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Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Four

Started by Evie, May 16, 2011, 09:10:58 AM

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   Chapter Four

   May 18, 1134
   Kinlochan House, Rhemuth

   The Dowager Baroness Avisa opened the door to my new private chamber.  "It's a little small," she told me apologetically.  "I hadn't realized I'd be housing both a man and his child when I asked Piers to set it up, but there's a bit of room for us to set up a pallet for Amanda at the foot of your bed.  It's a good thing she's so small yet.  I'll see that more suitable rooms are readied for you when we visit Kinlochan at the beginning of June."

   "This is fine," I assured her.

   "I've thought of moving house within Rhemuth, actually.  This one was suitable enough when my late husband and I only needed to use it a few weeks out of every year, but growing children and a growing household need more room, I'm thinking, and I'd like to remain in residence here in Rhemuth for longer periods than I have done in the past.  That can be one of your first tasks, once you've settled into your duties—scouting for other houses which might prove more suitable to my current needs."

   "I'll make the necessary inquiries first thing, my lady."

   "Good.  I've asked Piers to meet with you after supper tonight to advise you on your new duties and to bring you up to speed."  She opened a small chest next to the bed, indicating the folded garments within.  "House colors for you, though I only require the household to wear them on special occasions, or if representing Kinlochan House in the public venue.  I had to guess at your size, so I guessed on the larger side.  It's easier to alter down than up, after all.  If you'd be so kind as to try them on tonight, I'll have the tailor customize the fit."

   I pulled out a tunic, holding it up to my chest.  The deep sapphire blue of the garment was not all that different from Arilan violet.  Silvery-gray fabric added an accent color around the collar and cuffs, which were also edged with gold embroidered trim.  Not ostentatiously so, of course; it was livery befitting a baron's household, not a duke's. The outfit was discreetly adorned by the addition of the Kinlochan household badge.

   "There's a winter variant as well, suitable for Christmas Courts or Twelfth Nights.  Dark blue velvet robes lined with miniver.  I'll order one made for you come colder weather."  Baroness Avisa reached out to stroke her fingers lightly over one of the silver-gray cuffs.  "The household colors are azure and argent.  I ordered livery with white cuffs on the over-sleeves one year, and Piers has yet to forgive me.  They were the very devil to keep clean, I'm told."  She grinned up at me.  "Hopefully this pale gray will be a bit easier to maintain."

   "I'll try to keep the laundress from coming after my blood," I assured her.  She laughed, leaning against the wall behind her.

   "There's a garderobe down the corridor and around the corner to the right.  Household meals are served at noon and at six.  If you prefer to break your fasts in the morning before the noon meal, just let Cook know and he'll have something sent up.  If your work keeps you away during the regular meal times, he'll hold some extra back for your return if you'll inform him beforehand."

   I nodded.  "I can take my meals while I'm out should that be necessary."  With two extra sovereigns per quarter, I could afford to eat a fair number of meals out!

   "You'll be given a half-day per week free, not counting holy days or whatever time away from the estate that the King may require of you, of course.  Your half-day will be on Wednesdays.  Sundays, of course, are also days of rest, or at least whatever rest one can find while still supervising a busy household."  She gave a wry smile.  "If you have need of longer absences, such as to visit family for special occasions, those can be arranged; I simply ask that you inform me in advance.  I believe you'll find me an easy taskmistress."

   "That all sounds sufficient.  Thank you, my lady."

   She straightened, turning to leave, but paused in the doorway.  Turning back towards me with an apologetic look and a slight rosiness rising in her cheeks, she added.  "There's one more thing.  What you do in town on your personal time is your own business, of course, but I would ask that you...um...refrain from bringing any unrelated guests back here to your chamber."

   "I see."  My lips twitched.  "But my sixteen young sisters who all happen to work as bathhouse attendants would be perfectly suitable?"

   She laughed, her blush growing.  "Don't make this awkward, Sir Sextus.  You know what I mean."

   I grinned.  "I do.  And you needn't worry on that score, my lady.  I assure you, a seven-year-old daughter makes for a most effective chaperone.  My moderately tarnished virtue, alas, is far safer than it's been in years."


   May 22, 1134
   Kinlochan House, Rhemuth

   I soon settled into my duties at Kinlochan House.  Piers spent the first few evenings alternately going over the household routine, the accounts (still quite firmly under his own management, I was told in no uncertain terms), and querying me on what I would do in any number of speculative situations, trying to assess if I had a sound head for this line of work or if his mistress had simply allowed herself to be swayed by some ne'er-do-well with a good line and a charming grin.  From his dubious glances at me, I imagined he suspected the latter.

   "Have you held this sort of office before, young man?"

   "Not exactly, no, although I've been left in charge of my brother's manor on many occasions when he was called to do the King's business here in Rhemuth or abroad.  I'm familiar with what a steward's duties are, though.  I worked quite closely with ours at Tre-Arilan."

   "Hmph.  Well, that was with only one manor to manage, I imagine.  The young master has charge over several."

   I imagined he did.  Most barons would.  I also knew that what Piers actually meant was that the young master's estate stewards had charge over his properties; it was doubtful that Aldwyn, at age five, had taken a keen interest in his baronial inheritance as of yet.

