Riding the High Toby
The early 18th Century was a time of pirates and highwaymen; without a police force, only the thief taker and the local militia under the control of the High Sheriff of the county kept the law of the land.
The penalty for Highway robbery was hanging, and once caught, a highwayman, once king of the High Toby ( High Toby 18th Century slang for Highway), was nothing more than a rotting corpse swinging from a gibbet.
It was early evening and the sun was still high enough in the sky to spread a golden haze across the countryside. An evening for lovers, for poets, and certainly not for travellers.
The coach was heading across the countryside; it had already stopped at the Blue Boar, and was now making good time to its next stop of Southwick. Its occupants were dozing when the coach jerked to a halt as a voice yelled, “Stand, Stand I tell you.” They woke to the voice and the sharp crack of a pistol being discharged.
Sir William Ellison poked his head out of the window, and then drew back as he saw the pistol pointed straight at his head, A cloaked and masked man sat on a large black horse.
“Get out of the coach now,” The highwayman said. His eyes were alert as he watched the 2 male passengers get out of the coach, the older man turning to help a lady down onto the dusty road. “Tell your driver to dismount, otherwise...” he motioned with the pistol.
Sir William Ellison snapped the command, which was obeyed with remarkable speed. In his sixties, there was no weakness in Sir William; he ruled his house and his family with a rod of iron, and he would show no fear even when facing the pistol of a highwayman.
“Your valuables gentlemen,” the highwayman addressed the men, his eyes fixed on them. It was always more dangerous when one of the passengers was a woman; there was always one that wanted to show his metal and impress the lady, but these two the older man looked stead and the other was either an undertaker or a doctor, a smile twitched his lips hidden by the mask,” and yours too lady.” The highwayman brought himself back to the present he had work to do
"Sir?” She fluttered her fan frantically, as if in danger of fainting. “Perhaps you can...?” Lady Sarah Fletcher hinted, trying her feminine wiles on the highwayman. She had heard of the so called Gentlemen of the Road, and what was a little flirting if she could save her jewels. “We could talk, a fine gentlemen”.
The highwayman laughed as he said, “Your jewellery, lady, and save yourself for the young bucks that would appreciate your talents. I am particular who I tumble."
Lady Sarah gasped as the older man took a step forward, his face dark with anger. "Your name?” Sir William demanded. “I will see you hung for that; no man insults a lady in my company.”
“What lady? Sarah Green from the Vauxs hall Gardens?" The highwayman sneered.
Lady Sarah blushed, not with embarrassment but anger. She took a step forward, then calmed. “I know not who you speak of.” But the highwayman had seen the look on Sir William's face; he had now recognised the crest of the carriage.
“Now, Sir William, your goods.”
“First your name.”
The highwayman lifted the pistol at this defiance but then shrugged. Sir William had courage. “Jacob Sandburg,” the highwayman drawled, and smirked behind his mask as he saw the reaction. “I see you know my name, Sir,” he motioned with the pistol. “ As nice as this meeting has been, your money, or reluctantly, your life.”
As the highwayman reached for the money, his head snapped back to the coach. He shivered slightly; it was as if a ghost had walked across his grave.
His eyes narrowed. “ Tell whoever is hiding to come out of the coach now or, by the devil, I will kill you."
Sir William said quickly, “ My son, James, is sick; he’s recovering from a fever he caught in the Caribbean. He...”
“Get him out.”
“Damn you, Sir.”
“Do it, or the lady...” The Highwayman’s voice had gone hard and cold.
Sir William leaned into the coach. “James, I'm sorry, but you have to get out.” Carefully, he coaxed his son out.
Lady Sarah heard the highwayman make a choking noise and looked up as he lowered one of the two pistols he was carrying. Then her attention was drawn back to Sir William as she heard him say his son’s name in a surprised tone.
Captain James Ellison had returned to the family estate from the Caribbean escorted by two freemen and Lieutenant of Dragoons Brian Rafe; the three of them had great personal loyalty to the Captain. The doctors, however, could not cure him; the man would suddenly collapse without warning and his eyes would go blank. Apparently he felt no pain and only the passage of time would bring him round. One day, the doctors warned, he would collapse and then die. He could not stand bright light, so they could only travel at night; he could wear only the finest of silks, any other cloth made him scratch until his skin was red and blistered.
He had suffered a collapse at the birthday party of his cousin, and they were now on their way home, with James barely conscious of his surroundings. The heavy cloth covering the windows kept out the light that would have hurt him.
So Sir William was astonished as he saw his son slowly raise his head, his eyes, rather than confused as they usually were when he recovered, were sharp and focused,,, not on Sir William. .....But On the Highwayman.
James Ellison freed himself from his father's grip without effort.
His rich clothes might have made him look like a dandy, but the man under them was tempered steel … a warrior, a soldier. He was looking at the highwayman, ignoring the pistols as they were raised. There was a flare of bright light and then the crack of the powder exploding as a lead ball slammed into the side of the Coach.
“Stand, you fool," the highwayman choked back a yell as he started forward.
Sir William caught at his son's arm, trying to stop him. His son swore, trying to push free as the highwayman pushed his pistols into his belt and applied his spurs to his horse. The powerful animal leaped forward, pushing past James Ellison, sending him crashing to the ground even as he clawed at him.
