Abella Guallier had been a caravan guard once upon a time, as well as a bandit preying on caravan guards, eluding those sent to bring her ilk in for justice. Both professions made for light sleepers, and crafted a particularly keen set of ears for the various activities that seemed to transpire only in the wee hours of the night. Namely the soft, hardly audible sound of approaching footfalls, and based upon the fervor heard in their steps, she could only assume that it was someone a little more curious then they had any right to be.
Whoever the intruders were, they didn't realize that Abella was awake pretty much from the first bark emitted by her new nocturnal companion; what she didn't do, in the darkness, was light a torch or something that would give herself away. Instead, she concentrated on slowly and very carefully shedding her blanket, even as she bundled things beneath it to make it look as if there were still a man-shaped form beneath it; then, with her short sword in hand, she made for what she felt was the best spot from which not to be spotted if one were paying attention to the form with the blanket.
If the fellows didn't know about animals as alarms, she figured what she had on her hands were a bunch of city boys; that was conjecture though, and she treated the enemy with respect; she didn't bank on further mistakes, though she certainly hoped for something that she could exploit.
Abella was an archer; she knew how to regulate her breathing, to focus in, and she’d been in fear before, she understood how to control it, how to will herself into stillness. This was a hunt, after all, with bait, and she was a hunter. All she needed to do was think through the habits of the prey and use that to her advantage. She took the terrain into account, the animals, disturbed by the barking of the dog, were making their noises as well.
The conversation at the door piqued her attention even as she cursed the bad sense of the White Woods to split up; these fellows seemed mighty pleased with themselves and didn't seem to have much of a concept that a man might sleep in the barn, or that the animals would give them away in the field; they apparently killed the dogs only because the dogs, being sheepherding animals, attacked them, rather than because such animals would alert those within to the attackers.
There was much to interest her in the conversation; sound did carry an awfully long way in the night, which was why she didn't even dare to breathe loudly, and hated the sound of her heartbeat in her ears. These fellows, by contrast, seemed somewhat unfamiliar of the concept, even as they seemed to underestimate her; 'archer' they said, with contempt in their voices. Clearly, they were used to peasant conscript crossbowmen or fellows shooting the tiny bows they used around here, hardly an archer at all.
All the same, there were more questions than time, and more immediate concerns than the ones brought to light by the snippets she could hear; all of that was secondary to her preparation to do the act of murder; it wouldn't be the first time, though usually, she’d done it from a distance, by the bow. She’d only gotten up close and personal once, and that was with Alfred Miller; it was a long time ago, a lifetime really, and it'd happened in hot blood, hatred and vengeance, as much as out of surprise and the immediate need of it -- too fast to think about it, she’d gutted Miller from the front, the bastard, and deserted the King's Fucking Badly Provisioned Arrow Fodder while the going was good.
She’d never actually looked back, but it was the day she got made an outlaw, in her mind, because it was doubtful anyone back home actually cared nearly a decade later.
This time was different, there was the tension of waiting in ambush and coming at the man from the darkness with a knife; there was no room or time for the bow, and the sensation of murdering a man coldbloodedly and up close was a new one to her.
She watched her quarry, the same way any hunter watched her prey, and she learned some things even though she could not get a good look at the man she was going to kill; with her knife held behind her back, a heavy bladed sort of weapon good for skinning or getting meat off the bone, to keep it from glinting and giving her away, she held her breath, mostly, and got a feel for the movement; she knew the human body, but she wanted a sense of this human.
And she got it; this was a normal fellow, which was to say not some sort of knight that trained from the cradle to wear armor and bear arms, someone whose physical fitness regimen began in childhood and continued throughout a life; she appreciated a knight's ability to be dangerous up close, though the longbowman, raised from birth to kill from a distance, to pull back on the mighty yew stave that gave it such resistance and therefore power, was at the advantage from a distance.
This fellow didn't give off the grace of a knight out of armor, the lithe movement of someone bearing a burden several stones lighter; not all had that, but this fellow had a short sword, a peasant's sort of weapon. Abella had one herself, but she had the idea that she knew the use better than this fellow did. That didn't necessarily give her the greatest degree of confidence; she figured it would be a matter of touch and go; she had killed, even in melee, but it wasn't the most comfortable thing.
That didn't mean she was complacent; she was scared out of her wits that she’d botch the murder, raise the alarm and have all these fellows upon her; she couldn't take so many at once, not without some distance between them and a little mobility; if she’d been able to shoot and move, run while killing, she might have a chance in hell, but it was nightfall and not a full moon; the light would be scanty.
She wasn't about to stand and fight even if she did break loose; but all other plans hinged on the murder.
When the shrouded figure came forward to check what was her blanket, she lunged for the bastard; Abella had at least one advantage; the upper body strength of an archer. With the adrenaline surging, she grabbed the man hard enough to yank him off his feet as she dragged him toward the knife and pushed the knife in. She knew where the heart was, but in her haste, she seemed to miss; the heavy, wide blade sunk in and found some hard resistance. That resistance gave way with a splinter that was felt up her arm as the blade was driven hard into flesh and sheared through the muscle of the heart; there was a liquid gurgle that emitted from the throat of the stricken man and a wet warmth that washed over her hand. When she released, the man slipped to the floor with the sickening sound of meat slapping something hard, laying there limply with the limbs tangled and at strange angles while they twitched the last dregs of life away meaninglessly.
Abella had already forgotten the murder, even as she brushed her hand off on the bastard's pants. In the mental clarity that came of necessity, knowing that time was precious, she quickly ripped off the cloak; in the darkness, it wasn't apparent there was a hole or that the hole was sodden with blood. The very smell of it made the animals all the more restive, as there was a strong primal association with that smell and the need to flee from predators in their midst; that, of course, led to the next idea, her salvation.
