White Swan, Queen of Rogues

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Huntington Hall

They arrived in a white carriage with six white horses manned by two coach-drivers and a first and second footman. Will and Freddy played their part perfectly, having their Footmen at their respective estates. Footmen were sort of butlers when away from home, and they knew well how to behave as such. Both jumped down to set the carriages footstool.

Humphrey exited, all covered in black, head to foot, carrying a scythe. He stopped at the bottom of the steps and looked about as if choosing his next victims. Everyone standing outside drinking stopped talking until the only sound came from inside Huntington Hall. Then when everyone stilled, Humphrey turned and reached his free hand into the carriage.

A magnificent White Swan with small feathered wings, a head covering feather mask, dressed all in pure white, stepped out and onto the footstool assisted by one of the footmen. She glided to the ground, and both footmen bowed deeply. She stopped and surveyed the assembled as her Executioner straightened her wings. Once done, the Lady White Swan glided forward toward the entry with her ominous Executioner walking a few steps behind her. Everyone remained still, all eyes on the Lady White Swan. The while, their coach moved aside for the next coach to arrive, but all eyes were on the Lady and her Executioner.

The Lady White Swan glided up the steps, and across the portico, the Bloody Lords masked guests parting for her, making a clear path to Huntington Hall’s grand dance hall. The two guards at the entry forgot to ask for their tickets, but Humphrey had a card trick ready and had the invitations appear from thin air. All remained still; even the Lord and Lady that pulled up to the portico next, remained in their coach. Their entry into the Halls dance chamber was equally spectacular with all eyes on them. The Bloody Lord, standing on a balcony above, had to command the String Quartet to continue playing.

The while their coach-drivers, one of which was Roger, had freed the two lead horses, and they were sneaking in through the servant’s area to go about distributing itching powder in the Bloody Lords private apartments, privy, and bed. Humphrey stood in such a way to keep an eye out for Virginia but also watched the path leading away from the Hall to see when their compatriots were away with the hired coach with four horses. All Virginia had to do is play the part of an English Lady, which she could do so well. Their years in Cambridge had allowed her to sound more British than the Brits.

Humphrey was a bit irritated with Roger, who was taking his time chatting to the cloak maids, using the time to sprinkle itching powder into the cloak chests. Morbidly, the Bloody Lord Huntington had seen Virginia and started chasing her around the dance hall, in none too subtle manner. The disdain on the guest’s unmasked mouths was quite evident. Roger was taking his bloody time, and Virginia was running out of places to go. Humphrey marched past Roger, giving him a solid punch into his arms.

Turning back, Humphrey was aghast. The Bloody Lord Huntington was all over Virginia, like the proverbial slimy octopus. He was quite ordinary, trying to grope Virginia under her skirts, leaning into her, one hand on her breast. She already had the powder in her hand and threw it into his face, shouting, “This is for all the women you sullied, you lecherous, treacherous, deceptive buggerer.” She turned to run, but the Bloody Lord grabbed Virginia’s arm before she could abscond.

Humphrey was already running and bellowing to draw the Lord’s attention. He did, with a solid running punch right to the Lord’s bulbous nose. He wore a cloth mask as Virginia to prevent inhaling any of the itching powder and now covered his Lady White Swan with his black robes, protecting her from the Bloody Lords, bloodied nose spray. They ran, Virginia dropped her wings, and they ran.

Behind them, the now truly Bloody Lord Huntington bellowed blue murder and death, shouting, “A thousand guineas for that wench in white, thousand more if she is delivered to me naked.”

Just to the right of the portico was their bridled but unsaddled horses as planned. But not as expected, Roger stood there holding their mount for them. Blast, blotto and blimey, goddam Roger and his protective streak for Virginia. He was endangering her more than helping with this.

Humphrey and Roger helped Virginia mount, then Roger wanted to be behind Virginia, but Humphrey would have nothing of it. He reasoned that she would be more likely to get away without a second person weighing down her mount. Humphrey bound up onto the horse and pulled Roger up behind him, and they were off.

They thought that they would have a few minutes before the Bloody Lord’s guards would be on their tail, and they were ready for a chase but hoped for a head start of a few minutes. In retrospect, Humphrey should have considered that they would not be the first to prank the Bloody Lord and that he would have taken preventative measures. They were chased by eight to ten men on fast horses with guns!

Galloping away, Humphrey ensured that he was between the shooters and Virginia in their breakneck escape. Once they reached the winding forest path, they would not be so easy to hit, although shooting from a rapidly moving horse was another matter anyway. Only the occasional bullet came close.

They had practiced riding without saddles, and without any armor or weapons, they were outpacing their pursuers. They reached the winding forest path and rode on, and after the third bend, the shooting stopped. On the fourth bend, Roger fell off the horse.

When Virginia slowed her mount and returned, Humphrey waved her on, but she would not have a bar of it. Virginia came to help Humphrey off his horse, and he was also bleeding. She slapped their mounts to run off, and they both dragged Roger into the thickets and covered themselves with the spare black cloak that he had for Virginia just for this reason. A few miles further down, they were going to do precisely what they had done, but much closer to where their coachman lived that Humphrey hired to bring them and their baggage to London Port. Roger was supposed to be with the coach ready and packed, and waiting for them, staying attired as their footman-butler.

In the darkness of the moonless night, with Humphrey cloaks covering them, they waited breathlessly while the riders thundered past. Then some more riders sped past and then some more. Then came a procession of hastily departing coaches.

Roger was breathing, and they were both bleeding, but not too severely. Humphrey was hit in his arm, and Roger just over his left shoulder blade. They staunched the wounds with one of Virginia’s petticoats. Roger would have liked that, one of Virginia’s petticoats wrapped around his chest and back. In the few moments of silence, they carried Roger further into the forest and away from the road.

Their pursuers returned, lanterns in hand, leading their two white horses. They knew that they had not made it to the village and would possibly now wait for daybreak before they dared the forest in the dark. One of the men shouted, “Two thousand guineas for the White Swan woman dead, five-thousand for her if she is alive and naked.” Another man called out, “What if she is bleeding?” They may have found Roger’s blood on the road. But when the first man answered, “Alive and naked is all Lord Huntington said,” the shooting began.

The men spread out and fired blindly into the forest, either side of the road. They shot and listened, shot, and listened. Most of the projectiles flew wide, but some thwacked into nearby trees, some whizzed by them, and a few ricocheted. It was all quite frightening, but they kept quiet. Then a bullet bounced off a tree and hit Humphrey in the head. A soft, “sigh,’ was all that Humphrey uttered falling unconscious. The shooting stopped, and the shooters listened then started walking into the forest lanterns held high, pistols rifles in the ready. Virginia was afraid.

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