about posing as the king’s men? That would get Matthew off their backs.”
“I doubt we could pass as the king’s men in the Lincoln greens,” Adam said. “Deception will not work this time, we will have to draw them out in a fight.”
“But there are eight of them and only four of us,” Isabelle said. “And I very much doubt I would contribute much in hand-to-hand combat. How could we win?”
“Those men are not seasoned fighters,” Adam said, waving at the tax collector’s guards. “I recognize at least two of them as butchers from over Doncaster way. They only look so large because they spend all their day wrestling the weight of a dead hog around. The others are most likely smithies and field hands he’s drafted into his service for the purpose of wringing the last penny out of this town. They would scare at the sight of a blister, much less a real sword.”
“A blister?” Isabelle said, an idea forming. “I may have just the thing, then.”
Helena lifted a brow. “You?”
“Yes, me. It is a trick I played once on the sisters at Kirklees that earned me two months scrubbing the sanctuary floors.”
Patrick gave a low whistle. “Two months? It must be good, then. Father Donnell once punished me with two weeks of dipping candles for setting a pew on fire. And that was mostly an accident.”
“What’s your brilliant plan then, sister?” Adam asked.
Isabelle glanced once more through the trees where the desolated families of the town stood watch over their burning homes. “I will need some berries, a bit of water, and white ash. And a great deal of luck.”
The early warmth of the day had dissipated into a late afternoon chill as Isabelle emerged from the trees wearing her sister’s habit once again, her skin rippling into goose bumps after the first gust of wind. Her wet hair clung to her back and dribbled rivulets of cooling water down her neck, giving her skin a sweaty sheen. Sharp rocks scraped at her bare feet and she fought the instinct to cross her arms against the cold; the goose bumps would give the deception more authenticity, after all.
When the first woman on the road spotted Isabelle’s stumbling approach she gave a scream so frightful and piercing the others turned their attention from the village to find what new horror had arrived to greet them. Several of the children screamed as well and backed into their mother’s skirts, and even the great men with their pitchforks paled at her arrival. Perhaps I’ve done too good of a job, she thought. Little did call me bloody horrifying.
“Please,” she said, coughing in a raspy voice as she grabbed for the woman’s sleeve. The red spots on her hands where she had stained the skin with berries stood out like ugly welts, and the rest of her hands were deathly white where Adam had smeared the ashes. She could only imagine what her face must look like with the same ministrations. “Please help me.”
The woman backed away in horror, crossing herself and muttering a prayer under her breath as Isabelle took another stumbling step forward. The smoke was thicker here, the ashes of the burning homes settling low over the roadside as the fires burned out. She gave a real cough, her spit dotted with bits of black and red from the berries she’d used to stain her teeth. Her habit would need a thorough scrubbing when all this was said and done.
Matthew the tax collector was still shouting somewhere up ahead, so she stumbled past more of the townspeople and their horrified gazes. Everyone she reached for shied away, several of the women pushing their children behind them and making a sign against the devil. Somewhere in the crowd Patrick stood watch, but she had not yet spotted him.
“Please!” she cried, dissolving into another fit of coughing as another smoke cloud caught her. “Please, someone, help me! We need help!”
“We can’t help you here, lass,” one man said, his voice firm but his hands shaking. He waved his pitchfork at her, warding her off. “Whatever sickness you bring, our little hamlet cannot afford it. Already we’ve lost our homes, as you can plainly see. We can’t lose our children as well.”
So much for small hearth, big heart, Isabelle thought. But still she pushed forward, toward the heart of the burning hamlet. The bulky shapes of the tax collector’s men came into view through the smoke, their attention turning from their employer to Isabelle as she stumbled forward. At least two of them made the sign of the cross, subtle and rushed as if they didn’t want to be caught at it.
A movement caught her attention in the crowd. Patrick had slipped into the thick of them. She veered to the right toward him, falling to her knees and grabbing for his hands at the same time that she gave a cry of pain. He held her grip and helped her up, the edges of his cloak concealing his hands and arms as he pulled her up.
“Sir, please, my people need help!” she begged him, keeping hold of him long enough for the tax collector’s men to see. “Too many have died already, I fear I will be the only one left!”
“Be gone with you, demon girl,” Patrick said in a surprisingly booming voice. His Irish accent had slipped into the thick tones of the villagers. “We don’t want your poison in our house!”
He gave her a wink before pushing her back toward the road. Isabelle shook her head, grabbing for her hair and pulling at it. “No, no, I am not a demon! We were cursed, I tell you, by a witch. I am a sister of the order of Kirklees, we are sworn to heal. But the sickness, it came on us too fast. These horrible boils, they burn my skin. There is no one to tend the fields, no one to slaughter the pigs. We are starving even as we burn up in fever. Please, I have walked for days. Will you not help us?”
