He pulled the hood closer over his eyes, shielding them from the winter's sun as it glanced into the snow and back at him. His slender, small brown horse slowly reined in it's own speed, settling just outside the brown, log manor that occupied a tent city, brown and green uniforms milling throughout. Others wore thick moccasin and average farmer's clothes, but his own attire was different. He wore a mottled dark grey and green cloak of black pants and a baggy shirt, and his boots were different as well. They were small and silent as he stepped up the usually creaky house and into the front hall.
"Ah, Mr. Thorne," smiled an African man at the bottom of the stairs, "Mr. Rackham and Mr. Vane have been expecting you. Shall I take your cloak?"
"Ebenakama," Thorne smiled through a salt and pepper beard that adorned his face, "I can do my own bidding, I do not need others to do it for me, unpaid."
The servant-slave smiled at the older caucasian man, "Thank you sir, it's always appreciated."
Thorne nodded, folding his cloak over his forearm as he stepped into the study, where two others stood over a map of Iber, and he draped his cloak over a oak chair as he slid his hands to his hips, pushing back a pistol and a dagger sitting on his hip.
"What's the deal, boys?" he asked, brushing thick black hair over his scalp as the two men looked up, their brows knotted. Vane pushed spectacles further up the bridge of his nose as he met Thorne's eyes, and Rackham shook his head.
"No progress since your last visit, Thomas," John Vane pursed his lips in a tight line before speaking again "We figure out the codes, the names. But we have neither a man or any leads on such a man. Not even from the scouts."
A candle seemed to ignite from behind his eyes as he bobbed his finger, pointing to the map as he inhaled.
"I have a friend in Ellisbury, he is part Carthaginian, his mom was native. His father is english, and he might be loyalist. I haven't seen him in quite a time, and it's worth a shot, eh?" Charles Rackham rubbed at a stubbled as Thomas Thorne shrugged.
"It's a lead, and those are few and far between these days," Thorne nodded at young man, "Have you taken it up with York?"
"I have not," he admitted, "Should I?"
"He said I should advance this mission, come hell or high water. This is an advance in my book," Thorne noted to Rackham, who smiled. It was a small victory in a long war, "I'm gonna take you, Talimakano, and Robert. We ride now."
The winter sun ran over his face as he climbed from a lush mattress. His father, the town reverend, had given it to him in his wife the previous winter, and he was undoubtedly glad for its existence now. Straw beds were no comfort for him or his now pregnant wife. He stood on simple floorboards as he stood.
"Where are you going?" she asked, and he smiled, suppressing the stressors of his hard life and masking his emotions with happiness.
"The market, Martha," he kissed her forehead, "I need to get some seed for the spring."
He pulled on his jacket, a thick wool one his father had also found, slipping it onto his slender frame as he wrapped a scarf around his face before walking into the frigid winter air. His stone grey pants complemented the black jacket nicely, he smiled to himself walking across the fields to the first of four cabins sitting just prior to the treeline. He banged on the door to the first one twice.
"Head on into the house, Abanambo," he smiled at the African, "Martha will fix you a meal."
"Are you sure, Mr. Van Etten? Last time she ran us out," Abanambo queried, and the farmer knotted his brow in anger.
"Name's Hannibal," he chuckled through frustration, "but regardless, Abanambo. You have my word. Should she deny you meals you don't work. Simple as that, sir."
"Thank you, Mist-, er, Hannibal," Abanambo grinned back, pushing up from his straw bunk as he lifted up a light, yet tough shirt to wear over the course of the day's work, or if it was to be the case, lackthereof. Abanambo's skin stretched taut along his flexed muscles as he pulled out the chest, and Hannibal realized he trusted this man, perhaps more than his own wife.
"Abanambo," Hannibal said, feeling for his pistol at his hip, "Take this, if anything happens, you understand what to do."
"I don't know sir," Abanambo said, uneasy as he stared at the handle of the pistol.
"Take it, friend. That's an order, aba," he said, using the man's nickname. Aba uneasily clipped it into his own belt as Hannibal nodded, exiting the cabin for his horse and wagon.
