Lanisen, in the cooling evening, stands out as one of the few people in the ward making use of the inner gate. The majority of the traffic flow is toward the outer gates, market-customers wrapping up their shopping for the day and vendors heading home. Lanisen pauses to answer a question put to him by one of the guards, who seem to know him, and though his demeanor is subdued and polite, one might notice a visible eagerness to move on.
Arael comes out of one of the market stalls at a brisk pace, swinging a basket over her arm. Once she reaches the center of the courtyard, she stops short amid the evening traffic and turns a little circle about herself as she makes certain of which way to go.
Lanisen makes a reply to the guard and the conversation seems to be concluded. He dips a nod and hurries on, passing unobtrusively through the ward toward a building on the south side, giving a brief glance to the gate and the foot-traffic. On seeing Arael, he slows slightly but does not stop, studying her from the corner of his eye with a detached trying-to-place-you frown.
Arael appears to get her bearings and turns to make her way toward the outer gatehouse with the majority of the of the traffic. As she encounters a particularly close area and waits for the crowd to disperse, her gaze drifts about again, and she catches sight of Lanisen as he stands watching her. She tilts her head a little to the side and peers at him in return.
Lanisen, finding himself caught staring, looks away quickly and resumes his previous pace toward the kennel building.
Arael continues to watch as he turns to go, and something in his manner must jog her memory, because she straightens out her neck and grins in recognition, taking a few quick steps after him. “Lanny?” she calls out, though her voice is probably not loud enough to draw too much attention.
Lanisen almost trips at the use of his nickname. He hesitates for a split-second, then turns back toward her, looking faintly apprehensive. “A- Ara?”
Arael’s grin widens as he speaks, and she moves closer. “Aye, just so. You do remember, then.”
Lanisen shifts backwards, glancing around the ward. “I, uh– I thought maybe that was you.” He gulps, his adam’s apple bobbing goofily, and manages a grin back at her, though it’s a little lopsided. “Hi.”
Arael slows as she draws near. “G’deve.” She bobs her head slightly in confirmation, still grinning brightly. “Aye, ’tis me. Shouldn’t’ve been surprised if you didn’t know me, though.”
Lanisen swallows again and agrees, “It’s been… a while, ain’t it?”
Arael nods. “That’s so–a couple of summers at least, I should think.”
Lanisen hesitates, then nods. “At– at least, yeah. Uh… how’ve you been, then?”
Arael shrugs a little. “Well. Not much change, I suppose. And you?”
Lanisen glances again around the quiet ward and shifts his weight, shrugging. “Been all right,” he replies, eyeing his shoes.
Arael nods again. “You’ve been working for His Majesty, then?” She tilts her head toward him, as if indicating his garb, and she grins crookedly. Her eyes hold an expression that is a rather gleeful.
Lanisen adjusts one sleeve self-consciously. “Yeah, since– uh, winter.”
Arael looks a bit perplexed at this, but shrugs it off and nods. “What is it you’ve you been doing, then? For His Majesty, I mean.”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders, his eyes again darting around the immediate area rather than look at Arael. He looks distinctly uneasy and has paled slightly, though this is probably not all that obvious in the evening light or lack thereof. “Just– I worked in the kennels for a while. Now I’m workin’ for the Steward.” He hesitates. “How ’bout you? What’re you doin’ in Andale?”
Arael frowns slightly in concern as she begins to notice Lanisen’s apparent unease, but she answers easily enough. “I’ve a cousin here who’s been ailing, and Mother and Father sent me to help look after her and her lads for a bit.”
Lanisen nods, evidently relieved to have something besides half-answers to use in conversation. “I see. ‘S good. You always was good with kids.”
Arael giggles slightly. “Aye, good with helping them make messes of themselves. And you were good with animals and such. How long were you working in the kennels?” She really looks quite interested here.
Lanisen chews the inside of his lip. “Guess I started in… Harvesthome or Firstfall.”
Arael nods, then tilts her head a little to the side, as if solving a puzzle. “Didn’t you care to keep on at it, then?”
