Lady Katherine And The Stone Of Gaia
Originally posted August 2004
Minor revisions January 2009
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction but uses characters that bear a striking resemblance to those that are copyright of Paramount Pictures. No infringement on their copyright is intended by the author in anyway, shape or form - this is just a bit of fun. This story includes an all female relationship so if you don’t like that then look away now.
Codes: uber J/7
Time Period: This story is set in 12th Century England (though no claims are made on the historical accuracy of this story!)
Thanks: to Trek for beta reading this for me :)
Lady Katherine shut the heavy oak door behind her and collapsed against the solid bulk. Pinching the bridge of her nose she let out a sigh. She hadn’t expected the negotiations with the Sheriff to be easy, but he was turning out to be more stubborn than she had feared. She disregard the nagging thought that she herself was not lacking in that department.
There were those in her manor who thought it wasn’t right
for a woman to be involved in such matters, traipsing round the country making
alliances and bartering agreements with the other lords and noblemen in order
to maintain their power base. What had
they expected though? Her husband was
lost, presumed dead, on the crusades with King Richard, but that didn’t mean
she was going to lie down and let the wolves tear into their lands. I’m Lady Katherine of
She smiled to herself as she realised she was making her usual self-rousing speech in her head, the one she always repeated to herself when things threatened to get on top of her. It had been a long day and the four poster bed in the centre of the room was looking increasingly inviting, if lonely. Images of her husband, Mark, flashed briefly through her mind but she pushed them away. They were of no use to her now, he was gone and she needed to face up to that reality. She had to remain strong for the people of their lands and all those thoughts did was bring her pain and sorrow if she let them linger too long.
She reached up and undid the fastenings in her hair to let the auburn locks fall loose about her shoulders as she sat at the small table set against the thick stone walls of the castle.
Suddenly she heard a small sound from somewhere behind her and whirled round on her seat, her long dress swishing round her ankles.
“Who’s there?” she called out into the semi-darkness of the candlelit room, “Beatrice, is that you?”
There was no reply forthcoming, so she surmised that it was not her maid that had made the noise. She slowly turned back to the table and quietly drew the dagger that Tobias had given to her from its sheath. She was glad the captain of her guard had insisted on giving her instruction in its use, as well as other defensive techniques. He knew as well as she that the Sheriff was currently having some troubles with a band of outlaws, and had warned all nobles travelling through his territories to be on their guard.
A movement near the wardrobe on the far side of the room caught her eye and she rose from her seat, the dagger clutched tightly in her right hand as she held it before her. Whoever was in there was going to have to get past her as the door was the only entrance and exit from the room.
“Surrender yourself, and I will see that the sheriff treats you with mercy,” she suggested to the unknown intruder, taking a couple of steps forward.
She thought she heard a small laugh at her statement. Momentarily perplexed, she didn’t react quickly enough as the assailant sprung from their hiding place and grabbed her right wrist. She tried to retain her grip on the blade as they banged her arm against the upright of the bed, but they were stronger and much taller than her and she watched forlornly as the dagger clattered to the ground at her feet. As her eyes came up she took in the form of her attacker. They were clothed head to foot in thick black garments, including their face and head. The only visible part of them was a pair of ice blue eyes that now stared intently into her own blue-grey ones. She stood transfixed as the rest of the room seemed to fade away in the presence of the piercing gaze. Neither moved for what seemed like an eternity, until suddenly the attacker dropped her wrist, snatched up the dagger from the floor and darted from the room.
Katherine remained rooted to the spot for a moment, her breath coming in heaving gasps. She wasn’t sure if it was from the exertion of the struggle or the frisson of the moment that had passed between her and the shadowy figure, but she mentally shook herself and realised she should be summoning the guards. As she wrenched the door open she almost received a fist in her face from a hand about to knock.
“Katherine? Is there something amiss?”
“Charles,” said Katherine, identifying her visitor beyond the hovering hand, “Did you see anyone in the corridor?”
She stepped out the door past him and glanced down the long stone passage, which was flanked by burning torches.
“No,” replied the man following her gaze, “Did you hear something?”
“I…,” began Katherine, but something stopped her elaborating further. “No, I thought I had, but it must have been nothing.”
Coming back into the room, she turned her full attention to the tall, burly man who had taking the liberty of stepping inside her chamber.
Charles Kirby was one of the knights who governed part of
Lady Katherine’s estate. In return for
the power of controlling his own particular section of land, he had pledged his
service to Katherine’s husband, the lord of the manor. Mark in turn had sworn his allegience to the King, which is what had taken him to
Mark and Charles had been great friends, but there was
something about Kirby that had always unsettled Katherine, and since Mark had
left that unease had only grown. She had
always thought the strange tattoo above his left eye made him look slightly
sinister. She was also sure Kirby had
designs on making her his wife, despite the fact that Mark’s body was hardly
cold in the ground. In fact it wasn’t
even in the ground since it had not been returned from the
“What are you doing here, anyway, I thought you were back at the manor?” she asked.
“I had some business in
Katherine really wasn’t in the mood for a long discussion with Kirby right now, and let this be known to him in the bored tone of her reply.
“Fine, but I really am rather tired and was about to retire for the night.”
“Really?” said Kirby, his eyebrow quirking under the tattoo, as if assessing the possibility that he may be invited to join her.
“Yes, so if you wouldn’t mind,” she said, gesturing to the door.
Kirby stared at her for a moment, maybe contemplating pushing things further but Katherine returned his scrutiny with her only steely gaze that brooked no argument.
“Of course, m’lady,” he said, dipping his head, reaching out and taking her hand so he could bring it to his lips and kiss it.
He made to go but halted in the doorway to turn to her once more.
“I am always here if you change your mind and would like some…..company,” he said, the last word said with added suggestiveness.
Before she could reply that hell would most likely freeze over before she wished for his company at night, he had closed the door behind him and departed.
She sighed to herself as she wandered over to the large bed, wondering how much longer Kirby would persist in the face of her continued antipathy. She knew she had to be careful as she couldn’t afford to offend him, he being one of the most powerful men in her manor. The last thing she needed was any kind power struggle. As a woman, her hold on the position as head of the estate was a tenuous one, only accorded to her due to Mark’s absence. It had already taken a great deal of her diplomatic skills to keep things peaceful between the various knights and lords who ran the manor for her. She would be glad when these latest negotiations with the sheriff were over and she could get back to her home at Markham Manor and make sure no one had made any moves to usurp her while she was away.
As she removed her dress and put on the long night gown, her thoughts wandered from the business of the estate to what had happened in her room earlier. She was not sure why she hadn’t mentioned the intruder to Kirby, though maybe she had still been unnerved from the encounter. Those eyes had certainly affected her, the gaze had been so intense, even in the dull light of the room, that she had found herself unable to look away. It also crossed her mind that the intruder must have had some purpose in her room, that maybe she had disturbed his search for something. In which case it was likely that he may be paying her a visit again at some point. She resolved to discuss it with Tobias in the morning as she slipped between the sheets. The last images that crossed her mind as she drifted off were a pair of ice blue eyes shining in the dark.
The week following the bedroom encounter with the mysterious
stranger passed without incident. That
was probably due partly to Tobias’ increased vigilance when it came to
Katherine’s personal security. She knew
he was a good and loyal man, but she really didn’t feel it was necessary to be
accompanied everywhere she went round the castle. Luckily she had finally managed to conclude
negotiations with the Sheriff, which meant they would soon be departing for
The Sheriff had invited her party to a tournament that afternoon, before they left. Katherine really wasn’t that interested in watching a group of knights beat each other senseless with lances, swords and various other weapons, but couldn’t afford to offend her host by declining the offer.
A knock at the door disturbed her thoughts.
“Come in,” she instructed.
The door opened to reveal her maid, Beatrice, precariously carrying a pitcher of water and a host of other washing items. Beatrice was a stocky, yet pretty young woman, not much taller than Katherine herself. Her pale skin was offset by raven black hair and deep brown eyes. Katherine got to her feet to help her with her cargo.
“Thank you, m’lady,” said Beatrice, making a small curtsey as she placed the water on the table.
“Nice of you to remember me for once, Beatrice” said Katherine, a slight hint of sarcasm entering a voice, “Thomas busy, is he?”
Beatrice flushed at the mention of her sweetheart. Though most masters or mistresses wouldn’t tolerate relations between their servants, Katherine didn’t see the harm in it. As long as they were happy and still did their job well. Besides it gave her something to tease Beatrice about.
“Tobias has assigned him extra training,” Beatrice informed the older woman.
“Ah, I see. Tobias has got rather zealous in his duties this past week, I’m surprised you two have been able to see each other at all,” mused Katherine.
Despite the fact that she had been her maid for nearly a year now, Beatrice was often confounded when Katherine started talking to her in such an informal manner. It wasn’t the norm for the nobility to treat servants as normal people.
“There’s been no more sign of the intruder, though?” asked Beatrice nervously, concerned for her lover’s safety.
“No, no more unwanted late night visitors, unless you count Mr Kirby,” laughed Katherine.
Beatrice couldn’t help herself smiling at that. Katherine was well aware of his lack of popularity with the servants. She had heard some rather unpleasant tales of what could happen to them if they displeased the surly knight.
“Well, I suppose we best get ready for this tournament,” continued Katherine, “Is everything packed for our departure immediately afterwards?”
“Yes, m’lady, I have just left you your blue gown and your travelling clothes out,” replied the young maid.
“Thank you, Beatrice, that will be all. I’ll let you know when we’re ready to leave.”
“Very good, m’lady,” said Beatrice as she curtseyed again on her way out the door.
Katherine surveyed the two sets of clothes that Beatrice had left her, the luxurious, dark blue dress and the considerably less formal travelling clothes. She smiled to herself as she picked up the breeches that she wore for travelling. She knew that it was considered quite scandalous that she would wear trousers, even if it was for travelling, but Katherine thought it was just practical. A full-length dress and riding a horse did not really go together, especially as she was in the habit of riding properly astride the animal, unlike most other ladies. In fact it was considered rather risqué that she would ride a horse at all, other ladies liked to be ferried about in a coach. She had only brought a small party with her, though, so had thought it more sensible and faster if she just ride with them. Accompanying her were just the captain of her troops, Tobias, a couple of his knights and Beatrice. Having a smaller party also meant they were less likely to draw attention to themselves when they had to pass through Sherwood Forest on the way back to Markham, which lay through the great forest to the north-east of Nottingham. Despite the Sheriff’s best efforts the forest was notorious as a home for outlaws and thieves.
Placing the trousers back on the bed she proceeded to wash
with the water Beatrice had brought. She
slipped the velvet dress over her light under tunic and smoothed it down as it
cascaded down to her feet. It was
striking in its colour as normally most fabrics were dull browns and
greys. However, Mark had brought the
luxurious deep blue cloth for this dress back from one of his trips to
Standing stiffly outside the door was Tobias, ready to escort her to the tournament fair, which was set up just outside the castle grounds. He was a tall, slim man, though his slightness belied his strength. He bore himself with grace and ease, but she knew that hidden underneath that was a deadly fighter when required. Tobias was intelligent enough to know when that was required, and when talking and diplomacy was a better option, unlike a lot of other knights who waded in with their sword swinging. He was Katherine’s most experienced soldier and fiercely loyal and dedicated to his mistress. He stood proudly in his light armour - a chain mail tunic covered by a royal blue tabard with the Johnson crest in gold upon it. At his side, his sword sat in its scabbard, though Katherine suspected that he most likely had some other hidden weapons about his person, perhaps somewhere in his leather boots or gloves.
“At ease, Tobias, before someone mistakes you for one of the suits of armour that line these corridors,” she joked with him.
He raised an eyebrow at her and eased his stance slightly. That was about as much emotion as she was likely to see for him. He liked to keep his feelings well hidden, nothing much was ever shown outwardly on his dark features. Katherine couldn’t help smiling, though, never being able to resist the chance to tease him about it.
“Come on, let’s get this over with,” she suggested, setting off down the corridor, Tobias falling into step behind her.
