Lanisen is in one of the stalls farther back in the stable, meticulously grooming a massive black stallion. The horse stands calmly, eyes half closed, enjoying the attention.
Arael comes in from the outer ward with a basket slung over her arm. She glances about, then makes her way toward one of the occupied stalls.
Lanisen, apparently quite at his ease with the horse, is whistling tunelessly as he brushes, only breaking off when the horse cranes his neck around to lip at his sleeve. “Nothin’ there, old fellow, sorry,” he says apologetically to the stallion. “Bring you somethin’ later.” He is absorbed with his task and oblivious to goings-on outside the stall.
Arael grins as the mare she’s approaching whinnies in greeting. She pats her on the nose and giggles quietly at the nudge she’s given, then bends to set her basket on a nearby bale of hay. As she’s straightening, she pauses and glances distractedly off to the side, apparently looking for the source of the voice.
Lanisen edges around the stallion to get to his other side, sending a glance across the aisle to the whinnying mare. “Ara!” he says in surprise.
Arael’s eyes find Lanisen, and she flashes a bright, surprised grin and takes a few steps in his direction. “G’day, Lanny!”
Lanisen leaves off brushing for the moment and approaches the stall door. “‘Lo. Didn’t expect to see you here.” He glances quizzically at the mare she was visiting.
Arael follows his gaze over her shoulder, then grins and continues moving toward the other side of the stall door. “That’s Lady Honour’s mare, Venia. She said I might visit her here sometimes.”
Lanisen ohs in comprehension. “Venia? That’s pretty.” He folds his arms on top of the stall door and leans out a bit to get a better look at her. Pelrith nudges him in the back and he uffs.
Arael nods. “Aye, that she is.” She looks up and grins at the stallion. “And who’s this one?”
Lanisen answers, “Pelrith. He’s–” he pauses and ducks his head, giving an embarrassed grin. “He’s one of ’em they use to teach people to ride. I rode him to Carmichael, so…” He shrugs and moves to one side to give the stallion room to lean over the door and blow questioningly at Ara. “Don’t mind him, he’s just lookin’ for sugar.”
Arael glances between Lanisen and Pelrith as Lanisen explains, then grins and extends her hand for the stallion’s inspection. “Aye, always are.” She looks curiously back at Lanisen after a moment. “You went back to Carmichael?”
Lanisen pauses, watching Pelrith whuffle at her empty hand, then withdraw with a disgusted toss of his mane. “Yeah,” he says simply.
Arael snickers a little at Pelrith, then pulls her hand back and wipes it on her sleeve. “Was everyone well?” she asks lightly, eyes focused on her messy hand.
Lanisen hesitates again. “Assume so.”
Arael glances up at him for a moment, then just nods. Shrugging one shoulder in Pelrith’s direction, she asks, “When did you get back?”
Lanisen says, “Just yesterday. Still sore.”
Arael chuckles and nods. “Aye, that’s quite a ride.”
Lanisen grimaces ruefully. “Uh-huh. Lord Dar doesn’t like to stop.” He pauses, then adds, “I’m glad he doesn’t, but still.”
Arael snorts. “Aye, that’s /quite/ a ride, then. I’ve never heard of doing it without stopping.”
Lanisen says darkly, “Me neither.” Pelrith nudges him insistently in the shoulder, throwing him off balance, and he grumbles under his breath, rubbing behind the horse’s ears to appease him.
Arael laughs merrily at Lanisen’s words, and then again at Pelrith’s antics. She’s quiet for half a moment, then tilts her head as if she’s had a new thought. “Say, how are those new pups you mentioned? The greyhounds?”
Lanisen brightens, eyes abruptly sparkling with enthusiasm. “I haven’t been to check! She hadn’t had ’em yet when we left.”
Arael grins. “I’ll wager she has by now, then.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah, she was about ready to pop last time I checked on her. S’pose they’ve got their eyes open yet?”
Arael tilts her head a little to the side. “Could be, I’d think.” She grins broadly, eyes twinkling in excitement. “Shall we go and see?”
