Lanisen is just returning to his room at the end of the day. He pauses, his key in the door, to stoop and pick up a letter that has been tucked underneath his door.
Megren peeks into the tower. Finding Lanisen there, she creeps up behind him and pokes him in the sides with her fingers.
Lanisen jumps, the sort of lurch-in-place that means ticklish rather than startled, and gives her an exasperated look.
Megren cracks up, leaning a hand on the wall to support her laughter. Her hand darts out to try for it again.
Lanisen lurches away this time, his elbows coming down to defend his sides. “Stop, stop it.” He turns the letter, looking at the seal.
Megren wrinkles her nose obstinately, but she stops for now. “What’s that?”
Lanisen starts, “I don’t–” He lifts it closer and takes a small breath. He reaches for his doorknob and opens the door, breaking the seal as he does so.
Megren follows after him.
Lanisen stops a few steps in, reading silently. He lets out a short breath through his nose and drops it on the table next to an untouched pie.
Megren guesses, “Sir Colin?”
Lanisen says, “Yeah.” He stares at it for a minute, then turns aside to his wardrobe, rummaging on the top shelf. “I– wrote to him, last week. Askin’ what he’s wantin’ me to do, what I’m to tell Arael, that sort of thing. When he’d be home.”
Megren’s brows peak, and her eyes dart from him to the letter as she waits for him to go on.
Lanisen gestures at the letter without looking at it or her. “Read it, if you want.”
Megren sits on his bed to pick up the letter and work through it. She sounds out some of the more difficult words not quite under her breath.
Lanisen reaches down a jar of ointment and unscrews the lid, turning away from her.
Megren makes a clicking sound when she reaches the end of it that might easily be interpreted as either regretful or disapproving.
Lanisen says after a pause, “Dunno what I’m meant to take from that.” He scoops out a small amount of ointment with one finger and begins to rub it into his bad shoulder. “‘Soon,’ he says. What’s that mean.”
Megren gives the letter a long look. “Does this mean you know where he is?”
Lanisen picks up the envelope again and flips it over to look at both sides. “Nope.”
Megren asks, “You must have sent it somewhere though?”
Lanisen lets out a breath. “I sent five, five different towns, inns,” he says wearily, capping the ointment. “Figured– one of ’em would find him, prob’ly.”
Megren looks up at him, her mouth turning downward.
Lanisen shrugs and leans back against the table, crossing his arms.
Megren says, “I guess it means he doesn’t think you need to write Arael? I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
Lanisen asks, “Do you think I shouldn’t go to Carmichael, then?”
Megren says, “I don’t know. I don’t even– he might have written her.”
Lanisen says uncertainly, “Maybe so.”
Megren says, “I feel like–” she takes a breath, but then changes course, admitting, “I feel like I don’t know these people well enough to interfere.””
Lanisen rubs his shoulder and crosses his arms again, holding his elbows. “I guess I don’t either.”
Megren’s brows peak. She watches him for a moment, and then rises, crossing to his shelf. “Hey, I talked to Adrian.”
Lanisen watches her, confused, but doesn’t stop her. “Adrian?”
Megren leans back to see him around the door. “Yep.” She rifles through a few bottles.
Lanisen comes around to watch. “What about?”
Megren hands him three, looking at the shelf for a long time before releasing a soft “ah!” and pulling down a third. “He says it’s one of those.”
Lanisen takes the bottles she hands him, juggling a little and stepping back to set them on the table. “One of these, what?”
Megren gestures vaguely. “That’s making you, …you know. You don’t have to…uh, hm.” She stops and rifles for a small scrap of brown parchment in her pocket. “Um, um, these two.” She points to two of them, careful to be sure it’s the right ones. “You don’t need those ones. And he’s got… this one, he’s got something else you can try. He said he wants you to try the other one again though. He said if you try in the infirmary he can help you through it if it goes wrong.”
