The kennel door opens a crack–just enough for the area right inside the door to be visible from the outside, but not wide enough to allow any of the room’s occupants to make an escape.
Lanisen, sitting on the thick rug in front of the hearth with a couple of the hounds, rather than in one of the chairs or at the table, goes tense and straight-backed as the door opens. He watches it warily and starts quietly to get to his feet.
Lune opens the door the rest of the way and steps inside. He pushes it to and latches it behind himself before turning to survey the room.
Lanisen stares at Lune for a startled, wide-eyed second. He closes his eyes briefly, then gives the king a deep bow.
Lune, upon finding Lanisen alone save for the hounds, begins to move away from the door and closer to where he is standing. He studies the young man with a kind expression, and when he rises from his bow, Lune nods to him in greeting. “Good eve to you, friend.”
Lanisen says, without looking at him directly, “A-And to you, your majesty. Um–” He casts about for a moment, his face very briefly contorting with dread, and finally offers, “Would you… like me to fetch one of the hounds for you?”
Lune says, “I would enjoy a visit with Auryon, if he is not otherwise disposed this evening.” He bends to greet one of the other hounds who has come to welcome him.
Lanisen bows again and quickly scurries off to retrieve the hound. It’s a short scurry, because Auryon woke up the second Lune started speaking and is already trotting across the room to greet him, tongue hanging out and tail wagging. “Ahh…”
Lune nods his thanks to Lanisen and moves to sit in one of the chairs so that he can properly attend to his old hunting companion. As he rubs behind the hound’s ears, he looks around the room once more from his new vantage point. “Art all well today?” he asks Lanisen.
Lanisen says, “Ye–uh, yes, my lord.” He swallows and glances around the room. “Uh, they–Master Danall took them out today, brought down a hart, I heard. Um. Vira’s pups’re all healthy and growin’, reckon they’ll be a handsome lot, uh…” He seems to become aware that he is babbling and stops.
Lune smiles, calm and reassuring, as he divides his attention between Lanisen and Auryon. “And keen for the chase, I would expect.”
Lanisen says, “Yes, your majesty.” A long-limbed, graceful hound picks its way over the rug to where he stands, awkward and apprehensive, and leans against his legs. He rubs the hound’s neck automatically.
Lune says, “‘Tis well. And thou?” He looks at Lanisen more directly. “How mend thy wounds?”
Lanisen says, shifting, “They’re– fixin’ up well enough, your majesty, thank you. Er. I mostly don’t need the stick to walk, now, unless– unless I try walkin’ too far or somethin’.”
Lune watches Lanisen–assessing, but kind–as he gives his answer. “That is welcome news, indeed.” He glances toward the hearth, where the young man was sitting upon his entrance. “Dost wish to be seated? Thou need not keep standing, if it pains thee.”
Lanisen hesitates, then gratefully backs to the hearth and sinks down, stretching out his hurt leg with a sigh. “Thank you, your majesty.”
Lune nods, looking down at Auryon as the hound paws imploringly at his forearm. He rubs at the scruff under Auryon’s neck. “We regret,” he says quietly, “That any of our subjects should suffer thus in defense of these walls.”
Lanisen is starting to relax despite himself. He looks at his hands for a moment, uncomfortable, then offers, “I’d… do it again, your majesty, if–if you asked.” He hesitates, then adds in a lower voice, “I wish I could’ve done some good this time, is all.”
Lune says, “We cannot know what may have been altered had any one of us had a different lot.”
Lanisen nods, not looking up.
Lune pats Auryon’s side and retrieves a piece of rope that has been lying on the floor nearby. He offers it to the hound and holds his end steady as the dog begins to tug at the rope and shake his head. “I believe that Prince Cor has often been here of late?”
Lanisen doesn’t actually move, but he goes quite still, all his apprehension resurfacing. “Yes, your majesty,” he says, and swallows. “He’s–um, his highness seems to have taken to Sorrel real well.”
Lune’s eyes crinkle at the corners as he turns his head to look at Sorrel. “A fine choice,” he says, and there is pride in his voice.
Lanisen says, “Yes, sir. Er. She’s four now, gone out on most of the hunts for the last …almost three years, quick and smart as a whip, sweetest spirit you could ask for.”
Lune nods, watching the hound in question assessingly as Lanisen speaks of her qualities. “He has not spoken of it,” he says, with a smile toward Lanisen. “You have my thanks.”
Lanisen turns rather red around the ears. “He’s– the prince is real good with the hounds, your majesty,” he says. “He’s kind to ’em, he don’t rile ’em up to be mean like some his age would. They’re all startin’ to love him, I think.”
