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The Flower & The Serpent

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A fiery early-morning sun rose over the rolling hills outside Winterset, Iowa. Reddish hues and wisps of orange clouds danced through the sky as dawn neared by the hour. The air was cool, the sunrise having not yet had a chance to warm the land below. As Maebh and William steered their horses down the path to camp, the sight of the familiar tents in the distance allowed her to release a breath she had not realised she was holding. Despite the unplanned detour after the heist, they had made it home. She had her brother and she had the money. More importantly, they were safe.

“It feels good to be back,” William said, the relief evident in his tone. His shoulders relaxed as he settled into the saddle and threw a glance his sister’s way. “We made it back together and unharmed as always.”

The smile she offered him was one for his eyes only. “We make quite a team. Hopefully Arthur and Marston made it back too.”

“I’m sure they did. There’s no way a couple’a little random outlaws stopped them from gettin’ home.”

As they veered the animals towards the hitching posts, they heard Dutch’s voice welcome them back. “Hennigans! There you are!”

They hopped off their horses, not before giving them both a carrot for a job well done, then turned to face Dutch, who was already by their side.

“You found your way home,” he noted proudly before announcing their return to the whole camp, uncaring of those who may have been resting. “Everyone! Maebh and William are back!”

“Arthur and John—?”

“Are fine, Miss Maebh. They’re safe and sound in their tents. Just got in a little bit before ya.”

From around the campfire, Hosea and Karen approached to offer them a warm welcome back, and from out of their respective tents came their partners from the robbery. When Maebh saw her friends coming towards her without visible ailments, a warm sense of happiness washed over her. Arthur pushed through first, grinning at the sight of them. “Are you two alright?”

“We’re fine,” she assured him before turning the question around. “Are you?”

He waved an arm about as if he was unsure as to how he could greet her. She related to his uncertainty, pushing away the urge to embrace him and make sure he was indeed well. “Yeah, o’course. We weren’t in long ahead of y’all.”

“Well I’m glad you’re alright.”

Just then, John made his arrival known. Managing to slink his way through the crowd, he grinned at the sight of the siblings. “You took your time.”

William gave him a clap on the shoulder. “It’s good to see you too, Marston. Hope we didn’t worry you’s too much.”

Dutch shook his head. “We didn’t have any doubts about you makin’ it back to us.”

“We’ve got the money too!” Maebh proudly took the money from her saddle and offered it to Dutch. “We didn’t forget that.”

“While I appreciate the honesty,” Dutch began, laying a large hand on her shoulder. “My concerns are with you instead of the money. How ’bout you leave those bags in your tent and we’ll worry ’bout splittin’ it all in the afternoon. For now, you four should get somethin’ to eat and some sleep. Someone grab these folks some leftovers!”

More than willing to take Dutch’s advice, she and William were happy to be given some soup and bread to fill their empty stomachs after a long ride. Arthur and John stayed by their side as they grabbed a meal, already laughing over William’s choice of distraction for the heist. Despite it being at John’s expense and surprise, he seemed to find it somewhat amusing, but perhaps his willingness to laugh at himself was heightened by his joy in the entire event going to plan. All Maebh knew for sure was that she had found her way back to her friends and was safe once more.

 

* * *

 

16th of September, 1893, outside Winterset, Iowa.

The train heist went mostly as planned last night, bar the fact we ran into another group of robbers after the fact. I didn’t recognise them — although I didn’t get a good look at them neither — but it seems we weren’t the only ones eying up that take. Regardless, I am merely glad that we all made it out in one piece and with the money on our backs. The more I see of the Hennigans in action, the more faith I put in them. They may be young, but they work hard and seem eager to do what they can to help out the gang. I hope that we can someday share these memories around a campfire and reminisce about their early days in our company. I really think they’re gonna make a name for themselves in years to come.

While I was away, another lost soul joined our gang. A big gruff feller by the name of Bill Williamson. I have only spoken to him sparingly, but he seems eager to impress Dutch and show his usefulness. I have, however, seen him in a stake of drunkenness more frequently than being sober. Dutch says he was dishonourably discharged from the army and had been sleeping rough the last while, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. According to Maebh, he threatened to shoot Copper when they met… He’s gonna have to work hard to gain my trust now.

