I was born in the Cotswolds. My father had a mill and our house was beside it. We didn’t live in a village. The mill was on a stream and there were three villages nearby but none was ours. My father was old and my mother was his third wife. The first two had died. I had three brothers and four sisters from them but I almost never saw them. They were older. Some of them were older than my mother. She was young. People said she was simple. Father called her simple. She called herself simple. She bore five children and they all died except me. Everybody thought I would die, too. I didn’t have a name until I was old enough to crawl. I was baptized and named Jane then. Before then Mother had called me Baby, and Father called me Child. Even after I had a name they still called me that.
Every week Mother had took me to the church to pray. She said she was simple but she could still pray. She taught me to do the same. We prayed for forgiveness for our sins. She prayed that I wouldn’t be simple. I prayed that I wouldn’t be simple.
Mother died when I was twelve years old giving birth to a boy who only lived one day. Father died that winter and I was sent to the Home. Father had arranged it. The Home belonged to the church and the parson visited every day at breakfast. Mr. Garrity lived in the Home. His wife had started the Home years earlier. She was dead, though, by the time I came.
There were other children there but they were younger than me. I was to care for them. They were only small children but they were cruel to me. They hated me, Sarah and Philip and the one they called Pud and all the rest, too, and I came to hate them back.
Sometimes I pitied them, though. When they were sick or scared, and I could see how small and sad they were. Their parents were dead or gone. Mrs. Garrity had cared for them but since she died they had nobody really. Mr. Garrity did his best, I suppose. Sometimes I did, too, but it never seemed to matter.
I slept in the same room as the children. I cleaned the church and the house. I cooked for the children, too, and for the parson and Mr. Garrity. I liked cooking. The children were afraid of the stove because some of them had been burned before. When I cooked they left me alone. The parson taught me to read so I could follow recipes. He thought it would be difficult to teach me but I learned quickly. He said that I always could have learned if only my parents had known to teach me.
I lived there for two years. Sometimes Mr. Garrity beat me when I made mistakes but not as badly as Father had done. He reminded me every day to be grateful that I hadn’t been left to die alone in the mill. Mr. Garrity one day told me that he would marry me that day and I wouldn’t sleep in the children’s room anymore. The parson looked unhappy but agreed that my father had promised me to Mr. Garrity before he died. When the parson left I cried, and Mr. Garrity became angry. I ran into the kitchen and he chased me. He tripped and fell and he hit his face on the side of the stove. He landed on the ground and his legs kicked for a moment and then stopped. The children were playing outside and I knew that they would come in soon and find him and me. I ran. As fast as I could, as far as I could.
I was hungry and cold when I reached London. I slept on the grass in a field outside of town and when it rained I was wet. I stole food from markets and clothes from clotheslines in the fields. I met Mrs. Smith and told her I could cook and clean and she hired me to be her new scullery maid as her old one had left.
I believe she knew I was at the market to steal. I think she was trying to help me. I was always too afraid to ask. I was a murderer and a thief and a liar.
I learned that Lord Falmouth was very important and met with the King sometimes and I was afraid that I would be found out. I was afraid of everything. I am afraid still.
Then the Incident happened and everything was upside down. I was afraid of the countryside. The house in the field scared me. It all reminded me of the old mill. On the first night I curled up in a ball on my bed and cried.
And then he spoke to me. He told me right away that I wasn’t wrong. The Incident was real. I had seen something. And he told me a story. About knights and Saracens and about a great power that he could teach me. He showed me and I was amazed. I could have this power, he told me. If I would help him.
And if I had that power I would never be afraid again.
I learned quickly and I felt proud of myself. He gave me a mission and I did it. I did another one and succeeded. I could do this.
And then I saw the first crow, through the window, and it was time to do the things that he had planned. The men outside would provide the perfect opportunity. I thought of what was going to happen and a taste like cold metal filled my mouth. I couldn’t pray because I knew that I had forfeited Grace but I wished like a child that I had been born simple because I had made a mistake and now it was too late to stop it.
