Highwayman’s Prize

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Amateur

Author’s Note: This story was written for a friend about 10-12 years ago, and has nothing at all to do with my newer stories. I’m posting it because people might enjoy it.

*****

The coach traveled along the wooded road behind its mismatched pair of horses on a crisp October afternoon. The road was clear and the driver was sure he would arrive at the inn by dinnertime, so his passengers could eat and sleep in comfort. They were a mixed lot, this trip. An older couple, probably a merchant and his wife. Well to do, well dressed, and a little stuck up. Then there was the priest, a simple man in his cassock, obviously not a member of the royalty of the Church. And lastly was a lovely young woman in a simple green dress and cloak, traveling alone. Petite with dark chestnut hair, gray eyes and a melancholy expression completed the picture. Surprisingly, she had several good sized trunks, more luggage than the merchant couple.

The coach passed a bend in the road, revealing a man standing in the center of the lane. He wore a dark greatcoat and simple tricorn hat, and was holding two pistols aimed at the driver. The driver pulled the horses to a halt.

“Thank you for stopping. Now, if you will all step down into the road, we can proceed with our business. If you cooperate, no harm will come to any of you,” said the highwayman through the scarf covering his face except for his stormcloud gray eyes. “I would not advise upsetting me.”

Realizing that there was nothing to gain from resistance, the coachman removed the knife from his belt and stuck it into the seat, before dismounting to assist his passengers leave the coach. The merchant went first, looking like he would explode, followed by his wife who didn’t appear to believe that this was happening to her. Next came the priest with a serene expression, and lastly the woman in emerald with a resigned air.

The merchant sputtered, “What is the meaning of this? Don’t you know who I am?”

“No,” said the highwayman in a sharp tone, “nor do I care. And the meaning should be clear, or would you prefer me to say ‘Stand and deliver?’ This is a robbery, and you will give according to your means. From what I can see, you will be providing me with quite a bit.”

Turning to the priest, he continued, “You, good Father, have naught to fear from me. If you were a Bishop with a rich retinue, it might be different. But as it is, more of my income than theirs,” nodding at the merchant and his wife, “ends up with the Church. In fact, you may see far more of his money than you would normally. Both from me and from those I share with.

“And finally, the most precious treasure here. How is it that you are unescorted?” When the woman said nothing, “Well, this error in judgment will cost your family dearly. For now, take this bag to hold the wallets and jewels of your wealthy companions. The priest and your driver have nothing I want.”

As the young woman collected the valuables of the other passengers, the bandit continued, “Which of the bags up there is yours? Surely those trunks belong to your fellow travelers.”

The driver spoke up, “No sir, those three trunks are hers.”

“Shall wonders never cease?” with a raised eyebrow. “Then they shall be delivered in her place as she will be coming with me for ransom. Fetch down whatever case she takes to the inn at night.” Then to the woman, “Give me your word on your good behavior and you can ride. Otherwise, you’ll be bound and tossed across my horse’s rump like a sack of grain.”

She spoke for the first time, in a musical voice, “Then you have my word, for what good it will do. It is dependent upon you. Mistreat me and the promise is broken from your side.”

“Agreed,” said the masked man. “I’ve no desire to hurt you in any way, and every reason to keep you safe. Keep your word, and I’ll keep mine upon what honor I have left as a former gentleman. Please take your bag and stand by my horse, there.

“As for the rest of you, I would not suggest that you follow us,” he continued firmly. “You will wait for ten minutes after we leave before continuing on your way. If I see any of you behind me, you will certainly die.”

He strode to his dark gray stallion, who was tied to a tree by the side of the road, and tied the woman’s case behind the saddle. He helped her to mount, sitting her across the horse’s shoulders. As he mounted, he remarked, “As I don’t have a saddle built for two, my arms will be about you to keep you in place. I mean no impropriety, madam.”

“I understand,” came the reply. Now that his voice has gentled, she thought, there’s something familiar about it. But what is it and why? His arms settled around her, holding her gently and firmly in place.

The highwayman turned his horse into the trees, and the road was soon lost to sight. He guided the stallion through the dense growth for a few minutes until they reached a small, seldom used path. Turning in what seemed to be the direction the carriage had come from; he kneed the horse to a canter, covering bursa escort several miles rapidly. Neither spoke as they traveled. As the shadows lengthened, they came upon a stream, which was crossed by a small bridge.

