Lanisen is cleaning. The kennels look astonishingly clean already, literally gleaming in places where the soap-water hasn’t dried, but he’s standing on a chair with a damp rag hanging out of his back pocket, dusting and re-ordering the top shelves along the west wall.
Arael opens the door and peers inside. Upon spotting Lanisen, she turns and murmurs something to someone standing outside, then slips inside and shuts the door behind her. She looks tired, and probably a little disheveled, but is dressed relatively respectably.
Lanisen glances to the door as soon as it opens, guarded, but his face lights with startled, happy recognition. One of the dogs starts up a baying, and the rest join in, swarming to say hello to the visitor. Lanisen gets down from the chair and follows.
Arael laughs and holds out her palms to the oncoming hound swarm. As they investigate her, she looks up at Lanisen, swallows quickly, then grins. “Told them I was coming, did you?”
Lanisen retorts, “I would’ve, if I’d /known/!” He beams at her, then adds, “C’mon, come on in, I’ll put another log on. When’d you get here?”
Arael follows him readily, patting dog ears as she makes her way through the crowd. She squints off to the side. “An hour ago? Or two, maybe. Not so long.”
Lanisen stops, turning back toward her. “Wait, so you ain’t– got settled in yet?”
Arael shrugs. “We did, a bit. Well, other people did, and I had my hair patted and my hem fussed over and they called it getting settled.” She makes a little face.
Lanisen laughs under his breath, but gives her an anxious look. “You ain’t tired? D’you want me to go get you somethin’ from the kitchen or, or, tea, do you want tea?”
Arael grins at him and shakes her head. “Nay, I’m all right, thanks. We took the journey slower than we would’ve otherwise because of Lord Sten, and I’ve eaten and had tea and all just before I came down.” She glances around, then at Lanisen, and adds quickly, “Unless you’d like some, I mean.”
Lanisen says, “No, no, I’m fine.” He pulls out a chair for her, making a little apologetic grimace at a slightly gnawed part of the leg, and kneels stiffly at the hearth to wake up the fire.
Arael thanks him as she takes the offered seat, then leans forward to watch him tend to the fire. “Fall cleaning time, is it?” she asks cheerfully.
Lanisen says, “Um.” He glances up, looking around the room. “Yeah, it’s– yeah, while the weather’s still nice.”
Arael nods. “Aye, I’d think.” She glances around as well. “Have you mostly been working here since you came back east, then?”
Lanisen says, “Yeah. Um.” He finishes with the fire and shuts the grate, getting to his feet, and rubs the back of his neck. “Wasn’t, you know, much to do for Sir Colin when he was away. And Danall always needs a hand, Kirb’s gotten all–” He waves a hand and makes an exasperated face to indicated flightiness.
Arael giggles and nods. “Well, good. I’m glad you didn’t get stuck helping sort through the fruit cellar.”
Lanisen agrees, “That’d’ve been pretty bad.” He sits in the other chair and leans down to rub the ears of a hound who rests her head on his knee.
Arael watches him with the hound. “How’s the place been?”
Lanisen hesitates a minute to consider his answer, not looking up from the hound. “Um,” he finally says. “It’s been… it’s…” He lifts his shoulders, and finally shakes his head.
Arael grimaces in sympathy. “Aye, so I’ve heard.” She sighs quietly.
Lanisen doesn’t seem to know what to say. He rests his elbows on his knees and glances at her sidelong, then looks back down at the hound, who has circled and flopped at his feet.
Arael turns her head to look at him. “I’m sorry it’s been so bad. I wish I’d been here.”
Lanisen says, “No, it’s not– it’s not /your/ fault.”
Arael grins crookedly. “Aye, I know that. Still, I wish I could’ve been here.” She looks down as one of the hounds nudges her hand. She scritches its ears as she continues. “‘Tis just that Colin’s letters have made it sound like everyone’s been here together, but feeling mostly alone all the same. Maybe I could’ve helped with that, at least.”
Lanisen asks, “How long’re you stayin’?”
Arael shrugs one shoulder. “We’d not really gotten that far.” She gives a bewildered laugh. “For that matter, I’m not quite sure who’s to say. We /had/ said that once Lord Sten was well enough, we’d come here and stay until the wedding, but now doesn’t much seem like the time to start on all that. I suppose I’ll have to ask someone once we’ve gotten settled in a bit more.”
Lanisen’s eyes dart to her face at this. “I’m sorry,” he says, frank sympathy in his voice.
Arael grins and shrugs it off. “We’ll get it sorted in time, I’m sure. And no one’s said anything about leaving soon.”
Lanisen nods, looking relieved. “That’s… I’m glad.”
Arael nods and straightens. “So!” she says briskly, “I hear there’s been a plague of falling off horses. Has /that/ been investigated and all?”
Lanisen asks, baffled, “What?”
Arael asks, “Lady Avery and Lord Peridan? Or was that not how it happened after all?”
Lanisen says, “Oh– ohh, yeah. I heard, he said somethin’ about that, a couple, few weeks ago. Lady Avery too?”
Arael shrugs. “That’s what Colin wrote, anyway. Into a river, at that.”
Lanisen says, “Huh. Horse spook, or?”
