A moonless night rose over the forests around the castle. White stone and ivy towered above the canopy of the trees, a beacon in a quickly darkening world.
The canopy and the trees dropped off 100 yards or more from the exterior wall of the castle itself, open ground the first line of defense for the inhabitants within. Five figures stood in the shadows just inside the line of trees. Wearing dark clothes, hoods, and masks - they blended in perfectly with the blackness around them. The smallest of the five stood a step before the others holding a blackened metal spyglass up to its eye.
It tracked the guards as they patrolled the tower. They had chosen this time specifically. Changing of the guard. A five minute window where tobacco was smoked, gossip was exchanged, and alertness was at a minimum.
The last of the guards disappeared into a staircase that led off the exterior security wall. The coast was clear. The smallest figure raised an arm, and spun a hand around once in a circle, indicating it was time to go. Swiftly, the five figures ran across the grounds between the forests and the wall. They came to a halt at the foot of the wall, and five grappling hooks were pulled free of their belts. The hooks were tossed up into the air, and all five caught on the wall at the top. The figures climbed.
Once on the wall, the leader raised two fingers, and pointed behind them to the stairwell where the two guards would be coming from. Two of the five dropped back, raising crossbows, and ducking into the shadows of the wall's corners. The other three began to run. The target window was close, but two floors above where they currently stood. The whispers of crossbow bolts fired, two thuds indicated the death of two guards.
The lead figure approached a second set of stairs. The guard who manned the bonfire alert system would be headed up any time now. Behind the leader, the two remaining bandits tossed two more grappling hooks to the target balcony. The lead figure heard a yawn, and the tapping of a large lighting torch as it thudded against the floor of each stair. The figure slipped its back against the wall, until the guard stepped out into the open air. He never saw the figure who's hands grabbed his head, and twisted hard enough to break his neck. The figure caught him, leaned him up against one of the walls, head down, torch in his arms - looking asleep.
The lead figure turned, leaping off the wall, grabbing on to one of the grappling ropes, which was held taut by one of the other bandits. Legs wrapping around the rope, hand over hand, the figure was on the balcony within minutes. It tied off the ropes on the balcony side for strength, and set to work picking the lock on the balcony door. By the time all four of the other bandits were on the balcony, the door pushed open slowly. They fanned out as they entered, all five drawing crossbows.
The approach had been so silent, their target never woke. The leader took a position at the foot of the bed, the other four standing over the man sleeping in the bed before them. Once all were in place, the leader raised a foot, and kicked the bed hard, startling the man awake.
Shanen Hamelton, 21 years of age and Teryn Hamelton's eldest son sat up in surprise, instantly awake to see five figures surrounding his bed, illuminated by the dying embers of a wall lamp.
The leader raised a hand, pulling the mask away, leaving the hood - revealing a young woman, with light silver eyes, and pitch black hair. "Good Morning, my Prince. Should I have woken you with a kiss instead?"
If the young man was afraid, he gave no hint as he regarded the intruders in silence. The blanket fell down his body to reveal arms and a torso toned thick with muscle; the result of years of training with the castle's Master at Arms. Even in the half light of the bed chamber he could tell the young woman who taunted him was strikingly beautiful with sharp features and long dark hair peaking from her hood.
"I can think of one place I'd have your lips." Came the instant retort. "Parlour games have little effect on me. I'm impressed you got in but it's only a matter of time before you are found. Perhaps you should take the chance to leave, while you still can, my father takes a dim view of thieves, especially those who wish rob him in his own home."
"There's plenty of time for foreplay later, Highness." The woman laughed, although not at his threat. "I'm afraid we do have other matters to attend right now." She said as she motioned to one of her men, who gathered some of the young Noble's clothes and threw them on his bed. She raised her crossbow a hair higher, the line of the point from her arrow aimed directly at his throat. "Now, I'm going to ask you to get dressed, and come quietly with me and my men. I'd like to keep this encounter polite, I'd hate to have to tell my men to get your little sister instead. I don't like children."
It was only then that Shanen realised what, or rather who, they were after. The mention of his sister, flamed his anger but the arrow aimed directly at his his ensured he had no choice but to comply.
