Bou and Rau: The Duchess
A letter had come for King Alasdair telling him of the timely visit of the Duchess of the Triumvirate. The young king had heard terrified reports of the old and haggard woman from the various gossiping nobles at court and although he was hesitant to believe the scandal they could spread, he still dreaded her coming all the same. Alasdair immediately sought the company of the commander who was sitting in the solider mess quieting a row between two of the men between the varied regiments. The argument had to do with the honour of someone's mother but the fight was all but forgotten when he king entered the great hall. The men stood attention to their leader and general and left on the commander's word so that she and the king could continue their discourse in private.
The commander instantly began shaking her head when Alasdair requested her assistance in dealing with the ill-mannered Duchess. She protested quite fervently until Alasdair's emerald eyes grew large and glistening as he began to beg.
"I'm asking you," he said, taking her rough hand into his. "Please do this for me."
The commander scoffed and peeled her head away from the king's before the lurking giant could
see. "I thought we agreed I was never to meet with another one of your royal acquaintances after Rau nearly killed Count Ross for looking at him with sneer on his face and a glint of indiscretion in his eye," she snidely said.
"We did, especially after that considering your better at guard duty for a certain giant than you are at shaking the hands of nobility."
"Does that mean you have found your principles and are excusing me from this speculation?"
The commander sighed for false hope. "Very well," she said with exasperation in her tone. "Excuse me, I must convince that same certain giant to remain either in hunting grounds to save the visiting party from his malicious glares or in the commons to save the royal dessert from his ravening mouth," she said, chiding the king for supposing she would be willing to help on the account of his own childish sensitivities.
That evening, the commander was summoned to the main hall to receive the Duchess and all her acquaintance. The visiting woman was to attend for dinner and one night overstay as a precaution to keeping the king's tedious company. If the rumors against her were true then the king would be the gladder for her short stint in Diras Castle and he stood within the main hall nervously pacing about as he heard the telling signs of the Duchess's barouche approaching in the entranceway beyond. The commander smirked and stood to the side, allowing the king to be in her esteemed company first and giving her room to part if she felt it was required.
From the archway of the entrance came the Duchess of Marridon, the venerated leader of the Triumvirate to Frewyn's north across the border of the Dremmwel Sea. She had successfully united all three warring kingdoms below Lucentia and had brought them together in peaceable agreement which had been maintained for many years. A product of the wealth the three nations provided during their peace, the Duchess entered lavishly adorned in ribbons and bows, and ruffles and silk, and lace and white with a fan hanging from her thin wrist. The tall woman walked with small steps and only looked to the king in her path. The Duchess was followed by a throng of attendants all making certain her long train was well-kept and her knotted hair was in perfect order.
As she approached Alasdair, the king noticed that she was not as gaunt as he was made to believe. She was older than he but not by a great deal and she was well preserved for a woman of nearly forty. Her figure was pulled tight in her constricting dress and her body was long and delicate, even extending its grace to her outstretched arm which was provided for the king to kiss. He took her dangling hand and kissed it delicately, introducing himself at the first and bowing to her with politeness. The Duchess seemed disinterested in his sweet phrases and the king moved to address the commander who stood far to his right near the wall. The Duchess had not looked at her and merely extended her hand in her direction, expecting her to perform the same courtesy as the king.
The commander smiled that she had noticed her and had not seen that she was a woman, and indeed quite unfit to touch anyone of royal blood as a member of Frewyn's armies. "You will excuse me if I do not venture to kiss your hand," the commander said, leaning against the stone behind her, keeping her arms folded. "I'm certain my lips could never do your hand the honour it deserves."
At the familiar voice, the Duchess turned and was astonished to find such a conjecture true, that the commander was indeed not a seasoned and ruthless man as she had expected.
"There are women in your army? How very irregular," she exclaimed, retracting her hand.
The commander laughed and sauntered toward the outwardly arrogant woman. "If we irregular creatures do not learn how to defend ourselves we may turn out as useless as the rest of our breed, especially those of noble variety."
Alasdair covered his face for the gracelessness of the misunderstanding and silently prayed to the gods for the moment of humiliation to soon be over.
