“It was a long time ago. The time of men, when the time of Magic was finished, new religions had come to this land. The old ways were coming to an end.
The myth of Arthur, long since passed, the mists of a long forgotten age were mere thoughts in a mans mind. Something to fear, to loathe, to pass on to the story teller.
But through time and mans memory, the past had become an imagining, a silent fear at night when the darkness crept in. When the curtains were closed and the shining light from the oil lamp caressed the warmth of the enlightened mind……………………”
He had been born into the world of the cutpurse and the highwayman. When the life of a man was measured in his ability to dodge the Beadle or the ever present Bounty hunters, men whose allegiances were paid for by the Magistrates. The House of Hanover was on the throne, and the Jacobite rebellion was past.
Simon was sixteen years old, by the standards of the day, he had done well, he had survived being born, disease, poverty, and the short life expectancy of the infant. He had been abandoned by whoever was his mother, not an uncommon event in Georgian England, and left at the door of a workhouse. The young child, had grown up, and learned all the tricks of survival, but now he was now at a crossroads in his short life.
It had been raining for hours, perhaps days, his clothes were drenched, the only saving grace was that the rain cleansed the stench that clung to the clothes of the poor. The putrid smell of human excrement, it was every where, lying in the street, below the windows of the houses, cast out upon the unwary, left to rot and line the roads of his city.
Simon was not averse to a little piece of thievery. He had dined that night on the proceeds from the purse of a portly country gentleman, who only days before had been in the shires. His purse had coin aplenty, enough for wine and good food. Simon had quaffed and gorged himself to the point of being sick. The need for food was so powerful in him.
His hunger assuaged, he made for the street, his coat wrapped around him like armour. His visual assessment of the street complete, he ventured forth into the night.
With only the moonlight for guidance, and his knowledge of city, he made his way to the docks, it was always good there, plenty of fresh pickings. But tonight was to be different.
The ship in the dock was deep in the water, laden with cargo from North Africa, precious spices, silks, wines and beasts from all over the eastern continent. So it was that on this fateful night, Simon would find his Saviour.
As the crew unloaded the cargo, and with the drunkenness that befit’s a crew after a long sea voyage, the crew were loud and raucous, singing, and swearing as they worked. Simon watched the comings and goings.
The barrels of wine and the spices were offloaded, but he waited for the smaller, more readily disposed of items. Something of such value that would make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. How many times he had done this, he had forgotten, it was as common to him as the tides were to the sea farers of the port.
Cattle, sheep, horses. All were for sale to the highest bidder, all for the pleasure of man. It was nearing dawn, the last of the cargo had come ashore, and he had seen nothing to lay his quick hands on. He was wishing he had robbed some poor and unsuspecting merchant. At least he would have had coin to pay for his porridge!
Simon was already on his feet, ready to leave the docks, when he was stopped in his tracks by the sound of an animal in such distress, that even he, who had seen Tyburn`s Gallows, and watched the swinging, dangling and kicking victims, was moved to stop.
The piercing screeching of such an animal was worthy of his pause. Immediately his eyes were drawn to the boom arm of the cargo vessel, its wooden limb hanging across the fore deck, its cargo hanging in mid air, legs flailing and its nostrils flaring.
As he watched the animals misery, the stevedores began to pulverise the beast, at first with sticks, then with belaying pins. There remonstrations needless, there inflicted pain remembered forever.
There was raucous laughter, the boom handler held the beast aloft, allowing the pain to go on. Simons sudden departure from the reasoned life of a thief, to the saviour of four legged animals was short but effective. In a dozen short moves, he had secured the boom handlers post, the stillness of the previous incumbent testament to Simons ability with the blade.
Seconds later, the animal touched the stone quay. Sparks flew from the shod feet, the cargo net ripped apart, torn to shreds by the flashing teeth of one so angry. Simon was gripped by the ferocity of one so beautiful, for twas so, the beast was shiny black, as dark a the pits of hell, each hair sparkled as one, quivering as a whole, the muscles rippled across the lithe smooth frame of the Horse.
