I had abandoned my second bag some time ago.
All it had in it were weapons and a wolf-skin. The weather had been so chilly, of late, that I had to wear the skin almost all the time anyway, and my weapons were of little use unless they were nearby all the time – a crossbow and quiver of arrows over my shoulder, the Damascus that hung on my belt and two blunderbusses that sat in their holsters (gifted to me by Thomas). I had some bullets and some gun-powder for the guns, but I managed to stuff them into my other bag that contained all my necessities. A British passport (forged, of course), this journal, a tinder-box, a pen-knife, a flask for water, some rope and feminine hygiene supplies.
I didn’t need anything else.
My horse (it’s only right that I give her a name and I’ll settle with Nod, since she jerks her head a lot) jumps at everything. The forest is thick with trees of all kinds, and the sudden bark of a dog or rustle above makes her jump. So, naturally, I go hunting whilst tethering her to my campsite, tying a nosebag to her head to keep her quiet.
Only, today it was different.
I had made my kill, alright, two fat hares ready for skinning and brought them to my ‘camp’. There was a small stream that I could wash everything in, and I thought it was the sight of the dead hares that made Nod rear and whinny.
“Whoa, Nod,” I said, patting her muzzle, “It’s alright! Calm down.”
She didn’t stop her panic.
I felt the hairs on my neck rise, a gut feeling, a sense that someone was watching me. The sense that someone was watching me, armed and envious, wanting what I had.
“Turn around slowly, hold your arms up,” he said.
I did as I was told, Nod still panicking. He was a stout man, his bow loaded with an arrow. Even if he was a bad shot, he couldn’t miss at this range. His head was covered by a hood and he had a sword in his belt.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Your meat,” he said.
“Haven’t you eaten today?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“It is if you want my meat.”
“If you don’t give me your meat, I’ll shoot you.”
“If you were so capable, why don’t you shoot some of your own game?”
“I don’t need to answer to you.”
“My dear boy, even an incorrect answer is an answer.”
“Again, didn’t you eat today?”
He tightened the grip on his bow, “What are you doing in my neck of the woods?”
“Your neck of the woods?”
“Yes. My neck of the woods.”
“What makes it yours?”
I shrugged, “I’m looking for slavers.”
“Oh, right, sure,” he scoffed, “How do I know you aren’t one of them?”
“Because if I was, I wouldn’t be looking for myself – now, would I? Doesn’t sound like a healthy thing to do.”
“You’re a slaver.”
“You’re a moron.”
“Where are the rest?”
“I said I’m looking for them. I didn’t say I’d found them,” I saw movement in the trees, “Or… maybe I have.”
The man looked doubtful, “What?”
“There’s some behind you,” I said, lowering my arms slowly.
“You really think I’m that stupid?”
“You, sir, may have created a whole new kind of stupid, but that’s not my point,” my hands went to my crossbow, “There really is something moving around behind you.”
“Are there any behind me?”
He gave me a hard look, but reluctantly raised his head and stared out. I saw him hesitate.
I gestured, “I know we aren’t exactly accomplices – we barely class as acquaintances – but can we resume this after we take care of business?”
I drew my weapon and fired as a man came bursting through the wood, a sword raised. He flew back slightly as my arrow hit him in the shoulder. My acquaintance took out a few who were behind me, then we stood back to back. I drew my sword, blocking the blow of a second attacker, using my leg to unhook his from the ground and stabbed him as he fell. His blood rose up from his stomach, splashing onto my clothes. Nod – still very frightened – reared and kicked a man in the head. He crumpled immediately.
Good old Nod.
I sheathed my sword, and pulled out my guns, pointing them in both directions. Smoke billowed out of them as they fired and hit their marks.
Blunderbusses: Little range, but deadly accuracy.
The birds in the trees flew out of their nests in fear of the firing.
I tore a piece of cloth from a dead man’s tunic and wiped the blood from my sword. My clothes would need a good wash. I collected the arrows that I had lost.
“You’re a fine shot, by the looks of it, mate,” I said, looking at the array of dead men shot in the eye, “Really, why do you have to threaten me to get meat?”
I turned. He had his bow loaded on me again.
“Oh, come on!” I said, “I just saved your life.”
“I still want your meat.”
I looked at the branches above, hoping that an acorn the size of the moon would hit him on the head, but, in reluctance, I threw him my dead hares. He dropped his weapons immediately to pick them up.
As he bent down, I swung a kick at his head and then kneed him in the chin. He gasped, his nose throwing drops of blood. I planted a foot on his chest and pinned him to the ground, pulling out my sword and pointing it to his throat.
“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but you men are all the same,” I said, “You couldn’t just give me an explanation, you had to make me strip off my nice side.”
“Now,” I said, turning his head to a side with my foot, “tell me, who are you? Why are you looking for slavers? And why can’t you get your own God damn meat?”
“I’m…” he started, “I’m William Scarlette.”
That name sounded familiar.
I sheathed my sword and said, “Get up. On your knees,” he did as he was told, “Take off that hood.”
He pulled down his hood, and I inwardly gasped. There was only one man I knew that shared that kind of blonde hair.
“Do you know Thomas Rogue?” I asked.
“What?” William replied in distaste, “Where did that come from?”
I cocked my head to a side, “Are you going to answer me, or do I have to beat you up again?”
He paused, “Thomas is my half-brother. We share a mother.”
I turned away, folding my arms, “Keep the meat,” I said, taking up my things and untying Nod from the tree.
The man she had kicked was groaning. I yanked him up by the arm and pulled him over the horse’s back. I could question him later. I started guiding the horse across the stream.
“Wait…” said William, “why did you want to know that?”
I paused and then looked at him, “Thomas is my husband.”