They headed out through the castle gates into the warm
spring sunshine. Katherine raised her
face to the sun and closed her eyes, basking in the warmth of the rays on her
fair skin. It would be good to get back
The tournament was not only an opportunity from knights to come and try and prove themselves against each other, but also for the common people to enjoy the displays and fair that accompanied it. Katherine could already smell a whole host of different cooking scents wafting up the slope as they made their way down to the tents and stalls that dotted the open ground outside the castle walls. At the centre of the fair was a show ground, a long strip of grass with the makeshift fence set up down the centre of it. This would be where the knights would be jousting shortly. Around that were stalls offering a wide range of wares and foods, as well as other forms of entertainment including minstrels and jesters. The sound of music and laughter echoed across the field as she took her seat in the stand that had been erected at the centre point of the grassy strip for the nobles to watch the jousting and other competitions.
“Looking forward to getting back to
She groaned inwardly as Charles Kirby took up the vacant seat next to her.
“You look beautiful today, m’lady, “ he continued, “Though of course you always do.”
She turned and offered him a half-hearted smile in response. Undeterred he reached for and kissed her hand.
“And will you be returning with us, Charles?” she enquired politely, though secretly praying that his answer would be in the negative. All she needed was Kirby pestering her all the way on the ride back to the manor.
“Unfortunately not, I still have some more business to conduct here,” he replied.
She hoped the relief she was feeling wasn’t too evident on her face.
“Ah, that is a shame,” she said, trying to inject as much seriousness as possible into her tone. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I think I will take in some of the local delights before the jousting commences.”
She rose and stepped down from the covered enclosure, Tobias having to hurry to catch her up, she had moved so quickly.
“I hope you are not trying to lose me, m’lady,” he said as he drew level with her.
She glanced at him and let a small smile quirk the side of her mouth.
“As if you would let me, I’ve hardly even been able to relieve myself this past week without you or one of your men trying to join me.”
“I am just concerned for your safety,” he said seriously.
She stopped and turned to him, looking directly into his stoic features and placing a reassuring hand on his arm.
“I know, Tobias, and it is greatly appreciated, no matter how much I may tease you about it.”
He nodded in acknowledgment and they continued walking side by side amongst the peasants and serfs who were enjoying their day out. Several turned to look at them, perhaps not used to seeing a noble down with the common people. Or maybe it was because they made quite a striking couple, the radiant blue of her dress and his tabard standing out from the drab colours around them, her red hair also shining in the sunlight.
Katherine saw a crowd gathering around a patch of open ground ahead of them. She accosted one of the passing men.
“What is going on over there?” she asked.
The man looked shocked when he saw who it was that had asked him the question, and took a moment to find his voice.
“Tis an archery contest, m’lady,” he finally answered bowing his head as he spoke.
“Hmm, shall we?” she said, addressing Tobias. Though she was not fond of watching men fight in the jousting arena, she could appreciate the skill involved in a pursuit such as archery.
As she turned to go she clattered straight into someone also heading in the direction of the contest.
“Pardon me…“ she began, turning to the person she had bumped.
Any further words died on her lips as her gaze was met by the face of perhaps the most beautiful young woman she had ever seen. She was a good few inches taller than Katherine and had long golden hair that floated around almost noble features, with fair skin and high cheekbones. But the thing that really held Katherine’s attention were the pair of ice blue eyes in the centre of the alluring face. Katherine blinked uncertainly as she was reminded of another pair of eyes that she had glimpsed briefly in her chamber almost a week ago. She knew she was staring, but couldn’t seem to look away or speak, the young woman seemingly equally confounded.
Their mutual appraisal was disturbed by a shout from the archery arena to their right.
Katherine subconsciously turned to glance in the direction of the shout. As she looked back to where the young woman had stood she was greeted by an empty space. Scanning the immediate crowd, Katherine saw no sign of the young woman; she had somehow vanished. With the level of excitement in the crowd was increasing, Katherine realised any chance she had of finding the other woman again was minimal. Most of the peasants were dashing in the direction of the archery contest, whoops and cheers rising from the people around the arena.
Tobias hovered close to Katherine, obviously not
appreciating how they’d become caught up in the pandemonium. His hand moved to rest on the hilt of his
sword. Katherine strained to see what
was happening through the bodies, since she was far too short to see over
them. Like most people in
Nottinghamshire, Katherine had heard of the infamous outlaw
“I think now would be a good time to return to our seats,” suggested Tobias.
“I think you’re right, if we can get through this
crowd. The chance to see
Tobias gave a disdainful snort, but said nothing else.
“There are some tales that he supposedly robs from the rich to give to the poor,” Katherine pointed out.
“I would not believe everything you hear, m’lady,” replied Tobias, distaste colouring his tone. “He is an outlaw, plain and simple. He and his band prey on travellers through
“In which case, we need to be careful on our way home,” mused Katherine.
“Indeed,” he agreed.
Taking one last glance around the crowd to see if she could spot a golden head moving amongst it, Katherine allowed Tobias to guide her back to the safety of the noble’s stand.
A few hours later, Katherine finally managed to make her
excuses and extricate herself from the Sheriff’s hospitality, allowing her
party set off for the journey back to
They made good time through
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” he said, his eyes continuing to sweep the forest either side of them as he spoke, searching for anything out of the ordinary. The trees were fairly openly spaced in this section of the wood, but there were pockets of denser foliage. “I think I caught a glimpse of some movement in the trees to our right.”
“Maybe it was just an animal?” suggested Thomas who was riding just behind them at the rear of the party.
As Tobias opened his mouth to reply he was cut off by the sound of something whistling through the air, followed by a dull thud. At the front of the group, Richard slid from his horse and plunged to the ground, an arrow firmly lodged between his shoulder blades.
Suddenly everything around Katherine erupted in a flurry of activity. Trees crashed to the ground, blocking the road in front of and behind her, as men leapt from the cover of the forest and bushes either side of them, whooping as they did. Spooked by the noise, Katherine’s horse reared up on its hind legs, flinging her from its back and onto the dusty ground below. Sprawling on the ground, she glanced up in time to see one of the outlaws advancing towards her menacingly before Tobias interposed himself between her and the would-be attacker.
Tobias drew his sword in order to parry the blows from the other man, before glancing back at Katherine on the floor behind him.
“Run, m’lady, quick!”
“But…” began Katherine, not wanting to desert her people.
“Now, before they overwhelm us!” instructed the guard.
Katherine knew it was wise to acquiesce to Tobias’s wishes in matters of personal security, but it didn’t mean she was happy about it. Casting one last look at him, she scrambled to her feet and darted towards the trees. About thirty feet along the road she saw Thomas and Beatrice also valiantly battling their attackers, one of whom was dressed all in black…
Katherine froze for a moment at the edge of the wood, staring
at the figure. It was the same one she
had encountered in her bedroom at
“Seven! The lady!” cried the man pointing in Katherine’s direction.
Katherine found the stranger-in-black was now staring at her, those intense blue eyes pinning her to the spot again through the gap between their hood and the scarf that covered the rest of their face. Realising that “Seven” must be the stranger-in-black and that they were being directed to stop her, Katherine quickly plunged into the forest, cursing herself for hesitating in the first place.
She sprinted as best she could through the forest, batting away and ducking under and over branches as she went. Many snagged at her hair, face and clothes, but she ignored the accumulation of small scrapes and scratches as she urgently pressed on. She was glad of her habit of wearing breeches for riding now, as a skirt would have made it impossible to make rapid progress through the trees. She was also glad that she managed to keep in quite good shape for a woman her age, even though she was starting to breath heavily from the exertion of battling her way through the undergrowth. She suspected that most other 38-year-olds, especially those in the nobility, would have given up long ago.
She scrambled down a small incline, her feet slipping and sliding in the earth and general detritus that littered the forest floor in her attempt to stay upright. As she came to the foot of the slope she used a tree trunk to break her descent, coming to a halt briefly. She took the opportunity to catch her breath and glance behind her for the first time to see if there was any sign of the one called Seven still following her. She strained to hear any sound of pursuit, but all she could make out were her own ragged breaths and the sound of the wind through the leaves above her. She prayed that she had managed to lose Seven as she turned to continue on her way.
Suddenly a form came flying out of the trees and careened into her, sending her tumbling to the ground. Katherine used the momentum of her fall to roll and spring back to her feet and face her attacker. It was Seven, who’d somehow caught her without her hearing the approach. She guessed she shouldn’t be surprised; Seven was obviously accustomed to operating stealthily if the black garb was anything to go by.
Luckily for Kathryn she had actually risen before the outlaw, who was still attempting to disentangle a bramble wrapped around their leg. Remembering what Tobias had taught her about defence and seizing any advantage she could, even if it meant “fighting dirty”, Katherine moved in as the outlaw finally got to their feet and swiftly kneed them in the groin.
She only had a brief moment to wonder why they weren’t doubled over in pain, as any man should be, before her feet were swept from beneath her, sending her falling backwards. Desperately she grabbed at the black-robed outlaw as she fell, managing to get a handful of tunic thus dragging the stranger down on top of her.
Katherine let out a small “oof” as she landed on her back, the full weight of the outlaw pressing down on her. As she attempted to fend off the hands that were grasping for her own she was surprised at how light the stranger was. The outlaw managed to pin her left hand to the ground, palm up, at the side of her head. Frantically she clawed away with her free hand, trying to strike the outlaw in some way while at the same time wiggling her body to try and shift it from the underneath the legs which straddled her. All her hand found was the cloth of the face-scarf, which came away, just as Seven’s head jerked back at the sudden loss of face covering, allowing the hood to fall also.
“You?!” Katherine exclaimed with surprise.
Sitting astride her, golden hair tumbling about her fine features as she gazed down at Katherine, was the beautiful young woman from the tournament. Their faces could not have been more than a foot apart and Katherine was suddenly very aware of the other woman’s breathing along with her own pounding heart and heaving breaths. As before, in the bedroom, neither of them made any immediate moves, as if frozen in this moment in time.
Too late Katherine realised she had lost any advantage she might have had at the young woman’s momentary hesitation. Seven leapt off her, grabbed the hand that still held the scarf and quickly flipped Katherine over onto her front, bringing both her arms behind her back as she used a knee in the back to keep Katherine in place. Katherine sputtered dirt from her mouth as Seven trussed her hands together. She yanked Katherine roughly to her feet and shoved her in the direction of the road, making Katherine stumble slightly.
“All right! All right! I’m moving,” said Katherine indignantly. She knew she was at a distinct disadvantage at the moment, and that it was probably best to bide her time and wait for some sort of opening. In the mean time she would follow the young woman’s instructions, especially since she wasn’t sure how volatile she might be.
As they made their way back through the forest, Seven remained behind her, periodically poking or pushing Katherine in the back if she slowed at all. As they walked, Katherine tried to assimilate all that had happened - the “man in black” wasn’t a man at all, but a beautiful young woman, a woman who seemed to have a strange mesmerising affect on Katherine whenever she saw her. Katherine found herself captivated by those eyes every time.
Getting closer to the road, the young woman still hadn’t spoken, and Katherine realised if she wanted to do something before they got to the other outlaws she had better do it soon. She wondered if a little talk and diplomacy might extricate her from this situation.
“Seven?” Katherine said, turning to look at the young woman and offering her a warm smile, “ I presume that’s a nickname. I'm curious; what is your real name?"
Seven just stared back at her, her eyes now icy pools that Katherine felt were examining and assessing her. Katherine was beginning to wonder if the woman was actually mute when, finally, she spoke.
"Do not engage me in irrelevant discourse," she said coldly.
Katherine was taken aback. Well, so much for diplomacy, she mused, as Seven shoved her again to get her moving towards the road.
Eventually they came back to the dirt track and Katherine was dismayed to see that the remaining members of her party had been subdued, though at least they were still alive, unlike poor Richard who still lay where he had fallen. They were all in a circle, sitting on the ground surrounded by the outlaws. The outlaws were a ragged bunch, all men of various ages, wearing shabby green and grey tunics and breeches. They also had a fairly motley collection of weapons between them; some carried swords while others had bows and arrows slung over their shoulders. Katherine counted eight of them still standing, with four also lying lifelessly on the ground.
“M’lady, are you all right?” began Tobias, starting to rise to come towards her.
