Abrielle smiles at Avery. “I doubt that.”
A daughter of eve with fair hair continues walking through the ward, dodging a bit of mud that threatens to wreck her sensible shoes. She watches the man go into the kennels, then notices the other in the red tunic by the stables before she nearly trods into a puddle. She skirts around that, gaze going up to the Lady and her companion sitting nearby.
Avery rolls her eyes. “It’s true.” She holds a finger to her lips. “But shh, let it not be heard that the this Lady of Chesterton has /flaws/…” Her voice holds a bit of a mocking tone.
Lanisen comes limping out of the inner gatehouse, glancing at the guards on duty. He does not have his stick, and seems to be missing it. He heads toward the kennels.
Abrielle laughs. “I am working on my drawing some more.”
Darius’s eyes remain on the door leading into the Kennal’s grin planted firmly on his expression. He stands a little away from the two women talking and doesn’t seem to notice the third as she approaches. Seeing the movement towards the Kennals though, his gaze darts over to Lanisen, eyes once more lighting up like fireworks as he makes his way towards him, looking to intercept him before he reaches the door.
Lanisen isn’t moving very quickly, so this is easy.
Darius finishes closing the distance, catching him well before he reaches the kennals. “Ah, if it isn’t Lanisen!” he greets, voice bright and almost too cheery.
Kairyn is a little startled by the man’s loud greeting and moves to stay out of his way.
Lanisen recoils slightly, not looking directly at Darius. “Afternoon,” he answers.
Avery looks at the drawing, but her attention is drawn to the men. She nods, looking back. “Ah, yes. Haft mentioned your drawings were very good.”
Darius’s eyes widen with his smile as he quickly circles around to Lanisen’s left side, moving to walk alongside him. “On your way to work, are you?”
Lanisen says, “Well surmised.” He fixes his eyes on the kennel door and limps forward at a good speed.
Darius releases a hearty bit of laughter, increasing his speed just enough to reach the door, grabs the hand and opens it for him. “Oh, -let- me get this for you! I do believe you have -quite- the day ahead of you. ”
Kairyn’s blue eyes blink owlishly in confusion at the odd man in the red tunic.
Lanisen gives Aaron a weirded-out look and passes through the door, pulling it firmly shut behind him.
Haft stands staring into the fire, arms crossed over his chest. He turns at the sound of the door, not uncoiling his frame.
Lanisen shuts the door on Darius, his stance tense. When he turns around and there is somebody unexpected in the room, he starts. “Oh! It’s you.” He gives Haft a nod and a half-smile, shrugging out of his coat. There is a knife buckled at his waist that wasn’t there before.
Haft has a dark look on his face. “Sit,” he growls.
Lanisen pauses, one arm still in the coat sleeve, and gives Haft a closer look. “Sorry?” he says after an uncertain pause.
Haft clips out. “I. Said. Sit.”
Lanisen slowly puts his coat back on, not leaving the space in front of the door, watchful. “What’s going on?”
Haft recognizes the defensive action and lets it pass, face still furious. “You won’t need to run. But you and I /are/ going to have a talk.”
One of the hounds growls uneasily.
Lanisen stays very still, watching Haft. “All right, I’m listening,” he says, level and calm.
Haft nods slightly. “Tell me where you got that scar. That’s not a request.”
Lanisen says, “Which scar?”
Haft says, “Let’s start with the one on your throat.”
Lanisen’s face flickers briefly with comprehension. “From Sir Colin’s dagger,” he answers after a pause.
Haft’s eyes widen and his mouth opens slightly as shock overtake rage. “Explain.”
Lanisen lets out two short breaths through his nose, laughing without mirth or voice, and looks away. “You been talkin’ to an old bird, I see,” he says, rather bitterly.
“I’ve been talking to /Aaron/!” Haft snaps. “He sought me out. I’m giving you a chance to tell me yourself.” His breathing is fast, angry. “Because I’d think you’d have done the same for me. Because others have done the same for me,” he adds softly.
Lanisen repeats quietly, “Aaron.” His mouth makes a hard line.
