Scarlet Page 1

Author: A.C. Gaughen

Series: Scarlet #1

Genres: Young Adult , Historical

Chapter One

No one really knows ’bout me. I’m Rob’s secret, I’m his informant, I’m his shadow in dark places. No one ever takes me for more than a knockabout lad, a whip of a boy. They never really see. And I don’t mind that they don’t see. Like, when you walk through a room full of big men drunk off their skulls, it ain’t so bad to be ignored.

I opened the door to Friar Tuck’s and the air fair slapped me ’cross the face. It were too hot and stank of beer and men, and I smiled. It were rough, but none here would turn me out for being a thief and a liar. I slipped in the door and moved quiet past Tuck, the innkeep, and went into the barroom. It were heaving with bodies, laughs, and mugs slinging ’bout. The lasses pushed through the lot, using a smile or slap as needed to get their own way.

I went through the big room to the small room Tuck keeps for Rob. It’s got a few secret passages and Malcolm, the big Scot that keeps bar, lets us know if anything’s amok. Which comes in handy seeing as, though I’m the least moral minded of the bunch, I ain’t alone in doing things contrary to the law.

One door went out the side of the big room, and then the door to our little room were down the hall a bit, so we could still look out a touch and see who were coming. John were sitting there, at the end of the bench, watching like he always is.

Rob looked at me, and as were fair usual, I felt my heart jump. He has a way of looking at me in particular that I’m none too pleased ’bout. I like slipping around and not being noticed. But Rob sees me. He even saw me before I knew he were looking.

“Scarlet, finally.” That were Rob’s version of a greeting.

“Rob. John. Much,” I muttered. I sat down next to the last of the three, part because it meant I could skulk in the corner and part because Much didn’t look to anyone but Rob. Much had some bad luck as a lad and he were the sweet sort, so most people just gave him their pity like scraps to a dog. He were the youngest of us, too, bare sixteen, which didn’t help none, but Rob knew what Much were capable of in true. It meant Rob were his hero, above and beyond, and I could understand. If I were the sort that had heroes, I’d have pegged Rob for it straight. Twenty-and-one and the oldest of us, Rob were the natural one to lead us, but more than that, Rob tended to see the bit of bright in all of us.

John passed me a tankard, and I took a deep swig of the ale.

“What word?” Rob asked. He kept his hood up, most because the sheriff were hiring new mercenaries all the time and just a bit because the people loved it. They called him the Hood—the least he could do were wear it.

“Two words. First, Freddy Cooper were arrested,” I said, looking round. It weren’t good news.

“Fred?” Much repeated. “He’s just a boy.”

“Old enough to poach for his family,” Rob reminded.

John crossed his arms. “He’s the oldest son. We should have made it clear that he could have come to us, Rob.”

Rob looked at him. “First sons think they can provide best for their family, John. They don’t ask for help. You know that better than most.”

“Well,” I cut, “it weren’t quite for poaching.”

They all looked at me. “What for, then?” Rob asked.

“Mistress Cooper went to the sheriff today. Asked for more time to pay her taxes, and he said no. Then he took Freddy and said if she can’t pay, he’ll swing.”

The lads stared, and I scraped my nail into the wood table ’stead of looking back.

“The sheriff is taking collateral now?”

“Collateral?” Much asked.

“He’s holding people ransom for debts,” Rob said, lowering his hood and rubbing his hands into his hair. His eyes looked up under his hand and he nabbed me looking.

His eyebrow drew up, but I looked at the table again, hoping it were dark enough to hide cheeks that went red without my say-so.

“If he gets it into his head that this is a good idea, we could have a lot of children strung up from Nottinghamshire,” John said.

“He shouldn’t. Unless, of course, more people let him think they can’t pay,” Rob said.

“Which they can’t,” Much said.

“The sheriff doesn’t know that. And scooping children up without cause would incite a riot, which isn’t his intention. Fear is much more effective. It does mean, however, if anyone can’t pay come tax day, the people of Nottinghamshire will feel the burden in horrific ways.”

The lads settled quiet as we all considered that. Things were fair rough already; we’d be fixed if they got worse.

“I’ll get him out,” I told them. “I found a new way to sneak into the prison today.”



“What?” All came at me at once.

I blinked. Honestly, they all heard me. I’m not in the habit of repeating myself.

“This your idea, Rob? Send her into the prison?” John growled.

So I’m a girl. Most people miss that ’bout me. The boys’ll call me Will Scarlet if other people are ’bout; a few people know it’s just Scarlet, but most think I’m a Will.

“The first thing I’m concerned with is Scar’s safety, John,” Rob said, his voice low enough that it made me look to him.

A muscle in John’s jaw bunched, but he didn’t say nothing.

“Scarlet, what on earth were you doing inside Nottingham Castle, much less inside the prison?” Rob asked.