 

* * *

 

William and John were arguing with each other, as per usual. Arthur looked up from his journal to see the young men talking animatedly, though it didn’t look like it was about to break out into a fight. He stretched his arms with a groan and tried to wake himself up properly after his short nap. Admittedly curious as to what they were at each other’s throats for this time, he shut his journal and approached the pair.

“Do you two have to yell at each other every damn day?”

William and John looked up at his accusation while the former addressed him first. “When Marston here insists on makin’ dumb accusations, yes.”

John rolled his eyes. “Dumb? You’re so full’a shit.”

“What accusations?” Arthur pressed, unwilling to let them descend into arguing again.

William crossed his arms over his broad chest. “He thinks he can beat me in a race.”

“Maybe because I can?

“The word you’re lookin’ for is ‘can’t’. Can’t.”

“You two interrupted my peaceful afternoon ’cause you’re arguin’ over who is the better rider?

The energetic reply came from both men this time. “Yes!

At that moment, Maebh came over, rubbing her tired eyes and glaring at her friends. “Would you’s ever give it a bloody rest, I swear to God… I was sleepin’. Yis are worse than women.”

“These two are arguin’ over which of ’em can beat the other in a race,” Arthur clarified, clasping his hands around his belt buckle. “Apparently it’s very important.”

“It is very important,” William insisted. “I’ll be dead in the ground before anyone claims Marston is a better rider than me.”

John folded his arms across his chest. “If you’re so damn sure’a yourself, let’s have ourselves a race.”

Arthur’s brow piqued as he glance at the Hennigan brother, his green eyes narrowing at the suggestion. “A race, is it? Right now?”

“Right now, Willie. Unless you’re afraid I’m gonna beat ya.”

Afraid? Nah, I’d just hate to embarrass ye, Johnny. How ’bout we make it more interestin’?”

“I’m listenin’.”

The Irish man fiddled with his moustache, appearing more devious than usual thanks to this new facial feature. “If I win, I get to cut your hair.”

John frowned immediately. “I ain’t lettin’ you anywhere near my hair.”

“What’s the problem? It shouldn’t make a difference to you if you know you can win.”

“He’s got you there, John,” Arthur added, tactically poking the fire. “I thought you was confident?”

John, sensing that there were no arguments to be had, conceded. “Fine. If you win, you get to cut my hair, but if I win, I get that nice Litchfield you got in your tent.”

“You got yourself a deal, greasy. Let’s do it.”

Arthur noticed Maebh rolling her eyes as some of the others approached. Mac and Davey walked up to them to ask what exactly all the fuss was about.

“These two are gonna race each other,” Arthur explained casually. “They’ve been arguin’ all mornin’ ’bout it.”

“Yeah, I heard some’a that argument,” Davey answered with a wry grin. “They gonna race now?”

“Apparently…”

“We gotta take bets,” Mac insisted with enthusiasm. “So we can finally benefit from all their fightin’.”

“Bets?” Arthur repeated, liking the sound of the idea. He gave Maebh a gentle nudge with his shoulder. “What you think?”

Maebh met his gaze and flashed him a small but mischievous smile. “Make a little bit of money off their constant bickerin’ while watchin’ Marston get beat? Sounds good to me.”

Her dig grabbed John’s attention. “You’re a cruel one, Maebh. Mighty cruel.”

“She may be cruel, John, but she’s right,” Hosea declared. The older man sat nearby at a table, casually reading a newspaper while keeping tabs on the development. “William is most definitely the better rider.”

“Right,” William began before digging into his pocket and pulling out three dollars. He set it down on the table and turned to the group. “I’m startin’ this off by bettin’ on myself. Who wants in?”

“You heard the boy,” Hosea replied, nodding to the money. Ever the conman and ever the seeker of opportunity. “Time to place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. Who wants to earn some cash?”

“Me,” Maebh joined in, tossing another three dollars on the table. “On William to win, Mister Matthews.”