The black horse was big, muscular, unlike Thomas Thorne's silent, well trained horse. Hannibal's own horse was more of a stallion, a giant, rumbling behemoth that could do any duty for Van Etten and his family. The horse, too, was a gift from his father. Hannibal silently hoped for his own things.
He dragged the decently sized wagon behind him, where he would place seed and farming tools to replace those damaged over the winter. He pulled into the market, and he shot an eyebrow up, mostly to himself, as he realized how bustling the market was for such an early hour. Ellisbury was a slow moving town, awakening late and bedding down late, however today was different. It seemed to be bustling at dawn as well.
"Why all the activity, Arno?" Hannibal asked a man with thick, curly black hair and deep brown eyes, bordering nearly on black as he met Hannibal's own green eyes.
"Apparently the British are coming to take over our nothin town," he growled in disgust, spitting into the dirt road and Hannibal narrowed his eyes towards the ridgeline that held a schoolhouse, the very one he had attended as a child.
"What the 'ell," he scoffed, "It's not even of any strategic significance."
"It's bloody bullshit, mon," Arno shook his head, continuing his purchases as Hannibal lowered himself off his horse, tying the reins to the post covering the seeds and livestock. He grabbed lettuce and carrots first, dropping them in a sack that got heavier as he continued, dishing out coin to nearly every vendor before coming to the final one.
"'aven't seen you around these parts, mate," the vendor said, not lifting his hat - or somewhat of a beret, he corrected himself - but he grabbed more coin from his near empty pockets, dropping it on a plywood table.
"Name's Hannibal. Who are you, haven't seen you either," Hannibal nodded, and the man grinned slightly.
"I'm pretty new, just came out of the city. Robert Gaigos," he shook Hannibal's hand, "Hope I see you around, even after the brits come."
Hannibal nodded into piercing steel eyes, and Hannibal made a mental note to watch for this trader, he seemed a deadly, menacing type. Gaigos seemed friendly on the outside, but something was brewing within.
"Alright, boy," he scratched his horse's neck, "Different way home."
Thomas Thorne peeled back the pine limbs slowly, cloak still obscuring any view one could have one him. He had heard them before he saw their red outline coming through the bend in the road. He narrowed his eyes as they neared, before turning back to Rackham. Robert Gaigos came from above, having rode into Ellisbury to do some scouting of the area.
"Charles, you stay here," he gestured at the ground, "Don't fire that gun unless one of my people gets some."
"Why can't I move up with you guys?" he whispered, too loud for Thorne's tastes.
"Because you're too damn loud with that gun," he growled, and Charles sat, deflated, in the soil, "We are ghosts, gentlemen."
His other two men nodded. Robert Gaigos had thick black hair, not unlike Thorne's own, however, Talimakano Softmun was a native of the Americas, and his sharp, warrior-like mohawk, noted that distinctly. Unlike the other two men, Talimakano wore his native moccasins, like those in North America. Talimakano moved off swiftly, scrambling up a oak tree reaching skywards as Thomas and Robert exchanged a glance before drawing short, curved black blades from sheaths at their hips. The blades had no shine, and both men also held a short, worker's knife in their left hands, preparing for their attack. Thomas gazed out of his left eye, noting Talimakano's position before he jumped into the air, slicing the neck of the british officer at the lead of the unit.
Gaigos followed with speed, stabbing his knife deep into the neck of one redcoat before swiveling on his toes to disembowel another, blood now dripping from both of his weapons as another raised a weapon at Thomas. His knife flew from his hand, hitting the soldier in the eye before Robert spun back to slice another neck with his curved blade. Thomas, too, was making quick work of the soldiers. The pair stood side by side to survey their handiwork.
"Bloody 'ell," Thomas whispered, watching a drummer run off the road and into the forest. Talimakano knocked an arrow, drawing it back far before releasing into the drummer's chest, stapling him to the dirt for all intents and purposes. Thomas smiled before Rackham stumbled from his hiding place under the tree.
