He was seated on a stool, sharpening a sword. He turned his head, cocked an eyebrow.
He sighed, hung his head. He inhaled deeply, leaned the sword against the wall, exhaled. He rose from his stool to stand at attention. Lethargic attention. A disengaged civilian, not interested in standing to anyone’s attention, much less the fat man’s. He pulled his black vest taught from the bottom, brushed steel shavings from his white sleeves.
“Where are you, Winstrop?”
“To your left, sir. And behind.”
The fat man at the table turned his fat head to the right. It didn’t much want much to turn, the head. Too much interference from fat, and a stiff assortment of vertebrae somewhere deep within. The fat man put his thumb into his mouth, licked the grease. His molars were grinding meat from the breast in his other hand. The old couple had cooked him a pheasant.
“Where?” His breath sluiced over bird pulp into the kitchen, filling it with a stink.
“Your left. And behind.”
The fat man turned his fat head the other way, caught a glimpse of Winstrop standing at the ready, and grunted. It communicated, the grunt. It said, I’ve found you. You eluded me, but now I’ve found you.
“What are they saying about me, Winstrop?” The breast of pheasant butted up against the fat mouth that issued the grunt. Teeth tore meat from bone.
Standing at the ready, arms behind his back, Winstrop replied, “What does who say about you, sir?” His jaw clenched once, and again.
“The men,” said the fat man, swallowing. “What do the men say about me?”
“I’m sure I don’t know, sir.”
“You know, Winstrop. You go about them.” The fat man gestured with his breast, to emphasize his point. The breast slipped out of his fingers and fell to the table with a whump. The fat man flapped his hands in surprise, shook his jowls. He waggled his fingers at the breast. It was a bad breast, disobedient. He was done with it. Flicked fingers against other fingers, wiped them across his chest and coughed. Phlegm rattled deep inside his fat lungs.
“I do not, sir.”
“Nonsense,” said the fat man, hacking snot onto the floorboards, waggling his empty goblet at Winstrop. “Nonsense, I say.”
Winstrop leaned over the table and poured wine into the fat man’s goblet.
“Might I be of service, sir?”
“Yes. Yes you may.”
“It would interest me to know how.”
The fat man sipped wine, mumbled something into the goblet, made the wine bubble. He rolled his eyes, shook his head.
“Come again?” says Winstrop.
“You insufferable shit!” said the fat man, bringing his fist down on the table. Wine splashed onto his shoulder. He squealed in surprise. Coughed.
The fat man leaned back on his bench. Wood splintered and cracked. The fat man drilled into Winstrop with his eyes. “I don’t know yet.”
“I trust you’ll alert me when the time is come, sir.”
The fat man blinked. “What time, Winstrop?”
“The time. When that time has come.”
“The one at which I might I be of service, sir.”
The fat man’s eyes fell upon the old couple. The old man and the old woman sitting across the table from him. He saw them as if for the first time. It was not the first time he’d seen them. It was the first time he’d considered their presence. Acknowledged that they were, in fact, there. In the room. Sharing his air. Staring at him.
He gestured dismissively. “Winstrop, who are these old ones?”
“They live here, sir.”
“You don’t say. In this house?”
“They are our hosts.”
“Do they speak?”
Winstrop addressed the old couple in their own language. Asked them if they spoke the fat man’s. Literally, he asked if they spoke fat man. Nothing about their expression quite gave them away, but they appreciated his little joke, Winstrop thought. There was a faint beginning of a twitch in a corner of the woman’s mouth.
“They do sir,” said Winstrop. “But not our tongue.”
“Do they know who I am?”
“I believe they do, sir.”
Winstrop asked the old couple if they knew who the fat man was. They said yes.
“They do, sir.”
“Wonderful. Who do they say I am?”
“They say that you are the Governor of Etruria.”
“Am I the Governor of Etruria, Winstrop?”
“As far as I know, sir. It is my understanding that you are.”
“I am, Winstrop. I am the Governor of Etruria.”
“Etruria is pleased to have you, sir.”
“Oh, Winstrop. Shut that fucking hole in your face. Don’t patronize me.”
“Of course, sir.”
The old couple stared at the governor.
The governor’s eyes took a rare turn inwards. His fingers drummed on the table.
“Winstrop. I’ve a message.”
“You don’t say? From whom?”
“Not from, no.” The Governor shook a finger, as if scolding. “For. It’s not yet written.”
“I shall be pleased to convey it once conceived, sir. I await it with great eagerness.”
“I know you do, Winstrop. I know you. I know. What is the best language to write it in, do you think?”
“Who is it for, sir?”
“Theirs, then. Their own, sir. Yours and mine.”
“Yes,” fingers drummed on the table. The wisdom of this settled in. “Yes, agreed. Have you some instruments? For the writing of it?”
“Indeed,” Winstrop nodded. “With your permission.” He spun on his heels to exit the kitchen. The fat man, the Governor of Etruria, drummed away with his fingers. He studied the old man and the old woman seated across from him. They sat like carvings, unblinking, hands folded.
The fat man, the Governor of Etruria, leaned to the left. He contorted his face. He produced a resonant, full-bodied fart.
The old couple were unmoved.
“I don’t think they like me, Winstrop.”
Winstrop glanced at the old couple, set paper and quill and a bottle of ink in front of the fat man. “We have occupied their home, sir.”
“Many homes have been occupied, Winstrop. All across this land.”
“Perhaps that is what offends them.”
The fat man took up the quill, poked it on his tongue, getting ready. Eyed the old couple suspiciously, as if they might pounce, the sudden. He dipped the quill in ink and began to compose his missive. He wrote slowly, breathed heavily. Wheezed.
“Message,” he stated to no one in particular while writing. He dotted some letters, crossed others. “Here. It. Is. Forthwith.” Dot dot, scribble, sign. He whisked the note towards Winthrop. “And off you go,” he waved.
Winstrop paused. He scratched his chin. “At once?”
“Yes!” cried the fat man. “Yes, now! That is the message, the one we’ve all been waiting for. It is ready. Go ye forth with trumpeteers and gaily colored flags! Why do you dilly and dally, Winstrop? Begone! Ride, ride like the wind!”
Winstrop glanced at the old couple. He considered many other possible situations he might find himself in. He ranked this one near the bottom. Though not at the bottom. He spun to go, and allowed the old couple who lived in the house to see how he rolled his eyes, how he glanced sidelong to display his distaste for All Things. He thought it might help them, then felt like an ass and wished he hadn’t. He grabbed his black overcoat from the peg by the door, swung it around his shoulders, opened the door, exited into the black night flecked with snow.
“It is for Drogan!” yelled the Governor, into the darkness beyond the door. “Take it to Drogan, Winstrop! Do you hear me? You little shit!”