The Kismet of Highwaywomen

The Kismet of Highwaywomen

A Chapter by Lauren Xena Campbell

The Masked Lady


The Kismet of Highwaywomen


From the privy daybooke of Lady Lisabeth Ainsley Drake, Spinster and secrete Highwaywomen.


Entry the fifth


            The road was heavy on the toll of midnight as we laboured still further on our way. Through the ice mists and the dim glow of the stars that guided us. All was hushed as custom requires of a night when ill beggars walk the land, fearful in the tread of danger both crooks and quarry linger wide-eyed and on the alert.

            I had heard of a friendly apothecary, in the hamlet all but two miles from the main gates of municipality, whom had a generous heart for the poor, and a relation in the auction houses. I thought he might help us…it was time to sell on the greeds of my misdeeds and manifest their reward. Since my rise to brigandry I had bribbed thrice more, and seized the purses of the Drovers. But even still a month had passed and my debt was due.

            We carried on down the road, passing fields of cattle and the odd present making camp between towns, but otherwise undisturbed but for the clouds drifting over the moons face. As we rounded the last levee before the village my heart submerged. The hamlet looked far from becoming, even in the moons gentle touch it’s whitened wall carried the greyness of tombstones, every corner a ragged line, desensitised to the countries beauty as it renovated it’s own death, it’s very decoration. Every home a rough tooth in a jaw of lies, uttering baloney and lunacy. The Reaper walked these streets, the houses of the poor, the children of farmhands and doxies. All lights where silent, every noise a disturbance. Not even the tomcats prowled the alleyways so strewn with filth and misgiving.

            But all to soon I was smiling. This was not fear I felt, nor disgust, not truly. This was the repulsion of their situation, the orbs distance for lower rank, but everything I have come to love in the world. Behind the dirt of these pleated partitions where the homes of good people. Kindly hearted people.

Most too near death!

            Tapping Désirée’s rump, we continued to glide through the thickening haze, and entered the ghoulish town. For a moment I thought I might not find the apothecary’s home in amongst all those of poor repute. But after a time, wondering about the ruined cottages, we emerged further into the hamlets centre, and there next to a small sorry feeling church was a two-story building, it’s windows ablaze with candlelight, permitting the yellow paint to shine like a chariot of the sunlight from the darkness.

            If nothing else, my night adventures had encouraged in me the need for a certain stealth, and being afraid of discovery, this night need not bow an exception. Carrying on down the road a little until we met with a small graveyard, I lead Désirée into a small patch of mist filled trees. With luck I knew she would not be discovered. I have no fear of the dead, for they had no reason to harm me…no way of it…but the other beggars here-with have many a superstitions, none shall amble this way. The darkness forbids it.  

            Following the cover of dark air I venture nearer to the home of my apothecary. I had no reason to believe he would help a crook, no doubt that he was a God-fearing man, and a law-abider at that, but I needed to try. I had to try. If he could be convinced…if he but heard my cause…then surly he would not abandon it, just as I could not, cannot…I do not know why but since I had heard of him in the marketplace I could not be rid of the thought of him. If only I had learned more from My Lionel. He would not let me fail in this attempt. He would teach me, show me what to do, tell me what to say. After all the art of persuasion was his. The charmer of the very hart. He with his way of flattery and gentle words surly would knitteth us a tie in this, and make us a faithful ally. But alas, no! This task has fallen to me, and albeit my love for St Roseings is true, I detest it! For all those smiling faces, I’ll admit, I wish for none still but he… 

            Still my dark cloud hath not left me completely nor complete and I do not speak of just the night. Drifting from merry hope to foul mood seemed more natural to me now then if ever it had in past plights. This was a chance I could not fail, if the monies could not reach the sea within one week, my keep may face deaths hunger. This was not just a chance-this was the last… 

            Keeping well from the moons warmth I crouched in the shadows, closing in on my quarry. Soon I was upon the building, its cobbled shell resting in the cradle of my back as I peered sidelong though the lit frame of the window. The curtains were drawn aside revealing a comfortable hovel for any man. If this a prison, it’s master should withdraw here and throw away the key! For what magnificence’s! Though small in size, and while clearly well attended it still lacked all the riches of a stately home but for want of this, nothing! For what home could be more dream-like at a glance! It’s wooden panels burned rich hazel in the ambience of a convivial hearth. All furnishings glowed with a scarlet light, trembling with its buoyant dance, cheery. Soft chairs sang of comfort, their golden threads seemingly swimming in a sea of taffeta. Shelves upon shelves of tomes highlighted the walls, their volumes clean and cared for, each beckoning for that never far attention. Glass and mirrors drew the scene in, magnifying its beauty before me, the care-ship and honesty herein. Paintings decked the walls. Portraits, framed with a golden wood, mounted with the glory of a loved artist, friend or family. Yes, that was it. Family. The loving aunt cradling a new born baby, her nursing days begun, but not with a look of worry and misery, but that of concern for a child, and the love newly blossoming there, a look of want, relaxation and pure happiness. And there, the friendly father, practising the lute with young daughters, learning them but never scolding, smiling and sincere, generous with his lessons, bold and daring and always gentle, happy to find friends in art and kin. And the mother baking, working never weary but keen, transforming need and necessity into wonders, caring and true, providing not chore but creation, the very want of all things simple, and in her eyes delight. Taking in every representation, I had to withdraw a gasp. Leaning back into the shadows I saw the world around me blur. Was all this just a description? Or was it fact? For if this was but a sketch of what family should be I had seen my dreams laid before me in perfect print, but if it where true…what blackness was I too ask of them?

