Thursday, April 16, 2015

Story for the Day: The Westren Breacan

The breacan is the traditional dress of Westren. Worn when Westren was a nation of warring clans, the breacan was a symbol of clan pride, and while it's still worn on holidays and at festivals, it has become the unwritten tradition for those belonging to the Westren regiment of the armed forces to wear them for ceremonies and general duty. For those in the Brigade, however, wearing their breacan was a matter of honour whereas wearing armour was a matter of choice.

Gaumhin marched along the gallery, his outline iridescent as he strode through the varying   
No tams, sporrans, or socks in the Westren dress
hues of sunlight permeating the stained glass. He came with the express desire of speaking to the king, and while he found Alasdair alone, there was the ruffled air about the hall of someone’s just
having run away. He narrowed his gaze: someone dashing into the servants’ hall; his conscience furnished a guess at who it was, but his sovereign was standing before him, and even more interesting to him were the broad smiles and welcoming aspect suggesting that the king had somehow been expecting him.
“Syre,” said Gaumhin. “Maith Ailineighdaeth.”
 “And you, Gaumhin,” Alasdair replied, with all the cordiality of a devoted friend.
They bowed to one another, Gaumhin making his low obeisance, and Alasdair offering a friendly nod.
 “Well, you’re certainly dressed for the holiday,” Alasdair observed, marking Gaumhin’s red and blue sett, draped from his shoulder to his opposing hip, gathering behind his belt to his knees. “You know I always like seeing the old style. You wear your kilt often enough, but there are so few occasions you will wear your full breacan for that I often think of making it standard issue for officers at all ceremonies. Yours is particularly nice.”
“Mah thanks, syre,” said Gaumhin, looking demure, his cheeks flushing.
“Did your mother make it for you, as in the old traditions?”
Gaumhin’s eyes crinkled with smile lines. “Which muthur, syre?”
A pause, and Alasdair lowered his head and smiled. “True. You have so much family, I often forget you have two of almost everything.”
“Well,” Gaumhin shrugged, “Ah liek collectin’.”
Here was a good natured smile. “I had meant Mrs MacLachlann,” said Alasdair, “since you are wearing the clan colours. It is the MacLachlann sett, isn’t it?”
“Aye, syre,” Gaumhin thrummed, looking down at his drapery. “Ahm a proud MacLachlann, but Mah foster muthur didnae maek thess for meh. Ah wish she had maed it. She believed in the auld traditions, but Ah had it maed when Ah joined the forces. Suilli commissioned it for meh, but when mah faimlaes saw meh wearin’ it, Ah teld ye, syre, they were chuffed an’ o’.”
“They all must be so proud of you. Knowing some part of your family and seeing how attached your brothers and sisters are to you, I can imagine how it must have been to see you in your breacan for the first time.”
 “Aye, there was a fair bit o’ cryin’, syre. First mah sessters, and then Sesster Mithe, and Ah held mah oan until Bruthur Ciran started.” Gaumhin raised his hand to his heart. “Seein’ hem wallowin’ still affects meh.”
“Seeing you and all the Westren soldiers makes me want to wrap myself in one and go marching to the mountains, only Brennin wasn’t one of the original Westren clans.”
“Ye can still have a-yin, syre. Brennan has its oan colours. Ah seen some o’ the lads in the Westren brigades have black breacans under their armour. Nae shame in wantin’ it even if yer faimliae’s no’ yin o’ the ancient clans. Ahm onlae an adoapted MacLachlann mahsel’.”
“It must be very warm to wear,” said Alasdair touching the fabric, “but it’s such a stunning piece.”
 “Aye, it’s a bit heavae, syre,” said he, in answer to Alasdair. “It’s great wearin’ for the winter, keepin’ meh warm, but it’s no for wearin’ in the summer, and it’s no’ practical tae wear when trainin’, though Ah know Suilli use tae wear his everaewhere.”
“He would,” Alasdair nodded.
“Ah wouldnae feel comfortable wearin’ it intae battle.” Gaumhin looked severe. “It leaves certain parts unprotected, if ye understaun meh, syre.” He hemmed and gave Alasdair a suggestive wink. “Tha’s o’right for Suilli. He’d deflect arrows by the might o’ hes stracht .”
Gaumhin made a gesture as though he were curling an invisible mustachio, and Alasdair’s eyes sparkled with muted risibility.
“That wouldn’t surprise me,” said Alasdair laughingly. “I know that Tearlaidh all the members of the Brigade used to wear their breacans all the time.”
