With one foot on the table, Aidan toyed with the tankard in his hand, twirling the liquid within. The pub was noisy tonight and also filled to the extreme. Some men gathered around a table, gambling and cheering anytime they won and ordering for more wine. Others sat in twos and threes discussing while few were busy with whores they had picked up for the night. The smell of smoke, stench of unbathed bodies and stale sweat filled the air. Aidan who was half-drunk angrily took up his tankard and slammed it down on the table spilling some of its content and startling everyone which made the pub go quiet with every eye fixed on him.
“What eats the rogue this time?” Asked a man leaning on a table nearby.
Aidan stared at them through dazed eyes, his head lulling, his chin almost resting on his chest. “All women are whores!” He stated.
A soft laugh escaped a prostitute at the far corner of the room who was absentmindedly stroking the long strands of hair of her customer.
“They are nothing but whores who can never be sated!” Aidan continued “They have nothing to offer besides a miserable life that makes you wish for death. They pleasure and trap every man who is foolish enough to seek comfort from the depth of their thighs!” he twirled the wine in the tankard as his eyes roamed on every attentive face.
“My mother wasn’t an exception! That bitch who is a good-for-nothing whore!” He hauled the tankard against the nearest wall, splashing the liquid all over the floor.
A frightened prostitute flinched in fear, wrapping her arms tightly around her man’s torso. “I should have killed her when I had the chance!” he sprawled on the chair putting his feet down. “I should have killed her before she killed my father and hanged filthy self-right there in the barn! So unfortunate that I had to bury both parents in the same week.” He turned his head to the side and spat on the floor. “…but I felt no pity! I felt no sympathy whatsoever for the bitch! Her loss wasn’t even a loss at all. I was just bitter that she chose to take my father along.” He raked his fingers through his shaggy hair. “That man deserved better! My father deserved better!”
He slammed the table with his fist then forced a weak sly smile. “It just keeps baffling me why and how he unluckily ended with such a woman whose sexual need was insatiable!”
“When you’re drunk, you start to play the fool and gibber a lot of nonsense!” fired one man.
“Yea.” Said another. “Why don’t you shut up and go home, rogue.”
“Don’t you ruin the night for us!” Warned the first man.
“Gareth!” Aidan turned to face the last man. “I bet your mother was no filthy exception too.”
The huge man sprang to his feet immediately. “You might rant about your own mother the way you do but I won’t have you speak so uncouthly of mine!”
Aidan slightly staggered to his feet. “Did your mother also get laid in the streets and alleys?” He grinned foolishly.
Gritting his teeth, Gareth lunged at him. Aidan ducked under his arm swiftly and staggered to face him again. “I bet she would plead for a little bit of me for a few pennies.”
Gareth lunged at him again, catching him by the collar of his shirt this time.
“I will teach you some manners, rogue!” He threw a punch at Aidan’s face who quickly dodged and shoved him away.
Gareth staggered backwards from the unexpected action and almost fell. Before Aidan could turn, a tall man who was Gareth’s companion dashed a punch to Aidan’s face.
Aidan staggered, composed himself and kicked the man in the ribs. The man crashed into the gamblers’ table, spilling the cards. Angrily one of the gamblers hauled Gareth’s companion up by his shirt and punched his jaw.
Most of the men got up and began to throw punches here and there. Gareth seized Aidan from behind, hauling him on a table, before he could land a blow, Aidan rolled away and kicked a chair against Gareth’s knees.
Gareth yowled in pain and fell on a fat man busy with a whore. The fat man retaliated by getting up and punching Gareth in the stomach. Gareth picked up the fat mam and hauled him across the room into the fighting crowd.
The fat man’s angry prostitute leapt on Gareth back with a shriek, screaming and pounding his head with her small fists while he tried to shake the mad woman off him.
Two men attacked Aidan. One seized his arms locking it with a firm grip while the other rained blows on Aidan’s midsection.
Aidan slumped to the floor, groaning in pain as both men began to kick him in the ribs and back. A whore crashed a jug of wine on one of the men’s head and he immediately passed out while Aidan grabbed the other man’s groin and squeezed hard making him clasp his hands over his painful groin, knock-kneed and fell with a thud on his side, groaning in pain.
Aidan pulled himself up to his knees and noticed the whore looking down at him. “Maybe you should learn to keep your mouth shut and stop painting us with your mother’s stains!” she said. “Trouble follows you everywhere!”
He squinted in surprise recognition. “You!”
“Yea, me!” she fired.
“Remember me? The lady you completely obliterated her plans when all she did was just kindly borrowing her customer’s money?”
“Oooh shut up…” He said lazily with the wave of his hand. “You are no lady; you are a whore!”
“Well I do it to make a living! And if you care to know, I don’t go by the name, whore, the name is-” Before she could say it, her eyes widened and she yelled. “Look out!”
Aidan side-stepped quickly and Gareth missed his shoulder with the stick in his hand. He grabbed Gareth and butted him on the head.