   "Fortunately Master Gerard at Kinlochan has no intention of retiring just quite yet, so there will be a man of considerable experience managing the young master's interests at the baronial seat for some time."

   In other words, I need not think I had any hope of getting my wet-behind-the-ears self into that position anytime soon.  I could read between the lines as well as the next man.

   "Master Lars has the running of the domestic side of the estate, and has had for years.  He runs a nice, tight household."  Approval at his colleague's accomplishment managed to leak out between lips pressed tightly together in stern judgment as he gazed at me.  "He would not be an easy man to replace."

   "Doubtless he would not, Master Piers."  I smiled back, my eyes daring him to find some fault in my agreement with his statement.   "I'm given to understand that Baroness Avisa is in hopes of allowing you a chance to return to Kinlochan so you can spend more time with family there.  Is it your hope to move into that office once Master Lars steps down?  It would seem like an advantageous move for you, unless you'd prefer to retire soon as well."

   He studied me, apparently somewhat mollified since I hadn't shown any untoward eagerness to snatch such a prize position out from under his nose.  "Mayhap," he allowed grudgingly.  "I've not decided yet.  So, you're thinking you've got what it takes to manage the baronial holdings here in Rhemuth, do you?"

   I shrugged modestly.  "I'm hoping to learn what it takes, Master Piers, and I'm told you're just the fellow to teach me.  I'm keen to learn from the best."  Hopefully that last wasn't laying it on too thick.

   "Hmph."  Piers studied me warily.  "All right then.  Let's see what sort of head you've got perched on those shoulders.  The Baroness is in need of a horse.  Her reeve is torn between two possibilities he's looked over.  One of the beasts would cost the baronial purse only five sovereigns, the other would cost ten.  Which would you advise him to purchase for her?"

   I shook my head, recognizing it as a trick question.  "That's hardly enough information to make such a choice, Master Piers.  For one thing, you've not even said what sort of horse it is she's in need of.  A plough horse?  A palfrey?"

   He nodded.  "Let's say it's a palfrey she's inquiring after."

   "All right.  In either case, I'd prefer to see both horses myself."

   "Not possible.  Your responsibilities have kept you too busy to leave the estate, and the reeve must bring back a decision and the coin that afternoon."

   I suspected he'd say that.  "Then I'd want to know the reeve's impression of both palfreys, and if there's some apparent reason why one is double the price of the other."

   "Both are sound enough mares, as far as the reeve can judge.  The pricier one has a more pleasing conformation, higher stamina and better bloodlines, of course, but then again, at double the price, it's a higher drain on the baronial coffers.  The less expensive one would suffice for the Baroness's needs."

   "It might suffice, but would that make it the best choice?" I asked.  "The higher priced palfrey might still be the more economical buy for the money, in the long run.  Would the lady be wishing to breed the beast someday? If so, would the better of the two palfreys not be the better investment?  And even if not, how much use is she planning to get out of the animal?  Would she be looking for one that would suit just for the occasional ride out, or is she a keen horsewoman who would be seeking to ride out daily?  Which palfrey has the better temperament?  Does the lady plan to ride in the hunt?  There are far more other factors to be considered than mere cost, though if the coffers could bear the expense, I'd be more likely to lean towards the purchase of a higher quality animal as the better investment in the long run.  Ten sovereigns for a palfrey is not unreasonable; I've seen some sell for as much as fifteen, especially if they've any R'Kassi bloodlines."  I grinned.  "Of course, if the reeve comes to me asking for coin to buy a palfrey for twenty sovereigns, I'll have to ask if it's gold-plated or simply sired by the King of R'Kassi himself rather than just by one of his stallions.  But I'd balk at buying a palfrey the breeder is only asking five sovereigns for; there'd surely be something off about her, to be let go so cheaply."

   The old steward pursed his lips.  I couldn't tell if he was pleased by my answer or not.


   May 30
   Kinlochan House, Rhemuth

   "I'm told you'll do," Baroness Avisa told me after several more evenings had passed.  Her eyes laughed at me as she watched me from the doorway of Kinlochan House's study.

   "Beg pardon, my lady?" I asked, not certain I'd heard her correctly, for I'd been studying the household books and she'd caught me off guard.

   "It's high praise, coming from Piers.  I'd not take it lightly.  Not that I doubted your capabilities, but I'd expected it would take you at least another month or two to worm your way into Piers's good graces.  You're a fast worker."

   "Just a quick learner, my lady."

   "Avisa."  She shrugged as I raised a questioning eyebrow at her.  "We're not out in public, Sir Sextus, and I hardly outrank you to the point you need stand on ceremony in the privacy of our own study."  She moved closer to settle onto a bench next to the counting table where I sat.  "I think you're ready to spend a few weeks at Kinlochan and make the acquaintance of Masters Gerard and Lars.  My boys are looking forward to visiting home; they want to show Amanda their cave."  She grinned.  "It's a tiny rock grotto in the castle gardens, no deeper than six or seven feet.  You needn't worry about her becoming lost in it for days.  But my lads quite enjoy it, even if the castle laundresses don't."

