Cassandra is sitting in her bed, looking still listless. Her food is barely touched.
Lanisen knocks on the door in the early afternoon.
Cassandra doesn’t call or anything. There is just silence.
Lanisen calls through the door after a moment, “Cass? It’s Lanisen, is it– can I come in?”
Cassandra asks, “Not really my choice, is it?”
Lanisen is silent for a moment. “I’ll go if you want,” he answers after a pause.
Cassandra says, “Don’t care.”
Lanisen, after another hesitation, cracks the door open and slips inside. In his left hand is a little handful of black fur with ears and blue eyes.
Cassandra just looks up at him, slight confusion on her face at the bundle of fur.
Lanisen shuts the door behind him and stands there awkwardly. The kitten is chewing halfheartedly on his thumb, but seems sleepy and well fed and really not up to anything more vicious. “I brought company?”
Cassandra asks, “Are you allowed?”
Lanisen asks, “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Cassandra gives him another strange look, “Cause I’m a criminal?”
Lanisen, instead of answering this, crosses to her bed and sits down next to her, transferring the kitten from his hand to her lap.
Cassandra takes the kitten hesitantly, not wanting to hurt her.
The kitten arches into Cassandra’s hand, rumbling the tiniest of purrs.
Cassandra begins to pet the kitten, “Hello there.” Her attention is focus solely on the kitten.
Lanisen watches, his lower lip caught between his teeth.
Cassandra continues to pet the kitten, “Your shoulder feel any better?”
Lanisen asks, “My–? It’s fine, it’s only– it was cold, it likes to cramp up when it’s cold, sometimes.”
Cassandra looks at the kitten, “Sorry.”
Lanisen says, “Ain’t your fault.” He reaches out tentatively to stroke the top of the kitten’s head with the back of one finger.
Cassandra asks, “What’s his name?”
Lanisen shakes his head. “Hasn’t got one yet.”
Cassandra asks, “Whose is he?”
Lanisen shifts a little and peeks at her sidelong. “Yours, if you like.” He adds hastily, “You don’t gotta keep him if you don’t want him, but…”
Cassandra’s hand freezes, “Is that allowed?”
Lanisen shrugs. “Nobody’s said otherwise,” he says, a little belligerent note in his voice. “If somebody takes issue, I’ll take ‘im back to the stable and look after him there and he can be yours when all this is sorted.”
Cassandra snorts, “Sorted, right.” She pets him, “Thank you.”
Lanisen asks, a little anxious, “Do you like him?”
Cassandra nods, “He is sweet.” The kitten mews a bit, “I think I’ll call him Toby.”
Lanisen looks surprised, and relieved, and breaks into a small grin. “Toby, huh?”
Cassandra continues to pet Toby, “I’ll-” She scowls briefly, “I mean, you’ll have to teach him how to mouse.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t think that’s somethin’ you teach.”
Cassandra says, “He ain’t going to learn in here.”
Lanisen says, “You won’t be in here forever.”
Cassandra shrugs, ignoring the statement. She keeps petting Toby who now has woken up. The kitten purrs a bit.
Lanisen says, nodding to the kitten, “I’ll see about some sand for him, and food.”
Cassandra says, “Thanks. You can come play with him whenever you want.”
Lanisen glances at her sidelong, and half-grins. “Thanks.”
Cassandra doesn’t return the grin.
Lanisen offers, “You want me to bring you some books, anything?”
Cassandra sideglances him, “I probably can’t have my knitting needles back, can I?”
Lanisen asks, “Did they take those?”
Cassandra nods, “Sir Colin did.”
Lanisen grimaces and shifts, shaking his head a little. “I’ll ask him, but I can’t, I can’t…”
Cassandra shakes her head, “Don’t worry about it.”
Lanisen asks, “You want parchment, pens? Somethin’ to do?”
Cassandra shrugs, “Dunno.”
Lanisen rubs his hands on his knees. “I told the guard — Gearn, his name’s Gearn, he’s friend with Megren — if you need anything, I’ll come right away.”
Cassandra says, “Wouldn’t want to bother you.”
Lanisen says, “I ain’t gonna be bothered.”
