They yanked her through the garden, moving quietly like moonlit shadows. It was dark, and the drumming of rain was warm against her skin. The crunching of leaves hissed around her, cutting into the calm silence like a knife, and she wondered if she had somehow fallen into a pit of snakes. There were no torches lid up, no fires ringing around the battlements of the keep. She knew that there had to be a reason for that. Ominous clouds smothered the moon blind, and the only thing that told her where to go was the tight grip of a hand upon her arm. There was desperateness in that grip, a sense of dire danger, she had felt it when they woke her in the dead of night. They beckoned her to follow. There had been no time to explain. Throwing on the closest dress she could find, they slipped out of keep without barely any soul awake to see them.
They led her into the courtyard, where the barracks and stables lie. Her stomach twisted and curdled like spoiled milk when she took a closer look at the buildings. Empty. All empty. Where were her men-at-arms? There was a knot buried deep in her throat, like a small animal clawing desperately to scurry out. They were all sleeping too. This was a secret even to them. She had decided they had gone far enough to warrant an explanation. Yanking her hand away she looked at him. In the darkness of night she could only make out a vague shape.
"What is happening?" she asked. The question, although rehearsed, came out almost like a child's whimper.
Before her words fully left her lips the hand was upon her again, gripping her arm like she had been a small child. She had been no child, at least not the case four years ago when she blossom into a woman. But from the blocky, heavy set frame of the shape next to her, she knew it could only be her father's man.
"Rynald I have to know. Tell me. Please."
Rynald yanked her forward. They clogged through the mud. The storm had beaten and battered the hard ground once trampled by knights and horses into slop has smooth has butter. She listened closely to Renald's breathing, the heavy man had been panting along, the sound of his boots squishing at the earth somehow made her stomach turned even more.
"There is no time mi'lady." Rynald said in between a deep breath. He yanked her faster and she struggled to keep up. In there haste to leave the keep she had forgot to wear her heavy boots. Instead she made due with a pair of ballroom slippers that were more suited for dancing then trudging through muck. She had lost both already.
"There is just no time. Forgive me mi'lady." Rynald's tone was apologetic, but yet had a shade of something else underneath it. The wind picked up, blowing rain and loose grass at her face. It was then she had realized she had forgotten a cloak. Stupid. Stupid. She felt her feet sink deep into the mud, the ground sucking her feet whole as if to swallow her. The earth was warm, has warm has a human's body when she sank knee deep in it. Rynald yanked her along.
Several featureless shapes emerged from the darkness of night and rain. Her blood ran cold for a moment, until she heard their tongue. Franks. They are Franks. Rynald greeted them, still holding her at her side as if he were to let go she would disappear. A bright flash caught her eyes, and like some animal her head jerked to see what it was. One of the shapes lid up a torch, the orange fiery glow burned brilliantly in the night, streaking like a comet when he waved in back and forth. Radiant embers flickered at each passing wave, the flames spread licking like tongues as they fought back the darkness. Her stomach settled a little bit after that. Childish has it maybe but it was always better to have some light at night. Never once had see seen the keep this dark before.
When she turned back Rynald was already looking at her, his mouth preparing to speak, a frantic look on his face.
"We have to move, mi'lady."
She turned to the stables, just has she heard the neighing of horses being led to her. She was almost for certain she felt a knife stab into her, but when a hand went to caress her belly she found no wound. It was just her fear.
"What happened to my father-"
"I am sorry mi'lady."
Rynald seized her. For a moment she struggled, the heavy man had lift her up like she had weighted but a feather. He laid her upon a saddle, and snatched the reins has the horse jerked nervously. Smoothing the animal, he looked at her, and finally explained himself.
"Stephen's men will be upon us soon. Maud has fled to France with Prince Henry."
Her eyes widen like a deer at the sight of flying arrows. She felt a knife stab into her belly again, twisting into her flesh. The knot coiled around her neck like a snake choking her. She fought to breath.
"Stephen came back for his crown. He will remember his friends, and his enemies." Rynald jerked the horse forward, and the animal followed.
"It is best we know what we are in Stephen's eyes." Rynald said, checking the edge of his arming sword by his side before thrusting it back into the scabbard. More torches led up next to her, and she saw more familiar faces. There was Sir Daniel Langley, Sir Richard Grey, and Sir Paul of York. There were unfamiliar faces too. Franks by the looks of their colors.
