Chapter 9: To The Pub, To The Pub, To The Pub, Pub, Pub

Boozin', boozin', just you and I,

boozin', boozin' when we are dry,

some do it openly, some on the sly,

but we all are bloody well boozin'...

Tankards clanked and pitchers chinked as Lila's and Alexis' eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness of the pub's interior. Herodotus, Clenesthides and the rest of the men hunched together around several tables that sat against the far wall. The men’s heads and shoulders cast long, slanting shadows on the gritty floorboards, lit by only a couple of torches suspended from brass wall brackets. The men were laughing and joking, recounting the highlights of the day's rough and tumble. One of the company, Democles or Trachis, hoisted his pewter and burst into song:

I like me spuds with oil and salt,

I like me chops and chips,

it's best I like me tasty malt

and a sweet young maiden's lips.

Then all joined in the chorus:

So roll me high and roll me low,

and roll me 'round again,

and tell me wife I'm at the show,

and I won't be home 'til ten...

Then came more chirruping and quaffing of the mealy ale as Lila and Alexis approached the murky corner where the men were holding forth in high dudgeon.

"Canteloupe...," (pron. Can-tel-ooh-pee) Herodotus cried with a felafel-eating grin on his puss, waving his empty flagon as though he were brandishing a pitchfork. "Would you be so kind as to spot us another round, love?!"

"And a twist of chewy lamb jerky for the chaser!" Clenesthides chimed in.

"Show me your dinars, gents!" Canty, the plump hostler, cried out from behind the bar, "Pay your tabs or you'll be gettin' no more service out of me 'pon this warm and breezy, late summer’s day!"

"If warm and breezy were your pleasure, Cant, I'll warrant as how you'll be findin' my gassy fee for thy services paid in full 'twixt the hill of one cheek and the mound of t'other!" Herodotus hoisted himself up from his seat, turned, bent over and wiggled his backside at the hostess.

The men yahoo'ed as Canty stifled a grin. Reaching for an empty pitcher, she cried, "For shame, you saucy lout! Moonin' a maid of the highest vir-chew! This pub ain't no bawdy house. Go home to your busy bed if fee for service were the feast you're after. You'll be gettin' no pork pies in this fine establishment, though I got a pie what can pork the lot of you!"

"Hoo hah!" the men honked and made little piggy noises. "If we canna wet our whistles 'pon the horny stops of thy virtue, Cant, then you needs must consolate us with a keg of your warmest brew!"

"If Latrinus and his thievin' crew don't scuttle your gizzards, the fiery brands of these warrin’ armies'll scorch your skivvies," Canty, garbed in a long gray skirt and a dark top that was half blouse, half apron, stiff in places and soggy in others with ale and grease stains, shouted affectionately at the men. "Argive or Trojan, the juice of the barley don't give a whiff in the wallow which sons of the sod were raised up and which cast down so long as they pay for their pints. Wherefore, then, should I?"

"And will you mourn for us when we're six foot under, love?" Clenesthides cried out.

"I'll be mournin' for my doughty dinars, not thy droopin' dickies," Canty shouted above the roar of her patrons’ laughter, shearing the header of foam off the rim of a large pitcher of ale. In her rustling skirts, Canty came sweeping out from behind the bar and carried the pitcher to her claque of carousing admirers. "Now drink thy drops and don't be late for sayin’ grace at table. Your homely wives and pretty daughters'll be afeared you been lost in the scramble or laid low in the scrum."

"Stay and quaff a toddy with us, Cant," the men urged. "There may be wenches in the town what were bulkier than thee but, by Zeus' stiffened stick, there were none more bold nor buxom."

"I'll be thankin' the king of the gods to keep his royal stiffness well tucked within the folds of his affable tunic, young Master Democles," Canty stood up straight in response to a friendly swat on the back of her skirts. "Hands and sundry pointier parts, ungloved and untrousered in the dark of night, have been known to be the rack and ruin of good-natured girls come the dazzlin' dint of day."

