The Narrow Gate Hall
Eastern Archenland

The Hall of the Narrow Gate is brightly lit by a large chandelier, and by
torches on the walls. A bar runs along the length of the south wall. Behind
the bar stands Dranken, the Barman, polishing a glass. The wall behind him
holds several bottles, and racks of glasses. There is also a menu offering
drinks and food. The north wall is dominated by a cheerful stone fireplace.

The rest of the room is filled with tables and stools, in little clusters all
over the scuffed wooden floor. An arch leads to the Anteroom to the south.

Vinri is sitting at the bar, writing a letter. Her gloves lay neatly folded beside the parchment, and she is currently less writing and more staring absently at the bottles across from her and tapping her mouth with the feather-end of her quill. A cup of tea sits untouched and cooling nearby.

Lanisen pauses at the door, glancing around at the tables and chairs as though looking for somebody. He makes an unsatisfied face and heads toward the bar anyway, giving the pricelist a thoughtful look, and takes a seat a few stools down from Vinri.

Vinri gives a vague sort of glance Lanisen’s direction, then blinks once and examines him for a moment. Apparently in that she finds the inspiration for the rest of her letter, because she scrawls a last few sentences, blots off the ink, and lays the quill down.

Lanisen swaps a few coins for a cup of tea and asks for extra honey. Catching the tail end of Vinri’s look, he looks slightly nonplussed before averting his eyes.

Vinri reaches for her cup and takes a long sip. And ‘uck’s at the lukewarm-at-best liquid.

Lanisen accepts his tea, thanking the bartender, and cups his right hand around it, blowing at the curl of steam rising from its surface. He twists to look over his shoulder toward the door, then shrugs a little and asks for a walnut muffin too.

Vinri keeps holding her cup as she looks back towards Lanisen. “Last time I tried one of those, it looked like it had been used for kindling.”

Lanisen glances toward her and offers a small, friendly grin. “Just gotta pick off the burnt bits, is all. Inside’s still good.”

Vinri returns a grin. “Is it? Huh.” Leaning one arm on the bar, she asks, “It was Lanisen, right?”

Lanisen says, “Er, yes, miss. Um.” He gives her a sheepish, apologetic look. “I’m so sorry, I know we’ve spoken but I don’t recall your name.”

Vinri says, “Vinri. It’s been a couple months anyway, hasn’t it? Most don’t remember after that long.”

Lanisen rubs the back of his neck. “I knew it was something -ri.”

Vinri laughs. “Halfway there! Dalia mentioned something about a trip last evening? Did you just get back from one?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, um. I’ve been in Carmichael for the last few months.”

Vinri tips her head, expression curious. “Oh? Visiting family?” Glancing at her tea cup, she gives a little shrug and downs some more of it.

Lanisen pauses, looking at his tea. “Um. Some of the time.” He clears his throat. “I work for Sir Colin, and his betrothed lives around there, so that’s… why I was there, mostly.”

Vinri ohs. “I’d heard he was out of the city. He must be glad to see her. Did you both come back, then?”

Lanisen says, “Er, no. Just me.”

Vinri taps a finger to her lips and gives a chuckle. “I’m not usually this bad at guessing,” she says with a chagrinned sort of smile.

Lanisen blinks, baffled for a second, and breaks into a laughing grin that changes his whole face. “Sorry. You were…” He squints at her. “You had a stall in the ward, didn’t you? Selling jewelry and such?”

Vinri grins as he does. “That’s me! Jewelry and other eclectic pretty and useful things.” She considers this. “More pretty than useful, most of the time.”

Lanisen says, “Nothin’ wrong with that.” He gives his tea a thoughtful look, pursing his lips on one side.

Vinri watches him for a moment, then comments, “Surely yours can’t be cold /quite/ yet. Mine sat around for most of the morning and it still has a little bit of warmth. Well. Did.”

Lanisen asks, “What? No, no, it’s fine, I was just thinkin’ about– My sister’s here with me, gonna live here in the town or the castle, dependin’ on what she wants to do, and…” He chews his lip, thinking. “Um. Maybe I’ll stop by your stall sometime?”

Vinri’s brows quirk up a little. “For a job or for pretty trinkets? I’m sure we could work out either. Or both.” She grins.

Lanisen looks startled. “Ahh, I was just– I meant for a trinket, or somethin’, but… are you lookin’ for help?”

Vinri wavers a hand. “Truth be told, no, not really. My business is new enough here and slow enough I manage just fine. But I don’t like to say no. Is she good with sales or customers?”

Lanisen says cautiously, “She likes workin’ with people, she had a job at the tavern in Carmichael… I dunno about sales, though, I dunno that she’s ever… She’s bright, though, she’d pick it up.”

Vinri considers this, idly playing with her gloves with the hand not holding her cup. “Well, certainly bring her by. Don’t tell her about the possibility, because I don’t know if there is one, but if she seems interested on her own, we’ll see if we can work something out.” Noticing that her ink is all dry, she begins to roll up the letter. “It’s a good place to find work, Anvard is. Plenty of places to be looking. What’s her name?”

Lanisen says, “Ah, Cassandra. Goes by Cass.”

Vinri grins. “I look forward to you bringing her by! She been out of Carmichael before?”