Cassandra rubs her temples.
Lanisen watches her from the corner of his eye. “How’s your cough?” he asks after a moment.
Cassandra begins to cough though it is not so bad, “It is fine, getting better.”
Lanisen asks, “You want me to talk to Adrian?”
Cassandra’s eyes flick briefly, “I’m fine.”
Lanisen subsides and goes quiet. He looks down at Toby.
The kitten begins to lick Cassandra’s hand before taking a good bite out of her thumb. Cass jerks with a curse before placing the bitten thumb in her mouth, “OW.”
Lanisen winces, but has to grin. “He does that,” he says apologetically, and displays his own bitten hands. “He’s little yet, he’ll learn.”
Cassandra laughs for the first time in days, “No, I like it. He is just like me, biting but harmless.” Those last few words may hold a bit of bitterness in them.
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth to stifle a broader grin, glancing at her.
The kitten, being emboldened, tries to bite Lanisen’s hand next.
Lanisen makes a noise completely disproportionate to the situation that might almost be described as a yelp, and pulls his hand away.
Cassandra grabs Toby, “Hey Boyo, if you are going to bite anyone, bite me.” She does stifle a grin herself.
Lanisen says, laughing, “Good grief, I ain’t hurt.”
Cassandra grins slightly back at him, “Then do you want him back?”
Lanisen says, “Nah, nah, he’s yours.”
Cassandra sets the kitten down on the ground. She looks for a piece of yarn before reaching to her hip. She frowns, “You got a knife on you?”
Lanisen says, “Yeah.” He pulls it out of his pocket and hands it over, glancing guiltily at the door as he does so.
Cassandra takes it quickly, cutting off a piece before handing it back without a word. She bends down, dangling it, “Here you go, Toby.”
Lanisen repockets the knife, watching. “I should bring some feathers next time,” he says thoughtfully. “A bell or somethin’ that jingles, I bet he’d like that.”
The kitten pounces at the string and Cass giggles.
Lanisen leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and watches Toby, his eyes crinkling up at the corners.
The kitten pounces a few more time before begins to weave his way around Cass’ legs. the girl leans down and pets him, “You’re going to be my friend, aren’t you?”
Lanisen gets to his feet. “I’ll go see about some sand for him.”
Cassandra goes blank again, “Of course. Thanks.”
Lanisen squints at her. “I’m comin’ back.”
Cassandra brightens a hair, “Okay.”
Lanisen asks, “Want me to bring anything while I’m out?”
Cassandra hmms, “How about some tea?”
Lanisen asks, “Tea? What kind?”
Cassandra says, “Surprise me.”
Lanisen nods and ducks out the door.
Colin comes down the stairs with Arael on his arm. “Have you thought about names for your harrier or do you want to wait until you actually pick it out?”
Arael shakes her head. “Wait, I think.”
Lanisen leaves Cassandra’s room, closing the door quietly behind him. He dips his head to the guard awkwardly and begins for the door to the ward, slowing and glancing up automatically at the sound of their voices.
Colin nods in agreement. “Sometimes they name themselves.” He chuckles.
Arael quips, “Might be best. Last time I had to name something, Lady Astera and I just picked things out of stories.”
Lanisen hesitates, looking caught and inexplicably guilty. He bows toward them and all but scurries for the door.
Colin notices Lanisen across the tower and he starts to say something, then frowns when his squire darts away. He sighs and rubs the back of his neck.
Arael, meanwhile, doesn’t see Lanisen until he has begun to walk away. She turns to watch him go, blinking in confusion.
Lanisen reaches the door and slips out into the ward.
Colin sighs as he goes. “I don’t know what to do with him, Arael…”
Arael bites her lip. After a moment, she turns back toward Colin, shaking her head a little. “Do with him?”
Colin says, “Just…do I force him to sit down and talk to me, or keep giving him space? He’s been like this a while. What would you do?”
Arael raises her eyebrows and gives him a look of wry amusement. “Seen me force a lot of people to do things, have you?”
Colin laughs and rubs his forehead. “All right, all right…”
Arael asks hesitantly, “Have you tried just asking him?”
