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My short story “Richard and the Seven Brigands” is based on the Legend of Perseus. The Legend of Perseus is the oldest fairytale in the world. 




  The villagers told Richard that only Norna knew where the brigands were keeping Cynthia. They also told him that if he looked directly at Norna he would be turned to stone. Ordinarily Richard had no time for village superstitions. Unfortunately, his time was running out. So were his options.


     Norna was an old woman, reputed to be a witch, who lived by herself in a cottage in the woods. She supported herself by spinning yarn. None of the villagers in Wodensdale knew Norna. They only knew that she had always lived there. She seemed to know everything.


     One of the villagers gave Richard an old, ornate hand mirror and the advice, “If you look at Norna’s reflection in this you will be safe, Sir.”


     “Many thanks,” Richard said. “How can I find Norna’s cottage?”


     “On the other side of Lord de Boinville’s manor house you will find a path seldom trodden on. Follow that.”


     Richard did as advised, walking through a wooded area that looked as though it had never been cleared. When he finally saw a cottage that looked as old as the woods he knocked on the door, and turned around, looking at the door through the mirror. “Who is it who knocks?” came the sound of an old woman’s voice.


     “I am Richard Crawford. I teach at the village school. I live in the vicarage with Vicar Wedgewood.”


     “Why do you disturb me at this time?”


     A canting crew of seven brigands has kidnapped Cynthia de Boinville. The villagers have told me you might know where they are keeping her.”


     Norna opened the door. Through the mirror she looked timeless “Wait for Edgar Smallwood to pay the ransom,” she said.” That is safer.”


     “He got the ransom note yesterday. Lord Johnnie is the upright man of the brigands. He demanded over half of Edgar’s patrimony. When Edgar read that he got drunk in the village inn. He left Wodensdale this morning.”  


     “Why do you care about Cynthia? She is not your betrothed.”


     “She loves me and I love her. We were going to elope, get married, and move to Canada. Then we learned that the de Boinville estate is badly in debt. If the family loses the estate, the villagers will be evicted. Their forefathers have lived here for centuries. They know no other way of life. I know what it is like to work in a factory. Edgar Smallwood’s father owns coal mines. He offered to pay off the debts.”


     “The brigands are keeping Cynthia at the top of Thunors Pike,” Norna said, naming the small mountain that overlooked Wodensdale. “They have not violated her yet. They will in three days if the ransom is not paid. Lord Johnnie will go first. Then the others will enjoy her. She just turned twenty. That will be a bad wedding night for her. Then they will kill her.”


     “You make me so angry I want to run to the top of Thunor’s Pike right now,” Richard said.


     “What good will you do Cynthia by getting killed?” Norna asked. “The Duke of Wellington did not defeat Napoleon that way. Lord Johnnie has already bested you in a fist fight. You must use surprise. Follow the creek that goes through Wodensdale. It has its source near the top of Thunors Pike. Where it goes into the mountain, the brigands have their camp. Attack at dawn when they are asleep, but you can see.”


     Norna went back into her cottage and came out with a dagger. “Take this,” she said giving it to Richard. “It is a good stabbing knife. It is a good throwing knife.”


     “Thank you. This will help.”


     Richard walked back to Wodensdale, and entered his room in the Vicarage.


     Lord Johnnie had no pity for Cynthia. He got his name because he looked aristocratic. Nevertheless, he hated all aristocrats, especially his father. His father forced his mother when she was his servant girl. When Lord Johnnie’s mother got pregnant, his father fired her to please his wife. He never did anything to help Lord Johnnie and his mother.


     Lord Johnnie admired the French Revolution. He wanted something like that in England. He wanted to watch his father die on the guillotine. 


     At the camp of the canting crew Lord Johnnie gathered the brigands. “If Edgar Smallwood pays the ransom we will be rich,” he told them. “If he will not pay, we need to keep a guard at the camp every night. We also need to make sure Cynthia does not escape.”


     “Who would attack us?” one of the brigands asked.


     “Richard Crawford.”


     “He could not rescue Cynthia.”


     “No,” Lord Johnnie said, “But he would try. I respect him. After we fought, I found him walking through the woods alone. We talked. Before Richard was born his father was killed keeping his mother from being raped. Two swells were out on the night in search of intrigues. They came into the shop owned by Richard’s father, and grabbed his mother. Richard’s father killed one. The other killed Richard’s father. He was knocked out by an Army veteran who lived upstairs. 


     “Because the swell who killed Richard’s father was the son of a lord he got off with a caning.


     “When Richard was eighteen he challenged the man who killed his father to a duel. He killed him. Because Richard was not a lord, he might have been sentenced to hang. But the judge was a fair man. Because he knew about what had happened to Richard’s father, he gave Richard clemency in return for Richard joining the Army to fight Napoleon.


     “Because of his bravery Richard was given a battlefield commission to lieutenant. Then in a battle in Spain, Richard’s captain ordered Richard to kill three French prisoners. Two were enlisted men. One was an officer. The order was of course illegal. Richard could tell that his captain would kill the prisoners if he did not. He took the prisoners over a hill, where the captain could not see. With his two double barreled pistols he fired three times into the ground. Then he said to the French soldiers, ‘Go back to your lines.’


