Colin clambers down the stairs from the attic, clearly having been up there searching for something. A grown Puck is close on his heels. “Lanisen!” He calls out again.
Lanisen kicks the door open and backs in, arms full of the butcher’s order for the hounds. “Door!” he yells toward the stairs.
Colin jumps down the last three steps easily and lands on the ground with a thump. “Where’ve you been?”
Lanisen says, bewildered, “Butcher’s? Where’ve /you/ been, I ain’t seen you for weeks!”
Colin grins at him. “Miss me?”
Lanisen says, “Like a dog misses fleas, sure.” He grins and ducks an awkward bow, still juggling the hounds’ food. “Where you been, sir?”
Colin grabs some of the food to help. “Coghill and Lancelyn Green mostly the past couple of weeks.”
Lanisen shifts the remainder gratefully and nods with his chin toward the table in the back. A few hounds are already starting to mill around, politely interested in the packages of meat. “Yeah? What’s goin’ on there?”
Colin heads for the indicated table, grabbing slipping packages as they go. “Well, in Lancelyn Green, a couple of the townsfolks kept having some chickens go missing. In Coghill, I needed to stop to talk to Lord Dar a couple times about important things.”
Lanisen snorts. “Chickens, huh. You on fox patrol this week?”
Colin piles the packages on the table. “Wasn’t a fox.”
Colin amends, “This time.”
Lanisen asks, “Weasel? Marten?”
Colin grabs more packages from Lanisen’s arms, trying to make a neat pile on the table. “Nope. Human.”
Lanisen says, “Huh.” He glances wryly at the pile and apologetically unstacks them again so he can start the work of portioning them out for the dogs. “How’d that turn out?”
Colin watches him destroy his nice neat pile and shrugs. “Once I figured out who it was, we had him pay for the chickens.”
Lanisen glances at him, unwrapping one of the packages. “Yeah?”
Colin tries to be helpful, handing Lanisen packages. “He didn’t have a lot of money, so we were able to work something out. He now has a job with a few duties to pay back what the chickens are worth, as well as keep himself fed.”
Lanisen looks impressed. “How old a fellow?” he wants to know.
Colin squints as he tries to figure. “At least twice my age…it looks like he fell on some hard times the past couple of years.”
Lanisen blinks. “Huh.”
Colin nods, handing him another package. “So. You. How’ve you been?” He looks Lanisen over appraisingly.
Lanisen shrugs, turning away. “Fine? Same old. You know.” He sets out the long trays that serve as a food dish for about ten hounds at once and starts dropping slimy cuts of raw meat into them at evenly spaced intervals. The hounds in the room immediately converge.
Colin dodges a few extra eager dogs. Puck quivers at his side, looking at Colin pleadingly. Colin glances at the hound skeptically and looks at Lanisen. “This his feeding time too?”
Lanisen glances over. “Oh lion. Yeah, ‘course, it’s everybody soon as I get the troughs filled. He don’t gotta wait.”
Colin pushes at Puck’s shoulders to give him permission and the dog vanishes from his side. “Thanks for looking after him while I’ve been gone.”
Lanisen says, a little wryly, “‘S my job, you don’t gotta say thank you every single time.”
Colin shrugs. “Still though. I know you treat him special.”
Lanisen does not confirm or deny this statement. He fills the rest of the troughs and whistles sharply toward the back door.
Colin chuckles and loops his thumbs in his scabbard belt.
Lanisen backs away from the troughs as hounds come streaming in, grinning. He gestures vaguely with his slimy hands and says, “Gonna wash up real quick, scuse me.”
Colin responds, “You’re excused.”
Lanisen dips his head genially. “Kind of you, sir.” He ducks out into the outer ward and comes back a few minutes later, freshly scrubbed and slightly damp.
Colin grins at him before he ducks out. Puck returns from dinner to slobber on Colin’s hand.
Lanisen surveys the line of hounds, then nods, satisfied. He heaves a sigh and rubs the back of his neck, then starts clearing up the table.
Colin tries to appear casual. “So I had an interesting conversation with Lord Dar…”
Lanisen pauses his work briefly, not looking up. “Yeah?” he asks after a pause, mildly uneasy.
Colin says, “It was a good conversation.”
Lanisen says, “Oh. Good.”
Colin says, “So. Lanisen.”
Lanisen says, “…Sir.”
Colin asks, “How would you feel about maybe a change of pace for a little while?”
Lanisen pauses again, then rolls up a piece of twine with undue care. “Change of pace?”
Colin nods. “You’ve been working in the kennels for a long time now. You’re really good at it. But I imagine things have been a bit boring maybe.”
Lanisen turns around, leaning back on the table. There’s a little wary furrow between his eyebrows, but he’s listening.
Colin offers, “I could use some help. If you’d be interested in that sort of thing.”
Lanisen unrolls the twine again. “Help with…?”
Colin replies, “My job. All the traveling around, talking to people. Figuring out stolen things or vandalism. It gets kind of lonely on the road.”
Lanisen crosses his arms. “You want /me/ out there?”
Colin rubs the back of his neck. “You’re the first person who popped into my mind when I was thinking of who I’d like to have along.”
