She crouched beside an uneven road, sheltering among unkempt trees that bordered neatly tended fields. A tall, broad-shouldered woman, her skin was dusky-toned and her golden-brown hair gathered into a long braid. She wore the white breeches and black coat of some foreign military, a sabre hanging by her side.
Her eyes flicked up at the sound of footsteps and casually - almost lazily - she strode out into the path of three darkly dressed men who led a horse-drawn cart piled high with bric-a-brac.
The foremost of the three removed his tricorn hat and bowed. “Well, hello, Miss. How are you this fine day?”
The other two laughed, hands resting on the butts of holstered pistols.
She stood facing them, feet apart, and spoke quietly. “Turn back.”
The leader looked from one to the other of his lackeys, and all three laughed. “Please,” he said. “The villagers have hired you to protect them, I suppose? They're not worth it, honestly. Take their gold and leave them.”
She placed her hand on the hilt of her sword.
The leader let the reins of the horse fall from his hand. All three men now stood ready to draw their pistols. “There are three of us,” the leader said. “You don't stand a chance.”
A strong breeze whispered across the fields, hissed through the leaves of the trees, and scattered gravel across the road. The woman drew her sword.
Before the foremost man could fire, his arm was severed at the elbow. A split second passed and the tip of the woman's sabre protruded from the back of the man to his left.
The third man fired his pistol with a blast of smoke. A moment later his head was at his feet, his body toppling awkwardly over it.
Clutching his stump, the only man left alive fell to his knees. “He... shot you!”
“Yes,” the woman said. “He did.”
With a flash of silver, all three of the footpads lay dead at her feet.
She approached the horse, and the animal reared up - the whites of its eyes showing, the scent of blood in its nostrils. She caught its reins with a firm, but gentle hand and patted its haunches reassuringly, before turning to the laden cart it was harnessed to.
Something in the pile of bric-a-brac groaned.
With a clatter of displaced trifles, the woman threw back a sheet to reveal an elderly man: wild-haired, gagged and bound. With a few flicks of her sword she cut him free.
“Thank you,” the man gasped, sliding off the cart and rubbing his wrists. “Thank you. Things have been going from bad to worse for me, and I thought they were about to wind up as bad as they could get, if you know what I mean. I can't tell you- Wait, where are you going?”
The woman stopped in her tracks and looked back at him.
“You can handle trouble, right?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“I've lost something,” the man said. “Sheets of paper with holes in them. They don't look like much, but they're worth more than you can imagine.”
“Code?” the woman asked.
“Something like that.”
The woman nodded again and, sabre sheathed, began to walk down the road, drawing the horse along by its reins. The elderly man followed quickly after.