Story for #Halloween: Unwanted Company

It is Halloween, which means it is Seamhair in Frewyn, the middle of the autumn High Holidays. Children dress up to confuse spirits, everyone goes for hay rides and cider runs, and some take the opportunity to speak to the royal family, whether they want to be spoken to or not. 

Some of the women from the farms came to speak to the king and wish him and his family a Maith Seamhair, and when they had done with the pleasantries and gave their best wishes to His Majesty with a very good grace, they moved on to the MacDaede portion of the family tree, speaking first to Calleen and Jaicobh, acknowledging Hathanta and Baronous as they passed, and stopping when they reached Boudicca, who was standing a little farther off, beside the table with the other mothers and fathers, content enough to observe the harvest and all its animation rather than participate, but while the other men and women were chuttering away, with their ales and meads and fried batter cakes, Boudicca was standing apart, her arms folded, her aspect affected and disinterested. Rautu had conveniently slipped away, skulking the other end of the table in quest of a chocolate tart he had descried running away in a child’s hand, and she was left to brook the nothing-meaning bletheration of well-meaning women. She bore it well, feigning interest at whose son was planning on joining the forces and whose cow had taken ill this season, but where she was used to treat everyone with the same good humour, she was quiet and reserved, unequal to conversation and looking as though she wished the women around her gone. Alasdair saw it from the corner of his eye: she seemed low and detached, allowing them to talk to her rather than obliging their goodwill, tolerating their presence rather than regaling in it. He wondered at her quietness, wondered whether anything were the matter, and once the women said their goodbyes and drifted toward the other end of the table, where Rautu was just escaping from them, Alasdair joined her, sidling her and watching the children in mutual silence.
                A glance and a smile passed.

                Alasdair spoke first. “I know better than to ask whether you’re feeling all right,” said he, staring into his glass.    

                “But you already have,” said Boudicca. Here was an arch smile. “You are going to think me a horrid old spinet, but I believe I have reached that point in life where I can no longer abide strangers wanting to talk to me. I know in Frewyn no one is really a stranger—we’re all neighbours here, everyone knows someone’s cousin or mother—but being now in the middle of my life, I have run out of things to say to those who go out of their way particularly to speak to me about nothing. I should not be put out if they wanted to talk about entry into the Forces or methods for drying peat—those are subjects I know a great deal about—the peat is unfortunate, though waiting for peat to dry is pleasanter than hearing most people clamour away—but they will corner me and attack me with words and gestures, rather like being assailed by a cloud of furious gnats, and they never have nothing to say of any interest. I am happy for them about their daughters being to marry and their sons being to have their second child—though that usually leads to the question of when I am going to have more—but I simply cannot care. I know I am a woman entering into a certain time of life, and they might think I enjoy a good ramble, but I like the idea as much as I like having gnats caught in my mouth.”

                Alasdair hemmed and hid a laugh by raising his glass and pretending to drink.

                “I have no idea why they should find me so very interesting when they have good natured women like Calleen and Carrigh to speak to, whom they know will take an active interest in all their cares. I, however, have nothing to add to their conversation.”

                “You do make amazingly witty remarks,” Alasdair acknowledged.

                “I do not want to be witty. Witty implies genius, and the cleverer they think I am, the more they will want to speak to me.”

                Alasdair smiled into his glass. “It’s your fault for being so approachable.”

                “A curse from my father, I assure you, one that caught you in my social web.”

                Alasdair hemmed and looked demure. “You were also the only person willing to speak to me.”

                “Well, it was your fault for being a prince and bringing Bryeison with you to the church. Most of the children there had never seen royalty or a moving mountain before.”

                “I couldn’t very well have come without him. Grandfather wouldn’t have allowed it.” Alasdair stared into his drink. “Would that I had Bryeison with me when I joined Tyfferim Company.”

                “He would have saved you even less than Vyrdin did from Dobhin’s harangues.”

                “True,” Alasdair admitted. “He would have said being punched in the face was good for me, or something like it. He is fond of applied lessons.”

                 Boudicca smiled and returned to musing. “It is because I always seem smiling, isn’t it? I have no idea how to flout unless truly angry or displeased, and even then, the idea of retaliation against those who irritate me makes me grin. I don’t know how to ward off unwanted solicitation. I only know how to suffer it and mock it afterwards.”

                “That’s where the entertaining bit happens.”

                “For us,” said Boudicca, with half a smile, “but half these people don’t understand when I’m being facetious or derisive. You, however, are astonishing at sarcasm, Alasdair, and yet most of these people will never know it.”

                “I keep my quips for family only,” said Alasdair quietly.

