Midnight Services: part 4 of the holiday series
At midnight, the bells of the Church rang throughout the capital calling everyone to attend the Ailineighdaeth services. Many citizens began flocking to the Churchyard if not for the observance than for the opportunity to see their king. Alasdair was to be conveyed from the castle keep to the Church by a shroud of nobles wishing to make an appearance in their holiday best, but the adulated King of Frewyn permitted the nobility to walk before him so that he might escape the teeming hordes and seek the company of the commander and her party. The plan had worked well, as Alasdair easily hid behind the flaunting gentry, and they had done so well to mask his presence that he slipped away once those of the lower classes were bewitched with the fashions and furs of the nobility. He skulked toward where the commander was standing and though a few of his people recognized him and were amiable in doing so, none of them were tenacious enough to approach the king and give their warm welcomes.
Alasdair exhaled in gratefulness to be in the company of his intimates. He was greeted with a bow on the part of the captain, who was told not to supplicate himself for fear of attracting unwarranted attention, a respectful inclination of the head from Unghaahi, and grunt of welcome from the Den Asaan and a pleased smirk from the commander.
“Planning on skipping the services?” the commander said to the king, noting his anxious expression. “If so, you’ve certainly come to the right place.”
“No,” Alasdair sighed. “Unfortunately, I can’t miss it, although I’d like to. The Reverend Mother won’t start the services until I’ve taken my seat.”
“We can make a distraction for you, I’m certain. With so many shrieking children about, Rautu is bound to kill one of them. That should be sufficient. What do you say to such a plan, Iimon Ghaala?”
The Den Asaan gave a satisfied leer to his mate. “I am prepared, Traala. Tell me when to begin.”
“I appreciate the efforts,” Alasdair said before the designs to ruin the Church service could be carried out, “but I must go, if not for the tedious droning of the Good Book then to lead our kinsmen in saying them.”
“Ever a martyr, Alasdair,” the commander laughed. “Would you enjoy some company? You’re more than welcome to attend, captain.”
Captain Connors, who was enjoying the sight of the felicitous hordes journey toward the Church, had suddenly sprung from his pleasant reverie with a start upon hearing the suggestion made in his honour. “No, thank you, commander,” he said with a nervous bow. “I think I’ve had enough of Church services to last me.”
“You’re fortunate to have grown up in Westren. The west of the kingdom isn’t nearly as devout as the militants of the east. Perhaps the border of Gallei has something to do with it,” the commander mused.
“Between the Fires and the many battles my home has seen, commander, I think many in Westren stopped looking to the Gods for help,” the captain said thoughtfully. “The older ones in my family still believe, but my cousins and I never really fell into it.”
The commander grinned and placed her hands on her hips. “Such a perfect parlance to describe how the Church attracts its patrons.”
“Well,” the captain said, clearing his throat and averting his eyes, “I was lucky my mother never forced me to believe, is what I meant.”
“Honestly, I don’t believe there are two together more devout than the Reverend Mother left in Frewyn,” Alasdair added. “We had some difficulty with the Church when we returned from the northern continent but that soon dissipated once I removed the advisors why had set in place for me.”
“If they are quiet, they are planning an attack,” the Den Asaan assumed, eyeing the Church with circumspection.
“Even if that were true, Iimon Ghaala, they would have very to fund such an invasion of the kingdom. Alasdair has cut their precious funding from the treasury.”
“Yes, after I discovered what they were doing with the money my brother allotted for them,” Alasdair affirmed with a proud expression. “Now if the Church wants to conquer anything, they will need the support of our people.”
“I daresay they are not likely to receive such assent any time soon. You’ve bewitched all of Frewyn with your handsome smiles and sharp jerkins.”
“Do you like this one?” Alasdair asked, looking down at his crisp, white jerkin. “Carrigh made it for me before she left for her mother’s.”
“And I’m certain you are proud to wear it,” the commander laughed.
“I’ll be making a repeated performance of it tomorrow at the feast in the royal parlour.” Alasdair noted the Den Asaan’s interest when the mention of a banquet was made and his flouting when the place of the event was uttered. “You’re all invited if you should like to come,” the king said to his intimate party. He waited for consent but when he received none, he added a, “please?”
“Oh, very well,” the commander teased. “I will not leave you to brave the tedious celebration alone. If you promise dessert, I can promise my mate’s attendance.”
Den Asaan made a look of intrigue at the commander and though he attempted to look away from the king, he was desirous of knowing whether there would be something to excite his wish to attend. He was gratified by a nod of the head from the king and grumbled that he would go if he would permitted to stand beside the dessert table at all times.
“Captain, will you be joining us?” Alasdair asked.
“Ah, no, sire,” Connors anxiously replied. “I have cleaning the barracks schedules. Much more exciting than a party with the nobility.”
Alasdair laughed and then looked to Unghaahi.
“I apologize, Honourable King, but I must decline your generous invitation,” the Den Amhadhri said with a respectful bow. “I have promised Kai Linaa I would be attending her tomorrow. She has worked most ardently to prepare a gift and I must meet her at an appointed time to receive it.”
Alasdair smiled at the civility of the declination and was pleased at least that he had managed to secure the attendance of the commander and Den Asaan for the following day. He waited until everyone who was planning on hearing the holiday service was inside the Church to muster his courage to enter it. Over his few years as king, his like for the institution had waned. He had always lauded the Church for their excellence in education, such as the one he had received, and for their acceptance of those who were not as pious as the establishment would have liked, but after their return to Diras from the short-lived Thellisian War, something had changed. Perhaps his difference of opinion was owing to the exposure of the Church’s operations or his full realization that his most intimate friend had been so wrongfully spurned by the devout of Tyfferim, but he believed it was the alliance with the Haanta that has softened his understanding. He had been hesitant to believe in the enlightening mandate of the giants due to the Den Asaan’s unforgiving manner, but the introduction of Ghelbhi and the continued presence of Unghaahi had clarified their characters and customs in a manner that had broadened his horizons. He believed the Haanta had to do nothing but be themselves and they would be lauded for such a realization whereas the Church in the same instance may attempt to restrain individuality. This was a principle the king admired and, as he walked into the Church and gained his ovation, he had resolved to take stricter stance with their demands on his reign.