Story for the day: Mrs. Averleigh
Mrs. Taimlien Averleigh
Baths were taken once settled, hair was resculpted, clothing was pressed and changed, and Alasdair was prepared to meet Mrs. Averleigh. He was told little of the woman who held so much esteem in her daughter’s regard. He was given the general warnings of motherly imposition and stressing inquiries but Alasdair promised to be the gentleman he always was. If there was one good thing he had taken from his education as part of the gentry it was how to act with civility and politeness when speaking to his elders. He noted that Rautu seemed to uphold this principle and that through all his grunts of disapprobation he always seemed to value the experience one gains with years. He treated the elderly with more forbearance than most, and even the prying inflection of Mrs. Cuineill he seemed to bear with tolerable comfort. Alasdair resolved to treat the mother of his elegant woman with the utmost respect no matter the state and situation in which she was found. He would treat her just as a king ought to treat a woman of sagacious consequence for although he was a ruler of a proud and indomitable nation, Alasdair could not be immune to the succor a mother’s love.
Carrigh and Alasdair met in the common room of the inn and when both declared themselves ready, they set off toward the Hallanys town square. They kept to the lanes and small streets to maintain Alasdair’s anonymity as long as was possible. They averted the crowds of the evening marketgoers until they came to what seemed to be a back door of a shoppe. Carrigh informed the king that this was the alternate entrance of her father’s tailor. The front of the tailor faced the south end of the square. It was well situated and enjoyed a fair clientele, but when misfortune had befallen Carrigh’s little family after her father’s death, they were forced to make their home in the back of their shoppe. It was modest but comfortable and for a family of two moderate women, there was more than enough space and charm for them to want. The furnishings, however, that could be seen from the bare window gave Alasdair some worry. They were not threadbare as he supposed they might have been but there was an economy to them that seemed unwarranted. There was little light in the kitchen and common room and the house seemed to be only warmed by a small fire in the hearth.
Alasdair clearly observed that the money he had given Carrigh has part of her augmented payment had gone to refurbish the tailor and not her home. He was sorrowful to see such a graceful woman and her mother be subjected to meagerness and sacrifice. He had hoped the shoppe were doing well now that business was increasing but he resolved that he must do something more for them upon his return to Diras.
Carrigh’s plan was to enter her home first to bid her mother well and then introduce Alasdair one her mother’s excitement at seeing her so early had calmed. The plan was agreed to and Carrigh walked up the small steps to the door, knocked and waited for a response. A called from inside was heard and there was a bustling before the door was finally opened.
A tall, thin woman of dark hair and fine eyes stood before the seamstress. She exclaimed in a surprised joy and embraced her daughter with an oscillating hold. There were croons and sighs exchanged by each, both examining one another to remark how well they looked, and there were words of mother and daughter uttered.
Mrs. Taimlien Averleigh was a plain woman, simple in form and face. She was taller than her daughter and was a great deal slenderer, not from a slightness of unhealthy nature but merely one of shapelessness. Her long dress extenuated none of her more flattering features. The bloom of youth had vanished from her complexion and all the blush of beauty in her daughter’s crimsoned cheeks was lacking in hers. She was always moving about with a nervous happiness, happy to be of use, happy to be visited, and happy to have her only family near her once again.
“Carrigh,” Mrs. Averleigh exclaimed, ushering her daughter in with kisses. “You’re early, but pleasantly so.” She stroked her daughter’s beautiful, golden curls and gazed at her with grateful fondness. “Oh, my dearest,” she exclaimed again. “How was your journey? You must be so tired. Here, let me take your things. Oh, you look so well. Please, sit down to table and we will take our supper together.”
Mrs. Averleigh continued to tell her how well the tailor was doing while Carrigh was at Diras. She fluttered about the house and mumbled of the many new clients they had, the help she was able to afford with the coins Carrigh sent, and she continued on every felicity that had come in her way in last few months.
Through her self-musings, Alasdair waited quietly by the door with his hand behind his back. His stance was prepared for a bow of introduction and though Carrigh made many suggestive looks and gestures toward the door to signify Alasdair’s presence, not a moment could be found to introduce him. Alasdair smiled to see how glad Mrs. Averleigh was at her daughter’s return and allowed her to say everything that was necessary to be said before he was brought in.
