You stand in the warm and busy servants’ hall. Most of the floor is taken up by long trestle tables and benches. Candles in sconces on the wall light the room with a friendly glow. At the back of the hall, a staircase leads down into the storeroom. The only other object of note is a large wood and leather chair, where the head cook often rests between meals.
Reina is seated in a far corner of the servant’s hall, back to the room, shoulders hunched as if trying to make herself look small. On the table in front of her is a plate of cheese cubes and apple slices. Beside the plate is a sheet of parchment with two columns of ink on it. The left hand column is comprised of a list of words while the right is comprised of a list of expertly drawn images. Lines connect a few of the words to a few of the drawings, revealing it to be a matching game. The child keeps her head bowed, either gazing at her plate or surveying her parchment, but interacting with no one.
Lanisen has a plate very similar to Reina’s in his good hand as he slips through the door. He surveys the room briefly, considering several seating options, and his eyes catch on Reina.
Reina, since her back is to the room and her head is down, doesn’t see him.
Lanisen wavers, glancing between her and a more comfortably secluded seat indecisively. He takes a deep breath and lets it out again, then turns toward her, and takes a seat a little distance away from her, near enough to hold a conversation but far enough that not doing so is not awkward.
Spotting the movement out of the corner of her eye, Reina glances in that direction, eyes falling on Lanisen. She offers him a deep nod of respect before turning back to her parchment.
Lanisen nods back. He does not otherwise initiate conversation, leaving that up to her, but he begins eating in companionable silence.
Reina does not say anything. Picking up a charcoal pencil, she draws a line between a word and a picture, hesitates, then frowns, stopping the line halfway. If Lanisen can see the paper from where he is sitting and if he chooses to look, he may see that the word is point. In the opposite column, there are images, respectively, of a man pointing his finger and one of a spear point.
Lanisen half-watches, without staring. He eats another piece of cheese.
Reina bites her lip, glancing between the spear point and the man pointing, then looks back at the word she is pretty sure is point. With a small, barely there sigh, she pushes the paper away and picks up an apple slice. Biting off half, she grabs a small cube of cheese and pops it into her mouth, chewing both quietly and allowing herself a tiny smile of enjoyment at the mingling flavors.
A son of adam wearing leather gloves walks quietly into the hall, carrying a small plate of bread and cheese. He heads for a quiet spot, nodding in greeting to the people who chance to greet him. He sits down, placing the plate in front of him and also removes a book from the crook of his arm.
Lanisen tips his head at Reina and tries the same thing, eating a piece of cheese and an apple at the same time. He chews thoughtfully and nods.
Reina looks up, reaching for her parchment once more. Flipping it over, she draws three vertical lines, then two horizontal lines crossing them so that within a matter of seconds, there is a drawn box of little boxes. She draws an X in the center box and slips the parchment over to Lanisen.
Teague opens his book and begins to read, occasionally taking a bite out of his meal.
Lanisen looks at the parchment, and looks at Reina. He reaches for the writing utensil and puts an o in the bottom right corner.
Retrieving the parchment, she notes where he has been able to block her off and surveys the little board seriously. Picking up the pencil, she puts an X in the bottom left corner. As she slides the paper and pencil back over to him, she notes an unfamiliar face in the hall. A man in leather gloves, reading a book. She stares for a moment, as if trying to place him in her mind, then lowers her eyes respectfully to the floor before she can be caught staring. After another moment, her eyes flick to Lanisen and she offers him a tiny smile.
Lanisen swiftly puts an o in the top right, stopping her row.
Teague continues to read, seemingly oblivious to anything going around him.
Reina gives Lanisen a mock despairing glance, the corners of her mouth twitching as she takes the parchment back and draws a decisive X in the right middle box, stopping the three he himself could have made straight up the right hand row.
Lanisen, in return, marks an o in the left middle box, blocking off her potential three as well.
Reina lets out a tut sound, though she is smiling to herself as she takes back the paper and looks down at it. Capturing her lower lip between her teeth, she twirls the charcoal stick over in her fingers before drawing a tentative X in the bottom middle box.