                “A sin considering your powers. I am a frightful bore in comparison. My mate, with all his glowers and disdain for the world, is far more entertaining than I could ever be, especially when he is shouting AWAY at young children desperate to plague him. I cannot think why anyone would ever approach me when there is the rest of the world to talk to. It’s because of you, isn’t it? They know I have the king’s ear and want to get it all out of me as to whether you sleep in your fiddlecase and how many more children you are likely to have.”

                Alasdair’s ear caught the last few words, and he choked on his mead. “Two is more than enough for now,” he coughed, recovering himself. “As much as I love the idea of having another, I don’t want to give it less attention that it deserves. I already feel as though I don’t spend enough time with the children.”

                “A morsel of kingly gossip to pass on to the flock when they attack me for crumbs,” Boudicca laughed.

                Alasdair raised his glass again and looked coy. “Tell them I plan to have ten more. It will make Carrigh laugh.”

                “I should say twenty, plus two illegitimate kings hidden elsewhere in the kingdom.”

                Alasdair looked pained and rubbed his brow. “Please don’t give Dorrin anything to worry about.”

                Boudicca laughed heartily to herself, but soberer feelings soon succeeded, and she sighed and seemed solemn. “I know it is very un-Frewyn of me to say as much, having the powers of small talk as our national birthright, but I think I have simply grown too old to bear it for more than a few minutes at a time.”

                “What about farmer talk?” Alasdair asked. “Isn’t farmer talk the natural enemy of small talk?”

                “It is a virulent subspecies of it, but I cannot deploy it on those who are used to hearing it all day long. Farmer’s wives have a natural immunity to Tyfferim and Sethshire’s greatest weapon.”

                “I suppose that’s true,” Alasdair nodded. “Farmer talk is so potent it even crosses language borders. I remember when Adaoire and Aiden were reported to have warded off a Galleisian raiding party with it.”

                “More formidable than what any attack from a ploughshare and a backhoe can do.”

                A woman suddenly approached. She gave good wishes to the king on the holiday and hoped he and the royal family were well, and then, instead of moving over to the Regent or the Lord Protector, or anyone else in the direct royal line, she moved over to Boudicca, to ask whether the Commander had considered the possibility of adding one more to the great number in the keep.

                A glance passed from her to Alasdair, one which said I might have to mortify this woman, and noting Boudicca’s disputatious looks with the business, Alasdair mouthed a desperate PLEASE BE KIND and sighed into his hand.

                The woman grew tired of a conversation so one sided—the commander’s short answers of ‘no, no thank you, and my mate is over there shaking down your child of his chocolates,’ soon drew her away—and when the woman was gone, a smirk was directed toward Alasdair, prompting him to make his apologies on behalf of the well-meaning and meddlesome.

                “Please do not tell Rautu what she asked you,” Alasdair lamented. “I don’t need a plea in court against a giant knocking down a house.”

                “He has no time for that when there are so many pockets filled with require emptying.” In the near distance, Rautu was relieving a child of his latest acquirements; the boy was complaining of not being allowed to eat any of the apples he and his friends had picked only to be unaware of the giant behind the adjacent tree, alleviating the child of the chocolate covered hazelnuts peeking out of his back pocket. Boudicca simpered and folded her arms. “If only his culture allowed him to be horrid to people older than himself. He should take all the candy intended for undeserving grandchildren and have every woman of a certain age chasing him instead of hounding me forever. I will never understand why they like me so much.”

                 “You are a war hero,” Alasdair ventured.

                “Everyone who survived the war is a war hero. Gaumhin and Connors were far more valiant than I was and they don’t get half the devotees.”

                “You did save my life more than once.”

                “But so did Vyrdin, and nobody is asking him nonsensical questions about imaginary children. Nobody bothers Nerri about her want of children—rather her un-want—so why bother me?”

                “I think her being Nnodainyaa has something to do with it. She has been with us for a long time, but I think others might be hesitant to approach her because of the supposed cultural differences.”

                This would not do for Boudicca, and she spent a few moments in deliberation whilst watching Nerri and Connors wend in and out of the orchard rows. “I know what it is,” she declared. “It’s because I don’t have a mother and never liked the one I got. Everyone knows what an atrocious character my mother had, and they all think they can give me advice and put me right. Poor aul’ Jaicobh and his daughter,” said she playfully, adopting her father’s accent. “Sure never liked Maddie anyhow, an’ her bein’ a royal and all, never knew how to raise no farmer’s girl, teachin’ her how to plant the field but not how to sew the seed in the fam’ly way.”

                Alasdair gawped at her. “It is so frightening when you do that.”

                “Not as frightening when you put on your Upper Alys miner’s cant,” Boudicca laughed. “I grew up hearing the hirrient tones of a Tyfferim drawl. I don’t know where your perfect imitation comes from.”
                “Well,” Alasdair hemmed, colouring, “we all have our talents.”