            Wiping at my foolish tears, I peer again though the window, to witness. In to the room came a woman, as pale as a pearl, and slender as a reed, she crept with grace into the room carrying a buck-basket, her skirts sweeping across her court to heaven. Smiling graciously at a gent I had not noticed before, sat at slumber by the fire, the back of his seat towards me. The lady stopped before her master, and I saw with disbelief her shoulders drop with a heavy sigh as she beheld her husband. Such caring! It placed me in mind of my own actions, my own sights…it feels like such a long time ago…

            Moving again towards the fire, the gentlewomen placed her burden on the ground and began to pull linen from it’s keep, unfolding it with care and spreading it flawlessly over a clothes rack so that it may dry. While watching the women at her task I scares noticed the gentlemen awake, his movements so slow and peaceful, he appeared still dreaming, and it was not until he had looked in my direction for a full minute did I realise that he might see me, for I too had fallen into a vision. Rounding again out of sight into my darkness I waited still for a moment, unsure if the bawcock had seen me or not. All I know is that it was not bravery that turned me back into my view again, but something else, some longing that made me want to see.

            Back in that dream place the gentle-lady had turned towards her husband, now aware of his wakefulness and kissed his head as she knelt before him. At fist I was afraid he might speak to her of what he saw but no, that look on his face was not confusion, fear, or anger but a jolly smile, content in this moment.

            They spoke for a time, his hand creasing her cheek, her laughs and his. So this is what love looks like from the outside! Still for a while they spoke, laughed and held out for each other’s hands. It was then that they both rose, the gent leaning down for a gentle kiss goodnight and he directed his women form the inn with a gentle wave. Then having sent the women to rest, he turned to retrieve a fallen sapphire cap from his seat, extinguished the few lit candles and the fire singing in the hearth and then to my utter bewilderment, went and took up the buck-basket and carried it from the room.

            For a few moments as I stood still in the shadows the house was nought but unlit darkness, and then from a cellar window a single speck of a candle grew from the shadows and drifted like a sprite in a sea of gloom. Twisting though the black I whispered over the pavement towards the sight crouched low so as not to be detected. There in my new closeness I could see some of the space therein by the faint rays of the little light. It had stopped atop a workbench, permitting the gent, still with his basket, to stoke a dying fire. Then turning from his work a moment he left the room and closed the door.

            This was my chance! While the fire still grew from it’s weakened embers I could enter with a cloak of shadows, and take the man with surprise! Good-deed, yes! It was what my highwayman would have done. Armed not only with a mask and bilbo but that too of mystery. The daring required of a man to enter a home at night, the fearfulness that should grow in his wake but then the sight of generosity when the crook keeps his blade in it’s sheath, not to spill blood but to speak!

            It was a faultless plan.               

            Testing the pale glass of the window with a silent hand I found to my relief that the casement was unlatched. Breathing unevenly, I took my chance.

            Sliding closely though the small frame of the glass, I placed the heal of my boots on to a writing desk, attempting carefully not to lay any of the objects of it’s surface to harm. One would not have thought such an attempt would be so acquired as it was, and I am most sure that I heard Désirée snort her laughter at me when I snagged me cloak on a loose nail! Well, at least she was having her amusement!

            After the harsh elements of the night the room in which I was now emerged filled me with the warm sent of lavender, causing a heat to drift over me in full force, casting the chill from my bones, lighting my sprits to their peak. My heart was beating faster. Happier. The apothecary’s fire had begun to purr, lighting the room to its full volume, and reviling it to be, like the other, a warm spirited and friendly place. But it was also very strange.

            I had never been in an apothecary’s workshop before but the sight of herbs and roots, trapped in salt jars and fixed to the rafters was at first slightly frightening to me. Scales and parchment scattered over benches, quills and books drifting about the place, forgotten in corners, the bizarre sights of a physicians trade.

            Since drifting though the benches, observing the many strange objects littered hereabout, little did I know that my element of surprise was about to be turned unto me.  

            “Good-den!” Said a kindly voice behind my shoulder. I spun around, naturally reaching for the hilt at my side, as I had so often seen My Love do in the heart of danger. But my reaction seemed short lived for as soon as my fingers clenched the metal I realise I was in no such peril. There stood the man I had come in search for. The same kind hearty fellow from the upper room, now bearing his stations cap, and dressed sheepishly in a modest floor-length doublet and a sweet smile. Though the lines of age had begun to web themselves over his features the handsome smile vanquished them with its warmth. His silver locks billowed towards his shoulders, neatly trimmed and clean, and framed his features with the placidness of frost on a windowpane. And there even on his very nose, to complete his genteelness was a minute set of tight circular wooden spectacles.

            But all this time that I took in his appearance, he too surveyed me and the hand I held ready at my waist. But his face was calm, my hesitation it seemed, was all too apparent.

            “You have not come here to do us harm, boy?” He questioned with a crooked grin and made way for a wooden seat by the grid.

            Letting my hand fall, defeated, I turned to face the gentleman, whose peace I had so rudely disturbed. But before I could speak he raised a hand and waved me towards another chair, clearly stating with his gesture that no talk shall commence until we where both comfortable. Dumbfounded I did as requested.

            “Can I offer you some wine lad?” Asked my forced host.

            “Thank you sir, no.” I replied. Then suddenly realising that I had spoke with my normal voice, continued quickly to clear my throat and went on in a deeper tone. “You surprise me sir, your hospitality it would appear is unlimited, and even to I who had entered your house uninvited.”

            And still to my bedazzlement the cuffin laughed. He did not shout nor raise any alarm, nor throw up his fists in defence! The man was mad! He offers me wine and laughs!            

            “No lad, not unlimited but I have never yet turned down a visitor. And you mean me no harm it would appear. I confess, you make me curious. What manner of man comes about in the dead of night, dressed as you are with no harm in his heart?”

            This time it was my turn to laugh.

            “One whose is in great need of your services sir!”


            “Indeed sir, what could I be in want of I am sure you might ask? But in truth it is a grave matter and one of which I think you will want no part in; even with the commission I shall offer. I can only beg and pray that you hear me! For it is not I who shall receive you generosity, but others…”

            I trailed of as a gentle hand was held up to stop my ramblings. Casting my eyes down I waited for the man to speak. It was a long time past and no words were exchanges and so I chanced a look at my host. His eyes where on me from a head bent far back in his chair, he brow crossed in thought and he watched me closely for some sigh unknown to myself.

