Story for the Day: The First in the Series -- Part 3
Never try to hide anything from an inquisitor; the more one tries to be furtive, the more one fails, and fails miserably.
Time passed, and Pastaddams had half expected Vyrdin to appear at any moment, coming with all the state that could be requisite to carry out his sentence. Pastaddams sat beside his teaboard, Vyrdin always knew. He was much like the Den Asaan in that respect, having eyes and ears in every corner of the keep, but Rautu’s sense of justice paled in comparison to Vyrdin’s, and where the giant would never seriously cause anyone any harm without permission—excepting Otenohi-- Vyrdin’s reasoning was Vyrdin’s own permission. The recommendation of reading a series out of order was a sin of the worst kind, and Pastaddams sat in continual terror of being imposed on at any moment. He thought of calling for Gaumhin, of taking him from his post and having him guard their door as if for life, but as mountainous as Gaumhin was, there was no one who could keep Vyrdin from entering a room if he wished it. He set down his cup, thinking that this might be the last cup of tea he would ever have, and poured the hot water that Aghatha had left for him as a knock came to the door.perishing in consternation, his mind divided between relief and distress, disquieted that he had betrayed half so much about Shaman of the West to Alasdair, and secured in the knowledge that Vyrdin had not heard him commit such a crime. He would know, however:
Pastaddams started, and his cup rattled against the saucer as he set it down. “Yes?” he called out, adjusting his waistcoat and replacing his spectacles. “Do come in.”
The handle turned, the door creaked open, and standing on the threshold was Vyrdin. He tapered his gaze and made a thorough inspection of the room, expecting to see someone oppressing the tailor, and when he saw no one but Pastaddams, who was cowering by his table, Vyrdin said, “Is everything all--?”
“Master Vyrdin!” the tailor interposed, leaping up from his seat. “Such a surprise to see you here, Sir, at this time of the evening!”
Vyrdin nodded. “Sir Rauleigh.”
“Oh, you need not abide by the Sir, Master Vyrdin,” Pastaddams continued, with a nervous laugh. “You do not ask others to mention your many titles, and therefore I think it quite unnecessary that you should—though I do not mean to tell you how to—and yet, you may use it if you like—“ He hemmed and fidgeted about with his teacup. “Will not you sit down, Master Vyrdin?” gesturing toward a chair. “I do hate you keep you waiting by the door, if you will pay our home a visit. May I offer you some tea? Or how would you like a lemon butter biscuit? They are excellent. Martje made them just this morning. Or some tea perhaps? Or a scone and some jam and cream, which I know you like. I have honey here and some of Lucentian powder that our friends in the north were so good as to send. Or perhaps would you care for some tea?”
Vyrdin’s gaze narrowed, his eyes blazing in grim calculation, and the tailor’s cheeks flushed. His breathing ceased, his heartbeat pounded in his ears, and he knew not how to disguise his culpability in a manner that would escape the Inquisitor of Diras. Vyrdin had heard him; he must have heard, to be summoned unconsciously to a place where Vyrdin was never likely to go. He had heard his conversation with the king, and was now come to end his life, or make him wish he would at any rate. The ceaseless vigilation, the muted ferity with which Vyrdin always observed everything, besieged and distressed him, and Pastaddams sunk down to his chair, resigning himself to Vyrdin’s will, understanding and accepting there was little he could do to resist. Vyrdin advanced, and Pastaddam’s leapt back, his chair scudding across the floor.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” asked Vyrdin, arching a brow.
“Oh, yes!” Pastaddams cried. “I am only agitated by having a visitor so suddenly. You see I did not have a moment to clean or to set out the silver. I should never like to be remiss in entertaining a guest—but, you seem come here on purpose, Master Vyrdin. Might I inquire—is there something in particular you came to discuss?”
“I was in the kitchen when I saw you run by. You passed the entrance in a hurry. Did something happen?”
“No!” Pastaddams shook his head. “No, no! Not at all!”
The tailor gripped the edges of his seat, and Vyrdin’s snarl of curls tumbled over his forehead.
“Are you certain nothing happened?” Vyrdin asked, in a more pointed accent, his eyes obscured by his brow. “It seemed like something was wrong.”
