Story for the day: The Silver Flute
Just a moment between Carrigh Averliegh and Alasdair.
The Silver Flute
While the commander and Den Asaan were away on business to Sanhedhran, Alasdair had the business of having a birthday, and though such a day occurred at the same time every year, he believed otherwise given the tumultuous past few years he and his kingdom had shared. It had seemed to him as though he had not had a birthday to celebrate since before the Galleisian War and he was only reminded of the day approaching by the many considerate subjects about the castle. Suggestions were made as to what was to be done for the intended commemoration but Alasdair thwarted their endeavors to make something festive in his honour. He was entreated with proposals of a dinner in the great hall and though there was mention of a vanilla cake to be baked, he still declined any notion of remembrance on his part. Their submissions were kindly but it was all too extravagant for him when he had been used to quieter and pleasanter parties celebrated in the aegis of the royal apartment while his grandfather was alive.
The nobles, looking for any excuse to call an occasion for a ball, made a few passing hints on a tribute to be held in the royal parlour, but the suggestions never traveled beyond a notion as none of the noble families of Frewyn could be prevailed upon to organize a dinner where they would be made to invite those they seemed to be of unsavory conduct and heritage.
The royal guard and the Frewyn armed forces made polite advances in the only manner they understood. They invited the king to join them for drinks at the Wayward Traveler. They had heard he enjoyed frequenting the particular establishment due to the honeyed wine and ale brewed by the owner and his wife and though their offer was ingenuous, Alasdair refused it. He would have agreed to the humble offer, as he missed his days as a First Captain and was eager to relive them, but there was another event that was spoken of throughout the keep that compelled him to be disciplined on that account.
The citizens of Diras to whom Alasdair was so endeared had sent an invitation to their king by way of the herald. The summons was for a public celebration to be made in the square of the capital in honour of Alasdair’s birthday, claiming it a holiday to be observed throughout the kingdom. Shoppes were to be closed, the streets of the capital were to be filled with commemorative fare and Alasdair was being beckoned to join them. He sighed when reading over the request. His people had done this all without provocation. He could therefore only assume it was out of adoration and reverence, and he was moved acquiesce for an appearance.
Only a short emergence was promised due so his own designs on what was to be done for the day. He was not fond of celebrating his birthday without King Dorrin and when he spent his younger years in the Frewyn armed forces, he was relieved to find that the commander had ignored the arbitrary day as well. He did, however, believe in celebrating the day for others and when he was reminded that Carrigh’s birthday was only a few days after his, he decided to plan a small celebration where they would rejoice in both their births together. He ordered Martje to recommence her ideas of vanilla cake to be delivered to the royal parlour that evening when he returned from the capital and he placed another order with the herald.
The messenger was charged with a visit to the silversmith. Every particular of Alasdair’s intended present was written and was to be delivered before midday to give time for the article to be created. He hoped all the materials would be obtainable and if not, he gave instruction for a different gift to be made, a small and less personal one but one Alasdair believed Carrigh would admire all the same.
The herald leapt to his task and when the numerous maids and servants about the keep saw how impatient he was to complete his mission when he usually could not be bothered to deliver messages with any semblance of reliability, they reasoned that his quest was for Carrigh’s gift. Their imaginations were roused and excited whispers inundated the yeoman and servant’s quarters of the keep. There were many assumptions made as to what the gift could be: a golden pendant, a sliver torc, some even mentioned a new needle with care to Carrigh’s profession and Alasdair’s material ambition. When they recalled the simplicity of the ring he had given her at their proposal, however, their notions on the extravagancy of the gift altered. Though they knew the present would be remarkable, Alasdair was always discerning and elegant in his endowments to Carrigh, as neither one of them were accustomed to finery even though Alasdair had been born as a prince.
After Alasdair had given his good tidings to his people, he returned to the castle to prepare for the joint celebration. The herald returned to him with the gift, which he inspected in the privacy of his quarters, and when Alasdair declared everything to be just how it ought, he donned his white embroidered jerkin and requested Carrigh’s presence in the parlour. She was conveyed by way of the royal guard and though she was asked not to vex herself about her dress, she arrived a radiant creature. Alasdair’s cheeks flushed and he exhaled when he regarded his future queen. Her gown was simple but where it lacked in complexity, it excelled in perfection. The fabric was tight around her slender form, the bodice and plastron accentuated and lifted her lithe breasts, and the ruffled skirts trailed in a delicate train behind her.