Lanisen is already opening the stall door to join her, but a snort from Pelrith makes him stop. “I’m /almost/ done here,” he says. “Go ahead, if you want. I’ll be over in a minute.”
Arael takes a step backward. Nodding toward Venia’s stall, she says, “I’ve a carrot I’ll give her while you finish.” Grinning ruefully, she adds, “I’ve a notion I might get lost if I tried to find my way there this time of day.”
Lanisen snorts in amusement and returns to brushing Pelrith’s coat. Having been mostly-done already, this doesn’t take him long. He circles the big stallion without fear, touching gently above each hoof to make him pick up his feet, checking for gravel or mud. Finally, he straightens, lets himself out, and strokes down the length of Pelrith’s face a couple times. “All right.”
Arael has, meanwhile, made her way back to Venia’s stall and fed her a few pieces of carrot, stroking her neck and speaking softly to her. When Lanisen speaks again, she gives one last pat, scoops up her basket, and turns toward him with an eager expression.
Lanisen fairly beams in reply and all but bounds for the door, looking, for once, like the 17-year-old kid he is.
Arael giggles a little and scurries after him with her basket swinging rather crazily from her arm.
Lanisen bursts in through the door, almost forgetting to hold it open for Arael. He remembers at the last second and catches it before it swings back. “They’ll be upstairs,” he says breathlessly, nodding to the steps at the far end of the room. “Whelpin’ box is up there.”
Arael slips through the door behind him, grinning broadly. She nods her understanding and takes an eager step or two toward the staircase.
Lanisen takes the stairs two at a time, only slowing near the top to avoid scaring anybody.
Arael scrambles quickly up after him.
Lanisen approaches the whelping box, circling around it at a distance of six feet or so. He glances over at Arael, grinning silently. Obviously, there’s puppies in the box. He approaches and drops to his knees, already talking in quiet tones to the mother. “Hey, Meggie,” he says softly. “Oh, look at you, look what you did. That’s a girl. That’s a good girl.”
Arael grins as she watches Lanisen’s approach. She rises up on her toes, craning her neck to see better, then approaches softly and stops again about a foot away from the box.
Lanisen reaches in slowly and rubs the mother’s ears, then shifts to the pups. There are four, three brown and one pale silver, sleeping in tiny pudgy heaps and sheltered by Meggie’s body, curled protectively around them. Lanisen reaches down and gently lifts the silver one – it can almost fit in the palm of his hand. He holds it for a moment, grinning ear-to-ear in silent elation, then offers it to Arael.
Arael beams excitedly and kneels down beside the box, reaching carefully out with both hands to take the puppy from him.
Lanisen transfers the pup to Arael’s hands with the utmost care. The other three begin to stir, wiggling closer to their mother to suckle. One’s eyes are barely open, but the others are still blind.
Arael cradles it gently in her hands and lifts it up so it’s near her face. She watches it with a wide–but slightly awed–smile.
The door can be heard opening at the bottom of the stairs. A piercing whistle splits the air and a split second later the ruckus from the older litter of pups sounds. A familiar sounding bellow erupts as the culprit is tackled below.
Lanisen raises his head, his eyebrows shooting up. He glances at Arael, already smirking.
Arael looks up at Lanisen with a puzzled expression. When she sees his smirk, one corner of her mouth quirks up in amusement and she raises her eyebrows, turning to look over her shoulder toward the stairs.
Lanisen hops up and strides toward the stairs. At the top, he tilts his head slightly and calls down innocently, “Havin’ trouble, sir?”
A voice grumbles in response. “Don’t you ‘sir’ me. Help!”
Lanisen grins, glancing over at Arael conspiratorially before calling, “Ain’t sure what your problem is, sir. /We/ got through all right. You must smell like liver or somethin’.”
Arael watches Lanisen with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. At this last comment, she begins giggling softly.
The voice replies sternly. “Lanisen.”
Lanisen snickers, but trudges down the stairs obediently. Sort of. He doesn’t exactly hurry.
Grunts and hollers are heard as the owner of the voice attempts to extract himself. “Be nice if you got here before tomorrow’s breakfast!”