Horse had millennia of history in his veins, he possessed the story of life, the history of man. With a flash of his knife, Simon loosed the cargo net. It fell in folds to the stone floor. Instantly, the horse reared, it glanced to its left and fled his pain. The ungratefulness of it was not lost on Simon. He new how easy it was to flee. But there was a sense of relief at what he had done, something new to him.
Simon, turned on his heel and made to get away, dodging the coils of rope, laid on the quay side and ignoring the epithets from the angry crew, he sped into the night. He spent the next few days at his usual haunts. Women, he made free with the ladies, as was his want, and of course the Gin houses knew him only too well. It was while he was soaking his soul in Gin, that he felt all the pain of his past. But there was something else, the Horse he had freed, it was a release to his soul. Simon could not understand why he felt so, and in his drunken stupor, he dismissed it. Simon slumped to the sawdust covered boards. Simon dreamt of the Horse, it blackness, the rippling body, and the look it gave him as it escaped the net.
When he came to, his head reminded him why he drank. He was running out of coin, with bare pockets and a heavy thirst, he decided to fill one, and quench the latter. As he turned into the darkness of a side street, he began to seek out a potential victim. Stopping in a dark doorway, his eye caught a glimpse of a familiar face, a face fixed to the wall against which he lent.
He would normally not have been too concerned, but the face troubled him, for it was his own. He felt the tightening of his gut, the sudden shock of seeing his own likeness on a wanted poster, his blood ran cold. For if this poster was all over town, then there could only be one man responsible, Paget! Thief Taker to the City of London!
It began to rain, the threat of thunder was in the wind. He stood for sometime, the rain grew heavier, and the thunder crashed, the lightening flashing across the dark nights sky. Simon stepped into the night. As he did so, a bright flash of lightening lit the nights sky, but he didn’t wait to read the words above his face on the poster.
It read, “ Wanted For Robbery & Larceny”. There was more, but it didn’t matter now, all that really mattered was for Simon to leave town, and leave fast.
It wouldn’t be long before the Bounty hunters came for him, if he stayed, he would be on the Gallows before the day was out, and he had no intention swinging in the wind, for the pleasure of the masses!
He walked and ran all night, dodging the toll booths, keeping to the side roads, he finally made the countryside, wet and covered in mud. He was tired, he needed to sleep, and so it was with that in mind, Simon found a nearby hedgerow, he slept the sleep of the damned.
It was daylight, the night had passed slowly, he was hungry, and as usual he started to look for easy pickings. But that wasn’t to be, not more than two hundred yards from where he was lying, he could clearly see the outline of three men, strong looking types. Next to them stood another, with them, but yet slightly apart. Simon instantly recognised the figure.
Paget! Magistrates bounty hunter, a mean sadistic and legal thief taker. Simon stayed where he was, no sense in attracting attention.
As the day wore on he was becoming a little thirsty, wiping the sticky saliva from his mouth, he wished for water, or gin! He`d prefer the gin.
All roads must be watched, that was perfectly obvious, he needed a plan, and some money. It was late in the afternoon, he was watching the group of men, he saw Paget, who removed his Tricorn hat, and wiping the inside brim, turned and looked in the direction of Simon. He was sure he had been seen, his heart thumped wildly, the dry metallic sensation of fear, made his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth.
Many years ago, Simon, while still a boy, had watched as his father had swung from the Tyburn gibbet. The yells and screams of glee from the crowd had been overwhelming. It was several days before he had been cut down, by then the ravens and crows had taken the eyes of the man who had beaten and starved him. Simon showed no reaction, but from then on he became the man he now was, unfeeling, selfish and angry as hell.
Horse had left the quayside as fast as his hoofs could carry him. The mud flying from his shod feet as he flew like the wind.
His spirit was wild, born from the Barb race of his ancestors, caught by traders when he should have known better, taken and tied to wooden posts. When the time was ready, he was trussed up like a chicken and hoisted aboard a wooden ship, bound for who knows where. Horse was lost, his whole soul cried for the land he had left. His family, his herd. But in his large deep eyes, he had sensed an affinity, one the Horse had not known for some time. He felt the Human.
