Wherever You Go



Title : Wherever You Go
Author: Heather Sparrows
Author's notes : A “classical” “Sleepy Hollow” Slash Story, featuring the by now famous pair Ichabod - Horseman.
Time: Directly after the events depicted in Tim Burton’s film. - One change: Brom Van Brunt did not die.
Place: A parallel universe. This story has nothing to do with my other stories “The Straight Story” and “From the Past”.

The day to say farewell had finally come. Sleepy Hollow was peaceful again. - Or was it? - No concern of his any longer.

Katrina would not be without protection. Brom Van Brunt, young and strong as he was, would soon recover fully, and he and Katrina were already thinking of marriage the next spring.

The young blacksmith’s only regret seemed to be that he had not been the hero to save Katrina from the Headless Horseman and Lady Van Tassel. Nevertheless, he was an honest man, and he had shaken hands with Constable Ichabod Crane gratefully and with genuine respect. - The young constable had not been such a coward after all. He had stood his ground against the Horseman. He had even saved Brom’s life. The young blacksmith would not forget this.

The farewell took place at his sickbed in the Van Brunt house. Katrina was present, and Young Masbath, who would find a new home as a servant in the Van Brunt household.

For her farewell, Katrina kissed Ichabod’s cheek, just as she had done a few weeks before as a welcome - but now Brom did not object. Even he was convinced the young constable deserved this kiss from the future Mrs Van Brunt.

“You will always be welcome in Sleepy Hollow.” Katrina said. “And you will always be a welcome guest in our house.”

“Thank you.” Ichabod answered with a polite bow. - It was better to be polite and formal, but he felt that the part he had played in the life of these people was over, regardless of what formalities there might be exchanged. The closeness between Katrina and himself had been gone as soon as it had become clear that Brom would recover. - Had it ever existed at all? Had they wanted it to exist? Had he, Ichabod, wanted it to exist? ...

Young Masbath shook Ichabod’s hand. He felt an urge to hug the young constable like a comrade, but Ichabod seemed distant, formal, and forbearing. Besides, he was older than the boy, and it would not have been respectful.

“So you’re going back to New York.” Young Masbath finally said, before the short silence between them could become awkward. “Wish I could go with you.”

“Your place is here.” Ichabod answered firmly. “With Katrina and Brom.”

Young Masbath seemed hurt, as if Ichabod had rejected him, but he did not say another word about it. He seemed the only one to feel honest regret that the young constable was leaving.

Now the dreaded, awkward silence actually made itself felt, and everybody seemed glad when Van Ripper came in and announced that the coach was ready. Ichabod took up his bags and followed the servant. He quickly climbed into the coach, closed the door, and the coach rumbled away.

The young constable lowered the window and took a short look back: Young Masbath stood in the road and waved. Ichabod waved back. It would have been wrong not to do so. The boy had been the only one to support him - besides Katrina. And he had shown remarkable courage.

*****

The coach passed through the village, and Ichabod took a last look: The church and the churchyard - so many fresh graves now - the Killian house, empty - the bridge, the cornfields, the ruins of the windmill, the Van Tassel house, the ruins of Archer’s cottage. -

Why did he feel so exhausted and sad? There was nothing more to do for him in Sleepy Hollow. He had to leave it behind and to go back to New York to report to his superiors. -

And what was there for him in New York? Just work to do - but since when did he want anything else? - Although - Ichabod could no longer push away the thought that a part of him did not want to go back to New York...

Something was holding him back. - Or - someone? Not Katrina, not Young Masbath, not Brom Van Brunt. One of the Dead? - No. This could not be. Not him! - He had given the Ghost his skull back, thus breaking the spell of the Witch. And the ghostly mercenary had returned to wherever it was he could return to. - There was nothing else he could want of him, the stranger from far away. - Or was there?

The village lay behind them now, and the coach rolled through the woods. The day was cold and grey, trees appeared like skeletal shapes from the mist and disappeared again.

The young constable felt as if he was fleeing, running away from matters unsolved. - But the case was solved! Instead of mulling over useless thoughts, he had better concentrate and compose that report he would submit to his superiors.

His thoughts, however, disobeyed. As hard as he tried, they always returned to one scene: The look the ghostly soldier had given him, before he had spurned his horse and galloped back to the Netherworld, the screaming, bloodied Witch in his arms. - How could this monster give him a look like that? As if the Ghost wanted something of him ... A look full of sadness and - desire? Desire? For what? - For him?

As a policeman, Ichabod had heard about such things. Maybe they were common among sailors and soldiers. - But for himself? Never! - And yet -

He could not silence the thoughts that came unbidden. - He had seen Katrina and Brom, and had instinctively known that a happiness such as theirs was not for him, had never been for him - never. When his fellow students at the university had met with their fiancées (or some of them with girls to be found in the inns and in the streets), he had walked alone, different, distant. And he had never known, had never wanted to know what it was that separated him from the others. He had pushed away the pain that went with it, hiding it well behind a cool aloofness, setting him even more apart - from his fellow students, and later from his fellow constables. - And now it came back - hitting him with an unbelievable force, making him want to jump from the jolting coach, to run into the woods, to seek - what, in Hell’s name - what? -

And there were the nightmares, from which he woke, beaded with sweat, shivering with fear - and desire. Desire again. - Nightmares involving a dark, shadowy figure, touching him in a way he did not want to know about when awake. - Nightmares ever since it had been all over, since the ghostly mercenary had returned to the Tree of the Dead - and had given him that look -

Ichabod shook his head as if to disperse the nagging thoughts. What was he thinking? He had never thought about such things before. - Or had he?

He shook his head again. The sooner he would get away from Sleepy Hollow, the better ... That look ... it made him feel sad, lonely, incomplete ... He should never have touched the Horseman’s skull ...

*****

The Hessian was in his place between worlds, in the Tree of the Dead, fighting his own churning thoughts and feelings. There was despair, pain, loneliness, rage, longing, and bewilderment. Despair - why? From loneliness? Longing - for what? Bewilderment - because he felt so weary and tired since the spell of the Witch had been broken? - Tired and weary of what? Of his loneliness? - Rage - because of pain and bewilderment. - Pain - why? Because he could not forget the young man from far away, slender and graceful as a young deer, with the face of a dark angel? - Fine features, dark eyes, a mass of unruly black hair ... Beautiful and innocent. -

And yet there was some darkness around the Boy. He had tasted the bitterness of life already. - But there also was so much light! - And he, the Horseman, a creature of the shadows, raised from the Dead, could not draw a child of the light into his eternal darkness. - The Young One would suffer.

But if he would let this child of the light go now, he would suffer. Eternal despair and loneliness, without a ray of hope, ever. - And he did not want this kind of suffering for anyone, not even for the Black Witch or for himself ...

After his physical death, he had accepted his fate willingly enough: To serve the same Witch who had broken the twig and set the pursuing soldiers back on his trail - a chit of a girl - a witch even back then. - And the young man had freed him from her spell, giving him his skull back ...

He knew very well that he was only freed from the spell of the Black Witch, but still a servant of the Evil Forces. Only the Boy’s compassion could free him entirely. And he felt sad, despaired, without courage, and lonely for the first time he could remember. - He had always been a loner, his cold, precise, quick way of snuffing lives, his fearsome appearance and his habit of keeping himself apart from his fellow soldiers had made them avoid his company, and he had been content with that. - He had not felt lonely and despaired when he had been forced to return from the Dead to do the Witch’s bidding - and now he longed for what? For that scrawny Boy, barely into manhood? -

//His superiors have sent him here to die.// the Hessian had thought, with a hint of regret even then. The Boy would never be able to fight him and the Black Witch - he did not even believe in the Supernatural - young fool that he was! Almost frightened out of his wits by that silly prank of the young blacksmith - and then, when they all had thought he had shot his last bolt, he had shown a lot of courage after all - and finally sense enough to accept the White Witch’s help. She had been able to protect him and to make him remember the powers sleeping in him. - He had used them in breaking the Black Witch’s power. And in touching his, the Horseman’s, skull, a bond had been formed between them. The Young One fought it, but he felt it strongly, and could not deny it, however hard he tried ...

One of his ancestors must have had magical powers. The Boy had inherited a trace of these powers himself. But would he listen to them? Use them in the future? - Would he be courageous and strong again? And - above all - would he show a feeling heart for someone who had tried to bury all compassion for human beings under a mound of hatred long ago - only to find he had it buried alive?

A drowning man will grab a straw floating on the surface, useless to bear his weight - but he will do it nonetheless ...

The Hessian lifted his head, listening. The young man was near. The mercenary could sense his bewilderment at the strange thoughts in his head.

He would do it. Maybe the Young One would recognise all of his powers and use them wisely - .

The time had come. The Horseman mounted Daredevil and jumped out of the bleeding, gaping portal of Death into the physical world.

*****

The four horses pulling the coach shied and tried to stand on their hind legs when the black horse and its rider broke out of the underbrush right in front of them.

The Hessian moved Daredevil close to the coach, his battleaxe in one hand. He had no intention to kill that fool with half a brain in the coachman’s seat, but should he try to play the hero -

Van Ripper did not. With a muffled cry he jumped from his seat and took to his heels. No doubt he would run back to the village to report that the Horseman had killed or abducted the constable, and sooner or later they would search for the young man. But they would never find him ...

The Hessian dismounted and quickly freed the horses from the coach. They fled a short distance, then calmed down and started to graze.

The chain of Ichabod’s thoughts was broken abruptly when the coach stopped with a jolt that threw him from his seat onto the floor. He jumped up hastily, looked out of the coach window and drew his breath in sharply: The ghostly mercenary on his horse, reins in one hand, his axe in the other! - He heard Van Ripper’s muffled scream, the thud when the peasant jumped off the coachman’s seat, heard him running away. -

Ichabod knew the Ghost would not pursue Van Ripper. He was after him. - Without thinking, he reached for his pistol, which he had kept ready, in case they should encounter highwaymen. Part of him was alert and anticipant, even relieved, while the other one cowered with fear, when he heard the ghostly Horseman’s steps approaching with the familiar jingle of spurs. He mustered all his courage and threw the coach door open, aiming his pistol.

The tall figure in the sweeping cloak filled the doorframe, no less fearsome with his head in place. Blue-grey eyes, cold and yet sad, locked into Ichabod’s.

The young constable became aware of the pistol in his hand, and of what a foolish idea it was to think he could harm the Hessian with it. He should know better ...

The blue-grey eyes held him in their gaze, and he was unable to look away, to break the spell. But he felt the Horseman lift the axe - it whistled through the air, past him, buried itself in the coach door - and crumbled to dust.

Everything began to sway, the pistol fell from the constable’s numb fingers. Ichabod felt a familiar singing in his ears, the sound of his own blood, before everything went black. He slumped forward, mercifully unaware that the Hessian caught him in his arms.

//It is wrong.// the mercenary thought. //The pain will be even greater when you have to let him go again - when he failed to fulfil the tasks you ask of him.// - But he pushed these thoughts away. He swept the unconscious young man up and mounted Daredevil again, spurning the horse to a fierce gallop. - It was good to feel the Boy in his arms. He smelled young and healthy, of musk and yet sweet ...