“Yes! That is—no! That is-- I am certainly very well, and there is nothing at all the matter, if that is what you mean.”
There was a pause. “Really.”
“Yes, Master Vyrdin. What I tell you is true, I assure you. My nerves have only been a little agitated—and I will calm by and by. I am not a stalwart solider like you, Master Vyrdin, to be always fearless in every situation. I am only a tailor, you know.”
Vyrdin inspected the room, his eyes tracing the outline of every corner, as though trying to descry some secret being hidden from him. He marked the position of the tea table, the sitting of the bedclothes, the tilt of the duvan, the arrangement of the lace placements, the unquietness of the drapes, the tedium of the burnished silver, the motionless frill of the carpet, the shimmer of gilded edges on painted dishes, the fusty silence of well-tended books in the case near the mantelpiece, the do-nothingness of the needles and fabric and tread resting languidly on the workbench: all the minutiae belonging to a man as anxious and scholarly as Pastaddams sat in morbid unquietness, and Vyrdin’s suspicions were roused. “Well,” said he, in a horrifying calm, “if everything is all right, then why were you running?”
“Oh, as to that,” said Pastaddams, his pitch rising, “His Majesty caught me in the hall, and, you see, I was reading Shaman of the West—I had the book in my hand—and I knew His Majesty had not read yet read it, and so when he told me he was off to get Shaman of the East from your library, I instantly jumped away from him, to keep him from plaguing me with questions about the latest volume.”
It was not entirely untrue: the tailor did escape from Alasdair the moment he had admitted to be going to Vyrdin’s room, had told Alasdair very little about the plot of the second book, and he hoped, while governing himself with all the composure in his power, that this would be enough to allay Vyrdin’s suspicions. Pastaddams took up his cup, made an anxious smile, and sipped his tea, pretending at composure when he was seriously vexed. Oh, wretched misery! How foolish he had been! If only he had not told Alasdair anything! He slumped in silent resignation, mourning over his impending demise, dejected at the prospect of never touching another needle, never reading another book, never sewing another pattern, and of never being to see his beloved husband again. He would try to refute the accusation, should Vyrdin begin his trial, but no denial could deter Vyrdin from his ambition: he knew, Pastaddams felt it so, and his throat tightened as he restrained the tears which his feelings of penance produced.
Vyrdin did know; he had suspected it from the moment of his having seen Pastaddams hasten past the kitchen door, for the tailor never felt accountable for anything that was not a slight to his literary or habilatory tastes, and all misunderstandings and offences were usually set to rights by more tea than was advisable for one who made his profession from a steady hand. The tailor probably did tell Alasdair something about Shaman of the West, had probably also advised him to forget the first publication in the series, but Vyrdin would not tax the tailor’s sensibilities any longer; he had endured much in just the ten minutes of emotional agony spent in his room, and as Vyrdin was merciful despot, he would let it pass. While Vyrdin reveled in subjecting everyone who posed a threat to the kingdom to his violent tyranny, Pastaddams was a dutiful and loyal friend, as much part of their family as Brigdan could be, and he could never say or do anything so reprehensible as to incur the full extent of Vyrdin’s rage. Withering under the notion of being ill-treated was punishment enough, the tailor’s guilt doing more by him than the wrack could ever do, for where fear works on a weakened heart, all reason and resolve will fail, abandoning even the most blameless of victims.
“Well,” said Vyrdin presently, turning to go, “if you say everything is all right, I’ll leave you to your book,” and with a slight bow, Vyrdin was gone, leaving Pastaddams to sit at his teaboard, gaping at the wall in miserable silence, feeling himself fortunate that he has been spared the extend of Vyrdin’s fury.
How delightful to break the sturdy dependence of frangible minds! To discomfit the deserving is always delight, and the silence that spoke in its concentration, the intimidation of an indisputable gaze would keep Pastaddams from professing his literary ideas to Alasdair for some time. He exhaled and leaned over the teaboard, cradling his head in his hands, and thanked the Gods for such an escape. He had a moment’s agitation of Vyrdin coming back again, of his leave being a trick to be rectified later, and he had almost relived himself of the chief of his fears when there was another knock at the door.
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