It was bitter cold that winter. There was not much work to be found with all the snow. The Fitzsimmons household had three little ones and barely enough food to go around. Tom, the father of the children and husband to his wife, Audrey, spent most of his time patching the house, but the wind couldn’t be kept out. Wood was becoming scarce and spring was a long way off. The baby and Audrey were sick. Tom wasn’t feeling altogether hale, but he needed to find something to augment the turnips that would be their dinner. There were still fish in the creek, but most game had gone to ground.
Coughing, he headed out the door and made his way to the creek. He would use an old scrap of clothing as a net as he’d had luck with this method before. The winter air was quiet so he heard the horses before he saw them. He knew it was Bill, there weren’t any other groups of horses in this area; the nobles were either castle bound for the winter or had gone to London to be at court.
Danny Pecke walked his black horse slowly in front of Tom’s path, the horse blowing steam from its nose. It’s gate said, “You cannot get away.” There were two more deputies walked up slowly one on either side. Bill himself came up from behind as was his way. Tom craned his neck to see them tower over him atop there horses. He felt as if he were in a pit.
“You are a hard man to find, Tom” said Bill from behind. “Thought you might be shirking you duty. You are far behind on your payments.”
“Bill, I have not a dime to my name.” said Tom. “There is no work to be had until spring. You know that.”
“Well, I require payment year round.” Said Bill. “You should not have been so frivolous with your money when you worked Gisborne’s land last summer. You know that.” The boys laughed at that. They were eager to laugh. They wanted to have some fun.
“Now, Bill, Let us be reasonable.” said Tom.
“I have been too lenient with you, Tom.” said Bill. “The other folk will think I am soft, and will expect me to be lenient with them.
“ I am not a lenient man, Tom.”
“I am aware of that, Bill. Yet it makes no sense to tax a man out of his home.”
“That is not my concern. I’ll have your hovel and sell it to a man more responsible than you.”
“My wife and little Margaret are deathly ill”
Bill spat. Two less mouths to feed he thought. He knew better than to sound so heartless in front of his deputies. He had had to get new deputies before for being so free with the thoughts in his head. “That is not my concern.” he repeated. “You need to vacate that land by the end of the week, and I don’t want any trouble from you.” Bill removed a coiled whip from his saddle and held it up. Tom had turned to face Bill as they talked and now the color drained from his face. He looked like a ghost.
“Show old Tom how we handle trouble, boys.”
Tom knew it would go worse for him if he put up a fight. He put up a fight anyway.