By now, Bill and Karen had also inserted themselves into the interaction. The sight of cash being thrown on the table and Hosea taking down names was enough to pique their interest. Apparently Williamson had other loves bar alcohol…

As everyone went up one by one and placed money on either John or William, Arthur joined in and bet some of his own cash, but chose to keep his bet to himself. The group walked out to the main road outside of camp, eager to get the race underway. While William and John lead Dantès and Applejack along with them, Hosea explained the rules of the race and which route they would take with gusto. “We’re going to go for one lap, boys, and only one. You’re followin’ the road north, then comin’ on to the first bend towards the right that loops around the hill. Follow the tree line back down south, then skip through that field to come back on to the road you started on. This tree here will act as our startin’ and finishin’ line, alright?” As the two racers confirmed that they followed, Hosea continued on. “Now I want you two to start back here from these rocks, and bring your horses up towards the starting line in a canter. Then, when I give the signal, you can push them into a gallop.”

Following their instructions obediently, William and John lead their horses a few yards down the road to the rocks Hosea had pointed out. The small crowd of outlaws gathered beside the starting line, eagerly waiting for the race to begin. Arthur watched Maebh closely, for she seemed a little more reserved than the others. Perhaps it was an expression of quiet confidence in her brother rather than one of worry.

The men, having been given Hosea’s signal, trotted up towards the group, determined expressions covering their youthful faces. With a wave of his hand and a cry from the older man, the boys kicked their horses into a thundering gallop. Arthur cheered them on as they sped up the road, kicking up dirt and dust in their wake. His eyes followed them as they looped around the hill, pushing their horses as hard as they could go. It was a close  one — very close. The closer they got to the finish line, the louder the group of friends cheered and clapped, urging the racer on whom they had placed money. John seemed to have the edge by only a couple feet, and yet William seemed unfazed by his position. As the horses raced back to the road on which they began, Dantès seemed to get a second wind. William pushed the horse onwards and slightly ahead of his rival with a flurry of precise kicks with his heels and cries urging him to overtake the other animal. The rhythmic thumping of their hooves grew closer and closer, until they once more crossed the tree line. William cleared it by about three feet ahead of John, and one half of the group erupted into cheers.

Arthur couldn’t help but smile as William and John brought their horses to a skidding halt.

“Good race, Marston,” the former said, patting Dantès neck affectionately. “It was a close one.”

John grumbled, visibly frustrated with the loss. “I almost had it, goddamnit...”

“I did warn you.”

Hosea approaches the pair with a wide smile. “Good job, boys, and well done to William, our winner! Everyone who bet money on Hennigan, come get your winnin’s.”

Maebh immediately approached once she flashed William a proud smile and gave his outstretched hand a squeeze. Karen claimed her cash with a word of thanks thrown in the young man’s direction. Hosea happily took his own share before he threw Arthur a look. With an awakened shrug of his shoulders, Arthur accepted the money he had won, sensing Maebh’s eyes on him.

“I thought you would’ve bet on Marston,” she admitted, pleasantly surprised with the surprise. “You bet on William to win?”

Before Arthur could even answer her, John yelled defiantly from his saddle. “What the hell, Morgan?”

“Oh, pipe down, Marston,” he grunted dismissively. “It ain’t nothin’ personal — the kid is a better rider!”

“Jaysus,” William exclaimed. “Your own brother bet against you. That’s harsh... Cheers, Arthur!”

“Don’t make it worse, kid!”

“Nah, I’ll only be doin’ that when I get to cut his hair.”

John released a groan, hanging his head in defeat, hair masking his face from the outside world. “You gotta be kiddin’ me.”

“A bet’s a bet.”

As William contemplated as to what style he would like John’s hair to be in, Maebh approached Arthur and murmured. “I really thought you’d bet on Marston.”

Arthur looked down at her in amusement. “How come?”

“Well, out of a sense of loyalty, I guess.”

He threw the younger men a cautious glance to make sure they weren’t listening. “Look, I’ll support John in whatever he wants to do, but I ain’t about to lose money on him.”

She seemed to find his answer humorous. “Dutch wouldn’t be amused with your lack of loyalty, Arthur.”

“What Dutch don’t know can’t hurt him.”

“That’s true, I suppose. What do you plan on spendin’ your slightly tainted winnin’s on?”

“Huh.” He pondered the query, realising he hadn’t actually thought too far ahead with this outcome. “I ain’t sure. I might just head into Winterset and have a look ’round the general store.”

“D’you mind if I come with?” she asked, a glint in her eye. “I think I’d like to do the same thing.”

How could he even attempt to refuse her company? Not that he even wanted to.