Lanisen strolls down the stairs and toward the knight.
Arael listens for a moment, then looks down at the pup in her hands with her eyebrows raised, as if it might tell her what’s going on. After a moment, she looks back up at the stairs, then gets to her feet and steps lightly over to the top of them, still cradling the pup in her hands. She peers curiously down into the room below.
Colin is trapped at the bottom of the stairs by a mass of puppies. One has taken ahold of his boot and is tugging on it, throwing him slightly off balance. He grabs onto the railing, holding on for dear life. He gives Lanisen a Look. “Help.”
Lanisen hoots with laughter. “Tell’em to leave it,” he suggests. “Might remember for next time if you tell ’em.”
Colin takes his suggestion and hollers. “Leave it!” The pup looks at him, surprised and almost seems to be asking if he’s sure.
Arael stands where she is and watches the scene from over the railing. She frowns a little, looking puzzled, as she spots Colin with Lanisen at the foot of the stairs, but her lips still quirk now and again in an expression of amusement.
Lanisen adds his own authoritative, “Go on,” and the pups scurry off on their own business. Puck, however, scrambles up the stairs, obviously expecting Colin to follow.
Colin scrambles up the stairs as fast as his legs will take him, almost squishing Lanisen in the process as he shoves past. Puck, having grown bored in the 0.3 seconds his lazy master has wasted, immediately starts sniffing and circling Arael, barking enthusiastically at her in greeting. Colin is looking over his shoulder and doesn’t notice who’s at the top of the stairs yet.
Lanisen protests loudly and follows him up.
Arael raises her eyebrows in surprise as the hound comes barreling toward her. She makes to step backward so that she’s out of his way, but hesitates as he slows. She laughs merrily in response to his greeting, but holds the pup in her hands well up and out of leaping range.
Colin’s head whips around at the sound of the laugh and he stops abruptly.
Arael’s attention is still focused on the lively pup at her feet. “Well, g’day to you,” she responds, still laughing a little.
Lanisen misses the fact that Colin has stopped and barrels into him.
Colin stumbles forward, propeled by Lanisen. He puts on the brakes and stops a few awkward (and close) inches from barreling Arael over as well. “Morning!” He says cheerily, skirting to the side to get out of personal bubble space.
Lanisen yelps, windmills at the top of the stairs, and rights himself.
Arael looks up at the sound of the collision. Her startled gaze darts between them until they’ve both gotten their feet under them. She raises her eyebrows and smirks a little, eyes twinkling. “Well now, g’day.”
Lanisen thumps Colin soundly on the shoulder. “Tryin’ to kill me?”
Colin gives a pained grunt. “Hey, watch it.” He moves to a safe distance from Lanisen, glancing at Arael. To anyone who knows him very well (i.e. Lanisen) he appears more jittery than is normal. “What brings you here today?”
Lanisen’s eyebrows shoot up at the grunt. He frowns slightly, confused, and surveys Colin somewhat uneasily.
Arael glances between the two a few more times, still looking rather bewildered, then nods toward the puppy she still cradles in her hands.
Colin grins and reaches out to scritch the pup. He catches Lanisen’s look and stops, confused. “What’s the matter with you?”
Lanisen replies, bewildered, “Nothin’! What’s the matter with /you/?”
Arael follows Colin’s hand with her eyes, then returns to studying the two of them, still quiet and still clearly confused.
Colin answers a little defensively. “Nothing. Sore shoulder.” he starts to say something else before Puck attacks his boot and he rolls his eyes, dropping to the floor and sitting with a sigh to give Puck some much-needed attention. “Yes, I missed you too.”
Lanisen asks, “What’d you do to it?” He pauses, studies Colin for a moment. “You ain’t lookin’ so good, actually. You all right, sir?”
Arael frowns at this observation and looks a little more closely at Colin.
Colin opens his mouth to respond just as his face is Puck-attacked. “Ackpth!” He shoves the pup’s head away. “No tonging the master!” He scrambles to his feet quickly and suddenly throws his arms out to the side as his balance goes slightly awry. “Whoa…since when has this floor been tilted?”