Haft’s eyes flash. “I don’t like giving him credence. The man is a snake and I’ll have him up on charges the moment there’s the least amount of evidence. But we both knew the other had a past, and now I’m asking.”
Lanisen says, “You might could say what you heard.”
Haft opens his mouth as though about to answer, then closes it. “There’s that much. Not one incident. Many.” It isn’t a question.
Lanisen waits silently.
Haft says, “Answer me boy.”
Lanisen stiffens at this, his shoulders hunching. “What did you hear?” he repeats.
Haft says, “I heard hearsay. He wouldn’t even tell me who’d told him. Last chance. Tell your side.”
Lanisen swallows. His jaw clenches, and his eyes dart from side to side behind Haft. “Tell me why I should,” he finally says, very softly, his eyes flicking to Haft in clear rebellion. “You’ve no authority over me, I don’t answer to you.” His hand goes to the doorlatch.
Haft measures his response for a long moment. “No. I don’t, so let’s start there. Who does? Lord Dar?”
Lanisen says nothing.
Haft’s voice is cool. “I see. So you’d rather I ask around the barracks, the village? Dig up all your old ghosts and drag them back into the light. Is /that/ what you want?”
Lanisen’s face goes pale, then red, then pale again. “Aye,” he says quietly. “You’d know about ghosts, wouldn’t you, Haft.”
The anger drains from Haft’s face as he pales in his turn. His mouth opens and closes several times as he unsuccessfully tries to find the words he needs. He presses his eyes shut, presses back the past. “I know,” he croaks.
Lanisen says coldly, “I thought so.” He takes a deep breath and pushes off the door. “I. do not. answer. to you,” he says, staring Haft in the face. “You can do what you like, you can drag up whatever old stories you can find and smear ’em all over the castle, but don’t think you can hold that over my head, don’t think you can do worse to me than I’ve already had, and don’t you think for /one second/,” his voice is shaking with anger or fear or a combination of the two, “that /you/ have a corner market on the king’s mercy!”
Haft staggers back and slumps against the wall at the last words, head dropping to his chest. He looks as though he’s been punched and his breathing is ragged.
Lanisen’s breathing is equally heavy. He looks down as Haft slumps away, as if he has gone farther than he meant to, and takes a moment to steady himself. He backs to the door and opens it wide, then makes a wordless /get out/ gesture, not looking at Haft.
Haft raises his head, staring at the open door as though the light itself is painful. He shakes his head, but speaks. “I can’t.” His voice is raw, defeated. “He said you’d been complicit in the death of two innocents.”
Lanisen says, “Get. Out.”
Haft doesn’t rise, doesn’t move at all. “I…can’t,” he breathes.
Lanisen says, “You got legs, use ’em. You’re not welcome here.”
Haft shakes his head again. His voice is quiet. “If you know who I am, know what I did, you’d know why I can’t. I have to know. He’s…he’s always here.”
Lanisen throws up his hands. “So talk to Lord Dar!” he all but shouts. “Talk to Sir Colin, talk to the KING for all I care! Just. LEAVE.”
Lanisen repeats, his voice breaking, “Please leave.”
Haft says softly, “Because you can’t bear to talk about it either.”
Lanisen seems to have shut down. He refuses to look at Haft or respond in any way. He stands, still holding the door open.
Haft continues to ignore the invitation. “Aaron wanted to investigate you himself, if I refused. He…acted like those answerable for you were wrong, said we were hiding a murderer in our midst. He wanted…to deal with you. I won’t let him.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t care.”
Haft whispers, as though Lanisen has not spoken. “If you have the king’s pardon, that’s what I need to know to keep you safe. You’re right, you don’t answer to me. I answer to him, ultimately. You needn’t…fear me. I’ll make what inquiries I must as quietly as I can. Just tell me one thing.”
Lanisen doesn’t look at him.
Haft says, “Tell me he’s safe. Whatever you’ve done in the past, whoever you were. Tell me he’s safe with you.”
Lanisen’s face crumples at this. He pulls one ragged breath, then another, then very quietly tells Haft to go someplace unpleasant.