     “The French officer asked Richard, ‘What is your name Lieutenant?’


     “’Richard Crawford. Why do you ask?”


     “’I would like to thank you some day.’


     “’When you are shooting at us again, aim poorly.’


     “’You are a credit to the British Army,’ the French officer said. He gave Richard a French gold coin. The three French soldiers left. But one of them got a grenade, and threw it into a hospital tent killing several wounded British soldiers. When the French soldier was killed, Richard’s captain denied telling Richard to kill the prisoners. He said Richard’s orders were to take the prisoners to join other French prisoners. The gold coin in Richard’s pocket was considered proof of his guilt.


     “For the second time in his life, Richard was waiting to be hanged.” Lord Johnnie said. “After nine days he was flogged and drummed out of the Army. Richard went to London, and got a job in a factory. Vicar Wedgewood, who had baptized and married Richard’s parents, and baptized Richard, found him there, and offered him a position teaching at the village school.


     “I have fought in the prize ring, but my fight with Richard was one of my toughest fights. I almost lost. I did not expect that. I am taller and heavier than he is. The cove does not look like much, but he knows how to handle his fists.”


     “I like Richard,” Lord Johnnie said, “He hates the swells like I do, but he loves Cynthia. I am afraid of him. He can harm us.”


     In his room in the vicarage Richard cleaned and loaded his two double barreled pistols. He was sharpening his saber when there was a knock at his door. “Yes?” he asked.”


     “Lord de Boinville wants to talk to you,” Vicar Wedgewood told him.


     “Send his Lordship in,” Richard said.


     Lord de Boinville had suffered polio as a boy. He entered, walking with a cane. Richard stood respectfully. “Edgar Smallwood will not pay the ransom,” Lord de Boinville said.


     “I know.”      


     Lord de Boinville looked at the weapons on Richard’s bed, realized what was happening, looked relieved, and said, “I do not deserve this after the way I treated you. You are a better man than I am.”


     “Don’t thank me yet. I expect to be killed. If I do not try, Cynthia will die.”


     “May I sit down?”


     “Of course,” Richard said, getting him a chair. Richard sat on his bed.


     “When I was your age I was in love with your mother,” Lord de Boinville began, “But I am as you see me now. Most women would have chosen me because of my estate and title. Your mother preferred your father. The two of them left Wodensdale to move to London, where your father became a shop keeper. By the time your father was killed I had married someone else. She gave me Cynthia. I helped your mother with some money.”


     “When you came to Wodensdale to teach at the school I could tell that Cynthia loved you. I also knew that I was about to lose the estate. Without it the village would die. So would many of the villagers. I cannot do any more to save my tenants. If you and Cynthia survive this ordeal I give my blessing to your marriage. I will manage somehow. A nobleman with a title can always live on another man’s estate.”


     Lord de Boinville and Richard rose, and shook hands. “God be with you, my son,” Lord De Boinville said.


     Fifteen miles away Captain Phillip McPherson, an old friend of Richard, was approaching Wodensdale with the French officer Richard refused to kill, and two men who had been in Richard’s platoon. They wanted to reach Wodensdale that day, but it was getting late, so they stopped at an inn for the night.


     After the conversation had been lubricated by several pints of ale, the French officer said, “I have told you how difficult it was for me to find out what had happened to Richard Crawford, and to find you, Captain McPherson. Please tell us how you became a friend of his.”


     “I used to be a friend of his father,” Captain McPherson began. “When Richard was a boy I signed him up for boxing lessons. The studio that taught boxing also taught fencing and the use of the quarter staff. He learned those too. Before Richard joined the Army I taught him how to clean, load, and shoot a musket and a pistol. I introduced him to a gunsmith friend of mine named ‘Roger Wayland.’ He made Richard two doubled barreled pistols. When Richard was in the Army I tried to advise him.”


     Back at Wodensdale, when Richard finished sharpening his saber he put it in its scabbard, fastened the scabbard to his waist, and put his two pistols in his belt. Together with the dagger Norna had given him he left the vicarage, and walked along the creek that ran through Wodensdale to find the brigand’s camp. After the sunset, a full moon showed the way, as the creek ran up Thunor’s Pike.


     The next day around noon Captain McPherson, the French officer, and the two enlisted men rode into Wodensdale to see a commotion. Villagers were gathering with muskets and knives. When Captain McPherson asked what was happening, a villager said, “We are going to fight the brigands, Sir. They have killed Richard and Cynthia.”


     The night before, when Richard reached the camp of the brigands he could see several tents by the light of the moon, and a sentry keeping watch. The sentry was drowsy and inattentive. Richard quietly approached the sentry from behind, put his left hand over the sentry’s mouth, and plunged his knife into the sentry’s kidney, killing him.


     When another brigand emerged from a tent Richard threw his knife at his jugular vein. The brigand died in an explosion of blood, and fell back against a tent.


