This chamber is a little wedge-shaped room, completely unremarkable but very clean. It’s small, with room for a bed and a little table and a wardrobe, but not much else. There is a narrow window of thick, slightly warped glass in the curving outer wall with a pleasant view of the castle pastures: rolling green, with a glimpse of the lake and waterfall beyond.
Several herb-packets and bottles share space on the top shelf of the wardrobe with a pair of unusual gloves, and a rather battered leather satchel hangs over the back of the chair.
There are three urgent knocks on the door followed quickly by the same.
Lanisen calls, “Come in?” He’s already starting to get to his feet from where he’s been sitting on his bed.
Megren opens the door. “It’s Sir Colin. Something’s happened. I’m not sure what.” She taps the side of her leg with the inside of her fist and adds to prepare him, “I think he’ll be all right but he doesn’t look pretty.”
Lanisen straightens, confused and alarmed. “What– what kind of something, what’s going on?” He fumbles for his knife and tucks it under his tunic at the small of his back.
Megren rubs her collarbone. “Umm… I don’t… I think he better explain it. It’s… fine now. Sort of fine.”
Megren looks impatient for him to be ready.
Lanisen goes to the door, opening it and stepping out into the corridor. “Where is he, where’s he at?”
Megren closes the door behind him, pointing. “The infirmary.”
The infirmary of Anvard is a long, bright room, a little over half the length of the Great Hall. It is shaped oddly, the northeast and southwest walls curving inward to accommodate the towers on either side. A partition that faces the door out to the inner ward bisects the room, separating the front area where the castle healers work from the back.
Three windows on either side of the door in the southeast wall let in a good amount of sunlight, especially in the late morning, and their sills are cluttered with the pots of several frequently used plants. To the left of the door stands a large cabinet, and bundles of herbs in various stages of drying hang from the ceiling. There is a long oak worktable to the right of the door, and a desk in the east corner is piled high with half-completed notes and books and other useful documents.
Tyren nevertheless very much remains a very present… presence, stone-faced as ever, standing at his full height and arms folded.
Colin turns his head instead, refusing to look at Tyren.
Colin shifts himself again, wincing as his bandaged left knee jostles a little. His hand goes to the bruises and split lip on his face, touching them gingerly.
Megren returns at a swift pace, entering the room and quickly stepping out of the doorway.
Lanisen follows closely behind her, already searching the room for Colin. When he finds him, he takes a quick breath and makes his way as quickly as he can to his side. “Sir?” he asks, and crouches down next to the cot so he can look Colin in the face. “Ohh, oh lion, what happened, what happened to you?”
Megren follows after him, arms crossed over her stomach. Her lips are sort of pursed.
Tyren keeps his mouth clamped shut – although it’s clearly a strain to do so.
Cassandra enters the infirmary with a tray piled with food for the patients. She pauses at the entrance, eyebrow raises at the small gathering at the back.
Colin looks even more pained when Lanisen arrives. “Aw, Lanny….didn’t want Meg to tell you…”
Lanisen’s eyes dart over the marks on Colin’s face. He grimaces and shifts to just sit on the floor instead, straightening out his bad leg. “What /happened/, sir?”
Megren drops her eyes to the floor, not looking regretful of her choice exactly, but not pleased about it either.
Tyren quite evidently wants to know the answer to that question himself, and doesn’t seem inclined to budge until he has one.
Cassandra hovers at the door before coming in. She finds one of the attendants, setting down the tray though she really doesn’t hide the fact that she is eavesdropping.
Colin doesn’t look at them, and his reply is toneless. “He got the upper hand.”
Megren clicks her lips and three-quarter turns away, rubbing at her mouth.
Tyren says, “I gathered as much. Tell me something I /can’t/ discern for myself.”
Colin emerges slightly and says bitingly, “Well what would you like to know?”
Lanisen’s mouth opens a little. “He?” he asks after a pause, his voice a soft rasp. His eyes flick up to Tyren with distracted frustration.
Tyren says flatly, “Why that was a possibility, for one thing.”
Colin begins to withdraw again. “Might come as a shock but things happen.”
Cassandra helps pass out food, not showing any emotion.
Lanisen glances from Tyren to Colin again, giving his friend a searching, assessing look.
Tyren says, “I’m aware. ‘Things’ is such a woefully unhelpful term, though.”