“Aye,” Gaumhin purred, with a solemn nod. “Ah wore mine for their service, and everae Ailneighdaeth Ah can, Ah wear it, even though it’s cauld.” His cheeks warmed with erubescent smiles. “Maeks meh feel liek yin o’ the auld clansman wearin’ in. It reminds me o’ when Paudrig was a wee-un and we’d play clanwars taegether. We’d nae familae names, so we didnae have anae familae colours tae use. We’d jus’ strip our beds an’ drape the beddin’ and blankets over oursel’s and chase each other through the garden. Aye,” with a fond sigh of remembrance, “when Ah got mine, Ah couldnae wait tae show it tae hem. He luvd it. Ah even let hem put it oan and run about in it. He hollered liek a Brennan, declarin’ war and callin’ for hunts, with hes spear an’ hes helm an’ o’. Aye,” the glint in his eye dancing about, “we had a time o’ yit.”
“Will you wear it home?”
“Aye, but Ah’ll put oan mah armour over it. Somharliedh’ll take mah bainne if Ah doan’t have somethin’ underneath.”
Alasdair cringed and pressed his legs together. “I can imagine that would be very painful.”
“She’s bucked before, and Ah wasnae readae for it.”
“I’ve been fortunate that Maeve has never done that. She’s reared unexpectedly, but it was nothing so bad. Oh--” glancing down at the pipes tucked under Gaumhin’s arm. “Were you coming this way to play your pipes for us? We’re all in the kitchen—well, nearly all of us. I’m sure we’d all love to hear you.”    
“Well, Ah was gonnae plae ‘em in the field,” said Gaumhin, curling shyly into his shoulder and shuffling his feet. “They’re a bit loud tae be plaein’ indoors. Ah was gonnae go play ‘em in the arena so Ah doant disturb anaebodae. There’re onlae a few lads about, bein’ the holidae.”
                “Come to the field beside the kitchen and play them there.”
Gaumhin looked charily about. “Are ye sure, syre? No’ everaebodae lieks the sound o’ the Westren pipes.”
“However loud and distinct the skirl of the Westren pipes is, they cannot be as loud as the Karnwyl pipes. I’ve never heard a sound so grating in my life. The incessant pounding and chipping from the quarry is more bearable than a few reels from that instrument. Even their bag breathes loudly when being carried around and pressed under arm. I mean no disrespect to the good people of Karnwyl, and I’m very sorry to admit it, but I would outlaw the playing of them if I thought it decent.  They sound like a cat being boiled alive.”
Gaumhin could not help laughing. “Ah wasnae gonnae say yit, syre.”
“I said it for you, and I’m glad no one in the keep actually plays them. They’re the only instrument I really cannot like. How anyone could conceive such an instrument, I have no idea. They look like an apple sack with three roped fog horns at the end. Everyone knows the legend behind the Westren pipes and the dancing, and in a community surrounded by mountains, it makes perfect sense to have an instrument that can only be played out of doors and that can be heard on the next mountain top over, but there is no reason—no reason at all conceivable—that an instrument should be that large and that loud.”
“Maybe it’s tae ward aff the Brouneidhs?” Gaumhin gave Alasdair a hopeful look. “Ah know they doant have a tradition o’ Brouneidh’s in the south, but the Tuar’s no’ far awae.”
Alasdair hummed in deliberation. “Maybe you’re right,” said he, his aspect thoughtful. “A fair Karnwyl piper far away is bearable, but when I’ve heard them played for ceremonies, I struggle not to flinch and hold my hands over my ears. We’re fortunate that Mureadh doesn’t play them.”
 “Ah doant thenk he has a mind for playin’ anae pipe, syre. Ah tried tae teach hem when he joined the Royal Guard, ‘cause it’s tradition and he had an interest an’ o’, but,” and Gaumhin flushed as he said it, “Ah doant thenk he’s got the wae o’ yit. Ah doan’t discourage hem from practicin’, but…” He shrugged. “Ye know hou it is, syre. Sometimes there’s no amount o’ practicin’, if ye understaun meh.”
“I understand you. Very well, in fact.”
They exchanged a conscious look, and frowned and shook their heads.
“Ahm sorrae for it,” said Gaumhin, “but it’s no’ everaeyin who can plae.”
“It is true. Brigdan never had any interest in playing them. I don’t think Bryeison ever taught him. I know Bryeison learned from Suilli for a few months at least, but I think, like Mureadh, he just never had any luck with it.
Gaumhin seemed as though he was trying not to smile. “Teague got Mureadh tae stop playin’ by tellin’ hem he was gonnae send mah osprey after hem.”
