Outlaw

By joe_gallagher All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Legible

“I’m sorry,” Wesley wrote, clenching his eyes shut. He pressed the parchment against the granite with a palm. A tear squeezed out the corner of his eye. “I was a boy, as ambitious to do the right thing as anyone. King James Gallant summoned me one morning from the orphanage. He sent the Hastings Sheriff to escort me to his court. I believe that man was your father.

Wesley motioned for additional ink to be brought into the cell. The Captain turned to Lexifer, who obliged, carrying the inkwell as a priest carries a wine goblet.

When I was summoned to meet the King, I thought I’d done something wrong, your Father comforted me. He assured me everything was okay.

The King recommended your father adopt me. Your father obliged. In a perfect world you would have grown up as my step-sister. I spent the night in the King’s quarters, and it was then, when your father was not present, that the story changed.

I sat beneath heaps of food no orphan was greedy enough to imagine. The Kingsmen told me lies about how your father, the Sheriff of Hastings, tried to poison the King. I believed them.

The plan was very simple; I would run a knife across his neck the first night he slept. I rode all the way back to Hastings on the back of your father’s horse. He held me upright when I became tired. When we made it to Hastings, he retired to bed with your mother. That’s when I did it.

You walked past me on the street that evening; you bumped into me and continued walking. I could see the despair on your face and I knew it was you whose life I’d just ruined.

The next morning I stowed away on an outbound fish cart to Kingdom. When I got back, they arrested me for murder. Gallant acted like my claims were a story crafted by a desperate youth.

I escaped my execution—innocent of the sentence I was charged with evading. I’ve been running ever since.

I am guilty only to you and your brother.

The Captain held out his hand for the parchment. Wesley walked past the Captain’s hand and held the letter out to the Foster girl. She pinched it under her thumbs, looking at him as she received it, then looked down to the words.

Beneath a wrinkled brow, her eyes panned across the lines. Emotions strained to her eyes but she was brave with them. He would beg her to believe him—to forgive him, but she held his voice in her hands; able to spin any truth she fancied from the words.

She handed the paper back to him.

“You carried a basket of apples that day,” she finally said. Her tone was like nothing he’d ever heard from her. It echoed off the crusty walls. “My father told me that I’d have a new brother…”

He nodded, motioning with his hands to Lexifer. Her words were an honest account of events from someone who had every reason to see him hang. Her testimony could spill blotches of truth across the manufactured reality. And for the first time, a second person who walked this world knew his innocence.

Lexifer returned to his desk and the Captain, awaiting dismissal, grew ambitious enough to dismiss himself. Wesley stared across the cell at June. Keeping his eyes in hers, he lowered himself to his knees.

She rubbed a palm in her eye.

“You never did a single thing wrong other than obey a King’s orders,” she said, stepping forward with caution as she always had—as though he was still liable to hurt her in some way. “You’re a wagon full of roses and a six day hike from me trusting you again, but right now I kind of see things the way you might. That’s why Kensington brought you here. You are the living evidence.”

She took his hand. A strange sort of warmth filled inside him as he rose to his feet. Reaching carefully, in a way he’d never done before, he placed his hands on her hips. Her hands locked behind his neck. And for whatever bastard reason, they waltzed around the cell in dance. He twirled her under his arm. He was a bad dancer, but she, she was a terrible dancer. He hummed the tune of “I’ve Been Cuckolded by the Banshee,” and she somehow recognized it and sang along. They swayed and she laughed.

He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed, so that her chin rested flat on his chest and her eyes stared straight up into his. Her shoulders slid perfectly under his armpits and if he tilted his head down, just slightly forward, his lips would be flat against hers. A crooked smile lit up her face. It set a dimple into her cheek and squinted freckles up into her eyes. Wesley was certain he’d made the right decision, regardless of how the mess was going to end. He chanced the best smile he could against the hooked wire and leaned her over his knee. She leaned her weight with trust into his arms. They stood into a slow dance in the center of the cell. She clasped her hands at the small of his back.

“I like you like this,” she whispered into his ear as they swayed through the minuet. She ran the soft pad of her finger across his stitches. “Now you can keep all my secrets, just like my old horse.”

He shrugged.

“The guillotine and the alter don’t really seem much different to me,” she said. “I die either way.”

There was, really, not much he could say.

She said, “The blunderbuss…in the Hastings townhouse: it wasn’t loaded. It doesn’t even fire.” Her voice cracked, “There isn’t a single bullet in transit across all of Librae as far as I know.”

He lifted the quill and parchment from her.

“I know.”

Something dawned in her grey eyes.

“You would have come here regardless.”

He wrote, “No, but someone changed my mind.”

They looked to Lexifer, who meticulously dragged his quill across parchment, hair frizzing out of its greased position around a balding head. She released Wesley’s pulseless hands and wrapped arms around his torso. She rested her ear on his chest and smiled, as if realizing that a heart actually beat within.

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