Gareth landed a punch in his already sore mid-section and another one on his nose. The pub was now very noisy with all the men involved in a brawl with one another.
Whores doing whatever they could to assist their men or any man they fancied. One slammed her fist into a man’s face while another jumped on the back of a man, biting his ear. Chairs flew here and there. Tables tumbled, people crashed on walls and tables while parts of the furniture and the mugs darted here and there.
The carriage halted before the noisy pub and Festus alighted. After mumbling some words to Matilda and she nodded in agreement, he approached the pub. When he opened the door, he looked up in half-surprise. The commoners had a flare for fighting regularly. He was quick to duck when the leg of a chair came flying towards his head and out the open door. He cautiously stepped into the pub watching the chaos, the punches, the female shrieks, throwing of chairs, crashes on tables and the howls and painful groans of the men.
He clasped his hands in front of him and straightened his shoulders.
No one seemed to have noticed his presence yet and he didn’t know and didn’t want to know what the brawl was all about. The last thing he wanted was a stray punch, unintended kick or a whore springing unto his back and scratching his face out.
He cleared his throat and said aloud. “I seek the Rogue!”
Everyone in the room halted and their eyes riveting on him. No one seemed ready to answer his question or give a response. Festus had the weird feeling that if he didn’t leave soon, with the way some regarded his outfit with scorn knowing he worked for an aristocrat, they might rob him or even pounce on him but before he could decide and turn to leave, a rough voice answered him from the far end of the room.
“Who wants to know?” Aidan who had been regarding the stranger from the crowd shoved Gareth away whose shirt he was still holding with a punch held up in the air before they were interrupted.
Festus sized up the man that had answered his question. He looked just like his source had described. Actually and truthfully he had heard a lot about Aidan when he came into the outskirts to relax and have a drink or two. It seemed anywhere Aidan was, there was always trouble. Now judging things, Aidan had a cut on his lower lip and also bleeding brow, a thin trickle of blood already streaming down the side of his face. “You should see for yourself!” He gestured with the swing of his head towards the opened door.
Aidan hesitated as he rolled a shoulder painfully. He spat blood on the floor where Gareth laid motionless and walked unsteadily, almost limping out of the room with the curious eyes of all in the pub following him. Festus had not even shut the door when the brawl continued.
Aidan approached the carriage as Festus opened the door then he hesitated. He didn’t trust or really like the aristocrats. There was someone seated within the carriage for he could see the silhouette. “What’s all these about?” He curiously and uneasily asked Festus who was still standing by the open door waiting for him to enter.
“She only wants a word or two with you.” Festus said in a calm assuring voice. Aidan hesitated, looking around him for any sign of an ambush.
“No need to be wary, I mean no harm, mister. Do come in, I haven’t all night here.” Matilda reassured him from within.
Aidan glowered at the unexpected female voice. He however stepped into the carriage and sat opposite, relaxing but still alert while Festus excused them.
It seemed the several beating he had gotten tonight had wiped some of the drunkenness off his system. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Who I am doesn’t matter, what matters is what I want with you.” She handed him a handkerchief. “A gentleman as you shouldn’t be caught in a brawl.”
He made no attempt to take the handkerchief. “I am no gentleman!” he simply said, frostily. “Get straight to the point, what is it you want with me?”
“I’m here on business representing a very important person in the society.” Matilda enunciated.
He snorted. “What would an aristocrat want with such a low life such as me?”
“My mistress wishes to do business with you.” She paused, waiting for him to protest, when he said nothing, she continued. “She wishes a marriage of convenience with you.”
He remained stoic, wickedly chuckling as he shook his head. “I refuse!” he said bluntly.
“She is a promising lady that will reward you handsomely. All your needs will be equally met too!” Matilda quickly added in order to entice him.
“Listen woman…” Began Aidan. “I have been through thick and thin trying to survive in this darned world! A woman will simply mean my death!”
“My mistress means you no harm, mister. And please do believe that this is no trick.”
“I still refuse!”
“Do you know how fortunate for you to have been picked? Such doesn’t happen to your kind every day, need I remind you.”
“Then take your offer to somebody else who will be willing to be your mistress’ flunkey. As for me, I very much appreciate and cherish my freedom, I won’t be an aristocratic dog!” he retorted, opening the door and stepping a foot out when Matilda’s words stopped him.
“Just in case you change your mind, you leave a message at the Darthem’s Inn and we will find you.” She paused. “Not all will offer to turn your life around in a platter of gold. Think about it rogue, think about it.”
With a last glance over his shoulder, he stepped out of the carriage and walked away while Festus resumed his position at the driver’s seat and rode away.
Aidan walked unsteadily down the alley leaning with his forearm against the door. He retched, the taste of bile on his tongue. He straightened up against the wall, wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve and continued down the alley. Marriage of convenience? He snorted as he burst into the path-walk, heading home.
