The Duchess of Anticlere - 9

The Duchess of Anticlere - 9

May 29, 2022

The wind outside the Bards' College continued to move the clouds back and forth, sending the sun through the windows and hauling it back out again as soon as all the eyes within had just become used to the light. Eldaline followed the Duchess down the stairs.

"I say." Said Malvilda, Lady Flyte, Duchess of Anticlere. "What rhymes with 'lies'?"

"Lady Flyte, I have told you that I am not musically inclined, and moreover, the Second Archivist and Mistress of the Archives of Alinor, and not a rhyming dictionary."

"Oh, don't run off. It won't take a moment. So far I have: guise, goodbyes, vies, tries, dies, dyes but spelled the other way, flies, sighs, wise, eyes-"

"Astoundingly catchy, it will be sung from every window in the land before the month is out. Good-bye."

"It is lovely to hear you taking an interest in music, Second Archivist Eldaline." said the headmaster of the Bards' College. "I knew you must have hidden depths. You have that look about you."

"Will you go away?" said Eldaline.

"How is the room? Don't you find the acoustics haunting? It makes me want to burst into song. Like this 'OHHH as I sat by...'"

Eldaline said, "You do that, and I'll teach you about the correlation between singing and house fires. I do not have hidden depths and I do not have a look about me. Lady Flyte, please stop strumming that ridiculous thing. Thank you."

"I hope you don't mind. I was telling the headmaster how your unique talents afford you a profound understanding of mortal minds. 'If you want to make people believe something, Tell Them.' Though, sometimes, Eldaline, it concerns me that you have no respect for your own craft. You really should, you know, oh, you should, you would enjoy it."

"And what particular craft is this, Lady Flyte?" Eldaline said. "If you refer to my lecture upstairs, it was entirely a theoretical stance. I am a historian and deal solely in facts."

"Spies rhymes with Lies. And Porky Pies." said the Duchess.

"That is true." said Eldaline. "I will tell you what does not."

Eldaline took Lady Flyte's lute away. "One thing that does not rhyme with 'lies' is 'go back where you came from and leave me in peace before I break this lute over your head and hide your body in the window-seat'."

"Now, don't be silly. You know we won't get into any of that." said the Duchess.

"Oh, I know, do I? It's like that, is it? You think I won't, is that it?"

Lady Flyte looked surprised. "Oh dear! Don't think I was insulting you, Eldaline! I wouldn't be asking for you if I didn't think you'd be useful. Now, go and splash some water on your face and get back to your Fibbing Hopefuls."

"Enjoy the lute, Second Archivist Eldaline!" said the headmaster. "Please accept it as a gift, with the compliments of the college!"

Eldaline said nothing, but her face was flushing as she hurried out. She was angry at being given the lute, because it prevented her from stealing it.

Skavild was in the Bureau of Advanced Communications. It was late on Fredas evening, and he had just returned from his mother's home near the sawmill, where he had been reading a pile of books by somebody called Doryli Vlars. He was inexplicably unnerved by the sound of Aranwen coming back from the tavern, because he could hear her all the way up the street and she was singing a song which Skavild was choosing to believe was about a unicorn.

It went like this:

The Unicorn! The Unicorn!
Oh don't you look at him with scorn!
For you will grow to like his horn!
And ride the monstrous Unicorn!

When Aranwen at last appeared in person, the reason for her excessive volume was clearer; she was accompanied by two other Altmer, a mercenary and a seamstress, and the sister of a prominent Thane.

"Hey." said Aranwen. "I broke my shoes. A guard let me borrow his. Don't look at me like that. I looked much better when I left the office."

"Nice time?" said Skavild. "Obviously, you're not supposed to bring unauthorised people into the office, but I suppose you know that."

As I rode out from Syldarim,
He spied me and I spied him!
I lost no time in acting prim,
and gawped at that astounding limb!

A Unicorn! A Unicorn!
My sister fair I chanced to warn,
but she too was asunder torn,
upon the monstrous Unicorn!

"I've never been inside an official Thalmor building before." said Taarie, the proprietor of Radiant Raiment.

