The forest that surrounded the castle was dense. Sunlight barely peeked through small partitions of the green canopy far above the carriage. The hackney, drawn by two horses, was pulled along the dirt road. Hooves pounded, kicking up thick dust in their wake, which surrounded the carriage. The gilded gold curtains, that decorated the windows of the wooden vessel, were drawn back as a porcelain visage peered through. She was perfection embodied, a lady of sheer beauty and grace.
Her large blue eyes looked out, gazing into the shadows of the forest. “How much longer?” she inquired of the driver, who was sitting upon a wooden bench at the front of the coach.
“Not too much, milady. We should reach the castle before nightfall.”
“Very good,” she replied, still holding the curtains back so she could view outside.
The stray beams of sunlight struck her form, catching the jewels surrounding her neck. They glistened brightly, a beacon within the growing dark forest.
This beacon drew the attention of a predator in the shadows. It wasn’t long before the carriage was circled by a bandit who had made the forest his hunting grounds. It was easy pickings, since many lords and ladies travelled within the woods to visit the castle which resided on a large cliff in the distance.
An arrow flew through the air, cutting through the leather reins which the driver of the coach had been holding. The horses became spooked and reared, crying out as they tugged and bucked, trying to free themselves. The driver was desperate, attempting to soothe the beasts to no avail. They twisted and eventually broke from their bonds, fleeing the area and abandoning those they had pulled.
The lady had swung open the door to the carriage, yelling at the driver. “Are you mad? What sort of half-cocked driving were you doing? How do you expect a lady of endure such harsh conditions?” she huffed, snapping at him and gesturing towards the entrance to the carriage. He scrambled from the top of it, moving towards the door, holding his hand out for her.
“My humblest apologies, milady! Something spooked the horses and cut the reigns from my very hands! Are you hale?” He held his hand up, still, allowing her to place her own over his as she made her descent from the hackney.
“Yes, I am hale, though it is from no help of you!” She scowled, still upset with the turbulent ride and abrupt halt of the carriage as the animals had fled the area. The lady swept the yards of fabric that consisted of the skirts to her fine gown, daintily stepping down from the carriage. “What now? You best find the animals, lest I lash you to the carriage and force you to pull it!” she threatened.
The poor man’s eyes widened, “yes—yes milady!” He scurried off into the forest in search of the horses, grateful to be parted from the demanding noblewoman.
The lady made a dramatic sigh, snapping her fan open and fluttering it in front of her face. She stood poised within the dense forest. The thin rays of sun that managed to sneak their way through tiny gaps in the above canopy struck her from time to time, the trinkets and baubles upon her glittering.
A tsk came from behind her, and a man pushed through the thick shrubbery. “It does not seem very safe for a lady to be all by herself in such a dangerous wood.”
She sniffed, her nose turning upwards as she feigned being nonchalant. “My driver will return any moment, and I will be free of this wretched greenery. You need not concern yourself.”
“Oh, I am not the one who should be concerned.” He stalked towards her, a vile grin pulling at his lips. The flash of steel struck the air and she could feel the cold blade press against the delicate skin of her neck.
As the rogue was about to rip the jewels from her nape, the sound of horse hooves filled the air. He grabbed her tightly against him, turning to face the horse and its rider. The pressure on her neck from the dagger’s blade increased, as she was used for a hostage.
“If you approach any further I will mar the lady’s perfect skin,” the rogue threatened, making a point to ensure the rider saw the dagger which was held firm at her throat.
The rider paused, pulling his horse to a stop. Slowly, he dismounted. It was not the driver of her carriage, nor one of the horses that had been pulling it. This horse was pure white and adorned with a gilded leather bridle and saddle. The rider himself wore white, the horse and he sharing a crest upon their accoutrements. It was embroidered into the man’s cape and tooled into the leather of the horse’s accessories.
“Please, do continue if you seek to have her throat slit from ear to ear,” the rogue urged, roughly pulling on the lady to heighten the gravity of the situation.