Lanisen blinks several times. He reaches out and carefully shifts the two unnecessary ones to the side, and picks up the fourth. He turns the bottle in his hand for a moment. “You asked him, for me?”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side. “Was that all right?”
Lanisen asks, “What? No no, yes, yes of course, I just– thank you, I was– I meant to, but I–” He sets the bottle down again. “Thanks.”
Megren says, “It wasn’t any trouble.”
Lanisen says, “Even so.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side again, and then nods, once. “You’re welcome.”
Lanisen re-orders his desk, putting the two bottles next to the pie. He folds Colin’s letter back along its original creases and puts it in the drawer.
Megren taps her toe on the on the ground.
Lanisen looks at the pie, then turns away. “Let’s go someplace.”
Megren lifts her brows. “What, someplace like the kennel or someplace like Chesterton?”
Lanisen says, “Not so far as Chesterton.”
Megren says, “I could take you out to the woods.”
Lanisen pauses and looks at her. “All right,” he agrees after a moment.
Megren looks him over. “Might want your cloak.”
Lanisen fetches it from the wardrobe obediently, rolling it up to carry in a bundle under his arm.
Megren nods, and opens his door, bowing like a servant to a lord.
Lanisen snorts at her and waits for her to go first.
Megren rolls her eyes but steps outside.
Megren pauses outside for him to lock up. “You want to bring anything to eat?”
Lanisen says, “Um.” He scratches his head. “How long we goin’ for?”
Megren lifts her shoulders.
Lanisen asks, “Should we?”
Megren says, “Well, I almost always do.”
Lanisen says, “All right, then.”
Megren says, “You go find something while I fetch my cloak.”
Lanisen asks, “What kind of something, and how much?”
Megren makes a negative sound. “I made all the other choices, you’ve got to surprise me.”
Lanisen makes a face at her, but locks his door and heads for the kitchen.
Megren wrinkles her nose in return and splits for the barracks.
Megren waits next to the castle gate.
Lanisen joins her there about ten minutes later, his satchel fuller than it was before. He opens it up to show her a wineskin, a couple of meat pies, and several apples wrapped up next to a block of cheese. “All right?”
Megren lifts her brows. “Who do you keep paid in that kitchen?”
Lanisen looks embarrassed.
Lanisen mumbles “Everybody keeps givin’ me food.”, to Lanisen.
Lanisen mumbles “… keeps givin’ me food.”, to Lanisen.
Megren tugs his arm. “It’s good, we’ll be set up for half a week if we like.”
Lanisen blinks and resists the tugging for a moment. “Hang on, I should– if it’s gonna be that long–”
Megren draws her brows together and scrunches up her mouth and nose. “I’m joking. You think I wouldn’t tell Sir Darrin first?”
Lanisen looks relieved. “No, sorry, I didn’t mean–”
Megren tugs him again, “Come on.”
Lanisen shoulders his satchel and follows her.
In the Archenland Forest
Golden light filters down through the tree branches overhead, making the
leaves glow translucently. A gentle breeze stirs the leaves slightly,
causing the light to shimmer on the grassy forest floor. To the north,
stands a large stand of fir trees.
Megren leads him deep into the forest, stopping every once in a while to gauge his interest or to point out a series of celandine or an interesting bird.
Lanisen follows her, limping slightly but seeming to have no trouble keeping up, if a little prone to be short of breath. He is content to stay mostly quiet, glancing from side to side at the trees and brush on either side of their path.
Megren finally pulls up in a grove of firs dotted with short, gnarled trees. The air smells faintly of sugar and vinegar. She crosses her arms, looking pleased.
Lanisen slows and stops beside her, sniffing curiously. “What is that?”
Megren takes a few exploratory steps forward before stopping again. “Here.”
Lanisen watches her, confused and intrigued. “What?”
Megren points to the ground a little ways in front of her, where a number of crushed windfall peaches lie. Some have clearly been nibbled at.
Lanisen follows her gesture. “Oh,” he realizes, and looks up at the tree, already grinning. “/Oh/.”