*****

Ichabod became conscious again with a start. Could autumn air bit his face, sang in his ears. - The Hessian! He had stopped the coach, and -

The young man felt strong arms holding him in an iron grip, the muscular body of a man pressed against his own, moving in harmony with the galloping horse. Ichabod was helpless, and that thought made him almost faint again. He smelled the horse, leather, grass and wood, wet earth and stone, the musk and sweat of the man. He did not dare to turn his head to look at his captor’s face ...

Shapes of trees whisked past, the thunder of hooves in his ears -

And he knew where they were going, he knew it before the Tree of the Dead came into view. -

He felt the Horseman spurn the horse to an even faster pace - Daredevil jumped, Ichabod saw the portal to the other worlds open at the base of the tree like a bloodied, ragged wound. -

He tried to scream, but a strong hand turned his head sideways, covering his vision, when Daredevil’ s hooves left the ground, and they flew through the air - a cold rush, an icy tingling, a singing in his ears, swelling to a scream, then the hooves of the war-horse touched the ground again, the screaming ebbed away to a humming sound, ceased altogether, Daredevil slowed down, then stood still, snorting and panting. - The hand was taken away from Ichabod’s eyes.

His captor dismounted, putting the young man to his feet with a gentleness that astonished Ichabod. The gentle handling calmed him down a bit. His natural curiosity overcame his fear, and he dared to look around.

He was standing in something like a vast hall. It seemed vast, because its dimensions were somehow undefined. It was difficult to say where the floor began and where the walls ended. The ceiling was lost in dim twilight. Everything had a reddish colour, and the whole hall seemed - alive. Pulsing and breathing. It was warm after the cold outside. There was a smell of fresh wood and earth, and the young man also felt soft earth under his feet. There was a faint glow, emanating from everywhere, giving a soft twilight. Ichabod’s eyes had to adjust to this twilight after the grey autumn day outside - in the other world ...

He became aware that the Hessian had stood back a few steps and was watching him. Not with hatred or glee, questioning, but not judging. Assessing his inner strength, but in a caring way. Strange ...

Because he detected no animosity in the Ghost, the young constable took the courage to take a better look at his captor. The mercenary’s eyes had the cold, watchful quality the eyes of a wolf, a lynx or an eagle have. Only a wolf, a lynx, or an eagle would not have this strange caring look in their eyes. .. The colour varied between blue and grey, echoing the autumn day outside. It was difficult to break away from the look of these eyes ...

The Hessian’s features were strong and fine, nothing coarse or brutish in them. A noble nose, a hard mouth and jawline made the face proud and forbearing. Black, thick hair fell wildly in his face. He was tall and slender, with wide shoulders. His body showed a sinewy strength, his hands were fine, but hard from wielding swords and battleaxes, and holding the reins of a horse. - Ichabod felt a chill when he thought of his nightmares, in which these strong, slender hands had touched him ...

The Horseman’s lips parted slightly in a half smile, as if he were pleased with what he saw, showing a bit of his pointed, razor-sharp teeth. The wild hair and these teeth made him fearsome to look at, as if looking at a dangerous animal, ferocious, and yet noble and beautiful in its wildness ...

//What am I thinking?!// Ichabod covered his face with his hands, bewildered and exhausted from his thoughts, lack of sleep, the hard ride, the passing into another world. But he sill felt the Ghost’s intense eyes upon him.

The Horseman enjoyed looking at the young man, taking in his beauty. He was exquisite. - Thin, too thin, but he had fine bones, long legs, narrow hips and small, firm buttocks. A pale, serious face with burning dark eyes, showing a sharp intelligence and an almost innocent curiosity. A fine nose and full lips. A strong chin and jawline showed that he had more inner strength than a none-too-observant person might assume in him. -

Ichabod took his hands away from his face. He felt uncomfortable under the Hessian’s inquisitive, intense look, but it was better to meet these eyes than just to feel them burning on his body ...

The gaze of the blue-grey eyes softened a bit. The look the mercenary gave him had an admiring quality now. For Ichabod, this was even more embarrassing. He had never had any reason to think of himself as particularly attractive. Too scrawny, and the burning dark eyes in the pale face spoke of inner demons. It drove people away...

He remembered his nightmares. He had felt the dark figure look at him in the same way the mercenary did now. And in his nightmares, he had opened himself to that look, enjoyed it, had become elevated, aroused, longing ...

In a flash, he became aware of where he was. - In the Tree of the Dead, the portal to Hell itself, in the company of an undead warrior, who had mercilessly slaughtered countless people ... Fear came back, seized him with cold claws ... Ichabod hugged himself, as if freezing, a shy, helpless gesture. He swayed, backed away a few steps, but could not turn his eyes away from the Horseman...

The Hessian saw the fear in the young man’s eyes. The same fear had been in the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy, kneeling bound and naked in front of - No! He did not want to think about that -

He shook his head angrily and growled. For almost the span of a human life, he had felt no pain, had had no memories, no feelings. How easy it was to forget - and how bewildering to feel again, to have memories come back -

His growl had frightened the Boy even more. He had retreated another few steps, one arm extended, as if to ward off an attack, his dark, frightened eyes never leaving the other’s face ...

The Hessian stayed where he was, only extended his hands, palms upward.

“Do not be afraid.” His voice was rough from lack of use, but not unpleasant, his words heavily accented, but understandable. “I will not hurt you.”

The Boy tilted his head a bit, as if listening to the words, but not comprehending them fully. The mercenary received images from the young man’s mind, images showing the Young One torn and bloodied.

He knew it was wrong to read the Boy’s mind, but there had been that strong bond between them since the young man had held his skull in his hands, and he could not help it. If only the Boy would overcome his fear! He would be able to realise that the Hessian in reading the young man’s thoughts had opened his mind as well. He might see that the Horseman meant him no harm, but at the moment, the young man’s mind was blocked by anxiety.

//It might be useful to draw his attention to something else.// the Hessian thought.

He went over to Daredevil, took off his reins and saddle, and rubbed the horse down with straw. Not that Daredevil needed this, but he still liked it from the days he had been alive, and he loved the care given to him.

The Horseman’s distraction served its purpose: No longer the centre of the Ghost’s attention, Ichabod became more secure, less afraid again. He came nearer. Daredevil snorted when he approached, but it sounded friendly.

The Hessian had finished rubbing the horse down. The black stallion nodded, as if thanking his master, when suddenly the wall in front of them vanished, and the astonished Ichabod caught a view on a vast grassland, a river meandering through it, blue skies, patches of shadows and sunlight wandering over the grassy plains, which were moved by a strong wind.

Daredevil galloped off into the beautiful scenery, and then there was just the solid, reddish-brown wall again.

Ichabod stood riveted in his place, not believing his eyes.

“His land.” the Horseman explained. “From there he comes when I call him.”

Ichabod nodded. The Hessian’s voice was deep and rough, but he liked to hear him speak.

His curiosity took the upper hand again. What had the mercenary abducted him for? Not to kill him. The Horseman killed quickly and effectively. He would have been dead by now, if this had been the Hessian’s intention. The same went for torture. As far as he knew, the Hessian drew his pleasure from a quick kill, taking in all the life energy of his victim at once. So far, he had found no amusement in inflicting long agony, killing slowly and painfully - Ichabod stopped.

//How do I know this?// he thought. He knew it was true, but he had not known he had such insight into the Horseman’s mind, knew him so well -

There was something else in the Hessian’s mind, something that was connected to Ichabod’s nightmares, and he did not want to know that, although it was clear... Who else could have been the dark figure in his dreams? ...

He became aware that the Hessian was looking at him again, and it was hard to say if he was pleased or displeased - with what he could read in Ichabod’s mind!

A wave of anger welled up in the young man. He would not allow anyone to read his thoughts!

“Stop this!” he demanded, and to his amazement the ghostly mercenary obediently lowered his eyes. Ichabod felt something retreat from his mind - and at the same moment he had a feeling of loss, of regret - as if closing his mind to something important ... A trick to befuddle his thoughts! But he was not sure of that ...

The Hessian however did not seem to be angry about his sharp refusal. He rather seemed worried.

“I will not hurt you.” he repeated. “Believe me. - Please!”

It sounded honest enough. And the sadness in these proud, beautiful eyes ... Ichabod took a deep breath and nodded.

“Thank you.” The Hessian said softly. “Come!” He turned around abruptly without waiting for the young man’s answer, and strode off into the twilight. Ichabod followed, astonished about his captor’s abrupt change of mood, but more curious than frightened now.

He found a chair and a table in front of a fireplace.

“Sit down!” the Ghost invited him.

Ichabod did as he was told. He felt the heat of the fire on his face. Apart from the chair he was sitting in, and the table, the only piece of furniture was a rough bed with a lot of blankets.

The Hessian’s eyes gleamed with a spark of amusement, when he saw Ichabod’s astonished face.

“I want it comfortable.” he said.

The young constable knew quite well that the Ghost did neither rest, nor would he feel cold. The Hessian had provided these things for him ...

The mercenary stood in front of the fireplace now, trying to calm his churning thoughts and emotions. He still felt at a loss, bewildered, helpless, as he had not felt in a long time. It made him angry. And at the same time he felt vulnerable.

//He seems to trust me a bit now. - But I do not dare - how can I ask him to do what has to be done and what I cannot do alone? - I would throw myself at this boy’s feet to plea with him to help me - to have pity on me - and yet - I hesitate to involve him!//

He turned away so as not to see the young man any longer and growled, and his growl became an agonised scream between anger, fear, and pain, and from the flames his wild face stared back at him, multiplied, mocking his despair.

Hearing the growl, Ichabod flinched back at first, again awaiting an attack - which did not come. So he calmed down once more and tried to think. This time, his thoughts took a different direction. He was not so much worried about himself any longer, about what the mercenary might want of him.

Here was that man - or ghost - whom he had thought to be his worst enemy, and so far, he had been met only with friendliness. - He had thought the Ghost a monster, a soulless machine, raised from the Dead for killing. And what had he found? Yes - a soul - maybe damned, but definitely a feeling soul!

The mercenary’s cry had spoken of obvious agony, and Ichabod felt a wish to ease this pain. The cry had struck a familiar chord within him. It had sounded lonely and despaired, and Ichabod knew these feelings well enough.

He gathered all his courage and went over to the Horseman. His hand, gentle and strong at the same time, touched the Hessian’s shoulder. The mercenary turned around. The Young One stood in front of him. His dark eyes still showed fear, but his face was determined.

“If there is anything I can do for you -“ he said in a gentle voice.

The Hessian still hesitated. He had never known himself to be scrupulous and hesitant. Up to now, he had cared only for himself - and suddenly, the young man’s welfare came first. - Could he ask this work of him? He had to, but -

“You brought me here for a purpose.” Ichabod continued bravely.

The lynx eyes took him in - was there a glint of hope in them, of joy even?