Lanisen jumps forward to steady him. “It ain’t tilted. What did you do?”
Arael blinks and furrows her brow softly, looking concerned.
Colin stands straight, his arms still out slightly just in case. “I’m fine, I’m fine.”
Lanisen keeps close, ready to catch him if he starts wobbling again. “Sir,” he says reprovingly.
Arael watches quietly for a few more beats, then grins crookedly. “Seems dogs quite like gnawing on you no matter where you are,” she teases a little uncertainly.
Colin returns the grin, looking off-balanced again in more ways than one. “What can I say? They love me.”
Lanisen glances back at Arael. “You know each other?” he asks with interest.
Arael grins in response to Colin, then glances at Lanisen and nods after just a moment’s hesitation.
Colin chuckles. “Slightly.”
Arael glances between Colin and Lanisen again. “And /you/ two know each other?” she asks with another amused quirk of her lips.
Colin glances slyly at Lanisen. “I’ve seen him around.”
Lanisen considers Colin. “Bumped into him a couple times.” He glances at Arael and adds sotto voce, “He’s clumsy like that sometimes.”
Colin’s fist pops out and smacks Lanisen’s shoulder.
Arael giggles and nods, opening her mouth to respond, before closing it again and blinking.
Lanisen yelps and ducks away, though after a quick checking glance at Colin he seems unbothered. He straightens, then shrugs and explains matter-of-factly, “Sir Colin’s the one who brought me in. Owe him a lot.”
Colin chuckles and folds his arms across his chest. “And don’t you ever forget it, lad.” He admonishes sternly, a twinkle in his eye.
Lanisen grins up at him sidelong and doesn’t reply.
Arael grins in amusement at Lanisen, then blinks. Her eyes widen and snap to Colin. She blinks again, then darts her eyes between the two of them once more.
Colin quirks an eyebrow at her strange reaction. “Something the matter, Arael?”
Arael blinks, swallows, and blinks again. “/Sir/ Colin,” she repeats, sounding a bit weak.
Lanisen glances from Arael to Colin, frowning in confusion.
Colin’s eyebrow goes a little higher. “…Yes? That’s what they call me…” Suddenly the other eyebrow shoots up and joins the other.
Arael takes a deep breath and nods three times. “Oh.”
Lanisen begins to figure things out. He gives Colin a rather incredulous look.
Colin looks slightly as if someone’s punched him in the stomach. “You…didn’t know that?”
Arael shakes her head, looking quite sheepish. “Nay?”
Colin hehs. “…Oh.” He runs a hand through his hair and glances helplessly at Lanisen.
Arael closes her eyes and shakes her head a few times, then peeks up at him with a chagrined expression. “I… sorry?”
Colin blinks at her expression and very nearly falls all over himself. “No! It’s not your fault! You didn’t know! And I should have guessed since you’re not from this area and I’m sure the hunter garb and bear chasings didn’t help at ALL but I did not do it deliberately.” His expression has a glint of borderline FRANTIC.
Lanisen makes an odd snorting noise.
Colin shoots Lanisen a Look to outdo all Looks.
Arael gives a rueful little grin, and when he mentions the bear, she lets out a rather hysterical giggle.
Lanisen chokes on a snort at Colin’s look and ends up snorting more. He rubs his upper lip in a vain attempt to hide how very close to completely losing it he is.
Colin’s gaze returns to Arael and he looks very confused at her laughter. “…I suppose I can understand why you’d find it funny?” He offers weakly.
Arael shakes her head again, looking at a loss. She manages in a rather helpless tone, “The bears… and… I /did/ think you were a hunter.” She grimaces sheepishly.
Lanisen coughs and asks, “Bears?”
Colin hehs. “Bear tried to eat us.” he says dismissively. “If it makes you feel any better, I hunt? A lot?”
Arael glances at Lanisen, then back at Colin, and nods vaguely. She still looks rather flustered.
Lanisen coughs and snorts again, shakes his head, and pats Colin on the (uninjured) shoulder. Addressing Arael, he says, “Don’t worry, ‘fore I knew he was noble I broke his nose.”
