Old 03-21-2018, 02:24 AM   #1
CurtailedAmbrosia
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War Prize

It had been days of travel, the hours blurred in fear and terror, the hem of her dark blue dress torn and dirtied, tears here and there in the silk revealing swipes of pale, pretty skin. She was a refreshing-if waifish- sight, long, wavy honey blonde hair half out of the braid it'd been in, wide, matching honey hazel eyes full of tears, water droplets clinging to the fringed lashes. Stolen right off her father's estate, whisked miles and miles away to a warzone-she was understandably terrified.

And the things they had said! The threats they had made! Even if her father paid, they intended to try and extort more money-or use her. She prayed they would be happy with whatever sum given to them-that they would keep their end of a ransom and return her safe and unharmed.

But now-now she hears screams and the sound of battle, tears forming once more as the violence, her own helplessness-a struggle with the ropes that bound her arms behind her back around the tree, that coiled around a small waist. A second length was knotted around her dainty ankles, slippered shoes stained with mud and dirt. It sounded as if her captors-the men who had kidnapped her and kept her on the move for days on end to this warzone, who had bound her to yet another tree as they foraged-were being attacked. She begins to tremble, unable to see what exactly was going on, beginning to fear she would be left here for wolves, or worse-their killer would become -her- killer.

Struggling with the ropes, her shoulders burning from being kept in such a position for so long-she tried to shut out the sounds of violence. She had a heart shaped face with soft, cupid's bow lips currently cruelly parted by a cloth gag, her smaller frame clothed in a maiden's chaste dress, the ropes forcing the cloth tight to her body to reveal feminine, if slight curves-the girl young, perhaps in her early twenties.

She was a protected beauty, and perhaps it showed-her hands were soft and bore no signs of work, her skin pale from lack of sun.

(This is the setting. PM me with any angle you'd like to take and come play with me. Will you play the captain of a small force of the King's men? A scoundrel fighting other scavenging men for the right to strip the dead? A hero? A villian with a cold heart, soon to be warmed by a young woman's innocence? Let me know! I'm hoping for something a bit romantic.)
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Old 04-23-2018, 06:23 PM   #2
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“Well met, friends!” shouted Fleece, in the direction of the mysterious group of armed and armoured men who were crossing what his own gang – the self-appointed Northbridge People’s Militia – had come to regard as their territory. He had no idea who they were, or what they wanted. Too well equipped and too numerous to be your standard band of wandering bastards, but bearing no common standard or heraldry to signify affiliation or fealty. Men with no masters were dangerous.

Fleece had argued against a straightforward ambush, to kill or weaken first and ask questions later. These bastards looked like they’d been in a few fights, and even with the advantage of surprise, a victory could be costly. Fleece hoped to convince them to be on their way, that confrontation was in no-one’s interests. If they were marauders, they could maraud elsewhere. If they were from some lord or lordling, it was as well to know his business and intentions.

“Well met!” came the answering cry, a friendly voice, from the encampment, which unbeknownst to the mysterious bastards was partially surrounded.

Fleece started to move towards them, still on his guard and ready to dive into a bush or duck behind a tree at a moment’s notice. A figure appeared ahead, walking towards him. His body language was calm, sword in scabbard, shield at one side. Fleece was about to hail him again, when the man put his finger to his lips and hurried towards him. Fleece matched his pace, curious.

“You’re early, my lord” said the man, nodding his head out of respect.

Only a microexpression of confusion crossed Fleece’s face before he brought it under control. It wasn’t surprising that he should be mistaken for nobility… he was tall and handsome like a noble, wore fine leather and chain armour like a noble, carried a fine sword, and a shield with a crest of some sort. He carried himself like a noble, and his voice was educated, confident, speaking high common rather than a dialected version. Fleece was… half noble…. his father a Knight and landowner, his mother a serving girl. But as far as anyone knew – including his comrades in arms – he was noble. A few lies had been told to keep him safe when they found him, wounded and on the run, and a few more had convinced them that a cousin of his would take over Northbridge once the war was over, and would reward their loyalty. In Fleece’s mind, his leadership had repaid his debt to them many times over, but not all of them would see it that way.

“I made good time” replied Fleece, non-committal.
“My men are in the clearing behind me. Let’s put on a good show then, eh?”

What happened next happened in a blur. The man grinned, gave a war cry, and drew his sword. Fleece stared at him in confusion and astonishment as he yelled a serious of nonsensical commands, and went to bash his own sword on his shield. The expression on his face gave Fleece the impression that he was expected to join in.

All at once there were answering cries from his men, and the sound of sword on shield. Militia bowstrings pulled taut were loosened, sending arrows racing towards the man, who dropped with an expression of astonishment on his face. A birdcall triggered the ambush, and the other members of the militia attacked with bow and axe and sword.

Men expecting a pretend battle clashed with men expecting a real one, with inevitable consequences. By the time the defenders realised that the attack was real, it was too late. Many lay dead or dying, with a small number able to get away, running for their lives. A cheer went up from the men… a cheer of easy victory, much easier than anticipated, and soon desire to chase the stragglers lost out to desire to be first to the looting.

Fleece had hardly moved, astonished. What in the name of the twelve gods had just happened? What the fuck was that? Was the man mad? After the man who hailed him had dropped, he’d moved on towards the encampment to find little for him to do in terms of directing his men. The mysterious men had just folded as far as he could tell. Barely any fight at all.

He was still a little dazed as the looting began in earnest. Occasionally he had to intervene or mediate, or point out the obvious. Or palm a few trinkets for himself that he knew to be valuable, ‘generously’ allowing others to take the coin.

* * * * *

“What are those ropes round that tree?”

Fisher – a balding, scowling man in ill-fitting chain armour and a nasty scar on his cheek – went to have a look. Darlow, a young ranger, followed him to look.
Fisher looked the girl up and down, a nasty grin on his face.

“I don’t believe it! All my feast days come at once! Look at her, all trussed up ready and waiting for us. Keep your voice down and you can have her second.”
“I don’t know, Fisher” Darlow answered in his slow bumpkin drawl, shaking his head. “I don’t think we –“
“Okay, you can have first pick of the boys if you like, you prick-less cunt.” Fisher started loosening his belt, no easy task under the armour.
“No, look at her. She’s noble.”
“So?”
“No good’ll come of it, mark my words. We should get Fleece. She might be worth more, you know, without….”
“Nothing’s worth more to me right now than a good hard fuck, so just-“
“What’s going on?” called Fleece. Fisher shot Darlow a look, trying to intimidate him into silence. He thought for a moment and ignored him.
“You should come and look at this, Fleece” said Darlow, “Now, I mean.”
“What the…” muttered Fleece, walking over and around the tree.
Fleece stood in front of the terrified girl, his gaze also looking her up and down, inspecting her, his handsome face betraying puzzlement and concern, rather than animal lust.
“Fuck me” he muttered, staring at her, shaking his head. He drew a knife and cut the cloth gag. “Who the fuck are you, princess?”
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Old 04-23-2018, 07:12 PM   #3
CurtailedAmbrosia
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“What are those ropes round that tree?”

The voice was not familiar. The fear of her captors' killers becoming her killer warred with her hopes for being freed, a rescue to end this nightmare.

A scarred man came around so she could see him, a younger man following. Her widened eyes flicked from one to the other, returning to the scarred man and widening further in very real, very instinctive fear as what he said clicked, as his hands lowered to his breeches.

Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Behind her back she struggled anew with the rope around her wrists, a muffled noise of fearful dismay as the tears finally started to fall. She couldn't help but cry-they were going to hurt her. Maybe not the younger man-he seemed kinder-but nearly as helpless as she was.

Mary please. Please.

Someone else called out and she pleaded with God nearly as much as she silently pleaded with the ranger-but she would not blame him for slinking away given the frightening look the hungry man shot at him. But a hundred pounds. A thousand pounds, a horse-whatever she could convince her father to part with if he would just-

“You should come and look at this, Fleece”

The man he had mentioned. Hopefully their leader, hopefully someone who would keep the hungry man away from her.

“Now, I mean.”

She kept her gaze on Fisher even as the supposed leader circled into view-and only glanced his way when he cursed to himself. Like the younger man, he didn't seem intent on violence either. He drew the knife and she tilted her head slightly away as the cool metal slipped between her skin and the cloth gag-cutting it away so she could, at long last, speak.

The only weapon she had, currently.