Lune’s smile sticks in place, and he straightens by half, drawing Auryon closer to his chair. “A boy to make a father proud.”
Lanisen grins slightly, rubbing the ears of the slender sighthound that has not left his side. He stays quiet, and after a moment sneaks an uncertain, searching glance at Lune.
Lune looks back at Lanisen thoughtfully, and when he speaks again, his tone is careful–calm and unaccusing, sincere but not forceful. “He has spoken of thee, and his concern for thy well-being, after his visits here. Art not at ease of late, to his view.”
Lanisen blinks and opens his mouth, confused and touched and rather frightened all at once. “Ahh–I’m, I beg your pardon, your majesty, I didn’t–I didn’t mean that he should…”
Lune slips both ends of the rope through one fist so that Auryon is gnawing on a loop rather than wrestling over the length of it. He raises his free hand in a settling sort of gesture. “Peace–hast no cause for alarm. He found no fault with thee, nor do I in his account. We wish only to know if there is aught that troubles thee, and what may be done to ease thy fears.”
Lanisen takes and releases a shaky breath. “I’m sorry, your majesty, I–I thought…” he says, rubbing both his hands over his face, “I thought you’d come because, because Haft talked to you, I thought you were gonna…” He moistens his lips and glances up at the king. “…Did he?”
Lune’s forehead furrows into an expression of compassion, and he shakes his head. “Nay, he did not. I have heard of thy affairs only from my son and from Master Adrian of late.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” He swallows and grins weakly. “Well. Um. I feel a little silly now.”
Lune smiles faintly in return. “Wilt thou say what wert afraid of?” His tone is gentle, reassuring.
Lanisen hesitates, reluctant, and at last says with difficulty, “I thought– um… I thought you might not want me… here, in the kennels. Since, since his highness likes to be here, I thought…” He doesn’t look at Lune, and his hand on the sighthound’s neck can be seen to tremble.
Lune raises his eyebrows a little, and he pauses for a moment before asking quietly, “And thou believed so because of something that Master Haft said?”
Lanisen relaxes at this, closing his eyes for a second in silent, profound relief. “Um,” he says after a pause. “He was–he was askin’ a lot of questions, your majesty. And I wasn’t very polite. I wasn’t… really sure who he’d talk to.”
Lanisen adds, “Or what he’d say.”
Lune nods slowly, sitting back and resting his free hand on his leg. “Questions regarding thy work for us here?” he asks, though his voice reveals doubt in his own words.
Lanisen’s eyes dart to Lune nervously. “Er, sort of, your majesty,” he answers. “He didn’t, uh, he didn’t know how I came to be here, and what I did… before, and–somebody told him, and he thought… I don’t know what he thought, really. He thought I was a, a danger to the prince, I think, and that–that maybe you didn’t know.”
Lune raises his eyebrows again, and he sighs, sounding weary. He replies, looking steadily back at Lanisen, “Then thou may rest easy, for art in no danger on such grounds. Wert offered the chance to mend thy ways, and shalt not lose it without giving cause. ‘Twould be a faithless man indeed who treated thee thus.”
Lanisen exhales, bowing his head in relief. “Thank you, my lord,” he whispers. He shifts a little, shaking his head minutely. “I should’ve… known, prob’ly. I mean, I /did/, sort of, I knew he wasn’t in charge of me but I got to thinkin’ on it and it kept goin’ round in my head, and–I’m sorry, your majesty, I shouldn’t’ve doubted– And I didn’t mean to worry his highness, either.”
Lune shakes his head, setting down the rope and reaching around to scratch Auryon’s ears again. “No harm was done–need think of it no more. I would bid thee, however, not to wait in fear should such a circumstance arise again. Thy lords can help thee–though we shall hope shalt have need of no such counsel.”
Lanisen mumbles something about not wanting to be a bother.
Lune gives his hound a final, firm pat on the side before rising. His eyes twinkle as he replies, “Nay, for that is duty, and one must never rob a man of his duty, be he lord or otherwise.”
Lanisen glances at the king quickly at this, startled into a grin. He stands as well, stiff and wincing, and bows.
Lune nods in return and acknowledges his struggle with a look, but no words. “A good eve to you. We shall look forward to reports of thy good progress.”
Lanisen says, his head still bowed, “Thank you, your majesty.”
Lune smiles. “Art most welcome.” He turns to go. Auryon, who follows him to the door, receives a final pat of farewell before the king opens the door and steps back out to the ward, fixing the latch securely in place behind himself.