The Captain’s Bride — Episode 07

THEY reached the city boundary as twilight softened the landscape and the evening chill made Tabitha glad of her grandfather’s warm jacket, shabby though it was. She was relieved to spot an inn sign up ahead and sure enough, Joe called to her to head round to the yard.

She wondered whether, if she offered to do some washing up, the innkeeper would give her some scraps of food and a drink of the local ale. But her companion surprised her as he dismounted and she followed suit.

“I doubt you have the coins to pay for your supper, Billy, so I’ll treat you to it, on one condition.”

“What’s that?” She held her breath.

“I have dealings the other side of the city so must leave early in the morning. I have a fancy to give you a chance in life – such chances are few and far between for the likes of us, so I’m going to let you take Bess.” He raised his hand to stop her protest. “You can’t afford to feed yourself let alone feed the mare, so you need to take her to market tomorrow and sell her.”

Tabitha couldn’t believe he meant what he said.

“I can’t let you do that!”

“You can and you must. I don’t like the thought of you wandering around on your own. With money in your pocket, you can pay for lodgings and find work.

“You’re a handsome lad and bright enough to get taken on as an apprentice or an office clerk. Now, let’s get the horses stabled, order food, then see if the landlord has room for two weary travellers.”

* * * *

Morning light filtered through the grubby window, telling her someone must have opened the shutters. Tabitha raised herself on one elbow, and seeing the pallet Joe had slept on was empty, scrambled to her feet, untied the twine she’d used to fasten her bag to her ankle, and left the room where several other travellers still slept.

In the yard she splashed water from the pump over her hands and face and went to talk to one of the lads. She prayed he’d help her saddle up Bess, doubting she could manage it alone. A tow-headed boy of about twelve years came to her rescue and she was on her way. Following directions Joe gave her, Tabitha rode through the streets until she reached her destination. Here she saw traders unloading their goods from carts and barrows and she called out to one of them, asking the way to the horse fair.

“You’ll need to ride on, lad!” A plump fellow stopped work and peered at her. “Keep going till you get to the field at the end. You’ll see the traders but you’ll have to trust to luck you find a fair ‘un.”

Tabitha thanked him and urged the mare on, suddenly realising she’d miss her placid Bess, but she needed money to make a new life.

If only her grandmother hadn’t decided to marry her off! Living under the old lady’s guardianship, she may have found work as a companion or even governess to a family with young children. But she faced a very different future now and needed to keep her wits about her.

Tabitha stroked Bess’s neck and dismounted. One or two of the traders were lounging nearby and she knew they were discussing her. Did they suspect? If her disguise should be penetrated. . . Her mouth dried, wondering how on earth she’d manage this situation. But Joe had told her the kind of money she should ask for and that provided the shred of confidence she needed. She led Bess forward and nodded to the two men.

“That’s a fine mare you have there, young fellow.” The taller of the two stood, hands on hips, surveying Bess’s appearance.

“Aye, and she has a good nature, too.” Tabitha was acutely conscious of her shabby appearance. If only she’d been able to borrow garments that didn’t make her look quite so poverty-stricken!

But she hadn’t wanted to attract attention and so far, that had worked. Now, she dreaded being questioned as to how she came by the horse. What if they didn’t believe her?

“Tether her to the post while we take stock. How much were you looking to get?” The second man was examining the mare’s mouth. Once Tabitha’s trembling fingers had tethered her, he picked up one of Bess’s back legs and inspected her hoof.

“Easy, girl,” he said.

Tabitha felt a surge of hope. Could she possibly pull this off?

Both men were silent, each of them hovering beside the horse. They kept their voices low, so as not to startle her, Tabitha reckoned, but it also meant she couldn’t hear what they said. Then the shorter of the two turned to face her.

“I need advice. If you stay here with Will, I’ll not be long.”

Tabitha inclined her head. To her relief, Will appeared unwilling to make conversation. Instead, he strolled off to stand a few yards away. Good sign or bad? She’d no idea. This new world she’d entered was unknown and frightening. Yet, the thought of having money in her pocket, enabling her to purchase new clothing and return to being a girl, spurred her on.

After all, if she fled the market now, where else could she go? Without coins in her pocket, both she and Bess would starve. Tabitha straightened her back and folded her arms, trying not to think of her grandma’s good food and comfortable house.

Will’s companion was walking back. Grim-faced, he strode across the field, heading straight for Tabitha. She sucked in her breath. Following him was a man dressed befitting some official position. Should she run? Or should she stay? The decision was made for her as she realised her feet were as if frozen to the turf beneath.


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!