Lanisen puts an o in the top middle box, and glances at her with a small wry smile to acknowledge the draw.
Teague finally looks up from his book, glancing about the room. He tips his head at the two drawing on a piece of paper but does not seem bothered to interfere. He looks down at his book again.
Reina gives Lanisen a little grin, flipping the paper over and frowning a little at the two columns. She pushes it over to him again with a raised eyebrow. “Point?” she asks quietly, tapping the word, then the two representations of the word. “Confused.”
Lanisen looks where she points and hmms, frowning a little. “What other words are there?” he asks, already looking at the other column.
Teague looks up at the mention of words.
The other words are apple, dog, cat, bird, cart, girl, boy, cry, and sleep. Then point, with two drawn representations of the word.
Lanisen suggests, “Match up all the others and see what’s left?”
Reina nods, taking her paper back and bowing her head over it.
Teague glances back at his book.
Lanisen, while she is occupied, sets to people-watching while he finishes his apple. He squints one eye a little, trying to see the title of Teague’s book.
The man may be able to see that the book is entitled, ‘Archenland history, Vol. I.’
Reina continues to work away on her parchment, drawing lines between words and drawings.
Lanisen glances back over after a few minutes to check on her progress.
Teague finishes up his meal, closing the book and resting it on the table.
Reina is just drawing the line between girl and a picture of a little girl holding a bouquet of flowers, leaving the word point the only word not fully connected to a drawing. There are also two pictures remaining. Ten words, eleven drawings. Reina frowns in confusion. It was one of the two, but… she’d already known that.
Lanisen ahs quietly.
Teague stands up, beginning to wipe the crumbs onto his plate.
Reina sighs, staring helplessly down at her paper. After a moment, she connects the word to both pictures, then tosses the charcoal pencil into a pocket and turns back to her food.
Lanisen ventures, “No reason it shouldn’t be both.”
Reina nods, carefully rolling the sheet of parchment into a scroll and withdrawing a candle and a bit of plain sealing wax from a pocket of her tunic. Sealing the scroll carefully, she blows out the candle and pockets the items once more. She picks at her food, then pushes the plate away, leaving most of it untouched.
Lanisen watches covertly as he finishes his own meal. “All right?” he asks softly after a moment.
Teague grabs his book, tucking it under his arm. As the girl blows out the candle, he stares at it in quiet watching, watching the dying embers before the girl pockets it.
Reina nods, lifting her eyes to his and looking at him with none of her usual intensity. There is not much of anything in her eyes as she stares. The spark of playfulness she’d had during their game is gone, as is the spark of concentrated interest and frustration that had alternately graced her visage as she worked on her assignment. She just looks at him… blankly.
Lanisen asks, “How Mistress Sareen, then?”
Teague makes his way out of the hall, carrying his dirty plate to the kitchens.
The blankness vanishes instantly beneath a flash of wild apprehension and a bit of downright fear. “Sh-She’s f-fine,” she whispers.
Lanisen looks at her closely at this, his eyes narrowed.
Reina notes the narrowing of the eyes and drops her own eyes instantly, curling in on herself and looking away. “S-Sorry,” she breathes.
Lanisen’s expression holds no accusation, only worry and a certain intent searching. “You’re all right,” he says. “What’s the matter?”
Her head snaps up, eyes looking at him almost frantically as she shakes her head violently, waving a hand in the air as if to state that nothing at all is wrong.
Lanisen asks, “She ain’t– what we talked about?”
Reina shakes her head firmly.
Lanisen looks relieved, but only partially. He glances around the relatively busy hall and hesitates, then asks, “You want to talk about it?”