"Over here, lasses! This way!" Herodotus shouted when he spotted Lila and Alexis coming hesitantly into the lounge. "What ho, lads! Here were the swell harvest of what, twenty and more sunmarks ago, were swollen seed well planted. Lila! Alexis! Come, taste of thy reward. Two frosty mugs to fill the troughs of these bright fillies," Herodotus gestured to Canty. "One for the bay and one for the roan."

Canty turned to see Lila and Alexis milling shyly at the fringe of the crowd. "Why, if mine eyes be not deceivin' me, ain't that your younger girl," Canty called to Herodotus. "And you, Clenesthides; here were the daughter what were stayin' snug at home whilst her twa' brothers have sallied forth to trounce them awful Trojans."

"The girl were the apple of me eye," Clenesthides affirmed. "And not mine alone, I'm afeared."

"Ah, but she were a fine, upstandin' girl, weren't you, love?" Canty looked affectionately at Alexis. "Ripe for the pluckin' yet nary one to be bringin' shame 'pon the good name of her father. Nor t'other what were near as full as the first in bust and bottom, I wot. What can I be gettin' for you, darlin's? Sparklin' spring water with a slice of lemon stuck ‘pon the rim?"

"A draft of what fizzlin' foam you got on tap, Cant," Herodotus said. "We're in a mood to be merry, and the wenches were the cause of it. We give 'em our word and now, by Zeus' throbbin’ member, 'twere time to be makin' good 'pon it."

"Aye, twa' drafts of your warmest bitters, Canty," Clenesthides nodded, "though the lasses mayn’t be carin' for the cull."

"You can lead a mare to stud but 'taint the leadin' what'll be makin' a dam of her," Canty nodded in agreement. "Not 'til she were stuck by the stormy stallion."

"A pint were what we promised to him what stove the robbers," Herodotus explained. "And the him, by the gods, were a her."

"Two hers, his and mine," Clenesthides added. "If the father be not bound by his word, what honor, then, hath the child?"

"Sit you down, lassies; come," Herodotus said as the men squinched together on the benches to make room for Lila, Alexis and their bulbous shopping nets.

"By Hades’ horny handshake, what in the name of the gods were this weary world comin' to," Canty shook her head in mild dismay as she went back to the bar to retrieve two extra mugs. "In these topsy turvy days, we got a brace of grim gosoons what were hawkin' women's wares in the market whilst a bevy of gay colleens were countin' men's coup in the pub."

The men guffawed. Lila and Alexis smiled uncertainly, neither of them feeling particularly at ease in this sacred haunt of the men. They glanced from face to male face, looking to batten on the least threatening among them. Lila had never been to the pub, and she wondered what Hecuba would say when word of the afternoon's events reached her mother's ears. Alexis had never been to the pub either, but she feigned a bold assurance, not wanting to let on that she didn’t quite know what was expected of her and Lila.

"Now then, girls, here’s for your pints," Canty set the empty mugs on the table and proceeded to fill one and then the other with a yard of foaming ale. "Come on, waits, shove over so's I can dock me carcass in the slips."

The men cheered as Canty made a place for herself at the table. "Here's to Canty! Hooray for Cant! A health to the bestest barmaid in all of Macedoni-yar, and let them scurvy Trojans sink five fathom deep to the bottom of the sea if ever she weren't."

Grandly accepting a mug from the outstretched hand of one of her admirers, Canty took a long, hard pull and, swilling it down with a gurgle, said, "Now then, girls, urrp..., as lately I were wont to be tellin' thy fathers... urrp... By Zeus' pickled pecker but a meatskin's worth of whalin' good brew were a-slosh in that pitcher if I do say so me-self."

"Here's to the brewer and here's to the slavey and here's to the mistress of all the King's navy!" the men lifted their glasses high in a toast to their favorite barmaid.

