A thud of hoof beats clattered behind her as she weaved around the many surrounding trees. She had to be daft! No fool could outrun a galloping horse and get away! Despite the constant doubt running across her mind she still continued her escape; using the twine of trees to her advantage. She knew for such large and speedy beasts, rounding tree after tree was still a difficult task.

"I've got her!" a voice suddenly rang out from somewhere nearer, but she could not distinguish where the voice had come from and before she could react, pounding hooves landed directly in her path. She stumbled backwards immediately, for fear the giant beasts would crush her beneath their panic stricken actions. It was suddenly obvious that the riders cared little for the beasts they rode, because they did nothing to calm the horses down.

"Hello, once again, bitch," the rider sneered, "I see we've caught thee at last. Michael! I've got her!"

The rider, who had been pursuing her, finally caught up with them, his horse just as restless as the other, pawing the ground nervously. Those beasts frightened her! They were twice her size and she knew without doubt they could crush her if one of their nervous flying hooves came down upon her head. Conscious of the nearness of the horses surrounding her, she tried to stay out of their way. Though still kept her face clean of emotions, revealing little of her trembling fear.

"Nay," she finally spoke, "You have not won this yet." A burst of mocking laughter split the cool air.

"My lady," one of the riders replied easily, "You've been caught, how exactly do you propose to escape us this time? Have you, perhaps, another diversion under that skirt of yours?" The double meaning of his statement made her flush with anger and humiliation.

"How dare you!" she spat, feeling the utter humiliation and meaning of his words sink into her soul. And it was then, that she finally took notice to their scrutinizing gazes, reminding her much of wolves, with their hungry eyes ravaging her body.

"How dare us?" one of the riders slid down from the back of his horse, his large, frightening figure coming to his full intimidating height. "My lady, I believe it is you who has overstepped your boundaries. But first," he stepped over toward her, and she quickly backed away from his touch. He scowled and without warning wrenched his hand around her scalp and gripped a handful of her hair, and drew her to him. She cried out in pain immediately, and struggled against his harsh holding of her. "Thief, you are under my rule now. I have the choice to kill you—or turn you in, whichever I want."

"I don't listen to anyone," she countered and continued to struggle against his hold, but was only rewarded with searing pain across her scalp.

"You will do well to listen to me, you little harlot," he replied, drawing her face so close to his she could smell the stink of his breath. It was all she could do not to retch, and the look of fury in his eyes made her almost shrink in fear.

"I do not listen to anyone," she repeated, purposely making it sound like she was talking to a fool who could not understand. She was rewarded with a slap and was thrown to the ground.

"Michael, she is not worth your time!" the rider still atop his horse said lazily.

"Aye," Michael muttered, the fury in his eyes intensified, "I suppose your right." His eyes traveled the length of her defiant figure now crouched on the ground. "Though, look at her beauty. 'twould be enjoyable indeed to make her mine first. Such beauty should not go to waste." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "What is your name, girl?" he ordered, "I shall know it so I might scream it when your mine."

She shuttered and gave him a look of daggers, her blue eyes glazing like ice, "I shall not give you a name. And neither will I lend you my body."

Michael laughed, "'tis a shame that particular fate is not in your hands."

She suddenly gave a slow and deceiving grin, "Really?" her hand suddenly gripped a handful of the soft dirt floor and flung it in his eyes. "'tis a shame you weren't expecting that!" She never hesitated, never gave either of the men a chance to stop her before she swiftly took the chance to escape.

"That bitch!" she heard Michael curse, and heard a horses whiney behind her.

That was far too close! Never had she been caught during one of her tasks, nor been caught in her escape! Though she easily held her emotionless mask, underneath she felt it breaking without her consent. The fear racing through her becoming much too evident! And she could not allow that! For fear was exactly what they wanted! Showing fear was her disadvantage if that fear was actually real! And unfortunately, the fear she felt stirring in her blood was not one of an act.

The pounding of hooves met her ears and encouraged her to weave faster between the forests of trees, but feared it did little to keep her enemies at bay.

"Mistress!" one of the men called from behind her, "Why do you run when you know you will never get away?" She ignored his ridicule and pressed on, until suddenly her foot caught on a large tree root and brought her to the ground. It didn't take long for the horses to approach and before she was even on her feet again, Michael had slid off his horse and pinned her to the ground.