Alasdair had done. All the courage he gathered in greeting her that evening with eagerness and open arms had faded into nervous smiles and elated bows. She happily obliged him and replied with the same, but Alasdair required a moment to stand a look at her in order to recollect himself.
“Are you well, sire?” Carrigh asked, noting the king’s visible distress.
Alasdair swallowed hard. “I am very well, Ms. Averleigh,” he tenderly said, pressing his fingers around her hand, feeling the ring he had placed there with a renewed countenance. He inhaled and his composure was restored, enlivened by the notion that this figure of magnificence and compassion would be in his bed later in the evening.
Carrigh smiled and the colour of her cheeks darkened. “Many happy returns of the day, sire,” she softly said. She slipped a small silk handkerchief into his hand. “I know you said that our celebration together would be our gift to one another, but I had already made you something.”
Alasdair looked down and unfolded what was in his hand. The silken fabric was embroidered with his initials atop his family crest and on the opposing corner was the symbol of Frewyn, all of which stitched by her hand.
“It isn’t much, sire, but I know you prefer simpler things,” Carrigh said with mild anxiety.
Alasdair beamed at his gift. It was the ideal complement to everything he wore, as all of his garments were tailored by the ravishing seamstress he held within his grasp. He entreated her to fold it and place it in the outer breast pocket so that he may display her present with pride when they would see the Frewyn nobility in the main hall when they would take their walk together to his chambers after dinner. He lifted her chin as she drew near and he devoured her full lips in appreciation for her contribution. His hand lifted to feel the comfort of her golden curls and his fingers followed their whirls up to the nape of her neck.
The king pulled himself away before he was overpowered and bid Carrigh to sit so they may enjoy their private dinner. She nodded and obeyed. Both of them cleared their throat and breathed in a heated blush of excitement but their joy was only amplified when their meal was served them. Brazed mutton with slices of roasted potatoes brushed with rosemary oil graced their plates and Alasdair could not be happier.
“Martje has outdone herself,” the king said, eagerly rubbing his hands together as he watched the oil swirl on the surface of his plate.
Carrigh was rapt by the scent of their savory meal and she was asked to begin to honour their celebration. She did and though their conversation throughout their dinner was lively, there was always a pause and a hum when the mutton was being tasted. She ate at a leisurely pace, or as quick as her slight stomach would allow, while Alasdair consumed the contents of his plate in ravening tenor. Every bite deserved a thrum of pleasance and his rapture at so simple a meal deserved a laugh. Carrigh’s eyes teared with resistant smiles to see the king so captivated and when the vanilla cake was brought that Martje had promised, he was beset with euphoric delight. She simpered at his widened eyes spying the strawberries decorating the top of the cake and she offered to cut him a handsome piece.
Alasdair could not say no and he immediately grabbed his dessert plate, thrusting it forward with an eager, “Yes, please.”
Dessert was done sooner than expected. Alasdair had declared himself finished only after he had eaten his third slice when Carrigh had barely finished her first. The king leaned back in his chair, eyeing the remainder of the cake and deciding whether to continue his indulgence, and though his mouth agreed with his desire, his stomach did not. He was too full and had not the Den Asaan’s culinary constitution to continue.
“By the Gods,” Alasdair sighed, “That was magnanimous.”
Carrigh agreed and lay down her fork to signal her surrender though there was still cake left on her plate. “I agree, sire. I do not think I have ever had so agreeable a meal.”
Alasdair felt the fullness of his belly and would have untied the top of his britches were it not for present company. He knew Carrigh would laugh at him and take his conduct with good humour, but there were his gifts to be given before any of the further pleasurable activities took place. He wiped his hands, stood and adjusted his jerkin, and went behind Carrigh’s chair. He adjusted her in her seat to face away from the table and called for one of the servants to bring his grandfather’s fiddle to him.
“My gift has two parts,” he began, taking his instrument from the servant when it was brought.
“Alasdair,” Carrigh pleaded. “You had said no gifts.”
“I said no gifts for you, my dear. I said nothing about me not giving anything to you.”
“But this is already so much-”
“No, no,” Alasdair said, silencing her with a raise of his finger. “Since today is my birthday, you will allow me to do as I please. When it is your birthday in a few days, then you may lecture me.”
