Antonio swung the tavern door wide and took a shaky step, followed by another onto the cobblestone. He belched and smiled to himself as he toook a hazy look around the streets. Empty...good he thought. It had been broad daylight when he entered the "Riverman's Roost,' and now was well into the night. It started as a relatively typical evening in the bar but the mood was quickly turning raucous...a perfect time to make his exit. Years ago he would have stayed and gambled and fought until the return of day, but his mid-aged years had mellowed him some. Besides he had been on the river for the last month, and had other things on his mind.
He adjusted his wide brimmed hat and fluffed its gaudy purple plume. He also smoothed his beard and checked his boozy breath, he wanted to look presentable where he was going. True, they were only whores, but they were the whores he loved and a few of them even loved him back...he would have to make an impression with his grand entrance. "Worry not dear ladies, The Captain is coming...coming to service all of your carnal desires." He enjoyed the thought that in reality the whores needed him. With that on his mind he began whistling an old sailors tune--the words to which a decent person shouldn't hear--and started down the hard scrabble at an easy gait, leaving the tavern behind.
Antonio had been a patron at Madam Renza's for many years. He knew all of the girls there and truly enjoyed the company, he had on occasion even helped Renza with financial difficulties, whoring fuels the economy he thought. The building itself was a bit run down like everything else in the river ward, but their service had an excellent reputation...for a house of ill-repute. And it would be a shame to see the place shut down and turned into a squatters haven. He frowned at the idea of all his perfumed sluts loitering on the street corner when they could be awaiting him in the comfort of a warm feather bed.
It was this he pondered when a flutter in the shadows caught his eye, followed by a loud "pssst", breaking the silence. He stopped abruptly and turned, fingers tickling his sabers hilt. "Hey mister..." came a quiet voice.
"Aye, who's about...come into the light and show yourself." He hoped the command would work, his eyes were not as keen as they once were and he was still too drunk to fight in the dark. "You wanna quick one, mister?" came again the high feminine voice. Antonio's eyebrows lifted and he rocked back on his heels as the figure stepped from the shadows.
"Have you any coin?...I'm real good, do anything you want..." was her practiced line. It sounded more desperate than enthusiastic. He studied her slender frame, she couldn't be past fourteen summers he thought. She was wearing a threadbare shift and shivering a bit, her small developing breasts plainly visible, nipples erect in the night air. Antonio blushed and shook his head regaining his composure. He may have been a lecherous old dog, but he still had some sense of honor. He could not touch her, it wasn't right.
"Well, how bout it...we can do it right here in the alley." She said, stepping closer to him and gesturing behind her.
"Don't you think your mother is worried...you'd best run home now." He said.
"My mothers been dead for years, and my daddy and granmomma too, I can take care of myself...and you too if you have the coins." Her tone went from immature seduction to a phony toughness and back again. She was lovely, and he couldn't help imagining the feel of her smooth skin.
"No...no, but thanks just the same. I believe you are far too sweet a flower to be plucked out here in the street." He bowed deeply laying his charms on her. They were wasted however, as she was too young and inexperienced to appreciate them.
She screwed up her face. "What? "Listen, we can do a quick one right here...you can do whatever you want...just give me enough for food." She took his hand and looked at him with a childs eyes. Her face was dirty.
Antonio sighed. "And you have no one to look after you?"
"Well...I had a pimp but he disappeared two weeks ago, I'm glad...his breath was terrible." She smiled. "But you're handsome, I could be yours you know."
"And where do you stay?" He said ingoring the last bit. She only nodded to the dark of the alley. He rubbed his eyes with his free hand. He was at a complete loss...totally incapable of making up his mind, until voices in the dark made it for him.
Two staggering figures rounded the next corner, exchanging lewd comments in rough voices. They immediately saw Antonio and the girl, and appraoched, swaying a bit as they came. Antonio reflexively stepped between them and the girl, their drunken ogling openly revealing their intent.
"Oy, wots this?..." slurred the first, peering at the girl.
"Eh...Looks like we found our fun then mate." said the other. Antonio studied them quickly, they were common city trash, probably dock workers or small time thugs...also probably armed. They reeked of sweat and cheap brandy...the kind gauranteed to fuel bad judgement.