Arael gestures toward him in reply. “Aye, you see? That’s what I’d like to know.” Her eyes twinkle. “Maybe it saw a faun.”
Lanisen says, “Must be it.”
Arael says gravely, “Maybe it didn’t think they were real, either.”
Lanisen blinks at her, then lets out a little snort of laughter. “Oh, ohh… um. I was– I thought you meant a baby deer. I understand now.”
Arael laughs abruptly, then makes a face. “Oh–aye. I suppose ’tisn’t a very good joke, is it?”
Lanisen says, “I wasn’t thinkin’ Narnia, is all.”
Arael muses, “Wonder how Narnian deer get along, always being mistaken for the /other/ fauns.”
Lanisen says, “Go ask one.”
Arael whips her head around. “You’ve got a talking /deer/ here and you didn’t say so sooner?”
Lanisen makes a face at her.
Arael smiles innocently.
Lanisen looks down at his hands. He pulls his lips between his teeth for a moment and asks, “You talked to Sir Colin yet?”
Arael sobers and nods. “Aye, right after we got here,” she answers, quieter now.
Lanisen nods in return. He doesn’t say anything more, but he glances at her to gauge her expression.
Arael closes her eyes and rubs the side of her face. When she opens her eyes again, they are worried-looking. “Has he been like this all this time?”
Lanisen lets out a breath and looks almost relieved. “Like– like what, exactly?”
Arael sighs and drops her hand to her lap. “Like he’s driven himself distracted.”
Lanisen worries absently at his wrists, looking at the floor. “I dunno when it started, exactly,” he admits. “I haven’t been– um…” He takes a breath and swallows, looking horribly guilty for a second. “Um, as …attentive as I should’ve been, he was, I knew somethin’ was off but I didn’t know how bad until he went and left. And it’s not been right since he’s been back. That’s– that’s my fault, I was, um, I was angry with him.”
Arael presses her lips together in a rueful sort-of smile and watches him with an earnest expression. “Lanny, if none of this is my fault, then it /can’t/ have been yours.” She sighs and tips her head back. “His letters didn’t sound right even before he left. And it doesn’t sound as if you’re the only one, though Emperor knows I can’t make out who’s been angry over what.”
Lanisen says, “He seemed all right after– um, in Lancelyn Green.”
Arael nods. “I’m glad.”
Lanisen says, “I dunno what’s happened since.”
Arael sighs. “He was frightened, I think. Or–I /know/ he was frightened, but I think that was why he left.”
Lanisen looks down. “He don’t tell me things anymore.”
Arael nods. “‘Tis all a big jumble. Listening to him today, he didn’t seem as if he had any idea what he had and hadn’t told me.”
Lanisen swallows and shuts his mouth, and looks briefly much older than he should, with the worry and exhaustion in his face. He draws a slow, deep breath after a moment and says in a low voice, “I’m glad you’re here.”
Arael smiles, then glances down and presses her lips together. She looks back up at him before she replies, and when she does, her voice is thick. “And I’m glad /you’re/ here.”
Lanisen’s shoulders slump a little. He shakes his head and doesn’t look at Arael. “I’ve only made things worse, I think.”
Arael shakes her head emphatically. “You haven’t heard how he talks about you. I don’t like the way of things now either, but if you weren’t here–if they hadn’t found you–/that’s/ when ‘twould’ve been bad.”
Lanisen gives her a quick startled look. “I didn’t– that’s not…” He shakes his head slightly, frustrated. “I meant, now, here, I’m not– I don’t know what to do, I think– I think I need to–” But he stops there and doesn’t complete the thought.
Arael’s posture relaxes and she nods in understanding. “Aye. Well, neither do I,” she admits.
Lanisen says, “He’ll talk to you.”
Arael nods. “Aye, I think he will. I think he’d like to talk to you, too.”
Lanisen takes a deep breath and releases it again. “Maybe.”
Arael says, “Maybe after he’s eaten a good supper. And slept.” Her eyes twinkle. “And I can’t think he’d dare not to after the talking-to her Highness is sure to be giving him right now.”
Lanisen asks, “She’s here too?”
Arael grins and nods. “Aye.”
Lanisen’s face lightens with relief. “Two people he has to listen to.”
Arael giggles. “You see? ‘Twill all come out all right.” She glances toward the windows and sighs a little. “/Speaking/ of his family and supper, someone will likely start to fret if the don’t see me come up to dress for it soon.”
Lanisen says, “Oh– oh, it’s gettin’ to be about that time, ain’t it.”
Arael stands, settling her feet carefully on floor instead of dog. “New-gown time?” she quips. “Aye, precisely that time.”
Lanisen makes a face at her again, standing as she does. “Thanks for comin’ by.” He makes his way toward the door so he can get there first and open it for her.
Arael follows after him. “Aye, of course. ‘Tis so good to see you again, Lanny.”
Lanisen says, “You too, Ara.” He hesitates and says again, “I’m really glad you’re here.”
Arael grins. “Aye, so am I.” She looks out the door, and when she spots her maid approaching, steps outside. “G’day, then–I’ll come by again soon.”
Lanisen nods. He hangs back in the doorway, and raises a hand to her. “See you ’round.”
Arael waves in return, then turns to greet her maid as the two of them walk toward the inner castle.