All Jacob Sandburg knew was that he had to get away; he rode as if all the devils of hell were at his back. When he finally pulled his horse to a halt, in a small clearing, she was skittish. Bending forward and patting her neck to calm her, he found his hand was shaking violently. He clenched it to stop the tremors. What the hell was wrong with him? Then to the horse, he said aloud, “You felt it as well, didn’t you, girl? What the hell was that.” He took a deep breath, and then nudged his horse forward at walking pace, allowing her to gain her breath. Jacob Sandburg rode, lost in thought. He had been told by a wise woman of his village that he was a guardian; his duty was to bring back the souls of the lost ones, mythical warriors for good. That one day he would find the missing part of his soul. Sandburg shuddered. He had enough trouble putting bread in his belly and keeping one step ahead of the Dragoons to worry about old wives' tales. But even so, the nagging thought kept coming back. There was something about the man back at the carriage, something that he couldn't shake off. Suddenly, he dug his heels into his horse's side and it sprung forward into a canter and then a gallop, as if by riding fast enough he could leave his doubt behind him.
Sir William was pacing up and down in his study waiting for Dr Samuels to finish his examination of James.
Dr Samuels was a young man; he had brought with him from Europe ideas of a new type of person called Sentinels, as they came from the age of the Classics. A watchman who would protect and care for a town or city.
By their side rode their guardians or guides, who could help them manage their sometimes out of control senses. The army and the navy had soon seen the advantage of recruiting these men and law was quickly passed making the guides above some aspects of the law. They were a resource too precious to be lost to the noose.
It was rumoured that one of the King's sons had the affliction and the search was on for a guide of the most refined breeding. Far from being a disgrace, it was seen as the entrance into a new order, one that mere money couldn’t buy entry into. And for Sir William, entry into the King's inner circle.
Dr Samuel had come as soon as he had heard of James' recovery in the coach. The doctor knocked on the door and entered. He spoke bluntly. “Your son, Sir William, has found his guide, and the sooner the man can be brought here and the bonding can take place, the better. Otherwise…” his voice took on a grave tone, “your son's existence could be counted in months and not years.”
Two months later
The Ellison Estate was large; it encompassed the village of North Billington.
Sir William had only recently taken over from his late older brother; as the second son, he had gone to the colonies to make his fortune, returning only on his brother’s death to run the family estate.
Ten miles from the estate, Jacob Sandburg rode into the inn yard of the Brown Bull. His horse was a fine, 16 hands black stallion; it had power and speed, two things that could mean the difference between life and death to a Highwayman riding the high Toby.
As he dismounted, his eyes took in his surroundings. He had seen no signs of Dragoons, but he couldn’t be too careful. Too many highwaymen had done the Tyburn Jig because they had been careless, and Sandburg wasn’t going to join them.
The Brown Bull was on the very edge of his territory, and he would be unlikely to meet anyone that knew his face. To the North of his territory, Duval plied his trade, to the South, Dick Turpin, and to the West, Fletcher. These men were the big fish in the pond, but there was also the small fry, who moved through their territories, causing all four of them to spit curses as plum coaches were picked off, stirring up the Dragoons. At the moment, this area was quiet.
As Jacob entered the Inn, the owner caught the coin he threw him and drew a pint of ale from the barrel, pushing it into his hand then nodding towards the far wall where a man was seated.
Martin Reynolds was a fence, one of the best in the three counties; a wizened old man who looked more like a schoolteacher than a criminal. He was also the only reason that Jacob had ventured here.
Martin Reynolds examined the man in front of him; in the last year Jacob Sandburg had created a name for himself to rival Turpin and Duvall. What he saw was a young man in his mid twenties, with dark, curly hair tied back, as was the fashion and bright blue eyes; his clothing was mainly black.
Once Jacob was seated, with his back to the wall facing the door, he shed his black cape and tricorner hat. His sword was loose in the scabbard, one hand resting lightly on the hilt, and his free hand didn’t stray far from his pistol, only moving enough to drop a small bundle on the table and push it across to the older man before returning to his weapons.
Reynolds pulled the bundle to him and quickly untied it, his fingers moving through the swag. The trading was short and sharp and Jacob pocketed the 100 gold coins; it was a fraction of what Reynolds would get, either selling it back to the owners or elsewhere.
Suddenly, Jacobs’s eyes widened and his hand tightened on his pistol as three men entered the Inn.
Reynolds caught his wrist, hissing, “No one has betrayed you; easy, my friend.” For a heartbeat he held the eyes of the highwayman and saw him take a mental deep breath, but he could understand why.
Captain James Ellison had just entered the Inn. A tall man, his brown hair was cut short, a style he had favoured in the Caribbean, and was beginning to recede slightly from his high forehead. He was employed by his father, the County Sheriff and Lord of the Manor Sir William Ellison, to keep the peace, and that included hunting down highwaymen. Since he had started two months ago, five highwaymen had done the jig at the end of a rope; and he had sworn to eradicate the threat in his father's county.
The locals spoke of the man in hushed tones. He had one day been an invalid, near to death they said; the next, the man was a damned devil, hunting down all who broke the law. His justice swift and unrelenting once he was one your trail, it was said the you might as well order your coffin because you would die. Now this harbinger of death was entering the Tavern, and that could only mean death would follow.
James noticed the way the noise had fallen away as they entered the Inn. His men, Simon and Brown, flanked him; Rafe was covering the back exit. It was remarkable how many people tried to make a run for it when he appeared, and though Brian Rafe might dress like a flop, he could use a blade better than most. His love of duelling had been the reason he had been sent to the Carribean to give his enemies in England a chance to cool down.
James ignored the looks that came his way; he had a thick hide and was used to the hostility. Besides the dislike and wariness, there was also curiosity usually directed at his companions.
Brown and Banks were men of colour, both freemen from his father's estate in the Caribbean. They had both decided to bring their families with them when their former master had returned home to create a new life for himself and his sons in England. When Sir William had left his island estate, he had freed all his slaves, so honouring the dying wish of his first wife.
