Story for the Day: A Day in the Keep
We're a set of quiet and simple folk, but sometimes we do need to get out.
A Day in the Keep
Although Alasdair was not fond of patrolling in the winter months, on account of his hair being to freeze and the horror of it breaking off with the waft of a gentle wind, he must at last venture outside the warm auspices of the keep. It had been a tiresome day at court and he was in desperate want of an airing: the indefatigable nagging of Count Ross, the idle prattle of the two Ms Roberts, the complaining voices, the tittuping of heeled shoes, the waft and flicker of fans muting the witless banter of the front rows, the murmured chuffs from the elevated pews; Alasdair had done with all of this. Enduring the din of the courts for a an hour or two, the fidgets of tedium the hems restlessness, was one thing, but to suffer them for the better part of a frigid day where he had only the wealth of his only intellect to furnish him was entirely another.
The court was dismissed, and rather than pretend to forbear the closing statements by the herald and subsequent musings of the nobility, Alasdair quit the room, exchanging the tolerable warmth of body heat for the frigid damp of the peristyle and the open air, and shivered in happy relief that he had at last escaped the fatigues of the day. He inhaled the burning cold and watched the condensation billow forth from his parted lips as he exhaled: he needed a repose, and before hastening to the kitchen to having his late afternoon tea in the quietude and warmth of the oven room, he observed the commander and Den Asaan walking toward him from the mess hall, prepared to perform their evening patrol. A sudden notion seized him: he must go out, he must walk about the capital, and barring the anxiety on his hair’s side, he would command them by all the governance a king’s order could warrant to wait for him and allow him to join.
Rautu groaned when Alasdair said, “I’m coming with you. Give me ten minutes to put my armour on,” and then leapt away. They heard him ask for Martje’s indulgence to save the tea for after his return and then were obliged to wait for him while he donned his captain’s uniform and tailored mantle. The ten minutes spent in the main hall waiting for Alasdair would be the glory of Rautu’s evening. There would be roasting game, a good fire, and the quiet cheerfulness of letter writing and Khopra to animate his spirits and satisfy his sensibilities later, but now all his regale was in standing at his mate’s side and sharing a few quiet words with her. They were eager words at first, on the question of whether he should tie a few of the recruits on his regiment to the rhinghaata implements and use it as a torturing device, and while this was agreed to with laughing eyes on her side and smiling decision on his, the conclusion was that Alasdair would never abide such punishment.
“A few torn limbs might do very well for Bilar,” said the commander, “but they will frighten Alasdair out of his wit. And the blood would be a horrid mess for Serl to clean.” She paused and mused. “We could have Connors scrape the training grounds, but dislocated shoulders would be the best to hope for where those who lack a Haanta’s strength are concerned.”
Rautu’s eyes glowed and he barely smiled.
“I think you mean to kill them, Iimon Ghaala.”
“Perhaps,” his admitted, his voice rumbling with stifled joy.
The commander smirked. “They are not all terrible. Connors is the very best of creatures.”
“He is in your regiment, Traala.”
“And Captain Liam is not the shining example of gallantry and obedience you should like him to be?”
The giant closed his eyes and made a complaining sigh.
“Iimon Ghaala,” she said laughingly, “You realize that the more you torture Captain Liam, the more glory he incurs for having survived another day under your tutelage.”
The tightening fists and expression of momentary contempt conveyed the giant’s unpleasant reverie of the day.
She had suspected that something had gone awry when at midday there were a few gurgling screams emanating from across the training yard, but as she had her own regiment to train and arrange about new targets for their archery, she could not much attend Captain Liam’s near dismemberment during their melee training, which had consisted of the giant’s calling Liam for a partner, his asking his regiment to assemble around them, and his demonstration of a few Hophsaas moves that tendered the Den Asaan’s least favourite recruit various broken bones and a few dislocated joins. The motionless and twisted article at the giant’s feet when the lessons had done had been all the giant’s delight, and Liam’s pained expression and the giant’s grin of delectation had been all the regiment’s terror. Bilar had been got, and Liam had been mended, but there ended melee training for the day, and Liam’s quick recovery and gloating character merited another decimation by Rautu’s hand. Bilar was soon obliged to remain on the field, and after he had healed Liam for the tenth time at least, he ordered Rautu not to harm him again for the day, declaring that there were only so many times in a day he could replace a disjoined arm.
“I will say that I admire Liam for his apparent want of sense,” said the commander when Rautu’s recanting had done, “for it also seems to give him an astonishing lack of fear, which is part of what makes a fair soldier.”
Would that he could, Rautu was unable to refute this claim. He despised Liam for his lordly complacence and arrogant air, and while he could have borne his temper had he earned the right to do so through years of training, of war, of valiance on the field, he had scarcely ever fought above a few times and all of his matches taking place within the Diras Castle arena.
“He has little horror of pain,” the commander thoughtfully added, “and he amazingly has no fear of you. He has grown accustomed to all the agony your hands can accord. Perhaps you should teach them archery and make him your target.”
Rautu half smiled, but it was soon done away by Alasdair, who was racing toward them from the gallery, ready for his evening out. His smile quickly dispersed, his expression returning to its usual stern scowl, and his intimate discussion with his mate was over. He enjoyed training, as he enjoyed showing Frewyn soldiers their inferiority and how they must improve, but nothing pleased him more than being with her. They were together on the field each day, but a word, a look, a fleeting aspect was all they could exchange throughout the day. He longed to be alone with her, to tell her of the day’s events with unreserved conviction. He knew that she would understand him, his qualms, his frustrations, his little triumphs, but where she could succumb to arch mirth at any moment, Alasdair could not. He was not so serious as a King of Frewyn might have been conceived, but his compassion made him completely useless for sinister japes and playful derision. He could joke, but never at the expense of another’s feelings. Rautu’s brutal candor and unanswerable resolve made him the enemy of many who were used to Alasdair’s good humour and kindliness, and while Rautu had a sense of admiration for Frewyn’s leader, Alasdair would never know it. He still thought Rautu unfeeling and needlessly stolid, but all his concern lay in the giant’s treating Frewyn’s soldiers with honour, his people with respect, and his mate with deep affection. Rautu’s attachment to the commander was perceived in his subdued looks toward her, in his glancing over his shoulder every other moment as they left the main hall, and in his holding the gate open for her as they left the keep. He was displeased that the remainder of their walk should be ruined, but all his happiness returned when he observed Alasdair’s immediate disconcertion.
“By the Gods, it’s freezing,” he sibilated with chattering teeth, holding his arms about him as he danced about for warmth.
“Well, you have been in a warm court room for the chief of the day. Granted, you have been around the frigid tempers of the nobility, but their coldness is tolerable when compared to this. Would you like to go back?” She turned around and Alasdair stopped her.
“No, no. I need this. I need some air after being shut up in a stifling room with them. Most days they are bearable, but when they are uncooperative…” He left the phrase there, shook his head and sighed. “I haven’t been about the square in weeks.”
It had been weeks since Alasdair was last out of the keep, and the commander only realized it when she observed the sparkle of happiness in his eyes. He smiled through his discomfort, looked about as though everything had its newness; the end of winter held many charms for Frewyn, but it could be held in the highest regard by only the king himself.