A.N. – So after two years I finally decided to update this…what can I say? I'd forgotten how much I loved this story. :) An extremely belated Thank You to all who reviewed, especially to R.M. for her interest and enthusiasm. I truly appreciate it!
In which a daring escape takes place.
Amelia watched Jack closely from across the scrub wooden table that separated them. She was, and had been, for the last hour or so, trying to imagine him as a child. It wasn't hard to do, now, propped up in his chair as he was, nodding off into his morning tea. His skin was yet the color of bleached paper and his face was twisted in a grim sort of smile, thinly covering a perpetual grimace of pain. He wouldn't have been at all like young Dick, she was sure—what was it Moll had said? Gentlemanly…
Yes, Amelia admitted, there was something of the gentleman about him, though deeply hidden and jealously guarded. His speech and manner were certainly genteel—educated might have been a better word, and his tastes were certainly affluent enough—that plush red waistcoat of his bordered dandyism..! In fact, with a little training, Amelia could see him fitting just as easily at one of her Aunt's grand soirees as anywhere.
The idea was unnerving. If Jack were like Swiftie (and thank God he wasn't) she might properly hate him, as it was, she found him more intriguing by the hour. What had a young gentleman, as he so obviously was, been doing in the company of outlaws and cutthroats at such a tender age? And if he hadn't killed Dusky Jim, or any other man, why had he told her so? Perhaps, as Moll said, he'd only meant to scare her, but she didn't really believe it was as simple as that…
He must've felt her eyes on him at last, for he looked up suddenly, meeting her gaze, though his expression was unreadable. Amelia felt her cheeks warm, betraying her, and she had to look away sharply.
Jack smiled faintly as she blushed and turned away. So he unnerved her—that was something at least. For the girl certainly unnerved him. With her cold eyes and sharp tongue…and the way she managed, even dressed in an old frock once belonging to Moll's daughter, to look, and act, like a queen. He took another sip of his tea, stoutly laced with Moll's good whisky, gritting his teeth against the initial burn and then savoring the smooth smoky taste. There was a faint buzzing in his brain, probably from the drink, as Moll had insisted on refilling his cup at least four times now. He wanted his mind clear, but beneath the buzzing dwelt the pain, and that was worse.
The door flew open quite suddenly and a small figure burst inside, bringing with it the chill of a frosty November morning. There was an outcry from the patrons and the door was shut hastily. Dick turned back 'round, bright eyed and cheerful despite the cold, and betook himself to the fire to thaw. "Mornin' yer 'ighness," he squeaked, bobbing his shaggy head as he passed Amelia, and she couldn't help but grin. The cold had turned his nose and cheeks rosy, and the extra layer of clothing he wore fleshed out his thin body—altogether he looked much more a child this morning than the wrath of last night.
Swiftie had apparently been awaiting the lad's return with some impatience, for he nearly overturned his chair in rising, and clapping a hand on the small shoulder, steered the lad away from the fire and into an adjoining room. They reappeared some moments later, a grin widely splitting the little man's face, his small fist gripping what to him must have seemed all the money in the world. Jack raised a brow questioningly to Swiftie over the boy's shoulder; Swiftie's greedy and toothless grin was all the reply he needed.
Moll, attending patrons across the room, also caught Swiftie's grin, she straightened, hands on her wide hips, "Swiftie Brown, ye look like a cat what just ate the pet canary…feather's be hanging out yer'n mouth and all." Swiftie's grin only broadened, "what is it ye'r up to then exactly?"
Jack rose, albeit slowly, his grin was no less guilty, but at least apologetic, "We're most grateful once again for your hospitality Moll but—."
"Oh no ye don't!"
"We really must be going," he finished levelly.
"Hah! And ye only last night half dead, bleeding all over me clean sheets! Ye'll be goin' nowhere till ye've had rest, and a good deal o it mind ye!"
"Jacko be right enou', ain't ye lad?"
"As if ye were any judge!"
