Story for the Day: Dinner with Count Rosse Pt.1
There is nothing worse in the world than bad company, and when the bad company in question is of a royal stamp, there is no cure for it save what a few fists can recommend.
There would be no performance that evening: Ailineighdaeth was to begin at sundown, and the entertainment was instead to be offered at noon, to give the performers and servers time to return home and prepare for their evening celebrations with their family and friends. The tales in the main dining hall were sprinkled with traders and merchants visiting from Marridon, many of them decidedly remaining in Frewyn for the length of the holiday to enjoy everything that the day had to offer, and sitting at their private tables beside the stage were the lords and ladies belonging to the Frewyn gentry, some of them sitting with honoured guests from Marridon, others accubating with easy indifference by themselves, their personal attendants standing behind them to pour the wine and slice the bread. Waitresses fluttered about on silent feet, gliding back and forth from the bar to the hall to the kitchen and back again, refilling glasses and scribbling away on their pads, performing perfunctory smiles for the gentry and holding animated conversation with those who genuinely sought their notice. Light poured through the stained glass windows leaving iridescent marks along the ground, the apricity from the rays billowing in soft shadow across the lighted walls. Furoles flickered when doors were opened, scents of cottage loaves and rye rolls emanated from the baking room, teacakes and scones were brought for those who asked, dried rosemary and wild mountain thyme decorated every table. Musicians tuned their instruments in conclamant symphony, a reboation of mirth and voices rang out from the bar where patrons wreathed round in herds eagerly awaiting their drinks. The dancers made their began their stretches, complaining of cramp and sore feet from having done the show twice yesterday for a group of farmers from Westren, and while the men from the west were generous with their commendations and obliging with their enthusiasm, the dance they had begged for after the performance was over, the traditional ceiligh that ensued, was the cause of their discomfort now. It had been a pleasant time, however, and one that recommended of being pleasanter than the performance they were to have now, for while there were a few jovial and benevolent men occupying chairs, Count Rosse
had just entered the main parlour with his attendant and was
already demanding to be seated.
|A WIP of the count in all his glory|
“Keep yer hat on, Yer Grace,” said the barman, who was standing behind the bar, out of the count’s hearing, and was wiping down his glasses. “Someone’ll be at ye to lick the muck from yer slippers sure enough.”
“Not so loud, Mittiedh,” a waitress beside him whispered.
Here was a heavy sigh. “That decorated grod, with his flouncin’ cacks—he looks like a springpole. I got no patience for his kind th’day,” said Mittiedh, shaking his head and placing the dry glasses on the hanging wrack, “not th’ day at all. It’s holiday th’day. I want a nice day for all o’ yis, and I’ll not have it ruined by the likes o’ him nor any of ‘em. If he thinks he’s gonna be harassin’ the folks and callin’ ‘em peasants and wavin’ his hand and clickin’ his fingers th’gether every which way for service, sure’n I won’t mind callin’ the guard to have him out. I won’t have it th’day, Ailis.” He turned aside and slung his clean cloth over his shoulder. “I won’t have his hollarin’ and nonsense, shoutin’ at the dancers and sayin’ terrible things to no one. I want us to have a good mornin’ so’s yis can take yer smiles back to yer fam’lies. I don’t want yis goin’ home thinkin’ yer worth nothin’ ‘cause some sir-lord-o’ the- high-hills says so.”
“Sure, we won’t be thinkin’ that, Mittiedh,” Ailis kindly assured him. “We know what he says he don’t mean, and even if he do mean it, we know he never learned any better and he can’t be faulted.”
“Aye, he can.” Mittiedh exhaled and turned aside. “I just don’t like hearin’ ‘em say so. A man can’t stand by and hear those what he cares for bein’ spoken badly about.”
Ailis placed her hand at her breast and gave a small sentimental sigh. “Away ye go, Mittiedh, with that talkin’. Ye’ll have me waterin’ before I have to serve anyone. No need tellin’ us, for we all know ye like us well enough.”
“Aye, I do, but it don’t hurt a man to say so. Ye work hard, lookin’ after a hundred tables a night while helpin’ me mind the bar. Seein’ noblefolk throw a copper at ye and tell ye to beg for it makes me--” He stopped here, feeling his chest swell and his complexion in a glow. His chest heaved, he closed his eyes and exhaled, and the barman began again. “I just don’t like seein’ yis treated like hounds, bein’ shouted at and made to fetch thither and hither just ‘cause they like watchin’ ye tittup on yer toes. I’m tellin’ ye now,” stabbing a finger into the bar, “one word outta his unholy mouth,”pointing at Count Rosse, “and Mharac, that’s my fist at him.”
