Story for the Day: A Dinner
Today, we continue with Rithea and High Commander Bryeison
The High Commander led his amorously inclined captive through the now moonlit gallery and out of the keep. He noted her giddy silence, the desire she held for wishing to say something but the awareness that he was being tender with her and continually offering his arm to her exchanged her words for excited titters. He enjoyed having a woman there, one with such ashamed happiness for being given the attention she deserved. Her constant blush conveyed and inability to look up at his smiling features to him that she had little idea of the deceitful games the nobles had been used to play with one another to gain each other’s affections. Her shamefaced integrity is was drew him, and where he had been used to think that none in his immediate conversancy had the powers of attaching him, here he was glad to be mistaken. Would that Draeden were here to witness the momentous event: a woman on his arm; something that his most intimate friend had wish for him more than he had wished it for himself. He found consolation in the notion that from wherever his friend might be watching him that he was pleased and cheering his gallant and brazen efforts.
Rithea, however, had no one upon whom she could rely for solace. A giant of a man- the largest man she had ever seen, one with decorated arms, amiable airs, and elevated livery- was giving her his arm. The notion that anyone should give her his arm was a felicitous distress, and though she was in rapture now, she knew that it must soon be over. She would be made to return to the Haven after the prince’s presentation and then their association would be done. A man of such valor could not be asked to leave his post as the Brennin family guardian to visit her in Barellynn: this was her postulation, and it was one, though painful to consider, must be so. In the countless years she had shut herself away in the old sanctuary, she had seldom seen a visitor like the one at her side. There were guards enough at the Haven, but none who had shown even a shred of curiosity in wanting to know her. She was quiet and could therefore be interesting to no one and have nothing useful to relate that could not be found in a book. She must not beguile herself into think that he would be fascinated with her beyond the space of the few hours together they should spend out in the capital, and she therefore resolved not to grow too attached, although that was a promise she was already wishing to renege.
They had come to the Diras River, and Rithea too apprehensive that she might grow accustomed to having an over-muscled arm to hold, made a diffident laugh and retied her hair as an excuse to remove her hand from him. When the diversion had done, however, she continued glancing at his swaying hand as he walked, wanting and not waiting to hold it all at once: his calloused palms, his rough and scarred skin, his broad fingers were an endless intrigue to her, and she fought with herself, making silent reproaches for wanting to claim his hand for her own. For others to suppose them a couple was the first and last thing for which Rithea had wished, for in the first it would be the beginning of an exulting new venture for her and in the last it would be one of agonizing parting. The joys and agitations of admiration teemed within her, and she knew not which of the two to favour first.
Bryeison began swaying his arms slower on purpose to see if she would act. He was sensible of her nervousness every moment, delighting her timid laughter when she noticed his looking at her and simpering to himself at her failed attempts to hide her interests by employing her hand elsewhere in tucking a tress fallen out of place behind her ear or in gathering her robes as they walked over the bridge to the marketplace and residential quarter of the capital. The whites of her knuckles as she clung to her hem was all the attestation he required to mark how much she was resisting, but he would not press her. He concluded that one night’s enjoyment was all she needed to release her inhibitions. A fine dinner, good company and intimate conversation would be her undoing, and as they came to the door of a fine establishment, he was already beginning to see signs of her opposition failing her. He remarked her flickering expressions when he encouraged her to enter the particular dining hall and smiled as she absently reached for his arm to quell her surprise. He held our his hand with the expectation that she should take it, but she realized her err just in time and placed her hand at her breast to express her wonderment.
“Are you sure this is where you mean to go?” asked Rithea in a tremulous tone. “Are you certain there is a table available for us?” She peeked nervously through the window to see the various couples dining within dressed in finery and eating with silver implements upon porcelain plates. “My, it seems full to me,” she declared, moving toward another establishment across the lane, one of decidedly less grandeur. “This one seems to have more places available.”
He understood her and sought to override her ignominy with reason. “If there are many patrons here, it is a testament to their service.”
She was still hesitant to concede. Though affluence was never a deterrent for her by any means, the disparity between her dress and the dress of those within was enough to segregate her feelings. She was aware of the good that Bryeison had wished to perform in taking her somewhere her felt was worthy of her company, but she could not feel comfortable there, afraid that her open character and strident laughter should disturb the gentle modes of conduct within such a place. She shrank from it and knew that the only way in which to persuade him was to take his arm and lead him to where she wished to go. “Perhaps we-“ she began, but she was silenced by him suddenly taking her by the shoulders and gently ushering her forward. She froze and stared up at his influential smile.
“Have you dined at either one of these places before?” he simpered at her.
“Then you must allow me to chose the first time”
Rithea’s eyes flared. “First time?” The implication of there being many more times afterward was happiness so sudden that her beam guarded her from saying anything in further refutation. Suddenly, quite without her knowing, she was being led in to the establishment, she was being greeted and entreated to wait a moment for seating, and she was then in the large dining hall filled with low voices and the tinkling clinking of glasses.
Bryeison smiled at her amazement, treating every sound and sensation as though she had never before entered such a place. A most unfortunate consideration was that she probably had not due to her profession, but this would not signify; he would show her an excellent time, though he had never been in such a place himself, proved by the supplications of the staff as they milled about him.
“High Commander,” the matron approaching breathed. She made a little bow, paused a moment to recollect herself, and then paid the same greeting to Rithea in a more composed manner. “We are so honoured to have you with us this evening. You and your guest.”
Rithea half smiled and attempted to hide behind Bryeison but was unable to do so due to his sheer size blocking the doorway around him.
“Please,” the matron exclaimed. “We have a private table for you in the back if that would suit.”
It would, and before Rithea could sigh with relief that they would be alone even in such a crowded place, she was being gently nudged from behind to advance through the main hall and into a secluded section of the establishment, one with an open terrace so that they may enjoy the evening breeze while dining and one with a view of the stars glittering over Diras Bay. The romance of such a prospect caused Rithea to express her enchantment in a few quietly uttered statements. She stood at the edge of the table remarking the wavering lights reflected in the water’s ebb and was too entranced to notice that the High Commander had pulled out her chair. She looked down when it was done but had somehow not registered that he was waiting for her to accept his gentility. “Oh,” she exclaimed. “Thank you. I had not expected . . .” She was quieted when her chair was swooped under her legs, forcing her to sit, and was more beleaguered to see him taking his own chair and moving it beside her.
“I would rather sit beside you than across from you,” he said, taking his place. “If I am here, we can look at the bay together and I will be able to look at you while you pretend not to look at me.”
Her cheeks flushed and she turned away, ashamed to admit to her own designs being discerned to easily. His leg brushed against hers as he shifted in his seat, and she studied the currents of the lapping waters before her while pretending not to notice him smiling at her and failing miserably.