Story for the Day: Suilli
Commander Suillibhan, or Suilli as many in his regiment know him, is a mountain of a man from Westren, responsible for training the Diras regiments, known for his cruel tutelage, his abrasive nature, his TussNaTuillin accent, and his formidable moustache. He glories in marching around the barracks, giving orders, and making boys into men by shaping their character with unbearable torment. Though he is a taskmaster on the field, he's a kitten in the garrison and adores all of his students with secret parental affection, Draeden and Bryeison being two of his favourite pupils, mostly because they aren't afraid of him and they excel at everything. When Draeden and Bryeison are at a lost as to how to get out of their dates, they seek Suilli's advice as to how they should proceed, and Draeden is never more mortified by the answer he gives them:
Suilli thundered away, the men gave one another chary looks and dispersed, some to patrol and some to enjoy their last night of abject liberty, and Bryeison and Draeden returned to the barracks.
“We should ask Suilli to join us on our date or even go in our stead,” said Draeden, when they were safely tucked away in their corner. “I think the girls will find him charming, all that stridency and muscle.”
The glint in Bryeison’s eye danced about. “You’re forgetting his moustache.”
“Do you think they would like so overpowering a piece? There is all Suilli’s charm, to be sure, but there are some women who claim that even my father’s trimmed look is far too much for feminine tastes, whatever those are. Suilli’s is so prodigious an appendage that I daresay he should frighten off any woman who could near him, though I have never seen him less than ten feet away from a woman when there is one in the same room.”
“His voice doesn’t allow them to get closer.”
Draeden hummed and looked mindful. “That is true. I have seen the air distort around his lips when he shouts, and I have seen Aengus and Iyvr’s hair stand on end from the preeminent wave of sound that Suilli’s commands can produce. It is bad enough that the ground cracks under his feet when he marches across the field. Odd that we should never have been so terrified of him.”
“You were too gorgonized by his moustache to be afraid.”
“It does always look as though it desperately wants to escape Suilli’s face, dancing about as it does, the curled ends wafting in the passing gales. It is so animated that it might even be sentient, going on dates at night while he is taking his standing doze.”
Bryeison laughed and wondered that Draeden should never have been afraid of himself.
“Afraid of you? Ridiculous! Why should I ever be afraid of you?”
“I’m larger than Suilli.”
“But you are not half so loud, not even when you shout. And you are very cuddlesome besides. Your features are so friendly, your eyes so sparkling, and while your gargantuan arms and legs make one feel a something like intimidation when looking at you for the first time, I could never consider you terrifying, whereas Suilli pageants about as though he were to take the mountains down, all by the might of his tremendous awns.”
Draeden looked as though he were overpowered by the recollection of Suilli’s great enation, and Bryeison laughed and adjusted his greaves, succumbing to even more strident mirth upon hearing Draeden murmur, “They must look like caterpillars when they’re uncurled, hanging down from either side of his mouth like catkins drooping from the boughs of a white birch. Aghatha could hang my woolen socks off them.” Bryeison bellowed in high glee, regaling in his cachinnations and Draeden’s comparisons, and only stopping and sighing when Draeden concluded, “We must ask Suilli to accompany us. I cannot tell which will offend the girls more: the reboations of his voice or his animate moustache.”
“He will say no.”
“If we dress it up to be an escort, he might attend. The man never leaves the keep unless for a war, I know, but he might leave if we fashion some great story about two young women in desperate want of a brave moustache to invigilate their evening gaieties as a matter of kingdom security.”
“Suilli dislikes the nobility even more than you do.”
“He does go out of his way never to leave the barracks, lest he might chance to meet one of them,” Draeden mused, “but he does like me and I was born as one of the nobility. He does go on about clans a great deal-- being from Westren, I daresay that’s only natural-- and he has always liked the Brennins, as he says, mostly because we were always rather a low bough on the tree of Frewyn aristocracy who got to the throne by always being just advisors to kings. Perhaps if I ask him as a matter of Brennin honour, he’ll agree to go.”
Honour, though forever a subject of immense interest to Suilli, could not persuade him to venture away from his post, and accompany them on their evening venture, as they soon discovered, Suilli would not: he entered the barracks a few moments later, and when the question was put to him, it was instantly declined on account of some business he had with regard to overseeing an escort that was coming in from Karnwyl overnight. He fixed his pipe in the corner of his mouth and scowled and lunted about, deliberating over Draeden’s magnanimous proposal, humphing and curling his moustachios between his thumb and forefinger until they began to fray. “Twa hens?” said Suilli doubtingly. “But ye doant have anae relatives but yursel’ and Hess Majestae. Hou is thess a matter o’ Brennan honour if ‘em twa hens ain’t Brennans?” He descried Draeden with a tapered glare and shifted his pipe to the opposing corner of his mouth. “”Mon,” he growled, “oot with it. A matter o’ whose honour, and nae tales.”
“Mine,” was Draeden’s sighing reply. “Bryeison promised us for a date with Fallana and Cadiena.”
Suilli appeared genuinely surprised. “Date, aye? Havnae had yin o’ those since Ah was a lad. Never lieked ‘em mahsel’—dates, no’ hens. Ah right love the hens, but they gottae be good’yins, thick hens with a bit o’ meat on ‘em, no’ liek ‘em Marridon maepoles with nae legs. Aye, hens need a pair o’ baune on ‘em.”