Banks and Brown, together with Lieutenant Rafe, had helped James hunt down a particularly sick killer in Jamaica and saved his life in the process. Now their prey was a highwayman.
James halted in his tracks; there was a scent in the air, the sweet and sharp smell of it clung to his nose and the top of his mouth. He could taste it. Slowly, he began to turn on his heel as he homed in on the source of it. Its call was like a siren's song to him. Finally he halted and looked down the room to two people sitting at a table in the corner. His eyes slid over the older man and fixed on the younger. James' smile turned cold; he had found his prey, one that he had waited four months to capture.
Just then, the door opened and Dragoon Captain Richard Mundy walked in. James swore; the business between him and Sandburg was of a more personal nature, it could wait. But he took and held the Highwayman’s eyes and allowed his senses to drink in the man. No matter where he ran, he would find him. Only then did he turn on his heels to greet the Dragoon Captain keeping him away from his prize.
Jacob grabbed the small purse off the table and disappeared through the back door, his features hidden by his all battered hat. Heading for the stable, he was blocked by a well dressed young man. Jacob's hand dropped to the hilt of his sword just as a voice called out, “Brian, let him pass.”
Jacob turned quickly. James Ellison stood in the doorway, a mug of ale in his hand. He held it up in salute. “Next time, Sandburg.” His eyes burned into the younger man, making him take an unstead step backwards.
Then Jacob grabbed his horse's reins and leaped on, his heels spuring the horse forward into a run. For some reason, James Ellison had let him go, ignored the price on his head and saved him from the Dragoon Captain who had already nearly taken him on several occasions. But for what? His own personal sport?
It didn’t make sense. The only thing he knew for sure was that he had to keep away from Ellison if he was going to keep his sanity and his life.
It was three weeks later that Jacob was in the Fat Sow Tavern when Dick Turpin and his partner Swiftnick came in. The older highwayman had been a mentor for Jabob when he had first taken to the road. The news Turpin had wasn’t good; a new highwayman was poaching both their territories and he was sending Captain Mundy into a frenzy. The man had attacked the Bristol to London Coach on both runs, which was unheard of. He had to be stopped.
The coach was making its way along the road when a horseman came out in front of it. The driver pulled back hard on his reins as the highwayman yelled, "Stand, you son of a whore, stand.”
The highwayman, dressed all in black with his face hidden behind a kerchief, kicked his horse forward when there was a sudden yell and the sound of a pistol and the flash as the gunpowder ignited. The first highwayman spun round in his saddle as a second, smaller man burst through onto the road, his second pistol aimed at the first man.
“My name's Sandburg, and, cully, I don’t take kindly to anyone poaching on my territory. This coach is mine.” He made a motion with the pistol. “So go on your way before I put a ball through your head.”
Seeing the two highwaymen were wrapped up in their argument, the coachman took a chance and raised his pistol, taking aim at the man who'd called himself Sandburg. He pulled the dog leg back and just as he fired, the first highwayman kicked his horse forward, making the smaller man’s horse jump back. The pistol fired and the man slumped forward with a grunt even as the smaller highwayman fired back at the driver. The coachman toppled forward and landed on the ground as Sandburg grabbed the bridle of the wounded man’s horse and pulled him away.
The hideout was one that Jacob had used before; it was little more than a large shed, but he thought it would be safe enough for the moment. The wounded man was slumped forward and Jacob grunted as he managed to manhandle him inside and push him onto the bed, lifting his feet to make him more comfortable.
“Let’s get a look at you.” Jacob pulled the mask down and bit back an curse as he recognised the tall man from the Tavern, Captain James Ellison. “Game keeper turned poacher,” he mused.
Bending over the unconscious man, he undid the riding cape and then opened up the jacket but there was no blood on Ellison's chest. Turning him onto his stomach, Jacob saw the bloody wound on his back; the ball was lodged in his left shoulder. It would have to be removed.
James came round slowly, the pain was hammering through his back. He heard movement and turned his head; but even before he did, he could smell the scent of the other man. Sandburg. When he had first woken, everything was much too loud; but at that scent, his senses calmed down for a moment. He marvelled at it. Then he turned his attention to Sandburg.
The Highway man sat down next to him. “You're lucky, cully; the ball took you high in the shoulder, missed your vitals. If the rope doesn’t end you, you'll make a full recovery.” He took a sip from the mug in his hand.
James suddenly felt thirsty and croaked, “Water?”
For a moment Sandburg just looked at him and took another sip, then he helped support James’ head so that he could drink.
The water had been sweetened with rum, but also another taste, sharp and peppery. The taste of Sandburg himself off the rim of the mug.
Carefully James eased himself up. “Your help is appreciated.” He touched a hand to his shoulder.
“Should have let you die for poaching my coach. I spent three days waiting for that.” Jacob tilted his head and studied the other man. “Why would you, Sir William Ellison’s son, turn highwayman?"
James started forward, but was brought up short by the flare of pain that exploded from the sudden move and the small pistol that appeared in Sandburg’s hand. “Ever wonder why I returned from the Caribbean?”
James gave a mental deep breath; he had hooked Sandburg. “In the Caribbean, I got a little too friendly with Captain Jack Sparrow; my father seemed to think that I got my money from other than honest means.” He grinned, showing more teeth than humour.
Jacob returned the smile and lowered his pistol.
“And how did you learn to patch a man up?” James waved toward the bloody rags.
“I was studying to be a doctor when my father died and the rest is history,” Jacob answered, his tone indicating that he would speak no more on that subject. Jacob turned his back on James and went over to fill a mug with ale, pushing it into his hand. “Drink that, it will make up the blood you have lost.”
Then he moved over to a rickety table, sat down and returned to the task of cleaning his pistols.