She looked from him, to Darlow, and then a quick, nervous glance to Fisher before those honey hazel eyes blurred with more tears.

"I'm...I'm afraid to say sir." Her voice was sweet and clear as a bell, even while thick with tears and terror.

He looked important, he clearly led these men. He must be someone of some importance, and hopefully not standing against her father. She had no way of knowing without a name. But a ransom would be better than an attack. She tries to collect herself, wishing she could wipe away the tears and tracks she could feel on her face in the cooling air. What did she really have to lose? She didn't want to be left alone here for wolves, or...men like this one. She swallows, and while she did not quite regain her composure or bearing, she manages a weak, fragile smile as she looked up at him.

"I am Lady Eleanor of Lyons. M-my father is Lord Roland." She watched for some recognition, some sign of hostility or anger. She should have stopped there, but instead her fragile smile falls away and something further tumbles from her lips as those honey colored eyes stared up at him. "Please...please don't hurt me." She looked on the verge of tears again, this petite stolen maiden.
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Last edited by CurtailedAmbrosia : 04-23-2018 at 09:09 PM.
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Old 04-24-2018, 02:37 PM   #4
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Fleece had a reasonably good line in poker-face. Usually. But this girl, this pretty young thing who had been so ill-used, disarmed him utterly. Even tear streaked and dishevelled, tied to a tree, she was clearly a beauty. Some sights cried to the heavens for restitution, for vengeance even, and this was one of them. Hurting a girl like that would be like… like destroying an artwork, burning a rosebush, or twisting the neck of a songbird… more than either of those things… it was almost like a kind of blasphemy. He had done things he was proud of, he had done things he was not proud of, he had helped, and he had harmed, but he wondered about the sickness in the soul of a man like Fisher who saw her and thought only of his own lust.

"I'm...I'm afraid to say sir."

“Don’t be afraid, Kitten” said Fleece, softly, stroking her tear-stained cheek, gazing at her. Fleece did not remember formulating those words, and it felt like he heard himself speak at the same time as everyone else. He felt his men staring at him, several more having arrived to see what the fuss was about, with more heading over.

Fleece composed himself sufficiently as she spoke, his face impassive, giving away nothing of his view on Lord Roland, if indeed he had one. Others did react – a mixture of jeers and cheers and questions. A babble.
“Roland? Whose side is he on?”
“Fuck knows”
“His own, like all the rest of the bastards”. Bitter laughter.
"Please...please don't hurt me."
“No-one’s going to hurt you, Lady Eleanor” said Fleece, with a slight bow.

“Oh, that’s decided then, is it?” snapped Fisher. “Oh good.”
His sarcasm was backed up by some grumbling from some of the others.
“She’s noble” repeated Darlow, more confident now, “You touch her and no good will come of it”.
“Let’s ransom her! The gold would buy all the whores in the Westmarches!”
That suggestion met with some approval. Cheers.
“Look at her though... some noble slit right now would be so fucking sweet” came another voice, laughing. “Lady Eleanor of Wossname on the end of your cock!” Raucous laughter, whether serious or not was hard to tell.

Fleece was silent for a few moments, letting the debate flow, hoping some consensus would emerge. Fisher had been a problem for some time, and his influence was growing. The militia was a loose affiliation with informal leadership structures – or, to put it less kindly, a rabble. There was always tension between the ‘bandit’ element – usually the mercenaries – and the ‘militia’ element, usually but not always the locals.

Fleece raised his hand.

“Enough” he said, “We have a guest. Stop frightening the poor girl, it’s not funny any more. Just look at her. Shame on you all. Shame on you!” Fleece grinned, trying to persuade the baser elements that they had been joking, which some of them probably had been. Or at least entertaining themselves with a passing fantasy.

“Look, you want power in these lands after the war, you respect the nobility, you do right by them. You show you have restraint, and that you can be trusted. No-one touches this poor child” – though she was hardly that – “and we return her. Not ransom, return.”

A cacophony of voices rose in protest.

“You know the difference between ransoming and returning? Three words – Good. Fucking. Manners. That’s it. You start demanding money with menaces for Milord’s daughter, and maybe you’ll get it. But he’ll have you hunted down like dogs. Maybe because he’s fond of his daughter, maybe because he’s fond of his gold, and maybe, just on fucking principle. You return the poor errant waif, unharmed and unmolested, like the stout-hearted yeoman that you are, you’ll be rewarded. Northbridge People’s Militia, at your service, your lordship.” Fleece performed a mock-salute.

“I’m right, aren’t I, poppet?” continued Fleece, turning to the girl at last. “We bring you home safe and sound, having killed all these bad men, Lord Roland will be grateful, won’t he? He’ll reward us, won’t he? As long as we remember our manners.”
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Old 04-24-2018, 09:14 PM   #5
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"Don’t be afraid, Kitten”

It was the first kind word said to her in days, and the second time she'd been directly addressed rather than spoken over in just as long. His touch was gentle and she felt reassured that this Fleece meant her no harm, and just on the virtue of her being a person.

“No-one’s going to hurt you, Lady Eleanor.”

The tension in her shoulders relaxed along with the anxious ball of fear in her chest, relief in her eyes and face.

He had hardly straightened from his respectful bow when the hungry man bit off a rude response. This made little sense to Ellie-that he should talk back to his better and so harshly. The rest of the men talked over and at each other, coarse words that, under normal circumstances, would have shocked her. No one would have dared, no one would have thought ...

But right now, they could say whatever they wanted if they would just leave her be. Ellie was not quite as fearful, trusting in the promise of Sir Fleece-but she was infinitely wary. Those large honey colored eyes nervously watched the assembly before flickering back up to her savior's face-but whatever he was thinking, his handsome visage reflected none of it. He did lead these men, didn't he?

At last he raised a hand and turned towards the men, his broad shoulders and height briefly shielding her from their gazes as he chastised them. It occured to her that he led as one of them. Perhaps a local leader? He spoke well enough he could very well be a noble, but his name did not ring any bells. Of course, she was hardly of the mind to think of anything besides her poor father or her own safety-she'd been kept on the move for days. What little sleep she had gotten had been fitful and full of nightmares.

"I'm right, aren't I, poppet?"

She couldn't nod fast enough as he turned to her for confirmation. His informal address mattered not a whit-if he would protect her, she would forgive him anything. He had worked to convince the men to be chivalrious, and Ellie was anxious to do the same.

"H-he must be so very worried." Even given the dire nature of her circumstances, the young woman was clearly very concerned for her father's emotional wellbeing. It was also a glimpse into their relationship-she was no distantly raised property or political tool-she was his treasured daughter, his last remaining kin.

"My father would give anything-his title, his lands, his life to keep me safe. He would reward you all for my return, and be overjoyed to do so, I am sure of it!" She promised, the utter lack of guile on her part making the words ring true.

Fleece had mentioned negative consequences from her father should they hurt or menace her. She had never seen him angry. It was hard to imagine him as such. He would be agonized for certain. Should...should the men not be swayed completely, should something terrible happen before she could be successfully ransomed or rescued-she resolved she would not tell him.

But that didn't mean she was resigned to such a thing.

"You would have our eternal gratitude in doing the right thing, the noble thing-freeing me from my captors rather than t-taking their place." She pleaded, her eyes moving from man to man and then back to Fleece. "I would not forget it, nor would he." She said in earnest.

Lord Roland Canter of Lyons was, after all, a powerful, wealthy man. His forebears had always supported the King's line-indeed, his great great grandfather was largely responsible for putting the King's great grandfather on the throne more than a century before, and the House of Canter had been defending king and country long before that. Lyons was their ancestoral home, and it was of no surprise to anyone that his armies currently marched under the King's banner. Lady Mary Canter, Roland's mother, had been the current King's aunt, the second daughter and third child of his grandfather and grandmother. He could have married into a royal family elsewhere, but instead pursued the beautiful daughter of a lessor peer in the south, a baron. It was well known he had wed below his station for love. His grief had been immeasurable, his mourning unrepentant in having lost her.

He kept his only remaining kin, his beloved daughter Ellie close at hand and treasured, and other than his duty to King and country, lived a quiet, peaceful life in his countryside estate rather than the ancient castle to the north. Marriage contracts and proposals came and went for his only heir, but no response was ever issued. She had not even been debuted in her 16th summer as would have been customary for a noble woman of her standing. He simply would not consider it.

