Before the Gates of Anvard
A flat green space at the foot of the mountains opens here, sheltered by the
slopes of the northern mountains. Stormness Head looms high to the northeast,
its peak nearly always in clouds, and the double-headed peak of Mount Pire
rises over the trees to the northwest. A steep ridge like the side of a bowl
curves around from the northwest to the east, and the ground descends into
dense forest to the south.
At the center of the clear area is a small turreted castle, facing east. Its
weathered walls are built of large blocks of red granite that glitter faintly
in the sunlight, and elegantly functional ironwork graces the front gates and
portcullis. A stone cobbled road wide enough to easily facilitate the passage
of carts and carriages crosses over the broad green lawns from the castle
gates, disappearing into the trees to the east.
Lanisen returns to the castle from the town a little after sunset. As he nears the gates, he breaks off from the road and instead goes to sit with his back against the cooler west wall of the castle, watching the last few merchants heading home with their wagons, and the fireflies.
Megren walks up the lane in her day dress, a small reticule slung over one shoulder.
Lanisen doesn’t seem to recognize her right off, but he blinks, grins, and lifts a hand in greeting once she’s near enough.
Megren takes a moment to see him off to the side, her concentration mostly on her destination and the opposing traffic. When she catches sight of the wave, however, she veers off the path toward him.
Lanisen asks, “Been to see your da?”
Megren nods, coming up beside him and sitting in the grass and rubble at the foot of the wall. “Yeah.” She removes the bag and opens it for him to see raspberries inside, an unspoken offer. “I live in a castle, but he always insists on sending me home with something.”
Lanisen folds up his good leg and leans forward to see what’s in the bag. “Ooh,” he comments with interest, and takes one. “Thanks.”
Megren rolls the edges of the bag so it sits open and sets it between them, the pearls of the berries shining in the last rays of summer light with the characteristic brightness of a first ripe batch. “Hiding from Nia?”
Lanisen laughs under his breath. “Nah, just… didn’t feel like goin’ in just yet. It’s a pretty evening.”
Megren nods, extending her legs so her ankles can cross and tugging her hem down so it lies flat again. “Been to see Cass?”
Lanisen says, “Yeah. She’s settlin’ in real good at the tavern, it’s looking like.”
Megren grins. “Good. Good place for a tough girl — she won’t let the rowdy ones push her around.”
Lanisen asks with some alarm, “Does it get rowdy there?”
Megren shakes her head. “Not usually. And when it does, Dranken handles it quick.”
Lanisen looks relieved. “I didn’t think it did, but I haven’t been there often enough to really know.”
Megren nods. “I don’t go in very often, but my da and he are friends.”
Lanisen says, “He seems like a good sort. Cass gets along with him, anyway.” He is sitting against the wall with Megren, his bad leg stretched out in front of him.
Megren shakes the bag of raspberries promptingly at him. “I did see a fight — or not quite a fight, but coming on one, in there once. But it was sore feelings after the battle, nothing usual.”
Lanisen takes another berry, just one, with an if-you-insist sort of head-dip. “A not-quite fight, once,” he repeats. “That ain’t so bad.”
Megren makes a face at him and takes his left hand, opening it up to pour a few berries into.
Darrin emerges from the gates amid a gaggle of knights and squires, and appears deep in Very Serious Conversation with a particular knight with auburn hair and a contrary expression. “Certainly not!” Darrin says, loudly and indignantly. “You can’t hunt on a destrier, Sir Gavin! That is – it’s just – why-” he splutters for a moment before coming up with, “Absolutely absurd!”
Lanisen laughs under his breath, rather rueful, and murmurs a sheepish thanks. He begins to eat them slowly, savoring each berry. At the small commotion at the gates, he glances up curiously.
Haft steps out a little after the group, looking around until his eyes light on Megren.
Megren looks up at the emerging group, squinting an eye to see them through one of the rays of sun breaking through the mountains behind them.
