Sarcasmo's Scribblings

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

2005 - Hamlyn2 (the other side of the story) - still in progress

Like Hamlyn - this is a pretty static sequence, with one person relating a story to another. I'm really just working an idea out I had a while ago - and haven't quite hit the right balance with it yet. This section is probably about 1/2 finished.

“Married, friend?” Fluvio asked, leaning close enough to the fellow next to him at the bar that his lips nearly touched the man’s shoulder. His stool wobbled, and he swung back a little too quickly to right himself, sloshing more than a modicum of ale on the already sticky bar surface. When he finished swearing, he turned to see that his erstwhile companion had beat a hasty retreat to a table in the far corner of the common room. Fluvio raised his half-empty mug to him in a combination salute/apology. He turned back to the bar and continued to no one in particular. “I was married once. Still am I suppose.” He empty his mug and slammed it suddenly on the bar – pushing it forward with a grunt to indicate to the stoic bartender that he’d like another. He’d put a guilder down when he game in the bar hours ago – so the bartender was happy to let the fellow drink himself blind (or, hopefully, hoarse) – but that didn’t mean he had to talk to him.

“Women,” the little man continued, “Women have been the root of all my trouble. Specifically, wives. Well, and witches. Women, wives and witches. Yessir. I’m through with all of ‘em.”

Roberto (the bartender, who will take the narration of this tale from here-on-in, as I have arbitrarily decided to change point-of-views mid-paragraph) righted an overturned mug on the bar top, and began wiping it with his greasy rag. “Surprised they’d have the likes of you.” Fluvio snorted and buried his head deeper in his cup. “Besides. Can’t ‘ov given you too much trouble – not when you’ve still got a purse like that.” Roberto had a real loathing for men of this sort; loafs and lay bouts that life seemed to work out for. The weight that jangled in his purse (which he’d be keener to put away, if you asked Roberto – flashing that much wealth around without care was liked to get his purse strings – not that that was Roberto’s business, so long as his bill was paid in full first) spoke volumes about his ease of life, and his pipe informed all that this was a man of the road – with no job or home or whelp to tie him down. Granted – his clothes (the huntsman’s shirt and breeches, combined with the cape as wild as a foolscap and that ridiculous red hat) were a bit of an oddity; but having listened to the man rant for the past few hours – Roberto felt that this could well be one of those instances where the clothes might actually reflect the man within them; crazy.

“What, this?” he said, waving his purse about. The noisy chatter that filled the background paused a moment; Roberto could suddenly feel the intense gaze of a hundred pairs of eyes on them, and he inwardly noted that if the gentleman kept this up, he’d likely end up with his throat cut instead of his purse strings) – “Feh. Pointless. Useless. It’s disgusting. Covered in blood.” Roberto picked the guilder up from the bar, spun it in his practiced fingers, and even bit it openly.

”Looks plenty clean to me, musician.”

“Musician? Me? Aye, once. Now I’m no better than your average mercenary. An animal.” Roberto began to suspect the gentleman was looking to have his throat cut – and said so. Fluvio laughed. “After witches and a wife, why should a fear a few men with knives?”

Roberto sighed and leaned closer to the man at the bar. He could see his daughter, Brenda, making her way thought the crowd, serving the customers – both high born and low, with her usual sass and grace. She was a good girl, his Brenda – but Roberto found himself wondering how much longer it would be before she sent men crying in their cups.

If she hadn’t already. He shook the image from his head; the thought was more than his paternal heart could bear.

“Alright, musician, you’ve clearly got a tale to tell – so out with it and be done. And don’t be expecting me to pay you for it in the end; I know that trick. And the last man who came looking for a shoulder to cry on and then tried to demand payment for the ‘entertainment’ when his weeping was done left here with a fewer bones intact than when he came in through my door.

Fluvio snorted, and tossed a few guilders loudly across the bar. Roberto made them vanish with a silent skill to rival that of any cutpurse. Roberto gave the musician an appraising look. He was well (if strangely) dressed, that much was true; but despite his heavy purse his face with thin, and his eyes threatened to be swallowed any moment by the dark hollows of their sockets. He signaled for his daughter to take over coverage of the bar, and ignored her look of disdained incredulity. He produced a dusty cobalt bottle from beneath the bar (it was without label, covered only in a layer of fine dust), and two glasses. He came out from behind the bar and half-drug/half carried the musician to a private room just behind the bar area. Tossing the musician into a seat, he removed the cork from the bottle with a practiced ‘pop’, and poured a measure of thick, amber liquid into each glass. Even from the tabletop, the sweet sting of the drink made his eyes water. He shoved a glass roughly into the musician’s hand, then clicked their glasses together.

Roberto took a thoughtful sip – fighting back the cough that threatened his throat when the first few drops went down, warming his insides with its familiar flame. “You’ve an audience now, musician. Might as well talk.”

Fluvio stared down into his glass, his head bent so far Roberto was surprised it did not simply roll from his neck and into some dark corner under the table. The musician stayed so long that way that Roberto wondered if he hadn’t passed out already. Irritated, he pushed his chair back from the table. He had customers to care for – why he had even come back here –

Before Roberto could stand to leave, a baleful sigh whistled through the musician’s lips.

”She was,” he said, his eyes still in his cups, “the plainest, most stubborn, least agreeable woman I had met in all my travels. Every time she looked at me with her cold eyes, my stomach turned and my skin crawled.”

Roberto eased back into his seat, his glass growing warm in his hand. “The witch.”

Fluvio laughed – it was a surprising sound – raspy and unnatural; it shook his thin frame till it rattled. “No. The witch was a delightful, obliging woman…very obliging. This young harpy was my wife.”

“Maybe you should have married the witch.”

Fluvio spat. “I should’ve burned her, is what I should have done. But I am a sad, weak man. My wife – she was a good woman. Deserved better than that…to die that way. If she is dead.” Roberto’s hand moved stealthily, unconsciously beneath the table to the knife he kept at his hip; he hadn’t anticipated the drunk to be the violent type – but his years behind the bar had taught him about the deceptive quality of looks.

“So…” he ventured carefully, “you killed your wife to run off with witch … or tried to? Why not just leave her – walk away?”

“You don’t understand. My wife…she was a harpy when I met her – or so I thought. Cold, aloof, the other girls from her village would blush and pull their skirts up if I so much as looked their way – and there she was – this ugly thing who wouldn’t even give me a smile in exchange for a song.”

“Ah,” Roberto said, “a challenge.

”Exactly. And there was a time…when I was young…when a challenge was not something to be turned away from. So I wagered myself that I’d bed in a week’s time.”

“And did you?”

“No – she was a tougher nut to crack than that. It took me a month – and I had to wed her besides. Oh – I didn’t mind – marriage was my idea – and a surprise it was too. She was…the more I wooed her the more besotted I became myself. She was different. Smart – and not just the book kind, but witty too. She barely spoke – sometimes I wouldn’t hear a word from her for days – and then when she broke the silence it was but a few words that cut so deep I actually felt I would bleed. So instead of wooing her with love songs and sweet words, I worked hard to get her to turn that tongue of her sweetly to me. So I talked to her. I talked until I was blue in the face. And when I couldn’t talk anymore I listened – and I learned how much of herself she hid away behind her mousey hair and thick waste. Outside, she was the quintessential milk maids daughter – but beneath – she was alight with a curiosity and passion and independence I had never seen in another woman – or indeed man – in all my days. And when she talked about the world and her desires that passion burned her up from the inside – and then she was beautiful. And I knew if there was going to be any woman on this whole earth to share the road with me, it would be she.”

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