For her part, Ellie did not seem to mind terribly. She lived comfortably and worried not about her shrinking prospects or her future.
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Old 04-26-2018, 05:45 PM   #6
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Fleece gave the girl a reassuring nod. She had spoken well, under the circumstances, and he wanted her to know.

“You hear that?” he said, “We want his gratitude, right, not his hatred. He’s a powerful, influential man, and-“

“Gratitude? From a nobleman? Fuck that!” interrupted Fisher, “Those highborn bastards don’t know the meaning of the word. We’ve been lied to again and again and again, deceived, let down, sent off to die in someone else’s war that’s not our fucking business. Once the old man has what he wants, we’ll be fobbed off with nothing, or worse, quietly murdered to hush up the whole thing.”

“No” replied Fleece, “there’s no hushing this up – you can bet the countryside is being turned upside down for miles around. We bring her back, we make sure everyone knows. Pride will make him pay, if decency and gratitude doesn’t. He’s stayed out of the war, so there’s not the same chaos. Look, I know-“

“You know how things work because of your ‘cousin’ the ‘Earl of Lakelands’, yeah, yeah, heard it before. Your influential friends and connections, lordling. I didn’t believe you before and I don’t believe you now. We should have left you to die in that ditch and taken your stuff, I said so.”

“Yeah, you bastards saved me. But haven’t I saved you? Haven’t you profited from my counsel and my advice? Haven’t you? I’ve proved my value to you time and time again, I’ve fought alongside you, brothers, bled with you, won with you, lost with you. I’m… fucking….I’m with you, right? Brothers. We all took our different paths to get here, but we’re here now. Look what we’ve achieved already. Now we just play our cards right, and when the war is over, whoever wins, we’re set because we’ve secured the area for the new lord and we’ve shown we can be trusted.”

“No, bollocks to that. The new lord will deal with us because we’re here, not because some highborn, low fallen slumming-it ponce vouches for our good behaviour. And no, you’re not ‘with us’ and you’re not ‘one of us’. Never have been. You’re just using us. Don’t think we don’t know. You’re… you’re sly, Fleece, you’re a fucking snake is what you are. Speechify all nice, but you’re more of a bastard than I am. Don’t think I don’t know about you saving the best loot for yourself, hiding stuff away.”

Fleece was about to reply when an older man wearing battered chain and plate armour cut him off.

“Enough, both of you!” he barked, “We’ve won a fine victory here today. It was a great plan, Fleece. And Fisher, we all saw you and your guys fall on those bastards, such ferocity, they never stood a chance! I think Fleece is a jumped up self-important cunt who loves the sound of his own voice, but fuck me, he’s a competent field commander, and he has an actual plan. Fisher, you have shit for brains and you think with your cock. You’re a vicious bastard but you’re our vicious bastard. Now stop fucking squabbling, let’s clean up here and put it to a vote later.”

Fleece nodded. “All right, Curtis. But the girl is my responsibility”

That seemed to settle the matter to most people’s satisfaction, at least for now. But Fisher had other ideas.

“Oh no you don’t, you fucking snake” he snarled, “I see what you’re doing. You want her all for yourself. She lets you fuck her and keeps her mouth shut, you’ll make sure it’s just you. I know your game, and I’m not fucking having it.”

Fisher strode right up to Fleece and shoved him, hard. Fleece had stood still, refusing to back down, but staggered backwards, keeping his footing. There was a gasp. This had been brewing for some time, in spite of calmer heads trying to keep things together. This might finally be the breaking point. There were cheers, shouts of agreement. The mood was turning.

“You want to lead?” spat Fleece, “Is that what this is really about? You cunts want to follow him?” he continued, turning to the others, “be my fucking guest. Half of you will be dead before the month is out. If your ambitions are just petty banditry, he’s your man. You want more, you listen to me.”

“I said that is e-fucking-nough!!” barked Curtis, “both of you daft cunts back the fuck down or I’ll beat the crap out of both of you. We’ll deal with this later, properly. Fleece looks after the girl, and I look after Fleece, right? That way, no-one gets fucked. Or are you calling me a snake too, Fisher?”

Fisher cursed in response, but he knew better than to defy both Curtis and Fleece. Where Curtis went, so did the waverers. While the men enjoyed the drama, many feared the consequences if this got out of hand.

Fleece brushed himself off and returned to the girl’s side.

“That went well!” he said cheerily, puffing out his cheeks as he took his knife to her bonds. “Now let’s get you free, shall we?”

Curtis stood a distance away, scowling, daring anyone to approach. Darlow concluded some bartering for a pair of boots from one of the dead men – they were all well shod with similar leather boots, though the rest of their kit differed – and then lurked nearby in case he was needed.

Unheard and unseen, a figure shifted slightly in the branches of a tree just outside the clearing, listening intently to what was being said.
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Old 04-27-2018, 12:58 PM   #7
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His nod earned him another small, anxious little smile before he turned back to the assembled men to continue arguing for her to be returned unharmed. Something the hungry man seemed to be deadset against, carrying a hatred for nobles that had nothing and yet everything to do with her. Her brow furrowed as he spoke, her already anxious expression becoming even more troubled.

"-or worse, quietly murdered to hush up the whole thing.”

Ellie's lips parted in surprise, a clear look of shock on her pretty face. He was mad if he thought her father, if he thought Lord Roland Canter of Lyons would stoop so low as to murder those who had served him so well. Surely no one would do such a thing in return for the safe delivery of their kin, least of all her father!

Fleece cut back in before she could even pretend to summon or stammer a protest- and the hungry man's anger and hatred turned on her new friend instead. Fleece tried to appeal to the man's worldly concerns-sensible, given how awful he seemed to be-but the man was having none of it. Her eyes flicked from one to the other worriedly-it made her nervous to be bound while they fought, and it made her nervous to see the hungry man's raw hostility. Her numbed fingers again found the rough edges of the rope that bound her wrists behind her back. She was afraid the group at large might side with the hungry man. If they did...

Oh, she was going to cry again if she was not careful.

“Enough, both of you!” A third man chimed in, playing peacekeeper-and while coarse, at least he seemed able to bridge the gap, silence the rumbles of the crowd. This army...this militia-it wasn't like anything she had ever imagined.

“All right, Curtis. But the girl is my responsibility.” At least her new friend would be at hand until this 'vote'. But the hungry man-Fisher-he didn't like that either.

And he said awful things and then he shoved him!. Ellie gasped, the men gasped, everyone seemed to be staring-and then Curtis again cut in, and Fisher at last seemed to be sated-for now.

The terror of the previous several days and the stress of the tense back and forth left her nerves strung tight and a little raw, but at least, for just the moment-she was safe from harm.

“That went well!” She blinked at him, briefly unsure if he had heard the same things she had. “Now let’s get you free, shall we?” Fisher had shoved him, had been very unkind in his words about nobles. Wasn't Fleece noble? Something about an Earl....

The rope around her shoulders fell away, then the one around her ankles-and finally, at long last her hands were free. She was a bit unsteady from having been kept in place for so many hours-but clearly relieved to be cut loose, smoothing her poor gown back into it's modest place.

"Thank you." She breathed, her graceful fingers now running over the skin of her wrists, nervously watching the men ambling off. "I'm so sorry for...for causing you trouble-" She didn't know quite what to say. There was clearly more going on than just...a disagreement over what to do with a foundling, but she felt a measure of guilt over it all the same.

She had been -terrified-. She was still very anxious, weary, and afraid. They might still vote to hurt her, or vote to be her new captors rather than her rescuers, or who knew what else-but at least Fleece was a friendly face and seemed to be a man with honor, despite what Fisher had said of him. She would be safe with him for now.

"A-are you alright?" Ellie's sweet, quiet voice seemed nervous, shaky-as if she was worried about drawing too much attention, reminding the men of her presence. He'd be able to see there was still a tremor to her delicate hands despite her efforts to compose herself. Her eyes were large and concerned as they flickered towards where he had been shoved and then away for Fisher-who was gone. Good. She was...she was very afraid of him, given what he had been intending to do earlier.
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Old 04-30-2018, 03:42 PM   #8
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Fleece offered the poor girl his arm to help her stand as he cut her free. As he watched her smooth her gown out, and rub at her poor wrists, he realised that he had no idea how long she had been tied to that tree. Who would do something so horrible to a girl like this? He regarded her closely. Her cheeks were tear-stained, but her eyes were bright. She looked scared. Scared and exhausted. He wondered when she’d last slept. But she was proud too. Strong. There was a nobility about her, and not just in terms of who her parents were. She was apologising for causing trouble. Fleece just stared at her.

