Story for the day: The Western Road
The Western Road
At dawn, before anyone in the royal quarter was roused enough to have their morning tea before court, King Alasdair slipped out of his chambers with his attendants, carrying his effects behind him. He ordered them brought to the stables and requested a small carriage of little salience to the entrance of the main hall. He would embark once Mrs. Cuineill was stationed as the Regent of Westren and he went to her residence in the servant’s quarter to have a few careful attendants collect her. He found her well prepared to play the part selected. She had been adorned in the proper attire and was addressed as regent by the king when greeted. She laughed to be thought of as woman in a position of such governance and though she had no notion of what to expect, she supposed her ailing body and sharp mind would gain some respect within the halls of court.
Her son, however, was greatly concerned for her wellbeing. Tomas had not felt his presence appropriate in the more prestigious portions of the castle and was therefore hesitance to follow and make certain his mother would be well situated. “Majesty,” Tomas quietly implored Alasdair as the king entered their home, “I was lookin’ to ask your permission to visit my Ma in t’e evenin’s. I know t’e likes of me shouldn’t be near t’e courts or noble dwellin’s, but I don’t like t’at she should be eatin’ or walkin’ alone. I know your attendants are kind and all, but I’m supposed to take care of ‘er. She’s my Ma and you’ve done so much for ‘er, I can’ have you doin’ more.”
Alasdair enjoyed Tomas’ concern and quiet manner and though the giant blacksmith supposed himself inferior due to his profession, Alasdair was certain the women at court would be enthralled to see him about in the hall of the royal quarter. It was rare that he left the comfort of his forge and when not attending his mother he was with Loughnas, enjoying her timid company. He encouraged him to visit his mother as often as he wished despite the stares of disapprobation he may excite from envious men and he assured Tomas that no one make the connection between the regent and the old woman who was often seen on his arm walking through the courtyard at nights. The small brains of the Frewyn royals could only be bothered to recall so many beneath them and Alasdair was certain they would only realize the truth of Mrs. Cuineill until after his return.
“Have you had a breakfast, lad?” Mrs. Cuineill asked, approaching the king and his attendants in her fitted gown.
“Thank you, Mrs. Cuineill but I’m not hungry,” Alasdair said with a cordial smile.
“Nonsense,” she scoffed. “I raised two lads and I know t’at any young man can always eat. Sit down, boy-o. You’re not goin’ anywhere ‘til you’ve ‘ad a breakfast.”
Alasdair contended that he was in a hurry to reach Hallanys on account of the wager he had made with the commander and the attendants he had with him but Mrs. Cuineill was determined to feed them all and she invited everyone to have a seat at their small table.
“That girl and ‘er man were gone last night, boy-o,” Mrs. Cuineill laughed, beginning to make some toast. “You won’t win against t’at one. He’s got a stubbornness t’at won’t let ‘im lose.”
At the mention of the commander and Den Asaan’s early leave, Alasdair repeated his need to leave immediately. He crept toward the door with his hands up in disarming posture but Mrs. Cuineill attacked him with plates of toast and jams for his appreciation.
“I wouldn’t refuse my Ma, Majesty,” Tomas laughed. “She’ll make you take it wit’ you if you don’t eat it now.”
Alasdair sighed in defeat and sat at the table with his attendants and the blacksmith. Within moments, they were all served and moments later they had all eaten, and eaten well. There was not a crumb left that could be subject to questioning and when every plate was gathered, Mrs. Cuineill was escorted to her impermanent quarters. She kissed her son’s cheek, wished him well for his day of work with a vow of seeing him later, and she allowed the well-dressed attendants to usher her through the royal quarter as Regent of Westren.
Mrs. Cuineill was settled and Alasdair hurried to his waiting carriage at the end of the main hall. He ordered the driver to stop at the main gate where Carrigh was to be brought to him. When the carriage stopped just before the iron gates, the door to the coach was opened and the seamstress was handed in. Carrigh’s light blue dress made vivid the glow of her eyes and her golden curls brightened the dimmed enclosed chaise. She sat opposing the king with eagerness in her smiling expression. Her hands remained together in her lap always wishing to be holding something and her close legs shivered with excitement for such a journey. The king greeted her with an extension of his hand, asking her to oblige him in allowing him the honour of a kiss. He peeled back the silken glove concealing her and his pressed his lips against the softness of her skin.