Colin nods his head in agreement. “Can’t get much worse than that!”
Arael gives an incredulous laugh, looking back and forth between the two of them.
Colin grins, encouraged by her laugh. “No really, he did. Look.” He turns his head to the side and runs a forefinger down the profile of his nose. “See the little ridge? Lanisen.”
Lanisen shrugs, looking faintly uncomfortable.
Arael giggles, rising up on her toes to get a better look at the spot. With a glance at Lanisen, she remarks lightly, “Wish you could’ve gotten one of those in on Wallen sometime.”
Lanisen glances at her, briefly thrown, then snorts and raises his eyebrows. “Heh.”
Colin raises an eyebrow. “Wallen. Friend of yours?” He quips.
Arael snorts and shakes her head. “He was too big to be friends with much of anyone, I think.”
Lanisen says, eyeing the ground, “‘Bout covers it.”
Colin snorts quietly. “Sounds like a charming fellow.”
Arael gives a lopsided smile and nods. “Aye.”
Lanisen grimaces slightly and doesn’t elaborate either.
Colin raises an eyebrow.
Arael just shrugs a little with a rather apologetic look and turns her attention back to the tiny ball of silvery fur in her hands.
Lanisen drops to give some attention to Puck.
Colin glances between the two, obviously unsure of where to go from here.
Arael peers contemplatively at the sleeping pup.
Lanisen straightens from pestering Puck, looking at Colin. “So what was all the–” He staggers drunkenly a few steps, his arms flung out in clear imitation of Colin’s earlier dizzy spell.
Colin raises both eyebrows. “What?”
Lanisen says dryly, “You wobbled, sir.”
Arael chuckles softly, but keeps her eyes on the pup she’s holding.
Colin retorts, “Am I not allowed to wobble?”
Lanisen says bluntly, “No. ‘Specially not at the top of the stairs.”
Arael’s eyes twinkle in amusement, and she raises her brows at the pup, as if asking its opinion on the matter.
Colin snorts. “Hmph. When did you become the boss around here?” He jokes, evading the question.
Lanisen frowns at him, unimpressed by the jokes, and crosses his arms. “You sick?”
Colin sighs quietly. “No. I was just knocked around a little.” He says vaguely.
Arael pauses and looks up at Colin, tilting head to the side and looking rather curious.
Lanisen repeats, “/Knocked around/?”
Colin makes his way over to the welping box, patting Meggie on the head and taking a pup of his own to hold and focus on. “It’s nothing. I just…hit my head on one of the stone benches in the knight’s practice room a couple weeks ago…” he speaks offhandedly.
Lanisen watches him, taking note of any stiffness of movement not normally there. “You hit your head a couple weeks ago and you’re still wobblin’?”
Arael frowns faintly, glancing from Colin to Lanisen and back again.
Colin raises an eyebrow at him. “Adrian’s been force-feeding me all kinds of stuff for the past fourteen days, Lanisen.” He says, as if that’d explain it.
Lanisen says nothing for a moment, a crease between his eyebrows. “How’d you hit your head?”
Arael purses her lips thoughtfully, looking confused.
Colin shrugs. “I was training. And sparring.” He strokes the sleepy pup’s back.
Lanien asks, “But you’re ok?” He studies his friend, still frowning slightly with worry.
Colin nods. “Of course! Don’t I look all right?” He beams a big grin for emphasis.
Arael giggles, shaking her head and turning her attention back to the pup with a look that says she’s quite given up on trying to understand the exchange.
Colin asks him dryly, “Do I need to do handstands to make you happy?”
Lanisen scratches his head and raises one eyebrow in a well-yes sort of way.
Arael giggles again–under her breath this time–and turns to wander back toward the whelping box.
Colin says – almost sternly -, “Lanisen. I’m fine.”
Lanisen scowls at the ground and looks ever-so-convinced, but he drops it.
Arael kneels beside the box and nestles the she-pup in beside her mother and brothers, then sits back on her heels and props her chin on the edge of the box to watch.
