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Pride and Propriety


RiversD

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One-shot slow-burn sneezefic featuring my OC Gulliver Moraine, personal Manservant to the young nobleman Marius Beauchêne. That should be enough for this story, but for the curious, the setting is a mediaeval fantasy world full of dark forests, small kingdoms, and mysterious creatures.

 

 

“Good evening, Master Marius.”

Gulliver Moraine slid into the room with the practised glide of the professional servant. Lord Marius pouted slightly to be addressed thus, he noticed. The princeling was eighteen summers old now, and quite ready in his own mind to be addressed as a nobleman and an adult. But until his vestiture ceremony, ‘Master Marius’ was proper, and propriety was Moraine’s lifeblood.

He pushed the door silently to behind him. Inside the room, Marius Beauchêne raised himself with extreme reluctance from the bed upon which he had been lounging.

“Do I have to go through with this, Moraine?” he asked.

“I fear so, Master Marius.” Moraine moved to the young lord’s dressing table, moving as ever with a fluid grace that was often belied by his plump figure, and set down the small silver tray he had brought up from the servants hall. “Your father is very insistent.”

“But I don’t know anything about Sivilia,” Marius complained, coming to sit in the chair beside Moraine nonetheless. He had accepted his fate already, Moraine knew, and was keeping up this fight for the look of the thing. “I’ll make all the wrong moves.”

Moraine tactfully manoeuvred the chair until Marius’ face was fully visible to him in the dressing table mirror, and then reached for a towel.

“I suspect that you will find Sivilian company more familiar than you expect, your lordship.”

He draped the towel expertly around Marius’ shoulders as he spoke. “Their fashions are strange, yes, but people are people everywhere.”

Marius snorted. “Where did you pick up that bit of wisdom? One of the washer-women?”

“From my mother, in fact. A simple saying, perhaps, but simplicity need not preclude truth, in my experience. And may I say how well your new brocade is sitting? It suits you very well.”

“hmph.” Marius scowled, though he must have known it to be true. The blue silk tunic with silver brocade had been a gift from the Duchy of Sivilia, and his own tailor had altered it to fit like a glove. He looked stately.

“You’re about to ruin it, though, aren’t you?” Marius nodded to Moraine’s trayful of cosmetics. “Five minute’s work with those things, and I’ll look an utter joke.”

“Come now, Master Marius. Even if that were so, everybody at the reception will be made up in Sivilian fashion. Your own particular qualities will shine all the brighter for the uniformity of style.”

“I shall still look foolish,” Marius grumbled, but he leant his head back in submission nonetheless.

“We shall see, sir.”

Moraine began by sweeping Marius’ hair back from his face as well as could be managed. Marius’ hair did not take well to attempts to make it lie flat, and even with the aid of a little water, the effect was far from perfect. Then he reached for the powder-pot.

The Sivilian fashion was for men to powder their faces a quite inhuman shade of white, giving most participants a doll-like appearance that Moraine, though he would never admit it, found highly unnerving. It was not his job to judge such things, however, merely to know how to emulate them when called upon. He had acquired a sample of a popular Sivilian powder brand from a most amiable visiting valet, along with a brief tutorial in its use.

He stirred up the powder with a soft brush and began to apply it liberally along Marius’ jawline. The young nobleman closed his eyes and sat obligingly still as Moraine worked powder across his face, using a soft cloth to create a smooth, fixed finish.

“If you would hold your breath a moment, my lord,” said Moraine, gliding the brush beneath Marius’ nose, “this will be a trifle easier for both of us.”

Marius complied, and Moraine completed the job in a few deft strokes. He rather wished he had been able to give himself the same advice. This powder had a tendency to take to the air, like fine sugar or flour and, while it wasn’t perfumed, its presence could definitely be felt. After a time, it began to make one’s nose feel distinctly dusty.

An annoyance that he ought to have foreseen, Moraine decided, setting aside mental space to chide himself later.

