Story for Seamhair: The Ruvani Mating Dance
It's Seamhair in Frewyn, the holiday on which we honour the dead, eat more candy than is good for us, and dress up to confuse wayward spirits, but while Lucentia does not have a Seamhair equivalent, Danaco takes any opportunity to disguise himself. Bartleby, who never bothers to dress up for anything, is always mistaken for a goblin. It is not all of us who are so fortunate to grow old gracefully.
Bartleby, meanwhile, was hating the Frewyn whistle. He tried to grumble between the notes about
“Oh, flummox this plebeian—“ Bartleby tossed the whistle on the ground in a rage of frustration. “Never mind! If I must play something, you will be satisfied with this.”
Bartleby reached up for another laurel leaf, and Danaco put out a collection plate as Bartleby folded the leaf and began a tune. He played an old Marridon waltz, but at twice the speed, giving the captain something to jig to. Danaco did his best, recalling what he could of some of the more lively Sesternese dances, but the crowds were not so interested in him as they were with the old man playing on a leaf.
“And here you said you could not play anything,” said Danaco, leaping from side to side and kicking up his heels.
Bartleby tried to communicate that he was not really playing anything to the purpose or playing anything very well, but his remonstrances were lost under the high pitched “fweee” of his leaf, and he only managed a muffled “M gn pl n mzrk nw” between the notes.
He changed to a more seductive tune, one he knew less but one which better suited the captain’s ideas of a beguiling dance. Danaco jostled his way around the collection plate and shook his hips, moving toward the terrace and spying Shandanzo with a sultry air.
One of Shandanzo’s guards grimaced and looked incredulous. “What is the Lucentian doing?”
“Is he winking at you?” said the other.
Shandanzo watched the Lucentian’s tripudiary advances and fleered. “He’s a Lucentian. They all lie down with anything that has two legs.” He scoffed and tried to be indifferent to the dance, and yet there was no turning away; there was nowhere else to look but toward the stalls, there was no one else to look at but the marketgoers strolling beside the terrace and his guards. The rolling hips, the fluidity of movement, the undulating arms—he had no intention of entertaining the Lucentian by half-amused looks, but the driving motions, the mesmerizing claim on his conscience told him he must watch. The Lucentian made a gesture for him to come closer, which was going to be thoroughly ignored, but when he saw the old man playing a leaf, he was instantly intrigued.
“That old man cannot be playing a leaf,” said he, standing. “Or is it an old woman?”
“It’s an old man,” said one guard, “and yes, he is playing a leaf—or appears to be.”
“I didn’t think that was possible,” said the other guard. “How can anyone play a leaf?”
“There must be some trick to it,” said Shandanzo, stepping out of the terrace. “Or it is a ploy, meant to cheat people out of their money.”
Shandanzo moved toward the stalls, and the guards glanced at one another and followed him.
Danaco tried not to seem too satisfied as their targets neared, and he continued dancing, whirling around the collection plate, whipping his mane and his sash about, moving slightly backward, working on bringing them closer to the stall as they came out from the terrace. Rannig suddenly appeared from the copse at the top of the lane and waved. He had waited for Shandanzo and his men to leave the terrace before attempting to return, and once he gave his signal, Danaco, by a few indicative moves, motioned him to approach and remove the two remaining guards. Rannig crept down the lane, and Shandanzo watched Danaco and Bartleby while his guards stood one step behind him.
“I wouldn’t get too close to the Lucentian,” said one of the guards quietly. “Those markings mean he belongs to the guilds, or used to belong to them.”
“He’s quite large for a Lucentian,” said the other, “but he can still steal try to steal from you if he’s—oh, look at the dancing birds!”
The guards looked up, and dancing in the laurel were the two caiques, both of them jumping and bobbing along the bough.
“Are they dancing to the music, or do these birds always hop around?” asked one guard.
“I think these birds are naturally more playful,” said the other. “Or they could have been trained to dance for money.”
Farther speculation on this point, however, was silenced, their conversation being interrupted by two large hands covering their mouths. They eyed one another in sudden horror, and before they could flail or attempt to free themselves, they were held to the giant’s chest and were carried quietly away to the copse, where their heads were knocked together and where they were left to sleep off their injuries in a pleasant sloom.
Shandanzo, completely unaware that the last of his guards had failed him, watched the remainder of the dance with fervent interest. He folded his arms, canted his head, and looked more bewildered than amused, his lips curling in a mirthful half-smile. The Lucentian did a last twirl and a flourish, and then bowed to close his performance. Shandanzo offered a disinterested ovation, tossed a small copper coin into the collection plate, and gestured toward Bartleby, whom he could not help but laugh at. “Are you playing a leaf, old man?” he asked.
“And if I am,” Bartleby huffed, “it is certainly more than what you’ve been doing, faffing about on the terrace of a teahouse without any service.”
Shandanzo rasied a brow. “And what is wrong with that?”
Rannig heard the inner workings of Shandanzo’s mind, which betrayed that he had no idea what the word faffing meant, and approached from behind in perfect silence.
“You cannot sit idly by at a teahouse with nothing in front of you,” Bartleby sibilated, with growing indignation. “There is an order to things, a style in which a man is meant to conduct himself when he is sat at a tea table. You did not make use of your napkin, as you are meant to do before the tea is served-- you did not even wait for the matron to seat you! You cannot just traipse in to a teahouse terrace and seat yourself! There are rules, you understand, regulations that must be followed. A teahouse is the standing model of propriety and attendance, it is a temple of the dignified that sets apart the wheat from the chaff of the world. You are a man, a being instilled with the modes of civility and correctness, not a mongrel to be gallivanting on the gad in a respectable establishment. Who raised you?”
Discerning, as Danaco did from Shandanzo’s aspect, that they need not have relied on a crowd or on Rannig to safely secure the seal; they need only have told Bartleby that Shandanzo was the great ruiner of tea service and set the old man upon him, to capture him with a lecture on ritual and decency. Bartleby flouted and waved his leaf about, and Shandanzo stared at the old man.
“It is shameful of you, sir-- very shameful, indeed-- to sit down without being asked and have two men ornamenting either shoulder, obstructing the way so that nobody can serve you properly,” Bartleby continued. “Have you ever been to a teahouse in your life, sir? Have you ever properly sat down to a sideboard? You cannot sit by yourself. A man doesn’t go to a tea service alone. Madness, if he attemps it. Absolute madness!”
Shandanzo had little idea what to make of the old man admonitions, and looked to Danaco for an explanation.
“Bartleby’s instructions are somewhat unforgiving,” said the captain, removing his headwrap, “but he is never wrong. A man who sits down to tea ought to do it right or not at all. He is a disgrace and a discredit to our breed when he practices barbarous acts, not waiting to be seated the greatest offence of all.”
Danaco grinned with consciousness, and Shandanzo looked as though no one had ever told him he was wrong before. Being cousin to the queen and being in the gentry, though not in the higher ranks, he was unaccustomed to being contradicted as he was unfamiliar with good breeding. Being highborn had little to do with propriety, the former being the fault of accident and the latter being a matter unfixed institution, and as Shandanzo never suffered himself to be a student of ceremony, he knew not whether to be amused or offended. He went through the vicissitudes of affrontery and confusion, and after scrutinizing the old man, Shandanzo leaned down and said, “Are you some kind of Marridonian goblin?”
“If he is so, he is mine,” said Danaco, with a laugh. “I saw him first. Bartleby is my lawful property, and I shall never sell him to you. He is a rarity in any case, but if he should be worth more to you as a goblin, I will say he is one.”
Bartleby made a few strangled sounds, tore his leaf in two, and stamped on both halves.