She flailed her arms and jerked left and right to try to get the bastard off of her, but his towering figure was much too strong and held her firmly to the ground. "I will have that ring back now," he ground out angrily, "And then we'll discuss your punishment."

Her eyes stared back innocently, "What ring?"

"Don't play the fool with me," his grip tightened relentlessly on her shoulders, and she felt herself sinking into the forest floor from his weight against the top of her.

She cringed only slightly under his pressuring weight. "Alright, I won't play the fool, but you will never see it again."

"Is that right?" Michael replied, a gleaming in his eye, "Might that be because you tucked it in your bodice and never thought I'd find it there?" His hand gripped the front of her bodice and ripped cruelly downward, immediately revealing her thin chemise beneath the bodice. Instinctively, she went to cover herself, but he quickly grabbed both her wrists and one handedly held them over her head. "Ah, ah," he shook one of his fingers at her like she was a child, "I'd cooperate if I were you."

"Go to hell."

"Nay, my lady, I think I like it much better here," he sarcastically replied and then hungrily drew his eyes to her chemise made of such thin material; it did little to cover her. And then vulgarly, he took his free hand and began to cup her breasts, not really seeming to be searching for anything at all and more taking advantage of her body.

"Your name, my lady?" he whispered, almost dazed.

"My name will never reach your ears."

The cool metal of a blade suddenly was pressed to her throat and she immediately silenced herself, fearing that any movement would make her slit her own throat. "Whore, you will give me your name, or I will kill you now."

"I'm--," she hesitated against the pressure of the dagger, "I'm not a whore."

"Perhaps not now," Michael hissed into her ear, his breath against her neck making her shiver in fear. "But by the time I am done with you, your maidenhood will be taken outside of marriage, and then, my dear, you will become a whore."

"I'd rather die," she breathed. Michael did not take her comment seriously and absently caressed the dagger against her throat. He pondered her a moment, trying to figure out exactly who she was, but decided her name did not matter.

"Where is that ring?" he suddenly persisted, deciding to get what he came for first before taking her then.

"I already told you," she replied, her voice quivering ever so slightly.

"Oh?" Michael's hands began to roam across her body, first running his fingers over her breasts and then, slowly began to move his hand downward; only pausing to get his hand underneath her skirt and chemise.

The feel of his hands running up her inner thigh, made her skin crawl—she wanted to break down into tears! Having her body being so terribly violated! His hand moved from her inner thigh and continued upward. She cringed when she felt his hand pause above her most sacred of spots and then finally was relieved to feel his hand continue its search for the ring.

"You won't find them," she taunted, keeping her gaze strong and defiant, making it seemed like his roaming hands did the least to frighten her. If only he knew what lay beneath the mask of her defiant eyes!

"You bitch!" his hand ripped out from under her skirts and tightened around her throat, his thumb pushing against her windpipe. "Tell me what you did with it!"

"Nay," she rasped.

"Tell me, or I'll---,"

A horse suddenly stamped down only inches from where Michael had her pinned and he looked up angrily, "Nathan, do you mind?" His voice that had once been strong of authority faltered, "Ah—ah, my lord…"

"Release the girl at once!" The voice sounded so far away, though she was thankful to have the pressure released from her throat and drew in precious breath, her vision slightly distorted. She heard the sound of someone dismounting and then the sound of a sword being drawn, "You, on your feet."

Michael scrambled off of her figure and the pressure of his weight decreased immensely, letting her breathe easier. She squinted through her vision that was finally starting to see clearer and saw the man that had stopped the act Michael was about to go through with.

He was incredibly tall, and though at first Michael's figure had seemed intimidating, after standing next to this man, he looked weak and vulnerable. "My lady, are you alright?" His eyes narrowed on her chest, seeing the ripped bodice and her unfit chemise that did little to cover her decently. She quickly flushed when she realized the tattered material and drew it around herself to help cover her up. "Here," a cloak was suddenly wrapped about her shoulders.

Michael watched in utter amazement, and she enjoyed very much of the shock growing upon his face. "But—but, my lord!" Michael turned outraged toward the man, who was, evidently a knight, "She is a thief! Do not treat her so decently, the treacherous wench does not deserve it!"