Ichabod concentrated on his compassion for the mercenary, and suddenly he felt as if a veil was taken away from his inner vision. He got glimpses of headless bodies - and the heads. - If someone would bring the Dead their heads back -

“I can see into your mind as well!” he exclaimed.

“Since you touched my skull, there is a connection between us.” the Hessian confirmed.

“So far, I had been too afraid to notice.” Ichabod said thoughtfully.

“Now you know.” the mercenary continued. “And you know what I ask of you. Give the Dead their heads back. I have wronged them in the name of the Black Witch. She has no hold any more over them now, but they are still slaves of Evil as I am. If they got their heads back, however, they would be free to go where they actually belong. - Can you do this? Can you give them their heads back?”

“Give them their heads back? - How? Sew them back on again?”

“Yes. - Can you do it?”

“I could sew the heads back on.” Ichabod said thoughtfully. “But what would it - ?”

“You know where their heads are.” the Hessian broke in. “When I take them away from their places, the bodies will come to get their heads back. Can you do it?”

Ichabod took a deep breath. He was not looking forward to this task. But he was determined to help the Hessian.

“It will be entirely up to you.” the mercenary told him. “If you say no, I promise I will bring you safely through the portal to the world of the living. You must know if you will do it. - Because there is more: Even when they will have their heads back, they will not be happy to find themselves here, between life and death. They will be sad. Some will be angry. And you might have to show them their way. You might have to fight them, maybe, to calm them down, to comfort them. - You can help them, guide them, feel for them. I fear I cannot. - Do you want to do this for them? And for me?”

There was so much pain in the autumn-coloured eyes. And a hint of hope. - How could he, Ichabod, justify the trust set in him?

“You know,” he explained, “although I have had some medical training - when I sew a head back on, I cannot reconnect all the blood vessels and tubes and bones, which have been severed when the people were decapitated! So I do not know of how much use it would actually be -“

“It would be enough.” The Hessian assured him, but there was something else on Ichabod’s mind. He hesitated to admit and say it, but he wanted to know ... It astonished him that he could find his voice, because towards his superiors in New York he would never have admitted to - feeling weak and cowardly. - Why did he trust the Hessian so much? Because the Hessian set so much trust and hope in him?

“And what would happen if - if I would start and become too afraid to finish? - I mean - what would happen to you?” His voice was hesitant, he felt like a shy little boy. And it embarrassed him.

“I would be bound to stay here forever, a slave of Evil, unable to go on - to where I might belong.” the Hessian answered. His voice was calm, matter-of-fact, without any bitterness or accusation.

Ichabod understood. In giving the Black Witch’s victims their heads back, releasing their souls, he would also release the Horseman’s soul ...

A part of Ichabod wanted to leave at once at this thought. He was no saviour, for God’s sake! - But the other, stronger part wanted to stay, because he felt it was right. He wanted to help the Hessian ... and the others ... he had offered his help ... So he pushed his fear aside.

He swallowed. “I’ll try. - Let’s begin.”

And he took a step backwards in surprise once more, when the Hessian fell to his knees in front of him, his head bowed, a strangled sound, which was almost a sob, coming from his throat. - Shyly, he approached the mercenary again and very softly touched the bowed head.

//I hate him for what he has done - and at the same time I ask myself how I can hate him.// Ichabod thought.

The Hessian looked up into Ichabod’s face.

“Let’s begin.” he repeated. “There is a difficult task at hand.”

*****

“Come.” He led Ichabod through the vast hall to one of the walls.

Gnarly roots formed a rough circle. They were dark red and pulsing, some were moving, slithering about like snakes, entwining themselves, forming knots, as if growing at an accelerated pace. And amid these pulsing, slithering roots the heads sat. The roots seemed to keep them alive, for when the Ghost and the Man approached, eyes opened, lips tried to form words, the heads moved on their “stalks”, to look at the mercenary and the young man.

//This is the portal through which we came.// Ichabod thought. //They screamed when we rode past them! I heard them scream ...// He felt nauseated at that thought, wiping his eyes to make the blackness before them vanish.

The Hessian took off the first head, as if plucking an apple from a tree, and held it towards Ichabod at the hair. It was Dirk Van Garrett’s head.

Ichabod swallowed down his nausea and took it. He had never held a human head before. It was heavy. He turned around - and screamed, nearly dropping the head, for Young Van Garrett’s headless corpse stood behind him, waiting.

The mercenary indicated something to his left, and Ichabod saw it was an operating table, like the one in Dr Lancaster’s surgery. The body walked over and lay down on the table. Ichabod followed with the head.

He found an assortment of needles and fine surgical thread. There was enough light to see everything clearly.

//Thank God for small favours.// Ichabod thought. He took a deep breath and started to sew.

The head lay motionless, eyes closed, and he was grateful for this as well. Had it moved in any way while he was working, he would have lost his nerve there and then ...

The Hessian watched him from a distance, his cold, intense lynx eyes taking in every movement.

//He is brave.// the mercenary thought. //And he is respectful to the Dead.//

Although being watched made Ichabod rather nervous, it went better than he had thought at first. A small voice in his mind kept telling him that what he was doing would not help much indeed, regardless of what the Hessian thought, for all he could actually do was sewing the head back on, as an undertaker would to spare the mourning relatives having to look at a head severed from the body. The small voice stopped, however, as Ichabod felt the blood vessels, bones, tubes, and sinews join together by themselves under his hands, when he had sewn half around the neck.

As soon as he had done the last stitch, the young man sat up. He shook his head a few times, felt his throat. For a tense moment, Ichabod thought he had done something wrong, and Dirk Van Garrett would attack him, but the young man got up from the operating table and went away after a graceful bow towards Ichabod. He vanished into the shadows of the hall.

//That was easy.// Ichabod thought, but he was not to enjoy his relief about the successful first operation for long, because the next headless body had already taken the place the young man had left, and the Hessian handed the next head to him. It was Old Van Garrett, Dirk’s father.

Ichabod was less frightened now, and the sewing went better and faster.

Unlike his son, however, Old Van Garrett did not disappear when Ichabod had sewn his head back on. He stayed, taking posture at one end of the operating table, and Ichabod found himself taking on the difficult task of first closing up the gaping wound of Emily Winship’s unborn child, then sewing the woman’s body together again, finally fastening her head - all under the scrutiny of two pairs of dead eyes.

The young constable would have liked to send both the ghosts away, to do his grisly work in peace, but he did not dare to. And, oddly enough, something in the Hessian’s look gave him strength and courage ...

When the widow sat up, Ichabod saw for the first time her fine face and beautiful blonde hair. She was - or had been - a good-looking woman in her thirties, and the young constable could understand Old Van Garrett’s attraction to her.

Her face lit up when she saw the man she had loved in life. He took her hand and helped her from the operating table. Together they vanished into the dark recesses of the hall, as Dirk Van Garrett had done.

The next headless body stepped from the dark and awaited his head. It was Jonathan Masbath, Young Masbath’s father.

Meanwhile Ichabod’s eyes hurt, and his fingers ached from all the small, fine stitches he had made to close the wounds the Hessian’s sword and axe had caused, but he went on doing his work with great care, as the mercenary noted gratefully.

Unlike his predecessors, Jonathan Masbath spoke to Ichabod when he had his head sewn back on. He seemed to accept that he was dead and that Ichabod had freed him now from Lady Van Tassel’s spell, but he was worried about his child.

“My boy?” he asked. “What happened to my son?”

“He lives with the Van Brunt household and is well taken care of.” Ichabod answered.

“Thank God! This is good to hear!” The dead Jonathan Masbath took Ichabod’s hand into his cold one and pressed it briefly before he went on his way, satisfied now.

The next head to be sewn on back again was that of Magistrate Philipse. The fat man sat trembling on the operating table when Ichabod had finished.

“Damn you, Crane! Damn you again! - What have you brought up? It is no good to ask too many questions! -“

He saw the Hessian and stopped lamenting at once.

“If there had not been secrets to bring to the light, I would not have discovered anything, Sir.” Ichabod said coldly. “I did not bring secrets and lies to Sleepy Hollow!”

The Magistrate ignored these words. Instead, he extended a fleshy hand to indicate the Hessian. He trembled even stronger.

“He is here is here! God help us, you’re in league with him!”

He wrung his hands and tried to hide beneath the operating table when the dead mercenary came towards him with heavy steps, spurs jingling.

“Enough!” the Horseman said. “He has work to do. - Go! On your way!” He pulled the heavy man out of his corner, lifted him into the air as if he weighed nothing, and put him back on his feet.

The Magistrate’s mouth opened and closed, as if he wanted to say more, but he thought better of it and obediently went into the direction the Hessian indicated with an imperious move of his hand -

and with the same movement, the mercenary caught the headless body of Killian, who had come from the dark into which the Magistrate had vanished, and tried to attack Ichabod.

Ichabod, who had lost his fear of his grisly work a bit in dealing with the lamenting Magistrate, became frightened again, but he forced himself to stay conscious and concentrated, although he would have preferred to run and hide somewhere -

“Go! Fetch his head!” The Hessian commanded, and Ichabod obeyed. He bravely fought the nausea and the blackness in front of his eyes and pushed away the roots to take Killian’s head. The feeling of the warm roots slithering over his hands made him almost gag, but he took the head at the hair and brought it over to the operating table.

The Hessian had wrestled Killian’s body down on the table and held him there. When Ichabod adjusted the head to start sewing, it tried to bite him. He cried in disgusted surprise and jumped back, dropping the head.

The mercenary still held the body pinned down on the table.

“Take the head up again.” he commanded. “Careful! Put it on the table. - Good. - Now start to sew. I’ll keep the body down! - Good! - You are brave!”

//As if we were in battle together.// Ichabod thought. He did as he was told, despite his horror of the head, which tried to turn and move by itself to bite him again, while the body fought his separate fight with the Hessian, who kept him down.

Finally, Ichabod managed to sew the head back on. Killian stared at him, mad hatred blazing from his eyes, ready to attack again.

//The assault on his family has driven him crazy.// Ichabod thought, dodging from the dead man’s clutching hands. - The ghost had nothing in common with the rough, sly peasant, who had rented Gunpowder to him.

With a gurgling scream, he attacked Ichabod again, throwing himself over the operating table between them, dragging the constable down with him. Cold hands grabbed Ichabod’s throat, and he cried out in pain and horror, clawing at the hands which crushed his windpipe.

//Horseman! Help!// he thought, struggling against the dead man. He gasped for air and tried to get the weight from his chest.

The clutching hands were torn away from his throat, and Killian was dragged off him. Relieved, Ichabod sat up, loosened his collar and sucked in air in hasty gasps, grateful to be able to breathe again. He saw how the Hessian dragged the peasant to the portal with the heads, and for a moment he feared the mercenary would tear Killian’s head off again. But he only took away the head of Beth Killian and held it at the hair towards his raging opponent.

The ghost stumbled back and sank to his knees, sobbing. “You killed them! - I could not - !”

//My God!// Ichabod thought.

“Listen to me!” the Hessian commanded. “It is true. I killed you and your family. - But he -“ he indicated Ichabod, “is here to bring them back to you again! - You should help him!”

