Katherine: The Dark CastleMature

Richard the Lionheart is at war, and the so called 'hero' of England, Robin Hood, is busy in Nottinghamshire. In a lonely part of England, a group of outlaws seek to fight back against the tyranny of the landowners. During their fight, they come across a secret, hidden for centuries, that dates back to when magic ruled the hopes and fears of mankind.

"It is time."

The whisper carried through the cold night air until it touched upon my ear. I looked to the sky and found the moon was slipping behind darkening clouds; we would have the cover of night to protect us. A quick flick of my finger and I felt, rather than heard, my group begin to move forward. Across the forest floor we crept - to the edge of the trees that bordered the village of Hamish - where the Sheriff's castle loomed in the dark. I saw my second take a group to the right while we headed through the buildings as stealthy as cats. A guard appeared round a house and we slipped back under the shadow of a hut. He paused, looked around, then continued on his way.

"Too close." Jem muttered behind me. I held my hand up for silence, then gestured the all clear. We moved silently forward once more, keeping to the shadows and the buildings.

There, at the edge of the village, a gap of open land lay between the castle and the last house. This we would have to cross to reach our goal. To my right I saw my second appear; she signalled to me that they were ready.

Silent as fog we crossed the land, keeping low, eyes on the ramparts to watch for soldiers. It was quiet - momentarily I felt a prickle of concern down my back. Too quiet? Then a horse neighed behind us, and I knew I was right. I span round and saw a line of soldiers on horseback, their swords drawn.

"It's a trap! Defend yourselves, prepare for battle!" I yelled and my group turned, weapons in arm ready for the Sheriff's men.

I drew my bow and placed a arrow carefully in the notch. Drawing back my arm I aimed for the man who seemed to be leading.

"Do not fight thieves! You do not stand a chance against us!" He called, cocking his horse's head roughly to the side so it would turn.

"Let us go and we will not harm you!" I replied, aiming for his chest.

The laughter that rose from the soldiers was cackling, rough and full of contempt.

"Hear that lads? They think they can beat us. And that one, that one's a woman!" The incredulous laughter built as I glanced around at my companions. All of us wore cloaks and scarves over out mouths to protect our identities. He must not know that we were mostly women - it was the single thing that kept us safe if few of us were found in the woods when gathering food.

"I may be a woman, but you will not find me less forgiving than the men that surround me. Leave us be I say before we strike."

"Silence woman, let one of the men speak for you."

That did it. I gritted my teeth and glared at the man as he laughed along with his comrades. I shifted my position and released the arrow - it hit his saddle between his legs. The laughter died immediately.

"Oops." I grinned.

"To arms!" He cried furiously, wheeling the horse about and turning to his men as I notched another arrow. "Kill the scum! Take that woman prisoner!"

The soldiers started forwards and I loosed another arrow. A soldier fell from his horse, his sword falling to the floor.

"Fight!" I yelled and we sprang in to action. I loosed arrow after arrow, and as a riderless horse trotted past I grabbed the reigns and swung myself up on to it. Pulling my sword from my belt I charged at the obnoxious leader who was swiping his sword at two of my company. "Yah!" I yelled and the horse sped up. The soldier looked up in time to see my sword coming down, and I heard the clash of metal upon metal as he defended himself.
Clash, clash and again clash as the swords crashed in to each other.
He aimed to knock my head with his armoured arm, and I threw my head back to avoid the hit. My hood fell and he grinned.

"The woman! I will take you to the Sheriff, and he will have your-" His head rolled off his shoulders and on to the trampled grass at the horse's feet.

"- my condolences at having lost his prize bigot?" I smirked and then grabbed the horse's reignss before it ran free. "Jem! Take the horse!" I called at her as she ran past, weilding one of the soldier's swords. She hauled herself up and nodded to me before turning the horse about and heading towards a group who were fighting tooth and nail.

Then the balance shifted. Arrows began to rain down on us from the battlements. The guards had obviously realised their side was not winning, and had begun to fire upon us. An arrow narrowly missed my shoulder, and another grazed my cheek. I felt wet, hot blood spill from the wound, and the taste of it in my mouth like iron.

"Retreat!" I called, knowing that they would strike us down from the height advantage. I wheeled about as cloaked figures began to run. The soldiers on the ground were trapping some of my people by the castle, and they could not escape.

"Damn," I muttered and galloped towards them, intent on freeing them despite the arrows which fell like hail about me. I saw a dark figure running towards the group with me. A large dark figure that I could not place. It struck down one guard and then another, and then I was upon them and thought only of cutting and slicing. When the last of the guards had fallen the people ran. I saw the dark figure catch one of them who was bleeding and hoist them over their shoulder.

"Who are you?" I yelled as yet another burst of arrows fell towards us.

"A friend!" The man's voice came back as he ran with the injured woodlander on his back. I wheeled the horse around and galloped next to them until we had reached the safety of the village. There others gave the man a horse and he hoisted the injured party up first. We rode towards the forest, and the few runners behind us covered our tracks as we did with branches and leaves.

We reached the outcrop of rocks and I swung from the horse, slapping it's rear so that it set off in to the forest.

"Why do that?" The stranger asked.

"We cannot hide the horses, they would give away our position. Now stranger, tell us, do you have love for the landowners in this area?"

"Would I have helped if I did?"

"Answer straight."

"No love for them."

"Good. Are you willing to fight against them, to steal from them and to help those less fortunate?"

"Aye, I might be."

"Then you shall be welcome. Come quickly, get rid of the horse. We must be hidden." I disappeared through the rocks and made my way to the end where  it opened out in to the clearing where fires were crackling and our families were cooking. They looked up in relief when they saw our return, and many ran to hug their loved ones. I turned to the newcomer. In the light of the fires I saw his face at last. His chin was covered with a beard and his head was covered with long hair. He grinned a little before handing the injured woodlander, who I now recognised as Kria, to her mother to be taken care of. Then he straightened and looked me full in what little he could see of my face.

"So you are a woman." He looked round at the others who were all removing their hoods and masks. "Most of you are women."

"Yes. Is that going to be a problem?" I asked, my hand on my blade.

"No. I am just very impressed."

"Good. Remember that. Now, if you're hungry there is food by the fire. Go, eat your fill, and then you will tell us about yourself."

"Very well."

"Your name, before you go."

"Griever. They call me Griever."

"Welcome Griever, to the Night Hawks." I turned to go but his voice called out.

"And your name?"

I smirked and turned, removing my hood and mask.

"Kate."

Then I wheeled about and headed towards the far end of the clearing.

The End

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