Darrin runs a hand through his curls as Sir Gavin gives a skeptical reply, and starts talking about the unsuitability of high-strung, valuable warhorses for use in activities involving any degree of stealth.
Lanisen goes tense and still for a moment, then bows his head over the berries and tries to be part of the wall.
Megren looks like she’s going to get up, but she notices Lanisen’s posture and decides not to draw attention to herself.
Haft, seeing Lanisen, hangs back a little behind the knights and squires.
Darrin subsides when Sir Gavin concedes his point, but by the time that’s happened, the pair of them have fallen behind the main body of the group and stopped just outside the gates while the rest of the knights and squires continue on into town. Darrin rubs at the back of his neck and makes a self-deprecating comment about how growing up near stables like Coghill’s makes him a bit intense about these things. The red-haired knight laughs, and claps him on the shoulder, and then points out something behind Darrin, nodding towards Megren and Lanisen.
Lanisen keeps quiet, watching the group pass from the corner of his eye.
Megren sees Haft once the group of knights starts to clear out, and understanding crosses her features. She picks up her back of berries and rolls the edges back up so it’s suitable for carrying. The movement leads her to lean forward a bit, making Lanisen more visible but blocking his line of sight so that Haft is less.
Haft, looking resigned, calls out. “Megren, a word?”
Darrin looks over his shoulder and observes the exchange going on for a moment. He purses his lips and says something in an undertone to the other knight, drawing Sir Gavin off to the side further but staying in a position from which he can observe quite easily.
Darrin mumbles “… on … moment, Sir … There … … some…interesting exchanges … … … … like … observe, … you … …”, to Darrin.
Megren places her hand on Lanisen’s shoulder as a kind of “talk to you later”, though the gesture also serves as a comforting one. She pushes herself up to a standing position and walks over to Haft. Her eyes flick to Sir Darrin, but she finds him still occupied in conversation and not yet needing greeting.
Lanisen gets to his feet once Megren is away, still clutching his handful of raspberries, and heads toward the gates to make his escape.
Haft glances at Lanisen, then back to his friend. “Sorry to interrupt. Just…we’re going in the morning, first thing. Didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye.
Darrin makes a face in the background and says something apologetically to Sir Gavin before he crosses over to intercept Lanisen. The other knight pauses for a moment, looking indecisively between Sir Darrin and the direction the rest of the knights disappeared. “Evening, Lanisen,” Darrin says casually as he falls in step with the squire.
Megren frowns slightly, her eyes also following Lanisen, but she rallies. “Send me a letter so I can practice my reading.”
Haft smiles faintly. “I can do that.” His eyes flick toward Lanisen. “And maybe he can start visitin’ the mess again.”
Megren hides her disapproving look by readjusting the strap of her bag over her shoulder.
Lanisen, distracted and intent on reaching the castle, startles and pauses uncertainly. “Ahh, evenin’, sir,” he replies, bowing.
Darrin asks, “And how are you faring these days?”
Lanisen says, “I’m well, thank you, sir. And– and yourself?”
Darrin sticks his hands in his pockets. “Oh, well, well, thank you.” He pauses, glances back at Megren and Haft. “Things still a bit tense there, I see. Megren mentioned as much.”
Haft shakes his head. “Funny. Never thought once I was reinstated to the guard that I’d ever go back.”
Lanisen doesn’t seem to know what to say to this. He shifts his weight and gives Darrin an apprehensive sidelong glance.
Megren pushes her hair behind her ear. “You’re packed up?”
Darrin pushes his lips sideways. “Not prying, I swear! Just…want some company, since Haft seems to have commandeered my squire?”
Haft says, “Yeah. Don’t need much. Change of clothes, my travelling cloak.”
Haft says, “You’re gonna know all there is to know about horses before I get back.”
Megren looks cheeky. “Probably.”
Haft says, “Anything you want me to bring you? There’s shops in Sted Cair, if I find a moment away from my duties.”
Lanisen hesitates. “I don’t– um– if… if you like, sir?” He glances down at the berries staining his hand red and covers his confusion with another small bow.
