Home > Better Words Than Mine, My Favorites > Day One Hundred and Forty-four: The Wheels of Courtship

Day One Hundred and Forty-four: The Wheels of Courtship

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
-Abraham Lincoln

“Next!” Uster’s nasal voice rang through the great marble audience chamber of the castle, just barely overwhelming the sigh of boredom and frustration that came from the king behind him.

A young man in a well-worked suit of leather armor walked down the aisle to the small table that had been set up below the throne. He handed over a little wooden disc with the number “54” printed on it in careful brushstrokes. Uster examined it to make sure that handwriting was his own – it was – and that it was one of the chits that he had made – and it was. He dropped the chit into a basket on the floor by his side, made a little tick mark next to the number on the elegantly-inscribed roster, and then impatiently gestured for the young man to sit down. Which he did.

“Name?” Uster asked. The Lord Clerk looked the way he sounded – small, drawn and pinched, as though that was the way he thought clerks were supposed to look and so that was what he became.

The young man’s face brightened. “There are those in the far-away Elven kingdoms who call me Corisen, the Defender of the Walls. In the tongue of the Dwarfs I am -”

Uster looked up from his writing, and the young man stopped dead under that cold green glare. “Name?” Uster asked again.

There was a moment of quiet, and then the young man swallowed and muttered, “Ajek.” He took a deep breath. “Son of Kalal the -”

“And where are you from, mister Ajek?”

The young man deflated again. “The ever-verdant fields of…?” He trailed off as Uster glanced up. “From Twarlock,” he said. “Nestled in the Afansi mountains,” he rattled off before Uster could stop him.

Uster made a short, skritchy-sounding note on the parchment. Then he looked up, and his face softened into what he probably thought was an expression of amiability. It just made Ajek more nervous. “And what is it you think you would bring to a royal marriage with the Princess, Ajek?” he asked.

Ajek tried to look over his shoulder at the King, who was leaning against one arm of his throne and slowly dozing off. The princess was beside him, and she was completely absorbed in reading a book. She really was beautiful, with dark skin that was made even darker by the gown of shimmering silver and white that she wore. Her hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail, keld in place with a tiara of diamonds, and Ajek was sure that if he could see her eyes, they would shine in the dimness of the audience chamber like burnished gold.

Uster cleared his throat and reclaimed Ajek’s attention. “Well,” the young man said, wrenching his eyes away from the princess, “I come from an excellent family – we have been the stewards of Twarlock for twelve generations.” Uster made a noise of faint approval and scratched a note. “I have spent all my years learning swordplay and hunting,” he went on, “and I have been well-schooled by the head clerk of my family in the running of a household.”

That got Uster’s attention. “Who is the head clerk of your family?” he asked. “Maybe I know him?”

“His name is Ellulash, sir.” Ajek smiled. “A fine clerk indeed. We wouldn’t know what to do without him!”

“Hmm,” Uster said. “I don’t know the name.” He made another note. “And what is your feeling towards the role of women in governance?”

There was a moment of silence and a soft moan from the king. Uster stared at Ajek until the young man said, “Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” Uster said. “What is your feeling towards the role of women in governance?”

Ajek licked his lips and glanced up at the thrones. The king had his head in his hands, but the princess was finally looking at him. He had been right about her eyes.

“I believe that as a strong and capable man, sir, I will do everything in my power to see to it that my wife never has to worry about such sordid affairs as governing. Maybe she could take up embroidery, or -”

Thank you,” Uster said. He made another note and then moved that sheet to another pile. After a moment, he glanced up at Ajek. “You’re still here,” he said.

“Well, yes,” Ajek said. “I just thought -”

“The interview is over, young man.” Uster made a shooing gesture. “Off with you.” He looked past Ajek to the remaining suitors. “Next!”

“Lord Clerk,” the king said from behind him. “A word, if I may?”

Uster stood and turned at the same time. “Your Majesty,” he whined, “I am only trying to do what is best for Her Highness!” He made a perfunctory bow towards the princess, who nodded back. “This is the task you gave me, sire.”

The king sighed. “Indeed I did, Lord Clerk,” he said, “but when I did so, I was unaware of the lengths you would go to.” He gestured to the waiting crowd of men. “You’ve been at this for weeks.”

Uster held up a finger and then pulled a small, folded piece of paper from his sleeve. “If you may, your Majesty, your exact words were: ‘Do whatever it takes, Uster. Make sure my daughter marries the right man.'” He folded up the paper and put it back in his sleeve. “This is whatever it takes, your Majesty. The wheels of courtship may grind slowly, but they will grind fine.”

“Yes, Lord Clerk, I see, but -”

Uster exploded in exasperation. “Would you have her marry an inferior, your Majesty? Some hay-haired, slack-jawed outlander who probably has a sister at home just in case this doesn’t work out?” The king glared at him, eyes narrowed, but Uster went on. “I, for one, will not trust the union of your only daughter -” again he made a small bow, and again, she nodded “- to some random chance or a silver-tongued devil. I will see her married to a man who represents the best your kingdom has to offer or I will die trying!”

The king waited a few moments before he muttered, “That may be sooner than you think.” He sighed again and the turned to his daughter, who was watching the exchange with interest. “My dear Cherin?” he asked. “I suppose it’s up to you?”

Princess Cherin smiled at Uster. “I think our Lord Clerk has everything well in hand,” she said. “I know he will find the right husband for me.” She nodded at Uster, and he made a small bow back. “Keep looking, Lord Clerk,” she said. “I expect my new husband is closer than we think.”

Uster bowed a final time, and then glanced over at the King, who made a bored gesture and settled back in his throne.

“Next!” Uster called.

*****

Lord Clerk Uster’s page on 30characters.com

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