II. A Journey to Meriwether

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Three years ago...

Ralph was gritting his teeth as he kicked his horse to run faster.

He could still hear the sound of their mocking laughter ringing in his ears.

Those bloody bandits could merely escape once.

Next time he would be there to catch them!

*****

It was merely meant to be a jolly good time to rob.

The plan was simple, really.

They stop the carriage, take whatever they could and disappear—a truly simple plan that they utilized on a daily basis as a matter of fact.

But her bloody cousins had to choose the wrong carriage, did they? They just had to get themselves into trouble again.

It would have been well if the carriage was harmless.

No, of course it was not! It was filled with three men, all of whom with weapons!

And it would have been well still if the men were not bloody Town Guards! But they were and they all bounded down the carriage, unhitched the horses and went after them, growling about catching bandits to be hanged.

Alex's cousins, Ned and Barto, ought to have survived. They ought to be somewhere in the Dark Forest, saving their own arse because there could be no way she could be of help to them now.

Not when she was carrying a lifeless body of a woman while atop her horse, escaping a possible damnation.

"Bleedin' hell indeed!" Alex gritted out as she kicked her mare to run faster. "Almost got caught and caught me self a dead woman 'nstead! Famous!"

Siege made a nasal sound of agreement.

Alex looked over her shoulder as her dark and tattered coat flew in the air behind her. The part of the forest where she found the woman was getting distant.

But the men chasing her were not.

Town Guards.

"Hurry, Siege!" she shouted at the mare. "We dinna want them to catch us now. Not when we have a dead woman with us!"

The mare galloped faster, racing against Alex's own heart. She would die tonight if she did not escape. They would think she killed the woman.

Which she did not.

Alex found her dying in the Dark Forest while hiding from the Guards she and her cousins tried to rob.

Help 'em... the other woman... and my baby... please...

The woman's dying plea whirled around Alex's mind as she bent down to clutch the lifeless body in front of her. She was not able to secure it as tight as she would have earlier for another group of men had emerged and this time they saw her.

The Guards must have returned and discovered her hiding place.

But they could not catch her now. To be thrown to prison for thieving was acceptable considering she was indeed guilty. But to be dragged in front of the Men of Courts for a murder she did not commit would be disastrous.

And why did she bring the body with her again? Why could she not have just left it there in the Dark Forest?

She could not. It was the only reason.

She could not leave behind a dead woman and live the rest of her life not thinking about her. Somewhere in the Town, someone was looking for this woman. And that someone deserved to mourn her death.

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