She dragged her steps forward as she spoke, throwing herself on the tax collector’s men. She chose the two who had crossed themselves, her hands the color of bone on their tanned arms. Digging her fingernails in for added effect she gave another great wail and collapsed, pulling them down with her unexpected weight.
“It burns!” she screamed, her hair plastered to her face. “It burns me!”
“God help us all!” one of his men called, his voice pitched high in his terror. “I have a wife and children, Matthew, I cannot risk them.”
The tax collector, who had fallen into a confused hush when Isabelle had appeared, found his voice again. “Do not let this girl strike fear in your hearts, you cowards. She is but one girl, and sick at that. Cast her out. I want what is owed to the crown, and I will not leave this town until it is paid.”
“You do not understand,” Isabelle said, dropping her voice into the same eerie tone that had sent Sister Catherine into hysterics when she tried this trick at the priory. She turned her luminous blue eyes on the collector, the ash on her face making them stand out. “The sickness is more powerful than your words or your weapons. It spreads like a fire out of control and consumes entire villages before the sun has set. I nursed a family of eight to their graves before it came for me as well. You cannot stop it.”
“Enough of this, Matthew,” said the other man she still clung to. He pried her fingers loose. “No amount of money is worth this. I’m leaving now.”
“You cannot leave,” Matthew shouted. “You are under the employ of the crown. To leave is to turn treasonous against the king!”
Isabelle had heard those words herself recently. She turned her gaze on the men who stood before her. “Your families are not safe. Your wives are not safe. Your children are not safe. Even you now are not safe. The sickness will come for us all.”
“This is madness,” said one of the other men. He sheathed his crude sword. “If what this girl says is true, we could all be infected. It is not treason to save one’s own life, Matthew.”
“The girl is lying!” Matthew shouted. “I have heard of no sickness like this, she is playing a foolish trick.”
On cue, Patrick gave a great shout from behind her. The people backed away from him, forming a circle of horrified faces as he lifted his hands and shouted again. The sleeves of his cloak dropped to his elbows to reveal angry red welts along his hands and arms where Isabelle had grabbed him. The people gave a strangled gasp.
“What have you done to me?” he cried. “What have you brought on our village?”
The people dissolved into chaos as the tax collector’s men bolted for their horses. Matthew of Doncaster was not far behind, the thunder of their hooves adding more dust to the smoke still settling on the road. The people hardly noticed their departure, desperate as they were to distance themselves from those Isabelle had touched. The men prodded Patrick forward with their pitchforks, too afraid to come into contact with him lest they, too, contract the mysterious sickness. The tax collector reined in his horse from a safe distance, turning to face the townspeople.
“Do not think you are safe from me!” he shouted, his voice gone shrill. “When the sickness takes you I will be back to collect what you owe from your corpses!”
His horse reared up as he spun around, galloping off after the men who had abandoned him. Patrick crowded next to Isabelle as the townspeople closed in on them, pitchforks raised. The first woman Isabelle had touched scrubbed furiously at her hands in a bucket of water. The other townspeople set a healthy distance between themselves and the woman, ignoring her cries of help.
“Perhaps it worked too well,” she murmured to Patrick, wincing as the tine of a pitchfork grazed her arm.
“I was beginning to have much the same thought,” Patrick said, eyeing the townspeople warily. “We’re going to have a difficult time explaining ourselves now.”
“Get ye gone, you devil’s spawn!” shouted one of the women, tossing a clump of dirt at her. “Have you not brought enough misery on us already? We are cursed!”
“Please listen,” Isabelle said, raising her voice as she raised her hands against their attacks. “It was nothing more than a trick to fool the tax collector. I am not sick, you see?”
She rubbed at the ash spread over her face, but the people gave a horrified cry at the sight of it. Patrick shook his head, frowning.
“It makes you look worse,” he said, grimacing. “It’s as if your face is coming off now.”
“Oh dear,” Isabelle said.
“She is the witch!” someone else cried. “She has cursed us and brought the tax collector on us! We must burn her, or drown her! The curse will not end until the witch dies!”
“That can’t be good,” Patrick said. He raised his own voice, slipping back into his natural accent. “You must listen to us, tis not what you think. It was only a trick to scare off the tax collector and his men. If you just let us explain, you’ll understand everything rightfully.”
“Hear how his voice has changed,” a woman shouted. “He is possessed by the devil! The witch has him!”
