Story for the Day: The Blue Shirt -- part 3
An extra long story to make up for the few days' absence, but it was with good reason: the edits for Damson's Distress have begun! If you should like to support the book and its prequel novella, visit our Patreon page here.
“You’re not old, Pastaddams,” Alasdair insisted.
“In fact, if not in theory, I feel a hale thirty five, though I might not appear to have achieved immortality by living at my desk. I do not mean to say I am elderly. I am somewhat pleasantly post-meridian, but I will always be older than Sir Gaumhin, and I cannot bear to be always an older lover. To know that my bedfellow shall be there to warm my bed and be cuddlesome when I am gone does grieve me.”
“Searle is much younger than Aldus. I think Searle was a little older than Gaumhin’s age when he began courting him.”
“That was not a courting, sire. Searle merely served him tea and flourished his papers, and Aldus was delighted with him. Aldus, you will notice, sire, has been somehow preserved by the Gods. He has become an artifact amongst the others in his reliquary. The treasury has brined him, and he shall remain a distinguished sixty for the rest of his life. He has been sixty since he was twenty five, and Searle just the same, though he is fifteen years Aldus’ junior at least. It is all Rosamound’s doing. That darling girl must keep them young, and she too you will observe has no lover and must want one with two such devoted fathers hanging over her. She stays with her fathers to entertain them, but what she is really doing by playing her harp and charming such two old badgers is keeping them young.”
“It could be the love Searle and Aldus have for one another that keeps them that way.”
Alasdair grinned suggestively, and Pastaddams gave him a flat look.
“You are trying to inveigle me into a confession, sire, but it shall not do. I forestall you and vehemently protest against any sort of thing. No, sire, I shall not tell him anything. I shall only sit at my desk, pine at my solitude while I stare up at my solar in forlorn solicitation, and invent heroic plights for Sir Gaumhin to vanquish while fantasizing hardships for myself whence he might rescue me.”
Alasdair could not help laughing.
“Is he still there, sire?” said Pastaddams, craning his neck as he peered out the window. “He is not close enough to be listening, though I should not think anyone can hear through stone.”
He watched Alasdair’s eye examine the window behind him, and he searched for some sign of reprieve in the sagacious smile lurking in the corners of the king’s mouth.
“He’s a bit father off now,” said Alasdair. “And your nose is bleeding.”
Pastaddams touched his nose and then looked down to examine the blood on his fingertips. “And here you see why I say nothing, sire.” He sniffed, produced a clean cloth from his pocket, and with a flourish, he leaned forward and pinched the bridge of his nose. “All this talk of confessions and stridency, and this is what it does.” His shoulders withered, and he pursed his lips. “And, to add to all this excitement, I am so miserably fatigued this morning. I am in one of my mawmeys.”
“Did the newest Tales of Intrigues come out?”
“I am ashamed to say it did, sire,” said Pastaddams, pinching his nose harder and speaking in a snoaching tenor, “and though I know you will ask me for it when I am finished, you will find pages thirty to thirty-eight already careworn. I do always try to put the book by after I have read it once through, but that, you know, sire, becomes impossible, especially when there are dashing captains involved.”
“It is true,” Alasdair acknowledged. “The last one was particularly good.”
“With the captain by the gate? How many times did you meet him, sire? I met him four, and we were rapt in mutual oggination by the end. I would have run away with him, but,” with half a sigh, “His father, the great Baron, disapproved it all. He threatened me and offered me half his property if I would leave his son alone. I could have said no and run away with him, only I feared his father would follow us and take revenge.” He pause and adjusted his cloth. “Does he, sire?”
“No, he doesn’t,” said Alasdair, smiling. “I took that ending.”
Pastaddams made a nasal scoff. “I knew I should have run away with him. I feared for his safety more than mine, but I feared more for his lost of status in society. I took the baron’s offer and ran away with the groom instead. There,” taking the cloth away from his nose and examining it. “I should be healed somewhat, and please do not ask me to see Bilar, sire. It is a nothing of a condition. It only occurs when my pulse quickens, and there is nothing to do that like a Captain of the Royal Guard.” He hemmed and tucked his cloth neatly away in his pocket. “I would make you the offer of a tea, sire, only I have made none for myself and was compelled to take Brigid’s repugnant bilge for what it was.”
“I was going to say that’s not your cup.”
“No, it isn’t. This one pretends to be painted with roses, though the slipshod artistry does not do my favourite flower credit. There is nothing quite like my father’s glazed set. I should have bled in this cup. It might have improved the poor craftsmanship. And the worst of it is I shall have to venture to the library again to return it. Perhaps, if Aghatha is very good, she will do it for me. Anything not to be trapped beside that tiresome old hagglepot for another five minutes.”
“Do you mean Brigid or her broken kettle?”