It was four long days and one fever later that James was able to ride. Sandburg was intelligent and a good companion. And for the Sentinel, it was the first time that James actually embraced the calling. It was proof that Sandburg was his guide. He had from the moment awoke found his senses beginning to settle and wrap themselves round the smaller, younger man. But he was uncomfortable with a need that was beginning to grow inside of him. The need to join with Sandburg, to bond. Each day it was eating at him. Only his weakened strength stopped him from reaching out and taking what was so temptingly close to him. Now that he had Sandburg by his side, he was not going to let him go.
Getting word to his men had been hard; Sandburg wasn’t the sort to trust easily, but he had managed it, and James forced down the feeling of betraying his soon to be guide. He comforted himself with the belief that it was for Sandburg's own good. If they were going to bond, it was going to be on his own terms and in his own territory, not in some filthy stable.
Finally he had managed to steer Sandburg to the Old Goat Tavern. They entered the court yard and turned into the stable. They had just dismounted when one of the pot boys ran in. He was breathless, but managed to garble out, “Soldiers.”
Jacob swore and turned towards his horse, only to have his way blocked by James, who pulled his sword.
“You’re not going anywhere, Sandburg.”
Jacob lunged for his pistol, only to pause as James’ other hand brought up his own gun.
“Take it out and throw it to the ground.”
Jacob did as he was told then faced James. “You bastard, you…”
James threw his own pistol to one side. “If you can get by me, Sandburg, you can escape.” He knew he was taking a risk, Sandburg was a master swordsman, but then so was he. This was going to be interesting, James mused; but the sentinel in him wanted to fight his guide for dominance and this was a perfect excuse.
James faced the highwayman down; their blades touched in an almost sensual kiss of metal on metal. Jacob lunged forward, stamping his foot down, crushing the straw in the barn under his weight; but James stepped back before launching his own counter attack.
Jacob threw himself to one side, avoiding the blade as James aimed for his sword arm, trying to wound him, to make him lose his hold on his sword and end the fight quickly. Jacob was too fast though; and instead of pulling back, stepped closer, trying to pummel James across the forehead with the hilt of his sword. But the sentinel's reflexes where like lightening and he managed to slap aside the hilt, at the same time using his larger bulk to push Jacob away. James saw the smaller man stumble and taking the opening, he lunged forward, wounding his guide in the leg, gaining the advantage as the wound slowed Jacob down and prevented him from running. James didn’t want to kill the younger man, just take his options away.
Behind his adversary he saw his men enter and he smiled in satisfaction. Jacob would be his. Then James cursed as he realized that Brian, Brown and Banks were not with them; they would be in the Tavern, waiting to spring the trap. Sandburg stood a chance of being badly hurt; his men had no love of highwaymen.
Sandburg's head snapped round. With a snarl, he slashed at James, trying to force him back, then turned on his heels and tried to force his way through the redcoats, two of whom went down with cuts to their heads and arms.
James threw himself forward, not wanting to risk Jacob being hurt, knowing his men would want revenge for their injuries. He ploughed into the smaller man, sending him flying into the side of one of the stalls. The sword flew from Jacob's hand and the men were onto him. Jacob fought savagely, but was soon over- powered.
As the sentinel came to claim his prize, however, the red coats arrived with Captain Richard Mundy and Jacob was arrested, his hands lashed together as he was manhandled away.
Mundy looked James Ellison up and down. “Your plan worked, Captain. I must admit that I never thought you would get this close to Sandburg, he’s known to be a loner.” When he saw that James was about to interrupt him, he waved a well-manicured hand. “Don’t worry, sir, you'll get your credit for his capture. There is enough for both of us.” He paused and added, “I look forward to working with you again.” He touched his hat and then left.
Instead of being taken to the local prison, Jacob was bundled on his horse and taken to a country house. He recognised the owner when he was brought before him. Sir John Barker. He had robbed the man on several occasions, and in fact took great pleasure in making the man’s life a misery.
Sir John was in his late fifties; a portly man, he had spent most of his life in politics, but with enough sense to cover all sides. He had made but one mistake. He had used his power to destroy a local doctor and take the man's wife as his mistress. That woman had been Jacob's mother; and from that moment, the son had sworn revenge.
Sir John was gloating as he took in the chained man. He smiled. “A long time, Jacob; but as you can see, it is I who will get the last laugh. And that, my boy, will be when you do the Tybourn Jig. You're fit and healthy and should dance for 10 minters before you die, and we will be there to see you.” He leaned in. “Your mother will be there; she can’t miss your crowning moment.”
Sir John’s face crumbled into a mask of agony when Jacob’s knee came up fast and thudded into his groin as Jacob snarled his promise to geld the man.
Jacob was pulled backward by the guards and beaten to the floor, boots and fists hammering him into unconsciousness.
Clutching himself tightly, Sir John spat, “Make him regret that, Mundy; make him regret the poxed sire who fathered him. Understand me, Captain?” His valet was trying to help him to his feet, but he shoved him away. Sir John would not appear weak in front of anyone and Jacob would pay.
Jacob woke later, his body was on fire. Pain knifed through his stomach, chest, and head. He coughed and spat blood onto the filthy straw and tried to bring his knees up to block the pain. It was only then that his dazed mind registered the manacles that held him. The chain was attached to a ring high on the wall.
“Sleeping beauty awakes,” a gruff voice announced.
Jacob managed to turn his head, hissing against the pain, and focussed on the doorway to the cell.
It stood open. Three men were blocking the only way out and one of them held a cudgel in his hand, which he tapped up and down. His smile was chilling as he strode in. Without breaking stride, he kicked out, his foot slamming into Jacob’s chest, sending him onto his back.
