The Replacement Courtier: Part Two
Part Two: A Matter of Manners
Her bedroom was the usual nightmarish explosion of clothing
and plushies and random odds and ends that somehow never managed to find their
appropriate dusty shelf. Julitta was a packrat, Alexien reminded himself, and,
thanks to her pirate father's influence, tended to be rather sticky-fingered
whenever she saw something "pretty" or "interesting" lying about the house.
When something went missing, and if one was brave enough, checking Julitta's
room often meant a swift end to a successful search.
The young Acara looked up as he knocked quickly
on the half-opened door and began picking his way through the ransacked room,
stepping carefully over strewn piles. She blinked at his sudden appearance,
and then held up a freshly-ironed shirt, face puddling into an indecisive frown.
"What do you think of this?" she asked him thoughtfully,
green horns flicking slightly as was her habit when she was deep in thought.
"I like it," he snapped his frustration
upon recognizing the stolen shirt. "That's why I bought it. Quit stealing from
my closet, Julitta."
She gave a noncommittal smile at that, but tossed
him the shirt. "So snippy, Alexien," she sighed dramatically. "You should go
take a nap or something. When did you get back?"
"This morning," he replied, flopping down on
her cluttered bed, mouth opening wide in a yawn as he reached to remove the
petpet toy that was lodged behind his back. "And you're right about the nap,"
he admitted, feeling a set of sharp eyes watching him and turning until he found
the source: Julitta's Gallion was perched on one of her pink-fringed pillows,
staring down at him imperiously as though it would rather not have to share
the space with him. "I would have gotten home sooner, but there was a bit of
a Neopox epidemic at the castle, and I---"
There was a horrified gasp, and he turned his
head to watch as she whirled and pointed an accusatory finger in his direction.
"And you likely brought it home with you! Oh! Oh, and you're lying on
my things!" She made a shooing motion at him, all while taking a few
careful steps away until she was nearly into the closet. "I'll have to wash
them now! Go on. You're probably germ-ridden---" she babbled on, somewhere between
growing hysteria and preparation for a tantrum.
"I'm tired because I haven't had the opportunity
to sleep in the last two days, Julitta," Alexien sighed at his highly-strung
houseguest. "I'm not sick, though if it'll get you to do something about this
room, I'll consider rolling about on all the stuff on the floor---"
"You wouldn't dare!" she whispered, scandalized
as though it were a mortal offense.
He smiled charmingly and turned on the acting
skills. "Ah, you're right, I wouldn't. I could never do something so cruel to
someone as sweet-tempered as you. You are a delight to have around, Julitta.
The house would be quite dull and dreary without you."
She blinked at that, but unlike Shannun, did
not have the sense to be suspicious. "Yes, it absolutely would," she shamelessly
agreed. "Really, you and Shannun are so morose sometimes...."
"I agree," Alexien said sincerely, dragging
himself back to his feet. "And it is your charming personality that led me to
suggest you for a part in a production that's being performed for the Brightvale
contingent at the castle on Thursday night."
"You...what?" she stumbled over the sentence,
thrown off by the sudden change in conversation. Momentarily forgetting that
he had quite possibly infested her belongings with Neopox, she crept forward
and asked, "What sort of production? And why would they need someone outside
of the castle?"
"Ah," Alexien exhaled, as though having forgotten
an important detail. "One of the players had to drop out due to illness, and
so she will be unable to do her part. Everyone else is busy," he said, repeating
Tanezy's explanations. "You'd be playing a pretty important role. You would
also be a guest at the dinner."
"A guest?" she perked up, the inner diva waking
from hibernation. "I'd be allowed to eat with the king?"
"Believe me, you don't want to share elbow space
with Skarl," Alexien said dryly. "And you'll be at the very end of a long table.
The king will be the blue speck at the opposite end. Are you interested?"
Julitta looked uncertain, green-furred hands
clasped in thought, but her posture straightened as though she were on sudden
display. "I don't know. I'm kind of shy..."
"Yeah, sell that to someone who's buying," Alexien
smirked. "It'll also require a new dress..."
"Clothes? You'll buy me clothes?" she asked
in an excited rush.
"I'll buy you a dress," he clarified,
carefully enunciating the words. "But in exchange for that, you're going to
have to take some etiquette lessons with Shannun."
"Etiquette?" she echoed as though it were a
foreign word that required defining. "What's wrong with my manners? And what
makes Shannun the expert?"
"Because he knows how to behave in the types
of situations you're going to find yourself," Alexien explained, and at her
unconvinced expression, he added, "Shannun and I weren't exactly born in a rubbish
bin, you know. We were raised to this sort of thing; we come from a good family.
Sakhmet, Meridell; it's all the same as far as what you should and should not
"You really are making me nervous now."