His chest felt suddenly tight. Something in the pit of his stomach, too, pulling at him from the inside. Fleece felt a determination, a sudden resolution. No further harm would come to this girl, not while he had a say in the matter, and not while he had strength in his body. So much of the last few years was confusion, was shades of grey, was doing what needed to be done to survive. His lies about being the cousin of an Earl… other things, worse things that he had done, or allowed to happen. But here was clarity, was a black and white, right and wrong issue, where his path was clear.

"A-are you alright?"

Fleece blinked and gazed at her in utter astonishment. At first he didn’t understand the question. Seeing his confusion, the girl glanced back towards the centre of the confrontation.

“What?” he asked, before grasping her meaning, “Oh, that, no, that’s nothing. Forget that. He’s an as-“ He stopped short before he swore in front of her. Again. “Never mind me, how are you, my lady? Are you hurt? What can I-? Are you…”

He broke off. Too many questions at once. He was babbling.

“Hey Darlow, try out those new boots of yours and get her ladyship some fresh water and some fruit, would you?” Darlow, a young man of few words, nodded mutely and turned on his new heels and went to do as he was asked.

Fleece took a moment to collect himself. What was wrong with him today?

“Where are my manners, my lady? I do apologise. These men are… good men, well, most of them” he shot Fisher a look, as he was busy sorting out his men to track down the panicked horses that had fled during the attach. “But they’re savages. I’ve been surrounded by savages for too long. My name is Sir Tomas Mountfield, cousin to my lord the Earl of the Lakelands…”

The first part of his introduction was true enough. The second was a lie, but one had become second nature to him to the extent that it was out of his mouth before he’d had time to think.

“… they call me ‘Fleece’ because…”

Fisher barked something in the distance, a stream of incentive and abuse. Some of the general hubbub fell silent as people listened. Fleece suddenly remembered what Fisher had said about him, about him wanting Eleanor for himself. He looked at her. There was no sign that she had believed what Fisher had said, but he felt a sudden lurch inside him. What if she did?

“What he said, my lady…” he said, lowering his voice, “I’m not like that. I wouldn’t. I’m not. I don’t… look, you’re safe with me, is what I’m trying to say.”
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Old 05-01-2018, 12:58 AM   #9
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Lady Eleanor had accepted the arm gratefully, and did not surrender it once she was steadied. It would feel natural enough however, particularly on the uneven ground.

“Oh, that, no, that’s nothing. Forget that. He’s an as-“

The young woman appreciated his restraint and smiled a little as he stopped short. Again it was an uncertain, small and anxious smile, but pretty. It made one wonder what a real smile might look like, when she wasn't exhausted and so very anxious.

She was glad he was not hurt.

He turned conversation to her state and condition in a flurry of complete and half finished questions before breaking off and turning towards the young man who had been brave enough to stand against Fisher from the start. She committed his name to memory. Fisher might think nobles had no gratitude, but he was wrong-she would see this Darlow well rewarded.

As well as Sir Tomas Mountfield. She would write a letter as soon as she could. So that, should the vote turn poorly...at least her father would know of the men who had tried to help her.

Her honey colored eyes had been focused on what he was saying, a brief furrow of her brow-and then Fisher's voice barked to interrupt him, her eyes flying to the congregated men-an unconscious step back, her hand involuntarily tensing on his arm. She was small enough that the slight step back nearly hid her beside him, her eyes widened, wary.

"H-he was not pleased with sir Darlow, drawing your attention as he did." She revealed quietly, worriedly. She swallowed, her free hand wiping at her each cheek in turn, a small shake of her head. She needed to compose herself. She was a lady, and even given the circumstances, making a what must have been a terrible poor impression. "He'll be alright, though?" And so would she, until the vote?

“What he said, my lady…”

Fleece lowered his voice, a flicker of concern to his features, in his eyes. Ellie's honey hazel ones gave him her full attention.

“I’m not like that. I wouldn’t. I’m not. I don’t… look, you’re safe with me, is what I’m trying to say.”

"I know it, Sir Tomas." She assured. Fisher had said awful things, and shoved him!-but she hadn't believed him at all. Her eyes lower to the cut rope lying loose around the base of the tree a moment, a slight frown on her lips as she thought. Then her gaze flickered back up to him, troubled but no less trusting of him.

"That...is perhaps what he would do, and why he suspects you. I think...sometimes, people view the world not how it is, but how they are. What he said about you...about my father...and...and he was going to hurt me-" Her voice failed her towards the end, the terror coming back to her, freezing her blood and leaving the bitter taste of fear in her mouth.

It would not do She swallowed and pressed on, calmer and more composed-the young woman determined in her own soft, quiet way.

"I have never imagined so hostile a person." She said softly. A lady did not speak ill of others, and part of her regrets it-but part of her doesn't. Surely there was some redeeming qualities to the hungry man-but she can't fathom what they would be right now, not with the memory of his cruel grin seared into her mind.

"...my father calls me Ellie." She says after a moment, gaze drifting back up to his. "You were telling me about your nickname...?" She reminds softly. Better, kinder topics. Something civil, normal-something other than the past few days of awful, being talked over and about rather than to.
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Old 05-01-2018, 05:07 PM   #10
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“I know it, Sir Tomas”

All the tension that Fleece had been holding in his body fell away at Lady Eleanor’s words. She trusted him, felt safe with him. Hadn’t believed Fisher’s foul lies. He felt… flattered, happy, almost… pure. As if this sweet girl could somehow sense his inner nature, and found it trustworthy. Good. Pure. When he looked within himself these days, he was unsure what he saw.

He nodded mutely at her suggestion that Fisher was seeing his own motivations and corruption in others, assuming all were like him. But perhaps this sweet girl was the same… feeling no malice, and so seeing none in others. But no… or not quite, anyway. Whatever he was, he was not like Fisher and never would be. He remembered the words of some of the old sages that his tutor had taught him… if you would be trusted, be trustworthy. Be worthy of this girl’s trust.

Fleece did not want to speak of Fisher or his threats. Such things were vile, and not to be dwelled upon, especially not in her hearing. He jumped at the chance of another topic.

“My nickname? Fleece? It’s a silly thing, Lady Eleanor. Before the war, when I joined the army, I spent a lot of my pay on better gear. Warmer clothes, things that worked better, things that fitted better. I once had a regiment cloak re-tailored with a sheepskin lining against the cold. It was still uniform, I thought it would still be allowed. But although I didn’t keep the cloak long – you can’t have nicer stuff than your commanding officer who took it off me on the spurious grounds that it set a bad example – the nickname stuck for much longer. And I still like better quality gear, little luxuries, you know.”

It felt nice, talking normally about normal things. But reality had to intrude.

“My lady, I have to ask, I’m sorry… but what happened to you, and how did you end up here with those men? What’s gone on her, and how can I serve you?”
Fleece hadn’t completely forgotten the oddity of the first encounter with her former captors, but had pushed it firmly to the back of his mind for now. He’d assumed – everyone had assumed – that this was a straightforward kidnap, but they were a way away from her father’s lands, through lawless country. But perhaps this was a political manoeuvre, to force or blackmail or trick him into the war on one side or another. He racked his brain, but time away from reliable sources of news had left him somewhat adrift of current events.
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Old 05-04-2018, 04:26 AM   #11
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"I...I was picking flowers, was on a walk. Usually I walk with Cynthia, my lady in waiting-but she had taken ill that morning, was miserably sick. I thought I would bring her back some flowers. She likes the purple ones best, the ones that have so many little blooms on one stem?"

She shakes her head, a weak smile. "I'm sorry. That's not quite pertinent is it? What I meant to say was that I was mostly alone. Sir Wells was of course in the field some distance away, was riding one of my father's horses. We were west of the gardens, the ground is more even there, he said."

"I was on the edge of the forest when I heard someone cry for help. I looked back for Sir Wells but...he was gone." Her eyes drift away, a furrow to her brow. She clearly thought this strange-it didn't seem like the Lady Eleanor was used to being alone, and his disappearance was a bit puzzling.

