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The Hessian

From the personal journals of Mikanostinocolai, timelord

Chapter 3

I struggled into my cloak as I hurried past the revellers, out of the hotel and into the street.  It was dark and windy, and the cold stung clean through my heavy clothing.  Still, I come from an arctic planet and actually enjoyed the sensation.  I paused beneath an oil lamp, trying to get my bearings and see where the man could have gone.  I spotted him some ways up the street and ran after him.  As I saw him round a corner I stopped.  I had an idea.  I turned down an alleyway, hoping to cut him off.  I slowed my pace and put my head down as if sheltering it from the biting winter wind.  It was in this manner that I deliberately "accidentally" bumped into him.

"I beg your pardon, ma'am..." he began.  Then I looked up and smiled, the hood of my cloak blowing away from my face.  "So it is you again."

"I'm sorry, sir," I said.  "I wasn't watching where I was going."

"Yes, this wind.  Well, you had better get out of it or you shall catch your death."  He began looking for somewhere to put me, I gathered.  "Here, this will do."  He took me by the arm and ushered me through a door into a small eatery.  There were only a couple of people here and the barmaid didn't seem to even notice us.  He found us a small table in a dark corner and left me to procure a couple of drinks at the bar.

"What the devil do you mean by going about after dark?  Do you not know that it is dangerous here?" he admonished me as he set the glasses down on the table.

I merely smiled and slowly removed my gloves, dropping one in the process.  Instinctively, he reached down and picked it up.  Our hands brushed as he handed it to me.  "Your hands... they are so warm," he marvelled.  "Who are you?  And why do you keep following me?"  He was perceptive too.

"My name is Mika.  And I am... interested in you.  The girl at the hostelry says you are dangerous and evil.  But I don't think so.  I wanted to find out the truth.  Is that so wrong?" I gave him my full 'innocent' look.

"You should have listened to their warnings," he scoffed, taking a big swig of his lager.  I politely sipped the brandy he had ordered for me.  It was actually quite good.

"Why?" I asked.  "You have been nothing but kind to me.  Why should I fear you?  Do you want me to?"

He looked at me with those deep blue eyes of his.  "No," he said quietly.  "In spite of what people say, I mean them no harm."

I smiled sweetly.  "I know.  Now, I can't keep calling you 'sir'..." I hinted.

The man actually chuckled.  "Wilhelm... My name is Wilhelm DerRighur.  But it is a name that is best forgotten.  I wish I could forget it..." his voice dropped to almost imperceptible.

"Why?" I asked simply.  I reached out with my ungloved hand and placed it lightly upon his.  You would have thought my touch hot as coals the way he reacted.  Clearly, here was a man unused to kindness in even the smallest form.  I looked into his eyes as he fought in his mind for what to say.  He knew that others would scorn me for associating with him, yet he wanted me to stay and talk... he craved that which those 'others' had denied him for so long.

"Why do you not hate me like the others?  Surely they have told you my story?" he said at last.

"I have heard what they believe.  Now I would like to hear the truth from you."  I sat back and sipped my brandy, waiting for him to speak.

It was some time coming, but eventually he told me his sad tale, and it was much the same as the innkeeper's daughter had told me.  The cruelty with which the townspeople had treated him angered me with every incident he related.  He had grown up alone on the streets of the town, no one daring to take him in even if so-inclined, such was the mutual ostracization of this poor fellow.  So it was with great hardship and fortitude that he had grown up at all.  No wonder, then, that his heart had hardened toward his fellow man and he had turned to soldiering.  He was an officer in the Hesse-Kassel Corps and would eventually be sent to fight alongside the English troops in the Colonies in the American Revolutionary War.

When his tale was done, I remarked how noble he must be to have managed all this time on his own, succeeding in spite of all the townspeople had done.  Then I asked, "Why did you not leave this town for another, and perhaps found more favour there?"

He seemed to consider this carefully for a moment.  "I don't know.  Perhaps because I did not know any better.  Perhaps I had always hoped that some day the people of my own birthplace would accept me.  Perhaps I just wished one of them would kill me and get it over with."

"Don't say that," I gasped, reaching again for his hand.  This time he did not pull away.  "Life is precious, we must..." I began, but I didn't get to finish.  Just then a troop of soldiers burst into the pub, struggling to shut the door behind them, so fierce had the cold winter wind become.  They were loud and boisterous and Wilhelm regarded them with an icy stare.