            “What name have you, my boy?” Asked the cuffin gently, with true interest.

            “Lis…I…ah…” I pause my incomprehensible mumblings. I needed an exit, what name could I give? Lisabeth was out of the question, as this gent knew not I was a girl! Oh, foolish girl that I am! Why had I not thought of a lie before? And so I blurted the first name to thought.

            “Freedman, sir. Lion…”

            “Dare not you speak that name here! For I know you our not Lionel Freedman.” I shrugged away from his anger in fear, worried that all hope had been lost by my idiocy. But the man’s face grew calm quickly. “Aye, not Lionel, the blessed man, but a Freedman it is true. I can see it in your eyes, you are of the family.”

            He paused again and continued to stare at me. The feeling of his eyes on my flesh unnerved me greatly and I was concerned my disguise was slipping.

            “My name is Caerwyn Grey.” He said simply. Then smiling once more he continued. “And as you can most likely tell Master Freedman,” I flinched at the name. “…I am not French!”

            I looked at this jesting man in disbelieve. Could he really be true?

            “And so now we had been introduce properly my friend, please tell me, as best you can, what brings you here?”

            And in this his sincerity took my breath away, how easy an introduction! It was as if I have happened upon him in a street or even knocked on his door as a guest, or old friend. And so without worry I told him of my nature, my task and of what I was to ask of him. I explained of my villainy and the cause it was to lead to and the gems of my crimes charity, leaving out only that of my deeds in England, my heritage and Love. And though it all Mister Caerwyn listen content, nodding softly, his chin resting on his hands, eyes closed, as though I was reciting a bedtime tale to half sleeping children.

            Finally my words ran out and the apothecary lifted his head, contemplating my vindication.

            “You have quite an predicament it would seem!” He spoke calmly, meeting my eye. His expression was incomprehensible, and so I knew my defeat.

            I rose.

            “I understand.” I said solemnly. And it was true, I too would not want to endanger this family, nor could I do that if it were my own. “But thank you for your time sir, I shall leave you now.”

            I turned to do so.

            “You have my trust dear, dear!” Smiled the gent, raising from his own seat and placing a warm hand on my shoulder. “But what of you? As you sort me I believe you have belief in me, but can you also trust Gaspard, my dear brother also? I will happily transfer your wares to him but I could not be asked to betray him with lies. He is of the same nature as I and will I am sure gladly help you also. What say you?”

            I almost threw my arms around the fellow, what grace hath God given me! Thankfully though I resisted, but still laughed with triumph. “Thank you sir! Thank you true!” I cried, clasping his hands both in mine and shaking them forcefully in joy.

            “No lad, thank you! Such kind-heartedness is rare. Lest you have such a heart as to feel and act. It was always in the Freedman blood, you have pride of the name.”

            And despite the pain that came with the name he spoke I felt crimson flush my cheeks with a secret pride I did not truly understand.

            Concluding our business I left the kindly Caerwyn for his rest and promised as I handed over my spoils to return in three nights time for our next appointment. Drifting through the shadows back to the dear Désirée I jumped up onto her back, and patted her neck with affection, as she began her trot home. Words cannot express my relief at the outcome of my night’s doings. The night seemed changed, excitement held though the blackness, and without warning the smile on my face exploded with warmth. Every whisper of every breath or sigh of wind filled my heart with a strange laughter. The sight of the moon a new sun to my sky. And the entire prospect for the future for the first time in so long seemed not so bleak.

            We headed along the road in silent night, still gleaming with glee at the thought of it all when Désirée came to a slow halt. At first I could not understand it, I patted her rump, but she would not move.

            “Cherished, what is it?” I questioned her.

            The animal waved her head, and in one annoyed snort, began to count her front hoof into the dusty road. I looked up. There in the gloom, emerging like playful pixies the lights of a stage became. I smiled even wider and patted my mount once more.

            “Well the night is still young.”

            We advanced…




Entry the sixth


            Fine light draped itself mightily over the quarter, blanketing the good public of Cherbourg with a comfortable heat, the gold of the sun. Despite the constant usualness of a bitter sea wind, the atmosphere of the noontide seemed to smile brighter than a patchwork of tulips across a mile of barren brown furrows. Lacing though the crowds of merchants, and other flote-side faring folk, Tammy and I, shoulder to shoulder perused the trade of the towns market, content in the day to be out in the warmth. I, confessing although I might only to these secret pages, can revile that the best part of my high spirits where still residing in the night prier, and the joyous success of a job well done concerning Mister Grey. Also too I shall add the theft that followed, for the well of the poor carriage was primarily immense.

            Smoke storms rose from the open fire pits that line the pebbled streets drifting apart from their commanders, seasoning the manchet bread and goat cheese the sellers where giving for a pretty price. Pheasant pasties and cranberry tarts littered the stalls of the food barters, the delighted shouts of their craving customers creating a pleasant tune to the black gulls patterned dance circling above us. Scattered among these friendly servers were the proud handlers of cloth and jewel; the needs of peasants, such as yarn and thatch, the pleasure of the wealth, the trades for the learned; and also the beauties and disgrace of the under-street havens.

            And hitherto still though all the trudging, happy expressions, the dark realisation that these hushed cries from hidden children cried hunger, the rouge on the harlots heads where not hiding a blush but a bruise, and the filth of the working men was their given worth, to be washed away. 

            But these thoughts seemed not to plague me so this day, for the sun was merry and my will wished to be with it. 

            Further we progressed towards the boundaries of the market, nearing the docks, for my companion had noted a gathering crowd and un-realising had begun to wonder nearer for her curiosity.

            The gathering of men and women alike had begun to circle around a makeshift stage of barrels, where a queer creature, burned by the sun, with skin the colour of ash, perched like a priest among the kings. Hands flying through the air, showing off his only small shades of pale flesh in a dramatic gesture, the painted man let out a heralds call to the people.   