He was stopped abruptly by one of the outlaws cuffing him round the back of the head with the hilt of his sword, causing him to fall back to the ground, unconscious.
“Tobias!” cried Katherine, trying to get to her fallen guard, but being held back forcibly by Seven, who gripped the rope that bound her wrists.
Katherine turned her head to glare at the other woman.
“There was no need for that! What are you, barbarians?”
Seven just stared coldly at her, before pushing her to the ground with the rest of her party. She then turned her attention to one of the other outlaws.
“Did you find it?” Seven asked a dark-haired young man who could hardly have been more than twenty years of age. Katherine thought he didn’t really seem to fit in with the rest of the men, he had such an innocent, boyish look to him. Seven also stood out from the rest of the outlaws, not only because she was a woman, but also because of the way she held herself and moved with such grace. It also seemed that she was in charge, since they all seemed to be watching her and waiting for her instruction.
“No,” he replied, “We looked through all their things, but there’s no sign of it.”
“Damn!” hissed Seven.
Katherine had no idea what it was they were looking for, but they obviously weren’t pleased not to have found it. She didn’t think that boded well for her and her people, if the dark look crossing Seven’s features was anything to go by.
Suddenly the noise of an owl hooting caught the blond-haired woman’s attention.
“Great! And now there’s someone coming,” she cursed, before stopping to listen for further signals. Duly there were three more hoots of differing pitches and lengths. “And just our luck, it’s one of the sheriff’s patrols.”
“What are we going to do?” asked the young outlaw.
Seven pondered for a minute, her gaze drifting to take in Katherine, lingering on the auburn-haired woman for a few seconds. Katherine in turn lifted her chin and met the perusal with her own frosty glare, in what was almost a battle of wills. Seven was the first to turn away.
“This one must know where it is,” she said, indicating Katherine, “We’ll have to take them back to camp for now.”
The young man looked like he was about to disagree but a quick glance from Seven and any words he may have been about to speak remained unsaid. Instead he just nodded his acceptance and set about gathering together the horses and clearing away any signs of a struggle with the help of some of the other men.
Seven grabbed the front of Katherine’s tunic and pulled her to her feet.
“After you, m’lady,” she offered sarcastically, gesturing towards the trees.
“Where are you taking us?” asked Katherine.
“Not that you’re in any position to be asking questions, but
we’re going to see a very good friend of mine –
As they made their way into the depths of
Katherine suddenly realised the deep blue eyes had turned her way and she averted her gaze, blushing slightly at the embarrassment of being caught staring. Why was I staring? She wondered. Despite being caught, she still surreptitiously stole a few more glances Seven’s way as they continued on. She noted that if you looked carefully in the right places the female form was actually obvious, and wondered how she ever thought the beautiful woman was a man.
Katherine mentally shook herself. Here they were held captive by a group of outlaws and being taken goodness knows where and she was busy studying the body of the lead captor! She knew she should be trying to think of ways out of the predicament, rather than getting distracted. She didn’t even know why the young woman distracted her so; there was just something about her…
To try and re-focus her thoughts Katherine turned to take in the rest of her group. Tobias was still unconscious and being dragged unceremoniously along by one of the outlaws. Katherine hoped that the wound on his head wasn’t serious; Tobias was her most trusted guard and confidant. At least Thomas and Beatrice were capable of walking, though Thomas had some sort of knife or sword wound in his stomach. The fair-haired young man was holding what had once been the sleeve of Beatrice’s tunic tightly against the injury, but Katherine could still see some blood creeping through and dripping from his fingers. Beatrice’s dark eyes met hers and Katherine tried to give her a re-assuring smile, though she was feeling far from confident of their prospects herself. At least Seven had removed the tight bindings from her wrists, obviously confident that Katherine wouldn’t get far if she tried to make a break for it again.
Eventually, Katherine noticed a thinning of the trees ahead of them and they entered a clearing in the forest. Dotted around the clearing were various makeshift structures, constructed of wood and other natural materials. Several small fires were lit with groups of men around them chatting, eating or drinking. All of the men were clothed similarly to their current captors – in dark green/grey tunics and breeches, which allowed them to blend into the forest. Katherine realised that, apart from Seven, there didn’t appear to be any women amongst them.
One of the men broke off from the nearest grouping and approached them. He was clothed slightly differently, having a deep red sash tied around his middle, the splash of colour seeming most out of place in the forest.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Seven, bringing those people here?” he said crossly.
“We were disturbed during our search, we had no option,” Seven replied.
The man was now standing toe to toe with her with barely concealed rage. Seven had a height advantage over him, standing a couple of inches taller, and stared coldly down at the man.
“You could have just killed them!” he spat. “Oh, I forgot, you don’t like to do that,” he continued sarcastically.
“I do when it is necessary,” she said, indicating with her tone that it was the angry young man that she may find it necessary to kill.
For a moment the pair just stood staring at each other. Katherine could practically feel the animosity radiating from them and she was secretly glad that it was Seven who had led the party to capture them and not the other man.
“Will! Seven!” came another commanding voice to the side of them.
They all turned to the speaker.
So this was
“Yes, Will, but it doesn’t do to be fighting amongst
Will shot him a baleful glance, but obviously decided
against saying anything and stalked off.
“Will you two ever stop fighting?” he asked.
“I cannot help it if Will feels threatened by me. I was trying to explain that we got disturbed by one of the sheriff’s patrols. It took longer than we expected since I had to take a bit of a detour to retrieve one of the captives,” Seven replied.
“But was it really necessary to bring them back to the
“You would rather I had killed them as Will suggested?”
“Anyway, we need them alive if we want to find the stone, it is difficult to get information from a corpse,” reasoned Seven.
“And you are all right, you were not injured in any way?” he said with concern in his voice.
“I am fine,
Well, thought Katherine, this was interesting. It appeared that Seven and the head outlaw were fairly close, maybe…lovers? Katherine wondered why she found that thought disturbing.
Perhaps the tallest man Katherine had ever seen got up from
where he was sitting by one of the fires and strode over. He must have been nearly a foot taller than
“Could you take our ‘guests’ to the pen and keep an eye on them?”
“Come on you lot,” he said, placing a massive hand on Thomas’ shoulder to guide him away, “Alan, Henry, you come with me too.”
As Katherine made to follow them,
“Not you, m’lady, I want to have a word with you.”
“What are you going to do with my people?” she asked, concern edging her voice.
“Don’t worry, they won’t be harmed,” replied
“Pardon me if I don’t find that comforting, especially after one of my guards was killed on the road,” she said, trying to keep the anger out of her voice.
“Alan got rather over-excited and fired an arrow into the guard,” she explained coldly, “a most unfortunate mishap.”
“A mishap!” cried Katherine, shooting a fierce look Seven’s way, “that man had a family!”
“Ha! As if you are concerned about the families of your subordinates,” scoffed Seven, “All your kind is concerned with is money and power and how to get more of it while keeping the rest of us firmly under your control, scrabbling around just to put food on the table.”
Katherine was slightly taken aback by Seven’s venomous
diatribe. To say that she didn’t like
the gentry was obviously putting it mildly.
Before Katherine could respond,
“I’m sorry for your loss, it is not our policy to randomly kill people if at all possible.”
“And your guards killed four of our men too,” interjected Seven bitterly.
Katherine bit back her reply that they were only defending themselves. It would do no good to get into a protracted argument with the young woman. She needed to remain calm if she was going to somehow get them out of this alive.
“Perhaps we should get on to why you are here,” suggested
“That much I gathered,” answered Katherine, “maybe if you had just asked for it.”
Seven snorted a laugh, but
“It is quite a precious object, I do not believe you would be amenable to relinquishing it willingly,” he explained to Katherine.
Katherine then realised what the other thing was that really
“We are looking for a precious gemstone, known as the ‘Stone Of Gaia’. It is roughly two inches in width and a dark green colour.”
Katherine thought for a moment, but she didn’t think she had
any gemstones in her possession, let alone one matching the outlaw’s
description. Out of the corner of her
eye she noticed that the one called Will had returned and was hovering,
watching intently as
“I do not believe I possess such a stone,” she told
“We have good reason to believe that it came into your
husband’s possession at some point in the past and that you brought it with you
Katherine looked at him quizzically. She had brought it
“I’m sorry, I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
“This is ridiculous,” cried Will, “she’s obviously lying!”
Katherine caught a movement off to her side, before she was
suddenly struck across the temple, sending her crashing to the ground. She glanced up in time to see Seven punching
Will firmly in the face, sending him sprawling with blood spurting from his
nose. He leaped back up and lunged
towards Seven, but she smartly sidestepped and used
his own momentum to push him to the ground again. Again he scrabbled to his feet, but this time
“That’s enough!” he said angrily, “Will, I thought I told you to go and help Nicholas?”
“But she’s lying, like they always do!” he fumed, “And what
are you doing?” he continued glaring at Seven over
“We aren’t going to find out anything if you batter her into unconsciousness,” explained Seven.
“Yeah? Or maybe she’d tell us something a bit quicker! You just don’t want me messing up that pretty face,” ranted Will.
At that Seven suddenly went for
Will again, though
“Will, get out of here, now!” commanded
Will gave Katherine one final sneer as she lay on the ground before turning on his heel and traipsing off. She felt a trickle of something warm and wet down the side of her right eye and reached up to touch her eyebrow. As she drew her fingers away she found they had blood on them. Glancing up again, she found that Seven had calmed down enough to be offering her a hand in order for her to get up. Katherine wondered what it was about Will’s comments that had angered Seven so as she took the proffered hand. The young woman’s skin was surprisingly soft, Katherine noted, and she found she had to resist the strong urge to run her thumb across the back of the slender, yet strong hand.
“Thank you,” she said as she rose.
Seven didn’t reply, in fact she was deliberately avoiding making eye contact with Katherine. The older woman thought this was strange compared to what she had seen of Seven so far.
“Maybe we should give you a chance to have a good think
about where that stone may be,” said
Seven merely nodded and motioned for Katherine to move. As they went to go,
“But know that we must have the stone, even if that means I have to let Will question you next time.”
Seven led Katherine through the outlaws’ camp. Darkness had fallen and the fires lit up the battered and worn faces of the men gathered round them. Katherine glanced at the young woman beside her, the firelight playing off her golden hair, her delicate profile highlighted against the gloom.
“Thank you again for helping me out back there,” she said.
Seven did not turn to face her, but kept walking staring straight ahead, replying in a cool voice:
“It was not for you. You have information that we need. If you are damaged we may not get it, simple as that.”
Katherine found that she was a bit disappointed at the statement, so coldly put. Had she hoped that Seven had leapt to her defence for some more noble reason?
They came to a small enclosure, which consisted of sharpened logs positioned close together and standing upright in the ground to create a fence. At the entrance to the enclosure stood two outlaws; one the dark-haired young man who had been in the party that had originally captured them and another Katherine did not recognise, but who sneered at her as they approached.
“Keep an eye on her as well,” instructed Seven
before turning and going to sit at one of the nearby fires where
“Looks like you’re staying the night with us then, m’lady,” grunted the older man moving menacingly close to her.
Katherine recoiled at his foul breath.
“I don’t think
The older one looked at him with contempt but he met the glare and held it. Katherine was beginning to realise that not all of the outlaws seemed to have the same views on certain aspects of their job.
“Fine!” spat the older man giving Katherine a shove towards the enclosure so she tripped and fell on the ground, “I’ve had enough of guard duty anyway. I’m going to get some food, Alan can help you guard them.”
He stomped off, briefly stopping at the fire to send one of the other men over. Katherine clambered to her feet and was ushered into the fenced area.
“M’lady!” Tobias sprang up and came over to her, concern etched on his dark features. Katherine knew they were in trouble if he was showing this much emotion. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Tobias, and what of you and the others?” she asked, glancing round the small enclosure.
“My head wound was only superficial. Thomas has a deep gash to his stomach, though Miss Beatrice has done the best she can to stem the flow of blood,” summarised Tobias.
Katherine went over to her maid and the fair-haired guard who were sitting on the ground next to each other leaning against the fence. She crouched down beside them and put a comforting hand on Thomas’ arm.