“Well, I guess that’s a good a discouragement as any. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from playing if they truly wanted to learn, but how anyone can decide on the Karnwyl pipes—Choosing any instrument that would make ears bleed-- And the Livanese bombard is the absolute worst offender.”
“Aye,” said Gaumhin gravely. “Ah doant know who thought a sound liek tha’ was pleasant.”
Gaumhin said something about the bombard being invented by unfeeling Livanese military minds who wished to destroy their enemies’ hearing, and while Alasdair agreed with him, his eye caught the shadow of someone looking out the window of the king’s quarters above. The outline moved in and out of view with uncommon alacrity, as thought wanting to spy and not wanting to be caught.
    A squall echoed without, penetrating the windows and caroming off the inner walls of the gallery, a fritinancy of fluttering wings neared, and Alasdair turned his head to peruse the skies. A familiar shape drifted past the upper window, Pastaddams ducked from the sill and hid from view, and Gaumhin’s osprey hovered and perched on the crenels adjacent to the gallery. Gaumhin turned and smiled, and the bird shrieked and looked petulant.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Story for the Day: The Blue Shirt -- part 3

An extra long story to make up for the few days' absence, but it was with good reason: the edits for Damson's Distress have begun! If you should like to support the book and its prequel novella, visit our Patreon page here.

Pastaddams had said enough to betray his preference, and while he might have wished some
of it unsaid, he could not be sorry that he had said half so much. He did try to stop himself, but once the deluge of warm praise had begun, there was no ceasing until it had done. His piece had been said, his heart had warmed through it, and now he could now only rally himself and hope that Alasdair would not take any ideas into his head. “I know what you will ask, sire,” said he, glaring at the king over the rim of his spectacles, “why don’t I make my preference known, and all the rest, but it won’t do. I shall say nothing. I daresay if I did, Sir Gaumhin would not have me. I am far too old for him, and though he is hardly a child and his experience recommends him to many things, it can hardly recommend him to affairs with men twenty years his senior.”
“You’re not old, Pastaddams,” Alasdair insisted.
“In fact, if not in theory, I feel a hale thirty five, though I might not appear to have achieved immortality by living at my desk. I do not mean to say I am elderly. I am somewhat pleasantly post-meridian, but I will always be older than Sir Gaumhin, and I cannot bear to be always an older lover. To know that my bedfellow shall be there to warm my bed and be cuddlesome when I am gone does grieve me.”
“Searle is much younger than Aldus.  I think Searle was a little older than Gaumhin’s age when he began courting him.”
“That was not a courting, sire. Searle merely served him tea and flourished his papers, and Aldus was delighted with him. Aldus, you will notice, sire, has been somehow preserved by the Gods. He has become an artifact amongst the others in his reliquary. The treasury has brined him, and he shall remain a distinguished sixty for the rest of his life. He has been sixty since he was twenty five, and Searle just the same, though he is fifteen years Aldus’ junior at least. It is all Rosamound’s doing. That darling girl must keep them young, and she too you will observe has no lover and must want one with two such devoted fathers hanging over her. She stays with her fathers to entertain them, but what she is really doing by playing her harp and charming such two old badgers is keeping them young.”
“It could be the love Searle and Aldus have for one another that keeps them that way.”
Alasdair grinned suggestively, and Pastaddams gave him a flat look.
“You are trying to inveigle me into a confession, sire, but it shall not do. I forestall  you and vehemently protest against any sort of thing. No, sire, I shall not tell him anything. I shall only sit at my desk, pine at my solitude while I stare up at my solar in forlorn solicitation, and invent heroic plights for Sir Gaumhin to vanquish while fantasizing hardships for myself whence he might rescue me.”
Alasdair could not help laughing.
“Is he still there, sire?” said Pastaddams, craning his neck as he peered out the window. “He is not close enough to be listening, though I should not think anyone can hear through stone.”
He watched Alasdair’s eye examine the window behind him, and he searched for some sign of reprieve in the sagacious smile lurking in the corners of the king’s mouth.
“He’s a bit father off now,” said Alasdair. “And your nose is bleeding.”
Pastaddams touched his nose and then looked down to examine the blood on his fingertips. “And here you see why I say nothing, sire.” He sniffed, produced a clean cloth from his pocket, and with a flourish, he leaned forward and pinched the bridge of his nose. “All this talk of confessions and stridency, and this is what it does.” His shoulders withered, and he pursed his lips. “And, to add to all this excitement, I am so miserably fatigued this morning. I am in one of my mawmeys.”
