a flash-fiction story.
The tradition dates back to yore, when a common man had no eye for words as written on a page, nor either a hand to make them. A symbol, an object he would recognise, was more helpful to him and so, in towns and cities, and any village large enough to accommodate them in number, the inns put up a sign by which they might be differentiated from another.
And so it was that Egfred Wattles, a person of nefarious means, instructed his companion, Gwent, to meet him in a certain named public house, three evenings following the second Sabbath of a month.
“I shall be at The Heart in Hand, Gwent”, he might say. To which Gwent might respond,
“The Heart in Hand. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”
“Gwent, we will try The Leaping Cow next.” To which Gwent would say,
“The Leaping Cow. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”
“It’s The Cat and The Custard Pot this time. Remember that if you will.”
“The Cat and The Custard Pot. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”
And so it was on a chill Wednesday night that Gwent found himself in an unfamiliar village, at The Battered Hat Tavern, cradling the sorry remains of half a pint of best ale and doing his utmost to avoid the suspicious glances of its overlarge landlord.
Every time the inn door opened and closed, Gwent would start and lurch across the table in hope of seeing his comrade. All too often it was just a local man, a stranger, and more times than he thought he could bear any more, just the wind rattling its timbers in the frame. In time he grew more afraid to cast his eyes down again, to take in the dwindling remnants of his drink, the tan brew slowly coming to resemble nothing more than a stain across its bottom.
“Can I restore that jug, matey?”
Gwent looked up and swallowed in surprise at the towering figure beside him. He had no coin for another, nor any sweet words of persuasion as was his associate’s trade, so he remained silent. It was the landlord who spoke again,
“I see you looking intently upon our door. Would you be waiting on someone?”
“Aye. If this be The Battered Hat for sure, then I am expecting to find my fellow traveller soon”, said Gwent.
“And who be this fellow traveller?”, asked the landlord with curiosity.
“A goodly gentleman, finely suited, and by the name of Mr. Egfred Wattles, esquire.” said Gwent with a sounding of pride.
The landlord crouched low so as to rest his knuckles firmly on the table, his great head coming close to one side of Gwent’s face.
“We hang that swindler on the morning of six days past”, he said in a low tone.
Gwent’s blood ran to ice and he felt the need to put down his empty pot for fear his trembling hands would betray his condition.
“Last week. Oh. Right you are”, he said at length. “Pray, how many weeks has this month seen?”
The landlord, rather confused, rose up at this apparent diversion, but he answered all the same,
“Well, almost four now, I reckon”, he said.
Gwent eased himself up from his seat. Smiling wanly, he offered the empty pot to the landlord who took it, but did not reciprocate the smile. Gwent left through the door he had entered three hours before and which he had watched keenly in all that time. Out in the cold night, the wind rocked the battered hat on its gibbet, to and fro, and the full moon, peeking out from the cloud, glinted off its many imperfections. The right place, the wrong time, he thought, and, turning up the collar of his coat, he set his feet for home.
inspired and written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Sign”