Reina reaches under her tunic, there is another gray linen shirt beneath, and withdraws her sketchbook from where it must have been tucked between said tunic and her linen shirt, wedged firmly into the band of her leggings. She flips it open, turning to the last filled page which is not filled at all. It depicts partial drawings of flowers, misspelled names written above the half drawings in a shaky hand. She shows Lanisen, biting her lip hard. “I was just trying to take notes the only way I knew how,” she whispers meekly. “She demanded to know what I was doing, as though I were doing something bad. I said nothing. She took it from me for the rest of the … lesson.” She says the last word as if she is unsure what to call her sessions with the groundskeeper. “Please say nothing. I will be in trouble if you do. She will find me ungrateful and spoiled. Please say nothing, squire, I beg you.” As if this is too much for her, she falls silent once more and seems to crawl into herself, arms wrapped tightly around her torso, sketchbook trapped within them, knees pulled up to her chest, head bowed, eyes staring blankly.
Lanisen frowns at this, confused. “She don’t want you takin’ notes, then,” he suggests.
Reina shrugs. That is not the point. “I’m bad,” she whispers.
Lanisen makes a face like he finds this extremely unlikely. “What didn’t you like?” he wants to know. “That she stopped you drawin’, or that she took away your book, or…?”
“She hates me,” Reina whispers. “I can hear it in her voice. I deserve it. Never mind this, squire. I should not be complaining. My fault. Not your concern.”
Lanisen looks even more dubious. “Come on,” he says gently. “She ain’t got to know you yet. Just leave the book in your room next time, yeah?”
Reina nods. “S’not about the book,” she mumbles. “Doesn’t want to get to know me. Had me transfering soil from one planter to another. Back and forth. Back and forth. No point. No reason. Just to punish. but it is punishment. My fault. Because g-Garian h-h-h–” She breaks off, burying her face in her hands. There is no wild blubbing, however. No sound at all. Just a shudder. A small intake of breath. A shaking of the shoulders. A tightening of the little ball she has rolled herself into.
Lanisen glances uncertainly around the room. He reaches out and hesitantly pats her shoulder. “It’s all right,” he says, trying to be bracing. “You only been doin’ this, what, a couple days? It’s gonna get better.”
“Hates… me…” Each word is a harsh gasp, separated from the one before with a sharp intake of breath. She whispers, the tears less prominent in her voice that way. “First… time… made… mistake…” She stops, inhaling deeply, holding it for a five count, exhaling. “Throws… away… trash… thought… cared…” Another long pause and five count holding of breath. “Enough… But first… mistake… thrown away… broke something…” A shaky gasp, then the softest words of all. “Inside me.” Long silence. “Nobody stays.”
Lanisen says, a little helplessly, “Hey, hey.” He rubs the back of his neck and glances around the hall again. “It’s all right, nobody’s left, you’re– you’re fine.”
Reina shakes her head, scrubbing furiously at her eyes before looking up at him. “You don’t understand,” she says in a helpless whisper. “I am unlovable.” She inhales slowly, fighting down the emotion. “I made one mistake. A big one. But one. Captain Garian’s first response was to get rid of me. My parents got rid of me gladly when Megren offered to take me. Garian tossed me out like so much trash the moment I made a bad mistake. I let myself care for him, and he threw me away like I was worth less to him than a horse turd he has stepped in. It broke something inside me, squire. I don’t care what happens to me anymore. That does not stop it from hurting, but I have no energy to care. You should not either.” She closes her eyes, and looks suddenly old for her years, as if she is carrying around a burden much too big for her. “It never ends well for me when people care. I always turn them away. I like you, squire. You should stop while you are ahead. Do not waste your time on a hopeless cause.”
Lanisen’s face twists a little uncertainly. “The captain ain’t gone anywhere,” he says. “You could still go talk to him, prob’ly.”
Reina shakes her head, subsiding into herself once more.
Lanisen points out after a moment, “Captain’s still lookin’ after you, you know.”
Reina shakes her head, face gone expressionless, eyes gone sad and lost, though thankfully, perhaps, no longer tearful.
Lanisen says, “Look, I dunno what was said, but why would he find you a place with Mistress Sareen if he was washin’ his hands of you?”
“Same reason you find an unwanted puppy a nice home instead of drowning it. Looks bad on reputations,” she says tonelessly.
Lanisen looks faintly exasperated at this. “Come on.”