It would be true to say that Simon was out of his depth in the wilds of the country, his world was the brick city, the stone buildings, and smell of people, no matter how fetid the streets were, he missed it.
The sea journey had been a long and painful one for Horse, he was beaten by the crew who had to feed him, tied all day and night in a small cramped stall. The water was brackish, and the corn he was fed had weevils, but he had to survive. Horse felt the ship stop its haphazard movement, the sound of men, calling to each other, the sound of the dark hold in which he was held, for he was not the only occupant of this vessel, there were others of his ilk.
His captors threw ropes around him, as once before. He felt his hoofs leave the ground, the light from the large beacons on the quayside made him blink, high in the air, enclosed by rope and mesh nets, he was unable to move.
It was the feel of solid ground on his hoofs that made him strong again, he fought the mesh of rope, but the men beat him, screamed at him, he knew fear, the senses were alert and ready! If there was a chance he would take it.
From his left came the shape he feared, like a cat, it leapt from side to side, across the quayside, Horse knew his end might be near, many times in the past had he seen the results of mountain lion claws on the flesh of his friends. The Horse waited! There! The flash of bright teeth, the downward scything of the lions teeth! Horse recognised the form of man.
There was no pain, no ripping of flesh! The mesh ropes fell away, men shouted, his moment was now! There would be no other time.
Paget sat with his men, at the side of the road. His pair of pistols lying across his knees. Simon could hear their voices, talking loudly, the effects of neat gin beginning to tell.
Simons only hope now was to wait.
Horse crashed across the quayside, barrels fell to the stone floor, spilling there contents, stevedores, normally fearless men, dived to the ground to avoid the “black beast” on the rampage! A horse and cart, standing so quiet across his route, presented no problem to him, with swift and lithe movements he was airborne, flying through the evening air, over the cart.
The lone watchmen, standing on the other side of the cart saw the beast coming through the air, raising his cudgel, he made to smite the Horse, he was to slow, and fat. As the Horse came to ground, there came the sickening crack of hoof on bone. Horse sped on, along street and road, passers by shrank back into doorways, cries of, “Loose horse, loose horse!” Heads turned in all direction but any sighting of the black beast was fleeting and before long, he was not to be seen anywhere. A crowd gathered around the supine body of the watchman. Thick dark blood leached across the paving stones.
It started to rain, and as the crowd watched, rivulets of blood, flowed between the slabs of stone, pushing small pieces of brain in their wake.
The Horse spent that night in the open, storm or no storm, he didn’t mind.
Simon lay once again, and watched, he had patience, he needed to. Paget`s men had either fallen down or laid down, there snores could be heard for miles! Paget himself was sitting upright, if he was asleep Simon couldn’t tell.
Before long, he was asleep himself. But the night was not his friend, he was restless, his mind raced over the past years, how many were wasted, how many were lost.
Simon had seen his father hauled into the air, on the end of a rope. He had stared as his fathers bowels emptied. The crowd roared their approval.
He awoke with a start, blinking as the sun hurt his eyes, at least the rain had stopped.
“Paget! Where was Paget?” He whispered to himself.
Simon ignored the noises from his stomach, he was more interested in avoiding Paget and his men. They were no where to be seen, still, he stayed put. Just in case, he was no fool.
Horse, was conscious of the sun on his back, the grass he was chewing. But most of all, he was very aware of his surroundings. While he ripped fresh grass from the open space he occupied, he watched everything around him, and while he did, he was safe.
Simon, had waited long enough. Pushing himself to his knees, his hands felt the earth, the warmth of the sun on his back, but he was still hungry.
The time had come to move on, his clothes had dried, and although crusty with mud, he looked at home here in the shires. Simon started the long walk to no where . The city was long gone, he had no desire to go back, and no desire to hang. So he had only one option open. Find somewhere else to ply his trade.
He had been walking for several hours, at least that was his estimation, the road, a mud rutted track, was bounded on both sides by stone walls, it was wide, he was on a Drove road. Sure enough, after a few more hours he started to smell the cattle heading in his direction. At first, a few cattle, led by a single male person. Then hundreds, stretching as far as the eye could see.