“No, that’s not it!” Isabelle shouted. “We were only trying to help, there is no sickness.”
“We saw you touch him, and now he has the sickness,” the man with the pitchfork accused. “You are spreading your witch’s lies, we know you are full of the sickness. We must burn her or we will all die!”
“No!” Isabelle shouted, but her protests drowned in the sea of shouting that the people raised up around them. The circle grew tighter and Isabelle huddled against Patrick, ducking as a rock whizzed past her head. More objects flew about, and soon they had nowhere to escape from the threatening stares and shouts of the townspeople.
“The witch must die so we can all be free!” the man shouted, raising his pitchfork high above his head and aiming it straight down at Isabelle.
Isabelle closed her eyes against the impending strike, unwilling to watch her own death come to pass. She thought briefly of her mother, and the father she had worked so hard to find, but they could not save her now. Perhaps her mother would never even know what became of her, a thought that filled her with a profound sense of loneliness. I failed you, Mother.
But the blow did not fall, and her life was not so soon ended. A whistling sounded just past her ear and the crowd gave up another cry, sunlight once again touching her face as they backed away. By the time she opened her eyes they stood several feet back, all of them staring at the pitchfork where it had struck the ground after being shot out of the farmer’s hand. An arrow of white fletching was buried in the dirt only a few feet away.
“Perhaps you should let us explain,” came Adam’s voice from the trees. He stepped out with his bow in his hand, though he had not drawn another arrow. “Before you burn her at the stake, preferably. Seems a pity to waste a good fire.”
“Adam of Locksley?” said the farmer, frowning. “What are you doing here? And Little Allan a’Dale?”
Helena and Little emerged from the trees behind Adam. Helena crossed her arms, glaring at the townspeople with such disapproval that even Isabelle felt a bit ashamed for them. Little grinned, twirling his sword around casually.
“Hello, Pete,” he said. “And how goes it with you?”
“I do not understand,” Pete said, looking from Isabelle to Adam and back. A growing look of guilt stole over his features.
“There is no sickness,” Isabelle said. “That is what I was trying to tell you. It was only a trick I devised to get rid of Matthew of Doncaster and his men. So they would stop burning your village down.”
“But that boy has the same spots as she does,” said one of the women, pointing to Patrick. “If there is no sickness, how is it he came to look like that?”
“It’s nothing more than a few berries smashed on my arms,” Patrick said. “Look, see?”
He rubbed at a spot with his thumb, the angry red welt smearing and disappearing as he did so. He held his arm out for the villagers to see and several of them gasped. The other farmers lowered their pitchforks, the ends digging into the dirt as the same guilty look stole over their faces.
Isabelle gave a somewhat impatient sigh. “We marked his hands before I came out, and then he slipped into the crowd. Did you not even realize he’s not from your town?”
A grumble of excuses rippled through the people, and Pete gave one shoulder a shrug.
“I thought maybe he was a friend of Martha’s.”
“He’s no such friend of mine,” said the woman who Isabelle had first touched when she appeared. “And well you know it, Peter.”
“Well I know it now,” the farmer said. He shuffled one worn boot in the dirt, casting his eyes up at Isabelle and down again at the ground. “Well it seems I was mistaken. You’re no such witch as I thought you were.”
“Thank you,” Isabelle said dryly. “I am glad we could reach reason before I was pitchforked to death.”
“We owe you an apology,” said an older woman with frazzled gray hair wisping out of a tight bun. She brushed at the soot on her face, streaks of sweat carving through the ash in zagging lines. “And a great thanks. You’ve done our village a service this day, you have. If not for you, that man would have burned our homes to ashes and left nothing to show for it.”
The other villagers echoed her sentiments, nodding and patting Patrick and Isabelle awkwardly on the shoulder. Some of them still kept their distance, eyeing Isabelle’s face and hands with a healthy distrust. But Peter the farmer seemed to have set his ill will aside, for he shook Patrick’s hand mightily.
“Let us show you a proper appreciation with a feast,” said Peter.
Little perked up. “Feast?”
“We only have time for a quick meal,” Adam said, laying a heavy hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Anything you could spare would be appreciated. We’ve far to travel.”
“And perhaps a wash stand?” Isabelle asked, holding up her spotted hands. “I would not wish to invite further…suspicion.”
“And maybe just a little feasting,” Little added. He lifted his hands at Adam’s look. “What? I said just a little.”
Isabelle emerged from one of the village houses that still stood, her skin glowing pink where she had scrubbed with all her might at the berry stains. Faint outlines of the deceptive welts still showed on the backs of her hands, but the sickly pallor was gone from her skin and her hair was tucked back into a tidy braid to dry. This time she welcomed the scratchy warmth of the outlaw hose and tunic, for the sun had dropped low to the horizon, drawing the warmth away with it.