Megren says pleadingly, “Sir.”
Colin’s voice once more becomes completely flat and toneless. “Darius got one good hit to my head. Stunned me. Head still hurts, if you care.”
Lanisen is silent for a minute. He gets to his feet, wincing, and stands between Colin and Tyren. “Is–” He clears his throat. “Is there any, um, immediate…?”
Cassandra shifts as her brother gets between the two knights. She crosses her arms.
Tyren tenses slightly at Colin’s last statement – well, tenses more, really.
Lanisen waits for Tyren to answer him.
Megren tilts her chin and then takes a step closer to Sir Tyren to say something quietly.
Megren mumbles “… … … … … … saw … they…?”, to Tyren.
Colin covers his aching eyes with a hand. “We had a deal. Untie his hands and he answer questions. Didn’t answer to my satisfaction so went to tie him back up. He got me and I went down. Happy.”
Megren stares at her toes.
Tyren finishes Lanisen’s question, since he doesn’t seem inclined to. “Immediate need? Apparently no–” His answer is cut off by Colin’s reply, and he answers the non-question with, “No. But it gives me the answer I was looking for. The rest will wait.” Something in his tone implies that it won’t for long, though, and that there’s little chance of avoiding it. He turns to Megren, and gives a single nod in reply to her whispered question.
Cassandra’s eye narrow at Tyren before turning back to collect the tray.
Lanisen watches Tyren.
Megren presses her lips together uncomfortably, but nods agreement and moves to leave the infirmary so that they can talk.
Tyren merely gives a vague nod to those present before striding out after.
Lanisen exhales as Tyren departs and rubs the back of his neck. He finally sees Cassandra, and gives her a brief, tight grimace of acknowledgement before turning back to Colin.
Colin’s demeanor also relaxes when Tyren finally leaves. He lets out a low groan. “Stupid…”
Cassandra snorts as Tyren leaves. She sets the tray back down before grabbing a rag from the one of the attendants. She approaches the back, dipping it into a barrel of a water.
Lanisen once more takes stock of his friend’s injuries. “He really worked you over, huh,” he says wearily, and sinks back down to sit with Colin.
Colin reaches out a hand for Lanny. “Sorry…”
Lanisen takes his hand, gripping it bracingly. He shakes his head a little. “It’s all right, it’s all right. We can talk about it later, what– what do you need?”
Cassandra approaches the other side of the bed with the wet cloth, clicking her tongue, “Rest.”
Colin shakes his head. “Don’t need anything…” He glances at Cass and gives a very faint, swollen smile.
Lanisen swallows. He looks up at Cassandra, glancing at the cloth in confusion.
Cassandra uses it to gently wipe Colin’s face, getting any excess blood.
Colin thanks her softly. “I’m sorry.” he says again.
Lanisen watches distantly, and reaches his hand out for the rag so he can get the other side once she’s finished.
Colin tries to stay still while they work. “Ruined another tunic…”
Cassandra hands it off to her brother.
Lanisen says, “I’m sure I don’t know where you’ll get another.” He gives Cass a quick glance of thanks and picks up where she left off.
Cassandra sits down at the other bed, glancing at the two battered people in front of her.
Lanisen finds a bit of blood smeared under Colin’s chin and scrubs it gently away. “No seamstress in the country’s gonna sell to you, rate you’re goin’,” he says. “They all know you for a destroyer of fine stitchery, they’ll all pretend to be away on lunch when I come around.”
Colin smiles faintly at that, relaxing a bit more. He reaches up and gingerly touches his mouth. “Ugh….did I lose any teeth?”
Cassandra snorts, “I guess you will have to use my skills for your clothes, sir.”
Lanisen says, “Well, /I/ ain’t gonna go pokin’ around to find out.”
Colin asks, “Afraid I’ll bite you?”
Lanisen says, “I might catch somethin’.”
Colin glares at him, then winces when the expression jostles his face.
Cassandra rolls her eyes.
Lanisen grins, a weary, troubled expression that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
Colin touches his cheek. “I really did a number this time.” Something in his voice hints that he /might/ not regret it as much as he should.
Cassandra says, “Two for zero, sir.”
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth as he watches.
Colin says “Hush” as he looks at Lanisen, a strange look on his battered face. He looks reflective, mixed with a type of sadness and pride.
Cassandra clamps her lips, her eyes flicking slightly before going blank again.