Colin falls silent, examining his pup. He glances over at Arael and watches her for a moment.
Lanisen lowers himself stiffly to the floor on the other side of the whelping box, wincing slightly. He reaches an arm over the side and absently rubs Meggie’s ears.
Arael glances across the box at Lanisen with an absent smile, then sits back and gets to her feet. Looking up at Colin, then back at Lanisen, she straightens her skirt a little and says, “I ought to be getting back.”
Colin glances at her again. “How is your cousin faring?”
Lanisen glances up as well, still idly stroking silky fur.
Arael looks back up at him, breaking into a broad grin. “Quite on the mend, I think.”
Colin blinks and stares for a few seconds too long, looking oddly dazed for a moment before he nods and gives a crooked grin. “I’m glad to hear it.”
Lanisen’s eyes shift from Arael’s expression to Colin’s and back. An amused smirk makes a brief appearance, but he keeps his observations to himself.
Arael chuckles and nods, bending to take up her discarded basket. “Aye, so’s she.”
Colin asks her, “How are the boys doing?”
Arael gives a knowing little giggle and straightens. “Quite beside themselves these last few days.”
Lanisen frowns and asks in confusion, “How come?”
Colin starts to speak, then stops and jerks his thumb towards Lanisen. “What he said.”
Arael laughs lightly. “I think they’ve got the idea that sisters disappear if you look away for half a moment. I’ve not been able to get them out of the house for more than a quarter hour now and again.”
Lanisen blinks and asks intelligently, “Huh?”
Colin looks equally confused. “I didn’t know the boys had a sister…”
Arael grins broadly. “Aye, three days old.”
Colin snorts as understanding and embarrassment dawn on his face. “Oh. Right.”
Arael chuckles and looks down at where her hands grasp the handle of her basket. After a moment, she shrugs lightly and looks back up. “I should go see that they’re not driving Laya mad.”
Lanisen asks, disappointed, “You’re leavin’?”
Colin says nothing, waiting with bated breath to hear her response.
Arael laughs and nods. “Aye. I don’t think Meggie should like the help quite so much.”
Lanisen protests, “She don’t mind.”
Colin presses his lips together a moment and speaks with a slightly amused tone. “Aye, and neither do we. We’d enjoy your company.”
Arael chuckles and gives a goodnatured shake of her head. “Mayhap I could come back another time, but I can’t very well get supper if I’m here.”
Colin nods his head in affirmation. “This is true.”
Lanisen heaves a sigh and stands. “Glad you came anyway,” he offers.
Arael grins at him and nods. “Aye, and so am I.” She nods toward Meggie and the pups. “Thanks for showing me, Lanny. Reminds me of home.”
Colin watches her. “Perhaps you’ll return? Watch them get bigger? It happens quickly. The boy’s would love to see them too I’m sure.”
Lanisen adds an enthusiastic nod to Colin’s suggestion.
Arael grins her thanks. “Aye, no doubt ‘twould be able to tear them away if anything could.”
Colin grins. “They wouldn’t be able to decide where to be.”
Lanisen snickers under his breath.
Arael giggles and nods. “‘Twill be quite something to see.”
Colin grins crookedly. “I’ll look forward to seeing that.”
Lanisen glances at Colin again, then ducks his head and rubs his nose to hide a smirk.
Arael chuckles and nods again. She curtsies to Colin, then looks toward Lanisen with a grin that turns a little puzzled. “G’day, then.”
Lanisen’s smirk is abruptly gone and he’s all innocence. “G’day, Ara.”
Colin looks slightly off kilter himself. “Good day, Arael.”
Arael smiles crookedly and nods again, then moves toward the stairs.
Lanisen plops back down next to the whelping box and smirks more openly, but says nothing while she’s still in earshot.
Colin watches her a moment then says, “If there’s anything to be done at your cottage…or in any of Zuiden for that matter, let us know.”
Arael turns back toward him at the top of the stairs. She looks a little surprised, but she smiles and nods once. “If you’d like.”
Colin raises an eyebrow at her and merely chuckles.