Alexien shook his head. "No need for that,"
he said calmly. "Just listen to Shannun and do what he tells you to do. Same
goes for Tanezy. You'll need to come up to the castle with me after dinner tonight
so that she can give you your lines. That is, if you're willing to do it."
By this point, Julitta looked rather sick, but
the lure of a free dress and a moment in the spotlight was enough to overcome
her nerves. "I'll do it," she agreed quietly, pensive blue eyes settling on
him. "But what if I completely humiliate myself? I've never been to anything
"I'll be at the banquet as well," he informed
her, and she watched as an evil grin crossed his face. "If you completely embarrass
yourself, I'll make sure I cause an incident that's much worse, you have my
word. No worries, eh? But all the same, go see Shannun…"
She was eyeing the plate of salad in front of
her as though it were being purposefully unhelpful, eyes creeping back and forth
between the selection of silverware and the lingering Shannun, who was sitting
next to her, watching patiently. Alexien was at the other end of the table and
she could feel his eyes on her, too. Julitta's forehead furrowed as she tried
to remember all of what Shannun had told her that morning. Was I supposed
to start with the outside…or the inside first…?
With deliberate motions, she reached for what
she was sure was the salad fork and, relieved not to hear a reprimand, dove
into the leafy vegetables, ravenous after a nearly full day of having manners
shoved into her aching brain. The fork was halfway to her mouth when Shannun
reached out and grabbed her wrist. She heaved a defeated sigh and lowered the
"Wrong fork?" she asked, eyes sliding to the
Kyrii who she had so liked before this morning's frustrating lesson.
"Right fork, wrong time," Shannun corrected,
head nodding toward Alexien, who had yet to start his meal. "You are supposed
to wait for the host to start eating first."
Julitta glanced accusingly at Alexien, who smiled
indulgently and began to eat. She felt a sudden, nearly overwhelming urge to
wipe the smirk off of his face.
"You purposefully threw me off!" she complained.
"Just don't yell that at the king, whatever
you do," Alexien replied, unconcerned at her bad temper.
Julitta crossed her arms and dropped her head
into them, exhaling a frustrated breath even as she heard Shannun reprimand
her for having her elbows on the table. "I'll just copy what the person across
from me does," she said miserably, pulling herself back up. "Or the king. I'll
do whatever he does."
At this, Alexien cackled a laugh, replacing
his own utensil on the table as he grinned across the table at her. "Dear, naïve
girl…Skarl has the worst table manners you've ever seen. He'll only think you're
mocking him. Do not mirror him."
"Then why am I having to learn all of
these things if he doesn't even care?!" came the petulant whine, and both Kyrii
exchanged worn looks.
"I didn't say he doesn't care," Alexien corrected,
turning back to her. "He's a stickler about propriety, make no mistake. There's
one thing you'll have to learn before you walk into that castle: do as the king
says, not as he does. He's spoiled, Julitta, and since you're known for your
own rather dramatic episodes, just remember that Skarl can throw a fit that'll
make your tantrums look charming. If you make a mistake, don't fly off the handle.
Laugh it off. Be cute. As it is, everyone will think it's quaint that a poor
Acara from a seaside village has stumbled her way to the king's table."
At that, Julitta stood up from the table, face
flaming with embarrassment as she pointed an angry finger at Alexien, who blinked
placidly back at her. "You just wait and see! I'll make those courtiers look
like they were raised in a barn! I won't embarrass you or me! They'll
never have even met anyone as charming and utterly delightful as me!"
she shrieked defiantly, stamping a foot for good measure. "Now if you'll excuse
me, I must go learn my lines!" she added haughtily, spinning on her heel and
heading for the door.
"Hey, Princess," Alexien called, watching as
she turned back around, stormy-faced. "You forgot to curtsy…and don't just whirl
and turn your back on the king. That's extremely bad form."
Appearing vengeful, Julitta sank into a low,
perfectly-balanced curtsy, then got back to her feet. "As you're not
the king, I think I can get away with turning my back to you!" she hissed
angrily, slamming the door behind her as she did so.
Shannun shook his head at the scene, listening
as an eerie silence descended upon the house. "Why did you have to work her
up like that, Alexien? You know how she is…."
Alexien smiled calmly. "It's better for her
to get it out of her system here rather than in the dining hall, and I think
you'll find that she'll be extremely interested in your lessons from now on.
Julitta is appallingly stubborn. After that comment, she'll be the most well-mannered
attendant there just to spite me." He raised an eyebrow at his brother then,
the smile widening to a pleased grin. "And you know, Shannun, that really was
a perfect curtsy. I'd have told her so, but she was too busy slamming the door
in my face. Well done."
To be continued...