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Geminerdi

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I found this sitting around on my computer, figured I may as well stick it up here. Probably a one-off. 

As for a summary, we've got one very sneezy valet tasked with finding some dusty old books, a gossiping kitchen maid with a pepper issue, and a king in a foul temper. What could possibly go wrong?

Contains some misogynistic language (set in the 1700s, sorry!) and some mild physical abuse. If that isn't your style, turn back now. 

 

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“Louis, what part of ‘have one of my wife’s poetry collections on my desk first thing tomorrow morning’ was too complex for your simple mind to understand?”

 

It was truly amazing how quickly one’s stomach could leap into your mouth when his Majesty shouted at you. Half of it could be blamed on the constant stench of garlic that pervaded his being, but there was no denying that the other half had to do with his temper. Unfortunately, it seemed I was seconds away from experiencing the wrong end of it. Again.

 

Pain wasn’t quite the right word for the feeling of the king’s common law treatise slamming into the side of my head; that set in as a dull ache a few seconds later. I managed a quick glance at his desk as I debated whether or not I should make retrieving it a priority; he hadn’t drank his morning cup of coffee yet, which meant I’d probably be visiting Dr. Haralson to have the cup tweezed out of my face if I didn’t bring him the book he’d just thrown. The doctor wasn’t the most pleasant man at the best of times and I couldn’t imagine he’d be pleased at the prospect of another hour picking shards out of my skin.

 

“Leave it!” he roared as I bent down to retrieve it. I flinched, fully expecting that my efforts to avoid getting a delicate porcelain cup of steaming coffee to the face would backfire completely in a few short seconds. Instead, I got my first moment of good fortunate today. His Majesty was in a rather forgiving mood, sparing my face the shattered porcelain and scalds in favor of an additional ache courtesy of his favorite paperweight. “Stop cowering like a child and have that poetry on my desk before the clock strikes eight or you’ll be given good reason to be afraid of me, understood?”

 

“Y-yes, sir.” His face, already deep red, began to turn purple, green veins bulging from his neck as he clenched his jaw. “It’ll, euh, it’ll be my pleasure, sir. My deepest apologies for my incompetence—”

 

He was already reaching for a third projectile when I darted out of the room.

 

I made my way down the hall, unable to decide if I wanted to hurry myself along or walk slowly enough that my hands would have the chance to stop shaking before I was handling what was left of the queen’s possessions. His Majesty didn’t need to tell me as much for me to know that if there was so much as one crease or one minuscule tear in a page that he thought was my doing, I would be visiting Mr. Carver. We’d become well enough acquainted in 1769 for my tastes.

 

There was something about the queen’s old room that always set my nose off, even under the best circumstances. Perhaps it was some remnant of the flowers she’d always been so fond of or the slight trace of her perfumes, but no matter how well I felt before I entered the room, I always found myself inexplicably suffering a cold within a few seconds of walking in. This effect had nearly slipped my mind as I cracked the door open, but it came back all too well as the first waft of air came through and set my sinuses alight.

 

“Hehh… n-no… nnggeeHHHH’TSCCCHEEIIUUMMMM! HH’TSCCHHHKKKK-NNGGTT’SCHHIEEUUMMM! HhH’TSCCHOOOUUUUUMMMM! Hehh-HHAHHH-AATTTSCHOOUUEEMMMM!”

 

I sniffed and glanced down the halls, hoping that none of the other servants had been around to hear that. Of course, at least a few would have and would know without a doubt it was me, but if they hadn’t seen it, they wouldn’t know I hadn’t even managed to get my sleeve over my face beforehand. Lady Fortune seemed to be particularly cross with me, however, and none other than the palace’s greatest gossipmonger was walking towards me. Constance.

 

“What was all that yelling about?” Constance asked. “The king’s, I mean, I know that you were only having another one of your sneezing jags. We aren’t under Greenlandic embargo, are we? Well, I’d hope not, we’re running a bit low on coffee beans already and I wouldn’t think either of us wants a repeat of last time we ran out.”

 

“Euh, no, it’s nothing of that sort, thank heavens.” She tilted her head slightly, never being one to be satisfied without further detail. “It’s really nothing of any particular importance, at least not to anyone other than the king and myself. He wanted some of Queen Vera’s best poetry performed at the theatre this week to commemorate the anniversary of… that incident, and it slipped my mind this morning.”

