Four horses were walking slowly on the road, their riders walking alongside them enjoying the warm afternoon sun. After a few days of rain the four friends had rode west on an errand for Merry the inn keeper. She was running out of spices and the market was empty for a couple of weeks as merchants were reluctant to travel at this weather to a small village like their own.
Arthur had offered to ride and find the spices in a nearby village and the four have decided they can all do with a day ride. Riding west, they couldn’t find the needed spices in the first couple of villages but the third was a much bigger village that had a roaming market where they browsed around the different booths, enjoying some fresh fruits.
Finally, a bit later than they had originally planned, the four returned to their horses and headed back with Merry’s spices. It didn’t seem they were going to make it back before sunset but they were carrying their weapons with them in the saddle bags, hoping they won’t need to use them.
Following the road, they were passing in the woods trying to make up some time when they got to the clear path.
“Had anyone felt we are being watched?” Cathy asked.
Arthur nodded though Peter, started to answer: “No, I haven’t seen…” He was cut short by shouts from behind them.
“HELP…. HELP…. PLEASE HELP….”
They couldn’t see who was shouting because of the turn in the road but the calls were getting closer.
A moment later two girls appeared running towards them, the four headed towards them readying themselves if they would need to draw out their swords while Gwen was already holding her bow at the ready.
“What is it?” Arthur called towards the girls who were heading towards them fast. “Is someone after you?” he added.
The two had stopped a few feet short of the four, panting breathless and holding their side. From up close the two looked very much alike, two sisters was probably the best definition. They were about the same age at fifteen years old, very slim and tall, a bit taller than Cathy but still shorter than Peter. One of the two had a bright red long hair while the other had a bright blond hair almost white.
“No… Nothing like that…“ said the one with the blond hair.
“Are you Arthur?” the redhead asked Peter, looking at him with a love-struck look.
“No, he isn’t” Cathy smiled ignoring the look she got from Peter. “He is the one you are looking for” she pointed towards Arthur.
“Thank you” the redhead said, still keeping her eyes on Peter who couldn’t stop himself from blushing.
Arthur introduced the four quickly. “How can we help you?” he asked.
“This is Ann, and my name is Maggi. We need your help, please” the blond said.
“What is it?” Cathy asked.
“Her father, my uncle is missing” Maggi said, “We haven’t seen him for a couple of days” she continued.
“Where could he have gone?” Peter asked.
“He is a farmer. Usually he doesn’t stay out, but if he does he sleeps in a shed at the far side of our farm” Ann said, looking at Peter the whole time.
“Have you checked the shed?” Cathy tried.
“Of course, but it didn’t look like someone had slept there at all” Ann answered.
“He might be dead somewhere” Maggi intervened, and with that Ann began to cry.
Peter pleaded to Arthur with his eyes. They were all looking for him to make a decision.
“We’ll try and help you” Arthur said nodding his head, “Merry will manage without the spices a bit longer” he said to Cathy who looked inquiring at him.
The six of them started riding back the same road they just passed. Ann was riding behind Peter while Maggi was riding with Cathy. They were making good time but the sun was setting very fast. Maggi had pointed them into a fork in the road which they haven’t noticed on the way over. It was a small path leading deep into the woods. “This is the direction to their house” she said to Cathy and the rest have followed behind her.
They had stopped in front of an old wooden cabin in a small clearing. “We should rest for the night” Maggi said after jumping off Cathy’s Horse, “We can’t look for him at this late hour” she explained.
Peter quickly dismounted and helped Ann down. He followed her into the cabin followed by Gwen who quickly joined them, leaving Arthur and Cathy still on their horses looking around.
“Something is wrong” Cathy whispered to Arthur when she brought her horse next to his.
Arthur nodded slowly. “This isn’t their house” he whispered, “In fact no one has been here in a while.”
This time it was Cathy’s turn to nod. “I have seen the spider webs on the door as well” She said. “What do you…”
“Are you coming in?” Peter called from the door, “We are trying to find something to eat” he said, behind him Maggi appeared in the doorstep.
The two didn’t answer, but dismounted and tied their horses to a tree near Peter’s and Gwen’s, the horses looked happy with the break and grazed together in comfort.
From the inside the cabin didn’t look much better than from the outside. There were two rooms, a small fire place which looked like it hadn’t been lit in a while, and dust and spider webs every which way they looked. The inner room was small without any windows and the only furniture were a few blankets which were spread on the floor.
“Will have to bring some food from the saddle bags” Peter surprised Arthur from behind, interrupting his thoughts.
