The Highwaywoman

by JediPrincess

Rating: PG-13 for violenceDisclaimers: The poem The Highwayman, belongs to Arthur Noyes. I just took the story and adapted it a bit. The idea of Xena and Gabrielle belongs to Ren Pics. I mean no infringement at all.Notes: My friend was reading the Highwayman to me the other day, and it struck me as very much a Xena uber fic... it just needed some adjustments.Warning: This story depicts the love of two women (and not friendship kind either), While there is no graphic sex (okay, there is no sex at all), it is still there, and the story kind of revolves around it. If this kind of thing offends you, or it is illegal where you live, leave NOW. For those of you that are still here, I hope you enjoy it.

Every morning, the first things I see and hear are the face and voice of my personal man, Westly. He always wakes me at the crack of dawn, with my clothes all set out and pressed. I think he does this out of fear that I may over sleep, and that perhaps one of my band would wander in and discover my secret. I’m not all that eager for that to happen, either, so every morning I thank Westly sincerely, shoo him out the door, and get dressed, tying my hair behind my head, and firmly setting my pistols in their holsters.

I have never told anyone my secret, except Westly, who knew from the beginning, and Bess. There was a man who guessed once, and I’m sure he would have held it over my head, except in our very next raid he keeled over with a dagger in his throat. No one said anything, not even when Westly had to go to town to get another throwing knife.

Westly has been my companion ever since my father handed guardianship of me over to him when I was twelve, and died. Westly was a loyal servant, and I think my father knew he would look after me, for all that at the time Westly was only seventeen. He stood by me solidly while debtors took all of my estate, and left us with next to nothing. He stood by me when I met Bess and fell madly, wildly in love with her; for all that I was only 15 at the time, and she 13. He trained me until I could out ride men twice my age, out wrestle men more then two times my weight. He stood by me when I couldn’t move because of the pain of all the bruises I gained.

And then he helped me gain leadership of my band. Now we were hungry no longer. We grew quite rich. The men respect me. They know that on their own they would fail. Yet, if they were to discover my secret, they would tear me apart.

Which is why they must never find out.

* * *

We are planning a raid tonight, in only a couple hours, so as usual, I dressed up finely. An hour before we planned on leaving, I rode out. This did not surprise my men. They were used to it, most of them guessed where I was going, and made suggestive comments. I looked back and grinned, waving my hand in a salute.

I arrived at the inn. The whole place looked dark and closed, but I knew what to expect. I whistled our signal at the window. As soon as I did that, she, Bess, opened her window. I grinned at her and she at me. As I saw her beautiful black hair, I remembered the first time I saw her. I’d been wandering through an orchard, missing my father so very badly, even though he had been gone for years. I looked up through my tears and saw her, my destiny. It was spring and the orchard was in full bloom. She’d been putting blossoms in her hair, and looked like some kind of angel. From the first minute I saw her, I knew we were destined to be together. I almost felt like I knew her, and by the look in her eyes, I knew she felt the same. And I knew we could never be together, not as we were. And it was then, when I returned to the shack that I shared with Westly, that I told him to teach me everything he knew about horse riding and guns.

Bess laughed lowly, and that brought me back to the present. I smiled into her ice-blue eyes, and they responded immediately. I explained what I was going to do that night, and promised to return as soon as possible. "If not in the morning," I said confidently, "then tomorrow evening. I swear, even all the demons of Hell could not keep me from coming to you."

She smiled and promised to pray for my safety.

I stood up in my saddle, but all the same I could not reach her outstretched hand. She unbound her beautiful hair, which, I then discovered, smelt of lemon and pine. I gazed into her eyes, noting that her cheeks were red as apples.

And then I had to bid her goodnight, or I would have missed the raid. As it was, I was late, and we nearly missed it all together. Although my men were none too pleased, they did understand, and thus, they didn’t grumble too much.

* * *

I watched my love gallop away, running my fingers through my black hair. As usual, I knelt and prayed for the raid to go well, and that no one would be hurt.

* * *

In the dim courtyard of the inn I sat, listening to the pair of miscreants. So, Bess had a lover, had she? I’ve heard that madness can sometimes make one see what a ‘sane’ man would not, but I never believed it. Not until I saw the face of the rider, my darling Bess’ lover. I saw the green eyes, the strands of blond hair, the young, pure face, and I knew! I knew why this lawbreaker could never court Bess openly, as opposed to meeting her secretly in the dead of night. And I’m not talking about the fact that George, Bess’ father, wouldn’t take kindly to a highwayman courting his daughter. And I knew that this pup had stolen Bess’ heart, and that she would never love a man again. Not me, not anybody else. And I knew, as surely as I knew my name was Tom that I would let the local magistrate know.

