Chapter 7 – The Horrible DayDe Tehryn Apartments
Duchy of Haldane
Baron Jerrill de Tehryn studied the parchment before him, enough light for reading provided by the rack of candles standing at the centre of the wooden table and the fire crackling in the hearth. There were notations in the margins of the accounts he had prepared for his liege lord’s review, some written by the Duke of Carthmoor himself and some by one of his many stewards. Overall, Jerrill was pleased with the responses, including the agreement to the proposed repairs to a bridge on the main road leading to Tehryn Keep.
He and Jäna, accompanied by Lady Livia, had had supper in the great hall earlier. The crowd of guests thinned with each passing day since Twelfth Night, and tonight the high table had been almost empty, presided over by the Earl of Rhendall. Jerrill had hoped that he might catch sight of his sons assisting at one of the lower tables, but neither twin had been in the hall. They would be returning to the de Tehryn rooms soon enough, bubbling over with tales of what they had been up to today, whom they had served and what they had learned.
Jäna sat across from him at the table, working on the needlework sampler she had promised Lady Amah she would have finished when they returned to Tehryn. Of course, she had only started on it this afternoon, and judging from the vexed looks that crossed her young face and muttered words he did not try to hear, it was not going well. As he watched the thread snapped, and Jäna dropped the muslin down on the table, none too gently.
“Do you need help, Jäna?” Lady Livia asked from her chair behind Jäna where a second rack of candles provided light.
Jäna took a deep breath before responding, “No, no, I can do it…again.” She looked up at her father. “The thread is possessed.”
The old baron chuckled, as much at his daughter’s explanation as Lady Livia’s shocked look. “I think it really just needs a little more practice, Kitten.”
“Or I could stab my finger and be done with it,” she replied hopefully.
Jerrill was saved from crafting an appropriately encouraging response by the door opening to admit two unhappy young boys.
“It has been a horrible day, Papa,” Jared stated, entering first.
“And we are failures!” Justin flung himself down on the stool beside his father, placed his elbows on the table and held his head in his hands. Jäna, alarmed, jumped down from her stool and went to stand beside him, gently putting her hand on his shoulder. Jared pulled her stool over and sat beside her, equally glum.
“Come now, it can’t be as bad as all that. Tell me what happened.” Jerrill pushed the parchment to one side and gave his full attention to the boys.
Justin looked up, his head still between his hands. “We accidently ‘twinned’ one of the squires this morning.”
“Not the best of ideas,” Jerrill commented, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
“We really did not mean to,” Jared continued. “He meant to send me to give Earl Derry a response to a message I had delivered earlier, but he asked Justin instead. Jus had no idea what he was talking about, and Coris was not pleased when he had to explain it all again. Then when I showed up a little later, he was expecting the answer, but I did not have it. He was not impressed, and sent me to find Justin to get the answer straight away.”
“I did not have the answer, either.” Justin took up the story from his point of view. “I got lost, since I never got the directions the first time. I stopped a gentleman to ask where Earl Derry’s apartments were. I thought I was respectful, but apparently I did not bow deeply enough. I got an earful about that, as did anyone else nearby!”
“We all have to learn these things,” Jerrill said mildly, aware that “gentlemen” were known to make the first few weeks of a page’s service as miserable as possible. “You are not the first to make that mistake, and you will not be the last.”
“I guess not! I met up with the same man later, and he yelled at me for not remembering to bow properly after he had already told me about it!” Jared’s face flushed with the remembered injustice.
“Not the best of days.” Jerrill reached for his mug of ale and took a fortifying swallow.
“It got worse.” Justin said, finally raising his head from his hands.
“Oh dear,” Jäna said sympathetically.
“Prince Nigel sent us to help serve the midday meal, because two of the older pages had been sent off on other errands. We thought it was quite a privilege to be allowed to serve so soon.” Jared rested his chin dejectedly in his right hand.
“You do not sound like it was,” the old baron said as he sat back in his chair.
“We were each assigned two tables to serve, but the cooks could not tell which of us was which and lost track of what we had served, so much of it went out in the wrong order.” Justin looked across at his brother. “At least the border lord was not angry about it. He said the sweet cakes tasted just as good served before the meat pie.”
“Border lord?” Jerrill asked. “Who was he?”
“We are not sure,” Jared replied. “We did not recognize his tartan. He has a red border braid, though, and a fine moustache.”
Jerrill nodded. “That was likely the Duke of Cassan.”
Both boys stared at him in shock. “We did not know,” Jared said. “No one else took it so well.”
“Duke Dhugal is young enough to remember being a page,” the old baron said with a smile.
“Prince Nigel was at the high table,” Jared said glumly, “and saw all of the confusion.”
“Right after the meal was finished we had to report to him in the withdrawing room and explain what had happened. “ Justin looked up at his father. “He wanted to know every detail.”
“He said he would consider what had happened, and we were to report to him again after we finished the afternoon lessons.” Jared sighed. “The lessons passed too quickly.”
“I trust you reported right after?”
“Yes, sir. And we bowed very deeply,” Jared stated and Justin gave an emphatic nod.
“What did His Highness have to say?” Jerrill was pleased to note that both boys looked at him squarely as they prepared to answer. As he had come to expect, it was Jared who took the lead, already answering with the detail of a page expected to deliver messages exactly as he was told.
“He said he was disappointed that the meal had not been served to the standards he expected of his pages. However, he understood that there was difficulty in telling us apart. He stated that from now on, we were to identify who we were when anyone addressed us, by saying “Jared, sir,” or “Justin, sir.” Then he dismissed us, saying he expected there would be no further issues and we were to be in the hall to serve in the morning just to make sure.”
Baron Jerrill sat back in his chair again, stroking his full beard with one hand as he reviewed what he had been told. Suddenly, Jäna reached across the table and plucked at his sleeve.
“Papa,” she said very seriously. “Perhaps I should have a little talk with Prince Nigel.”
“No, I think not, Kitten,” he quickly replied, both horrified and amused at the thought. “The boys will manage this without your help or mine. They have their marching orders and know what is expected. There’s nothing more to do.” He looked at each of his sons in turn. “Agreed?”
“Yes, sir,” both boys replied.
Jerrill de Tehryn pushed back his chair and stood. “Good. Now I think it is time you were off to bed. You have to be up and ready early.”
“Papa, may we have a story first?” Jäna asked.
The old baron nodded in agreement, rubbing his hands together and thinking of a tale from his own days of service as a page that would be just about perfect.