|He is in so much trouble|
Baked apples were waiting on table as Draeden and Bryeison entered the kitchen, but while Draeden went through the varying humours from anxiety to excitement and back again as he marched toward his conquest, Bryeison stepped over the threshold and paused. His countenance pretended to be listening to Draeden’s dissertation on fishing and foraging while his awareness was on the tinkling sounds of high glee emanatingfrom the bottom of the winding stair. He turned his head toward the sound, and while keeping his eyes on Draeden, who was sitting down at the kitchen table and taking a baked apple for each hand, he turned his attention toward two young women, who were hiding behind the dividing wall which separated the stair from the hallway and who were presumably spying on Draeden. A few giggles and a few compliments on the prince and how well he looked in his armour betrayed their business, and a glance to the side from the corner of his eye betrayed their appearances: they were two maids under Aghatha, two whom Bryeison had seen several times cleaning the carpets in the gallery and the main hall. They were decent enough, as far as young women with penchants for princes went, but, as Bryeison soon perceived, if Draeden was their object, they could not know how mistaken they were in their choice. He was an unexceptionable young man, this Bryeison would gladly own, comparing with no one in the kingdom, leader amongst his peers in understanding and distinction, an exceptional soldier in spite of himself, a genius in every other way, but his gallantry with regard to women was dreadfully wanting, whether on purpose or innately, Bryeison could not decipher. The subject of women had hardly come up between them, and when Draeden did chance to talk about the bemusing and stunning creatures, it was always with an apprehension, a fright and an admiration that Bryeison could never quite understand, for Draeden liked women in one respect—at least, he believed so-- and then so wholly despised them for judging him by his appearance and situation that it was difficult to know whether he liked their attention or detested it. The circumstance had its hilarity, however, for two such young and silly girls to be infatuated with Draeden must warrant its due amusement, and Bryeison, with eyes subrisive and lips wreathed in restrained smiles, walked into the kitchen, betrayed none of what he heard to Draeden, and being met with a “Are you going to eat that apple? Ruta has made two for you, and I know you will only take one,” as he sat down. Both apples, however, were relinquished to Draeden’s appetite, and Bryeison took his usual tea, leaning back against the window, listening to Draeden through his mastications while eyeing the entranceway for a revival of what he had witnessed in the hall.
There was to be no recess in the court that noon due to an protracted case that must be resolved, and the king’s meal of drop scones and toasted bread with honey must be forgotten and given to Draeden. Ruta came in all her usual good humour to entreat the prince to eat what his father must renounce, and she had all the delight in hearing Draeden discuss their impending training exercise, but while she said “Aye, it’s a good thing to learn, bein’ out in the woods an’ all,” she was eyeing Bryeison with the same amused aspect that he was granting her. Draeden talked and devoured everything before him, talking through every motion, trying to reconcile his mind to going on such a perilous venture, while Ruta and Bryeison nodded through it all, never forgetting to be encouraging toward one who would panic about everything, and always remembering to keep their broadest and most sagacious grins for one another.
The sudden sounds of subdued risibility caught Bryeison’s ear once more. He sipped his tea, pretending not to notice the two young maids peering around the post and pointing at Draeden, and watched Draeden ravage his drop scones while listening to every mirthful murmur, giving rise to more whispers from the storeroom and the scullery. The whole of the kitchen, excepting Ruta, seemed pervaded by conscious laughter, muted by raised hands and made remarkable inquiring looks, everyone cherishing a rather commendable regard of Draeden, whose back was turned to the garland of women swarming behind him, completely unaware of their schemes, and still talking of wickering a curragh and making a shelter from salvaged bracken.
