Story for the day: The First in the Series -- Part 5
Very few can escape the keep without notice. Gaumhin, as the great sentry of the castle, never fails to capture all the comings and goings of soldiers and craftsmen, but there is one resident whose leave he notices above all others:
Before the sun skimmed the horizon, and even before the children roused from their nest of furs in the commons, Gods’ Day prevailed over the capital. The workmen and craftsmen slept in, despite the harangue from officious wives, the vendors and traders roused and took to their carts, hoping to catch the prime locations and early sales round the square, the rushlights and candles of those who were just coming home from work or ending their rambling pernoctations were gone out, and smokestacks breathed in niveous heaps while windows awakened with a tender glow of light. Parishioners of the church davered out of homes while parishioners of a different distinction divagated away from taverns, the early risers and those brave enough to suffer the cold without the apricity of the sun walked along the river bank, admiring the last intimation of the stars, the moon already relinquishing its throne and the constellations clinging to the curtain of night, the sky drawing them aside to make way for aurora.
As the birthday cakes had already been made and eaten, Martje remained a little longer in bed, as did Searle, who was always the first awake, especially when there was anything like a birthday celebration to be planned, but Alasdair had insisting on their not rousing early, offending Searle’s ideas of duty, and making Aghatha sanguinely suspicious. She had roused at her usual time, despite Alasdair having entreated her to stay in bed another half hour, and when Alasdair had crept down the stairs leading to the royal chambers, Aghatha was at the landing with her linen basket to greet him.
“Where yeh off teh, Majesteh?” said Aghatha, in her musical tone.
Alasdair, having hastened down the steps, had not seen her in the dark, and almost jumped with surprise. “Aghatha! I told you that you didn’t have to be up this early.”
“Aye, but Ay’m alwehs up this tyme in the mornin’ anehow,” Aghatha replied, folding clean sheets. “So,” with an air of mischief, “shall Ah ask why yeh purposeleh told us not teh wake up earleh, Majesteh? Havin’ a bit of a sneak-out?”
“No, I am not having a sneak out,” said Alasdair cautiously. “All right, maybe I am, but I’m not doing anything wrong by it.”
“Are yeh goin’ out teh Diras Delyghts teh get a cake yeh fanceh, and yeh tryin’ teh avoid Martje?”
“Oh, no, it is nothing like that. I learned my lesson by asking her to let someone else cook the Ailineighdaeth dinner.”
“Aye, that yeh did, Majesteh,” Aghatha laughed. “Ay don’t mean teh be afteh yeh, Majesteh. Just a bit o’ the curiositeh’s come oveh meh. Ay don’t know what yeh schemin’, but Ay’m sure Ay’ll find out presentleh, when the reason yeh creepin’ about lyke a mouse comes out.”
Alasdair thanked her for her confidence and gave her a flat look.
“Mynd meh for sayin’, Majesteh, but yeh know whateveh it is, all the spies in this keep’ll fynd out, if they don’t alreadeh know.”
“Which is precisely why I didn’t want any witnesses to my leaving the keep so early.”
“But Gaumhin’ll see yeh at the gate anehow.”
“He will, but if I ask him not to tell, he won’t.”
Aghatha’s lips pursed in a smile. “Ay, he won’t. Oh,” said she, as though having suddenly remembered, “since yeh leavin’, Ay should mention, Masteh Vyrdin’s been about.”
“Where is he?” Alasdair demanded, his eyes blazing in terror.
“Ay seen him walkin’ in the garden, talkin’ teh Harrigh about the winter roses.”
Alasdair groaned, and Aghatha folded her last sheet and moved her linen basket aside.
“If yeh havin’ a sneak out, yeh best go now, Majesteh,” said Aghatha, taking up her basket. Here was a fiendish look. “Ay’ll be on the watch, keepin’ him in the garden till yeh come back.”
Alasdair grabbed Aghatha and held her close, professing her to be the greatest creature in existence, and then, with a desperate look, he dashed down the hall, hastening through the stables and down the path, grazing the wall to the peristyle as he headed toward the front gate.