“Did the newest Tales of Intrigues come out?”
“I am ashamed to say it did, sire,” said Pastaddams, pinching his nose harder and speaking in a snoaching tenor, “and though I know you will ask me for it when I am finished, you will find pages thirty to thirty-eight already careworn. I do always try to put the book by after I have read it once through, but that, you know, sire, becomes impossible, especially when there are dashing captains involved.”
“It is true,” Alasdair acknowledged. “The last one was particularly good.”
“With the captain by the gate? How many times did you meet him, sire? I met him four, and we were rapt in mutual oggination by the end. I would have run away with him, but,” with half a sigh, “His father, the great Baron, disapproved it all. He threatened me and offered me half his property if I would leave his son alone. I could have said no and run away with him, only I feared his father would follow us and take revenge.” He pause and adjusted his cloth. “Does he, sire?”
“No, he doesn’t,” said Alasdair, smiling. “I took that ending.”
Pastaddams made a nasal scoff. “I knew I should have run away with him. I feared for his safety more than mine, but I feared more for his lost of status in society. I took the baron’s offer and ran away with the groom instead. There,” taking the cloth away from his nose and examining it. “I should be healed somewhat, and please do not ask me to see Bilar, sire. It is a nothing of a condition. It only occurs when my pulse quickens, and there is nothing to do that like a Captain of the Royal Guard.” He hemmed and tucked his cloth neatly away in his pocket. “I would make you the offer of a tea, sire, only I have made none for myself and was compelled to take Brigid’s repugnant bilge for what it was.”
“I was going to say that’s not your cup.”
“No, it isn’t. This one pretends to be painted with roses, though the slipshod artistry does not do my favourite flower credit. There is nothing quite like my father’s glazed set. I should have bled in this cup. It might have improved the poor craftsmanship. And the worst of it is I shall have to venture to the library again to return it. Perhaps, if Aghatha is very good, she will do it for me. Anything not to be trapped beside that tiresome old hagglepot for another five minutes.”
“Do you mean Brigid or her broken kettle?”
“Both, sire. I have never seen so fatuous a librarian in all my life. She says she does not regard Tales of Intrigues as Literature.” Pastaddams was all aghast. “I was astonished, Isire, absolutely astonished. And when I told her that I had been davering about due to sleeplessness over that delicious tome, she stared at me with unpardonable rudeness, said something about the content being too licentious and insalubrious, and would make me understand that true Literature, as she dictates, does not mean that the reader might choose his ending. There are plenty of virile affairs in many a Marridon classic, sire, Damson’s Distress has fifty at least, and yet that is to be considered Literature—well, it is surely, because it is so exquisitely written—that is to be considered acceptable in her lucubratory estimation. And what should we be reading besides? Tales of Intrigues is as good a book as any—it is the best, and what other series can boast of such accomplishments as having nearly two hundred characters and all of them amative and barbarously delightful? She wanted me to read Lady Cybil’s Civilities, as though I should like it of all things, a romance, sire, and though written with taste, it could never augur mine. The story of a lady and hideous unapproachable baron could never tempt me-- And this, sire, is what she recommends as Literature. Can you believe it, sire? I effected to ignore her arguments with regard to the similarities to Tales of Intrigues the book might have, such as a scandalous sister and a dubious affair, but really, sire, I question her powers as a librarian if she can think one more literarily valid than the other. I thanked her for her recommendation all the same. My notions of literary taste may have been hurt, but I am a gentleman, I believe, to all ladies and keep my opinions to myself,” and in an undervoice, he added, “even to those who think Lady Cybil’s Civilities is the epitome of the literary heap. You know, sire, had I suffered through my first bout of half roused musings and made my own tea this morning instead of wondering in a glamour to the garden, I daresay I should have been spared all this embarrassment.”  
“If only you spoke to Gaumhin as much as you read about your captains.”
“No, sire,” the tailor implored. “Men so unexceptionable cannot be spoken to. Even when he has come for fittings the few times, the most I have ever said to him is ‘five and seven eights, that is nearly an inch more than last year’. I mean to say something more, but that, you know, never succeeds. My tongue is always tied when he is standing on my pedestal. I am always trying to escape his notice only to hemorrhage after he has left my tailor. I have no doubt that Sir Gaumhin is of the very best quality in character, but I really cannot know about it.”
Alasdair stood closer and looked sagacious. “He reads,” said he suggestively. “I see him reading all the time when he has his afternoon Gods’ Day off.”