Haft draws a ragged breath, almost a dark laugh, taking this as the best assurance he’s likely to get. He pushes away from the wall, unsteady on his feet, and begins to make his way past. He hesitates at the last moment, stopping right beside Lanisen and not looking at him. “Will you…tell him?” he says, voice dead like a man who has just handed over a weapon to an enemy.
Lanisen is silent.
Haft catches his breath on a sob, presses his eyes closed again, and stumbles out into the harsh sunlight.
Lanisen shuts the door behind him with finality.
Haft walks out of the Kennels to the Outer Ward.
Lanisen, as he shuts the door, covers his mouth with one hand and just stands for a moment. At last, he crosses to the hearth, mechanically puts on another log, and goes about the business of cleaning pens.
Lanisen is sitting on the hearth while a pot heats over the fire, shaving lye soap into a bucket. He looks very tired and distant, like he’s not really paying attention to what he’s doing.
Cor opens the door to the kennel as unobtrusively as possible. His movements are tentative. It’s clear he knows something is off, but is unsure exactly what, and Haft is close enough behind him that now that he’s started on this path, it’s the one he’s taking.
Haft enters the kennels immediately behind Cor. His expression is guarded. He closes the door firmly but not forcefully behind himself, then strides ahead of the prince. “Lanisen, a word?” he says quietly.
Lanisen glances up from his task, instantly on his guard. His eyes flit from Cor to Haft, and he stands slowly, putting aside his knife and the block of soap. There is hate in the look he gives Haft, but it’s soon smothered by blank, resigned misery.
Haft meets Lanisen’s eyes. His own are full of worry. He leans in and murmurs something to the younger man.
Haft mumbles “Aaron is outside. Keep him here until I return.”, to Lanisen.
Haft mumbles “Aaron is outside. Keep … … … … …”, to Lanisen.
Lanisen goes still and confused. He dares another glance at Haft.
Haft steps back, holding Lanisen’s gaze as something like fear passes through his own. He looks as if he wants to say more, but he only turns and walks back toward the prince en route to the door.
Cor stands uncomfortably and uncertainly next to the door. Sorrel has recognized and come up happily to him, and he rubs between her ears.
Lanisen watches Haft walk away.
Haft hesitates at the door, as if gathering courage, then takes a shaky breath and lets himself out.
Cor rubs his hand against the side of Sorrel’s face, which she presses against his leg. “Sorry…” he says to Lanisen. “He told me– I can go, if you want.”
Lanisen says blankly, “What?” He shakes his head a little, bewildered, and seems to reorient himself. “N–no, no, you’re–” He remembers too late to bow and does so awkwardly.
Cor takes a surprised step away from the door at the sound there, and Sorrel barks, but she doesn’t seem unduly startled by the sudden movement. “Is… everything… uh, sorry. Are /you/ very well?”
Lanisen says, “Y-yes, your highness. Uhm.” His eyes dart to the window.
Cor looks at the window, too. He seems on the edge of inquiring further, but too shy or polite or unsure to actually follow through.
Lanisen ventures uncertainly, “Are–are you well, your highness?”
Cor exclaims, “Oh! Me?” He finally decides to sit in a chair so that he can reach to pet Sorrel better. “Yes, I think so. There is a Calormene–” he pauses, searching for the appropriate term. “–embassy coming here, did you know?””
Lanisen blinks. “Nooo,” he answers slowly, cautiously resuming his own seat with another glance at the door. “When’s that, then?”
Cor’s lips screw up to one side as he thinks. “I’m not really sure. Father said less than a fortnight.”
Lanisen rubs his hand across his forehead. “Well,” he says, frowning briefly. “That’ll be somethin’.”
Cor asks, “I think…” he also frowns a little. “What do you think?”
Lanisen glances at him. “I think…” He pauses, and says frankly, “I think it’s going to be a very long time before I want to think about Calormen again. What do you think, your highness?”
Cor looks up from Sorrel. “Me too.”
Lanisen lets silence fall between them for a moment. “You… doin’ all right with it, your highness?” he asks tentatively.
