Story for the Day: Pride in One's Work
There are many who might consider housekeeping a chore, but to the king's Thegn, it's a matter of pride:
The evening work over, the maids and servants and craftsmen in the keep retired to the bothan and servants quarters, resigning themselves to a well deserved rest, and the king’s cares seen to, the dinner agreeably spent and the quiet revelry of late gloaming gone through, Searle could fuss and fidget over Aghatha’s account of a torn curtain, which was all his agitation, give the order for mending it to Pastaddams, and retrieve the soapwort in his way to the treasury. It had been a most pleasant evening and had given way to an even pleasanter night, the stars holding their reign over the blackened skies with all the ascendancy that their scintillating animation could warrant. He stopped to admire their brilliancy, his meticulous eye darting across the constellations, the Gods gracing the skies in the full bloom of evening, and Searle was gratified that another day at the keep as the head of the king’s service had gone tolerably well. The game pie might have been warmer as it was brought to the king’s table, and the prince might have effected to avail himself of the utensils while in front of a guest, though their guest was a young groom, but upon the whole, the king had given him so thorough an account of his appreciation for so wonderful a meal and such unparalleled and personal service that Searle’s anxieties may be safely put by for the present and resume again on the morrow. Now he was granted the full command of his own time, and he was at liberty to spend the remainder of the night under the treasurer’s stern auspices and clean his carpet as he would.
At first, Aldus betrayed only a moderate interest in Searle’s coming; he looked up once from his page when Searle made an elegant bow as he entered the room, and even looked up a second time when the thegn floated toward the far corner of the carpet. A few moments passed, no pleasantries were exchanged, not even a glance passed between them, Searle only too happy to be invited to the treasury at so late an hour, and Aldus satisfied to see that the thegn had kept his promise, and all fear of discovery with regard to the secretive sentiments that each was cherishing diminished, but the moment that Searle knelt down and began to cleanse the carpet, working on hands and knees to carefully remove any lingering stains—of which there were none, as Searle silently noted—Aldus could not but notice him. That a thegn should suffer to prostrate himself merely to scrub the carpet, a duty which might be fit for a maid but could never be acceptable for the king’s personal attendant, was inconceivable. What is the man about, groveling and scouring? was Aldus’ horrified cogitation. Where is Aghatha, and why did not Searle wait until he was rung for? His personal attendance to the duty, that I had expected, but this is a way of going on that is not to be borne. He glanced up from his page several times, peering out from behind his very great stack of papers, watching and pretending not to watch as Searle scoured the elaborate designs, his fingers furnished with the finest gloves, meticulously patting every stitch with a graceful flourish, his aspect tranquil and obliging—it was scandalous to see such an exquisite model in manner, in dress, in form, in face stooping to perform the duties of a maid. What is he at, coming in all his immaculate state-- He tried to ignore the thegn, telling himself all manner of excuses as to why Searle might concede to lower himself: he might want to allow Aghatha an evening’s rest, or none of the lower maids might be skilled enough to clean so ancient a piece, but every justification he could conjecture would not succeed in quelling his sense of impropriety. When he had made the request earlier, he little thought that Searle would perform the service himself, highly as the thegn’s presence pleased him. He thought that Aghatha or one of the upper maids might do the job credibly under Searle’s supervision, and while he was certain that Searle was much the best person to perform the office, he could wish that he might not look so very humbled while doing it.
“Scrubbing and prostrating,” said Aldus, with unanswerable dignity, “is beneath the king’s thegn.”
A small smile garnished the corners of Searle’s mouth as he continued scouring. “Did not you ask for the carpet to be cleaned, Mr Craughleidh?” said he, raising a thin and finely trimmed brow and glancing up at the treasurer, his expression arch and playfully unassuming.
How dare he! was Aldus’ resentful profession, his scowl even more virulent than was usual. How dare the thegn appropriate the chief of the blame to the treasurer. It was insupportable to think that he should ever have insinuated-- he was not to be held accountable for the self-imposed degradation of the king’s personal servant, he, who was overly scrupulous for appearance and propriety—the notion was provoking to endure with any tolerable constancy. His motive in having the carpet cleaned might be questioned, but his attention to the respectability of the office certainly could not be under any scrutiny. An inhale, a flout of grim determination, and with all the severity that his incensed aspect could command, Aldus exhaled and put down his pen. “I had no idea,” said he, in severe indignation, “of your condescending to clean it yourself. Had I known that this was your object in your saying that you should attend to it personally— I must protest against this irreverent behavior. If His Majesty were to see his thegn debasing and diminishing himself—you will stain your gloves and spoil your breeches. Your cuffs will fray if you continue to scrub in so violent a manner.”