“Does he indeed?” Pastaddams exclaimed, with sudden interest, but then, checking himself, “Oh, but never mind, sire. Do not tell me now. I will languish over it forever when there is better tea to be made. You see what an evening of reading does. One night in the throes of scandal and romance, and here I am flumping over Sir Gaumhin.”  He made a curt laugh.“Talk to him—“ he snuffed. “Really, sire, of all things…” He shook his head and tried to seem affronted that the king could even suggest it, but his pusillanimity was really to blame for his inability, and while it was easy to blame Alasdair, his heart ached from the pain his own cowardice had wrought.
“You speak to Brigdan all the time.”
“I do, sire, but Sir Lord Brigdan an old friend. There is a happy man, married and with a stunning child and amiable wife to show for it. It is a very different thing, knowing that Sir Brigdan is well entangled these many years makes me somehow immune to his charms, though he has many of them. He is most certainly a handsome man--I dare not say he is not, sire. Sir Brigdan is one of the handsomest men in the middle of life I have ever seen, and his broad, tall, and slender figure is all a tailor’s ambition—but Sir Gaumhin I know is unattached, and there is no talking to a man unattached, especially a reading man. Reading only makes them all the more desirable.”
“You talk to me about books.”
“And you and Her Majesty are very happily married, sire.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about him being unfriendly, if that’s what you’re worried about. He’s even more shy and modest than you are.”
“Oh, no, sire,” Pastaddams moaned, having his hands in negation. “Shy men are the absolute worst in that regard. They recommend themselves to my preferences of being tall, dauntless, and humble, a combination sure to ruin me. Those unaware of their own claims are always the most prepossessing.”
Alasdair looked thoughtful. “That’s certainly very true.”
“No, I know my place, sire, and it is at my desk with my needles and patterns, or in the servants hall with book in my hand. Books are old quiet friends who understand all my fears and who discourage me from all social civility. Lovers are things which other persons have, those who want families with horrendous in-laws, begrutten children, and spoiled clothes. A lover happens to someone else, one who is not a socially useless tailor whose greatest happiness in life is to make you a new jerkin. I should rather maintain my sanguine views of Sir Gaumhin from afar, where I can pretend I am a more daring man in life than my apprehensions would allow.”
“I don’t think he would reject you, Pastaddams.”
“And I should rather not find out, sire,” said Pastaddams, in a more serious tone. “Might for one at my time of life is a perilous word. So much hinges on a hope, much which braver men than myself have been ruined by.”
Pastaddams gave a sniff and glanced at his cup, and Alasdair a pang wracked Alasdair’s heart. The possibility of refusal and the consternation it produced made his friend more of a solitudinarian than his affable character should otherwise admit, and Alasdair grieved that it was so. Refusal from a lover was something which Alasdair had never give much thought to; he had never desired to be with any woman other than Carrigh, and as he had sought her and their courting had been so natural and contented, he had never conceived of denial during any part of their courtship. There had been one or two hesitations in the deciding moment, the natural trepidations one has when he asks his lady to marry him, but all his uneasiness lasted half a second, and his anxieties would never have kept him from declaring himself to one he loved. His affection for Carrigh and his devotion to her must have superseded all his disquieting fears, so much so that when  the court had vehemently refused to accept her as queen, he had borne down all their protestations with stolid defiance. Any injustice could be suffered with Carrigh at his side, and he would see Pastaddams be as happy as he deserved, whether because of his fears or in spite of them.  
“Gaumhin might be at the hall for a short while later,” said Alasdair, with a brightened look.
                Pastaddams seemed almost hopeful. “Oh, will he, sire? Seeing him from such a safe distance as across the Great Hall is all I should condition for. I can admire him from my usual place on the wall near warming oven while he stands gallantly at the door and looks in the other direction. Do you know if he means to visit his connections in Westren?”
“He’s staying here for the afternoon, but I think he will be riding out later—“
“Good,” and realizing his hasty interruption, Pastaddams hemmed, seemed ashamed, and played with his teacup. “Well—just as you say, sire. It is better that he ride out to Westren early. I understand he has a very large family tree with many branches to visit, and better that he use his limited time off-duty to see them than plague me by being in the Great Hall longer than my nerves can endure. I shall have to change out of my work clothes if he is to be there. And so shall you, sire,” eyeing Alasdair’s assemblage with a disproving look. “I must tell you, sire, as it has been plaguing me these five minutes, that you could not have dressed yourself this morning. Come, tell me truly: whose idea was it to put you in such a shocking combination? Was it Her Majesty?”