Colin shakes his head. “I’ve been afraid to.” He confesses.
Arael nods, but says quietly, “‘Twould have to be better than making him, I’d think.”
Colin reaches for her hand and gives it a squeeze. “You give good advice.”
Arael shrugs. “We’ll see, I suppose. I’ve not spoken to him yet today, either. I tried the kennels earlier, but he wasn’t there just then.”
Colin nods, glancing at Cassandra’s door as they pass. “He has permission to see Cass, probably has been with her as much as he can.”
Arael nods as well. “Aye, I’d think.”
Colin comments, “I should check in on her sometime today as well…”
Lanisen returns after a few minutes, carefully balancing a tray on top of a shallow wooden crate. On top of the tray is a sturdy teapot and a couple of cups. He lets himself into the tower and aims for Cassandra’s door, but comes to an uncertain halt when Colin and Arael are in his way.
Arael nods, but Lanisen enters before she has a chance to reply. She smiles at him in greeting.
Colin follows Arael’s gaze and nods to his squire, also giving him a smile of greeting. “Hello, Lanisen.” he ventures.
Lanisen dips his head in lieu of a bow, his arms too full. “Afternoon, Sir,” he answers. “Ara.”
Colin looks at Lanisen’s tray. “How’s Cass holding up?”
Arael also looks, and steps out of the way of the door as she waits for his answer.
Lanisen shifts, uncomfortable. “She’s all right, sir.”
Colin moves to allow him to go in if he chooses. “Good… how about you?”
Lanisen ducks his head a little, circling around them toward Cass’s door, not looking either of them in the eye for longer than a half-second at a time. “Well enough, sir, thanks. You, sir?”
Arael bites her lip as she watches him edge away.
Colin’s brows draw together a little bit. “Doing fine, thanks.”
Lanisen says, “Good, that’s, good.” He shifts his burden awkwardly, glancing behind him at Gearn, standing guard.
Colin moves further out of his way. “Sorry…”
Lanisen shakes his head, and dips another awkward half-bow, carefully keeping the tray level.
Arael offers, “Should you like a hand?”
Colin nods, looking at Lanisen for his answer.
Lanisen glances at Cassandra’s door, scant steps away. “That’s– it’s all right, I’ve got it. Thank you, though.”
Arael nods. “Aye, of course.”
Colin nods his head as well. “Let us know if Cass needs anything?”
Lanisen says, “I’ll, I will, thanks.” He gives them one more uncertain look, then reaches hesitantly for the doorknob.
Colin glances at Arael, lifting his shoulders in a slight shrug.
Arael smiles sadly as she watches him go once more.
Lanisen goes red and flustered when the door sticks and the handle slips in his right hand. He tries again and escapes into the room.
Colin watches him go and rubs his forehead. “My head hurts.” He says, sounding mildly grumpy.
Cassandra is sitting on the floor with Toby, still playing with him.
Lanisen returns after a little while, balancing a tea-tray on top of a shallow wooden crate. He looks flustered and unhappy, and he busies himself with setting the tray on Cassandra’s table and finding a corner for the crate.
Cassandra looks up at him, frowning. “Need help?”
Lanisen says, “It’s, I got it, it’s fine.”
Cassandra plays with the kitten.
Lanisen fusses with the crate, which is lined with an waxed canvas sack and filled with sand. He gets to his feet and stands for a minute, lost, before he goes to the table and pours a cup of tea for Cassandra.
Cassandra watches him quietly.
Lanisen holds it out to her. “It’s, um.” He shuts his eyes and knits his forehead. “Mint, it’s mint.”
Cassandra stands up and takes the tea. She sets it down on the table before pulling him over ot her bed, “Sit.”
Lanisen sits. He rubs his elbow and doesn’t look at her.
Cassandra turns away, “I’m sorry.”
Lanisen looks up at her, instantly remorseful. “It’s not, it’s not–”
Cassandra says, “You should have let me go.”
Lanisen stares at her. He doesn’t seem to know what to say.
Cassandra picks up the tea, “Want some?”
Lanisen says in a lower voice, “That’s all right, I’m all right.”
