Winter was unrelenting. It held on as fiercely as a Highland warrior to his sword; it refused to let loose its grip and allow spring its turn.
The cold night air bit at the nine men that sat silently atop their steeds. Watching, waiting, looking for any movement, any sign of life that might stir in the cottage that lay below them. Gray smoke rose slowly from the chimney before disappearing into the moonlit night. The smoke was the only sign of life coming from within the cottage.
Puffs of white mist blew from the horses’ nostrils like steam from a boiling kettle. The nine were draped in heavy furs, broadswords strapped to their backs, swords at their sides, and daggers hidden in various places across their bodies. If anyone were by chance awake at this ungodly hour, the sight of these fierce men would bring a chill of fear to even the bravest of men.
Each man had been handpicked by his chief for the special qualities he held. Whether it be his fealty, his fierceness, or his ability to enter a place unheard and unseen. ‘Twas a simple task they’d been given; sneak in under the cloak of darkness and retrieve hidden treasures so they could be returned to their rightful owner.
The first inkling that things may not go as planned came from the fact that it was not dark. The full moon shone brilliantly, casting the earth in shades of blues, whites, and grays. Had they not been delayed two days by a snowstorm of near biblical proportions, they would have arrived two nights ago when it was certain to have been pitch black.
No worries, the leader of the nine had assured his men. The inhabitants of the cottage were more likely than not fast asleep at this hour. They would proceed with their mission, moon or no.
After studying the land and the cottage a while longer, the leader gave a nod of his head. He and his men proceeded toward the little farm, taking their positions around the perimeter. Two of his stealthiest men headed towards the barn where they dismounted and with the grace and silence of a cat, they entered.
He stood with two of his men not far from the entrance of the cottage. They waited patiently, keeping a close eye on the barn as well as the cottage. Everything seemed to be going as planned. But the leader of the band of retrievers would not breathe a sigh of relief until they were far away from these God forsaken English lands. The longer he remained on English soil, the dirtier he felt.
He wished he could bust down the door of the cottage and slit the throats of the three bastards inside. But his chief had shot that idea down, but not before thinking on it for a long moment. The chief had admitted nothing would have brought him greater pleasure than knowing the bastards would not live to see the light of another day. But he could not allow his men to take the chance of being found and taken to the gallows.
Nay, their mission was simple and if all went well, no blood would be shed this night. In a manner of days, should the weather hold, the treasures would be returned and the men handsomely rewarded for their efforts.
Uneasiness began to creep in under the skin of the leader. The men in the barn were taking too long. Concern began to well in his belly. If the treasures weren’t where they should be, he’d have no problem then in busting down the door to the cottage and killing the men inside. He shuddered when he thought of returning empty handed. ‘Twas a possibility he did not enjoy. He swore under his breath he’d tear this farm apart until he found what he had come for.
God’s teeth! What was taking them so long? He exchanged a look of concern with the two men who sat on horses beside him. Something was wrong. He could feel it in his bones.
After what seemed like hours, his men appeared from the barn and looked across the yard. They held up empty hands as they shrugged their shoulders. Damnation! This was not good, not good at all. He let out a heavy sigh and hung his head.
’Twasn’t exactly how he had planned it, but at least now he had the opportunity to bash in the skulls of the three men inside the cottage. The idea of giving the sons of whores their due brought a pleasant tingling sensation to his belly. The night would not be wasted, treasures or no.