Story for the Day: The Carpet
Aldus, the kingdom's treasurer, takes cleanliness in the workplace very seriously, so much in fact that anyone who steps near his threshold must scrape their boots and scuff their feet to keep from getting the smallest spec of dirt on his beloved carpet. While the carpet isn't his, it is an ancient relic from Frewyn's past and must be cared for by someone, regardless of how many people dislike it:
All Aldus’ forbearance for loquacious princes, spoiled relics, and caked boots had done, for he had borne it all and said nothing to guard himself against scolding Frewyn’s First Son. So much disorder and dirtiness—it was insufferable! The tribulation to his nerves had rendered his temper irredeemable, and all the peace of numbers and sums with which he had begun his day was now undone. He should never know equanimity again until the disgrace of the carpet had been set to rights. How the king had remained so unaffected by the decimation of relic was a wonder to him, and while the stain might be removed from the fabric with soaps and detergents, the stain upon Aldus’ heart could never be removed. The prince had sullied his workplace, had ruined his peace forever. His work would never be the same again until the room should be restored to its former glory. He tuned away and pined for the precious arras, its intricate designs abraded, its vibrant colour diminished. Woe besieged him, and he set a weary hand at his brow, sighing out all the vicissitudes of eternal misery. The carpet—his precious piece—how was he ever to recover? It was never to be undone, the sin was never to be got over, the slight to his heart—the stab, the driving wound—never to be fully cleansed.
“I suppose,” said the king, with marked calmness, “I’ll have to ask Draeden to smooth out the rest of the carpet merely to have the stain he made match the rest of the piece.”
“Now, Your Majesty,” Aldus cried, his spirits agitated, “do excuse me, but I really must protest against His Highness’ ever being allowed in the treasury again without his first having cleansed his feet. It is injudicious and highly irregular for His Highness to be in here at all when he is supposed to be at his post in the yard. This is a place of work, not the far field, where he may ride about on the gad as he pleases. There he may bemire himself as he will, but really, Your Majesty, I cannot concede to allow him in here again without the strictest adherence to decency.”
Dorrin should never mean to deride his friend and his sense of decorum, but Aldus was so captiously irritable that he could not help but surrender to his mirth. He laughed and placed a hand on the treasurer’s shoulder. “I promise not to let him in here again unless Searle has personally polished him.”
“May I call for Searle now, Your Majesty?”
“I’ll tell him to come myself, but you may ring for Agatha now if it will make you feel better.”
The bell pull was rung, the rippling line of embroidered fabric securing all Aldus’ tranquility, and order in the treasury was thus restored, for both Agatha and Searle would come to wipe away any evidence of Prince Draeden’s ever having been there, and here was all Aldus’ reconciliation. “Thank you, Your Majesty,” was his obliged sigh, for the carpet might be salvaged from the wreck of Draeden’s visit, and the good treasurer might now continue his work and consider whether one-hundred thousand goldweight for so insalubrious and bedraggled a prince was worth all the trouble it took to count it.
While the king was most happy to provide his friend with a means of consolation, he could not allow Aldus to go unscathed for the slight he had paid Draeden, regardless of how moderate the aspersion. Draeden had ruined a national treasure, this could not be denied, but there was no malice in his action; it had all been accidental, and while Draeden might have been a little more mindful of his steps, he could never have meant to dishonour Aldus or his workplace—or even the whole kingdom, as Aldus’ manner might suggest. Though now a grown man, Draeden was still Dorrin’s child, and he would never suffer to scold or punish one who felt the compunction for his inadvertent actions more than most. He would not reprimand Aldus for his honesty; he would only torment him as much as his parental pride would allow. He turned therefore as if meaning to go, and turning back and assuming a thoughtful air, he examined the carpet and said, “You know, Aldus, King Breian always hated this carpet.”
The treasurer looked up from his page and removed his spectacles, staring upon hearing such irreverence. “Hated, Your Majesty?” was his astonished reply. Hated? Impossible! Such a stunning piece? How could this be?
“Oh, yes,” the king thrummed, with a mournful look. “Quite hated, I’m afraid. His letters to Tirlough recant the day he received this piece.” He looked down and grazed the tatted edges of the carpet with his feet. “It was a gift from the King of Lucentia, an arras meant to be hung in the gallery. If I remember correctly, he remarked it as being a ‘decent sort of rug’.”
Aldus gasped in silence. His aspect grew pained and his heart began to ache. A rug? his mind raged, a rug? This is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, not a mere rug! This is not to be trod upon and ignored, but to be admired and praised. The man did not know what he was about, otherwise he should have framed this piece and have it hung in the peristyle where everyone in the keep might pass it by and reflect on its beauties. A rug indeed!
“Poor King Breian was so humble he had no way of knowing that this piece was a priceless artifact from Old Lucentia, given to him as a show of good faith in his leadership and in Frewyn as an allied nation. It was Tirlough’s suggestion to have it put in the treasury.”
“To preserve it, of course,” said Aldus, half decided and half hopeful.
Dorrin half-smiled. “I believe the colourful phrase which Tirlough used was ‘to keep that shite rug out of sight’.”
This was too much agony for the treasurer to endure. To regard a work of such ancient mastery and debase it with such ill commentary was an inconceivable wrong. He would protest against so evil an assertion, but he could not do so without disgracing the memories of two of Frewyn’s most esteemed heroes. His lips pursed, his complexion paled, his fingers fumbled with the pieces of his broken pencil; he would be silent, he would pay no insult to Brave King Breian and General Tirlough, regardless of how artless and unappreciative they seemed, for they were responsible for Frewyn’s First Golden Age, and while they might have been trained up to think that any old sheepskin would do for a carpet, he could not speak against them without his words being misconstrued as treasonous. His breathing bated, his gaze fell to the ground, and he lay his hand over his heart, the pang of so vicious an attack prevailing him.
“King Breian kept it in the royal chambers for a time,” Dorrin continued, trying not to smile. “I believe he allowed his hounds to lie on it.”
Aldus groaned in spite of himself. “Did he,” said Aldus weakly. He shuddered at the notion of hunting brachets, ridden with mud and filth, being allowed to trample so fine a piece, felt himself growing faint, and leaned against his desk to keep himself from unconsciousness.
“It was Queen Connlaith who salvaged it and followed Tirlough’s suggestion of having it put in the treasury. I don’t believe they had any idea of someone being to take such a liking to it.” Dorrin approached the desk and looked fondly on his friend. “Despite how much the arras was maligned in its day, I’m glad that you are so careful with it. It is an attestation of Frewyn’s glorious past, a remnant from a simpler time, and it bespeaks our esteem for our ancient allies by thinking so highly of it.” He paused and placed a hand on Aldus’ shoulder. “You are more than a treasurer, Aldus. You are a great custodian, entrusted with Frewyn’s legacy as a kingdom, and that is why you must forgive my son. He is not as meticulous and vigilant as you are with regard to his appearance, but he is my legacy, and Frewyn is his inheritance.”A meaningful look expressed the king’s entreating solicitation, and Aldus understood his lecture: he had been wrong in showing his disdain for disorder so deliberately, and while he might hold such practices as impeccability as sacred, he must not expect everyone to share his fervor for the same.