This room is rather more quiet and warm than the main kennel below it, the heat generated by the lower level rising to the top. Two or three dogs are nearly always present, catching a nap on top of the piles of folded blankets stored here, or taking advantage of the quiet to gnaw a bone in peace. The thatched roof slopes downward on the east and west sides of the room, giving the room a cozy, attic-like atmosphere, while a window overlooking the Outer Ward keeps it from feeling claustrophobic.
A set of stairs on the south end of the room leads back to the ground floor of the kennels.
Lanisen is sitting cross-legged on the floor, partially obscured by the courser in front of him. He has one of the dog’s hind legs in a secure grip and is gently working out a thorn from the pad of the foot. His fingers are bloody.
Arael pushes the door partway open and peeks in around it, then draws back for a moment. She can be heard hushing someone or other for a moment before the door opens fully and she steps in leading two tow-headed little boys, each of whom she is holding firmly by the hand.
It doesn’t take long for the roomful of hounds to figure out that there are Visitors. Every dog in the place seems to find it necessary to announce this fact, and a handful of mostly-grown harriers bound toward the newcomers, Puck in the lead. The dog in front of Lanisen lets out a whine and stares toward the door with his ears perked forward, but Lanisen grits his teeth and finally succeeds in digging out the deeply-buried chunk of thorn.
Arael’s eyes widen at the greeting, and as the pack of hounds draws near, she quickly scoops up the smaller of the two lads–who seems to be frozen in a wide-eyed attitude–into her arms, then rests one hand reassuringly on the older one’s shoulder.
The harriers content themselves with much sniffing of the new people, already well-mannered enough not to knock them over with the enthusiasm of their greeting. Not to say that they aren’t excited: one is so overcome with his feelings that he simply has to sit back and yammer about it for a bit. Lanisen glances up from his task, blinks, and hurries to wrap up the injured dog’s foot, already calling to the harriers to back off a bit from the guests.
Arael chuckles at the scene, then looks up and grins as Lanisen calls out. While he’s finishing, she leans over to speak to the older lad, then holds out her free hand for a few of the nosier dogs to sniff. He watches her, then copies the motion. The smaller lad continues to look on with his hands clapped over his ears.
Lanisen ties a rough bandage in place and releases the dog, scrambling up. He calls out an order for the hounds to quiet.
Arael giggles, surveying the newly quiet mass of hounds, then looking back up at Lanisen with a grin.
Lanisen grins lopsidedly back. “Sorry about that,” he says, ducking a shallow bow. “They get excited. Evenin’,” he adds, glancing at the younger two curiously.
Arael blinks in puzzled amusement at the bow, then seems to shrug it off. She nods back with a cheery, “G’deve, Lanny.” Looking between the two boys, she explains, “These are my cousins, Tad and Tadden.”
Lanisen ohs in comprehension. “‘Lo,” he greets them both, grinning, and reaches down to stop an inquisitive wolfhound from wandering closer to the significantly-smaller Tad.
Arael crouches down next to Tad and explains to the lads in a conspiratorial tone, “This here’s my friend Lanny, from back home. He can likely show you all about the pups here, if you like.” She glances back up at Lanisen, grinning.
Lanisen bends to nab an armful of squiggling pup and grins faintly in noncommittal response.
Arael chuckles a little in response, then reaches out to pacify one of the hounds with a few pats on the head. Tad studies her, then gives the dog’s head a few light pats of his own.
Lanisen, watching, offers, “That one’s Miflet. All airs’n graces ‘cept when there’s somethin’ new to bark at.”
Arael giggles and nods. “Good thing I just brought a few lads, and not squirrels, then.”
Lanisen snickers. “Whole castle’d know if it were squirrels.”
Arael snorts as she sets down a squirming Tadden. “Aye, and wouldn’t that be something to see.”
Lanisen chuckles, then turns abruptly toward a pained-sounding yelp from the back of the kennels. A boy some years younger than Lanisen is combing mud and twigs out of the coat of a tangly-looking deerhound. Lanisen watches a moment, looking ready to head back and take over, then sighs and turns away. “Uh. Yeah. It don’t take much for them to get all riled up. Lucky it don’t take much to distract ’em either.”
Arael studies him with a curious expression, then nods. “You still spend quite a bit of time here, then?” she asks, nodding vaguely toward where he was sitting when she came in.