Lanisen says, “I’ll do that, thank you! And no, she ain’t, this is her first time. Should’ve seen her when she saw the castle.”

Vinri says, “That’d have been an impressive sight, to be sure. Both the face and the castle.”

Lanisen grins. “Right now she’s thinkin’ maybe she’d like to work in the stables. Me, I’m thinkin’ that’s gonna be more work than she’s thinkin’ it’ll be, but we’ll likely go talk to the Steward in the next few days, prob’ly. I’ll bring her by before that?”

Vinri lifts her cup. “I’ll be there. What was it that you do? Y’said you worked for Sir Colin, so does that mean you’re up at the castle too?”

Lanisen says, “Um, I squire for him, but since he’s not here I reckon I’ll help out at the kennels again until they get back.”

Vinri blinks. “You’re a squire? That must be interesting. And dogs are sweet, you used to work with them more?”

Lanisen nods, a quick proud grin crossing his face. “They are, and smart, too. I worked with ’em for a good few years before Sir Colin.”

Vinri says, “Working with animals run in your blood? You in the kennels, your sister aiming for the stables…” With a grin, she adds, “My family owns a couple dogs back home. They were pretty smart, too.”

Lanisen scratches the back of his neck. “Sort of, I s’pose? Not really? My family had sheep, used to.”

Vinri asks, “‘Used to?’ What do they do now?”

Lanisen says, “My mum’s a spinner.”

Vinri mms. “Guess that’d come natural after owning sheep.”

Lanisen agrees, “Lotta spinners in Carmichael.”

Vinri absently turns her cup in little circles. “I haven’t been out that way yet. Get a few trinkets from the mines, but what’s the town like?”

Lanisen says, “Oh… it’s small. Pretty country, mountains all around. Lotta trees, lotta forest. Folk keep goats or sheep or both. Good natured folk, mostly. You hear a lot about nonsense between the dwarfs that run the mine and the folk who live in town, but I never seen that.”

Vinri huhs. “No wonder Cass was surprised by the castle. Sounds pretty, though.”

Lanisen confirms, something wistful in his voice, “It is.” He takes a gulp of tea and asks, “Where’re you from, then?”

Vinri says, “Chesterton, myself.” She taps the rolled up letter. “Just writing home, as it happens, keeping my father updated on our shop here and sending in a request. Not quite sheep and goats, but I like it there.”

Lanisen says, “Oh, huh. I haven’t been there for a long time. Nice place to live?”

Vinri nods. “I thought so. Worked fine for me, at least. When were you there?”

Lanisen scratches his head. “‘Bout… six years ago?”

Vinri asks, “What took you that way?”

Lanisen hesitates. “I was just sort of… wanderin’, then. Didn’t have anything holdin’ me anywhere else, so.” He thinks for a minute. “I guess it was more like seven years.”

Vinri tips her head. “Sounds like you found plenty to tie you since. Where else did you go when wandering?”

Lanisen shifts, a little uncomfortable. “Oh. Around. Went through Lancelyn Green a couple times, washed up here. That’s about it.”

Vinri quirks a brow, but then shrugs and smiles. “I’m finding it’s a nice place to wash up. Though first week here, I thought I’d stepped right into chaos.”

Lanisen asks, “When was that?”

Vinri asks, “Just a bit after Christmas. Every other conversation I heard was about that battle last summer, and there was an arrest and a fire before the week was out.” She grins. “That’s not normal, right? Or does it happen every few months?”

Lanisen says, his eyebrows flying up, “Oh no, you came in the middle of all that? No wonder!” He shakes his head. “No, that ain’t… that wasn’t normal.”

Vinri laughs. “I’d guessed, with how quiet the last months have been. Never fully learned what was happening with all that, though.”

Lanisen shakes his head slightly. “Don’t think anybody did.” He looks down at his tea and carefully aligns the edges with the ridges in the bartop.

Lanisen laughs a little and admits, “Shouldn’t do, but yeah.”

Vinri says, “Which? My stall’s not far, so I see a few of them when they’re taken out.”

Lanisen says, “Um, she’s– she’s one of the deerhounds, that’s the lanky sort with long legs, kind of …fuzzy? She’s black all over except her muzzle’s gray–she’s quite old, I think–and she’s mostly blind so she sticks close to whoever’s leadin’ them. Her name’s Nia, she’s my dear friend.”

Vinri hmms. “I’ll keep an eye out for her. How many types of dogs do you have in there?”

Lanisen says, “Deerhounds, mostly, but there’s a few harriers too, and then the lords who are at court keep their hounds there, so sometimes there’s these absolutely massive hounds that are bred to hunt wolves or bears. They’re as tall as me and half again when they’re standin’ on their back legs, I swear.”

Vinri lets out a laugh. “Dogs twice as tall as me, then? And I thought my father’s dogs were large! Sounds like a handful and a half to take care of them all.”

Lanisen says, “Eh.” He thinks about it, then shrugs. “They’re well-behaved, mostly. What sort of hounds does your father have?”

Vinri hesitates a moment before, “I believe the two big ones are alaunts. The third, I don’t think she’s any particular type. Some sort of sweet little mutt.”

Lanisen says, “Oh, I’ve seen those. Does he hunt much, then?”

Vinri shakes her head. “He uses them to guard, most of the time. Ever gone on a hunt yourself?”