Simon had heard of the Highlanders, fierce warriors from Scotland. He had never seen one, but he would never forget the wild hair, the swathe of plaid cloth, that was wrapped around the mans waist and shoulders.
Hitched to the Highlanders broad belt was a large wide bladed sword. Simon knew of this weapon, the Claymore. Feared by King Georges soldiers, and in common use by the feuding Clans. But it was several years since the uprising, and Drovers had free pass, to the City, given them by the King.
Farmers leading their cattle to market, sheepherders, all had passed him by without a backward glance.
A stagecoach, had passed some time earlier. Simon had heard the blast from the horn, and had seen the stagecoach approaching, but he was not prepared for the spatterings of mud and muck that came from the fast turning coach wheels.
Horse had filled his gut, he now needed to find some security with others, there was safety in numbers.
Simon had come to a junction in the road. The warm breeze cooled him. But that didn’t make him feel any better. It merely made the squeaking above, more intense, and reminded him of the perils of his life.
Without looking, he knew instantly what that sound was, he had heard it many times before. The usual metal cage, containing the remains of some poor unfortunate, probably sentenced to die, for stealing a loaf of bread.
Simon was tired, he sat down with his back to the Gibbet post, he would rest, then he would decide what to do.
Some time later, he awoke, he was suddenly very alert, tensing his muscles he started to stand. It was the loud clicks that made him stop still. They were the clicks of pistols being cocked, not one, but several. Simon turned, to see four men, all dressed in black hats and coats, their pistols pointed in his direction.
“Its been a long time, …… Sieze him! ” Three of Pagets men grabbed hold of him.
It was Paget, the pock marked face, a legacy of his brush with Smallpox. His baring was stooped, almost tired, but he was without doubt, a hard man, and not one to argue with, at least not with all those pistols aimed at his body.
Horse was on the move, this strange country, even the food was odd, but none the less good. He felt better, and stronger, but he needed to move. As he crested the nearby hill, Horse scanned the land for safe areas to cross, he needed to avoid humans at all costs, not for him another dark hole. He looked and saw a small group of humans shouting where the roads met, he saw a struggle, and heard the metallic clash of steel. He would avoid them at all costs. But something held his gaze.
Simon felt the cold metal on his wrists, and new he was lost, he heard Paget whisper in his ear.
“Don’t worry, you`ll be swinging in a few days, once the Magistrates find you guilty!”
Simon spat in Pagets face, the spital running down the pock marked face.
The blow from Pagets weapon, opened a gash on Simons head, the blood ran. Simon fell to the ground, and as he did so, darkness crept over him.
Horse watched all this, his mind and body ready for flight! Every sinew screamed for him to flee. He watched as the humans threw one of thrown kind into a cart, and started towards the place Horse had left.
He remembered the shape in the night, the flashing of teeth, and the freedom of life. Horse was thinking, he had no where to run, no herd. But he had been saved from the beating. Even if the saviour was a Human.
Horse always knew that Humans were unpredictable, prone to sudden outbursts of temper, and violence. Horse had been on the receiving end of all.
Paget and his henchmen had stopped at a nearby tavern, Simon was still in the cart, tied and trussed. A Turkey for the plucking! But he needed to escape, and very soon. His hands were tied hard, he had heard of others taken by the Thief Takers, how badly they had been treated, and how they had met there ends.
Simon was not going to suffer the same fate. He listened to the noises in the Tavern, and waited. His chance would come.
Horse had thought long, his instinct told him to leave, but he needed the Human, there was no doubt in his mind of that. Why he did not know.
Horse moved slowly down the slope, he new the risks . He crossed the two fields in his path, the darkness shielding him from the sight of other Humans. His ears twitched, hearing the sounds of Humans, they must be in pain, he thought, but he pressed on. Horse approached the cart without incident. The cart was unattended, he smelled the air, his eyes taking in everything, any movement. Horse was only feet from the cart.
Simon lay silent in the bottom of the cart, his wrists hurt like hell, he beginning to lose the feeling in his hands. The only saving grace was his legs, they hadn’t tied them. Why, he didn’t know. But they had taken his shoes. As he lay there, he began to be aware of another.