Lanisen asks, “Adrian say anything about you’re not allowed to sleep?”
Colin squints in the direction of where the healers went. “I don’t know…”
Colin notices Cass’s demeanor and says, “That was a joke, Cass.”
Lanisen gets laboriously to his feet, glancing around for somebody to ask.
Cassandra also stands to her feet, “I can find someone, Lanisen.”
Lanisen gives her a relieved, grateful look. “Can you?”
Colin says, “You don’t have to….”
Cassandra nods, “Don’t worry about it.” She looks this way and that, eyes flashing this time as she mutters to her.
Cassandra mumbles “If … … would do their jobs…”, to Cassandra.
Colin eyes Cass warily. “Cass…Cass, be nice…”
Cassandra doesn’t look back, “Of course, sir.”
Lanisen sits back down. He rests his arm on Colin’s bed, and his forehead on his fist, and lets out a breath.
Colin lets his head rest back on the cot, wincing as a sore spot on the back of his head is touched. “Lan…”
Lanisen glances at him.
Cassandra goes to the back of the room, disappearing behind the partition. She looks like a woman on a mission.
Colin reaches out and weakly makes an attempt to fluff Lanisen’s hair. “Have I ever told you how proud I am of you?”
Lanisen makes a face at him.
Colin says, “I mean it…you’ve come so far. You’re the best friend a man could ever hope for.”
Lanisen lets out a little, fond breath of laughter through his nose, and one side of his mouth lifts, but all he says is, “You’re gonna be real embarrassed later at all the mush you said when you were concussed.”
Colin shakes his head, immediately looking like he regrets it. “I’m not ashamed of it.”
There might be a muted thump that comes from the back. Adrian emerges looking a bit flustered as Cass follows him with her arms crossed.
Lanisen looks half embarrassed and half pleased, and has a hard time meeting Colin’s eyes for longer than a second or two at a time. At the thump, he sits up and looks around.
Colin starts to say something else. “I’m sorry I let you down….I’m so sorry about this… I found–” He cuts off at the noise and makes a confused face.
Colin says, “Do we have to go stop her from beating up Adrian…”
Lanisen gives his head a little distracted shake, still watching the back. But he looks relieved when Adrian comes out uninjured anyway.
The Healer approaches Colin, “My apologies, Sir.” He glances at the glaring woman behind, “I was unaware that my service is /lacking/.” Cass herself just stands there with her arms crossed.
Colin waves a bloodied hand. “S’all right. The loomers had to ask questions anyway.”
Lanisen asks, “Can he sleep, Adrian? Is there anything…?”
The Healer begins his examination of the knight. “Let me take a look.”
Lanisen gets up again to get out of Adrian’s way. He sits down on the next bed and watches.
Cassandra joins her brother, chewing her lip.
The healer takes a closer look at Colin’s head. When Colin flinches as his fingers find the tender goose egg a little on the side and towards the back of the knight’s head, Adrian ahas.
Lanisen sits silently and watches, sitting next to Cassandra on the next bed. He looks tired and anxious.
Megren returns to the infirmary, seemingly alone.
Cassandra slips her hand into Lanisen’s good hand and squeezes it.
Lanisen looks down at their hands, surprised. He gives her a quick smile and squeezes in return before looking back at Colin.
Adrian gives Cassandra a wide berth while professionally informing the group that yes, the knight is indeed mildly concussed but it shouldn’t be anything to worry about as he won’t be leaving the infirmary anyway and will be closely observed.
Colin makes a face.
Megren walks up quietly to stand near where Lanisen and Cassandra are sitting. She gives them an inquiring look.
Lanisen asks, “Can he sleep, though?”
Cassandra nods to Megren, remaining by Lanisen.
The Healer nods. “It seems to be mild, if he starts acting strange…er, than normal, then it might be more serious than it appears and we’ll keep him awake.”
Megren says, “I guess I know how they work pretty well by now– I can sit with him.”
Adrian nods, then looks directly at Cassandra, arching an eyebrow as if to ask, “Good enough?”
Cassandra just returns a blank stare to Adrian.
Adrian sidesteps and makes his way to the back again, both eyebrows raised.
Colin turns his head and looks at Megren and Lanisen for help. “I don’t want to have to stay awake…”
Megren shakes her head. “You only have to wake every couple hours, to check.” She looks up at Adrian to see if that’s right.