                Alasdair admitted it was.
                “And a velvet jerkin with a silk cravat? Oh, no, sire,” Pastaddams languished, raising his hand to the bridge of his nose, “I cannot allow it. My poor sensibilities, sire-- you are quite unfeeling to them. How can you wear light blue with evergreen? Here is a spring colour and here is an autumn—and neither suit your breeches, sire. You do look very pretty in your own way, but I cannot allow it. The colours are hardly complementary. Blue with green and gold? Shameful in every way. I have never seen such a tumultuous jumble of fabrics on you. Her Majesty only recommended it because she knew it must offend me. Here is a shameful want of consideration to my position as your tailor, sire, and while Her Majesty is your darling wife, I must respectfully and ardently oppose such a ruin.”
“She said you would disapprove, and that if you did that you were to make all your complaints over to her.”
“It is because she knows I dislike arguing with her above all things. I know she is fond of vibrant hues at all times of the year, and her hair colour and complexion complement such a scheme, but your colouring, sire, though similar to hers, have more of the autumn tones in them. Your hair is darker, and your eyes have a green marble hue—they do not agree with light blue. Your eyes match your jerkin and nothing else.” Pastaddams grew suspicious. “There is a story behind the shirt, I know. I can see it in your eye every time I mention it. Come, tell me about this fracas.”
“There was a snag in the shirt I wanted to wear.”
Pastaddams gasped in horror. “A snag! Sire,” with a wounded spirit, “and you did not tell me earlier? And was the shirt you wanted to wear the white with the gold trim?”
Alasdair only smiled.
“Well,” Pastaddams huffed, fixing his spectacles, “I shall mend it directly, sire, and have it done before breakfast is over. A snag—“ with indignation. “Five minutes for habilatory equanimity. Her Majesty could mend as much is the same amount of time.”
“She did offer, but I forbade her on account of the holiday.”
“On account of the holiday, sire? And when the amendment is so important, sire? And because you did not allow her to do what she is so excellent at, we now have this—“ gesturing to the blue shirt, “—and I cannot allow such an accident in the keep, sire. It should ruin my reputation forever. How many have seen you this morning?”
 “Only family and close friends.”
“And that is all who should see you until I have mended your other shirt. A snag is not work, sire. It is the promise of perfect equability. It is two loops and a stitch in most cases. You should walk past your great friend Count Rosse dressed like that. I observed him getting into that great shamble he calls a carriage. He paraded his new holiday wreckage during his postprandial stride through the square. Such a galimatias as ever I saw—why must His Grace insisted on mabbling himself and shaming my profession with his flothery? I demand you order him to wear a plain gambeson for the rest of his life. It would save the whole of the keep the exertion of restraining ourselves from setting him on fire.”
                Alasdair’s shoulders shook as he laughed.
“His day of public indecency will come,” Pastaddams asserted, “and when it does, I shall be there, kicking up my feet and hallooing with all the rest of the keep.”
Pastaddams said something about the old dress restrictions of Mad Queen Maeve being reinstated, but the distant look in Alasdair’s eye caught his attention, and he stiffened instantly.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Story for the Day: The Blue Shirt -- Part 2

It is rare that the king would ever wear anything to cause distress to himself or his subjects, but when his queen chooses his outfit, he can be very sure that everyone is begin to notice:

The nidor wafting up from the table bespoke a sundry of meats prepared for the morning, and when Alasdair perused the table, he found a display of fried rashers and smoked salmon, rye slices and fried farls, garnished with a few soft boiled eggs at the edge of the table, whence Ouryn
was just demurely plucking a slice of salmon and scudding away back to her corner. The children were sat round the table with Hathanta and Varthrasta and their Auntie Linaa, colouring in the few holiday scenes she had outlined for them. Tomas was nestled in the opposing corner, sitting quietly with his mother and Aghneis, Mrs Cuineill well-employed with some impossible piece of knitting, and the blacksmith cutting Aghneis’ salmon for her and quietly encouraging her to eat, as Bilar said it would promote the continuance of her improved health. Ouryn would have sat with the other children, but that her mother was by meant she naturally attached herself to her side. A few encouragements of “Go’wan, now, girly, and sit with yer cousins,” descended from the good old lady, who would see her granddaughter be more intimate with her friends, but leave her mother and father’s side, Ouryn would not. It was Little Jaicobh’s inducement of, “You come to colour too!” and his waving the paper and crayons at her that brought her to the table, and taking a seat between Little Jaicobh and Soledhan, she began to silently apply herself toward their drawings. They had coloured within the lines, and Dorrin had even made a small scene depicting the Ailineighdaeth story in one corner of his page. She sidled Little Jaicobh and peered over his shoulder, to see whether his work were as exemplary as their cousin’s. She rested her chin on his shoulder, when suddenly, he turned round and smiled at her with unabated exultation.