Megren’s own grin reappears.
Lanisen approaches the tree, his path taking a wide curve around it as he considers the best angle. He finds a likely looking branch and steps up, raising his hand to pick a ripe peach, but stops. “This– is this, it ain’t /somebody’s/ tree, is it?”
Megren shakes her head. “Been here as long as I’ve been alive, at least. There’s a couple others around the same area. Might’ve been somebody’s once, I don’t know. They don’t get picked; it’s mostly the deer that come for them.”
Lanisen seems satisfied by this. He picks the peach, which drops so readily into his hand that he nearly loses hold of it. He cups both hands around it and sniffs deeply, backing away from the tree.
Megren says, “Might see some good birds, if we’re quiet enough.” She frowns at the sky through the branches, trying to gauge it. “Not the best time of day, but could be.”
Lanisen looks around for a place to sit. “What makes a good bird?”
Megren picks through the brush until she finds a relatively flat, half obscured place that’s not too wet. She lays down her cloak. “Feathers, mostly.”
Lanisen says, “Ohhh, feathers. Should’ve known that.” He follows and sets down his satchel, looking inside.
Megren pulls out a knife and holds it out to him. “First rule of forest plunder is sharing.”
Lanisen hands her the peach instead.
Megren takes it and cuts him a slice.
Lanisen pulls out the cheese and unwraps it to go with the peach. He looks deeper and digs out a little jar of coarse salt.
Megren wrinkles her nose at him. “You’ve got tastes like a lord.”
Lanisen protests, “It’s just cheese.”
Megren says, “That your matching with fruit and fancy salt, yeah.”
Lanisen says, “What, it’s–” He shakes the jar. “It’s /salt/, it ain’t /fancy/. Anyway, the fruit’s your fault.”
Megren points out, “But you thought to even bring it, though.”
Lanisen asks, “You ain’t got salt?”
Megren asks, “What just… in my things? No?”
Lanisen looks both disapproving and pitying.
Megren says, “Yeah, all right, Sir Lanisen, sorry, I’ll be sure and live up to your culinary standards from here on.”
Lanisen smirks on one side of his mouth.
Megren says, “Make one for me.”
Lanisen asks, “Make one what?”
Megren says, “A peach cheese.”
Lanisen narrows one eye at her suspiciously.
Megren asks, “A cheese peach?”
Lanisen says, “…Right, yeah, that’s cleared it up enormously, thanks.”
Megren says, “I don’t know, whatever it is you’re doing.”
Lanisen says, “I was plannin’ on eatin’ some cheese.”
Megren says, “All right, well, cut some extra, then.”
Lanisen breaks off a couple generous chunks rather than bother with a knife. The cheese is new and white and inclined to crumble, so this is easy. He takes the lid off the jar of salt and sprinkles a little over the cheese, offering it to Megren next.
Megren holds her hand out flat so that she doesn’t crumble it more. She sniffs experimentally.
Lanisen gives her a bemused look and settles back with his cheese and a slice of peach. He alternates small bites of cheese and small bites of peach, and seems well pleased with the results.
Megren wrinkles her nose at him like she’s tickled by his contentment.
Lanisen asks, “What’s your favorite thing to eat?”
Megren mms thoughtfully. “Any thing’s not made of organs.”
Lanisen says, “That narrows it down nicely.”
Megren nods reasonably.
Lanisen presses, “But really though.”
Megren waffles, “I don’t know… I like warm things, and interesting things and new things and comfortable things. I don’t know how to say a favorite.”
Lanisen hmms. “What’s your favorite comfortable thing, then?”
Megren says, “Warm bread. The soft kind. Like pretzels, or… there’s this one that comes in rolls they make in the kitchen sometimes, it’s kind of sweet.”
Lanisen asks, “The sticky one?”
Megren says, “No, like the bun kind of roll. It’s soft, like it’s this big, but you could smash it between your hands almost flat.”
