Saturday, February 25, 2017

Story for the Day: The Device

It is widely asserted that Lucentians will do anything to maintain their youthful looks. They are not above lathering themselves in a mix of products or the use of strange devices, which Frewyns, of course, will find a more practical use for.


The merchant reached into a drawer beside him and removed a small device, comprised of two straight resin slats attached to a hinge and a pulling thread.
                “Now I know you’re a spy,” Boudicca asserted, eyeing the device. “There is your torturing
method.”
                “It does look frightful, but there is really nothing to be afraid of. This is a facial muscle exerciser for those afflicted with facial paralysis. It began as a medical device, but when people discovered that it toned and lifted the muscles in the face, a beauty manufacturer made one suitable for those who wanted to use it for jowl prevention.”       
                He put it in his mouth, to demonstrate how the device was to be properly used, molding his lips around the resin slats, holding the device in place with the pulling thread hanging down. He pressed down against the pressure of the hinge, and once his lips were folded together with the slats between them, he pulled on the thread, moving it from side to side, looking in the opposite direction of his movements. He took it from his mouth and offered it to the commander. “Would you like to try it?”
                Here was a chary look. “I think I like my cheeks where they are,” said Boudicca, but the construction of the device held a charm for her as a budding curiosity. She took it from his hand, followed his direction, and where the merchant had been perfectly at ease with pressing the device between his lips and pulling it about, she winced once and immediately plucked it from her mouth. “That is extremely unpleasant,” she said, grimacing and passing on the device to the party.
                “It’s painful at first, but once your facial muscles are well toned, your skin firms and the apparatus is used more for maintenance.”
                “It certainly does an excellent job at dislocating jaws.” Boudicca rubbed her face and looked askance. “And women actually use that to give themselves a more shapely face? Teague, have you ever seen such a thing like that?”
                “Not for beauty purposes, no,” said Teague, examining the device. He held it up, the two resin slats in opposition of one another suspended by a tight hinge, playing at resistance in an unmoving O. “This could easily be used for something else,” said he, with a suggestive grin.
                Boudicca caught his meaning and laughed. “It will certainly keep the mouth well open. It might be more effective for your cubicular games than it would as a beauty contrivance. I daresay Qwynlyn will have sculpted cheeks by sunrise.”               
                “I’m buyin’ one,” said Sheamas instantly, with a fervent look.
                “As am I,” said Teague.
                The merchant sighed and shook his head. “You know,” said he, smiling, “it had never occurred to me that it might be used that way.”
                Here was a look of grim suspicion. “Never?” said Teague.
                “Well, no one has ever come here looking for that sort of thing, so I never had to consider it. Now that you put it into my head, however, I might market it as a dual beautification device and pleasure enhancement apparatus.”
                “You had best make sure that hinge holds up against any unwanted pressure,” said Boudicca, “or there will be more than one man walking about with his knees bent and legs closed.”
                There was an anxious laugh, thighs locked together, and as the merchant wrapped two of the devices for Teague and Sheamas, the former only too pleased with his purchase and the latter somewhat embarrassed, Teague sidled the commander and murmured, “Please don’t tell Mureadh.”
                “Oh, never,” she replied, the glint in her eye smouldering. “The horror of him finding out on his own is too wonderful. You must tell Connors, however. I am very sure he should want one of those items for Nerri.”
                “And you, commander? Are you not interested?”
                “Knowing my mate’s astonishing history with mechanical objects, to you really believe he would allow himself to be besieged by one?”
                Teague surrendered to a quiet mirth, and Little Jaicobh skipped over from the chemist’s table, to meddle in his father’s business and ruin all his peace.
                “Whadya get, Da?” said he, hovering around Sheamas.
                The colour in Sheamas’ cheeks heightened. “Oh, just somethin’ for yer Ma.”
                Little Jaicobh looked coy. “Didya get her a cream ‘cause you think she’s lookin’ old?”
                This, Sheamas knew, was a dangerous question, designed for gleaning information in exchange for silence: should he say yes, his son would hasten home and sing out how his father thought his mother was grown old, and should he say no, the ceaseless tumult of questions should begin. To subvert shame and allay culpability, Sheamas stared at the back wall and said, in a restrained voice, “…Go ask yer Grandda.”
                Going to Grandda Jaicobh was always the surest way of quieting any qualms. There was a shoulder ride to be had, a candy to be aet, a story to hear, and without any consciousness in the business, Little Jaicobh ran to his namesake and began asking him the same question he had asked his father, the sound of which was suppressed under a flurry of kisses. An embraced turned into a tossing over the shoulder, and ended in an attack of tickles, ending in a fit of giggles along the floor, quieting all questions and suppressing all memory of having asked anything at all.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Story for the Day: The Beauty Merchant