It was eventually Mrs. Averleigh who noticed someone waiting outside the door and Carrigh immediately moved to make the overtures.
Carrigh brought her mother toward the king and welcomed him into their home. “Mother,” she said, motioning to the young king with s smile, “this is Alasdair.” Carrigh gave a little blush when she said his name. She had always been used to calling him by his respectable title and was never accustomed to making his acquaintance with anyone, as everyone in Diras knew their ruler by appearance. She was overjoyed and honoured that Alasdair permitted her such association.
Alasdair bowed to Mrs. Averleigh when his name was announced and gave no indication that he was anything more than he appeared. A young gentlemen of decent affluence, perfect hair and fine dress was what the king must be for the evening and the acknowledgement of his position as merely Carrigh’s lover was fortuitous. He held out his hand to accept Mrs. Averleigh’s for a kiss but as she was not a woman of noble birth, she was not accustomed to having her hand requested and only gave the king a look of astonishment instead.
Carrigh assisted and lightly tapped her mother’s hand, goading her into obliging Alasdair’s gentility. There was never a man of refinement in their home and Alasdair being the first would be made to suffer through all their ill manners and misunderstandings. Carrigh became worried. She feared that her king’s impression of her would dampen after seeing her paltry home and being forced to tolerate her low station for the evening. He had given her no other cause for concern on the subject but she had difficulty understanding why the king should fancy himself with her when he had so many other women with whom he could have found everything she was wanting.
Mrs. Averleigh gave her hand and was flushed with nervousness. “Oh, how every kind,” she said with an affected laugh. “I wasn’t aware you were bringing company, Carrigh.”
“It was so sudden a change in plans I did not have time to write,” Carrigh said, sharing her mother’s anxiety.
Alasdair suddenly realized the inconvenience he had made for them. Two women of poor standing ate little, displayed themselves even less and often slept in the same commons room. If he were to stay, they would be induced to share their meals and their living space with him, something for which their style of income might not allow. “I apologize, Mrs. Averleigh,” Alasdair said sincerely. “I didn’t mean to intrude. I was eager that Carrigh should be with her mother so I pressed her to make an earlier trip. As well, I didn’t feel it was right for her to travel alone for three days. I was uneasy about the weather and the state of the roads so I offered my carriage and to come with her.”
“Oh, so very obliging,” Mrs. Averleigh exclaimed, raising a hand to her breast. “I am indebted to you for my daughter’s safety. Not many young men would be so willing to leave their business for three days just to accompany someone on a trip to their poor mother. So helpful, so kind. Please, Alasdair, won’t you sit down to table with us?”
Alasdair agreed with immense delight and asked how he could be of use in setting the places for dinner.
Mrs. Averleigh watched her daughter and the young man as they gathered the utensils and the dishes. No family name was given him but she could not help but feel that she knew him. There was a familiarity in his face and an air about his manner that recommended him as a lord. There were many sirs and lords of the Frewyn royal houses in Diras. His conduct suggested it but his eagerness to be caring did not. He must not be anyone of great importance to visit a tailor’s widow and therefore he could only be a son of someone with whom she was acquainted. Perhaps the son of an old client moved to the capital for business, she thought as she stirred the pot of stew warming over the fire. She did believe, however, that he was the handsomest young man she had ever seen. She wondered if he was accomplished for a man so becoming in his person could only be further lauded by adding some achievements to him. She began to guess his profession. His garments were of exquisite quality and therefore he could have a profession of low standing, he was too gentle in spirits to be a moneylender, to amiable in nature to be a merchant, and she resolved to find out as much as was possible over dinner.
When the stew was ready, she came with it to their small, round table and asked for his plate. “Well, Alasdair,” she said, repeating the name for her memory, “I do hope you enjoy rabbit stew, and I as well hope you won’t be shy in asking for seconds. We Averleigh women eat like birds, you know. I always make too much and there is never a man around to finish what we women cannot possibly eat.”
Alasdair’s emerald eyes widened in pleasance and he agreed to eat absolutely everything on his plate. “Thank you, Mrs. Averleigh,” Alasdair eagerly stated, accepting his plate. He waited until the women were served and when everyone was well situated with something for their plates, he was encouraged to start their meal. The scent of the spiced rabbit was enough to excite his interests but the taste of it was more than Alasdair had expected. One mouthful and on reflection had turned him and he was moved to swoon over his plate. “By the Gods, Mrs. Averleigh,” he said, looking down at the delectable meal, “this is extraordinary.”