Lanisen stills for a moment, looking like he doesn’t have any idea how to answer that. “I… no, I liked it,” he finally says.
Arael nods slowly, then offers brightly, “Father does, too–says hounds are better company than people most days.”
Lanisen rubs a hand over his mouth. “He’s right,” he says quietly.
Arael frowns softly. “Are you alright, Lanny? Truly?”
Lanisen glances at her and shifts his weight, straightening slightly. “Yeah. I’m great, the Steward’s– he’s been real nice to me, I’m glad to be workin’ for him, just ain’t… ain’t used to it yet.” He grins, the expression reassuring and self-deprecating, and adds, “Gettin’ there. Might take the next fifty years, but I’m gettin’ there.”
Arael laughs, looking rather reassured, in fact. “And you like it well enough to keep at it for the next fifty years?”
Lanisen looks rather stricken for a moment, as if the thought hadn’t crossed his mind until just now. He hides it quickly, however, and evidently chooses to take Ara’s words as a joke, but his laughter in response sounds forced.
Arael giggles quietly at Lanisen’s expression. “What is you’d like to be doing, then?”
Lanisen stares at her blankly for a long moment, then shakes his head a little helplessly. “I don’t…”
Arael watches him quietly, absently biting her lip. She gives a small smile and nods a little.
Lanisen, silent for the space of several seconds, shifts his weight and rubs a hand across his mouth. Even in the poor light, it’s obvious that the hand is shaking slightly. He hesitates, glancing once more around the ward. “Ara, I… you oughta know… I– I done some really… ” He takes a deep breath, darts a look at her face, and plows ahead. “I ain’t… exactly a servant here, not– I mean, not like you think.”
Arael furrows her brow in confusion, and she tips her head to the side, studying him as if she’s trying to make sense of his words. “Why is it you’re here, then?”
Lanisen can’t look at her. “I’m… I done stuff that… they’re givin’ me a chance, lettin’ me work and… um, learn stuff instead of…”
Arael watches him uncertainly for a few beats longer before understanding starts to come over her face. Her eyes widen a little, but so far, her face is blank other than surprise.
Lanisen’s shoulders are hunched slightly and he keeps his eyes down. “I should’ve said, I should’ve told you right away, I’m so sorry…”
Arael shrugs rather vaguely, as if she hadn’t really had a chance to think about that. She glances around briefly, before setting her basket down by her feet and folding her arms absentmindedly in front of her, returning her attention to Lanisen. Her voice and face are uncertain. “What happened, Lanny?”
Lanisen is silent, evidently trying to work up the nerve to tell her. “The bandits,” he finally says, and his voice in admitting it is oddly even and detached. “Last summer, you remember. That group. I was one of them.”
Arael is still for a moment as she takes this in. Then she blinks twice, takes a breath, swallows, and gives a few small nods. Her voice is quite soft. “Oh.”
Lanisen adds quietly, “Everybody knows, round here. You prob’ly don’t want to be seen with me.” His tone is nothing but flat and calm and reasonable; it’s as if he’s somehow shut down all the obvious fear and worry from even a few minutes ago and has distanced himself enough to say what he needs to.
Arael frowns a little and chews lightly on her bottom lip as she considers this. After a moment, she confirms–although it comes out rather more like a statement–“You’re not still a bandit, are you?”
Lanisen shakes his head.
Arael nods, then shrugs a little. “Then if the Steward’s got you working for him, I shouldn’t think I’ve got much cause to worry.” She grins teasingly, offering, “And I always could take you, you know.”
Lanisen is startled into glancing at her. He studies her face uneasily for a moment, then offers a tentative half-smile in return.
Arael shrugs one shoulder again, still grinning, once he’s looking at her. “Not as well as Lady Astera, I’ll grant you, but just the same.”
Lanisen swallows. It takes him a moment to muster up the courage to respond in kind, but he takes a breath and does so, wobbly grin stabilizing a bit. “You could /not/! I let you win.”