Instead of crossing the bridge, he slowed the horse to a walk and turned into the flow, walking upstream for a quarter mile or so before completing the crossing. They passed another mile into the wood before emerging into a clearing. In the approaching dusk, the woman saw a small cottage, slightly run down, with a barn to one side.

The man slid down, before helping his captive off of the horse. He untied her bag and handed it to her, “Go on inside, and light a candle or two if you would. I’ll be in shortly after I tend to Onyx.” He led the horse to the barn.

The woman opened the door to the house and stepped in. Just inside the door, she found the tinderbox and lit the candles on the table, before hanging her cloak on a peg by the door. In contrast to the outside, the inside was well furnished and neat. While the outside implied a drafty room, the interior walls were covered with fabric, giving a rich impression. The furniture was plain and unadorned, but solidly made. The cooking area by the fireplace was well ordered, and the bed was neatly made. Her eyes lingered briefly on the knife in its block by the fireplace; then she turned her back on it and sat at the table. A promise was, after all, a promise.

When he entered the cottage a few minutes later, the woman asked, “Does my captor have a name? What shall I call you?”

“For now, you may call me Rand. I hope your stay with me will be short and relatively pleasant.” He replied as he removed and hung up his hat and greatcoat. Beneath them, his clothes were simple with a blue coat, gray small clothes and high boots. He had a high forehead, with dark brown hair pulled back into a queue. “Please forgive the scarf, but my face must remain a mystery for now. And what is your name, madam?”

“Marie Fitzroy. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well this house is kept up.”

“As opposed to how it looks from the outside?” he laughed, as he sat across the table from her. “I appreciate my comfort as much as my solitude, and the outside discourages investigation. I found it vacant and furnished it myself. It suits my purposes. But now to the business at hand. To whom shall I address the ransom note? To your husband, or your father perhaps? Who will pay to have you returned?”

“No one. Nobody can pay who would, and those who could will not. I am a widow, and have been turned out of my home by my late husband’s family. They never approved of me, said he was marrying beneath him. And when he was killed, they allowed a month for a suitable period of mourning. They told me that they would be ‘gracious’ and allow me to keep the bulk of my wardrobe and some of my jewelry. I was taking it home in those trunks, to sell to raise money for my family and me to live on.

“And so, the only ransom that could have been paid has been sent on to my mother and brother. My William was able to protect me from his family while he lived, but since the duel…”

“William…Fitzroy? And the family sounds familiar. Describe your husband madam, and quickly!”

“Eight inches above five feet tall and a build like yours. Hair the color of fine chocolate, silver-gray eyes” She paused, “Rand, since we’ve met, I’ve been trying to remember where I know you from. Your eyes, your voice are familiar to me.”

“We have never met, my dear Marie. But it is ironic that you should bring me this news,” he sighed as he unwound the scarf, revealing familiar features to a shocked Marie. “And thus I learn of the death of my younger brother, from the bride I never knew he had.”

Marie’s unbelieving eyes beheld a face that was her dead William’s except for small details. Where William was clean shaven, Rand had a goatee. And William’s laughing eyes were brooding in his elder brother. Marie also now recalled William speaking of his brother. “Your proper name is Randall, isn’t it? William spoke of you, and how he wished we could meet since your parents rejected me as they had done to you.”

“I would have liked that. It seems that the two of you were happy together. When did you meet? I saw Will just two summers past and he mentioned no bride or lover.”

“Because we had not yet met. By some strange chance, I meet you two years to the day after meeting William. I was working at the village inn then, serving and helping in the kitchen. It wasn’t much money, but it was honest work. William came in for dinner and a bed, on his way somewhere else. He spoke so sweetly to me, and tipped so lavishly, that I thought he assumed I would come with the room.”

“Not my brother. He was like that, charming, a flatterer. But only when it could be done honestly, he’d never lie. Will would keep silent instead. He would have seen the beautiful young woman sitting before me. A woman with spirit enough to bargain with a brigand instead of cowering with fear.”

