The Recitation of the Letter (A conversation betwixt Billy and Pop)
Thanks to Kim and Maer. I had a blast with this one - Ken
Friday, May 22, 1868
Ironclad Frigate HMS Bellerophon
Mediterranean Sea 200 leagues West Northwest of Malta
The daily Wyvern had just flown off, to the north and east, directly back to England.
Billy watched the dark shape slowly disappear into the horizon. Minutes earlier, as was his usual custom, the orc had calculated the perfect toss to hit the Wyvern’s rider squarely in the back of the head with an apple core just as the beast leapt into the sky. He had succeeded four of the last seven days.
Today however, he had forgone this tawdry pleasure due to an envelope tucked beneath his arm. No point in hittin' the bearer of good news, and the letter'd spoil my aim anyway.
An envelope was addressed to Pop, Billy's best friend and about the only mate Billy had at the moment. The weaselman had been mopey for the last month, ever since he ran into that concussed Russian Peyetra bint. He still had a golden lock that he pulled out and sobbed over when he thought no one could see him.
Billy had humored them in the tunnel, when he knew his friend was down and the woman was dying, but this ongoing spate of glum was approaching his last nerve, not that the orc had had all that many to begin with.
Back in Russkiland Billy had hatched a plan. He knew Pop was sweet on the Frenchie tart they'd met in the London sewers and she didn’t seem too averse, even gave Pop her address. Billy had written her on Pop's behalf and today she'd finally responded. Nothing cheers a lad out of a woman related funk better than another woman. He'd be right as rain in no time.
The thought put a grin on Billy’s face which was a touch unfortunate because his happy smile, his I’ve got a plan smile and his I’m about to kill you smile were nearly identical and equally terrifying to anyone who didn't know him well. Soldiers and sailors avoided him as he slid the letter into his Tunic and began looking for the only weasel on board.
It took Billy a while to find his friend. When he did, Pop was looking out over the water, "Lettin' the brisk sea air tickle his whiskers" as he would put it. "Mopin's more like" as Billy would.
Seeing his friend distracted, Billy couldn't resist the opportunity to sneak up on him, getting within a yard before breaking into his best Colour Sergeant voice. "Corporal Pennington!" he bellowed, nearly frightening Pop out of his skin. "What's all this with the lollygaggin about? Don't you have ratings to abuse?"
The weasel-man leapt to his feet, snapping to attention before turning around. "Uh sir, I'm not lollygaggin', sir! I'm watching for the enem---" His words broke off as he scented his friend. "Billy, you arse! Messin' up me private time!" he yelped, spinning to face the orc. His whiskers twitching indignantly as he put his arms akimbo.
Billy guffawed clapping his friend on the back. "Pop You're too easy. . . and Glum. But I've got just the cure for that." He reached into his tunic pocket.
"Nay, Billy, I ain’t glum, I honor her. It just pains me to be with others who are experiencing happiness." He bowed his head solemnly.
Billy pulled out the slightly squashed envelope and pointed at the stamp. "Lookee here, it sez 'por Avion' which means 'by Wyvern' in French. I tol you 'ole Major Rodger would come through for you."
His friend looked up at him, pursing his lips. "Wot is it? I don't know anyone in France."
Billy dusted the top of his friend's head, nearly staggering him. "No ya berk. The letter flies over France on a Wyvern so they write 'By Wyvern' on the letter so if someone in Garlicville finds it they know it fell out of one of them flying mail nags." He held the letter just out of Pop's reach. "Guess who it’s from, eh? eh?"
Pop looked genuinely puzzled. "Uh, I dunno, Billy. I means I can't read and none of me folk can write, so." He ended his words with an elaborate shrug. "Wots it smell like?" He leaned forward to smell it, his nose twitching.
Billy stepped back, pulling the letter with him and with a dramatic flourish that looked particularly odd coming from an orc, he lifted the envelope to his nose and gave a long and noisy sniff.
"Why I believe I detect the distinct odoure of finely milled Castile Soap,..."
...short sniff, "that wood what smells roses, but ain't."