Searle’s heart leapt in rapture at the treasurer’s protestations, for these, he knew, were contrived only to palliate a mind ill at ease of its quarrels. He observed, in Aldus’ scowling aspect, a remorse at having begged the favour, and a sense of decency that was greatly injured by his actions, which was all Searle’s private regale. “There is hardly any violence in my motions, Mr Craughleidh,” said he, in a careless tone, adjusting his tailcoat, “as you are so good to be scrupulous of. I am taking great care not to hurt my clothes, if that be all your apprehension.”
“My apprehension,” said Aldus stoutly, “is that your honour be preserved. It is a degradation to see His Majesty’s thegn so disgracefully employed. Had I known that you were to scour the carpet in so reprehensible a manner, I should not have asked it be done. This is a duty for Aghatha or one of the upper maids, but not for you. ”
A pause, penetrating look was exchanged, the few particles of dust floated off the carpet and drifted aimlessly in the amber glow emanating from the sconces, the reflection of the candlelight from Aldus’ desk illuminating each countenance with a soft glow, tingeing Aldus’ features with a heated blush and granting Searle a something like numinous prepossession as he sat upright on his knees, claiming the treasurer’s full attention.
“There is no greater honour, Mr Craughliedh,” said Searle proudly, “than being asked to clean this ancient piece, and I should never allow anyone but Aghatha or myself to near it, if I could not be certain of its security. What you would deem a degradation, I consider to be the very height of my office, along with ensuring the constant wellbeing of my sovereign. I should be stripped of my title if I could mind so immense a duty as putting my hand to so beautiful a relic. This tapestry,” looking down and studying the piece laid beneath him, “was given to Brave King Breian as a symbol of friendship when he made Frewyn’s first alliance with Lucentia. It a superb work, a delicate remnant from Old Lucentia, a kingdom long lost to us. Not even the King of Lucentia knew how old it was when he gave it King Breian to keep. It is far older than what the records can suggest.” His eye fell over the golden weave, following the intricate pattern until his gaze returned to Aldus. “This piece, Mr Craughleidh, deserves my express attention, and I would not be removed from the honour of cleaning it by hand, though my stooping to care for it might appear undignified, and, if I may be allowed to say so, it is a degradation I should gladly condescend to do whenever asked.” He paused, raised his chin, and adjusted his waistcoat. “I am privileged to be entrusted with its preservation, and my dignity and how I may be perceived means but little where the conservation of a piece that recommends Frewyn’s ancient alliances is concerned.”
Searle had done, and Aldus was silenced; he was too much oppressed by the thegn’s sense of honour and overpowered by the notion that someone could rate his claims to duty with regard to serving the kingdom as much as his own. At last there was someone who understood the meaning of obligation, at last there was another who could comprehend the sense of accomplishment gained by doing everything himself. Forever had the inhabitants of the keep sneered at the treasurer’s seemingly menial office, forever questioning and caviling at his solitary calculations, deeming his work as something that could hardly be considered as rewarding or difficult. Estimates and evaluations and ceaseless attention to one’s work could not be understood by those who were used to polish and mend, for while their work was just as taxing, they received the rewards of their labour immediately while no one observed any benefit from Aldus’ constant computations but himself. He received the king’s delectation at least once a season, but all the estimable joys in his difficult work was his alone. Here, however, was a dignity of a very different character, for while Searle’s work required activity, he was a manager and an officiator: he too was an estimator, calculating everyone’s occupation, directing and determining all day long, never ceasing to think was what due to the king, and never too proud to perform the most tedious task, and all this done with a clear head, confidence and constancy, never a day, an hour, a moment missed, everyone in their proper place performing their proper employment, everything in the keep pristine and perfect, and to see Searle, the champion of accomplishment, using his time to continue his work well into the evening if only to be honoured by tending to a carpet—it was an admiration overpowering to Aldus, one to make him remove his spectacles, stand from his desk, and approach the thegn. He must tell him, he must show him how greatly he venerated one who worked beyond what was expected and did it all for little more than private remuneration. He might receive praise and compensation from the king, but there was little compensation to be attained in cleaning a carpet other than that which comes from triumphing against indolence.