Brigdan had one moment to enjoy in his renewed serenity until Bryeison, accosting him with a serious smile, said, “Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?”
Brigdan gave a small start and put down his cup. “Bothering me, Commander?”
“You wanted to speak to me alone, didn’t you? Why else would you be so adamant about having Vyrdin leave the room?”
Bryeison’s gaze narrowed, and Brigdan’s courage began to fail him.
“I’m not here, I ain’t listenin’,” said Ruta, shuffling by with a large sac of flour cradled in her arms. “You just go ahead and say what yer wantin’ to say, and I’m over here in the larder just mindin’ myself, not hearin’ nothin’.”
She fluttered off to the larder, to arrange the grainery and manage about the new shipment of cheeses just come in from town, and though she hummed to herself and riffled through the consignment papers with careless dispatch, Brigdan could not but feel that she was listening to their conversation. Ruta, however, was no one to be suspicious of; she might succumb to idle trinkling, but she would never stoop to gossip. She and Aghatha and Pastaddams and even Searle were the most dependable spies in the world, the standing lesson of constancy in Frewyn, sturdy figures who safeguarded secrets rather than sold them for the price of moral integrity. And Ruta went through the act of hearing but not listening very well, moving about the larder with pretended indifference, shuffling through papers and moving cheesewheels and grain sacks about without any idea of being included in the conversation.
Brigdan inhaled, noted Bryeison’s expectant look, and with a slight hem, he began his appeal. “It is nothing serious,” he assured Bryeison. “It is only that I want to invite Vyrdin to my father’s house for La Bramlae. I was not going to ask for the day off, but when I heard the men talking about it in the yard, I thought I should like to go to see the first spring flowers, but only if Vyrdin were to come with me. He has never seen the first of the spring flowers—at least, I don’t believe he has, though he did spend part of his young life in Amene—but I don’t think he has ever been to Bramlae during the western spring. I should like him to see it. I have gone every year with my parents, and we have always enjoyed seeing the rambling hills blooming with the first flowers of the year. This would have been the first year I would not have gone to Bramlae, and I was perfectly willing to ignore the holiday, but for Vyrdin.” He glanced at his tea and then at Bryeison, who was remarking him with smiling interest. “I came to you to ask you how I should go about inviting him. I wanted to invite him for Ailneighdaeth, but something in Vyrdin’s look stopped me. He looked as though he knew I was going to make the invitation and was already prepared to say no. I had meant to ask him again for Brigid’s Day—but you know how he is, Commander.”
“Do I,” said Bryeison, smiling.
Here was a small sigh. “You know he can be obstinate about propriety and rank.”
“So can you.”
“Can I?” Brigdan exclaimed, and then, relenting and lapsing into himself, “well, yes, I suppose. I see how you mean—but that is a very different thing. I keep telling Vyrdin—indeed, I keep telling everybody-- that my rank doesn’t matter, especially now that I’m in the king’s service. Legally I cannot call myself a lord when I am on duty—but everyone will still treat me differently, and Vyrdin will refuse to think me as anything else. I know that I have led a privileged life—that certainly I cannot deceive myself of-- but I cannot think it fair that I should be punished for it or that our friendship should suffer for it. There should be no barrier between us. I do not want him to be uneasy about coming with me to my family estate. I know it might be daunting for him for many reasons, but my father is the most well-meaning man in the world and would have him at anytime. I only want Vyrdin to be perfectly easy and happy when I ask him.” He exhaled, and his shoulders wilted. “Perhaps I as for a miracle in that respect.”
“You do,” Bryeison fleered.
“I only want him to be comfortable enough to give me a true answer, not one made out of diffidence or fear. Whenever we talk about my father’s place or even my childhood, he grows uncomfortable and gets rather short with me.”
“Have you known Vyrdin to be any other way?”
Brigdan hummed and demurred. “Well, I suppose that is true. I know he always appears somewhat disgruntled, but he is only serious. I wish others would not punish him for it. Everyone else is so critical of him that when someone is giving him a genuine compliment, he doesn’t believe it or thinks he is unworthy of it. I am afraid he spends much of his time alone during our days off—because he does have a genuine dislike of anyone who spurns him, but also because he does not bother to interact from the idea that nobody wants him around. I know you and Commander Draeden are here and do spend as much time with him as your positions allow, but you know how he likes to go his own way and will be alone for the sake of not bothering anyone else.”
“I do,” said Bryeison quietly.
Brigdan looked into his teacup and fidgeted with his spoon. “I should never wish to take him from his books, if that is how he likes to spend all his time when no one is with him,” he continued. “We do read together, and he does seem sanguine when doing so, but—I am only afraid if I ask him to come with me to my father’s in so direct a line, Vyrdin will immediately say no, and will say no merely for the sake of some invented fears. I am also concerned that Vyrdin might think my invitation belittling, as in the lord asking the orphan to take his meals with him, an so on.”
Bryeison’s gaze narrowed. “Is it degrading for a lord to ask his friend to sit at his table?”
“I could never think so,” said Brigdan earnestly. “My father is a Baronet, and yet every Gods’ Day he invites all the parish to our chapel, and we all sit down to the great table and have our Gods’ Day meal together. He had done it since before I was born, and I have never grown up any other way. I have never been taught that I was any different from the gardener or the miller or the farmer. My father is Baronet and a chaplain, and I am a Lord and a cern. If my father’s friends can see him as a chaplain, why cannot Vyrdin see me as just another cern?”
“Because you’re his friend,” said Bryeison, in a decided tone, “and Vyrdin reveres anyone who gives him due attention.”
Brigdan was silenced.
A moment passed. The larks in the cypresses without gave their aubade in praise of the morning, a cask scudded as it was scraped across the stone floor, a melodious bombilation droned out from the bowels of the larder, a few servants tittered to one another as they passed away into the hall, and Brigdan, after a somber delibation, murmured to himself, “If only Vyrdin wasn’t so stubborn— If only he would come to my father’s and see how it all is at our house.”
“You realize he’s never had one,” Bryeison thrummed.
“No,” was Brigdan’s woeful reply. “I know that he is even diffident to call the keep his home, though he has lived here nearly three years. I know he feels as though being in the service is his way of earning his keep--but you know how he feels about himself, Commander, and how he will depreciate his own value when anyone he admires is about. You know how he dislikes himself. I suppose—“ He stopped here, fearing he hardly knew not how to better explain himself. “I suppose the chief of the apprehension is on my side, Commander,” he softly admitted. “I fear that Vyrdin will not take my invitation seriously. I’m afraid he will think I am only asking him to my father’s out of pity.”
“Then why not ask him out of friendship?”
“I mean to do, certainly, Commander,” Brigdan insisted. “Of course I should never ask him for any reason other than friendship. We are friends in every way, Commander, but he will make me so very aware of my situation, and I hope I am sensible of his feelings with regard to my rank. He might say no for fear of what the men will say-- not to him, he does not care about himself in that way, but to me. I’m sure he will be very angry if he hears anyone disparaging me because I made him an invitation to an estate. What’s so amusing, Commander?”
A smile on Bryeison’s face broadened throughout the whole of his speech, and when Brigdan had done and looked about, to see whether Ruta were doing something entertaining in the background, Bryeison propped his elbow in the table and leaned his chin onto a raised fist, his aspect in a glow, the glint in his eye dancing about.