Then the man was looming over him, a heavy, booted foot crushing the breath from his chest as the cudgel was used to press his head backwards so he could see the other two men grouped round him.
“With the compliments of Sir John,” the man snarled, then the cudgel swung down and all Jacob knew was pain.
Two days later, Jailer Avery pocketed the money from the woman and tried to hide his smirk. This was not the first fine lady to give him a few shillings for the privilege of seeing the highwaymen, a story to tell round her sewing group.
When she saw Jacob Sandburg, the notorious highwayman, like all of them she kept her face hidden behind her dainty little wipe. Avery let his anger show; a bitch like that spent more money on a dainty wipe for her nose than he did buying food for his family. He jiggled the money in his hand, but if the stupid bitch wanted to see Jacob then she would pay. He turned back to his whittling; two more days and his money cow would be gone. But his face brightened; there was always another of his kind out there and then the shillings would roll in again. He had given her his usual talk about the man being dangerous, a little added spice to the dish.
“Jacob,” the woman spoke softly. There was no response from the huddled figure at the back of the cell. “Jacob,” she said the name louder. “JACOB,” she snapped the name. This time the figure moved, slowly unfolding itself, moving more like an old man than the young man she knew he was.
A scraped hand latched onto the bars, holding the highwayman upright. The chains hanging heavily on him, he appeared to have a problem focusing on her and a thin trickle of blood stained the side of his face. Even so, when his free hand moved, it was with enough speed to make her jump backwards. The chuckle from the injured man made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.
“What’s the matter, lady, not what you thought?” He coughed, using the grubby sleeve of his shirt to cover his mouth.
Even in the flickering light, the woman noticed that there was blood on it. She took a step forward but didn’t speak.
“Sorry, lady, I don’t have any witty remarks for you, or maybe you want a gallow fuck,” Jacob snarled.
“Formal for gallows meat, isn’t it?” Sandburg said. “Most of you gallows hags just…” He broke off, the woman wasn’t worth his anger. His head dropped forward to rest against the cold bars; the headache was back with a vengeance. He heard the footsteps of the jailer coming back down and his anger flared again; he was nothing but a freak. By God, he would give her something to remember him by. Suddenly, he caught her and she shrieked as he pulled her close and kissed her hard, tasting blood on her lip as she fought the embrace. Then the jailer was pulling her away, his cudgel hammering across the bars, making Jacob pull back and stagger back into the dark.
“Animal, Madam, like I said. An animal.” Avery escorted her back up the steps; he would see to Sandburg later. Doing something like that could put the ladies off; they wanted a gentleman of the Road even if he was gallows bait in the morning, not a rutting animal in heat. He saw her to the door and watched her climb into a carriage; the crest on the side was covered. The Jailer's hand fingered the shillings in his pocket; pity he hadn’t known that earlier otherwise he would have charged more.
The carriage stopped half a mile up the road and a man got in. The driver whipped up his horses as James Ellison settled himself back in the seat. “Good evening, my lady. And…”
“I saw him, Captain.” The woman’s face turned to one of sorrow. “I am sorry, Sir, but they have beaten the hell out of him." My lady’s voice and words changed back to that of Molly, the Ellison’s maid.
James looked to the other occupant of the coach, his father, and said, “I have to get him out.”
“James, I am still talking to the High Sheriff, he…” Sir William floundered to a halt and turned his attention to the window.
“He will see Jacob hang,” James said curtly.
They lapsed into silence except for the clopping of the horse’s hooves as they headed to the Ellison London Town House.
The court case had been quick and simple; in one day,Jacob Sandburg was convicted and sentenced to death.
“And may the lord have mercy on your soul,” the judge intoned.
Turning as he was lead away, for the first time Jacob showed emotion as he saw his mother seated in the galley. Next to her was Sir John, holding Jacob’s eyes. Sir John raised his mother's hand and kissed the fingers before getting to his feet and escorting his lady from the courtroom, ignoring the chatter of the society gathered there - Sir John with his Whore, a scandal but a juicy one. But for his money and position, he would have been ostracized.
Jacob was pulled roughly; he snarled and pulled hard on the chain, nearly bringing the jailer to his knees. Then, instead of trying to escape, he held his head up and walked forward; if he was going to the gallows, he was going as a man. He would show Sir John that he knew how to die.
His last night on earth, Jacob was visited late in the evening by a woman; he ignored her, he wanted to find his own peace not play the games they wanted.
Jailer Avery used the club to bang the bars. “Come here, you cur, the lady wants to see you.”
The woman was in her late forties, but still a beauty. She pushed the jailor's hand down. “Jacob,” she called his name softly.
The highwayman closed his eyes and forced himself to take a breath to steady his emotions then slowly limped to the bars. He looked her up and down, then his eyes flicked to Avery.
The woman turned and pressed an additional coin into his hand and the jailer turned away. With a muttered, “Ten minutes, my lady,” he was gone.
“Jacob, darling,” she reached for his hand, but he pulled back.
“I saw you with him in the court room; you didn’t look like a prisoner, Mother,” he spat.
“Sir John is a good man.”
Jacob laughed in her face. “ He killed my father, your husband, madam.
Do you forget that?”
She shook her head. “He was there to help me when your father died and he would have been a good stepfather to you, if you had let him. But, no, Jacob, you had to cause trouble, and this…” her voice became angry, “is what you have come to, a common thief, ending your life at the end of a rope.”
“Better than a common whore.”
Her hand hit him across the face; Jacob didn’t pull back he accepted the pain.
“At least I know what I am. If he loved you and was so honourable, then why didn’t he marry you? Because a whore is one thing, but a Jewess is anther.