Lanisen shakes his head slightly. “Just a couple. I’ve gone with Sir Colin, without dogs, just for rabbits and such, and I went on one big one–the one right before the battle, actually. But I don’t ride very well, so.”

Vinri is sitting at the bar near Lanisen. A rolled up piece of parchment is next to her, as well as a quill and a pair of gloves. She’s holding a cup of stone-cold tea. “Going to learn, what with being a squire and all?”

Cassandra walks into the hall, whistling a tune. Upon seeing Lanisen, she makes her way over to him.

Lanisen has a half-empty cup of tea in front of him, and he is half-turned toward Vinri, chatting comfortably. He starts to answer, but glances over his shoulder as Cassandra enters the hall and raises a hand toward her. “Oh, there you are!”

Vinri looks that way as well. A bright smile appears immediately. “G’morning! Cass, I’d guess?”

Cassandra moves to sit next to her brother, “Um, yeah, Hi.” She grins, “I guess Lanisen just can’t stop talking about me, huh?”

Lanisen retorts, “Seems fair to warn ’em, I reckon. Cass, this is Vinri.”

Vinri pretends relief. “Oh, good, not sure /what/ I’d do if I guessed wrong again. Pleasure to meet you!”

Cassandra rolls her eyes at Lanisen before nodding to Vinri, “Nice to meet you too.”

Lanisen asks, nodding at the pricelist, “You want anything?”

Vinri glances down at her cup as Lanisen asks his question (even if it isn’t aimed at her) and sets it on the counter, regarding the menu again.

Cassandra shakes her head, “I’m fine thanks.” She glances at the woman, “Do you work at the castle too, Vinri?”

Lanisen sits back a little so they can talk around him more easily.

Vinri shakes her head. “Not at the castle, no. I’ve a stall in the ward, though!” Tapping her lips a time or two with ink-stained fingers, she shrugs and orders a walnut muffin.

Cassandra asks, “Oh, what do you sell?”

Lanisen finishes off his tea, gone fairly cold by now.

Vinri eyes the charred muffin and begins doing what Lanisen suggested and picking off the burned bits. “Luxury goods, for official title. Jewelry, journals, fine fabrics, even a couple of scents and such things.”

Cassandra says, “That sounds interesting. I shall have to keep an eye open for your stall when I’m there in the ward.”

Vinri grins. “I’ve some interesting things that come through. I hear your thinking towards the stables? Ever worked with horses before?”

Cassandra blinks, glancing at her brother, “Wow, Lanisen told you everything, huh? Yeah, I’m thinking about it. I have never tried it before.”

Lanisen says, “Did not.”

Vinri gives another bright smile. “We hadn’t quite started on the baby stories yet, if that makes you feel better.”

Lanisen says brightly, “She had this stuffed dog toy that she liked to chew on when she was in the toddlin’ stage, chewed that poor thing’s nose /right off/, it was amazing.”

Cassandra socks Lanisen in the arm. “Hush, Brother.”

Lanisen hunches up his shoulders and sways away, laughing and rubbing his arm.

Vinri joins the laughter. “Poor thing, how was it suppose to scent anything /then/?”

Cassandra grumbles, “My mum stitched it back on so there was no damage done.”

Lanisen offers innocently, “I could tell her the onion story.”

Cassandra punchs Lanisen again, “Hey, I need to people to like me.”

Vinri lifts her brows. “The onion story? How intriguing. It sounds like a tale full of tears and tragedy.”

Lanisen says, “/Ow/, lion!”

Cassandra doesn’t look repentant at all.

Lanisen says, injured, “It’s an adorable story.”

Vinri sits back, nibbling on the muffin and watching them with a grin.

Cassandra rubs her temples, “I should have stayed home.”

Lanisen snickers.

Vinri says, “What did make you decide to come here? It’s a fair ways from Carmichael, after all.”

Cassandra stiffens slightly before just smiling, “I decided to move here permanently. So really, it is home now.”

Vinri smiles easily despite the momentary awkwardness. “That’s very brave of you! I’ve only come recently myself, so there’s still quite a bit that I’m getting used to as well.”

Cassandra blinks a bit at Vinri’s choice of words, “I suppose so. Where did you move from?”

Vinri says, “Over in Chesterton. A different sort of city, but still rather large.”

Cassandra jerks her head over at Lanisen, “Lanny mentioned that it was bigger than Andale.”

Lanisen grins at this. “Little bit.”

Vinri grins. “That it is, and busy too. You may want to come see it someday, it’s worth a look.”

Cassandra nods, “I have plans to see everything. Even go to Narnia!”

Lanisen glances at her at this, half-apprehensive.

Vinri quirks a brow. “That’d be a sight, alright. Which beast would you most want to see talk?”

Cassandra grins, “I just want to see one /talking/ beast. I’m not picky on what type.”

Lanisen volunteers, “I met a talking wolf after the battle.”

Vinri looks at him, blinking. “I’d heard they’d come. What was that like?”

Cassandra glares, “Why didn’t you tell me this?” She quiets though to listen.

Lanisen says, “Uhh, well. It was a surprise is what it was like.”

Vinri picks a few more black bits off her muffin. “I hope you didn’t have any of the wolf-hunting hounds with you,” she muses. “That might have been awkward.”