The sounds of the festivities were in full swing as she picked her way across the village, the pathways lit by a myriad of fires through the village. The last bloody rays of the sun lined the edge of the sky in the distance, and the strains of music had turned to rousing reels accompanied by clapping and laughing. Men and women whirled in dizzying circles in the center of town as she approached, tables lining the edges loaded with roasted meats and fresh breads. It was nothing approaching the feast the outlaws had given in Sherwood, but there was a comforting familiarity among the townspeople that put her at ease as she entered the edge of the firelight.
Adam and Patrick stood with Peter the farmer, holding a handful of the berries she had used to stain her skin. Patrick took up one of the berries and crushed it against his arm as they had in the forest earlier, showing the farmer the results in the flickering light. Little had once again found himself in the thick of the crowd of young men and women, a mug in his hand as he regaled them with some tale of the outlaws’ misdeeds. Isabelle drifted toward the nearest table loaded with food, her stomach as empty as her head at the moment. The roast pig was delicious, juice running down her jaw at the first bite, and the bread so fluffy and dense the smell spiraled up her nostrils as she took another bite.
“You look much improved,” said Helena beside her. Isabelle startled at the girl’s abrupt appearance, but she did not look to be in nearly as sour of a mood anymore. “Well, as improved as you can, I suppose.”
“Are you not still cross with me?” Isabelle asked around a mouthful of food. She did not have the energy to be diplomatic any longer.
“I still think your little trick with the blindfold was a cheat, and if you were a good enough shot you wouldn’t have needed it. But what you did for these townspeople today…you saved their homes. And their lives. I suppose you deserve to be here as much as any of us. You’re certainly as stupid as the others with this ridiculous ploy.”
Isabelle smiled, though she wasn’t sure if the other girl meant the last statement as a compliment or insult. Most likely both. “I only did it because I needed to come along. It was never my intention to humiliate you. I challenged Adam because I knew no other way to convince him to take me along.”
Helena grunted, turning her attention outward toward the dancing townspeople. “Adam has a tendency to underestimate anyone not named Adam. He only picked me to shoot because he wanted to rattle you. He thinks I can be…aggressive.”
Isabelle buried her nose in the bread to hide the smile on her face.
“Quit that,” Helena snapped. “I’m not completely unaware of myself. These boys are just idiots, and if I don’t remind them of that occasionally they’ll do even more idiotic things. They’re the only family I have left.”
Isabelle thought of her mother so far away in Kirklees, and what she must be facing at the hands of the Wolf. “My mother is the only family I’ve ever had, and I’ve done something foolish enough to put her in harm’s way. I’ll do anything to see her safe.”
Helena nodded, studying the firelight. “I can’t argue with that. I’ll help you, Isabelle. But next time you try to best me with some ludicrous display like that I’ll knock you on your backside. Understood?”
“Very much so.”
“Good.” Helena gave a wave to Patrick and the boy trotted over to where they stood, Adam following close behind. “What were you doing with that farmer?”
“Just giving him a few pointers if Matthew of Doncaster should reappear,” Patrick said with a grin.
“Which he most certainly will,” Adam added. “Peter says he’s been in their village three times over the last month alone. Whatever King John is planning, he’s draining the people dry to do it.”
“We saw the same in Kirklees,” Isabelle said. “I had hoped the signing of the Magna Carta would put the king and the barons off of war, but I fear they are intent on tearing this country apart with their fighting.”
“There’s a revolution brewing about these parts,” said Adam. “And we aim to do our level best to make sure John Lackland ends up on the losing side of it. The people won’t stand for his heavy-handed ruling any longer.”
“Just what you idiots need,” said Helena. “An excuse for more fighting.”
“Who said fighting?” Little called out, weaving through the crowd toward them. “I’ll take them!”
“No one,” Helena and Patrick said simultaneously.
He folded his long frame to sit on the table next to Isabelle, passing his mug to Patrick. “Come on then, mate, drink up. You deserve it after the show you put on this afternoon. I still say we would have solved the problem for these people permanently if we’d just shot the men. The sister could have done it blindfolded.”
“Those men I would have shot with my eyes wide open,” Isabelle said.
Little grinned at her. “A girl after my own heart.”
“You forget she’s promised to God,” Adam said.
Little frowned. “I thought we’d moved past that.”
“You don’t move past your commitment to the Almighty,” said Patrick sternly. “His bond is an eternal one, Little.”
