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04. The Red Robber Knight

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He came out of nowhere. One moment Ayla had been riding along peacefully, the next, a huge black stallion was blocking her path, bearing a tall figure in shiny red armor.

“Halt!” the man shouted.

Ayla's horse seemed to understand him. She reared and almost threw Ayla off. It took her a few minutes to calm Eleanor down, during which time the stranger—a knight judging by his armor—just sat on his horse and did nothing.

“You idiot!” Ayla shouted, still trying to calm her horse. “What did you mean by startling my horse like that? Do you have a screw loose somewhere, and I don't mean in your armor? You could have killed me.”

“Well, that would have simplified matters,” the stranger said in an off-hand tone.

At this, Ayla's eyes went wide. She quickly scanned the armored man. He was wearing an impressive bulwark of an armor in blood-red and gleaming steel-gray, which, strangely enough, didn't bear any crest. His visor was down, so she couldn't see his face. Could he be one of the Margrave's men?

Carefully, she made her horse take a few steps back.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“Now that's a simple enough question: all that you have.”

She stared at the stranger, uncomprehending. Then, slowly, understanding came. A lone knight. A lone red knight. The red knight that had plagued her lands for weeks now. This wasn't one of the Margrave's men. This was worse.

“You!” she hissed.

“Aye,” the stranger said, jovially. “I.”

“Get out of my way,” Ayla said with more bravery than she felt. “Go now! Leave this land and I will forget that you ever came here.”

“What a generous offer, Milady. But alas, I have to rob you first. Even poor knights like myself have to live.”

“Heel! Abominable villain! You dare defy me?”

The man scratched the side of his helmet, as if giving the matter serious thought. “Hmm... yes, I think I do. Dare defy you, I mean. Now can we please get on to the robbery part? I've got places to be.”

“But you're a knight,” she protested. “How can you do this? How can you rob a woman?”

He shrugged. “Oh, it's quite easy, if you know how to. I'll let you in on my secret if you promise to keep it to yourself. You see, unlike men, women don't usually carry weapons. That makes them very easy to rob.”

Ayla just continued to sit on her horse, fuming. “And what about duty? Honor?”

“Ah, yes, those things. I think I had them once. Lost them about five years ago, and can't say I miss them particularly. Bothersome, they are.”

“But you're a knight,” she repeated stubbornly.

“A robber knight,” he corrected. “I rob from the rich to give to myself. It's a very nice arrangement. So, if Milady could please hand me her purse now, we can both go our separate ways.”

Ayla didn't say anything. Then, she suddenly ducked, pressed her heels into Eleanor's sides, and tried to make the mare run past the stranger’s black stallion. Before she had moved three feet, however, a metallic ringing met her ears and a blade appeared at her neck, sweeping away the golden curtain of her hair.

“You are either very brave or very foolish,” the red knight said in a pleasant voice. “Considering that you're female, I would presume the latter. Perhaps I didn't make myself clear, girl. Give me your money—now!” The last word he spoke was as steely as his blade.

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