"Really now Moll, I'm quite well, I'll be alright, but we really must go now," his stress on the last word held a note of urgency, "Come Ms. Fortescue."
Moll crossed her great arms over her greater chest, "well ifin' ye'r like to go Jack me lad, I'll no stop ye, but ye'll no be taken the lady, surely."
Swiftie's eyes narrowed, "sure and we are."
Moll ignored him, "Trouble can only follow, Jacko lad."
Jack stiffened, "I thank you for your concern, but Ms. Fortescue will be accompanying us." Something in his voice made Amelia shiver, and she found herself following him meekly back up the stairs, not even daring to protest as she began to gather up her things—her spoiled dress, her cloak and boots, which seemed almost comical compared with the ragged thing she now wore.
Jack himself was attempting to put on his waistcoat, wincing and grunting a great deal, but making no real headway, till he noticed Amelia staring at him, her forehead creased in something between pity and disgust. "What?" he fired at her, more sharply than he meant.
Amelia flinched involuntarily, but her gaze remained steady, "you're not seriously going to wear that are you?"
Jack laughed outright, "Indeed I am."
"But—but it's covered in blood…"
"I know, but I rather like it that way, I'm meant to appear fearsome and savage you know."
"I should think one of your pistols would do the trick."
She nodded, "such a weapon is enough to dishearten even the bravest of souls."
"It certainly had no such effect upon you, if I recall correctly, my waving of pistols only encouraged you…" He said this harshly, but grinned, and Amelia was stunned to realize that she had just actually received a compliment. He thought her brave?! Surely he knew how terrified she had been, how terrified she was even now, though the sunlight did away with much of his foreboding… She felt color rising on her cheeks, but he had the courtesy not to notice, instead he nodded to his great coat, still draped on the back of the chair. "I'm afraid I require your assistance, Madam, if you would be so kind."
Amelia obliged. He was just pulling his good arm through its sleeve when the sound of approaching horses brought Jack hastily to the window, the red of military coats blazed in the cool morning sun, six of them, astride their fine bays, and out ahead road--
Amelia gasped, "Raph," she didn't realize she'd spoken aloud until Jack's head snapped round, eyes narrowing upon her.
"Oh ho! I underestimated that fiancée of yours Madam…"
"Just let me go…"
"But—but you're outnumbered three to one!"
Swiftie's head appeared round the doorway, "oy, best be off Jack me lad!"
"The girl—we'll leave the girl Swift."
"Like 'ell we will!"
"Think what will happen if we are caught with her—."
"Think what will 'appen if we're caught wit'out 'er! Jacko we've prices on both our 'eads, and she's the only bargaining chip we 'ave!"
Jack needed time to think; to consider their options, and weigh the consequences…but with each second the brigade drew nearer, the hoof-beats drumming in his ears, drowning out his thoughts—there was nothing for it! Jack clapped a hand over Amelia's mouth, pulling her hard against him, "keep quiet, you understand?" he murmured as they stepped out into the hall.
Amelia could just see, over the far railing, the group of men entering the tavern, Raph among them. Moll looked to them without the slightest visible apprehension, "Morn'," she curtsied, "might I help ye Gentlemen?"
Raph stepped forward, removing his hat, "Madam Innkeeper," he bowed lightly, "I do hope you can help us—"
Whatever else Raph said was muffled as they entered the stairwell. Swiftie, ahead of them, took the stairs on tiptoe, (a sight which would have been quite comical under any other circumstances); wincing each time the old stair creaked, loud enough to wake the dead. Jack followed; half pushing half carrying Amelia along with him…Now came the tricky part, for the kitchen door stood cater-corner from the stair, and the only way to it was to pass, however briefly, into the main room. A room now heavily guarded by a dozen wary-eyed, armed, soldiers… "Not a sound," Jack hissed in her ear, pressing his hand tighter over her mouth to emphasize the point.
