Story for the New Year: Count Rosse
Alasdair's grand nemesis, in all his hateful glory:
Fortunately there was no one about in the royal quarter; the chief of the nobility and those belonging to their set were preparing for their own celebrations or were already gone home to their various estates, and the king and queen could be easy. They sauntered down the hall, admiring the equanimity that overpowered the keep: the usual bustle of everyone readying for court, of maids tittuping up and down the corridors with their various conveyances, of the children tripping off to their lessons, of the soldiers running morning skirmishes was all muted under the ascendancy of the coming holiday. Everything bore a more festive air: the fires from the sconces illuminating the hallway granted the stone a warm amber glow, the red carpet with its golden trimming lately cleaned accorded a jovial appearance, the briskness of the morning frost tinged their cheeks and noses with the blush of winter, and the scent of rye roast and salted butter permeated the keep.
“I love the holidays,” Alasdair declared. He gave a most blithesome sigh, and then, in a more derisive tone and glancing at the ceiling, he added, “Thank the Gods Rosse isn’t here. He is always insufferable, but he’s even more so round the holidays. He is always making some excuse to leave court early, and while I would oblige him merely to give myself some time off, I admit it is a pleasure to see him writhe in his seat when I refuse to allow him to leave.”
Carrigh smiled and shook her head. “You are asking to be plagued, sire,” said she, in a playful hue.
“The man plagues me so much already, the least I can do is get a bit of my own back when the chance is given to me. Isn’t that so, Brighel?”
The child’s eyes sparkled, and Carrigh dandled her about as she reached out to touch her father’s face.
“I hope you will never have a Rosse to deal with, my darling,” said Alasdair, pressing his lips into his daughter’s open palm, and the quietly while exchanging a subrisive look with her, “May he be strangled by his own atrocious leggings before you come to court.”
“Your Majesty!” cried a strident and familiar voice from behind him.
Alasdair’s shoulders tensed. The voice was as remarkable as it was unmistakable: its shrill tones and snoaching tenor, its offensive dissonance, its prolonged wyes—Why in the Gods’ names was he here? Why was he not with the rest of his abominable brood in Sethshire or Farriage or whatever place his wretched whelps decided to visit for the holidays? He had better not be staying here, Alasdair’s mind seethed, he had better just be leaving or I’ll have Mureadh throw him on the next ship to Marridon.
The voice was nearing.
By the Gods, make that man go away. Alasdair refused to turn around, hoping that by some scant chance his nemesis were only an apparition, but the sound of his clointering footfalls and the sight of Carrigh’s features struck with restrained horror convinced him that Count Rosse was indeed coming to greet them. Alasdair frothed with indignation, his lips pursed, his fists tightened, and that his adversary was coming to speak to them as a sort of leave-taking was all his consoling aspiration. What was he doing there? He should have left yesterday with all the other nobles. If he means to stay, I’m having him locked in his apartment. A hem, and drawn out respiration, and with a perfunctory smile, which was all the exultation Alasdair could muster at present, he turned and was prepared to make some civil speech about how pleasant a surprise it was to see His Grace when the prospect of the count’s outfit astonished and silenced him.
“Your Majesty,” said the count, with a most ingratiating bow, and with less an fawning temper, he turned to Carrigh and said, “Her Excellency, and the young Highness.”
How was such a fright allowable? Striped woolens, a puffed doublet, and pointed shoes were the least of Rosse’s offenses: his snide condescension, flaring nostrils, untrimmed moustache, and protracted nose only added to the repulsiveness of his knitted gorge, his strung codpiece, and overabundant patterns assailed Alasdair’s senses. He was bewildered; lost in a wreck of ribbons and ruffles, Alasdair knew not where to stare first: the hat, overwrought and overtrimmed, with its wide brim and sharp peak was enough to attack anyone standing too near; the ruffles about the shoulders undulated from the nape to the forearm in waves of sickening hues, leading down to two mismatching gloves; the dreadful chute of his pantaloons, billowing out over his knees, would have been forgivable if not for the foreflap between them, displaying by pomp what he did not have and sadly aggrandizing the little he did. It was a mismanaged and misconfrumpled fright every which way, and Alasdair was silent and smouldering.
Carrigh was tolerably able to exchange the pleasantries that the situation required, despite Count Rosse’s contemptuousness and indelicate manners. “And are you staying here for the celebration, Your Grace?” said Carrigh, with as much propriety as her sense of propriety could afford.
“Heavens, no, Excellency,” Rosse replied, with sighing civility. “I am going to join the rest of the Rosses in Farriage for the holiday.”
“Oh, that will be lovely, I’m sure—“
“I have only stayed to oversee the packing and conveying of the gifts I’m bringing to the north. Dreadful cold weather we had yesterday, I wanted to be sure of nothing being tarnished by the frightful gusts that raged on through the evening. There are Lucentian silks and Livanese porcelains to be transported, and nothing right is to be done with porters from the west. Anyone from Hallanys might be trusted with silks and satins, but give them a box of pottery and they have no idea what to do with it.”
Carrigh almost smiled. “You forget, Your Grace, that I am from—“
“Ah yes, and so you are, Excellency, but the more I see of porters from Hallanys, the more I am convinced that you must be the exception.”
It was said with such complacency and with such an air of finality that Carrigh was forced to allow the Count his ungenerous and mistaken observation, and only smile and appear unaffected.
“How remarkable your dress is, Excellency,” Count Rosse continued, without waiting to be invited for his opinion. “It is so very—“ he narrowed his gaze, screwed up his mouth, and after some indistinct miffling, he said, “—so very traditional. Yes, traditional. With its traditional patterns, traditional lace, and traditional style. It must be a family heirloom to be so old fashioned.”
Carrigh would not have smiled for the world. “And is your piece,” said she, returning the same smiling self-assurance, “traditional? I confess, Your Grace, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.”
Rapt in a cloak of his own magnificence, Count Rosse was too gratified to catch her hint of disdain. “Her Excellency is very generous to notice. It is an homage to the late Lord Archibald the fifth, one of my favourite Balletrim rulers. He was somewhat of a controversial leader in his day, but he was so forward-thinking in his dress that I cannot but admire his taste in raiment, if I cannot admire his politics.”
Carrigh would have said that perhaps late Lord Archibald’s notions on the importance of slavery, his subjugation of women, and the ordered murder of his serfs made him as disliked in his own lands as he was without, but after taking in the whole of the count’s attire, she was obliged to consider that perhaps his atrocious taste in dress was probably more odious than any of his actions could have been. “I see that Lord Archibald has some interesting points in his reign that I must have overlooked,” was all Carrigh’s answer.
Count Rosse tried not to sneer and seem affronted. “Quite, Excellency. And your opinion, Your Majesty?” said Count Rosse, with a flourish at the king. “You have studied the various leaders of Balletrim several times, though you don’t make it . Might not we have your opinion as to the accuracy of the attire?”
Alasdair was still staring.
“Sire,” Carrigh whispered, gently touching her husband’s arm.Weltering in consternation at such an abomination, wondering how Count Rosse could have conceived such a underhung flap could possibly be flattering, aglifft after having counted at least ten ribbons too many, Alasdair was besieged by his own horror. Violent gapes and a contracted brow were all Count Rosse’s clothes could augur, and he indulged his internal solicitudes about the vulgarity of such a piece, wondered whether he might not charge him for public indecency, wondered what Sir Pastaddams should say of it and whether he would not ask Rosse and his tailor to be put to death at once, and decided that having such loud stripes on anything should be illegal.