"Gentlemen...If you'll pardon us my daughter and I will take our leave, and bid you good evening." He removed his hat and gave a low bow. The two drunks just stared blankly at him.
"That ain't yer daughter...yer a pimp." One sneered.
"Have to be a pimp to wear a hat like that..." They both laughed at him, clearly these two had no appreciation for good taste in fashion. Antonio just stared back, very aware of the silent child behind him.
"Wot's yer name anyway, Mister Fancyhat?"
"I...am Antonio, river-master and barge captain of the Haughty Mistress." He responded a bit dramatically. He smiled to himself always a bit impressed at his own title. He was also certain that even these two had heard of him. Again the two dolts stared blankly. He turned to glance at the girl, her expression also blank. He turned back to the two thugs, one had drawn a knife.
"Whys don't you just step aside and give us a taste o' yer little prize."
Antonio's face darkened, as the second pulled out a short club. He knew the time for talk was over. He felt a quiet gasp behind him. Don't worry he thought, these two are no trouble. At that moment he realized he was about to fight, probably to the death, for a stranger. One more little tramp on the street was nothing, but she had appealed to him somehow, to something inside. He was not about to leave her to these two reeking cretins.
They lunged simultaneously. His saber flashed as he yanked it free from it's sheath, and hacked down, defeating the dagger thrust. He grimaced as the other's club glanced off his ribs, too slow he thought. He was twice their age but far better, at least he had been. He came back left with a downward stroke, carving a deep gash in the clubbers forearm. They continued the barrage of attacks, while he parried dancing backwards and maintaing a defensive posture. He managed to shove the girl into the safety of the alley, all the while countering the drunken savagery. The two attackers grunted, chests heaving, and Antonio couldn't help but smile. It had been a long time.
"As entertaining as you chaps have turned out to be, I'm afraid I must put an end to this little soiree.''
He grunted, as he freed his cloak with his off hand and tossed it at the knifemans head, effectively blinding him. While he was swimming free from the cloak, Antonio cut past him bounding onto then down from a barrel. He spun to face them, now at their backs. He slashed low, hamstringing the clubber before he could turn around. He then gave the the knifeman a quck jab between the shoulder blades, piercing his lungs. With both men on the ground he turned to the girl.
"Come now, we should leave this place." He said, reaching to her. The clubber tried to grab her as she dashed from the alley's mouth, and Antonio was forced to give him a stab to the neck, right below his ear. He took her hand when she was clear of the two thugs, her face an expression of stark fear. He sheathed his sword and scanned the streets. Moonlight and puddles. Good, he thought, he didn't need to explain this to a city patrol, it was best to get away from there as quickly as possible.
Several tense moments and city blocks later, Antonio slowed his pace and relaxed his grip on the girls hand. He let out a low sigh and turned to regard her. She was more than a little shaken, but would recover easily enough. She'd probably seen more than one person get gutted in this section of town. "Are those two going to die?" She finally asked breaking the silence.
"Well...I suppose so. I certainly wouldn't envy them the pain they'll be in if they live to see the dawn." He smiled. She lowered her eyes, thoughts churning in her mind.
"Well...thank you for helping me...I'm sorry you had to do that." Antonio pondered her last remark. They would have raped her, he thought. But she was a whore after all and probably used to rough, thankless sex. But those two, they would have most likely killed her when they were done. Whores didn't usually live long out here without protection.
"What of me now?...I guess I belong to you if you want me." She looked up at him, her dark eyes seemed to be smiling, maybe with hope. I can't take care of you, he thought. You're the last thing I need, but he did feel some responsibility now.
"What are you called?" He asked.
"My name is Aryanna...isn't it pretty?" She drew close and smiled up at him. He was at a loss for what to do, then slowly smiled back at her, an idea dawning in his mind.
"Aryanna...have you ever heard of Madam Renza?"
"Umm...no." She responded, a little confused.
"Well...I think she would like to meet you." He said grinning broadly. "And you'll like her...she's a wonderful Lady."
Ok, this is a small moment in the life of Antonio. E-mail me with your thoughts.