“William bursa escort bayan gradually convinced me of that,” Marie continued. “And gently began to court me. He impressed my family too. Not by throwing money around, though anyone could see that he was to the manor born. But by his deeds, and the way he treated people. Gradually we fell in love, and were wed quietly, against your parent’s wishes, in September a year ago.

“And on our first anniversary, my world started to crumble. Your parents had made no secret that they just barely tolerated my existence, and that for William’s pleasure. They had taken great joy in talking about me to their friends. About the ‘common girl’ who had married William for naught but gold, though I loved him more than anything in this world. It was on our anniversary that a son of your parent’s friends said this to William’s face, while we were out walking. Hendricks even asked William my price for a night so he could try me out!

“At this, my gentle William’s temper broke. The whispers and innuendos he could ignore or overlook, but this insult to my honor, delivered in public, was just too much. He knocked the blaggard to the ground with one blow and demanded a retraction. When that was not forthcoming, William challenged him to a duel.”

“That sounds like Stuart Hendricks. He used to be a friend of mine, until he found a more enjoyable life as a toady and informer. Please tell me that he chose pistols. My brother was an indifferent swordsman, but a crack shot.”

“It was pistols. And William’s shot acquitted my honor, piercing his foe’s heart. But Hendricks fired before he died, the bullet lodging in William’s lung. While he left the field of honor victorious, my love never saw the next dawn.” She paused for a moment, then whispered, “I almost joined him.”

Randall remarked quietly, “I can understand that. What kept you in this world instead of the next?”

“What would be the point of ending my life to rejoin my love, if I couldn’t be with him? Suicides cannot reach Heaven, and I will not believe that William is anywhere else.”

“Truly spoken. My brother was always a good man, the better of us. Our parents tolerated you for Will, but they would have made no such effort for me, even if they hadn’t disowned me five years ago.”

Marie looked puzzled, “Just why would a family disown a strong, handsome son like you? The firstborn as well.”

“Dice, cards, and drink were my downfalls. I was losing money more often than I won, and started stealing to support my vices. When my father found that I was stealing from him, he ruled that I was no longer living under his roof, nor welcome in his sight. You received more equitable treatment from my parents than ever I did. And now there are no children left to them. I guess they’ll have to be evil, spiteful and poisonous to each other now. And to their friends, of course.

“Since then, I’ve given up my vices, as I can no longer afford them. Since I’ve proven to be a rather good thief, I share what I don’t need with the surrounding villages. Both by giving my custom to the local merchants and tradesmen, and by leaving small sums of money randomly at people’s doors. So far, no one’s made the connection between the anonymous gifts and the notorious highwayman, and nobody’s caught me yet.

“But enough talk for now. Let us dine, and in the morning, you will continue home. The food won’t be elegant, but it is good. Amusingly, I bought it at the inn where your carriage was headed for dinner. I hope the company will be as good as you would have had otherwise.”

“Oh, please. You cannot be serious. Father Joseph was pleasant enough, but the Winslows must know your parents. They were just short of being insulting, probably because the Father was there. I’m sure your company will be far superior.”

Supper, it turned out, was a very good shepherd’s pie with a chunky filling and thick gravy. It was washed down with good ale and better conversation, as Marie and Rand talked of the people they both knew. Marie caught Rand up on the recent news and gossip from his home, and he responded with stories of his brother as a young man.

Suddenly, Marie’s face fell, where it had been relaxed and smiling. She looked as though an inner well of resolve had finally been exhausted. “Rand, in the month that I’ve been alone, I’ve been strong where others can see me, and wept in private. But nobody has held me, and I’m used to hugs from my family or from William.” Tearfully she asked, “Please don’t think me immodest or forward, but could you hold me for a while?”

“Of course I will, Marie. You may cry on me if you need,” Randall said gently as he rose and walked around the table to where his new friend sat. He pulled out the chair as she rose, then folded his arms about her as she sobbed.

At first, Marie held herself stiffly erect. After a few seconds though, she sagged into Randall’s firm embrace, crying into the shoulder of his coat. Randall could smell her scent, clean and fresh, escort bursa and cursed himself silently for the rising attraction he felt. This is my brother’s widow, he thought, I should be comforting her, not enjoying the feel of her in my arms, nor imagining her in my bed.