“Seymour, that fellow from Marridon, has made an excellent study of surviving on the barest of means,” said Draeden, eyeing his last apple in a fever of glee. “I believe he revels in making his living on as little as possible merely for the sake of writing about it.” He assailed his apple, and once his mouth was very well full, he continued, “I daresay he knows everything about foraging and survival. A prodigious amount of time will have to spent in the library this evening—why has everyone suddenly caught a fit of the giggles?” He turned, the kitchen and scullery maids scattered and returned to their work, his eye perceiving only half the situation, as he had missed the two girls who hid behind the door, and when he turned back to his plate, a feeling of sudden trepidation fell over him, causing him to move his chair toward Bryeison, lean over the table, and say in an undervoice, rife with alarm, “The burs from Harriegh’s wretched marigolds haven’t attached themselves to my mantle, have they?”
Bryeison laughed at Draeden’s misconstruction, and Ruta simpered and shook her head.
“It’s ‘cause you’re lookin’ all stately and in your armour,” said Ruta, her eyes crinkling with conscious mirth.
Draeden looked bemused, and Ruta was obliged to fill up the vacancies in his understanding.
“You look so official and commandin’, Highness, where you’re used to lookin’-“ she made a deliberating gesture and searched for a polite word, “…rumpled.”
Draeden could be under no mistake that his appearance had never recommended him as a Prince of Frewyn, but to hear Ruta admit his deficiencies injured the slender pride he had gained in achieving his honours. “I am improved, I think,” said he, rather doubtfully, examining himself.
“Aye, that you are, Highness, and since you got that piercin’ and that mantle and all, the girls are after a chance at you.”
The comprehension of the danger he was in, of every young woman in the keep being to chase him under the power of violent infatuation, struck him with a most untoward pang. “Oh, Gods,” he breathed, his eyes wide with horror. How could something so catastrophic accompany something so exultant? How could donning the captain’s armour, a rank low and unimportant when there were Royal Guard and Commanders enough on the catch, yield the ardent and abrupt admiration of every woman who had been used to ignore him before? It was a most grievous discovery, one to occasion every feeling of wretchedness and vexation and attack Draeden’s heart with a thousand feelings of mortification and alarm. “But why should my armour attract women?” he whispered, assailed by consternation. “If my appearance does nothing for them, I should think that the armour would do nothing to enhance what little handsomeness I have. Being a captain should rather repel them, for woman can want a man in the armed forces unless he is a Sir or a Royal Guard, and they have hardly any time for courting or for women in general.”
“Aye, but bein’ in the service holds a charm for us girls,” said Ruta, smiling. “Means you’re savin’ folk and protectin’ the kingdom, bein’ heroic and all. That’s works over a girl’s heart.”
Draeden crumbled in horror and then shifted toward Bryeison, endeavouring to hide from any remaining invigilation without drawing attention to himself and failing miserably by Bryeison’s sudden shifting of his body, placing his back to the window, and denying Draeden his hiding place. He made a few complacent smiles as he watched Draeden fumble about for something to conceal himself and laughed when Draeden grabbed one of the bowls on the table and pretended to find something very interesting at the bottom of it.
“Sure’n it’s good to have a few admirers,” said Ruta, all maternal encouragement, “teaches you how to be on your toes better than any war. You’re gonna be doin’ a lot of runnin’.” A fever of laughter overwhelmed her when Draeden grabbed a second bowl and held it to the side of his face, and when she find breath once more, she said, “There’s your survival trainin’ and all,” wiping the tears from her eyes, “Sure’n you’ll learn more in escapin’ from the girls than you would runnin’ from the wolves.”
“This isn’t at all humorous,” Draeden warmly protested.
“Aye, it plenty is, Highness. Any other fella your age can’t wait to get their armour so’s they can parade about for the girls. I never seen a-one waste what luck the Gods are givin’ him.”
Draeden put down the bowls and gave Ruta a flat look. “I know that you believe this is all rather delightful, Ruta, but it isn’t. I am not adorable and my armour, though earned and somewhat enhancing, does not yield any more attention than it deserves.”
Ruta could not help reaching out and pinching Draeden’s cheek, and Draeden sulked and allowed her the indulgence before flailing and scoffing her away.