Cassandra just looks at him with a disbelieving look.
Lanisen says, “I didn’t bring it for me, I brought it for you.”
Cassandra takes a sip of the tea, going quiet again.
Lanisen rubs his wrists absently, watching Toby prowl across the floor.
Cassandra asks, “Want to talk about it?”
Lanisen shakes his head quickly. “It’s nothin’, don’t worry about it.”
Cassandra frowns but doesn’t say anything.
Lanisen is quiet for a moment. “I– d’you need anything? I need to be lookin’ in on the hounds before it gets too much later.”
Cassandra shakes her head, “No thank you.” She moves to the window to stare out of it. “Don’t worry about me.”
Lanisen seems to freeze up at this. His eyes dart to the door and back to Cassandra.
Cassandra asks, “I really can’t get into trouble in here, can I?”
Lanisen doesn’t seem to know what to say.
Cassandra mutters, “I’m sorry.”
Lanisen is anxious and silent, breathing quickly. “I’ll–” he starts. “I’ll be back later? Unless, you can, if you need me–”
Cassandra nods, “I’ll let the guard know if I need you.”
Lanisen seems relieved. He nods.
Cassandra bends down to play with Toby again.
Lanisen gets up, hesitating again as if he’s not sure about going, then reaches for the doorknob.
Cassandra doesn’t look up as he leaves.
Lanisen finally just goes. He shuts the door behind him quietly.
Inner Ward of Anvard
Arael nods. “Your mother’s very good, but even so she can’t dance /and/ play at the same time, so we needed the help.”
Colin says, “Mother’s always been an excellent dancer. I’ll never be as good as she is. I’m a disgrace.”
Arael laughs as they near the gatehouse. She has her arm looped through Colin’s still, and they’re strolling along the edge of the ward. “Then we’re doomed to be always stepping on each other’s toes, aren’t we?”
Colin leans over to whisper. “Well…if I’m to be dancing with you, maybe I’ll be able to improve. Wouldn’t want to break your toes.”
Lanisen leaves the tower, aiming for the gatehouse. He draws up short some distance away when he sees them walking ahead and averts his eyes, glancing around the ward for a new destination.
Arael bites her lip to tame her grin and looks up at him out of the corner of her mischief-twinkling eye. “I’ll tell your mother. I’m sure she’ll be ever so glad to hear we’ve another person for lessons.” As her face is still turned straight ahead, she doesn’t catch sight of Lanisen yet.
Colin blinks a few times, then runs a hand through his hair and laughs. “Oh dear…what have I gotten myself into…” As he looks up, he spots his squire and hesitates.
Lanisen takes a step toward the kitchen, then changes his mind and turns toward the steps instead, then stops again. He looks like a spooked cat who can’t find the nearest safe corner.
Arael pauses alongside Colin and looks up at him, then follows his gaze toward Lanisen. She bites her lip, looking conflicted, but after a moment she takes a breath and pulls on a resolute expression. She looks up at Colin and asks, “Should you like to talk to him first, or shall I?”
Colin lets her arm go and gives her a faint smile. “You’re likely to have better luck than I.”
Lanisen finally settles on a retreat back to the tower.
Arael nods. “All right.” She mirrors his smile, squeezes his arm, and starts back toward the tower after Lanisen.
Colin’s eyes follow her as she goes.
Lanisen makes for his door at a hasty limp, pulling his key out as he goes. The lock takes him a moment.
Arael follows after him with a quick step, though she isn’t running. She draws within hearing distance as he works on the lock.
Lanisen finally pulls on the handle and turns the key at the same time, and the lock releases.
Arael moves in closer and says, “Lanisen.”
Lanisen’s shoulders hunch up. He turns guiltily, ducking his head to her.
Arael stops when she’s close enough to him to converse without being easily overheard. She winces at his reaction, but forges ahead. “I’m sorry, I–I don’t want to keep you if you need to be going. Just–” She bites her lip. “Did I do something?”
Lanisen’s mouth opens a little and he shifts more fully toward her. “I– no, /no/, I’m– sorry, I didn’t–” He swallows, and his hands twist anxiously at the key.
