Story for the Day: Special
Someone, I won't say whom, was declaring all day that she is not special. Well, Alasdair has something to say about that. So, there.
The celebration cleared away, the remainder of the cake placed in the larder, the chief of the celebrants prepared for a most needed rest, and the visitors from the islands enjoying their training together in the yard, Kai Linaa was at liberty to enjoy a small cup of tea, watch her mate and his brothers flip one another about, and think. She had reveled in the day and all the sanguine feelings her involvement in it could afford, but when he was alone, her sentiments altered to a more sobering hue. With her fingers coiled around the handle, she stared at the remnants of tea leaves swilling about the bottom of the teacup and began to wonder at whether she should be accepted on the islands now that a return thither was soon approaching. It was true that her brothers would do anything to make her comfortable, but if only she could be certain of her acceptance- there lay all her misgiving and anxiousness. She sipped her tea without tasting it and stared out the kitchen window, one hand beneath her chin and the other with her palm flat upon the table.
In the midst of Kai Linaa’s degenerate musings, Alasdair came from the yeoman’s quarter to the kitchen to see if there were any more of the lemon ginger tea worth having. He caught its scent from the hallway and conceived that Martje must still be awake, and he was preparing to make ardent demands for her rest whereupon entering the oven room he observed Kai Linaa sitting at the table in a most dejected state: her head was leaning heavily on her hand, her gaze was distant and wretched, her shoulders slumped and chest low. His first inclination was that there must be some mischief between her and Unghaahi, but he instantly convinced himself of such a thing being impossible. No one could find reason to quarrel with Unghaahi, not even Rautu, and if anyone should discover grounds to disagree with him, Unghaahi certainly could not be the instigator of any such remonstrance. He then thought that perhaps something was amiss with their accommodations, or perhaps Kai Linaa might be regretting her leave of them. He did not mean to intrude, but he would console her if he could, and he went to the range to pour himself a cup of tea with a sincere smile to greet her.
Kai Linaa was shaken from her reverie when Alasdair came to the table and pulled out the chair beside her. She started and stood immediately. “Oh, Your Majesty,” she said in a flutter, “I didn’t hear you come in.”
Alasdair shook his head and gestured for her to sit with him. “I’m not a king now, Kai Linaa,” he said in a soft accent. He made a small sigh and closed his eyes as he sipped his tea. He hummed and opened his eyes. “Now, when no one else is around, I can be just Alasdair, thank the Gods.”
The phrase ‘no one else’ caught Kai Linaa’s ears, and she made a most oppressed sigh. Tears formed in her eyes, and she turned her head to conceal her flushing cheeks from the king’s notice. She failed, however; in turning her head, Alasdair only became more curious as to her forlorn looks and unworthy cogitations. She seemed to deliberately disregarding him. She had been so used to liveliness and gaiety, and now she was willfully silent.
Alasdair began to suspect something grave had passed and said a thoughtful, “Do you want to talk about it?” while moving his chair closer to hers.
“Oh,” Kai Linaa said, laughing affectedly, “it’s nothing, Your Majesty.”
Alasdair raised a brow. “It doesn’t seem like nothing, Kai Linaa.”
She chided herself for her poor concealment and bad sense to be out of humour before the king. He, who had been so sensible of everyone’s feelings and affairs, must know that she was out of charity with herself, and now that she had revealed her despondency, she could not escape from him. She looked down and sighed, “I just don’t think I’m special.”
Were the commander present, she would have reminded Alasdair of the general discredit prevalent in most women, but the remembrance of Martje’s similar dejection was forced on him, and he now could not deny the commander’s assertions somewhat reliable. He was not pleased to hear Kai Linaa talk so of herself, but he hoped a small conversation might reveal the root of these base considerations. “And why wouldn’t you be special?” he said with artless concern.
“Well…” Kai Linaa began, but she could find no reason that would appease the king’s question and was silent, colouring in shame. After a moment’s consideration, she said, “Well, Boudicca is a commander, Leraa will be Hassan Omaa, Otenohi will be Hakriyaa, Rautu is Den Asaan and Den Endari, you’re King of Frewyn..” She stopped there, her sensibilities overpowering her and her lip quivering with the arrival of tears.