Carrigh was struck with his insistent manner and nodded her submission to his request.
Alasdair gave her a winning smile and lifted his fiddle to his chin. “This is the first half of your gift.” He raised his bow to the pearlescent strings and began to play.
The melody was mellifluous and somber at once. The slow notes emanated from the instrument with immense sensibility in the minor tone. Alasdair kept his eyes closed and his arm moved with zeal as he played every careful note. The strings resonated with clear sound and as the melody canted throughout the parlour, Carrigh was made to understand that this piece was written in her honour. She lifted her hand to her breast. The fervor and infatuation with which the air was played governed her emotion and she found it difficult to command herself until the melody was completed.
Carrigh was about to applaud until Alasdair called one of his servants to being the second portion of his gift. A long box was placed before her. She gave it a wary look without opening it, fearing its contents were much too extraordinary for her tastes.
“This is the second half,” Alasdair said quietly. “Open it.”
Carrigh was about to make a protest but the beseeching look in Alasdair’s emerald eyes compelled her to do otherwise. She inhaled and opened the box. “Oh!” she cried, clapping her hand over her eyes.
Alasdair smiled at her shock. He placed his fiddle down on the table and knelt beside her to show her the extent of his gift. Out from the box he took a silver flute. He displayed it before and explained it was made for her that very morning. “I know you don’t like playing in front of others, but if you would play with me once and while I would be honoured-“
“Alasdair,” she breathed, attempting to remain calm. “It is too fine a gift. I cannot accept it.”
“Please, Carrigh,” the king said in a tender tone. “Make your acceptance my present.” He lifted her hand from her breast and placed it around the crown of the flute.
She looked down at the gift in her lap. The cold touch of the silver had drawing her attention and when she remarked it, he sighed with self-dissatisfaction. “I have not played in years,” she murmured. “I will disappoint you.”
“Then, you will practice.” Alasdair motioned to one of the servants and a sheet of parchment was brought to him.
Written on the leaflet was a piece of music, presumably the one Alasdair had just played. It was annotated in a minor key and below the first line of notes marked for the fiddle was a harmony line marked flute.
“It is only half a song if I play it by myself,” Alasdair said, pointing to the title of the piece.
Carrigh’s eyes glance over where the king’s finger pointed and saw the words Mhe Shyl Ghre, my eternal love, written in the Old Frewyn script. She lowered her head, covered her mouth with her hand and began to weep. She did her utmost not to cry throughout Alasdair’ performance but the thoughtfulness of the gift and the cordial manner in which it was given had surmounted all the self-command she mustered. Now it was her turn to be done and now her tears flowed ineffable gratitude.
Alasdair felt a surge of feeling for her to see her so beleaguered by something he deemed so small. A simple show of interest in her abilities had ruined her equanimity. He gave her his handkerchief in which to release the extent of her sentiment and he pointed to the first phrase of notes as he took his fiddle into his hand. He played the premiere note and sustained it with an expectant look at Carrigh until she would be collected enough to join him.
With immense gratification, Carrigh lifted the flute to her wavering lips. Her tears dropped on her reflection in the flute’s surface and she struggled to blow into the tone hole. Her notes were staccato and unfinished. She could not exhale for the loss of breath and crying that endured.
Alasdair was patient and continued the first note with a forbearing smile until she was able to sustain the note for the proper allotted amount of time. They went to the next phrase together, and the next. He watched as Carrigh’s nimble fingers began to dance along the body of the instrument. She had scarcely begun to play her portion of the melody when Alasdair noted she had not forgotten her lessons in the least. He quieted his harmony to hear her. The clarity with which she played and the expression of her accents were exquisite. He had been told of her talent by her mother upon their last visit together and though Carrigh had repudiated her abilities, claiming them poor at best, he knew she was only plagued with modesty. He listened to her play the melody he had written for her and he admitted quietly admitted that her gift to him on their shared birthday was greater than any trinket he would have given to her. She had honoured him with her talents, something she had not done since she was a young girl in Hallanys, and he could not have been more proud.
When Carrigh performance concluded, Alasdair gave her the piece of music as his final present and suggested they finish the evening in the quiet of his chambers where they may both practice their agility on other more delicate instruments. She leapt from her seat in accordance and walked to the royal chambers, Alasdair holding one hand and the silver flute occupying the other.