Disclaimer:  Okay, this is just a little something I thought up while working on my Cyclops story and listening to Loreena McKennit.  I went ahead and wrote this story because I was afraid I'd lose the idea if I didn't commit to putting it down on paper as soon as possible.  I hope you like it.     

And, just for the record, I'm not a Rennie (though I have a lot of friends who are), but I am a live action role-player, which means I normally end up going to Ren Fests in full costume anyway.  I'm not slamming on Rennies or role-players in the least in this fictive, so please don't take it that way.

The Highwayman is a traditional ballad and is not owned or copyrighted by anyone, no matter what they may claim. Iceman, Rogue, Gambit, and the rest of the X-Men are the property of Marvel Comics and are used without permission. Hopefully they'll continue to be as nice as they have been in the past and not ask me for money.  I'm not making any off of this, so I wouldn't have any to give them anyway. 

The red-coats are the property of the Queen of England and themselves, but property laws get all muddled when venturing across the drink, so even if they had a problem with me using their likeness, they probably couldn't do anything about it anyway.  At least not without UN backing.

Renaissance Dreams
by Kitsune

It was a warm spring Saturday and the various members of the X-Men found themselves longing to be outside, enjoying the gorgeous weather.  Over breakfast Hank mentioned that the New York Renaissance Festival had recently started its spring season, and politely suggested that the X-Men might want to attend.  Surprisingly, his proposal was met with cheerful approval, as most of his teammates felt that such a magnificent day would be a shame to waste.

However, Bobby Drake was considerably less enthusiastic about the outing than his friends.  He had recently returned from an extended road trip with Rogue, during the course of which they both opened up to one another about personal issues and private opinions.  He thought that the trip had brought them closer.  He even thought that perhaps she might even have feelings for him that were similar to the feelings he had for her.

No such luck.  They had barely been back a week when Rogue suddenly decided that maybe the secret she glimpsed in Gambit's mind when he kissed her was redeemable.  Maybe she should give him the benefit of the doubt until he felt ready to confess the truth to her, and maybe when he did, she'd be able to handle it herself.

Bobby couldn't fault the maturity in Rogue's decision, but it meant Rogue and the Cajun were an item again, while Bobby's relationship with Rogue had been pushed to the back burner.

This, of course, displeased him.  But instead of spending the day at home brooding, Bobby decided that maybe the flash and color of the Renaissance Festival would serve as a suitable distraction from his romantic woes.

Or, if that didn't work, he could always find a beer tent and drink until it didn't matter anymore.

So Bobby found himself shuffled along with the rest of his teammates into various vehicles for the long drive to the site of the Festival.  By some stroke of luck he ended up in the same car as Scott and Jean, with Hank next to him in the back seat.  The happy couple, along with the ever-verbose Hank, supplied enough cheerful banter of their own for Bobby to feel he was safe in silence, occasionally adding the odd comment. 

Scott and Jean didn't seem to notice how pensive Bobby was; though Hank intermittently shot him worried glances which Bobby shrugged off until they reached the Festival.  Once free from the car and Hank's inquiring eyes, Bobby purchased a ticket and lost himself in the crowds of people who had turned out for the Renaissance Festival. 

Most of them were families, or couples, in T-shirts and shorts, though there were occasionally groups and individuals wandering around in full costume who he knew weren't members of the Festival's cast. He thought it a little odd that those people would put so much time and effort into costuming they could only wear a few times a year, but he had to admit that they looked comfortable in their garb, and that they seemed to blend in with their surroundings better than the majority of the mundane masses.

Eventually his meandering through the Festival grounds caused Bobby to forget his brooding, and focus on the interesting booths and exciting activities going on around him.  Here a woman manned a booth of hand-blown glass, and Bobby watched, fascinated as she quickly and skillfully formed tiny animals, bottles, and pendants. 

There a young man stood, behind the low counter to the ax-throwing booth, and enticed passers-by to attempt his game by demonstrating how easy the axes were to throw. 

The Kissing Wenches were out in full force, charming and bawdy, and even Bobby paused to laugh uproariously as the Professional Insulter affronted a giggling victim.        

