Robert Fenton walked the cobbled streets of London. His strawberry-blond hair showed in waves beneath his tricorn hat, badly in need of cutting. Blue eyes stared above a broad nose and strong, clean-shaven jaw. All his clothing looked threadbare, starting with his coat, right down to his stockings, but at least he took the pains to launder them. It was a pride his former employer instilled in him, unlike the denizens of the city.
The only item on his person of any worth was the beautiful sword he wore. A horse head extended from the end of the pommel, meeting with the curve of the basket hilt guard.
Although it was 1816, England still healed after the war with Napoleon. The children picked pockets, and otherwise respectable women solicited men by the harbour.
He entered the doors of the Boar’s Head tavern. The smoke filled room was crowded with the sounds of laughter and song. Two planks situated on top of a barrel either end served as the bar.
A group of officers sat around a table at one corner of the room. Only nobility wore fine wigs and such grand red uniforms, the like of which, his master also wore. They took dainty sips from glasses filled with fine sherry. All seemed to mill around one man, whose gloved hand ever rested on the pommel of his sword.
A girl in her late teens walked by their table with a decanter supported in both hands. One of the officers pulled her in close and kissed the side of her neck to the raucous laughter of his fellows. She smiled at his affections, but Robert suspected she feared to do otherwise.
He crossed the room swiftly taking an empty mug from a table on the way, took her hand and kissed it.
“Pardon me, dear lady, but I was wondering if I may partake of some of that wine?” he said, bowing his head.
The officers eyed him keenly as she poured into his cup and swiftly excused herself. Satisfied that he had diverted the officers’ attention, he raised his cup.
“To your health, gentlemen,” he said, promptly draining it.
He was about to move off when the nearest of the men, barred him with his arm. The officer in the middle leaned forward.
“Where might a jackanape like your acquire such a sword?” he asked.
“There’s no need for insults, sir.”
“Did you steal it from a dead officer on the field?”
“Certainly not, it was bequeathed to me by my master, Lord Delroy.”
“I say you’re a thief.”
Robert’s hand rested on his hilt. A smile spread on the lips of the officer.
The taverner stopped by the table. “Ignore his slights, lad. He’s the devil himself with a sword.”
“I even have my Lord’s will to prove it,” Robert said, reaching into his coat.
He dropped the paper on the table.
The officer’s eyes rolled down. “Not that the likes of you could read it,” he said.
“I can read!”
“A liar too then?”
Robert drew his sword.
The officer raised his brows.
“A duel then, is it?”
The officer rose from his seat, took of his coat and after carefully folding it, he passed it to one of his comrades. He then drew his sword, bent his knees and placed his free hand on his hip.
“You will die you know,” said the officer.
“I know,” said Robert.
“Before I run you through,curiosity compels me – why would a man duel over so trivial a matter as a few slurs? In the past, any other hopeful with a sword I’ve met have passed in silence.”
“To what end does a man breath in and out if he lives without honour? You’re nobility, sir. What you don’t understand is that the less a man has, the more he’ll fight for it. All I have is my name. You’ve sullied it, and only because you don’t know its value. When I’m laid to rest, it will say on my headstone, here lies Robert Fenton. He never stole from a single soul. He worked hard all his days, never mistreated a woman, and bestowed compassion on those less fortunate than himself. What will they say of you?”
The officer’s face twisted into a scowl.
“To swords then,” he said.
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