Again Swiftie went first, slipping through without notice, but that was easy, he wasn't dragging along a hostage… Jack stepped out from the stairwell, and just as he did so, Amelia bit down as hard as she could on his hand. Jack let out a surprised yelp, drawing the attention of most everyone in the room, and Amelia shouted, though by this time she needn't have bothered, "help!"
Everyone seemed to move at once, the six soldiers leapt into action, dodging tables, chairs and confused patrons, Raph himself fairly flew at them—meanwhile Jack coolly drew his pistol. Amelia gasped as she felt the cool steel rest against her temple. Jack's eyes locked with Raph's and they stared at each other, unaccountably Raph went ghastly pale and looked away sharply
"Come closer," Jack's resounded in the sudden still, "by all means, if you wish her dead!"
He could see the men hesitate, considering him…and he seized his moment, dashing through the kitchen door, dragging Amelia with him. They tumbled together, hitting the packed earth with a smack. Jack was on his feet in an instant, hauling Amelia up beside him, Swiftie knocked a rack of shelves over in front of the door, sending an array of pots, pans, foodstuffs and dishes crashing across the floors.
"Sent Dick for em afore the soldiers—out the back, come on."
While two of the soldiers struggled to force open the barricaded door the other four, followed closely by Mr. Creswell, headed around the rear of the Inn, intending to head them off. By the time they reached it though the two horsemen and their captive had already disappeared through the trees.
"Choo man!" Swiftie laughed as they barreled full-tilt through the thick boscage, "did ye see their faces? Did ye?! Choo!"
"Yes, I saw." He did not grin, in fact he frowned, or his frown deepened, as he had been frowning since they'd first heard the brigade coming, "Swift, we ought to forget this whole damned business…"
"Oh dun' ye start again, If I didn' know no better I'd say ye'd lost yer nerve!"
"It doesn't matter," Amelia was no longer terrified, it was too exhausting to be so all the time, and struggling and screaming, she knew, did little except infuriate her captors. In place of her terror she felt only numbness, resignation would come later she knew, but for now she felt nothing, and that was almost worse than the fear.
"What'cher mean girl?" Swiftie cocked a brow at her.
"I mean," she said, her voice rising boldly, "that Creswell has a very strong sense of justice, and it doesn't matter now if you release me or not! He won't rest until he sees you both hanged!"
The horse's pace faltered over a sudden dip in the landscape and she felt the hand about her waist tighten. She felt sick, sick that her captor's hold should be so comforting, sick that she felt not pleasure, or even relief, at the thought of his body swinging from a rope, but regret, even sorrow. Oh how she wanted to hate him..! Her mouth still stung where he had clapped his hand so tightly and she knew her arms were bruised, he was the very reason she was in this terrible, unimaginable predicament and yet she—she—what the devil was the matter with her?!
Swiftie was laughing at her words but they'd sent a chill down Jack's spine, this was no hollow threat spat by a frightened girl, she'd exhausted such burstings the night before, no…no this had the ring of truth in it, and it more than unnerved him.
The moments began to pass away in silence, and the miles with it. Where they were headed Amelia knew not, only that after some miles the scrub, dank heath-land began to pass away opening into frosty pastures sprinkled over with little thickets of bare trees. They kept not to the road, but to these trees, and they at least, seemed to know where they were, and more importantly, where they were headed. The rhythmic movements of the horse beneath her coupled by extreme physical exhaustion was beginning to get the better of her. She leaned herself back into the warmth of the body behind her, supporting her, letting her head lull back against his chest as her eyes slid shut, sleep overcoming her at last.
"She's rather nice like this, isn't she…" Jack mused after some time, watching the sunlight play across her sleep-softened features. He brushed a stray curl of dark auburn hair back behind her ear, marveling at the softness of it.
"Ey? A right sight nicer 'en when she's awake, 'at's for sure and certain," Swiftie nodded, laughing, "choo Jack, but ye ain't gone soft on 'er 'as ye?"
"Now Swift," he laughed, "whatever gave you that idea?"
A.N.- Aww… ;)