However his cheerful mood ended a few moments later as he rounded a corner and spied Rogue and Gambit staring blissfully into one another's eyes.  Bobby stopped dead in his tracks and stepped to one side to lean against a booth to watch the oblivious couple.

Gambit held something in his outstretched hand, which appeared to be a small, open cardboard box, and Rogue was busy removing an item from the folds of tissue inside.  From the depths of the tissue, Rogue's delicate gloved hand returned with a fragile gold necklace, its links glinting in the sunlight.  As she fastened it around her neck, she rewarded Gambit with a dazzling smile, and Bobby punched the wall of the booth he'd been leaning on.

"Aye," shouted the man running the booth, "Don't take th' wall down m'lord."

"Sorry," Bobby muttered, and strode off to find a beer tent.        

Half an hour later, Bobby was seated at a wooden picnic table in a beer tent nursing his fourth brew and his sorrows.  Why couldn't Rogue feel the same way about him as he did about her?  Why did she seem so unaware of his affections?  And why on earth would she choose Gambit over him?!        

He groaned inwardly as a small troupe of musicians took the stage at one end of the tent.  Couldn't they let him be miserable in peace instead of forcing him to listen to what was sure to be some cheery, vulgar song that included audience participation?  Bobby sighed as they began their set, but to his surprise the first song wasn't at all bubbly or bawdy.  Instead it began as a low, gentle thrum that increased in tempo only slightly before the vocals began.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding,
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

The woman singing had a precise, cool voice that had a calming effect on Bobby.  He nodded to himself while drumming his fingertips on the tabletop in time to the music.

He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle.
His boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jeweled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilts a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky.

Bobby closed his eyes and let the music wash over him….

Elsewhere: Another World in Another Time

In the dark old inn-yard, a stable-wicket creaked where Robert the ostler lay hidden, listening.  He heard the clattering of horse's hooves over cobblestones and the sound of someone tapping on the inn's barred shutters.

There would be no one to answer this time of night, as every respectable man and woman should be in bed.

The next thing Robert heard was a clear, low whistle in a tune he recognized, but could not quite place, then the sound of whispered voices. That would be the landlord's daughter, Rogue, and the scoundrel who was her lover.  Robert hadn't a name for the man, but he knew that Rogue's lover was a highwayman and a wanted criminal.

Robert shifted in his hiding-place to obtain a better look.

There was Rogue, clad only in her nightdress, leaning from the open window to speak to her lover, who was mounted on horseback.  Robert's heart twisted to see her so shameless and yet so beautiful.  Her long black hair was plaited, starting at the nape of her neck, a dark red love-knot lacing its way through the inky strands.  The white streak toward the front glowed softly in the moonlight, and her large dark eyes were wide with love and trust as she gazed at her lover.

A pang of longing grew inside Robert but was quickly burned away by jealousy as soon as he heard her lover speak.

"One kiss ma cherie, I be after a prize t'night.  But I be back wit' de gold when de morning come.  If dey press me sharply, an harry me all de day, den look fo' me by de moonlight."

"But what if they catch you, m'love," Rogue whispered, fear flickering in her face.

"Don' you worry none cherie," her lover replied, "I come for de by de moonlight, even if Hell do bar de way."

He rose upright in the stirrups and reached for her hand, but the window was too high.  Thinking quickly, Rogue loosened her hair from its braid and let the long waves fall over his face.  Her lover kissed her perfumed hair in the moonlight, then reigned his horse and galloped away to the west.       

As her lover sped from the inn-yard, Robert heard Rogue say, "Be careful Remy, m'love."  Then she shuttered the window and returned to bed.        

It was then Robert knew what to do.  He hurried from the inn-yard in the direction of town and the soldiers' barracks.

Rogue's lover did not return with gold in the morning as he had promised, and Robert noticed the landlord's daughter was easily distracted throughout the day, a faintly worried look marring her lovely features.        

Night fell, and with still no word from her lover, Rogue retired early to bed.  It was shortly after dusk that Robert noticed a small battalion of men, clad in the red coats that marked them as the King's soldiers, come marching over the hill and down the road toward the inn.        

He frowned and hid himself again.  They weren't supposed to come here.

From his hiding place Robert watched King George's men enter the inn.  All was quiet for a few moments, then a shrill scream shattered the air.