The man cocked his head and stared at the young woman before him and gave a smirk. She certainly did not resemble anything dangerous or even treacherous for that matter. However she seemed innocent, perhaps, and was that a hint of self pride and spirit in her eyes? He eyed her up and down—she was so small. It seemed she could break under the simplest of brutality, and remembering the man before him treating her so terribly made him silently furious.

The girl suddenly stood straighter, defiant of his scrutinizing and stared him with an eye that told him she did not let others push her around. The gleam in her eyes made him smile, the sight was quite humorous. Eventually he turned back to Michael, "Nay, do not use your excuses with me. You lured her out her to take advantage of her—and then what? Leave her pregnant and made out as the towns whore?"

Michael's eyes nearly popped out of his head toward the accusation, "Nay, sir, you are mistaken! She has stolen something valuable from me!"

The knight once more eyed the girl, who, just as before, stood defiant toward his gaze. "I am innocent, sir," she said with a small curtsy, "Do I look like a girl who would thieve?"

"Nay, my lady, you do not look like the average thief. Nevertheless," he locked his eyes with hers, "Looks can be deceiving."

"Yes, sir, looks can be, and this wench here looks to have the innocence of an angel, but truthfully her soul is as black as a witch. She wishes to deceive you, my lord," and to add to his accusation, Michael spat on the ground at her feet.

She stood her ground, and sent him daggers.

"Aye, I suppose you could be right. But where, might I inquire, is your valuable you claim she has stolen?" The knight eyed her slender figure and took notice to how close her clothing hugged her body, "I do not believe she has hidden it in her garments--But I would assume that you already know that."

"Aye, she has nothing hidden in her garments," Michael ground out.

"Well, then, where is this valuable of yours?"

"Well, why don't you try asking her!" Michael pointed his index finger at her, his eyes flaming with anger for being treated with very little respect.

"My lord," the girl curtsied once more, her heart thudding relentlessly against her chest, she needed to break away from this mess before she was discovered! And she already felt the knight's suspicions growing, and feared he might recognize her. "This man has done nothing but kept his eyes on me—I work in his household."

"Such trickery! Sir, I swear to God himself, I have never seen this woman before until today!"

She suddenly shrank inside herself—Michael for sure would have had the knight's attention now. No man would stake something on the name of God, unless it were truth. "Well—That is a mighty risk if your tongue defies the truth, good sir, I must say!" he glanced at the petite girl in front of him and then back at Michael, "So, what do you propose that we do about her?"Michael grew quiet a moment, before finally suggesting that they ride to his lands and ask the peasants that work for him, if they even knew who the girl was. The knight, though, looking a bit resentful toward the idea, eventually nodded in agreement. "Aye, I suppose that is the best way. How far?"

"Two, three miles to the east."

"By horse that shouldn't be far," the knight concluded, "But tell me, have you not guards that work on your land as well? I should think if you have enough land to house peasants that the King would have supplied at least two guards too keep watch."

Michael looked a bit perplexed by the sudden question, "Aye, sir, I have four."

"Then why is it you did not send one of them to retrieve her?"

Michael immediately saw where he was going with the sudden probing of questions and flushed with anger, "I did not force her out here to take advantage of her, sir," he said through gritted teeth. "I did not send for any of my guards, simply because there were none near enough to call upon. All my guards are out in the fields making sure my servants do their job!"

The knight nodded, accepting Michael's explanation and then turned toward the girl. "Very well, my lady, might I have your name?

She bit lip, afraid to reveal anything… "Jade, sir."

"A peculiar name, indeed," the knight muttered before turning toward his horse and mounting. "The girl rides with me. Me thinks, she's been through enough torture being in your presence. Come," he held out his hand to Jade, and she hesitantly accepted.

Michael quickly mounted and pulled against the horses reigns to keep it under his control. Jade felt uneasy seated so far above the ground, feeling as if she would slide off the horse's back and was grateful the knight's large frame easily held her in place. The horse they were atop whinnied beneath the extra weight though did not fight the command to trot and started in the direction following Michael's stallion.

"My lady, tell me now, shall I truly be expecting the peasants of his land to know who you are?" When Jade did not answer she felt the muscles in his arms that held the reigns of the horse tense up and felt his grip tighten with little care that his hold was crushing her small figure. "Nothing will be of help if you lie to me. It will only prove to make our situation more difficult."