“How - ?” the man cried in despair, and his rage flamed up anew. “You are the Devil!” He jumped up to attack the Hessian again, who caught him and easily held him at arm’s length. And suddenly, Killian gave up all violence under the hard grip and the stony look of the sad, autumn-coloured eyes.

“You fought me bravely.” the mercenary said. “Will you be brave again? - Then go and help him!” He indicated Ichabod once more.

Suddenly, Ichabod felt deep pity for the brave man, whose family had been cruelly snuffed, because his wife had given a secret away. She had not known that in gossiping she had spoken the death sentence for the Widow Winship, her unborn child, and her own family. - What could he tell him? - And he found that dealing with the dead was not much different from dealing with the living.

“Mr Killian.” Ichabod summoned up all his courage, went over and took the dazed ghost’s arm. “Won’t you help your wife - and your boy? Won’t you take them into your arms when they wake up? They will need you, Mr Killian!”

Something in his words seemed to strike a chord with the dead peasant. He looked up and seemed to understand. At least he calmed down and stood aside, while Ichabod sewed Beth Killian’s head back on.

When he had finished, Beth clung to her husband, who took her protectively in his arms. The dead woman’s eyes, crazed with fear, darted to and fro between Ichabod and the Hessian. The young constable told Beth the same as her husband, and she calmed down a bit. Together the Killians watched Ichabod operate on their son, both becoming more and more hopeful as Ichabod’s work progressed.

When Young Thomas jumped from the operating table, his mother took him into her arms, hugging and kissing him.

“Thank you!” she said to Ichabod.

Ichabod started to reply, but Young Thomas freed himself from his mother’s arms and began to look around, curious, marvelling, unafraid.

“Look!” he suddenly cried.

The wall opened in front of the three people, and a path could be seen, green meadows, a small house. It was the Killian house. Ichabod recognised the place where he had first tried to mount Gunpowder - a thousand years ago? -

Without fear, the small boy ran through the opening in the wall, down the path. His parents followed him. Killian and his wife looked back again, gratefully. Then the opening closed.

Ichabod would have liked to follow them. He was really exhausted now, his eyes burned, he was dizzy, his back and his fingers ached - but his work was not finished yet.

//That was hard on him.// the Hessian thought. //But he is as brave as I hoped him to be...//

His loving gaze caressed the slender figure swaying with exhaustion, and Ichabod felt some of his strength return.

Next was the Crone. And she spoke to Ichabod as well when he had finished his work on her.

“Now, Young One, use your own magic!” she said.

“I do not understand, Madam.” Ichabod answered politely, taking her hand to help her from the operating table. //Her own sister.// he thought. //Lady Van Tassel killed her own sister, because she had helped me!//

“Your own magic!” the Crone repeated impatiently. “The little bird is to decide for himself whether he wants to sit in the cage, or whether he wants to be free! - Know the powers the Dead gave you!”

With these words, she slipped away, but Ichabod did not have the time to think about what she had said. - The servant girl from the Van Tassel household, Sarah, patiently awaited his surgical skills.

When he had finished, she gracefully slid from the operating table, ignoring his helping hand, took him by the head instead and placed her cold lips on his cheek. With a curtsy she then disappeared into the shadows. For a moment, Ichabod thought he saw the ghost of Dr Lancaster leading her away, a bloody gash on his forehead, but he could not be sure. - The poor girl - another life cruelly snuffed, only to serve as a stand-in for Lady Van Tassel, to enable her to proceed unsuspected with her devilish plans ...

There was only one head left now to be sewn back on again: Baltus Van Tassel’s, and Ichabod did not look forward to facing the man again, after he had had a look behind the gracious, man-of the-world facade. Baltus had been a scoundrel, but Ichabod did not want to judge him, and after all, he had been Katrina’s father.

Although he could hardly hold himself upright now, Ichabod worked slowly and diligently on Van Tassel’s back and chest, then on his head.

Having his head sewn back on, Baltus Van Tassel was the charming host again, Ichabod had met on his first evening in Sleepy Hollow. In contrast to the Killians, his gruesome death seemed to have left him quite unperturbed.

“Ah, thank you, my young friend, that’s much better! - Katrina, my daughter, is she safe? Is she well?”

Although he did not like Van Tassel, Ichabod felt touched by the dead man’s concern for his daughter.

“She is well, and under Brom Van Brunt’s protection.” he answered.

“So she is alive? - Thank God! - And Brom will recover? - So what about this - nightmare?”

“Everything is over.” Ichabod reassured the dead man. “Katrina is alive and well, and she and Brom will marry next spring.”

“Is that so? And I thought she had an eye on you. “ Baltus’ eyebrows went up in astonishment. “That’s women for you!”

Ichabod shrugged. //What would she want with me?// he thought. //I’d have nothing to offer her. - Come to think of it - I don’t have anything to offer to anyone.// He was exhausted and deadly tired, and only wanted his task to be fulfilled by now.

Just then, he became aware again that the Hessian was looking at him. There was a lot of gentleness and admiration in these eyes, and he felt a surge of joy in his heart.

Baltus had followed his gaze, and flinched at the sight of the Horseman, but he caught himself quickly, turning to Ichabod again.

“We told you from the beginning that the Hessian was behind it all, but you would not listen, young man!”

“And you were as wrong then as you are now, pardon me, Sir.” Ichabod said. “Actually your wife was behind it all.”

Van Tassel gasped and took a step back.

“But she - “

“She was not killed.” Ichabod explained. “The headless body they found was Sarah, the servant girl, who allegedly had run away.”

“And why?” Baltus asked in a small voice.

“Revenge. - Old Van Garrett drove a widow and her two daughters away from Archer’s cottage, to give the cottage and the ground to his friend Baltus Van Tassel and his family. - One of the girls was bent on revenge. When Elizabeth Van Tassel became ill, she nursed her - to death. And she married Baltus and became a good friend to his daughter. - She was a witch. By retrieving the Hessian’s skull from his grave, she had him under her spell, and at her bidding, he started to murder all the people who stood between her and the Van Tassel fortune.”

“Money. Revenge.” Baltus nodded. These were reasons he could understand.

“That’s women for you.” he repeated. “I would never have thought her a witch. I didn’t believe in witchcraft. And she seemed so caring, so gentle and loving ... I would never have thought she would harm my family! - And where is she now?”

This time the Hessian spoke.

“Where she belongs.” he said.

Baltus Van Tassel accepted this with another nod and did not ask more. He seemed satisfied.

“I assume, I have taken enough of your time, Gentlemen.” he said with a bow. “I am afraid, I have to face my dear friends now - Lancaster, Steenwyck, Philipse, and Hardenbrook. - Farewell!”

He disappeared into the darkness.

“One moment!” A strong voice said, and from the darkness stepped the tall figure of the Reverend Steenwyck. He went over to the Hessian.

“I have been looking for her.” he said. “I did not find her among the living any longer, so I looked for her among the dead. But I cannot find her anywhere. Will you tell me where she is?”

“Why do you want to know?” the Hessian asked. “What is it to you?”

“I love her.” Steenwyck said.

The dead mercenary laughed. “She used you for her purposes like every other man!”

He caught Ichabod’s look, and saw compassion for the lonely ghost in his dark eyes.

So he relented. And Ichabod saw a vast wasteland in his inner eye. The earth was burned and covered with grey ashes, the black skeletons of burned trees marked the place where woods had been. There was a dark abyss in the dead woods, and in it stood the black ruins of a house. It was the Van Tassel House, but not the house in the physical world, the house Ichabod had known. It was the house Lady Van Tassel had earned. And she sat in the ruins of the library, her hair and face ashen grey, clothed in the ragged remnants of her dress, trying to read from the half -burned pages of a book. Her hair hung wildly in her face, her lips stammered the words she tried to decipher laboriously. She seemed mad, caught in the world of despair she had created for herself.

The dead Reverend obviously had seen the same image, for he bowed his head.

“How can I help her?” he asked.

“If you love her, you will find her.” the Hessian answered. “She will need your help.” he added. “Follow the Indian Trail.”

“Thank you, Horseman.” The Reverend went on his way. The Hessian looked after him. He gave no outward sign, but Ichabod felt that the dead Reverend had gained a bit of respect.

//I hope he will find her.// Ichabod thought. //If he really loves her so much to forgive her - //

He himself had no strength left from his work now. Every bone in his body was aching, his neck and his shoulders hurt, his fingers bled where he had stung himself with the needle, they were stiff from all the sewing, his eyes burned.

Heavy steps, the jingling of spurs. The Hessian took Ichabod’s shoulders, forcing him to look into his eyes. They were full of love and gratitude.

Ichabod suddenly felt his knees give way, and a nauseating dizziness struck him. He collapsed into the Hessian’s arms, who caught him and carried him over to the bed.

//Brave and strong.// the dead soldier thought. //He saw a lot today - for a mortal. And he did not panic and try to run away.//

He put his precious load down carefully on the bed, pulled off Ichabod’s boots, coat and vest, loosened his collar, opened the buttons of his shirt. His fingers pushed a strand of the tousled dark hair away from the young man’s face. Fine. And yet strong. He traced the high cheekbones, the strong line of the jaw, went down the neck and touched the smooth skin of Ichabod’s chest.

//Innocent and knowing at the same time.// he thought. //Shy and lonely. A virgin, never touched by man or woman. A sharp mind. Strong and persistent.//

He touched the young man’s neck again. Bruises were forming where Killian’s rough hands had tried to strangle him. - Nothing serious, no real harm had been done.

The Hessian felt the Boy’s fainting spell slowly glide over into the deep sleep of exhaustion. - Oh, he wanted the Young One, and how much he wanted him! He had never touched anyone so exquisite...

Later. - The Boy needed his sleep. He had earned it.

Patiently, the Hessian sat down on the chair, next to the bed, content at the moment to look at the sleeping young man.

*****

After a long sleep, Ichabod slowly woke up.

Eyes still closed, he smelled earth and wood, the smoke of a fire. He was lying on something rough, smelling of sweat, of leather and horse. - It came back to him in one flash. He was -

Ichabod’s eyes flew open - meeting the intense gaze of the Hessian, those cold and yet burning eyes. Panic mounted up in him for a moment - only to dissolve, leaving him strangely confident and expectant.

His dark eyes searched the face filling his vision. He remembered how he had all these heads grafted back onto their respective bodies - to help the Hessian, because of that sadness and despair he had felt - instead of hatred and anger.

These big eyes - the eyes of a beast of prey, cold, inscrutable. But there had been gentleness in them... And they were gentle now.

Ichabod calmed down again. - He felt the other’s longing and was not completely sure of what this would imply, but he was more curious and expectant than fearful. He felt a strange trust towards the mercenary - and he wanted to touch him, to feel the other’s hands on his own body, the Hessian’s lips on his own ...

The Horseman had enjoyed watching the sleeping young man, he had enjoyed the innocent beauty in his face during sleep, the slow awakening, and the recognition where he was. - He wanted the young man, and he wanted him now. He had waited long enough ... But despite his burning desire, the Hessian also felt an urge to be careful and gentle, something he had never felt before...