Cassandra hmms, “I didn’t know Wolves could be friendly. I always assumed that they were vicious.”

Lanisen says, “I mean, I heard they were pretty vicious in the battle? But this one just came over to see if I was all right.”

Vinri tips her head. “Were you?”

Cassandra frowns, looking down.

Lanisen says, “What? Oh, yeah, I mean–I was asleep, they gave me stuff to send me to sleep, and then I wake up and there’s somethin’ nudgin’ my hand with its nose and I just figured I was in the kennels, right, ’cause I sleep there sometimes, so I thought it was Nia and started scritchin’ her ears like she likes and then, um, the wolf started talkin’.” He clears his throat, grinning. “It was awkward.”

Vinri lifts a brow a little at the indication that he needed something to send him to sleep, but grins. “So I suppose the best question is: do talking wolves also like ear-scritches?”

Cassandra giggles at the image as she continues to listen.

Lanisen says, “I didn’t ask.”

Vinri shakes her head. “You missed a perfect chance, how often do you think that’ll happen?” She looks towards Cass. “Whenever you go to Narnia, you’ll have to find that wolf and do it for him.”

Cassandra grins, “Alright, I can do that.” She slides off her chair, “Well, I best finish unpacking my things.”

Lanisen says, “Her. Her name’s Tempest, and she’s the alpha of the pack so I don’t recommend it.”

Vinri stares at Lanisen for a moment. “First Sir Colin, now the boss of a wolf pack… do you have a habit of making powerful friends?” She sends a bright smile Cassandra’s way. “Come say hello next time you’re in the ward!”

Lanisen blinks, evidently not having thought of it this way before, and laughs uncertainly. “Do you need anything from the market, Cass?” he asks. “I’m about to head that direction.”

Cassandra nods a bit, “Yeah, Actually I do. Want to come up to my room so I can give you a list?”

Lanisen nods agreeably and pushes back from the bar. “Can do.”

Vinri waves at them both. “Goodbye, see you around!” She turns back to her rolled up letter and picks up her gloves.

Cassandra turns to Vinri, “It was nice to meet you.” She begins to make her way to the hostel.

Lanisen pauses before following Cassandra, turning back to Vinri. “Thanks,” he says. “I’ll see you around, prob’ly?”

Vinri grins. “As I said, I’m not far from the kennels. Come by and say hi whenever.”

Inner Ward of Anvard
Castle Anvard

Lanisen leaves the kitchen, a piece of generously-buttered bread in his hand, and heads toward the staff quarters.

Dalia pauses seeing Lanisen. “Good evening, Lanisen,” she calls.

Lanisen slows, glancing up and around as his name is called. “Oh!” he says, changing direction so he’s heading toward Dalia. “Evening!”

Dalia smiles, “Is all well at the kennels?”

Lanisen says, “Mm? Far as I know, I ain’t really spent much time there yet since I been back.”

Dalia nods, nibbling her lip a little. “I…I was just wondering if you um…received my note…before you left, I mean.”

Lanisen looks blank for a moment. “Noo– Wait… after the night with the–the fire?”

Dalia nibbles her lip, nodding tentatively.
Dalia says, “I was just curious…um.. that is ,you don’t have to say anything… I, um, was just wondering if it had gotten lost, that is… I mean, if you had received it.”

Lanisen gives her an uncertain look, frowning a little. “No, I got it? Er–I don’t remember what it said, though, it was a long time ago.”

Dalia nods, “It was a long time ago. It doesn’t matter now.”

Lanisen asks, “Why d’you ask?”

Dalia says, “I…I had to visit my aunt in Coghill and I couldn’t deliever it myself. I asked a guard to deliver it, but… well, I just hoped it hadn’t been lost.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He rubs the back of his neck. “I hope you ain’t been worryin’ over it this whole time?”

Dalia shakes her head, “Oh. no.. not really. I was just curious. Thank you.” Though for one to look at her it might seem as if she is vastly relieved as if it had.

Lanisen gives her an odd, confused look, a little worried.

Dalia says, “I’m not keeping you from something, am I?”

Lanisen asks, “Me? No, not at all, I was just headin’ back to my room is all, nothin’ that can’t wait.”

Dalia says, “How was Carmichael? If you don’t mind me asking? It has been quite a while since I was there myself.” she glances down at her feet as she finishes.

Lanisen says, “Carmichael’s… good, I guess?” He grimaces briefly. “‘Bout the same as it’s ever been, I guess. How was Coghill?”

Dalia says, “It was okay…I guess. I mean, My aunt is well, and my cousin seems to be busy with his work. So I mean I guess it’s good.”

Lanisen asks, “How long were you there?”

Dalia says, “Just two weeks. Milady gives me leave sometimes to visit them. I…I was very lonely when when Milady lived in Chesterton.”

Lanisen, standing near the nobles’ tower talking with Dalia, nods. “That’s good of her.”

Dalia nods. “She’s very kind.”

Megren steps out of the southern tower, looking brightly reflective. She breaks her reverie long enough to take in who makes up the current population of the ward and, seeing Lanisen among those passing through, directs her path toward him.

Lanisen agrees, “I’ve heard that before.” As Megren joins them, he grins at her and angles himself slightly to be able to face them both. “Hey!”