Gaumhin was there, for as one who reveled in a soldier’s sufferance of never requiring much in the way of sleep, he had done his late patrol, spent many hours comforting his husband, and was at his early watch at the gate again to welcome the Royal Guard returning from their evening watch at the capital wall. Alasdair waited for the cloud of guards to pass before skulking toward the gate house, and with an indicative glance, he signaled Gaumhin to let him by. It was done, and the gate was left open for him to pass. Alasdair held a finger to his lips, to indicate that his mission was to be a great secret, told to nobody but those who had already seen him, and with a nod and a look of confusion, Gaumhin watched Alasdair slink down the principal slope toward town.
“Does His Majestae thenk naebodae can see hem sneakin’?” said Gaumhin. “Ah know it’s still a wee-bit dark an’ o’, but if Ah can see hem from up here, everbodae down there can see hem as well.”
“He knows,” said Brigdan, materializing from the shadow of the gatehouse, and coming to stand beside him.
Gaumhin folded his arms, and his brows furrowed. “Why’s His Majesteh still creepin’ if he’s alreadae out o’ the castle?”
“Because he’s afraid Vyrdin is watching him. Sneaking doesn’t help, as those who are consciously doing it are wont to move slowly, and stalking only works well if one is stalking someone else unsuspecting, but moving cautiously when trying to hide from someone like Vyrdin is complete folly.”
“Vyrdin? Why should His Majestae be afraid o’—“ Gaumhin hummed and looked pensive. “Does thess have tae dae with tha’ book Rauleigh was tellin’ meh about?”
Brigdan leaned over the crenels and watched Alasdair hasten past the church. “It does.”
“Should His Majestaeh be out so earlae without anybodae with hem? Ah doan’t mean tae say tha’ he cannae fend for hemsel’, but the sun’s just comin’ up. ”
“The only people in the world who would post any danger to the king are in this keep,” said Brigdan, smiling. “Instead of unsavoury villains, he must rather defend himself from eager old ladies, many of whom would do anything just to pinch the king’s cheeks and tell him what an excellent young man he is.”
“Ah doan’t get mah cheeks penched when Ah’m out on patrol.”
“That might be because they cannot auction off their granddaughters to you.”
Gaumhin must concede here; though not everyone was aware of his marriage to the royal tailor, he must own that many persons—especially a certain gradation of Frewyn females—were blessed with powers of prescience, which always seemed to activate when Gaumhin was in the company of unwed women. It was his attention to their character and willingness to speak to them that separated him from either the ingratiating gallantry or the timid silence of other men, and there he exposed himself as no willing lover but instead a conscious adviser, one who was more interested in improving their situations rather than assisting them to the altar.
“But His Majestae’s married,” Gaumhin quietly contended. “Twice an’ o.”
“True, Gaumhin. I grant you that. One day, however,” and there was a sagacious look as Brigdan said it, “one day, he might not be. There might be a great fire or a rampant storm, or there might be an illness or even another war that might eliminate half the kingdom at least. And when Alasdair is by some means or other alone once more, he will have women enough to consider.”
Women always think in the catastrophic, and when there is a calamity to rectify that might require a unmarried granddaughter, in this instance older women will always act. Their powers of foresight and vigilance might make any disheveled or nubile young haggage ready for the altar in five minutes. Nothing should ever happen to Queen Carrigh, of course—she was the most kindly and must beloved consort in Frewyn’s history—but if the king should suddenly be in want of a wife, whenever it should be, regardless of his being old and infirmed, the patience of a grandmother would be well rewarded in a king for a grandson.
Gaumhin decided that his orientation made him immune to understanding the many minutiae of a woman’s mind, and resigned himself to the notion that old ladies liked him just as well without his marriageableness being called into question. He marched along the battlements, observing Alasdair as he hurried through the square, meditating on how peaceable a kingdom and so beloved a king they were in possession of. No other nation on the continents could boast of having their king running about at all hours, without any guard to mantle over him, without any threat of violence or misconduct to visit him, while Brigdan leaned against the merlons, smiling consciously to himself, wondering what surprises awaited Alasdair at his destination.
Join our Patreon campaign HERE and receive the full story at the end of the month.