Lanisen is standing in Danall’s doorway, his back to the room at large, speaking with the huntsman. “I dunno,” he can be heard to say. “She’s got the commands but she’s liable to get distracted if there’s, I dunno, butterflies. I wouldn’t take her with Gem, they feed off each other. Maybe take ’em one at a time with the older ones until they’re steadier?”
Megren opens the door, her arrival announced by barking. She lifts her knee to keep any of the dogs from getting out and slips in to shut the door behind her. She casts her gaze about, and when it falls across Lanisen speaking with Danall, she looks a bit relieved.
Lanisen pokes his head out to see who’s come. He says something more to Danall, then backs out into the kennel, smiling at a parting joke from the huntsman, and turns to meet Megren. “Hey.”
Megren asks, “Hey, has — has Sir Darrin been to see you?”
Lanisen asks, “No? Um, Lord Peridan was by yesterday, though.”
Megren lifts her brows. “What for?”
Lanisen says, “To, er, to say hello, I guess.” He scratches the back of his neck.
Megren asks, “Oh.” She looks at the door to the huntsman’s quarters. “Well, I’m not keeping you, am I?”
Lanisen says, “No, no.”
Megren nods, finding a place to sit. “Gem’s still tussling, huh?”
Lanisen says, “Oh…” He wrinkles up his nose. “It ain’t that he tussles–at least, no more than what’s normal, and not with, you know, malice. It’s only he ain’t really interested in followin’ directions if there’s a romp to be had, and Wren’s the same way, so get ’em together on serious business and it’s all pear-shaped.”
Megren asks, “Oh. What shape’s it meant to be?”
Lanisen says, “Um.” He considers for a moment. “Box-shaped.”
Darrin opens the door to the outside and slips inside.
Megren says, “I would’ve thought dog.”
Lanisen says, “All right, dog-shaped is good too.” He glances up as the hounds announce another visitor, going quiet.
Darrin obligingly pats a few heads and grins at the hounds that greet him as he comes in. “Hello,” he tells the two humans, voice friendly but clearly distracted by the Important Business of Dog Petting.
Megren looks up and smiles when she sees who it is. “Hello, Sir,” she says, rising to bow.
Lanisen bows, already standing.
Darrin finally straightens and moves a little closer. He nods at both the bows, then tucks his hands behind his back. “Sorry, don’t mean to interrupt,” he says, with a faint smile.
Megren glances at Lanisen. “No, I don’t think so.”
Lanisen shakes his head a little. “No, sir, you ain’t,” he answers.
Darrin is distracted again by a hound and when he straightens he says, “Oh. Good, good.”
Megren squints an eye at him.
Lanisen glances at Megren and shifts, looking back at Darrin. He hesitates, then asks, “How’s Reginald, sir?”
Darrin beams. “Good! Poor fellow, I have been neglecting him a bit lately, with all the craziness, but still he seems to be doing quite well. He’s a quick study.”
Lanisen agrees, “Yes, sir. Smartest of his litter.”
Darrin nods, looking for all intents and purposes like a proud father. He glances at Megren, something like amusement crossing his face at her expression, and finally says, “In any event, I was hoping we could talk, Lanisen. I know Garian’s spoken with you a little, so he tells me anyways, but I thought you might have questions, and I wanted to hear your thoughts.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” He glances at Megren again, uncertain and a little wary. “Um– the captain was, he was here, yeah.”
Megren tucks her hair behind her ear, glancing between them.
Lanisen says, “Um, he–” He gives his head a little shake. “I didn’t understand what he was–”
Megren looks at Sir Darrin. “Can I?”
Darrin nods at Megren. “Please.”
Lanisen shifts his weight, glancing briefly over his shoulder at Danall’s door.
Megren looks at the door as well. “Maybe upstairs.”
Darrin says, “Sure.”
Megren heads that way.
Lanisen backs up a step, waiting to follow Darrin.
Megren finds a good place to sit and waits for the men to get settled.
Darrin leans against the wall near her, his demeanor open and unguarded.
Lanisen follows them up the steps. He pauses there, then crosses to sit on a stack of blankets, his eyes shifting between them both.
Megren says, “Um, I talked to Sir Colin today.”
Darrin gives her a sharp look, clearly surprised by this revelation.
Lanisen says, “Oh.”
Megren scrunches up her nose at this response and rubs her eye.
Lanisen rubs his elbow, glancing between them anxiously.
Darrin asks, “And so…?”