“Here,” Little Jaicobh chimed, with all the eagerness of a devoted friend. He pushed a few crayons and leaves of paper toward her. “You draw too please!”
The crayons were taken up, and without further provocation, Ouryn began to make a few shapeless lines, examining each colour as it was draw across the page.
“That’s very good, Ouryn,” said Kai Linaa. “What are you making? It looks like a starfish—oh, I think that’s me. You made pink hair and a blue and brown circle. Is it me?”
A diffident nod, and Ouryn returned to her paper, to plot out Kai Linaa’s midline in sticks and squares, and try to make her hair look as voluminous as her unsteady hands and crayons would allow.
Being so stelliform and having ears like ray-like lappets was something Kai Linaa had never aspired to, but Ouryn was trying to be more companionable, and Kai Linaa would therefore make no questions as to her drooping right eye or her rectangular breasts. She was drawing, she was sitting with the other children and enjoying their quiet conversancy, and there was all Kai Linaa’s concern. Hathanta, too, was glad to see her so communicative and forthcoming, and he glanced over at Tomas, who was watching his daughter with speaking amazement, surprised to see her going shares in an apple tart with Little Jaicobh, and still more astonished to find her being so conversable with Varthrasta, who was prompting her through a slanted portrait of himself. 
Bhohi, Mivaari Leraa,” Varthrasta purred, handing her an indigo crayon. “Draw me as you will.” Here was a warm smile. “I am eager to see your interpretation.”     
Haa,” Hathanta cooed, his countenance all genial gratulation. “We all wish to see.”
A tender osculation was exchanged, and Hathanta pressed his forehead against his mate’s, nestling and snudging against him, invigilating the children’s progress whilst spying one another with doting looks.
To keep away from the crumble that Shayne was busy dissecting, Alasdair moved toward the table and glanced over Dorrin’s shoulder. “Oh, that is a very good trunk you’ve made,” he observed, admiring the coloured craftsmanship .“Is that a treasure chest?”
“It’s a luggage,” said Dorrin, “like the one you and mother have in your bedchamber.”
“That piece belonged to your great grandfather. It came with him when he came from Sethshire to take his place on the throne. It’s older than Aldus, and in better condition.”
Boudicca smirked and said something about Aldus’ skin being a new sort of leather, and Carrigh laughed and shook her head.
“Is Uncle Aldus really that old?” asked Dorrin.
“How old do you think the luggage is?”
“Two hundred.”
“That’s roughly Aldus’ age,” said Boudicca. “He doesn’t look a day above one eighty nine.”
“Your Uncle Aldus is only in his seventies,” said Carrigh, trying not to laugh. “He looks excellent for his age, I think.”
“He is very well preserved,” Alasdair declared, “pickled by all the heirlooms and relics he safeguards.”
“Grandfather was older than him when he passed on?”
“He was. He was eighty-six, but he didn’t look a day older than sixty.”
“Can I see his luggage later, father?” 
“Of course. We can look at it together. It still has his things inside, like his robe and his favourite tunics and his ceremonial doublet.”
Alasdair’s heart only had time to feel the first intimations of grief over his grandfather when Sheamas entered the kitchen through the larder. He came with all his usual good humour and conviviality, came from his shoppe, eager to enjoy his day off as he was to share the smoked pork he was conveying to the kitchen. A something like impatience rushed on him as he gave the haunches over to Martje: a low rumble shook his stomach, a curmuring followed, and without waiting for Martje to decide which of them was to be aet and which to be hung up, he took a cleaver from the wall, carefully moved Martje aside, and began chopping even slices from the haunch. Somewhere between the downward and ascending motions of the cleaver, the slices vanished, and Sheamas’ wrawling stomach was appeased.
 “I’m always impressed by how much and how quickly you and Shayne can eat,” said Alasdair, spying the prodigious haunch with mild curiosity. “Tomas is only a little taller than you, and yet he doesn’t eat half as much.”
“Aye, that’s Tyfferim folk, Majesty,” Sheamas offered, with a broad grin. “If you don’t eat what Ma puts on the table before it goes cold, it’s goin’ to the pigs.”