Adrian nods to the squire. “You remember correctly.”
Lanisen reaches out to touch Megren’s elbow. “I’ll sit with him,” he says quietly.
Megren nods, accepting this readily.
Cassandra stands up, glancing around the room. She moves over to pick up her tray, “Any breakfast requests, sir?”
Colin ers, glancing at the others in surprise. “I–food is good. I’m not picky.”
Cassandra’s mouth curls up slightly, “Food it is then.” She picks up her tray and slips out of the infirmary.
Lanisen watches Cassandra go. He rubs his eyes and looks back at Colin. “How’re you feelin’, sir?”
Colin ums. “Like I got run over by a stallion.”
Lanisen asks, “You need anything? You want me to run and get a better pillow from your room?”
Megren rubs her upper arm with the opposite hand.
Colin chuckles. “Nah…I’m all right.”
Lanisen lets his eyes drop to Colin’s bloodstained tunic and suggests, “Change of clothes?”
Colin cranes his head, wincing as he looks down at his clothes. “Actually….probably a good idea.”
Lanisen nods. “Since I’m goin’ up there anyway, anything else you want?”
Megren observes, a little more drily than is usual for her, “Going to ruin your whole wardrobe.”
Colin comments, “Running out of my favorite tunics.”
Lanisen says, “I’ll hold a couple in reserve, how ’bout that.”
Colin gives him a thumbs up.
Lanisen asks again, “You want anything from your room, sir?”
Colin says, “No, thanks.”
Megren crosses her arms over her stomach.
Lanisen says, “All right. Sit tight, I’ll be back in a minute.”
Colin nods, his eyes flicking over to Megren.
Megren is still there.
Lanisen heads for the door. His limp is a little more evident than normal.
Colin takes a breath. “Meg…thank you. This is the second time I owe you. I’m grateful…”
Megren keeps her eyes on the ground. “You don’t owe me, Sir, I’ve just been doing my job.”
Colin replies, “Still. Thanks are in order.”
Megren nods once. “What’d Adrian say about your knee, Sir?” she asks politely.
Colin winces as he shifts his leg. “Very bruised, right in the kneecap. Need to keep it immobile for a bit, let it heal. I’m supposed to stay away from stairs for a few days. I’ll be feeling it for a while, likely.”
Megren says, “I’m sorry, Sir.”
Colin replies, “I asked for it…”
Megren makes no comment on this.
Colin asks her, “What happened after I left?”
Megren says, “Nothing, Sir. We shut him back in.”
Colin just nods at this.
Megren says, “Sir–”
Colin says, “Yes?”
Megren closes her mouth and shakes her head once.
Colin prompts, “It’s all right. What is it?”
Megren credits him, “I’m sure Lanisen was first in your thoughts while interrogating Aaron, Sir.”
Colin asks, “But?”
Megren says, “I wonder if you were considering what he’d actually think of it, Sir.”
Colin looks away. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter what others think of you…” He says, very quietly.
Megren says, “I didn’t say of you, Sir.”
Colin considers this. “It’s a topic that…I feel is not safe for me to talk with Lanisen about…I found out things that will only hurt him more. I’ll do anything to keep that from happening.”
Megren releases a discouraged breath through her nose and admits, “I do not think it was appropriate to go without a second, Sir.”
Colin nods his head, grimacing as he shifts around on the cot. “I know.”
Megren only sucks in her lip, making a small, seemingly involuntary clicking sound.
Colin shifts to sit up a little ways, looking a little dazed as he does so. “Meg…”
Megren’s gaze flicks upward. “Maybe don’t sit up, Sir.”
Colin continues, “There’s something you need to know…”
Megren gives a short nod to indicate she is receptive.
Colin falters. “You can’t ask Lanisen about it…”
Megren says, “I’m not fond of secrets, Sir.”
Colin hesitates. “I..only ask because I can’t follow up on it myself right now. If you truly don’t want to know, I won’t tell you.”
Megren rubs her collar. She hesitates, and then says, “I may speak of it to Sir Darrin, Sir.” It is half inquiry, half command.
Colin says, “Yes.”
Megren gives a short nod.
Colin hesitates before speaking carefully. “Someone needs to go to Lancelyn Green…find out about someone who died years ago, and what family they had. I believe we might find some answers about the accomplice.”