Dalia smiles, “Hello Megren!”

Megren smiles at them both before turning to Lanisen. “I have a question, which is: did you get my last letter?”

Lanisen says, “Yes! Yeah, I did, and the–” He holds up his hand and wiggles his fingers. “How did you…?”

Megren’s grin widens mysteriously. “Was it any use? Did you like them?”

Lanisen answers honestly, “Well, it’s been warm since they came so I ain’t used ’em much yet? But they’re real soft and warm both, and the one is… it’s real nice.”

Dalia smiles watching Megren and Lanisen converse.

Megren nods. “Good! I was — good.”

Lanisen says, “I was– I kept startin’ to write back…”

Megren lifts her shoulder. “You had pretty big things to pay attention to.”

Dalia speaks up timidly, “I probably should see to Milady…”

Lanisen says, turning toward Dalia, “Right, sure! Good to see you, Dalia.”

Megren exclaims, “Oh! All right. See you later?”

Dalia says, “Good to you too Lanisen. And you Megren.” She smiles at Megren’s comment, nodding.

Lanisen says, “Have a good evening.”

Dalia says, “You too.” ”

Lanisen, as she walks off, points at Megren. “I’ve got somethin’ for you too, don’t go anywhere.”

Megren lifts her brows. “What, really?”

Lanisen, already walking toward the staff quarters, shoots back over his shoulder, “Well, I don’t want to have to find you again!”

Megren wrinkles her nose and stays put, swinging her shoulders left and right impatiently.

Lanisen disappears into the tower. He emerges again a few moments later, looking very pleased with himself. His right hand is behind his back and the sleeve of his left is very bulgy.

Megren eyes his sleeve, clasping her hands behind her back and dancing her weight off one foot and onto the other.

Lanisen returns, making thoughtful faces. “Hmmmm…”

Megren closes the space between them impatiently. She waves a hand at him. “Hmm what.”

Lanisen says, in an injured tone, “I can’t decide which to give you first. Don’t rush me.”

Darrin emerges into the Ward from the direction of the noble’s quarters, running a hand through thoroughly mussed curls.

Megren clasps her hands behind her back and closes her mouth.

Lanisen hmmms again, deliberately and mischievously prolonging the moment.

Darrin yawns and glances about him.

Lanisen finally extends his right hand, palm up. There is something small and glittery in it. “I went to the mine when I was there,” he explains. “They had bunches and bunches of these they can’t cut, or don’t want to bother cutting, ’cause… I dunno. Some reason. I thought they were pretty.”

This is a small cluster of glittering violet crystals, about the size of a
person’s palm. They seem to grow in no particular order, jutting in every
direction, but there is a distinct gradient from cloudy white at the base to
deep royal purple.

Megren’s brows rise, and she takes the gem carefully, examining it in her palm. “Wow, Lanisen– I don’t even know what to say. Can I– no, you don’t like hugs– /do/ you like hugs?”

Darrin notices Megren and Lanisen and ambles towards them, his hands in his pockets. He stops just next to Megren and peers over her shoulder at the crystals. “Pretty,” he says admiringly.

Lanisen blinks. “Um. I don’t… know?” He goes a little flustered, and covers it by bowing quickly to Darrin when he shows up.

Megren looks up, startled, and then grins when she sees who it is. She steps away enough to bow comfortably, her hand closing over the stone. “Welcome back to the waking world, Sir. Lanisen’s come back, did you know?”

Darrin nods to Lanisen when he bows, and grins at Megren when she does. He raises a brow. “I see that. I hadn’t heard as much.” He turns the grin on Lanisen. “Welcome back, Lanisen.”

Lanisen says, “Evening, sir, thank you.”

Megren lifts the cluster back up to where Sir Darrin can see it better. “From the Carmichael mines.” She looks at Lanisen. “Did you go in? What was it like?”

Lanisen says, “Um. Busy. Confusing. There’s a lot more to it than you’d think.”

Darrin reaches for it, hesitating long enough for Megren to be able to refuse to hand it over before he lifts it closer for study. He casts an admiring gaze over the amethysts and chuckles at Lanisen’s description of the mines, nodding.

Megren lets him take it, though her eyes follow his fingers. “Busy? I always pictured them sort of dark and musty and close… but I suppose they couldn’t really be like that to get any work done.”

Lanisen says, “I think there were parts like that, but we didn’t– I didn’t see them.”

Darrin tucks one hand behind his back when he moves to hand the cluster back, giving the gesture a somewhat formal appearance. He smiles at Megren, then glances to Lanisen. “And how fare Sir Colin and his lady?”

Megren takes the stone back in both her hands, waiting for Lanisen’s answer.

Lanisen says, “They’re well, sir. Um. They haven’t… chosen a day yet, that I’ve heard, but I’d lay good odds on autumn, personally.”

Darrin nods. “Good to know.”

Megren asks, “Will they be gone that whole time?”

Lanisen answers apologetically, “I’m not sure. I hope not.”

Darrin makes a small face at the notion.

Megren says, “I want to hear all about Carmichael.” She makes a face at the open space surrounding them. “Let’s go to the mess where we can have a sit and real talk.”

Lanisen asks, “The mess?”

Megren says, “Yeah, you’re a squire now, aren’t you? Better start calling it home.”