"Now I'm wantin' to warn you lovely girls 'bout the ruinous evils of drink," Canty peered a bit woozily into Lila's and then Alexis' eyes. "Now along there come’ me old gaffer, jostlin' home in his cart 'pon the darkest candlemark of a long winter's night," Canty broadened her gaze to take in the men who sat silently smiling as she began her tale. "And I seen how the poor dolt were so far gone in his cups that he clumb down off the buckboard, loosed the reins, lifted the tack from off poor Dolly's withers, and bless me if he ain't gone staggerin' into the paddock, thinkin' he were gone inside the house.

"So down he were layin’ 'pon the straw, hard by poor Doll, who, bless her drafty heart, were hunkerin' down 'pon her slaps, chewin' on the load of hay what the old duffer lately chucked in the cratch. Well, the bloody lout's so tippled 'pon his pints that his eyes can see no more'n six thumblengths athwart his nose. Thinkin' it were his old woman beside him in the bed and not his bridled mare crowdin’ him in the stall, the old poker gone nuzzlin' up to poor Doll and were sayin' to her, real cozy-like, 'Can I lie with thee, love?' And there were Dolly chewin' lazy on her oats and comin' out with, 'Neigh...'

"'Well, can I doze beside thee, then,' the old spotter were whisperin', and old Doll, a-chewin ‘pon her feed, again were comin' out with, 'Neigh...'

"Well, can I stretch me legs ‘pon the flat of me own bed," the duffer were sayin' and, once again, the old mare were replyin', 'Neigh...'

"'By the gods, woman, you'd deny your old fogger the right to kick off his boots in his very own bedchamber? Blimey, is that how far gone it were?'

And still old Doll were a-goin', 'Neigh...'

"Well, I'm bollixed if I'll remain an unwanted guest under me own thatch and timbers,' the old dodger were hoistin' himself 'pon his drunken feet, 'See if I don't go and take my good night's rest out in the stall with old Doll.'

"So into the house he come a-stridin', thinkin' as how he were gone out to the byre. And lookin' square at me, he were a-cooin', 'Would you be mindin' terrible much if I were to spend the balance of the night out here in the stall with you, then, Doll?'

"Well, I been called a good deal worse than a brood mare in my time, even by him what's promised to honor and obey, so I were sayin' to the old dasher, 'If you'll but strip off your soggy gear and park your backside over there in the bed, I'll bring you a ripe poultice for what I see as how you've just gone and banged your noggin 'pon the doorpost.'

"So the old boozer goes a-stumblin' into the bedchamber, mumblin', 'For the love of Zeus and all the gods, methinks as how I'd rather be beddin' down here inside the stable in the company of a pleasant horse's head than to venture back inside the house and lie me down beside a ruddy horse's arse!"

The men let loose with gales of laughter as Canty, good-naturedly poked and prodded, let go a grudging, semi-toothed grin.

"Here, here!" the men cried. "Let's hear it for Canty! Raise 'em high to good old Cant!" The men clapped her on the back and one of them, Democles or Trachis, flung an arm around Canty's wide shoulder and gave her a monster hug.

And who picks us up every time that we're down;

we're boozin', bloody well boozin'.

Canty, the maid, she's the best mount in town;

for boozin', bloody well boozin'...

Canty reached out to pinch Lila's puffy cheek and ruffle Alexis' tousled mop. "Come to Cant, you little gidgets," Canty leaned over and warmly hugged them both. Lila and Alexis, unable to stave off the merriment, returned the hugs with broad grins on their faces while the men toasted the three ladies.

"I swear, Cant, if I were single and thou were't still a maid, I'd court and cadge you me-self," Trachis bellowed, his mug extended in a broad salute.

"As would I!" Tasso hooted.

"And I!" Zoster chimed in.

"Now you be good girls and don't do nothin' as would bring shame ‘pon your lovin’ masters," Canty hefted her wide girth onto her feet. "I got a pub to attend to, louts. Look after yourselves and these sweet darlin’s now."

Canty went back to the bar and the men began to settle down.

"So tell us how you popped them rascals, Lee," Herodotus looked with pride at his daughter. "Them twa' fleein' bandits, how'd you bring 'em down?"

