Mirrored from Sythyry.
“Baron Fennel? There’s a Rassimel here to see you,” said Marjoram. She knew perfectly well that Fennel was not a baron, simply the husband of one. But of course it is better to be the maid of three barons rather than just one, so she made sure to give him his courtesy title any time that anyone else might possibly hear. And, while the Rassimel did not seem to be either the most important of people (being dressed quite casually, to put it as nicely as Marjoram could imagine), there was always the possibility that he might broadcast the title among people who count.
“That’s odd. I wonder who it could be. Show him in, Marjoram,” said Fennel, and set the third volume of History of the Dukes of Ulmarn, which had occupied his attention despite being a cursory listing of scandals, on the closer arm of the couch. “Oh, by the spanglio! It is Pirly! Pirly, I had never thought to see you here! And in the middle of the day, as well! Why is it that you are not at work today, Pirly?”
Pirly shuffled nervously on the triangulated carpet of Fennel’s sitting-room. “Well, I haven’t any work. Master Harponz dismissed me.” Fennel noted that Pirly seemed to have been at the brandy.
“Oh, by the spanglio! That’s quite alarming! Sit down, Pirly, sit down, and do tell me all about it” said Fennel, in a sudden panic of awkwardness, waving a mid-hand at an armchair on the other side of the sitting-room.
Pirly did sit down, though he chose to sit on the couch next to Fennel — immediately next to Fennel, so that the couch was crowded at one end and empty at the other. “I’ve been thinking and thinking about what you said the other day, just before Master Harponz … noticed..”
“What I said the other day?” asked Fennel, who had, evidently, not been listening to himself.
“You said you love me. I thought about it for hours and hours, and I realized I love you too, Fennel,” said Pirly. Marjoram, standing at the door in case Fennel needed any further service, gasped audibly. Neither Fennel nor Pirly noted her presence; those used to servants are expert at overlooking them.
“I … I see,” lied Fennel. Quite probably he did not remember his exact words, nor did he intend them to be taken in the broad sense. A better (or at least more accurate) exclamation might have been, say, “Oh, Pirly! I experience pleasure and happiness due to your manipulations and, additionally, to your presence and those few aspects of your character which I have thus far noticed!” But Fennel, like many another, chose to economize with his words in the moment of heightened circumstance, and, like many another, found himself regretting his imprecision later on.
“After Master Harponz dismissed me from his shop and black-balled me from the Printer’s Guild and cast me out of his home, I thought about killing myself. That’s hard for Rassimel though. Poison wouldn’t work very reliably. I’d need to cut my own throat, but I’m afraid of blood, or hurl myself into the river, but there are always Orren swimming about there and they’d drag me out again. Then I thought about you loving me, and I knew I couldn’t kill myself because you would be sad. So here I am, for you,” said Pirly, as if it were the most natural thing on wood.
Marjoram, waiting at the door, found herself torn between two fierce imperatives. One one hand was Nosiness: this situation was an exceptional and exciting one, and, if played properly, would make her the Baron of Gossip for days or weeks to come. On the other hand was Responsibility: Cressel and Nasturtium would surely find that they had some interests in this matter.
Fennel’s antennae curled in knots. Bad enough that his morning amusements were curtailed, but this new and surprising and heavily unwanted claim of his responsibility could hardly make his life more convenient. “Well, I meant, um, that I was enjoying myself.” Pirly nodded, smiling, as if Fennel’s admission of enjoyment was the brightest joy of the week — which it might have been, much to the week’s discredit. Fennel continued awkwardly, “With what we were doing. In, you know, the washroom.” Pirly nodded again, as if to say that he had been there too and had no doubt that that is what Fennel was referring to. There was a perplexed pause. Finally Fennel asked, “Well, what brings you here?”
“I’m here for you. I’m here to be yours,” said Pirly, as if this were a perfectly ordinary and commonplace matter, and one that Fennel need have no say in. Or, at least, no further say; one declaration of love being evidently sufficient and more than sufficient for such things.
Nosiness and Responsibility struggled within Marjoram’s breast. Responsibility found a mightly ally in the form of Self-Interest. If Marjoram told her mistresses about the situation, they would come and deal with it, and Nosiness would be provided with a great deal of extra material for gossip. Yet, if she did not tell them immediately, she herself could be censured for delaying. After this alliance, mere Nosiness called for an immediate armistice, though it did insist upon certain terms, notably including Marjoram remaining in earshot through the rest of the episode. The victorious Responsibility and Self-Interest magnanimously granted these terms. With these warring aspects thus reconciled, Marjoram trotted off to the kitchen, where Nasturtium supervised the cook and the scullery-maid.
“What do you expect me to do? I’m not a printer,” said Fennel, doing his best to misunderstand the situation.
“I know you’re not a printer. I’m not a printer either; I’ve been cut out of the guild,” said Pirly.
“I’m very sorry to hear that, Pirly,” said Fennel.
Pirly slipped his arms around Fennel’s waist. “I’ll live with you. Any time you want, I’ll …” He went on to describe certain activities which, to date, included the entirety of his personal relationship with Fennel, and a number of others which Rassimel who are greatly and intimately fond of Herethroy are likely to perform, including some which require more space than the washroom had allowed, and others which they had simply not gotten to. Fennel tried to shush Pirly, but there is no shushing a drunken Rassimel discussing the topic of his obsession. One might as well try to keep a week from ending — or to keep a marriage from ending after certain discoveries are made.
By this point, Pirly had more or less climbed onto Fennel and insinuated a hand into his clothing. Some people might have made some effort to fend him off. Fennel, like many Herethroy men, had been taught from birth that the scarcity of males among the Herethroy population meant that he needed to make his person broadly available. His efforts at maintaining decorum and personal space were half-hearted and unsuccessful. Somehow they were also accompanied by reaching a hand into Pirly’s trousers — a move which few accomplished wrestlers would recommend, but, as it happens, neither Fennel nor Pirly was an accomplished wrestler. Their accomplishments were in other areas, at which this is a more recommended move.
And so, when Nasturtium and Cressel came to observe the situation, with Marjoram eagerly in tow, they had all the evidence they needed right before their eyes, and then some. Their response was quick, decisive, definitive, invective, and, with the aid of the brawny maid Marjoram, expulsive. Marjoram did not, however, choose to expel Pirly’s purse along with his body; she kept it, and, some days later, bought herself a quite nice folding-spear with its contents.
Nasturtium frowned at zir husband. “I somehow suspect that we are about due for a reprise of a previous conversation.” Cresset added, “But this time, with some quite intriguing and very modern new information.”