Sunlight filtered through the tall trees, casting rays of light down upon the quiet woods. Green leaves blew softly in a warm breeze, swaying and falling to the dirt below. There was birdsong somewhere in the distance. But here it was nearly silent, too quiet. The sets of footsteps were the only sound.
She crept slowly and carefully through the woods, silent as can be. Or so she tried. She winced as she stepped on a twig and it cracked under her boot. She muttered under her breath, cursing at herself. She knelt down and peered past the bushes. Across from her, she could see her friend, also creeping quietly. And there he was, the one they had spent all morning searching for, clinging tight to the bag over his shoulder, fortunately not having heard anything. He walked the narrow path. His eyes were darting around almost frantically while he walked, but he did not see them. She saw her friend aim, and pull back the arrow. His scream made hundreds of birds rise from the branches and into the air. He fell forward to the ground.
She stood and went to the man who now lay in the road, groaning in pain, the arrow having cut his hand as it sped past him. Both women stopped next to him. "You are a thief wanted by King Roland of Esera, and we are here to bring you," said the woman with the arrows. "I am Anisa," she went on, "and this is Maia. We work for the castle and will escort you to the city. There you will answer for your crimes."
He glared furiously at her, green eyes wide and full of anger. "Gonna take me, huh?" he growled. "Come near me, and I'll snap your neck," he threatened.
"Shut up," said Maia, kicking him in the side. He gasped, and she turned him onto his stomach and pulled his hands behind his back, wrapping a rope tight around his wrists. "Get up," she ordered, pulling him up roughly by his dirty blond hair. He was forced to his feet, and Maia shoved him in front of her. "Walk," she ordered, pressing a dagger against his back. He walked, and they followed.
Maia turned her head to the woman next to her. She eyed the fresh red marks on her shoulder. "You-"
"They're only scratches," Anisa rolled her eyes, smiling. "They're fine."
Maia sighed. "Whatever you say." She worried about Anisa a little too much.
When they were out of the woods, three soldiers came their way. They grabbed the man by the shoulders, and took over the job of escorting him to the castle. Maia and Anisa followed them through the city. Esera was lively as always. Crowded with people working and shopping and passing through. It was surrounded by woods and hills in the distance.
Anisa and Maia followed the soldiers into the castle, but then went separate ways as they did. The two went to the dining room for dinner. They sat next to each other at one end of the table, and King Roland sat at the other. He was tall and muscular, with light brown hair and eyes. Anisa looked much like him. He was pleased to see them. "I thank you both for your work today," he said before taking a sip of wine. They nodded.
"Of course," Anisa said.
"I've great news," he then quickly announced with a wide smile, and obviously had been anxious to speak of it.
"Oh?" Anisa asked.
"Any sightings on Oswald?" Maia asked.
"Not Oswald," he said. "But we have caught another well known thief and murderer. I've another favor to ask of both of you."
"What is it?" Anisa asked.
"She was caught in the woods near the village of Steden. I have soldiers there, but they must continue on to aid Steden. Will you meet up with them and accompany the thief back here?"
"Of course," Anisa said. "Who is the thief?"
"Talia of Dera," his voice trembled, unable to hide the excitement.
Anisa and Maia were surprised. "Really?" Maia asked.
"Yes," he grinned. "I received word this morning."
"How'd she get caught?" Maia wondered. "She's been avoiding that for years."
"Yes," he said somewhat bitterly. "Eventually they all slip," he took another sip of wine, hand trembling in excitement.
"Guess so," Maia said, finding it strange.
"You both shall leave first thing in the morning," he said quickly.
"Okay," Anisa nodded.
In the morning, Maia woke early. She dressed and then looked at herself in the mirror. Her dark brown eyes were tired and droopy looking. She leaned close when noticing something on her face. A small red line was on her left cheek. Dry blood. She must have cut herself on something yesterday. She wiped it with her finger until it was a tiny pink line on her dark skin, right next to the small white line that was a scar a little underneath her left eye. She combed through her black curls and ran her fingers through them with a tired yawn. There was a knock at her door.
"Come in," she said tiredly.
The door creaked open, and Anisa was standing in the doorway. Anisa ran a hand through her very short, light brown hair. "Ready?" she smiled, her light brown eyes wide with excitement.
Maia chuckled, wishing she could be as excited. "Yeah," she replied. "Let's go."
They left the castle, where a carriage awaited them. "Be careful," Roland called after them. "Talia is known for her trickery. Do not let yourselves fall for anything. Do not listen to a word she says."
"We know," Anisa said. He had already warned them about her several times. Maia was already perfectly aware to not trust the words of a famous thief who charmed people. And she knew that Anisa was as well.
"Bring her back alive and well. She has very many crimes to answer to." And as Roland folded his trembling hands together, Maia noted that he looked very excited to have her answer to them. They nodded. He looked at Maia. "Protect Anisa well."
"Always," she said.
They sat next to each other, and a castle guard, named Karl, was the driver. Maia looked at Anisa. "...Lively today, huh?"
"I'm... excited, actually," she smiled, somewhat guiltily.
Maia snorted. "Only you would be excited to escort a thief and murderer."
"I just find the stories fascinating," Anisa said. "She's gotten away for what... ten years now?"
"Yeah," Maia said. "She's been being hunted since she was eighteen."
"And in all that time she's stolen things from everywhere and everyone without ever being seen. I wonder how she was finally caught now."
"She's really pissed off your uncle, hasn't she?"
"Oh, yes. She's stolen from the family for years."
"That's why he's so happy about this. She's probably his second most wanted after Oswald."
"Yeah. I just hope it goes okay."
"It will," Maia said. "We've been doing this for ten years, and we've never failed," she grinned. "We have as much experience in what we do as Talia does."
"Well, there's a first for everything, as we now know," Anisa chuckled.
And soon, those words would be proven true.