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The Flower & The Serpent

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“What the hell is this?”

Arthur Morgan had found himself in many sticky situations in his short life, but standing with his revolver pointed at a pair of kids was definitely a new one.

Well, they were pointing their own guns right back at him, so it wasn’t exactly a situation that required basic manners.

“Looks like they got to our take first,” Dutch replied in disbelief from his spot between the two parties. Their agitated mounts continuously shuffled on their hooves, neighing restlessly as each rider did their best to focus on the newest threat before them. “Hold on a minute there, son—”

“Who are you lot?” the young boy demanded, with his revolver currently pointed directly at Dutch. Behind him, a girl had just finished shoving the much sought after contents of the stagecoach lockbox into a large bag. In her other hand was a gun pointed directly between Arthur’s eyes.

“You best drop that gun, you little shit!” a very wound up John Marston ordered. “Before I put a bullet in your head!”

The girl swiftly pointed her gun towards John, the threat apparently cutting deep. Despite her slight frame and obvious youth, her voice sounded confident from beneath her bandana. “Try it, greasy! I’ll take great pleasure in riddlin’ your fuck-ugly face!”

Of course, John was never one for staying calm. “You ain’t in charge here, little missy!”

Marston!” Arthur cut in, seeing things spiralling quickly if they didn’t do something.  His furrowed brow was already covered in sweat beneath his hat. “Shut your damn mouth and take it easy!”

“No one needs to die here,” Hosea added, his voice surprisingly calm despite their current predicament. “We all need to relax.”

Dutch agreed and tried to take control of the situation as he always did. “My good friend here is right. How about lowerin’ your guns, fellers, and we can talk this out.”

The boy’s eyes flared on his mostly hidden face. “How about you get your monkeys to lower theirs first!”

While the insult barely fazed Arthur, John was a little more sensitive. “Shut your damn mouth!”

Well Jesus, this couldn’t possibly end well…

 

* * *

 

8th June, 1890, outside Waukesha, Wisconsin

Today is the day. Dutch wants me and Marston to scout out the road before the stagecoach comes through later this evening. It’ll be the kid’s first real try at a robbery like this, so Dutch thinks getting familiar with the area might help settle his nerves a little… I was against it at first, but he said we need the extra man if we’re going to deal with the Pinkerton escort afterwards.

As long as he keeps a cool head he should be fine, but he’s still not one for taking orders very well, even if he’s been with us for five years. Still young, dumb as shit, and eager to prove himself. I’m hoping he learns to listen though — Lord knows I’d hate to see anything happen to him.

 

* * *

 

“Grub’s up, folks! Grub’s up!”

Arthur closed over his journal at Pearson’s call. Glancing up to see the cook placing a steaming pot of stew over the fire, he returned the book to its spot on his bedside table. Morning had swiftly arrived at the camp, and most of the inhabitants were up and about already, attending to the many chores that needed doing. It was a clear and sunny day, with only a few fluffy white clouds littering the blue sky. The heat was somewhat intense despite the early hour and brought a light sheen of sweat to his forehead. This camp had been their home for some weeks now, and Arthur really didn’t mind. He quite liked it out here — he always preferred the open plains to dense cities. The cosy field where they now resided was situated on the bank of a river outside a small city called Waukesha. The surrounding lowlands were flat, open, and easy to traverse, but the gang was safely hidden from the nearest trail by a thick group of green trees. Though the region was home to some of Wisconsin’s largest cities, most of it was made up of farmland, so it was relatively easy for them to remain here without being noticed. He really hoped they could stay in these vast fields for some time. He could get used to travelling across the stretching green pastures atop Boadicea, and the first breath of fresh air he inhaled every morning bought a genuine smile to his face.

Arthur’s eyes flitted over the lightly dancing trees on the camp’s outskirts before looking to what had originally grabbed his attention. Though Pearson’s food was in dire need of some seasoning, his stomach rumbled at the prospects of a hot meal. He got to his feet, wiping some of his unruly hair out of his eyes, and went to get his share.

“Mornin’, Mr Morgan,” Susan greeted him as she grabbed a cup of coffee.

“Miss Grimshaw,” he replied with a nod, helping himself to a large bowl of stew.  “Mornin’.”

She took a seat on one of the nearby tables and urged him to join her.

With a shrug, he took a seat and set his bowl down. “Coffee good?”

“As always,” she said. “As long as it calms my nerves it’ll do.”

“What do you have to be nervous about?” he asked before taking a mouthful of stew and ignoring the mild bland taste.

“I seem to be more concerned with this stagecoach than you are!”