 

“But I thought you couldn’t read Italian. How’s he expecting you to know which one of her books were her poetry collections and not a personal journal or a collection of letters?”

 

Thank you, Constance, I grumbled to myself. Always ready to remind people of what they’re trying to forget at the moment, aren’t you? And always so accurate, too.

 

“Suppose I could help you,” she said, pausing to click her tongue a few times. “Haven’t got anything downstairs that needs tending to for the next few minutes and it shouldn’t take very long to find a decent collection of hers, she was a good poet if nothing else....”

 

Constance kept talking, but I couldn’t keep listening. I could feel torrents of water pouring through my nose, starting a hot prickle too far back in my sinuses to be rubbed away. The background drone of Constance chattering away vanished, her mouth hanging ever so slightly open as she stared into my watery, twitching eyes. She had to know what was about to happen and it couldn’t be that she didn’t realize I could sneeze, so what did she find so fascinating?

 

“Pardon,” I gasped, “I’ve, euh, ’m s-sorry...!” The caress of the handkerchief over my nose proved to be the last straw, bringing the tickle from annoying to unbearable. “HahhH-HAAATTSSCCHOOOOOOOOOUUMMMMM! HHH’TSSCCHHOOOUUUUEEMMMM! I-it’sihHH! – t-this…  HHHHIIIHHHTSCHHIIIEEEEEEEEEUUUUMMM! HHH’TTSSCCHIIEEUUUUUUMMMM-KKKTSSCHHHHH-HAAATTSCCHOOOOOUUUMMM!

 

“Cold?” I nodded, trying to rub my nose into obedience. “You’re not going to get it to stop tickling like that, now or ever. I’ll help you look for the poetry and I don’t mind if you blow your nose while we’re in there.”

 

“I really am unspeakably sorry about subjecting you to all that,” I said, pushing the door open for her. It was the least I could do with how her ears had to be throbbing now. “There’s nothing I can do about it being so loud, believe me when I say I’ve tried every suggestion I’ve ever gotten. Doesn’t help and usually gives me a headache like you wouldn’t believe.”

 

Constance didn’t offer any commentary on my apology, making her way over to the chest at the foot of the bed and beginning to rummage. I would join her, I decided, just after I blew my nose.

 

Blowing my nose at first proved fruitless, not loosing so much as a drop of the catarrh. She was trying not to let me catch on, but Constance was keeping an eye on me. My sneezing was bothering her then, almost certainly startling her if nothing else. More than understandable, I decided. I wouldn’t particularly enjoy being around someone who made noises loud enough to shake the heavens at mostly random intervals either. One more blow, just to make sure my nose wouldn’t start leaking as soon as I went to help her search.

 

That was a mistake.

 

“IIIHHHTSSCHHOOOOOUUUMMM!” It was out of me almost before I realized I was going to sneeze at all. “Hahhh-HHHATTTSCHOOOUUUMMMMM! HHHH’TSCCHHHIIIIEEEUUUUUMMM! Ehh… hehhHH-HIITSCCHHIIEEEEEEUMMM-HAATTSCHOOOUUUUMMMM! HETTSCCHHHHIEEEUUMMMMM! AATTSSCHHIIEEEEEEEEUUUMMMM—H’TTSCHOOUUUMM!”

 

“You must have an awful cold to be sneezing this often and that much.” I paused for a moment. Hadn’t she made the same remark twice now? There didn’t seem to be any real difference between ‘sneezing this often’ and ‘sneezing that much,’ other than perhaps what it could be compared to. “Here, that handkerchief must be absolutely soaked now. Good thing I’ve got a dish towel on me, isn’t it?”

 

Only by the Lord’s divine grace did I not give myself a nosebleed as I realized what she’d meant, trying to scoop up most of what I’d blown out of my head and only managing to make a bigger mess of myself. Her face, when I finally dared a peek at it, wasn’t contorted into a grimace or even a pitying stare, but suggested that not only did she not mind that I was covered in my own snot, she might have even be enjoying it to some degree.

 

“It’s all right, Mr. Delcambre, I know you can’t help it. You did as well as you could, at least.” She began dabbing at my clothes, then took my wrist and slowly pulled it away from my face. It was a little known fact that vampires were still capable of a degree of blushing. I felt the slight heaviness of blood gathering in my cheeks; Constance was privy to this fact now, no matter how much I wished she wasn’t. “There’s really no need to be embarrassed, I think we’ve all had moments like this on account of a particularly wet cold – at least you didn’t sneeze on his Majesty like this, yes?”

