Lady Thief - By Rizzo Rosko

Chapter One

Hampshire, Autumn 1311

Somewhere in the Royal Forest

Lord William Gray struggled against his kidnappers, but the hands pressing him to his knees were like iron. Ropes squeezed his wrists behind his back and the cloud of dust that wafted upward under his weight made him choke.

He did not know these men, and not one of them could match his strength individually, but together the half dozen of them held him easily. His face burned with anger.

Now more than ever he wished he’d never put his sword away those years ago and let his skills rust like they did. His laziness had put him in this position.

He struggled to calm himself and regain any dignity he could. “I am Lord Gray, I demand to know your names. Why have you abducted me?”

Had he vexed anyone recently? No one came to mind, no one who would go to these lengths for revenge, at any rate, and he could only assume they were common thieves. They were certainly not dressed as noblemen, but their shoes and breeches were in well enough condition, if a little old and faded, for them to be poor enough to resort to such actions.

They brought him to a dilapidated church. Tumbledown pews provided a home for moss and insects which were highlighted by the lit candles that barely won the battle against the dark. This was not a random act.

The men grinned, some exposing yellowing teeth, or no teeth at all, and nudged each other.

“We don’ know why the lady wants ye, but she’s paying us a wealthy sum to not ask no questions.” The smallest one of the group said. The man had overly large front teeth and smelled as if he slept with the pigs and looked very much as if he would rather be with them than in this church with William.

Despite the insult of ignoring his command for names, it took some seconds for the man’s words to sink in. Surely they made a mistake.

A lady?

William softened his voice. He would make no mention of it. He did not want to be on his knees with a gaping expression on his face with men who might murder him on a whim.

Best to flatter them. “But you do know, do you not? This lady of yours would have to have a higher than normal intelligence to hire such capable men.”

Their attack had been quick, precise, and planned. But before he was captured a tingled warning crawled up his spine. His hand had naturally wrapped around the handle of the blade he carried, but before he could pull it from its leather sheath he was ambushed and pulled from his horse and dragged to the ground while hands forced his arms to twist tightly behind his back.

His horse had bucked under the sudden onslaught of men, but a resounding smack on his rear had sent him charging into the woods.

While they busied themselves incapacitating him, he made sure to look at the exposed faces of every man in the church.

They kidnapped him without bothering to properly conceal their faces in the sunlight. Whoever this lady was, she must have been desperate to trust such people, and foolish to not take the proper precautions before carrying out her plan. Which brought him back to the question of why someone would pay for his kidnapping.

The buck-toothed one did not take kindly to having his secrets weeded out. He stood before William in an act of confident mockery, his short body towering over William’s kneeling one. “Ye’re in a house of God, milord, what do ye think she wants ye fer?”

Before William could shout an indignant reply, the doors at the front of the church burst open, bringing with it the brisk, cool wind, autumn leaves and a flash of sunlight before the doors were quickly shut again. The hope of the light did not last but the fresh air reached him and he breathed deeply, a nice exchange for the damp and stale air of the old church.

The figures that entered were cloaked and hooded, but the hunched back and the brown color of the first cloak suggested an older man, while the straight-backed, bright blue-embroidered cloak wrapped around a taller, slimmer figure hinted of someone much younger and wealthier. The hoods they wore and dim candlelight made it impossible to distinguish any features save for the delicate hands of a woman folded in the trumpet sleeves of her gown.

They were slim and fair in color, devoid of any