He killed my father for the money he owed him as a business partner. And you, Madam, are too stupid to see it. Better a thief than a simpleton and a whore.” Jacob turned his back on her and limped back into the darkness.
“Jacob,” she said his name once more and then walked away, sobbing.
Hangman Jones, a tall, dark-haired man who'd been the hangman since old man Mallory got so drunk he nearly offed the Priest four years ago, was visited by a livery clad servant. The man pressed a guinea in this hand and passed message on from Sir . Jones shook his head; the risk was too great. If he was caught, he would lose his livelihood. Another gold guinea was pressed to his hand and then a another; he pushed them into his pocket. If a gentleman of quality wanted to make sure that Sandburg danced the Tybourn Jig long and hard, then who was he to protest. A good show and the public would be queuing up for their inch of the rope; at tuppence a length, he could make good money.
Going out the back door, he was blocked by a horse; the rider was a man of quality, a gent. Jones touched his hat, muttering his apologies; more than likely, a quality cove like this wanted some memento for his lady. There was always some lady in the gentry that would be a spirited ride for her buck after a hanging, the doctors always said it got a woman’s juices flowing. The horse blocked him again; this time he paid attention as he heard the jingle of coins on coins. Looking up, he saw the purse just above his head. The rider leaned down; his voice was hard and uncompromising, his eyes blazing with almost a religious fever of intensity. When he had finished speaking, all Jones could do was nod in agreement. The man let the coins drop into his hand, a reward promised and a threat given all in one breath, then he was gone.
Jacob was loaded onto the cart; guards walked with it to prevent escape and to keep the crowds back. Jacob, his hands bound in front of him, looked straight ahead as women hung out of the windows, yelling for his attention.
The cart made its first stop on the slow way to Tyburn and a mug of ale was passed up to Jacob. To the cheers of the crowd, the Highwayman downed it in one long drink then threw the mug back to the owner, who turned it upside down for all to see, and the cheers increased. They always liked a good show and Sandburg was going to give them that as he returned their greetings with ones of his own. His bawdy replies causing more laughter; each stop, each drink, brought him that bit nearer to his own demise.
Then the cart turned onto the long road that led to the three-legged stool structure that dominated the skyline; the gallows tree whose only fruit was the body of the condemned.
The Hangman stood waiting with the Priest.
Jacob looked up from the cart to the top of the structure, at a lone bird soaring high in the sky. A gruff word and he looked down at the guard as the man held his arm as he was helped down.
The man laughed harshly. “Don’t want you to break your neck, Sandburg, before we get a chance to stretch it."
He was pulled to a halt, a guard on each arm as he was freed of his bonds, and then his hands pulled tightly behind his back and rebound. The Priest came forward, speaking in a low voice as he recited the prayers. Jacob ignored him, he had made his peace with his god, and looked round at the men, women and children that pressed forward. Then he looked to the stand at the gaudy dresses, flops and quality that sat there, all having paid their silver to see the show. Centre of the group was Sir John, his arm round Jacob’s mother, her face pale and pinched, and her hand clutching that of Sir John. His mother, Sir John’s whore, his mistress.
Jacob turned away from them to the crowd, his voice strong and forceful as he said his piece. It was expected. He made no attempt to beg for forgiveness, or express sorrow at what he had done; his sallies made the crowd laugh and a quick glance at Sir John saw the man’s face had turned as red as a beetroot.
A hand to his arm and he walked the few steps to the hanging rope. Then across to the horses that would drag him up into the air, where he would twist and writhe until the rope cut off his air and suffocated him.
The Hangman moved in close, his hand touching Jacob’s for a second, and the younger man’s eyes opened wide then became hooded again. His eyes now fixed upward to the spiralling bird and a freedom that would carry him beyond the pain of this world.
Jacob was pulled up, his legs kicking as the rope closed on his throat. He struggled, fighting against the darkness that threatened to engulf him and the panic that ate at his insides; he pulled frantically and the rope on his hands finally gave way. One hand swung up and the razor sharp knife cut through the rope. Jacob fell the fifteen feet to the ground, pitching forward into the dirt. He struggled to regain his feet, trying to draw in breath through his abused throat, as the guards started forward. Dimly, he could hear the crowd yelling and screaming. He dropped forward into the dirt as blackness came to him in waves. It was as if everything had slowed down. Then there was the sound of horses hooves and a strong masculine voice shouting orders.
A hand grasped him and pure primal strength pulled him up; he lost his fight to keep his grip on consciousness as he was thrown across the neck of the powerful stallion.
His rescuer dug his heels into the horse's sides and it took off at the gallop, bursting through the people, the onlookers opening a way for him, cheering as one person escaped the Tyburn jig.
Tomorrow a new legend would start about Jacob Sandburg and the man in black; Jacob had looked death in the eye at Tyburn and lived.
Once well clear of Tyburn, James Ellison slowed his horse. Placing a hand on the back of the rescued man, he could feel his heart beat; and, with his enhanced hearing, the wheezing breaths hampered by his body being thrown over the neck of the horse.
“Not far now.” He allowed himself the luxury of petting the man that would be his guide and then turned his horse to the north. The wagon was where he had left it and Brian Rafe was waiting.
Rafe jumped down and moved forward, reaching for the unconscious highwayman, only to have James snarl at him.
“Hold the horse," James ordered. Dismounting quickly, he reached for Jacob.
Brian didn’t argue, he could see that James was lost for the moment in the need to protect and care for his guide.
Scooping Jacob up, the sentinel carried him to the wagon and laid him down. Brian handed James a small bottle and he uncorked it under the smaller man’s nose. For a moment, Jacob didn’t move; then there was a slight movement and he took a shaking gasp. James caught his hands as he tried to tear at his throat, then Jacob's eyes flew open and he was fighting for breath.