Arael presses one hand anxiously into the other as she watches him.
Lanisen says, “You didn’t, you didn’t, I’m sorry.”
Arael nods. “Aye, all right.” She pauses, then says, quieter, “I’m not mad, or anything, if that’s what you think.”
Lanisen looks at her face searchingly at this, the desperate uncertainty in his expression suggesting that that’s exactly what he thought. “I’m–” He takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry I left like that, I didn’t want to, to lie…”
Arael grins lopsidedly at this. “Like I told Sir Colin, you didn’t, not really.”
Lanisen rubs his elbow, glancing at her sidelong, still guilty.
Arael adds in a gentle tone, “And even if you did, I’d understand why.”
Lanisen stills, looking at the floor. “Did I do right?” he asks after a moment, pleading and just barely loud enough to hear. “I’m afraid– I don’t, I don’t know–”
Arael moistens her lips. “Well, you found her, which is more than anyone else can say, and you got her to come back on your own, so maybe you knew better than the rest of us how that would be, too.”
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth. He doesn’t respond for a moment, then finally nods, not looking at her.
Arael watches him closely, brow furrowed. She opens her mouth, then hesitates, then asks, “I don’t… Is that… what you’re worried about?”
Lanisen says, “I don’t know.”
Arael smiles faintly. “All right.”
Lanisen rubs his elbow. He glances at her again from the corner of his eye, and down at the ground. “I’m sorry.”
Arael smiles wider, relaxing her posture. “Nay, you needn’t be. I can’t even imagine all you’ve been through these last weeks.”
Lanisen shifts uncomfortably and says nothing.
Arael glances toward Cassandra’s door. “How’s Cass doing?” she asks, then adds, “Unless you’d rather talk about something else, and then I’ll tell you how many ink-blots before I gave up and started my last letter over.”
Lanisen manages a small smile at this, shifting and glancing at her. “She’s, um…” He stops there to try to find the words, then shakes his head, tired and distressed. “I don’t know, I don’t know, it’s all–”
Arael offers sympathetically, “Confusing?”
Lanisen’s eyes cut to the side and he lets out a little huff of breath. “That don’t… start to cover it.”
Arael nods. “You’ve got time now, though, to sort it out. You don’t have to understand all of it together right away.”
Lanisen says, “I guess.”
Arael asks, “You’d rather, though?”
Lanisen says, “It’s not that it’s–” He shakes his head again. “I’m sorry, I’m– I don’t know what to think about it, right now, it’s– I’m sorry.”
Arael smiles lopsidedly once more, shaking her head. “Nay, don’t. You needn’t be sorry, or know what to say about it to me, or any of that. I’m fine–’tisn’t me anyone ought to fret about. It’s just that I might ask now and again, in case you’ve got some of it sorted and there’s some way I can help.”
Lanisen glances at her again, uncertainly grateful. He nods.
Arael nods back. After a moment, she glances toward his door. “Will it help if I stay, or shall I let you get some rest?”
Lanisen rocks backward a step, looking toward the ward. “That’s, it’s all right, sorry, I think Sir Colin’s– I didn’t mean to pull you away.”
Arael glances over her shoulder, in the same direction. She shakes her head. “‘Twasn’t anything pressing. His mother making him dance, that sort of thing.”
Lanisen says, “Sounds like somethin’ he’ll need you for.”
Arael grins. “Something I got him into is more the way of it.” She hesitates just a moment, then adds quietly, “He’s not angry with you either–not anymore. He cares about you. Just so you know.”
Lanisen doesn’t look at her, but he nods once in acknowledgement, if not belief.
Arael nods as well, pressing her lips into a faint smile. “Well then, I’ll let you rest, and I’ll see you again tomorrow. Tell Cass I said hello, next time you see her.”
Lanisen says, “I’ll tell her.” He bows, pauses, and adds, “Thanks, Ara.”
Arael grins and dips her head in return. “Aye, of course.” She takes a pace backward, toward the ward. “‘Til tomorrow, then.”
Lanisen puts his hand on the doorknob and echoes, “See you tomorrow.”
Arael waves and turns to make her way back outside.