I followed Miss Annie and Lady Falmouth into the library. They began collecting Lady Falmouth’s books. There were many of them. I could read but I couldn’t read these. They were written in numbers, and in letters I didn’t recognize. They packed them hurriedly but carefully into the leather sacks they had come in.
“Mallory,” Lady Falmouth said. “It can’t be.”
“He knew the Shively girl,” Miss Annie said. “He visited her at home. And he was always very curious about us.”
“But a servant of Tantibus?” A shiver ran up my spine. “I can’t believe it.”
“I don’t want to either.”
“And Isabelle? Julian? They spent so much time there. Did he reach them?”
“He would have killed them.”
Lady Falmouth dismissed this with a quick shake off her head and a little shudder. “He wouldn’t. They don’t know anything.”
Miss Annie stopped. “They have the treasure.”
Now Lady Falmouth froze. I did, too. “They can’t.”
“They do. Isabelle has half. I saw it. I’m certain Julian has the other.”
It took Lady Falmouth a long time to think of what to say next. I think she held her breath. I know I held mine.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she finally exhaled.
“Because it is better if nobody knows.”
I opened my mouth to speak many times but no words came out. Another crow on the window. And the mob tearing down the door. And the children. They weren’t the children from the Home. I hated children but not them. I didn’t love them either but I didn’t hate them. I could have saved them and should have saved them but I couldn’t. It was too late now, and what burned my soul was that it was only a few moments too late, but it was done. I had played my part and I could do nothing now to change that.
“How do you know?” Lady Falmouth asked.
“I dare not say.”
“Do they know?”
“I hope not.”
Just a few moments. Maybe it wasn’t too late. If we hurried, if they knew maybe they could fix it.
He told me that I would never be afraid again, but I was afraid when I stood and faced them. “He only wants the treasure,” I said. “If they would only just give it to him. Nobody has to be hurt.”
They both looked at me with disbelieving eyes. “Please,” I said again, my voice cracking. “Just give it and he will go.”
They came closer to me. “Jane,” Lady Falmouth said quietly. “What do you know?”
I don’t know what I said. I cried. I told them everything I could. None of it made any sense. Lady Falmouth turned away from me. Miss Annie sighed.
“Dear child, what have you done?” she said.
The crow beat violently against the glass. I had been too afraid to let him finish, to turn me into one of them. I wished I had let him and I was relieved that I hadn’t. I didn’t know what to feel. I wanted to vanish completely from the earth now.
Miss Annie rushed up behind and pushed my head down. She pulled up my hair and ran her fingers along my neck. I knew what she was looking for. He had told me what would happen. “I will slip it in here,” putting his finger at the precise spot where my neck joined my head. “And you will die. And when I take it out you will live forever. You will be one of us.” He showed me his own scar. But I wasn’t ready.
“When did you see Tantibus?”
I told her I never saw him. Only heard his name.
“From whom? Father Mallory?”
Father Mallory would never. He was good. He wasn’t pretending.
“Then who, Child, tell me!”
“Mr. Percy.” I remembered how he flicked his fingers and a fire came from his fingertips, and he flicked them again and the flame became a small blue flower. He did that to show me his power. He told me that Tantibus was here to reclaim his treasure and that he would reward me when he had. I would succeed where Emily Shively had failed.
The horror on their faces. I felt the horror in my stomach. He would kill them. He would. Even if they told him where the treasure was. Mr. Percy would kill them, or Tantibus would. Of course. That was always the only way it could end. I had been lying to myself when I thought otherwise and I knew it.
We heard the front door crash open and the hall filled with voices. There must have been a hundred men then. I could hear the tapestries bursting into flame. Someone began to batter the library door. Miss Annie grabbed hold of the sack of precious books. There was a door behind the stairs that led to the orchard, and the horses. Two horses, one for each of them.
And then Lady Falmouth reached out and took my hand.
“Come,” she commanded. “It is not too late, for us, or them, or you. Come.”
I wished they would leave me there to die but they didn’t. Miss Annie grabbed my other hand and the two of them dragged me until I began to run on my own. The blade of an axe burst through the library door, and when it was pulled out it took a chunk of door with it. I could see the flames coming through. We ran.