"I'm not allowed in the forest at all, normally. To go anywhere without an escort. But someone sounded hurt and the manor was so very far away...so I went into the woods, and I followed the voice." There was something ominous to the words. Perhaps because he knew how the story ended-with her tied to a tree and helpless. Perhaps because her face lost color, eyes distant and staring at nothing. "And I found a man lying on the ground. He said his leg was broken, that his horse had thrown him. I was very worried-I'm not allowed to ride horses for this reason, my father has forbidden it. I was afraid to move the man, he may have been more hurt than he realized, I thought. I told him I would go get help. I told him I would be right back."

Ellie's eyes returned to his. "And then I turned around and a much larger man grabbed me." Her voice dropped lower, her free hand lifting touch her fingertips absently to her lips. "I dropped my basket and...and I screamed. He did not like that, and he covered my mouth, my nose with one of his very large hands and...I couldn't breathe to scream. I couldn't breathe at all." Her eyes filled with tears again. "All I remember are the flowers strewn across the ground...little purple blooms. And the fear. No one's ever hurt me, Sir Tomas. No one's ever wanted to hurt me. And for a terrible moment...I thought my life was forfeit, and all because a man falsely cried for help, and I answered him."

She shivered.

"Thankfully, I did not die. That was not their intent after all. I woke up to more men and horses, and they were traveling fast through somewhere I did not recognize. I could not speak to reason with them. Once they realized I was awake and once they decided they were far enough away-they made me run behind them, a rope from my wrists to one of their horses." She does not tell him she woke slung over a horse, or the comments that were made about it, about her, about everything. The indignity of that had been terrible enough-she was humiliated then, and she did not wish to suffer that humiliation a second time.

She took in a breath. "The past several days are blurred together in my mind. I am very sorry but I...I am very tired, and I do not wish to speak more on this today, if it pleases you." She took a moment to compose herself yet again, a shake of her head and a discreet swipe at her eyes with her delicate fingers.

She must keep her wits about her as best she can. As terrible as the past few days had been, they were not over just yet. But at least she now had a friend.

"We meet under most grievous circumstances...but you are an honorable man and a friendly face-by virtue of being yourself, you are serving me well already, and I thank you for it and apologize in turn for my poor manners and impression. I do not mean to be unpleasant." She inclined her head, but she looked even more tired than she had before starting on her story.
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Old 05-05-2018, 09:36 AM   #12
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Fleece listened carefully. This sounded like a very carefully planned operation. Lady-in-waiting taken ill, bodyguard nowhere in sight, enough knowledge of the girl’s character to know what bait she would fall for, enough local knowledge to escape in broad daylight with the Lord’s daughter without the alarm being raised or leaving enough of a trial to be tracked down. Doubtless there were more elements to this. Fleece thought how he’d have planned something like this – probably false sightings, false trails, arson at various stables and staging posts, a very precisely planned exit route.

In spite of everything, Fleece couldn’t help feeling a sneaking admiration for the cunning of being able to plan and execute a plan like that. He had a head for this, even if he no longer had the heart.

What was less clear was why they had brought her this way. Granted, it was though territory with absentee nobility, no central law and order, which might explain it. But a lot would depend on their ultimate destination. That man’s words about putting on a good show. For who? For what? Why? Obviously mistaken identity.

One other element of her story bothered him. Making her run behind a horse. As she spoke, Fleece glanced at her slippered shoes. Filthy beyond cleaning, no doubt, but running in them? And why would they have made her do that? It would only have slowed them down. If she wasn’t allowed out without an escort, wasn’t allowed into the forest, wasn’t allowed to ride horses, she presumably wasn’t allowed to go cross country running. Her complexion spoke of time indoors rather than out. Perhaps it had been a punishment, perhaps pre-emptive, to keep her in line. The real reason did not cross his mind.

Doubt crossed his mind for a moment. What if all wasn’t as it seemed? What if she wasn’t what she seemed? He dismissed it in a moment… surely no actress could dissemble so well, could play the part so convincingly. But the doubts pushed back… what if? Fleece allowed himself to set that aside for a moment and pursue the argument. What would he do if he were to fake such a thing? Rip her dress a bit more, just a little. Have her more… not flirty… tactile. Clingy. But why would anyone do this? To what end? And how and why would one find a lead actress talented enough to pull this off while at the same time willing to risk… what Fisher proposed to do. No, whatever else was going on, she was the real victim of a real kidnapping.

“Thank you for telling me” said Fleece, “I know that wasn’t easy. I-“
Darlow approached with a waterskin and a hessian sack with some fruit and bread. He avoided eye contact with Lady Eleanor, acknowledging her presence with a bow of the head, and handing the waterskin and food to Fleece, leaving again without a word. Fleece passed both over, unable to resist a little smile at the young man’s shyness.

“You’ve been through a lot, my lady, and you owe know apologies to anyone. I thank you for your trust in me… I don’t think you know what that means. Look, I’ve got the beginnings of a plan. Don’t worry about Fisher and Curtis and his vote – I’m right, and I’ll win it. But one more thing I have to ask… I don’t want you to make you relive any of it, but… have any idea why you were kidnapped? Did anyone say anything? Who they were working for, what they were doing, where they were going? Anything might be useful. Your maid was mysteriously ill, your guard vanished… perhaps they were loyal and were got at, perhaps not. We may need to make decisions about who to trust, once we’re out of here.”
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Old 05-08-2018, 01:38 AM   #13
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Ellie's mind had drifted back to the kidnapping, her throat tight as she remembered the way her lungs had burned for air and the way she'd struggled against the much larger man, one of her arms pinned to her side and her fingers fruitlessly trying to pry the large hand away from her face. The blurred image of those little purple blooms and overturned basket getting darker and darker around the edges...

Darlow had returned and Ellie pulled herself back to smile at him and offer a soft "Thank you."-but he was quick to leave. Nervous around nobles perhaps? He needn't be, she was so very grateful to him for disobeying Fisher.

The water was cold and welcome as it splashed against the back of her dry throat, the girl loosening the sack almost absently as Fleece spoke. She wasn't very hungry, though she supposed she should be.

"Look, I’ve got the beginnings of a plan. Don’t worry about Fisher and Curtis and his vote-"

Those honey hazel eyes returned to him, and it was clear she'd been very worried indeed about the vote. Even now she's not able to completely let go of the anxiety-but she trusted Fleece to see her through.

His reassurance encouraged her to talk more about her frightful journey thus far, wanting to help him help her. Perhaps there would be something that might help him-but she couldn't imagine what.

" Your maid was mysteriously ill, your guard vanished… perhaps they were loyal and were got at, perhaps not. We may need to make decisions about who to trust, once we’re out of here."

Ellie's eyes widened, and it was immediately obvious she had not considered this possibility-nor did she believe it. "N-no one in our household would betray my father. Or...or me, surely not. Cynthia would never, and Sir Wells has been very loyal-he's a knight!"

Though...where had her protector gone? Had he been attacked also? Oh how terrible, she hadn't even thought about her father's poor knight. But...she would have surely heard it, wouldn't she have? No, no, he must have just...gone back for something, become distracted, briefly took his eyes off of her. Something Sir Roderick, her normal escort and an old friend of her father's, would have never done. She felt guilty for thinking it, but...this would have never happened had he been with her. But he had been called away these past few months.

She pressed her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes, hoping Sir Wells was alright, that her father was not being too hard on him. She then tries to think of anything that might be useful from the past few days. "They said all sorts of things, but nothing I dare to repeat, Sir Tomas." Her brow furrows, eyes still closed, her lashes the same honey blonde color as her hair.

"It...is possible they had camped here before...? They seemed to know this place, enough to want to stop here for some time. Otherwise...otherwise I do not know why someone would do this. I...I assumed they were very desperate for money, and thought a ransom would ease their burdens...?"

She shook her head softly and opened her eyes, looking to him once more. "No one spoke -to- me. About me, but not to me. They knew my name, and they knew my father, but of much else I am uncertain...other than they must have left notice while I was unconscious, for I never saw anyone leave to deliver a ransom demand."

She blearily looks back to the ropes. "I am ashamed to admit it, but eventually I ceased to think much at all. It was...easier that way."
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Old 05-08-2018, 06:47 PM   #14
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Fleece shook his head and found himself taking her hands in his.