They had asked William, Hosea, and Karen if they wanted to join them considering they had also won big thanks to the young man, but their offer was politely declined. With no one else in the right form to be spending more money, Arthur and Maebh mounted their horses and made for the town. It was a short ride, one filled with idle conversation about the race and what was to become of John’s beloved hair. She said something about how a wash and a cut would do him some good, which may have been a low blow, but it certainly wasn’t a lie.

In town, they hitched their horse outside the general store and walked inside. The owner stood by a shelf, counting his stock and writing down figures into a notebook. Upon hearing them enter, he offered them a polite smile. “It is good to see you again, Miss. And you, Mister.”

“I hope business is good?” Arthur offered politely, nodding his head in greeting.

“Stable at the moment, so I’m happy. What can I do for y’all?”

“Just havin’ a browse,” Maebh replied. “We’ve money to spend, but we’re not sure on what.”

“Well, if y’all need a hand, just holler.”

Arthur noticed Maebh veering off to look over each shelf in the shop. He scratched his stubbly chin while studying a bottle of bourbon on the shelf. He contemplated buying it for a brief moment before seeing his friend studying a display of secondhand books. He recalled the conversation they had had weeks ago in which she expressed her love for stories and writing her own tales. It was a pastime that made her happy, and one she had yet to explore again as far as he knew. His eyes darted between the bourbon on the shelf and her back as she brought a book up to the counter.

Paying for it quickly, she stuffed it into her bag and joined him. “Thinkin’ of spoilin’ yourself?”

“Uh, maybe,” he answered before nodding at the door. “I ain’t decided yet. I can meet you outside once I make up my mind.”

He was relieved when she didn’t argue and left him to mull over his choice alone. Once out of sight, he wandered over to the shelf she had been pursuing and found what he was looking for. On the middle shelf was a bunch of leather-bound blank journals, thick with good quality paper and numerous pages. He flickered through the book, testing the paper between his thumb and forefinger before shutting it again. From a cup on the lower shelf he grabbed two pencils and, happy with his choice, went to the counter. As he handed over the money needed, the owner grinned at him beneath his facial hair and wished him a good day.

Outside, Maebh sat on a bench and casually munched on some biscuits she had brought along. She greeted him by offering the packet. “You were quicker than I thought you’d be.”

He waved away her gesture. “Yeah well, I realised what I needed quicker than I thought I would.”

“C’mon, Arthur. You have me waitin’ with bated breath!”

He paused and awkwardly cleared his throat. He had planned on doing this later, but found himself crumbling at her curiosity. He reached into his satchel and pulled out his purchases. “I, uh, got you these.”

He held the journal and pencils out to her, but she visibly hesitated. “You what?”

“Well, when I was in there, I remembered what you said ’bout how you used to write stories as a kid. I figured this might set you off on the right foot. Go on, take ’em. They’re yours.”

There was a short silence between them, in which it seemed like Maebh was trying to figure out what to say. At his encouragement, she carefully took the journal and pencils in her hands. Her eyes gazed at the new book in wonder. “Arthur, this is... This is really thoughtful of you. Thank you.”

“Don’t worry ’bout it. It’s just somethin’ small.” He shrugged off her appreciation. Even still, the sight of her so truly enraptured by his gift made him feel surprisingly joyful. Inside his chest, which had been previously tight with worry before his reveal, was now warm and relaxed having thankfully received only appreciation.

“No really,” she insisted, flicking through its pages. “This was very kind of you. Although now this is a little awkward...”

He blinked, feeling his stomach about to drop in his now tensing gut. “What?”

“I uh…” She let out a huffed chuckled and reached into her satchel. “I got these for you too.”

In her hands was another leather-bound journal accompanied by some pencils. She held it out to him and he blinked at her in surprise.

“Why do you look like a deer that caught sight of a cougar?” she asked, trying to hide the small smile on her lips.

“I don’t.”

“You do, actually.”

“You…” He stood up straighter before gently taking the gifts. His fingers gently caressed the book’s spine. “Got these for me?”

“Yeah. I guess we need to hang out less. I know you told me you like keepin’ a journal, but I also noticed you sketchin’ some of the horses the other day.” Arthur quickly looked up from the journal to see her shrug. “I wasn’t watchin’ you or anythin’ like that! I just noticed as I was brushin’ Dullahan. I definitely didn’t want to disturb you while you were drawin’, so I kept it to myself. You told me before how important it is to keep up those hobbies, so I figured you could do with some extra pencils and paper. Maybe someday you can show me some of your sketches, and I can show you some of my stories, right?”