 

“Constance, please.” She finally nodded, folding the towel over and pressing it to my nose. “No, I don’t need to – and even if I did, I’m a grown man, I’m more than capable of doing it myself. Look, if that poetry book isn’t on his Majesty’s desk by eight, he’s going to have my hide, so if we could put more effort towards that instead?”

 

“Finding the book isn’t something you need to worry yourself about just now, Mr. Delcambre. Her best collection was already on top, I only needed to open that chest and pull it out. The thing is, I was hoping you could do me a favor in return.”

 

Intimidating the other servants was usually something I went out of my way to avoid. They, understandably, had their reservations about me given that I could rend them limb from limb any time I wanted. It seemed fairly apparent that Constance was not afraid of me as it was and while that was very nice most of the time, I didn’t have time for this nonsense now. I let out a long, low growl, baring my fangs at her as I stared into her eyes.

 

The peals of laughter told me how well that’d worked.

 

“Please, you don’t scare me, everyone knows that you’re not the sort to actually hurt anyone on purpose. Besides, it’s only fair that you do me a favor seeing as I found that poetry collection for you.” I sighed, rubbing my eyes. Not only did she know me too well, but she had a point. Damn it. “Don’t you Greenlanders have a certain phrase for this, even? Quid pro quo or something along those lines?

 

“No – well, I mean yes, that is a saying there and it does mean what you seem to think it means, but what I mean is – don’t your ears hurt from listening to me go on like this? Anyone else’s would and if yours don’t, I’m not sure I believe you could hear the trumpets of all Joshua’s army.” That got a small snort from her and I thought I saw a smile pulling at her lips. She was listening, at least. “All right, maybe I’m exaggerating a slight bit, but they even hurt my ears and I’ve been listening at it for centuries now – yours must ache something awful after all this.”

 

“My ears don’t hurt so bad that I can’t bear being around you another minute more. Anyway, aren’t you going to let me tell you what I want before you decide that you can’t be bothered? All I want is for you to smell something and tell me if it’s still any good or not.”

 

“Constance, I can’t smell anything, even after getting all that out of my head. Even if I could, I’m a vampire. Everything but the freshest meat smells less than appetizing to me and if you make me smell something that’s properly rotten, one of the chambermaids will be very displeased with the both of us.”

 

She only shrugged, pulling a bag from her apron. Small enough that I could at least be satisfied it wasn’t likely to be a whole rotten cabbage or a bulb of garlic, but that left plenty of other less-than favorable options.

 

“Look, even ignoring that, you’re a cook. Why do you need me to tell you if something smells right? Shouldn’t you be able to tell if something’s gone off or not?”

 

“It’s a bag of pepper that got a little wet. Your nose is particularly sensitive, even if it is clogged up with mucus, so I thought I’d try to track you down and get you to give it a good sniff. If it’s still got enough dust to make you sneeze, it’ll last long enough to be used tonight for his Majesty’s supper.”

 

“And I’m fairly certain his Majesty doesn’t want his supper with my cold stirred in with it,” I said, realizing too late that she’d slowly been working me back into a very literal corner. It’d be all too easy for her to shout that I’d injured her if I tried to force the issue and have every guard for five miles trying to put his bayonet through me, so I’d have to talk her into releasing me. “You’ve seen how I’m sneezing today! Do you really think I’m going to have the forewarning to make sure I don’t sneeze all over you or directly in the bag?”

 

“I wouldn’t mind if you sneezed right in my face.”

 

That gave me pause for a moment. It was one thing that she’d told me she didn’t mind listening at it. Plenty of people said that, if nothing else as a social nicety. Constance not wanting me to feel guilty for sneezing in her general vicinity was one thing, but saying she wouldn’t mind it if I sneezed right in her face when I had a streaming cold?

 

“Constance, I don’t know if you’re getting hysteria or what’s wrong with you, but you’re not making any sense. Just – just give me the book, please, and I’ll ask his Majesty to excuse you for the day so you can regain your wits. All right?”