Haft enters the kennels, opening the door and stepping inside, but not closing it behind him. His eyes flit to Cor and then come to rest on Lanisen.
Cor nods, his brows rising in thought. “I think so. It’s not as if it will be the same.” He stop talking as the door opens and looks to it.
Lanisen’s eyes go immediately to the door as it opens. He straightens, tense and hostile, and stares at Haft.
Haft’s expression is neutral, though there is something deeper in his eyes. He looks weary. He nods silently to Lanisen, pauses a moment, and turns to step back outside.
Lanisen watches him go. His shoulders slump a little as the door shuts, and he closes his eyes briefly.
Cor watches all this with a sort of unhappy interest. After a silence, he says, “I suppose there’s the same sorts of people in any sort of country.”
Lanisen says quietly, “Yeah. Reckon so.”
Cor lets another silence fall, his internal discussion present in his face. When the quiet has grown sufficiently unsure, he says, “What are the names of the other dogs?”
Lanisen rubs both hands over his face and straightens. “Ahh, let’s see,” he says, glancing over the room and its various canine occupants. “Lily, Arrow, Destry, they’re from Meggie’s last litter, four years old. That one’s Puck, Sir Colin’s hound, Elek, Sir Tyren’s… Nia, there, she’s my own dear friend, Maisie and Tohol.”
Cor asks, “Are any of them the same litter as Pire?”
Lanisen frowns a little, thinking. “I don’t /think/ so,” he says uncertainly. “Pire’s been here a lot longer than I have, I don’t know who were his littermates, or his sire and dam either. I’m sure they were fine hounds.”
Cor says, “I suppose the same for Auryon.”
Lanisen nods. “Auryon’s quite old now, for a hound,” he says apologetically.
Cor asks, “How often are there litters?”
Lanisen scratches his head. “Danall tries to make sure there’s only pups born in the spring and summer. It’s better for ’em, see, not so cold when they’re tiny. Sometimes it happens anyway, there’s pups upstairs in the whelpin’ box now.”
Cor abandons what attention he was providing Sorrel. “/Are/ there?”
Lanisen blinks at Cor, then grins weakly. “Four of ’em, two weeks old. Should’ve mentioned it sooner, sorry, your highness.”
Cor says, “I guess they aren’t ready for playing with, then.”
Lanisen hmms thoughtfully, giving Cor a considering look. “Prob’ly not /just/ yet,” he decides. “In a few days, maybe, or a week. You can look at ’em, though, if you want.”
Cor gets up to this purpose. “How do you care for them when they’re that little?”
Lanisen says, “Keep ’em warm. Make sure their dam’s got the food and quiet she wants. Keep the other hounds from botherin’ ’em.” He stands up, stick nowhere in sight, and limps after Cor.
Cor gives him a second look. “No stick?”
Lanisen says, “Ahhh, I loaned it to Eston earlier. Don’t need it so much now anyway, Master Adrian’s been on me to quit usin’ it.”
Cor breaks into a grin. “Why, that’s wonderful news!”
Lanisen has to grin back. He looks down, shuffling his feet, and says, “Gettin’ there, your highness.”
Cor says, “Corin will be wanting to race you before you know it.”
Lanisen says fervently, “Lion I hope not.” He gestures at the stairs. “Go on, then, your highness. The box is on the east wall, right near the chimney, and the top lifts right off. Vira’s the dam, she shouldn’t give you any trouble, but let her alone if she growls.”
Cor does as he’s told. “Well, Corin’d probably tie a block to his leg and race you now if you’d let him,” he reconsiders.
Lanisen says, “I don’t doubt that, your highness.” He stays at the foot of the steps, watching Cor’s progress.
Cor pauses at the door. “I won’t bother Danall?”
Lanisen says, “Nah, he’s not even in right now. That’s his room, over there,” he adds, pointing at the door on the west wall. “You can’t hear too much noise through the ceiling, don’t worry.”
Cor considers this, then nods, and goes in to see the pups.
Lanisen waits a few minutes, listening to make sure everything is well, then limps back to the hearth.