Emilia stood up in surprise as carriages rode and came to a halt, some distance from the main door of the house. One of the carriages was familiar but the others weren’t. Matilda stood by her side also curious. They had been sitting in the shade of a large tree discussing when the entry of three carriages interrupted them. She squinted lightly as servants alighted from the two unfamiliar carriages, carrying gifts and chests and bouquets of flowers into the house. Emilia glanced down at Matilda.
“What’s happening? Did anyone order for things I wasn’t informed about?”
“Not at all your Grace.” Matilda replied, looking as baffled as Emilia.
Suddenly, Lord William gracefully alighted from the familiar carriage looking extravagantly dressed as usual. He plucked a single stalk of flower from the fourth bouquet one of his servants was taking into the house and he smiled charmingly as he approached the women in the shade of the tree.
“I should have guessed better.” Emilia sarcastically murmured to herself and Matilda.
“Your Grace!” he swept her gracious bow.
Emilia, stunned but not deceived by the title and act, stared down at him as he took her hand and kissed the sapphire ring on her finger which she had inherited from the late Duchess.
“How ravishing you look this afternoon!” He acclaimed and handed her the stalk of rose which she reluctantly accepted, his deceitful presence always annoyed her but she had no choice than to tolerate him. “That should look good in your hair.”
Ignoring his admiring remark, she asked. “Who are those servants?” she gestured with her eyes towards the servants who were still coming to the carriage to carry all types of gifts into the house. “…And what do they take into my house?”
Lord William removed his hat and placed it against his chest. They are but my humble servants. I bring Your Grace, gifts.” He said.
“Gifts huh?” she stared at him suspiciously. “I celebrate nothing yet Lord William, what are the gifts for?”
“Just a generous cousin bringing gifts to his fair one. You don’t mind, do you?” he pulled out a shiny little box of gold from his inner breast pocket, opened it to reveal a pair of dazzling diamond earrings that even Matilda was awed by the sight of it. “A pair of earrings made with diamonds.” He announced proudly.
“It must have cost you quite a fortune.” She said unimpressed.
“Nothing is too great to appreciate your rare beauty. Please do me the honour by accepting this little token of love from me.”
“Love huh?” Emilia hesitated then called over her shoulder. “Matilda?”
Matilda dutifully stepped forward and collected the box from him still awed by its content. She closed it, admiring the gold box.
“Thank you very much Lord William for such beautiful present. Your gifts are well received.”
“It’s my pleasure your grace.” He smiled. “I hope you shall grace me with an invitation to dinner someday.”
“I will consider that.” Emilia forced a smile.
He took her hand again and kissed it.
“I beg to take my leave beloved cousin.” He said politely.
“You are obliged Lord William.” She answered.
Lord William turned around and got back into the carriage. The servants quickly occupied the other carriages and all three carriages began to ride out. Emilia watched them go as Lord Williams put his head through the window and blew her a kiss then doffed his heart before the carriage reached the bend and out of sight.
“How sweet and charming of him!” Matilda commented still peeking at the earrings inside the box.
“Don’t be fooled by his acting sweetness, Matilda.” Said Emilia, not the slightest bit impressed by what just happened. “That vile creature is up to something and I bet I won’t like it when I find out.”
“You never can tell Your Grace.” Replied Matilda. “He might be a changed man now.”
“Change doesn’t occur overnight. I can feel it in my bones that Williams is up to no good and I better act fast.”
“If you say so.” Matilda said with a nonchalant shrug. “I just hope the rogue changes his mind and come to our rescue.”
“Oh pleeaasseeee….” Emilia rolled her eyes. “Good riddance to bad rubbish I’d say. From the way you described him and the details you told me, it meant he is so egocentric. Men always are! They carry it around when there’s simply nothing to show for it.” When Matilda gave her an accusing look she quickly added. “Fine!” she sighed. “I know I have got a little bit of pride too but… But for good reasons.”
“Dear, I’m sure when you see him you will find him irresistible. I was stunned by his looks. I could swear he reminds me of somebody. He just needs a little bit of makeover to reveal all that is hidden and besides he might be a rogue but he is quite a charming and promising young man.” She teased with a wink.
Eager to change the topic, Emilia said. “You have been peeking into that box for a while.” She said accusingly. “Do you like them?” Matilda smiled shyly and in embarrassment then nodded. “Then you can have them!” Emilia stated.
Matilda’s eyes widened in shock. “But Your Grace, this a personal present for you, what would an old hag like me do with such expensive jewellery? I can’t accept it.”
Emilia cocked a knowing brow. “Okay, I will give it to Lacy!”
“No!” Matilda blurted then composed herself. “That daughter of mine will go berserk with this jewellery, I will keep it.” She closed a protective palm over it.
Emilia smiled mockingly. “I had better check what Williams brought. Come with me, you will distribute most of it to the servants.” She started for the house while Matilda wearily shook her head and followed.
To be continued…
© Angela Okoduwa