Aidan and Robert burst out of the tavern in laughter as Aidan counted their winnings. “We made it! We did!” Robert gave whooping cry of joy, jumping and punching the air.
“Easy there, lad! You don’t want to bring larcenists on our heels, do you?” Cautioned Aidan as he gave him some pounds and few shillings. “That’s for you.”
With gratitude in his eyes, Robert tucked the money into his breast pocket. “Thank you sir, this should buy me some lunch and I will be left with little change to take some food and herbs home to my mother.”
“No…” Aidan said, leading the way as they walked to an Inn “I will buy you lunch and take some home to your mother but for now, let’s have a drink.”
It took a lot of composure for Robert not break down into tears and hug Aidan. “I don’t know how I can repay you for such kindness.” He said, his eyes brimming with tears.
“Why the teary eyes?” Aidan asked with a bemused look, slowing down.
“No one has ever been this kind to me, except my mother.”
“Well…” Aidan began, feeling awkward by the boy’s open display of emotion. “I’m not really that kind, I’m more of a Rogue to be honest so wipe those tears away please, I’m not really good around tears especially if they are coming from women.” He stated the last word coldly.
They walked into the Inn as a couple staggered out, conversing and laughing. After looking around, they took their seats at the bar.
“A tankard of rum for me… wine for the boy.” Aidan said to the bartender, placing some coins to weigh down a pound on the counter.
He turned to back the bar on the stool as he keenly observed the people in the inn. His attention however caught a fat man burying his chubby face in the exposed swells of the bosoms of a whore.
The man was pretty drunk and as the whore teased him with her breasts, she managed to snake her hand into his pocket and took out his pouch of money then she slightly pushed him away, straightening herself.
“I really need to use that back room, why don’t you wait here, darling?” she pushed him to lean his back into his chair without waiting for his reply. “Don’t go anywhere, I will back in a jiffy.”
“Don’t stay too long my sweet heart.” He drawled, belching.
“Of course not!” she offered him a sweet smile through her red lipstick-lip, adjusted her gown and head for the door while the fat man gulped some more rum from his jug, spilling the liquid on his chest and pot belly as some escaped from the sides of his mouth into his full beard.
Aidan’s gaze diverted from the fat drunk to the whore coming his way, headed for the door. “A very dishonest way or should I say rather quite too easy I’d say to make ends meet without giving anything in return.” Aidan stated when the whore was about going past him.
“Excuse me?” The whore stopped, frowning in displeasure. “I know not what you are talking about… that is if you are referring to me.” She quickly glanced back to make sure the fat man was not watching.
“Of course you do.” Aidan sipped from his tankard.
She approached him gingerly, her boobs bouncing slightly. “Do I know you?” she asked seductively. “…or…” she traced a finger down the V-line of his shirt. “…have we met before?”
Not moved by anything she was doing, he took her finger that was still lingering on the hollow of his neck away. “Pretty clever, huh? Was just thinking…what that bull there…” He gestured with the nod of his head towards the fat man who was already snoring noisily on his chair. “…would do to you if he found out what you just did to him.” Robert curiously watched Aidan and the whore though he didn’t know what they were really talking about.
“Pardon me!” she laughed huskily. “…I am still at loss of what you are insinuating.” She caressed his thigh and her fingers lingered around his groin but she didn’t break their gaze. “Want someone to give you a nice treat tonight?”
Robert’s mouth slacked open in surprise. The whore leaned closer and whispered sweetly in Aidan’s ear. “I’m very good in what I do, I will make you ask for more.”
She pulled backwards and laughed seductively as she cautiously glanced back at her previous customer, obviously anxious to get out of the Inn.
When she saw her seduction was not getting her anywhere and she needed to get out of the place before the fat man discovered his missing money she said. “…Maybe some other time…I’m in a hurry for now, I had better be on my way.” She turned to leave but was stopped suddenly by Aidan’s clasp on her wrist.
“Not so fast!” he slowly rose to his feet, towering over her. “Why are you such in a hurry?”
“Let me go!” she said through gritted teeth in order not attract the attention of the others, trying to yank her hand out of his grip. “You are hurting me!”
“I wouldn’t if you hadn’t stolen from me.” He said lowly.
Her eyes widened in shock. “I beg your pardon!” she said sternly, trying to wring her arm away. “Are you accusing me of thievery? Are you trying to call me a thief?”