“How are you holding up, Thomas?” she asked.
“It’s only a small wound, m’lady, you don’t need to worry about me,” he replied stoically, though she could see he was gritting his teeth against the pain.
“You’d say that if your blooming leg had been chopped off!” cried Beatrice with exasperation.
Katherine glanced at the young maid, knowing Beatrice was concerned for her lover Thomas.
“It’s all right, Beatrice,” she said gazing intently at the woman with her soft blue-grey eyes, emphasising that what she was saying was important, “I will get us out of this.”
“I know you will, m’lady,” nodded Beatrice quietly.
Katherine rose and left the young couple, moving to stand by
Tobias who was studying the guards, no doubt trying to formulate some plan of
escape. Beyond the guards she saw Seven sitting side by side with
“I thought you might like something to eat,” said the man proffering the plate. He was a short, stocky man, with gingery-blond hair and matching beard.
“Thank you,” said Katherine taking the plate and handing it to Tobias, indicating that he take it over to the others.
“You’re welcome,” replied the man, genially, “We ain’t all ruffians here you know. In fact it’s nice to see another woman’s face around the camp for once, brightens up the place.”
“I was wondering,” began Katherine, deciding that this outlaw seemed friendlier than some of the others, “Do you have any clean water and some cloths? One of my men is injured and it would be good if we could clean the wound.”
“I’m sure I can rustle something up,” he replied, giving her a small conspiratorial wink.
“Thank you…” began Katherine, leaving a pause for the man to answer with his name.
“Nicholas,” he filled in for her obligingly.
“Well, thank you, Nicholas,” she continued, smiling at him. It wouldn’t hurt to try and make some allies amongst the outlaws, she thought. Since she seemed to have his ear for the moment, she decided to try and make some more conversation. She put her hand on his shoulder, turning him slightly from the guards on the entrance and leaned in to speak to him in more hushed tones.
“So, you don’t have any other women here then, apart from Seven?”
“Oh no, Seven’s the only one. It’s far too rough for ladies to be living out here,” he explained.
“And Seven?” probed Katherine.
He let out a small laugh, “Oh, she can take care of
herself! And of course,
“Is Seven her real name?” asked Katherine. She reasoned to herself that the information she was finding out from the outlaw would be helpful to them in the event of an escape attempt. She ignored the fact that she seemed to be diverting from any really useful line of questioning.
“Ha, ha, oh no! That’s just her nickname.”
“How did she come by it?”
“Well, funny thing is, no one seems to know for sure,” he explained. He really seemed to be enjoying sharing the camp gossip with Katherine; she guessed he didn’t get much stimulating conversation from the other outlaws. He leaned in even closer as if sharing some great secret with her, glancing round at the two men guarding the entrance as he did. “There are lots of rumours, though, some say it’s the number of men she’s killed.”
“Really? Though then she would need to change it if she ever killed anyone else,” reasoned Katherine.
He looked momentarily stumped.
“True, true, I’d never thought of that. Not that I believed it anyway. Though Seven can take care of herself, she don’t like to be violent unless needs be. I’ve never seen her kill anyone, me’self. I reckon it’s more likely the number of hearts she’s killed,” he laughed.
Katherine looked at him quizzically.
“Oh come on, you must have noticed what a beautiful woman she is!”
Katherine didn’t respond and was glad that it was dark enough that Nicholas wouldn’t be able to see the blush creeping up her face.
“There’s many a man that’s tried to woo that young woman,” he continued anyway, taking her silence to mean she wanted to know more.
“Young Henry over there has a huge crush on her,” he added indicating the dark-haired young man at the entrance.
“But she always turns ‘em down. They calls her the ice maiden, some of ‘em, like they’re such great catches she shouldn’t be turning them away!” he laughed.
Katherine was just about to ask about the relationship
between Seven and
“Come on, Nicholas, stop rabbiting to the prisoners,” said Henry from the entrance, “I don’t know, you’re like an old woman sometimes!”
“Yeah, come on, old woman,” the other guard added, joining in the friendly banter, “Back to your cooking pot!”
“Ha ha!” said Nicholas sarcastically to the pair of them, “All right, all right, I’m going.”
“I’ll see what I can do about that water and cloths,” he added to Katherine before he left.
Katherine went to sit with the others, picking up an item off the plate and looking at it nervously. It looked like some kind of meat, though Katherine dreaded to think what it may be, most likely a squirrel or some other woodland dweller.
“We’re not sure what it is either,” said Thomas, noticing her scrutiny, “But it seems to taste all right.”
She was too hungry to just look at it any longer, so she
tentatively took a small bite. It did
taste surprisingly good. As she ate,
Tobias took the opportunity to ask her about the earlier questioning by
“Did you find out what prompted the attack?” he asked.
“They’re looking for a gemstone that they seem to think is in my possession,” she explained, “Though the stone they described doesn’t mean anything to me - a green jewel, about 2 inches across.”
“Why do they think you have it?”
“Well, that’s what puzzles me. They claim that they have information that
the stone was in Mark’s possession and that I brought it to
Tobias looked disturbed by that revelation and the intimation that someone amongst Katherine’s staff was leaking information to the outlaws.
“Of course, if Mark really did have this jewel at some point, it could easily be lost in the holy lands with him now,” Katherine mused.
“Indeed, though I advise that you do not suggest that possibility to the outlaws,” said Tobias.
“Oh?” Katherine quirked an eyebrow at him.
“It is reasonable to assume that one of the main reasons we are alive at this point is that they need to find the whereabouts of this jewel. If we inform them it is in another country we may have ceased to be of any use,” he explained logically.
“Sooner or later they’re going to realise I really don’t know where it is, though,” she pointed out, “They just seem so convinced I have it…”
She trailed off, racking her brains, trying to think where
the jewel might be. If she did have it
with her when she came to
“Oh!” she suddenly cried.
“What, m’lady? Is something the matter?” asked Tobias.
“I know where the jewel is,” she said, mentally kicking herself, “I didn’t realise before because it’s not just a jewel on its own any longer – it’s embedded in the cover of a book.”
“A book? I am assuming that you no longer have this book?”
“No, I gave it to the Sheriff!” she said, bringing her hand up to pinch the bridge of her nose and sighing. “He seemed unusually interested in it, but I paid it no heed. It made a good bargaining item, letting him have it to smooth over land and troop negotiations.”
Tobias pondered for a moment, processing what Katherine had told him.
“When they find out, they aren’t going to be happy,” mused Katherine.
“You must not tell them,” said Tobias sternly.
Katherine regarded him with surprise.
“I am sorry, m’lady, I do not presume to tell you what to do,” he said, realising that he had spoken out of turn, “I am just thinking of your welfare.”
“Go on,” said Katherine, indicating with a small wave of the hand that it was all right for him to speak freely.
“As I said before, we can assume the main reason we are unharmed thus far is that they need the information of the jewel’s whereabouts. If you reveal that the Sheriff has it they will definitely have no further need of us. Considering we have seen the location of their camp, I would not like to speculate our fate under those circumstances.”
“Suffice to say it would not be a happy one,” continued Katherine grimly.
“Indeed. I think what we must do now is try and play for time, until we can devise a means of escape. You will have to try and stall them further if they question you as to the stone’s whereabouts again.”
Katherine nodded, though she wasn’t sure how successful she might be. She didn’t think continued pleas of ignorance would go very far, especially with the unstable Will waiting in the wings chomping at the bit for his go at questioning her. As she lay down on the ground, she found that those thoughts were displaced by visions of blonde hair, blue eyes and a bewitching smile in the firelight as she drifted off into a fitful sleep.
Katherine felt the warm breeze caress her face as she gazed out over the lake. A small sound to her left made her turn from her contemplation of the rippling waters. Seven stood near her by the lakeside her deep blue eyes focused intently on Katherine. As she approached the sunlight flickered off the beautiful features of the young woman. Loose strands of her golden hair caught in the slight wind trailing them across her face. A small smile curved the corners of her luscious red lips as she reached out to Katherine…
Katherine started awake and tried to focus on where she
was. As the dream faded she remembered
that she was in an outlaw camp in the middle of
Katherine clambered to her feet trying to shake the disturbing feelings the dream had left in her mind. Why had she been dreaming of this woman? Beside her Tobias also rose, wishing to go anywhere that his mistress did.
“Not you,” said Seven, shooting him a steely glare.
He made to say something but Katherine quickly put a placating hand on his chest
“It’s alright, Tobias,” she said looking into his eyes, trying to communicate silently that she knew what she had to do – stall the outlaws until they could escape. He nodded and she hoped that he was making some progress in formulating a plan – she wasn’t sure how long she could put them off for.
She turned to Seven and motioned with her head for her to lead the way. Seven spun round wordlessly and Katherine followed as the made their way through the camp. Katherine found herself studying the lithe form in front of her. She was dressed in the all black outfit still, though not bothering to cover her head or face anymore now her identity had been revealed. Since the clothes consisted of a hooded tunic and breeches Katherine could take in the full extent of Seven’s long legs. Her blonde hair hung loose down her back, looking as immaculate as it did the day before. Katherine wondered how she achieved that, as she herself no doubt looked a complete state, having spent the night sleeping on the floor. Her auburn hair was probably sticking up all over the place. She wished she had a mirror at this point but attempted to smooth down her wayward locks anyway. She wasn’t quite sure why she was so concerned with her appearance, it wasn’t like she was trying to impress anyone, was it?
“So, have you had any revelations as to the whereabouts of the stone?” he asked.
“I’m afraid not,” she replied, deciding to keep her answers short. It was easier to lie and remain convincing that way
“Hmmm,” he said, regarding her for a few moments. She tried to maintain an even expression, revealing nothing in her face.
“Well, in that case,” he continued, “I’d like you to join us on a little trip, see if we can jog that memory.”
“Where are we going?” asked Katherine.
“You’ll see when we get there,” he replied cryptically, “And don’t try anything tricky like trying to escape, John and Seven will be coming with us and remember we still have your people. I’d hate for anything…unfortunate…to befall them.”
After traipsing through the forest for some time the small group came to a settlement on the edge of the trees. None of the outlaws had spoken to Katherine on the way, Seven not even looking at her during the walk, maintaining a position at the head of the party while the huge man called John followed behind Katherine.
They walked out into the small village, which consisted of a
few ramshackle houses set along a dirt track, with various pens for animals
between them. Katherine noted that
though the pens existed, there didn’t actually seem to be any animals in
them. They came past an old man, sitting
outside his home.
“How comes the people are so thin, do they not farm their
land?” she enquired of
“They try, but the land around here has been practically
infertile for the past 15 years,” replied
“15 years?” said Katherine incredulously, “But why?”
“Follow me and all will become clear.”
At the end of the village they came to a rocky outcrop.
“What is this place?” Katherine asked as she joined them, John remaining in the entrance to keep a lookout.
“It is a shrine,” replied
The Earth Mother? Katherine
had heard that some people still worshipped the pagan gods, but had never
witnessed anything to do with it firsthand.
Most people these days, including herself, were
devout Christians. Were these outlaws
part of this Pagan sect?
“The Earth Mother is responsible for the land, making sure it provides for the people on it.”
“And you believe in this Earth Mother,” asked Katherine sceptically.
“What we believe doesn’t matter!” snapped Seven suddenly, “The people believe and that’s what’s important!”
“As Seven said,” continued
“And why would she have done that?” asked Katherine, playing along. She didn’t believe in any of this pagan rubbish, but this was a good way to waste some time.
“At the centre of this shrine used to sit a stone,” answered
“The stone you think I have?” surmised Katherine.
“Correct. The stone was guarded by a group of druids who were responsible for the worship of the Earth Mother, performing the necessary rituals and praying to her.”
“And now?” prompted Katherine.
“The druids are gone.
They were slaughtered 15 years ago by a group of the Sheriff’s men who
ransacked the shrine and stole the stone,”
Katherine was shocked, she knew that pagan worship wasn’t the norm, but slaughtering those who practised it?
“Without the druids or the stone, the land became infertile. Harvest after harvest failed, the people turned from a vibrant community to the oppressed unfortunates you saw outside.”
“I still don’t understand what this has to do with me?” said Kathrine, confused.
