It had all seemed so simple at first. His older brother, Marsden, had proposed that they waylay one of the treasury wagons to pay their annual taxes. They would use the Queen's own money to pay her ridiculous taxation demands. She was slowly and unceasingly robbing them of their family lands by taking more than they could possibly afford. Ever since Queen Llola had decreed that all farmers would pay an annual tax at 20 percent of their land's worth, they had been fighting a losing battle. Even with the most bountiful of harvests, they could only make 15 percent and had to give the Queen any shortfall by deeding her a portion of their land. Each year she took another few percent; each year she got a little richer; each year they got a little poorer.
Their plan was simple and tried to avoid bloodshed as a direct confrontation with the treasury guards would be suicidal. They would hide under the bridge one Sunday morning, wait for a payroll wagon, knock off the guard cats, grab the payroll chests, and then race off. The bridge would let them hide close to the road without being seen. When they sprang out they would be too close to the wagon for the archers to fire at them. Their staves would bash the guards into the gully where they would be unhurt, but effectively removed from the skirmish. It was the perfect plan.
Well, it was almost perfect. His two brothers and their five cousins all agreed to participate, thus ensuring they had sufficient rat-power to overcome the guards. On the morning of the planned raid, cousin Benedict failed to arrive at the rendezvous. However, as there were still seven of them, they decided they would still be able to proceed.
The morning air was cool and crisp as they hid beneath the bridge, waiting for the wagon. Just as the sun peeked over the tree tops, they heard it approaching. The cart dogs, though muzzled, made quite a lot of noise, so it was easy to hear it coming down the crushed gravel cartway. But that same noise also hid the sound of the guard troop coming up the ravine. Cousin Benedict had decided that the reward for turning in 7 criminals was a better payoff than his one eighth of the stolen payroll. They never stood a chance. The guards had them surrounded, bows aimed and swords held high. Rather than be hacked to bits, they stupidly surrendered. In retrospect, they should have tried to run. Perhaps one or two of them might have escaped.
The guards shackled them and marched them straight to the castle courtroom, having them wait outside as each was brought in for trial. Richard knew that the situation was dire as he heard the, so called, impartial judge bellow, "Bring in the next guilty party." He was lead into the courtroom, pushed into the prisoner's dock, and made to face the grizzled grey tomcat serving as the judge. "Ah, another sorry case. He's obviously guilty as charged. I sentence him to hang by the neck until he is dead. Sentence to be carried out at the nineth hour tomorrow. Take him away and prepare him to meet his demise."
Richard spent a lonely night in a cold, dank, dark, isolation cell. His hands and feet were shackled together with heavy chains that were locked to a big iron ring in the center of the cell. Lice and fleas crawled across him as he lay there contemplating his fate. There was no chance of appeal or hope of escaping. No clergy came to read him his last rights or give him a last meal. He was left to lie by himself, alone, on the cold stone floor until the guards came for him the next day.
Two cousins were on the execution stand when he was lead to his position. A noose was placed around his neck and pulled tight, and that was it. There was no ceremony or speeches, just a callous and uncaring guard cat standing behind him with a sword to prevent him from fleeing. Finally, all seven of them were in line, side by side, seven ropes running up and over a solid oak beam above their heads.
Finally the waiting was over. The clock began to strike the hour, and as it did, each toll of the bell was echoed by the thud of a trap door falling open, accompanied by the snap of a rope drawing taunt. On the third peel of the bell, it was his turn. There was a brief feeling of falling, a sudden sharp pain stabbed him between the eyes, and then the blackness came, and with it, eternal peace.
From her position on her royal balcony, the queen smiled. Seven dead rats swayed in the morning breeze. Seven more farms were now hers. Soon, very soon, she would have enough land for her royal polo pony stables.