“Silver, now!” James shouted behind me.
A scuffle of unforeseen proportions ensued. Silver had somehow, while no one was looking at him, managed to grab a heavy pint glass from a nearby table, which he smashed into the head of Holmes’ attacker, directly in front of him. He then expertly used his iron peg to hook himself behind his own attacker’s leg and bring him to the ground. James turned around with what felt like inhuman speed and bent his attacker’s arm, forcing his gun to fire a useless shot into the ceiling. I got the message rather quickly and jabbed my elbow, with all my force, into the gut of the man I could feel was behind me. A sickening click came from his revolver and I closed my eyes, yet no gunshot sounded in the room—it had misfired.
The two men who held Rackham and Vane at gunpoint turned around in alarm and both aimed at John Silver, who was now holding Holmes’ attacker’s gun in his hand.
Breathless, Holmes went to tackle the man behind him and put him in an efficient headlock. James dodged a punch from his opponent. “Shoot the left one!” he yelled at Silver.
“The right one’s closer!” Silver yelled back.
“The right one has no clear sight of you. The left one is a better shot,” Holmes explained, breathing heavily behind me as I turned to help him and landed a kick into his opponent’s side.
James threw his opponent off to the side but the man still grabbed his shirt and they both tumbled to the floor. “The left one has more scars, he will be more proficient in hand-to-hand combat.”
“So I’ll actually have to fight them?!”
“Well what the fuck did you think was going to happen?” James exploded, which was impressive, considering a man twice his height had an arm around his neck.
Before Silver could actually shoot any of them at all, a terrifying gurgling sound came from the men’s direction. I looked up and saw that both men who had been standing next to Vane and Rackham now had two deep gashes in their necks that were spurting blood wildly. I gasped at the sight, for the men in question were still tied to the posts and had not moved from their position. Rackham’s voice then reached me, overflowing with what I could only describe as sheer adoration.
“Hello, my darling. Fancy seeing you here.”
It took me a while to see who it was that he was addressing, for the figure with the two blood-covered cutlasses in hand had now moved, quick as a shadow, to jam one in the head of Silver’s attacker. It was a woman, fire-haired and whip-thin, who moved with fluid, certain movements, as if she had been born with a weapon in her hand.
“Flint!” she exclaimed and threw him one of her weapons. James caught it with ease and, without a second’s hesitation, stabbed his opponent right in the belly.
Holmes smashed the head of the man he had been fighting into the floor and the man did not move again, though I could see the rise and fall of his chest.
For a moment, we all stood at an impasse. This new, battle-hardened woman, fixed myself and Holmes with her withering glare, half-hidden beneath her wide-brimmed hat.
“Fucking took you long enough,” Vane growled. Another woman who I had not noticed had come from the shadow, in a gown entirely too beautiful to be in a place like this. She was working on Vane’s restraints.
“Perhaps if you had waited at the rendezvous like you had been told to do, this would not have happened,” she snapped back at him in a lilting French accent.
Whatever Rackham’s response would have been, it was interrupted by the door of the inn flying open with a loud noise. Through it, walked three men, as large as houses, who were clearly battle-hardened and well armed. After them followed a woman, one whose face and step were, without a shadow of a doubt, those of royalty of some bygone age. She was not tall in stature, however her presence loomed large and filled the room. I was surprised by this, given her dark complexion and the way she appeared, I would not have assumed her to be in a position of such power. And yet, any metaphorical crown upon her head seemed to fit with perfection.
Holmes and I stared at her, however something brightened up on Silver’s face when he saw her. He struggled to his feet as quickly as he could, hindered by his peg leg.
“Long John Silver,” the regal-looking woman said, looking at him. “Do not tell me I had to once again cross an ocean to save you from the trouble you have caused.”
Blind to anyone else in the room, Silver hobbled over to the woman, grabbed her face in both of his and kissed her, wild and unashamed, his entire body unfurling with relief I had not seen in the man before.
Bewildered, I observed, until I noticed James’ hand next to me. I grabbed it to stand up.
“Doctor Watson, Mr. Holmes.” On James’ face I could now see, for the first time since our reunion, something akin to happiness. “May I introduce you to my dear friend, Miss Madi Scott.”
The authority that Madi Scott held over her men was truly astounding. It was as if she did not need to speak at all to communicate her orders to them—all she did was nod in their direction and they set about to help the other woman free Vane and Rackham from their restraints and to clear up the bodies of our attackers without arousing suspicion to the neighbours of the inn. Mary and Miranda, having seen the danger had passed, finally emerged from their hiding space. Miranda instantly made a beeline for James.