“Peter, are you sure…” Arthur stopped when he saw Ann looking at them.
“Sure of what?” Peter asked.
“Well… sure there isn’t anything to eat here, they must have something” Arthur tried.
“No there is nothing” Maggi came close and intervened. “My uncle was, I mean is very poor.”
Arthur nodded slowly. “I’ll get some food, can someone help me?” he asked.
Peter pleaded him with his eyes not to ask him, “Gwen, can you help me?”
Gwen was out the door before Arthur finished his question.
“This place frightens me” she said to Arthur, “Where are we going?” she asked when she saw he wasn’t heading for the horses.
“I need to check something” Arthur said. They walked a full circle around the cabin and Arthur headed back to their horses. Knowing Gwen was much faster than him, he asked her: “Can you take our weapons and put them at the back right corner of the house in the woods?”
“You got a bad feeling as well?” she asked, knowing his mind was always working.
“Just love-struck Peter isn’t seeing it” Arthur said.
“So why aren’t we leaving?” Gwen asked.
“We need to find out what it is” he explained and handed Gwen his sword, quiver and bow.
From the corner of his eye he could see her running with both their equipment. Though it was heavy on her small slender body she was managing it very well. In the meantime Arthur unpacked food that Merry had packed for their day journey. There wasn’t enough but it was as much as they were going to get.
“Is everything alright?” Maggi shouted from the doorstep.
Arthur turned around quickly, relieved to see Gwen already beside him smiling to indicate of a job well done.
“Yes, thank you. We were just taking care of the horses” Gwen answered to Maggi’s satisfaction and the three headed inside.
“Look, I’ve got the fireplace working” Peter boasted when they appeared in the door to see a fire lit.
“At least we won’t freeze to death” Cathy murmured, rolling her eyes.
Splitting the food with Peter’s help Ann distributed it to all of them, leaving nothing for the morning.
“Where do you suppose we should look tomorrow?” Arthur asked, keeping his eye on Maggi all the while.
“We… we should head west” Maggi answered.
“Shouldn’t we search the fields first?” Arthur smiled.
“Yes, of course” Maggi quickly answered, “That was what I meant.”
“How did you hear of Arthur?” Cathy inquired, still looking very suspicious at the two.
“Well…, I…. We heard of him…” Ann stammered looking for an answer.
“We should all tuck in early, we have a long day tomorrow” Maggi caught her off. “You will sleep in the second room” she pointed towards the room, “We’ll sleep here” she added.
Ann started to escort the four to the inner room while Maggi cleared their remaining food. From the corner of his eye Arthur saw Maggi head for the window on the far corner. He knew he had to act now.
“We need to get some blankets from our saddles, I’ll be back in a moment” Arthur said to Ann who nodded politely.
“I’ll help you” Gwen quickly joined and the two hurried for the cabin’s door.
“But we don’t have…” Peter started to call after them, only to be interrupted by an elbow in his ribs. Cathy was looking at him with her eyes wide open. “Shut up” She whispered harshly, making Peter look at her wide eyed while rubbing his side.
Ann left the room and suddenly the door shut while something big slammed into the door. “Quickly, bring another chair to block the door” Maggi shouted from the other side of the door.
“Wait” Ann tried to speak but her voice turned squeaky “Two are missing, they went to bring blankets”
On the other side of the door Cathy looked at Peter who was only now realizing what was happening. He ran and slammed his body against the big door, managing to move it slightly only to return to its place by the weight from the other side.
“Stay here, on the door” Maggi ordered Ann, “I’ll get the men. They need all four, maybe they can handle them” her voice was already fading as she retreated outside.
When they left the cabin, the first thing they noticed was their missing horses. Hearing the noise, from the cabin the two increased their pace although still aiming for stealth as well. They weren’t sure where will their attackers be.
Quickly grabbing their weapons the two settled into a position, hidden between the darkness of the trees but still in clear view of the cabin door. Maggi sprinted out of the cabin heading in the opposite direction. It didn’t take long before she returned with two big men carrying long swords and the three stood in front of the cabin looking around.
“Why are you doing this?” Peter shouted to Ann on the other side of the door after he slammed himself a few more times into the door, achieving nothing but an aching shoulder.
“I’m sorry” they barely heard Ann cry from the other side. “They told us you were bad people and promised us gold” she continued.
“Please, you can still let us go” Peter begged.
Ann shook her head only to realize they can’t see her. “I can’t, Maggie will kill me” she cried.
“Move over” they heard a shout from the other side.
Suddenly they could see smoke under the door. “That will bring the other two over” a man laughed from the other side. “Get out” he shouted to Ann.