He sat down on the bed, next to Ichabod, who sat up, but did not move away. The young man just looked at him, confident, without fear now.

The Hessian’s hands touched the Boy’s hair again, the planes of his face, and Ichabod was surprised how gentle that touch really was. He tilted his head back a bit and let the mercenary caress his throat, enjoying the attention the other gave him. To be touched in this way was wonderful, and it aroused him.

Slowly, the gentle fingers slid down, opening the last buttons of his shirt, slid beneath the shirt, stroking the warm skin of the young man’s neck and shoulders, his back. The hands were warm and rough, and they felt delicious on Ichabod’s skin.

The young man began to breathe more deeply, he felt his body answer strongly to the gentle caresses. Impatiently, he pulled the shirt over his head. He wanted to feel more of the strong hands, which moved over his body. His skin became more and more sensitive to these touches, and this made him a bit dizzy. He rested his head on the Horseman’s shoulder.

The Hessian kissed his hair, his neck, and Ichabod lifted his head again to receive the kisses on his face. He pulled the Horseman towards him.

The mercenary’s hands and lips became less gentle now, but no less welcome. He kissed the Boy’s throat, and his lips felt the blood pulsing under the soft skin, where the jugular vein was. His tongue licked the dangerous place. He felt the young man shudder, and he took the soft skin over the pulsing blood vessel gently between his pointed teeth, nipping carefully, never breaking the skin. Ichabod moaned. He knew the Hessian would be able to tear up his throat with one bite - but he would never do so. And this aroused him even more.

The Hessian left the Boy’s throat alone for now. His tongue tasted Ichabod’s lips. - A bit sweet. Pleasant. - Ichabod offered no resistance when the Hessian became more demanding, his tongue gliding between the young man’s teeth, exploring his own tongue, the velvet inside of his mouth. He was breathless for a moment when the Horseman broke the kiss.

Another soft moan, when the mercenary’s hands opened the young man’s belt and the buttons of his trousers, pulling them down. Ichabod kicked them off without noticing. He was very dizzy now, and at the same time all his senses were sharpened to a degree he had never felt before. He felt awkward for a moment, when he noticed the Hessian’s admiring gaze glide over his slender body to rest on his erection, but his embarrassment vanished as quickly as it had come.

Strong hands slid over his buttocks, a finger gliding between them, caressing his opening, while the Hessian’s demanding mouth and tongue claimed his nipples, pressing one of them against those razor-sharp teeth. Ichabod breathed in sharply, with trembling hands he stroked the mercenary’s wild hair. It was a gesture between pushing the other away to end the agony, and to pull him closer, to make him do more.

Gently, he was pushed down on his back, the Hessian kissing his way down to the slender cock, taking it into his mouth, his tongue gliding round the delicious erection, his sharp teeth nibbling lightly.

A soft cry from Ichabod, and he squirmed violently. The Hessian withdrew carefully, putting a restraining hand on the young man’s stomach.

Ichabod tried to lie still, but it was difficult. His whole body was aching with desire for more lust from these strong, warm hands, from these lips and tongue, from ...

The Hessian purred soothingly, taking Ichabod’s erection in his hand. The nail of his thumb softly glided along the underside of the shaft. - //Please, please don’t make me faint now - // Ichabod thought, not knowing to whom his plea was directed - the mercenary stroking expertly, gently massaging cock and testicles, his thumbnail repeating its journey down the shaft. The young man whimpered with lust, tossing wildly, pushing into the stroking hand, the first drops oozing from his cock. The Hessian’s strokes became gentler now, then harder again, to keep Ichabod on the edge a while longer. The young man’s hands gripped the blanket, his whole body arched upward, and he flew over the edge -

He came back, exhausted and dizzy, one thought in his head: It had been like this in his nightmares - an unbelievable tension, almost agony - and delicious relief ... But this was no nightmare... his lower body was spattered with his own seed, and his ghostly lover was kneeling beside him, his eyes sparkling with joy. He knew it was not over. There was more to come. And he wanted more, longed for more -

So Ichabod sighed with relief when the Hessian kissed him again, his pointed teeth softly nibbling the young man’s upper lip, then flicking his tongue around both nipples, sucking, sending new sweet shivers of agony through Ichabod’s body. The young man moaned protesting, when the other paused shortly to undress.

But the Hessian was back already. He pushed the Boy’s legs apart and knelt between them, also naked and aroused, his gaze locked into Ichabod’s.

//He is beautiful.// Ichabod thought. //I have never thought of another man as beautiful, but he is. - Slender and sinewy. - And strong. - He was so good to me. It made me fly away. - I want him in me. - But I am afraid - //

He tried to sit up again.

“I - I have never - I don’t know if I - “ he stammered, before a slender finger softly touched his lips.

“Trust me. - Please.” the Hessian said.

The gentle touch and voice soothed him, and Ichabod managed a nod.

“Yes.” he whispered, losing himself in the loving look of the Hessian’s eyes.

The mercenary scooped up some of the sperm on Ichabod’s stomach with two fingers and started to caress the young man’s opening.

Ichabod relaxed under the caresses at this intimate part of his body almost against his will. But it was good. It made him want more. He felt himself spread his legs wider and push his lower body upward, to let the Hessian’s fingers slip in a bit.

The Horseman bend over and tasted his lips again, at the same time slipping one finger fully into the tight opening. Ichabod laughed, pleasantly surprised. It felt good, and it had not hurt.

The second finger followed the first, and the fingers were spread inside him. Ichabod drew in his breath sharply, but more from pleasure than from pain. He lay still for a moment, savouring the feeling, when the Hessian slid a third finger, slick with seed, into his opening, pausing, giving the young man time to adjust.

Ichabod began to push upward, into these fingers, enjoying them stroking him inside. His breath quickened. Yes, this was good! He wanted it, and he wanted more. He faintly knew he should perhaps be ashamed, he should not feel so good, but -

The Hessian stopped, and withdrew his fingers gently.

“No, please -“ Ichabod protested.

Unperturbed, the mercenary scooped up the rest of the sperm from Ichabod’s stomach and applied it to his strong, erected cock. He bent down over Ichabod. His bright eyes were clear as a winter sky now, with a hint of deep blue, his face serious.

Ichabod looked into these eyes and lowered his lids in consent.

The Hessian smiled. His hands closed around Ichabod’s hips, and strong fingers parted the young man’s buttocks. His long cock, slick with come, glided into Ichabod’s opening.

Ichabod drew in his breath and bit his lips.

The Hessian waited, while the young man tried to become familiar with the feeling of the other’s cock fitting inside him.

//It hurts - but I want it - // Ichabod thought.

“Alright.” he managed after a few moments.

He drew in his breath sharply again, when the other started to move - still careful, restraining himself. Ichabod’s hands, which had been gripping the blanket beneath him let go and searched for the other’s body for support One of the Hessian’s hands found Ichabod’s searching hand, gripping it tightly.

Then he began to thrust into the young man with hard, deep thrusts, emitting a low growl, more a purr.

The sound of his lover’s mounting lust elevated Ichabod, urged him on. He began to feel more lust than pain from the mercenary filling him, stroking him inside, making him want relief and at the same time wish it might go on longer. He moved with the Hessian, upward into the delicious rod spearing him, the other’s stomach rubbing against his aching erection.

With a cry between agony and lust Ichabod clasped his legs around the Horseman, pulling the exquisite cock even deeper into himself, tore his hand free and embraced his lover, caressing erratically, his fingers fluttering over the broad back and shoulders.

//He likes it.// the Hessian thought. //He gives me everything - his young, beautiful body, his sweet mouth and soft skin - his cock hardens against me - he took me in, pulls me deeper - deeper -//

Ichabod was flying again - or falling? Falling into an abyss of lust, his whole body aching from the sweet agony - falling, but held by the other, whose muscular body was moving with the grace of a dangerous beast of prey, his wonderful eyes closed now, waiting for the moment -

- and then he was engulfed by the other’s climax and his own...

For a while, they lay entwined, panting. Ichabod trembled and gave a shuddering sob when the mercenary slipped out of him.

The Horseman sat up, taking the Boy into his arms, pulling him into a sitting position as well. His strong, slender fingers caressed Ichabod’s face, hair and neck, gently, very gently.

The young man looked into the Hessian’s eyes, his fingers traced the planes of the other’s face, the red scar around the neck, frowning. His hands glided over the mercenary’s chest and shoulders, which showed their share of scars as well, his flat stomach, the muscular buttocks and thighs.

//I begin to love him.// he thought. //I actually begin to love a murderous ghost! - And a soul seeking deliverance ...//

The Hessian continued to caress the young man’s hair. Ichabod hid his face against the wide chest with a sigh. He was still very exhausted, and although wonderful, his new experience had proved strenuous as well ... He would have to ask so many questions, but not now ...

The Hessian gently put him down on the bed and curled protectively around him, pulling a blanket over them both. He looked into the flames of the fireplace, listening to the world outside. - It was calm. The coachman had fled back to his hut in shock and kept hidden there. He was ashamed to tell his mistress that he had abandoned the young constable. But he would recover and tell his story. The young blacksmith would assemble a search party, and the boy, the dead gamekeeper’s son, would lead them here ... But the Young One was well hidden ...

His loving gaze took in his lover’s young face, serious even in rest.

“Sleep.” he whispered. “Sleep, Young One.”

And Ichabod slept again, in the Tree of the Dead, in the arms of the Hessian, deeply and without nightmares.

*****

He awoke after a while and felt satisfied and happy. - The Hessian lay next to him. He was awake - had he slept at all? - and was looking at him again.

Ichabod became self-conscious. He sat up, drawing his legs to his body and hugging his knees, curled up into a protective ball. He looked thoughtfully at the Hessian, frowning.

//He has yet to cope with his feelings, with being admired and getting attention.// the mercenary thought. //He looks so young! And so defenceless. It is not true, I know. - He can fight his own battles, but - I never wanted to protect someone. Until now ...// And he wondered about his own thoughts.

Ichabod unfurled and smiled. He seemed to have decided to feel good with the admiring looks the other gave him.

“What’s your name?” he asked after a while. “You have a name, haven’t you?”

//How daft of you, Ichabod.// he thought, as soon as he had spoken the words. //Of course he has a name!//

“I’m called Ichabod.” he added hastily, as if to avoid being impolite.

The Hessian smiled.

“I know. Ichabod Crane.” - His rough voice sounded gentle and even a bit melodious when he spoke the name.

“I am called Hans.” he added. “Johannes Hardenberg. - and before I was the Headless Horseman, the Hessian, I was Der Schwarze Hans in my home country.”

“Johannes.” Ichabod repeated. “This is John, is it not? - Hans. Now I have a name to call you by.” He caressed the Hessian’s rough cheek.

“But why Schwarze Hans? What does it mean?”

“Schwarz means black. - It was because I brought death - even then.”

He took the young man by his shoulders, looking into the deep dark eyes.