            “Hark, pray listen children, my lambs!” Cried yawning festive notes. “Pin your ears, and heed. Though I might be only a penniless preacher of the Moor, without Christian understanding, I bring to you a true voice. Beware you all of ill feeling and lies! Never to you should be dark thoughts. Cast them all out! Out to Shaitan, and the pox on him and all his black ways. May he burn in he own fiery chasm forever! Embrace each other, friends! Be patient and learn to listen, learn to live with your honour, your deeds and your shame. You all must follow your path, be that of Allah or your Jesus Christ. Believe in friendship, and caring…”

            The painted preachers performance was wearing thin on some and others seemed suddenly restless, starting a tide of movement forcing us to begin a retreat back to the market main. It was then as I was shoved by a hurried mother carrying a child that I saw a single flag of livery, the mark of the Baili and his office.

So the law had come. 

“Make way!” Yelled an officer suited in black, forcing a path thought the worried crowds.

“…needs must be heeded, but remember too children…” The painted man continued, shouting with all might over the gathering voice of force, determined to make his speech before they reached him. “… you can only live in peace if you live to your path, the one you make for yourselves, for that is your destiny, that is you kismet, the one you live…”

The preachers final words echoed though my head, the loudest of bells, before ‘The Justice’ rough handed him from show and dragged him to the stocks with a bloody head. What truly was destiny, I thought as I watched the man leave, was it destiny that robbed me of my love, destiny that people starve and die with no remorse from their federal lords? What is the destiny of a lonely girl? Or that of a highwaywomen? Truly it must be good for nothing, for a woman cannot choose her path so freely.

But had I not to some part done just so?

“Quelle belle journée!” Spoke a gruff accent from behind my shoulder. I scowled at the tactlessness of the comment and ignored the speakers bid for my attentions to look after the painted man before he disappeared completely form view. “Pardon mademoiselle, pardon s’il vous plaît. Mademoiselle is new here oui?”

I sighed turning to the gentleman behind me.

“Yes I am new here, thank you.” I smiled, hiding my annoyance at a man in dark uniform, bearing the crest of the Bailiff.

He bowed courtly with an un-denied flamboyance that would amuse even the Queen, and straightened with an arm gesturing the way towards the remaining band of lawmen. 

“My master, the Bailiff wished to bid you welcome to our lands personally. Please.”

And with the gesture came his other hand on my arm, pulling me forward towards the sheriff’s guard, leaving Tammy to quicken her pace to follow.

     As we approached three gentlemen turned to greet us. The first was a vast beast of a man, tall and brawn with a shaven head, and think set moustache perched under a rather large but flat noise. This with his small watery eyes unfortunately granted a very uncommonly visage, which if I am honest, I thought spoke of a character rather unpregnnnant. The other a rather obvious henchman if one can call him thus, stood a few inches shorter even then myself, cowering in the shadow of the others, yet dressed with the style and dedication of a lawyer, crisp in black and lace. Pieled and smiling, I instantly took like to the broker, with his arms full of book and paper.

And then set between them, standing as their superior, decked lavishly in furs embroidered richly and golden chains, the silvery crest of his office branded upon his mantled chest… 

“Oui, oui, oui!” Declared the outrageous boom of the Baili, eyes skimming me from neck to bodice as he approached the final steps. “Ma! Vous êtes belle! Oh, oh bonjour, bonjour Mademoiselle. Enchontée.”

“The pleasure is mine, Monsieur.” I reply courteously, dipping a curtsy before straightening to astonished scrutiny.

It was clear on first sight that despite the supremacy of his position the Bailiff lacked even less charm then the filthiest of vagabonds and Toss-hunters. It was plain that this man weaved himself in wealth’s tapestry and sort nothing but the finest friends and the beauty he deemed his, as was screaming in the tightly pulled velvet over his snug physique, the smugness of every jewel pinned to his belt, the vain ink of his greedy eyes, as they scoffed at all lesser then he. But I would say, even unto the Queen’s Grace herself, that no man, prince or peasant were below this miserable wretch so absorbed in his own glory! With his shoulder set, he moved among the lower class, careful that he should not be touched with a towering authority, such as processed by only the most unfeeling of beggars.      

“Oh, I had heard that you should be English!” Cried the man in deeply accented English. “Pleasure, pleasure! Mademoi…”

“ Drake, sir. Lisabeth Drake.” I reply, extending my hand, much to my regret given the sodden kiss his placed there. “And yes, I am from Her Majesty’s shores. Now in residence but a few miles away.”

I paused to let the aggressively nodding head to rest.

“Oui, of course, I have heard. Then it is my pleasure Mistress, to welcome you here, to the greatest of kingdoms, my glorious home of France.”

I smile, secretly seething at the jib to my homeland, and replied;

“Your are to kind Monsieur….”

“Non, no!” An evil little smile become him. “But wait mademoiselle, where is your chaperon, surly you would not engage to walk about unescorted? Tis not the norm.”

Curbing a scoff, I nodded a smile at him and rebuked, “Indeed sir, but then I confess my situation in life is not of the norm, to be widowed so soon after my engagement. Indeed it was the crossing here that saw My Lord drowned.” My voice froze as the recollection of how My Love truly had died clouded my mind. Sighing at my near tears, as Tammy reached to take my hand I could feel all men’s eyes upon me, I continued. “Besides, I would have thought it be more ill humoured for a women to sit about a-day in her house and never venture for a fresher entertainment then her embroidery! I like to take an interest in the running of my house sir, and for that the market is called for. And there is my hus-, my lords business left to me.”   

“Of course.” He replies slightly solemn.

Silence passed for a few moments.

“But alas time is short and introductions scarcely made…” Chirped the Baili. “ and beauty barely beheld…” Those devilish eyes! “…and I feel so sad to have to leave, but to my regret mademoiselle we must. But wait there, I have an idea! Why not you grace us again on the morrow?”