He wrung his hand toward the count, and the waitress, standing beside the barman, stared at his clenched fingers, his immense fist overpowering the outline of the count, which, though far away, still seemed dreadfully small in comparison to the barman’s hand.
“Mittedh,” said Ailis, placing a hand on his shoulder, “try not to mind him. Ye know what happens when ye get upset.”
She raised a brow and gave him a plaintive look, and the barman glanced at the ground and grew ashamed.
“Aye,” said he quietly. “I know it.”
“Last time ye trounced one of ‘em young rablerousers from Marridon, two of the windas needed fixin’, and ye put out yer back after slingin’ one of ‘em over the bar. Ye know how ye overdo it, and His Grace can’t be overdone on.”
“I got a right to protect what I love same as anyone else,” he contended, stabbing his thumb against his heart. “Don’t matter if he’s a count or a king or a farmer, if he says what against ye, I’m puttin’ him through the ceilin’, so I am. How is it that the like o’ him is allowed to say and do what he will and the like o’ us has to creep about their feelin’s? Minding the tourist, I understand, though I don’t like it. I’ll forget a bad word at me for the sake o’ showin’ a good face for Frewyn, but ‘em what come from our own kingdom, nobles and lords and that, they got no right. They get no quarter. They learn manners same as we do, and we learn to be respectful same as ‘em. When they come to the bar or sit at the tables, they get the same service as anyone else. We let ‘em bring their prancin’ ponies , and that should be enough for ‘em. Tha’s all I’m sayin’.”
He had done his speech and huffed at the finish, slipping his cleaning cloth from his shoulder and wiping down the bar, feeling his point had been well-made and that no one who was within hearing would effect to gainsay him; Frewyn bore the reputation for being the most affable place on the two continents, with friendly faces, warm smiles, good-natured men and voluable women, and many from Marridon, a kingdom known for its cold civility and curt politeness, delighted in Frewyn’s natural openness and obligingness, but amongst the gentry, such unwarranted amicability was seen as ingratiation, and while some humility was becoming in a peasant, a forthcoming and ingenuous character was deemed impertinence. For a visitor to mistake a Frewyn’s manner as impudence was a slight to be overlooked, but amongst their own set, a class-conscious and cold Frewyn was unpardonable, and when the count, upon seeing no one coming to greet him as he came to the matron’s stand, began calling out for service, demanding to be seated directly. Every waiter and waitress grimaced and shook their heads and apologized to the men and women who were already seated and wondering why someone of evident consequence amongst the gentry was protesting so loudly.
“Ye know where yer table is, ye flotherin’ bastard,” the barman said to himself, in a deep wrawl. “Matron’s off doin’ her job countin’ the wine in the cellar. Ye can wait a minute till she comes back. Sure, she only just went down when ye arrived.”
“Is there no means of having tolerable service in this place?” Rosse cried, looking about the room in horror. “Here I am standing here this age waiting for someone to attend me, and I think it might be easily done with a few of you loitering about, and yet you will stand about and prattle to one another in your incoherent jabber while someone waits here to give you business. This is deterring a customer as I have never hitherto witnessed. I won’t stand for it. I absolutely will not stand for such discourtesy.” He glanced at his attendant, who was shaking his head and pretending to be rather shocked by the whole scandalous business, and turned back to the hall with his head high, his expression rapt in affected ingratitude, his air complacent, his pride as a noble wholly injured.
“If ye won’t stand for it, ye’ll sit for it,” the barman’s voice rumbled. “Sure’n I’ll make ye sit for it, ye bastard.”
He rolled up his sleeves, flexed his forarms, and moved to lift the bar and approach the count, but Ailis, with a gentle touch, compelled him to stay where he was.
“Mittiedh,” said she, in a half whisper. “I’ll go to him and bring him to his box.”
“Never ye mind, Ailis. I’ll put him in it meself—“
“Ye’ll put him through it, more like.”
“I will so, and at least he’ll be there and not at the top o’ the room, makin’ a show o’ himself and botherin’ the other patrons. I’m goin’ over there--”
“No,” said Ailis, with mild firmness, “I’ll go.”
