The age of steam. Airships rule the sky and Victorian houses vie for power. In a dark alley two gentlemen meet. They adjust their monocles and tip their top hats cordially before drawing their sword canes. There can be only one.
South of Canal Street was where the young and the rich went to party. The spires of the city loomed above everything, stretching high into the darkness above. The sound of the airship horns echoed dimly in the streets as the late night flights came to rest on their moorings at the grand air dock that had been erected out of the bay. It was a long, pyramid like structure that was always lit up- like a light house for ships of both water and air.
Tucked in between Portland Road and Trinity Way was an alley. It was a fairly normal alley, if such a thing was possible. There was garbage, fire escapes, creaking iron balconies. Clothes lines strung between building on the upper floors. It didn't have an official name on the map, but everyone called it 'Bloody Alley.' There were casinos, bars that catered to the wealthiest of tastes and dive bars that were little more than shacks with roofs, walls and tables. There were whorehouses and brothels. South of Canal Street catered to every taste. It was also where the rich scions of the Republic would meet in the dead of night to settle their petty feuds and insults to their honor.
Jock Cavendish, son of the Earl of Cavendish entered from the south end of the alley, his second, Edward Barrington IV stepped forward with him while the rest of his retinue remained at the entry way, as was customary. Cavendish and Barrington both hailed from the Northlands of the Republic and dressed like it. They were in kilts with sporans in the style of their respective clans. They each wore the traditional dueling sash of their houses and were wearing the monocles that anyone who was anyone had to wear to be taken seriously these days. Sword canes in hand, they advanced down the alleyway.
Approaching from the north end of the alleyway George Monmouth and his second Delilah Quinten Stagg IV stepped forward. Monmouth was dressed in his usual florid doublet and pantaloons, sword cane in his hand, monocle over his eye. Delilah was dressed in leather from head to toe, her boots jangling and her long hair tied back into a pony tail.
The four of them met in the middle of the alley.
"Ill met by moonlight, fair Cavendish," Monmouth sneered.
"Monmouth," Cavendish said.
Barrington and Stagg stepped forward. "Are all the conditions satisfactory?" Barrington asked.
Stagg nodded. "They are. You serve as his second?"
"I do," Barrington replied.
Stagg turned to Cavendish and Monmouth. "Last chance, gentlemen. If you wish to make amends and apologize we can forget this whole sorry business and go have some fun. New casks of madeira were brought in on the Minerva, or so I hear."
"It is not I who must apologize," Monmouth said.
"I was told that a gentlemen never apologizes for telling the truth," Cavendish replied.
Barrington and Stagg exchanged a long look and sighed. "Very well," Barrington said. "Stand back to back, gentlemen." Monmouth and Cavendish stood back to back. "Ten paces acceptable Lady Stagg?"
"It is," she replied. "At your count."
Barrington began counting off the paces one by one. The chatter from the respective retinues at either end of the alleyway began to subside and as Barrington reached ten, a tense silence filled the alley. Both Barrington and Stagg stepped to the far side of the alley as Monmouth and Cavendish turned. They each took the time to straighten their monocles and then with his typical bombast, Monmouth drew the sword from his cane and rushed at Cavendish. Cavendish neatly side stepped at the very last moment and then drew his own sword from his cane and the duel began in earnest.
Cavendish was more deliberate and strategic in his style than Monmouth, which, to Barrington and Stagg seemed to give him an advantage, but Monmouth was faster than he was, which forced Cavendish onto his back foot and threw off his game plan.
"Did you put a wager down?" Barrington asked Stagg.
"A lady never kisses and tells," she replied.
"So you did," Barrington smiled. "And a sizable one as well."
"If you're going to bet, bet big," Stagg replied with a smile of her own. "Though in my case, I tend to bet like a drunken sailor more often than I should."
"You really think Monmouth is that good?"
"I really think these two fools are going come to their senses and we'll all be drinking by the end of the night," Stagg said.
Barrington sighed. "I wish I shared your optimism." He winced as Cavendish only barely parried a thrust from Monmouth. "Unfortunately, Cavendish is very protective of his sister's honor."
"Which remains intact," Stagg pointed out. "Unlike that of Monmouth's fiancee."
"I am forced to concede your point," Barrington admitted.
Stagg chuckled. "They're both sort of contemptible in their way, aren't they?"
"The privileges of the upper class," Barrington said.
"You don't look like you come from poverty," Stagg said.
"My family are minor nobles from the west," he replied. "We weren't poor, but we weren't as rich as either of them," he nodded toward the combatants.
"That's more or less my story as well," Stagg said.'
"May I ask, my lady?" Barrington said.
"I am not betrothed, no," Stagg replied. "I have no intention of becoming that way anytime soon,"
"I live in hope-" Monmouth had not turned fast enough and Cavendish's blade had caught him on the side of his torso. Blood was visible through the tear on the shirt. Monmouth staggered back and that was all that opening the Cavendish needed. He pressed forward, slashing, slashing and forcing Monmouth backward until finally Monmouth tripped and fell. Cavendish pointed his blade at Monmouth's throat.
"Never," Monmouth spat.
"Yield," Cavendish replied. "My honor has been satisfied."
"Mine has not," Monmouth said.
"Enough," Stagg called. "Let's go and get drunk."
"I agree," Barrington said. "Yield, Monmouth."
From either end of the alley the respective retinues added their own calls for Monmouth to yield. The night was still relatively young and there was plenty of time for them to enjoy the night.
"Yield, Monmouth," Cavendish said. "Please. I have no wish to kill you. Let's go get drunk."
Monmouth's face screwed up and twisted with rage and then he shouted. "Damn you! Never!" He slapped Cavendish's blade away and tried to thrust upward but Cavendish was too quick for him and plunged his own blade downward. With a shuddering gasp Monmouth arched his back for a long moment and then collapsed and went limp, dead. Stagg sighed. "Damn it."
"Must have been a lot of money," Barrington said.
"It was," Stagg replied. "I should be able to afford to get a cask of that madeira though."
"Why my lady," Barrington said, as the rest of Monmouth's retinue came down the alley to retrieve the body and take it away to be buried. "Don't you have duties to attend too?" He nodded toward the retinue.
She shrugged. "I only did it as a favor to his brother," she said. "He was always a hotheaded impetuous pig. His family knew it would be the end of him."
Cavendish approached, his face ashen and pale. "Are you all right?"
Slowly, he nodded, adjusting his monocle. "I am," he said. "That was... regrettable. Please," he nodded to Stagg, "convey my deepest condolences to his family."
Barrington and Stagg watched as Cavendish walked back to his retinue and they made their way out of the alley and out of sight. Monmoth's body was carried out of the alleyway at the opposite end. Then they were both alone.
"So," Stagg said offering her arm to Barrington. "The Minerva should be docked by now. With fresh casks of madeira in her hold. And I happen to know the view of the city from her airship berth is stunning."
Barrington slipped his hand into the crook of her arm. "Why that sounds lovely, my lady."