Lanisen scoops one of the other pups from the box and watches the conversation with a wryly amused eyebrow raised.
Arael frowns faintly in confusion, but gives an amused smile. She lifts her hand in a little wave and drops another quick curtsey, then turns back toward the stairs.
Colin catches hold of Puck so he doesn’t follow Arael.
Arael trips lightly down the staircase into the room below.
Lanisen waits until the sound of her departure has quite faded, then dissolves into snickers. “Oh, well done.”
Colin blinks and looks at Lanisen in confusion. “What do you mean?”
Lanisen snickers more. “Sure couldn’t say, sir.”
Colin arches an eyebrow. “SOmething seems to be eating you.”
Lanisen coughs. “Ain’t eatin’ /me/, sir.”
Colin looks irritated. “What on earth are you on about?”
Lanisen just shakes his head. “Hidin’ the fact that you’re rich ‘n titled ‘n all that stuff /ain’t/ the way to get the girl,” he says, trying to sound all stern and reproving.
Colin blinks twice before he starts stuttering in horrified protest. “I Did NOT do it deliberately!”
Lanisen cracks up. He says, straight-faced, “‘S all right in that case. Guess you did have the right idea. Hafta work on actual execution, but…”
Colin’s mouth works like a fish for a second or two. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. She knew! Or I thought she did. Everyone knows who I am, I just assumed she did to!”
Lanisen smacks his forehead, still chortling.
Colin can only stare at him.
Lanisen coughs and quits his snickering. He raises his eyebrows and grins, the expression a total caricature of innocence.
Colin looks frustrated. “I can’t believe you’d actually think that of me.”
Lanisen starts laughing again. “I’m just sayin’, sir! Can’t believe you forgot to mention that little detail.”
Colin protests. “It’s not something you generally say! Hello, I’m Colin. I’m a knight. Everyone always knows that! It’s a pointless detail.”
Lanisen snickers. “Yeah, but it don’t hurt to be sure. Girls tend to be impressed by that sorta thing.”
Colin thrusts an annoyed fist harmlessly through the air. “I don’t WANT to impress girls!”
Lanisen says mischievously, “Just one then, aye?”
Colin says evenly, “No.”
Lanisen waits a minute. “Still think you shoulda told her.”
Colin says, “Shut up, Lanisen.”
Lanisen mutters. He keeps quiet for all of two minutes before asking, “So you gonna court her?”
Colin is silent for several long moments. It looks as if he won’t even respond when he does. “It wouldn’t be allowed.”
Lanisen blinks, raising his head slightly. “Why not?”
Colin hehs quietly. “Ever heard of Lord Drent and Lady Estelle? Or Lord Astor and Simetra?”
Lanisen frowns. “Worked out all right for them, didn’t it? Lady Rosalind and Lord Barron too.”
Colin nods. “To general observers, yes.”
Colin continues, his tone sober. “Marriage across the classes is frowned upon. Why I don’t know. I can understand why ridiculous people made up these unofficial rules and sometimes I agree with them but when people across the classes find each other and attempt to join forces, people can be downright cruel and fight against it. Not that it’s any of their business, but it’s not ‘normal’ to them. Things that are unusual frighten the masses and they lash out at the perpetrators because somehow, someone made up rules that we’re supposed to follow.”
Colin suddenly adds, rather harshly, “And damned is the fool who steps out of line!”
Lanisen is quiet, all trace of his teasing gone, and a little wide-eyed.
Colin is silent for a minute before he speaks again. “It’s not officially spoken of, but Lady Estelle was made miserable by the new duties she had to perform, the restraints placed upon her. It broke her. It still seems to affect her children somewhat. Astor…has always been lost, no matter where he is. Lady Astera… I sense this fear in her, of not fulfilling expectations. You’ve seen it some in Sir Tyren I’m sure. It is useful in some instances but can have a crippling effect if it gets out of hand…which I have seen.”
Colin continues. “Lord Barron and Lady Rosalind are the only ones who I’ve known who’ve ‘made it’.