“You stupid, ridiculous, impossible man,” she nearly cried, holding him in a tight embrace. “You could have gotten yourself killed .”
“Wouldn’t be for the first time,” James groaned, at the absolute very end of his energy. He was leaning on Miranda perhaps a bit more than he would have liked to admit but his eyes would not leave those of Miss Scott, shining with affection that he was unable to hide.
Holmes was likewise intrigued by the newcomers. “Madi Scott? May you be the daughter of the infamous activist? A man only known as Mr. Scott who has been fighting the rather barbaric Jim Crow laws in the American South?” It was unsurprising that he would know of such work given what he has employed himself with in recent years, yet it still took me aback a bit how he pulled knowledge from his mind even after the heat of battle.
At his words, the three men who were hovering around froze and turned to look at my friend as one. Their hands went to the impressive guns hanging off their belts. Silver also seemed shocked, however Miss Scott raised a hand at her men in a definitive gesture.
“My identity is a well kept secret when I travel on work matters in Britain and the continent, Mr. Holmes. I would much prefer it to remain so,” she said evenly. “In our company, I am happy to be merely known as Madi.” She walked to James’ other side, where he enveloped her in a one-armed hug. “It is good to see you too, Captain. Now may we please all take a seat before you have fallen over yourself. I have many things I need to tell you.”
We moved into the dining area where we had taken our breakfast just the previous morning. It was nearly incomprehensible to me how much everything had changed since then, how we now found ourselves in this company of James’ friends, who seemed to be an odd mix of ruffians and yet to whom we now owed our lives. With a scraping noise, Charles unceremoniously pushed two tables together.
“Eleanor hated it when I used to do that,” he said with a vicious kind of joy that I did not fully comprehend. The histories between all these people were much more complicated than I realised, yet there was little time to unravel them.
Mary squeezed my forearm gently. “I will go fetch some tea for you all, dear. I am sure I will be able to muster some food for our guests from the kitchen, too.”
“Some alcohol also would not go amiss, my dear,” Miranda said, ripping James’ sleeve to expose a deep, bleeding gash on his shoulder that I recognised as a shrapnel wound from the explosion debris. “And a clean cloth, if you can find one.”
“Miranda,” James growled between his clenched teeth, but she gave him a look and whatever refutation he was beginning to make was squashed. Mary reappeared in an instant with a bottle of clear liquid, a fresh cloth and even some clean bandages she had managed to find from somewhere. She then disappeared once again in the direction of the kitchen.
We seated ourselves along the table and Holmes ran his eyes across the newcomers. “Some introductions would not go amiss, ladies and gentlemen, for I am sure you are all aware of who I am, yet I am still missing the names of some of the people around this table. It would be good for us all to begin discussions on an equal footing.”
The corner of Madi’s mouth twisted in a smile. “Very well.” She gestured to the beautifully dressed woman, who sat next to her. Now that I could see her in a proper light, I felt as if every secret I kept deep inside my chest was exposed under her shrewd, dark gaze. It made shivers run up my spine, but I did not know why. “May I introduce you to Max,” Madi said with a smile. “My partner in all things and the reason why you, Captain, are not currently burning to a crisp in the Maria Aleyne Holiday Home. ”
“Much appreciated, Max,” James nodded and hissed as Miranda touched the alcohol-soaked cloth to his wound.
“Have you a given name, Miss Max?” I asked before I could stop myself. My words made Silver smile, for some reason.
“My name is Max for all intents and purposes you may have, Doctor John Hamish Watson,” Max enunciated sweetly, fixing me once again with her gaze. The fact that she knew—and used—my full name was not lost on me for the threat that it was. “I would take less interest in our identities if I were you.”
“It is all right, dear,” Madi said quietly. The way she squeezed the other woman’s hand did not elude me.
Max gestured towards Rackham and Vane, who were now sharing the bottle of alcohol Mary had brought for James’ wounds. “The two ruffians who formed your… rescue party of arguable success are Charles Vane and Jack Rackham.”
“They are alive , Max,” Jack Rackham half-heartedly complained, his head lolling against the back of his chair with exhaustion.
“And Jack’s beautiful shadow is Anne Bonny.” Max nodded to the thin ginger woman, who had single-handedly killed four men her size, and was now petting Jack Rackham’s head as if he was some kind of overgrown feline. Despite this, Anne Bonny was just as menacing and dark as she had been; she gave us a nod and said nothing.
For a moment, silence settled over us, during which Holmes examined each of our new companions with his inquisitive gaze. He and Madi locked eyes across the table and some minute battle of wits occurred between them, something incomprehensible to the both of us. Madi raised an eyebrow; Holmes gave a wry smile in return.