The Duchess, however, did not recoil at the commander's caustic remarks and instead found them rather amusing, smirking in her direction with a happy glint in her eye. "What a pleasure to find someone as bitter as I in this frigid castle," she said, her wooden expression suddenly blooming with life.
The commander placed her hands behind her back and returned the Duchess the favour of a knowing glance. "I daresay you will find at least one more bitter than the both of us in Diras. However, he is forbidden from any polite society."
"And why am I being kept from meeting this gentleman or lady?" the Duchess demanded.
"Because he is neither one of aforementioned, I can assure you," the commander laughed to think of the roaring beast in the den of the commons as a gentlemen of pageantry and consequence.
The Duchess's large, dark eyes beamed to hear of such a forbidden creature. "Now you have intrigued me, my dear. I'm enjoying your candor far too much for you to be only commander."
"I was a farmer, however I think we can both agree my attractive days are over these many years."
The Duchess erupted in whooping laughter and her gaggle of attendants froze with shock for the rare occurrence. Alasdair stood back in mild amazement for the friendliness of the two dissimilar women and he allowed them to continue as they began walking down the length of the main hall.
"Tell me there is something disreputable in your acquaintance," the Duchess graciously begged. "You are too clever to be a woman of good social standing."
The commander winked at the Duchess. "I share my bed with a rather offensive giant," she said with pride.
The Duchess gasped, her movements of excitement constricted by her beribboned dress. "Now, I must insist. You will dine with us and after dinner, we shall exploit the noble company by ignoring them."
The commander agreed to sit at the king's table rather than stand about and perch and the Duchess hooked her arm around hers as they traversed the winding walls of the keep toward the royal quarter.
"Tell me of this giant," she said, tapping her ornamental fan on the commander's wrist. "The company is so boring in the Triumvirate as of late, I do long for a good conversation."
"Well, he nearly killed me when we met," the commander said, embellishing the circumstance for her amusement.
The Duchess unfurled her fan and began to buff her blushing face. "Ah, a man who fights with his woman is one who fights for her," she declared. "A most excellent quality. There is some good in a man who will do that, no matter how great or hostile. As your taciturn giant is detained, it falls upon you to make me laugh for the remainder of the evening, dear Commander. Pray, do you have a name?"
"A Tyfirrem family?" the Duchess said, inspecting the commander's dark hair and pallid skin.
"My father's. I don't recall any of my ancestors on his side being anywhere else but in the mud tending to pigs."
The Duchess tittered and patted the commander's arm. "Have you another name?" she asked.
"I do, however, I have told our king he is never to say it as it holds the only sentimentality I have in my cold, blackened heart," the commander smirked. "So, if you would wish to know it, you shall have to ask him."
"Oh, please don't make me," she whispered in disgust. "You must sit beside me at dinner to keep the rest of this noble crust away from me, and I won't be gainsaid."
The commander could not refuse such a terrible and wry partner for the evening and she willingly complied as she led her friend into the royal parlour.
Dinner was served and all the nobles were in attendance, much to Alasdair's dismay for he was forced to give up his seat at the head of the table for the guest of honour and the commander was made to take the place beside her, leaving the young king at the whims of the Frewyn upper class. The nobility tossed him angry looks as there was a commoner at the table in better station than they and they claimed their party was sordidly ruined for it. The commander and the Duchess commiserated on a number of subjects throughout the dinner and hardly touched their plates for the laughter and pleasant discussion that delighted them instead. When the Duchess did manage a bite of her prepared meal, she seemed to enjoy it against all she had remembered of the food of Diras Castle.
"I am glad to report that at least this king has better taste than Allande did in food," the Duchess said with a huff. "At least this one won't try to poison me with culinary commonness."
"I daresay you will find Alasdair very pleasant," the commander said, keeping her snickers soft. "He's a little young but that only makes him the sprier. He is a charming and lovely gentleman if not a little nervous and untried."
"But he doesn't make an exhibition on himself," the elder woman accused, "and I do so like one who is adventurous." The Duchess regarded the king sitting in a seat at short distance and shook her head at him, disappointed he was not more vulgar as she would have liked. "I suppose you know I've been a famous spinster for some time."
"Forty is hardly the age to give up on marriage, I should think."
