Nothing was so irritating as prey that got away. But what could he do? He had loaned his gun to that idiot, Jay, and he couldn’t outrun a horse—at least not for long. No, he’d have to wait for the others and track her the old fashioned way. Maybe now Mr. King would see what a mistake it was hiring another man.

Robin sheathed his sword, blowing a strand of blonde hair out of his eyes. He was the best tracker in the area, but he had to admit that even he was having trouble catching the Queen of Hearts. When Mr. King had found him and told him how she had swindled him out of his money, Robin was more than happy to get involved. Her bounty was practically legendary.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I’d be working with amateurs.

It would have been fine except for the fact that King had decided it was a good idea to hire the local marksman, who also happened to be the local drunkard. Robin had spent most hours of every morning trying to rouse the man from a heavy stupor—hours that he could have spent pursuing his quarry.

Footsteps sounded behind him, but he didn’t bother turning. He could already tell it was Jay’s labored breathing. Mr. King probably wasn’t far behind.

“You let her get away?!”

Robin did his best to hide the irritation in his face as he slowly turned to look at Jay. The man was a mess. His eyes and nose were watery from the smoke, and his jeans were now thoroughly soiled with dirt. His hat looked like it had been dropped and stepped on several times before being shoved back on his head. The gun that Robin had loaned him was dangling from one hand. Jammed, if Robin were to guess; otherwise, he would have fired it. Trigger happy moron.

He didn’t dignify Jay’s question with a response. Instead, he gestured down the road, “It seems she took one of our horses and spooked the two others. Why don’t you go and fetch the other two while I continue to track her. That way, we’ll at least save a bit of time.”

Jay’s face twisted into a scowl, a singularly unpleasant thing to watch, “How about you track down the other two horses while I follow the girl.”

Robin was spared from responding by the arrival of Mr. King. Somehow, he managed to look as if he had merely gone for a brisk stroll in the woods rather than on a hunt for a convicted felon. He glanced toward both of them before holding up one hand, “I know what you’re thinking. This was not as we had planned.”

Well no, it’s not as we had planned. But whose fault is that?

Jay’s face began to turn a mottled shade of red as he stared at Mr. King, “Not as we had…” Robin could tell that he was about to have another tantrum. Good. Maybe it will give King the incentive he needs to fire him.

“Indeed! It’s gone terribly, terribly wrong.” Mr. King lowered his head, shaking it sorrowfully before looking up at them again, “However, I have every confidence in your abilities, even if you have failed me.” His blue eyes turned hard as he looked from Jay to Robin, “I trust that you won’t fail me again.” His words hung in the air, a lingering threat.

Robin merely bowed his head in response, though he could hear Jay stammering angrily. The drunkard probably wanted to air his side of the story—even though they had all witnessed what had happened.

Fortunately for Jay, Mr. King didn’t give him a chance to continue, “Marvelous! Now Jay, do us a favor and track down our horses. I’ll walk on ahead with Robin.”

Jay looked on the verge of exploding at this point. His face had turned from mottled red to a purplish color that Robin was sure couldn’t be good for his health. Perhaps he’ll burst if I push him. A giant blueberry that pops when it’s stepped on. His broad shoulders shook slightly as he stared at the two of them, but finally he turned and walked along the path after their missing horses. It seems even a fool knows that it’s best not to anger a King.

“Robin, walk with me.” Mr. King set off down the path, his eyes glued firmly ahead as he stepped around puddles and mud, keeping to the drier patches of the road. Robin watched his retreating back for a moment before walking after him, quickly catching up with his long strides.

They travelled in silence for a few minutes. Robin found himself wondering briefly if he was the one that was about to be fired. But no, the man has more sense than that. After this debacle, he can clearly see that Jay is a hindrance.

“What do you make of her, Robin? Do you think we’ll be able to catch her?”

Robin briefly remembered the girl’s grin, the brown hair that fanned out behind her as she galloped away on horseback. He quickly pushed down a wave of anger before he responded, “She likes to showboat. She’s clever, but certainly not impossible to catch. My guess is that the only reason she’s evaded bounty hunters is the fact that she’s been very lucky…and reckless.”

Mr. King glanced upward at the interwoven branches, perhaps mulling over Robin’s words. Robin, for his part, kept his own silence as they walked. Every so often he scanned the path to make sure that their quarry hadn’t dismounted and let the horse go on ahead to create a false trail.

He was distracted enough by the tracks that he almost didn’t notice when Mr. King stopped abruptly. Robin took a few more steps beyond his employer and then stopped as well, immediately using the opportunity to listen for any threats in the surrounding forest. We are still in a danger zone, after all.

Mr. King set his eyes on him, his mouth turning from his usual smile to a more serious expression, the lines around his eyes hardening, “Robin, I want to make you an offer.”

Robin remained silent, still listening. Eventually he’ll get to the point.

“Jay has not been as…useful as I would have hoped. In other words, I’m giving you free reign in this pursuit.” Mr. King ran a gloved hand through his dark hair; a nervous habit perhaps. “I will give you what resources you need to continue.”

There was no question of whether or not he would accept. There was only one answer to give. Robin bowed his head slightly, “And will you be accompanying me, sir? Or will you be returning to the compound?”

Mr. King glanced down the road again before heaving a sigh, “Back to the compound, I’m afraid. I’m due to be married in a week.”  His eyes flickered back to Robin, a faint smirk crossing his lips, “Though I’m sure that you don’t mind that. Towing me around can’t have improved your success rate.”

He’s right. There’s nothing worse than useless baggage. Robin stilled his features, merely bowing his head again, “I’ll do my best to bring her in, Mr. King.”

His employer nodded in return, “Good.” He turned away from Robin for a moment, taking a few strides back toward their original location before turning back, “I want her alive, Robin. I want her to squirm.”

“Of course, sir.”


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