#NaNoWriMo : Aranabrenin pt 2

 A story from book 3.

Upon reaching the courtyard, Alasdair found himself in a flutter of confusion: the gardener was hurrying by him with various nosegays in hand and titivating every small bloom and blossom he passed along the hedgerows; and table in the shade of a pitched and open tent was being set up and garnished with the proper outfittings; the last of the streamers were being hung across the expanse of the garden, food was being brought in from the kitchen, maids and servants were hastening everywhere to finish their employments now that the guest of honour was come. When everyone took notice of him, they all laid aside their occupations and came to address His Majesty directly, standing in a neat queue and making room for Martje as she shuffled in from the entrance to the servants quarter with the cake in hand. The cake was set down, the servants bowed in unison in their modest and prim uniforms, and before Alasdair could proclaim that this was all too much, a cup of honey wine was put into his hand -he knew not how-, his subjects were taking part with him, and he was being applied to for a small toast, a preparatory measure for the one he must make later in the day.
                Alasdair stared into the rippling surface of the wine for a moment, regarding his own astonished reflection, and recollecting himself and clearing his throat, he said a most timid and amazed, “Thank you for this.” He regarded them all with immense partiality, beginning with Martje on his immediate left and panning across the small crowd to Sir Pastaddams on his right. Everyone was smiling at him, but they were the true and earnest smiles of fondness, with corners of eyes crinkling, shoulders shirking in timorous glee, blushes of cheeks, oscillations; it was all real affection from subject to king, Alasdair’s heart swelled with joy. “Thank you so very much,” he said in a meaningful voice. “I admit I am a little mortified.”
                There was a general and quiet laughter, and then they were silent again.
                “But,” Alasdair added presently, “it’s a pleasant mortification. I thought at first it would be better if no one remembered my birthday, just to spare me the embarrassment.” He paused and smiled to himself. “I’m happy to be proven wrong, especially by those whom I see every day and who care for me and see that a king’s every need is met.”
                “You have relatively few needs, Majesty,” Sir Pastaddams quietly protested.
                “Aye, you don’t ask for nothin’,” asserted Martje. “I’ll tell you, Majesty: if you don’t eat a slice of your cake, I’ll cry myself to sleep.”
                Alasdair laughed and shook his head, feeling the slender pang of guilt implied. He felt terrible that she should have taken such pains to make the most fulsome cake in the world in his honour, and even worse were the expectant looks he was being accorded by the small gathering. Eager were they to taste the decadence, and less eager was he to cut the first piece. It was anticipated that the king should eat first and whereby commence the meal for his subjects, and while he wished to deny himself of the indulgence, he could not do so by them. Martje’s playful proclamation had done for him, and after he said, “To you, for making this birthday one of the nicest I have had in a long time,” and raised his glass to them, everyone sipped in unison, the knife was placed into his hand, he was led over to the table, and the cake was cut.
                He was saved the horror of being made to eat the first piece by the two of the groomsman’s young boys suddenly running up the centre lane of the courtyard. They leapt toward him in all their giggling fury, playing their game of tag whilst their father groomed and walked Maeve for her later appearance, and though there were many attempts to stop the two children from crashing into the king, they had succeeded admirably on this point. The boys were toppled, and Alasdair remained wholly undamaged. Some scoldings were granted by the elders of the party and the boys were lifted from the ground, but the moment they looked up to see Alasdair holding their hands and placing them on their feet, they were silenced with terror. They had attacked the king, they had acted unscrupulously before him, and yet they were being given cake. They looked at one another and then were entreated to take the first two slices Alasdair had cut. Here was his secret delight: they boys had presented the perfect distraction for him and now they would be justly rewarded. With a beaming countenance did Alasdair tender them thick slices, pat their heads, and send them off, and without giving anyone time to remark how he had relinquished his kingly right, he began cutting another and another until everyone had a generous slice in their hands. He was proud of himself, gratified that he had averted everyone’s attention despite the few whispers of what a generous king he was to serve his people on such a day, and his stood high triumph, remarking the mirthful expression of his people from behind his raised cup.
                The honeyed wine, slightly warmed and spiced, was an ecstasy beyond what Alasdair could comprehend. The mulled scent and smoothness in flavour was rapture to him, so much so that he compelled himself to drink slowly and lay aside half his glass. He felt his ears and cheeks begin to warm, and decided not to surrender to his enjoyment for honeyed wine. He would be prudent whilst it was yet morning, but if his people should have him drink during the festivities in the square, he would oblige them. In laying down his cup, however, he observed that not every slice of cake had been claimed. One, a small piece cut from the end, still lingered, and as it was a very small piece, probably with little butter, no almond paste, and no cherry wine, he would concede to have a nibble or two. It should be wasted if he would not eat it, gone to the birds or one of the young children who could hardly appreciate such a masterwork of baking, and with utmost secrecy did Alasdair turn around to screen anyone’s view of the table, palm the small slice of cake, and move between the tent and the entrance to the gallery where he might eat it in tolerable peace. He examined its glistening beauty and guffawed to himself, gleefully happy at his conquest. He glance about, making certain no one was watching him, and when he was assured of his complete secrecy, Alasdair ate his slice in one bite.
                He had been wrong in thinking that there should be no wine, or butter, or almond in the sliver, for it was entirely the reverse of what he had previously conceived: it was all the excess of each, rolled into the flake crust and powdered sugar. The succulence overpowered his senses, the taste besieged him, and he was forced to close his eyes, inhale, and sound his enchantment with a long and exasperated hum. A few moments of exquisite bliss were his to suffer before the familiar sound of a certain woman’s simpering roused him. He turned to the entrance of the courtyard, his cheeks full of cake, and there was the commander, smirking at him and giving him a sagacious look. He tried to swallow as quickly as was possible, but it was too late: she had seen him, she was coming toward him, and his want for confidentiality had done. He sighed and turned away, furiously wiping away any incriminating crumbs from his lips.