"It is just old enough not to fetch a man who is interested in love and young enough to fetch one who is interested in money," she sighed. "You have done well to find yourself a giant. Men of our estate are less than amusing, and I'm being generous."
The commander nearly choked on her drink with the mirth echoing in her cup. "I have no doubt you are," she said, wiping the tears from her eyes.
The Duchess' eyes suddenly sprang open as a dreadfully wonderful idea entered her mind. "Pray, Mrs. Giant, let me meet him," she beseeched the commander.
"Only if you allow me to make that title you've given me an official one in the courts," she smiled.
"If you allow me a glimmer of this ruthless goliath, I shall insist upon it," the Duchess promised with a wave of her fan.
"Well, I greatly enjoyed the short negotiations. I submit if only to see the nobles squirm in their seats when he arrives. Mark it well, Duchess, you shall see the sweat on their brows when he enters and growls at them."
The commander stood from her seat and as she was about to fetch her mate by luring him with promises of dessert from the dinner, the Duchess impeded her with a touch from her long fingers.
"Shall I ask him to kiss my hand?" she asked, her eyes glowing with mischief.
"Only if you wish to lose it."
"Then I shall be delighted."
As the commander left with a wide grin on her plain features, Alasdair suddenly felt fear grip his chest. He stood and went over to the Duchess, hoping she had not asked her to do what he believed she had.
"Where is the commander going?" the king warily asked the Duchess.
The Duchess barred him from remaining too close by brandishing her fan and waving it toward her in a flurry of wide movements. "To provide entertainment for the rest of the evening," she haughtily said. "I'm certain you would not deny me my just amusements."
Alasdair was not pleased by her guardedness when he had come with cordiality and his shoulders wilted as he sighed. "I'm not as dull as you think," he said.
"Really. Impress me then."
Alasdair opened his mouth to speak when the Den Asaan suddenly entered the royal parlour with the commander at his side. The nobles began to cower in their chairs under the giant's disapproving watch, whispering phrases of iniquity to each other and the Duchess laughed at their ridiculous demeanors already enjoying the giant's attendance. She walked over to greet the Den Asaan and shooed her attendants away, leaving their conversation between the three of them.
Rautu glared down at the lace-bound woman and grimace, looking to his mate for explanation as she promised there would be chocolate first and conversation later.
The Duchess was instantly intrigued with his large violet eyes, overbearing might and stern expression. "I am told Haanta bow to each other when they greet," she politely said. "Shall I bow to you, sir?"
"We bow to honour the one in front of us. Do you merit a bow?" the giant grunted.
The Duchess gave a look of bliss to the commander for his brusque behavior and decided to oblige his unfeeling exchange. "I should say not," she said.
Rautu's eyes narrowed and his maw tightened. "Then if you bow to me, I will not bow in return."
"He is absolutely charming, Mrs. Giant," the Duchess said with a fond glance to the commander. "Pray, sir, I bid you take the seat next to mine. Oddities are my delight and my ears are seldom honoured with stories of the islands. I am told you have many honourable brothers. I had a brother once, a most beloved one in fact. He died while in service and my toadies are too skittish to tell me any heroic stories of battle since. Perhaps I can persuade you to tell me a tale or two of your brothers to help me remember mine?"
The giant was about to retaliate with bouts of grumbling and negative replies but he felt his mate tug his arm, and when he looked to her he noted that the Duchess retained the same look of sincerity that she did. His tensed lips softened their position and his menacing bearing thawed as he quietly agreed to tell the Duchess of his Amghari life on Sanhedhran.
They sat together with the commander at small table off to the side as not to disturb the remainder of the royal party and cake was brought as the giant spoke much on the matters of war and the Haanta. The Duchess said little and listened much, fascinated by the Den Asaan societal training and bluntness of character, and the commander watched their direct discourse with a satisfied smile on her face.
Alasdair was disappointed at his exclusion but was so pleased of the giant being civil that he did not question it and allowed them to remain in each other's good graces until the Duchess spoke of her departed brother to honour the giant's audience.
When the evening was over, the commander and the Den Asaan took their leave of the party and as they walked back to the commons, the woman's ears perked when she believed heard her mate say, "she is an honourable leader."