“Well, I’m glad to see your game is undisturbed,” said Alasdair, approaching the table. “Rautu is trundling about the keep, taking every pair of dice he can find and giving them to Khaasta to playwith.”
The commander glanced over the table, perlustrating every hand, every resource, every deck. “My mate has been here,” said she, laughing.
Alasdair’s gaze narrowed, and he studied the table again. “Did he take your dice?”
“It’s alright, Uncle Alasdair,” said Vyrbryn. “We’re playing a game without them.”
“And doing admirably at that,” said Brigdan, his eyes crinkling with smile lines.
Alasdair glared at Boudicca with conscious agitation. “Please talk to him.”
“Talking will do nothing, I assure you, Alasdair. He will argue with me until he’s argued himself a hole in the ground. This is primarily a farming game, and though there is an element of chance in it, he will claim that it is not an inaccurate representation of farming and that the girls are eroding their minds by playing such a shameless travesty rather than going out to the field and learning to farm as it should be done. He would rather have them turning a breastplough than sitting nicely around a table, planning out their next year’s harvest. You should ask Vyrdin to talk to him. I’m certain their sentiments on the subject would be the same, being the most practical and correct men in the whole kingdom. My mate only does what your good breeding tells you not to do. Should you dare to go against your cultivated sense of propriety, dice would have been banished years ago and Rosse should have been forced to walk the length of the gallery in a breech cloth.”
Alasdair frowned, divided between misery of self-assurance and the concession of knowing her to be right, the temptation for denial too great and the reward for silence too precious to surrender; he would only fold his arms, pretend to be mildly disinterested, and turn toward the table, where sat the girls in a reverential equanimity, taking and passing cards, planting their fields, building their settlements, and frowning in profound meditation.
“What are these little plaques you all have next to you?” said he, looming over the table. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen these before.”
“They’re player pieces, Your Majesty,” said Blinne. “For this edition, they’re all supposed to be modeled after Frewyn’s famous kings.”
“Oh yes, I see,” said Alasdair, picking up one of the plaques from the box. “Here is Allun with his great pelt, here is Breian with his full traditional sash, here is my grandfather with his robe and crown—though he only wore it for ceremonies, I don’t know that he would like being depicting in it as though it were a more permanent fixture on his head—and who is this?” looking with confusion at the player character laid before Maggie.
The character was painted in recognizable dress: the character was wearing Alasdair’s wedding jerkin, the one modeled after the jerkin his father had left to him, with its white embossed brocade, golden tassels, and family embroidery, but the rest of the image was so unfamiliar to him that he could hardly guess at who the character was meant to be. It could not be Allande, for though he had been king, he was generally thought as one of the most destructive and hated kings in Frewyn’s recent history. Was it meant to be his great grandfather, the Grand Duke? No, he had never been king, it could not be him. Perhaps his father? But Draeden too had never taken the throne, and the aspect was so far from being Draeden’s—the hair was too light, and the eyes were the wrong colour—that it was impossible for the image to be one Frewyn’s beloved Prince. And yet, how could it be? It could not be himself: its misconstrued features, its disastrous tuft, its pretentious air bore no semblance to anyone in his family, and yet the attire was so familiar. He turned the plaque every which way, desperately trying to decipher who it could be, when Ouryn cried out, in a giggling voice, “That’s you, Uncle Alasdair.”
Alasdair was instantly aghast. “Me?” holding the plaque away from his face and grimacing at it. “No, this cannot be me.”
The girls glanced at one another.
“But it has your jerkin,” said Vyrbryn.
“It might, but this looks nothing at all like me. That’s not my face, and that’s certainly not my hair.” He glowered at the plaque, disdaining it for its misshapen expression and shameless want of fashion. “How can you say this is me?”
“Because it looks like you,” said Maggie.
“How does this at all look like me? Look, the cheekbones aren’t the same, and jaw is too wide, and the nose is much too long to be mine. Besides that, how can I be in this edition if this has to do with the historical kings of Frewyn? I’m the current king.”
“But you’re one of Frewyn’s greatest kings, Uncle Alasdair. The box says so.”
Alasdair’s brows contracted and his features grew stern. “Let me see that box.”
The box was given over, and Alasdair read the description of the edition with speaking concern. “Breian’s reign edition,” he read aloud, “now featuring the great kings of Frewyn’s various golden ages: First King Allun, Brave King Breian, UiNeill the Bastard, Good King Dorrin, and King Alasdair.” His shoulders withered. “Well, they might have given me some sort of title. As it is, I sound tacked on.” He looked at the picture of the kings depicted on the box and then again at the plague. “I refuse to believe that this is meant to be me. There must be another character plaque in the box somewhere that is me.”
“But there are only five characters, Your Majesty,” said Peigi, “and all five are on the table. That one is the only one dressed like you.”
Alasdair examined the plaque of himself and flurned in grave displeasure. “That isn’t me,” he insisted. “Look, the eyes are too far apart, and the teeth aren’t right, and the face is far too wide—my face is never that fat—“ and realizing he said the forbidden word in Martje’s kitchen, he crouched, looked charily about, hoping the cook was not anywhere near, and whispered, “My face isn’t that fat.” And then, in his usual hue, he continued, “that’s not even my eye colour. I have green eyes, and here they are brown, you see? That’s not even the colour of my hair, let alone the style. This looks as though the character as plastered a mop on his head. My hair is much lighter than this, ” holding the plaque beside him for comparison. “There, you see? How can you say this looks like me?”
“It does look like you, Your Majesty,” Blinne kindly asserted.
The commander looked coy. “You ask me to negate the opinions of five women, Alasdair, and while we women are trifling creatures most of the time, our powers of observation when it comes to recognizing attractive men are infallible.”
“This does not look like me,” said Alasdair, growing distressed.
“And why not? I daresay it’s just as handsome as you, and it is as well dressed. You can have no complaints there.”
“Carrigh will settle this,” Alasdair demanded. “Where is she?” looking about the kitchen. “I saw her pass by not long ago-- Carrigh,” he calling to his wife and summoning her as she rustled along the hallway. She stopped at the threshold, but before she could say her usual yes sires, Alasdair held the plaque beside his face, and said, “Is this me?”
Carrigh came farther into the room, inspecting the plaque with a tapered gaze. She stopped, looked bemused, and after witnesses her husband in his state of subdued panic, she laughed behind a raise hand, her eyes twinkling in high glee, and said, “Well…”
“Well, what? This isn’t me. Right? No, it’s not me. It’s some other king whom they’ve botched for the first printing of this game. See? It cannot be me. Your expression tells me so, and you’re not saying anything because you like to see me in a passion about these things. No, this isn’t me. It’s not. There,” turning to the girls, “Carrigh agrees with me.”
“I didn’t hear Aunt Carrigh say anything, Uncle Alasdair,” said Maggie.
“She said it by not saying anything. Look,” pointing to Carrigh’s blithesome expression. “There, you see? She is trying not to laugh at how ridiculous this plaque that is pretending to be me but is not me is.” He held it away from his face and looked at it, frowning and mumbling to himself, “This isn’t me at all,” when a voice from the doorway shouted, “Have they made a picture of you? How very adorable that is!”
Alasdair turned, and there was a familiar face hastening toward him, bustling toward the table in an exuberant hue, and even pushing Alasdair aside to take up the plaque he had just put down.
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