Megren takes a breath and releases it. “He is… quite sure that… he says that he feels you are safest if you know as little as you can about Aaron.”
Lanisen’s eyes cut to the side. He closes his mouth and sets his jaw, raising one eyebrow wryly for a second, and then nods.
Megren says, “He is–” She looks a little exasperated. “I don’t know. I think — I think if you don’t like that — if you want him to talk to you, if it doesn’t make you feel safe, then you have tell him that, and you have to say why.”
Lanisen says absently, “Tell him, yeah.”
Megren rubs her fingers over her mouth and looks between them.
Darrin says, “And the main reason I am here is in case you’re not comfortable with that. You can talk to me, or – or my brother, or even just Megren, and we will bring the matter to Colin. Or, if you like, we can arrange an intermediary to sit with you and Colin when you do like. Mostly I’m invested in you being heard, Lanisen, and I – and indeed Garian and Dar at the very least – are concerned Colin is not giving you that opportunity.”
Lanisen doesn’t answer for a moment. He puts his elbows on his knees and doesn’t look at them. “I dunno what you mean, heard,” he says finally.
Megren glances at Sir Darrin. She hesitates, and then says, “I… don’t agree with Sir Colin about what’s safest and best for you. But it’s not up to me, or Sir Darrin, or anyone — it’s between you and Sir Colin. We just–” She glances at Sir Darrin. “If you need support in that, then, you should know you have it.”
Darrin looks vaguely mutinous, but he nods. “Basically. Yeah. I don’t agree with Colin, and I don’t think he’s thinking clearly. And regardless of my opinion, I want to support you.”
Lanisen pulls into himself a little, visibly conflicted, and rubs his wrists. “Um,” he says, and shakes his head. “I don’t, I don’t know, I haven’t–” He squeezes his eyes shut. “It’s, I haven’t… talked to him, I don’t know what’s…”
Megren says, “You don’t have to figure everything out now, and you don’t owe us your thoughts. But I think… I think it might help to sort it out with yourself before you go to him, so you don’t–” she pushes her mouth to the side, thinking. “–so you don’t lose track of it, I guess. I don’t know. It’s easy for conversations to go aside.”
Darrin says, “And we can summarize recent events for you, if you want, so that you’re more informed. I’ve told Colin I intended to speak with you, so it’s not as though he’ll be surprised.”
Megren looks uncomfortable with this.
Lanisen doesn’t say anything for a minute. There is a crinkle of worry between his eyebrows and he is still fussing at the rope-marks on his wrists. Finally he shakes his head again and says, “I don’t understand what you’re… offering.”
Megren doesn’t say more, having given suggestions, but not offers. Instead, she lowers her eyes to the ground.
Darrin exhales. He sets his jaw and looks only at Lanisen. “I don’t have a lot to offer you on the ongoing investigation into Darius, but I will summarize recent events for you if you wish.”
Lanisen hesitates for a long moment, looking at his hands, then asks to clarify, “But my lord doesn’t want me to know?”
Megren inclines her head.
Darrin says, “Right.”
Lanisen frowns and shifts and shakes his head, and gives Darrin a look that is both helpless and reproachful, spreading his empty hands.
Megren looks down at her hands.
Darrin rubs at his mouth. “I’m sorry, Lanisen. I’m just – there isn’t an easy solution here. The choice is yours. That much is your right, no matter what anybody says.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t know what– I don’t know what you want from me.”
Megren shakes her head quickly. “No — nothing. Just–” She glances at Sir Darrin and then looks back to him. “Well, I — what I want is… I want… you to… I want you to feel like you’ve got some control over your life, and like your friends are there for you.” She glances at Sir Darrin again. “And that means… the first part of that means that if you want to know about Aaron, or if you want a part in the decision making, and you want help telling Sir Colin that, then we’ll give you what aid we can. And the second part means if you don’t feel your friends are there for you, then we’ll do what we can to repair that.”
Darrin opens his mouth to add to this and settles for nodding.
Lanisen moistens his lips, not looking at them. “I don’t know,” he says again. “I’m– I’m sorry, I don’t know. I don’t think…” He draws a breath. “I don’t know if, if I can talk to Sir Colin right now, I don’t know how, um.”
Darrin says, firmly, “That’s fine.”
Megren releases a breath, not looking surprised, but seeming tired and sad. Her eyes flick to Sir Darrin and she nods at his words.
Lanisen nods. He opens his mouth as if to say more, but lets out a breath and just shakes his head again.
