nsync in black and white

Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

Moonlight Robbery

It's dark now. At least two more hours before they reach Kerringham Park, two more hours rattling and jolting over bad roads by the light of the wan moon.

Nicholas does not want to arrive. Yes, it will mean relief from his mother's unrelenting company; in a house full of strangers they need to impress, she won't be forever reciting his inadequacies and repeating, over and over, how this is his one chance to redeem his pitiful self. But there's the rub. When they arrive, he'll have to play the charmer, put on his best smiles and woo the girl and the girl's parents, her father, that is, because her mother has conspired with his to make this match, and all that remains is for Nicholas to play his part.

He does not want her. A few conversations, a dance here and there, does not make a bond. He does not want to be bonded to a stranger, only the money simply has to be found, and the girl has a dowry that makes his mother's eyes gleam. He'd feel sorry for the girl, married for her money, except that he has no pity to spare. He has nothing to spare. It takes him all he has not to reach out and put his hands around her neck, the bitch, still carping at him, drumming it through his head that the only way her plans can fail is if he fails, that she doubts he has the finesse to do what is needed but he's all she has to work with, now.

Nicholas wishes, with all his tattered heart, that he were not all she had. And sometimes, he wishes the smallpox had taken her as well as the little sisters who were supposed to bring rich husbands into the family, and the baby brother who would have been so, so much more satisfactory in every way than big, stupid, lumpen Nicholas.

There's nothing in the world that can quiet his mother when she wants something, so—

A crack, loud as thunder in the still night, and the horses squeal, and the coach shudders to a juddering halt. Nicholas and his mother stare at one another, and it seems there is something in the world to quiet her, the sound of a shot in the empty night will do it.

They listen, to growled commands and the coachman's pleas, and Nicholas hears the thumping of his own heart louder than the rest, and then the carriage door is flung open and there's a figure outside, dark, caped and hatted and with a mask hiding his features, a long drape of cloth leaving only the eyes visible. The highwayman gestures, a black-gloved hand holding a wicked long-barrelled pistol. A duelling pistol, by the look of it, a gentleman's pistol, too good for a common highwayman - unless he'd taken it from a previous victim, Nicholas thinks irrelevantly.

Nicholas steps out of the carriage and carefully offers his arm to his mother. The pistol covers them both, unwavering.

"Tie him up." A terse command in a deep, firm voice, and a gesture of the head, to where their coachman is kneeling on the grass, white-faced in the moonlight, holding his trembling hands out before him. For want of rope, Nicholas carefully unwinds the cloth from about the poor man's neck and twists it round his wrists.

"Good. Now, your jewels. Give them to me." It's almost miraculous, Nicholas thinks, seeing his mother strip the rings from her own fingers with desperate haste. "No," the highwayman snarls, "from the baggage. Your valuables."

"And if I refuse?" Nicholas asks, chin up. The little chest contains everything of real value that they have, all turned into sapphires and rubies and one diamond pin so that Nicholas and his mother can impress the girl with the dowry, and the girl's rich father, and not look like the beggars they very nearly are.

"If you refuse, I'll kill the woman," says the highwayman, dispassionately, and grasps her arm and holds the pistol to her head. Nicholas wonders, for a moment, would he really do that, would he really shoot her if Nicholas refused... it's tempting, but he looks at her slack, terrified face and sees her fear, and sees that she understands how tempted he is, and that is quite shamefully satisfying too, so he reaches inside the carriage and retrieves the little locked chest. Without even being told, he takes the chain from his mother's neck, tugs off one of his fine kid gloves so that he can manipulate the tiny key, and opens the box for her to drop her rings and her brooches and her pretty garnet earrings inside.

"Very good," says the highwayman in a grudging tone, and shoves Nicholas's mother towards the carriage. "Tie her, too."

This time, he has to use his own neckcloth, fine white linen round his mother's wrists, binding them as she kneels in the rutted road.

"Bring the chest," says the highwayman. Nicholas does as he's told, as the cloaked figure mounts the shadowy horse that's standing by the trees. He's ordered to walk in front of the horse, so he does, conscious of the darkness and the pistol, but most of all of his mother, tied up and helpless and left behind. He tied good knots. He doesn't think they'll have an easy time getting loose, and after that it's two hours to Kerringham Park.

Perhaps fifteen minutes into the forest, and the moonlight barely trickles through the leaves, but there's a clearing ahead and when he reaches it, there's light enough to see the spare horse with its tethering peg and the bundle at its feet. A cloak, and other things, a jacket, a hat. Obediently Nicholas deposits his treasure box next to the bundle, but he's taken aback by the next command, and the highwayman has to repeat it.


Uncertainly, he pulls off his elegant coat, and the discreetly embroidered waistcoat. His cravat is already gone, but he can't quite believe the highwayman wants him out of his shirt, and his fingers hesitate over the buttons. The command to stop doesn't come, though, and he knows the man with the long-barrelled pistol is watching him. It's cold at this hour, on the last night of April, and he shivers a little as the chilly air hits his skin.

Shivers much more, when the highwayman's gloved hand strays over his naked chest, soft, well-worn leather black against the pale flesh, and pinches at a nipple. He looks away from the hand, and into bright, light green eyes sparkling above the cloth mask. And he lets himself smile.

"Three hours to the coast and time for breakfast before we sail west on the early tide," says his rescuer, pulling off the mask. "So I think, my Nicholas, we have a little time before we ride."



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