“Oh, you are too kind,” she laughed. “I’m certain it’s nothing very special.”
“I apologize but I will have to eat this quickly and ask for more,” Alasdair said with a satisfied smile.
“Please do. There are at least another three plates full. Just take whatever you like. There are no rules of the kind in this house.”
Alasdair was amazed at the offer and though he was hesitant to accept due to the state of the two women, their affable smiles were all the permission he required and he ate to his fill.
The conversation shares among the table was mostly driven my Mrs. Averleigh. She asked Carrigh how everything was at the castle and her daughter spoke for some time on her new position. Her mother quietly began speaking of her father, mentioning how proud he would have been had he yet lived and telling Alasdair all the particulars of her dearly beloved and departed husband’s life. Carrigh feared that her mother’s loquacious nature would disturb the king but he listened to every word, sighed at every sadness and nodded at every lament.
The discourse came to a pause when Mrs. Averleigh asked, “So, Alasdair, is your family in trade as well?”
Carrigh dropped her spoon on the stable and looked away. A sudden terror had struck her but she hid her trepidation by offering to collect the empty plates and wash them.
Alasdair thanked her and smiled, as if to tell her he had an alternate answer for her mother’s honest inquiry. “My grandfather was a musician and he taught me how to play the violin,” he said, not alluding to his profession.
“A musician? Perhaps you would delight us with a hearing if you’ve brought your instrument? You know, Carrigh played the flute when she was younger.”
“Mother,” Carrigh said, burying her head in her hand for the shame of it.
Alasdair folded his arms and looked at Carrigh with an impressed expression. “You never told me about this.”
“It was very long ago,” Carrigh murmured, her eyes bent in humiliation. “I would play for the dances and celebrations in the square. I’m not very skilled-“
“Eileen taught you very well and she was an excellent student, Alasdair, I will have you know,” Mrs. Averleigh interrupted with a knowing glance at her daughter.
Carrigh knew there was nothing that could spare her from a mother’s pride but she hoped the needless flattery would soon be over and she sat quietly while she allowed her mother to regale Alasdair with every one of her silly accomplishments. She was politely embarrassed until the thought of tea arrived and Carrigh was very keen to have it made. She stood and went to the kitchen to fetch the kettle but to her surprise, her mother had followed her.
Mrs. Averleigh instructed Alasdair to remain comfortable while she ready some cake for dessert but she cleverly used the time to being her daughter into the corner and give her the opinion she gathered of the young man at her table. “He’s lovely, Carrigh,” was her initial response. “But, Carrigh, I must tell you, I worry for you. Musicians often cannot provide for themselves. He must be the son of someone very high to have been given such manner and to afford such clothing.”
“I tailor his clothes, mother,” Carrigh assured her. “That is how we met. His parents died some time ago and left him a decent amount of money that will not soon be depleted.” She knew the statement was only a half-truth but she believe it would be on that would quiet her mother’s questions and worries all at once. “He is a good man, mother, with a good heart. He has been so kind and generous with me.”
Mrs. Averleigh’s suspicion rose. “Whatever can you mean?” Her daughter, in her realization that she had said too much, was suddenly silent, which only made the offence worse. “Carrigh, is there something you’re not telling me?”
Mrs. Averleigh was hardly convinced of her daughter’s weak conviction and stared at her, hoping that her motherly looks would force the information from her.
Carrigh averted her eyes and began to fidget with her fingers. “Not exactly,” she murmured.
Mrs. Averleigh gripped her daughter’s arms and gave her a single, firm shake. “Carrigh, if that man has a mark against him, I’ll have you tell me,” she demanded.
Alasdair heard the audible whispers of the two women in the kitchen and realized the charade had caused Carrigh’s mother to grow distrustful. He knew an amendment would ruin his obscurity and possibly discomfit the woman who had been so forthcoming in accepting him into her home but he could not allow Carrigh to be reproached on his account. He stood from the table and announced his presence in the kitchen with the clearing of his throat. The two women turned to him and he made a slight bow to begin his explanation. “Mrs. Averleigh,” he said softly, “your daughter has been completely honest with you. However, I must admit that I haven’t been entirely truthful on a few matters.”