“You gave me my skull back, Ichabod Crane. Many people would have kept it to have me in their power.”

Ichabod shrugged.

“I do not want to have you in my power.”

//But you have, though ...// the Hessian thought.

“What did you feel when you touched my skull?” he continued.

“Anger.” Ichabod answered after a moment. “And pain. - So much pain. - And the wish -“ he hesitated, thinking of how to explain to the mercenary what he had felt. “A wish to - become different. - And since that day, I never had a good night’s sleep.” he confessed. “I had nightmares -“

“And you wish you had never touched my skull!” the Horseman stated.

Ichabod shook his head.

“I am not sure. It is new to me. - So strange! - We can read each other’s thoughts. - Maybe we it was necessary we met again... You have learned a lot about me nobody else knows. My loneliness. My wish to - care for someone, to be cared for.” he said after a while. There was no regret in his voice now, no reproach.

“So it is time you learn something about me nobody else knows.” the Hessian answered. “You have a right to know why I became Der Schwarze Hans and later The Hessian Horseman - feared and despised.”

He spoke these words without bitterness, taking Ichabod’s hands gently, guiding them to his face...

And Ichabod began to see images in his inner eye:

A coach rolling through dark woods.

Five armed men jumping out from the underbrush, killing the two men in the coachman’s seats, dragging the passengers, a man, a woman and a boy, from the coach.

The man, trying to defend the woman and the boy, was literally hacked to pieces. The boy, about twelve years old, tall and strong for his age, attacked the highwaymen with unbelievable fury, but he was no match for them.

They looted the passengers’ luggage, took turns in raping the woman, while one held the bound, raging, crying boy. One of the men shook the woman violently, then threw away her naked, abused body as if she were a dirty rag. She was dead. -

They took their loot, the horses, and mercilessly dragged the shocked boy with them to their camp. -

They enjoyed his fear, his humiliation when they tore off his clothes, raped him, beat and burned him, cut him with their knives, hanging him from the branch of a tree, trussed up at the wrists, so high that just his toes touched the ground, blood running down his thighs, his wrists, from his mouth. His eyes were open, blue-grey eyes, crazed with fear and pain. And there was something else in them: a will to survive, only half-conscious. -

His tormentors lost interest in him for a while, but some time later, one of the men cut the rope binding the boy’s wrists to the tree. He fell to the ground, only to be brutally torn up by the hair. The man tried to rape him again, but suddenly the boy grabbed the highwayman’s knife and cut his throat. -

The other four men were asleep by now, and no longer alert. The boy glided through the darkness, almost noiselessly, and cut their throats one by one, as if he never had done anything else...

His tormentors being dead, he laughed, the shrill laughter of a crazed child and the harsh, triumphant cries of a warrior all in one. He hacked open the leader’s chest, tearing out his heart, eating from it -

Ichabod flinched back, taking his hands away from the Hessian’s face, thus breaking the flow of images. He stayed sitting on the bed, motionless, his eyes full of pain and horror.

“Now you know.” the Horseman said. “And you will hate and despise me like the others.”

He spoke evenly, as if it was of no concern to him, as if it was a fact, inevitable, irrefutable.

//He will leave now.// he thought, //And I am still one step away from being free - but I had to tell him this! He has a right to know - a chance to go away before I ask the last favour of him... // The thought did not comfort him that under the spell of the Black Witch he had been forced to fight that young man, who would be the only one who maybe could break the spell .- The Young One had to help him of his own free will. And thus it had been only fair to tell the him the story of the origin of the Hessian Horseman - even at the cost of alienating him again after having gained his trust - and endangering his own final freedom from the clutches of the Other ...

Ichabod slowly shook his head, and the movement startled the Hessian from his dark thoughts. As did the tears in the young man’s eyes.

“No.” Ichabod said. “I do not hate and despise you. - How could I despise you for your will to survive? - I do not hate you for what I saw you doing - all these people in Sleepy Hollow. So why should I hate you for what you showed me right now? ”

The Hessian looked at him, his blue-grey eyes full of amazement. He had not been prepared for this answer... Hoped for it, yes, but -

His finger touched a drop that rolled down Ichabod’s cheek.

//Tears. - Tears for me?//

“They were inhuman to you, and they made you inhuman.” Ichabod continued.

//His eyes are still gentle.// the Hessian thought. //He understands. - //

“Violence and suffering are no strangers to me in my work.” Ichabod added.

//Not only in your work, Young One. I can feel it now.// the Hessian thought.

“I would like to hear the rest of the story.” Ichabod said.

“I went into the Highwaymen’s cave.” the mercenary began. “I took clothes, provision, weapons, and money. Then I took the two horses and tried to find my way back to the coach. When I had found the place, I buried my parents and the two coachmen and followed the road until I came to a village, where I sold one of the horses. - People stared at me wherever I went, they tried to cheat me or to steal from me, because I was just a boy then. - They regretted it.”

There was a bitterness in his voice and a cruelty in his smile that made Ichabod shudder. This was the fearsome Hessian from the tale Baltus Van Tassel had told. But the impression lasted only for a few moments. Then the noble features were only sad again.

“I travelled alone for some time, then I met a marauding soldier.” the mercenary continued. “Somehow we became friends - and more. He became my teacher, from him I learned how to use a sword, a battleaxe, how to guide my horse properly. - We travelled a lot, serving the warlord who paid the most, up to Russia, to Poland, to Sweden and Norway, down to Spain, Italy and France.”

“Did you never go back to - where you had lived with your parents?” Ichabod asked.

“Back to Frankfurt?” the Hessian shook his head. “My father had been a merchant there. But my existence as Ludwig Hardenberg’s only son and heir to his business had died with my parents in the woods that day - It would not have worked out anyway. I was not born to be a merchant!”

Ichabod nodded thoughtfully. “Those highwaymen -“ he continued after a while. “They were unusually sadistic and violent. Do you think they were - ordinary highwaymen?”

“I have asked this question myself - sometimes, when there was a lull in a battle, or when the warlord I fought for had won, and I had the time for idle thoughts. - My father had just started to teach me about his business. As far as I can remember, he was a very honest man - but this does not say he did not have powerful enemies - enemies he might not even have been aware of ... But as I said - I could not have gone back to a - civilised life - after having had my first glimpse of human monsters! - And of my own monstrosity!”

The Hessian had spoken reluctantly at first, but then his words had come faster and faster, until he literally had spat out the last sentence. - Ichabod felt deeply for the dead man, who had hidden his pain away for so long. But he had to ask more. Not out of an idle curiosity, but to know the Soul better he just had begun to love ...

“And what became of your friend, the soldier?” he asked, being aware that he was tearing up more old wounds, for he could see the answer in his mind before the mercenary spoke.

“He was killed.” the Hessian said. “Up in Russia. - But I was no longer a boy. A lot of people were afraid of me. I liked it. - I wore black leather and let my teeth sharpen by a travelling doctor. As a youth, I thought being feared was everything! It would give me power! - I spared no one and people said I killed because I liked killing.”

He smiled his insane smile again.

“And was it true?” Ichabod asked, hesitatingly, but asking nevertheless.

“Sometimes.” the mercenary said. “And sometimes only because I saw a fate for them, that made my sword more quick - and more merciful. - You have never been in a war, Young One, you will not understand this. Many people do not understand.”

Ichabod said nothing, but he thought //You do not know what I saw in the streets of the big city, and in honourable houses...//

“I became Der Schwarze Hans.” the Hessian continued. “People feared me, even my comrades kept away from me - and I was content with that.”

//Becoming invincible, being cruel, so no one would ever beat and rape you again.// Ichabod thought. //Never being weak again.//

The Hessian had seen his thoughts. For a moment his clear eyes became clouded with anger, and he bared his teeth.

Ichabod flinched back, afraid of having gone far too far with his questions and in his thoughts, but the mercenary’s features had already become calm again. The callused tips of his fingers pushed a few strands of Ichabod’s tangled hair away from his face.

“Don’t be afraid, Young One.” he whispered softly. “You are right!”

Ichabod touched the slender fingers, caressing them shyly.

“And the end of your story?” he asked.

“There was talk of the New World, where soldiers were needed. And I went over. - It was the New World alright, but always the same old fighting. I was no longer a youth now. And what I never had thought of - I became tired of fighting. - I became tired of killing people I had never seen before, but who would kill me, if I did not do it first. - The winter of 1778 was bitter. - We were defeated, and some enemy soldiers were after me. I fled - and I met the Black Witch.”

He smiled again in his insane way, took the young man’s hands and guided them once more to his face.

Ichabod saw the images vividly before his inner eye:

Two small girls, gathering wood, the wild-looking mercenary breaking through the trees, admonishing them to silence, one of them, her small, innocent face set cruelly and determined, her blue eyes cold as the winter day, even then, breaking a twig, sending the enemy soldiers on the Hessian’s trail. Her sister ran away, but she stayed and watched, as the soldiers fell upon the Horseman like wolves on a bear, almost hacking him to pieces, slaughtering him brutally, digging a hole to throw his body in - right here - outside, at the Tree of the Dead...

“Now you know my story.” the Hessian said after a long silence. “And what about yours?”

“There is not much to tell.” Ichabod said, curling up into a protective ball again. His voice sounded harsh from trying to keep his self-control. It was hard for him to speak about his past. The pain was still fresh. Oh, it was so much easier to ask questions than to answer them!

“But you trusted me, so I’ll trust you. - “ he continued. “My father was a Reverend, and my mother was said to have gypsy blood. I do not know why he married her and begot me, but I know it was not out of love. - My mother practised White Magic - she harmed no one. But my father accused her of Witchcraft and had her tortured and executed. - He drank and beat me a lot. I think it was because I reminded him of her.”

The Hessian’s slender fingers caressed the young man’s raven hair. He said nothing.

Ichabod continued in brief, clipped tones: “When I was sixteen, he died. I took my humble inheritance and went to University to study Philosophy and Medical Science. But I never took any exams. After three years of study I decided that a life as a doctor was not for me. - So I went to New York and became a constable.”

“But you have never been happy.” the Hessian stated.

Ichabod shook his head.

“No. Never. I feel always alone, always different. People shy away from me.” He smiled bitterly.

Without a word the Hessian took him into an embrace. Ichabod’s hands touched the scars on his lover’s chest, then he looked up into the soldier’s face.

“Let me stay with you!” he asked. “I somehow - feel close to you.”

The Hessian shook his head, his eyes were grey and sad.

“You cannot stay here, Young One. Every living being needs the sun, the company of other living beings. You may not believe me now, but the day will come you would curse me, if you stayed here!”

Ichabod shook his head vividly, and his dark hair hung wildly around his pale face. His eyes burned, when he freed himself from the Horseman’s arms.

“I do not know about that! I did not ask to stay here! I asked to stay with you - wherever that might be.” he answered. “Could you not come with me? - But - maybe the day will come you would curse me, because I’d be old and ill and a burden for you!”

The Hessian’s eyes lit up with a spark of blue.

“No.” he simply said. “I would know that you will come back again, and I would find you. - And maybe the day would come where I, too, would be able again to go and to come back - into the circle of death and life!”