“What other name befits a whore who steals from her customers, drug them and give nothing in return?” he looked down at her unpleasantly.
She blinked in utter embarrassment and shame. Her face blushed, almost matching the colour of blush on her cheeks. “Let go, now!” she snapped, trying to hide her shame.
“Of course I will!” he seized the other hand she was hiding behind her skirts and forced the notes of money out of it. “I believe this is mine… and this…” he said again as he tucked the money back into his pants pocket then hugged her tight till the strings of the fat man’s pouch was protruding from her cleavage. “…is his!” when he suddenly released his grip around her after pulling out the pouch, she staggered back, fuming in anger.
“You will pay for this!” she spat coldly and stormed out of the Inn.
“I will like to see you try.” Aidan said to her back. He turned and approached who was still snoring and nudged him in the leg with his boot. The man only grunted noisily and continued his snore.
Aidan shook his head in pity, took the jug of ale and slammed it hard on the wooden table, spilling its liquid. The man gasped awake in fear, looking to the left and then to the right with red sunken eye then he slowly looked up at Aidan.
“I believe you dropped this while sleeping.” Aidan held out the pouch, letting it dangle above the man.
“That’s mine!” he bellowed, reaching for it but Aidan held it out of his reach.
“You might not be lucky next time.” He said and let the pouch drop on the man’s pot belly. The man grabbed it and quickly put it away, mumbling his thanks.
Aidan walked back to join the amazed Robert at the bar. “I would have minded my business if I were you.” Robert advised.
“I should have done just that, the day you got yourself in trouble.” Aidan replied, lighting his pipe again.
“That whore was furious with you!” Robert countered.
“I care less.” he drew deeply from his pipe and expelled the smoke into the air. “I despise women…they are choky.”
Robert flinched. Aidan noticed and added. “Don’t worry, your mother is an exception.”
“Why do you despise women?”
“It’s a long story, lad.” He sipped his rum, his face creasing into a painful frown. “Drink up, we leave soon.”
Robert turned slowly to finish up his food and wine, still side-glancing at Aidan, thoughtful.
Emilia burst into the room with her lady-in-waiting on her heels. Vera stood in the corner, preparing tea for the Duchess who was tucked into bed.
The blanket was drawn up below her chest and she looked so frail and pale. Emilia immediately settled down on the bed beside the Duchess’ head. “Auntie… auntie…” she called in a teary voice.
“Little one…” the Duchess replied weakly in shaky voice. “Aren’t you supposed to be on your way to Minxes, already?”
“What happened to you?” Emilia took the Duchess hand in hers, she seemed to have aged the more and the wrinkles were more obvious. “I heard you had fallen ill.”
The Duchess managed a weak smile. “I’ll be fine Emilia…I am just worn out from fatigue, that’s all.”
“You don’t look tired to me, you look pale. Someone should go for the doctor.”
“The Duchess refused.” Vera said. “But it will be done soon, milady.”
“Why soon? Why not now?” Emilia asked apprehensively.
“Shrrr… don’t worry an old lady. I will be fine… my health is just failing me because of my old age, nothing more.”
“It doesn’t look that way to me.” She protested.
“You worry yourself too much, Child.” The Duchess patted her hand. “I believe you have packed and the coach is waiting to take you to the pier. Be on your way now lest you miss your ship.”
“No! I can’t leave you like this! I don’t mind postponing my travelling till the weekend.” She protested stubbornly.
Vera secretly pulled a small cylindrical bottle out of her apron pocket and let in two drops of its liquid into the tea, returning it to her pocket, she quickly stirred it.
“I won’t let you postpone your travelling Emilia, you must leave today, this moment.” Replied the Duchess as Vera approached with the cup of tea and its saucer.
“See reason with me on this, Auntie. I will be weary over there knowing I left you in such a state.”
“You have absolute nothing to worry about little one, I promise I will write you a letter when I recover, this very week.” The Duchess assured.
Not satisfied, she persisted. “Auntie, even though it is just three days, please just let me stay and help you get well.” She pleaded.
“Your love and concern for me is obviously genuine. You are too strong-headed for a lady. Worry me no more Emilia, be on your way this minute!” she said sternly.
