Civilities: part 5 of the holiday series
The holiday services were kept short due Alasdair’s continued prodding. He had suddenly come down with an unruly cough and requested that the ceremonies were hastened to spare him his ill state outside the comforts of the keep. He thought of the suggested distraction and though the slaughter of screaming children would certainly have moved the services along at a quicker pace, Alasdair could not justify the discomfort of his people to suit his own desires. As the ceremony drew to its close and the lights were lit up around the Church with the final benediction, Alasdair thought of calling for the commander to usher him away, but when he noted the eager stares of his people conveying their sentiments to greet their king, he could not but remain. He was given room to leave when the ceremony had done and he stood outside in the pleasant cold, awaiting the warm greetings of his subjects. He was assailed with cheerful smiles and pleasant wishes. Young girls were tossed in his way, baskets of holiday fare were given him and gnarled fingers of elderly women attacked his cheeks. He embraced everyone who wished to receive his royal blessing and was assaulted with Libhan charms in hopes of their givers obtaining kisses for their efforts.
When the crowd became too eager, though Alasdair was happy for the attention, the Den Asaan was called to exhibit his prowess and free the king from his benevolent captors. The giant leapt forward, well prepared for such an event, and bellowed for the citizens to move away from the king. Some were terrified and ran from the raging beast, some were struck with awe the display of his overpowering stance, but overall the plan was a success and, much to the giant’s chagrin, was contrived without having to sacrifice any strident young children. Alasdair thanked his beloved subjects for their affectionate words and cheerful humor, and he allowed the Den Asaan to contain their revelry as he called the commander, captain and Den Amhadhri to return with him to the auspices of the keep.
The commander watched her mate revel in his frightening roars, perceiving his immense happiness at being allowed to reverse his quietness upon the masses. She then looked at the king with circumspection. “You’re being usually generous with him,” she said to Alasdair with a wry grin.
“It’s Ailineighdaeth,” Alasdair shrugged. “I have to give him some allowances today. I know he enjoys skulking about the keep, patrolling, scouting and eating. If I at least present him with an opportunity to do a few of these things, he should be satisfied for the remainder of the year.”
“You do realize that today is the last day of the year.”
“Considering how quickly his patience diminishes, I will consider one day of serenity as an achievement,” Alasdair said, rolling his eyes.
The commander cackled at her king’s perturbed expression until they passed the iron gates and returned to main hall of Diras Castle.
The chief of the holiday’s evening was spent in a state of contemplative occupation by the castle inhabitants. The kitchen was preparing the feast for the royal parlour to take place at noon of the following day, Alasdair was recollecting his presents for the gift giving ceremony after the party, Tomas was finishing the gift he had in mind for the king, the Den Asaan and Den Amhadhri were rapt in their training, and Kai Linaa and the commander enjoyed an evening tea and gingerbread together in the commons. There was a hush that simmered over the keep in the early hours of the morning. The excitement the holiday spirit conveyed blanketed Diras in a cheerful and sleepless humour. Everyone was enjoying themselves far too much to be resting that only just before the sunrise when the last embers of the night fires extinguished did the inhabitants of the keep find a few moments of sleep.
With the arrival of noon came the celebration in the royal parlour. It was a somewhat subdued ceremony, as the gentry of Diras could not possibly have too much excitement for fear of ruining their gowns and coats, but the food was ample, the entertainment light, and Alasdair was pleased to be attending the party rather than attending court. Once the nobles have given Alasdair their intended gifts and proclaimed they could not eat another bite of the banquet prepared, the king was left to be in the company of the commander and the Den Asaan was disposed to eat everything on the tables left untouched. The giant enjoyed the sweet meats and stuffed pies and ignored the conversation between Alasdair and his mate when the dessert had come into his view. His violet eyes widened in an avaricious tenor when he perceived the tiers chocolate cake being wheeled toward him, and to his delight, the nobles declared themselves quite done with food leaving the Den Asaan the cake in its entirety.
The commander and the king enjoyed their conversation until Alasdair was called away to make the holiday toast. The king took his place at the head of the table and began his sanctions while the Den Asaan returned to his mate’s side with a full stomach and a pleased expression. The manner of the giant’s return was not surprising now that the holiday fare was finished but the sustaining of the smile on his usually stern features was mildly concerning. The commander took note of it and, through intervals in the king’s speech, observed that the rare quirk in the corners of the giant’s mouth would not retreat.
“I have never seen you smile so much in a day in my life,” the commander fleeringly. “Look at you, so smug and complacent.” She paused, received a prying look from her mate, and then said, “What have you done?”
“I have secured a gift for you for this evening,” the giant declared in a triumphant tone.
“And is this gift meant to please you or me?”
“Your conceited grin tells me it’s mean to please you,” the commander snickered. “A wonder you should have thought to give me a gift. I thought you didn’t believe in our holidays.”
