“Ah, the southern shores are the best, my friend. Warm and friendly and close enough to the continent to have all manner of exotic goods.”
Narnemvar gestured expansively toward the rest of the hut, as if it were a grand and mysterious inn, rather than a poky little dump where one family offloaded mikla too sour to sell in any town. At least too sour to sell in any self-respecting town. He was lying in a braided hammock, which was the only comfortable seat in the place. His friend, Postlavanderon, often called Lavvi, was slumped on the floor, feeling queasy. His friend’s servant was outside, having refused to sully the soles of his shoes with the dirt of this particular hut.
Three grubby children followed by two plumping piglets swarmed in from one side of the hut and began to pester their dozing mother for food. She swatted at them all, indiscriminately, until they exited out the other side.
“Ah, a hut with many doors. A marvellous thing.” Narnemvar wasn’t drunk, although many might mistake him for being so. He liked to think of himself as expansive and jovial. Oh, and sprightly, young, and fun-loving. The young part was receding a bit farther than he suspected, though.
He wasn’t at slim as he used to be, for one thing. And though he still wandered the worldshore without care or burden, he was beginning to wander it with a series of friends further and further from his own age.
Postlavanderon, for instance had older brothers who had once wandered with the Merry Mage. They were all members of minor nobility – absolute rulers of a small, southern island. One by one they had all settled down and gotten on with adulthood. Narnemvar pitied them. Not for getting married or for siring children. Not exactly, anyway. It just seemed that their ability to pun and carouse had diminished as they aged into their settled lives.
Most people thought of drinking when they thought of carousing. Narnemvar didn’t. He rarely drank and tended to stay sober even when he did, if sober was a word that could be applied to him. Carousing was acting up. Acting out. Teasing the world until it stopped plodding on in its rut and danced a little. Or threw rocks. Something, at least.
When he had turned 35, Narnemvar had started getting white streaks in his beard. He had shaved it off. Once. Then he had decided that streaky beards were droll. He grew the beard back and added a few. You never knew how many there would be, or what color. No one ever knew that Narnemvar hadn’t liked the look of the shaven face that looked back at him from mirrors, when the beard wasn’t there.
A small cat began to play with the ribbons that hung from his sleeves. He encouraged it, humming happily. Postlavanderon lurched to his feet and staggered out of the hut. The Merry Mage quieted, wondering if his friend was ill. He decanted himself from the hammock and followed him out, readying himself to offer any healing or purging that his friend might need.
Out on the sand, a small table had been lashed together out of driftwood and twine. On the table were the toilet articles with which a proper noble would begin his day. On the other side of it, an improper noble was relieving himself against a rock. The servant stood at attention near the table, in proper inattention at his master’s actions.
Narnemvar laughed. “Shortbread, how do you manage to do it? This is wonderful!”
“Do you have any mint water?” Postlavanderon asked.
“No, sir. Only the ginger and the lavender.”
“The ginger, then, I think.”
“Yes, sir.” And only a small amount of rummaging in their bags produced a bottle and glass. The glass was thick and clear, an object of obvious worth in a world whose hand-blown glasses tended to the slightly muddled, bubbled, and distorted.
Postlavanderon seated himself on the rock, carefully avoiding the wet side. His servant, actually named Satbada, handed him the beverage and ignored him as he gargled and swished it through his teeth. He was busy popping a towel into a pot that was sitting on some nearby coals.
“Oh, I do have to watch this, Lavvi. This is high comedy.” Narnemvar wound himself down into a cross-legged sit, wind-milling his arms, fanning his long coat, and grinning hugely as he circled in descent. Postlavanderon crossed his fingertips and pressed them to his stomach, leaning back and tilting his head slightly. Satbada wrung out the hot towel on two sticks as precisely as a court juggler and wrapped it neatly around and over his master’s face. A tiny air hole was positioned exactly over Lavvi’s now-hidden nose. Time passed.
In the passing time Satbada stood at attention at his master’s side, ignoring his master’s improper companion as diligently as he ignored his master’s own improprieties. Narnemvar grinned and held out his arms, basking in the incongruence of such courtly behavior in such uncourtly circumstances. He also basked in the glow of the magic he had drawn up, but did not now seem to need. He would hold it, as an exercise, letting it dribble away as slowly as possible, in such small amounts that it could be persuaded to do nothing noticeable.
Or, perhaps he would think of something amusing to do with it. You never knew.
The children and the pigs could be heard sporting somewhere unseen as Satbada judged the moment right and began to concoct perfect lather out of an ermine shaving brush, imported shaving soap, and a cracked coconut. Gulls cried and the morning sea breeze caressed by as he removed the cooling towel and began to apply the scented foam.
Postlavanderon held his leaning pose, moving not at all. Silent. Narnemvar hummed, satisfied with the world, holding the magic with no effort at all. It amazed him, sometimes, what a groaning mess most people made of magic. Ah, well. Life was good if you didn’t chew at it too rabidly. For instance, his friend and he had wandered into this otherwise miserable little hamlet, but because they had no great need for it to be anything other that what it was, they could enjoy it and enjoy themselves and wander on when the mood shifted.
Satbada shaved the young man he never, ever thought of as Lavvi. He kept his back as much as possible to that other person. It was a pity that Cadet Postlavanderon had not yet tired of this wearisome flaunter, as his brothers had, but it would happen soon. Soon they would be back in civilized lodgings and behaving with proper manners. The hated tag of Shortbread would be forgotten.
Satbada’s hands were quick and sure.
“Do you know, you make exactly the same moves every time?”
Satbada ignored. Postlavanderon remained silent, head back, eyes closed.
“It’s like you don’t to many shaves, just the same shave again and again.”
Perhaps it was that the title Cadet was too likely to be a lifelong one. The ruler of a southern island, of any size, was a Hroon. The first and second sons (daughter’s, too, on some islands) were the
and the Hareen. Subsequent sons were
Cadet, an off-island term. And Cadet
Postlavanderon had enough older brothers to know that it would take quite a disaster
for him to get anything like official influence. Haran
“You do the same thing with cookies, you know. The same eating routine over and over. Raise cookie. Position cookie against tongue. Position teeth against cookie. Press through. Remove cookie. Eight chews and a swallow. . . “
Satbada ignored. It was taking a little more effort now, though.
“. . . Sip beverage daintily. Lower beverage. Position cookie nearly against tongue. Rotate cookie counter-clockwise to align the next bite. Position teeth. . .it’s the same cookie again and again. Sometimes I wonder if you do it so that you don’t have to excrete it.”
Postlavanderon allowed his head to raise as Satbada finished the last bit on his chin and began clearing short hairs from the hairline on his forehead. With an almost sleepy movement he reached up and wiped a bit of moistness on Satbada’s sleeve. Satbada ignored. He had to stop and allow himself to sag unresisting in order to ignore. Stiffness would imply disapproval. It wasn’t his place to disapprove.
Postlavanderon’s cheek wiped against his sleeve. Then the cheek shifted and his master’s hand held his as his cheek rubbed against his wrist, like a cat or a toddler wanting attention. More ignoring, no resistance. Postlavanderon shifted and drew the shaving knife across his throat.
It was a good thing that Satbada was quick. It was also good that Narnemvar still had his magic ready.