Poor Draeden has no idea how to handle officious women. He does try to be civil and ceremonious, but any attempt at evading their approaches often yields his nigh immediate misconstruction and debilitation.
In the midst of Draeden’s little fidgets, Bryeison, in leaning his back to the window, gained a better view of the door, where stood the two maids from the hallway, openly remarking him and his armour, and apparently not disliking what they saw. The attention was not unwelcome, but Bryeison was sensible of their admirationbeing little more than a playful exhibition and thought nothing else of the business. They were kindly and fascinated, however, and while he would not display himself by rippling his muscles as Draeden thought he ought to do, he would treat them with due civility. A cordial smile, and a gracious nod, and the women giggled amongst themselves.
“Are they staring at me again?” said Draeden, wanting to look back and forcing himself not to look. “Why do you look so complacent? Are they looking at you? Don’t look back at them, Bryeison. There is your plate, pay attention to that.”
“I would,” said Bryeison, glancing at his plate, “except there is nothing on it.”
“Well.” Draeden humphed, reached for one of the remaining slices of toast, and tossed one into Bryeison’s plate. “There. Now you have a credible prop. Look at your toast, not at the girls. If you keep staring at them with inviting looks, they shall come over here, and then we will be obliged to talk to them.”
“I think you mean that I will be talking to them.”
“But I still have to stand beside you and make it look as though I’m very well, which I certainly won’t be if you summon those two women with your subconscious invitations—no, don’t smile at them! Stop smiling this moment or I shall tip your tea over.” He reached out to push Bryeison’s teacup from his hand, but Bryeison moved swiftly away, and Draeden missed, nearly plummeting with his chin toward the table. He recovered and pretended to have meant to have missed in case the two women were still spying them. He glanced askance over his shoulder and caught the sight of the two women, giggling behind raised hands, their eyes sparkling, their aspects eager and expectant, their full forms cloaked by their pinafores, their curves and napes expatiated by the sleek lines of their dresses, and Draeden was all over unquietness, turning back to his bowl and wishing he had the good sense to fill it. “Are they staring at me now?”
A wince, a tensing of his shoulders, and Draeden could no longer deceive himself: he was in danger, the notion of which evinced a most unpleasant sense of dread. “Bryeison,” he whispered through his teeth, “do not look at them. Do you hear me? I said don’t look. They are just like Marridon poodles, for the more attention you give them, the more attention they shall want.”
Bryeison laughed to himself, highly amused by Draeden’s commentary, and he was still more amused when he asked, “Draeden, how many Frewyn women have you met, not counting the members of nobility?”
Draeden mused and then began counting on his fingers. “Ruta, Aoie, Aghatha…” He paused in stern deliberation, and began to count again. “Ruta, Aoie, Aghatha…there’s Langliegh’s wife, I know her.” He hummed and looked pensive. “Somewhere in the neighbourhood of six, I’m sure, but I have met every woman who works and lives in the keep.”
“And how many of them have you spoken to?”
“Not above ten in the whole course of my life, and that, I assure you, was much more than I should ever hope to suffer.”
It was said with unanswerable dignity, unpretending and artless as Draeden always was, but Bryeison only laughed and shook his head.
“That is not for the want of trying to be pleasant to them,” Draeden disclaimed, in a plaintive voice. “How can anyone bare their insufferable looks and their tinkling voices—and their effrontery is abominable! Don’t you remember how Lady Rosse treated you? What a pulchritudinous quean-- no, don’t look at them, I said! You are encouraging them! Turn away and stare at your plate this moment or I shall—“ The sound of delicate footfalls passing over the threshold silenced him. His ear twitched, his eye blazed in a fit of horror, Bryeison sat up in his seat, the footfalls grew steadily louder, and Draeden, fearing that they were going to be the next moment attacked, said, “Bryeison, stand from your chair and loom over them. Do not you hear what I tell you? Stand and look monstrous,” thinking that Bryeison’s immense proportions would frighten the girls into a modesty, but Bryeison had not stood from his chair when Draeden found himself accosted by the two maids, who came in all their state of commotion, a flurry of words and movement, giggling through every word and talking ceaselessly, giving compliments which Draeden had no regard for, and making a hundred inquiries at once, none of which Draeden had time or consciousness to answer. Their attention was kept chiefly on Bryeison, as he was the commoner of the two, but knowing that Bryeison and Draeden were always together, they might address one and have their conversation apply to both without needed to address the prince directly. It was an inundation of womanly bustle, a cachinnation of titters, a foray dizzying motion, phrases and sense lost under the flow of sanguine spirits, and while Bryeison listened and humoured them with amiable nods, Draeden sat in silence, rapt an alloy of fear and humiliation. He knew not what to say or even how to interpose, being assaulted by indirect commendations unprecedented and undeserved. Their eyes darted from himself to Bryeison and back again, their voices becoming one melodic rapture, and suddenly—he could not tell how—they were asking Bryeison if he and his fellow captain would do for an evening out, were asking if they might not go out that very evening, and before Draeden could decipher and distinguish, and before Bryeison could respond with a polite negative and answer for the prince’s incapacitation, they were running away, were thanking Bryeison for his acquiescence, were pronouncing that they would meet him by the front gate once their workday was over, and whisked out of the kitchen before Bryeison could tell them that they must be mistaken.