"It's a lady?" Pop almost hopped in place with joy. "Oooo, for me. Oooo, Billy read it. Someone's wot like missin' me. Who could it be? Ole' Sal sure and ain't gonna ever afford fancy smelling stoff like that." His forehead creased with deep thought. "Evie? Naw. Oh, must be that woman that I was courtin'. You know, Billy, the one wot sent her husband to smack me around? The one I used to follow on her and her lady friends walks? Bet she changed her mind."
Billy worked hard to keep a smile off of his face. It wouldn't be good if he thought I worried too much about 'im. Also, the officers’ll think I’m up to something again. He looked at the envelope studiously, "Sez here it's from, J. G. Arsenal of Little York Place. -- over near Baker Street."
Pop just shook his head. "Why would some military bloke be writing me with a scented letter?"
"Well, I've got me suspicions," Billy said, adopting a tone of mock concern. He gave a sidelong glance at Pop. "Shall I open it or should we let the mist'ry linger a bit yet?"
"Open it, open it."
Billy pulled out his knife and sliced off the end of the envelope. I hope I'm right about this. Don't want to get his hopes up only to find out it's a solicitor looking for payment. He scanned the letter. Not much. But from such tiny stones do massive oaks grow. He looked at Pop. The lad's whiskers were positively trembling with anticipation.
"Well, it turns out that 'J' is none other than Miss Josephine. You remember her, right? dark haired, Frenchie girl what gave us her address after that hobbit shoved all that gold off on us.
"Wot's she in an arsenal for then?" Pop grinned. "Don't matter. She's a rye one. Wot's she say in that letter?"
Dear Mr. Pop,
I got your letter and it was a very entertaining and informative read. Thank you for sending it to me and I hope this letter finds you and Billy well.
That's kind of boring. Best to embroider a bit round the edges, as it were.
Billy cleared his throat and began failing miserably to sound like an Englishwoman with a French accent.
"My Dearest, Darling Pop,
"We've read all about your exploits in 'the Times.' We know you're all big heroes and there's going to be a parade when you get back to London."
Pop almost wiggled with excitement. "Parade?" he cried. "Ooo, with candy and poppers?"
Billy almost smiles. "Sure, I suppose." He read the next paragraph.
It is Spring here in London and the season is now well advanced. Everything has turned green and the greyness of winter has been quite swept away. It's even more glorious in the parks and I have taken many a lovely walk through them.
More descriptive, but not quite what I was looking for. Billy continued in his best falsetto, which was frankly not very good.
“Spring's 'ere and I'm thinkin' of you. I hear it's quite cold in Russki Land. I hope this letter warms you up and I hope we can go for a lovely walk in the park when you get 'ere.
There. That's the letter my friend wants to hear.
Pop had begun to march in place, his shoulders straightening. "How'd she find out about my heroism in the Hole Billy?" he asked as his friend looked over the letter. He got even straighter as he heard Billy's rendition and lit up like a Chinese candle. "That," he stated solemnly, smoothing his whiskers, "is a woman who misses someone." He winked at his friend. "And that someone is me. Told ya she fancied me. Keep on, man. Let me hear some more."
Billy couldn't suppress a smirk. "Right Poppy. You're her fancy man, you are. Lezzee what's next."
It is a stark contrast to the sewers. You do remember how horrid they were when we helped Evie best Lord Cataver. Quite simply hideous. I believe I can still smell the stench of it on my coat and boots. I do not think I will ever be rid of it completely and may require a full replacement for both.
Better. But it could still use a bit o' polish.
The weasel squeeked. "I ain't gonna buy her new clothes, Billy. I ain't made o' money!"
Billy cleared his throat, "Ahem. Do you want as I should keep reading, or not?"
"Yes, Bill ole boy. Keep reading." He looked sheepish. "Please."
The Falsetto continued.
"Poppy, you were so brave in the sewers. I think we would have all nipped it, but for you and your handsome orc friend. I do hope you wash up nice before you visit."
Pop scowled. "Fine, I'll take a bath afore I meet her." But the expression lasted but a moment before he began to smile. "We'll have such lovelies together. Wee babies with my handsome face and her lovely height. And her and her smashin' fine house in that nice part of town. I'll live like a king once I marry her." He nodded, getting lost in the fantasy. "She ain't no Russian warrior now, Billy. She's a proper girl. One you marry." He crinkled his eyes with a merry grin. "And know Biblically. To get babies."