Lanisen shrugs a bit and looks at the mostly-grown pup in his arms. “Better’n sittin’ in my room. They don’t really need me, but…”
Arael nods in understanding. “Seems they like having you about, though.”
Lanisen shrugs again and only says, “They’re used to me.” He doesn’t look at the other boy again.
Arael nods, watching carefully as Tadden wanders a little way off and begins patting the head of a dog that is lying on the ground.
The dog’s tail flips a couple of times against the ground and he plants a sloppy-doggy kiss on Tadden’s chin. Lanisen turns himself slightly to keep an eye on them as well. “You like hounds, Tad?”
Tad nods emphatically. “‘Mma hound some of the times. I go, ‘woof, woof!'” He barks rather impressively.
Tadden laughs gleefully in response to the slobbery kiss.
Lanisen nods gravely. “Just as good as the King’s hound, I’d say.”
Arael giggles quietly. “Aye, just so. You’ll be catching foxes with your bare paws sooner than later, I should think.”
Lanisen nods seriously again. “Wouldn’t much surprise me,” he agrees.
Tad beams and struts with pride as he approaches another of the hounds and begins peering curiously at its ear.
Arael smothers another giggle and turns her attention back toward Tadden. Catching sight of him, she raises her voice a little and calls toward him, “Don’t poke it, now, lad.”
Lanisen assures her quietly, “Pollum won’t hurt him. Ain’t nothin’ but a gentle ol’ soldier.”
Arael looks back at him with a grin. “Aye, but just the same, I’ve a notion a finger in the ear shouldn’t be too very nice.”
Lanisen winces a bit. “Good point.”
Arael chuckles and crouches down beside a tail-wagger lying nearby. With a glance back up at Lanisen, she asks, “What’s the news about the castle of late?”
Lanisen shrugs slightly and plops cross-legged on the other side of the dog. “Ain’t heard anything could rightly be called /news/,” he says, a little apologetically. “Cook’s soup scalded this mornin’?”
Arael laughs. “That can cause quite a stir, I’ve found.”
Lanisen says darkly, “You got no idea.”
Arael snorts and winces sympathetically.
Lanisen grins. “What about you? Anythin’ happenin’ in the town?”
Arael shrugs a little. “Getting ready for winter, mostly. We brought in the last of the garden vegetables this week.”
Lanisen nods, his expression very briefly wistful. “You got a big garden, then?”
Arael nods. “Here, they’ve one big one that we all help tend to.”
Lanisen nods. “Makes sense… one person gets ill an’ can’t pull the weeds for a week or two, the whole garden don’t go to waste.”
Arael grins impishly. “Aye, sick, or run off by a couple of wild cubs, like as not.” She nods vaguely in Tad’s direction.
Lanisen glances that way and ducks his head to snicker. “Bright lads,” he comments.
Arael snorts and rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “And quick on their feet, too.”
Lanisen snickers again. “Gotta be. ‘S part of the job of bein’ that size, pretty sure.”
Arael laughs. “Seems that’s so.”
Lanisen asks, “How’s their sister?”
Arael gives a broad smile. “Growing quite like a weed, and screaming loud enough to wake the dead.”
Lanisen grins. “Guess that’s a good sign, then.”
Arael grimaces playfully. “Aye, I’ve heard that.”
Lanisen glances at her sideways. “Guess it don’t really lend to sleepin’ good at night, huh? How’re you doin’?”
Arael chuckles and shrugs a little. “Well enough. Laya’s got quite a touch for hushing her and such.”
Lanisen grins. “‘S good, seein’ as…” He breaks off, then asks, “What’re you gonna do when… are you goin’ back to Carmichael once they’re all right without you?”
Arael nods, sitting back on her heels and brushing her hands off on her skirt. “Aye, if ’tisn’t too close to winter to be on the roads.”
Lanisen ohs. He glances down at the dog still sprawled in front of him and scritches its ears. “Think it will be?”
Arael furrows her brow thoughtfully and gives a little shrug. “I shouldn’t think Laya’d need me too much longer, but I couldn’t say much about the snow and such.”
Lanisen ohs again. He is quiet for a moment, then asks, “Anxious to get back?”
Arael smiles. “Aye.” She tilts her head a little to the side. “I find I’ll miss some of it, though.”
