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
“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?”
“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?”