Billy looked at his friend slyly. "So your gonna marry her 'biblically' then? and have little weasly babes?"
Pop barely acknowledged the comment. "When I get back and I saved up enough to pay for a suit."
"Well, let's just finish this letter first," Billy said. He shook the paper once dramatically as he read further.
I will be attending a masquerade ball at Earl Dashwood's soon. I think I shall go as a gryphon. It is not an animal one normally associates with balls and I shall have a satisfying time watching everyone's reaction to my costume choice. In case you do not remember what a gryphon is, it is a mythological animal with the head of an eagle, the body of a lion, and great sweeping wings. Gryphons have caught my fancy ever since I was a little girl and I rather still like them now.
Now this has got possibilities. Billy returned to his broken falsetto.
"I'd like to meet you at the Massacre aid ball at my cousin house. He's some Earl Dashwood or other."
"What?" The weasel made a worried face. "I don't dance," he announced firmly.
"What?” Billy scoffed. “A likely lad as light on your feet as yourself?? Perish the thought, Pop. I've seen you dance over to Ten Bells."
"Dodging a knife and running away wid a purse is not dancing, Billy Boy."
"We'll get some whiskey in ya and you'll do fine. Lemme keep readin'.
Part of Billy’s mind was forming a plan. Get to the party by one method or another and get the two of them together by one method or another then work out a way to make a profit on it. "She sez, she'll be a gray phone, looks like a wyvern only kinda more bird and lion like. Sez, she's liked them since she was a little lass. Sorta like you and giraffes."
Pop shrugged. "I like tall things wid long legs." He looked away at the deck, thought filled for a long moment. "Dunno if I like that whole birdy lion thing. Sounds like it will make her a bit fierce-lookin'. I dunno if I can look dangerous enough to be an escort to the lady." He reached into a pocket and pulled out a pipe, looking at it longingly before putting it back into his pocket. "Whaddya think, Billy?" he asked, looking out to the sea. "Could a weasel be tough enough to dance with a birdy-lion?"
Billy chuckled. "I suppose 'Tall thing wit Long Legs' might describe Miss Arse'nal well enough but I think the better question is whether she's tough enough to dance with you, what with all the arms and elbows flyin every which way."
Billy pirouetted with improbably grace given his muscular bulk. "Ready for the birdy ballet?"
A furry eyebrow raised. "I can dance bettern' that." He raised his arms to hold an invisible partner. "Miss?" he queried and began to waltz around. He stopped a moment later. "Gonna have to lift some flowers for her. Know a posie wagon I can take some lovelies from when we get back home? And who the hell is Lord Wormwood? And where is his hidey hole?"
Billy frowned. "Dunno who this Dashwood feller is, but if he's an Earl, he'll at least have money. I’m sure the cabbies'll know how to get to his place." He read the last paragraphs.
Please let me know how you are getting on and do give Billy my regards. May God Bless you and keep you safe, Mr. Pop, and I hope to hear all about your adventures when you are next back in London.
Almost right, but I can do a little better.
"You're coming too, mate." Pop slapped his friend on the shoulder. "Maybe you can find a girl there too. If this bloke has coin, then he'll not notice another guest. I'm sure Miss Josephine can get you in."
"Right then. So the last bit sez, 'Lemme know how you and your orc friend's getting along. Look me up when you get to London and we can go to Church together. Love J'"
The weasel froze, going red beneath his fur. "Love? Love? Oh, read that again, Billy! She said she loved me?" He gave the orc a big stupid smile, his blue eyes twinkling. "She's done picked a church already and wants me take a looksie! Oh Billy, I've got something to live for!" He nodded to himself. "I was pining away you know. Fer that lovely in the Hole. But this," and he beat his chest, "this is love."
Billy clapped his friend on the back. "Well, then seein' as you're all puffed up with La Spirit D'amour how's about you watch me back for a bit? I got a boxing match wit' this Black Gang Ogre, what thinks he can take on Billy Butcher." He closed his fists and methodically cracked the knuckles of both hands. "Whaddaya say?"
Pop laughed, full of life again. "I say I gots some money to put on you, me friend. Let's be off before they find us loitering out here."