Lanisen stares at him for a moment, then shifts his eyes to the floor, thinking. “And… Lord Dar was…?”
Colin replies, “Agreeable. As was King Lune.”
Lanisen says, startled, “You talked to the /king/?”
Colin shrugs. “He’s my uncle after all.”
Lanisen shifts. “No–sorry, I just…”
Colin shakes his head. “It’s all right. I didn’t want to get your hopes up if it was something you wanted to do, so I cleared it first. Just because it’s clear doesn’t mean you have to do it though, not if you don’t want to.”
Lanisen says, “No, I… Yeah. Ah. Sorry. Um.” He grabs a fistful of his own hair and laughs helplessly. “Um.”
Colin’s forehead wrinkles with concern. “You don’t have to decide right now.”
Lanisen rubs a hand over his mouth and laughs again, short and disbelieving. “No, I’m– Lion. You really?”
Colin tilts his head to the side, trying to decide if his reaction is good or bad. “Yes?”
Lanisen says, “All right. Um. All right.” He shakes his head, incredulous. “Sorry, I’m not… sure what to say? Thank you? Are you sure?”
Colin nods. “If you decide it’s something you’d like to do, I’m sure. I’ll be in town for a few days so you have plenty of time to decide.”
Lanisen says, “I’m– sorry, no, I mean, I’d… I want to. I’m just–” He waves a hand a little helplessly. “It’s been prob’ly three years since I even went outside the gates, you know?”
Colin’s eyes widen slightly. “Really.” He comments, folding his arms. “Perhaps that should be fixed.”
Lanisen glances at Colin and hastens to clarify, “I mean– I never asked to, maybe they’d’ve let me, prob’ly, I dunno, just I was… I kept /meaning/ to ask, honest, just as long as I don’t ask nobody can say no, if… if you follow.”
Colin nods. “I do follow.”
Lanisen blows out a breath. He scratches the back of his head. “So– this means I can go out? Even if nobody’s watching?”
Colin nods, looking more determined than ever. “Yes. And more than go out. We’ll be going a lot of places.”
Lanisen asks, “Like where?”
Colin replies instantly. “Carmichael. We’ll go see Arael. And Lancelyn Green. And Coghill. And Nieklot. To name a few.”
Lanisen lets out another breath. “How ’bout that,” he marvels quietly. A hound leans heavily on his legs, asking for attention, and he tousles its ears fondly. “How ’bout that.”
Colin reaches out and grasps Lanisen’s shoulder firmly. “It’s time some things changed, Lanisen.”
Lanisen hunches reflexively, confused. The hound reminds him politely to keep petting please.
Colin clasps the shoulder when Lanisen’s reflexes kick in. He doesn’t say anything right away but when he does, “Let me know what your decision is. I’d be privileged to have you at my side.” He then drops his hand.
Lanisen swallows. “No, sir, I– I want to, really. I’m sorry, I just. It’s a lot to get my head around but yes, I want to.” He raises his eyebrows and shakes his head at the same time. “Even if I ain’t got a clue what good you think I’ll be out there.”
Colin grins. “I think you’ll be a great deal of good.”
Lanisen gives him an if-you-say-so kind of half-grin.
Colin says, “Well. We’ll leave in a couple of days. Want to make sure you have what you need for the road.”
Lanisen blinks. “Days?”
Colin ers and rubs the back of his neck. “Is that too soon?”
Lanisen uhhs. “N-no, no, it’s…” He casts a quick glance around the kennel and stares down at the hound in front of him, still flipping its tail in utter bliss as he rubs its ears. “Um. Do they got somebody to look after these idiots?”
Colin snickers softly. “Yes, they will see to it that a couple of the younger staff boys work here while you are gone.”
Lanisen says, “Oh. Well then.” He rubs the back of his neck and says weakly, “Guess I’ll pack a bag.”
Colin nods. “Got flint, rope, lantern and candles, warm clothes, cloak? And we’ll need you to have a bedroll of sorts, sometimes I spend nights outside. If I think of anything else we can pick things up.”
Lanisen considers this. “I got clothes, not too much else. I’ll get it. Um. Is it all right if I have a knife?”
Colin nods. “Absolutely.”
Colin says, “Oh. Waterskin. If you don’t have one I have an extra.”
Lanisen looks a little staggered by the immediate permission and laughs under his breath again. “Waterskin I got, yeah,” he says. “Let’s see, um.” He squeezes his eyes shut, thinking. “Tryin’ to remember what else. It’s been a while.”
Colin says, “Let’s sleep on it and revisit it tomorrow. I’ve been on the road and am a bit ready for some sleep.”
Lanisen says, “Oh! Right, sorry sir!”
Colin laughs. “Don’t worry about it. And no ‘sir’ing me, you know better.” He admonishes with a grin.
Lanisen hesitates, looking briefly uncertain, but says, “Sorry.”
Colin’s reply is sincere. “Don’t worry about it. Now, get a good night’s rest and we’ll focus on preparing tomorrow.”
Lanisen nods quickly. “All right, yeah. Resting, right, sure. Um. You too.”
Colin grins, touches two fingers to his forehead in farewell, and heads out the door.