I hated being held back, but fate had not asked for my opinion. Escaping one close encounter unscathed only to be taken by surprise minutes later grated on me. But while I was eager and anxious to be out hunting for the mysterious woman I had unmasked, I was not stupid. My foes were strong and if I was even the slightest bit unprepared, they would not hesitate to kill me the next time we met. I was prepared to do the same.
Why didn't I kill the thief when I had the chance?
The answer eluded me, but my next step did not. My failure to kill her only strengthened my resolve and determination to find her again.
But that meeting was still several days away. I was well on my way to recovery, the arrow had gone in and come out cleanly, but I was not fit for combat yet. I might have been back in my saddle had I not aggravated the wound by fighting the renegade knight, and sparring with the mysterious peasant woman soon after.
I shook my head to clear the thoughts from my mind. All of them were beyond my control for the moment, and I had to focus on the tasks that I could still perform: interrogating, and watching for the woman at the market. After several days with no appearance from trader, I was beginning to worry that she had discovered my interest in her and had moved to another town.
But finally my patience was rewarded. One afternoon I strolled into the square for the second inspection of the day, fully expecting the same disappointing results, and was pleasantly surprised to find the hooded woman and her mute brother. The woman started searching through her apron and produced a coin as I approached. Looking me straight in the eye she handed me the silver. The expression on her face was a familiar one, but it wasn't the expression of the woman I remembered. The woman I remembered had an expression of... of...
She didn't have an expression. She only glanced up at me for the briefest of moments, I remembered that much. She hadn't been afraid, but instead had said...
"Whatever happened to 'a woman should only look upon her father, brother or husband'?"
The woman swallowed hard and dropped her gaze.
"My lord has a good memory, and I forget myself."
"I quite forget you too girl. You are not the same one who I spoke with last time, are you?"
The face of the first woman came to mind as best as I could remember it. And to my surprise, I remembered it quite clearly. Olive skin, darker eyes, and the hint of curled hair. Much different from this lighter skinned, darker haired imposter.
"I assure you Marshall I am-"
"No. You are not."
The face was quite clear, but my mind refused to associate with the seller. Instead it kept placing it...
On the body of the Night Hawk.
My eyes gave away my revelation almost immediately. The woman tensed and her right hand slowly disappeared under her cloak. I drew my sword, surprising my detachment of guards with the act. With questioning glances they followed suite and readied themselves for a fight.
But it never came.
The man, who I then suspected was neither a brother or a mute, flipped the cart over with one quick move. The two ran in the brief moment of confusion, and the crowd, which, to my surprise, had thickened noticeably, closed up behind them. Sword quivering with rage, I simply watched as they disappeared in the sea of people. I turned and strode away, not bothering to ask questions. I needed no confirmation.
What I needed was a plan.
I let my mind loose as I made my way back to the manor. The Night Hawks had every advantage. They knew the forest. They knew the town. They had the help of the villagers. They could strike and be gone before we knew it. I needed some way to obtain advantages of my own, or at least negate the ones that my enemy possessed.
The harder I thought about it, the more I realized how lacking my own side was. The Night Hawks anticipated our every move with ease. They knew where we would be and when we would be there. We were predictable.
At first glance, that seemed like a disadvantage. But looking deeper, I realized that that predictability was, at present, our biggest advantage. As I set off again, I considered how to best use this to my advantage, when my thoughts were interrupted by a near collision with a poorly dressed woman carrying several bags.
"Watch yourself." I growled.
The woman nodded hurriedly and continued walking along.
Walking. Not running in fear.
I turned to look over my shoulder, and found that she was doing the same. Our gazes locked for a second before she hurriedly turned away.
And continued walking.
I dismissed my suspicions as wild thoughts spawned from the excitement at the market. Then there was a thump and I spun to see the woman, bags on the ground, and bow in hand.
I drew my sword and charged heedlessly. A bird in the hand was worth two in the bush. I had already allowed two to escape into the bush.
This one wouldn't fly away so easily.