Lanisen glances at Tad and Tadden, playing with Pollum a little ways away. “Yeah?”
Arael follows his gaze and grins. “Aye. ‘Tis a bit like if I’d had brothers, I think.”
Lanisen chuckles under his breath. “Guess it would be,” he agrees.
Arael’s eyes twinkle. “Or mayhap like having pups,” she quips.
Lanisen snickers.”I think I see what you mean…”
Arael giggles and nods. “Yammering and muddy hair and all.”
Lanisen adds, “Beggin’ for food, trackin’ stuff everywhere… carryin’ in bugs…”
Arael snickers. “Getting out if you don’t pull the door to.”
Lanisen says, “Eatin’ all sorts of stuff they shouldn’t, gettin’ sick as a…” He pauses and scratches his head. “Oh, hm.”
Arael snorts and purses her lips thoughtfully for a moment before supplying impishly, “Barn cat who’s been grazing with the horses?”
Lanisen nods sagaciously. “That,” he says, “is /exactly/ what I was going to say.”
Arael giggles. “Aye, to be sure.”
Lanisen grins back and glances down at the dog, starting an impromptu tussling match, making good-natured grabs for the hound’s face. The dog rolls over onto its back, tail wagging furiously, and snaps at the air. Lanisen ruffles its fur and glances over at Tad and Tadden. “Looks like they’re enjoyin’ themselves,” he observes.
Arael grins as she watches first Lanisen, and then the lads. “Aye. I’m glad I brought them. To be sure they’ll not talk of anything else for days.”
Lanisen chuckles. “Really big hounds are more exciting than baby sister by now, huh?”
Arael laughs. “You can’t so much poke a baby sister, I think.”
Lanisen snorts! “Explains everything.”
Arael giggles and nods. “Aye, just so.” She glances idly around the room. After a few beats, she suddenly turns back toward Lanisen with a bit of a curious expression. “Say, has Sir Colin been about here much since last time I came?”
Lanisen’s expression abruptly drains of the easy merriment that has been present almost since Arael and her charges entered the room. He pauses, then says without intonation, “No, I ain’t seen him.”
Arael blinks a few times, looking rather surprised, then furrows her brow in confusion. “Did something happen?”
Lanisen is quiet for a long time. “No. Not– not really, no.”
Arael studies him, blinking a few more times for good measure. She nods slowly. “Are you all right?”
Lanisen glances up. “I’m fine, yeah. It ain’t– it’s fine.” He clears his throat slightly. “You ain’t seen him either?”
Arael shakes her head. “Nay.” She shrugs. “I figured he’d probably got a lot to do about here.”
Lanisen nods vaguely. “Guess so. Knight-ish things.” His forehead is wrinkled into a troubled frown.
Arael just nods, watching him with a concerned expression.
Lanisen shifts and shrugs. “He’ll prob’ly be around sooner or later. Think he likes hangin’ about in the town.”
Arael grins a little ruefully. “Aye, it seemed so. I’ve not quite figured why.”
Lanisen glances at her. Quite inexplicably, he snickers.
Arael raises her eyebrows at him, looking tentatively amused, but quite puzzled.
Lanisen masters himself quickly and glances around the place in a well-anyway sort of way, heaving a sigh.
Arael glances about, too, still looking puzzled, but then appears to shrug it off before peering over at Tad and Tadden again.
Lanisen rubs his forehead with the heel of one hand. “I oughta get back to the castle,” he says apologetically. “Early morning tomorrow.”
Arael chuckles softly and nods, getting to her feet. “Aye, of course. It’s a bit of a walk back to the village, too.”
Lanisen stands as well, stretching and yawning. “S’pose so. Bit more when you got tiny short dwarf-puppy legs, ‘m thinkin’.”
Arael giggles, moving toward Pollum and scooping up the smaller of the dwarf-puppy-legged creatures, who’s looking rather drowsy himself. “Aye, just so.”
Lanisen grins and rolls his shoulders to stretch them out. He steps to the door and opens it with an exaggerated and entirely ridiculous flourish, holding it open for Arael and Tad to pass through. “Gonna make it, carryin’ him?”
Arael laughs and reaches Tad’s hand, leading him toward the door. “Aye, we’ll manage well enough. He’s no heavier than a sack of flour, really.”