“You concerned about the coach, or the fact Marston will be near the coach?”

“He can be a headstrong little brat at times, but I’d rather not see him with a hole in his head.”

Miss Grimshaw shook her head in exasperation, but the gesture only brought a smirk to Arthur’s lips. She could be quite a harsh woman, especially when people lounged around and didn’t do their part in keeping everything running smoothly. Despite being the current flame of the ever flirtatious Dutch van der Linde, Susan Grimshaw refused to sit idly by and act like the lady of the manor. She was very much involved in ensuring that the camp remained a functioning unit. She was perfect for the role, probably because she could be positively terrifying if you didn’t help out.

“I’ll admit,” Arthur began, swallowing some food. “I wasn’t exactly happy ’bout the idea at first, but Dutch has faith in the little brat. And besides, he’s got me, Dutch, and Hosea lookin’ out for him. He’ll be fine as long as he does what we say.”

Susan eyed him carefully, but nodded, seemingly happy with his words. “As long as you do look out for him, Mr Morgan. You know how he can be — he reminds me a lot of you at that age.”

“Hey now! Don’t go comparin’ me to that fool—”

Miss Grimshaw cut across him with ease. “It is the reason you two get on so well, what with bein’ such like-minded individuals…”

Arthur finished his breakfast while she reeled off the many reasons why he and John were one and the same. Sometimes it as best just to keep his mouth shut, and this seemed like one such moment. His saving grace came when Dutch called him over to his tent.

“Mornin’, Dutch.”

“And a fine morning it is, son,” he replied with gusto and set down the book he had been reading. He offered Arthur a cigarette before taking one for himself. He lit the two, then continued on. “Hosea and Bessie took young John into town to get some supplies for tonight.”

“How’s he seem?” Arthur asked and took a drag.

“John? Seems fine to me. Maybe a little… let’s say, eager, to get goin’.”

“Still got faith in him?”

“O’course,” Dutch said, his voice firm. “We all gotta start somewhere, Arthur, you know that. He’s seventeen now, so it ain’t a bad age to get goin’. Heck, you did it even younger.”

He knew Dutch was right — there was no point letting John fester around camp doing nothing. They definitely didn’t need a second Uncle around the place, and Marston seemed keen to please… Or maybe he was just passionate about shooting something, who knew? It seemed that Dutch did though, and if there was someone whose opinion mattered, it was Dutch.

Arthur kept busy around the camp doing numerous chores while he waited for the trio to return. Chopping firewood and helping Pearson prepare their dinner for later at least meant that time flew by for him. He was playing fetch with Copper when John finally returned with Hosea and Bessie in tow. While the older couple went to check in with Dutch, Arthur and John mounted their horses and, with Copper running along side them, headed out down the road to the spot where they intended to rob the stagecoach.

“Why are we robbin’ it at this spot exactly?” Marston asked, scanning his eyes over the strip of dirt road.

“It’s the best distance outside town where a robbery won’t attract any attention,” Arthur explained, gently patting Boadicea. “The stagecoach is carryin’ bank transfers into Milwaukee, so you can bet that robbin’ it close to town would bring a whole heap of law on us. See that turn there?” He pointed off in the distance, tipping the brim of his hat to keep the shimmering sunlight out of his eyes. “It’s gonna come down that road there and loop this way. We’ll be waitin’ on this here ridge and hidden in some of the trees so that they don’t spot us.”

“What about them?” the younger boy asked. “They got any guns?”

“Four in total, if Hosea’s intel is right. So we should be able to take ’em out with the four of us. They’ll have a backup escort comin’ in from there, though.” He pointed up the road in the opposite direction. “’The bank in Milwaukee will be sendin’ out some of their own guns to meet the stagecoach just a little ways up the road, considerin’ this lil strip is so deserted. So we’re expectin’ maybe four more guns to show, which is why Dutch wants you involved. Once we rob the coach and the extra men arrive, there’ll be enough of us to take ’em out if needs be.”

“Sounds dangerous,” John mused, hanging on his every word.

Arthur let out a chuckle and proceeded to light himself a cigarette. “What, you scared, boy?”

“No! I ain’t scared, just bein’ honest about things.”

“You’ll do just fine,” the older man reassured him and offered him a cigarette. “You just need’a keep a cool head, and do as Dutch says. That’s how we make sure things go smoothly.” He paused to take a drag. “You ain’t got nothin’ to worry about if you do that.”

John nodded and puffed away to calm his nerves. “Thanks. I’m just glad that you’ll have my back, brother.”

“That’s what family is for,” Arthur responded with a small grin. He watched Copper as the dog sniffed along the roadside. “You’ll be fine.”