A few quiet protestations succeeded here, but the hand resting against his chest and Ailis’ pleading countenance convinced him to calm. “Aye, go then,” with a sobering sigh. “And bring him the wine and water he wants or so help him we’ll never hear the end of it. Ye don’t have to mix it. His prancer what he brought with him’ll mix it for him—and cut his meat, and wipe his chin, and shine his shoes and all.”
He looked back at Count Rosse, who was still lamenting of being ill-used while standing perfectly still and appearing distraught, and never had the barman been so incensed by a customer in his life.
“Bhi Borras an Mharac—“ He gnarled, his voiced restrained and his teeth grating, and he twisted his cloth violently about in his hands. “Here, Yer Grace,” he bellowed, in an undervoice, “pick yer seat and shift yerself if ye can’t wait two minutes for the matron to come back.”
“Let me go before he starts hollarin’,” said Ailis, and go she did, approaching the entrance of the hall with cheerful solicitude and warm smiles. “Your Grace is very welcome—“
“Who are you?” the count vaingloriously exclaimed, recoiling and raising a hand to shield himself from the forward peasant. “Do not near me unless asked. You might be harbouring a contagion if you haven’t been thoroughly examined.” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and held it to his mouth. “I will not be ill this holiday, and will certainly not be made so by a diseased frippet. And when did they being employing such purses here? Oh, but I observe you are a waitress. The change in costume recommends you as a lace-mutton. How can you wear so revealing a blouse and be expected to be seen as a respectable servant? And don’t you know how to make the proper addresses? Well, I suppose one of your extreme inferiority would have no idea unless instructed, and by your unmodulated manner, I can see there was little instruction given there. No, no, go away. I don’t want this woman,” waving her off with a flourish of his handkerchief. “Where is the matron? She is always respectable and adequately attired. I won’t be seated by some common piece. I will be addressed and seated properly or I will make the necessary complaints.”
The count looked about as though no one were standing before him, and Ailis was forced to return to the bar, bemused and somewhat mortified by the count’s behaviour.
“That didn’t go as well as it ought,” said Ailis, still confused. “Did I do somethin’ wrong, Mittiedh?”
The barman, however, made her no answer; he was tying his sleeves round his upper arms and removing his hat.
“Is there somethin’ amiss with my outfit?” examing herself and smoothing her skirts. “Sure’n it’s not revealin’, is it? I’m well covered to my collar. Did he mean my bodice? Is it too tight? Doesn’t feel that way. Sure it doesn’t give anythin’ away. Maybe it looks different on the other girls? Was it how I curtsied? Should I have done it before the greetin’ instead o’ durin’?”
“Don’t ye give another second to it, Ailis,” he sibilated, lifting the bar stall and stepping out. “I’m gonna give him a greetin’ he won’t be able to say nothin’ about. I’m gonna take him by the seat o’ his cacks and see if he’s got a head for heights.”
“Don’t be hurtin’ him now, Mittiedh,” was her firm warning. “It’s one thing to bark back at him, but another to lay a hand on him.”
“Is there no one in this establishment competent enough to seat me?” the count cried, searching helplessly about.
“Step outta the way, Ailis,” said the barman, lifting her up and carefully moving the waitress aside. “I’ll show him who’s competent enough to do what round here.”
He took a thundering step toward the entrance, but was called back by Ailis, who had grabbed his arm and attached herself to him, digging her heels into the floor and pulling backward to keep him from advancing.
“Mittiedh, don’t,” she pleaded, heaving backward. “If ye hurt him, that’s ye in the dungeon.”
“Aye, I know it. Let me wring him out over the crags and stand before the Majesty. I’ll tell the king what goes on, and he’ll have the nobles banned from enterin’ the place. A good a cause as ever I heard it.”
“But they’re a large part o’ the clients, Mittiedh, ‘specially around holiday. If ye ban ‘em—“
“Are you, sir, going to seat me?” the count asked, in a loud accent, looking very charily at the simmering barman. “You are dressed properly and seem to understand the modes of suitable decorum. Are you going to give a Count what is his due?”
“Oh, aye,” said Mittiedh, in a dreadful hush, “I am so, Yer Grace.”The barman’s knuckles cracked, patrons turned their heads and began to scrutinize, half in fear and half in hopes of what must happen; the musicians stopped tuning their instruments, dancers held their toe-stands and watched askance over their shoulders, waiters stopped refilling glasses, the thrum of private discourse ceased, and the whole of the Food Hall was watching and waiting.