Story for the Day: The Interview: Part 4
Part 4 of Tales from Frewyn: the Reporter from Marridon.
When the sun began to rise the following morning, the commander roused from her short sleep early to tend to the reporter’s summons. Rautu, unused to see her dress before sunrise unless she had been up throughout the night and eager to claim his right for Khopra, asked her where she was going at such an unusual hour.
“I am going somewhere that shall promise no satisfaction on your account, Iimon Ghaala,” she assured the giant.
Eager and prepared for his woman, Rautu grunted in disdain for having his morning comfort being taken from him. “I will accompany you to the gate,” he purred, remarking his woman fondly.
She stood close to the giant and pressed her chest against him to incite his hunger. “And no demand for Khopra?” she said softly, her eyes twinkling.
Rautu gripped her hair by the end and coiled it around his wrist, pulling her head back and forcing her to crane her neck. “You will oblige me in the barracks when you return,” was his adamant command.
The commander agreed to the arrangement, and with a few eager osculations, she was sent on her way toward the capital’s natural divide with the giant certain to follow her.
Before she left the keep, however, she made a visit to the kitchen to say her hellos to Martje and Shayne, who were awake before the others in that quarter of the keep to have their breakfast together. She made herself some lemon tea in preparation for the coming arduous interrogation to follow and asked Martje if she might borrow the cup to be used as a prop or a weapon should the situation allow. She was granted her desire, and with a wish to see the cook and leatherworker later, she went to Diras Bridge to watch the brilliancy of the sun illuminate the capital.
The Church had been a favourable place for the reporter to rest: oat porridge with currants had been offered him as a supper the previous evening to guide his body into a gentle slumber, a clean bed had been found for him, prayers had been said in his name, breakfast was given at a tolerable hour, and all of this for the price of being roused before sunrise to partake in early morning services. He found the Brothers and Sisters to be a cheerful sort, eager to be of assistance and keen to help the poor and lost reporter find his way to righteousness. There was one Sister in particular of shapely figure and regular features he should have liked to have join him in his bed, and though he wished that she would have roused him from sleep with an entreaty to warm his rather cold and lonesome bed, one of the large and unbecoming Brothers came to awaken him instead. He was irked by the kindly yet unhandsome smile accorded him, but he thanked and ate and thanked again, as he knew he must if he was to be saved from the guilt-giving looks of the Reverend Mother, and was on his way before the hymns at sunrise began, before the orphans were roused and before the other children could join them for their daily lessons.
Upon leaving the Church, the reporter had found himself in a bit of luck: there, standing in the center of the Diras Bridge, was the commander. Her back was turned, a large ceramic teacup was in her hand, and she stood facing the glory of the sun’s white rays, basking in the glimmering sheen of the rippling refraction of light from the waters below. She seemed heroic enough, upon his honour, but there was something wanting in her lack of heroine beauty, dearth of graceful figure or even in the confident air. He had thought that she would be taller, more striking, able to command worlds and conquer armies with the splendor of a straight smile and sharp features, but here was certainly the farmer he had heard spoken of: long unkempt hair, thick thighs, strong arms; she had a bosom enough to recommend her as a woman, but her features were so plain and undistinguished, it was a wonder to him at all what the king could have seen in her. He had heard the rumor, as had everyone of King Alasdair’s once interest in the commander, but upon viewing the odd woman, the reporter was disinclined to believe any such nonsense. He whickered in astonishment for such an impossible notion and made a slow approach, riffling through his booklet for a clean leaf and taking a wrapped charcoal into his hand.
“Excuse me. Commander?” said the reporter, trying not to smirk at her appearance.
The commander spied him from the corner of her eye, sipped her tea and would not acknowledge him.
He was uncertain if this meant that she were allowing him to near her or if it meant she had plans of ignoring him, but he continued regardless of either. “I was wondering if you would do me the honour of answering a few questions?”
The commander barely smiled. “After reading your gracious note, how could I resist?”
“Then, the two soldiers did give my message to you?”
“No.” She paused and took a sip of her tea. “The king’s spy was the one who brought it to me.”
The reporter gave a small start. “King’s spy? How did he obtain my note?”
The commander made a terrible grin and kept her face firmly toward the rising sun. “I know that no one in the Chambers at Marridon is friendly with one another, but you see in this keep we are all rather like family. Once one knows something, everyone knows it. Did you really believe that your message would find its way to me unexamined?”