He listened to the sounds of the night, and as his ears strained for each noise, there was one gentle sound which stood out from the darkness. It was the soft rush of air, regular and even, he turned his head every which way, to try and catch a glimpse of the person making this sound. He didn’t have to wait long.
Horse moved around the cart, sizing it up, checking if it could hurt him, he was finally satisfied that it wouldn’t, and came closer. He was standing almost at the open end of the cart, he moved forward into the gap between the Tavern and the cart, and looked into the open end of it.
Horse was startled! There lying still was a Human, he was still and appeared to be unable to move. He snorted, the Human moved, he stepped closer, his breath visible in the night.
Simon stared in awe at what he saw in front of him! The huge black face, staring at him. He watched as steam escaped from each nostril, making him fearful, he tried to move backwards, Simon had never been this close to such an animal. He remembered the black beast in the net, he saw the squealing animal beaten, and saw himself.
Simon looked straight at the Horse, Horse stared back. Not a sound passed between them, but there was affinity, something unexplainable, intangible, but none the less real.
The noise from the Tavern grew louder, and the Horse shied. Simon spoke, at first he didn’t know what to say, he had seen horses of all types and colours in the City. But he had only cursed them for the mess in the street.
Now he had cause to ask, what he didn’t yet know.
“ Easy, Horse.” His words seemed wasted, at least that’s what he thought. The animal became still.
Simon wriggled into a kneeling position, it was his only chance. He had never ridden a horse before, but there was no time like the present for learning how!
Horse stood by the cart, his breathing even, and strong. Simon shuffled on his knees to the edge of the cart, finally he managed to stand, Horse whinnied, and moved closer. His heart was fearful, but his spirit strong, and Horse knew what was his truth, this Human was his future.
Simon tentatively stepped onto the horses back, almost slipping off! The feeling of trepidation was causing him to shiver slightly, but Horse never moved. Although Simons hands were tied to the front, he managed to grasp the willing animals mane, he was cold.
While he settled on the Horse, he had forgotten the Tavern, he was very rudely brought back to reality, Simon didn’t see one of Pagets henchmen open the Tavern door.
As the Thief Taker stepped out into the night, the Horse shot forward, and a cry went up,
“ Stop! Thief!” Shouted the henchmen, Simons shock at his sudden departure from the front of the Tavern was intense! He was thrown back, he clung with his legs, and hung on to Horses mane with all the strength he could muster!
The rush of air passed his head made Simon duck, it was followed almost instantly by a dull crack, then another and several more. It was pleasing to know that the drink in Pagets men had made their aim hopeless.
Horse was gone, his hoofs pounding the dirt road, the Human on his back was not a rider, but merely a passenger, Horses ribs gave testament to that fact! His neck was painful, thanks to the force of the hold on his mane. But into the night they went, Simon couldn’t see anything! His trust in the horse was forcibly complete!
Horse took to the fields, his sight clear, and the need for flight intense. Over the rough countryside, over fences, and hedgerows. The Human was still there, but he new the Human was losing strength. Horse needed to stop.
Where he was, Simon didn’t know, nor did he care, he was out of the grip of the Thief Takers. He slipped off the animals back and fell to the ground, his legs weak, and his backside aching from the frantic journey.
They rested, the Horse standing over the prone body of the tired cutpurse. The clouds parted, and the moon, it lit the dew covered ground, there was no sound, save breathing from the Human. It was in the nature of the Horse to seek fresh grazing as he saw fit. But tonight, he did not stray far. He didn’t want the comfort and partial security of the present situation to change.
The sunrise came in a rush, or at least it felt that way, for the Horse was already awake, his dark eyes in tune with the sights of the day. The Human was also awake. Simon stood beside the horse, he ran his calloused hands over the smooth body. He had never felt so calm, as he did now, Simon was almost at peace. He needed time to take all the feelings he was experiencing, in. But time he knew he had, with the help of this animal, he felt the future.
All that lay before them was the road, the bonding came naturally, Horse new he was safe, Simon felt the honesty of a trusting being, who knew what the future held.
I couldnt finish this. I was losing the train of thought. Suck it and see?