Megren sits on an overturned crate near the outer gate, dressed warmly with a small pack slung over her shoulder. She chats cheerily with Owin, who stands guard, stomping his boots occasionally against the cold. He is holding a steaming mug of something and seems grateful for the company — probably the mug and the company are related.
Maire comes out into the ward, wearing her cloak and her satchel crossed over her chest. She slips her journal inside as she walks. She glances up and catches sight of Megren and hastens her pace. “Good afternoon!” she greets Megren and Owin, a wide smile on her face.
Lanisen leaves the kennels, shutting the door behind him and jiggling it to make sure it latched. He jams his hands into his pockets, hunches his shoulders, and begins for the inner gate.
Megren exclaims, “How was the lunch shift? Oh!” She places a hand on Owin’s arm in a kind of quick “sorry, bye” gesture and hops up after Lanisen. “Lanisen! Hey!””
Lanisen slows, glancing back over his shoulder. He turns toward her, his face shifting into happier lines. “Hey!”
Maire takes a little step, as Megren greets Lanisen. She offers him a smile, but hangs back a bit.
Megren closes the distance between them and tugs his forearm toward the outer gate. “Maire and I are going out before the leaves get brown. Come with us? Can you?”
Lanisen says, “Oh, um…” His eyes shift past Megren to Maire uncertainly, and he resists her tugging a little, though not quite enough to keep from moving entirely.
Megren’s lifts her brows. “Oh please? I’ve got pretzels in my bag, and there’s an extra because we hoped you or Kairyn might come. I even put in salt.”
Maire replies, “It’s a nice day, and there may not be many days left before winter sets in.” she smiles amiably.
Lanisen’s eyes stay on Maire’s face, worried and oddly vulnerable, trying to discern what she really thinks of this proposal. “You might… have more fun without me,” he ventures tentatively.
Maire shakes her head, “Please, we would love your company.” She studies his face, her expression sincere.
Megren nods, “Unless you need to get to Cass, we really were hoping for you.”
Lanisen says, “Um.” He shifts and glances between them again, half ducking his head. “All right?”
Megren’s face breaks into a grin and she tugs at him again gently toward the gate.
Maire beams, her expression pleased. She follows alongside Megren, “I have just been following the path on my previous walks, but I will let one of you lead the way today.”
Megren asks, “Mountain or valley?”
Lanisen stays quiet, his eyes still darting between Megren and Maire, but he lets himself be tugged.
Maire considers this, “I haven’t been the mountain way in a while.”
Megren tucks Lanisen’s arm up under hers in a happy, possessive kind of way. “Sure. Will that be all right, Lanisen?” Her eyes flick briefly but indicatively to his leg.
Lanisen says, “Um–” He glances at Maire, then away. “I–I think, if we go slow?”
Megren nods, taking this at face value. She glances between them. “Everybody warm enough?”
Maire tugs her cloak closer around her, “I am just fine with a slow pace…I tweaked my knee, last week I believe, horseback riding.” She offers a smile Lanisen’s way.
Lanisen glances at the sky briefly, then nods.
Megren pulls Lanisen’s arm up under her own. “Then we’re set, I think.”
In the Archenland Forest
You stand on a well-worn path in the middle of a forest, running east and west through the trees. To the north, you can see the mountains that separate Archenland from Narnia, to the south, the continuing expanse of the Archenland forest. A pleasant place for strolling, to be sure, what with the occasional squirrel crossing your path, or glimpse of some bright bird’s plumage.
Megren takes them on a pleasant stroll through some of the flatter, open forest land, at the foot of the mountain. She seems to have an idea where she is going and not to be concerned about the lack of uphill climbing just as yet.
Lanisen has no difficulty keeping up with the pace Megren has set. He lets her keep his arm and seems to relax as they walk, though he steals glances at Maire from time to time.
Maire walks alongside them, her eyes taking in the scenery as they go. “I think autumn is truly the prettiest season.” she says, peering upward through the trees.
Megren says, “It depends on the part of the season I think… they’ve all got their pretty parts. I do love autumn in its peak, though.”
Lanisen makes a quiet noise of agreement, tilting his head back to look up into the branches of an oak as they pass under it.
Maire nods, stepping over a branch, “There’s just something promising about fall, almost as if the trees bid us farewell. Like nature’s finale.” she grins.
Megren smiles happily at the statement. “I was saying just the same to Sir Darrin — promising. There’s food enough to eat and all the preparation, like a promise of a good winter, even if it won’t actually come to pass so.”
Lanisen breathes deeply, enjoying the fallen-leaf smell that is thick in the forest.
Maire replies, “It is also a promise that spring will come again.” she tips her head to the side, and chews her lip. She pulls her journal out, pausing long enough to scribble a few words before she tucks it away and resumes walking.
Megren skirts a little stand of trees into some increasing low-growth. She slows, her eyes turning sharp on the landscape.