“Madi,” James said, with what sounded like incredible effort. “What are you doing here?”
“We found your note,” Madi’s eyes moved to him. “You didn’t actually believe I was going to let you take on this dangerous endeavour all alone, did you? Not in Glasgow of all places, our second base of operations? We have eyes everywhere, Captain, lest you forget. Eyes that you have used for information, too.”
“Hello,” Silver waved. “I am, indeed, the eyes.”
“John has been expertly keeping us updated on your plans and movements. When Max got word of the plans to kill you at the Maria Aleyne , we dispatched Jack and Charles there straight away. I am glad we were not too late.”
“If it were up to me, Flint,” Max added loftily. “I would have let your stupid ass blow to bits.”
“Thanks, Max, I know.” There was, surprisingly, no bite in James’ reply. “And yet you came all this way just to not let my stupid ass blow to bits. I’m flattered.”
“Do not flatter yourself,” Max huffed. “Madi and I have important work in Glasgow that does not concern you. The nature of which—” she raised her voice when James opened his mouth to interrupt. “The nature of which is highly confidential.”
“We are well aware of the purpose of your journey here, Captain Flint,” Madi added, gently. “And we wish to help you, as you have helped us over the years. Please accept this.”
Miranda squeezed James’ wrist as some complicated emotion battled its way on his face. He sighed, deeply. “Madi, I—” He swallowed. “The cache, Madi. Eleanor Guthrie, she— we were forced to tell her where to find the coordinates of the cache. I am so sorry, I—”
Madi raised a hand once again to interrupt him. “You do not think that John and I would not have a way of protecting the location of the cache? Even in a situation such as this?”
“I am a man with a very low pain tolerance,” Silver shrugged with a smile that made me doubt every word that left his mouth. “Threaten me and I will say anything to get myself out of danger.”
My eyebrows raised so high that they nearly entered my hairline. Out of all on our table, Holmes seemed to be the only one unsurprised by this revelation.
“You gave Mrs. Rogers a false lead.”
“Quite so, Mr. Holmes. Billy Bones was the one who called me Long John Silver in the first place. He knows I hate the moniker—and he knows I would only use it as code if I was forced to do so. The money is safe, Captain. Though I have to say, I appreciated your quick thinking in lying to Guthrie that the cache is your safety net. Inspired.”
James leaned back in his chair, breathing heavily. “But then— the transport route—”
“I have the route.”
“The fuck you do,” Vane growled.
“Of course I do,” Max replied. “Do I need to remind you of all people, Charles Vane, just how far my contacts can reach?”
“Perhaps,” I finally interjected in this heated discussion with some trepidation. “We could leave the logistical discussions of the route and the rescue until the morning.”
“And why’s that, doctor?” The sneer across her lips was subtle, yet sharp as a dagger.
I nodded towards James, who was close to nodding off where he sat. “It would be a betrayal of my Hippocratic Oath if I did not send this man to get some rest right away. We all have been through quite the ordeal tonight and, speaking for myself and a few of us here, I would be much better equipped to plan a daring rescue mission on a head full of sleep and a belly full of food.”
Mary stood, squeezing my shoulder in thanks. “I will show you where the rooms are. There should be enough for all of us, however—”
“One of us ought’a keep watch,” Anne Bonny spoke for the first time since she had entered the room. “I’ll stay here.”
“The Captain can stay with me in the ground floor room,” Silver nodded towards James. “I’ll keep an eye on him, Doctor Watson.”
Any and all fight that seemed to remain within James was gone with the sheer exhaustion; he simply nodded in agreement. As everyone around the table stood to leave, I heard Madi going up to him and saying in a quiet, gentle voice:
“We will find him, Captain. I promise you, we will find him. No one will be able to stop us.”
James did not reply and she pulled him into a gentle, comforting embrace.
In the early hours of the morning, after we had breakfasted and discussed the complex logistics of the endeavour we were to embark on, I lay, restless, in my bed milling over every detail of what all of us had discussed. Holmes, James, Jack, Charles, Silver, Anne, and myself were to venture out to perform the task at hand, while the others completed their roles elsewhere. Every piece of what Madi Scott and her crew had planned appeared sound, and it was as if every aspect was accounted for. And yet, my mind raced with the one core part of this all:
Once we left the English border and performed this heist, none of us could ever return.
