There was almost no noise, however. At least none he could follow. Gradually hours eyes had adjusted to the lack of light, other than what little moonlight found its way through the obscuring clouds. The horses were still there, exactly as they had been before the torch had been extinguished, but the two men had vanished if they had never existed.
Ian turned on the seat, throwing his left arm in front of Annie and pulling her towards him. He shoved her behind his left shoulder. As he did, the two movements simultaneous, he brought the pistol around, pointing it at the rear door of the carriage.
He wasn't disappointed. The door burst open and something came hurtling through it from the outer darkness. Ian delayed for half a second, unsure whether this was something the two had thrown into the carriage to make him fire. He was well aware that he had only one shot. And then, judging the bulk of the object to be man-sized, he knew he couldn't take the chance that it was not one of the scavengers.
He squeezed the trigger, and the noise of the shot filled the coach, along with a smell of acrid as that from the make-shift torch. He had time to think that he couldn't possibly have missed at that range before a body sprawled across his knees. He pushed the man to the floor with the hand that still held empty pistol, just as another shape scrambled into the opening. It was the second man, who had a hand on either side of the frame of the door to pull himself in.
Ian reversed the pistol, holding it by the barrel and using the wooden stock to strike at the man climbing into the coach. The second highwayman put up his forearm, deflecting Ian's blow, which had been aimed at his head.
Ian felt Annie begin to struggle beside him, but it took him too long to understand what was happening. The intruder wasn't concerned with entering the coach. He had instead gripped Annie's arm and was pulling her towards the open door.
Ian tried to get to his feet, hampered by the body on the floor and by his damaged leg, which had stiffened from the cold and hours-long inactivity. Although he managed to lurch upward, the leg gave way, spilling him onto his knees on top of the body of the intruder, which had fallen between two seats.
"Let me go," Annie demanded, her small fists rising and falling as she flailed at the man who held her. Although she was struggling fiercely, she was being drawn inexorably to the door.
Ian reached for her and caught the sleeve of her coat between his fingers. Either they, too, were numb with the cold or his purchase had not been secure. The fabric was ripped from his hand as Annie was pulled forward and out of the coach.
He heard her outcry when she hit the ground. Whether it was an expression of pain or of fear, Ian couldn't be certain, but the thought that the bastard might have hurt her infuriated him.
Discarding the useless pistol, Ian pushed himself upright. He lunged forward, stepping on the dead man. He stood poised a moment in the doorway of the coach, trying to decide which of the forms on the ground below, starkly highlighted against the white snow, was Annie's.
Then a foam of pale petticoat amid the dark material of the girl's skirt settled the question.
Knowing that his mobility was going to be limited no matter what he did, Ian simply dived out of the door on top of the man who was attempting to drag Annie to her feet and into the woods. A grunt of surprise and a whoosh of expelled breath as the man hit the ground indicated the accuracy of Ian's landing.
It also jarred every place in his body where a piece of shrapnel had embedded itself more than a year ago and especially those places where bits of metal still lodged deep in muscle and bone.
Now or never, Ian thought, ignoring the agony. He used the advantage of shock and his superior position to begin pounding the man's head with his fists. The leather gloves he wore offered some protection, but his hands were so cold that each blow felt as if it might shatter his knuckles. He could only hope that the bones of the man writhing in the snow beneath him were experiencing that same punishment.
His opponent somehow managed to get his legs up. He fitted his knees under Ian's stomach and threw him off. The blow to Ian's body, which still harboured one of the fragments the surgeons had deemed too risky to remove, was nauseating.
Now he was no longer the one in the superior position. No longer the one raining blows on his opponent's head. Ian put his arms and his hands up, protecting his face as well as he could, as he simply endured the onslaught of pain.
The other man fought with the brutal tenacity of a street brawler, which was undoubtedly where he had acquired his skills. Ian could smell him, the rank, fetid miasma of perspiration that surrounded him despite the bite of the cold, fresh air.
Finally Ian managed to jam his elbow into his opponent's throat. The move was accomplished more by luck than desi, but it distracted those punishing fists for a heartbeat, as the man raised both hands to grab at his injured windpipe.
I have been lazy lately... =_= APOLOGIES.
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