He smoothed off the final stroke of powder as it swept back towards Marius’ ear, then gratefully set brush and cloth aside.

“We shall move on to the hair now, Master Marius.”

“As you wish.”

Moraine took up a little ceramic tub and unscrewed the lid. It contained hair wax mixed with perfume to help him sculpt Marius’ usually unruly hair into Sivilian formal style.

He doled out a healthy portion along Marius’ hairline, then used a brush to spread it through the rest of his hair.

“That almost feels nice,” Marius remarked, clearly enjoying the sensation, but refusing to walk back his earlier bad mood so quickly.

“I am glad to hear it, sir.” Moraine smiled indulgently for a moment but cut it short, wrinkling his nose in irritation. He knew himself to have a slight sensitivity to such things, but the perfume in this wax hadn’t provoked a significant reaction the last time he had encountered it. Perhaps the powder lingering in the air was aggravating his nose to greater sensitivity. He tightened his jaw and returned to his work with greater purpose.

He smoothed Marius’ hair across the crown of his head, adding extra wax when a particularly stubborn lock was determined to stray. Still occupied with this, he felt a ticklish surge in his nose and lifted his right hand automatically before realising that, of course, it was coated in the likely cause of his discomfort. Switching hands, he set his left index and middle finger to the task of coaxing the itch out of one broad nostril, while his right hand returned to Marius’ head.

Fortunately the style, while dramatic, was not an especially complex one. Its primary feature was the creation of tight, waxed curls around the hairline, which could be created with one hand when necessary.

It proved necessary with distressing frequency as Moraine’s nose proved increasingly greedy for attention. He found that he was able to dispel the itch for only the briefest of interludes before it came creeping back, threatening to provoke an embarrassingly disruptive reaction unless placated once more. The less flexible areas of his nose were beginning to ache from the frequent applications of pressure, but Moraine refused to contemplate the alternative.

Taming Marius’ hair seemed to take an eternity from Moraine’s agonised perspective, though his charge didn’t seem troubled by it in the slightest. He looked more relaxed than when the process had begun, in fact, and Moraine had to work hard not to envy him too intensely.

He swallowed hard, wanting to be sure of his voice when he spoke, and announced;

“I think that will be sufficient, sir, if you agree?”

Marius looked at himself in the mirror and sighed. “You know you’re always right about these things. Good job, I look like a prize pillock.”

“To the Sivilians, my lord, you will look like the prince you are. Raise your chin, please, and close your eyes.”

Marius obeyed. Cringing internally at what was to come, Moraine reached for the small spray bottle on his tray. The mist would fix Marius’ hair a trifle more firmly, but it too was scented. It was proper, however, and Moraine was not about to risk his young gentleman appearing at a formal event with imperfect hair.

He held his breath as he sprayed the stuff, but he could not do so forever. As he had expected, the medley of scents in the air was almost overpowering, sensitive as his nose had become. He might as well have breathed in a cloud of pure pepper.

Moraine let Marius wait a few moments longer, while he took advantage of his master’s closed eyes to press a knuckle hard against his nose. It was threatening open rebellion should he dare attempt to speak just yet. His sizeable nostrils were flaring and twitching dangerously, and they itched to high heaven.

He scrubbed a finger beneath his nose until it burned but no longer felt about to spill over into a humiliating flurry of irritated sneezing.

“Finished, Master Marius,” he announced, all too aware that his voice lacked some of its usual strength.

“Finally.” Marius opened his eyes and stretched. “Although I suppose finishing does bring me closer to having to appear like this in public.” He pouted briefly, for effect, then rose languidly from his chair and walked to the full-length mirror that hung from one wall.

Moraine was eager to be out of the most concentrated cloud of scent and powder as well, but propriety was in his way once again. Instead, he set to tidying up the top of the dresser, placing all the items he had brought with him back onto the tray to take downstairs.