Alasdair had heard her, but he had hardly understood these sentiments. “I may be king, Kai Linaa,” he said in a meaningful accent, “but that doesn’t make me better than anyone else. It just means I’m king.”
“But I’m just an artist,” she said, as though to offer an excuse.
“You are an excellent artist, but even being the best artist on the Two Continents doesn’t make you special.”
She gave him an odd look.
“Your relation to others and how you feel about yourself is what makes you feel special or loved.” He paused and half smiled. “My friends and family being near me every day is what matters to me.” He raised his cup to sip his tea and then stopped. “And my jerkins, because Carrigh makes them for me,” he added with fondness. “And my fiddle, and my grandfather’s music.”
Kai Linaa seemed bemused.
Alasdair sat upright in his chair. “Well, I’ll explain it like this: Martje is unique. She is the greatest cook in Frewyn, but what makes her special is that she’s my friend. What she does might be exceptional, but that’s not why she’s special to me.” He replaced his cup on the table. “She may not think she’s extraordinary,” he said in a bitter tone, and then with more warm inflection, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t think so. She thinks well of me, but not because I’m her king.”
“But you can do things as a king,” Kai Linaa protested. “You help your people every day.”
“I can make regulations and decrees and pass judgments, Kai Linaa,” said Alasdair calmly, “but I ultimately have to do what my people expect of me. Being a leader of a nation can make me feared or admired, but I cannot make me special.”
Kai Linaa’s lips parted to refute, but she could say nothing to contest Alasdair’s claims.
Alasdair gave her a warm smile and placed his hand over hers. “Love of our friends and family makes us special, which is why we love having you here.”
“Really?” Kai Linaa breathed, her eyes brightening. “I thought you were just being nice to me.”
“No, Kai Linaa. I’m nice to the nobles in court because I have to be if I want their cooperation. I don’t attend their celebrations or sit and enjoy tea with them.”
Here Kai Linaa must be satisfied: the King of Frewyn had sought her attention, had come to sit with her unasked, had listened to her with an open heart. If his munificence with regard to his time and patience was not enough evidence of his claim, she must be ungrateful indeed for his fellowship. She returned his guileless smiles and declared herself special, if not for being an artist, Unghaahi’s mate, or friend of the most prominent in the kingdom, then for being worthy of the king’s attention, his generosity, and his ingenuous affection.
A few moments later, the commander entered just as Kai Linaa said her goodnights and hopped away from the table to meet her mate in the training yard. She smirked and humphed, having heard the whole of their conversation from her place in the main hall, and when she came to the table, she placed her hand on Alasdair’s shoulder to express her approbation of his speech.
“I did try,” he said with an air of disappointment.
“I daresay you did, but even after such a splendid exposition, Alasdair, there is no making women understand rational thought.”
“You don’t care about being considered special.”
“And there are those who would argue that am not a woman.” She raised her brows and made a playful grin. “An emotionless commander cannot be mistaken for a woman, Alasdair.”
“You have feelings, Boudicca,” Alasdair said with most unanswerable distinction.
“I try not to do. It saves me the trouble of checking them.”
Alasdair must laugh at her disparaging japes, and invited her to sit with him with a gesture as he asked, “I hope you weren’t too upset by the celebration.”
“Not as much as I should have liked,” she said, sitting down and giving him conscious looks. “I know that you could not resist making a fuss and therefore I brooked all the happiness and smiles and agreeable manners as much as I could.” She looked toward the larder and then back at Alasdair. “There is cake left,” she intimated, “and my mate in nowhere near it at present.”
Alasdair understood her. He sipped the last of his tea and gave her a sideways glance. “A sliver and no more,” was his agreement.
The cake was got, slivers were cut, and before the Den Asaan could march into the kitchen and declare what was left for him was being unjustly demolished, the commander and Alasdair had finished their small slices and replaced the cake on the shelf in the storeroom before he should even know it was gone.