“I do not need a ceremony to describe when I may give my mate a gift,” the giant grunted. “You people give gifts to one another because they feel obligated, not because they wish to.” Rautu pointed to the many nobles giving trivial presents to one another with affectation. “My people gift meaningful gift and I will give you one on this day to show your people how the ritual is done. You will receive what I have for you, you will accept it and you will not question me further.”
The commander smirked and nodded, knowing she could not escape the demands of her mate, and became curious as to what he could have acquired on her behalf. Her mind was occupied with many suppositions and the Den Asaan continued his odd smile, wholly pleased with himself.
During the party in the royal parlour, Unghaahi returned to his residence at the time appointed by Kai Linaa. She had asked him not to return to their home until after noon and the giant decided to use the morning to obtain a few small gifts for his mate and visit the orphaned children at the Church who enjoyed his company. He had purchased for them holiday spiced bread from Diras Delights and played hide and seek with them until such time when he was to return to the keep. The matrons were pleased that he had come along, as the holidays were usually a difficult period for the children. They received much in the way of charity for Ailineighdaeth but little in the way of attention, and the matrons and marms were only too thrilled that Unghaahi came to visit their young hopefuls. One of the children in particular required the tenderness the Den Amhadhri was generous in bestowing. The little boy of seven had been refused for adoption on account of him being too old and was in poor spirits for the day. Unghaahi made it his object to have the child feel as though he was king of the world and paraded him about the square on top of his mountainous shoulders until he was forced to keep his promise to Kai Linaa. He left the Church with the promise of coming again tomorrow to inquire after the young ones and make certain they did not feel left out of the festivities.
When Unghaahi returned to his dwelling in the guest quarter of the keep, he opened the door to find rose petals strewn about the ground, leading up to his mate who was laying on the ground before the fire, beckoning him forth with a provocative curl of her finger as he entered the room. He smiled to see Kai Linaa so eager to give him his gift and locked the door behind him in preparation of what it could be in part. He was entreated to give his gift first, as Kai Linaa was certain the giving of hers would lead to a long bout of Khopra just as she had planned. He agreed and took from the folds of his warkilt two sketchbooks he purchased from the parchmenter. They were of exquisite quality, meant specifically for the style of pencil Kai Linaa was fond of using. In her gratitude, she threw her arms around him and cried for his thoughtfulness. Unghaahi patted her back and smiled, assuring her that her use of them would be the only thanks he required.
Kai Linaa had calmed, collected herself and prepared for her presentation. She took from behind her a golden incense censor upon which was the figure of the Haanta Kai Linaa, the water carrier and life giver of their people. Although this was Unghaahi’s traditional gift to those who had just received a home, as all of his brothers had received one from him in kind, this particular censor was familiar to him. He recognized it as the one from his own home on Sanhedhran. The small tarnishing on the underside of the base, the chip in the vase the carrier was holding and the signature Sanhedhran incense inside marked that it was the very one he was forced to leave behind on the island. From all of his meager possessions, this had been his favourite and he was ever sorry he was made to abandon it when he was given residence at the castle keep.
Unghaahi’s expression bent in aggrieved reflection. He slowly took the censor into his hands and held it to his features to study it further. He could barely believe it was real. The only gift he had ever received from the Hakriyaa for his unbending service and it was again in his hands. “Ghaala Kai Linaa Yonnaa,” Unghaahi breathed in awe, “how did you obtain this?”
“I asked Leraa and Otenohi if there were a way to retrieve it,” she said with a blush. “They asked Den Ashan Ghodhina to find it and when he did, he sent it to me.”
Unghaahi was overcome with sentiment. It was the joy of the effort put forth in his name, if was the agony of knowing so many people had conspired on his behalf, it was relief that he had surrounded himself with those who harbored only love for him. Unghaahi lurched forward and swept his mate into his arms. He crushed her in an ardent and heartfelt embrace and closed his eyes. His breathing deepened, his immense body shivered with each inhalation, and he buried his features in his mate’s small nape.
Kai Linaa had not expected such a reaction. She knew he would be pleased but she had not predicted he would be so moved as to act in so agitated a manner. She asked if he was well, made all the necessary entreaties to see if any further agitation could be prevented when she felt warm tears descend down her shoulder. She lifted her mate’s head from her neck and felt her own small weeps begin to see her mate in such an affected state. “Unghaahi, please don’t be upset,” she begged him, holding back her tears.
Unghaahi laughed and placed his thumbs on his mate’s cheeks to wipe her tears away. “Ghaala, I am so fortunate to be given such a mate who would honour me in such a manner. You have done much to secure the one thing in my home I would have kept from it. I have no words with which to express my thanks. This is a most meaningful gift.” He overtook his mate with an impassioned kiss and sought to express his gratitude in just the manner Kai Linaa had intended.