The next day, they left later than they had planned. Aunt Jemima insisted on them taking hers and Uncle George’s carriage, something that William tried to resist, but Aunt Jemima was Aunt Jemima and she always won in the end.
Sarah and her father talked little on the way home, as she was still at war with herself over what she had seen the night before.
“Come now, Sarah, what’s bothering you?”
She didn’t turn her gaze from the road, nor did she answer her father’s question.
“Don’t tell me it’s that supposed ghost you saw.”
She straightened and glanced at him. “He was right there,” she said. “I would not lie to you, Papa.”
William sighed. “I know.”
After another long moment, her father moved to sit beside her. He plopped onto the seat and caught his hat as it tipped forward. “Confounded thing,” he muttered. “Won’t you stay put for once?”
Clearing his throat, he reached into his cot pocket and withdrew a packet of letters. “I’ve been meaning to give you these-”
The carriage jerked to a stop. William shoved the letters into her hands and opened his door.
Sarah leaned outside her window, freezing in place as Regulars started to come out from behind the trees. She spotted Edward among them and swallowed.
One of them, who she presumed to be the leader, came forward. His sharp face and steely eyes sent a chill through her. “William Northam?”
Oh no. Sarah bit her lip and sent up a prayer. Edward saw through Papa’s bluff and told his superiors, and now we’re stopped on the road in the middle of nowhere.
“You are hereby accused of being a spy for those traitors based upon information obtained about you. What have you to say about it?”
“That it isn’t true?”
“Don’t play games, Mr. Northam,” Edward said, urging his horse forward. “You didn’t fool me at all last night.”
Sarah stuffed the letters into her reticule, picked up her skirt, and started outside. “Papa?”
“It…it seems I have no choice, Sarah,” William said, stepping down.
“You as well, Miss.”
Sarah gaped. She sent a pleading look towards Edward, but he shook his head. She turned back to her father, who had been joined by the driver.
“It’ll be all right, Sarah, don’t you worry,” he said as two Regulars came to take him. “Come on now.”
Having stepped fully onto the ground by now, Sarah eyed the woods tentatively. Did she dare?
“Miss Northam, I won’t say this again,” the leader said. “Come along with us.”
In that moment, she made her choice. She turned and bolted for the trees, ignoring her father’s surprised shout.
“After her, Lieutenant!”
She heard Edward shouting behind her and pushed herself farther. Snow kicked up and the autumn chill cut through her cloak, biting at her face.
What was going on? What did Papa do? Was he really with the rebels? What of the letters he had given her?
Her legs started to weaken. She stumbled over a fallen tree root, hidden under the snow. Behind her, Edward and the men with him were coming up fast. They would be overwhelming her within seconds, and she had no way of escape.
She barely registered that her childhood friend sounded panicked. Shivers filled her whole being and she brought her arms up to warm herself when a flash of orange caught her eye.
She looked up and a gasp caught in her throat. Up ahead, on a nearby snowbank, the Headless Horseman had appeared. In one blink, he was charging towards her.
She stood, slipping and stumbling as she tried to get away. Right as she managed to stand on both feet, the Horseman’s left arm shot out and grabbed her, drawing her up onto the horse.
Sarah screamed, closing her eyes and desperately trying to push herself off. They barreled through Edward and his men, who followed after once they got their own horses under control.
“Let me go! Please, let me go!”
“Stop screaming in my ear and I will! You’ll cause me to go deaf!”
She paused. A voice? From a headless man?
They neared a bridge and the Horseman urged his horse over. Once across, he said, “Duck!”
Sarah did, and he drew a cutlass from a sheath on the other side of the saddle. He swung it at a barely-visible rope, cutting it with one strike. It released a small boulder from the tree above them and crashed through the middle of the bridge.
Edward pulled his horse away from the gaping hole, causing it to go up on its’ hind legs. “Sarah!”
The Horseman steered his horse away. Sarah strained her neck trying to catch a glimpse of Edward, to see if he was finding another way across.
She remained silent. Sometime later, they approached a familiar sight.
“Aunt Jemima’s house?” Sarah muttered beneath her breath. “But-”
The Horseman was silent as he stopped his horse and helped her dismount first. She was too shocked to run.
Wordlessly, she walked up the steps and opened the door, calling out, “Aunt Jemima? Uncle George?”
She looked up at the landing. Her aunt and uncle, clad in their nightclothes, came rushing down the staircase. Overcome with emotion, Sarah collapsed into her aunt’s arms.
“Aunt Jemima, they took him! The Regulars took Papa! Edward was there and the Headless Horseman also! And he took me here! Why did the Horseman take me here? What is happening?”
“Perhaps I could explain.”
Sarah turned around to see that the Horseman had come inside and was pulling a black cloth off his head, revealing handsome features framed by tousled, thick dark hair. Piercing blue eyes winced, as though he were nervous.
Uncle George cleared his throat. “Sarah, allow me to introduce Isaac Hale.”