The two of them remained there for a few moments more as Arthur went over their plan of action in more detail. Though he knew how John could be, he was glad to see that he was eager to get to work. He hoped this wouldn’t make him over excited when the time came, but he thought back on what Dutch had said — he needed to put faith in his brother to do the job right. Thankfully, Marston had yet to give him a reason to doubt him so aggressively.

They returned to camp and waited out the rest of the day going over their plan with Hosea and Dutch. They had everything planned perfectly — it had to be, otherwise they could find themselves in a sticky situation once the Pinkerton escort arrived. Regardless, spirits were high at dinner time when Arthur, Dutch, Hosea, and young John mounted up and headed out to rob the stagecoach. They road through the fields in the late evening sun, avoiding the main road so that they wouldn’t be spotted ahead of time. The familiar buzz that came with performing robberies and the like was already stirring within Arthur’s chest. It was always risky business, but a part of him loved the thrill and feeling of power that came with these takes. Knowing that the money would be given to those who needed it most also gave him a nice sense of self-worth — it was one of the only things in his life that made him feel that way. He wasn’t a good man by any means, but he still tried to do some small bit of good where he could.

“And here we are,” Dutch announced from atop his horse as the group arrived at the waiting spot. He glanced at his pocket watch and nodded. “Right on time. Does everyone remember the plan?”

“O’course,” Arthur confirmed.

“Good. Now, cover your faces; we won’t be waitin’ too long for the stage to swing by.”

Arthur quickly pulled his bandana up to cover his mouth and nose and double-checked that his guns were fully loaded and ready to be used if things took a turn.

“Remember, gentlemen,” Dutch continued on. “No killing unless absolutely necessary.”

“Best of luck, everyone,” Hosea added.

Then the group descended into silence and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Arthur’s fingers flexed on his reins. He could see John beginning to get anxious. Something definitely wasn’t right.

The only noise they could hear was the light breeze on the leaves above their heads, and the persistent ticking of Dutch’s pocket watch as he checked the time again.

“Somethin’ ain’t right,” Hosea whispered, mimicking Arthur’s own concerns. “They should have come through here by now.”

“Maybe you got the times wrong?” John suggested. “Or the place?”

Arthur shook his head. “That ain’t it. We heard from multiple people and all of them said it would come through this road at this time.”

“So what do we do then?”

“Well,” Dutch sighed, somewhat vexed with the development. He pulled down his bandana and turned to the rest of them. “We can’t stay here and wait for it to possibly arrive. I suggest we head up road and see do we come across it. But we stay out of sight and appear as inconspicuous as we can until I say otherwise.”

Hosea nodded and uncovered his face. “I agree. It’s definitely a better idea than waitin’ here and hopin’ for the best.”

“In that case, follow me, gentlemen.”

Arthur followed as the group made their way through the fields adjacent to the strip of road. They kept an eye out, but met no one along the way, and their anxiety only grew with each passing second. This was some take according to the locals, so missing it would be a great loss to the gang.

“Up ahead!” Dutch suddenly announced in a hushed tone.

Arthur looked up to see a stagecoach in the distance, stationary on the road. “Why’s it stopped?”

“Because,” Dutch growled out. “It’s bein’ robbed.”

“It’s what?”

“Somebody beat us to it! C’mon!”

Right well, this certainly wasn’t an outcome for which the gang was prepared. Arthur  hastily followed Dutch’s lead as their horses galloped up to the precious stage. He strained his eyes to get a look at who had intercepted the take before they even had a chance. The closer he got, the more information became apparent to him — two figures crowded the rear of the coach, one of whom was emptying its contents into a bag. The other stood by guarding her every move. The drivers and guards were nowhere to be found. At first, Arthur just assumed that the figures were small because of their position in the distance, but the closer he got, the more he realised that this was no normal robbery.

“It’s a pair of kids!” John exclaimed, disgust evident in his tone. “We got beaten to it by some damn kids!”

Kids?” Arthur repeated in disbelief.

With the noise of their arrival, the pair of young thieves looked up from their prize to see four men thundering towards them on horseback. They were clothed in dirty outfits with bandanas hiding their identities. A quick once over told Arthur that it was boy and a girl who had managed to rob an obscene amount of money from the stage. How in the hell had two kids manage that?

Perhaps riding directly to them hadn’t been the best idea, as the pair were quick to point their guns at the gang.

“Hold on there!” Dutch called, grinding his mount to a halt and holding up his hands. The trio behind him followed suit, but Arthur and John instead chose to aim a weapon at each of them just in case.