Lanisen glances up at him. “Shouldn’t have said anything,” he says, genuinely and visibly remorseful. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Colin shakes his head. “Don’t apologize.” He falls quiet a moment. “I myself have nothing against crossing the classes to find a woman I feel not only would be good for the people I might someday have to take care of, one I could take care of, but who would put up with me for a lifetime. I have seen the ridiculousness of the girls of this court and it sickens me to think of taking one home to work with me as a helpmate. Some of them have never even heard the word.”
Lanisen rubs his neck, obviously not sure what to say.
Colin runs a hand through his hair, sighing. “I don’t even care what the courtiers say. But…I couldn’t put someone like Arael through that. It would be too cruel.” He looks at Lanisen, trying to see if he understands. Or if he thinks Colin is crazy.
Lanisen only nods quietly, glancing once up to Colin. There is a quality of somber heartfelt respect in his face, beyond the easy camaraderie there earlier.
Colin glances at his friend, then slowly leans against the wall and slides down to join Puck, who senses the somber mood and only half attacks him. “I…would appreciate it if you kept this between us.”
Lanisen straightens slightly. “‘Course, sir.”
Colin smiles slightly. “Thank you.”
Lanisen squirms a little. “Thanks for explainin’ it.”
Colin replies, “Thank you for understanding.”
Lanisen falls silent, reaching over the side of the whelping box to tickle one of the pups.
Colin watches him. “How many in this litter?”
Lanisen says, “Just four’s all. But they look healthy.”
Colin nods, scritching Puck’s ears.
Lanisen keeps quiet for several moments, keeping his eyes on the pup in the box. He shifts abruptly after some time and glances at Colin. “‘Dyou know it’s been a year?”
Colin looks at him. “A year since what?”
Lanisen all but rolls his eyes, but it’s an amiable sort of expression. “Think about it.”
Colin does think about it, looking confused until his expression changes and he goes, “…Oh.”
Lanisen grins, snickering through his nose at the progression of faces. “Uh-huh.”
Colin thinks about that a moment. “Quite a lot has happened since our first meeting, eh?” He says with a half-grin.
Lanisen chews his lip and frowns. “That rabbit,” he remembers.
Colin snorts. “Who knew what that rabbit was starting.”
Lanisen says, “Don’t think the rabbit.”
Colin chuckles. “Probably not.”
Lanisen says, “Pretty sure it woulda tried to arrange things differently if it did. Like, in a way where it didn’t end up dead.”
Colin snorts. “And eaten.”
Lanisen snickers. “That too, huh.”
Colin says, “I don’t even remember. Which one of us got it?”
Lanisen says, “You did. Skewered it.”
Colin chuckles. “Which one of us ate it?”
Lanisen pauses, thinking. “You did, pretty sure. But I think you tried to give me some of it?”
Colin shrugs. “I don’t remember.”
Lanisen shakes his head. “Me neither.” He pauses again, frowning.
Colin says, “I guess it’s not important.”
Lanisen says, “Guess not.”
Colin rubs Puck’s ears one last time before standing. “I should get back. Find something useful to do with myself.”
Lanisen snickers in a no-comment sort of way.
Colin raises his eyebrows at him. “Thanks.” He says dryly.
Lanisen raises his hands. “Didn’t say anything!”
Colin mock glares. “Didn’t have to.”
Lanisen says, “‘S ’cause I’m just that good.”
Colin eyes him. “You wish.”
Lanisen grins. “Ain’t nothin’ wishin’ about it,” he says, standing up and stretching languidly.
Colin says patiently, “Whatever you say, Lanisen.”
Lanisen bows smugly.
Colin cuffs him affectionately. “Behave yourself.”
Lanisen ows and straightens, laughing. “Always, sir.”
Colin looks stern. “I’ll never believe it.”
Lanisen rubs his head and raises his eyebrows, endeavoring to look like somebody who behaves himself frequently.
Colin snorts and heads for the stairs, Puck trailing him. “Good day, Lanisen.” He says, his voice taking on the stuffy, proper court tone.
Lanisen clacks his heels together and says, in the same proper tone, “Good day, sir!”
Colin’s laughter trails back up the stairs as he departs.