“They are burning the cabin” Cathy’s eyes widened.
Seeing smoke starting to rise from the cabin Arthur whispered to Gwen, “Aim for the one on the left, I’ll take the one on the right.”
Breathing out the two released their arrows. Gwen’s arrow found its target hitting the man in his thigh, dropping him to the floor. Arthur’s arrow missed the man who moved and scraped Maggi’s arm, making her cry in pain and surprise.
“I’m going in” Arthur called to Gwen already holding his sword in hand, running towards the cabin door.
Gwen’s line of shot was blocked with Arthur’s figure in front of her. Arthur was shouting out loud trying to get their attention. Seeing him with his sword drawn Ann ran away screaming and Maggi was lying on the floor beside the injured man.
“Let’s try together” Cathy shouted as it got harder to breath inside the room.
Peter nodded and the both slammed their shoulders into the door, moving it a bit but something was still jamming the door on the other side.
“She jammed the door” Peter shouted and started to cough as the smoke entered the room.
The two tried again but the door didn’t move any more than it already have.
Arthur slammed his sword hard on the man’s sword, also managing to block and attack again to the sheer surprise of his opponent. He was well trained, starting from lessons from Glen the traveling blacksmith and continuing with a daily training in their small courtyard at the inn.
The two were exchanging blows fast and Arthur was feeling his hands. This man was very strong and Arthur’s hand grew weary.
Taking a step backwards he thought of faking a blow to his right when his leg was pulled from under him. Maggi was still on the ground but she was now holding his heel.
Arthur was on his back still shocked when he saw the man smiling. He raised his sword and was about to swing at Arthur. A short buzzing sound followed by a cry of pain and the man dropped to the ground. An arrow was sticking out of his buttocks.
Taking advantage of these turn of events, Arthur slammed the hilt of his sword into Maggi’s stomach, doubling her into a small twisted shape. Quickly heading for the cabin he found it almost impossible to see inside, the heat was unbearable. Arthur raised his blouse to his mouth and ran inside, covering himself with his cape.
Waiting anxiously for the three to come out, Gwen was holding herself not to run towards the cabin as well. It was taking too long but she needed to stay on the lookout.
Three figures stumbled out of the cabin coughing their lungs out and Gwen started to move happily out of her hiding place towards them.
“Here you are, you little trouble maker” an obnoxious voice said and grabbed her from behind. “That wasn’t nice what you did to my friends over there” he said and pinned her to him, holding a sharp sword to her throat.
The third man threw her bow to the ground and started leading her forward. “One wrong step and you die, is that understood?” he said, licking her ear with his tongue.
The only thing she managed was a short nod. “Good” he said.
“Drop your sword” Arthur heard from the direction where he left Gwen. They barely managed their way out of the cabin, their lungs screaming for air and their faces already black from the smoke.
Gwen was being led by a man pressing a sword to her throat. He didn’t have much chance but to throw his sword on the ground.
One of the men on the ground slowly got up holding his thigh. He grabbed a sword and threw a punch into Arthur’s chin sending him to the floor.
Cathy didn’t get to understand what was going on when the man started walking towards her. She couldn’t do anything as long as Gwen was threatened.
Suddenly everything changed. Gwen’s hand moved quickly grabbing a dagger on her captive’s belt and swiftly stabbing it backwards into his calves. The man screamed in pain but his surprise was enough for Gwen to move away from his reach. Seeing that Cathy roll on the ground coming up standing with Arthur’s sword in hand. Before her attacker could recover she swung fast, making a severe cut on his stomach. Peter rushed from the side and kicked him to the ground, grabbing his sword before he could react.
Arthur woke up almost half an hour later only to see his friends around him looking at him with worried looks.
“Are you okay?” Cathy asked.
“You took quite a blow” Peter smiled.
“Where is everyone? Are you okay?” Arthur asked quickly.
“We are fine, nothing that some water wouldn’t clear” Cathy assured him. “A small group of guards saw the fire from the road and headed over. They took Maggi and her friends.”
“We aren’t sure where Ann is” Peter sighed and looked away from Cathy’s look.
“Did you learn something from them?” Arthur inquired.
“Gwen’s attacker kept yelling to stop shoving our noses where they don’t belong” Cathy shrugged.
“Do you think he meant Lord Grey?” Gwen asked referring to their previous adventures.
“Who knows” Peter smiled. “The good news is that I’ve found our horses. They were waiting for us not far from here.”
“What about Merry’s spices?” Arthur asked and they all laughed.