 

I only really expected her to only continue arguing about getting me to sniff the bag, but instead I found myself plopped down in a chair before I had time to realize she was doing anything at all. To make things that much worse, she was standing over me now. If I tried to get up, I’d have to exquisitely careful as to not risk hurting her and even then it would be for naught if I got halfway to my feet and found myself caught in another sneezing fit. Of all the captors I could have, I was at the mercy of a hysterical woman. Lady Fortune truly had it in for me today.

 

“Sniff.” I felt the cloth of her bag of pepper being pressed against the bottom of my nose. Didn’t she realize that I couldn’t cover even a fraction of my sneezes like this? It didn’t seem to matter to her as she gave the bag a good shake, my eyes burning as the cloud billowed up my nose and across my face. It tickled something awful, but if I could help it, I was going to. “Mr. Delcambre, there’s no use in fighting it. We both know you’ll sneeze sooner or later and I’m not letting you up until I get my answer.”

 

Despite my efforts to fight it, Constance was correct. I couldn’t help it, something I became acutely aware of as my head jerked back and my eyes slammed shut, tears streaming down my cheeks as I lost any and all control I had on my sneezing.

 

“HehHHHHHAAATTSCHHOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUMMMM! HAAATTSCHHIIIEEEEEEEUUUUUUUMMMM! Eh-HHEHHHH-HHEETTIIIISCHHHHHIIEEEEEEEUUMMM-HATTSSCCHHOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUMMMMM! Ahh, HhaaAAAHHH—AAAAHHTTSSCCHHIIEEEEEEEEEUUUUUUUUUUUUUMMMM! HEHHTSSCHHHKKKKIIEEEEEEEEEEUUUUMM-HAAATTSCHHIIEEUUUUUUUUUUUMMM! ATTSCHIUUUUUM! HahhHH-AAATSCHHHHOUUUUUUUUUM!”

 

Her face was dripping. Very literally dripping onto her apron. Rivers of green, yellow, and white were making their way across her face. It was enough to make me unspeakably disgusted with myself, so heavens only knew what she was thinking about me just now. And the worst part was that I was becoming increasingly certain that I was going to do it again, regardless of how hard I tried not to.

 

“C-Constance, get back.” She smiled and shook her head, pressing my wrists a bit harder to the chair. “No, I’m telling you to get off me, I-I’m going to sneeze again and it’s bad enough that I sneeeEHHH! …sneezed on you the first time. Let go of my ha-aaaAHH!...hands!”

 

My protests only made her press on my wrists that much harder. If I tried to get her to release me, I would have to hurt her, at least a little. As much as I thought she’d gone insane, I still couldn’t bring myself to cause her any harm. She couldn’t possibly know what she was doing, after all.

 

Not that this knowledge made the tickle any less.

 

“HAAHHHH-TSCHHOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUMMMM! H’TSSCHHIIEEEEEEEEEUUUUUMMMM-KTTSCHHHHH-HehhHHH-HHHEHHHH-HEEEHHHHH-TSCCHHHHHHHOOUUUUUUUUUUUMMM! Hehh… eh… HHH’TSCCCHHIIIIEEUUUUMMMMMMM!”

 

I couldn’t understand her reaction. She was panting, heart pounding, and somehow still not disgusted with me. It seemed that she should be getting over her hysteria and no one – and I’d imagine certainly not a woman who valued her appearance – could be pleased with coming to their senses covered in someone else’s snot. Yet it seemed that she was more than pleased with things, perhaps even contemplating how to make it happen again. She leaned forward to try to kiss me, not at all dissuaded when I turned to give her my cheek instead of my lips.

 

“I give up, Constance. What is it you’re trying to get me to do here?” I asked. The way her shoulders were heaving, I was surprised she was still able to stand on her own, much less keep my wrists as firmly planted to the chair as they were. “Come on now, I-I gave you what you wanted, please let me up.”

 

“Don’t tell the others about this, all right?” she whispered, ignoring my own question as she planted a gentle kiss on the tip my nose not even half a breath later. Perhaps a little too gentle a kiss; my nose twitched against the burning in my sinuses, my eyes began to water again, and I felt my breath catch. Still, I managed out a quick nod. Even after this, she didn’t deserve what the servants would say if they found out. “But you’re welcome to come and sneeze me half-deaf any time you want. Hell, for all I care, you can give that poor handkerchief of yours a break too.”

 

Wait, did Constance just say Hell? She was a woman, what was she doing using that sort of language? Even if she was hysterical, most of the other hysterical women I’d seen at least maintained that much of their wits. I would’ve balked had I been able to, but that kiss was getting the better of me already.

