Author's Note: Yes, I know, I'm supposed to be working on Breaking and Entering. But this little tale wouldn't stay out of my mind, and the more I thought it over, the more things simply seemed to fall into place, so I had to write it down.
This is an AU X-Men: Evolution fanfic, set in England in the late 1600s. In this, Wolverine still has his claws, and you'll notice a few references to the fact that he heals faster than the average human would, but that's the extent of his abilities. Silhouette's powers have also been toned down, to the point that she simply treads very softly and can move very quickly, instead of turning into a shadow.
Disclaimer: I don't own X-Men or Wolverine (Logan). Silhouette (Veronica Nez) is my own character, however.
"Gipsy gold does not chink and glitter. It gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark." ~Attributed to the Claddaugh Gypsies of Galway
If one opened a tavern, even in the smallest of towns, it was a sure bet that the business would prosper. It was a gamble Gavin McHane had taken two decades ago, and he had rolled wisely: every evening, without fail, the majority of the Sixty-Seven Shillings' tables were full of boisterous patrons enjoying drinks of every kind and making cat-calls at the waitress. McHane knew many of the patrons by name—King's Bluff was a small village, the sort where everyone knew everyone else and their cousins, and nobody could keep secrets for very long with the lucrative gossip chain. Of course, business varied: with the weather, with the season, with the economy. But McHane always had enough dutiful patrons that his tavern had never been forced out of business.
This evening wasn't one of the more boisterous ones; indeed, tonight only about half of the tables were full. McHane wasn't concerned, however, he knew that, now that autumn was here, many men were too tired from harvesting all day to do more than fall into their beds at night. Once the crops were brought in, there would be a joyful celebration, and his pockets would chink with gold again.
King's Bluff was one of the dozens of tiny villages that dotted the English landscape—it appeared, out of the fog more often than not, in a vale rimmed with trees, and one could ride through it almost before one realized the scenery had changed. It was rare for them to get visitors, but McHane had long ago converted two rooms on the second floor of the bar, down the hall from his own bachelor suite, into guest rooms. This evening, a guest was indeed present among them.
A large man was slumped over the bar, clearly drunk, but slumped more from some inner heaviness than drunkenness. His black hair disheveled while his right hand strongly clutched a half-full glass. He had been seated on the same barstool for the past four hours, and McHane, who, after his nearly two decades as a bartender knew when someone had had enough to drink, was amazed at how coherent the stranger still was; he was obviously used to drinking heavily. McHane had come across his kind before: the sort who required the drink to drown out their thoughts, and never went more than an hour without a flask to their lips.
The stranger had wandered into town shortly before sunset and immediately walked straight to the tavern and seated himself. McHane had asked no questions about him and the man hadn't volunteered any; in fact he hadn't said anything except to order his initial drink and ask for refills every few minutes. As long as he was paid, McHane didn't care about his patrons' backgrounds, but the man's clothes and pack spoke volumes for him.
The newcomer wore a thick, worn black coat that covered him from neck to mid-thigh, and had the collar turned up to hide his face more than a little. He had a hat pulled down low across his forehead, and he wore thick trousers with an inconspicuous patch over the left knee. The man was clearly a wandering traveler, and an experienced one, if his light but filled-with-essentials pack spoke the truth. McHane would have guessed that he had a destination in mind, but something in the man's demeanor and the way he seemed to be at home in the bar told him that there was no destination but the road for this man.
Rousing himself from some faraway thought, the stranger tipped his head back and downed the last of his latest drink. Setting the glass down firmly, he motioned to the barkeep. "Gimme another, will ya, bub?" he ordered more than asked, his dark eyes vacant.
McHane surveyed him and then decided the man hadn't yet reached his limit, took the glass and deftly refilled it under the tap before sliding it back to his customer. As the man took his first drink of the fresh glass, the barkeep's eyes were drawn over his shoulder, to the door, as it opened to admit a loud bunch of four sturdy young men. McHane set his jaw but said nothing as he refilled another glass for a patron down the bar. The leader of the new arrivals was the son of the county's governor, and he seemed to have no care for the property of others. He was known all over the county as a troublemaker in any tavern he visited, the sort who lived to fight, regardless of the consequences. In Gavin McHane's humble opinion, he was a spoiled brat whose father was a soft bellied coward, but he dared not voice that opinion. The Governor may not have done anything save lend the crown a large sum of money to be awarded governorship, but he had a considerable amount of power, and McHane wasn't willing to risk crossing him.