After a time, Marie’s tears stopped, but she showed no intention of letting go. As she rested her head on his chest, she said softly, “It’s the oddest thing. You feel like William against me, strong and solid. If not for your beard, it would almost be as if he had returned to me.”

“Would that he had, Marie. For your sake and that I miss him too.” Randall kissed Marie on the top of her head as a brother should kiss his younger sister. Startled, she looked up at him, the ghost of a smile in her eyes. He gave her another kiss, not quite as brotherly this time, on her forehead.

This time when their eyes met, there was no pretense of family, just passion. Their lips touched gently, butterfly soft. Then they pulled each other into a tighter embrace, while they each opened themselves to the other. The kiss grew deeper and wilder as their ardor grew, until they finally parted, breathless.

“And now, a part of you is very solid and strong,” she whispered, feeling his arousal.

“We can stop, if you want to. Not go where this will take us. Don’t feel you have to do anything you don’t want to,” gasped Randall.

“And frustrate us both?” Marie asked. “I want this too. It’s true that you look, feel, smell and even kiss like William. But I don’t see his shade when I look at you. I see a handsome, charming rogue who happens to be his brother. I want to be with you, Randall. William was a kind and good lover and husband. But I want to finish my grieving for him in your arms tonight. Would you deny me this?”

She smiled impishly, “Besides, there is only one bed. Were you planning to sleep in the stable with your horse?”

“Onyx gets no company this night,” growled Randall, before claiming her lips once more.

This time the kiss was less frenzied, more certain. As his fingers untied the knot to her bodice lacings, her hands pushed his coat off of his shoulders. As he moved far enough away to drop his coat onto the chair, she closed to where she could open his waistcoat, nimble fingers flying over the buttons. Turning her back on him, Marie presented her lacings while she opened the fastenings of her skirts. Rand pondered the knife for a moment, then decided against cutting the dress open and unlaced it as well as the stays beneath.

Turning towards him again, Marie slowly lowered her bodice, skirts and stays, leaving her in nothing but her shift. Rand had pulled off his boots and was unfastening his breeches when she came back into his arms. The breeches slid to the floor, leaving nothing between them but two layers of linen, her shift and his shirt. As they kissed again, they could feel each other’s heat, and Marie could feel that Rand was the big brother in more ways than one. Rand could feel her hard nipples pressing into his chest, atop her firm breasts.

Rand’s hands roamed lower on Marie’s back, then proceeded to raise the hem of her shift. When he laid his hand on the smooth, bare skin of her back, she pressed closer. And when he slid his hands down onto her buttocks, she nearly swooned. Marie then slid her hands down his sides, until she was below the shirt before moving them up onto his chest, avoiding his hardness for the moment. Then she raised his shirt over his head to gaze upon him uncovered.

“So handsome,” she breathed. “Is this for me?” as she gently closed her fingers around the rigid object of her attention.

“Aye, my gift to you. And now it’s time to see its inspiration,” as he lifted her shift over her head. “Now I’ll be able to recognize an angel, if ever I reach Heaven,” he said, openly admiring her figure and the sable pelt at the gate of her womanhood.

“Then let us see if we can bring each other there,” said Marie, leading Rand to the bed by her convenient handle. Lying down, they tasted each other once more, with Marie gently stroking her gift. Rand returned the favor by petting her breasts and teasing her nipples.

Marie gasped as Rand ducked his head to capture a nipple in his mouth. Kissing, licking and sucking, He made sure that no spot went ignored. Marie was so absorbed by the sensations that she nearly jumped out of her skin when his hand slipped into the moisture between her thighs, brushing her womanhood. Gently, he slid his fingers along her nether lips, making tiny circles over her pearl. She shuddered and gasped at this last touch, releasing her hold at her release.

“Now, my handsome rogue,” she moaned. “Ravish me. Make me yours.”

“For as long as you desire, milady,” said Rand, rising over her. Slowly, gently, with far more patience than he thought he had, he entered her. They sighed as one as he opened her and filled her body with his.

For a moment, both were still, hearts beating in time. Neither daring to stir, or even breathe, for fear of breaking the magical feeling surrounding them and binding them. Then Rand began to move within Marie, and they realized that the fear was unjustified as the magic gathered them in and seemed to float them above the bed.

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