Lanisen hmms. “I know the one you mean, I think, but I’ve never had it.”
Megren says, “It’s good, I like it.”
Lanisen says, “I’ll watch for it.”
Megren starts to nod and then catches his arm and points silently.
Lanisen looks, half alarmed.
Megren leans so that she can properly direct his eyeline to a fox slinking through the brush.
Lanisen’s mouth opens a little and he relaxes back. “Oohh, she’s a lovely one,” he whispers. “S’pose she likes cheese?”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side and sticks her hand quietly into the sack, searching until she finds one of the meat pies. She pokes through the crust to look inside thoughtfully.
Lanisen glances to see what she is up to, then turns back to watch the fox.
Megren peels back the top crust, and then lays the pie on the ground as far out in front of them as she dares.
Lanisen begins to scoot back from the pie once he understands her plan.
Megren inches back as well, sitting in a crouch.
Lanisen sits quite still, and settles his eyes on a small patch of flea’s bane, watching the fox indirectly.
Megren’s lips turn upward as the fox gives the pie a furtive look.
Lanisen glances at her and back at the little patch of flowers, quietly delighted.
The fox looks at them warily, then makes a few steps closer.
Lanisen loops his arms around his knees, moving very slowly, and clasps his right wrist with his left hand, still not looking at the fox.
The fox stops.
Lanisen makes an apologetic face at Megren.
Megren stays perfectly still. After a frozen moment, the fox makes another tentative foray to where she can sniff at the treat.
Lanisen holds his breath.
The fox nudges at the pie with her nose and finally seems to decide it’s safe.
Lanisen’s face breaks into a broad smile, though he tries to stifle it.
Megren shifts her weight just a little to settle it. The fox looks up, but she appears to have decided they are not an immediate threat, because she is much less hesitant this time to lower her head again.
Lanisen peers into the satchel to see what might be offered next.
The fox’s ears perk as a butterfly passes by.
Lanisen breaks off a small crumble of cheese. He makes a small clicking noise with his tongue to call the fox’s attention.
Megren’s eyes flick between them.
The fox crouches down, as if about to bolt, but Lanisen is not looking directly at it, and after a moment it lowers its head to sniff at the emptied pie crust again.
Lanisen reaches out slowly and sets the cheese down as close to the fox as he can, still with his head ducked and his eyes averted.
Megren nods once, small and slow.
Lanisen withdraws his hand again and tucks it safely away where it is not a threat. The fox sniffs, and takes several creeping steps forward, keeping herself low to the ground and approaching the cheese on a wary, curving path.
Megren’s brows lifts happily.
Lanisen keeps very still, watching the fox from the corner of his eye until she has shifted to an angle where he can’t see her any longer. His eyes shift to Megren.
Megren wiggles her brows at him.
Lanisen makes the kind of face one makes when they are trying not to laugh.
Megren grins and crosses her eyes.
Lanisen squeezes his eyes shut rather than look at her, his face crinkled up with barely restrained mirth.
Megren has the trying-not-to-laugh look now.
Lanisen turns his head very slightly as the fox steps on a dead leaf just behind him, and he goes still again, listening intently. The fox stretches herself forward, and finally snatches the cheese and bolts to a safe distance with her prize.
Megren wrinkles her nose.
Lanisen dares a glance back at the fox, and shifts to a more comfortable position.
Megren watches out of the corner of her eye.
Lanisen murmurs, “I don’t reckon we’ll get her closer’n that.”
Lanisen nudges the satchel closer to her.
Megren reaches in to crumble off another piece of cheese and toss it at a similar distance.
Lanisen watches the fox creep toward the cheese and dart off with it again, and says quietly, “Loc had a fox kit he was raisin’. Wonder if he’s still got it.”
Megren looks surprised. “How’d he manage that?”
Lanisen says wryly, “By killin’ the mother.”
Megren says, “Oh.”
Megren says, “That’s poor hunting.”