The foursome, already quite drunk, marched up to the bar and shoved their way between the already seated patrons, causing one old man to fall off his stool. This simply caused them to laugh before demanding drinks from the barkeep. The old man picked up his hat and quietly took his leave. The four twittered among themselves as McHane reluctantly poured their drinks, taking sidelong glances at the stranger, who was ignoring them as he finished his last drink. After a moment, the leader of the four nudged his arm forcefully.
"I don't believe I recognize you from these parts," he started, leaning cockily against the bar. McHane felt his heart sink; clearly his wishes for a quiet night were being ignored.
"I don't want no trouble, bub," the stranger mumbled as he slid his glass away from him. "Just a humble man passin' through."
"Well, what if I told you there was a toll for passing through?" the younger man threatened with a smirk.
"Doubt that," the stranger muttered. "Ain't no toll for the other towns miles around, and this one's no different from the rest o' them. Now, why don't you run back home before your mother starts to worry." He signaled for another drink.
"How dare you insult me!" the governor's son said, enraged, and McHane stopped reaching for the glass. "Don't you know who I am?" The other three of the foursome crowded around their leader and this strange newcomer.
"No, and I don't rightly care, bubb. You're jes an arrogant youngster who don't know who 'e's messin' with."
The youth's eyes widened in anger. "Let's teach him a lesson, fellas!" he cried, and came at the man with a right hook.
McHane heaved a sigh to himself as he ducked for cover behind the bar. He prayed the fight ended soon and the damage wasn't too great.
The stranger, drunk or no, had clearly been in more than one bar fight before. He jerked back, using the movement to both avoid the youngsters' fist and get off the stool. One of the other young men tried to grab him from behind and hold him, but he reached behind him and pulled the man over his head, sending him crashing to the floor and the breath out of his body.
A second man came at him with a chair. The stranger seized the stool he had been sitting on and parried the blow, sending both seats to the floor before he tackled the lad into a table, causing the other patrons to yell in protest before joining the fray.
McHane peeked over his cover as the rest of the patrons either quickly vacated the tavern or joined the scrabble. The strange man was a wonder to watch. He was fast, his feet solid and his hands steady, and watching him, the barkeep almost wondered if this was the same man who had had so many drinks. As he caught the fist and belt of one of the lads and spun around, launching him into the governor's son and sending them both over a table and into the wall, McHane's awe of him grew.
The stranger returned to where he had been sitting, retrieving his pack from the floor and setting a pile of gold on the counter-from where McHane stood, it looked to be more than enough to cover the drinks and damage. Then he turned to the door, threading his way through the flying chairs, spilled alcohol, and shattered glass as the fight raged around him. Another patron, turning from beating a fellow unconscious with a chair, saw him and charged him with the chair as well. Caught between the man and a table, the stranger had no choice but to catch the chair, and he deftly used an arm to turn the blow to one side and elbow his attacker in the chest.
Before he could turn around, however, the lad he had thrown over his head at the start of the fight came up behind him, and in one forceful, angry swing, smashed a glass bottle into the back of his head, shattering the bottle and sending the man staggering to the floor. With hoots of delight, the foursome dragged the stranger out of the tavern and into the dark streets.
The four young men were cowards, plain and simple. Together, as a pack, they gladly took on anyone weaker than them, or at least anyone they thought was weaker, but they were scared and spineless alone. Still, this fact was lost on them as they dragged the strange newcomer who had insulted their leader to the corner of the tavern, at the head of a dark alley, and thought themselves brave victors as they kicked and punched his limp body while he struggled with coherent thoughts and just tried to cover his head. Several minutes later, quite pleased with themselves, the young men went off into the darkness, casually leaving the man to die, or so they thought.
Logan groaned as he finally heard them disappear into the distance. Every inch of his body felt beatened and blackened, and fire rushed along his ribs as he tried to lift his face out of the dirt. He reached a shaking hand up and touched the back of his head, where the bottle had shattered. His dark hair was matted in blood. The traveler managed to roll over, onto his back, and then he lay still again, needing a few minutes to catch his breath before he gathered his scattered belongings and limped on. A light sigh came from his lips as he let his eyes shut, resting them momentarily. Yes, he just needed a moment…
Out of the darkness came a steady, rhythmic sound that seemed to match the pounding in his head and intensify it. It was the sound of shod horse hooves on packed dirt. Some part of Logan realized this, but the thought of calling out for help never crossed his mind. All he wanted was for the rider to pass already, so his head would stop hurting and he could fall unconscious.
The sound grew louder, and then stopped very close to him. Logan was relieved as the pain in his head subsided somewhat. He was dimly aware that there seemed to be someone bending over him, a darker outline against the darkness of the night, and then he well and truly lost consciousness.