“Sir, I’m afraid I do not follow.”

All four laugh thunderously, and I felt Tammy draw slightly closer, her body shaking.

“Then allow me to explain. A women like you, new to this land must surly like to advance in acquaintance, which we can arrange, no? Oh Madam you need not look so aggrieved, I mean no harm, just that there is to be some festivities tomorrow at noon and what better way to meet new people then that? What do you say, you shall be our guest at the…entertainments?” 

I thought a moment. Should I like to spend another moment in this mans company, a man whom on first glance sent good sense at a run in the opposite direction? I could barely bear to be this much in his company, let an entire afternoon! And if his manner and false politeness did not starve me of life then surly his breath would do me in!

But wait a moment, I had thought to myself, as the sun glittered across the dazzling array of gold and jewels that decorated his piggy little person. And then to recall all the grieving or sicken persons excluded from his society, all those starved and poor…

“It would be my utmost honour, my lord.”

“Splendid!” He cried clapping his hands together, those be-damned eyes drifting once more to my neckline. “Then we shall see you of the morrow, my good Mistress!”

And with that, much to, for what I conceive everyone’s relief and not just my own, the Bailiff and his guard withdrew leaving us standing on the quayside alone. Tammy and I aware of the attention of several onlookers began the walk back to our carriage. It was not long however before we reached the stocks for which a blooded priest was chained. I put my arm around Tammy whom on seeing the poor fellow was struggling not to whimper.

“Fear not my fair maidens!” Cried the painted man, though sadly lacking now some of the enthusiasm of his speech. “It is my peace to be punished. Indeed, had I not spoken out of turn then I should not have been liberated my conscience. To these act was my kismet, and for that I am graceful for this pastime.”

And there is that kindly smile was something beyond joy, something I did not quite concur. It was expecting, raving in jubilation, something that dared.


Entry the seventh  


The next dawn I rose in cheerful spirit, as I packed a saddlebag of mask and caliver and pinned a plain French hood and veil to my tightly pinned hair. Flattening the skirts of my kirtle as I disembarked the carriage I had hired this last few streets I entered the vast walls of the stadium. Encased within the vast circle of flint stood row upon row of tiered benches, before a sunken pit floored with sands. Beyond the many hundred spectators and merchant vendors applying their trade, I could just make out within the pit a fool prancing about it bright colours waving bells and ribbons, dancing around a think pole attached to which was a heavy chain. Still further afar into the back of the pit where two vast double doors of oak between which the combatants would be dragged.

Just as my eyes began to trail over a patch of blood on the wall there did another motion catch mine eye. It was that foul little Sheriff waving like bedlam to get my attention. I nodded my head to him and began to move towards.

Stepping carefully over any dung I made my way to a large group of finely dressed men, all gathered around His Annoyance placing bets, smoking tabaca and drinking heartily.   

“Oui Monsieur, we shall find him, no?” Cried a handsomely faced man I had not seen before.

“Oui, I shall see him hang from the belfry within the sennight! Le chien! Il est chaint! Stole soixante in gold and the Viscount’s own coat.” Raged the Baili, his face an unappealing shade of plum. “ I spite on the day that a highwayman claimed my roads!”

I smiled as I stopped to curtsy before him, though my smile was not from politeness. Secretly I was thinking, Yes Monsieur Baili, you shall come to rule the day this highwayman arrived ashore. And for that you can be assured.

Taking my place on a stool next to him as we followed all the correct dismal greetings and niceties as suited to all men of rank and settled to watch the entertainments.

The jester had cleared his sandy stage and now two brawny men hastened out of the eastern door, pulling hard on thick rope and chain, cursing and shouting nauseatingly. And from the shadows of the doorway emerged the creature. It was not the biggest of its kind I had ever seen, only an adolescent cub to my eyes, but the crowds went wild at the sight of it. The cheers and jibs rang like a cry from hell, so loud was their voice.

The poor creature was pulled fiercely to it confinement, tied to the stake by the neck, it’s movement restricted by such a small tether. Now we could here the howls of the bandogs a-waiting release, their hungry cries clear for all as they entered from the western gate, each held captive by a man or boy, their heckling wilder at the nearness of the bear.

The bearherds moved out of range behind there pew-fellows. And for the first time the bear was in clear sight.

The beasts leather torn and bloodstained, lay crouched by its captivity, its pink eyes pleading with terror, a faint moan of anguish lingered on its crude lips. In its eyes I saw the look of a child, it’s fight for life, already sewn with unease, away from its mother, it mourned, hapless and innocent. It’s mercy at the hands of these men! The true dogs in this!

The mastiffs had been unchained, held to halt by their ears as they snarled, shivering in expectance.

The bearherd turned for the Baili to nod the go-ahead. The dogs went loose.

Charging, raging at the chained beast the bandogs on nimble limbs raced at their pray from the cracking of a whip. Tearing at the already ragged flesh, they bit and scratched in ruthless glee. Letting out a roar of agony the pitiable creature whimpered without a defence, it’s canines having been pulled and it paws empty of the claw. Thrashing from side to side in it’s own small way it tried in might and vain to escape the many bandogs it was charges with.

            I watched in silence unable to comprehend. What torment was this? And every face about cloaked with a grin, save a few of the fainter heart, but most zealous for the spectacle.

            “Are you well mademoiselle?” Inquired the lawyer in perfect English, who was with the bailiff yesterday. “You have not a speck of colour left in your face.”

            “I’m afraid I had the start of a megrim, Monsieur…?”

            “ Woodrow, my lady, Norbert Woodrow…” He replied courteously giving a nod of his pieled chin.

            Before I could reply, however, the insufferable Baili had slapped the henchmen around the head and squealed at him.

            “Shut up you roynish sirrah! Hold your tougue Berty, I wish to watch.”

            “But Baili Orson, my lady is ailing.” 

            The devils eyes glazed over me, a disapproving frown darkening his red face.

