Sure, I’m only too happy to talk about what I do. I’ve been in service to the Duncan family for some forty years or more, going back to the current Viscount Andrew’s grandsire, Charles Duncan, though that makes my tenure sound somewhat more lengthy than it is, seeing how the Viscount’s father, Robert, died so young. It’s a pity that young Andrew had so little time to learn from his father before we lost him. He means well, but the young lad is just unprepared and his fellow peers have no incentive to be helpful. I fear for the Viscounty, I truly do.
Oh, yes. You had asked about what I do. I am the Viscount Andrew Duncan’s steward and I’ve held the post for a little over five years. I took over for Old Delburne, the poor sot. He served under Count Reginald Nye as part of Duke Seymour’s efforts to tame the north and I can tell you, that old man deserved his drink after the horrors he’d seen. He bore it better in his youth, but as he got on in age you could tell the memories were starting to unmake him. In the end, the Good Pair saw fit to take his mind away so he’d no longer be troubled by it. That’s divine grace, that is.
He started as a simple soldier, Old Delburne did; earned a knighthood on the field, which is rare. In his prime, he had cunning and an instinct for how to deal with the savage Ermine tribes of the North, an uncanny knack for anticipating what they would do. At the end of his military career, he was appointed as household steward by “Good ‘ol Charlie” Duncan as he was called as a reward for such outstanding and faithful service. He served Good ‘ol Charlie right and well for nigh to fifteen years. But when you’re responsible for as many things as a steward is called to be, even slight mistakes can often appear as huge blunders. It’s a simple mistake to overlook omitting cracked peppercorns from the barley soup, but when a visiting dowager lady’s neck swells up like a gourd for it that small mistake becomes a huge catastrophe.
So yes, overseeing the kitchens is part of a steward’s job. That includes everything from planning the meals and procuring the ingredients to seeing that the tables are properly set. The table-setting alone entails receiving the guest list from the herald-adjutant and consulting with the scribal herald to make sure that any last-minute guests are accounted for and properly seated according to precedence. An error there could start a war in the case of some of the thinner-skinned nobles.
The steward is also responsible for all of the household’s other provisions, from the dishes in the cupboard to the carriages in the carriage house. The steward also oversees the entire household staff, ensuring that the grounds and gardens are well-tended, the livestock are properly maintained, the libraries are up-to-date, and probably at least a dozen other things that I’ve learned to do so automatically that I can’t think to mention them. Beyond that, any entertainment is also under the steward’s purview, be it a formal cotillion dance, an elaborate masquerade, or games upon the lawn. Granted, you have more of those particular diversions down south than up here in the north, but an ambitious northern noble who wishes to curry favor with his peers in the south will have a steward on his staff capable of handling the activities enjoyed by the southern nobles.
As for me, I learned those diversions as I grew up in the south; and just so you don’t hear it from someone else first, I was warded in Carlisle as a youth and was a page to Sabastian Felix, back when he was a young court baron and not yet come into his full inheritance as the principal duke of the realm as Duke of Lorian. When I came of age, I could have stayed with the future duke, and most people marveled why I would leave the comfort, not to mention the visibility, of The Primrose Court; but in truth, I had come to see life among the courtiers in the capital as empty and pretentious. Currying favor at court might allow me to aspire to some high office, but what good would that do if I hated the work? And after all the insipid whining and pointless brinksmanship I had observed at court, I longed for something real.
Spending so many years at court, I had heard many tales told of bold villains of ages past and the gallant heroes who challenged them. My favorite was the story of how the Baron Sir Hendrick of Ambermore, taking only five-thousand men (but all of them sworn knights of the Old Order), defeated the infamous Silvermane and his Erminehorde at Malik’s Crossing. Outnumbering the knights nearly four-to-one, Silvermane sent wave after wave of the savage tribesmen against the Baron’s lines. Despite the losses, the knights never broke, nor even wavered. Less than a thousand knights survived the onslaught, but they held their lines and won the day. I don’t suppose we shall ever again see such days as those – nor such men.
Eager to test my mettle, I took my savings and purchased a horse and arms of my own. Equipped with a quick bay courser, a fine broadsword, a molded steel heater, and my first set of true plate, I rode north in search of a fine noble to whom I could pledge my fealty, my sword, and my honor. I encountered “Good ‘ol Charlie”, Viscount of Chester, as he was encamped in support of his liege, Wallis Kent, Duke of Calloway. Something about the old man’s demeanor called to mind the stories about the Baron Sir Hendrick – his gallantry, his courtesy, his valor. Here, I thought, is a man who is old enough to know the old ways and unafraid to live his life in accordance with them. I offered him my sword and my honor, and as I had both expected and hoped, he demanded of me also my fealty.
I served the old Viscount as man-at-arms as faithfully as I could till the day he died. I suppose that as a soldier I was a little long in the tooth by the time he finally found his bier, but Good ’ol Charlie knew how to reward loyalty and faithful service, as did his son Robert. Robert could have simply sent me away, but for my years of loyal service he named me as his steward after asking for Old Delburne’s retirement. And as to Delburne, the Duncans did right by him there, too, setting him up with a baronetcy to administer till the Good Pair finally claimed him.
So, that’s what you need to know about the Duncans of Chester. Good men who keep to the old ways, who know a thing or two about chivalry, honor, and valor. I see the young Andrew needing help to hold onto his coronet, but he’s a Duncan to the bone and a good man. I’ll stake my honor on it.