 

HHhH-HH’TTTSSSSCHHHOOOOUUMMMMM! H’TTSCCHHHOOOOOUUM-’TSCHOOOOOUUMMM! Hehh-HHH’TTTTSCCHHKKKKIEEM-NnnghhHHAHHTSCCHOOOUUEEMMM!

 

Her heart was pounding even faster in both our ears as I opened up my eyes, blinking the tears out so I could survey the damage. The bosom of her dress was soaked, as was the lower half of my face, but she was still smiling. She couldn’t have actually meant that she liked having me sneeze on her, could she? That had to be part of her hysteria, but she wasn’t acting it other than encouraging me to sneeze on her. Even if I couldn’t imagine how she could, maybe she actually did enjoy this.

 

“Suppose I shouldn’t keep you too much longer, don’t want the king cross with either of us. But you should try to come visit me in the kitchen sometime today, if you can make some excuse for it. Perhaps I can’t make you herbal tea like Aleksy, but a few breaths of steam has always done wonders for me when I had a cold like yours.”

 

And with that, Constance seemed to float out of the room, leaving me with my handkerchief in one hand and a book in the other. I could still see the specks of dust dancing in the sunlight pouring through the window, bright enough that I felt my nostrils flare if I even tried to glance at the source. Though it seemed I had a more pressing problem at the moment. The only person that could make the floorboards squeak so loudly without having metal clanging around all the while was his Majesty. The only clock in here was of no use, having stopped years ago, but I had a sinking feeling that it was well after eight now.

 

This gave me about twenty of his paces to prepare myself for whatever would come next.

 

I stood up and began wiping my face off until I was confident that I’d gotten at least the majority of my face clean.

 

Twelve more paces.

 

I beat the dust off back of my livery, hoping he wouldn’t be able to tell I had sat in the chair.

 

Four more paces.

 

I turned the book around until I thought it was facing the correct direction for him to take it.

 

And now he was here.

 

“Would you like to explain why it’s taken you no less than twenty minutes to complete something so simple even an idiot child could’ve done it faster?” All I could think to do was sniffle, wincing as it came out sounding many times worse than even I felt. “If you were so sick that you’re rendered useless from all the sneezing – which, in case you were unaware, could be heard very clearly all the way in my workroom – you should’ve gotten yourself up earlier and had something done about it. Never mind, give me that and take your disgusting hide somewhere else where I don’t have to see or hear you until you’re able to go five minutes without another display. Now go!”

 

This was a much better outcome than I ever would’ve dreamed of. I darted out the door, hoping to be far enough away by the time he realized the mercy of this that he wouldn’t bother changing his verdict. Or perhaps even couldn’t, if I managed to get a handle on this cold by then.

 

Where to go now was becoming a very real question as I continued scurrying through the halls. The infirmary probably wasn’t the best of places to go, at least not unless I had a few hours. Aleksy would be still asleep now after working all night and the doctor knew a bit less than nothing about vampires. Maybe my best bet was to take Constance up on her offer, even if that meant indulging her a few more times when the loosening of this catarrh got me going again.

 

“Thought you might be coming this way soon.” I nearly jumped out of my skin, and then came even closer to falling over as I spun around to face the voice. Constance was still lingering around in the halls, a certain smirk on her face that suggested I wouldn’t be getting back to work for quite some time if I went with her. “Steam works wonders, but it’s no good if you never get it out of your head. What do you say we go back to the kitchen and I help you blow that cold out of your head, hmm?”

 

One of her fingers ran down the bridge of my nose, staying perfectly aligned on the center even as it crinkled and wriggled from the tickle. The corner of her lips rose slightly as I hovered on the verge of a sneeze, having my mind made up for me as she rubbed the tip of her nose on mine. I didn’t bother trying to spare her from any of it.

 

“HhhHH’TSSCCHHOOOUUUEEEMMM! HehhH-HATTSCHHEEEUUUMMM! HihhH-ITSSCHHIIEEEUUUUMM-HISSTSCHIIIEEEEUUOOMMM!”

 

She certainly didn’t seem to mind.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I love contagion but it really helps me to read about how sick the people are first... Fevers, coughs, trying to hide it, headaches, the red drippy nose, wiping their noise with their hands, not using tissues, etc. I like the shame people feel about exposing others to their sickness and I love denial

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