Though slightly miffed with having had her figure out his mostly secret pastime, he couldn’t help but be grateful for her thoughtful present. “Now I understand why you said it was awkward.”

“At least no one else was here to witness the awkwardness.”

“Right you are.” He offered her a bashful smile before placing his new items in his bag. “Thank you, Maebh. This was mighty kind of you.”

“I could say the same thing ’bout you,” she laughed and tipped her hat. “I’ll be sure to make good use of it.”

“Me too. Now let’s head back to camp before we make things more awkward.”

 

* * *

 

The whistling was what woke Maebh up that night. Whistling and footsteps.

The eery noise carried through the cool night air and into her tent, tearing her and William from a restless sleep. Rubbing the grime from her eyes in irritation, she had half a mind to tell whoever was awake at this hour to shut up and leave them to their rest. However, it seemed like William was going to beat her to it.

“I’ll sock whoever that is,” he grumbled and pulled back the tent’s flap. “The neck of them.”

“What’s the bets it’s Uncle with a bottle of bourbon in hand?” she pondered groggily. When her brother didn’t reply, she sat up on her bedroll to see him still standing and peering out into camp. “Who is it?”

He hesitated, his shoulders tense under his union suit, and answered lowly. “I’m not sure.”

The whistling and walking halted before a calm and surprisingly soft voice sounded from outside. The accent was distinctly recognisable to them as Welsh. “Rise and shine gentlemen!”

Sensing in her gut that something was direly wrong, Maebh quickly went to her brother’s side. She squinted and looked through the darkness to find a man stood in the centre of camp. He was well dressed and oddly calm for someone trespassing in a camp full of outlaws, but that wasn’t even the most worrying part.

“What the hell is he doin’ with that fella?” Maebh asked, her eyes trailing to the weeping man by the stranger’s side. A noose hung around his neck, his hands were tied, and his feet were bare and bloody.

“Nothin’ good,” was all William could manage as others started to ventured out from their tents. He quickly grabbed their pistols and ushered her out. “Come on.”

All of the gang came armed and wary. Dutch was at the forefront, with an angry Arthur and skeptical Hosea either side. One glance around camp confirmed that everyone was there except for Mac, who was supposed to be on guard duty that night.

At first, she was fearful that those who would see her dead from Wisconsin had finally found them, but this man was not one she recognised. He looked older than Arthur, perhaps around Dutch’s age, lines framing the skin around his intense blue eyes. He had a strong jaw, dimpled chin, thick eyebrows, and a dark moustache to match. His smiling and handsome features left Maebh feeling a sense of unease she rarely experienced when meeting another person. He dressed well with a clean bowler hat and a dark suit. His attire displayed his wealth without seeming too ostentatious, but his posture was oozing with self-assuredness. He was outnumbered and he didn’t care. The newcomer stood proudly, smiling as the crowd gathered, grasping a lapel of his suit jacket in one hand and the hair of the tied-up man with the other. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that the stranger had beaten his companion about the face, cuts bleeding and features swelling as bruises slowly formed. His nose was visibly broken but already bruised an ageing yellowish-brown. Only then did she realise who he was.

“William,” she whispered lowly. “That’s the lad from the saloon that came on to me. Pádraig wasn’t it? I broke his nose, remember?”

His reply was gruff, his glaring eyes focused directly on who he considered a threat. “Hard to forget him.”

“You chaps have been very naughty,” the stranger announced in a relaxed tone. “Very naughty indeed. That business with the train?” He tutted and turned his focused eyes on Maebh. “And you, Miss Hennigan? Assaulting our poor friend here? Well that’s a particular brand of naughtiness that I take very personally.”

As soon as he addressed her by name, a shiver ran up her spine and she grasped the handle of her gun even tighter. William wasted no time in placing his body a little more in front of hers once the stranger had addressed her directly.

“Who are you, stranger?” Dutch addressed him evenly. “And what business do you have sneakin’ ’round our camp?”

The stranger appeared amused by his comment. “Sneaking? I merely walked down the trail, Mr Van der Linde. I walked by that poor Callander fellow who was merely doing his job. He should wake up soon, but he will find himself with a fine knock on his blonde head.”

