It was Karl that decided the issue. A sling stone struck him square on the rump, and he bolted. He broke one line himself, and Daniel severed two more before they could go taut and pull his feet out from under him. A final rope on Karl's far side, where Daniel couldn't reach, snapped tight but didn't slow the horse's dash as a bandit was dragged from the brush and onto his face before he could let go.
Reuben sprinted after the beast, cursing him and the slingers in turn, and Daniel took after him as he sheathed his sword, the girl following only a step behind. The enemy, it seemed, had reevaluated their odds, for the stones slackened off once it was clear the little band was leaving, and there was no sign of pursuit. Karl slowed to a trot after splashing through the stream, then finally turned back to Reuben. Daniel and the fugitive girl caught up to the errant knight just as he was pulling the rope off his horse's neck, uttering soothing whispers.
The excitement and exertion finally caught up to Daniel, and he slumped to the ground, sucking air. The girl, about Daniel's age, wasted no time in stripping off her grimy bandit's clothing to reveal a bright green, airy blouse that hung down over a pair of pale yellow pants, or possibly leggings; Daniel couldn't be sure. Finally she shook out her auburn hair before tying it back with a red scarf. She looked back and forth from Daniel to Sir Reuben.
"Well, Sir Knight," she said, "I thank you for the hand in my escape. By your leave, then." She bobbed a nonchalant curtsy and turned to go.
"Hold, young lass!" Reuben cried. "Stand fast, I say!"
She turned only enough to look back over her shoulder. "All respect to you station, Sir Knight, but I'm no serf of yours."
"You are, of course, most right, young miss, for Sir Reuben of the Roads and Dales has but one serf…him being none other than the honorable mount you did presume to manhandle, or at least attempt the same, and lucky you are he didn't bite your delicate fingers off for the effort…and one page, Daniel the Miller's Son, bearer of wondrous blade. Now, I would have the honor of your name and story before we do part company, and perhaps can offer something in trade for the privilege of your association, for I suss that even my humble rations might sit well in the belly of such a rawboned girl come so lately from what must have been a wearying trial."
She cocked an eyebrow at Daniel. "Does he always talk that way?"
Daniel nodded. "So far. But I've only known him a few hours."
"Ah. Well, somewhere in that long script I think I heard you ask my name. It's Rebekah, no roads or dales or daughters-of, just Rebekah, and I also think I heard something about food."
Reuben reached into a saddle bag and pulled out a pouch of biscuit and jerky. Rebekah took it from his outstretched hand and set to with a gusto. It seemed the knight had been right about her ordeal.
"Are you alright?" Daniel asked from his spot on the ground. "Did those men hurt you?"
She shook her head. "I'm sure a couple would have, but there were more that wouldn't have any of that, and the rest didn't care one way or the other. They're more desperate than wicked, I think." Daniel glanced down as he thought of the one he'd killed. "Not that I'm sticking up for them, mind; I was certainly eager to get out of there before they could decide what to do with me."
"You'd not been long in that den of thieves, then?" Sir Reuben asked.
Rebekah finished the last of her meal. "A day. Then you two came along and the hideout emptied to deal with you. They should have left more than one to watch me, or one with more sense."
"How did you end up there? And why are you dressed like that?" Daniel asked.
"What, you mean with colors?"
"Well, dye doesn't come cheap, and you're no wealthy noble…"
"Who says?" Rebekah interrupted.
"Careful, lass," Reuben cautioned. "It's a capital crime to pretend nobility." Daniel could feel the knight's eyes on him.
"Fine," the girl assented, "I'm no noble, but I've performed for a petty one now and again, and if they choose to pay in showy clothes, the better to support our act, who am I to complain if our bellies are full?"
"Act?" Daniel questioned.
"Of course," Rebekah replied, turning a quick pirouette then adopting Sir Reuben's stance and manner. "For it is that you two wandering, bachelor knights have happened to aid in the most daring escape of Rebekah of the Nightingale's Voice, Singer and Player Extraordinaire, specializing in bonny ballads, jaunty jigs, imperiled princesses, and distressed damsels of all and sundry kinds. Most glad to make your acquaintance… So where are we going?"