A servant in livery comes to escort Lanisen to the Council Chamber, by the Steward’s orders.
Lanisen, following the servant sent to fetch him, enters the chamber. He hesitates at the doorway, visibly intimidated by the grandeur of the room, then approaches the Steward. He bows, then stands silently some distance from the table to await Dar’s convenience.
Dar completes his writing and glances up, catching Lanisen out of the corner of his eye. He gestures Lanisen closer. His expression is sober in the extreme, reflecting all the considerable dignity of his position.
Lanisen steps forward, bowing again as Dar acknowledges him. He is visibly nervous, trembling slightly, and doesn’t look up from the rich carpet below his feet.
Dar’s gaze rests on Lanisen. His tone is even when he speaks. “Certain matters concerning you have been brought to my attention. I thought it best we communicated directly. You may be seated if you choose.”
Lanisen glances at the chair, murmurs a subdued, “Yes, sir,” and hesitantly sits.
Dar sets aside his papers so that he can devote his full attention to the conversation at hand. “Both my cousin Tyren and His Majesty’s nephew have spoken to me about a certain–unpleasantness–which arose between you and my cousin. I am also aware that you have offered an apology for your part in that. I trust that you were sincere when you did so. If I was not convinced of that, we would be having a far different conversation at present. I have been put in the position of weighing what I have been told of your history, along with Sir Colin’s opinion of you, against my responsibility to see that those who serve His Majesty are above reproach. Is there anything you would care to add to Sir Tyren’s and Sir Colin’s accounts? I remind you that I value frankness.”
Lanisen keeps his eyes on the table between them, sitting straight-backed and attentive. “I– uh, I ain’t sure, sir. I don’t know what they told you.” He hesitates, glancing up at Dar. “Sir Tyren– I was mad at him for somethin’ stupid, and bein’ an idiot about it, and he– uh, he talked to me about it and when he left I… uh, I swore at him, not meanin’ for him to hear. I’m sorry, sir, it was… I was stupid, an’ I’m really sorry.”
Dar nods and simply says, “That matches my cousin’s description of what took place.”
Lanisen bites the inside of his lower lip at this, then nods as well, not looking up.
Dar furrows his brow. “I placed a great degree of trust in you when I assigned you to the kennels–” he begins.
Lanisen nods immediately, glancing briefly up at the Steward to communicate that he is aware and grateful without interrupting.
Dar draws in a breath. “I ascribe part of the fault to myself. I have not kept as close an observation on you as perhaps I should have.”
Lanisen draws a breath, apprehensive.
Dar rubs at the bridge of his nose. “Thus, it is my determination to have you reassigned. Whatever your reasons, disrespect to members of His Majesty’s court is disrespect to the king himself, and I cannot tolerate it. Your apology demonstrates that you are aware of this as well.”
Lanisen goes completely still, his face slack with shock. “S-sir?”
Dar continues, his tone unchanging. “I will be journeying to Carmichael in a short time. You will accompany me–” His eyebrow arches. “Have you any objections?”
Lanisen stares at him, evidently completely at a loss to understand, let alone answer this question.
Dar states what is apparent. “I am confusing you?”
Lanisen swallows. “You’re sendin’ me to– to Carmichael,” he says by way of answer.
Dar corrects him, not even a hint of a smile forming. His tone remains even. “You are journeying to Carmichael with me. The difference is not insignificant.”
Lanisen is utterly bewildered and it shows. He watches the Steward indirectly, half frightened, waiting for him to clarify things.
Dar does so. “Perhaps my expectation, that you would settle in if given a place here, was a bit optimistic, given that your past life was not the best preparation for what you would find at court. The journey will give us both a chance to make certain observations of one another. Consider it an opportunity.”
Lanisen swallows again several times and nods.
Dar’s eyebrow raises again, dramatically this time.
Lanisen takes a breath and studies his hands, clenched white-knuckled with anxiety in his lap. “S-sorry, sir, I– I ain’t followin’ you. What’s– you’re… reassignin’… what’re you sayin’, sir?”
Dar fixes his gaze on Lanisen again. “I am saying that you are assigned to my personal service beginning now. If you are not able to adjust to being here at court, it will not be because you were not trained in what is expected from you.”
Lanisen obviously has no idea how to respond to this. He stares at Dar.
Dar says dryly, “I believe now would be the opportune moment to ask any questions you might have.”
Lanisen twists his hands in his lap. His eyes slide away from Dar and settle on the door, then lower to fix on the tabletop again. “What do I gotta do, sir?” he finally manages, his voice slightly unsteady.
Dar replies, “Learn what I will instruct you in as swiftly and as thoroughly as you can. Do not be mistaken: this is not a reward for your behavior. I will expect a great deal of you, and I will scrutinize your conduct closely. I will also expect the truth from you at all times. Nothing less will serve.”
Lanisen nods, not looking at Dar. He keeps back the rest of his questions, shaken and confused.
Dar seems to sense this, leaning back in his chair and waiting patiently.
Lanisen, likely very limited in what he’s actually comfortable asking the Steward, finally settles on, “What’m I– what’s it mean, that I’m… whatever I am now? What do I gotta do now, instead of helpin’ with the hounds?”