James increased his hold. “Easy, easy, lad; try to take slow breaths.” Only when has sure he had calmed did James release his hold and lean back.
The sentinel didn’t break contact with him, holding the pain filled blue eyes with his own level gaze as, slowly, Jacob raised a hand to his throat, his fingers feeling the abrasion of the rope.
Brian handed him a bottle. “Drink that,” he ordered. Then, when James' hand lashed out and caught him by the front of his shirt, nearly throttling him, he added, "It will help your throat," more softly, pleading to the guide.
Jacob, not trusting himself to speak, reached out and wrapped a hand round James wrist; his grip was weak, but James obeyed.
Only then did James release his hold; he could allow no threat to his guide but he would obey him.
That had been too close. For the Sentinel, he had been ready to rescue his guide, The plan had been put in motion - the hangman had been bribed, Sandburg had been passed the knife and James had been ready to risk his life riding to the highwayman’s rescue. Only the intervention of his father with the warrant had changed the rescue from being an the act of an outlaw to the legal act of a sentinel reprieving his Guide from the hangman’s noose.
Even so it had been too close. If Sandburg had been unable to cut himself free, he might have been a corpse when James had arrived instead of the warm breathing body that the sentinel now held cradled against him inside the wagon as they made their way to the Ellison estate it would have been the cold stiff body of a corpse.
Sandburg had given up his fight to keep awake as the drug in the drink sent him to sleep. James ran his hands over his guide, his face darkening as his sense of touch detected the injuries that lay hidden under his clothes. One day someone would pay for that.
Three Days Later.
James was pacing the floor.
Sir William looked up from the report he was reading and carefully laid it down. “So why haven’t you joined with him, James?”
The sentinel stopped his pacing and shook his head. “He is not well; I still go cold when I realise that he was 'that' close to death. If I had been later or he had been unable to break free of his bonds…” James gave a shudder.
“But you weren’t and he was able to free himself.” Sir William paused, meeting the ice cold stare of the sentinel. “It’s time you claimed him, only then will you find peace and he find the protection he needs.”
James nodded and then, turning on his heels, stalked out. Brushing past Brian and Henri, he took the steps two at a time as he climbed the stairs to the room where his future guide lay recovering.
His father called his name and, with a sigh at the bad timing, he went back down to him.
“The messenger arrived; they will need proof of your…” Sir William flustered slightly, his hand making a motion in the air.
“Our bond,” James put in patiently. His father was trying and he had accepted the half dead highwayman in his house. This might not be the guide that his father wanted for him, but he had accepted his choice, be it reluctantly.
“Dr Samuels arrived with the messenger, he is going to sign the certificate once you have bonded; you can’t leave it any longer. I know you didn’t want to press him when he was weak, but we are out of time, James.” Sir William looked upwards. “You best go see to your … err… guide,” he stumbled over the words, then paused. “James, will you still be able to marry?” His gaze dropped below James belt, and then back up again.
“I am bonding, father, not being gelded. But we will have to wait and see.” Turning, he started back up to his guide. He had been about to add that since he had seen his guide, had touched him, he knew then that he would be the only one to ever touch his guide, any rivals would not be allowed. In the Caribbean, the shaman had warned him of the wild animal that lived in his soul and that it would allow no other to posses his guide. Only now did he realise how true that was.
Taking out the key, he unlocked the door and stepped into the room. James halted, his eyes taking in the room, which was minus one important thing - his guide.
Quick strides took him to the window; pushing it open, he saw the sheets flapping in the breeze. His guide was gone. With a growl, he ran from the room. An unconscious stable lad told the story; Jacob was gone, as was Sandburg’s mare. Looking towards the setting sun, James made a vow. Sandburg could run, but he could not hide from him.
His Highwayman Guide might ride the high Toby, but he would find him.
Over the next two weeks, Jacob Sandburg was very active on the roads around the city, picking off plum carriages. All the robberies were reported to Sir William and the county was having to pay the price for them since a day-light robbery meant that the victims could sue for half the cost of their loses.
Sir William Ellison was taking a pinch of snuff when his coach came to a jarring halt and the precious snuff covered his clothes. He stuck his head out of the window, ready to reprimand his coachman, and froze as he looked into the barrel of a pistol. Tilting his head back, he saw the highwayman and breathed one name: "Sandburg."
“Get out.” The command was curt and hard.
Sir William did as he was ordered, then raised his hand to help a young woman out.
But Sandburg waved him back and reached up himself. He frowned as he recognised Lady Sarah, there was a look on her face he didn’t like. It was then he froze as he felt the touch of a pistol barrel on the back of his neck.
A familiar voice snarled, “Drop it, Sandburg,” and the weapon thudded to the grass.
Sir William bent and scooped it up. “You, sir, have cost us a lot of trouble and that will stop.” He paused, then added, “James, claim your guide now; and if I have to, I’ll get Swift to manacle him for you." He saw the look on his son’s face.
Rather stiffly, James said, “That won’t be needed, sir.”
Sir William nodded; then seeing the look James was giving the highwayman, he commanded, “Do it now, sir, this matter needs closure.”
Holding out his hand to Lady Sarah, Sir William escorted her back into the carriage while Swift climbed into the driver's seat, looking rather disappointed. He had been looking forward to seeing Sandburg brought down a peg.
“On, Swift, and, James, I expect you later tonight with your guide.”
James kept his eyes on Jacob as the coach disappeared into the darkness.
“Guide?” The younger man said the name, then laughed. “You really think that I am this guide?” He shook his head and then paused. “You saved me from the noose because of a feeling that I am a guide? Me?”