Megren clasps her hands behind her back. “Queen Lucy’s vial, please.”
Darrin gives the berries an amused glance and then looks back up to Lanisen’s face. “Well, where are you off to?” he asks. “I was going out for drinks with some of the other squires and knights originally, if you’d like to join.”
Haft squints at her. “Yeah, that seems reasonable.”
Megren asks, “Well? How should I know what’s in Sted Cair?”
Haft says, “That makes it easy.”
Megren asks, “Does it?”
Lanisen says, “I was– I’ve only just come back from the tavern, actually, I was– my sister, she works there, um.” He takes a breath, looking a little trapped, and says, “Please don’t let me keep you from your evening, sir, I was just gonna check in on the hounds.”
Haft says, “Yeah, reckon I can get you anything, tell you it’s special, and you won’t complain.”
Megren says, “Now I won’t believe you.”
Haft says, “That’s your misfortune.”
Darrin says, “Nonsense, the hounds are just as entertaining as a night out drinking. That is, if you don’t mind me sticking around.”
Lanisen darts a glance at Megren. “I don’t– I don’t mind, sir.”
Darrin positively beams.
Megren tilts her head in the kind of concession given by someone who doesn’t actually agree but is too polite to say.
Lanisen hesitates, then turns back toward the gates.
Darrin onces more falls into step with him.
Haft offers a wry smile. “I’m going to miss your contrariness.”
Megren says, “You aren’t leaving forever.”
The kennel of Anvard is a fairly spacious room, well-lit by the windows in
the south wall looking toward the Outer Ward. It is immediately obvious that
the hounds housed here are quite well-treated: the floor is kept clean-swept;
the blankets padding the dogs’ wooden beds are thick and warm; and the hounds
themselves have a certain sleek, well-fed look. Several pens can be seen
toward the back of the room, likely used to isolate dogs that are sick,
injured, or in need of further training, but the majority of the castle
hounds are allowed to roam freely about the room.
A fireplace, lit on cold days, is set into the east wall, opposite the door
to the quarters of Danall, the Master of Hounds. A set of wooden stairs leads
up to a second level.
Lanisen opens the kennel door and shoves back a few yammering harriers, who don’t seem much offended. He is smiling despite his unease, surrounded by wagging tails and prancing welcomes.
Darrin adopts a similar unconscious grin as soon as they step inside the kennels. He stoops to pet indiscriminately.
Lanisen asks, “Is there a hound you’d like me to fetch for you, sir?”
Darrin shakes his head. “No, not really. Licorice and I are becoming friends, but otherwise…” he shrugs. “I’m terribly indecisive and have yet to settle on a pup I might want for myself.”
Lanisen offers, “I can get her for you, if you like. Or– we could just go up there, I suppose.”
Darrin shrugs again good-naturedly. “Your domain, Lanisen,” he says with a grin.
Lanisen turns a little red around the ears. “I just– I just work here, sir.”
Darrin gives a vague gesture that seems like it is meant to convey that it’s all the same to him, though the look in his eyes suggests he is not quite unaware of the effect he’s having.
Lanisen asks, “Do you want me to get Licorice, sir?”
Darrin bites his lip and says, “Why don’t we go upstairs?”
Lanisen nods acquiescence and heads that direction, standing aside to let Darrin go first up the steps.
Darrin wrinkles his nose in a gesture he probably has picked up from a certain red-head and heads up.
Lanisen follows him up the steps, much slower, favoring his bad leg with its end-of-the-day limp.
Darrin plops onto the floor unceremoniously to encourage the inevitable swarming of puppies.
Lanisen finds a seat a respectful distance away. He begins petting the ears of an aged black deerhound who settles her head comfortably in his lap.
Darrin grins, again, when Licorice finds her way into his lap and licks at his face. He ruffles her ears affectionately.
Lanisen doesn’t seem likely to break the silence. He lets out a long breath, leaning back against the wall, his shoulders relaxing.