It did not matter what influence or dark channels Miss Max could manipulate. It did not matter what influence Holmes or his brother yielded. Despite the fact that it had been years since his incarceration, the news of Thomas Hamilton’s resurrection would resurface in the darkest echelons of high society—and Holmes’ involvement in it would not be able to be ignored. Additionally, Lord Ashbourne and Lord Ashe’s deaths in tandem with such an event would tie him to their demise in an instant. If Holmes was not to return to London, then I certainly was not to do so either, for I stubbornly refused to be parted from him again. On top of that, I doubted the decimation of his career or reputation could leave me unscathed. If Holmes was to be forced out of London a second time, he would not leave without me.
Almost as though reading my thoughts, a soft but decisive knock rattled on my bedroom door in that moment. I was supposed to be packing my things and possibly catching a short nap, but I answered nonetheless. I opened the door to find Holmes on the other side of it.
“Oh, Holmes. Come in, come in.”
Sherlock Holmes walked into my room in a swift motion, making his way to one of the chairs and sitting down. His breath moved through him quickly, and he did not meet my eyes.
“What is it?” I asked after a still moment passed.
“I apologise, Watson. We are meant to be preparing for our departure from this place, and I should allow you the proper time to do so,” Holmes said, standing up again from his chair, indecisive about his movements. He rushed toward the door again, and therefore toward me, and I halted him with a hand on his chest.
“Holmes, what is the matter? You do not seem like yourself.” At that, a sigh fell from his lips. I had managed, it appeared, to crack his outer shell with an ease I had not found in years.
“I felt it necessary,” Holmes began, stepping back from me, “to speak with you about some of the details of this plan. One detail in specific, in fact.”
“What detail would that be?” I walked away from the door, and sat at the foot of the bed as he sat upon one of the wooden chairs across from me.
“Once we leave England, Watson, we cannot return. Perhaps, we never will. If the interception of this transport goes as planned, no matter what the outcome of it is, we are sealing our fate in the eyes of the British Empire.” The shadows of sunrise cast across Holmes’ eyes from the window, and I felt a chill come over me.
“Yes, I am well aware.”
“I mention this, Watson, because I know of your attachment to this land. You have never lived elsewhere, and your practise in London is rather dear to you. I worry— I have concern that this part of the journey may be one that could be too dangerous, or perhaps too painful, for you to embark on. If that is true, I will hold no fault toward you. It is a large change to commit yourself to for a man you knew so briefly and I—“
“Holmes, forgive the interruption, but what in the Lord’s name are you talking about?” At that, he jolted upright, looking at me square on with a puzzled expression.
“London is my home. I have lived there for nearly two decades now. Of course, it is no easy task to abandon my life and my profession for an effort that may not work. I was contemplating the reality of it just moments before you knocked on my door. But, if you are so willing to sacrifice your life’s work—your career, your reputation—in replacement for a life of secluded retirement all for an attempt to save one man, then how could I do anything but follow you?”
For a moment, Holmes said nothing. He stared at me, wordless and confused, as though some unprecedented realisation had come over him. Somehow, in seeing Holmes’ own fear about the circumstances laid before us, all previous rumination left my mind. If he was not doubtful of his own motions, but rather of mine, then there was nothing to contemplate. I would follow him to the ends of the earth if it meant getting to work by his side again, and I would not allow a brief hesitation to take that chance from me.
“I do have a different question for you, now, however,” I spoke again after tiring of the silence.
“What is it?”
“How is it that you are so certain to abandon your work in London for this? You knew the Hamiltons less than even I did, and you have spent so much of your adult life building your reputation as that of a consulting detective. What is it that motivates you to leave behind all of that for these people who have so often shown disdain and mistrust towards you? Especially considering the fact that we do not know for certain whether we will find Thomas Hamilton alive.”
He thought on my question, flicking his thumb against his lapel.
“In the years since my return from the social grave Moriarty built for me, I have seen a new side to London’s underbelly. A side that is not tied to the street rats, the prostitutes, or other unsavoury types.” He said unsavoury as though quoting the words of someone outside himself. “The worst parts of London—of England—are not those who exist in the difficult edges and margins that high society wishes to eradicate. The worst parts of this country are found in the meeting rooms at Whitehall. They are found in the parlours of the landed gentry, in the summer estates of Shropshire and Darbyshire. They are the true gutter of our society, Watson, only no one acknowledges it because they tend to dress nicely. I have no interest continuing to work in such a place.” He gave me a small, unexpected smile. “In a rare occasion for a man of his class, Thomas Hamilton saw this. It is why he did the work that he did. I am a fool for not having seen it earlier; and if I do have even the faintest chance to rescue him and to ask his forgiveness for whatever part I may have played in his misfortune, I owe it to him and to all other wretches I have wronged during my career to try.”
