Story for the Day: The Royal Stables
The Royal Stables has forever been a place of hard work, honest raillery, and crude jokes, and place where anyone weary of the formalities and civilities of the court can visit to receive all the vulgarities that good sense requires. Roriegh and Dieas, the royal farrier and stablemaster, are two of the oldest members of the keep staff, and since they have been caring for the royal horses since King Dorrin's time, their level of honestly outranks their level of delicacy a million to one.
The jangle of a bridle, the coriaceous creak of the saddle sliding about, the crepitation of the forge produced a sundry of sounds serving to soothe him into a most awaited sleep. The clink of tools, the rataplan knock of wood against wood as a pipe bowl was cleaned, the fritinancy of the winterfowl being driven off, but the drawn-out hiss of worked iron touching its mark and cooling against ungula drew him out of his pleasant sloom. His eyes gumbled and opened, a nebulous mass drifted past, his horse whickered, and the sonorous voice spoke again, “Aye, just pressin’ it against you. Didn’t take a hammer to you yet.” A hammer clinked somewhere, the discussion of two tradesmen recommenced, and the Scoaleigh was roused to wakefulness, sitting up slightly, lounging against the back post, and rubbing his eyes. The image of the stables, of the old groom sitting in one corner cleaning his pipe, of the farrier preparing his tools, of his horse lurking near came into view. He nudged his cheek, and he lifted his hand in time to salvage himself from being assaulted by his tongue.
“Yes, Fiearchar, I am awake. Thank you for reminding me of it,” said the Scoaliegh, in a soft accent. “I know you think it unfair that I should be permitted a moment’s rest whilst you are still awake, but I am not the one in desperate need of being shod.”
His lifted his boot by way of an explanation, but Fiearchar was unimpressed and only snuffed and davered nervously.
“Go on,” he cooed at him, pressing his lips to his horse’s cheek, “be very good as I know you can be and let Master Roreigh do his work. You know how you like it when he trims you, though you will complain about it whilst he’s doing it.”
A whicker and a curt huff, and the horse turned and moved toward the farrier, giving him all the room he required to finish the job.
They had been there sometime, so the Scoaliegh judged by the sunlight: the king had seen him at the gate, had walked with him to the stables, had entreated him to rest a few moments before conveying his news, had gone off in quest of something from the tailor, and the Scoaliegh had sat down, to be given a respite and to be talked to, but listening and sleeping were at war with each other, for while he would do the former, he must do them exclusively or not at all. He had listened and had drifted intermittently off several times-- how many exactly, he could not tell—and now that he had a few minutes hibernation, his mind was restored, his alertness revived, and he could listen to the old groom, who was arguing mainly with himself over where the connected families should have their holiday dinner. Dieas miffled something about Roreigh being content with anything involving quiet and a pint, and the Scoaleigh tipped his hat down over his eyes to conceal a smile.
“Ach,” the old groom grunted, “you just don’t wanna make a fuss o’er it.”
“Sure don’t,” said Roreigh, lifting one of the horse’s legs and fitting the shoe in place. “Sure made a fuss of it last night.”
“You got yer pint and yer fire.”
“And you and Mise got yer show. Got to spend time with my sister. Sure would like to do that again th’night. Ain’t nothin’ stoppin’ you from goin’ to a show without us.”
“Sure’n, you can act a fool right enough.”
Roreigh grinned to himself and began hammering.
They had been invited to join everyone the Great Hall later in the evening, but they would graciously and thankfully decline, on account of their being already engaged to spend the holiday evening with their families out-- when they could decide on a place that would agree with both parties, of course. Every year since Roreigh’s coming to the keep and making himself Dieas’s counterpart, their modest families, which comprised of Roreigh’s sister, her adopted child, and Dieas’ wife, spent the evening before the holiday and the evening of the holiday together, one evening being spent in a place of Roreigh’s choosing, and one spent in a place which Dieas though he chose but which Roreigh had a hand in suggesting. The little recommendations and subliminal hints which guided Dieas’ ideas of a familial gathering, however, were having some difficulty working their powers, as Roreigh was hard at work on bending down the nails on the first horseshoe and Dieas was in a humour to be petulant about everything. A modest family gathering, spent in the quiet conversancy of those he loved best, with a thurindale of stout in his hand and a roaring fire in the hearth was all that he should condition for, but after having spent the evening previous at the Food Hall in Houlis, after having delighted in the village under the auspices of the holiday, after having regaled in the famous tavern and all the minutiae of its services, its animated traditional Frewyn dancing and its capital banquet in their performance hall, Dieas was eager to have the evening repeated. Roreigh could not deny that he and his side of the family had enjoyed themselves, but the clamourous singing of parishioners garlanding the bar, the inebriated musings of neighbouring tables, the crowd around the bonfire was not quite the family assembly that Roreigh had designs on. The morning of the holiday was always spent at the keep; their services were always wanted, for where there were constant comers and goers, a party of nobles going out, the king’s being to see relations abroad, visits from friends and return of Scoalieghs, there was always work in the royal stables to be done.