Lucentians are well known across the continents for their aging habits. They tend to ripen like fine cheeses rather than mold into a dwizzened crust, but heritage is not their only secret. It is work, hard work, to keep their skin looking resplendent and ageless, as the royal party soon learns.


Teague motioned for them to follow him, and once the chocolates had been gone through and Alasdair had thrown the remainder of his fried dough to the mallards to prevent him from eating it,
they quitted their perch by the river and went across the bridge, avoiding the markets and walking toward the Lucentian quarter, where the pastiso houses and chocolate cafes were just beginning to open their doors. They turned into one of the side streets, where the shortcut of an alley brought them to a Lucentian beauty parlour, one that boasted high-end products and services for those Lucentians living in Frewyn who wanted to remain there without being made coarse and haggard by the southern frost.
                The door to the parlour was opened, a silver bell on the lintel peeled caromed along the length of the main room, and Teague entered, ushering the king and his party in before mounting a small set of stairs and greeting the proprietor, who came forward to meet them.
                Chya, te poia,” said Teague, inclining his head.
                The proprietor returned the favour, and with some surprise at seeing His Majesty of Frewyn in his shoppe, he bowed and held out his arms in a welcoming gesture. “Ya poia, Nindano Narema,” he crooned, and with subdued smiles and eyes low, he bowed and continued, “Your Majesty. Commander. Master Butcher. Regent. Friends and visitors,” smiling at the children. “I wish you all good tidings for your holiday.”
                “Thank you, and to you, sir.” said Alasdair, coming forward. “But you won’t take a holiday yourself? It is a national holiday, and you have every right to close your business today if you like.”
                “Your Majesty,” said the proprietor impressively, aghast, “I’m a merchant, and a Lucentian will never close his business when there is someone willing to buy.”
                Alasdair received a look from Teague which implied he should have known better than to suggest a Lucentian would ever close his business when there were sales to be made, and Teague smiled and shook his head, marveling at the Frewyn sensibleness that would try to reign over Lucentian business insensibility.
                “Please,” said the proprietor, inviting the party to move further into the shoppe.
                He stepped aside and lowered his head as the party passed, and when they were got to the main room, the proprietor opened the front curtains to let in the light, and the Ooos and Aaahs of appreciation echoed along the gallery. It was more of a showroom than it was a shoppe, each shelf displaying only one item, and each section of the gallery devoted to only one type of product. There were creams and oils, ampules and capsules, pots and potions, serums and lotions, each with a different colour and texture, each housed in elaborate jars or bottles, no two products looking exactly the same. It looked more like an apothecary than a beauty parlour, with a mixing and measuring station in one corner and in another a stand with several sterilized tools, all for pasting and heating and emulsifying. The party moved farther along the gallery, inspecting the various accoutrements and creations, marveling at the scale of the place, building seeming larger within than it did without, the floor and walls, fashioned from solid stone, sanded and glazed, shining and immaculate belonging more to a temple than they did a mere merchant’s shoppe. The splendour of the place was in its radiance, the windows calculated to catch enough light to illuminate but not enough to heat the room, the shafts of morning light refracting along the floor, casting a resplendent glow over the exhibition, the most exceptional piece of which was the proprietor himself, who was standing behind the small counter as the pride of his collection, his black mane and blue eyes giving an ethereal aspect to a man whose height and features were so decidedly Lucentian. His age was indiscernible, all the usual signs of maturation silenced by heredity and meticulous care, his bloom of health and rorulent complexion recommending him to the middle of Lucentian life, but his stately air and tailored dress gave him a sagacity that only time and experience could bestow. His sharp features softened under the influence of a permanent half smile, his voice thrummed in a delicate ripple across a becalmed expanse, offering him a timelessness which everyone must feel effect of. He was faultless, impeccable in feature and in fact, his silent steps and studied propriety betraying a well-bred ease of manner that belonged rather to a baronet than it did to a merchant. He glided into the corner and presented the gallery with a stately wave of the hand, his robes undulating in perfect approbation with his graceful gesture, and Alasdair could not but admire him.