"Most people try not to be." said Skavild.

"Eldaline's going to go mad if she comes back and finds all your friends falling around. What if she has 'em arrested? Is that what you want?"

"I'm going to... make a hat that... makes you dance better." Taarie hiccupped, from the enchanting desk in the office.

And as we passed the Keep of Dusk,
My thoughts were all upon his tusk!
My steed I spurned with manners brusque!
All for the new beast's potent musk!

Skavild said, "Come on, settle down, girls. Let me get you all some water."

"Hey!" Aranwen screamed into the office from the doorway. "Stop playing with the enchanting table, you silly f---ing moo. You're being uncivilised. Stop being uncivilised. This is an official building, you ten Septim sausage-guzzler."

"Look, I'm sorry, but you're giving me no choice." said Skavild. "There are lots of sensitive and classified documents and artefacts in here. Drods'Ath! Could you come and help with something?"

Drods'Ath, the library Dremora, said nothing and suddenly found the contents of his coffee mug very interesting.

"Hey." said Vixi the mercenary.

"Is for horses." said Aranwen.

"Ha, ha!" said the Thane's sister.

"No, remember what we discussed!" Vixi insisted. "For Skavild."

"Oh, of course!" said Aranwen. "I hadn't forgotten. Skavild, you're the best human in the Bureau of Malicious Communications. Do you still want to smack me on the arse?"

"Ha, ha." said the Thane's sister. "Arse."

"I promised Vixi I'd do the right thing, since you're the best human here. You said you wanted to smack us all on the arse for leaving you all alone like a bottle of milk in Hammerfell. You can start with me." I'm plastered. Hurry up, before I change my mind."

"I'm tired." said Taarie, lying down.

"Can't you make an appointment?" said Skavild. "I feel strange doing it in front of all these people."

"What kind of lunatic makes an appointment? It'll be fun, you hairless bore. Come on."

"What's the matter, Skavild?" said Vixi. "You look anxious."

"I'm wearing underwear." said Aranwen.

"Skavild, Skavild, Skavild!" cheered Vixi and the Thane's sister.

"I can't sleep with this racket." said Taarie.

"Look, will you all stop it?" Skavild demanded. "I'm not in the right frame of mind."

"Me stop it!" cried Aranwen. "YOU stop it."

"Why have you taken your dress off? Put your dress back on, Aranwen, I don't want to see your underwear."

"A unicorn a unicorn a unicorn. Zzzz."

"If you're scared to use your hand, I'll lend you my whip." said Aranwen. "I know you'd like that. Look, watch this."

"Aranwen!" said Skavild. "No I wouldn't like that. Mind the brandy!"

"All right, I'll go over here. Take that, you recalcitrant heretical desk. Whack! Listen to that, that's better than music." Aranwen explained, and demonstrated the workings of her magnificent moonstone and quicksilver whip. "Ohh yes, I don't mind if you pretend I'm Second Archivist Eldaline."

"Look, this is really not a good time." said Skavild. "No, stop that. I don't want to whip you, I've had a difficult day. I found out my Ma's been reading all these dirty books what're bad for her health, prob'ly, and I don't know what to think."

O Unicorn! O Unicorn!
How can such foul delights be borne?
He stabbed my rose with his big thorn!
Ha! Ha! That monstrous Unicorn!

"I feel so accepted." said the Thane's sister.

"Rrrrg!" said Taarie.

"That's good, that's good!" Aranwen said. "You can pretend I'm your Ma and you're punishing me for reading dirty books. Ooh, Skavild, my darling son, I'm so sorry I read the dirty books. Forgive your old Ma, there's a good boy."

"Aaargh." said Skavild, running away.

Vixi said, "That was not nice. That's not how you get a man to smack you on the arse."

"You're right." said Aranwen. "I don't know what I was thinking. Let's have another drink."

They were fortunate; Eldaline was not on her way back to the office yet.

She was sitting up on in the gardens of the Blue Palace, wondering what to do about Lady Flyte, the Duchess of Anticlere.


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