The first hoof was finished, and Roreigh was preparing to trim the second while Dieas making recommendations on their entertainment for the evening: he was insisting that they take in the new play being put on at the Royal Theatre, and then wander to the Wayward Traveler for dinner and music. A few humphs from the farrier meant he approved only half this plan: a dinner at the Traveler he should happily do, but to give his attention to the Frewyn Players for the better part of the evening would take some influence that the farrier would not submit to. Dieas was asserting like a man very much inclined to go to the theatre and take the whole of the kingdom with him, but he was currently losing ground as to why seeing the play should be a ‘grand night out’. He had begun on the wings of promise—a lovely time for them and the child, a new theatrical production boasted so much in the way of dramatic delectation, could be even better than their evening at Houlis—but Roreigh was shoeing the Scoaleigh’s horse and considering a quiet evening that had nothing to do with men and woman dancing together on a stage for riotous crowds, was giving Dieas curt and deliberate answers as to why this was a horrid idea, and the Scoaliegh smirked farther into his hat.
“You don’t know how this show’ll be.” said Dieas, the piece of straw tucked into the corner of his mouth bouncing up and down as he spoke.
Roreigh grunted as he passed the rasp along the bottom of the horse’s hoof. “Aye, I do so.”
“It’s a new production entirely. New writin’, new actin’-- no Mad Queen Maeve. Sure’n it’s gotta be better than that.”
“No, it don’t.”
“Aye, sure it do. I seen ‘em practicing in the field, and they were paintin’ all the sets, and settin’ up all the theatrical magickin’ what they do with the mirrors.”
“Don’t mean it’ll be good, Deias.”
“Mean’s it’ll be somethin’, which is more than what yer suggestin’.”
“Dinner at home with the family’s all I’m wantin’.”
“Yer sister’s wee-un needs to get out a bit. No good came of a boy what stayed in all the winter. A lad what sits too much’ll grow up all knees. Outin’s good for a lad his age. He had a time of it in Houlis last night, he’ll like the play here sure enough.”
“He might that,” Roreigh acknowledged, “but my sister won’t like it at all. Her eyes still haven’t rolled back into place after the dancin’ we saw last night.”
A stifled laugh came from under the Scoaleigh’s hat. There was a hem and then silence.
“What’s wrong with the show we saw last night?” Dieas contended.
“Nothin’,” said Roreigh, tossing the trimmings aside, “’cept the girl who did the broom dance near fell from her top.” He put the rasp aside and took up his hammer. “She bent over for a bit o’ hollarin’, and her altogether near came apart.”
The Scoaliegh coughed and laughed quietly into his hand, and Dieas scowled and narrowed his gaze.
“The shows at the Food Hall’re always a grand time,” Deias demanded. “And nothin’ like that’s never happened at the Royal Theatre.”
“Yer too busy laughin’ at the actin’ to notice.”
“Sure’n yer supposed to be laughin’ when there’s what to laugh about.”
“Somehow, Master Dieas,” said the Scoaliegh, lifting the brim of his hat, “I don’t believe Mad Queen Maeve is meant to be a comedy.”
Roreigh let out a dry “Ha!”, and the old groom flouted fiercely at him.
“If I laugh at it, sure’n it’s a comedy,” Deias huffed.
The Scoaliegh sat up. “Poor acting, I suppose, will turn any tragedy to travesty.”
“Last time we saw Mad Queen Maeve,” said Roreigh, securing a hoof between his legs, “Ol’ Maeve was love-nettlin’ with the lad who was playin’ the Captain o’ the Royal Guard. Didn’t wanna let him go when he was supposed to throw her down the stage. Sure was a whole lotta oat-warmin’ for two folk supposed to be at odds with each other. Some o’ the kissin’ scenes were sure a lot longer than I remember.”
“Maybe she didn’t wanna get thrown down the tower,” said Dieas.
“Well, she did anyway.” Roreigh pressed the shoe into the hoof and began hammering the nails in place. “Got toss down like a bale o’ hay. Don’t think she expected it neither. She was still holdin’ on to the Captain’s shirt when he dropped her off the tower. She went down, and the shirt went right along with her.”
“There is a worthy performance, Master Roreigh,” the Scoaliegh declared, the lirks around his eyes deepening. “Certainly worthy of spending a holiday eve at the theatre, if only to witness such a splendid demise. And what happened to that production?”
Roreigh hammered in another nail and then paused to say, “Had to shut it down, reason bein’ ‘emotional differences’ ‘tween the leads.”
“But there was real drama, Master Roreigh, a true exhibition of art becoming life. How could they close the production when it had such an air of authenticity?”
“Fella who was the guard was dallyin’ with Maeve’s sister.”
“Cimona hashiff,” Dieas scoffed. “Ruined the whole show from here till, I’m tellin’ you. They won’t be playin’ it for th’while yet. Got new one up now: Queen Pinneigh. The Majesty approved it.”
“I believe you mean to say, Master Dieas, that His Majesty gave the script his approval, and the resplendent and raving Mr Tilney has changed it fifty times since,” said the Scoaliegh. “The play shall now include singing, a set dance, and a jig between the acts, none of which, of course, has anything to do with Queen Pinneigh. There ought to be a beheading and that is all.”
“Aye, there is so,” said Dieas. “I seen ‘em practicin’ it. Done with mirrors. And a Marridon melon, or somethin’ like.”
“I shall take the part of the optimist here and say the show will last two nights. Something terrific must happen, and the company shall be back at One Man’s Woe or Mad Queen Maeve by week’s end to a certainty.”
Roreigh hammer made a dull clang as he hammered the nails into the shoe. “I’d sure rather One Man’s Woe. Leastwise we won’t have to hear Maeve talkin’ through a ten minute soliloquy.”
Alasdair’s mare whinnied in her stall and bucked her head.