Ichabod, who had started to dress, stopped.

“So you could come with me?” he asked.

“If you want to take me with you.” the Hessian answered. “If you really want it - I can follow you wherever you go.”

Ichabod looked deep into his lover’s eyes, into these cold, sad grey eyes, lighting up with a spark of blue. And he knew that he and the Hessian were connected in a way that went far deeper than bodily attraction. - The Legend said the Dead Hessian had no soul. The legend was wrong. The Hessian was a soul, trapped in a hell of his own making. He could not get out of this trap alone, he needed someone to help him, to show him a different way - maybe someone to go this way together with him. Ichabod felt that he would like to be this someone. -

And he himself - was his position not similar? He was alone, distant, aloof. No one could see that he was wearing armour as well. And a mask. The Hessian had seen him not only naked, but without any defence. Perhaps it would be a blessing to have someone near who could teach him when not to wear this defence. And he felt that the Hessian, the dead mercenary, could be this someone. -

//It is madness.// Ichabod thought. // How could he live in New York? He is a ghost! He is dead! - And yet ...//

And then an idea struck him, an impossible idea, but an idea which might work.

//Someone who does not need sleep, never gets tired. Someone who is accustomed to fighting. Someone who cannot be hurt. Someone who is awe-inspiring and fearsome, sharp-eyed and quick. - He could be very useful.//

“Yes!” Ichabod said, from the depth of his heart. Suddenly he felt strong.

The Hessian had seen the young man’s thoughts. He smiled, and his smile was as loving as the smile of a hardened soldier could be.

Ichabod got a short impression of strong hands holding a tall, muscular youth, of a bearded face, scarred but with clear, beautiful eyes the colour of amber, a surprising gentleness coming to a wild, violent mind. - Of hands, tearing away a breastplate, ripping open a shirt, trying to curb the steady flow of blood from a gashing wound in the neck, the sudden stiffening of a body, the head falling to one side, the amber eyes still open, but dead. - A cold rush of pain, drowned in a burning rage, bringing death to a lot of men this day ...

... and other strong hands, holding a scrawny young man with dark eyes - the surprising gentleness again ...

“I want to change.” the Hessian said. “But you have to help me once more, Young One. I cannot do it alone. - You must take my bones from their resting place. Then you must burn them and scatter the ashes. When this is done, I shall be free to go.”

“Then I’ll do it now.” Ichabod answered.

*****

They dressed, and the Hessian called Daredevil. Again they made the journey through the Portal of Death to the World of the Living, through squirming roots, and Ichabod felt as if they had been bursting out of a grave, when Daredevil’s hooves touched the ground again. He was glad to breathe the cold autumn air.

It was night outside, the sky was clear, and the full moon shone brightly between the naked branches of the trees.

The Hessian remained a few steps away, gathering wood to light a fire, while Ichabod went up to the foot of the Tree, where his lover’s earthly remains were buried, marked by his sword, grown rusty over the years and entangled by weeds.

He took out the sword and started to dig in the cold moonlight, placing every small bone, every piece of cloth, metal or leather reverently in a bag he had brought with him.

The Hessian felt a tingling in his body when the young man touched his bones. But he also felt the love and care the young constable showed. This made it easier for him to cut the last bonds that kept him bound to his earthly remains.

Ichabod looked around very carefully not to overlook the smallest piece, then he closed the empty grave, filling the hole up with dirt. Finally the took the sword and the bag and went back to his waiting lover.

The Hessian had already lit the fire. Ichabod waited till the flames were high and strong, then he fed the bones from the bag into them, one by one. He added more wood.

Finally there was only the sword left, and the mercenary motioned to the young man to give it to him. Ichabod hesitated for a moment, then he handed over the sword, and together they sat, watching the flames consume what had been earthly of the Hessian. They both had done their work without speaking, without hesitation or delay, and now that it was almost finished, they still remained silence, each man lost in his own thoughts.

//How did it come about?// Ichabod thought. //I am sitting here now, in the Western Woods, at the foot of the Tree of the Dead, in the company of the Hessian Horseman. - But somehow I knew it, all the time. When I fought him together with Brom and later, in the windmill and during the coach ride with Katrina and Young Masbath - I knew it. He was not after me. - Absurd, but true. He would have killed me, and I knew he would be acting against his will. And when I took his skull - I knew it. I fell into a dark abyss - and he was with me and held me. - I did not want to know it, I tried to run away, from him, from myself - but now - what did the Crone say? “Know the powers the Dead gave you!” What Dead does she mean? -//

He stared into the flames.

A woman in a blue dress, blue as the spark in eyes he did not even know then. She went into the woods with him, and these woods were friendly, full of sunlight, the leaves painting moving patterns on the path. Birds were singing, a light breeze made the leaves rustle. She gathered beautiful plants and mushrooms, showed them to him, and he was fascinated in how many various forms everything was there. She had shown him love and beauty, she had loved all creatures. He felt her love for life, for him, even now. And he knew she was not dead. She was somewhere, and one day he would see her again. She would be different, but he would know her. This was her gift for him. It was in him.

But the other one? The hard, strict, joyless presence, sweeping as a dark shadow through his life, as long as he could remember? Ichabod knew, even there was a gift for him, if he subtracted the rigidity, the narrow mind and the self-righteousness. A strong intelligence. Persistence. Self-discipline. One-mindedness - characteristics he had needed a lot in his life to survive. Maybe he should even be grateful to him - although he had been a tyrant and a murderer.

He had them both in himself. And it was his task to make the best of it -

Ichabod looked up and became aware that a new day was dawning. The fire had died down. He must have slept. The Hessian had wrapped him in his cloak, and he lay in his lover’s arms, looking into eyes echoing the clear autumn sky.

“The last task for you, Young One.” the Hessian said.

The ashes were already cold. The day was clear. A strong, cold wind had driven the clouds away. Ichabod shivered.

He took the ashes of the fire in handfuls, throwing them into the wind, which carried them away. It made him feel free, strong and courageous, and he knew this was how his lover felt.

When he was finished, the Hessian took up the sword, holding it high above his head with both hands.

“The reign of terror is over!” he spoke into the wind, which came in powerful gusts now, tearing branches from the trees and whirling dead leaves around. It became stronger every moment now, working itself up into a storm. Ichabod had to fight against the powerful rushes to keep his balance, but the Hessian stood unaffected.

And suddenly from nowhere another horseman appeared, more terrifying than the Hessian had ever been: He was taller than any man, and his armour looked as if made of red hot metal. Flames still seemed to play around his breastplate and his helmet. The horse was also taller than every horse Ichabod had ever seen. It was black, and fire came from his mouth and nostrils. But the worst was the demon horseman’s face. He wore a mask, and to Ichabod it showed the impenetrable metal face of the iron maiden in which his mother had died ...

Ichabod stood riveted to his place, when the Demon forced the ghostly horse towards him. He had thought he had felt terror when he had seen the Hessian for the first time, but his feeling then had been nothing in comparison to his terror now, when the apparition started to speak.

“So you want to leave us, Mortal?” The voice was neither male nor female, very soft, not a single voice, but a blend of many voices. “And you want to take the Horseman with you?”

The mask looked at Ichabod. Its eye slits were fiery abysses. Ichabod felt how the entity literally sniffed his mind, his emotions, his soul, and he fought for his sanity. Something in him cowered with fear, something else gibbered in madness, and another part of him screamed with pain.

//This is what she feels! - She feels it all the time!// he thought, but before pain, madness and despair could overwhelm him, he thought of the Hessian, and got some of his courage back.

“Yes!” he heard himself answer firmly, and to his relief, the entity turned its horse abruptly, facing the Hessian.

“We promised you freedom, Horseman, if the Mortal would do your bidding and would take you with him to his world of his own free will.” the sweet, luring voice said.

“So you did!” the Hessian confirmed. He stood fearless, still holding the sword.

“And because even we have our honour, Horseman, we will keep our promise. - Go!”

With these words, the terrible apparition vanished, and Ichabod could not say whether it had galloped off or simply disappeared into the raging storm -

He swayed, feeling completely drained and exhausted by the mental scrutiny of the Other, when he saw the sword in the Hessian’s hands become dust and being whirled away by the storm - and in the same instant there was a loud cracking and creaking, almost sounding like something between a moan and a scream - and when Ichabod looked up, the gnarled, twisted giant form of the Tree of the Dead had burst into two halves, forming a new portal. This time, it did not look like a gaping, bloodied wound. The tree was no longer alive like human flesh. There was just wood, and darkness between the two halves of the tree...

Daredevil whinnied and approached the two men. The Hessian took off his reins, and they also crumbled to dust in his hands. He stroked the horse’s muscular neck, and Daredevil snorted at his cheek. Then the horse’s head turned to Ichabod, who had recovered a bit from his terror, and carefully touched the soft muzzle.

The young man got a sudden flash of the beautiful grassland he had already seen once, and of a clear, pure joy of being, which brought him more of his strength back - and Daredevil stormed off, jumping through the dark portal.

Ichabod turned to the Hessian, who stood silently, arms crossed, his cloak fluttering in the strong gusts of wind. He had never seen this look in the mercenary’s eyes: Loving, yes, but also expectant, curious -a bit unsure of what they would find - and even whether what they wanted to do was right at all.

The young man knew that he was to lead the way this time.

“I think we should go now.” he said, although he felt still weak and his voice was trembling. In an impulse, he took his lover’s hand, and together they stepped through the portal into the darkness ...

*****

A day after Ichabod had left Sleepy Hollow, Brom Van Brunt’s friend Theodore found two of the horses which had drawn the coach and which belonged to him near their stables. - It was a two-day coach ride to the big city, so there was no way Van Ripper could be back already. Something must be wrong.

Theodore spoke to Brom, and much to Katrina’s dismay, nothing could keep her fiancé in his sickbed any longer. Together with his friends Glenn and Theodore and two servants from the Van Tassel household, they rode along the road to find out what had happened. Not far away they found the empty coach and the other two straying horses, but no trace of Ichabod Crane or Jan Van Ripper.

The latter was found by Young Masbath in the Van Tassel stables a few hours later, almost frightened out of his wits. When he could speak some coherent words again, they got out of him that the Horseman had come - and God help his soul, he had not waited to see what happened to the young constable ...

Of course, Brom did not listen to anything the coachman said, namely that the Hessian Devil had taken the young man, and that they all would be lost if they tried to find him. - Brom had fought the Hessian once, and would fight him again, should this be necessary. Ichabod had helped him, so he would help Ichabod.

Together with Theodore, Glenn, and Katrina, who would not hear anything about being left at home this time, he rode into the Western Woods. Young Masbath led them to the Tree of the Dead.

They found the tree burst into two halves, as if split by lightning, no signs of any heads, a lady’s hand, or bleeding bark. Just a gigantic gnarled old tree. Dead. But no trace of Constable Crane or the Hessian Horseman.

Looking further around, Young Masbath found that the sword, marking the mercenary’s burial place, was gone, and the soil was freshly turned, as if someone had opened the grave again.