Bill, having apparently heard enough, let out a roar and suddenly charged the newcomer. Without an ounce of effort, the man quickly side stepped out of the way and his attacker went half-tumbling into the dirt.

“Mind your temper, Marion. That might get you in even more trouble someday.”

At that admission, Dutch addressed the other Callander brother. “Davey, Reverend Swanson, go get Mac and make sure he’s still alive.”

“Of course he’s alive,” the stranger said with a small chuckle as the two men quickly headed down the trail to check up on the apparently unconscious Mac. “Killing him was of no interest to me.”

“Strangers who attack my family are a helluva interest to me, Mister,” Dutch answered. “What the hell do you want?”

“We’ve been keeping a close eye on you lot since you arrived,” the man explained, tone never once shifting into something that showed concern. “And I have to admit I’m somewhat impressed by the amount of ruckus you’ve managed to cause in such a short time. It is truly spectacular. Were my employer not furious with you, I might even applaud. What an admirable little bit of chaos you’ve wrought.”

“Who the fuck is your ‘employer’?” William asked.

“My employer is none of your concern right now. All you lot need to worry about is the fact that you currently stand on O’Driscoll land.”

“What the hell is an O’Driscoll?” said John, grasping a shotgun wearily. As he spoke, Davey and the reverend came back up the trail, carrying Mac with them. He was out cold but seemingly alive despite the panic. They placed him on his bedroll and quickly began to check him over.

“You should know,” the stranger replied in a clipped voice. “You’ve been meddling in our affairs for the last few weeks and done a number of jobs in our territory. Being a right thorn in our sides, you are. But this will continue no longer. Leave. Now.” He addressed the whole gang, dragging his eyes over each individual so that his words were registered. “You will suffer no consequences if you do, but keep causing us problems, and you’ll lose a lot more than just a watch, Mr Hennigan.”

Maebh’s stomach twisted with the discovery — this was the man who had stolen her brother’s pocket watch from right under their noses. Somehow, he had snuck into camp, stolen it, only to return in the dead of night and leave it for them to rediscover. He had been here before while they all slept, he had laid hands on their personal belongings — who the hell was this guy?

“How did you manage to get in and outta this camp undetected?” Hosea asked. “Someone must’a seen you.”

The stranger shrugged. “Perhaps if Miss Hennigan and Mr Marston took their guard duties a little more seriously you wouldn’t have been left so vulnerable.”

John snarled and quickly raised the shotgun. “One more word outta you and I’ll blow a damn hole in your head!”

Dutch was quick to intervene. “John, you put that damn gun down. Ain’t no one gettin’ shot tonight just yet.” Though it took a few moments, the younger man slowly lowered his weapon with a look of vivid displeasure. Dutch looked at him sternly before continuing. “So you were the one they saw outside camp.”

The Welshman grinned. “Indeed I was, so kind of you to notice. And here I was thinking that you had forgotten all about me.”

The group began to grow more tense each passing minute. The more information that was revealed, the more they realised how heavily their privacy had been invaded without their knowledge. He had gotten their names, snuck into their home, taken their possessions… And now, he was kicking them off this apparent ‘O’Driscoll land’. What else had he done? What else could he do? Maebh had never seen a smile that set her so on edge.

“I don’t see why we can’t come to some sort of agreement,” Hosea cut in, unwilling to play any games or let the situation spiral further. “Work this out like gentlemen.”

The stranger’s eyes gleamed in the moonlight, a sharp edge of bitterness washing over his structured face in a fraction of a second. “I think you should be more concerned with your wife’s wellbeing, Mr Matthews. And besides, we’ve already come to an agreement. You’re leaving.”

At the mention of his wife’s illness, Hosea visibly tensed, as did Arthur and many of the other gang members. Maebh could feel the rage seething off William next to her, let alone the furious hammering of her own heart.

Dutch spoke again with much less patience. “This is a free country, Mister.”

“Not for you it’s not. Would you call this being free?” He waved a free hand around camp, eyes wide and wild. “You operate under the guise of helping people but you leave disaster in your wake everywhere you go. You donate half of your take to the poor, but that money is already stolen from those who earned it. I’m sure it makes you feel so high and mighty! Who are you really helping? Yourself? At least I have the decency to admit it. Apparently you even needlessly kill now, Mr Van der Linde; what a development.”

