The offer of attending was kindly meant and anxiously given, but all her fondness for the fervent bustle of holiday celebration was for seeing Alasdair, for talking to King Dorrin, for dancing with Vyrdin: these were her fond holiday remembrances, and she knew that no celebration in the great hall now could equal them. Her heart was for those celebrations; she had no heart for them now. The tumult of voices made her nervous, and she would rather be visited by one friend at a time than be thrown into company with them all at once: her habits had changed, and so to her manner, for where she was wont to look forward to seeing all her friends together, she shied away from it now. Though Alasdair and Gaumhin and others whom she had always been used to see when she was young would be there, the one person next to her heart was forever gone, and the charm of attending any celebration without his being there was broken.
“I think,” she replied, “I shall be happy to stay at home. My friends, if they are not too busy with their own families, can call on us, if they like.”
“Have you said your good tidings to your friends yet, my dear?” said Searle.
“No, I have been in the treasury the whole morning, that I might finish early and have more time with you.”
Searle and Aldus exchanged anxious looks, and each took their daughter’s hand and pressed it to his hearts.
“Rosamound, my darling girl,” Aldus implored. “To tell you how much we love you would but cheapen the sentiment. We are so fortunate to have you all to ourselves every day of the year. There are so many children who are separated from their parents excepting the holidays, and we are infinitely privileged to have you with us always.”
Her heart beat quick at this speech, feeling that they were preparing her for something awful.
“I have spoken with Searle about this,” Aldus continued, “and there is a general apprehension that you might feel obliged to stay at home on my account. I know you do not like me to be alone, but I would not have you sacrifice your friendships for my sake. If you think your friends will not come for tea, then perhaps you ought to go to the celebration if only for a short while and never mind me.”
“We know you are happy, my dear, and we love nothing more than to spend time with you at home,” said Searle, in a soft hue, “but we would not have you miss a chance to be with your friends on the holiday if you wish it. You say you don’t wish to go, I know, but you do hesitate. I would not urge you on any account, my dear, but it is a special occasion. It is the return of all former celebrations in the keep, in the character as King Dorrin used to have them.”
Her heart was worked on, and she began to think that looking in on the celebration might not be so horrid an idea.
“Do go at least to give your tidings to your friends if you will not stay for more than a few minutes. No one amongst our acquaintance would ever force you to stay more. Your father will only be alone for as long as you are gone, and he can very well amuse himself by pretending to contrive another strategy for your game.”
Aldus tapered his gaze. “I do have a plan to defeat her armies.”
“Would that you put it into practice instead of letting her win.”
“I never let anybody win at anything,” Aldus firmly contended. “Our daughter is a capital player, and she wins as often as one of her great genius should.”
Rosamound, understanding now where her fathers’ apprehension lay, could be easy, and she laughed at how Searle would tease Aldus about his unhindered affection for her even in the midst of a serious conversation. “You are not as unforgiving on my armies as you are with those of other persons,” said she, the glint in her eye dancing about.
“My dear,” said Aldus impressively, “I merely play a more defensive role when I play Ardri with you because it presents more of a tactical challenge. Were I to play offensively, the game should be over far too quickly.” He sniffed and adjusted his spectacles. “At any rate, the game will be finished this evening, but,” returning to a sobering tone, “as Searle says, I will be very well until you come back. I do say, my dear, that I feel he is quite right: you should make an appearance at the celebration to offer your friends the holiday’s blessings. How do you feel about only an appearance? You need not stay more than a few minutes.”
A few minutes would not be so dreadful to her; Peigi and Blinne and even Maggie were sure to be there early helping with final preparations, and she could talk to them to assuage any disquieting feelings as they may arise. She might step in for a few minutes before the chief of the celebrants were gathered, to do as was proper and give her felicitations to her friends, as they should all be going away from the keep after meal and dancing were over. Only a few minutes given to those whom she delighted amongst her conversancy could not be so terrible to her, but she considered and considered again how Vyrdin would not be there, and how Aldus would be by himself in the sitting room of their apartment, waiting for her to return, that she might pour the tea and tend the fire and choose the book to be read for the evening—duties she loved more than anything else—and she therefore said nothing, divided between her devotion to a loving parent and the propriety due to cherished friends.
“Would it be any help if I were to go with you, Ros?” said Aldus.
Searle gave a small start. “You, Mr Craughliedh?” he exclaimed, staring at his husband. “You? Go to a celebration? Upon my word, Mr Craughliedh, I never in my life have ever known you to go anywhere that was not the treasury, the library, or our apartment.”
“You will be there,” Aldus acknowledged, “and if Rosamound will go for a few minutes to wish her friends a good holiday before the festivities begin, then I will not damage myself by escorting her.”
Searle could have said that Aldus must damage himself; his conscience might fail him under the preponderance that doing anything might afford, but he was checked by his amazement at Aldus’ having made the suggestion at all. To go to a celebration, whether before the dancing were to begin or after the revelry were over, had forever been unconscionable to a man who deplored bustle and clamour of any kind, but as Searle observed, Aldus would do anything for their daughter, desperate to make her more comfortable in society now that they were both grown older, and Searle could not but laud his husband’s attempts to oblige a wish of Rosamound’s regardless of the material damage Aldus might garner.
“Is the idea very terrible to you, Ros?” Aldus asked, when his daughter made him no answer.
“No,” said she, with the broadest smiles, overpowered by Aldus’ offer, “rather the reverse. I would be happy to go just for a few moments if you will escort me. If both of you will be there, I should be delighted to go.”
“And we will leave, Ros, whenever you choose,” was Aldus’ kind assurance.
“Or whenever your father feels he has endured enough of the suggestive smiles from the ladies in the room,” said Searle.
Aldus sighed and seem pained, and Rosamound simpered into a raised hand.
“Poor father,” said she sweetly, “how you are plagued by everything.”
“I, my dear, am only plagued by what is discourteous and incommodious,” Aldus affirmed, “which is everything brought on by any needless clatter and raucous raillery. A discussion might be had at any level of sound. Why everything in the kitchen and in the halls must be hallooed for I will never understand. Searle never raises his tone, and you see how he governs the management of this keep with a few soft words. I am only disturbed by what is disturbing, and certain unwarranted noise must be considered so.”
At that moment, Ebhlin and Aghatha were heard approaching from the corridor, their musical inflections ringing out and their strident voices caroming off the stone, and Aldus pursed his lips and glared at the door, hoping with all the ambition in his command that they would go away, and he simmered in silent agony when, discerned from their nearing voices, the two ladies turned into the servants’ quarter, their melodious mirth echoing down the hall and offending Aldus’ ears.