Story for the Day: A First Friend
While I was doing edits, Alasdair demanded a story about him. Now we know why he is so fussy about his hair.
A First Friend
King Dorrin was now undecided as to what was to be done with the chestnut filly that had throw his injured grandson. He could not deny that the incident had been warranted after how ill Allande had conducted himself with regard to his gift, but it pained him to see any of his family in anguish whether the sufferance had been deserved or not. There was a general outcry to have the beast removed from the castle stables lest it rile the other horses or try to attack those belonging to the nobles, but this Dorrin could not and would not do: Allande had been the instigator of the filly’s anger and he would not punish her for something Allande should have been and was punished for himself. There was even a suggestion to have the horse taken to Farriage where it might be traded for another, or perhaps even to Tyferrim where if it could not be bridled it would be kindly left out to an early pasture.
He hummed and considered and outguessed, but after walking the length of the main hall in ponderation while hearing the cries of Allande’s arm being relocated in the nearby infirmary, a notion struck him that he believed should have a most agreeable outcome: although it was not common practice that the younger should be allowed to ride before the elder, Dorrin conceived for the filly to be made over to Alasdair; his temper was amiable, his character was receptive and pleasanter than most young boys his age, he was unaffected and willing to make friends, and there might be the opportunity for Alasdair to gain that connection he was so desirous of discovering. A companion more than a riding partner was what Dorrin had in mind, and instead of attending Allande’s shrieks for his grandfather to save him from the terror of the infirmary and flog the cleric assailing him, he went to the library where Alasdair ought to have been in the midst of his studies and found the young prince sitting at the table near the hall of records poring over his history books.
Upon seeing his grandfather enter his alcove of the library, Alasdair leapt to his feet and called out to him with immense delight. He ran to him and hopped into the king’s leaning embrace.
“Ah, my boy,” Dorrin thrummed, oscillating with his grandson tucked in his arms. He placed Alasdair onto his feet and remarked his green eyes sparkling with rapture. “I’m sorry I could not attend our lesson today, but I do have something I should very much like to show you.”
“What is it, grandfather?” Alasdair said with an expectant smile. “Is it the piece from the music school in Farriage?”
The brilliancy of Alasdair’s eyes dimmed slightly.
“But, I think this is something you will enjoy even more.”
Alasdair’s eyes renewed their glimmer and he followed his grandfather, walking together to the stables.
The king incurred some attention in the way of stiff bows and cold politeness from the passing royals. He regaled them with due inclinations of the head but would not stop to speak with them while with Alasdair: his grandson was all his attention, and though he was brimming with the want to tell Alasdair of his gift, he said nothing and only smiled.
They soon came to the stables and whereupon entering observed the groomsmen attempting to tranquilize the filly, still roused in uproar for having her mane pulled so fiercely. She kicked and bucked and would not recompose until the groomsmen had gone away. She circled the stable floor when she was at last left alone and huffed, turning her muzzle haughtily away. She would not be saddled or ordered about or even approached; she would only be allowed to sulk in her anger.
“What’s wrong with her, grandfather?” Alasdair whispered in concern. “Is she mad, like Mad Queen Maeve?”
Dorrin supposed Alasdair had just been reading of Frewyn’s mad queen in his history lesson and was apt to make the association. “No, Alasdair,” he said in a gentle accent. “She’s not mad. She is merely a little upset and I was hoping that you could calm her down.”
Alasdair spied the stamping horse with apprehension. “She doesn’t want the groomsmen near her. I don’t think she’ll like me.”
“I think she will once you move closer to her. Just treat her as you would a friend and she will warm to you.”
Alasdair would have done, but he was pressed to remind his grandfather that his only friend was in the king himself. He had little idea of how to approach one whose companionship he sought as all his attempts hitherto had been unrewarding when an older brother, handsomer and more confident than himself, was busy garnering all the attention in the keep. He should not say he wished to have the company of the noble children, as those who were not away at the royal academy in Farriage for the chief of the year were not those whose company he would request if there were others to be made friends with, but to have the conversancy of anyone his own age would be wondrous. Studying his books and playing his fiddle alone had all the benefits of peace and serenity, but Alasdair had an loving heart and he must attach himself to someone.