Carrigh went to him and shook her head. “Please, sire,” she whispered, but her mother had heard her entreaty and instantly became resentful.
“Sire?” Mrs. Averleigh shouted. She had misconstrued the word’s meaning and picked up a ladle, shaking at the king in warning. “What have you done to my daughter? Have you enslaved her? Slavery is illegal in Frewyn, sir, and I will have you know that we Averleigh women are tougher than you think.”
Alasdair laughed at her sweet defensiveness and held up his hands in a disarming posture. “No, Mrs. Averleigh. I have told you I learned music from my grandfather. I believe you know him.” He paused and gave her a moment to inspect his features again. “As well, I was told you had seen my brother Allande when he was here gathering the regiments for the attack at Westren a few years ago.”
Mrs. Averleigh lowered her weapon. “Allande?” she repeated in profound confusion. The late king of Frewyn was a name she well knew and his blunder at Westren was just as notorious. “Alasdair. . .” she murmured. The recollection had overcome her and she realized where she had seen his face. The company passing through Hallanys on its way to Westren had gained much attention upon its arrival for at the head of the regiment was a prince who was made a First Captain. It could not be, she thought, but it was. In his handsome features, she saw the distinguishing recollection of a kingly brother and a gracious grandfather. “Oh!” she cried, dropping her ladle, lifting her hands to her mouth in shock. She took a step backward and she struggled for breath. The King of Frewyn stood before her and what was more, she had accused him of abusing her daughter. “By the gods, I yelled at the king.” She immediately dropped to the ground and prostrated herself at Alasdair’s feet. “Please, your majesty, I beg your forgiveness,” she said, her voice wavering in terror for her mistake. “Had I but known-“
Alasdair quieted her by kneeling and lifting the shivering woman onto her feet. “Mrs. Averleigh, there is no need-“
“By the Gods,” she swore again, the recognition of her folly besieging her. “The king is in my house and he ate dinner at my table. Carrigh,” she shouted at her daughter, “why has the King of Frewyn accompanied you to our house?”
Carrigh was no longer beset with shame. Her eyes were aglow with adoration for Alasdair and she stood close at his side. She smiled and pressed her arm fondly against Alasdair’s as he took her hand.
Mrs. Averleigh watched the king hold her daughter and gasped. “You’re . . . ? Oh!” She immediately grabbed her handkerchief and began to cry. “Oh, my dearest girl,” she exclaimed through her tears. “This cannot be true. It is too good to be true.” Mrs. Averleigh waved her hand toward her flushed features and endeavored to find breath for herself. She was plunged further into shock when Alasdair took her own hand and attempted to calm her.
“I invited myself to meet you, Mrs. Averleigh,” the king said. “I was hoping to keep my anonymity- “
“I will tell no one that you’ve come,” she promised, crying frantically. “You are the one responsible for my daughter’s wellbeing, majesty. She’s told me everything in her letters. Because of you, she is in the tailor’s and received so much in payment. I have you to thank for everything. I’m am so overpowered I hardly know what to say.” She waved her hand faster and took a few calming inhalation. “Oh, your majesty,” she cried again. “This is too good. What chance, what excellent chance that you should love my daughter. Oh, she deserves a king for everything she has done for her poor mother. I knew she could not be so wonderful only for my sake. Oh, majesty, please. Please tell me you love my daughter so I know it to be true.”
Alasdair looked at Carrigh. “There is no one I have ever loved more,” he said to her, and when Carrigh lowered her gaze in playful humiliation, he took the opportunity to kiss her cheek. He knew his profession may have seemed commonplace but it was meant to be sincere and thoughtful.
“Oh, such happiness,” Mrs. Averleigh said, erupting in tears of joy. “Such immense happiness. Please, majesty, you must allow me to serve you and my daughter some cake. Oh, but our things must seem to meager to you. Had I known you were coming- oh, and tea. You must allow me to give you some tea. Please, majesty, do sit down.”
Carrigh led Alasdair back to their small table and her guardedness for the affair had fallen away. Her mother went on for some time in her exultation but Alasdair bore it well and allowed the rapturous woman to give him some cake.