   I laughed.  "I'll hardly make a young lady of her at this rate, Lady Avisa."

   "Oh, mercy!  There'll be time enough for that later."  She wrinkled her nose.  "I was constantly scuttling over rock ledges or climbing trees.  Let the lass enjoy it while she still can."

   It was an unexpected insight into the lady before me.  I could hardly imagine the graceful Dowager Baroness of Kinlochan as a dirt-stained little wench with scabby knees, sitting with skinny legs dangling from some tree branch.

   "Did your father have to haul you out of some mighty oak just to drag you to Rhemuth Court once you got to marriageable age?" I teased.

   She laughed.  "Just about."  She sobered at the memory.  "I was terrified."

   I set my pen aside.  "Of the King's Court, or of the thought of marriage?"

   "Yes."  A fleeting smile.  "Court.  Marriage.  Kelson."  She grinned.  "God love him, it wasn't his fault.  The King was quite gracious, especially given the circumstances.  How many women do you think got paraded in front of the poor man before he finally wed Queen Araxie?"

   I grinned.  "Oh, probably a few hundred more than he was comfortable with, at the very least.  So, your parents entertained hopes of having a King for a son-in-law?"

   "Not very high ones.  They knew the chances were nil.  But I was female and breedable, so they had to trot me out there into the ring, just on the off chance someone with a decent bloodline might notice me...."  She rolled her eyes expressively, her voice slightly bitter.  "You're quite fortunate to have been born a man, Sir Sextus."

   "I know."  I studied my fingertips, noting idly that I had acquired an ink stain on my index finger, where I'd grasped the pen a bit too close to the nib.  "I've always taken that for granted, I suppose, but now that I have a daughter to care for...."  I shrugged.  "I've not really stopped to think all that much about what life is like for a woman until fairly recently."  I thought of my sisters, and how very differently the winds of Fortune had blown for both.  "How old were you when you finally wed, if I may ask?"

   "Seventeen.  I finally got passed off to the highest bidder."  She sighed, a weary look crossing her features.  "No, that's not fair, don't listen to me, Sextus.  Edgar was a decent man; my parents chose well for me.  I'm just tired tonight, that's all."

   "I remember him slightly from Court.  A good man, from what little I knew of him at any rate, but I gather he didn't live up to your girlish fancies?"  Her attempt at a smile hadn't erased the sadness from her eyes, and my heart ached for her.  

   She chuckled softly, a hint of humor returning to her eyes as she looked across at me. "What man ever does?"  She smiled.  "No offense meant, Sir Sextus, but a young maiden's fancies can be quite...unrealistic?  Much like hoping to take an evening's stroll up a moonbeam."  Lady Avisa studied her laced fingertips.  "He was very patient with me, and he loved our sons dearly.  It was a better marriage than many women have, I suppose.  I grew to like him, and he certainly seemed quite fond of me as well."  She blushed slightly, averting her eyes as she rose from the bench.  "Well. I'd best have a word with Moira about how to pack for our journey.  Good night, Sir Sextus."

   "Good night, Lady Avisa."

   The door closed behind her.  I sat staring at it, lost in my thoughts for a good while afterward.

Chapter Five:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=719.0
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


Well played by Sextus in winning over Piers! 
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


LOL at sixteen bathhouse attendant "sisters".  Brat hasn't dented his sense of humour, at least.

(Oops! ;) )


Sextus is probably feeling dizzy most of the time now.


I'm not sure if I missed it or not.  Is Avisa Deryni?  If not, how does she feel about them?


The subject hasn't come up yet, but it will.  As to how she feels about them, that's for me to know and for you to find out in a later chapter.   ;)
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


Just as well that Sextus has that 7 year old dauighter as chaperone.  :D

Nice that Avisa is encouraging Grub (edited: sorry - Amanda!)  :D  to have a happy childhood, something that she didn't get with her mother.


Quote from: Jerusha on May 16, 2011, 11:47:40 AM
Well played by Sextus in winning over Piers! 
I wonder if Seisyll's attitude towards Sextus has improved.
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!


From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


AKA "Brat", Jerusha.  You haven't missed anything, it's just that Alkari has seen a few "sneak previews" in chat, so she knows a few things from upcoming chapters that haven't appeared on the Forum yet. 
* Evie smacks Alkari lightly with a herring for the minor spoiler. ;D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!



LOL!  See, this is what the rest of you miss out on by not coming to chat with me and my evil stepsisters in the afternoons!  :D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


Quote from: Evie on May 16, 2011, 09:13:00 PM
LOL!  See, this is what the rest of you miss out on by not coming to chat with me and my evil stepsisters in the afternoons!  :D

As I've said before, as a Classics major I've read Euripides, and know what happens to men who spy on women's mysteries.


Quote from: Evie on May 16, 2011, 04:21:33 PM
The subject hasn't come up yet, but it will.  As to how she feels about them, that's for me to know and for you to find out in a later chapter.   ;)

For some reason this made me think of the old joke about the maid who quit her job with the family who kept alligators.  "I would have mentioned it before," she said,"but I didn't think it would come up."