            “You need a doctor?” He inquired.

            “Nay, my lord.” I replied, trying to think quickly. I needed an excuse to leave and what better one then this. “But I think mayhap it best to retire.”

            “Ah, you sicken from the baiting?” He smirked. “Ah sweet swallow! Tis natural…for a woman, do not be ashamed. Your sex can be so faible. I give you leave.”

            And with this he held out that swallow bejewelled hand for me to kiss and waved me away. Dipping a curtsy one could not help but take note of the Baili’s usual sparkling persona, but above all the beautiful silver pistol strapped to his waist. I know not why or by what means my eyes would not be torn but it was a moment before I could let myself look away. It was such a thing of beauty! Perfectly taken care of, sleek and black, dancing with silver inlay. A thing of true marvel.

            “Good day my Lord. Gentlemen.”

            Several minutes passed. But I would not be faltered in this resolve. Treading carefully through the crowds I escaped, only to return caped and masked. Ready to give plague to this barbarism. Swiftly and without fault one can sneak and take to bribering the effects of the wealthier classes. And thus so did I. When a gent lay down his taffeta plumed cape, it was mine. When that gargantuan of a baili’s bodyguard was sleeping a drink, his buget conveniently loosened from his belt, it was mine. And in the mist of many bona-roba a trojon can take ones pick of their errant ornamentations.

            Now with a saddlebag filled with swag beneath my coat, I had only to leave my mark upon the Baili. Unthinkably, it was all too easy to get close to the clove. Ignorant to just how many of his party were yeomen I leaned in, and grasped the handle of the caliver and oh so softly pulled it from the holster. Slowly the firearm left its containment, the sleek neck emerging through the loops of leather, progressing leisurely. Now just that final slight tug and it would be free! But disaster struck, just as the mouth of the pistol can unfastened, my own mouth betrayed me. Letting out an alarmingly loud gasp of relief, I froze in my place at my own stupidity. Another mistake which could cost me my life, for my sound did not go unheard, as was proven as the Baili Orson turned about.

            “What the…?”

            Before he could finish instinct or terror, I no know which, took control. Somehow I managed to turn the pistol in my hand to grip it’s neck and without thought struck a blow with all my might and knocked the handle with such force into the Baili’s face that he fell from his seat with a squeal. Taking no time to register any of this I leaped over him and pushed my way though the crowds, followed by the Baili’s awkward screams for his guard.

            Not slowing I raced still harder. Pushing past the last obstacle I slide to a stop, and grabbed for a nearby post to complete my halt. I had reached the edge of the pit and there was nowhere else to run.

 Even then as I began to frantically look about me in the futile hope that there was someplace else to run, two armed guard began to flank me on either side, muskets aimed. And still further the pains of my foolishness came, as the Baili and several of his guard pulled though the parting crowd. 

            “The devil!” Screamed Orson, wagging a fat fingerer at me, his eyes ablaze with hate. “So your the scut whose been tripping in our purse! Well mark my words your pox-filled leech, never again! I’ll be damned if I’ll live in the alarm of you! Take him!”

            The guard drew closer.

I was in a corner, I knew it. There was nowhere to go and so it was only logical that this should be the end. So for what could I do? I shan’t die a cowered for that would be taking back all Lionel had done for me in giving me his love. So instead I would play his game, and transform into the brave, well-mannered rouge that put my father and that rank Bacillus to shame. I should have been quaking in my boots for fear of death. But no, not I. Instead I let out a bark of bedlams laughter save for fear of shame! 

Baili’s face creased with abhor, his nose flattened against an intake of shock.

“My goodly man,” I smile nicely at him, trying to smoulder this strange build of hilarity that has claimed me. “You needn’t fear or be acerb, my good swine! For now you know the truth of what spirits the highway!”

Laughing again at his scarlet colour and the idiotic way he spoke, “Eh?” I cast an eye floor-wards and realised for the first time that I now carry two dags. Even with such pausa verba I could tell this dullard was in no mood for my mockery. But how soon would he recover?  

The guards where closing in and I knew it was time to act. Raising both hands I cocked my weapons, pointing both at the insufferable Baili. Everything stopped. It was clear that no matter their dislike for their master, the guard where loyal to a fault, and would banter no move that could endanger their next salary.

Seizing the moment I took to retreat once more but there was nowhere to go. The guards that flanked me but waited for me to lower my guns so that they could shot. If I tried to run again I faced death. And my hold on the Baili was fast running out. And the drop at my back was surly to…

Arms flying wide I pointed each barrel at the encroachers to my sides, quickly using their shock to fire a single shot each at the ground before them. Thus distracted I turned and let myself fall into the pit. Through a bevy of raised voices above and around as I landed I took to a run, pocketing my firearms and capturing my sword I warned off any stupid enough to try to halt my withdraw.

“Let loose the dogs.” Came a scream from the Baili, his guards already trying to lower themselves and their weapons into the pit without injury. But there was precious little time to waste, as already I could hear the thunder of paws in the sandy earth, and the snarling of hounds denied the kill.  

A pack of five attacked, their leader charging at their head, white teeth flashing in a throaty growl, as it leaped through the air at me. Rolling in the dirt I flung myself out of its path with seconds to spare. Reaching my feet again I turn to slash at two others closer then I should like them, scaring them back with the flash of metal. Thus halting their advance I move again to go yet am brought to a standstill by a burly fellow content on playing the hero. Brandishing a large length of wood he swung with all the clumsiness of his apparel, and I easily step out of his reach. Again as he fell about panting a strange thing happened, in place of running with this fool in chase I levelled to remove him from play, giving a well aimed kick to the groin and rendering him witless with a jolt to the head with my sword hilt.

Once more I was at the run with little elsewhere to go, for now the guards had entered the arena and I was fast losing space. My only out lay in the two doors used for transporting the contestants, one was well barricaded with men and the other closed.

I stepped back, readying for a fight.