I was at a loss for what to say then. The man before me was once again the one I recognised from our years working together and cohabitating. I no longer felt the fog of confusion and minced words between us, and if I had less composure, I am uncertain what I would have done in that moment. I looked at this man, who was finally a reflection of the moral eccentric that I grew so attached to in our younger years. I looked at him and felt no doubt, no fear. Instead, all that occupied my heart then was relief.
“If that is how you feel, Holmes, then I see no issue before us.” He looked up at me again from where his eyes peered at the floorboards, and there was the same glimmer of excitement in his eyes that I saw all those years ago in Bart’s Hospital. Now, it was tinged with exhaustion, his face now more lined, and a risk of imprisonment or death at the end of this plan loomed over us. And yet, as his lips curled into a smile I had missed so deeply, I could not find it within myself to care for fear or rage anymore.
“No issue at all, my dear Watson.”
The term of endearment stood out to me in that sentence more than it had in the past. I was unsure how long it had been since last I heard it, and I longed for a distant time when hearing such words was nothing short of normalcy. I reached to his arm, then, and gave him a reassuring shake.
“Now, would you like to help me pack my things?”
In the early afternoon of that same day, I was saying goodbye to one person from our party, the one person I thought I would never have to be parted from for very long.
“I will be all right,” Mary reassured me for what felt like the hundredth time, her hands gently resting on my shoulders.
“Please, be safe,” I insisted, for I could feel the intensity with which my heart was breaking. The fact that my wife and Miranda were the first to enter this new stage in all our lives, this dangerous endeavour to which we had all assigned ourselves to—it sat deep, unpleasant in my chest.
Mary’s eyes glinted in amusement. “My dearest John. Yourself, James, Holmes and Mr. Silver are going to return to London—a place which holds many enemies to both James and Holmes—infiltrate a network of dangerous people who have attempted to kill you, and discover information to then use to track down a train and blow it up. Miranda and I are going to a small French countryside town, with well-established connections already, to locate and settle down into some cottages and perhaps do some interior decorating while we are at it. And you want me to be safe?”
“Yes,” I insisted helplessly. “Mary, you know as well as I do that the endeavour is dangerous in every stage that it is in. I am your husband; it is my job to worry after you.”
“What a ridiculous notion,” Mary laughed and gently patted my cheek. Even as our hearts belonged to others, my love for her was a constant I could not deny. In the weeks before our reunion, I would miss the warmth in her eyes as she looked at me. I would doubly miss how such simple, teasing phrases from her managed to ground me upon the earth like little else.
“You remember Max’s instructions?”
“Go to Marilès. Meet a man named Featherstone, who Max has already contacted on our behalf. Let him take us to a place outside of town, where we will find long abandoned cottages. Make cottages habitable as much as we can. Immediately send you a letter with directions. I remember, John, I assure you that your fretting is nothing more than an indulgence.”
I squeezed her hands and for a moment we stood there, just letting the cold winter wind bracket us.
“You are okay with this?” I asked, finally. “I realise that you most likely did not mean to abandon your life in London when you agreed to come to Glasgow with me.”
She gave me a wry smile. “To be honest with you, I thought I may have to. I knew there was no way Miranda could return to London. And I would not be parted from her ever again. So I already said my goodbyes, darling. To me, a home is not a place. I discovered this long ago. My home is where she is.”
I gave Mary a gentle smile and pulled her into my arms into a comforting embrace. “I am so happy for you, my dear. I am so happy that you have found each other. You deserve no less.”
Mary squeezed my shoulders and pulled back to meet my eyes. “You deserve just as much,” she said, her voice careful and kind. The implication behind her words stung my heart, but I could not let myself ruminate on it, not now of all times. Mary took a deep breath. “Do you think you will find him, John? Thomas, I mean. Do you truly believe he may be alive?”
I sighed heavily and looked out into the street from the small window in Mary’s room. Snow was gently falling outside, dancing around the air in a frozen waltz. Outside the front door of the inn, I could see two figures, sitting down on the curb, their hands tangled in a gesture of unquestionable affection. I thought I recognised Anne Bonny’s fiery hair.
I closed my eyes. So many lives and loves at risk today, this week, the week after. All because of the small, fragile hope that a man we all thought dead may still be saved. That we may be able to bring life back to James and Miranda, two people who had lost it long ago.
I looked back at Mary. “If Thomas knew all that was at stake, he would probably kill us all for even thinking of attempting it. I cannot tell you whether we will succeed, my dear. I cannot tell you whether we will all get our happy ending. But what I know—and I am as certain of it as I am of the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow—is that we must at least try. We simply must.”
Mary nodded and leaned her head against my shoulder. We stood there in this moment, savouring its stillness, appreciating it to be the last quiet hour before the storm we were all about to walk into.