He inched toward the horse and was greeted with a violent fit of neighs and whinnies. He stopped and allowed her to quiet before taking a few more tremulous steps. She stirred again, but not as belligerently as before, and when Alasdair eyed the bucket of carrots near the pen beside him and took one into his hand, she focused upon him and was silent. She fidgeted about, contriving how to retrieve the carrot from him when he was suddenly beside her. He was holding out the carrot for her to eat, he was beseeching her fellowship with pleading smiles, he was reaching to pet her, and she must turn away despite her desire to snatch his offering. She chuffed and turned her back, shoving Alasdair over with a push from her haunches.
Alasdair was conscious of her game, her wanting to be forthcoming if only for the sake of a treat and her initial hesitation in turning away, and now he knew how to tempt her. “Well, if you don’t want this, I could always give you an apple instead.”
The horses ears perked and she looked back momentarily to see Alasdair replacing the carrot with an apple slice from one of the buckets near the pen. She pretended not to notice, but the scent of the freshly cut apple- its surface gleaming with succulence -wafting as he drew near persuaded her otherwise. She turned her head and instantly took the whole of Alasdair’s hand into her mouth, forcing him to relinquish the treat if he wished to free his hand.
Alasdair moaned as he pried his hand from her mouth. “Maeve,” he whined at the horse, “that’s disgusting.”
She huffed at him and triumphed in her reward with a raised chin.
Alasdair wiped his hand on the towel over the pen door and took another apple slice into his hand. “Now, if you want it, you have to be nice. I’m being nice to you.”
Maeve whickered as though his niceness had little to do with her receiving her due remuneration for being ill used by his brother.
“I know Allande can be . . .” he searched for a polite word, “mean,” he decided. “But I didn’t do anything wrong.” He paused and made a sideways glance. “Yet,” he added. “I’ll give you this apple and a few more if you promise to behave.”
No promises were made, and certainly none that would be kept, and she submitted to Alasdair’s entreaty with a bow of her head.
Where Alasdair believed she was bowing for the sake of acquiescence, he soon found himself mistaken: he had given her what he promised but she had taken it in the same manner she did the first apple, leaving Alasdair with a wet hand and a frustrated expression. She scuffed some hay at him with her back hooves and turned away once more.
“Very well,” Alasdair grunted. “I was going to give you that whole carrot, but since you are determined to misbehave, I think I’ll keep it for myself.” Alasdair swiped the carrot from the bucket and began to march back toward the keep when he was jerked backward by Maeve’s teeth attacking his hair. Her mouth gripped the edge of his short frontal fringe and she began hauling him toward the pile of unbaled hay. “Maeve, that hurts!” Alasdair shouted at her, but she disregarded him and continued pulling. He knew that if he should fall, the strands of his hair would twist and rip, and he was aware that his only course for liberation was to give her what she most wanted. He would not, however; he would remain steadfast in his conviction, he would have a friend, and whether he must lose his fringe to gain one was becoming of little consequence. He held to the carrot and one more jolt backward secured all of his conclusions: he tripped over his own feet, dropping the carrot onto the floor and falling into the unbaled hay with the majority of his fringe left in Maeve’s teeth. “Ow!” he yelped, rubbing his sore forehead. He was about to remonstrate further and tell her it was cruel to chew off a friend’s hair, but when he righted himself, he observed that she was suddenly sitting next to him and eating her carrot in perfect silence. He pouted at her for having lost his precious fringe, but the tender nuzzle he received accompanied by the look of quiet surrender was enough for him to apprehend his success. He fingered his shortened hair and moaned that it should be missing, but the trade, the exchange of something that could regrow for something that was potentially irreplaceable, had been made and solidified.
Dorrin stood at the entrance to the stables and watched his grandson stroke the filly’s bristly mane with the most effervescent smile his tender heart could produce. The forbearance and fortitude Alasdair had shown was all his paternal glory; it proved that there was one of the Brennin children willing to do everything was necessary to secure an alliance, a lesson that Allande had failed where Alasdair had resoundingly succeeded. It was testament that his teachings were having their effect, and he left the stables in unmitigated joy, relieved that not only would his kingdom be bequeathed to one grandson with excellent principles and good character, but that one who was so deserving of fellowship had received his first friend.