“What the hell is this?” Arthur asked, completely dumbfounded with the situation they found themselves in.

“Cé hiad na leaids sin? the girl asked her companion.

“The fuck you say?” John demanded, already losing his temper.

“Who are you lot?” the boy demanded, his eyes very skeptical already and completely unfazed by this strange man’s apparent aggression.

And now here they were — facing off against a pair of kids on a quiet dirt road. Sometimes Arthur really got tired of this shit.

“How about you get your monkeys to lower theirs first!”

“Take it easy, son,” Dutch answered calmly with his hands still raised. “We mean you no harm.”

“Your friends with the guns there don’t give us much comfort,” the girl replied in a thick Irish accent. “Now do as he said and get them to lower their weapons!”

“If you give me your word that you won’t shoot ’em, I will.”

“Is that a good idea?” Arthur asked, not exactly enjoying pointing his gun at a kid, but also not liking the idea of being defenceless.

“Trust me, Arthur. You and John, put the guns away.”

Arthur released a heavy sigh, but listened to his mentor and returned his gun to its holster. “Goddammit…”

John obliged, though he was far more hesitant to listen. A stern look from Hosea got the point across.

“Now,” Dutch announced. “We did as you asked. How about you meet us halfway and lower yours?”

The pair exchanged a knowing look before slowly lowering their revolvers, but not putting them away. The boy called out to them again. “Now, as I was sayin’, who are you lot and what do you want?”

“No harm in bein’ honest. We were the ones plannin’ on gettin’ that coach, but it seems like you beat us to it.”

“Not our problem,” the girl replied. “We got to it first, so you’s aren’t gettin’ any of it.”

Dutch shook his head. “We ain’t gonna steal it from you. You two earned it, fair and square. I don’t quite know how you managed it, but I’d be lyin’ if I said I wasn’t impressed.”

“We’re used to bumping into rival gangs every now and then,” Hosea added with a goodnatured chuckle. “But not so used to seein’ kids out on jobs.”

“Yeah, well,” the girl grumbled. “You gotta get by somehow when you’ve nothin’ else.”

“Of course!” Dutch agreed. “We ain’t here to judge.”

As they spoke, Arthur briefly turned his head as the sound of horses grabbed his attention. He looked back down the road from where they came, and suddenly remembered an important detail of the plan. “Awh, shit. We got company!”

“Wait, what?” the boy asked, looking baffled. “What’s goin’ on?”

“The Pinkertons!” Hosea confirmed just as the escort appeared at the end of the trail. “How many we got, Arthur?”

“I see six comin’ in!” he confirmed, looking through his binoculars at the patrol heading down the road.

“That’s more than expected!” John commented in dismay.

“Pinkertons?” the young girl repeated. “What Pinkertons?”

“An escort sent to meet the stagecoach,” Dutch elaborated. “I assume by your confused expressions that you two didn’t know about that part.”

“Jaysus Christ,” the boy muttered and drew a carbine from his back. “No, we didn’t.”

“Well then I think your best odds are to come with us, or you can stay here and try to fight off six guns.”

The kids shared a look again before the girl spoke first in a language that Arthur didn’t understand. “Cad a dhéanfaimid anois?”

The boy shook his and gave her hand a squeeze. “Níl an dara rogha againn. Let’s get outta here.”

“You got horses?”

“No,” the girl explained. “We came on foot.”

“Well then, you hop up here with me, son, and your partner can jump on with my friend, Mr Morgan, there.”

The boy took Dutch’s outstretched hand and hauled himself on to the back of the horse, while Arthur offered the girl a hand and helped to pull her up behind him. “Hold on tight now, you hear?”

“I’ll be grand,” she replied, though he could hear the hint of fear in her voice. “Just move.”

Just as shouts and some shots rang out from the arriving escort, the gang sped off and through a nearby bunch of trees in an effort to lose their pursuers. Arthur felt the young girl hold on to his shoulders tightly as he pushed Boadicea as hard as she could go. The noise of the horses thundering along and jumping over bushes and fences was one that he knew well, and one that was always accompanied by a small amount of worry and excitement. He could hear John and Hosea urging their mounts forwards, realising how risky it was being out in the open like this. The head start thankfully gave them a decent advantage over the Pinkertons as they spend through the Wisconsin fields. Unfortunately, despite the distance between them and the men chasing them, the Pinkertons persisted and were hard to lose.

“They’re still on us,” the girl shouted from behind him. “You’s need to do somethin’!”

“I know,” Arthur answered, breathing in deep. “Just lemme think.”