The man in white opened his gloved hands, holding them up. “Now, now, do calm yourself. T’would not serve you to harm this resplendent maiden. Marring her beauty would be a worse crime than your petty thievery.” He spoke with a refined tongue and carried himself in a regal stature.
The other man, dressed in beaten dark leathers, grinned suddenly as he looked towards his second mark. From the proximity, and how he was dressed, the rogue could deduce he was the royal who lived within the castle upon the cliff in the horizon. While most of the riches would be within the castle and not on his person, he would still likely carry a pouch of gold and perhaps a few other items worth the trouble.
“Blades upon the ground, or the lady shall gain a second rouge smile,” the criminal implied.
The nobleman dropped both his weapons, holding his hands up slowly as he stood tall once more. “I am disarmed, now give the lady her freedom.” He spoke slowly, calmly, attempting to diffuse the situation.
“With pleasure!” The thief pushed the lady towards the nobleman, using the distraction to rush a flanking move to his opponent.
The lady shrieked, having stumbled forward. She was caught with a sweeping gesture of the gallant man, who gave her a charming smile. With swift movements, he placed her in his shelter while kicking the basket hilt to his sword. It was hooked by his boot and flew up into his grasp. Before the rogue could rush in, he had the sword at the ready.
Turning, the nobleman met the rogue’s blade with a clang. Steel met steel, and the thrust was parried. The lady shirked backwards, hiding behind her protector.
The rogue took on more than he realized. The royal, having been extensively trained in swordsmanship, deflected each attack attempted. It was not long before the thief was disarmed and the nobleman held his own blade towards the other man.
“Surrender or be dispatched of,” the nobleman warned.
Greed had gotten hold of the rogue, and he would not back down so easily – not when he was able to hear the abundant coins jingling in the pouch tied to the other man’s belt. He reached for a second dagger, and was met with a blow to the head from the nobleman’s hilt.
The lady gasped as the rogue fell to the ground, unconscious.
“Do not worry my genteel lady, he is still alive. My guards should be along within a short amount of time. He will be thrown into the castle’s dungeon, where such ruffians belong.” After sheathing his sword, the lord took her hand in his and patted it gently.
She smiled demurely, gazing up at him with half-opened eyes. “You are my hero, my dear lord. I dread to think what would have happened to me had you not come along.”
He puffed out his chest proudly, smiling brightly. Her compliments were having quite the effect on the man. “My dearest lady, it was of no trouble. He was an amateur compared to my ability with the blade, though it is always a pleasure to be able to rescue such a refined and beauteous gentlewoman.”
She gave a flirtatious soft giggle, lowering her gaze again. As she did, her attention focused on her skirts and she gave a gasp.
“What is it, dear lady?” Her hero asked, excited to slay more dragons to impress the princess.
“I believe that scoundrel tore the petticoats of my gown! Could you please ensure that no one is approaching as I check them, brave lord?”
“Of course, my lady,” he kissed the back of her hand and then turned his back to her so she could have privacy. He could hear the rustling of her skirts as she fiddled with the layers.
With his back turned, he was left unaware of the cudgel she had slid from its hidden holster beneath the billowing cloak she wore. Soon, the nobleman joined the rogue, left unconscious on the forest floor.
The woman let out a high-pitched whistle, signalling. It was not long before one of the horses that had previously escaped, returned to her side. Her hand patted the muzzle of the animal, and she smiled. “We will sup well for more than a fortnight, my friend.”
Returning to the two men sprawled on the dirt path, she began to pluck the items from their persons. Anything of value that could be sold or traded, along with coin, was taken from each of them. The carriage, having been rented by the woman, was abandoned. She knew the driver would return shortly, so it was in her best interest to leave in haste.
The genteel lady mounted her horse, bringing it about to look one last time at the two gullible creatures before she rode out of the forests with her newfound wealth.
“Such easy marks.”