Not far away Katrina found the remnants of a fire. She knelt next to the place. It looked as if someone had swept up the ashes ... She took a thin twig and began to draw lines and circles - and suddenly she saw ...

Brom insisted on digging up the Hessian’s final resting place. No bones could be found. Puzzled and without having achieved anything, the small search party returned to Sleepy Hollow. Only Katrina seemed to know something. She appeared relieved, even happy, but she would not disclose why.

“What has happened, we will never know.” she stated. “I only know he is alive. And whatever occurred, occurred of his own free will.” She smiled enigmatically, and neither her fiancé nor Young Masbath ever could get more out of her, about what she had seen in the ashes ...

*****

For a moment, total darkness engulfed both Ichabod and the Hessian, and in this moment, nothing seemed to be defined: no who, where, and when, no up or down, left or right. Then a faint glimmer of light. They seemed to move towards it, because it became bigger and more distinct. And there was a sound - like the rushes of a strong wind. Suddenly the darkness parted like a curtain - showing a narrow passageway, a brick wall, cobblestones. A cold rush of wind almost took Ichabod’s breath away, and he tumbled against the brick wall.

He caught himself, breathing deeply. A sudden feeling of joy made him turn to the Hessian, smiling. It was snowing a bit - and Ichabod caught a glimpse of a similar light snow, a man stumbling through the woods, the shapes of two small girls, a sharp crack, shouting, a surge of rage, of pain - blackness - and he countered these images with one of his own, one he had long forgotten: A very small boy, almost a toddler still, running through a wintry garden, screaming with joy, trying to catch the snowflakes.

The Hessian leaned against the brick wall for a second, fighting the feeling of dizziness and nausea, unknown to him for so long. He closed his eyes for a moment, and in opening them again, he felt much better. Refreshed. Renewed. The Young One’s loving gaze rested upon him, a bit worried. For a second, he held onto the young man’s slender form, then every trace of dizziness was gone. He was curious what the Boy would suggest now.

“The Watch House is just around the corner.” Ichabod said. He indicated a huge, forbearing building when they came out of the passageway, and went straight to the entrance.

The Hessian followed him, unperturbed by the half curious, half frightened glances a few passers-by threw him. He felt like standing at the threshold of a new adventure, a bit trembling even, as he noticed slightly amused about himself.

The young constable at the door recognised Ichabod at once.

“Constable Crane - Ichabod Crane - is that you?”

“None other.” Ichabod replied. “Is the High Constable in? Where can I find him?”

“He is in alright.“ the young constable answered, warily eyeing the Hessian, who obviously intended to follow his colleague into the Watch House. “Is the - gentleman - with you, Constable Crane?”

The Hessian’s cold gaze took him in, and the constable on duty shuddered. He did not see the spark of good-natured amusement in the blue-grey eyes.

“He is with me. Thank you, Constable Morris.”

Ichabod went through the ugly, unfriendly prison building, straight to the small room which the High Constable used as an office, knocked and entered without waiting for a reply. The Hessian followed him, taking everything around him in with his cold, assessing gaze.

A sturdy man with a rough, pockmarked face looked up from a small desk. For a moment surprise, anger, guilt, and a reluctant respect fought in his ugly features, when he recognised Ichabod.

“Well, so you’re back, Constable Crane.” he finally managed. “Not one word from you in six weeks! We had almost given up on you!”

//You did send me to Sleepy Hollow to get rid of me in one way or the other.// Ichabod thought. He stood erect, his face cold and formal, and gave no reply.

When he got no answer, the High Constable continued impatiently: “You have got results in the Sleepy Hollow Case, haven’t you, Crane?”

“I would not be here, Sir, if it was otherwise.” Ichabod answered.

“Very well.” The High Constable continued gruffly. “You have just arrived, haven’t you?” His tone became less sharp now, and he seemed to feel uncomfortable under the gaze of Ichabod’s dark, burning eyes.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Alright. - Considering the long journey I suggest you take the rest of the day and the night off. - I expect your report on the Sleepy Hollow Case tomorrow morning at the beginning of your shift at seven sharp!”

“Thank you, Sir.”

The High Constable, whose full attention had been occupied by the sudden return of Constable Ichabod Crane so far, suddenly noted the Hessian. He felt more uncomfortable, looking at the tall man, who met his gaze unafraid. Did he even detect a quizzical, disrespectful look in these uncanny eyes?

“And who might you be, Mister -?”

“Hardenberg.” the Hessian answered. “Johannes Hardenberg.”

The High Constable cleared his throat.

“Very well, Mister Hardenberg, I am a busy man. - What can I do for you? Are you a witness in this case, or what is it you want?”

The shadow of a smile crept around the stranger’s lips, and in his eyes gleamed something, the High Constable could not define other than demonic.

//I know you.// that look said. //The eager young constable was a pain in the neck for you - telling you, the High Constable, how to improve things - questioning your authority. This was hard for you to swallow, wasn’t it? - I have seen enough of your sort, and I cannot say I liked them!//

“From my travelling companion, Constable Crane, I have heard that New York Police is always in need of able-bodied men. So I have come to offer my services.” the stranger answered.

The High Constable looked at the tall figure in the worn cloak and the high boots, at the noble face with the cold eyes of a beast of prey. Oh yes, he was looking at him quizzically! - The fellow seemed - otherworldly in his old-fashioned clothes. Not exactly from this world...

A sudden chill clutched at the High Constable’s heart, before he caught himself. - Nonsense. This was nonsense, of course. - The fellow looked very much like an adventurer, a mercenary. Indeed, this much could be said. - And he asked to become a constable! - Unbelievable!

The Hessian was still looking at him.

//I obeyed the orders of a lot of warlords.// his eyes said. //I obeyed them, because killing was my profession. - But I want to lead another life now - and for the Young One’s sake, I will obey your orders.//

“Your name sounds German.” he snapped at the Hessian, his tone not too different from an interrogation.

“I was born there.” The reply was no less short.

“And your profession?”

“I have been a soldier.”

The High Constable looked at Ichabod, at a loss what to do, as if asking advice from his subordinate, but the young man’s look was still cold and formal. It was clear that Constable Crane had no intention of helping his superior to decide whether to comply with the stranger’s wish or not.

The High Constable thought it over. There were a lot of strange people in the police force these days. Most of them were soldiers, but some of them were adventurers, or worse, scoundrels who had changed sides. They all had their faults, they drank and quarrelled, but they also had their merits. They obeyed orders, at least if they were shown who was master. - Crane was different. He never drank on duty, he never missed a day, he was punctual. But he was also a scholar, he read books, he was a dreamer. And what was worse - he sometimes could not keep his mouth shut about his silly new ideas ... And yet, that pesky young fellow was one of his best men ...

And now this strange fellow ...

The High Constable took another look at the man. He was tall and muscular indeed, an imposing, even fearsome figure... And something told the hardened old policeman that it would be better to have this stranger on the side of the law ...

He cleared his throat. “Alright. - As Constable Crane brought you here, he will tell you everything you need to know. Your shift will start tomorrow at seven sharp as well. - We do not tolerate any fights with other constables, and if you appear drunken on duty, you will be suspended. Should it happen again, you’re out. - Good day, Mr Hardenberg. Good day, Constable Crane.”

With these words, they were both dismissed.

“Thank you, Sir!” Ichabod left, and the Hessian followed him.

The High Constable looked at the door which had closed behind them, shaking his head.

//Crane has become different.// he thought. // As if he had been to Hell and had come back alive and wise. - Well, I am interested to read that report! - And Crane, Constable Crane, who keeps so much to himself, brings someone along who claims to have been his travelling companion? Crane forming an acquaintance on a two-day coach ride? Everyone, but not Crane! - Well, we’ll see how Mr Hardenberg will turn out! - Strange fellow ... eerie, somehow ...//

The High Constable returned to his daily business, but Crane, who had returned from Sleepy Hollow, and his uncanny travelling companion, who now would be a constable as well, occupied his thoughts a great deal during the day.

*****

Ichabod and the Hessian now sought out the young man’s apartment. Everything was as he had left it six weeks ago, only dustier and with a few cobwebs.

Ichabod’s landlady was not happy at first about his question whether his travelling companion could stay with him in the attic room. She eyed the Hessian suspiciously.

“I’ll have to double the rent then.” she finally said. “Two people living up there ...”

Ichabod assured her that Mr Hardenberg was a colleague, another constable, and she became a bit friendlier. After all, two constables as lodgers in her house were not too bad. - And what they did together was none of her business. She had seen worse. And in her younger days, she had spread her legs for worse - and not all human ... So to hell with it!

A two week’s payment of the double sum of the rent in advance finally dispersed her suspicions fully, although a slightly uncanny feeling about the cold, cruel, amused look in Mr Hardenberg’s eyes remained ... As if he had read her thoughts ...

*****

Ichabod composed his report, saying that Van Tassel’s wife had been behind it all to become the sole heir of a large fortune. She had been in league with a servant from the Van Tassel household, posing as the Headless Horseman and committing the murders. He had been her lover. Seeing her plans thwarted, she had killed both him and herself.

While he was writing, the Hessian looked around in the attic room. For the longest part of his life he had not lived under a roof, and after his death, he had not cared. But now he looked with interest at the books, the model of a human torso, the flasks and bottles with chemicals, the strange instruments neatly displayed on a table. He knew that he could learn a lot from the Young One ...

Then Ichabod walked the streets of their district with the Hessian, to make him more familiar with the big city and his future work. The Hessian did not say a word during their walk, but his beautiful eyes took everything in, and his gaze more than once lovingly rested on Ichabod.

And then, back in the attic room, they celebrated Ichabod’s return and the Hessian’s new life together, Ichabod enjoying all the caresses and kisses, answering them with even more passion than before. Again they began their dance of seduction, of passion, of taking and giving ecstasy, of falling and flying together ...

Afterwards they both lay on the small bed, Ichabod’s head on his lover’s chest, his slender form trustingly outstretched next to the muscular, sinewy body of the human beast of prey.

The Hessian’s slender fingers caressed Ichabod’s dark, tangled hair. He felt the Boy’s breath, his fluttering lashes against his chest. At the moment, the young man’s thoughts were peaceful, content, satisfied. He knew that his position as a constable who refused to obey orders blindly, who choose to think instead, would never be an easy one - but he would not have to face the world all alone any longer ...

Pale moonlight fell through the round window. So many books and strange instruments the Young One had!

What an adventure! - The Hessian sensed the big city. It felt complicated and dangerous, more dangerous than the Western Woods had ever been. The same forces at work, however. Oh, you could meet the Other here as well. He could take on many disguises. But the Hessian would adapt. He had adapted to many things during his life. And during his death. He would adapt to almost everything for the Young One.

Ichabod sat up. His obsidian eyes met his lover’s. Autumn-grey with a spark of blue. The blue had deepened.

“We made it so far, Constable Hardenberg.” he said. “When I thought the adventure was over, it just began. And it is far from being over.”

As an answer, the Hessian claimed the young man’s lips and mouth in another wild kiss.

THE END ???