Lanisen glances at Megren as they go, trying to see what it is she’s looking for.
Maire brushes her braid over her shoulder, she raises a curious brow. “What’re you looking for?” she asks.
Megren slows to a stop, a grin spreading across her face. “There’s still some! I wasn’t sure.” She pulls Lanisen around a bit so he can see better and points toward a shrub of fat golden raspberries.
Lanisen says, surprised, “Oh!” He glances at Megren, a delighted grin on his face. “I thought they were well over.”
Megren says, “I think most are, but this bush gets deer a lot and my da checks it every fortnight or so. He says if you pick often enough, they keep growing back til hard frost.”
Maire glances between Lanisen and the berries. She nods in agreement, “It’s a wonder the deer haven’t finished this bush off yet.” she grins.
Megren lets Lanisen have his arm back. “I thought we could pick some for Cass.”
Lanisen glances at Megren, startled, and reflexively at Maire.
Maire holds Lanisen’s gaze, “She might like that.” she says, her voice a little hesitant.
Megren looks at Lanisen with her brows lifted as if to ask if he thinks its a worthwhile idea.
Lanisen hesitates, looking like he almost expects a trap. Finally, he agrees, “She likes raspberries.”
Maire makes no move to help pick the raspberries. She finds a spot nearby, and takes a seat, leaning back against a tree. She gives Lanisen a nearly apologetic look, and tucks her hands in the folds of her skirts.
Megren swings her pack off her shoulder and pulls a small mesh pouch out of it to fill. She drops the pack near Maire’s feet. “Do you mind?” she inquires.
Maire smiles, and pulls out her journal. “I don’t mind at all. This is a nice spot.” she eyes Lanisen, “I’ll just stay over here, let you guys gather the berries.”
Lanisen rubs his elbow anxiously. He gives Megren a helpless look.
Megren nods. “All right. There’s food in the pack, if you want.” She moves a little down from Lanisen, the mesh bag in the hand near him so he can easily dump into it.
Maire bites her lip, but props her journal against her knees. She poises her pencil over the page, her eyes go upward as she peers through the branches.
Lanisen hovers rather than starting to pick. “We can– come back later, maybe?” he suggests, glancing back at Maire briefly.
Megren sets in. “It won’t take long. The bag isn’t very big.”
Maire looks up at Lanisen’s words, her expression pained. She opens her mouth to speak, but refrains, turning her attention back to her journal.
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth and finally begins, collecting handfuls of the berries to put into the bag. He doesn’t eat any.
Megren picks expertly, and it really does take her very little time to fill the bag. When it is finished, she pulls out a small handful from it before tying it up, and extends her open palm to Maire. “You don’t have to eat them, if you don’t want to,” she says, a little apologetically. “But there’s enough, if you like.”
Maire rises to her feet. She offers a faint smile, “No, no. I am fine.” she brushes off her skirts. “I think it will be a long while since I can look at any sort of berry quite the same way.”
Megren nods once, her mouth screwed up a little in dislike for this fact, but eyes registering understanding. “All right,” she says, popping one into her mouth. “If there is a way I can help to… to normalize them again for you, I’ll do whatever’s in my power.”
Lanisen hangs back, fidgeting silently.
Maire’s eyes flicker toward Lanisen momentarily. She smiles gratefully to Megren, “It will take time. All of it…to normalize. But it will.” she turns to face Lanisen. “I am sorry, Lanisen, for what Cass is going through. But I don’t hold her any ill will, for what it’s worth.”
Megren says, “Maire suggested the other day maybe bringing her a journal.”
Lanisen lowers his hands to his sides, glancing between them again. He takes a breath. “She might, um, she’d– like that, prob’ly.”
Maire brightens a bit, “Really? I know it helped me…writing.” her voice falters.
Lanisen relaxes a little. “I don’t know that she writes much,” he answers. “But maybe she’d like to, or draw or somethin’.”
Maire nods, “I have a spare journal I can bring her.” she smiles a little, her gaze searching his face. “It can be maddening having no outlet for the thoughts in your head.”
Lanisen’s eyes dart to Megren uncertainly, then he dips his head to Maire and says, “‘S very kind, miss, thank you.”
Megren leans down to pick up her pack and swing it back over her shoulder. “Sir Darrin says they’re good for putting down thoughts you don’t want to say, too.”
Maire relaxes, “Cass was kind to me, when she came and saw me in the cells. She has a good heart, Lanisen.” her voice is quiet. She nods mutely to Megren’s words, she clutches her journal closer to her.
Lanisen doesn’t seem to know what to say to this, so he just nods. He glances at Megren again.
Megren moves onward through the trees. “We’ll be uphill a little farther on, is that still good for everyone? It’s not too steep, but it inclines for a little while yet.”
Lanisen seems glad enough to fall into step behind her, nodding mutely.
Maire tucks her journal safely back into her satchel. She nods, and follows, a easy expression falling over her features.