     The brigands were awake. With one of his double barreled pistols Richard shot two brigands, killing them. With his saber Richard killed a fifth brigand.


     Lord Johnnie shot Richard, knocking him down. Before Lord Johnnie could shoot Richard a second time in the heart, Cynthia shot Lord Johnnie in the heart with a pistol that had been dropped by a brigand. Lord Johnnie, the upright man of the canting crew, was dead.


     Cynthia cradled Richard’s head. “Please live,” she said, “I love you so much.”


     “And I love you,” Richard said.


     “What happened to Edgar?” Cynthia asked. 


      “When he received the ransom note from Lord Johnnie he did not want to pay the ransom. He got drunk at the village inn, and left.” 


     “I could not have been a good wife for him. I despised him.”


     “When I was preparing my weapons your father visited me at the vicarage. He told me why he had tried to get you and Edgar married. He said it was dishonorable, but he wanted to save the village and the only life the villagers knew.” Richard paused because it was difficult for him to talk with his wound. “He said he knew that we loved each other, and would give his blessing to our marriage.”  


     As the sun rose, Richard grew weaker from loss of blood. 


     Early in the afternoon Cynthia and Richard, who was still alive, could hear the approach of a group of people. It was Captain McPherson, the French officer, the two men from Richard’s platoon, Norna, and the youngest brigand. He was about fourteen. He had fled when the shooting began. Now his eyes were blackened and swollen. His nose was bleeding. He had been beaten up. Captain McPherson was carrying a stretcher.


     Captain McPherson said, “We thought the villagers would get in the way, if it would be necessary to fight the brigands. As tacitly as I could I asked them to stay behind to guard Wodensdale.” 


     Richard could barely talk. “Philip, I hoped it would be you. I got your letter.”


     “I wish we had come yesterday,” Captain McPherson said. “We could have helped you with the brigands.”


     “We caught this one,” one of the men from Richard’s platoon said, pushing the young brigand forward. “We brought him with us so you can watch him die.” 


     “Don’t kill him,” Cynthia pleaded. “They were going to rape me. He talked them out of it.”


     Richard looked at the two men from his platoon, naming them. “John Carpenter. Henry Baker. Where are the others?” he asked.


     “Waterloo, Sir.”


     Norna looked at Richard’s wound. She cleaned it as best as she could, and put bandages around it, after anointing it with balm. “This is a flesh wound,” she said. “You will recover. Take this potion. It will reduce the pain, and help you sleep. Everyone can look at me now. You broke the spell by trusting me.”


     As Richard grew sleepy, he saw the French officer. “You look familiar,” he said.


     “I hope so,” the French officer said. “I can never forget you. You saved my life. My father was a rich merchant. His other two sons were killed in the War. In his will Father set aside a large sum of money for you, if I could find you. It is enough to pay off the debts of the de Boinville estate, and invest in new farm equipment. None of the villagers will have to leave. You and I have saved Wodensdale.”


     After Richard dozed off from Norna’s potion he was gently put on the stretcher, and carried down to the foot of Thunors Pike. They placed him on a wagon, and took him back to the village.   


     The six killed brigands were buried in a mass grave in the village churchyard, and given a Christian burial from The Book of Common Prayer.


     When Richard recovered from his wound there was a wedding ceremony in the village church. Vicar Wedgewood presided. The villagers were present, along with Lord deBoinville, the French officer Richard refused to kill the fourteen year old brigand who survived, Capt. McPherson, John Carpenter, Henry Baker, and Norna. Capt. McPherson, John Carpenter, and Henry wore their Army uniforms. Roger Wayland was also present. Edgar Smallwood attended as an uninvited guest.


     When Vicar Wedgwood read from the Book of Common Prayer:

“It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have the other, both in prosperity and in adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come not to be joined. Therefore, if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak or else hereafter forever hold his peace.”


     Edgar Smallwood stood up and said, “Cynthia was promised to me in marriage. I demand that the promise be kept.”


     Richard was amused, “Welcome to my wedding to Cynthia, Edgar. I am sorry that you missed the rescue. I could have used your help against the brigands.”


     Cynthia was not amused. “Eric, you are the most detestable person I have ever known. You have plenty of nerve, but no shame.”


     Lord deBoinville said, “Edgar, agreeing to have Cynthia marry you was the hardest decision I ever made, and the one I most regret.”


     The French officer said, “Edgar go away. Wodensdale does not need your blood money.”


     Norna said, “Edgar, you deserve to be turned to stone.”


     Because Edgar showed no willingness to leave John Carpenter and Henry Baker led him outside, punched him a few times to get their message across, and warned him against reentering the church.


     Without further interruption Richard and Cynthia said their “I do’s.” Richard gave to Cynthia her wedding ring and said, “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen''


     When the wedding ceremony was complete, the members of the congregation walked to De Boinville manor house for a reception. They were relieved that Edgar Smallwood had left.


     Years later Richard Crawford became the squire of Wodensdale. Earlier he had been knighted for his service in the British Army.


                                  The End      


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