Reina notes the expression and pushes to her feet, bowing respectfully. “This is what I mean,” she says quietly. “Even my emotions are wrong. Good evening, squire. Thank you for making it a nice one.” She taps the scroll in her tunic as an explanation, then, without waiting for a reply, turns and flees the room as though all her nightmares are on her heels.
Lanisen lets out a frustrated breath. He raps his knuckles on the tabletop, then gets up and follows her out.
You stand in a circular tower which serves as a sort of corridor. In the
center is a stone pillar, around which stairs are placed, rising to the
Nobles’ Quarters above. To the south is the Sewing Room. All around are
small tidy rooms, the staff quarters. To the east is the Inner Ward.
Reina sprints into the corridor, eyes fixed on her goal as she makes a b-line for her bedroom door. Reaching it, she pauses, fumbling for her key.
Lanisen follows her, his limp more pronounced as he tries to keep up. “Reina,” he says. “Reina, stop. Hang on.”
Hearing the voice, Reina looks up. At the sight of Lanisen’s more pronounced than usual limp, she does stop, key poised in the lock. She looks like all she wants to do is dive into that room and hide until she’s been forgotten. But there is kindness in her eyes when she looks on him, and a vulnerability as well. He had cared enough to follow?
Lanisen says, “Say something good.”
Reina cocks her head, wrinkling her forehead in confusion and raising a quizzical eyebrow at him. “Pardon?”
Lanisen says, “Something good, say somethin’ good about your life, here, now.”
Reina lowers her hand from the door and leans back against it, biting her lower lip and truly appearing to be giving it some thought. After a few long moments, she looks up at him. “I have a… friend?” She sounds incredibly dubious and there is blatant disbelief on her face. “There is nothing good right now. I cannot see it… I cannot see it.” She says it the second time as if the thought is just occurring to her, and then she looks devastatingly sad. “I don’t know,” she says in a lost little voice. “I… I have a warm place to sleep? I have my own space? Those are good… makes hiding easier… but…” Her voice trails off.
Lanisen nods. “Good start. You got a roof over your head, you got food, you got folk around you who care about you.” He moistens his lips and shifts his weight, glancing around at the doors on all sides. “Listen. I been where you’re at, and I been lower too, lots lower, all right? It seems bad right now, but it ain’t, it ain’t. It’s what you make of it. You understand?”
“Not really,” she admits softly. “It hurts inside, squire, and I do not know how to stop that. It feels like something’s bleeding and it won’t stop. It takes all my strength, and I cannot even make that hurt become anger anymore, because I’m scared of being angry.”
Lanisen says, a little shortly, “You don’t stop it.” He stops and looks at the floor for a second, then looks back at her. “You just– you keep movin’, all right? You keep movin’, keep doin’ your job, in a little while you’ll realize it’s not so bad as it looked at first.”
Reina watches him for a long moment, then nods. “I’ll try,” she says softly. “I will surely fail, but I will try.” She sounds dubious again, as if the thought of trying is foreign to her. Her shoulders sag wearily, as if the thought of trying is more of a burden than not trying may have been. Her head falls forward as if a stone were tied to her neck. She hangs it low for a moment before lifting it, as if with great effort, and looking at him again, her expression sad, her stare soft and liquid, not intense in the least.
Lanisen looks back at her for a second, then looks away. “It’s–” he begins. “I know it’s hard. But you got a lot of people lookin’ after you, you’ve really fallen on your feet here. Focus on that, yeah?”
Reina wanders over to the stairs and sits down, huddled against one of the railings. “Doesn’t feel that way,” she admits. “I’m just the wench who talks too much. Least, I was.”
Lanisen says bluntly, “You ain’t gotta feel like a thing’s true for it to be true.”
Reina shrugs. “I suppose that itself is true.”
Lanisen says nothing more.
Nor does Reina. She just sits there, looking thoughtful, as if mulling over his words.
Lanisen nods a little, and turns to go.
Reina watches him, frowning. Standing, she runs to her room, turns the key, pushes it open and closes the door behind her. “I do not know why you are angry,” are her last, quiet words.
Lanisen can’t hear through doors.