Megren’s route is pretty easy, but it is a good half hour upward walk, or a little more, taking them up onto the lower slopes of the mountain, still below the treeline. She does her best to check her pace, glancing at her companions from time to time to see whether they are out of breath.
Lanisen begins to lag after about twenty minutes of uphill walking, his limp becoming more pronounced.
Maire keeps up, lifting her skirts, holding them out of the way with one hand. “I haven’t ever gone this far, its beautiful!”
Megren slows almost as soon as his limp shows up, and she quickly finds a place to sit and remove her satchel to pull out the big, soft pretzels she’s brought and some cheese. “There’s a view down on the forest a little further up, but maybe we can stop for a snack here — I’m a little hungry.”
Lanisen’s ears turn a little red. He glances sidelong at her to see if that’s really the reason they’re stopping.
Maire looks up the trail a ways and then smiles a little relieved, she rubs a little at her right knee. “That sounds like a good plan.” she lowers herself to sit beside Megren, arranging her skirts carefully as she does.
Megren does, in credit to her statement, dig right in, taking time to hand out food, but not waiting to eat while the others settle.
Lanisen lowers himself gingerly to the ground, stretching his bad leg out in front of him.
Megren passes them each a pretzel, and lays the rest of the food (cheese, an apple with a knife, a waterskin, and a small packet of salt), out on a cloth where they can each reach. She sighs contentedly.
Maire tears some of the pretzal, and folds a piece of cheese between the soft dough. She pops a bite in her mouth, “This is a nice change of scenery.”
Lanisen tears off small pieces and eats thoughtfully, watching the constant flickers and scurries of motion in the branches and undergrowth around them. A squirrel roots around in a pile of leaves maybe six feet away.
Maire notes the squirrel and tears off a little bit of the pretzal. She tosses the crumbs toward the little critter, a smile on her face as she watches what the squirrel does.
Lanisen glances at Maire, then back at the squirrel. The squirrel flicks its tail twice, then lowers itself to all fours and stretches itself toward the crumbs. It snatches the nearest and darts back to the shelter of the undergrowth to eat, its cheeks bulging with its prize.
Maire giggles at the squirrel, “Did you see that?” she grins in amusement.
Lanisen grins faintly. He breaks off a larger, enticing piece of pretzel and holds it out toward the squirrel.
Maire goes still and she watches to see if the squirrel will come closer.
Megren wrinkles her nose pleasantly and gathers her knees together to watch.
Lanisen lowers his hand to the ground to keep it more still and watches the squirrel. It flicks its tail and steps first from one side to the other, intent on reaching the treat but wary of the hand that holds it.
Maire watches, her lips tugging toward a smile.
Lanisen finally turns his head away from the squirrel, watching his knees instead. The squirrel stretches itself as far forward toward the pretzel bite as it possibly can, darts back, retreats, repeats a couple times, then finally takes the bread in its mouth and skitters up a tree to eat and chatter about its bravery from twenty feet up.
Maire leans back on a palm, she grins. “His little cheeks couldn’t be any more full, I think.” she says with a little laugh.
Lanisen draws back his hand, shifting to a more relaxed position now that the objective has been reached, and glances back at his companions, grinning faintly.
Megren nudges him lightly with her foot. “Could tell anybody you were raised in the forest and they wouldn’t know different.”
Lanisen grimaces at her, half pleased and half embarrassed. “Come on, there’s squirrels everywhere.”
Maire’s dimple appears on her cheek, “And perhaps that little one will tell all his friends about you…You might find a passel of squirrels someday in front of the kennels.” her tone is teasing.
Megren laughs. “A full gang of them, just trailing at Lanisen’s heels.”
Lanisen snorts at them and takes a bite of pretzel.
Maire giggles, “Wouldn’t that be a sight?” she makes a face as if picturing it, “I think the dogs might get jealous.”
Megren says, “The dogs, the cats, the horses.”
Lanisen just flicks another bite of pretzel toward a rustling in the underbrush.
Megren looks up at the sky. “Hm… took us a little longer to get out here than I expected. We’ll want to head back soon if Maire’s to help with dinner, I think?”
Maire looks up as well, her eyes widening, “Well, good thing I am resigned to dish duty after dinner. Cook hasn’t… well, I am mostly doing dishes for now.” she finishes lamely.
Lanisen doesn’t seem to understand this right away, but he quickly looks away when he does.
Megren’s mouth pushes to the side a bit, but she nods, getting up and brushing her thighs off. “Well, let’s get you back and prove your worth in timeliness until we get opportunities for showing it otherwise, hm?”
Maire just shrugs, “It’s fine. Really.” she climbs to her feet and shoulders her satchel. “Dishes are such a joy.” she winks at Megren, keeping her tone light.
Megren says, “Truly, my favorite part of the day.”
Lanisen is awkwardly silent, but he gets quietly to his feet, pocketing the rest of his pretzel.