                “I hope you realize, Teague,” said Alasdair quietly, “how unfair it is that Lucentians can be so striking well into their later years.”
                “Not all of us age well,” said Teague, though his satisfied looks were speaking a different conviction. “I’m told King Reneldin always looked twice his age, but that information comes from the person who mounted his head after he cut it off in the middle of the royal plaza.”
                “Danaco falls into the category of those who will always be attractive regardless of age.”
                “Worldly lords never grow old, Alasdair,” said Boudicca. “They only ripen and hope no one notices, the sea breezes and foreign air only curing what was made perfect long ago.”
                “We Frewyns ferment,” Sheamas proclaimed. “Aye, we got a few what look like they were trained up in the potato patch, but we age right well when we want to. Look at Da.”
                Jaicobh was perfectly insensible of his son’s praise, but once he realized they were talking about him and how well he had aged, he smiled and held back a sneeze that was trying to escape by pinching the bridge of his nose.
                “Looking a hundred years younger than you should look is what happens when you stay out of society for the better part of a century and then have the good fortune to die before decrepitude can set in,” Boudicca observed. “It is also what happens when half of your lineage descends from a line of people who do not age until they reach two-hundred.”
                Sheamas nodded. “Aye, that’s fair.”
                Hathanta and the children began busying themselves about the mixing station, examining all the mortars and mixes, and determining that the party did not come with any particular interest in any one product, curiosity overcame propriety, and the merchant soon interposed with, “I suppose you did not come to sample the latest imports, but instead came to ask me something.”
                “We did, actually,” said Alasdair, rousing himself from inspecting a series of ampoules beside him.
                “I am, of course, pleased to see His Majesty and his royal party in my shoppe at anytime,” the merchant continued, and then, with a glance or two at Teague, he added, “but when the king arrives with his Right Hand and his High Commander, I must ask if this visit concerns some delicate information.”
                He gave them a conscious look, and Alasdair shifted closer to Teague.
                “Is he a spy?” Alasdair asked, in an audible whisper, and without waiting for an answer, he added, “He’s a spy, isn’t he. He’s one of Ladrei’s men. He has agents in all of these shoppes.”
                “He’s not an agent that I know about,” said Teague, “but to be fair, sire, all foreign merchants do gather information in a sense, even if they don’t mean to do it for profit. My father would overhear important information by just trading his textiles.”
                Here was a glare. “Your father was a spy, Teague.”
                “But a successful merchant first.”
                “I am not one of the Prince’s agents, Your Majesty,” said the merchant, with a polite bow, “nor am I an operative for the Baracan or the guilds.”   
                “You did not say you weren’t a spy, however,” was Boudicca’s smiling observation.
                The merchant laughed and folded his hands.“How kind of you to notice, Commander. An unconscious oversight, I assure you. I am not, nor have I ever been, a spy for any country, government, or organization. I understand that given the history of Lucentian merchants being sent abroad for intelligence purposes, you would suspect me, but my life is much less interesting than that. I’m a chemist, a herbalist, and an aesthetician, but of course, a suspicious mind would say that these are only distractions from my real profession.”
                “A suspicious mind would,” Teague acknowledged.
                A conscious smile was exchanged here, and Teague cherished a quiet mirth, leaving Alasdair to wonder whether the merchant was agent at last.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Story for the Day: Caumharc Na Brigid

An Caumharc Na Brigid is the story of the famous bouts of Ogham, the ancient chieftain who was desperate to gain Brigid's hand. He offered gifts to her clan, pleaded with her father, fought with her brothers and the many warriors who cherished her honour, but the climax of his trials was the fight with Aoidhe, God of Fire and Passion (amongst many other things), which he won, but not without some great extenuation.