“You are,” James put in levelly. “Look at me and tell me that you're not.” He paused. "And tell me these robberies have not been a way of drawing me to you, Guide.”
Jacob lapsed into silence. He could try to convince Ellison he wasn’t a guide, but all his instincts were screaming that he couldn’t lie to him.
“Destiny, Sandburg,” James said, and then waited for the longest moment of his life.
Sandburg looked up into the night sky and watched a comet arch across the sky; if he needed a sign, that was it. “Destiny, Sentinel,” he said so softly that only his new sentinel could hear him. Then James was in front of him; the arm round his waist pulled him close, and he instinctively rolled his head to one side as the taller, larger man loomed over him.
Leaning down, with his free hand James pulled the cape off the smaller man and threw it to the grass so that it opened like a blanket and then pulled open Jacob's shirt neck. He could feel Jacob shivering in his arms, not from cold but from the emotions that began to loop between them.
Like a fever burning, Jacob’s breath began to come in short, sharp, pants. He shuddered as James scented at his throat, the sentinel's breath hot on his chilled flesh. His knees began to buckle and he was swept up into strong arms then put gently down onto the cape, the larger body rolling to pin him down. He knew he should panic, but there was an inner peace.
His mind exploded open and then was caught and pulled back together under the shield of his sentinel's mind. In that instant, Jacob knew everything about his sentinel, his past, his passions, his fears and his ambitions. Their minds merged and he clung to his past, trying to stop his own thought from going to his sentinel. But he could have held water with his fingers better than he could have stopped his mind from rushing to his sentinel's.
Jacob screamed and screamed, then his voice choked off and he lay limp.
Returning to his senses, the first thing he felt was a sense of wellbeing that was alien to him and the feel of a heavy, warm body blanketing him. He opened his eyes and found himself looking into the deep blue of his sentinel.
James smiled and Jacob returned it. “You really stripped Jack Sparrow naked and hung him like a trophy from the figure head of your ship?” Jacob asked as he relived the memories of his sentinel in his own head.
James laughed. “Jack turned the air blue, but I cut him down before we reached Tortuga. You don’t piss off the Captain of the Black Pearl.”
Jacob arched an eyebrow at him.
“Well, not a lot.”
“We're going to Tortuga?” Jacob formed the question although he already knew the answer.
“My life is there and I can do well, but I need to recruit some good men and another sentinel and guide pairing to help us.”
Jacob sat down, facing his sentinel over the oak table. Saying nothing, he dropped a broadsheet in front of him.
“So they got Turpin finally. He'll hang. If he’s a friend, Jacob, I am sorry, but he…” James said.
“He’s a sentinel, and his apprentice Swift Nick is his guide
That got James' full attention. “And you know this because…?”
“I have watched them together. Have no illusions, Turpin can be a mean-spirited bastard with a temper you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, but I have seen him since he got the lad; he is different, changing.”
“That doesn’t mean that he is a sentinel.”
“Have you ever wondered why he is so successful at attacking at night? Think back to the stories you have heard. Think.”
Jacob moved round so that he was now at his sentinel's shoulder: leaning over him, his hand resting on the broadsheet. A smile ghosted his lips as he let his body brush against that of his sentinel: he saw the hand grip the broadsheet tighter. He knew he was winning when he saw the look on his sentinel's face. He lowered his head. “Would your father lose another pairing to the gallows?” he breathed softly into his sentinel's ear. "James?” he whispered, his tone caressing the name as he felt his sentinel wrap an arm round his waist.
James got up, keeping his hold and pulling Jacob up right with him. His face only inches from that of his guide, one hand spayed across his guide's waist, holding him in place, as the other pulled Jacob's shirt collar down as he scented at his guide's throat.
Then Jacob gasped as he felt his sentinel's teeth brush the sensitive skin of his throat. The younger man groaned as he felt the need to bond rush through his body like wild fire.
Then James let go and reached past him, scooping up the paper. “ Get behind me, demon,” he snarled good-naturedly. Then he headed for his father's study.
Jacob sank down into his sentinel's chair, his grin widening as he reached for an apple and propped his feet up on the edge of the table. Dick might just survive after all. He went to take a bit of the apple; then, with his other hand touching his throat, the memory of the warm feel of his sentinel's touch settled in the pit of his stomach like a brandy on a cold night. Sliding down another couple of inches into the chair, he took a bite of the fruit. It seemed to sum up the very nature of their relationship. The forbidden fruit.
The crowd cheered as the most famous highwayman of all time stepped off the ladder, following his young apprentice into the next life. Their bodies twitched and shuddered as the life was extinguished from them.
In the ship, the New Dawn, Dick Turpin and Swiftnick sat on the bunk and watched as Jacob used the key to release their shackles and then threw them onto the table.
The older highwayman rubbed his wrists and then stiffened as James Ellison walked into the cabin. He moved so that he blocked Ellison from his young apprentice.
The act was rewarded with a knowing look from James Ellison; the moment he had seen Turpin, he had known another of his kind. That act of protecting his guide was ingrained. The man would be like he had been, working on instinct. He and Jacob would be able to help them.
“Who were they?” The older highwayman demanded.
“Two brothers,” James answered Turpin. “There was four of them in the family; they robbed an old widow and killed her for her money. In return for two of them taking the drop, the other two would be transported to America. It was better than they deserved." James met Turpin’s gaze levelly as he warned, “Try to run from me and the next time you won't have need of a hangman; I’ll kill you myself.” This was no threat, it was a promise.
Jacob cut across it. “We all know what is at stake and what the price of failure is. And the job that lies ahead…” He handed out the rum to the four of them and lifted his mug, knocking it against the ones held by the other men. “A new start to us all.”
For good and bad the die was cast; Tortuga would never be the same again.