Little gave a dramatic sigh. “Luckily for me there are plenty of other bonny lasses here after my own heart. If you’ll excuse me.”
“Try not to get yourself pitckforked,” Adam called after him. “Peter has offered us his home to rest for the night. We’ll leave before first light.”
“I hope his home is far from the town center,” said Helena. “Otherwise I’m going to break that farmer’s lute.”
“Perhaps I should give the instrument a whirl,” said Patrick. “Allan has been teaching me how to play. I should hate to see such a thing of beauty destroyed because an amateur wielded it. Unless you would like me to see you to the farmer’s house, sister?”
“Thank you, but I should like to stay a moment,” Isabelle said, watching the revelry of the townspeople so recently freed from certain doom. “It’s rare that I get to participate in such celebration.”
“You know you look like a fool,” Helena said to Patrick as they moved away. “All the mincing and hand-holding you do for her, she’s as grown as you are. She can see herself to the house.”
Patrick’s response was lost in the sound of the crowd, but Isabelle thought she saw him stick out an elbow for Helena to hold.
“Are they close, Helena and Patrick?” she asked.
“Thick as thieves,” said Adam. “Patrick is kind enough to put up with Helena’s temperaments, and Helena will bludgeon anyone who tries to interfere with him. They’re an odd pair, but it seems to work for them.”
Isabelle nodded, following their retreating figures as Patrick took up with the band and Helena disappeared toward the farmer’s house. She had never met a girl like Helena before, but even she was familiar with the looks the girl gave Patrick when she thought no one was paying attention. Not so odd a pair, I think.
“Stay still, sister,” said Adam, turning toward her.
Isabelle froze. “What is it? What is wrong?”
“You missed a spot,” he said, sweeping his thumb behind her ear. The tips of his fingers brushed the curve of her neck, and Isabelle felt the very pulse in her throat throbbing against her skin. Adam lifted one brow. “Did I scare you?”
“No,” Isabelle said, her breath rushing in and out. “Of course not. I thought something was wrong.”
He brushed the spot again, sending little shivers down her neck. She was so close she could trace the line of his jaw with her fingertips if she but raised her hand. A dark stubble covered the skin there, obscuring the sharp lines of his chin and jaw. His eyes were black in the flickering firelight, his hair glinting like brass, and even in the town he smelled of the forest.
“I shot a soldier,” she blurted out, confounded by the prolonged contact and her reaction to it.
His thumb slowed, still tucked behind her ear, and he frowned. “What?”
“That is why I am here. There was a protest and I shot a soldier who was terrorizing the villagers. I was arrested, but before they could sentence me my mother came to me. She helped me escape, and now I fear she is in danger because of it. She sent me to find Robin to help.”
“You shot a soldier?” Adam asked.
Isabelle nodded mutely. A part of her desperately wanted to tell him who Robin was to her, why it was his help she needed. But there was still too much she did not know, too many questions she could not answer herself. And how would they treat her if they knew she was his daughter, and not just an ordinary girl? Would they shun her as the sisters had, for being the wild daughter of the prioress? For once, she longed to be nothing more than an ordinary girl.
One corner of Adam’s mouth turned up into a grin, and her moment was lost. “There’s hope for you yet, sister.”
The village turned out the next morning to wish the small band of outlaws good luck on their journey to Lincoln. Isabelle felt better than she had in weeks, the aching in her feet finally receding after a night spent on a comfortable pallet sheltered from the elements. She had slept sounder than she thought she would, and only woke when Adam shook her just before dawn. The townspeople had filled a sack with meat, cheese, and bread for them, and Isabelle happily chewed on a heel of bread as they departed.
Patrick and Little seemed no better for the feasting, dark rings lining their eyes and their skin an ashy gray. Little even winced at the cheering and clapping of the townspeople long after they had turned a bend in the road and the village had disappeared. Adam slapped both boys on the shoulder, giving their sour expressions a grin.
“I told you lads that wine was strong,” he said. “Nobody forced it down your throats.”
“It would have been rude to refuse it,” Patrick said, his voice moving in waves. “I’m not quite sure how it happened. I only meant to play a few songs, and then I found myself in a drinking contest with Little. But I don’t know why I would have agreed to such a thing, because no one wins in a drinking contest with Little. Not even Little himself.”
“That’s true enough,” Little said with a head bob.
“Perhaps a boiled egg would settle your stomach,” Helena said, holding up a smooth white egg from their pouch of food. She smiled serenely. Patrick turned a disturbing shade of yellow.
“Perhaps not,” he said, turning his head away.
Helena’s smile widened. “Idiots.”