Carrigh coloured and lowered her eyes, overjoyed and mortified that the King of Frewyn had made her his object. She could hardly believe it was all happening. She had never before been in a carriage of any quality, traveled with Frewyn nobility, dined at a royal’s table, nor did she dream she would ever merit such invitations. And now, she was sitting in a closed chaise across from the king, a young man of kind heart and dulcet disposition who had lavished all his attention upon her. She did not know why he should find her so beguiling but did not dare to question for fear if she did it would soon be over. She exuded her enthusiasm once the carriage began to move beyond the iron gate and looked eagerly out of the window to see Diras beginning its dealings for the day blurring by her.
“This is breathtaking, sire,” she said, unable to turn away from the colours of the capital’s morning bustle rush past. “I’m used to traveling in hay carts. This is such exquisite comfort. I can barely feel the road.”
Alasdair sat forward to peer out of the window on his side and pressed his knees gently against hers. He caught her attention with the slight touch and was all delight to have the striking seamstress so close. The notion of it had unfolded in both of their minds. For the next three days, they would be compelled to remain in such proximity as to never be apart excepting a rest or two along the way. Their equal acknowledgement of their situation crimsoned their faces and their features succumbed to wide smiles. Alasdair observed the bench upon which each of them sat there was room enough for another and he moved to seat himself beside her rather than remain across from her. She shifted to accommodate his slender figure and though they were now close, he spoke to her in soft words and imparted his desires for a good journey in whispers.
The entirety of the first day’s travel passed in such a manner. The teeming conversation between the two was uninhibited and playful now that they were utterly alone and away from any prying eyes. Endless fond glances and small osculations were exchanged but they were always done with graciousness and civility. No ill-word was said and no hand was misplaced, though both of them wished for a slip of some kind to excite their reserved imagination. All was well for their first day, so well as to make the horror of the second day seem even worse.
Although they had made good time, when the sun rose on the morning of the following day and Alasdair had just begun to remove some provisions from his effects, the carriage came to a sudden stop. When Alasdair asked the reason for their immobility, he was told there was a plethora of sheep on the road that would not be moved. The shepherd was present but bent over one of his females in the flock. She decided on giving birth in the middle of the Western Road and therefore the ewe could not be moved.
Carrigh laughed at the circumstance, knowing nothing of the king’s bet, and remarked that their meal would be better taken if the carriage was stopped for it. She could not be disputed and they were resolved to enjoy their breads and jams until the chaise was prepared to journey onward once more.
The ewe’s disruption had been little in comparison to the atrocities that followed. At midday, a wheel had broken and it was necessary for the attendant to leave the coach and repair it. Fortunately, spare parts were brought along for such happenstances but it was not very long before the carriage began moving that the axel had broken. Carrigh and Alasdair were forced to leave the carriage and wait on the side of the road with the attendant while a blacksmith was found to mend it. The carriage was turned upright and the blacksmith bid them to drive on to test the axel he had installed but the article was built too low to the ground and caught on one of the boulders in the road. Alasdair and Carrigh were called upon to assist in the freeing of their transport and to make matters ever worse, the skies had clouded and the air grew thick with coming rain. They were bid to push the chaise forward but as the carriage was hauled loose, the rain began to pour.
The king and the seamstress were soaked when they returned to the box of the coach. They shivered with cold but Carrigh’s pleased expression warmed Alasdair through. She was smiled at him, pleased with him, so happy to see that though Alasdair had grown as a prince he was unafraid of labouring when the situation had arisen. She was immensely gratified to have seen him exert himself and any adoration she harboured for him was amplified. She was so rapt in her own sense of contentment that she had not noticed the top of her dress.
Alasdair had, however. His eyes fell to the pleasurable vision of the woman’s dress clinging to her form. The blue fabric was stretched across her lithe breasts and her visible coldness could not help but be noticed. He realized he was looking only after Carrigh had looked down at herself. He averted his eyes in shame for having delighted in such an agreeable sight for so long and Carrigh lifted her warmed palms to her breasts in utter humiliation for not having noticed sooner. She apologized for showing the king a supposed inappropriate display but her words of regret had staggered him. He felt there was no reason for her to be ashamed. He was the one who intently observed and she was the one who had discovered him. He felt his need for chivalrous conduct begin to fail him and when Carrigh was turned toward the window, he molded his hand around her chin, caught her up and embraced her madly. A sudden release had overcome him and he felt he must show her how ardent he was for her affections. She responded with an equal show of warmth and Alasdair felt permitted to places his hands beneath the top of her dress to warm that which had induced him.
Alasdair and Carrigh remained in each other’s tender hold for the remainder of the evening. He had never been so pleased to lose a bet for in his desire to succeed in one manner he had amazingly succeeded in another.