Darrin rubs the back of his neck.
Megren finally says, “Well, if you want to talk to him, and you need to talk to someone else first to figure out how… you, you can.”
Lanisen glances at her at this in acknowledgement, and nods.
Darrin stays quiet.
Megren says, “I’m sorry, I — I feel like your personal business has got paraded out for too many people to see, and I don’t guess that’s very comfortable.”
Lanisen snorts out a little breath of mirthless laughter, looking at his hands. “‘M sorry you’re all tangled up in it too,” he adds after a moment. “I don’t suppose that’s fun either.”
Megren wrinkles her nose.
Darrin quirks up one side of his mouth. “It’s kind of my job, and then Megren just gets dragged along into all kinds of ‘fun’ stuff after the whole ‘accepting the squireship’ thing.”
Lanisen gives him a quick look, then looks back at Megren. “I– yes, sir.”
Megren tucks her hair behind her ear. “Sorry, we pulled you away from Danall, I think.”
Lanisen shakes his head. “No, that’s all right, we weren’t– we were finished.”
Darrin rubs the back of his neck again and gets a thoughtful expression on his face, like he’s rehashing this conversation in his head. He nods, once, and refocuses.
Megren asks, “I told you da and Licorice are getting on, right?”
Lanisen glances between them anxiously, as if he is not sure he has done right. “Ah, yeah,” he answers, focusing on Megren. “You said somethin’ about that, that’s good, I’m glad.”
Darrin straightens. “Well, I need to be off,” he says, a touch apologetically. He looks to Lanisen. “Lanisen, if you need anything, anything at all, my door is open to you at anytime.”
Lanisen stands quickly as he does, bowing.
Megren rises as well. “Do you want my help, Sir?”
Darrin waves a hand. “Nope, just some paperwork, probably a quick meeting with Dar. Consider yourself free for the rest of the day, as far as I’m concerned.”
Megren taps her toe against the floor. “Oh… sure. All right.”
Lanisen glances between them, saying nothing.
Darrin grins at her, to soften the refusal. He inclines his head to them both. “I’m sure I will see you later,” he says, moving towards the stairs.
Megren nods once, bowing and then taking a step back, her hand holding her opposite elbow.
Lanisen bows again.
Darrin descends the staircase leading to the mail section of the kennels.
Megren glances at Lanisen again. “Sorry, I didn’t, um–”
Lanisen starts at the same time, “I’m sorry, I’m–” He stops, confused, and looks at her.
Megren wrinkles her nose.
Lanisen offers a half-smile in return. He sinks back down onto the pile of blankets and covers his face with his hands for a second. “Sorry.”
Megren tilts her head. “What? No…” she crosses to his side. “You haven’t done anything I know to be sorry for.”
Lanisen says, “You’re tryin’ to help, and I’m, I don’t know…”
Megren says, “There’s too many people trying to help.”
Lanisen says, “I guess.” He rubs his temple, like his head is hurting him. “I don’t know what to do.”
Megren quietly sits beside him.
Lanisen says haltingly, “I don’t know if I’m still– I haven’t, I don’t know what he wants from me, he hasn’t told me what to do, all I know about what I’m to do I’ve gotten from– from other people sayin’ what he wants, but if I know there’s somethin’ he wants me to do or not do I can’t just, he’s still, he’s still… isn’t he?”
Megren scrubs the side of her knee with the palm of her hand. She doesn’t respond right off, but when she does it is in a frank voice. “I don’t know his mind. From where I’m standing, he’s got a lot of things to be sorry over, or at the very least he’s got a lot of proving he sees your wants and needs as you see them, and not just as he figures they should be.” She glances at him, and then away. “I feel pretty clear he doesn’t think that, though, and the only one that can show him it is you. He’s right that he’s known you longer than any of us. It makes sense he thinks he knows you best.” She makes a small clicking noise with her tongue. “It doesn’t make sense to me he thinks it’s the job of the lower rank to start the reparations, but it seems pretty clear he thinks that, too.” She looks at him. “I think you’re right. I think he ought to go to you. But I also think– I…” she looks uncomfortable. “I don’t know. I think it’s easy to let oughts get in the way.”
Lanisen listens silently. He kneads at his shoulder and is miserably quiet for a long time. “I didn’t mean for this.”
Megren rests her head on his shoulder. “I know. No one did.” She pauses. “Aaron maybe.”
Lanisen huffs out a little breath at this. He looks down at his wrists, running his thumbs over the marks. “I don’t know how to start,” he confesses.