“Both, sire. I have never seen so fatuous a librarian in all my life. She says she does not regard Tales of Intrigues as Literature.” Pastaddams was all aghast. “I was astonished, Isire, absolutely astonished. And when I told her that I had been davering about due to sleeplessness over that delicious tome, she stared at me with unpardonable rudeness, said something about the content being too licentious and insalubrious, and would make me understand that true Literature, as she dictates, does not mean that the reader might choose his ending. There are plenty of virile affairs in many a Marridon classic, sire, Damson’s Distress has fifty at least, and yet that is to be considered Literature—well, it is surely, because it is so exquisitely written—that is to be considered acceptable in her lucubratory estimation. And what should we be reading besides? Tales of Intrigues is as good a book as any—it is the best, and what other series can boast of such accomplishments as having nearly two hundred characters and all of them amative and barbarously delightful? She wanted me to read Lady Cybil’s Civilities, as though I should like it of all things, a romance, sire, and though written with taste, it could never augur mine. The story of a lady and hideous unapproachable baron could never tempt me-- And this, sire, is what she recommends as Literature. Can you believe it, sire? I effected to ignore her arguments with regard to the similarities to Tales of Intrigues the book might have, such as a scandalous sister and a dubious affair, but really, sire, I question her powers as a librarian if she can think one more literarily valid than the other. I thanked her for her recommendation all the same. My notions of literary taste may have been hurt, but I am a gentleman, I believe, to all ladies and keep my opinions to myself,” and in an undervoice, he added, “even to those who think Lady Cybil’s Civilities is the epitome of the literary heap. You know, sire, had I suffered through my first bout of half roused musings and made my own tea this morning instead of wondering in a glamour to the garden, I daresay I should have been spared all this embarrassment.”
“If only you spoke to Gaumhin as much as you read about your captains.”
“No, sire,” the tailor implored. “Men so unexceptionable cannot be spoken to. Even when he has come for fittings the few times, the most I have ever said to him is ‘five and seven eights, that is nearly an inch more than last year’. I mean to say something more, but that, you know, never succeeds. My tongue is always tied when he is standing on my pedestal. I am always trying to escape his notice only to hemorrhage after he has left my tailor. I have no doubt that Sir Gaumhin is of the very best quality in character, but I really cannot know about it.”
Alasdair stood closer and looked sagacious. “He reads,” said he suggestively. “I see him reading all the time when he has his afternoon Gods’ Day off.”
“Does he indeed?” Pastaddams exclaimed, with sudden interest, but then, checking himself, “Oh, but never mind, sire. Do not tell me now. I will languish over it forever when there is better tea to be made. You see what an evening of reading does. One night in the throes of scandal and romance, and here I am flumping over Sir Gaumhin.” He made a curt laugh.“Talk to him—“ he snuffed. “Really, sire, of all things…” He shook his head and tried to seem affronted that the king could even suggest it, but his pusillanimity was really to blame for his inability, and while it was easy to blame Alasdair, his heart ached from the pain his own cowardice had wrought.
“You speak to Brigdan all the time.”
“I do, sire, but Sir Lord Brigdan an old friend. There is a happy man, married and with a stunning child and amiable wife to show for it. It is a very different thing, knowing that Sir Brigdan is well entangled these many years makes me somehow immune to his charms, though he has many of them. He is most certainly a handsome man--I dare not say he is not, sire. Sir Brigdan is one of the handsomest men in the middle of life I have ever seen, and his broad, tall, and slender figure is all a tailor’s ambition—but Sir Gaumhin I know is unattached, and there is no talking to a man unattached, especially a reading man. Reading only makes them all the more desirable.”
“You talk to me about books.”
“And you and Her Majesty are very happily married, sire.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about him being unfriendly, if that’s what you’re worried about. He’s even more shy and modest than you are.”
“Oh, no, sire,” Pastaddams moaned, having his hands in negation. “Shy men are the absolute worst in that regard. They recommend themselves to my preferences of being tall, dauntless, and humble, a combination sure to ruin me. Those unaware of their own claims are always the most prepossessing.”
Alasdair looked thoughtful. “That’s certainly very true.”
“No, I know my place, sire, and it is at my desk with my needles and patterns, or in the servants hall with book in my hand. Books are old quiet friends who understand all my fears and who discourage me from all social civility. Lovers are things which other persons have, those who want families with horrendous in-laws, begrutten children, and spoiled clothes. A lover happens to someone else, one who is not a socially useless tailor whose greatest happiness in life is to make you a new jerkin. I should rather maintain my sanguine views of Sir Gaumhin from afar, where I can pretend I am a more daring man in life than my apprehensions would allow.”
“I don’t think he would reject you, Pastaddams.”
“And I should rather not find out, sire,” said Pastaddams, in a more serious tone. “Might for one at my time of life is a perilous word. So much hinges on a hope, much which braver men than myself have been ruined by.”