Gasps from the crowed came before I understood my danger. With a nudge in the back I leaped forward, falling to the ground I twisted to see the attack. Standing on hind legs, reaching even in tender years to six feet tall and dripping blood, the bear glowered down at me. Helpless my hand searched the sand for my fallen sword. Unable to withdraw my eyes form the beast I did not hear the approaching growls, nor the Baili’s cheer of triumph. The bear did not more and neither could I. Our eyes locked and as sure as I am that he could see the fear in my face I could look upon the hatred in his. With each misty snort that came from his ripped muzzle I realised the true revulsion of the beast. His eyes dark, neck bent he let out a deafening roar and lunged.

Covering my face in defence I felt the rush of air as a massive paw swooped just above my head and crashed into the mastiff just behind me. With the mongrels passing yelp as it flew overhead, I rolled over onto my stomach, clenching my sword tight as yet another dog fell to the ground.

Stunned I realised that the bear was working in my defence.

Jumping with all the zeal of a woodwild child I flew past my captive savour and raised my rapier above my head, brought it down with all might at the chain and post that stopped the revenging creature having his fill. With the release of the chains the bear’s head flew into the air and let out a roar as it charged into my pursuit of guards and hounds.

Tracking escape I headed for the open door, pulling free a pistol with my spare hand I pointed it at the remaining fellows there, and roared “Move and leave with your lives!” with amazing result as each and all took to heel in fright. Following their startled steps I hastened into a dark corridor, running its length in a matter of moments and was soon upon a bare stone staircase. Bounding up it’s height pocketing my dag, I could heed the faint echo of shouts and foot falls advancing the way I had came and pushed harder up the stairway. Shoving my way though a door I broke onto the upper walkways. Here I could witness the disorder I had created below on the left and the crashing of the waves on the outer forts at my right down below. Up ahead the wall fell onto the beaches and beyond that a friendless sea. And what relief! For I could see at the end of a short run atop the gatehouse, a roped pulley used for loading supplies into their stores. If I could but reach it I would be safe.

Darting with all the strength I had left, barely able to breath yet still possessed with an atypical mirth, I allowed my weakened legs to carry me. Nearer my goal came. Twas not far.

Then suddenly though all the din of the watching crowds, the angry yelling of guard and sheriff then faintest sound of thunder. Just a moment of it. Then pain.

More agony then ever I have felt in the flesh. Skin cleaved, blood poured from my arm, soaking my shirtsleeve in moments. Faintness consumed my body, and all went numb save the terrorising pain from the wound. I stumbled. Dizziness distorted my sight, sickness churned in my belly as suddenly I realised that fear was reality. I knew I had been struck by a bullet. My eyes fluttered as hands touched the stone beneath me.

I was so close.

Could I truly fail now?

Tearing from the flagstones I pushed the pain behind me and let out a roar. In one uncertain leap I dived over the low wall beside me, over into the nothingness of air before the ground. But this was not just faith, for as I neared the beach I let my hand encircled the rope at my side and slowed my fall. Rope ripping though my grasp I neared the ground quickly and safe. As my boots touched sand once again I was off at a run, up the key steps and about the corner to where Désirée stood saddled and waiting.

Together we raced down the deserted streets, aware of the crowds pulling from the stadium behind us, there shouts of encouragement and fear meddled into one. We slowed but once as we reached the streets end. Still moving I ducked down in the saddle and with a drive of my sword I cut the lock clean from the stocks that bound our friendly priest. As we raced again I heard oh so faintly as he cried, “Bless you!” at our backs. I could not help but smile.




Entry the eight  


Turning the apothecary smiled as I all but fell though his window. Waving a hand to his best chair he said gently:

“It is nice to see you again. But how I wish it could have been so without misshape.”

I was about to ask why he meant when he started fiddling with some bottles on one of his many workbenches. Selecting one he came closer and knelt by my chair.

“If you will permit I would like to doctor this injury you carry. It has opened again by the looks of it.” He went to pull up my sleeve but I moved quickly from his reach.

“That is kind, thank you but I can dress it myself when I return home.” I stood and walked back to the window to retrieve my saddlebag from the street above. “Here are the goods I promised. I hope they can fetch a good price.”

I held out the bag, filled with all but the Baili’s pistol which I had resolved to keep for know. I had a feeling it might come in useful some day.

Taking my burden from me, Caerwyn put it aside without looking within, much to my disappointment. He then waved towards a packet on yet another surface.

“Here our the bills my brother could secure, I believe there shall be more to follow. But come, I can see your arm pains you. Let me look at it.”

I shook my head, and cast my eyes down unable to take the disheartened look upon his kindly face. I did not want to hurt him but I could not risk it. I tried to change the subject, eager all of a sudden to be away. “I’m sure I can retrieve more…”   

“I’m sure there’s enough here from now, lass. You’ll be keeping Gaspard busy for some time with this.” Again he smiled.

But I could not. As casual as the words where I did not miss it. How could I? Fear bubbled within my blood, my face paled and turned cold. How could he? What could this mean? And what for now shall I do if all is lost? Panic coupled terror and I knew not where to turn. The window!

“Calm yourself, lass.” He said it quietly, carefully and for something I cannot explain it reassured. Turning towards him I studied his face. His eyes. They beamed. “I’ll not tell your secret. I think it brave! But I couldn’t let you walk out of here bleeding.”

And here I think has begun comradeship for all the thrill and danger of action cannot compare. For in that face I knew I had found a friend. I was no longer alone.



Coming soon

The third episode of The Masked Lady


The Masquerade of Misdeeds







© 2016 Lauren Xena Campbell

Author's Note

Lauren Xena Campbell
Apologies for the length, Ive tried to cut it up into entries but keeping with one episode at a time for easier reading. I would also like to add that I mean no offence in this writing when I refer to the painted man but am simply trying to portray as real as possible the discourse of the time, and the ignorance. Again I apologise, no offence is meant.

