It was early morning. The sun had not but risen above the horizon by the time the small carriage had reached mid-highway to its destination.
Frost lined the grasses beside the road, glittering coldly as the sun touched them. A crisp wind leaked into the carriage.
Four people lined the seats inside, keeping to themselves and shivering beneath their coats.
The youngest, a woman just out of her teens, sat facing the back of the carriage, watching the road disappear behind them, her hands tucked to warm themselves under a basket of food.
Beside her, her father let out a faint cough. He was skinny, balding slightly, and looked as though he'd had a bit too much to drink without a proper ration of food to carry him through the meal. A shabby brown coat hung over his shoulders.
Across from them sat an old couple. Neither spoke nor looked up from their laps. They were dressed as great likenesses of each other. Worn grey coats melded together between them while hair to match curled thinly off their heads.
The young woman's father was the first to speak, shifting his coat as he did so.
"Good morning," he smiled at the old man sitting in front of him.
The man looked up and attempted a tired nod. "Good morning."
"What're you going into town today for?"
The old woman smiled, "We're going to see our daughter and hers. We got word last night that we're grandparents." She looked warmer just sharing the news.
"Congratulations," the father smiled.
"We've been waiting to hear from them for several weeks now. They sent us a letter last night, so we waited to leave till the morning."
"That's the safest way to do it," the old man nodded seriously. "If you travel at night you'll be in danger of a robber coming up on you."
There was silence between them.
"What're you going in for then?" The old man asked the first.
"We're going into town to…" the father thought. "Move some money around."
The young woman looked up from her view at the window, "We've packed lunch. It looks like it'll be a nice day. It's my job to keep him out of the pubs."
The old couple laughed.
"Do you know what your granddaughter's name is yet, ma'am?" she asked the older woman.
The woman smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "No need to call me ma'am, miss. I'm Helen. I suppose we should've introduced ourselves when we got in. This is my husband Bernard. And our granddaughter is Fiona."
"That's a beautiful name," the young woman agreed. "I'm Elizabeth."
"Sean," her father introduced, reaching across the carriage to shake Bernard's hand.
As he was settling back into his seat, there was a noise from outside and the carriage began to slow down.
"We can't be there yet," Helen looked concerned. "Maybe we're picking someone up."
Her husband shook his head, "No. We can't fit anymore in here. He knows that."
There were two voices outside. One was the driver. The second was that of another man, his voice deep and calm.
"Could you hold my horse for me?" He asked, a smile playing through his voice. Footsteps neared the carriage door and the man stepped into view. He was dressed finely, a dark maroon coat warming him against the cold and tall leather boots, wet at the bottom from snow. A black, three-point hat rested snuggly atop his tied brown hair. A froth of lace spouting from the neck of the coat completed the image.
"Excuse me," he grinned, climbing into the carriage. "Excuse me."
Elizabeth pressed herself against the wall beside her as the man squeezed uncomfortably between her and her father. He smiled again at the four farmers.
"Nippy isn't it?" He queried.
Elizabeth's father nodded uncertainly, scrutinizing the man who now sat between them. As he was about to ask the man's name, there was a clicking sound and a gun pressed against the girl's head.
The sudden change of situation caught the carriage's occupants off guard. Both old men jumped and the woman let out a small whimper.
Still smiling, the man took the hat from his head and held it out to them. They all looked at it for a moment, uncertain of what to do. He bounced the hat in his palm and glanced from it to each of them.
Bernard was the first to move, reaching into his coat pocket for a few small coins, which he dropped hopefully into the hat. Helen and Sean followed suit.
The thief smiled more broadly now, still bouncing the hat as they all listened to the acquired melodies it had found from the coins within it. He put the gun back into its holster and stooped out into the snow.
"Thank you," he nodded, turning back to them. "You've been a gratuitous audience this morning. God bless." And with that he disappeared.
Four footsteps away, he stopped, backtracked, and reappeared at the carriage door.
He was silent for a moment, then turned to Elizabeth. His eyes fell to the basket of food resting on her lap. "You wouldn't happen to have an apple in there would you?"
She blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"Apple," he repeated, taking a sword from his side and jabbing the basket lightly.
Reaching her hand tentatively into the food, Elizabeth found what he had requested and raised it towards him. She took her hand quickly back as he speared his prize on the sword's tip.
"And a most honorable thanks to you, m'lady."