Darrin appears to have a thought. “You know, Lanisen, while Colin’s away, you should train with Megren and I, if you want. I don’t have the faintest idea what he has you doing as his squire, but we’d be happy to have you work with us in the meantime.” His brows lower. “Well, I would, anyways, and I strongly doubt Megren would mind, but I probably shouldn’t speak for her.”
Lanisen asks, “Train, sir?”
Darrin shrugs. “We’re doing a lot of different things at the moment. Swordplay, horsemanship, working on her reading and writing, for example.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” He takes a moment to find a reply. “Um. I’d like that, I think, only–” He draws a deep breath and doesn’t look directly at Darrin. “I can’t manage a sword, sir.”
Darrin exclaims, “Oh, good! I’ll actually have someone to teach, then.” He leans forward and says conspiratorially, “Between you and me, there’s only so much for me to teach Megren on that front.””
Lanisen moistens his lips, but doesn’t correct him.
Darrin says, “With the sword, anyways. I think hand-to-hand is another story. Come to think of it, we haven’t sparred like that yet. Hm.”
Lanisen asks, “Is Megren very good with the sword, then, sir?”
Darrin nods. “Quite, yes. She has held her own against me extremely well so far.” There’s another pause, like he’s processing, and then his blue eyes widen fractionally. “Ah, oh. And we could work on your left hand, Lanisen. Teach you to fight with that one instead, if you prefer. Eventually we might get you to be rather good with both hands, and then you would be formidable indeed.”
Lanisen gives Darrin a startled look. “Is…” He turns his left hand palm-up, frowning down at it. “Is that… do people do that?”
Darrin says, “Oh, certainly. Not every knight is right-handed, anyways, so some fight with their dominant left hand. Some fight with both hands, sword and dagger sort of combination. And, if that didn’t work for you, we could always have you carry a shield on your right arm. I think you’d manage that well even right now.”
Lanisen says doubtfully, “I can’t hardly manage a spoon full of soup in my left hand..”
Darrin says, “Well, it would take practice, but I think it could be done.”
Lanisen chews on his lower lip, still looking at his hand thoughtfully. “You’re… you ain’t just sayin’ that?”
Darrin puts a hand over his heart. “Cross my heart,” he says, sincere, but a bit cheeky.
Lanisen looks at him, weighing his tone and expression for a moment, then looks back at his hand. “I want to learn, then,” he says finally, firmly, and a small, dangerous, disbelievingly hopeful smile tugs at his lips. “Yeah.”
Darrin grins widely. “Well, I’ll keep you informed as to when we’re practicing, then,” he says. “And when we’re doing other things, of course.”
Lanisen says, “Thank you. I’m… thank you, sir.”
Darrin starts to say, “You’re welco-” and is cut off when one of the youngest pups wiggles up his lap and actually licks his mouth. Darrin splutters.
Lanisen actually laughs at this, not loud, but genuine. “He does that,” he says apologetically.
Darrin picks up the little guy around the middle and holds him out away from his body, giving him a stern look. “Gross, Sir. Human mouths are strictly off limits.”
Lanisen makes a doubtful face at this set of orders, but before he can comment, something crashes loudly downstairs with the distinctive shattering sound of breaking pottery. He winces and gets to his feet. “Oh, lion, what have they got into now…”
Darrin notices something out the window. He lowers the puppy to his lap distractedly, frowning. When the crash sounds, he starts a little. “Um. If you’d excuse me, Lanisen, I’m going to – there’s somewhere I need to be.” He stands, placing the puppy on the floor and petting him a few more times before he straightens. “I’ll…talk to you tomorrow, hm?”
Lanisen pauses by the stairs. “All right,” he agrees. “Thank you, sir.” He bows.
Darrin sketches a quick bow in return. “Think nothing of it,” he says.
Lanisen looks baffled and a little alarmed as Darrin bows, but he backs away from the steps and gestures for the knight to go first again.
Darrin descends and makes his way out the door with rather more haste than is perhaps expected.