                They moved toward the square, where a crowd was gathered round the visiting talemongers, who were come in from Sethshire and Hallanys, to recount the story of Brigid and Ogham, Frewyn’s oldest recorded literature. Some were repeating the original text, professing the
alternating lines in Auld Fremhin with grand gestures and sharp intonation, and others were interpreting in Modern Common, with a different voice and inflection for every character, the features of every listener rapt in fascination. They acted out the various Trials of Ogham, making mocking blows and introducing all his celebrated opponents, and when they came to the section where Aoidhe is fabled to have appeared, an “Ooo!” rippled through the crowd, and the taleweavers reached their apex, imitating the voice of Aoidhe and pretending to be Frannach, who was fabled to have judged the last and deciding velitation. Ogham was writhing on the ground victorious by the time the storytellers had done with him, and Aoidhe was standing over him, with Frannach close by, the God of Passion impressed with Ogham’s perseverance in wanting Brigid’s hand and the God of War gratified by the fervent display of strength.
                Weren’t no loomin’ over him near the end of it, said a voice from somewhere behind the royal party. Didn’t hit him that hard neither. Sure, took a few teeth aff him, not like he’d need ‘em bein’ in that family anyhow.
                Alasdair knew that voice, and knowing that his shoes would probably be tied to one another the next moment, he sighed and clapped his hand over his eyes.
                Nah, I didn’t do it, Yer Majesty, said the voice, a sultry grin creeping over Alasdair’s conscience. No fun in doin’ it while yer lookin’. I’ll get you good when yer not thinkin’ about it, so’s you’ll appreciate it.
                “Thank you, Aoidhe,” Alasdair moaned, trying not to sound ungracious.
                The voice vanished under the ovation of the crowds, and the prevailing consciousness of an entity that would rather amuse itself than infer leniency was gone. The story was over, Ogham had won Brigid’s heart, her father and brothers gave their approbation, the two lovers were to be married, and everyone rejoiced in a fulmination of song.
                Don’t think he’s so great and all. I let him win, said a voice, the consciousness returning.  
                Alasdair closed his eyes and sunk all his natural remonstrances under the silence of pursed lips and tremulous heart.
                Just wanted to rile him a bit, testin’ him and such. Had to see if his bainne were werkin’ right after I kicked him.
                “You look rather disgruntled,” Boudicca observed, giving Alasdair a sideways glance. “Is someone distressing you?”
                Alasdair made a chary expression. “…No?”
                “Is someone talking to you then in a manner you wish he would not be?”
                “Someone is talking to me…” was all Alasdair’s apprehensive reply.
                “I don’t think he would do anything to embarrass you in front of your beloved subjects,” said Boudicca, laughing. “He would rather wait until you’re spending private time with Carrigh and then plague you.”
                Alasdair withered in anguish and closed his eyes. “Please don’t give him any ideas. I know he’s a god and can hear us wherever we are, but knowing that he’s always around now should make more cautious.”
                “You do realize the Gods can reach into our subconscious when we try to hide less than savoury thoughts.”
                Alasdair sighed and was sure that if given the chance to have the Gods return to their celestial realm, he should not dissent at their meaning to go. Having them returned amongst their children, even at a nominal capacity, could only do Frewyn good, but that Aoidhe should be come to stay more often than was expected was become a trial to Alasdair’s nerves. Still he had the courts to contend with, and Aoidhe’s presence there, though a blessing to the dullness of a long and lugubrious case, was a terror where his own seriousness and concentration as main adjudicator was concerned. He liked Aoidhe—he must, if he wished his kingdom untouched by plagues of locusts and infertility—but he liked him rather against his will and against his inclination for sobriety on sobering subjects. The courts were no place for Aoidhe’s style of japery, but if he should commit a lark against Count Rosse, to check his ideas of needless opposition and his habilatory crimes, Alasdair had not a word to say against him.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Story for the Day: The Second Month

February, or the Second Month in Frewyn, signals the beginning of spring, and even though most of the country has snow on the ground for another two months, Westren's thaw begins around Brigid's Day, the unofficial first day of the new season. Farmers have a particular relationship with this time of year: it is the end of their holidays and the beginning of their harvest cycle, bringing it with all the agonies of lime and loam and all the joys of reaping what they sow.