"Wench! Wench!" the Captain of the guard shouted, banging a heavy fist upon the bar.  "Ale for me and my men!"   His men gathered around him at the bar, accepting the hastily-drawn mugs of ale that the flustered barmaid handed them.  Then one soldier turned and surveyed his surroundings.  It wasn't long before he spotted us.

"Well, look what we have here, men," he sneered in our direction.  "If it isn't our old friend the chopper's son.  Chopped any heads lately, old man?" he laughed disgustingly.

I eyed my companion, the hatred flaring in his nostrils and his eyes.  I'm sure he was quite used to this by now, but that didn't make it any easier to withstand.  I strengthened my grip on his hand to stay him.  Fighting was not the answer.  My eyes said that I thought it best if we left.

"What's wrong, Chopper?" another drunken soldier sidled over.  "I see you finally found ye a wench.  Does she not know about your father, Satan?"

DerRighur stood suddenly to confront the man, the fire that I had seen back in Sleepy Hollow burning ferociously behind the blue of his eyes.  "Stop it," I shouted to the soldier, silencing everyone in the place.  "Leave him be.  He's done you no harm."  I waited to see what they would do.  Making eye contact with the man, I subliminally persuaded him to go away and to take his comrades with him.  Being drunk, it wasn't as effective as I would have hoped, still, he at least staggered off to rejoin his compatriots.  Quickly, before anything else could start up, I took DerRighur by the hand and led him out.

We traversed the snowy, windblown streets in silence, heading back to my hotel.  The hour was late and the lobby was quiet, only a single drunken guest was passed out on the bench by the door.  We made our way to the corner where there was a small sofa in front of the fire.  I stoked it and added some wood then removed my cloak.  I sat down and beckoned DerRighur to join me.

"Why did you defend me?" he asked, genuinely stupefied that I would do such a thing.

"Why not?" I replied.  "They were drunk and in the wrong.  They had no right to treat you like that."

He shook his head and stared at me.  "You are a strange creature, Lady Mika.  But you are the only person in my entire life that has shown me kindness, and for that I am most grateful."

His words touched me to no end.  I smiled then turned to stare into the fire.  Where was this going?  I had hoped to set things right and prevent him from becoming the monster that haunted the New York countryside some twenty years later.  But was it the right thing to do?  Was it even possible?  I had always been told that history could never be changed, only participated in or observed.  But I was far from merely observing these events.  Did that mean that I was a part of it?  Would my attempts succeed in preventing the tragedy?  Or would they be the cause?  Either way, I had to keep going to find out.  I decided to follow my hearts.

***

We spoke at some length that night.  We talked of the past, of the present, and even of the future.  I learned much about him and he learned as much about me as I dared to tell.  Only the clock chiming the late hour told us that it was time to be going.  He rose and took my hand, kissing it gently as any other gentleman would.  I started to see him to the door, but he shook his head and smiled, beckoning me to stay seated where I was.  He wanted to remember me just as I was.  Then, with a flourish of his cloak, he was gone.

I sat for some time alone by the fire, watching the embers as they died out one by one.  What had he meant by wanting to remember me?  Surely it wasn't goodbye.  Not yet, not when we had so much more ahead of us.   A small sound behind me rousted me from my thoughts.  I turned to see Greta, the innkeeper's daughter and serving girl, her finger to her lips approaching me from the darkness.  She was dressed in her nightgown and cap and had apparently been awakened when we had come in, only she had waited until DerRighur had left before making her presence known.

"Father would skin both of us if he knew that man was in here," she began.  I started to protest, but she stopped me with a grin.  Placing the candle she carried on the mantle, she bent to stir the embers, coaxing the last bit of heat from them.  "But don't worry, I won't breathe a word."

"Why not?" I wondered curiously.

"I saw you together.  I heard his gentle voice and his sad story.  He is not a monster as everyone believes... and I am ashamed for listening to them."  She sat next to me and took my hands.  "He is a kind man after all and I fear we have done him grievous wrong.  But I shan't anymore.  You may consider me a friend to you both.  Ask anything of me and I shall comply.  It is the very least I can do.  I only wish the entire town could see him as you and I do."

I thanked the young girl with full hearts and a grateful smile.  "But now we must be off to bed.  'Tis nearly time for father to rise and for me to begin my chores.  It would not do for him to find us both up and gossiping."  I agreed and bid Greta goodnight, carefully ascending the stairs so as not to wake anyone.  I readied for bed and lay there, sleepless.  I had much on my mind and in my hearts.

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