A/N - So this is going to be a little different then usual. Prologue, oneshot, epilogue. Enjoy =)

By Triple Vice

She ran. She ran like there was nothing in the world but the wild, rock strewn little path and the sound of her feet beating out a panic-driven rhythm. Her lungs were aflame with agony, and her muscles were reaching exhaustion now that her adrenaline was running out, but stopping was absolutely out of the question. The night was only half-way done, and she had at least a league or more yet to cover…and the hounds were still on her trail. She heard them baying in the distance. It was faint, and sometimes they faded almost entirely, but that meant they were within a league of her present position. Too close. Far too close.

She put a hand on the trunk of a waist-high fallen tree and leapt over, the flaps of her divided skirts flying back from her bare legs and fur boots, and she wished again that she had some trousers to wear under them when her knee caught a branch on the way down. She barely winced though—what little adrenaline she had left was still masking the pain of her other bruises—and forged up from her landing with an urgency that filled her whole being.

The sound of hoofbeats reached her ears then, and she turned just a little to spot the galloping shadow tearing through the trees. It was a suicidal gait for the close-quarters and the risky footing, but the rider was focused on the quarry he had spotted. She swore, and put on a fresh burst of speed.

Somewhere to hide…somewhere to hide…! The hoofbeats grew louder, and she screamed in fury as a hand came down and caught her by the arm. She tried to throw off his grip, or yank him out of the saddle, but it was like he was fastened to his saddle. He was a massive man, with a grip like mule's teeth. He yanked her hard, nearly dislocating her arm, and she was lifted clean off her feet to be thrown across his legs, kicking and thrashing as hard as she could. The man had more stone than flesh though, and she was fairly certain she was hurting herself more than him by fighting back.

"That escape was your best yet, Leonite," said the man, and she took a tiny comfort in the way he was breathing hard through the entire statement.

"Stop saying my clan name like it's a curse!" she snarled as he turned his horse, and elbowed him in the gut—an exercise that felt like futility from the impact that jarred through her flesh. He coughed at the blow though, and loosened his grip for just one bare second…she threw herself backwards and landed, nearly falling straight onto her backside. Instead she just put out a hand and caught herself, used the momentum to turn around, and leapt away from the horse.

A rope wrapped around one of her feet then, and went taught as she tried to take another step. She hit the ground, and suddenly he was there, pressing her into the dirt as she thrashed, fighting back. He grabbed her wrists and muscled her down—which was infuriatingly easy for him to do—and tied her hands together, and then her feet when she managed to give him a good kick in the thigh.

"Your name IS a damned curse. I have never in my life had so much trouble from such a small band of men," he said when he finally finished. "Now, this time I think I will tie you to my belt, because even locking you in towers seems too inadequate to restrain you."

"Oh, woe is the great king who can't restrain a pitiful little female!" she spat at him, and he stepped lightly out of the way. "If you had any sort of honor you would just face my people without all this trickery! Tie me to your belt or lock me in your dungeons if you like, I will still get out."

Locke, king of the Highlands, eyed her with a tired, bemused expression before reaching down to lift her up. She tried to knee him, so he wasn't very careful when he threw her over the withers of his giant bay stallion. The horse shuffled, its heavy hooves stamping irritably as its spine knocked the wind out of her. Locke jumped on behind her, and put a hand on her back as he leaned down.

"Now, lady Briar, it would be in your best interest not to fall off, so stop kicking."

"My lord!"

Briar turned her head to see Locke's entourage finally catch up. That sniveling little advisor, Bane, was breathing so hard that he was hoarse. The man was not only ugly as a donkey's ass, but dumb as a pigeon in heat. The man was lucky he was Locke's cousin.

Locke spurred his horse forward. "I've got her. Let's get back to dinner now."