Rogue!  Robert ached to leap from his hiding place and rescue her, but fear made him remain where he was.  All he could do was watch.        

A few moments later Robert saw the shutters to Rogue's bedroom swing open, and in the darkness there he could barely make out several of the King's men tying his beloved to her bedpost!  His face burned with outrage, but he knew there was nothing he could do.

They bound Rogue's hands in to her sides, and placed a gag in her mouth.  With the same rope with which she was bound to the bedpost, they bound a musket beneath her breast, perhaps to threaten her lover with her death once he arrived.  Then they lay in wait in the darkness of Rogue's bedroom for the highwayman to come.

The hours seemed to creep by like years, as Robert lay hidden, watching his beloved's face like a light in the window.  Rogue seemed to be quietly struggling against her bonds, and Robert hoped she wouldn't do anything foolish.  Eventually she stopped struggling, though it was too dark for Robert to see if she'd accomplished what she'd intended … whatever that might have been.

Then, in the distance, the sound of horse's hooves.

Robert glanced at the window to see if the redcoats were noticing. They seemed to be oblivious to the increasing sound, but Robert saw Rogue's eyes widen in fear.  Obviously she could hear the horse's hooves clear as day.

The sound grew nearer and nearer, and Robert hoped that the entire mess would be over quickly.  The redcoats would either capture or kill the highwayman, and then they would release Rogue unharmed.  Of course the lovely young woman would be sick with grief at the loss of her lover, and Robert would be there to provide a steady shoulder to cry on…

Closer and closer the rider came, and the redcoats finally stirred. They readied their muskets just above the windowpane.

Robert held his breath.  This was it.

Then suddenly, the sound of a musket firing shattered the night. The rider's horse whinnied loudly, and there was the sound of retreating hooves.

Puzzled, Robert looked to the window to see Rogue slumped over the musket bound to her breast, her nightdress stained wet with blood.  One finger had managed to work itself loose from the ropes and hung limply from the trigger.

Robert strangled a scream of horror as the redcoats swarmed out of the inn and gave chase to the retreating rider.  The figure of his beloved remained bound to her bedpost by rope and blood, most certainly dead.  As the redcoats vanished into the night, Robert took his head in his hands and wept.

The dawn had come and Robert had not slept.  Instead he had assisted the sobbing landlord and his equally tearful wife, clean and dress their lovely daughter's corpse for her funeral later that day.  Once the task had been completed, Robert retired to the stable to weep once more.        

Then, in the distance, he heard the sound of a horse's galloping hooves and wild shouting.

Robert crept from the stable and inn-yard, and up the road to the brow of the hill where the sounds were coming from the vale below. He lay low to the ground and peered into the vale.  There, on the highway below, mounted on horseback was the highwayman.

With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.

Surrounding the criminal were several redcoat soldiers, also mounted on horseback, pistols drawn and ready to shoot.

Blood-red were his spurs in' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;

Shrieking like a madman, the highwayman tore into the soldiers, rapier swinging wildly.  The sounds of gunfire echoed in the surrounding air, as did the angry screams of the dying man.

When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,

The highwayman slumped from his horse and tumbled to the ground, staining the dirt with blood, his screams reduced to choking gurgles as he died.

And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat…

In the Present:

Bobby shook himself and sat upright on the bench.  He must have fallen asleep.  He'd had such an odd dream.  As he grew increasingly aware of his surroundings he noticed that the musicians were nearing the end of their song.

Still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding,
Riding, Riding,
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old in-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
And he taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.'

The singer finished with a flourish and the audience clapped enthusiastically.  Bobby found himself applauding with just as much vigor as he rose to make his way from the tent.  Glancing at his watch, he noticed it was getting late, and decided he should probably try to meet up with the rest of his teammates.

As he walked away from the beer tent, the memory of seeing Gambit and Rogue together etched itself into his mind.  Sighing, Bobby felt no better about the situation, but realized that he had no right to dictate the nuances of Rogue's life.  Neither was he justified in abolishing what might truly be love.

This did not solve his dilemma, but it did make him feel better about himself.  Even if he couldn't have Rogue for himself, he at least could allow her the chance to find happiness.

Bobby shrugged in response to his thoughts and disappeared into the crowd to find his friends.

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