I’d heard stories. A place where anything goes and no questions asked. A place called The Black House. Although the building was dark and uninviting, I guessed the name stemmed from what went on within the walls rather than its decor. A young boy came for my horse and a flicker of excitement twitched on his face. I smiled, tossing him a ha’penny before entering where no decent man would tread.
Everything stopped. Not even a breath was heard. It seemed my reputation beat me as every eye followed me through the smoky haze. I sat in the darkened corner by the rear exit, at a small wooden table and immediately a tankard of ale was placed in front of me, shaking his head at my offer of payment. A large oaf of a man, fuelled on ale and stupidity stumbled towards me. His speech was slurred but I think he was telling me not to hide behind my mask, to reveal who I was. I think he insulted me. I’m sure I made out the word ‘coward’ before he was dragged away by two very sensible, apologetic men, and my hand released from my pistol. I hated killing, really I did. But kill or be killed in my game and I obviously had a reputation to uphold.
I sipped my ale. It was warm and not the best I’d tasted and everyone carried on with their business, mainly getting drunk but plotting and exchanging of maps, money and weapons went on in huddles across the room. The odd fight caused excitement until they were thrown out.
The door opened and I saw the cloaked figure approach. I didn’t care for people being late.
“I don’t have long.” Her voice was unmistakable.
“What do you mean?” This wasn’t the plan.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“What have you done?” My voice was on edge. Control was leaving me, taking me to unknown territory. I reached for her hand. It trembled. With the other hand, I removed her hood. Her once beautiful face now smeared in blood as a cut ran deep across her cheek.
“I was ambushed, betrayed. You have to leave now,” she said with anguish. Terror filled her dark eyes, her skin pale. She winced, slumping towards the table. Jumping from my chair, I was at her side, gently holding her up when I saw the spread of red on her white tunic. “Leave me, save yourself.”
“No,” I hoisted Emma from her chair, kicking open the rear exit. A redcoat stood, his gun aimed. Stillness descended on the bar as redcoats burst through the front. My pistol was trapped between me and Emma, my knife wouldn’t beat a gun. I was running out of time. I could not die here, or be arrested, for the gallows was my fate, the fate of any highwayman and his accomplices.
The redcoat advanced. I could see he was already thinking of glory at my capture. But I held my ground. A shallow moan left Emma’s lips. I couldn’t leave her. Maybe this was meant to be, dying together, here, right now. What a legend that would make. If I knew these drunken men, they’d embellish my fight for survival. Shame I wouldn’t live to hear it.
A flash of silver sliced across the redcoat’s throat, his life spilling out as he slumped to the floor. The horse boy stood, the knife in his hand.
“Your horse is ready!” he shouted before fleeing. It was a heroic gesture but the redcoats behind me would gun me down. But that boy, he awakened those men of The Black House, showed them what we all were, why we were there and they bore down on those redcoats with bloodied fists as I rode into darkness with Emma.
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