Lanisen says, “‘S what somebody was sayin’ in the tavern, when he was showin’ off the kit. He didn’t like that much.”
Megren says, “Well, it is.”
Lanisen makes a small noise of agreement, watching the fox. He digs out another piece of cheese and sets it down on the ground, looking away from it. It’s significantly closer this time.
Megren drops her gaze a bit.
Lanisen waits for a long time, keeping still, but the fox only paces back and forth and never comes close enough to take the treat. He finally sighs and picks the cheese back up to toss away for her.
Megren asks, “How was he raising it?”
Lanisen shrugs a little. “Didn’t ask. We weren’t really talkin’.”
Megren makes a small clicking nose.
Lanisen watches the fox, which slinks back into the underbrush, near enough to see if there are any more treats offered but far enough to escape quickly. “That’s how it’s gonna be, huh.”
Megren suggests, “Maybe she’ll follow you home if you drag the bag after you.”
Lanisen snorts out a little breath of laughter. “That’d go well.”
Megren says, “Probably Maire would threaten her and Cass would punch her and Kairyn would try to fix it with tea and then she’d go down to the dungeon to try and confront Aaron for you.”
Lanisen snorts again, less laughter and more weariness.
Megren’s mouth quirks up sympathetically on one side.
Lanisen says, “Maybe Sir Colin’s got the right idea.”
Megren says, “I wouldn’t know.”
Lanisen takes another piece of cheese and dips it in salt. He eats it with a slice of peach, alternating again. “Can’t b’lieve you don’t carry salt,” he mumbles with his mouth full.
Megren asks, “Who /carries salt/?”
Lanisen says, “Folk who like their food to taste like stuff, I reckon.”
Megren looks very skeptical.
Lanisen says, “Why /wouldn’t/ you carry salt.”
Megren says, “Nobody does that.”
Lanisen says, “I bet Sir Darrin does.”
Megren says, “I will ask him.”
Lanisen says, “You’re gonna be out someday, doin’ whatever it is you’ll be doin’, and you’ll go to make camp and you’ll make your food and Sir Darrin’ll say, oh no, I’ve forgotten to pack my salt, pray lend me yours, and you won’t have any.”
Megren says, “Well, camping.”
Lanisen says, “Salt don’t take much space.”
Megren says, “It’s for making things not go bad.”
Lanisen says, “Or /taste/ bad.”
Megren says, “Because of being bad, yeah.”
Megren says, “Did you bring bad cheese on a picnic.”
Lanisen makes a face at her.
Megren makes one back.
Lanisen peers into the satchel again and offers her the wineskin.
Megren opens it and sniffs.
Lanisen says, “I dunno what is in there, so if it’s brandy it ain’t my fault.”
Megren says, “It’s wine.”
Lanisen says, “In a wineskin??”
Megren says, “I know.”
Lanisen scoots back so that he can put his back against a boulder and lets out a breath, rubbing his forehead.
Megren takes a sip and then passes it back.
Lanisen waves a hand slightly to indicate he doesn’t want any.
Megren tucks it back into the bag and sits back from her crouched fox-watching position a little heavily. She crosses her legs and fishes around in the sack for what’s left of the cheese.
Lanisen says, “I don’t want to go to Carmichael.”
Megren holds out an approximate half of the cheese to him. “How much longer until you’ll have to?”
Lanisen takes the cheese but doesn’t eat. He shakes his head. “I dunno, I–” He takes a deep breath. “He must’ve… letter’s gotta be a couple, three, four days now? He said soon, what’s soon mean?”
Megren shakes her head unknowingly.
Lanisen stares at the cheese without seeming to really see it. “I don’t know,” he says again, “I don’t…”
Megren releases a breath. “I don’t know. Maybe you should talk to Lord Cole, or one of the other knights that’ve known him a long time, see what they think.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah.” He lets out a breath and admits, “Normally I’d– he’s the one I’d talk to, so this is…”
Megren nods. She pushes her mouth to the side and then asks, “What’d you write?”