“What about those trees?” William called, pointing to the outskirts of a bunch of greenery just in front of them.

Right on queue, bullets whizzed over their heads, some a mile off and others unnervingly close.

Arthur let out a huff and ducked his head down as one very nearly got him. “Keep your head down, girl! We’re sittin’ ducks out in the open like this!”

“We can lose them in there!” Dutch confirmed. “We just need to make it past the tree line.”

Behind them, the rate of gunfire began to increase the closer they got to the safety of the trees. The escort clearly knew that they’d lose them amidst the thick foliage. Thankfully, the trees drew closer and closer and their bullets managed to miss their targets as they shifted side to side to throw them off. Arthur breathed a sigh of relief as they breached the tree line and slowed to navigate between the brush. He felt the girl’s grip on his frame ease up a little with their new cover and he gave her a swift glance to see how she was holding up.

Dutch called out orders to once more grab their attention. “Everyone, veer left and follow me!”

They manoeuvred carefully between the tall trees and bushes, keeping a careful eye out behind them incase the escort appeared on their tail once more. Thankfully, as they weaved to and fro between the shrubbery, the Pinkertons weren’t seen again. When they finally broke through the edge of the forest and reappeared in an open field, the sun had just about set on the distance and the threat seemed to have been lost.

The horses were eased to a halt and Arthur placed a loving pat on trusty Boadicea’s neck. “You did good, girl.”

“Everyone alright?” Hosea asked the group. The responses he received were unanimously positive though out of breath.

“That certainly could’ve gone worse,” the boy mused as he jumped from The Count.  Seeing no danger around, he pulled his bandana back down to reveal his youthful face. Arthur was surprised to see just how young he was — he looked to be about the same age as he was when he first joined the gang. Despite this, he looked like he was sleeping rough, with a dirty face and a fresh red scar that ran over his right brow and down his cheek. “But at least nobody got shot.”

Arthur noticed the girl dismounting to join her companion and she too pulled off her mask. She seemed just as young as him and showed signs of dirt and older scars. Immediately she went to the boy’s side and gave him a once over. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” he said with a small smile and let out a huff as he got his breath back. “I’m grand. Are you?”

“Yeah. Thankfully these lads are good riders.”

She wiped her brow and reached back to tie her messy brown hair out of her face as Dutch addressed them. “I thought you two did pretty good out there, considerin’ you managed that stage all on your own.”

“Yeah, bar the squad that we weren’t even remotely prepared for showin’ up,” the girl replied with a pained smile. She looked up at Dutch and gave him a thankful nod. “We definitely would’a been captured or worse if it wasn’t for you lot.”

“Outlaws gotta stick together in times like these,” he said calmly. “We’re livin’ in different times, and we’re just tryin’ to survive.”

The boy nodded in agreement and then shared a look with the girl. “We appreciate the help Mister, uh…”

“Van der Linde,” Dutch replied and reached out to shake their hands. “Dutch van der Linde. These are my friends, Hosea Matthews, Arthur Morgan, and young John Marston.”

“I’m Maebh Hennigan,” the girl replied. “And this is my brother, William.”

“A pleasure. Can I ask, is it just the two of you? No parents or family around?”

Maebh flinched slightly at the question. “Uh, yeah. Our parents died a while back and the rest of our family is back in Ireland. We have nothin’, so we have to rob sometimes to get by. But that doesn’t matter, we owe you’s a lot for this. I suppose it's only fair that we give you’s a bit of the money from the stage.”

Dutch grinned at her suggestion and Arthur recognised that look almost immediately. He could already see his leader’s mind coming up with his next plan of action. Based on everything that happened today, he thought he had an idea of what it might be. “That’s a very kind offer, Miss Hennigan, but I actually have an offer for you.”

Maebh and William met each others gaze before the latter sceptically asked. “You have an offer for us?”

“As I already said, outlaws have to stick together if we want to get by out here. It’s the best way to ensure that we survive, that we live.”

Dutch was descending into a classic rousing speech with which Arthur and the group were quite familiar. He had heard it many times himself when he needed a bit of self belief in what they were doing. The most notable time he heard it was when he first met Dutch and Hosea as an unruly fifteen year old with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Yes, this was certainly an encounter with which he had some personal experience.

Atop The Count, Dutch stretched out his arms in a welcoming gesture and grinned from ear to ear. “If we want to live like Americans, then we got to have each others backs, no matter how tough or worrisome things may be. You need a family, you need stability, you need to know that you are safe. But I think that today is a sign of what you both could have.” He paused and Maebh and William hung on every word. “My offer to you two, is how’d you like to join my gang?”