This was a birthday present for a friend who's kindly given me permission to publish it on Fictionpress. My stories are not very long because I believe that if you're going to write something of a decent length then you might as well try and get it published (now doesn't that sound snooty of me?). Anyway, that's why my stories aren't very long. Also I am well aware that there are so many faults in this piece of writing that if I started to pick it to pieces it would implode in on itself, regardless I'd still like criticism on said faults because then I can actually see whether I'm just being overly critical or fair on myself. I offer immediate apologises to anyone who reviewed 'Unsavoury Character' and now perceive the very same errors. I wrote this before I published that and I'm really sorry, please don't give up on me. I do listen and I think my writing has improved because of your criticisms…just not this one.
Chapter 1: "Too many romances"
James pulled on his black gloves and glanced across at his companions. The hay shifted under his boots as he moved to his horse's head, checking the straps.
"I don't like this," Tagg muttered to him.
"Hush. We've had our orders and as the leader I have to make sure they're carried out."
He tightened his horse's girth, squashing the twinge of conscience, "It's just a shame that I've got to take those two along." He shot a poisonous glance towards two other men who were huddled by their mount's whispering. "I dislike The Boss' meddling."
Philippe nodded, "It's rather disconcerting knowing that there's someone in the team who could shoot you in the back at any moment."
James made a disgusted noise, "If anything happens you know where to meet."
Philippe and Tagg nodded.
"Very well," James mounted his horse, "Let's go then."
Henrietta-Maria Susana Latherberry sighed deeply and stared longingly out the window - bleak moorland just rolling onwards and onwards as far as the eye could see. The sky was clouded over, casting everything in a grey light. She sighed again.
"Why so glum mistress? You look like you've had some terrible news."
Henrietta spoke slowly to her maid, eyes never leaving the landscape, "My life is so boring Sally. I was just thinking how thrilling it would be if we were held up right now."
Sally was shocked, "Mistress! Held up by vicious ruffians! Why that would be frightful!"
Henrietta smiled dreamily, "Yes, frightfully romantic."
Sally frowned at her, "I think, Mistress, that you've been reading too many of those romance novels."
Henrietta ignored her. "I think one of the highwaymen would be naturally very handsome."
Henrietta winced. Opps. That'd teach her for speaking of her daydreams.
"You shouldn't be having those sort of thoughts. And you barely twenty! It's shocking!"
Henrietta rolled her eyes and gazed at her reflection, chestnut ringlets and hazel eyes.
"Don't worry Sally. It's not like it's ever going to happen."
That was when the gunshot rent the air.
Sally uttered a shriek. Henrietta bolted up, her eyes shining with excitement.
The carriage shuddered to a stop.
Sally was flapping her hands and having forty fits. Henrietta kept her eyes trained fixedly upon the carriage door.
"Keep the driver covered," she heard a gruff voice utter from outside and gave a shiver of excitement.
Then the door was pulled open.
Much to her disappointment Henrietta couldn't see the Highwayman's face as it was covered with a black scarf and muffler. She did notice though that they were tall, their body swathed in a muddy black trench coat.
"Get out the carriage," he ordered sharply.
She gave a puzzled frown. They never usually asked you to get out of the carriage. They usually pointed a gun at you and asked you for your jewellery. Well maybe this was one of those other romances, one of the amazing ones where…
"Get out the carriage!" he ordered again impatiently.
Behind him Henrietta spotted three other riders, one of which was holding another horse, the horse belonging to the one who was speaking to her. She guessed there was at least one more with a gun pointing at the driver.
Suddenly one of the others leapt down from his horse and threw the reins at the one of the riders.
"Get out the carriage," this one snarled drawing a pistol and levelling it at her chest, "I'm not a patient man and I swear I'll fire."
Henrietta froze in terror before attempting to shake it off and think clearly. Breathing heavily she looked imploringly at the first man, the one who hadn't threatened her. It's funny where you look for help in desperate situations.
As she stared at him, he looked away from the one with the gun and met her eyes. A kind of electric shock ran down her back. Henrietta drew her breath in sharply. The eyes turned from her and refocused on the gun.
"Get out!" the gunman spat and aimed the gun at Sally, "Or I'll shoot her."
Henrietta still wasn't focusing clearly. What? What was she supposed to do? The heroines of her novels never had to make this kind of decision. The knight in shining armour always rode up before now.
Suddenly the gunman smirked – well she assumed that he'd smirked from the shape his face took on – "Tell you what," he chortled, "she ain't gonna want to stay in there with a corpse now is she."
He pulled the trigger, just as the first man knocked the gun aside. The retort was deafening as the bullet exploded into the side of the carriage in a hail of wooden fragments.
Sally screamed and fainted.
"Put – away – the – gun," he snarled. Henrietta was startled by the vehemence in his voice. "I didn't ask for your 'help'."
"What do you suggest we do then?" the gunman barked.
The first one looked at her again and let go of the gunman's arm. "I'll do it." He stated calmly then glanced over his shoulder at the others. "Move off and keep watch," he instructed.
Once they had dispersed he turned his eyes back to her. Henrietta swallowed hard and glanced nervously at the unconscious Sally.
"She'll be fine," he told her.
Henrietta glanced sharply back to him. He was filling the doorway to the carriage and looked like he was going to get in.
"Stay there!" she cried sharply.
To her surprise he stopped.
"Look," he said coolly, "You're going to have to come with me. If you don't come willingly I'll have to force you and really I don't want to be bothered." He paused. "I promise I won't hurt you."
"The promise of a cut-throat and highwayman," she said disbelievingly, bolder without the threat of a gun, "What's that worth?"
He looked angry, "I am not a cut-throat," he snapped at her, "Don't insult me as such."
The cry came from outside, "Someone's coming!"
He jerked his head around and swore under his breath, "Come now!"
"With help so near at hand? I think not," she smiled superiorly.
He looked at her irritably, "Get out of the carriage or I'll come in there and drag you out."
She held her head aloft and sniffed – thinking as she did so that she was acting this very well – "No need to shout." Better to get out looking dignified than dragged kicking and screaming which would probably be vastly uncomfortable.
He moved aside and she climbed out of the carriage…just as the first shot tore the air.
"Damn! James, what do we do?" one of the riders cried.
Her kidnapper looked around quickly, sizing up the situation.
"My horse, Philippe!"
One of the riders brought the horse forward. Another shot split the air. Philippe cried out and Henrietta was horrified to see him sway in the saddle. Blood leaked scarlet from his shoulder.
The highwayman boosted her into the saddle and climbed up behind her.
"I have the girl," he called, "Tagg, ride with Philippe. Make sure…" He pulled her down as a shot rang over their heads, "…make sure," he continued as if nothing had happened, "that you get him somewhere he can be treated."
The one who must've been Tagg came up alongside the injured one and they set off at a gallop.
"Eric, Simon, you're with me. I'll try to lose them but I need you two to distract them, then ride back and report." He didn't wait for a reply but kicked the sides of his horse and they were off.
Henrietta closed her eyes against the stinging wind.