Lanisen says, “I’m still– He just, he /left/, and he didn’t mean to come back, and–”
Megren asks, “How did that make you feel, and why did it make you feel that way?”
Lanisen says, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” He takes a deep breath. “I was– I’m angry.”
Megren nods. “All right. Good. Why are you angry?”
Lanisen says, “He, he /left/, and he went alone, why did he go alone? And he wasn’t– he said he did it for me and for Arael but we would never– he went /alone/ and he wasn’t thinkin’ about anybody but him, and he was gonna make Ara a widow before the wedding, even, and I was gonna have to tell her–”
Megren asks, “You would never what?”
Lanisen says, “Never– we’d never ask that, we’d never want that, why would he think we’d want that.”
Megren asks, “Why wouldn’t you want that?”
Lanisen gives her a disbelieving look. “Why wouldn’t we want him dead?”
Megren says, “It makes sense to me, Lanisen, but he thinks it was best, he /still/ thinks it was best, so if you’re gonna tell him it’s selfish, that’s not going to be enough, he’s got to know why.”
Lanisen rubs his hands over his face. “He’s not gonna listen to me.”
Megren pouts her lips in thought. She draws a breath and says, “Why are you friends?”
Lanisen says wearily, “I owe him– everything, he, he got me away from Myrd and them, he spoke for me when I was in the cells, he decided he was gonna be my friend when I didn’t have… anybody, he took me on as his squire, even after I got hurt, even knowin’ I wouldn’t be any good to him…”
Megren reflects on this a long time. “So… can I–?”
Lanisen glances at her.
Megren drops her gaze and licks her teeth to give herself time before saying, “All those things are–” she pauses, then switches tack. “Why are you and I friends?”
Lanisen answers slowly, “‘Cause– you’re good and kind, and you see the best in people, and you try always to help where you see things hurt.” He pauses. “That’s, I mean– I don’t know why you’re friends with me, but that’s–”
Megren rubs her thumb over her lips. “All right. Pin in that. I want to tell you why, but that’s off topic.” She wrinkles her nose at him regretfully. “Sir Colin, though, all those things are him making a sacrifice for you, giving you power where you didn’t have it.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah.”
Lanisen amends, “No, that’s– that’s not all, those are just the big things.”
Megren plucks at a look thread in the hemp of her tunic. “It seems like to me, what’s happening here is… he’s trying to do that again, but for some reason he stepped wrong, and if that’s what’s big in your relationship, maybe — maybe neither of you know what to do when it doesn’t work.”
Lanisen rubs his eyes. “Yeah,” he agrees. “That’s– maybe, yeah.”
Megren says, “Which, no wonder he feels defensive, and no wonder you think he won’t listen, then.”
Lanisen’s shoulders slump. He exhales wearily. “Makes sense.”
Megren presses her lips together, watching him. “I’m sorry. I’m not being helpful.”
Lanisen says, “No, it’s– it is, you are, it’s only–”
Megren’s brows draw together.
Lanisen grimaces. “It’s– I still don’t know how to fix it, is all.”
Megren says, “The only answer I see is at least one talk, probably lots of talks, saying what you want from each other and what you think each other wants.”
Lanisen is silent.
Megren says, “I’m sorry.”
Lanisen shakes his head. “No, it’s– not you, I’m, I’m sorry.”
Megren scrunches her face up.
Lanisen covers his face again for a minute and slides his hands up to the sides of his head. “Every time I think it’s gotta be about over, somethin’ else happens,” he murmurs.
Megren says, “I know.” She slips her hand around his back. “I know, I’m sorry.”
Lanisen shuts his eyes for a second and sways a little to the side, leaning briefly against her in wordless gratitude. He takes a deep breath and rallies. “I should– somebody’s gotta fetch the supper scraps and Kirb’s gone off again.”
Megren nods. “Then, I’ll see you. You’ll–? Well, find me if you need me?
Lanisen gets to his feet, straightening a little stiffly and turning to face her. He nods. “Thank you.”
Megren gets up as well. “Sure.” She pauses. “We’re friends because you’re sweet and kind and funny and I like you.”
Lanisen blinks and ducks his head, a small, startled smile flashing across his face.
Megren lets that hang in the air for a second and then nods. “Also you have nice skin.”
Lanisen snorts out loud.
Lanisen ducks his head to her again, hesitates, and turns toward the steps.
Megren gives him a little space before following after.