Lanisen says, making a show of squinting into Tadden’s face with a perplexed expression, “He don’t /look/ like a sack of flour. Maybe it’ll all come out if we turn ‘im upside down, think?”
Arael snickers and tickles Tadden’s side lightly. “To be sure I couldn’t say. Ought we to give it a try?”
Tadden squirms and squeals, “No! Nononoo!”
Lanisen grins. “Think we better. Only way to be sure ‘n certain, you know.”
Arael grins and grips the giggling Tadden securely, then tips over from the waist, drawing him along with her. She rights herself and peers intently at him. “Did it work, then?”
Lanisen says, “/I/ sure can’t tell. What do you think?”
Arael gives a few more experimental pokes before nodding in satisfaction. “Aye, quite a lot of flour lighter,” she declares firmly.
Lanisen chortles, watching. “Won’t be as hard to carry home, then, I guess.”
Arael laughs lightly and shakes her head, making her way into the doorway. “Nay, ’twill be just right.”
Lanisen grins. “‘S good. Wouldn’t want you to die of exhaustion along the way.”
Arael chuckles and shakes her head. “Nay. ‘Twould quite spoil the fun, I should think.”
Lanisen says, “Good a reason to avoid it as any, I s’pose.”
Arael laughs a little. “Aye, quite.”
Lanisen glances at Tad. “Oughta get your cousin to bring you back sometime, huh?”
Tad beams, bouncing a little and looking hopefully up at Arael.
Arael laughs merrily at Tad’s antics and nods. “Aye, of course we shall.”
Tad bounces more and beams back up at Lanisen.
Lanisen grins, satisfied. “Maybe next time the new pups’ll be big enough for you pups to meet ’em, huh?”
Tad gives Lanisen a wide-eyed look and confirms in a serious tone, “More pups?”
Tadden squirms eagerly from his place on Arael’s hip.
Arael grins in amusement, looking from Lanisen to Tad and back.
Lanisen realizes his mistake and grimaces apologetically at Arael. “Yeahh, there’s more pups. But they’re just little, smaller’n your baby sister, prob’ly. Barely got their eyes open. But maybe next time you come around they’ll be big enough to play, ‘k?”
Tad nods gravely.
Arael chuckles quietly and adds, “Aye, the bigger pups will likely be better fun to play with just now. We’ll wait quite nicely for the little ones to get bigger.”
Lanisen grins. “An’ mind you don’t let her forget,” he instructs Tad seriously.
Tad puffs his chest out with importance. “A’right.”
Arael grins, stifling a snicker.
Lanisen offers his hand gravely for Tad to shake.
Tad takes it and gives a few deliberate shakes.
Lanisen nods with the utmost solemnity and turns to Arael. “Officially a matter of honor now. You gotta come back.”
Arael’s eyes twinkle, but she nods in a sedate manner. “Aye, we surely shall.”
Lanisen grins and nods once decidedly. “Well then.”
Arael chuckles and nods. “Aye, we’ll be seeing you soon, then.”
Lanisen follows them out and closes the door behind them to prevent any ambitious hounds escaping to seek their fortunes. “Guess so,” he says, grinning, then glances toward the inner gates, his grin faltering a bit.
Arael moves to the side of the doorway. She frowns faintly in response to Lanisen’s expression. “Afraid the cook’s still in a huff over the soup, are you?” she asks in a teasing tone.
Lanisen glances at her, taking a minute to figure out what she’s talking about. He snorts softly and grins again, though it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Don’t underestimate a cook in a huff.”
Arael smiles sympathetically, then grimaces and shudders dramatically. “Nay, never.”
Lanisen chuckles and rubs his forehead, nodding toward the castle. “I better get. G’night, Ara, Tad, flour-sack.”
Tadden giggles and chimes, “G’night!” Tad echoes him energetically.
Arael lifts her hand in a little wave and takes a step backward, smiling. “G’deve, Lanny.”
Lanisen does as well, repeating, “‘Night!” He turns, waving, and trudges toward the inner gate.
Arael watches him go with a sympathetic expression, then turns and heads toward the outer gate, swinging Tad’s hand playfully between them.
Lanisen pauses at the inner gate, searching the traffic for another glimpse of the little crew. As they disappear, he sighs and passes wearily through the gate.