“Aye,” said Shayne, “farmer’s way o’ thinkin’, Majesty. Gotta eat it, and gotta eat it all or there mightn’t be anythin’ later.” He shoved half of his crumble in his mouth. “Never know when yer gonna get  chance to eat again, bein’ in the fields.”
“Everyone from the farms is born a barathrum, Alasdair,” said Boudicca. “I never inherited the trait because my mother had never seen butter and bacon before she came to my father’s. I disinherited my Tyfferim birthright to eat everything on my plate by my mother’s atrocious cookery. I’m very sure my father and I ate dirt more times than was allowable for the first few years of my life when we couldn’t escape the dregs of my mother’s disasters to a meal in town.”
“Here, Majesty,” said Shayne, holding out he rest of the crumble to him. “The last piece for you.”
Alasdair stared at it in vehement disdain. “That’s very kind of you, Shayne,” said he, with restrained apprehension, betraying all his mental anguish, “But I’m still quite full from last night. You finish it. I’m sure it will go to waste if you don’t.”
Shayne shrugged and canted his head, and ate the last of the crumble, much to Alasdair’s relief.
“Next time I’m makin’ a rhubarb,” Martje grumbled to herself. “Then he woulda bathed in it like he did with the pie I made for his birthday.”
Alasdair was very sure that he would not be bathing in anything half so delicious; to wallow in an abundance of delitous savours, to welter in a perfect crust, to glory in a sumptuous exudation, the pleasures of a rhubarb anything were not to be trifled with, and the splendour and sublimity of a crumble—there was all tremulous agitation, and he writhed in the retreat of his own self discipline, and demanded as Martje passed, “No rhubarb anything, Martje. Do you hear me? Not for the holidays, and certainly not for my birthday.”
“Aye, no rhubarb,” said Martje, in a careless tone, and she went to her husband to collect his plate, murmuring to herself, “Sure, I’ll make it for no reason at all and just leave it in the larder. You’ll never get the monster to eat it for you, and Shayne don’t like rhubarb anythin’, so askin’ him’ll do nothin’.”         
The rhubarb incident, for which Alasdair’s voracity for rhubarb was celebrated much to his shame and indignation, had become a favourite gossiping piece for scandalmongers in the keep. Alasdair’s only advantage and precedence in the case was that Rithea had not been alive to hear of it; she should have spread news of his confectionary demise to the Haven, and from there it should only have been a matter of time before the kingdom knew of it. His secret, however, did not extend beyond the capital walls—or at least, if the dreadful tale of the king being discovered with his face buried in a rhubarb pie had spread into the country, no one talked about it. He would do anything to save himself from the embarrassment of being caught with baked rhubarb filling smattered across his cheeks, and if that meant ordering every farmer in the kingdom to burn his stock, such a decree would be made. Sheamas’ kind offer of a smoked slice roused him from his silent vexations, and though he began with a “No, thank you—“ the glares from his wife told him that he ought to eat something for breakfast. “Well,” he relented, “very well. A small piece.”
“I’ll even put it on a fork for you so you don’t ruin that nice shirt yer wearin’.”
“Are you wearing a blue shirt, Your Majesty?” Kai Linaa asked, craning her neck and narrowing her gaze.
“I am. Do you like it?” Alasdair examined himself and fidgeting with his cravat. “It was Carrigh’s idea.”
She canted her head and pouted in deliberation. “The colours aren’t complementary, but they do match in a strange way. I like it. It’s interesting.”
“I’m very glad it has your approval. I hesitate to tell Pastaddams about it though. I’m afraid he’ll fling himself in a fit over it.” He adjusted his collar and fluffed his cravat. “Where is Pastaddams? Has anyone seen him this morning? We didn’t see him in the tailor as we passed. He’s usually up and in for his tea at this time on the holiday.”
No one had seen anything of the royal tailor all morning, and Alasdair shuffled his feet in growing distress.
“He can’t be very far,” said Alasdair, glancing into the hallway. “He might be in the garden, silently panicking over this combination. He always senses mismatched colours subliminally. He never goes to the royal quarter and yet he crumbles over their poor fashion sense as though every lord and lady wearing a plastron and hoop skirt were traipsing outside his workplace. I think I’ll go look for him. He might have collapsed in the gorse bushes, choking as if upon life, probably slain by thoughts of what Rosse is wearing today.”
“A Bellatrim trepanning is more tolerable than thinking of what horrors the Frewyn royalty are sporting,” said Boudicca. “And you know where Pastaddams is.”
“Do I?” Alasdair asked, his brow furrowing.
Boudicca looked sly. “Where else would he be on a mild holiday morning but admiring the view?”