“Recently we discovered that the stone was at your manor in
Katherine’s mind was racing. Had Mark known what the
stone was when he acquired it? Had he
known where it had come from and how it had been so brutally stolen? She hoped not, she couldn’t believe that Mark
would have accepted it if he had. Caught
up in her thoughts she suddenly realised that
“But why are you so interested in this stone?” she asked the outlaw, “What’s in it for you? I can’t see much profit for an outlaw here.”
“We don’t do what we do for ourselves!” cried Seven, turning on her suddenly, imposing herself in Katherine’s personal space, staring angrily down at her, “Unlike your kind!”
Katherine had to take a step back, such was the anger radiating off the young woman. Her eyes maintained their menacing hold on Katherine and she could see that Seven’s fists were actually balled at her side, like she had barely managed to stop herself from striking Katherine.
“Easy, Seven,” said
For a moment the young woman didn’t move, standing rigidly still focused on Katherine. Finally her shoulders sagged and she turned, walking a few paces away to stare off at the trees.
“We are not outlaws by choice, m’lady,”
He fixed her with a meaningful look at this point, making it obvious that he was bracketing her in with the Sheriff as the kind of person to treat her people with such disdain, before continuing on.
“So when we find a way to help out these kinds of people we will do everything in our power to do so. In this case it is finding their stone and returning it to them. There is no gain for us, apart from seeing these people restored to their former vibrancy.” He paused for a moment, letting his words sink in before adding. “And now, we will head back. Perhaps you can have a long think on the way as to whether you really have no idea where that stone might be.”
He turned and started walking back through the village,
squeezing Seven’s shoulder as he passed the young woman. She shot a harsh look at Katherine before
turning to follow
“Bloody nobles!” she exclaimed, spittle flying furiously from her mouth as she spoke. “Come to view your work have you?”
Before Katherine could even reply the skinny woman launched a glob of spit at her. It plopped onto Katherine’s cheek. She flinched at the shock of the impact, but thought it best not to react otherwise given the woman’s obviously volatile nature. Instead she merely wiped the spit away with her sleeve and tried to move round the woman.
“Oi, I ain’t finished speaking to you!”
Katherine found her hair grabbed in a bony fist, hauling her backwards. She lost her balance and tumbled onto the dirt track.
“I reckon as I’m not the only one who’d like to pay you lot back!” cried the woman before launching a gleeful kick into Katherine’s ribs. Katherine groaned, seeing the woman’s foot drawing back for strike at her head this time. She attempted to get her hands up to defend herself best she could. Yet the blow never came. Instead she heard profuse swearing from her attacker.
“Let me bloody well go!”
Risking a look, Katherine saw the enraged woman being hauled
“Are you all right?” the younger woman asked, offering an outstretched hand.
Taken aback by the show of concern given Seven’s mood only moments before, Katherine took it, allowing herself to be pulled up. However, she was more shaken by the assault than she realised, swaying for a moment as she regained her feet. Seven’s hands shot out to catch her, warm fingers gripping onto Katherine’s upper arms. The warmth from the contact seemed to radiate right through Katherine’s whole body before settling comfortably in her stomach. Her eyes met those of the young woman. From the way Seven was staring at her Katherine sensed she felt whatever it was too. Suddenly Seven let go, taking a step back, a cool mask slipping back over her features. Yet Katherine couldn’t shake the lingering feeling tingling across her skin. Fortunately a shout from one of the houses saved her having to think about it.
“Joan, come quick, it’s Luke!”
The call was directed at the woman who’d launched herself at
“Luke, can you hear me?” pleaded Joan as she knelt beside him, moping his brow with a damp bit of cloth.
He didn’t answer, his watery eyes swivelling towards her but seeming to having trouble focussing. They continued on their track, sliding to stare directly at Katherine instead. She found herself unable to look away, caught in the death stare as life ebbed from the man.
“Luke? No! Luke!”
Joan cried out in anguish, before realising for the first time that she had an audience. Her enraged eyes centred on Katherine. “This is your fault! You and your kind!”
She flew up, charging towards Katherine who was too shocked and stunned to move. Luckily someone’s reactions were still working. A pair of arms wrapped themselves round Katherine, pulling her round out the way. Regaining some sense, Katherine realised it was Seven who had rescued her. The young woman was now standing between her and the angry peasant woman.
“Why are you protecting her?” shouted Joan.
Seven didn’t answer.
Those thoughts continued to play on her mind as they made
their way back through the forest in the direction of the outlaw camp. The atmosphere was subdued, everyone
remaining silent. So consumed with her
own thoughts was she, that Katherine didn’t notice that Seven and
“S-Sorry,” she stammered, taking a step back as they looked enquiringly at her.
“What is it
“I’m not sure,” he replied uneasily, glancing round the surrounding trees. They were still in the middle of the forest. Katherine herself couldn’t see or hear anything amiss, just the normal sounds of the forest. Not that she had been paying much attention, she conceded.
“Seven, you stay here and keep an eye on the lady, John and
I will go and check it out,” instructed
Katherine still didn’t know what exactly it was they were investigating, but as the two men departed into the trees she took the opportunity to rest for a moment, sitting down on an old weathered tree trunk that lay on the ground. As she resumed her thoughts, staring at the old leaves and braches scattered about the forest floor, she could sense Seven hovering nearby. Feeling the eyes boring into the top of her head she could take it no longer, turning her face upwards to regard the young woman.
“Do you really think I’m like the Sheriff?” she asked, “That I would let something like that happen to the people on my land?”
“You’re all the same aren’t you?” Seven replied in an off-hand tone, with a small shrug to accompany it.
Katherine looked down, shaking her head.
“I never realised how some of the people lived,” she said remorsefully, unable to shake the images of the ragged people in the village, the fading light in the old man’s eyes as he gave up hope.
“And if you had, would you have done something about it?” enquired Seven, whose voice had lost some of its hard edge but still held a faint hint challenge.
Katherine’s eyes flicked up to Seven’s. “Yes.” She replied earnestly. For some reason she deeply cared what the other woman thought, wanting to banish the doubts she could see in the blue eyes. Unable to hold the accusatory gaze any longer, Katherine eyes fell once more. “I would try,” she offered to the ground.
She was surprised when out of the corner of her eye she caught Seven sitting down on the tree trunk too. She was actually sitting so close that their legs were almost touching. Katherine took a breath to compose herself before she spoke, turning to face the young woman to her right.
“You do believe me, don’t you?” she asked, searching Seven’s face for an answer there.
Seven did not answer. Instead she gazed back at Katherine. Katherine could feel her heart hammering in her chest as they just sat there, staring at one another. Katherine looked directly into the blue depths of Seven’s eyes, which now seemed warmer than at any other time since she had met the young woman. They reminded her of how they had looked in her dream earlier that morning. Then, just as in the dream, Seven was reaching out to her. Only this time Katherine did not wake before the hand reached her, cupping her face, the smooth fingers stroking her cheek.
She had a brief moment to revel in the sensation of the warm fingers upon her face before suddenly she found Seven closing the small gap between them, brushing her soft lips over Katherine’s own. Katherine closed her eyes and let out a small moan as Seven deepened the kiss, pressing her lips more intently against Katherine’s. The hand that had been cupping the cheek moved to tangle in the hair at the back of Katherine’s head, pulling Katherine towards Seven. Katherine’s own hands moved subconsciously to encircle the young woman, stroking down her back, as she too leaned into the kiss, swept up in the passion of the moment.
Suddenly Seven started back from her and Katherine’s eyes flew open, startled as much by the sudden loss of the wonderful lips as by the realisation of what exactly they had been doing. Seven quickly got up from the tree and averted her eyes as Katherine looked on in confusion, warring thoughts running through her mind. What in god’s name was I doing? Kissing one of my captors? Kissing a woman? What possessed me?
“I-I shouldn’t have done that,” said Seven shakily, disturbing Katherine’s troubled reverie, “It was a mistake.”
Before Katherine could say
“Is everything all right?” asked
“Yes, I will take point,” she answered before quickly turning and walking off into the trees.
Seven maintained her distance from Katherine the remainder of the way back to the outlaw camp. Katherine found herself repeatedly looking at the back of the young woman, contemplating what had passed between them earlier. Part of Katherine was horrified at her actions, the way she had allowed it and even responded to the kiss, and yet another part of her had to admit how wonderful it had been; the feel of those soft lips. It had sparked things in her that she had never felt before, not even with Mark. Yet then Seven had recoiled claiming it was a mistake. Did she really mean that? And, more to the point, Katherine didn’t know whether to feel relieved or aggrieved if she had. She knew that none of this musing was going to help them get out of their predicament either. There were more pressing matters than her troubled emotions; she had people relying on her to find a way out of this situation.
Finally they came back to the woodland camp and went immediately over to the fenced enclosure where the rest of Katherine’s party were being held. Tobias was waiting at the entrance, having been standing there the whole time his mistress had been gone, waiting patiently for her return.
“Are you all right, m’lady?” he asked as they approached.
She went up to the captain of her troops so she could whisper to him, out of earshot of the outlaws.
“Have you made any progress with an escape plan?” she asked.
“Unfortunately not, m’lady,” he replied in equally hushed tones.
She nodded and pursed her lips in thought, placing her hands on her hips and looking to the sky for inspiration.
“Looks like I need to take some action then,” she finally said.
“M’lady?” asked Tobias.
“Wait,” called Katherine after Seven and
They both stopped and turned to regard her. Katherine tried to catch Seven’s eye, but the young woman was studiously avoiding eye contact.
“I think I know where the stone is,” she stated plainly.
Katherine noted that Seven did briefly look at her then, surprise crossing her features. She could also hear a slight sigh from Tobias behind her, obviously unimpressed with her diverting from their initial plan.
“And when did this great revelation come to you?” asked
“Does that matter?” replied Katherine, “What’s more important is that I know the location of this stone you’re so desperate to get hold of.”
“So where is it?” prompted
“First I need your assurance that you’re going to let us all go unharmed,” she insisted, fixing him with an intent stare.
“All right. Tell us the location of
the stone and once we have it we’ll let you go,”
Katherine noted that some of the other outlaws who were assembled nearby let out a few murmurs at this, perhaps not agreeing with their leaders decision. She hoped they would stick by it though. Either way, there was no going back now since she had revealed she knew of the jewel’s whereabouts.
“What?!” cried Will who was in the group of men, “Well that’s just great! We’ve no chance of getting it now!”
Ignoring the outburst,
“Why is it at
“I gave it to the Sheriff as a gift. It’s actually imbedded in the cover of a book that belonged to my husband,” she explained.
“Right, this is what we’re going to do,” he began, “We’re going to go and get it back, and you,” he continued, looking at Katherine, “are going to help us.”
“And what makes you think I would do that?” laughed Katherine incredulously.
“Because we still have your people,” he stated simply.
Katherine gritted her teeth to placate her rising anger and glared at him with steely eyes. “That was not part of the agreement,” she said as calmly as she could.
“That was before you told us it was locked up in the stronghold that is Nottingham Castle.” he answered, “We need your help to get us back in there.”
“We can’t trust her,
It was Seven. Katherine was glad the other woman was finally speaking again, even if the words hurt, much more so than they should.
“I know you got into the castle once before,” said
“You make it sound so easy,” scoffed Katherine, “You think the Sheriff is just going to let me have it back?”
“I’m sure you could find some way of convincing him,” said
Katherine frowned sternly at him crossing her arms, not
liking what he was implying she might have to do. She was somewhat cheered to note that Seven
also seemed to share her consternation, looking at
“I’ll tell you what, though,” continued
“And who am I going to take with me?” asked Katherine.
“You can’t be serious!” blurted Seven.
“You’re the best one for the job, Seven,” said
Not wanting to discuss this in front of their prisoners or
the other men,
“Good so that’s settled then,” said
“I don’t think I agreed to anything,” pointed out Katherine.