Vera offered the tea to the Duchess with a curtsy. Emilia took the cup from the duchess’ shaky hands after she was helped into a sitting position and gave her little to sip. “Thank you, Vera.” The Duchess said.
Vera curtsied again, collecting the cup and placing it near-by. Noticing her niece wasn’t showing any sign of obeying her, the Duchess called out. “Festus!”
A man at the door, more like a personal guard to the Duchess approached the large four poster bed and bowed. “Your Grace?”
“Come closer.” She beckoned.
When the guard came closer and leaned down, the Duchess whispered some words to him, he nodded and left the room immediately.
Moments later, the doors opened and Lord William rushed in, in long strides. “Your Grace, I came as soon as I was informed, is all well?”
“Not really, William, but I should recover soon.” The Duchess replied.
“What in the heavens is taking the Doctor so long!” Emilia yelled in frustration.
“Easy child, easy.” The Duchess calmed her. “Matilda?”
Emilia’s lady-in-waiting, a plump small woman in her early fifties stepped forward. “Please, depart with my niece to Minxes now… I want you putting an eye on her there…heaven knows this stubborn lass might not even go aboard the ship if she has the chance. I don’t want her sneaking back here.”
“I’m not moving an inch from here!” Emilia stubbornly stated.
Lord William flipped out his pocket watch, glanced down at it and exchanged knowing look with Vera who gave a subtle nod and this brief exchange was seen by nobody.
Lord William cleared his throat and stepped forward ready to intervene and help persuade Emilia to school. Immediately, his hands rested on her shoulders, she spun around and her glare made him take off his hands.
“The Duchess will be fine, I assure you. On my way here, I have already summoned the doctor.” He glanced down at his watch again. “He should be here any moment from now but you need to be on your way to Minxes now.”
“…And leave her like this, hell no!”
“Please Emilia, I beseech you not to disobey me!” said the Duchess, a hint of plea in her voice.”
“I promise you cousin, I will take care of her and make sure she is nursed back to health, I promise!” Lord William quickly added.
Emilia’s eyes turned glassy with tears. “One week!” she indicated with a raised finger. “One week I give you! If the duchess doesn’t improve, I will not hesitate to return.” With her last words, she kissed the Duchess sapphire ring and walked out of the room, hiding her flowing tears, the yellow skirts of her gown flowing after her as her lady-in-waiting hurriedly followed her, out.
“Vera…” Lord William beckoned her to a corner out of earshot after he watched Emilia leave and the Duchess lapsed into a short sleep. “What are the circumstances?” he whispered.
“The poison is slowly taking its toil as we planned.” She whispered back.
“Good.” He smiled approvingly. “That’s progress.”
“…But why would you summon a doctor, don’t you know I might be discovered if she is tested?” Vera said uneasily.
“I didn’t summon a doctor…” He whispered, glancing briefly over his shoulder at the sleeping Duchess. “That was just to get rid of that bull-headed Emilia.”
Vera sighed in relief. “I hope when this is all over, you will keep to your promise.”
“I am a man of my words so you can count on me, Vera.” He touched her cheek and she smiled coyly, walked back to the bed, took the saucer and the cup and exited the room.
Carefully and quietly, Lord William sauntered to the four poster bed, rubbing his hands in glee as he stared at the sleeping Duchess, a sly smile curving his lips.
He had been waiting for this moment for a long time, the old lady seemed tough and full of life which made him restless and impatient, thinking if she was ever going to die and join her husband.
He watched her chest rise and fall slowly as she breathed in her sleep. He pulled out his pocket watch, always attached to a gold chain, glanced down at it and returned it into his pocket as he walked out of the room, slowly shutting the double door after him.
His time for elevation was drawing near and all this wealth both far and near would be solely his for he was certain his name had been legally scribbled and signed on her will.
He wallowed in the thought of what pleasure and significance that would earn him when he took the privilege of throwing several balls and parties where only the wealthy class would be invited. He would take his time to savour the endless wealth that was soon to be his, break down the statue of the Duke in the court yard and erect his own with a fine crown studded with gems of all sorts.
…And as for Lady Emilia… he smiled inwardly, rubbing his palms slowly together…soft to the touch is her sweet smelling skin, those obstructive beautiful gowns she wore concealed a lot from the eye, his eye, and it was only a matter of time too.
To be continued…
© Angela Okoduwa