#NaNoWriMo Day 9: The Return of the Rat

The rat that plagued the keep is back, and this time he means to rile everyone's sensibilities:

Word of the rat’s presence soon spread throughout the keep, and from everyone’s reaction, the small creature might as well have been a vulture, come to roost on the battlement and lay siege to the castle: the nobles locked themselves in their apartments with their card tables and tea, the servants lifted the hems of their skirts and hid in the servants’ hall, and though everyone was in some manner or other aware of the creature skulking and slenching about, no one was more sensible of its presence than the king.
                The moment the commander broke the news to him, the king replied with a slightly discomposed “Oh…” stood from his seat in the library, where he was looking over the matters at court for the day, and began inching toward the door. He looked under tables, around corners, behind chairs, even beneath his parchments. “Well,” said Alasdair, after a moment’s pause, “I’m certainly glad I didn’t eat anything this morning.”
                “It probably wandered in from the square,” said Boudicca. “It is collection day. It probably came from one of the waste carts.”
                Alasdair was instantly horrified. “That means it’s going to bring all its filth and disease here.” He shuddered in quiet anguish and sidled the commander, looking charily about his feet.
                “Diras Castle is the cleanest home on the Two Continents, Alasdair,” she laughed. “One rat shall not ruin your reputation as the shining master of Frewyn’s premiere house.”
                “No, but the rat might find its way into my closet and gnaw on my jerkins and gnash through my bow strings.”
                “Poor you, Alasdair. And this is what discomposes Frewyn’s king, not a declaration of war, not a rebellion, not even the sight of Rosse’s unconscionably tight galligaskins, but a rat.”
                “As horrifying as Rosse’s clothing choices are,” said Alasdair, searching under the nearby tables, “they are not contagious.”
                “I daresay they are. Atrocious fashion is far more catching in the courts than disease can ever be.”
                “Rats can carry rabies.”
                “And nobles carry fatuousness, which is the worst of the two, I assure you. Bilar can treat illness, Alasdair, but no cleric’s remedy can cure ignorance.”
                Alasdair sighed. “Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I’m overacting—” but just then, a skree was heard in the hallway, the shrieks of young girls echoed throughout the keep, and Alasdair nearly leapt on the commander. “I’m calling the trapper,” he said, in a panic.
                “I think you need not trouble yourself when you have many proficient hunters in the keep, Alasdair. Gaumhin or Brigdan might help you.”
                “They are in the yard training with the Royal Guard. I’m not going to trouble them for this.”
                “But their king is in distress, and it is their duty to protect him.”
                Alasdair gave her a flat look. “I might ask the whole armed forces to search for the rat for that reason.”
                “And why not? It should be an excellent exercise for them. The Royal Guard are so busy marching about the borders of the keep, they might be in want of a little amusement. And what of Ennan? It might be good practice for him to be shooting at such a quickly moving target.”
                “If the rat should bite him, I would never forgive myself.”
                “You might ask Soledhan to charm it out of the keep.”
“I want none of the children near it.”
“And Khaasta?”
“Martje would never allow that cat in her kitchen again after all the milk it spoiled.”
                “My mate can be asked.”
                “So he can skin it and gut it and wear it as a trophy?”
                The commander shrugged. “It will be dead, at least.”
                “I want no one I love going near it—not even Rautu. I know Martje is determined to kill it herself, but I cannot allow it knowing what infections this thing might be host to.”
“Alasdair,” said Boudicca laughingly, shaking her head, “you are far too scrupulous.”
“I think you mean endearing in this instance.”
“That as well. And what of your queen, Alasdair? Her workplace is not far from the kitchen. The rat might be lurking about her tailor this very moment.”
Alasdair was gone in an instant, leaping out of the library and hastening toward the tailor with all the alacrity that his terror could command. He passed the herald in his way and demanded that the Scoaleigh be sent with a message to the trapper that he was to come to the keep immediately, whilst images of gnashing teeth, slithering tails, and skittering feet plagued his mind. “Carrigh…” he panted, rounding the corner to the servants’ quarter. He came to the tailor door, threw the door open,  and sitting at her sewing desk was his wife, looking as lovely as ever, mending something of Dorrin’s and seemingly not at all in distress. “Carrigh,” said Alasdair, hurrying towards her with open arms. “My darling, are you hurt? Did it touch you?”
“Has what touched me, sire?” said she, welcoming his tender embrace.
“The thing that’s crawling about the keep.”  
“You mean the rat, sire?”
Alasdair’s eyes flared. “Is it here? Have you seen it? Has it crept under the door? Did it near you?”
                “Alasdair,” Carriagh laughed, “it has been nowhere in this tailor.”
                “Excellent. Then we can hide in here until it’s caught.”
                He closed the door and locked it, searched under the sewing table and about the back room, inspected the looming spools and bolts, and when he was tolerably easy, he heard a strange scratching sound and clung to his wife. “Did you hear that?” he said, in a dreadful hush.
                Carrigh was all demure smiles. “I hear nothing, sire.”
“How can you not have heard it? It sounded as though it was scratching against the door.”
“Do you want me to open the door to see if the rat is there?”
“No, don’t you dare, my love,” Alasdair demanded, pulling her hand back from the handle. “You might let it in here, and it might get lost amidst the fabrics and ruin all your stock.” He paused and held to his wife. “…And it might touch me.”

Carrigh could not but laugh at this, and she drew his cheek to her breast and rubbed his back, and asked whether his perusal of the new jerkin she had just made would be a pleasant distraction for him.

Enjoyed the story? Read the whole tale in Tales from Frewyn Volume Two!