“You don’t have a choice,”
Katherine made a small huff, but she knew it was futile
arguing. This looked like the best
course of action if she wanted to get herself and all of her people out of
this. She just hoped she could trust the
outlaw’s word. Her instinct was telling
her she could, and she was usually a good judge of character. She just wished she could be so certain of
her feelings. While she tried to push
those from her mind, some of the outlaws fetched a couple of horses for Seven
and Katherine. Seven and
“Are you sure this is wise, m’lady? You cannot trust these outlaws,” said Tobias, looking suspiciously at the men gathered around them.
“I pray you’re wrong, Tobias,” she noted grimly.
Seven reappeared from the small hut wearing the dress Katherine had seen her in at the tournament and carrying a separate bag which Katherine assumed contained the black outfit. She realised the tournament had only been a day ago, but it seemed a lifetime away now, so much had happened since. Despite her attempts to cull her feelings, she found that her heart rate was unaccountably increasing when she noted she could see more of Seven’s natural curves in the outfit, particularly in the chest area.
“Right, you two will ride to the castle together,”
Nodding that she understood the plan, Katherine went over to the horses and Tobias helped her up onto her mount.
“Be careful, m’lady,” he said quietly.
“I will, Tobias, you just look after the other two,” she replied giving him a small smile of encouragement.
“Ready?” she asked looking at Seven.
Seven shot her a brief look before turning away. There seemed to be a mixture of emotions dancing across her face and Katherine wished she knew what was going through the young woman’s mind, wondering if she was equally bewildered by events. Seven didn’t speak, though, instead geeing her horse on with a small kick. Katherine followed suit and they trotted from the camp.
Seven remained silent as she led them through the forest and
back onto the track to
“Sorry,” said Katherine, flushing slightly.
She thought Seven was going to maintain the silent treatment as she turned to continue on, but after a moment she instead turned back to Katherine.
“What happened on the log earlier…” she began uncertainly.
“Yes?” said Katherine, trying to keep the sense of anticipation out of her voice.
“It was a mistake, all right. For some reason I momentarily felt sorry for you.” Seven continued in cool tones devoid of emotion. “I don’t know why, it’s not like you need feeling sorry for, with your rich life off in your manor house,” she added bitterly. “So we just need to get the stone,” she hurried on, as if worried Katherine would interrupt her and break her train of thought, “And you can return to your privileged life and we can forget any of this ever happened.”
“If that’s what you want,” replied Katherine, disappointed and hurt but not willing to let the other woman see the affect she had on the normally in control lady of the manor.
“It is,” said Seven determinedly before turning back to face the road and spurring the horse into movement again, Katherine following on.
A few hours later, Katherine was amazed that everything had
gone according to
She was grateful for the room and a chance to finally have a wash and clean up after a night spent in the forest. The Sheriff had also provided her with a new dress so she could change out of her riding outfit at last. It was a deep green colour and fairly plain, as most dresses tended to be, with a full-length skirt and long sleeves. It was adorned with a thin golden sash to tie round the middle, the ends falling loose down the skirt. There was also matching gold beading around the cuffs and neckline, which was fairly low showing off the skin of her neck and upper chest but stopping short of anything more risqué.
She’d felt much more presentable as she had made her way down to the market to find Seven who was waiting for Katherine to smuggle her into the castle. The young woman had shown no indication of being pleased to see Katherine when she came to fetch her, keeping any conversation between them to a minimum. Katherine found she was inexplicably disappointed Seven had not even seemed to notice her change of attire, certainly not remarking upon it. In fact Seven had been pretty much avoiding speaking to Katherine ever since their kiss in the woods, apart from telling her it was all a mistake. Katherine wasn’t sure if she believed that or whether Seven had really wanted to kiss her but now felt guilty about it for some reason. Katherine could understand that – she didn’t know what to think either. Yet she couldn’t deny the powerful way she felt drawn to the young woman despite barely knowing her.
Either way things were incredibly tense between the two of them as Katherine led the young woman back up to her room in the castle. After entering the room Seven went to sit immediately in a chair by one of the small windows, staring out into the late afternoon sunshine, the rays picking out the golden strands of her hair. The room was fairly sparsely furnished, with just the large four-poster bed, wardrobe and a couple of sitting chairs in it. Katherine thought about taking the other chair, opposite Seven, but sensed the other woman wanted to be alone with her thoughts. Instead she busied herself getting ready for her dinner with the Sheriff. Shortly after arriving back at the castle he had insisted that she join him for dinner, especially since she had been roaming the forest all night, or so she had told him. She brushed out her auburn hair before tying it back into a ponytail using the same small golden brooch she’d had in it since they had departed the castle the day before.
“I’m going to dinner with the Sheriff,” she informed Seven.
The young woman did not turn from her position at the window, so Katherine continued on. “Hopefully I’ll be able to find out what he’s done with the book and the stone and then we can get it and get out of here.”
Still Seven did not speak, in fact showing no indication that she was even listening to Katherine.
“Right, well, I’ll be going then,” said Katherine turning for the door.
She cast a final look at Seven over her shoulder, but her eyes were still resolutely fixed on the sky outside. As Katherine turned back to the door, suddenly Seven spoke.
“Have a nice dinner,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Katherine spun to look at her quizzically. What had brought on that tone of voice? She received no answer since Seven had once more turned away, ignoring Katherine. Perplexed Katherine opened the large wooden door and stepped out into the corridor, quickly closing it behind her so no one spotted her guest.
A few hours later, Katherine decided she’d had enough of the Sheriff’s company to last her a lifetime. He was a fairly interesting conversationalist, if slightly obsessed by the more violent aspects of ruling a manor. He wasn’t unattractive, either, having something of a rugged charm, but the man was just so naturally lecherous. This was only made worse by the amount of ale he’d consumed. She’d had to drink too, to be polite, but had tried to keep it to a minimum. She needed her wits about her, not only to extract the whereabouts of the stone from him, but also to fend off his advances. And there had certainly been plenty of those. At least she had felt slightly protected by the great expanse of oak table that had separated them during dinner. Now that all the food had been cleared away, however, he had come to sit next to her, reaching out to stroke her knee as he spoke. She had to stop herself from shuddering at the touch.
“You know, you really are a most attractive woman,” he slurred.
“Thank you,” replied Katherine, trying not to turn her nose up at the strong smell of ale on his breath. “You are most generous for letting me stay here.”
“Not at all, it was the least I could do after you were set
upon on my lands. Those infernal outlaws
are a blight on
“Indeed,” replied Katherine. She decided that he was probably just about drunk enough now for her to try and broach the subject of the jewel. “Though I think they were actually after something specific.”
“Really, what makes you say that, my dear?” he asked with interest, looking at her with bleary eyes.
“Well, before I managed to escape, they kept going on about a green jewel that they were searching for, though I told them I didn’t have such a thing,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
“A green jewel? I say, you don’t think they meant the one on that book of yours that you gave me, do you?” He suggested.
“Why, yes, you could be right!” she agreed in mock surprise. “They may still be after it, you know,” she added leaning towards him, “You have got it safely stored somewhere I hope?”
“Oh yes,” he said smugly, “It’s locked up in the west tower, in the library.”
“Right,” said Katherine, noting the location mentioned, “When you say locked up…?”
“Yes, double-locked in a oak cabinet, no outlaws will be getting near that. And I have the key safely hidden,” he noted patting his upper chest to indicate he was wearing it round his neck under his tunic.
“Ah, good. It sounds like you have it well protected. Well, I must really be heading to bed, it’s been a very long day,” said Katherine, stifling a fake yawn.
“Of course, how rude of me to keep you up so long,” he said, getting to his feet and swaying slightly. “Would you like me to escort you to your room?”
“No, no, you’ve done more than enough, I’ll be fine,” she said quickly, definitely not wanting the Sheriff anyway near her room considering who she had in it.
“Well, goodnight,” he said, taking her hand and kissing the back of it, “Until the morning.”
“Goodnight,” she answered, picking up a lit candle in a holder as she departed the room, heaving a huge sigh of relief once she got out the door.
She hurried back up to her room, hoping that Seven hadn’t taken it upon herself to do anything reckless in her absence since she had been gone quite some time. She entered to find the young woman still in the chair she had been in when Katherine left. Though now the room was almost pitch black, only illuminated by the moonlight coming in the small windows and Katherine’s solitary candle.
“Have you been sitting there all the time?” asked Katherine incredulously.
Seven turned to regard her with disdain. “You have been drinking,” she stated.
“Er, yes, I was trying to find out where the jewel was, in case you forgot,” she replied indignantly, “And that meant I had to be friendly to the Sheriff.”
“Ha, and I bet you hated that,” scoffed Seven.
Katherine felt her blood boiling but took a few deep breaths to bite back the angry response she wanted to deliver. Why does she affect me so? “Do you want to know about the jewel or not?” she asked eventually.
“Yes, I want to know,” Seven replied. “I presume you did not get it then?”
“No, it’s locked up in an oak cabinet, in the library in the west tower,” explained Katherine. “The Sheriff has the key around his neck.”
Katherine noticed Seven sucking in a breath and pursing her lips as if processing that bit of information. It was certainly quite a distracting sight, those luscious red lips pouting in the flickering candlelight.
“Now would probably be the best time to go and get it then,” Seven finally said.
“But it’s locked away,” said Katherine, confused.
Seven just looked at her and rolled her eyes. “I am a thief,” she explained as if talking to a small child, “I came prepared.”
With that she went over to the small bag she had brought with her and fished out the black outfit and another small bag. As Seven started to unashamedly unfasten her dress Katherine quickly turned around partly out of politeness and partly due to embarrassment, though another part of her dearly wanted to study the form that lay hidden underneath the long flowing cloth. Katherine intently studied the brickwork of the wall to try and keep her mind off what she knew was just behind her if only she dare turn and look. Before she knew what was happening, the door was closing, Seven having departed without saying a word.
So is that it? Will she be coming back? Or is that the last I’ll see of her? That thought caused a strange aching sensation in her stomach and chest and Katherine went over to lie down on the bed to try and calm her racing heart and mind.
The next thing she knew she was started awake by a knocking at the door. Seven! She leapt from the bed and yanked open the door only to be confronted by the Sheriff. She realised she obviously hadn’t been asleep long as the alcohol smell still wafted strongly from his breath as he spoke.
“Sorry to disturb you, m’lady,” he began, “But we just wanted to check that everything was all right?”
“Yes,” she replied in slight confusion, “Is there any reason it shouldn’t be?”
“We caught an outlaw trying to steal something and wanted to make sure she didn’t have any accomplices in the castle,” he explained.
Katherine felt herself swaying slightly and the colour draining from her face as his news hit her. Seven got caught!
“Is there something amiss, m’lady?” asked the Sheriff.
“No,” she replied, reaching for the frame of the door to steady herself. “It was…just the thought of those outlaws roaming the castle,” she managed to say in recovery.
“Ah, yes, I can see that, especially after your run in with them in the forest. Never fear, though, we have her safely locked up in the dungeons and I’m sure we’ll soon find out whether she was alone or not,” he sneered.
Katherine stared at him, trying to battle down the tumult of feelings that threatened her composure. She didn’t dare think how they might find out that information from Seven. “And after that?” she asked.
“She’ll hang, of course, tomorrow morning I think. You’ll be able to watch one of your attackers swinging from the noose,” he smiled grimly.
Katherine swallowed hard, having to turn from him lest he recognised the horror on her face.
“Thank you for checking on me,” she managed, keeping her back to him, going over to lean against the bed, “I shall be fine now.”
“Are you sure?” he persisted.
“Yes, yes,” she replied with a wave of her hand, “I’m just tired.”
“All right, m’lady, if you are sure. My guards are still searching the castle so you should be safe. I myself must retire too, but do not hesitate to send for me if you need anything.”
She did not reply, not trusting herself to either look at him or speak without her emotions betraying her.
“Goodnight,” he added before leaving, shutting the door behind him.
As soon as the door closed, Katherine sagged onto the bed, putting her head in her hands. What am I going to do? She knew that if she did nothing, tomorrow morning those beautiful blue eyes would be staring lifelessly at her from the hangman’s noose. The thought was physically painful.
I have to get Seven out of there!