Though the reporter had little idea what she meant, he assumed himself fortunate that the king’s spy had handed her the letter, as a herald or even a disgruntled giant were not bound by obligation to show the letter to anyone. He therefore began to make his inquiries, but the instant he opened his mouth to commence the interview, the commander interposed with:
“I despise you creatures,” said she with leering condescension. “Those in your profession are ever twisting and expatiating the words of others for the interest and entertainment of your audience. You shall receive nothing useful from me, I assure you. My answers shall be long enough to supply you with a response and terse enough so that you may not fabricate a more fascinating reply.” She sipped her tea and with a gesture urged him to recommence.
“Tell me how you met the Den Asaan,” the reporter said, the tip of his charcoal hovering over the paper.
The commander half smiled. “That is not a question and therefore you should have no need of an answer.”
The reporter cleared his throat, felt slighted by such defensive remarks, but let it pass and moved on. “Very well. I understand you’re a tactical genius of sorts-”
“Do you?” the commander rejoined. “Well then, you understand more than I ever could, for how can a woman be a genius at anything but carpet work and cookery?”
The reporter did not understand her; were she being facetious, he was left only to guess, and he therefore impressed the subject further by saying, “But I have it on the best authority that you planned the battle of the Varkne Maar.”
“Then your authority is hardly the best. That was all Alasdair’s plan. He is the general of our armies.” She laid a hand to her breast and tossed her hair with a wistful gesture. “I am a mere commander and therefore only take orders from him.”
This meeting was not advancing in the manner the reporter should have liked. Her candor and mocking assertions were distracting and every subsequent question he wished to ask was checked by her reproofs. He decided to use her own allusions to her relationship with the king to continue but expected to have little success here. “You call the king by his first name,” he observed, his hand still waiting to write something down. “Are you well acquainted with his majesty?”
The commander took a sip from her cup. “I should be. We do live in the same castle.”
A moment passed and there was nothing else to accompany this declaration. “Are you able to discuss your relationship?” he urged her.
“I am able to do so, yes. Shall I?” The commander shrugged and sipped her tea. She grinned when she heard an exasperated groan, and peered out from behind her cup to see the reporter struggling to write. His discomposure was all her amusement, and she snickered to herself with all the glee his growing perturbation could afford.
“I have heard,” said the reporter, straining to collect himself, “that you and the king grew up together. Would you share a small part of your history by chance?”
The commander waited without considering his question, watched a school of small fish make ripples in the surface of the water below, and presently said, “No”. She drank the rest of her tea and watched her antagonist writhe in frustration. “Astonishing how well my mate’s tactics work,” she mused, remarking the leftover tea leaves in the bottom of the cup. “Now I should not wonder why he delights in them so. They provide endless enjoyment to oneself through the boundless misery of one’s adversary.”
The reporter dropped his hands at his sides. “Might I ask why you’re treating me this way, commander?”
“And I might ask why with so little propriety you decided to bribe my mate’s first officer, accost two of my commanders, and disturb our peace,” she said firmly, finally turning to him.
The reporter shrank under the commander’s even stare. Though her person was approachable and her character wry, there was a fierceness to her that when provoked was unmistakable. He saw now his error in judging her as one of Frewyn’s shy yeomanry and realized she agreed to this meeting for retaliation. He would ask one last question and then he would be done. “Can you tell me anything about the Den Asaan?” Where he had expected another curt reply, his question was received with graciousness.
The commander’s usual air restored, and with folded arms and a cocked hip, she said, “I can tell you a multitude of things. What exactly do you want to know?”
By this time, the reporter’s spirits were so wearied that he had little notion of what he should ask first. He considered names, observances, cultural differences, but his primary consideration was, “The Duchess has mentioned the Haanta ritual of Khopra on occasion when her visitor from Mharvholan is in Marridon. Have you performed this ritual with the Den Asaan?”
“I daresay you don’t know what the ritual entails, for if you did, you would not have asked that question.” The commander laughed at the reporter’s mistake, wiped mirthful tears from her eyes and shook her head. “If you will be good and wait here a moment, I shall bring someone to answer that question in the manner it should be answered.”
The reporter watched her walk from the bridge to the castle gate, make a small gesture with her hand, and from the high battlements of the keep leapt down a menacing-looking creature of stern face, immense stature, and fur-clad form. She spoke a few words to the giant, motioned toward himself, and began leading the hulking beast to his place at the bridge. He heard the thunder of the approaching steps, observed the sheen of the tremendous black blade at the giant’s side, and acknowledged that this monstrosity must be the Den Asaan. Now that he had seen the one he was most desirous of questioning, however, he knew not how he could have convinced himself to speak to the moving mountain without the commander’s comforting presence.