For this dark rider was no man.

* * *

I was unfortunate enough to be followed by soldiers all day, and as such, I got little rest. When I finally gave them the slip, and returned to the camp, I was almost too tired to say hello to my men before collapsing on my bed. When Westly entered my tent a few hours later with some ale, I rolled over and groaned.

"Wes, I really need to get out of this line of work"

He was used to hearing that from me, so he just smiled and continued with getting a bath ready.

I pressed on. "Is there any way?"

He wasn’t really listening. "Hmmmm?"

"Is there any way I could stop this, retire, and live out my days in peace?"

He furrowed his brow and looked at me. "Are you serious?"

"Deadly," I said, getting up and stripping. "We could buy a cottage. A duck, some chickens. Maybe even a cow or two. What do you think? Could we do it?" My heart fluttered in my breast.

"You have amassed quite a lot of wealth," he said thoughtfully. "I’m sure after a few more raids you could retire quite comfortably."

He left me soaking in my bath and dreaming of the life that Bess and I would have.

* * *

I waited all day for my love, but she never came. Then, late in the evening, I heard voices in the inn yard. I sprang up; sure that it was she. Alas! It was not. They were soldiers, the King’s men, who entered my father’s inn like they owned it. They grabbed me, and tied me to the foot of my bed, all the while making jokes at my expense. And then I knew I had been betrayed. I was in agony, for I knew that in a few short hours, my love would come like she promised, and they would catch her. The King was not at all tolerant of lawbreakers like her.

I had thought I could scream a warning, but that tiny hope was soon snuffed out when they gagged me with a foul smelling cloth. Then, taking a pistol, they tied it to me so the barrel was pointing at my heart, which was already broken because out of my window I could see the rode she would be coming up soon.

I do not know how many hours I stood there, watching in agony for my love. I spent the time twisting my fingers through the ropes, until, at last! I touched the trigger, and knew that I could save my love.

And then I heard it: My darling’s horse’s hooves. They rang on the cobbles of the road, nearer and yet nearer, until I knew I had to do it, and pulled the trigger.

* * *

As soon as I heard the gun blast, I turned my horse and galloped away, back to camp, and safety.

I never made it back. It was too risky, as I was being followed, so I stayed on the run all night, hiding in the bushes, running like a coward.

Very early in the morning, I stumbled into a small town. It was abuzz with the news that Bess, the landlord’s daughter, had killed herself to save her lover. ‘Oh, Bess!’ my heart cried out, as it too died. There was nothing for it, then. I jumped on my horse and we flew back to the inn.

I wasn’t even halfway there when they shot me.

* * *

I sat in the inn yard. My face was streaming with tears, and I had a pounding headache. I had no idea what to do with my life now that Mary was dead. I’d looked after her for over fifteen years, and now I had nothing. ‘Oh, my beautiful Mary,’ I cried silently. ‘You were so brave. I think I loved you, but that was never to be. And now you’re dead. If I had taught you better, maybe… maybe…’

I looked around. I’d been sitting here for hours, and it was now night. The moon shone over the road and as I looked, I saw a marvelous thing. A horse coming down the road in a way only Mary rode… so tall, even though she was overly short. She entered the courtyard, and whistled at the window, which opened to show Bess, who leaned out the window.

I felt very confused as I watched them talking, their lips moving but making no sound. They looked strange, like they weren’t really there. The moon shone through them, making a ghostly effect.

Suddenly Mary looked my way. I must have made a sound. She dismounted, and walked over to me. I stood up, wiping the tears from my eyes. She smiled softly.

"Wes," she said in her dear voice. "You’re blaming yourself for my death. That isn’t right. It wasn’t your fault."

"If I’d only stopped you…" I choked out.

"You couldn’t have stopped me," she said. "You know how I get when I want to do something." I smiled weakly "Wes," she said, looking directly into my eyes. "You need to go and be happy. Take my stuff, and settle down." She silenced my cry of protest with her ghostly hand. "Marry some nice girl, and live out your life as a law abiding citizen," she smiled, "I know you’ve always hated doing what we did."

‘I can’t marry another woman’, I thought.

"Yes, you can," she said, as if reading my thoughts. I blushed. Did she know, then? "Yes," she said, smiling slightly. "You men are so transparent." She looked down at her own body, and snorted. "Then again, so am I. Wes," her face was suddenly serious. "In a different circumstance, you know, I would have loved you."

I smiled weakly at her, and she smiled back, walking back to her horse, and Bess, who had climbed out the window, and was waiting. I watched with wet eyes as she re-mounted her horse, and airily saluting me, she galloped off with Bess holding tightly around her waist.

"Love conquers all," I whispered as I walked off to begin my new life.

The End

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