The conviction of the thought surprised her, but at the same time she knew she had to follow it through. At the same time she had no idea how to accomplish it. She was just a noble lady, not an outlaw or a soldier and certainly not someone who went around breaking people out of dungeons. Not to mention that, noble or not, if she herself got caught she would be dangling from the gallows too. Even if she didn’t get caught, if it came to light that she had been helping an outlaw then her life as a noble would be over. Again she was surprised how little either of those factors bothered her when faced with the alternative of doing nothing.
She resolved she would just have to find a way to get down there without being seen. Thinking about it she realised how crazy what she was contemplating was, but at the same time she sensed in somewhere deep within her that it was right. It seemed that where Seven was concerned all sense of reason disappeared. She knew if Tobias could see her now, he would think she had gone mad. She herself wondered at her sanity as she gathered herself and headed out the door.
Katherine kept herself in the shadows, pinned to the stone wall of the castle behind a handy suit of armour, as a group of the Sheriff’s men headed across the junction with the next corridor. She listened to their footfalls, only appearing from her hiding spot when they had safely faded into the distance. She went to the end of the corridor and glanced either way. There was no sign of life apart from the torches flickering along the walls. The only good thing about this crazy mission of hers, she thought, was that it was night so most of the castle’s inhabitants were tucked up in bed. She had never done anything like this in her life, so any small advantages she could get were gratefully received. She hadn’t actually been to the dungeons of the castle before, but she assumed they lay in the lower depths of the fortress. She quickly headed for the nearest staircase to take her downwards, continuing to nervously check over her shoulder for anyone else who may be wandering the corridors.
Eventually she found herself coming down a stairwell into a much darker, danker area of the castle. Something brushed past her ankle and she jumped suddenly, before spotting the rat scurrying away into the darkness. She placed her hand to her chest to try and calm her pounding heart. She really wasn’t cut out for this sort of thing.
She peered down the corridor ahead of her. It was nowhere near as well lit as the ones above and the smell down here was a lot more unpleasant too. Damp cascaded down the walls, the drips making small plopping sounds as they hit the stone flagstones of the floor. She could just make out a faint light at the end where it appeared that the corridor turned to the right. Gingerly she made her way to the turn, careful not to make any noise. When she got to the end, she carefully peeked around the corner.
Katherine noted that there were a series of doors with small grates in them – cells for holding prisoners, she surmised. Halfway along the corridor sat one of the Sheriff’s men, looking thoroughly bored. He was leaning back against the wall, admiring his sword in the light of the single torch that lit the corridor.
“I’m gonna get something to drink,” he suddenly called out making Katherine jump.
It dawned on her that there must be another guard in one of the cells somewhere that he was speaking to. Sure enough, a reply came echoing out into the corridor.
“Get me one too!”
Muttering something unintelligible the guard in the corridor got up and Katherine realised he was coming her way. Frantically she looked for somewhere to hide, quickly dashing back to the stairwell and wedging herself under the steps. As the guard ascended the stairs, still muttering to himself, Katherine felt a cold sweat breaking out on her forehead and her hands becoming clammy with nerves. Taking a few deep breaths she proceeded back down the corridor and round the corner.
She wondered which cell the other guard was in and whether that was also the one with Seven in too. Just as she was about to look into the first grate she heard a muffled thud come from one of the other rooms. It was only then that she noticed that the door to one of the cells at the end of the corridor was actually open. She sidled along the wall towards the opening.
“Not very talkative are you?” came a gruff male voice from inside, the same one that had called to the other guard.
Katherine heard another sickening thud. Now she was closer she could tell that it was the sound of something impacting upon flesh. Dreading what she would see, she forced herself to edge her head out so she could glance in the room. She let out an involuntary gasp and had to quickly dart her head back out of the door as the guard spun round. Leaning back against the wall, she slid down to sit crouched on the floor in the corridor, her hand clasped to her mouth to stop any other sounds escaping from it. Luckily for her the guard obviously decided not to investigate the sound, instead turning back to his captive.
“Come on, all you gotta do is tell me who was with yer,” he continued.
The sound of another punch made Katherine flinch, especially as she now knew the person on the receiving end was Seven. In the brief look she had gotten she had seen that Seven was barely conscious, dangling by her arms from chains on the far wall of the cell. Katherine tried to think of some course of action glancing about for any inspiration. There was no way she could overpower the guard, he was a good six feet tall and much larger than Katherine. As she tried to formulate a plan her mind kept flicking back to the sight of Seven’s bloodied face. As she heard another blow land, Katherine suddenly leapt up, grabbed the stool that the other guard had been sitting on and dashed into the room. Before the guard even had the chance to turn Katherine channelled her anger and used all the strength she could muster to crack him across the back of the head with the wooden seat. He staggered forwards and she drew the stool back again before bringing it smashing back down on his skull once more, the wood splintering into pieces as he slumped to the floor.
She stood panting for a moment, looking down at his unconscious form not quite comprehending what she had done, the remains of the shattered stool still in her hands. A small moan from the wall broke her reverie. She glanced up to see Seven straining to raise her head. Blood was trickling from both her mouth and nose. Her left eyebrow was split, more blood from that running down her cheek.
“Seven, my god…” cried Katherine stepping over to the young woman and cradling her head.
“You, you came for me…?” said Seven her eyes gazing directly at Katherine with surprise evident in them. Suddenly she started to cough, more blood blossoming on her lips.
“Shh,” said Katherine, “Don’t try to speak.”
Katherine knelt down by the guard, searching desperately for the keys to the chains. Fortunately they were attached to his belt and she wrenched them free before fumbling them in the locks until she found the right one. Freed from the chains, Seven sagged from the wall, and Katherine quickly moved to catch her. Katherine put her arm round the young woman’s middle and guided Seven to lean on her with her arm round Katherine’s shoulders. She noticed Seven flinching where Katherine touched her body, no doubt she was bruised or worse underneath the black outfit.
“Can you walk?” asked Katherine, “Only there’s another guard who’s going to be back any minute.”
Seven merely nodded and Katherine started moving, Seven leaning heavily on her as the exited the room. Katherine wasn’t quite sure how they made it back up to her room without any of the guards spotting them. Maybe the fates were finally smiling on her, she mused silently, as she pushed open the door and guided Seven over to the bed. Gently she lowered the young woman down onto the blankets. Seven’s eyes flicked to hers in a look of silent gratitude before they closed in unconsciousness.
It was a short time later when those eyes started flickering again as Seven drew herself back from the darkness. Katherine was dabbing delicately at the cut over Seven’s eye with a damp cloth when she noticed that the young woman was awake. The sense of relief was powerful, just another sign if Katherine needed one of what she was desperately trying to deny – she had feelings for the young woman; strong ones.
“How are you feeling?” Katherine asked trying to keep her tone even, but failing miserably to hide her concern. She leant back to give herself some distance from the young woman, regarding her from where she was sitting next to her on the bed.
Seven closed her eyes and took a few breaths for a moment as if it was an effort to even speak. “Like I was just hanging from a wall in a dungeon being repeatedly punched,” she replied seriously.
Katherine looked at her with shock, until she noticed that the corners of Seven’s mouth were quirking into a faint smile. She felt a strange clutching sensation in her chest at seeing that small smile directed at her. She found she was returning it without even thinking. Taking pity on the obviously dumbstruck noble lady, Seven continued on.
“I’m all right, really. I’ve had worse. I don’t think anything is broken, just a few bruises.”
Seven paused, but Katherine still found she was unable to formulate anything to say. She was too busy studying the young woman, lost in the azure pools of her eyes. She was overwhelmed by the moment, having this young woman so close to her on the bed, within touching distance, just the two of them in the candlelit room. Seven gingerly sat up, resting on the pillows against the headboard. Katherine’s hand reflexively shot out to help her sit, gently gripping her arm. When she realised what she had done she quickly removed it, looking away in embarrassment.
“Why did you come for me?” asked Seven, breaking Katherine’s study of the floor, “Was it just because you knew I had to return in order for your people to be safe?”
“No!” cried Katherine, perhaps a little too vehemently, her head shooting back round to look at Seven. Only now did she realise that hadn’t even crossed her mind. “No,” she repeated more quietly this time, “it wasn’t to save my people.”
She looked directly into Seven’s eyes trying to impart exactly why it was she had come to the young woman’s rescue, without having to say it. She still wasn’t sure where she stood and didn’t want to make a fool of herself. Seven’s lips parted slightly as comprehension dawned.
“You…did it…for me?” she asked tentatively, as if not quite daring to believe it.
Katherine took a deep breath, supposing there was no point denying it. If she looked like a fool then so be it. “Yes,” she replied.
Seven just gazed back at her in stunned silence, before glancing away. Fear clutched at Katherine’s chest. I’ve got it wrong. She does think it was all a mistake. As Katherine’s heart sagged, Seven’s voice broke her thoughts, uncharacteristically quiet and uncertain.
“I am…unaccustomed to people helping me,” Seven said. Katherine did not interrupt, letting her
continue with her train of thought. “I
have not had much experience of kindness, not directed towards me anyway. The only person who’s ever really shown any
kind of tenderness towards me is
Katherine felt another sharp stab in her chest at the
mention of the outlaw’s name. She knew
she just had to ask Seven the question that had been bothering her. “You and
“What?” asked Seven, staring at Katherine in confusion, seeing the worried look on the older woman’s features.
“Oh!” she cried as she realised what Katherine was getting at. “Oh, no, no, we’re not together in that way!”
Katherine hoped the relief that flooded her body wasn’t too obvious in her expression.
Katherine felt her heart go out to the young woman on hearing about her parents, no wonder she was hesitant with showing her feelings if she had experienced tragedy so young. “I’m sorry,” Katherine said lamely, not knowing what else to say.
“It was a long time ago,” said Seven wistfully, gazing off at one of the candles that lit the room.
“But apart from
As Seven turned back to regard her intensely, Katherine knew there was no going back now. As soon as she had mentioned the word she knew that was what she was feeling for Seven. Her mind told her it was utterly crazy, ridiculous and improbable – she’d only known Seven for a matter of days. Yet her heart didn’t care about any of that and it was in control now.
“Why do you ask?” replied Seven, her voice barely a whisper, her eyes not moving from Katherine’s own.
Katherine didn’t respond immediately, trying to compose herself for a moment as her heart pounded wildly in her chest and butterflies raged through her stomach.
“I think you know,” she began, her own voice dropping to a husky whisper. “I think you felt it from that first time in my bedroom here at the castle, just as I did - that connection between us. Then in the wood, when you…kissed me…”
Seven’s eyes briefly flicked downwards and a flush crept up her face.
“You didn’t really think that was a mistake did you?” said Katherine, in what was more a statement than a question.
“No,” confirmed Seven, “I very much wanted to do it.”
Katherine smiled and edged along the bed closer to Seven.
“And do you want to do it again?” she asked, amazed at her own presumptuousness. She couldn’t seem to control what her body was aching for though.
“Yes,” was all Seven could manage, with Katherine now sitting so close to her.
Before she lost her courage, Katherine leaned in towards Seven and pressed her lips delicately to the young woman’s. Her eyes closed as soon as she made contact, warmth spreading and suffusing every inch of her body as she tasted the wonderful soft lips. The warmth quickly grew, inflaming her with sudden passion and she pressed in more closely, her hands coming up to cup Seven’s face. Desire coursed through her as she felt Seven’s own hands grip Katherine’s waist.
Then they were falling back onto the bed. Katherine was on her side next to the younger woman, leaning over her, not letting the connection of their lips break as the kiss deepened, Katherine’s tongue probing into Seven’s mouth and tangling with hers. She broke away for a moment so she could gaze down at the woman in her arms. She let a broad smile cross her features as she saw Seven looking lovingly back up at her. Katherine reached up to stroke her cheek gently.
“You are so beautiful, Seven,” she said, wanting to say so much more, but hopefully letting all the love she felt show in her face.
“Anne,” Seven said.
“What?” asked Katherine, perplexed.
“My name is Anne.” Seven clarified.
“Anne…” tested Katherine somehow knowing that being allowed to call the young woman by this name was significant. “Then why Seven?” she added.
Seven smiled. “Maybe I’ll tell you one day,” she said cryptically.
“But not today?” Katherine asked.
“No, not today,” agreed Seven before pulling Katherine back down and capturing her lips in a full-blooded kiss.