Megren’s lips pull downward. “Either tell it to me or don’t please, Sir. I don’t want to work half-knowing.”
Colin says, “The person who died…his name was Berke.”
Lanisen returns a few minutes later, one of Colin’s more comfortable tunics folded in his arms, as well as a better pillow and an extra blanket.
Megren begins to respond, but she stops when Lanisen arrives.
Colin schools his features, his face becoming expressionless.
Megren seems peeved by this.
Lanisen pauses, glancing between them. He sets down the pillow and blanket where Colin can easily reach them, and hands him the folded tunic. “…I can go,” he offers uncertainly.
Colin protests with a shake of his head. He then gives them both a weak smile and lays back once more. “I’m sorry…” He says quietly. It is unclear as to whom this is directed.
Megren says, “I’ll go so you can get dressed.”
Colin doesn’t protest.
Megren makes for the door wordlessly.
Lanisen rubs his elbow, watching her go. He looks back at Colin, bewildered and questioning.
Colin watches Lanisen for a bit, that same sad, reflective expression from earlier appearing on his face. “Let’s run away.” he says quietly.
Lanisen asks, startled, “Sir?”
Colin asks him, “How about Narnia? Want to go to Narnia?”
Lanisen crosses his arms over his stomach. “Narnia?”
Lanisen says, “Um.” He rubs his hands over his mouth. “I don’t– what’s, why Narnia?”
A particularly emotional look crosses his face. Colin swallows. “Um…it’s not here?”
Lanisen says, “Oh.”
Colin’s voice grows tight as he speaks. “Um. There’s…there’s things here, Lanny. Things..I can’t keep you safe from. A lot of ugly things.”
Lanisen’s shoulders hunch. He swallows and looks at Colin.
Colin says, “There’s some stuff…from a long time ago…it’s gonna..I think it’s gonna come back. And I can’t stop it.”
Lanisen goes very still for a moment. He folds over where he sits to rest his elbows on his knees, and he rubs his wrists. His eyes are unfocused and he seems short of breath.
Colin moves on the cot, struggling to reach out for Lanisen. “No…don’t.” He says miserably.
Lanisen pulls away from Colin, shaking his head rapidly several times. “I’m okay, I’m okay I’m okay,” he says, as if saying it will make it so. He squeezes his eyes shut and ducks his head, trying to get his breathing back in order.
Lanisen mumbles “Just a minute, I need a minute…”, to Lanisen.
Lanisen mumbles “Just … minute, I … … …”, to Lanisen.
Colin clenches a fist to his forehead and even smacks himself once, ignoring the pain it inspires. His eyes are glossy as he tries to talk Lanisen through it. “Keep breathing, Lanny. Deep…deep breaths. I’m sor…just keep breathing. It’s going to be all right.”
Lanisen sits and trembles for a moment, staring fixedly at nothing in particular, rubbing the sore spots on his wrists. Finally he takes a deep, unsteady breath and says without looking at Colin, “Narnia.”
Colin asks him quietly. “What?”
Lanisen asks, “When.”
Colin’s face crumbles and he puts a hand over his face to hide it, unable to respond.
Lanisen darts a quick, dreading look at him.
Colin begins to shake as he completely breaks down in silent tears.
Colin mumbles “I’m … … I’m … sorry.”, to Colin.
Lanisen draws a deep, frightened breath at this. “What is it, sir, what’s coming, please tell me what’s coming–”
Colin begs him, “Please don’t make me tell you…”
Lanisen looks like he’s about to be sick. “My lord,” he pleads without looking at Colin.
Colin stares at him in misery for a long time. He draws a shuddery breath. “He….Darius…” he falters.
Lanisen raises his head a little, listening.
Colin closes his eyes in pain. “He went after you cause…cause of…Berke.” He whispers.
Lanisen’s lips form the name. Confusion gives way to comprehension, then to blank horror and denial. He turns his head to look at Colin, searching for a clue that what he suspects is not true.
Colin reaches out to grip Lanisen’s shoulder, unable to give him the answer he seeks. “I’m so sorry.” He says once more.
Lanisen shakes his head a little. His earlier panic seems to be bleeding out of him, leaving: not much of anything. He is still, but not tense. His eyes aren’t focusing on anything, and after a moment he stands abruptly, breaking the contact with Colin.