It was Brigid’s Day in Frewyn, and while everyone was out enjoying the day, giving chocolates and trinkets to one another, the merchants and traders were still working away, packing and preparing        
their shipments, taking them to the pier and stacking them for the porters, while butchers and bakers took their treys and carts to the square, where morning church services were just letting out and everyone was gathering for the retelling of the Caumharc Na Brigid. The children, having already heard their sermon for the day from Baronous over breakfast, were hastening out, pulling Hathanta and all the rest of the royal party down the path and through the gatehouse, to enjoy the sweets of Frewyn’s informal first day of spring. It was still cold, a ninguid brume drifted along the ground, but the vernal thaw was pending, the ground would soon be ripe for planting, and the warmth pouring over the west and settling in Westren would soon break over the remainder of the kingdom and usher in the first ardrours of spring.
                It was a mild morning, bringing the jays and finches  from the west to the capital, where they flitted about roe gaumhin, clamouring amongst themselves over cakes and crumbs, and the children sprang down from the high road, tumbling through the open gate house toward the bottom of the walk, where Jaicobh and Calleen were waiting for them. They had come from the assembly hall in Tyfferim, where every farmer in the municipality had gathered, to determine which crops were to be sewn in which fields now that the beginning of the planting season was come. There were a few weeks more until the loam could be turned and tilled, but storehouses must be opened, seeds and grains must be doled, and every bulb that could thrive late winter and deter early vermin must be set out. The twins and Beryn would be along later in the day: they were preparing their fields for fertilizing, and though Beryn had comparatively little work to do, he had offered himself to the twins, to help them with their spring preparations. Brigid’s Day was always a trial for farmers, signaling the end of their holidays and the beginning of their work for the coming ten months, but chocolate and chimes of eager affection from grandchildren will do away all the evils of an early spring. Jaicobh lifted the children into his arms as they flew at him, and he whirled them around, relinquishing himself to the rights of a grandparent and forgetting those of the farmer: a Regent was a watcher and commander at anytime, and being the guardian of the happiness of all those belonging to him, he was sincerely and happily oppressed by the smiles and embraces of those he loved best.
                “Maith La Brigid, darlin’,” said he, patting his daughter’s head affectionately.
                Boudicca heard a rale in her father’s voice. “Have you talked yourself hoarse this morning?” said she, kissing his cheek.
                “Naw, darlin’,” he sniffled. “Think I caught somethin’ from the meetin’. I know it takes a few days for a cold to settle in, but Aul’ Rab had a cough somethin’ tragic. I felt it creepin’ on me when he came to shake my hand.”
                “I will never know why you allow harbingers of the plague anywhere near you,” and once she realized what she had done, she added, “nor will I ever understand a man’s propensity to tell you he is ill after he has already infected you.”
                Jaicobh could not help laughing. “Just a sniffle, darlin’. It’s already come out, so you won’t catch it.”
                “Not this one, but I might contract the plague Old Man Rob gave you.”
                Here was a shrug. “Washed my face and hands before I left and took some Connolleigh’s, cleric’s orders.”
                “That mixture is absolutely horrendous,” Alasdair murmured, coming forward to shake Jaicobh’s hand.
                “Aye, it smells like dyin’ birch and tastes like moulderin’ pine, but it sure suppresses a cold.”
                “I think you mean the cold runs away screaming in agony. Cneighsea used to try to force Connolleigh’s on me when I was younger. I would rather do anything than be made to swallow that swill—and holding my nose or coating my mouth with honey beforehand did absolutely nothing to mask that taste. It’s like drinking pine resin.” Alasdair wrenched and shuddered. “Gods, I still remember it,” he moaned, rubbing his brow and staring in to the distant in horror. “It felt as though someone were pouring hot pitch into my mouth, and just as I thought the cooling sensation of the mint would take over, the sting of the camphor oil burned my tongue and made my eyes water. And that taste never dissolves. It stays in your mouth for days afterward, just to mock you for disliking it.”
                “Aye, it does,” said Jaicobh, slottering, “but that’s why it works, ‘cause it doesn’t go away.”
                 “I suppose you’re right,” was Alasdair parting injunction, and once he realized he had shaken Jaicobh’s hand, he took a clean cloth from his pocket and wiped his hands.