“What’s to stop us from shootin’ you?” their leader replied, shrugging his shoulders. “Puttin’ an end to this right here, right now?

A silence hung in the air while everyone waited for the stranger’s answer. He merely chuckled to himself and responded with confidence. “That would be very unwise. We have enough blood on our hands for today; we’d hate to have to add more.”

Suddenly, the man released his accomplice’s hair and drew a schofield revolver from his hip holster. Almost instantly, everyone in the gang aimed their own weapons at them, no one even hesitating once he had done so. The Welshman seemed amused by the display, holding up his free hand and keeping the gun aimed at the ground. “Oh, Dutch’s Boys do move quickly. Do you all plan on riddling me with a bullet each? This ought to make a great entry in your little diary, Mr. Morgan.” He cleared his throat and spoke in a gruff, southern accent. “Last night, Dutch had us murder this stupid feller who sneaked into camp. Damn bastard never saw it comin’ but we showed him, yeehaw.

“Just what do you think you’re gonna accomplish here, with all these guns aimed on ya?” Arthur asked, eyes narrowed and calculating. “Gonna try take one’a us out? We’d gun you down before you could even try, damn the consequences.”

Another pause passed through the nighttime conversation. The stranger, still smiling despite staring down numerous gun barrels, replied. “That’s not what I’m here for.”

The bang of his gun cut through the tense silence in camp.

Smoke rose from the stranger’s gun, but no one in the gang fired their own weapon — the scream that rang out didn’t belong to any of them.

At the newcomer’s side, Pádraig, the man whom had been viciously beaten already, howled in pain as the bullet tore through his shoulder. Uncaring and not even looking at the wailing man, his attacker holstered his weapon once more.

“Pádraig here was a disappointment to my employer after returning empty handed from that train you so rudely intercepted,” he explained without much emotion. “And he does not suffer disappointment lightly. Do with this wretch what you will, it is of no concern to us, and remember Mr. Van der Linde, do not disappoint. I’d say ‘see you around’, but for your sakes, I hope not.”

As the screams continued to tear from Pádraig’s throat, the stranger stepped over his fallen body and began to slowly walk back down the trail. When he passed by in front of Dutch, he paused as if remembered something. “And to answer your earlier question, you can call me Matthew. Considering I know so much about you, it is only fair to give you something, yes? Good day, gentlemen, ladies.”

With that, Matthew continued on his way down the trail and disappeared into the darkness. Even as she lost sight of him, his whistles carried on through the night air until they too faded into the distance.

Once he was gone, everyone breathed a small sigh of relief until they remembered the fallen man still whimpering in pain.

“What do you we do, Dutch?” Arthur asked with a grave expression.

“About everythin’?” Dutch asked before nodded to Pádraig. “Or about him?”

Arthur looked somewhat shaken and replied. “About all of it, I guess. But what about him? Do we kill him?”

At the sound of that proposition, Pádraig began to plead. “Please don’t kill me! Please, Mister, have a heart!”

“Why shouldn’t we kill ya, you lil O’Driscoll boy?”

“I’ll tell you anythin’ you want’a know about ’em!” he insisted desperately. “Anythin’! Just please don’t kill me!”

Dutch stared at Pádraig in silence for a few moments, many thoughts probably flying around his head. “Arthur, Miss Grimshaw, help this feller to a spare bedroll, will ya? Do what you can for him. If Mac is doin’ alright, get the reverend to help. I need you both to keep him alive.”

Arthur shrugged before roughly grabbing the man by the shirt and tossing him over his shoulder. “You’re one lucky son-of-a-bitch.”

Maebh watched as he and Susan quickly brought the man to the reverend’s tent and set him down on the ground. They didn’t even hesitate and began to get to work and follow Dutch’s orders. No one dared to question his choice except for young John, who let out an audible scoff. “How can we keep him? We got enough mouths to feed as it is, let alone this clown.”

“What do we always say, John? We save fellers as need savin’.” Dutch then turned to the assembled crowd and addressed them all. “The rest’a you, go get some sleep — I need you all up bright and early in the mornin’.”

“What for?”

Dutch focused his eyes at the trail down which Matthew had left. With a bite to his tone, he placed his hands on his hips and answered. “Tomorrow we’re movin’ on.”