Pastaddams gave a sniff and glanced at his cup, and Alasdair a pang wracked Alasdair’s heart. The possibility of refusal and the consternation it produced made his friend more of a solitudinarian than his affable character should otherwise admit, and Alasdair grieved that it was so. Refusal from a lover was something which Alasdair had never give much thought to; he had never desired to be with any woman other than Carrigh, and as he had sought her and their courting had been so natural and contented, he had never conceived of denial during any part of their courtship. There had been one or two hesitations in the deciding moment, the natural trepidations one has when he asks his lady to marry him, but all his uneasiness lasted half a second, and his anxieties would never have kept him from declaring himself to one he loved. His affection for Carrigh and his devotion to her must have superseded all his disquieting fears, so much so that when the court had vehemently refused to accept her as queen, he had borne down all their protestations with stolid defiance. Any injustice could be suffered with Carrigh at his side, and he would see Pastaddams be as happy as he deserved, whether because of his fears or in spite of them.
“Gaumhin might be at the hall for a short while later,” said Alasdair, with a brightened look.
Pastaddams seemed almost hopeful. “Oh, will he, sire? Seeing him from such a safe distance as across the Great Hall is all I should condition for. I can admire him from my usual place on the wall near warming oven while he stands gallantly at the door and looks in the other direction. Do you know if he means to visit his connections in Westren?”
“He’s staying here for the afternoon, but I think he will be riding out later—“
“Good,” and realizing his hasty interruption, Pastaddams hemmed, seemed ashamed, and played with his teacup. “Well—just as you say, sire. It is better that he ride out to Westren early. I understand he has a very large family tree with many branches to visit, and better that he use his limited time off-duty to see them than plague me by being in the Great Hall longer than my nerves can endure. I shall have to change out of my work clothes if he is to be there. And so shall you, sire,” eyeing Alasdair’s assemblage with a disproving look. “I must tell you, sire, as it has been plaguing me these five minutes, that you could not have dressed yourself this morning. Come, tell me truly: whose idea was it to put you in such a shocking combination? Was it Her Majesty?”
Alasdair admitted it was.
“And a velvet jerkin with a silk cravat? Oh, no, sire,” Pastaddams languished, raising his hand to the bridge of his nose, “I cannot allow it. My poor sensibilities, sire-- you are quite unfeeling to them. How can you wear light blue with evergreen? Here is a spring colour and here is an autumn—and neither suit your breeches, sire. You do look very pretty in your own way, but I cannot allow it. The colours are hardly complementary. Blue with green and gold? Shameful in every way. I have never seen such a tumultuous jumble of fabrics on you. Her Majesty only recommended it because she knew it must offend me. Here is a shameful want of consideration to my position as your tailor, sire, and while Her Majesty is your darling wife, I must respectfully and ardently oppose such a ruin.”
“She said you would disapprove, and that if you did that you were to make all your complaints over to her.”
“It is because she knows I dislike arguing with her above all things. I know she is fond of vibrant hues at all times of the year, and her hair colour and complexion complement such a scheme, but your colouring, sire, though similar to hers, have more of the autumn tones in them. Your hair is darker, and your eyes have a green marble hue—they do not agree with light blue. Your eyes match your jerkin and nothing else.” Pastaddams grew suspicious. “There is a story behind the shirt, I know. I can see it in your eye every time I mention it. Come, tell me about this fracas.”
“There was a snag in the shirt I wanted to wear.”
Pastaddams gasped in horror. “A snag! Sire,” with a wounded spirit, “and you did not tell me earlier? And was the shirt you wanted to wear the white with the gold trim?”
Alasdair only smiled.
“Well,” Pastaddams huffed, fixing his spectacles, “I shall mend it directly, sire, and have it done before breakfast is over. A snag—“ with indignation. “Five minutes for habilatory equanimity. Her Majesty could mend as much is the same amount of time.”
“She did offer, but I forbade her on account of the holiday.”
“On account of the holiday, sire? And when the amendment is so important, sire? And because you did not allow her to do what she is so excellent at, we now have this—“ gesturing to the blue shirt, “—and I cannot allow such an accident in the keep, sire. It should ruin my reputation forever. How many have seen you this morning?”
“Only family and close friends.”
“And that is all who should see you until I have mended your other shirt. A snag is not work, sire. It is the promise of perfect equability. It is two loops and a stitch in most cases. You should walk past your great friend Count Rosse dressed like that. I observed him getting into that great shamble he calls a carriage. He paraded his new holiday wreckage during his postprandial stride through the square. Such a galimatias as ever I saw—why must His Grace insisted on mabbling himself and shaming my profession with his flothery? I demand you order him to wear a plain gambeson for the rest of his life. It would save the whole of the keep the exertion of restraining ourselves from setting him on fire.”
Alasdair’s shoulders shook as he laughed.
“His day of public indecency will come,” Pastaddams asserted, “and when it does, I shall be there, kicking up my feet and hallooing with all the rest of the keep.”
Pastaddams said something about the old dress restrictions of Mad Queen Maeve being reinstated, but the distant look in Alasdair’s eye caught his attention, and he stiffened instantly.