Story for the Day: Afternoon Tea
Even the king needs his time alone to reflect:
The end of the morning soon came: the bells from the Church purled throughout the capital, announcing the sext to all those without and bringing the riotous recess of all the children within; the markets began bustling with the reboation of midday sales, and while the court would have endured for another hence, the day was too mild and the air too agreeable to sit indoors for more than was good for the indolent minds of the Frewyn nobility. Feet grew restless, hands fidgeted and fingers twiddled, and just as the court came to a conclusion about the location for a new row of halfway houses, the herald iterated the verdict, the gavel was speedily sounded, and the whole of the court was dismissed, much to Dorrin’s happiness and relief. While he needed the votes of the gentry to conclude the case, he could ask for a little less languor, but it was so fine a day, with the warblers and rollers flitting and chirruping about, the colder climate ebbing back and giving way to a warmer hue as the noonday sun reigned over the skies, that even his attention to the business began to falter, for he had stood from his chair at the dais and dismissed court before all the necessary articles were signed. He quitted the room only seconds after banging the gavel, leaving the herald to go in quest of Searle, for the documents appertaining to the new halfway houses must be finalized if any production was to begin. The king, however, was gone, borne into the sunlight pervading the open doors, and with the flurry of motion that followed him, every lord and lady in the place clamouring to hasten out of doors, the king’s train was lost, all sight or sound of him drowned under the incessant flow of gowns and gab, the garlands of lace and knitted wool garnishing every limb, and the herald was forced to apply to Searle, though he would rather have reveled in the distinction of asking His Majesty to sign the agreement himself.
Midday tea was waiting for the king in the kitchen, but the tinkling twitters of the finches chasing one another round the copse of mulberry trees lining the sward and the ceaseless cries of the sparrows as they hopped about his feet oppressed him with unmitigated delight. It was a midmorning of endless exhilaration: the children from the church whooped about in the yard, laughter from the square below echoed and caromed off the brisk gales rolling in from the nearby seas, swifts in full flight kited after one another overhead, the rippling and convivial brocade of the marketplace, the gentle lapping of the river as its waters, revived by the sunlight, dashed against the estuary-- the full sweets of spring under the ascendancy of the amber rays, casting a golden tinge over purlieu of the capital, recommending the height of Frewyn’s splendor, was all for the king’s delectation. He adored the changing of the season, as it reminded him of his wife, the scent of budding amaryllises harkening to a time when his wife’s cheeks blushed with the glow of life, the bloom of her youth restored by the sweets of the season, her flaxen hair billowing against her pastel complexion—he exhaled, but it was an exhalation of fond reverie, one which an amorous remembrance that he long cherished as he went from the peristyle, down the main hall, and to the kitchen entrance. If only she were here, gliding about the halls on light feet and holding Draeden’s hand as she had been used to do, her long train trailing behind her, slinking around the corners of the keep, his eye catching the last intimation of her being there: a laugh, a smile, a sigh—she was lovely, she had been the most unexceptionable wife, one that could never be replaced in form or face, whose manner was so gentle and faultless as to make the most terrific of creatures and disagreeable of men yield to her faint tones. She had been his, illness had taken her from him, but the spring always brought her back again, and as he entered the kitchen, where tea was brewing and buttered scones were giving round, he wore his warmest smiles, his aspect in high humour while the sight of the verdure in the far field was in view.
As the king came to the counter to say his goodafternoons to Ruta, who was hastening to have the tea steeped and strained for His Majesty’s meal, he descried the farrier and the stablemaster sitting at the table by the window, each in the height of good humour, sharing hale and hardy mirth over plates of buttered scones and brined bacon, doling out the japes and settling accounts of scandal and family interest, using all the wit and insinuations of vulgarity that Old Frewyn could furnish, until they observed the king coming toward them. His presence, though always welcome, silenced them instantly, all their indecent phrases swept away under the esteem they held for their sovereign. They stood and made their low bows, but Dorrin waved them down, insisting that there was no need for obeisance and prostration while only those whose company he enjoyed best were by. He urged them to sit, and equally urged them to continue their conversation and not to mind him as he observed with a beholden sigh, “I’m not a king when I sit at this table. Here is my place of peace, where I can enjoy meaningful discourse and not have to pander to the tempers of those whom I cannot like.”
“Can’t is a stout word, Majesty,” said Ruta, coming to the table with a small tray of tea, jams and round biscuits for Dorrin. “Sure feel sorry for the one what you can’t like.”
“I would have said do not, but,” and there was a heavy sigh when Dorrin said it, “I think there must be allowances for men like Count Rosse. I say cannot because I really do believe it is wholly impossible for me or anyone else to agree with him or his company. I wish it were not so, but…” His voice trailed, and he left the conversation there, happy to have the farrier or stablemaster to continue while he spread his blueberry jam and clotted cream and sipped his tea in silence. He reviewed the business of the morning as the two recommenced the conversation, and while his eye was toward the far field, remarking every foxtail and fescue that the scene could permit, he realized that he had forgot to sign the assessment at the end of court, but the herald would probably scramble to find Searle, and all would be rectified, for while the wellbeing of his people was always first in his heart, he was tired and in want of all the quiet cheerfulness that the conversancy of the keep’s hardworking inhabitants could recommend. A few moments spent listening to the hums of the cook and the guffaws of the farrier while Dieas told his vulgar stories, and all the king’s equanimity soon returned. After some minutes, however, though he tried to be engaged with the conversation, his mind was occupied with what had passed at court: it was a nonsense case, one that should have been tried and over with ages ago. If the gentry would not hold their own interests in so distinguished a light—he checked himself, was forced to remind himself that he too was one of the Frewyn gentry though he had no association with many of them outside of the proceedings, and made his silent apologies to the absent jury. Would that more of them be like Breandan, more disposed to help and improve rather than hinder and regulate. True superiority of character and mind came from granting assistance to those who needed it most: Dorrin was a well-respected king because he was forever placing his people’s wellbeing before his own. He tried to be the example and hoped that more would practice more judicious modes of living, but too often did he feel that he and Breandan were alone in their practicability, each of them generous and kindly, each of them Gods-fearing, each of them willing to relinquish all their wealth, health, and tranquility to assist those who needed encouragement most. These were the cogitations which occupied him as he got through the first of the round biscuits, his sensibilities soothed by all the pleasance that the curls of steam rising from the fresh bread, the mellifluous taste of cooled cream, and the succour that savoury jam could supply.