"Like I said: I had nothing to do with it. It was Lexie all the way."

"You done nothin' to 'em? Nothin’ at all? But I seen them blighters laid out flat as a pie crust."

"I’m trying to tell you: Lexie upended them both."

"As Zeus were thy witness, lass," Herodotus looked at Alexis. "Were lovely Lila speakin' the truth?"

"Well," Alexis looked sheepishly at the crowd now that she was the center of attention, "yeah, I guess."

Clenesthides beamed with pride. "Why, the jousty lass weren't knowin' her own strength, I'll warrant!" He flung an arm around his daughter whom he gripped in a huge bear hug. "Meanin' no disrespect to your girl, mate, but my gal's got the fightin' spirit of the bloody Turk inside ‘er, let some rude bloke get the girl's dander up. Same as her brothers what followed Diomedes and his band of buccaneers off to them mighty walls of Troy. And how'd you lay 'em out, lass? With a biff and a bam and a belt in the gob, eh? If them boys could see their sister now, wouldn't the twa' be puffed up as a lady’s parasol." Clenesthides elbowed Herodotus. "And the wench were a right fine looker besides. You done the fair name of your house proud this day, child."

"Euwww...," Lila made a sour face, "this stuff’s awful bitter."

Lila set her mug down on the table as soon as she'd taken a sip.

"Much as a wench whom a man may take to wife," Herodotus smiled. "The lass may go down a nipperkin hard at first but in time you learn to chug and cherish her."

"Tell us how you gone about it," Democles egged Alexis on. "The dunces come racin' like gusts of wind across the square and what'd you do next?"

"Well, I saw them coming and I heard you guys shouting how they were about to get away," Alexis said. "And then I guess I went running over and cut them off, shooting my arm out like this and taking a poke like that, and then I must have kicked the one that hadn't gone down yet and... what'd I do next, Lee?"

"Pretty much what Xena does without the reverse backflips and the wailing la-la-la!" Lila said.

The men quieted down at the mention of the Warrior Princess.

"Yah, well, um...," Lila looked around, aware of the sudden silence, "whatever it was that Alexis did, I guess she really did it."

"No matter: the proof were in the puddin'," Trachis lifted his glass. "Thanks to the brave work of the lassies here, we done grabbed the wretches and stuck ‘em in the pokey. So here's to your girl, Clenesthides, and to yours as well, Herodotus. Let it ne’er be said us landsman don't know how to hoist a sail when the wind were risin’ fair in the straits. Hats off to you, ladies. The King of Greece done lost his fleece and don't know where to find it? Let him call on Lee and Lexie. They'll curry it back with comb and brush and shears and knives betimes."

Trachis downed the contents of his mug and the men followed suit amid cries of "Hale fellow – and gal – well met!"

With shouts of good cheer to Canty, accompanied by warm, farewell spanks on her bum administered by Democles, Trachis, Tasso and Zoster, the men rose from their tables and ambled out the door, Lila and Alexis blending with the flow. Beyond the main gate, out on the Strymon Road where the dirt lane sloped down to the acacia grove and divided to run west toward the sandy loam of Clenesthides' village and north toward the boggier peat of Herodotus' village, Lila and Alexis said their farewells and headed home to supper in the company of their fathers.

"Can I tell Mom you took me to the pub?" Lila looked at Herodotus, squinting and smiling for the rays of the setting sun.

"That your old man sprung a pint 'pon you for the chasin' down of them robbers?" Herodotus smiled at Lila. "Aye, and why not. For if the gods, in their graces, had seen fit to give your mum and me a son…," Herodotus paused and looked long at his younger daughter before completing the thought, "I couldn’t be no prouder than I am at this very turn of the sandglass."

Herodotus flung a stout arm around Lila's shoulder. Lila leaned into her father's embrace, feeling warm and sheltered, her face aglow with joy. Finding a home in the crook of her father's arm, she smiled more broadly than she had in many a day as she half-walked, half-waddled the rest of the way back to the cottage.

Continued - Chapter 10

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