"When are you boys gonna give me a shot? That's… what, the third column so far?" Rackham complained, a Thomas shot him a look before turning the Talimakano, who nodded his confirmation.
"Yeah, that's the third, your boy is right," Talimakano said, shooting a grin at Rackham, who narrowed his eyes at the darker man who was lowering himself to the roadway from the rocks above.
"They're heading in the direction of Ellisbury. We need to do this at night. You said his plantation was on the outside?" Thorne queried Rackham, who nodded as Talimakano trotted up behind him.
"Yeah, about a mile outside, should be easy to grab 'im," he nodded at his superior. Thorne was technically insubordinate to Rackham, however both men knew who truly commanded the mission.
"Alright, boys. Let's haul ass."
Hannibal slid into the barn with little fanfare as he sat behind the doorway, directing the light to her clothesline to try to gain her attention. He began to shake his head before she finally turned, heading towards the barn. Hannibal stepped into the dark as she approached, sliding inside to sit on one of the two rough oak stools that were almost constantly in the barn.
She stepped into the dark and he met her gaze as she still could not spot him. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness slowly, and she spotted him.
"You think I want to see you or something?" she ground out across a tense environment.
"Look, I'm not here for anything other than I need an opinion I can trust," he emphasized the last part, shifting slightly in the stool as she took the other stool for herself, leaning against a pole that support the loft, stuffed with hay and other supplies for the livestock.
"What about your wife, Hannibal? You trust her with everything else," she said, staring into his green eyes with her own deep brown, and he ran his hand through his black hair before slipping off his jacket and throwing it to the dirt floor.
"It was an obligation to my family, you know that," he narrowed his eyes at her, "But that's not why I came, Dorothy. Two things trouble me right now, truthfully. The worse part is, I can change both."
"Talk," she said, her voice unemotional and deadpan.
"Martha, one. It was a mistake. I know I did the right thing for those around me, but not for myself. Two… the british. They are closing in. You know what they might do if they arrive. You heard the stories from Nova Iber, it's some messed up stuff," he sighed inwardly, "I find myself going against my father everyday, and even more so at night. My mind… just runs wild."
"Why was it a mistake?"
"Martha?" he asked before continuing, "After my brother, you know… went through with it, I felt like I needed to take his place. I broke that promise to you, and I'm sorry. I really am. I…"
"Hannibal," she whispered, gripping his shoulder, "It's fine. I am too, but we both have someone else to care about, to love."
Van Etten Manor
The four men sat in the trees, watching as the group of four redcoats discussed their man beneath them. The British had arrived in town within the hour, and were already making their presence felt. These men, Thorne knew, were good men, but their king had destroyed that when he had sent them to rape and pillage a peaceful nation. It irked Thomas and his men to no avail.
"You sure the negro said his wife was good," Thomas heard one of the British comment to another.
"Oh yeah, you bet he did," the sly grin did not go missed by Rackham, who shook his head at Thomas. Thomas nodded in response, tightening a grip on his blade as he heard the hooves on the dirt road. This man's wagon was loud, and the British heard it too.
"Earlier than I expected," the third British soldier commented, grabbing his rifle as he walked into the road. Thomas, Robert, and Talimakano swiftly climbed from their trees, hiding in the shadows as they heard the four redcoats halt their target.
"Who are you, mate?" one of the men shouted at the rider, who halted his horse.
"Hannibal Van Etten," the man said confidently, "My father is the reverend."
"We'd like to see your wife," one of the men chuckled sadistically, and Thomas saw their target go for a gun. One that wasn't there.
"You 'aven't asked me my name, lad," Thomas chuckled from the trees, as he stepped forward with speed and stealth, his knife hitting the first British man in the neck before he came from behind another to slice the man's throat open. Talimakano let an arrow fly, knocking another man forward before Thomas kicked the final man in the gut.
"You're a sick man," he whispered, inches from the pinned man, "And I'm a Ranger. Y'know what that means, eh?"
Thomas drew his knife across the man's jugular before throwing him in the bushes, "Hope you die happy, mate."