Darrin grins in a fashion that probably spells trouble. “Oh yes, we can rope you into our darts and drinking games, now.”

Lanisen casts a doubtful, wary glance between the two of them. “I’m not– I don’t think I’ve been up there.”

Megren grabs him by the good arm and starts to drag him in that direction. “Perfect, we’ll introduce you.”

Lanisen very nearly loses the thing stuffed up his sleeve at this, but he catches it in his hand with a rueful look.

Darrin moves around nonchalantly to flank Lanisen on the other side.

Off-duty Mess
Castle Anvard

This is the place where off duty soldiers and sailors can relax and eat.
There is a small cookfire and hearth and a few tables set up nearby. On one
wall is a dart board, and on a small table in the corner there is a chess
set. Someone has left a pile of parchment with sketches of his fellow
knights on another table. This is a comfortable, casual room.

Megren claims them a good table near the dart board (just in case).

Lanisen follows, glancing around with the unmistakable look of somebody who’s not entirely convinced he’s meant to be here.

Darrin claps him on the shoulder in what is probably meant to be a comforting gesture before he slides into a chair at the table Megren’s selected.

Megren hovers over her chair for an antsy moment, and then, holding the cluster in her fist, says, “I just want to put this away real fast, I’ll be quick.”

Lanisen breaks into a pleased grin at this.

Darrin says, “‘Course.”

Megren breaks off for the barracks.

Lanisen, as she leaves, works on getting the lumpy object out of his sleeve. He withdraws a generously sized bottle of brandy with the Carmichael alehouse’s mark on it, then hesitates for a moment before sitting down at the table across from Darrin and putting the bottle in the middle.

Darrin arches a brow, glancing between Lanisen and the bottle. “What’s this?” he asks curiously.

Lanisen says, “I told her I’d bring her a Carmichael tankard with ale in. Only that wouldn’t’ve survived the trip, prob’ly, so.”

Darrin ahs. “Probably not,” he agrees, lips twitching. “So…” he waves a hand. “You’ve been writing letters back and forth, then?”

Lanisen darts a quick uncertain glance at Darrin before he says, “A bit. I ain’t very good at gettin’ letters written, I never know what to say. But hers are always funny.” There is a bottle of some rich golden liquid on the table that wasn’t there before.

Megren returns to the table all in a huff from her hurry, and plunks down into the chair. “What’s this,” she says, picking up the bottle to look at it.

Darrin looks amused by this. “She is the soul of wit,” he says, tone simultaneously dry and sincere.

Lanisen looks a little relieved when Megren rejoins them. “Your Carmichael mug,” he answers.

Darrin hides a wide grin behind his hand at the look of relief on Lanisen’s face, and glances at Megren for her reaction.

Megren glances between them with a grin, “Who, Lady Paige?” She frowns at the label of the bottle, not quite silently sounding it out. “Brandy? This isn’t a mug /or/ ale.” She clucks her tongue and shakes her head. “Go back and try again.”

Lanisen opens his mouth in indignant objection before it registers that she’s read the label. His eyebrows fly up in delight and surprise. “You–!”

Darrin snort-laughs at the Paige comment.

Megren points to one of the other words, “I can’t figure out how that one works, but I’m guessing it probably says Carmichael?”

Lanisen says, nodding quickly, “Yeah, that’s right.” He beams at her, all his self-consciousness in the new environment forgotten.

Megren glances between them. “Well? Should we drink it?”

Lanisen shrugs and spreads his hands.

Darrin says, “I’m game if you are. Been a while since I had any Carmichael drink.”

Megren starts working at the cork. “Somebody get cups.”

Lanisen asks, “Cups, where?”

Darrin rises, waving Lanisen off, and heads for the sideboard. He ducks around it and grabs a few glasses from underneath, bringing them back to the table and putting them in front of Megren.

The fire flickers, casting dancing shadows all over the walls.

Megren pours them each an equal amount and pushes the cups toward them. “So the way this goes is, you’re not allowed to leave the mess until you’ve played at least one game here.”

Lanisen makes a small noise of objection as she pours him one as well, then shrugs a little. “A game?” he repeats dubiously.

Darrin takes his cup with a quiet ‘thanks’ and takes a sip. “Options are pretty much unlimited – we like to change things up.” He grins.

Megren says regretfully, “Rules as old as time, I’m afraid.”

Lanisen glances between them, forehead a little furrowed.

Darrin grins and leans over to stage-whispher to Megren, “He doesn’t look too keen, does he? I don’t think he trusts us.”

Megren stagewhispers back, “We are not very trustworthy.”

Darrin purses his lips in mock-hurt at this assertion.

Lanisen ducks his head and grins, taking a sip of his brandy. It’s stronger than he expects, apparently, and he coughs a little bit.

Megren grins at Lanisen and sniffs her own, pulling her head back in surprise. “That settles it, definitely cubes.”

Darrin turns over his palm to reveal a die that he apparently grabbed while he was up. He flicks it at Megren. “Like this?” he asks, grinning cheekily.

Megren catches it in her palm. “Rules?”

Lanisen watches, quiet and attentive, hiding behind his brandy.

Darrin says, “I made up the rules /last/ time.”