Lanisen’s eyes dart away from her. “Just where was he, is he all right, when’s he comin’ back, what’m I s’posed to do, that… that sort of thing.”
Megren says, “Maybe just… just keep writing him. Like… all your thoughts, write like if he were there and you were talking.”
Megren lifts her brow a little.
Lanisen says, “I don’t… know if… I dunno if I can do that, with him, right now, it’s…” He rubs his forehead again. “Everything’s… I don’t know.”
Megren releases a breath and nods, dropping her head to look at the ground beneath them. She’s quiet before saying, “Well. Then, I’m here for that until he comes back, or if you change your mind to write him after all.”
Lanisen draws a squiggle in the dirt with his fingertip, glancing up at her briefly in acknowledgement. “Thank you,” he adds quietly after a moment.
Megren lifts her shoulders. “I know it’s not the same,” she says in apology.
Lanisen says, “No, it’s–” He squeezes his eyes shut for a minute, trying to think. “I mean, it’s– it’s not the same, no, but it’s– it shouldn’t be. You’re you, and he’s him, and I wouldn’t trade either of you for the other, not for the world.”
Megren says, “I know. I just… wish I could do something to fix it for you. And I can’t, he has to, and I’m not him.”
Lanisen says, “No, it’s– sorry, I’m, I don’t know how to say things sometimes, it’s–” He stops. “Thanks for bein’ here.”
Megren lets one corner of her mouth turn up. “Sure, you’re welcome.”
Lanisen seems satisfied with this, because he lets silence fall.
Megren watches him for a moment and then nudges at that bag to see what’s left. “Who’s feeding you, anyway?”
Lanisen says, “I just, I asked Brosie if I could have some food to bring out.”
Megren asks, “And she gave you enough for a household?”
Lanisen turns a little red. “I didn’t ask for– I was figurin’ on just– bread, maybe.”
Megren says, “If only she loved me so well.”
Lanisen glances at her to see how much of this is a joke, then offers a tentative grin.
Megren releases a breath, eyeing what’s left. “I should get back to the castle,” she says regretfully. “Sir Darrin’s got a meeting tonight he wants me in on, and he’d probably prefer I showed up in clean clothes and without leaves in my hair.”
Lanisen mms. “Just– make it the next thing, leaves in unexpected places. Like the flowers.”
Megren actually snorts at this.
Lanisen says, “Lots of possibilities there.”
Megren says, “Get the cleaning boy to fill his bedcurtains so when he lets them down they’re just everywhere.”
Lanisen makes an appreciative noise. “I was thinkin’ fill up his saddlebags and satchels and such but yours is better.”
Megren says, “Make strings of them of them and hang them all across Dawn’s doorframe like a spiderweb.”
Lanisen says, “Grind ’em up real fine, make itchin’ powder.”
Megren squints an eye, “Why not just fill his drawer full of burs, in that case.”
Lanisen says, “Burrs ain’t subtle.”
Megren says, “Cunning.”
Lanisen looks pleased by this assessment. “Anyway, Sir Darrin ain’t liable to spook. Bet his horse’d spook if you hung leaves by the stall.”
Megren says, “Dawn?” She looks skeptical. “Maybe. She’s pretty hard to bother, though. Swiftly would.””
Lanisen asks, “It’s just Dawn now?”
Lanisen looks mildly disappointed.
Megren says, “You are unkind, wanting me to have to go around saying that with a straight face.”
Lanisen grins, entirely unapologetic.
Megren pushes him in the shoulder.
Lanisen breaks into snickers at this and begins to put the leftovers back in the satchel.
Megren helps him.
Lanisen fastens the clasp with his left hand and gets to his feet, wincing a little. “All right,” he says, and nods back toward the castle.
Megren leans down to gather up her cloak, draping it over her arm, and then leads the way, stopping first to pluck another peach for the road.
Lanisen follows a little way behind.