His nose was really itchy. He was trying to breathe as little as possible, but the greater part of the damage was already done. His nose was seething with frustrated energies, its needs untended for too long a time. To his horror, he felt his breath catch in trembling anticipation, and jammed two fingers up against his septum in a desperate attempt to prevent himself slipping any further.

It was a close run thing, his nose so desperate for relief that he felt hot and weak all over, but he fought his way back from the brink. Even as he cautiously lowered his hand, however, he knew that his time was short. He had to take his leave soon, or there would be no preventing the situation moving beyond his control.

Marius had noticed the lack of an apt response to his complaints this time. He turned from the mirror with a slight frown.

“Are you alright, Moraine?”

Moraine returned what he hoped appeared to be a genuinely puzzled look.

Marius hesitated, but persisted nonetheless.

“You’re looking a little pink around…” he made a vague gesture towards the centre of his face.

Internally, Moraine cursed. Outwardly, he raised his eyebrows slightly and, concentrating on every breath, said,

“Oh? A passing thing, I’m … sure.”

Marius frowned, but Moraine stared him down. Striving for outward calm, the manservant jammed his tongue against his palate and prayed that his nose wasn’t making its distress too visible.

“Right, of course.” Marius relented with a lazy wave of one hand. “Carry on, then.”

Moraine inclined his head, unwilling and unable to verbally accept his dismissal. Carrying his tray with care, he retreated from the room, feet steady in their familiar track despite the irritated tears rushing to blur his vision.

He dashed across the corridor outside and into the relative sanctuary of the servants’ stairs. Mouth falling open of its own accord, breath skipping in his chest, he made to rest his tray on a handy ledge, but wasn’t even halfway there before the pent-up irritation burst through in a half-formed, spluttering sneeze.

HH’tchh’ischh!”

 It was a small thing in comparison to the release Moraine was well aware his nose had been craving, but it had the same ominous power as the snap of the lock on the floodgate.  The items on his tray rattled alarmingly as his hand shook, but thankfully did not fall. He hastened to put it safe on the shelf, thrusting it home even as his body was rocked by a second sneeze, much more powerful than the last.

heIH’TSSCHOO!”

The powder-brush rolled off the tray and clattered on the wooden landing, but Moraine had no time to spare for it at present. He gasped, one hand hastily braced against the bannister in an effort to mitigate the impact of the coming onslaught, the other fishing his handkerchief from its place just in time.

HH-RSSCHOO! hh’ssSCHOO! Hh- HH’TSSHOO! Hh-hhh….HH! HHRSSCHUH!”

Sheer breathlessness forcing a pause, Moraine cautiously straightened up, rubbing at his still-unsettled nose through the cloth. Even as he struggled to normalize his breathing, nostrils refusing to be still, he became aware of the clatter of feet on the stairs above him. He stood politely aside and let Mrs Appleby, the Head Chamber-maid pass him.

She gave him an astonished look which, as he met her gaze, she quickly replaced with a starched-white smile.

“Goodness! Bless you, Mr Moraine!”

Moraine quashed his instinctive scowl and nodded a curt acknowledgement of her blessing, which had been well meant. He could feel the dissipated urge to sneeze coalescing again in the back of his nose, but managed to restrain himself until her footsteps had faded into the darkness below.

HR’SHSCHUH! -ah… huh… HR’RSCHHOO!!”

These having scratched the itch with greater effectiveness than their predecessors, Moraine tightened his grasp on the handkerchief and blew his nose soundly. This was an entirely unsatisfactory state of affairs, and he would not allow it to go on any longer than he was absolutely forced to.

He dabbed cursorily at his eyes and bent to retrieve the fallen brush. A few deep breaths through his nose confirmed that there was no immediate danger of a repeat performance, and he took the tray into one hand again.

Conduct most unbecoming, he decided as he descended the stairs. He would have to take greater care in the future. It was only proper.

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Well I'm a giant puddle. My love for master/servant relationships aside this is just....delicious. Mmmm you're stuff always delivers. :heart:

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Love the slow burn! Delicious!

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