Megren waves a dismissive hand at him. “Fine. All right, red: me, yellow: Sir Darrin, green: Lanisen, those are all truths. Blue is a dare to the roller, purple the roller asks a question of /both/ the others, white, everyone drinks.”

Lanisen blinks. “I’m gonna forget at least five of those,” he remarks after a beat.

Darrin looks up at the ceiling like he’s memorizing this list and then nods. “Fine by me.”

Megren grins. “We’ll remind you.” She hands him the cube. “Newbie goes first.”

Lanisen eyes the cube and picks it up, giving it a test roll in his palm. “Here goes nothin’,” he says, glancing at them with a small, lopsided grin, and flips it onto the table.

Darrin eyes the green side up. “So who wants to pose the question?”

Megren points to Lanisen. “Roller.”

Lanisen looks rather put on the spot. “What kind of question?”

Megren says, “You are only allowed to ask serious soul-searching questions.”

Darrin snickers. “Or, alternately, embarrassing ones.”

Megren says, “Ooh, definitely do that.”

Lanisen laughs, a little nervous, and gives Darrin an assessing look. “Um,” he says, and waffles for a minute before settling on something very safe. “Um. How come you ain’t got a dog in the kennels, sir?”

Darrin sniffs delicately. “I am awaiting the right hound,” he says, in a superior tone, before he breaks down and giggles. “To be quite honest, I’m not really sure. I didn’t get one before I left Coghill to be a squire, and I haven’t made as much effort to find and train one since I’ve been knighted. It’s…on my mind as something I should get around to, though.”

Megren says, “You could choose one from the new litter, Sir.”

Lanisen adds, “And it ain’t like you gotta do /that/ much trainin’.”

Darrin asks, “I could, at that. Any favorites in this litter, Lanisen?”

Megren rests her chin on her hand.

Lanisen shifts a little. “I only met ’em yesterday.”

Megren says, “Licorice is my favorite, but she’s a mutt, so I guess you don’t want her.”

Darrin wrinkles his nose. “I didn’t /necessarily/ say that,” he tells Megren.

Lanisen says, “Nothin’ wrong with mutts.”

Megren exclaims, “Oh! Well, she’s almost all trained up, then.”

Darrin thinks about this. “I should go and see her again,” he says, nodding.
Darrin asks, “Anyways, whose turn?”

Megren indicates for Lanisen to pass the cube on over to the knight.

Lanisen slides it on over.

Darrin picks it up between finger and thumb and flicks it a little harder than he means to, so that the die skitters across most of the table and nearly falls off into Megren’s lap. It teeters on the edge and lands on yellow again.

Lanisen peers at it. “What’s that mean, then?”

Megren says, “Either of us can ask.” She taps her lips, gets a big grin and shoots Sir Darrin a dangerous look. She glances at Lanisen and seems to change tack from whatever she’d been thinking of saying. “What was it like squiring away from home so long.”

Darrin eyes Megren askance at her changing expressions, and then at the actual question, he blinks. “Ah.” He takes a sip of his brandy, and seems to forget that it was brandy instead of his usual wine, and clears his throat loudly, eyes watering. “It was, ah, lonely. At first. It was expected, but that didn’t make it any easier, being so far away from everyone. Eventually it became easier. I made new friends – Arael, for instance – and Ast was a good teacher. He knew when to let me push me and when to let me go at my own pace. I suppose I owe a lot of who I am now, and what skills I have, to those years.”

Lanisen asks with interest, “You knew Arael?”

Darrin nods.

Megren says, “I still haven’t met her.”

Lanisen assures her, “You’ll like her.”

Darrin says, “Definitely.”

Megren wrinkles her nose and holds her hand out for the cube. “Useful information, I’m sure.”

Lanisen watches apprehensively.

Megren rolls a yellow, frowns at the game piece, and flicks it. It lands on red instead.

Darrin looks amused. “So, I take it we’re taking that second roll, then.”

Megren says, “The theory that you’ve weighted these continues to be supported, Sir.”

Lanisen grins, glancing at Darrin to let him put the question to Megren.

Darrin tsks. “But that supposes I would weight them so /I/ get all the questions. Wouldn’t I be more likely to weight them so that everyone else does?” He licks his lips, and thinks for a moment before he asks, “If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?”

Megren blinks. “Invisible?” She thumbs her chin thoughtfully. “Hmm. Probably try to get people’s attention and end up frustrated because they kept looking through me, I guess.”

Lanisen laughs under his breath. “Dunno what you expected,” he remarks.

Darrin grins, and shrugs.

Megren passes the cube again, taking a drink of brandy and barely swallowing it, covering her face as she coughs, laughing at herself.

Lanisen takes the cube and jogs it in his hand a couple times before sending it skittering across the table. It lands green side up, and he squints at it for a moment, trying to remember what that means.

Megren claps her hands.

Darrin glances at her. “You wanna do the honors, Fritter?”

Lanisen’s mouth forms a silent ‘o’.

Megren tilts her head, sizing Lanisen up. “Tell us something you’ve never told anyone.” She pauses, then modifies, “Anyone you still know.”

Lanisen gives her a blank look. “Umm…”

Darrin rubs the back of his neck, “I feel like you always come up with better questions for this game than I do,” he grumbles good-naturedly.

Megren grins at him. “You can answer it too, if you want. Since you’ve shown your hand to liking that by weighing the pieces.”