“You have nothing to reproach yourself with, my lady. You’ve done really well to remember that much. The guilt or innocence of your maid and your bodyguard… who knows? Your father will get to the bottom of it, see the rights and the wrongs of it, I’m sure. But you’ve done well – noticing that those men camped here before, or planned to camp here. That’s good, that’s really good. Or at least useful. I think they were due to meet someone, but met us instead. I think… I don’t know, but I think… I think this was more than common banditry. I smell… I smell politics. And if those men were expecting someone else, that someone else is probably still out there. I think-“

Fleece was cut short by Curtis, who had strode over to join them, laying his hand on Fleece’s arm.

“Sorry to interrupt you two lovebirds, but-“

Fleece glared daggers at him, and Curtis hesitated for a moment, surprised at the ferocity of the reaction.

“But we need to go now” he continued, his voice low but in a tone that would brook no argument. “You, me, her, three man you trust, two I trust. We’re going to head back towards camp, you’re going to knock me out and threaten the other two. Tie us all up, hide us somewhere, the rest of you run. I’ll make something up about which way you were headed, cause some confusion, something like that.”

“No, that’s a bad idea” replied Fleece, shaking his head. “I can win the vote tonight.”

“No” answered Curtis, shaking his head, suddenly weary, “no you can’t, Fleece. You’re right, of course, but they won’t listen. Not enough of them. Fisher’s been waiting for this, for the right moment. You might have a chance if we’d had a really tough battle, but these bast- this shower think they’re invincible now, capable of taking on any Lord’s army. They don’t need you. You’d have a chance if they were sober, but you and I know fine well that they won’t be. The best you’ll get is ransom, the worst… let’s not think about. Run.”

“What about you, Curtis?”

“Don’t worry about me. I’m running too. It’s like you said… half of them will be dead before the month’s out. Me and my boys don’t fancy being among them, and we sure as h…eck want nothing to do with kidnapping young noblewomen, or worse. You had a good run here, Fleece. We had a good run. But the balance of power… it’s shifting, and has been for some weeks now. All I ask in return” he continued, turning to Lady Eleanor, “is either a place in your father’s service, or a letter of recommendation from him, for me and my boys, if we make it to his lands. Will your father grant us that, do you think? If we get you out, and delay the others long enough for you to escape?"
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Old 05-10-2018, 02:49 AM   #15
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Ellie's upset and very tired, no smile for him this time-just those large, attentive honey hazel eyes returning to his as he took her hands and offered reassurances, some of her upset quieting. Yes, her father would know what to do, was a just man. He would not be cruel to Sir Wells or Cynthia. Fleece had been right-the country side was most likely being turned upside down, he'd hardly have the time for it. After all, she had been scared half to death and introduced to cruel men she had never previously fathomed-but her father was living his worst nightmare.

"I smell…I smell politics. And if those men were expecting someone else, that someone else is probably still out there."

Ellie's not sure what to make of that initially, but the end of the thought made the spine prickle with renewed fear. She does not want to be recaptured. If this was a political maneuver against her father by one of his enemies and not a ransom attempt, she might be in more danger than she had thought.

“Sorry to interrupt you two lovebirds, but-“

Ellie's eyes dropped to where Fleece held her hands. She withdrew them immediately, looking a bit chastened, maybe even a mite embarrassed.

It didn't linger long-she was quickly absorbed in the older man's low, conspiratorial words, mystified-and then surprised. An escape. A true escape, no chance of a vote going poorly, of rescuers turning into captors.

Her eyes flicked back to Fleece as he debated the fact-and then back to Curtis who pressed his opinion plainly. She agreed with him. Fleece meant well and she believed in his promise with all her heart-but there were frightening dissenters who cared not for nobles. He was only one man, he could not fight them all.

But this new plan involved lying and danger, danger Curtis was willing to brave in order to help them escape. "Won't you come with us?" Ellie asked worriedly, looking like she might cry again. "What if they do not believe you?" She felt terrible for being discovered and causing so much trouble, the seeming catalyst for the breakage of this militia, if that was what it was.

She needed to focus. If they were to flee she mustn't fall apart now. Without someone to mislead and confuse pursuers, they might all be overtaken. She couldn't bear any more violence today. Curtis seemed to know what he was talking about. He saw the threat of Fisher and believed the awful man could create a powerstir greater than anything Fleece could attempt to quell-that the victory today had emboldened them.

No, she did not wish to wait for any vote. She also could not make it home alone. She took a deep breath, her eyes earnest and without guile when she spoke next. "He would never turn away so loyal a servant, Sir Curtis. Make your way to Lyons with those loyal to you. I will not forget you, and shall send word ahead when I can." She paused, searching for something else to say, something to properly express her gratitude- but nothing seemed enough.

"God bless you, sir. Be safe."
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Old 05-13-2018, 06:54 AM   #16
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And with that, it was decided. While most of the self-styled Northbridge People’s Militia chased down horses, finished looting, or buried the dead, Curtis, two of his men, Lady Eleanor, Fleece, Darlow, Puppy, and Sarge set off back towards the camp. Confident in their victory and in their mastery of their territory, no further escort was deemed necessary. Fisher took Curtis at his word to oversee fair play, and in any case, thought Fleece was not foolhardy enough to try to flee with the girl – they would surely not get far – and too proud and too arrogant to resist trying to win the vote.

All did not go quite according to plan. While Fleece and Sarge, a grizzled infantry sergeant of a similar vintage to Curtis, could play menacing and intimidating reasonably well, the same could not be said for Darlow, the taciturn ranger, or Puppy, the even younger former farmboy-turned messenger-turned-militiaman. Neither intimidation nor dissembling came naturally to him, and him trying to screw up his open, freckled features into a badass scowl was more comical that scary.

Even prior to that, knocking a man out in a single blow while avoiding risking permanent harm when you’ve no stomach for attacking him is much harder than it looks. Fleece’s attempt was weak, and although Curtis faked being stunned, it had got the deception off to an inauspicious start.

In any case, Curtis’ men weren’t stupid, or at least one of them – Austen - wasn’t. Something didn’t smell right.
“Don’t fucking patronise me with this ridiculous fucking… pantomime” he’d barked, “what’s really going on? You letting the girl escape? Going after the reward Fleece mentioned? That’s fine, but you’ve got to cut us in.”

Or silence us. The unspoken option remained unspoken. Austen rightly gambled that they wouldn’t.

Eventually satisfied that they were only kept in the dark to prevent them from having to carry a lie, Curtis’ men were happy enough to play along. They too had had enough of Fisher, and it became clear to Fleece that the influential Curtis may already have been planning something, or at least thinking of the next step for his people, those he’d brought with him, and those attracted into his orbit since. Fleece didn’t know Austen well, and was heartened by his obvious disdain and distaste for Fisher. Former professional soldiers seemed to be better able to tell an effective leader from a rabble-rousing bully.

The upside of the attempted-deception falling flat was that it gave the more time. Curtis and his men had the task of convincingly faking injuries sustained, and could take their time in escaping from their bonds and raising the alarm. It also gave them more time to plan their explanations. They were going to spin a story about Fleece knowing that Curtis was ‘too honourable’ to break his word, and that Fleece felt he had no option but to take the girl, as disaster would befall them all if Fisher had his way. They were ready to start an argument… to start a fight if it came to it. Either would buy them time.

* * * * * *

“Right, here’s the plan. Puppy, you’re to ride hard, fast, and direct to Lord Roland’s lands. The north road is fastest. I’ll wager you’ll meet search parties long before then – tell them what’s happened, but only if you’re absolutely sure they’re his. Once you’ve found them, continue on until you find Lord Roland himself.”

“Darlow, you’re to do the same thing, but take the east road. It’s longer, but the road is better and might be faster if the weather turns, and we don’t know how much of the trail Lord Roland has.”

“We’re… you’ll forgive me if I don’t tell you what we’re going to do. Better that way. Now… Lady Eleanor, the lads here need something to make sure they’re believed, that they’re from you. Maybe… something they could ask to make sure that whoever they encounter is from your father, maybe something they could say about you, or something only you’d know, or I don’t know. And not something obvious that could have been forced from you… I don’t know. I’m probably not being very clear.”
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Old 05-15-2018, 02:28 AM   #17
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The plan did not go very well, but luckily Curtis and Fleece had both chosen very loyal, very good men, and honesty was chosen over continued lying-at least between their group of eight.

They were taking a great risk, and once that was settled Fleece turned to his own loyal companions and set them on their tasks. Ellie paid attention to these orders, the young noblewoman of little help with directions and paths home-but at last a way to help in the immediate.

