Story for the Day: Alasdair's Plight
Happy Canada Day! Getting ready for all the interviews and giveaways this weekend. Here is a story. If you like it, support the series and stop by Twitter July 2nd, 4pm (EST) for a Q&A with me and Back of the Book Reviews.
That evening was to be Alasdair’s first ball. This would have been of little consequence, as the tailor had been well employed during the day with creating a particular jerkin for the prince’s presentation, but as Alasdair’s hair was now in so torn and fettered a state, he could not show himself without endless aggrievement as to how he was to be seen. It was true that his grandfather had already taken up the task of flaunting his favourite grandchild through the courts and incurring much attention unto him by pronouncing himself his teacher and spending the chief of the morning instructing him, but this was to be Alasdair’s official presentation as Prince of Frewyn to the whole of the royal houses. It was a sorry office to be had at such a moment, for though his jerkin was sharp, his breeches pristine, his soft leather boots perfectly smoothed, his hair was awry. The longer tresses of his fringe had been torn off by his new companion, leaving his hair lopsided and nearly bald on the left frontal portion of his head.
Alasdair stared at himself in the mirror, agape and affright for his reflection: his form was draped in the most impeccable attire and his hair was so asymmetrical as to suggest that he had cut it himself. Perhaps some a balm or a wax to fix it in place would do well for him, and he requested that some of each be brought to him directly. He set them down on his table and stood before the mirror with rolled sleeves, prepared to salvage his pride. He took molding wax in one hand and balm in the other and with great concentration began his exertion. He resolved that taking some of the longer strands from the back and pushing them forward might be a correct recourse and began patting his hair to the front. He stopped and inspected: it looked tolerable at the top but the area around his forehead was yet wanting. It still seem as though he had sheared his hairline, and the more he endeavored to cover his baldness, the more beleaguered his hair became. He agonized and fussed and flumped and flouted, but it was of no consequence. Any primping and priming yield little result. His dark ash blonde hair became brown when laden with liniment, and the only salvaging he could now do was in the way of washing it, but he was being called, it was his time to be presented, and his excruciating tumult of fears renewed. He could not go, not in so horrific a state. Perhaps his grandfather could be spoken to, perhaps the ball could be deferred, perhaps he could be excused on account of a sudden illness prevailing him, perhaps he could tell the Royal Guard he was dead and lock himself away in his room until a cleric could be got for his revival, but all this was hopeful assertion, too hopeful for any veracity to be laid to it.
In an instant, his humiliation was secured: before he could profess a sudden headache or stomach sickness, the Royal Guard had entered the room and declared that the whole of the party was awaiting him in the royal parlour. He was silenced by the immense guard’s entry and could say nothing to refute his going. His feet moved when his mind attempted to persuade them otherwise and every remonstration he could have made was unfounded. He was too struck with terror by the tremendous guard and too distressed by his impending entrance for speech. Here was to be the beginning of his vocation as a prince, taking his rightful place in the honoured Brennin family, and he was to be the victim of every jape in the room. He thought to run away and abscond into the various nooks of the courtyard but the doors to the royal parlour were open upon his entry. His pallid complexion coloured with a deep blush of mortification, and he suffered all the stifled laughs and pointing of fingers as his punishment for not shearing the entirety of his head and possibly sparing him and his family much of this ridicule. He bowed with downcast eyes and sighed, looking away from the party, hoping to situate himself in a quiet corner while swallowing the chief of his shame by means of a strawberry cheesecake slice.
Dorrin observed Alasdair’s dejected state and moved to rekindle his grandson’s sense of confidence bit he was incessantly impeded by every count and lord seeking his attention. He spoke with each one briefly while being sensible of Allande ignoring his brother, and finally liberated himself from the crowd only to see Alasdair escape to the balcony. He heard the snickers of the young noble peers and felt remorseful on Alasdair’s behalf. A child so benevolent and interested in uprightness should not be harangued and attacked, but he knew it must be so; it was the way of most children, especially those of the academy, to treat others with cruelty in order to affirm their own self-superiority. It was meant to be a happy moment for his grandchild, one that should propel him into a rank that demanded much patience and steadfastness to hold, but instead his first moment as prince among the royals was spent hiding from his peers and doing everything possible to avoid his role. It was a terrible beginning for Alasdair and Dorrin was sorely disenchanted. He allowed the nobles their pettiness and walked to the door to share a few quiet words with the High Commander.
“Did Alasdair ask to miss this evening?”
“I had expected him to after I saw him staring at himself,” said the commander in an apologetic accent. “But you know he doesn’t speak to me, sire, and I won’t press him to.”
“No,” Dorrin mused. “I will rectify that myself tomorrow. For now, I think I should save him from this humiliation.”
They exchanged a nod and the king traversed the long parlour to the balcony overlooking the courtyard to find his grandson leaning on the railing and staring downward with a most disconsolate countenance.
Alasdair would not look up. He noted his grandfather’s feet and his robes swaying beside him and kept his eyes firmly south to spare him the pitiable looks a compassionate old man could accord. “I tried to fix it,” he murmured, scuffing his feet along the ground.
“Well,” Dorrin said smilingly, “now you know what not to do.” He paused and would say nothing more until Alasdair spoke first.
Alasdair considered his plight for a moment and then turning to his grandfather said, “Is this how being a prince is? Trying to fix things and being laughed at for fixing them incorrectly?”
“In a way.”
“Grandfather . . . Must I be a prince?”
Alasdair gaped at his grandfather and was confounded by his decided answer.
“But,” Dorrin added presently, “you have the benevolent disposition and concerned temper to be one, which is really all one needs to lead his people.”
They share a conscious and meaningful glance.
Alasdair looked down and observed the numerous servants walking about the gardens at this time in the evening, all of them tranquil and murmuring their conversation and dulcet hushes with mirthful smiles on their face; they were happy where he was not, but theirs was a general gladness that Alasdair considered might be more important than his own. Is this what it means to be one of the royal Frewyn houses, Alasdair conceived. He hoped it was, for when he could not be happy himself, he could glean vicarious happiness, which could be all his relief. It was his relief, for in the remarking of the various contended couples and groups of friends convening below him he saw how peaceable and forthcoming the world of the castle was outside his noble circle. His lips strained not to smile but he must allow himself some enjoyment for the night. “May I go to the stables to see Maeve, grandfather?”
A question so innocently made could not be denied, and Dorrin ruled that Alasdair had suffered enough for his peace. He motioned toward the door and, just as the music was struck up for dancing, escorted Alasdair through the royal quarter until the exultation of his escape burst on him and he ran down the main hall to the stables where his new friend was waiting. Dorrin exhaled, pleased to see that Alasdair’s good character had not been spoilt by the incident and returned to the royal parlour where he was resolved to remain at his own friend’s side for however long the ball should endure.