Arael lets out a merry laugh before attempting to straighten out her features. She rolls her eyes in mock annoyance, sighs dramatically, and perches her hands saucily on her hips. “Aye, of course–so you’ve always said.”
Lanisen studies her briefly, on uncertain ground but smiling. “’S ’cause it’s true. You just don’t want to admit it.”
Arael hrmphs indignantly and crosses her arms again. “And of course I’m too old /now/ to set you straight and get away with it. I see how you’re figuring ’twill work out.”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders and dimples up, ducking his head. “More or less, yeah.”
Arael wrinkles her nose and looks rather like she’d like to stick her tongue out at him. That expression subsides when she giggles, though, and she’s all smiles again.
Lanisen’s teasing subsides, the grin fading a bit. He glances again at her, and the uncertainty is back in his expression.
Arael seems to barely notice, as at about the same time, a round of barking erupts from behind the door that Lanisen was headed toward when she stopped him. She looks up at it, then back at him with a lopsided grin. Inclining her head toward the door, she asks, “That’d be the kennels, then?”
Lanisen, glancing toward the door as well, grins wryly. “Dunno how you figured that one out. Noisy oafs,” he adds fondly.
Arael laughs softly. “About how many of them have you got here?”
Lanisen doesn’t even have to think about it. “Fourteen, right now. Mostly sight-hounds, deerhounds and the like, and some harriers. One of the greyhounds’ll be havin’ pups,” he adds as an afterthought, “so that’ll change in a week or three.”
Arael nods here and there as Lanisen explains, and she probably appears to understand rather more than girls are wont to. “The deer hunt is what they like about here, then?”
Lanisen shrugs a bit, rubbing the back of his neck. “Never been on a hunt, but that’s usually what they come back with, so… foxes, too, sometimes, lots of rabbits. And bears or boars when they get troublesome.”
Arael nods. “We’d a bit of trouble with bears north of Carmichael–near that pool where the fishing’s best–a summer or two back.”
Lanisen raises his eyebrows. “Yeah? What happened?”
Arael says, “Lord Ast took a hunting party out to bring some of them in.” She purses her lips, considering, then shrugs. “I’ve not heard of any trouble since, but I don’t get up there so much as I used to.”
Lanisen nods. “’S good. Did the bears attack somebody or somethin’?”
Arael shakes her head. “Nay. The way I heard it, there was a traveler up on the trails who’d a bit of a scare, and word got about while he was staying at the inn.” She raises a curious eyebrow and gestures vaguely westward. “Have these ones set on anyone of late?”
Lanisen follows the gesture with a glance toward the gates. “Not that I’ve heard, not lately anyway. Not that I hear a lot, but… they ain’t brought in any since I been here.”
Arael nods her understanding. She also glances absently in the direction that Lanisen does, but instead of turning right back about after glimpsing the gates, she frowns a little.
Lanisen follows her glance to see what has caught her attention. “Gotta get back to your cousin?” he guesses.
Arael wrinkles her nose faintly, and she nods as she looks back at Lanisen. “Aye.” She taps the basket with her toe, grinning wryly. “I’ve got the supper bread with me.”
Lanisen ahs and shifts a bit, glancing down. “Yeah, better hurry with that.” He hesitates for a moment. “’S good to see you.”
Arael smiles warmly at him as she bends down to pick up the basket again. “Aye, that’s so,” she agrees without hesitation. “I’m glad to know you’re well. Mayhap I’ll be seeing you again while I’m here?”
Lanisen hesitates again, shock and wary suspicion visible for a moment before it is replaced by poorly-concealed (and no less stunned) wonder at Arael’s evident sincerity. “Maybe so?”
Arael gives a firm nod. “Good.” She smiles cheerily and loops her arm through the handle of the basket. “G’night, then, Lanny. Be well.”
Lanisen replies, “’Night, Ara. You too.”
Arael nods once more, then turns and makes her way toward the gate. Once she’s reached it, she looks back over her shoulder with a wave before stepping into the gatehouse.
Lanisen raises a hand and returns the wave uncertainly. Once she’s out of sight, he shakes his head, grins, and ducks into the kennel building.