Katherine’s hands roamed down Seven’s body as she was consumed with ardour, the intensity of the kiss driving any conscious thoughts from her mind. She was acting purely on instinct and desire as a small moan escaped from within her.
“Oh, Katherine!” cried Seven, enraptured by hearing the sound from the other woman.
Seven rolled Katherine over so she was now hovering above her, loose tresses of golden hair brushing across Katherine’s face. Katherine felt a thousand small tingles across her flesh as Seven’s hands explored her body, stroking along her side and down her dress. Somewhere at the back of her mind it occurred to her that she should be repulsed by what they were doing, but that thought was quickly quashed as one of Seven’s hand gently pushed Katherine’s dress skirt up so it could slide up the inside of her thigh. Katherine felt a flood of moisture between her legs.
“Anne!” she husked, tipping her head back at the blissful sensation of the warm hand on her naked skin.
As her head came back, Seven’s lips were once more upon her own, kissing her with searing intensity. Katherine could barely process all that was happening, all that she was feeling. She had never felt such naked desire and passion before. As Seven’s fingers continued upwards, Katherine shuddered with delight, gripping onto the cloth of Seven’s black tunic. Then as one slender digit slowly slipped inside her Katherine was totally lost.
“Oh!” she cried out unfettered.
Feeling the young woman caress inside her was pure ecstasy and Katherine found herself moving in rhythm as Seven’s finger slowly glided in and out through the wetness. When Seven added a second finger Katherine moaned aloud once more, her hand practically tearing the tunic from Seven’s back. Needing to feel even more connection to the young woman she reached up and pulled her down so their lips could meet, Katherine urgently seeking out Seven’s tongue with her own.
Seven’s hand was moving faster now and Katherine panted and groaned with each thrust until she suddenly felt the fire building from within, spreading out from her core to overtake her whole body. She clung to Seven as her orgasm raged through her, leaving her trembling in the young woman’s arms. Seven slowly removed her fingers and hugged Katherine tightly as the after affects still shook though her, Katherine burying her head in Seven’s shoulder and breathing raggedly. Eventually Katherine moved away slightly so she could look at the young woman. Katherine’s eyes were now a deep blue colour, the response to all the raw emotion coursing through her.
As she made to speak there was a sudden knock at the door. Both their eyes darted to the solid oak door and then quickly back to each other in shock as they heard the flick of the latch going up.
“Quick!” cried Katherine to Seven who was frozen to the spot as the latch on the door clicked open. Seven just looked blankly at her.
“Under the bed!” said Katherine frantically, ushering the young woman off the bed.
Seven scrabbled underneath the four-poster just as the door swung open; Katherine swiftly sitting back up, smoothing her disarrayed skirt and trying to look composed even though she was anything but. Entering the room was Charles Kirby, one of the knights of her manor.
“Is everything all right, m’lady, there was no response to my knock,” said the tall burly man.
“Well, you hardly gave me much of a chance,” she replied shortly, “But, yes, everything is fine, thank you.”
“Are you sure? You look rather…flushed,” he said looking at her quizzically.
“I was asleep, you disturbed me. What was it you wanted anyway?” she asked, changing the subject away from her state of dishabille. She definitely didn’t need to be answering any more questions as to why she looked like she had been rolling around on the bed, which of course she had.
“Since I was still in
Katherine swallowed nervously, knowing Seven was directly underneath where the man was sitting.
“I could stay with you the night if you needed some company,” he suggested.
Katherine resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. How long was Kirby going to keep trying it on with her before he got the message that she wasn’t interested?
“No, no, that’s not necessary, really, “ she insisted.
“The outlaw they captured escaped, you know,” he informed her, perhaps hoping it may strengthen his case.
“Really?” she said, trying her best to feign surprise.
“Yes, looks like they had an accomplice after all, clobbered one of the guards,” he continued.
“And did anyone see this accomplice?” Katherine asked as nonchalantly as she could.
“No, they jumped the guard from behind apparently. And they stole a book and jewel belonging to the Sheriff before escaping too, “ he added.
“How terrible,” she replied with mock sincerity. “Well if that’s all, I think I will be going back to sleep. It is late after all,” she said, getting up, Kirby following suit as she had hoped he would.
Placing a guiding hand on his arm she lead him to the door.
“But thank you for being so concerned for my welfare,” she added as she saw he out.
“As always, m’lady,” he said making a small bow as she shut the door on him, making sure that this time she slid the bolt across to stop any unwanted visitors.
Turning back round she leaned back against the solid bulk of the door and let out a huge sigh of relief. Hearing the closing of the door, Seven had clambered out from under the bed and was looking bemusedly at Katherine.
“I don’t understand,” the young woman said, “He said someone stole the book and jewel, but I never got the chance to get it…”
Katherine let a small grin curve her lips as she went over to the wardrobe, opening the door and retrieving something. Seven’s eyes widened as Katherine turned to face her, holding the book with The Stone of Gaia firmly imbedded in its cover.
“But, how…” Seven asked, looking up at Katherine with total surprise on her face.
“While you were unconscious I snuck to the Sheriff’s quarters and got the key off him. After his earlier visit to my room I knew he would be out cold from all that ale he consumed at dinner, “ she explained, “And I figured that they would be busy looking for the escaped prisoner, rather than guarding the library. So it was fairly simple to go up there, get the book and return the key, all without being seen.”
Seven looked completely gob-smacked.
“So, I make a passable thief then?” asked Katherine, laughing at the expression of amazement on the young woman’s face.
“Yes,” agreed Seven, “Exceptionally good”
She reached out and took the book from Katherine’s hands, studying the jewel on the front.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” remarked Katherine.
“Yes,” replied Seven distractedly, before flicking her eyes back to Katherine. ”But why did you do it? Why take that risk?”
Katherine flushed slightly and averted her gaze from Seven. “I suppose I could say I did it for the people of that village,” she suggested, “Or to save my people.” She fixed Seven with her blue-grey eyes once more. “But the truth is I did it for you,” she confessed.
Seven blinked a moment, as what Katherine had told her sunk in, before a broad smile broke across her face. Seeing the reaction, Katherine knew it had been worth every ounce of risk. Seven dropped the book on the bed she stepped to enfold Katherine in a warm embrace. Bending her head, she captured Katherine lips in a loving kiss, Katherine melting into the young woman’s arms.
“Now,” said Katherine huskily, gazing up at Seven, “I think we were disturbed in the middle of something…”
Sunlight filtered through the small windows of her room as Katherine slowly opened her eyes. She felt Seven’s warm breath fluttering against her auburn hair, the young woman still asleep next to her, one arm draped over Katherine’s naked chest. She propped herself up on one elbow and turned to regard the sleeping woman, brushing away a loose strand of golden hair that lay across her face. She looked so peaceful now, so different from how Katherine had seen her last night. She visualised the evening’s events, specifically the sight of Seven in the throes of passion, her naked body convulsing as she climaxed beneath Katherine’s touch. Katherine allowed herself a small smile as she recalled the feel of Seven’s lithe body and skin against her own.
The smile faded as other, more troubling thoughts crept into
her mind. She found herself thinking
about exactly where things could go from here.
Though she knew she had intense feelings for this young woman there were
just so many other things that seemed so wrong with it. For a start Seven
was an outlaw, ostracised from and actively against the very establishment that
Katherine represented. And of course
there was the fact that she would most likely be going to hell now, for having
sexual relations with another woman.
Katherine had not even known that was possible until she met Seven. But if it was a sin, then why does it seem
so natural to be with Seven? With
Anne. Katherine corrected herself.
It would still take some getting used to calling her that. If anyone were to discover that Katherine was
even friendly with Anne, let alone anything else, then she could lose
everything – her home, her manor, her position.
Everything she and Mark and built together at
Katherine suddenly realised that she had been so caught up in her thoughts that she had failed to notice Seven waking up. The young woman was regarding her uncertainly, obviously detecting Katherine’s unease.
“What is wrong?” she asked.
“N-nothing,” said Katherine glancing away and sitting up while gathering the blankets to cover her naked torso.
“Something is wrong,” said Seven, not being put off. She reached out to touch Katherine’s shoulder, trying to get her to turn back round. Katherine reflexively flinched at the surprise touch. Seven let her hand drop.
“You have decided you do not want to be with me,” said Seven, hurt colouring her tone.
Katherine didn’t say anything, still looking steadfastly away as her mind raged. Is that really what I want? It would be so much easier.
Taking Katherine’s silence as her answer, Seven swiftly got to her feet, grabbing her clothes that lay scattered on the floor along with the jewel.
“And I thought I actually meant something to you,” said Seven bitterly as she quickly pulled her breeches and tunic on, “More fool me for thinking that anyone could care about me.”
As she made to go, Katherine rose and grabbed the young woman’s arm.
“Wait!” she cried.
Seven turned round to look at her, pain etched on her features, a single tear tracking down her cheek. Katherine reached up and wiped it away.
“I do care for you,” Katherine started falteringly.
Seven just stared back at her, hurt in her eyes. Katherine saw the muscle in her jaw jumping as she tried to control her emotions. Katherine swallowed past the lump in her throat at seeing the other woman’s obvious distress and tried to press on with her explanation.
“But it’s all so sudden, so confusing. You’ve had such a profound affect on me that I can’t even seem to think straight. I know that I can’t stop thinking about you, that the thought of being apart from you makes me feel sick inside…”
“But?” whispered Seven, filling in the pause that Katherine had left.
“But…but…I don’t know!” cried Katherine in exasperation. She didn’t even seem to know what she was trying to say. “There’s just so many other things to consider.”
“And there aren’t for me too?” said Seven angrily.
Katherine was taken aback. She had been so focused on her own thoughts that she hadn’t stopped to consider how difficult this whole situation was for Seven as well.
“You’re a noble, everything we’ve been fighting against all these years, everything we despise,” she said, adding extra venom to the last word. “Yet I knew the first time I saw you that meant nothing,” Seven continued, her voice thick with emotion. “I tried to fight what I knew I was feeling, but there was no way for me to deny the instant connection I felt towards you. And as the short time since then passed I came to realise that there was no way for me to deny that I love you.”
Seven let her final statement hang in the air as she looked away from Katherine, having been fixing her with the most intense gaze as she had said the words. Katherine felt her heart pounding in her chest. Say something! Her mind raged at her. She just told you she loves you! Before Katherine could find her voice, Seven spoke once more, a bitterness now creeping into her tone.
“So when you’ve finished ‘considering’, well, maybe you can let me know.”
Seven made it to the door, her hand on the latch, before Katherine finally managed to get her vocal chords to work.
“Seven…Anne…please…wait…” she croaked.
The young woman stopped, but did not turn. Katherine went over to her, not caring that she was naked as she stepped across the stone floor. She placed a single hand on Seven’s shoulder urging her to turn round. Reluctantly Seven conceded, though she would not look into Katherine’s face, instead staring somewhere in the region of her feet. Katherine tentatively reached out and tilted Seven’s head up. Without saying a word she rose up on her toes and kissed Seven lightly on the lips, not sure if her touch was wanted. She was pleased, and not a little relieved, when Seven returned the kiss, though not deepening it, keeping it as a gentle caress.
Katherine sank back down onto the flat of her soles, gazing up at Seven, leaving her fingertips stroking the soft skin of the woman’s cheek. “Just give me a bit of time, please?” asked Katherine in her husky timbre.
Seven reached up to hold the hand that was cupping her cheek, closing her eyes as she held it to her face with her own hand. Slowly she nodded. She didn’t say anything else as she opened her eyes and took one last look at Katherine before turning and leaving the room. Katherine watched her depart, sighing deeply to herself. What am I going to do? That thought played over and over in my mind as she collapsed back onto the bed and stared forlornly at the ceiling.
“I’m sure you won’t have any trouble this time,” said Charles Kirby as he rode alongside Katherine.
They were making their way through
Katherine, along with the rest of her party, were unaware that they were being watched from the trees. A lone pair of ice blue eyes remained fixed on the group, and on one individual in particular, until they disappeared from sight. In fact, they remained staring longingly down the road long after that too before finally melting back into the depths of the forest.