Hunted rider

I spun my horse; the damned hounds had finally caught me. The horse was stolen, which would be enough by itself to draw the hangman’s noose around my neck. My eyes searched the circle of mounted men who surrounded me, looking for possible avenues of escape. There were none.

“Jacob Marsden, I knew we’d run you down in the end.” Bradley Parker spoke, oozing satisfaction from every slimy pore. How anyone could stand to employ such a slippery bastard was beyond me.

I shrugged, handing the reins of my soon-to-be former steed to one of Parker’s cronies, glad that my hand was gloved. I would admit, privately, to being a thief. But these men stole more than money.

“You have no friends in the Virginia legislature to help you, Marsden. You should have stayed in New York.” Yes, hindsight was a beautiful thing, wasn’t it? Pity it wouldn’t do me much good.

The ride to jail was dull, and the cell they put me in was worse. But what my cage lacked in amenities, it more than made up for in solid, escape-proof construction. I actually began to look forward to Parker’s jibing visits; at least they were a variation in the routine. Although his descriptions of my coming fate were becoming tedious. Everyone had been to hangings—we all knew what happened there.

Parker cleared his throat. “Of course, there may be a way to avoid the coming unpleasantness.”

I’d been wondering how long it would take him to get to this; time was running out. When the courts here said speedy trial, they didn’t jest. I took the bait and asked what my options were.

“If you could see fit to return your stolen goods, a plea for clemency could be made. Your sentence might be commuted to indentured servitude.” His tone was that of an eminently reasonable man.

A sharp, bitter laugh escaped me. “In other words, you’d pocket the money, say nothing, and watch me hang. No deal. I want a pardon or I take the whereabouts of my gold with me.” I leaned back against the rough-hewn stone of my cell and folded my arms.

Parker pursed his lips. “That would require payment in advance. If you could tell me where one of your smaller caches is, so I could defray expenses…”

Fortunately, my chuckle kept him from finishing his sentence. The Virginia courts were only giving me another week—I didn’t want to waste any of it having my intelligence insulted.

I’d spell it out for him. “You can afford the bribes; I know you have a reserve to cover this. Think of my pardon as an investment. Besides, there’s no way I’ll be able to get away from all the men you’ll bring along with us to collect. And I want to keep ten percent.” I needed to come out of this with something. I’d figure out later how to keep it.

The look on his face told me I had him. “I’ll have to think about it,” he said, before nodding curtly and leaving.

I laid back on my bunk and reviewed possible escape plans, taking into account being unarmed and surrounded by upwards of a dozen men. It was at least something different to think about.

The day before my execution arrived, and so did Parker, along with a piece of paper that looked to have all the appropriate seals and signatures. The same crowd who’d shown for my arrest accompanied us as we rode north, to New York. I discarded one escape plan after another as the days wore on. These men might be short on intelligence, but they more than made up for it in watchfulness. I sighed, reflecting that large sums of money do have a way of focusing a man’s attention.

I led them to an outbuilding near a deserted farmhouse and gestured to a large stone block at the base of a wall. As Parker’s men moved toward it, I wondered if there was any way I could keep the horse. I’d grown fond of it.

The ominous clicking of many pistols being cocked at once turned the scene into a frozen tableau. Sheriff Joseph Brandon strode into view, his pistol at the ready, not bothering to check the smug grin which covered his face.

“Jacob Marsden and confederates, coming to collect their ill-gotten gains. Arrest them.” The clatter of pistols, knives, and swords being tossed to the ground preceded our hands being tied behind our backs.

Brandon’s men took everyone else to the nearby jail, but reserved me for a private interrogation. Lawmen were nothing if not predictable. At least they untied me.

Brandon walked into the bare room, dismissing the man guarding me. As the door shut, he tossed down an official-looking document. “There you go.” A smirk tugged at his lips. “That one’s real. The other wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. I’d stay out of Virginia for a while, Jacob.”

My mouth turned up in an answering smile as I said, “We got him, Joe.”

Avid writer and reader of Faerie tales and noblebright fantasy.

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