A banner of three shields, coloured red and grey, was raised into the sky behind one member of a group of galloping horsemen. There were five of them, making some haste through an area of woods. The sky was overcast and grey, and a light drizzle of rain had made the mulch of the forest floor wet beneath the hooves of the horses. The riders were talented, easily maneuvering their strong-looking steeds through the lumbering, thick trees of these woods. The group of them were members of the Greyguards, the city guard of Muris. A dozen of their number had been sent out on horseback to hunt down a thief from the city, seen by country peasants to have fled into the forest after being spotted looting a nobleman's grave-site just outside Muris. The guardsmen hadn't been told why they were hunting the man down, though—only that he needn't be taken alive. Had the thief robbed from the grave of a member of the House of Varro, then his life would have been of more consequence. The Prince's second son, Cirillo Varro, was in charge of the Greyguards, and quite enjoyed personally taking the lives of anyone who acted against his family. Lucky for the graverobber, he'd only insulted the honour of some irrelevant lesser nobility, so his death need not be especially torturous. When they found him, the riders could execute the man however they pleased.
The dozen of them had split up after reaching the edge of the forest, where the robber had last been spotted. The other group had followed a trail leading north, while this group (then numbering six) went west. One of them had turned back once the posse found recent tracks in the mulch, to alert the others to come back this way. That left just five to take on the thief; probably three or four more than was necessary, but the Greyguard was known for their unreasonable deployments of force. Captain Cirillo liked to be entirely sure every excursion like this ended with success. One of the five, the man carrying the banner, had a sword sheathed at his hand as he rode. Two others wielded spears, poised to ride down and skewer the criminal once the tracks led them to him. One more had a crossbow, and another a spiked flail; the Greyguards made use of weapons of all kinds. Most distinctively, each of them was dressed in dark shades of grey and black, and wore helmets with three horns, symbolizing the banner of the city whose Prince had their loyalty.
The man at the head of the riders saw the thief. He was running, and fast, fleeing for his life from the horsemen. He'd probably heard them coming, even through the rain. He wore breeches and a ragged tunic, and when the guardsmen caught up to him and spread out to encircle their prey, they saw he had long black hair and a worried face. He had reason to worry. The two swordsmen dismounted, the crossbowman preparing to shoot the thief if he tried to run. Assuming he was a local, he would know exactly what was about to happen to him. The tears on his cheeks told the guards that he knew it very well. The first of the swordsmen was named Vittore, and he addressed the thief before any of the others. He was spinning around before Vittore spoke, not sure which of the five of his killers to focus his attention on, but Vittore's words stilled him.
"From here?" Vittore asked, loudly and mockingly.
The thief's response came quickly. He hoped he could make things better for himself. "I'm from Muris. I'm no foreigner."
"Good, good. You've got that going for you. What'd you do?"
"'What'd I do'? You don't know why you're after me?"
Vittore shook his head. "I'm curious. I like to know these things, but they usually don't bother to say."
A confused expression replaced the sorrow on the thief's face, quickly replaced by one of relief. "You've got the wrong man! Serves them right never telling you why you're hunting men down." The thief gave a laugh that was trying very hard to sound sympathetic and disarming, but didn't. "I saw the man you're probably after, he's up the trail a ways. Had a weird look to him, probably from Sipani that one."
The other swordsman approached the robber from behind and struck him with the hilt of his sword. He cried out in pain, 'fuck!', and fell onto the mud, catching himself on one knee.
Vittore approached him closer, still standing tall, and pointed his own sword at the injured man's neck. "Asked what you did, and you tell me 'fuck'. Don't recall fucking being illegal in Muris. Well, suppose unless you fucked someone you're not supposed to, but you're not pretty enough to get some noble lady to take off her dress for you."
The graverobber kept his eyes on the ground, wincing in pain, his hand reaching behind him to hold the spot on his side the hilt had struck. He said only two more words. "Fuck you."
A whistle was the next sound after that, followed by a crossbow bolt flying through the air and into the thief's chest, cutting a hole through his tunic. He moved his lips again, as if trying to curse his killers one last time, so Vittore whistled again. The crossbowman frantically tried to load another bolt as fast as he could, but Vittore was impatient. He knelt down and thrust his sword into the thief's stomach, slicing down from the impact wound to widen the gash. A gush of blood and viscera escaped the robber's dying body and dirtied Vittore's sword. Finally, he used it to fish out the crossbow bolt from the thief's corpse, before wiping it and both sides of his sword off on the robber's pants.
Both of the swordsmen mounted their horses again, and Vittore signaled to start heading back. "Good job. Caught a rapist today. Here's that bolt, Lorenzo." Vittore handed the bolt to the crossbowman, a man some fifteen or twenty years his younger. "Don't waste these."
The riders set back off the way they had come, leaving a waste of humanity on the trail behind them, bleeding out in the rain.