The cloaked men were jolted out of their surprise, waiting for the last of their number, the lone man sent into the barn, to actually come out; they saw a flicker of a torch and started to head that way. Even as they did, there was the sound of hooves and charging, bellowing beasts and the flare of torches; it was hard to tell, in that cacophony of beasts charging, hooves and horns, bellows and whinnies, horse and horned cow, not to mention many different torches, which could mean riders, what was going on, but it was enough to take the men aback, thinking, perhaps, that they'd been ambushed.
There was a hue and a cry, and that gave Abella, mounted on her own horse, with the packhorse in tow, time to slip off into the night; she felt only a little guilty for what happened to the poor family in the farmhouse; she glanced back to see the barn burning brightly, which was the point -- after tying the torches to the horns of the cows, she set the barn afire and loosed the milk cows, the mules and the rest of the animals on the robed men, a diversion that allowed her to get free.
There was little enough pride there for what she’d done, because it was all done to survive, but she dismounted her beast once she’d gotten clear and watched for any nearby pursuit, her strung bow in hand. What shocked her out of her skin and nearly caused her to scream out in terror and surprise, however, was the whimper of one of the wounded dogs from the farm nearby.
She prowled closer, carefully, knowing that a wounded animal was likely angry; "Easy now, 'la..." she told the animal as she inched forward and dug a bit of dried meat from her pocket and threw it to the dog, "Let's see what the wound is, aye?"
Abella Gaulier, murderer, a woman all too willing to shrug off the death of an entire family because she happened to take refuge in their barn, just couldn't leave a wounded animal to die like that.
Dogs, after all, were not duplicitous in nature. It was entirely possible the farmers sold her out, but the dog, well, was a good dog, faithful to the last owners.
The dog had a little blood matting the fur, but it looked more like a glancing hit than an actual deadly wound; with a little cloth wrapped around the fur of the neck, she managed to stanch the bleeding and get the dog on the back of her horse, though she gave a startled whicker at the smell of the beast and the blood.
She led the animals into the stream with the fire of the barn burning behind her; the neighbors were starting to head in that direction, no doubt to see what was going on and she had no idea where the enemy was, but she knew she had surpassed the moment fit to retire from Demaire.
The brooding over what she’d heard and seen carried her through until she found herself at the White Tankard; trying to figure out how she’d throw it in Redwood's face occupied her time. She knew more was going on than she were told, because this was the sort of scrape one got into when someone was holding back and things were more complicated than they looked. Abella didn't like the idea of watching her ass around her own associates, but now she had the idea in her mind that not everything was as it seemed.
There was a throng of patrons leaving the tavern, she simply waited them out with a glare and a hand on her short sword, ready to draw on any of them; she waited until they'd thinned out, biding her time and making sure her horses were tied down in the stable.
When she pushed through into the tavern, it was apparent she’d seen a bit of a shindy; she was covered in blood, canine and human; she had that dog in her arms as she announced, "I bedded down in a barn for the night and a bunch of men came looking for me. Seemed they knew you," she thrust her jaw at Tristan, "by bloody name. They also apparently killed our blacksmith and knew our identities. They also left a bunch of bodies behind. It looks like we'll have plenty to talk about," she said, whilst she laid the dog gently on the nearest table, with a whimper from the animal by way of response, though she wasn't trying to get away, "while we flee for our lives with a mob of bloody peasants chasing us and trying to shove a pitchfork tine up our arseholes."
Tristan looked at her mildly perplexed, bemused by the bloody mess decorating her person, “Oh, you mean to tell me you bedded down in the barn to the north; I told them it was the one in the south. I suppose you had quite the trouble on your hands,” his eyes nodded to the dog lying on the table.
Abella’s eyes brimmed with fury at the realization that she had been set up. It wasn’t entirely without Tristan’s character to do something of this nature, his need to constantly test Abella’s capabilities was a reliable, and certainly most vexing source of frustration for her. His effect on her didn't go unnoticed; he smiled contently as he reached for his coat, withdrawing from one of its pockets a sealed envelope, titled with her name on the front with a penmanship remarkably similar to the Baron’s, head of the White Woods of Damascus. “It would seem, your time has come my dear Miss Gaulier,” he remarked tossing the note into her grip; she held the letter gingerly, her eyes examining the delicate arches of her name, her hands running over the surprisingly rich texture of the note. Without a doubt it was from him, such a material wasn’t employed by lowly people; only those with the mind and coin to do so, would use it.
Tristan watched intently as she read over the note; eyeing her with the utmost conviction, keying in on the subtle changes of her expression as she took in the context of the letter. Tristan was more than aware of what was being requested from her, partly because he was the individual requesting it on the Baron’s behalf, and also because he had been Abella’s guardian ever since the White Woods took her in. He felt it only right and necessary to ensure she was just as capable as any other man under his command; his methods of doing such were a mite controversial, but she was alive after all, this surely must have counted for something.
“Tis sad what befell Edes, but I hardly see why I must intervene. We’re not soldiers Tristan, we’re hardly even mercenaries, this isn’t exactly what we do is it?” She folded the note and slipped it into a pocket on her person.
“Well excuse me, but I hardly see where you should be concerned with such a thing. If the Baron has requested this much of you, I don’t think you’re in the position to question it,” he stood up sharply and threw his coat around his shoulders. “But if you must know, the Baron has reason to believe that a certain item of worth has been stolen from his treasury by the same antagonists who’ve sacked that village. It is to my knowledge, that you are to retrieve it.”
“And if it is not in their possession? What am I t—“
“Like I said, the Baron has reason to believe. Just get it back to us. You understand?”