“Dates’re deffrent in Westren than they are in thess big hoolie o’ a place,” Suilli amended, asserting with his pipe in hand. “TussNaTuillin ‘speciallae.”
“How so?” Draeden asked, almost in dread of his reply, thinking that every man as unpolished and as vulgar as Suilli and stemming from the kingdom’s remote reaches judged a woman by her endowments. “Do you pluck your women from any field you might be passing, sling them over your shoulder, and carry them home?”
“Well,” Suilli began. He paused and puffed on his pipe, the curls of white smoke billowing out from between his teeth. “Yur no’ far aff, Brennan. If Ah choose a hen from a deffrent clan, Ah gottae fight for her. If she’s got a bruthur, a fathur, or a cousin what’s defendin’ her honour, Ah’ve gottae prove mahsel’. If Ahm gonnae court her, Ah gottae show ‘em tha’ Ah can defend mah clan. Ah saw thess bheann, had hair like golden wheat, legs liek drums, grand baune, freckles an’ o’, poutin’ mouth gaggin’ for it. Ah had tae have her, but if Ah wanted her, Ah had tae fight her bruthur.” He shook his head and stared at the far wall, as though struck with the remembrance of some atrocity. “Biggest bastard Ah’ve ever seen. Big as yursel’, CreNaCille, with a cask o’ a belly and hauns liek trainin’ mitts. Brickmaker, he was. Aye, his hauns felt liek bricks when they hit meh.”
“Is that how you lost your tooth?”
“Aye,” said Suilli, in a thrill of pride, brandishing his embrasure. “Tha’ was a fight, fists and stones an’ o’. He hit meh hard, sure broke mah nose, bloodied and bruised mah face somethin’ terrible. He got mah tooth, but Ah got mah hen. Aye,” in a reverie, “she was a bheann if ever. Many o’ night when Ah joined the king’s men did Ah dream aboot bein’ ‘atween ‘em thick thighs, grabbin’ ‘em with my hauns and ploughin’ mah share ‘atween ‘em.”
Suilli’s eyes blazed in a fever of triumph, his countenance stricken with a fierce and distant elation, and Draeden shifted anxiously about, hoping there was an end to this history that did not comprise any more of the minutiae which Suilli was so fervently cherishing.
“Never seen a bheann liek tha’ again. Sure Ah seen a few from Tyfferim, but they doant compare tae a good Westren hen. Built by the Gods ‘emsel’s. Made for roughin’ and scappin’ and throwin’ aboot. She usetae dig her nails intae mah back whilst Ah was poundin’ her, screamin’ liek a babe for meh tae give it tae her liek a Brennan. Aye, Ah was a pig with her, but she loved meh, an’ Ah loved her.”
“What happened to her?” asked Draeden, wondering whether she had not run away the moment that Suilli’s moustache began to sprout.
“Call came for fightin’,” said Suilli, in a more serious tenor. “Maeve was warrin’ on the kingdom. As a clansman, mah ancestors made a promise tae defend Allun’s throne. Maeve was a traitor an’ needed tae be taken doun. Ah joined the king’s men, left mah clan and mah bheann tae be here. Ah didnae ken when Ah’d be back tae’em, so Ah had tae let mah hen go.”
“Did you never write to her?”
A cloud of fumes frothed forth from Suilli’s lips, and he shook his head. “Ah couldae keep her hangin’ on meh. Ah wanted her tae find a good lad. We were right young, tae young for marryin’ an’ faimlae an’ o’. If Ah saw her now, Ahd ask her tae come hame with meh, but Ahm no’ there. Ah got nae right askin’ her tae come here, an’ mah duty’s tae Hess Majestae. Ah thought tae look for her when we went tae fight Gallei a’ the wall, but we were naewhere near TussNaTuillin.”
Draeden exchanged a glance with Bryeison, each beginning to feel remorseful that they had deemed Suilli so unfeeling when he was only severe with his admiration.
“Would you ever return to Westren to train the regiment there?” asked Bryeison.
“Aye, Ah would, but no’ till Ah ken tha’ Hess Majestae’ll be in good hauns here. Yous twa are gonnae be First Captains an’ Generals an’ o’, but till then, Ahm stayin’.”
Their hearts gladdened, and Bryeison presently asked, “Do you miss Westren?”
“No, ‘cause westren doant leave ye, CreNaCille,” was Suilli’s answer, said with all the sincerity that a heart pining for bolaig, clan brawls, and men of firm resolution and unmitigated brawn could furnish. “When we leave hame, we take her with us. Her walls, her sounds and smells, her rollin’ fields and windin’ villages, her high citae-- every brick and stone, o’ in here,” touching his hand to his heart. “Westren’s mah hame, an’ when I cloase mah eyes tae sleep, she comes tae see meh, thatched hooses, grey mountains, Roe Gaumhins, an’ o’. She doant leave ye, even when ye leave her.”To hear Suilli, one so abrasive in manner and unforgiving in his tutelage, speak with such affected sincerity about the place he loved best was as sorrowful as it was heartening. His determined countenance, his emboldened expression, his mournful air recommended a heart that was lamenting its being rent from its foundation, though he had relinquished it for the honour of being in the Diras regiment, of being under the king’s direct command.