There was no password she could offer, no riddle for her father's men unless she knew them personally, and even then...

"You will not need to tell these men anything." Ellie drew herself up to her full yet admittedly diminutive height, wishing to inspire in them an authority to speak in her stead, to tell her father's men their quest and press on ahead. "You will tell them only that you have a message from the Lady Eleanor to Lord Lyons, and were bidden to speak only to him." That would keep them safe-no one would dare interfere if they truly served her father, surely not.

She hesitated then. But what would such a message be? "A-and when you do see my father..." She worried at her lower lip, eyes drifting away a moment before returning, earnest. "Tell him I am very worried for him, and very sorry to have caused him distress. Tell him..." She thought of so many things to say. Was he eating? Had he slept in the days since her kidnapping? He mustn't sacrifice his health...she wished she had the paper, the ink to write to him, or the power to fly to his side and ease his fears for her safety. He always worried so. She couldn't bear to think him suffering.

"Tell him to take heart in mother's star, as he once bid me to do." She finished quietly. This cryptic message clearly had great meaning to Ellie-her small hands came together and to her lips, a softness to her eyes and delicate features. "Be safe on your journey. Enough blood has been shed on my account as it is."
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Old 05-26-2018, 03:41 PM   #18
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Fleece nodded approvingly. That was good, very good. Just the kind of thing he had in mind.

Puppy repeated it once to himself, thought for a moment, and then repeated “heart, mother, star, right.”

Darlow was muttering it to himself under his breath when Lady Eleanor’s next comment cut him short.

"Be safe on your journey. Enough blood has been shed on my account as it is."
Darlow looked up at her, making proper eye contact for the first time, a look of wonder on his face that a noble would care for his safety.

“Thank you, your ladyship” he said, surprised. But he dropped his gaze a moment later and was occupied in muttering the pass phrase to himself.

“We’ll get the message out, Lady Eleanor” said Puppy, full of youthful bravado. “Fastest rider in the whole of the marches!” he boasted, tapping his chest with his fist. “Darlow here knows his stuff too. He ain’t as quick as me, but he knows these woods like no-one else. All this will be over soon. And Fleece… Fleece here… cunning as a fox, this one, and a proper gentleman too. You’re in safe hands.”

“Less bragging, more riding, boy” said Fleece, not unkindly.

Puppy vaulted into the saddle. He was suddenly solemn, realising that a chapter in his life was coming to an end. Darlow too, satisfied that he’d learnt his line, prepared to leave.

“Till we meet again. Fleece, Darlow” he nodded to each in turn, “Your ladyship”… as deep a bow as he could manage on horseback…. “I hope the ale is good in Lyon, then. I look forward to drinking your health, my lady. You’re buying, Captain.” He gave a mock salute to Fleece.

Darlow had the sense that something needed to be said, but wasn’t quite sure what.
“Better off out” he said, “Better this way. You were right.”

“Ride hard, ride fast. Remember what I said... find Lord Roland’s men, be sure it’s them. Remember what she said…be safe. Then a new life in Lyon.” Fleece grasped each man by the hand, and they were off. He said nothing for a few moments, watching them go, until they were out of sight.

Fleece looked Lady Eleanor up and down.

“I hope you won’t mind me saying, Lady Eleanor, but you do stand out a little. We need to move quickly and attract as little attention as possible. With your beauty, that’s going to be difficult, but that dress is very distinctive. None but the very wealthy can afford dyes like that. I know where we can get something less eye-catching, but we need to get there first, and I don’t want to give away our direction of travel. So… there’s a place nearby where I have some things stashed… I didn’t anticipate ever needing a dress, though, so we might have to improvise. And you’ll forgive me if I don’t address you by your proper title from this point on. I’ll need to call you something else. And if you can’t ride, you’ll need to ride with me… neither of which, I know, is entirely proper.”
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Old 05-30-2018, 07:04 AM   #19
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They were both so very brave. They all were.

Ellie spared a moment for an internal prayer, a plea for their safety and a fervent hope for an eventual reunion under better, safer circumstances. Fisher had been wrong. She would no more forget their services to her and her father than she would her own name.

She watched them along with Fleece, until at last they disappeared and Fleece turned to her, another sweeping glance that had her following his gaze, a delicate hand grasping her skirt and a frown on her lips to see the tears here and there where branches and brambles had caught it, the dirt at the hem.

She blinked and glanced up at his flattery but he moved along easily, a head for the business at hand and a gentleman's demeanor, as always. This had been her favorite gown. Now she scarcely wanted to see it again, even if it had not been ruined.

She could have fared much worse, however.

"You...can call me Ellie. We are friends now, are we not?" One of her tired yet sincere smiles, a warmth and kindness to her eyes and face despite the weariness. He was noble too. It might be unseemly, but there was no one to judge them and besides-she had never been to court and probably never would be.

As for riding...well, that she was a little more hesitant about that. She had never been allowed before...and the familiarity that might require for them to ride together...

"I understand we need to make do." She said agreeably and softly, if a little hesitant. "I trust in your counsel and hope...hope you will not judge me too swiftly if I follow it. I understand that now is the time for practicalities Sir Tomas. I can be very good at being practical." A nod and small curtsy. "Now that we have seen your comrades safely off, I suppose we will be heading to this safe place of yours?"

Improvise...as in a disguise? But if he had no dress, how would they conceal her gown? Ellie wasn't sure. She was so tired, she could hardly think that far ahead of him in all honesty.
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Old 06-04-2018, 05:23 PM   #20
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Ellie” Fleece repeated, trying the name out for size and starting the required mental adjustment. The poor girl looked exhausted, but could still summon up her pretty smile for him. He found himself holding eye contact with her for a heartbeat longer than was comfortable, and several more than was proper. He smiled back. He felt strangely at peace, the pressure of the momentous decisions he’d made in the last few hours resting lightly for a few moments. Everything seemed clear, and everything seemed simple. Comparatively.

“And indeed we are friends” he continued, touched, “and so you must call me Fleece, or just plain Tomas if you prefer. We’re going to ride through the woods, Ellie. Riding hard and fast, along some trails that I know that the others may not. You can wear my cloak, but it won’t completely hard your dress, and I don’t want to leave any clues, no sightings, not this close. So I need you to ride with me, ride in front of me, hold on tight, and trust me.”

He removed his cloak and passed it to her. He was about to help her into the saddle and then looked at her doubtfully for a moment, frowning, trying to work out the mechanics. He didn’t have a side saddle, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to risk her sitting sideways in front of him where he couldn’t catch her if she fell.
“You might need to, er….I don’t know how much give there is in that dress” he continued, reaching for a knife from his belt. “You might need to cut it” he said, “you’ll know better than me. We can find something else later, or repair it, and the cloak will cover you”.

Fleece felt his face reddening. He decided not to be embarrassed.
“Tell you what, let me help you into the saddle, sit forward, see how it feels.”
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Old 06-06-2018, 02:24 AM   #21
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"So I need you to ride with me, ride in front of me, hold on tight, and trust me."

Ellie nodded solemnly, her honey colored hazel eyes attentive to what he told her, if a little anxious. At the same time, she was glad to be with a friend, now. It felt less like she was living a nightmare every minute she spent in Sir Tomas' company. Things would be okay. A little uncomfortable perhaps, and still with the threat of great danger behind them-but she trusted him to help her as best he could. He had already demonstrated his trustworthiness, his desire to help.

She prayed it would not lead to dire consequences.

"Thank you...Tomas." She said as he handed her his cloak. It was strange to leave off the honorific. To be so familiar. But they were, indeed, friends now. It was nice, in a way, after so much roughness and fear. She tied the garment neatly in front of her throat, her petite, lithe form somewhat swallowed up-but not entirely, a flash of blue when she moved. He paused and so did she, her eyes moving from the saddle-rather uncertain about the height and size of the animal she'd been forbidden to ride or even venture too close to-to look up at him instead.

"You might need to, er….I don’t know how much give there is in that dress."

Ellie glanced down, then back to his face, slightly quizzical. She had assumed she'd be riding sidesaddle but...perhaps not. "You might need to cut it."

The young woman blinked, eyes flickering back to her gown. "Oh." A brief pause. "Yes I...I suppose that makes sense." It would be far more indecent if they did not cut the dress-it was a simple yet pretty gown, a simple a line cut with some flare-but not like the full skirts and petticoats of other, fuller dresses.