Colin watches him intently, concern growing rapidly on his bruised face. “Lanisen.”
Lanisen starts, “I–” He blinks several times and shakes his head again dazedly, then turns and stumbles for the door.
Panic begins to grow on Colin’s face and he reaches for Lanisen, struggling to get off the cot and failing miserably. “Lanisen!” He calls out after him, sounding frantic.
Lanisen is unresponsive. He stumbles out into the ward without seeming to hear.
Megren walks the perimeter of the ward, as if on patrol. She seems somewhat less hackles-raised than before, but when she hears the call from the infirmary, she turns her steps quickly that way, a look of irritation crossing her features.
Lanisen leaves the infirmary, a curiously blank, unfocused look on his face. There are tears in his eyes but he doesn’t seem to notice them.
Megren catches his elbow as their paths meet and dips her face to try and catch his expression. “Hey–”
Lanisen blinks at her in some confusion, an action which sets his eyes to overflowing. He reels away, pulling his elbow out of her grip and stumbling for the gatehouse.
Megren is surprised motionless for a full second by this reaction, and then she’s running after him, calling his name, cutting him off, putting one arm around him, the other cupping his face. “Hey. Hey. It’s Meg. You’re all right. You’re safe. It’s Meg. You’re home. I’m here. I’m here.”
Lanisen blinks several more times and focuses on her face, but he turns his face away from her hand and ducks his head so he doesn’t have to look her in the eye.
Megren lets him do this, circling her hand around to his shoulder to cradle it and pressing her cheek to the side of his head.
Lanisen’s breathing is erratic, and his whole body is quivering. He keeps an even, unwilling tension against Megren’s hold.
Megren rubs his back slowly and evenly, breathing at the same pace as the movement of her hand. “You’re safe. You’re all right.” She repeats the phrases several times, not pulling away from him.
Lanisen permits this for a little while, never relaxing. At last he pulls away abruptly, half-frantic, like he thinks he won’t be allowed.
Megren lets him go entirely, except that she keeps her hands lightly at his elbows. She tries to get a good look into his face. “Lanisen.” She takes a breath, sucking her lip, and trying, “Can you show me you’re hearing me? Just nod or say yes.”
Lanisen nods immediately, but won’t meet her eyes. His tears are still streaming unchecked, and he looks lost. He steps to to the side to get around her.
Megren asks, “All right. Good. All right. Um, all right.” She looks lost for a moment, and then she guesses, “Can I take you to the kennel?”
Lanisen squeezes his eyes shut and presses the heel of his hand to the side of his head. He nods unwillingly.
Megren moves out of his way and slips her arm around his waist instead, walking toward the ward, trying to figure out his pace and match it.
Lanisen’s steps are weaving, but he moves toward the inner gate with intent.
Megren keeps up with him, doing what she can to help guide and keep him steady, but as gentle as she can manage to be at the task. She continues to pepper the walk with short reminders about who they both are and where they are and their general level of safety, which is high.
Lanisen seems more numb and exhausted than panicked by the time they reach the kennels. He stumbles over the threshold and can’t seem to muster the energy to move when the hounds crowd around yammering. His head bows and his shoulders slump in a peculiar kind of distance and misery.
Megren keeps her arm supporting him, shutting the door behind them with her foot. She brings him to the hearth and sets him there, shooing the dogs off to their usual business, except Nia and Vira, whom she lets sniff him out.
Lanisen’s hand settles on Nia’s head, and he watches it as if it doesn’t belong to him.
Megren rubs her own shoulder, observing him uncertainly, and then chooses to sit beside him, not touching him for the moment. She is silent for a significant period before saying, “You know who I am?”
Lanisen says, “Yes.”
Megren asks, “Who?”
Lanisen says, “Megren.”
Megren nods. “And who are you?”
Lanisen closes his eyes briefly and says, “Meg, please.”
Megren releases a slow breath through her mouth. She pauses like she’s thinking of pushing it, and then she takes his free hand in both of hers instead.
Lanisen just sits, shoulders hunched, staring straight ahead. He has a sort of distant confusion on his face.
Megren sits for a little bit as well, and then says, “All right. Can you– will you look in my face while I tell you something? Just one half a moment, that’s all I’m asking, and then you can sit like that the whole night if you want.”
Lanisen doesn’t respond for a minute. He shifts finally and turns to look at her.
