The late spring sunshine warmed him as he rode towards the south side of the estuary of the Wirral, he arrived at the Admiral’s Halt late in the evening, took a room and stable for the horse. At one time, Admiral Halt was a thriving prosperous place, but now fallen on hard times indeed, a refuge for smugglers, part time slave-traders and pirates if the chance arose. The Inn, such as it was, was a single storey, stone slate- roofed building with stables attached. The windows were covered in grime so thick that they were occluded, whilst dead and dying ivy covered the outside walls. Learmouth took a seat on the hard wooden bench that ran the length of the only public room. He ordered ale, bread and cheese and looked around the dingy place. Smoke from oil lamps filled the air in the room with a faint blue haze. He sensed all eyes in the room were looking at him, though none directly. Strangers did not often pass this way and some of those that did were never seen again. As his eyes adjusted to the poor light, he could see that the room was quite full. Ten or so men sat in groups around grimy tables on rough chairs, drinking from pewter tankards. The room had fallen silent when he arrived, but now low murmurs of whispered conversations began. A pretty blonde barmaid brought his food and ale, but she looked concerned. She whispered softly to Learmouth as she placed his meal upon the table in front of him.
“Perhaps the gentleman would prefer to eat in his room?” she said nervously glancing over her shoulder
“I believe I will eat here,” he answered, assertively.
She looked into Learmouth’s cold reptilian grey eyes, bobbed a curtsey and left.
The men in the room were now staring openly at Learmouth – the largest of them, a huge black- bearded man, barrel chested, wearing rough seaman’s clothes and a sleeveless leather jerkin. He had hook in place of his left hand and a dagger sheathed on a belt around his ample waist. A livid red scar ran from his hair-line down the left side of his whiskered face. Learmouth appeared unconcerned as he watched the huge man cross the worn stone-flagged floor. He used his hook to drag a chair and sat, uninvited, opposite Learmouth, took a bite of bread and cheese from Learmouth’s plate with a lopsided grin that showed discoloured and missing teeth.
“It’s the custom here that strangers buy a tot of rum for me and my friends,” He boomed as he waved his arm around the room.
Learmouth could see the rest of the room leering in his direction. The pretty blonde barmaid was peering around the corner of the doorway to the cellar when Learmouth caught her eye.
He smiled pleasantly, counted up and said, “Ten tots of your best rum please, my dear, no… make that eleven I will have one as well.”
The young barmaid filled the tots of rum into not too clean glasses, placed them on a tray and brought them over, trembling so much that they were spilling over.
“I be Welsh Tom,” he continued, “Who be you, stranger?”
At that moment, two of the men in the room changed their positions so that they were standing either side of Welsh Tom and intimidatingly close to Learmouth.
“Tell about the stranger tax, Tom”, said one of the men grinning as he tossed down his rum.
“It be our custom here that strangers pay a tax.”
Welsh Tom hesitated, gauging Learmouth’s wealth, “Twenty-five gold pieces.”
”Don’t ye forget the horse tax now!” yelled a man across the room.
“Aye thankee Ned, horse is ten gold pieces.”
“Don’t forget the horse-shoe tax!” cried another, and the room dissolved in laughter.
Learmouth shook his head and looked directly into Welsh Tom’s darkened eyes saying, “Who I be is no business of yours, Welsh Tom.”
The room fell silent. There was were not many men alive who would dare speak to the gargantuan Welsh Tom in such a way. Behind the bar, the barmaid gasped loudly, dropped a flagon which distracted Tom’s two henchmen, forcing them to turn to see where the commotion was coming from.
Learmouth took the disturbance as an opportunity to reach for a hidden blade concealed in his boot . He grasped his dirty glass and splashed rum into Tom’s face. Tom attempted to step back as the drink burned his eyes, impairing his sight, he moved his left arm toward his face to wipe away the burning beverage. Learmouth, quick as a flash, slammed his blade through Welsh Tom’s right hand, between the bones and through into the table twisting the dagger forcing the tiny bones apart. Tom howled in pain, and his two companions turned back to see what had happened. Learmouth kicked his own chair away, dove into his pocket and grabbed his coin purse which he kept tight in his fist and drove his fist through the jaw of the first henchman, then the second, leaving both men unconscious by Welsh Tom’s feet. Tom, still writhing in pain, glanced away from his hand at looked into Learmouth’s incredibly calm face. Learmouth smiled surprisingly softly, then grabbed Tom’s hooked left hand and drove it into the top of Welsh Tom’s own right shoulder.