I considered purchasing a horse, but was not a skilled rider. I knew I’d regret the choice before too long, so I hired a coach to take me to my first destination. The state of the roads proved that this choice was not much better; at least a horse would have allowed me the chance of a decent view. The coach had a small opening on each side to circulate fresh air, but I could only see a limited portion of the outside – mostly trees.

The cushions were decent and I had no company so I stretched out my legs and tried to let the rocking and bumping lull me to sleep. I tried to imagine I was on a ship during high winds, but it wasn’t the same. Still, I must have slept a bit because the shadows had shifted when I next opened my eyes. Evening was approaching fast. The coachman had insisted that he could make it to the manor of the Contessa before dark and I was starting to doubt him.

A couple of solid knocks on the roof got his attention and he opened the small window behind his seat so that we could speak.

“How much farther?” I asked.

“Not far, not far,” he replied.

“You said before dark,” I reminded him.

“Yes – very close. Not dark yet.” He closed the window and I stared at it pensively.

After another hour of rocking and bumping I felt the coach start to slow and then stop. The horses were stomping and grunting and through my small window I could just make out the now-familiar tree line in the fading light.

I waited for my door to open. The longer it took, the more sure I was that I’d been driven to a destination other than the one I’d requested. Clearly whomever was out there was expecting me to exit the coach, probably in a huff and demanding proper treatment for my station, with my head conveniently placed for a solid bashing. I’d be stripped of my clothes and belongings and left to survive however I could. Or killed.

I waited. I expected they’d grow impatient first; while they were waiting for a financial treat, all I could look forward to was a thrashing.

Sure enough, I heard a whispered discussion. I couldn’t imagine there were fewer than three people, but I’d never been robbed before. As I sat and waited, I considered my options. I could fight, perhaps inflict some damage and ultimately end up in ruins but with a few more bruises than I might have due to them taking out their ire on me. I could offer them everything without a fuss as long as they left me unscathed… none of my options were entirely thrilling.

To my surprise and delight, a tentative knock sounded against the carriage door. I said nothing. The knock sounded again along with another whispered argument and then the door opened. I knew the shadows of the small space concealed my face, so I didn’t move, waited for their decision.

“Don?” the coachman asked. He squinted at my unmoving form. “Uh, Don? We’ve arrived.”

“Is he dead already?” another voice whispered harshly. The coachman flapped a hand angrily and put one foot up to enter to coach, head ducked forward to clear the low roof.

I braced my back against the seat and kicked his face as hard as I could. He howled and fell backward onto the road. I took the opportunity my adversaries’ shock would afford and exited with all the grace I could.

Three shadowy figures were staring at the whimpering coachman. I straightened my coat and cuffs with sharp movements and watched them. Each held a club, though none of them were raised, so I strode toward the closest, hand outstretched as though to shake.

He actually reached for my grip instinctively before remembering he was here to rob me and I couldn’t help but smile. As he withdrew his hand and raised his club I caught his elbow in my right hand and grabbed his wrist in my left, forcing the arm further overhead until he shouted in alarm and his shoulder creaked with strain. His fingers released the club as I wrenched the arm out of socket and his scream joined the chorus of the coachman’s whimpering.

The club was weighted with some kind of metal inside – as illegal as bladed weapons in most cities. I swung it gently to get an idea of the motions it offered and then took a swing at the next man, who dodged backward, survival outweighing his shock. He ducked under the backswing as well but didn’t expect me to kick his knee out from under him. He went down and rolled out of range, allowing me to deal with the remaining assailant. This one was the youngest, clearly learning the trade. They didn’t move, glancing at their fallen companions and my calm and expectant expression.

“I just wanted to travel to my destination,” I explained calmly. The coachman was starting to stand so I strode over and booted him twice in the ribs. He flipped to his stomach, holding his side and wheezing. The one whose arm I dislocated was also coming to stand, so I aimed the club at his injured shoulder. He howled again, but was quieted when I clubbed the side of his head. A glance back at the third showed me he was more interested in nursing his injured knee than picking up his weapon.

I looked back at the young attacked and shrugged. “Do you know where the manor of Contessa Oriana De Santis is?”

The figure turned to look down the road and pointed. We’d been headed in the right direction, apparently. Maybe. Anything was possible.

I touched a knuckle to my forelock and shrugged out of my jacket to toss it into the coach and latch the door. I kept the club and stepped up into the driving seat, took hold of the reins and encouraged the horses to pick up again. They didn’t like traveling in the dark, neither did I, but I wanted to put some distance between the attackers and myself in case their injuries soured into rage and they came after me again.

April 11, 2021

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