Dar answers, “The clearest answer I can give you is that it will depend on you. I will be observing you carefully, and from your strengths we will determine where your duties will be. For the beginning, you will shadow me. If you were training for knighthood, I would consider you my squire. Your daily duties will be to attend me as I go about my duties and seek out ways to assist me once you feel competent.”
Lanisen nods slightly, made more anxious by the vagueness of this answer. He hesitates, shifting a little in his seat, but evidently decides against asking whatever he was considering and instead returns to silently trying to make sense of matters.
Dar raises an eyebrow (for the third time since their discussion began, if Lanisen is counting). “Yes?”, he asks evenly.
Lanisen shakes his head slightly and starts to say, “Nothi–“, then checks himself and pauses uncertainly. “I mean… ‘d rather not say, sir.” He hesitates, then plows on. “Uh… Carmichael, sir?”
Dar’s eyebrow goes even further up. “I respect that and will not press you, though I hope you will learn to trust that what you tell me will also be respected.”
Lanisen shifts uncomfortably and doesn’t look at Dar, mumbling, “Thank you, sir.” He seems as much embarrassed as relieved.
Dar furrows his brow again, but it is gone in an instant. “Is there anything else?” He makes certain that his demeanor reflects only calmness.
Lanisen hesitates. “Can I still go to the kennels, sir?” he finally asks, keeping his eyes down. He’s afraid of the answer to this question and it shows. “When I’m not doin’ jobs for you, I mean, am I still allowed?”
Dar’s lips twitch faintly. “Attending to the Steward means ensuring that my hound is still well tended, does it not? After all, once the weather turns His Majesty will wish to hunt.”
Lanisen lets out a slow breath and nods, relieved and grateful.
Dar raises a finger in caution. “Just see to it that your other assigned duties are attended to first if you wish the privilege to continue.”
Lanisen nods immediately. “‘Course, sir.”
Dar nods. “Very well. We will need to assign you a chamber of your own as well.”
Lanisen looks rather blank at this. “I got a room in the servants’ quarters, sir…”
Dar’s eyebrows draw together. “I was given to understand that you have been passing your nights in the kennels.”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders slightly without looking up, uncomfortable and defensive. “I like it better.”
Dar ahs quietly, his expression becoming impassive.
Lanisen glances at him nervously. “I’m sorry, sir, I’ll move back to my room, ‘s just I… I’m, I’m sorry.”
Dar rises. “I do not expect a sudden transformation. The habits of a lifetime do not disappear in an instant. Nor am I looking for perfection from you. As long as you are making a genuine effort, that will suffice. I believe there is no need for you to move at once. And it is just what?”
Lanisen stands immediately as Dar does, attentive to his cues. His eyes flicker to Dar’s face and away. “‘S just, um, I got used to it, is all, sir. It’s, it’s warmer, there’s dogs.”
Dar nods again, observing still without the slightest change in expression, “My brother Darrin has been known to sneak one of the pups into his room on occasion. I understand the appeal, and I recognize that the alterations you are being asked to make do not come without sacrifice.”
Lanisen shifts, making no answer.
Dar tells him, “It grows late, and I have these reports to complete for His Majesty. Go back to the kennels for tonight, and attend me in my quarters tomorrow morning. I will have some tasks for you to begin with.”
Lanisen nods, bowing. “Thank you, sir. I will.” He pauses. “Uh… what do I tell Master Danall, sir?”
Dar reassures him, “I will speak with him, and I will send him another lad to pick up those tasks in the kennels which you will no longer be able to see to. Lest you are overly concerned–hounds have long memories. They will know you.”
Lanisen looks briefly and deeply unhappy at the mention of a replacement, but he masks it quickly and bows again. “Yes, sir.”
Dar, however, observes it. “You would not wish the hounds to be neglected, I am sure. I also do not intend for your focus to be distracted. You will have enough to learn in the interim. See to the tasks I set for you, make an effort, and you will have time to do as you please, within reason.”
Lanisen says, again, “Yes, sir.” He hesitates for a longer moment this time. “I’m sorry for– for makin’ trouble, sir. Thank you for– for not…”
Dar’s mouth twitches again. “Trouble? You must understand that I do not condone you allowing your anger to override your judgment. I am giving you the opportunity for your perspective to change, and I do not believe it just to place expectations on you without giving you the tools necessary to successfully meet them. I do not offer you an easy choice–but I offer you a choice.”
Lanisen nods, head lowered. “I know, sir. Thank you.”
Dar dips his head. “I do not expect you to believe me yet, but I will say it anyhow: I genuinely want to see you succeed and to learn to listen to your better inclinations. Sir Tyren and Sir Colin feel the same. That does not mean that there will not be consequences for misconduct, but when they come it will be to instruct you rather than to punish you. Good night to you, Lanisen.”
Lanisen swallows and nods, saying only, “Good night, sir.” He bows yet again and turns to depart.
Dar does not stop him, his attention already returning to the mountain of paperwork he still has to wade through before seeking his own bed.