Megren looks him the eye. “I am here for you. I will always be here for you. I will always protect you. Always. You don’t have to explain yourself to me unless you feel like explaining. I will be right here. No one’s ever going to hurt you or the people you love for as long as I’m able to stand in their way. And I won’t be stupid about it, either. I will follow my orders, to the extent that they keep me safe and keep you safe. I will never pursue anyone who means to harm you on my own nor without preparation, but I will prepare, and I will take a partner, and I will keep them from you. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can speak for me. I promise. I am here, and I will be here. There’s nothing you have to face on your own, and there’s no one who can catch up to you without getting through me first, and there’s nothing in you that can make me decide otherwise.”
Lanisen listens to every word, staring at her face with disbelief and desperation. Once she has finished, he draws a long, trembling breath and bows his head, pulling his lips between his teeth.
Megren closes her mouth, watching him worriedly, but, true to her word, she does not disturb him, at least for the moment.
Lanisen finally manages to say, in a voice that rasps and breaks, “Meg– you shouldn’t– I don’t, I don’t deserve–”
Megren makes a negative sound. “I don’t see any Lion showing up here and changing the shape of your head. I guess that means he’s content to let me make my judgements as I will.”
Lanisen can’t make an answer to this. He puts his elbows on his knees and laces his fingers together at the nape of his neck.
Megren rests her hand tentatively on his back.
Lanisen seems through with resisting, too tired or overwhelmed to bring himself to pull away.
Megren just sits like that, seeming content to remain that way indefinitely if called to.
Lanisen says finally, “I’m sorry.” He shifts and shakes his head a little. “You’re– you’re always– Thank you.”
Megren just nods a little, giving him a small empathetic smile. “I don’t feel like you have anything to be sorry to me for.”
Lanisen lets out a little unsteady unvoiced laugh, giving her a watery sidelong look. “You always– you’re always pickin’ up the pieces, seems like, that ain’t fair to you.”
Megren lifts her brows at him. “Are you the one keeps knocking my puzzles off the table?”
Lanisen lets out another breath that doesn’t quite make it to laughter. He rubs his hands over his face.
Megren pulls her hand away to rest it in her lap. “Want to stay the night out here?”
Lanisen is silent for a minute. “Yeah.”
Megren says, “Good, cause that’s what I wanted, and I’m too used to sleeping in a room full of people any more.”
Lanisen is too worn out to translate this. He gives her a confused look.
Megren rises to head toward the stairs. “Are there blankets up here?”
Lanisen says, “Yeah.” He sits for another second, then exhales and gets wearily to his feet.
Megren says, “Are you hungry before you sleep? I’m a good sneak in at the kitchen.”
Lanisen shakes his head, crossing to the steps. “Oh,” he says, halting in sudden alarm. “I was– I was gonna sit with Sir Colin and wake him up–”
Megren asks, “I’ll check in on him. There’s meant to be a physician there at night, though, he should be all right. Shall I fetch anything from your room while I’m at it?”
Lanisen sways a little with this relief. “No, no,” he answers. “I’m all right, I’m fine.”
Megren nods. “All right. I’ll be back soon. Listen– if you feel you need to make the puzzles up to me, buy me a big pretzel tomorrow, huh?”
Lanisen lets out a breath, giving her a painfully grateful look. “I can do that,” he answers.
Megren smiles happily at this prospect, and promises again, “I’ll be back soon.”
Lanisen nods, and says again, “Thanks.” He glances up the steps and begins the weary trudge to the second level, holding to the railing as he goes.
Megren gets back after about a half hour. She shushes the dogs and makes her way up the stairs, trying not to creak the door.
Lanisen is already asleep, curled on his side with Nia nestled comfortably under his arm. She raises her head and ears as Megren comes up the steps, but only flips her tail a couple of times and doesn’t leave her spot.
Megren stands at the top of the stairs for a moment to observe whether he’s really asleep and how well he’s set himself up with blankets and whatnot. She is carrying something small and wrapped in paper which she hadn’t been before, and this she sets on a shelf nailed into the wall where the dogs can’t reach. She fetches herself a blanket and sets up near the stairs, so that she is some distance away, but it is still difficult to get past her without waking her, She lies out on her back with another blanket as pillow under her head, but it is very little time before she has tilted to one side and is softly snoring into her arm.