"If we perhaps cut...here, on the side-" She ventured slowly, a rather fetching blush rising to her cheeks as she indicated the side and how high-just above her knee. She also tried to ignore her embarrassment, remembering what she had said about being practical, about making do. He was a gentlemen, he would overlook the impropriety of her exposing her stocking covered calf and knee, she was...she was sure. And, rather fervently, she hoped he would not judge her for doing so. The cloak would cover it, and then her dress would be free to serve it's purpose on the other side.

The task would be easy enough, given the sharp blade of his knife-her pretty blush coloring further. She was wearing white thigh high stockings, and what was maybe light blue garter ribbons to hold them up, the tail of one briefly in view before she shifted the cloak back with a small, feminine clearing of her throat. "Thank you." She decided on, quick to shift the topic, keeping her graceful bearing decently enough despite the telling bit of color to her face.

"Your horse is...he is a good horse?" It seemed she was a little nervous, and no wonder-she'd been forbidden to ride. Her father had not frightened her from them exactly-but she knew there was a risk of being thrown, or at least-that was why she had not previously been allowed. "I-I'm sure he is." Nervous, but polite-and quick to soothe what might be taken as insult.
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Old 06-13-2018, 02:27 PM   #22
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Fleece was expecting Ellie to take the knife from him, and he would turn his back like a proper gentleman while she made the necessary adjustments to her dress. He should have realised that it would be very difficult – if not impossible – for her to perform impromptu dressmaking alterations while still wearing it. And neither time nor decorum would think of having her remove it entirely.

She blushed prettily, but was obviously doing her best to remain practical and to trust him, as he’d requested. He couldn’t help but think back to what Fisher would have done to Ellie, and the contrast between her maidenly blush at having to show a bit of calf and the violence and violation he would have inflicted upon her…

Fleece felt the anger rising within him again. Anger at Fisher, and those who followed him. How could he have allied himself with such men for so long? Made common cause with such as them.

Because he had little choice. Because he had been wounded, hunted, and alone. And because for every Fisher, there was a Puppy, and a Darlow, and Curtis, and his men. Perhaps one day he would be able to protect people, to do the right thing, without such grubby compromises.

Fleece took a breath, and made short work of cutting a slit in the side of Ellie’s dress, pulling the material taut from the hem. The sharp knife cut neatly through the material with a soft tearing sound.

“You’d never employ me as a dressmaker, but this will have to do” he muttered, half to himself.

“Don’t you worry about the horse” Fleece continued, in response to her nervous chatter, “You worry about holding on tight. No sudden movements. Now… we need to get going, quick. Take a step closer to the horse, grab hold of the saddle, put your foot in my hands, and swing yourself over…. Careful, not so roughly that you fall over the other side. Good, now… hang on to the front of the saddle.”

Once he was confident that she was secure and balanced enough, he swung himself up behind her, taking a leap and pulling on the saddle as little as possible. He landed behind her.

“All right? Now, I’m going to take the reins, and all you need to do is relax, stay upright, keep your balance. I’ll have my arms either side of you, you can lean back against me if you like, and keep your eyes open, or close them as you prefer. I’ll start with a trot, then a canter, then a gallop once you’re ready. We’ll be flying through the forest, but don’t worry, Tempo is sure-footed, and knows the way.”
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Old 06-16-2018, 01:57 AM   #23
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Ellie accepted his help and managed to seat herself in the saddle without making too much a fool of herself, though having to sit astride anything, let alone a leather saddle with a slit cut into one side of her dress-ah, but better than being tied up and slung over the back of one instead, she reminded herself. It was a little dizzying to be up so high on a living, breathing beast, one she'd been forbidden from riding previously however, but she found comfort in holding tightly to the pommel, her knees pressed into either side.

Sir Tomas joined her with practiced surety, his voice just behind and above her ear, her being so much smaller than him. As unseemly as it might of been for them to be so very close, she felt much better with his arms on either side of her up here. Safe.

Especially as he so very calmly explained their next steps, the sound of his voice reassuring-Ellie nodded along agreeably, even if still a little worried looking-before he finished, and she found something pleasant to think on, or at least to say.

"That...that is a lovely name for a horse, I think." She ventured, keeping her back straight and separate from his chest, though how long she might manage to do so she wasn't sure. She was so tired, more tired than she had ever been in her life. Her limbs felt laden with it, heavy.

"And clever, as a horse does keep time, in a way." She continued, turning her head a little to glance back at him. "I trust you, and so I trust him, too." One of those small, pretty smiles.

Once in motion she turned her face back, a slightly anxious expression he couldn't see and a stiffness to her shoulders beneath his cloak. She forgot about keeping that space between them and in her distraction and mild alarm, found her back to his chest, fingers tightening on the pommel. "B-but I would not like to fall-" She said anxiously, no longer quite caring about any impropriety here-she'd rather feel steady and safe than worry about decorum.
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Old 06-18-2018, 06:23 PM   #24
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Lady Eleanor smiled one of her pretty smiles at him, expressing her trust in him. He nodded in response, and as she turned back to face the trail ahead, Fleece felt an almost overwhelming impulse to ruffle her hair. He found himself reaching forwards to do it, but checked himself in time. Friends or not, on the run or not, this was hardly appropriate. What had come over him? She was just so sweet and disarming….

He shook his head, trying to clear his mind. As promised, he nudged temp into a walk, then a trot. He felt Lady Eleanor – Ellie – lean back against him, and saw her tense. He didn’t quite catch what she said, but the meaning was clear enough.
“Just relax against me” he said, into her ear. “Hold on tight, keep your balance as best you can. Let me support you, and you won’t fall, I promise.”

As she seemed to relax a little, Fleece urged Tempo into a faster trot, then finally a canter along the forest trail. They flew along, Fleece occasionally having to duck a low branch, or urge Tempo onward. They splashed through a shallow stream, then on through the woods, following the twists and turns of the track, taking a fork here, a turning there, for a good quarter hour before Fleece reigned Tempo in.

“We’re here” said Fleece, looking round.

This part of the forest looked much like any other, but Fleece inclined his head upwards, up a very climbable tree, to a small wooden structure, about thirty feet up in the branches, partly hidden by the tree canopy.

“I need to get a few things for the journey. I’ve got some clothes… good, sturdy travel wear, probably all too big for you, but perhaps something can be done. I’ll just head up now and throw you down a rope ladder.”
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Old 06-25-2018, 02:10 AM   #25
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" -you won’t fall, I promise."

With her back to his chest and his arms on either side of her, this was easy to believe, and she relaxed somewhat.

Ellie did not close her eyes. She wanted to see where they were going, and...and she'd never ridden a horse before. It was somewhat uncomfortable but also strange-each heavy footfall of Tempo recoiled through his back beneath them. Powerful animals, horses. And with her fear of falling soothed, she could even see how it might be...fun? But this was no time for fanciful considerations such as that-she's so very tired.

In no time at all (and after she finally loosened her tight grip of the pommel) they arrived at...more forest. Ellie frowned, a glance to Fleece over her shoulder. She followed his gaze upward. "Oh!"

She brightened visibly. To have a hiding place up in the trees- "How very clever." He swung down and helped her to the ground also, moving to the tree. He would have to climb, Ellie realized. That made her a little anxious.

"Do be careful, Tomas." She worried, the petite lass in her tattered dress watching him from the safety of the forest floor. "I-it looks awfully high up."

Climbing trees was most certainly not for ladies, and surely something her father would have forbidden, had he not already forbidden her from going into the forest-unsafe!

Tempo paid her no mind, not much for conversation. Her eyes follow the trees surrounding her in every direction-and she feels uneasy. She'd rather climb and be in Sir Tomas' company than stay down here alone, even if for only a few minutes.

She doesn't like to be alone.

When the ladder unfurled, each of her smaller hands rose to grasp at the rough textured rope, a determined expression to her features as she glanced down and tried to pay careful attention to where her feet were-but the effect of that was a bit dizzying. To her destination then-careful careful. Keeping her balance was...not quite the most graceful of endeavors, but once she started up she caught the hang of it, and was aloft in no time.

"Goodness." She murmured as she peered back down, paling a little-but she didn't sway, merely stepped swiftly back with a shake of her head. She had climbed very high. It felt like something of an accomplishment, a triumph to have done so despite her trepidation about the height.

She smiled at him, then gave a look about the platform. "I would have never thought to have such a hiding place. It is clever."
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