Lanisen says, “You can /have/ it, if you want.”

Megren lifts her finger, “No, no, no.”

Lanisen grumbles a bit and frowns at the tabletop. “I dunno how to answer that,” he complains.

Megren relents, “All right, anything you’ve never told either of us, how’s that.”

Lanisen stares at his cup and is inspired. “I never had brandy before tonight,” he declares. “There. Never told anybody that before.” He sits back in his chair, pleased with himself.

Megren rolls her eyes, but grins. “Congratulations, you survived your first confession.”

Darrin pulls a face at Megren at the repeat mention of weighing the pieces. He nods approvingly at Lanisen’s answer, and says, “I would actually have to give that one some thought, myself.”

Lanisen smirks, but looks relieved nonetheless.

Megren sticks her chin in her hand, looking at Sir Darrin expectantly.

Darrin taps his upper lip. “First thing to come to mind will have to be a something I’ve not told either of you. Or too many of the other knights and guards, I suppose. I’m…pretty good at hand to hand combat. The non-weapon variety.”

Lanisen tilts his head a little, interested.

Megren hms, sizing him up as if trying to decide if she believes him.

Darrin might be blushing, if the twin spots of color in his cheeks are any indication. Or it might be the brandy. It’s probably the brandy.

Megren says, “I guess it’s only fair if I do one now, hm?” She tilts her head, considering.

Lanisen eyes the liquid in his cup as if trying to determine the best manner of approach, then takes another cautious sip.

Darrin raises his brows at her expectantly.

Megren chews her thumbnail absently as she thinks. “…I’ve got start keeping more secrets.”

Lanisen snorts out a small breath of laughter at this.

Darrin says, “That is the opposite of a problem.”

Megren says, “Oh! Does this count? I can do this.” She sticks her tongue out and forms a clover shape with it.

Lanisen blinks. He leans forward, squinting a little bit, and immediately tries to replicate the feat. He can’t quite manage, and the faces he pulls with the effort are a little alarming.

Megren cracks up laughing.

Darrin does the same, and fails miserably. “By virtue of my own ineptitude at…that…” he waves a hand vaguely. “I’d say that it does.”

Lanisen manages a U?

Megren covers her mouth.

Darrin glances at Lanisen and snickers. “I have never been good at that whole ‘twisting a cherry stem into a knot with your tongue’ thing,” he admits, ceasing his own efforts entirely.

Lanisen is by this time trying to use his fingers to twist his tongue into the desired shape. He gives up and asks, “…Why?”

Megren says, “Why… can… I do it? I don’t know. I saw someone one day so I tried and I could. Here, look, I can do this one, too.” She flips her tongue upside down and bites down a little on it to make it stay. She talks around it to say in a muffled voice, “I can’t flip it the other way, though.”

Lanisen tries, and is pleased to discover that he can flip it both ways without using his teeth, a skill he displays with great glee.

Darrin at this point just seems flabbergasted and impressed by these shows of skill. He reaches for his brandy glass abruptly and takes a gulp, then immediately dissolves into hacking coughs.

Lanisen looks into his own glass and comments with regret, “This is really very strong, isn’t it.”

Megren covers her mouth again. “Sorry, I poured too much, I’ve only had it once and it was in something.” Her brows lift. “We could get some cider for it.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s my fault, I thought it’d be more like ale.”

Darrin pushes his glass away. “I keep forgetting I’m not drinking ale or wine,” he admits ruefully.

Megren waves a hand dismissively. “We’ll know for next time.”

Lanisen says brightly, “At least it’ll last longer!”

Darrin says, “Optimistic. I like it.”

Megren coughs, and drinks the last sip of hers. “All right, much as I will like to continue learning both your deepest secrets and discussing our various aptitudes at useless tricks, I promised Haft I’d check in on him. He’s all–” she waves a hand in front of her face. “Sniffly and whinier than usual.”

A log on the fire shifts, sending a column of sparks flying upwards.

Lanisen’s grin falters at this and he looks away. “Yeah, I oughta look in on Cass before it gets too much later.”

Darrin looks very amused. “Emperor forbid.” He eyes the last bit of brandy in his glass and almost reluctantly pulls it back to drain it. He manages not to cough. “Well, that works out, though. I need to go and have a word with Tyre, thank him for his efforts. I owe him a drink, I’d say. Or several.” Darrin looks entertained by the thought.

Megren gets up, but she stops halfway and lifts her finger at Sir Darrin. “No, I want to be there for that.”

Darrin flashes a grin. “As you wish.”

Lanisen gives them a curious look at this, standing up and tucking his chair in neatly under the table.

Megren stands up the rest of the way. “All right, wish me luck.” She bows to Sir Darrin. “Say hello to Cass for me,” she says to Lanisen.

Lanisen says, “I’ll do that.” He bows toward Darrin as well and says, “Thanks for the game.”

Darrin dips his head to them both. “Thank you,” he tells Lanisen. “I’ll see you both later.” He collects their glasses and brings them over to the dirty dishes tub on one wall before starting to make his way out of the mess.

Megren picks up the bottle, “Hey Lanisen– thank you again.”

Lanisen pauses on his way out to the stairwell. “You too,” he answers. He hesitates, like he’s thinking about saying something else, then nods awkwardly and heads out.


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