Silently, he rose from the bed, taking no effort to hide his nudity. Rather than being embarrassed he fixed the leader of the intruders with a defiant stare as he dressed; his eyes rarely turning away from her.
As he pulled on bottoms and a pair of boots his mind raced. He could call for the guards but that would almost certainly end up with his death. To be sure, the Bandits wanted him alive as a hostage but they would value their freedom more than having him as a prize and would almost certainly not hesitate to dispose of him if the situation warranted it.
As one of the would-be kidnappers turned to check the corridor he realised his moment to strike was in place. He dropped the upper body garment he was holding and grabbed at the man's dagger on his waist. As the man turned, Shanen slashed him across the chest. It would not be fatal but it would take him out of the fight. He felt naked with no upper body protection of any kind, not even a shirt, but he pushed the thought out of his mind, knowing the need for concentration.
As the first bandit fell with a scream of pain the second intruder closest to him made an effort at a grab but Shanen pivoted back quickly and plunged the blade deep into the man's upper arm. Wrenching the weapon free he ignored the blood spurting from the wound as he turned to face the remaining intruders.
It was the woman who acted next. Slowly, she raised a hand to her remaining two men, a signal for them to wait. Dropping the crossbow on the bed, she stepped in to engage the him herself. Barehanded, she stepped into a low crouch, her eyes fixed on his hips, to see where his momentum was going. Before Shanen could attack again, she stepped forward and swung a kick toward his chest with intent to knock him off balance.
The swiftness of her attack surprised even an experienced combatant such as Shanen. He stumbled, the wind temporarily knocked out of him. Frustrated by the confidence of the woman, he moved toward her in a traditional unarmed fighting stance. He had never fought a woman before and part of his chivalrous upbringing remained with him, even in the midst of a kidnapping attempt.
He dropped his dagger, already red with blood and swung a fist instead, hoping to stun her. If he could do that, then he would be able to focus on the two remaining male accomplices, who would be stronger and by the looks of them, much more dangerous to him than this mystery woman.
The punch was blocked with her own arm rising to meet the blow. "You're underestimating me!" She hissed angirly, seemingly annoyed that the nobleman would not engage her on the same terms as he had met the male attackers. She fired another kick toward his side. "Fight for keeps, Highness, or don't fight at all!"
She was letting her emotions seep in to her judgement, Shanen judged. His Master At Arms had once declared that in a fight, the mental edge was just as vital as a physical one. "When my father takes you prisoner, I'll request he doesn't take your head. I think you'd be much more at home as one of the kitchen maids. You have the look of a washer woman." He taunted, charging her.
"Highness, it may have escaped your notice, but I'm not like the whores that you charm into your bed." She met his attack head on. Her first blow was an elbow to his muscular chest, the second was the same arm swinging wide like a bat, the outside of her fist connecting with the side of his head. When he reeled, the third was a kick to his hip to throw him to the floor.
It was the shot to his temple that finished the fight. He barely felt the third blow but certainly felt his head hit the hard stone floor.
His bare skin felt cold against the ground. He was starting to fade out of consciousness as he saw his attacker move over to her two wounded men and disposed of them without a hint of compassion.
"Dead men tell no tales." Her voice echoed around his head as he lost consciousness.
"Pick him up." The woman gave the order to her two remaining Henchmen. She looked down at the two she had to kill, their blood on the floor, wounded... they were no more use to her.
With an effort, the larger of her two men pulled Shanen to his feet before letting his unconscious body fall over his shoulder. He waited as his leader threw her ransom demands and instructions onto the Nobleman's bed before following her into the corridor and down the nearby staircase.
The three moved efficiently. Shanen's horses were in the yard below and they had every intention of stealing the animals on the way out.
They made quick work of saddling three of the sturdiest beasts. "The captive will ride with me." She stated the order as she ran to the unguarded gatehouse. Complying with the demand, her man draped Shanen's unconscious form over the front of one Horse, as the leader of his kidnappers began to turn the wheel that managed the gate. It sounded of thunder as the mechanisms shifted and groaned into life as the gate drew upwards. The three horses trotted from the stables, pausing to pick up the woman, who even with the Castle waking, made sure the Nobleman was secure on the animal before she herself mounted. By the time anyone made it to the gate, they were back in the safety of the forest, and gone.