"Lower the portcullis and bridge!" Rynald shouted. His voice was swallowed up by the cracking of thunder in the distance. The iron gate was slowly raised, has men cranked the wheel carefully lowering the bridge over the dark murky moat which surrounded the keep. The horse and Rynald had seemed to take forever walking to the gate, has some smothered voice was screaming inside of her begging her not to go. It was outside the keep, outside of safety. Outlaws lived in the forest. Criminals and deserters, rapists and murders. What would they do to her if they got her?
Another knife stabbed into her and twisted.
A horse neighed has a man rode up next to her. She felt a heavy cloak wrap around her and she turned to look at the rider. It was one of the Franks. Eagerly she wrapped the cloak tighter, the wool warm like a small fire. She forced a confident smile has best has she could from her trembling lips.
"Thank you." she said, the voice shy. Will he understand English? The Frank was clean shaved, his face was lean with high cheek bones and distinguished brows and blue eyes. She couldn't make out if he had hair due to the mail coif over his head.
"No need of courtesy mi'lady. My name is Jean de Metz. I will protect you with my life." He bowed in his saddle. She gazed at him for a moment. Norman. He was a Norman. He was young, maybe around her age. Never the less he had the look of a nobleman. De Metz moved closer to her, and Sir Paul done the same from the other side. She had felt much better now. Both were clad in mail, brandishing unmarked shields underneath heavy cloaks. But why would knights need of such disguises? Regardless it made her stomach feel warmer, like she had finished drinking a bowl of warm soup.
"Had not Queen Maud destroyed Stephen's army a year prior?" she asked.
Rynald's eyes darkened, even in the night. Although he did not look at her, she could see the dread on his face when he spoke.
"He found another one."
She sank into her saddle clutching her stomach. The cruel knife twisted deeper in her belly again and again. Stephen the Bastard, the grandson of the Conqueror, now King of all England. He will remember his friends and his enemies. But then her blood ran cold has ice.
"Where is my father?"
"He is safe in France mi'lady." Rynald said, grabbing her arm again. He had always done that when she was a child. Whenever she was scared at night or had bad dreams, he would hold her hand tight. How this night had been the blackness one of all.
"He beckons us to bring you to Tours. There will be a ship arranged for you at the harbor at the nearest town. You must go now."
She closed her eyes and tried to think carefully what the name of that town had been. Her father had been named Lord of this keep only a few months back. She had barely gotten to know the keep much less the surrounding countryside. And now she had to flee England has well?
"Others will go with you." Rynald added. She looked around her. Only Sir Paul was mounted, along with the Franks. Sir Langley and Sir Grey were waking up men left and right; kicking, hitting, shouting doing whatever it took to wake them.
"Will you go with us?" she asked Rynald before the heavy set man look at her. He shook his head.
"I am your father's castellan. It is against my vows to leave mi'lady."
"But this is no castle. And my father is in France. Leave with me and we will both go to him." she begged him.
"Don't throw your life away here."
"Once you are gone mi'lady I will yield this keep. Your servants and handmaidens will be spared. No harm will come of them. It is you who is in danger." Rynald paused, looking off into the distance as if he heard something.
"You and your father." he ended. He brought the reins to her. Her eyes stared blankly at them, and for a moment she didn't know what to do. I'm an outlaw now. She took them in her hands and held them tightly. She looked at Rynald, at his big face and long full beard which covered his double chin. She took them in, wanting to remember him forever.
"Farewell Rynald." she said, wondering if the wetness on her face was rain or tears.
Rynald gave a soft bow.
"Tell your father I served him has he deserved from a man of my loyalty."
"That I will."
She prodded her horse forward, the others followed behind. Sir Paul was at her side, and Jean de Metz as well. Wordlessly she and her knights rode off into the night, disappearing into the thick forest. They were being watched.
Just a random story I sorta sat down and wrote. No planning or nothing. Not even a title made yet. First draft. Input if you guys like I'm just doing this for exercise. And PLEASE no debates about historical accuracy here. I never plan to wrote this with ANYTHING like that in mind.