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I am reading for pleasure. It has been a while, but I am still in touch with the story. I was immediately back in 17th-18th century England as soon as I started reading and back with her ladyship. I read the first section in St'Albans Cafe Roma this afternoon. The language just feels 'right' for the time. I am there with her, looking over her shoulder as she goes about her business. I thougher there were some wonderful dabs including ... 'Every homa s tough tooth in a jaw of lies' ... ' alleyways so strewn with filth and misgiving' ... 'pleated partitions' ... The description of the apothocary's house was particulary finely worked. This dabs caught my eye ... 'like a chariot of the sunlight from the darkness' ... 'Its wooedn panels burned rich hazel in the ambiance of a convivial hearth. All furnishings glowed with a scarlet light ... [to] ... 'Yes that was it. Family.' Also liked ... 'as pale as a pearl, and slender as a reed' ... 'for I too had fallen into a vision' ... as this is how I felt ... and ... 'this is what love looks like from the outside' ... Also liked ... 'the lines of age had begun to web themselved over his features' ... and, this which cld be straight from Dickens ... 'to complete his gentleness was a minute set of tight circular wooden spectacles' ... These are all great little touches which helped to keep me reading. I think I've said it before, but the way you are writing this reminds me of Walter Scott. Also you have the story telling bee in you. At the end of entry the fifth you have ... 'Well the night is still young. We advanced...' Who wld not want to read on? I love the period your story is set in, the language feels right, the characters are breathing, and you have my curiosoty. Will read more tmr.

Posted 13 Years Ago

2 of 2 people found this review constructive.


I finished the last two parts on Sunday. The bear baiting was very vivid. Like the word 'bearherd'. Liked the dogs 'Sivering in expectance. The description of the pistol also caught my eye. ...'sleek and black, dancing with silver inlay. A thing of true marvel.' And then the action takes off and it was pure Pirates Of The Caibbean. Ripping stuff! I am still with you and curious enought to want the next chapter please.

Posted 13 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Have read Entry The Sixth now. The story andthe writing still carry me along. I feel as if I am there and I know the character now. I am curious to know what will happen. I also, as ever, looking for good dabs. I was tken with ... 'black gulls patterned dance circling above us' which has a poetic ring. i assume they were crows of some kind. Also like ... 'the beauties and disgrace of the under-street havens.' and the social awareness of ...'hushed cries from hidden children cried hunger, the rouge on the harlots heads were not hiding a blush but a bruise'... The preacher made me think of the wild preachers of the 17th century who spurred armies on in the religious wars. Religion was deadly serious for them then, more than it is for us, at least in most of the West. Also public speaking and street meetings were more urgent than now. It is hard for us to realise how with our phones, computers, TV's radios etc, but I sense it in your story. I thought the orator was well handled and liked ...'a makeshift stage of barrels, where a queer creature, burned by the sun'...and...'Hark, pray, listen children, my lambs!' ... and George Fox wld not at ...'dragged to the stocks with a bloody head'. This line is key in many ways ...'a woman cannot choose her path to freely'... as women were property then. A highway woman wld have been a revolutionary figure almost. Incidentally you come up with some fascinating bits of language 'bilbo' 'Baili' 'Toss-hunters', they along with some of the spellings make it feel like a diary of the time, which wld not have been edited to dry perfection of course. The Bailiff is also strongly drawn I think, much as you drew the room in Five. I like ...'this man weaved himself in wealth's tapestry'...and, especially ...'the vain ink of his greedy eyes, as they scoffed at all lesser than he'... and... 'so absorbed in his own glory' ... (Why, o why, did I think of Peter Mandleson?!) Smiled at 'Curbing a scoff...' The language seems right for the sort of story you are writing. The dialogue is also convincing. Like the graph 'Then allow me to explain...etc' Character development continues in the character's own words. Like ...'his manner of false politeness'... So true of so many still. And, you keep the story spinning, by ending with the highway woman looking at him in another light which suggests he will be undone, not her. This bit is a great teaser which keeps the interest for the next bit ...'the sun glittered across the dazzling array of gold and jewels that decorated his piggy little person'... Will read more later.

Posted 13 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I am reading for pleasure. It has been a while, but I am still in touch with the story. I was immediately back in 17th-18th century England as soon as I started reading and back with her ladyship. I read the first section in St'Albans Cafe Roma this afternoon. The language just feels 'right' for the time. I am there with her, looking over her shoulder as she goes about her business. I thougher there were some wonderful dabs including ... 'Every homa s tough tooth in a jaw of lies' ... ' alleyways so strewn with filth and misgiving' ... 'pleated partitions' ... The description of the apothocary's house was particulary finely worked. This dabs caught my eye ... 'like a chariot of the sunlight from the darkness' ... 'Its wooedn panels burned rich hazel in the ambiance of a convivial hearth. All furnishings glowed with a scarlet light ... [to] ... 'Yes that was it. Family.' Also liked ... 'as pale as a pearl, and slender as a reed' ... 'for I too had fallen into a vision' ... as this is how I felt ... and ... 'this is what love looks like from the outside' ... Also liked ... 'the lines of age had begun to web themselved over his features' ... and, this which cld be straight from Dickens ... 'to complete his gentleness was a minute set of tight circular wooden spectacles' ... These are all great little touches which helped to keep me reading. I think I've said it before, but the way you are writing this reminds me of Walter Scott. Also you have the story telling bee in you. At the end of entry the fifth you have ... 'Well the night is still young. We advanced...' Who wld not want to read on? I love the period your story is set in, the language feels right, the characters are breathing, and you have my curiosoty. Will read more tmr.

Posted 13 Years Ago

2 of 2 people found this review constructive.

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3 Reviews
Added on November 20, 2009
Last Updated on June 19, 2016


Lauren Xena Campbell
Lauren Xena Campbell

Somewhere on the edge of the imagination

Dreams are not made to be broken, but are created in the heart to write destiny! I've always loved making up stories and putting words down onto paper, despite the fact that I only really learnt to.. more..